In 2020 I received 231 (physical) review copies -- a stunning decline (-47.14%) from the 437 received in 2019; it is the fewest review copies received since 2004 and obviously had a significant effect on what was reviewed at the site, with a much greater than usual focus on older titles (both personal and older review copies).
Naturally, the unusual conditions this year played a major role in this: publishers found it difficult -- and in many cases impossible -- to ship physical copies for much of the year.
Many titles were also delayed; I suspect that particularly with these (many) more than usual review-copy requests fell through the cracks.
The postal service slow-down at the end of the year certainly also contributed, with the trickle of incoming review copies coming to an almost complete stop.
I greatly appreciate -- and am impressed by -- the efforts publicists did make under these difficult circumstances.
Nevertheless, the much smaller number of review titles to work with strongly shaped what was reviewed at the site in 2020.
The percentage of review copies that get reviewed at the complete review is surprisingly constant: as of 31 December 2020 I had reviewed 57 of the print review copies I had received in 2020 -- 24.68% of the total; in 2019 the year-end percentage, despite being from a much-larger pool, was 23.34%.
(Naturally, too, as time goes by, more of the books received in 2020 will be reviewed -- there hasn't been much time to get to those December titles, for example.
So also, for example, at year's end 2019 I had reviewed 102 titles received in 2019, while in 2020 I reviewed another 33 titles received in 2019.)
(I did receive and certainly had access to, more e-review copies in 2020, but I've found those nearly impossible to work with; the fact that they are often time-limited is just one factor making them very difficult to use for review purposes.
Ten of this year's reviews were based on e-versions -- up considerably from the 6 in 2019, but fewer than in 2018 (12) or 2017 (13) -- but, honestly, one is too many, and while in some cases there simply are no alternatives I will continue to avoid reviewing off e-copies when- and wherever possible; it's simply too unpleasant.)
Some publishers obviously had it harder than others in 2020 -- notably Dalkey Archive Press, where business certainly could not proceed as usual, readily explaining why I only got three review copies in 2020, compared to 13 in 2019 -- but the change versus 2019 varied greatly from publisher to publisher.
Only one that provided three or more review-copies in 2020 actually provided more in 2020 than 2019 -- a remarkable achievement by Archipelago Books (10 books in 2020, one more than in 2019).
The top three providers of review-copies in 2020 were the same as in 2019, albeit in different order; the top ten providers of review copies in 2020 were:
1. New York Review Books 21 (2019: 30)
2. Other Press 17 (25)
3. Harvard University Press 15 (40)
4. Archipelago Books 10 (9)
5. Farrar, Straus and Giroux 10 (12)
6. Columbia University Press 8 (14)
-. World Editions 8 (14)
8. New Directions 6 (14)
-. Glagoslav 6 (8)
10. Wakefield Press 5 (8)
Meanwhile, there were quite a few publishers who have generally provided more print review-copies but did not (no doubt mostly for very good reasons) in 2020: Oxford University Press provided 16 in 2019 but only 1 in 2020; Penguin Classics two (both Simenons; 2019: 19, also mainly Simenons); Yale University Press 3 (2019: 14); Vintage 1 (2019: 9); Europa Editions 1 (2019: 8).
I did not receive any Seagull titles.
(And I've still never seen a HarperVia title (except one ill-fated attempt to peruse a library e-copy), or any from Charco.)
This isn't meant to be critical -- circumstances alone are pretty much good enough an explanation for me -- but I do point it out because it gives you some sense of what titles I did not have access to, and how that shaped review-coverage at the site.
Obviously, the titles of some of these publishers would be of great interest -- but without them at hand ... well, maybe I'll come across copies years from now and get to them then .....
(Obviously, another problem in 2020 has been the limitations on personal acquisition.
This has particularly affected library-browsing -- often a source of more popular current titles from bigger houses (as you may have noted, I get very, very few review copies from the major commercial houses).
I did purchase quite a few books, via online sources, but these tend to be used books, and older titles at that -- again explaining some of the peculiar skew of what got reviewed in 2020.)
I will add that, regardless of circumstances, I remain surprised by how hard it is for me to get review copies (yes, this isn't a new issue).
