There was a spike in blog readership a few days ago. Michael Orthofer included my blog in a post about personal-website/blog year-in-review/reading overviews. I don’t pay a lot of attention to my reading numbers and statistics these days, but prompted by Michael’s post, insomnia, and while trying to decide how to follow up Hans Blumenberg’s brilliant The Laughter of the Thracian Woman, I decided to run some numbers.
In 2019, I read 68 books, precisely my ten-year average. I don’t set reading targets nor particularly care how many books I read, beyond feeling decidedly mortal with a reading window that inevitably gets smaller each year.
There were writers I read more than once in 2019. Those listed 1-7 will continue to be part of my future reading plans.
- Karl Ole Knausgaard (6)
- Enrique Vila-Matas (3)
- Clarice Lispector (2)
- Maria Gabriela Llansol (2)
- Mircea Eliade (2)
- S. D. Chrostowska (2)
- Jon Fosse (2)
- Claudia Rankine (2)
- Virginie Despentes (2)
- Tomas Espedal (2)
The publishers that featured more than twice were (I don’t solicit or accept review copies):
- Dalkey Archive Press (5)
- Fitzcarraldo Editions (4)
- Harvill Secker (6)
- New Directions (3)
This year I am continuing to subscribe to Fitzcarraldo and have also subscribed to Archipelago Books.
Books read were originally written in the following languages:
- English (30) – 44%
- Norwegian (12)
- Spanish (8)
- Portuguese (4)
- Italian (4)
- French (3)
- Romanian (3)
- German (3)
- Polish (1)
Fiction was dominant at 38 books, although these boundaries are wonderfully porous these days, twenty-seven non-fiction (diaries, memoirs, philosophy and literacy criticism) and only three poetry collections.
Publication dates ranged from 1947 to 2019, with all but ten books published after the year 2000. This wasn’t a year for the nineteenth century or earlier.
Fifty-eight percent of the books I read were written by men. My ratio of male-to-female writers has changed markedly over the ten years of this blog, not by any particular design, just exposure to a wider range of writing.
Fifty-two percent of my reading was of writers I read for the first time. There is every year an intention to read more deeply of my literary touchstones, but inevitably I get diverted. I don’t expect that to change. Notably, this year marked my first reading of Mircea Cărtărescu, Hermann Broch, Mircea Eliade, Jon Fosse, Renee Gladman and Ricardo Piglia, each writers whose work I would like to explore further.
If I was compelled to narrow down the year to a single brilliant book, it would be Mircea Cărtărescu’s Nostalgia. I abandon books without guilt, so couldn’t name the year’s worst book.
Visitors to Time’s Flow Stemmed declined by 9% year on year, and down 27% from this blog’s peak in 2013. Comments (335 in total) declined by 28% from 2018 and 48% from a peak in 2017. Of the twenty-two thousand visitors to this blog, most came from America, UK and Canada, followed by India, Australia and Germany. That pattern is consistent over the years. In total visitors came from 156 countries.
Seventy percent of the visitors here came via search, mostly Google, with Twitter referring 18% of visitors. The latter is always a conundrum to me; while I’ve made some enduring friendships on Twitter, its addictive quality represents a serious distraction from reading and reflection. I don’t expect to find resolution anytime soon. My number one external referrer in 2019 was Seraillon (thanks, Scott).
I’ve been receiving your newsletter for a while now, and I read the pensée du jour, but last night I felt as though I had tumbled down the rabbithole, spending hours wandering and rummaging around your site, back to the beginning and forward to yesterday, encountering author after author, with strange East European names, I had never heard of, beginning with Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, whose name I learned to pronounce correctly from another friendly site. Thanks for what you do here, for a novel, steady stream of suggested authors, for your seriousness but also for your humor, and for the blog’s easy navigability.
Thank you, Paul, for taking the time to comment. Comments like yours propel me forward.