I realize the site is a blip on the World Wide Web -- but as far as especially fiction in translation goes, it's maybe not entirely insignificant .....
(I note with some amusement that the Alexa rankings for the site at the beginning of this year put it in the top 100,000 worldwide -- and while I think that is (beyond) unlikely, as a comparative measure it seems a reasonably useful tool, and the complete review would seem to fare pretty well re. comparable sites, including some quite well-known print publications .....)
Powell was a master of literary psychology, of inwardness, of thought.
Her novels depict introspection at a level of insight and imagination comparable to that of Dostoyevsky or Henry James; like them, she can go on for pages of unbroken text in detailing those states of mind and their labyrinthine intricacies.
Brody also reminds of Powell's depressing literary career -- meeting some critical but hardly any financial success.
I have a pile of Powells I've been meaning to get to -- the two volumes of the Library of America edition -- and this certainly makes me more curious about them.
NPD BookScan report that Last year was the bestselling year for U.S. print books in the last decade, with unit sales up: "8.2 percent, year over year, to reach 751 million units"; they also list the top ten bestsellers of the year, led by Barack Obama's A Promised Land, followed by Midnight Sun, by Stephenie Meyer.
I am not sure what to make of the fact that Juvenile Fiction outsells Adult Fiction by such a large margin.
I missed this when it appeared a couple of weeks ago, but at Radio Prague International they continued their 'The Czech Books You Must Read'-series with Tom McEnchroe's profile of Michal Viewegh - Master of satire in modern Czech literature -- who, with: "more than 30 books and 1.5 million copies sold under his belt [...] is quite possibly the Czech Republic's most popular contemporary author"
His Bliss Was it in Bohemia -- described as his: "breakthrough novel" -- is under review at the complete review, as is the not yet translated Případ nevěrné Kláry.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Feng Jicai's The Three-Inch Golden Lotus, published in 1994 as part of the University of Hawaii Press' excellent but, alas, apparently now long inactive Fiction from Modern China series.
They've announced the longlist for this year's Canada Reads -- the 20th edition --, with information about all fifteen titles.
The panelists who champion the individual books will be revealed 14 January, with the debates about the books to be held 8 to 11 March.
In their statement, the jury of the short story section said, "All the story collections submitted to the organizers were not acceptable technically in their structure and context, therefore, there is no technical and professional justification for selecting a book as a winner of the literary award or honorable mention."
Still, always good to see a literary prize upholding standards .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jörg Später's Kracauer: A Biography, recently out in translation from Polity.
That's Siegfried Kracauer, of course -- and it's a pretty interesting life.
And Polity also recently published the correspondence between Adorno and Kracauer -- see their publicity page -- which makes for a nice complementary work; I have this too, and hope to get to it.
The Tehran Times reports that there are Eight Persian translators contending for Abolhassan Najafi Award, given for the best translation into Persian of a novel.
Finalists include translations of novels by Josef Winkler, Primo Levi (If This Is a Man), J.M.Coetzee, and Jules Verne -- and, impressively, Andrei Bely's Petersburg.
Always fascinating to see what gets translated into other languages -- and always surprising to see what is being published in Iran.
Here is the annual overview of the year that was at the site, mostly in numbers:
In 2020, 198 books were reviewed at the complete review, down from 209 in 2019 and in fact the first time with fewer than 200 titles covered (the soft target each year) since 2014.
I'm a bit surprised I didn't cover more books, given that conditions -- no real possibility of travel; essentially housebound for most of the year -- should have lent themselves to it.
But no .....
After only ranking fourth in 2019, the erotic index was again the most popular (as it had been in 2018); the only new index is the Science Fiction one, as readers were perhaps looking for more escapist fiction.
Books originally written in 38 languages (down quite a bit from 45 in 2019) were reviewed, with English significantly distancing all the others -- more so than in a long time.
The top five languages were the same as last year -- albeit with German dropping from 3rd to 5th place, with significantly fewer books.
A nice surprise was to see long-neglected Latin make it into the top ten.
The top ten languages were:
1. English 54 (27.27% of all books) (2019: 46)
2. French 29 (2019: 39)
3. Japanese 13 (18)
4. Spanish 13 (12)
5. German 11 (20.5)
6. Latin 7
7. Portuguese 6
8. Arabic 5
-. Chinese 5
-. Italian 5
I don't find counting countries as useful, since they change (and occasionally disappear) over the decades and centuries, but books by authors from more or less 55 countries (or rather: 55 more or less countries) were reviewed (2019: 59), the top ten being:
1. UK 23 (2019: 22)
2. France 22 (30)
3. US 21 (13)
4. Japan 14
5. India 10
-. Italy 10
7. Canada 6
-. China 6
9. Argentina 5
-. Austria 5
As usual, the vast majority of reviewed titles were novels (and sometimes often I wish that's all I covered ...) -- 155.
My dislike of the shorter fiction form continues, and only four short story collections were covered (and if I never saw another story-collection again, I'd be fine with that, too).
Seven dramas and three epics were also covered, along with thirteen works of general non-fiction.
The spread of titles as far as when they were originally written was greater than usual, though recent titles still made up a significant proportion, including with 16 titles published in 2020 getting reviewed, not many fewer than the 18 2019 titles reviewed in 2019.
The ratio of male-to-female authors remains poor, but women writers did almost make up a quarter of all reviewed titles, quite a bit above the abysmal historic average -- with 48 titles they made up 24.24 %.
Little really stood out this year -- not only was no title graded 'A+' in 2020, but there wasn't even one graded 'A' either (there were two in 2019).
Lots of very good books -- 21 did rate 'A-' -- but just no real standouts.
The lowest grade given out was a 'C+' -- right at the end of the year, given to H.R.F.Keating's Jack, the Lady Killer.
Books reviewed ranged in length from 26 to 1155 pages (2019: 70/1582).
Twelve titles were over 500 pages long (2019: 10), and eight were less than 100 pages long (2019: 9).
As with the number of books covered, the total number of pages reviewed was down, to 50,683 (compared to 54,185 in 2019) -- yes, I just didn't read as much --, with the average reviewed book having 255.97 pages (median: 230.5).
If the number of books read was slightly disappointing, I wrote more about them than ever before: a total of 301,062 review-words (2019: 282,561), with the average review a whopping 1521 words (2019: 1352).
The longest review was 5490 words long, seven more were over 3000 words, and twenty-four more over 2000.
The median review was 1383 words long, up from 1213 in 2019.
Overall, site traffic as a whole continued to decline -- though the site's year-end Alexa rank (a relative rather than absolute measure) was the highest it's been in years (though I doubt the complete review was actually the 102,982nd most popular site on the web at that time ...).
Regionally, the decline in traffic was the greatest in Africa, down a stunning 44.19%, but more or less held steady in Oceania, Northern Europe, and Eastern Asia.
The country providing a significant number of users with the most growth was (again) China, up 15.42% (and pushing it into the top ten of all nations).
There were visitors from 222 countries and territories in 2020 (2019: 221).
The countries from which the most traffic came were:
United States (35.40%; 2019: 34.49%)
United Kingdom (9.04%)
As always, visitors to the site still overwhelmingly reach it via search-queries -- and Google search queries at that (Bing, DuckDuckGo, and anything else remain barely a trickle compared to the Google flood) -- while outside site-referrals continue to depressingly barely rate a mention.
I think I will post separately on the review-copy count last year, as that certainly shaped what was reviewed and represented a big shift from recent years.
Overall, it seems to have been a reasonably successful year -- though of course I never feel like I've gotten to enough books.
Maybe in 2021 .....
If you need a reading project for the new year, The Goethe Project 2021 sounds like a pretty good one.
They explain that:
The Goethe Project 2021 seeks to increase the exposure of Anglophone audiences to the full scope of the author's writing.
We have broken down the vast majority of his translated works into a year-long schedule, and throughout the year we will produce videos and blog posts and host regular public discussions with relevant experts on German literature and culture.
They're starting of with The Sorrows of Young Werther -- a good and short entry-point -- and I'll remind the ambitious of Ulrich Plenzdorf's classic East German variation on it, The New Sorrows of Young W., which is well worth seeking out too.