I didn’t know that Michael Orthofer linked to other people’s blogs, but I just went and looked. That is a nice mention. I appreciate blogs like yours (and his) because they have introduced to me to so many new and interesting books. Sure, I always have a list of classic authors whose work I want to read more of (George Eliot, Joseph Conrad, etc.) But it has been so nice to learn about different authors (Herman Broch is an author I was not aware of before reading Michael Orthofer’s blog, and I am very much enjoying The Sleepwalkers and plan to read The Death of Virgil). Just at the end of the year I learned about Fosse from your blog.
Like you, I don’t set reading targets, and I don’t tell myself, “Oh I have to read x percentage of women,” or other such things. I just want to read good, interesting books that appeal to my sensibility. And blogs are a way for me to learn more about what to read and why I might want to read certain books.
You might see some appeal in Jean Starr Untermeyer’s eccentric memoir. She worked with Broch on the translation of The Death of Virgil. They had a complex relationship. It’s called Private Collection.
I’m not particularly well read in classic literature, especially English, but I think the moment may have passed. I read Middlemarch a couple of years ago and liked it very much, but my patience for plot or character driven fiction is limited.
I’m not a stats person, personally – I keep a note of which books I’ve read as an aide memoir and nothing more. And I don’t like targets or ratios – despite often wanting to read loved authors, or re-read favourites, I think the exploration and discovery of wonderful new-to-me books is the most rewarding thing.
And I understand why you would subscribe to Fitzcarraldo – they publish such an intriguing variety of titles.
Nor am I normally, but I’m glad to have indulged the urge to collect these numbers.
I trust Fitzcarraldo in the same way I think I shall learn to trust Archipelago. If Contramundum had a subscription I’d sign up too. Through them I discover writing I may not have without.
Lovely to see a fellow Espedal reader! I have read all his books and he is one of my favorite writers. Enjoy him!
I’ve read what is available in translation and hope to see more.
Archipelago books have some interesting authors. But the cost is too much
Thanks to your blog, Melissa’s (The Bookbinder’s Daughter) and Flowerville’s, my reading has expanded. Depression made college unbearable, and when I left I vowed to educate myself by reading everything I could get my hands on.
A few months ago I purchased Maria Gabriela Llansol’s book based on your recommendation but cannot seem to find my way in — do you know what I mean? Any advice would be helpful. Also, does she have other books translated into English?
I’m a classic autodidact, educating myself through voracious reading.
The Geography of Rebels trilogy is the only work translated into English so far, though Deep Vellum have others planned. Llansol is a highly sensual writer, blurring her figures (the characters that inhabit her consciousness) within the planes where realities flow together; she writes spatially rather than temporally. I can only suggest reading her work like poetry, by which I mean not focusing too much on meaning. I hope that makes some sense.
This makes perfect sense, Anthony, thank you. Will begin again!
I’ve noticed and discussed with other book bloggers that views and comments seem to be down this past year or two. Perhaps politics is sucking up all of our time and energy? I have to admit I myself often fail to comment, although I do love reading your musings. I’ve often wondered if I should become more like you – rather than do ‘official sounding’ book reviews, to muse in the margins of the books I am reading…
I think the sort of thing I post is inherently closed and doesn’t encourage dialogue; also that a lot of time I’m reading fairly obscure books. That compounds the external factors.
I had less visitors and comments last year than other years
I guess I’m going to have to give Cărtărescu a try. You steered me to Llansol this past year, for which I’m grateful. Although I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on in Geography, it’s so unlike anything I’ve read that it fascinates. And how often does one run across two novels in a year featuring Thomas Müntzer? Althrough I haven’t finished Q (by Luther Blisset, pseudonym for the Italian writers’ collective Wu Ming), I was at least a bit up to date before diving into Llansol).
Anyway, I always learn something new at Times Flow Stemmed and appreciate that you post so regularly. I am surprised that so much traffic comes your way through seraillon, as the site itself doesn’t get much traffic at all!
Cărtărescu’s Nostalgia is less closed than Llansol’s trilogy, though the latter opens up a bit from knowing about her life and obsessions. I went to Lisbon and met the people who manage her literary estate and legacy.
Thanks for the kind words. I always enjoy your posts. The traffic is a bonus.