I've read a great deal of Goethe -- most of the major works -- but there is a whole lot of it; two works I've been toying with tackling are: Dichtung und Wahrheit (which the project will, impressively, also be covering) and Eckermann's Gespräche mit Goethe.
The New York Times continues its recent fascination with the (scandal-ridden) French publishing and literary award-scene, with Norimitsu Onishi and Constant Méheut finding: "a broader picture of an insulated, out-of-touch literary elite long used to operating above ordinary rules -- of morality, business or common sense", in: A Year of Scandals and Self-Questioning for France's Top Publishers.
It continues not to look good.
They note that three major publishing houses -- Gallimard, Grasset, and Seuil -- "have long had a grip on literary prizes":
Since 2000, these houses have collected half of all awards at France's top four literary prizes, while publishing the books of nearly 70 percent of their judges.
Of the 38 current judges across the top four prizes, nearly 20 percent are employees of one of the three publishing houses.
Meanwhile, in the new issue of The New Criterion, James F. Penrose writes: 'On the many book prizes of Paris and their attendant traditions', in Prize time in Paris -- helpfully covering quite a few prizes beyond just the Goncourt and Renaudot.
The most popular reviews every year at the complete review tend to be reviews that have been available at the site for quite a while, and so it was again in 2020, with a top ten of familiar titles, and not a single 2020 review cracking the top 50.
(It was close, however: Daniel Kehlmann's Tyll came in at 51.; in 2019 two titles reviewed that year cracked the top-50.)
The top ten most read reviews in 2020 were:
The de Sade made the biggest leap, from 30th position in 2019.
There were still 14 titles in the top 50 that weren't in the 2019 top-50 -- only slightly down from the 16 on the 2019 list that hadn't cracked the top-50 in 2018.
See also the entire top 50, and the monthly top 15, on the page for the Most Popular Reviews - 2020.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pseudo-Methodius' Apocalypse, which, in this Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library edition, also includes An Alexandrian World Chronicle.
This is a rare tri-lingual edition under review, with both the ancient Greek and Latin translations of Apocalypse and the Latin translation of An Alexandrian World Chronicle presented here.
Curiously enough, neither work is, however, presented in the original version: Apocalypse was written in Syriac, An Alexandrian World Chronicle in classical Greek.
Why review an Apocalypse at this time ?
You really have to ask ?
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Armenian author Narek Malian's Point Zero.
This is out from Glagoslav, who continue to do a great job bringing us popular contemporary fiction from many otherwise overlooked countries of the former Soviet Union (and some less than overlooked ones, like, Russia, too ...).
(They also have a great list of classic Eastern European literature.)
I always enjoy seeing bloggers' year-in-review and (variations on) best-of-the-year lists; here is a selection of those I've come across (though no doubt there are a lot of other worthwhile ones out there ...) [updated - 2 January]:
(No best-of-the-year list at the complete review this year -- no book rated an 'A+' or'A' in 2020 (though there were 21 rated 'A-) -- but maybe I'll do a notable-books collection next week.
There will be a detailed year-in-numbers and reviews post, in a couple of days.)
Well, the year that was certainly was something different.
The site was able to continue more or less as usual; the 198 reviews posted was down a few from last year but close enough to the soft annual target of 200 -- and the over 300,000 review-words were the most ever.
(The full 2020 year-in-numbers/reviews post will follow in a few days.)
One thing that was different than usual was the decline in the number of physical review copies I received, as publishers delayed books and clearly found it more difficult to distribute them, among other things.
I only received 231 physical review copies in 2020 -- the fewest since 2004, and down a staggering 47% from last year.
So there were a lot fewer new and current books to cover, and perforce more of the reviews were of older and (deep) backlist titles.
Not the worst thing in the world, maybe, but certainly a noticeable change compared to previous years.
I'm curious how 2021 will shape up in this regard; certainly, I'd like to be at least a bit more on top of things and (semi-)current.
As always, I appreciate your continuing patronage, and I'm glad you continue to find the site of use and interest.
I am looking forward to 2021 -- and expect a lot more of the same, at least literarily.
As far as life in general goes: I hope all of ours returns to somewhat more normality; until then, I hope you're at least reading lots of good books !