My Bookish 2020

We will never forget the year 2020, but, as often happens with life, there were some silver linings too. For me it meant that I had more time and peace to read and write. Which I did!

Eugene Onegin

A large part of 2020 was dedicated to Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin on A Russian Affair. Somewhere in February, just before the Corona crisis hit Europe, I came up with the Eugene Onegin challenge, a chapter by chapter reader’s guide. It was such a wonderful experience to submerge myself into this masterpiece and it made me appreciate Pushkin’s genius even more than before. If I took part in Mastermind now with Eugene Onegin as my specialised subject, I would probably know all the answers!

Spin-offs 

One reader suggested that I also read In Paris With You (Songe à la Douceur) by Clémentine Beauvais, a modern day version of Eugene Onegin, set in Paris. Clémentine Beauvais describes it herself as “yet another love, yet another Paris love, and on top of that, it’s a rewriting of another literary love”. In a year in which it wasn’t possible to go to Paris, the next best thing was reading a novel set in Paris. Another spin-off I read is What Happened to Anna K. by Irina Reyn. I first heard about this modern day version of Anna Karenina from Yelena Furman in The Feeling Bookish Podcast. Irina Reyn is a Russian émigré writer who lives in the United States. Her debut novel is set in the close knit community of the Russian Jewish immigrants in New York City, which is apparently not all that different from the original Anna’s milieu. 

You have to be pretty brave to re-write a great classical novel, as comparisons will inevitably be made, but both writers managed to turn the original idea into a new and original work. 

Women in Translation

I read a lot of modern eastern European fiction in 2020, such as The Eight Life by the Georgian born writer Nino Haratischvili. An excellent book to read in a time when we can’t travel much, as it would have been a heavy one to carry around;-). My favourite discovery of 2020 was Three Apples Fell from the Sky by Narine Abgaryan, an Armenian writer living in Moscow. Truly a balm for the soul!

Reading group reads

Another balm for the soul is Andrey Kurkov’s Grey Bees, which I am currently reading for an online book club. Book clubs can be a great way to discover new books and I’m really enjoying taking part in Sarah G’s Russian book club. For the same book club I read The Librarian by Mikhail Elizarov; not a balm for the soul and not about librarians as we know and love them, but a modern dystopian novel. It was interesting though! Together with some Twitter friends I’m reading Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island. This shows how a truly great writer like Chekhov can even turn a census of a penile colony into a very readable and even enjoyable piece of literature. 

Non-fiction

For research purposes and out of genuine interest I also read a lot of books about Russian literature and writers behind the scenes. This year they were mostly related to Eugene Onegin, such as Nabokov’s extremely extensive commentary. In order to find out more about Russian superstitions I had ordered a book called Bathhouse at Midnight, which unfortunately got lost twice during shipping. I’ll try to order it again in the new year.

Non-Russians

From my blog and Instagram you may get the impression that all I read is Russian literature, and although this is mostly true, I do actually read other books too. This year I returned to classics like Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen. I also take an interest in Finnish literature and particularly enjoyed Crossing by Pajtim Statovci.

Let’s hope that the year 2021 will again be a good year for reading, but we can do without the virus this time! I wish you all a very happy and healthy 2021, с Новым Годом!

*****

Text and photo © Elisabeth van der Meer 2020

52 thoughts on “My Bookish 2020

  1. Elisabeth, you had a VERY interesting year of reading, and I really enjoyed your look back at it. “Eugene Onegin” is on my 2021 reading list thanks to your amazing series of posts about that Pushkin work.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Bravo, Elisabeth, on the creative thinking you’ve generated and shared! May you continue to build on your accomplishments in 2021!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Happy New Year! And The Book of Anna is on my TBR, despite a negative review at The York Review of Books. I suspect I will enjoy it!

    On Thu, Dec 31, 2020 at 7:51 AM A Russian Affair wrote:

    > elisabethm posted: ” We will never forget the year 2020, but, as often > happens with life, there were some silver linings too. For me it meant that > I had more time and peace to read and write. Which I did! Eugene Onegin A > large part of 2020 was dedicated to Pushkin’” >

    Liked by 3 people

  4. So many intriguing books, Elisabeth! The Eugene Onegin Challenge was great fun, and it’s wonderful that anyone can still go and ‘join in’ that adventure. I find my local library has a copy of What Happened to Anna K.! Your blog and a family member have inspired me to return to some more Russian novels. I’m currently reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s In the First Circle with Dostoevsky’s The Possessed to follow. Thank you for rekindling my love of great Russian literature. It goes hand in hand with my love of Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s, very poetic films. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I loved reading about these different books. And so glad Irina Reyn made it on that list! I’m reading Abgaryan in March with a Twitter group, and am so looking forward to that one. Your Onegin series was amazing. Looking forward to more of your posts in 2021.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Yes, put me down as another fan of The Eighth Life.
    Thanks for a good year of reading recommendations and interesting posts to read, I don’t always comment because I’m reading via my email, but I read every one, thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Thank you, Mary Jo, happy new year to you too! I’m so happy to hear that your love for Russian Literature has been rekindled and that your library has such a good selection. I don’t think I’m familiar with Tarkovksy, but shall look him up, thanks for the tip!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Thank you for all the times that you inspired and supported me! I’m also very grateful for Booktwitter and Russian Literature twitter. I think that you’ll enjoy Three Apples very much. Take care!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Beste Elisabeth,

    Wat een leuke verrassing dat je het nieuwste boek van Andrej Koerkov aanbeveelt! Ik ga de Engelse versie gauw kopen om het ook te lezen, vooral ook omdat ik ruim 10 jaar geleden een aardige roman van hem in het Nederlands heb vertaald: De laatste liefde van de president. Hartelijk dank dus voor de tip!

    Vriendelijke groeten, Eva van Santen

    Verzonden vanuit Mail voor Windows 10

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I am learning Russian, Elisabeth. Well, I started and still have a long way to go using Duolingo. I thought learning a few words in Russian would be appropriate for the coming year of “War and Peace.” Thank you so much for a great 2020 – you were a brilliant guide and a loyal friend throughout Eugene Onegin. And Three Apples Fell from the Sky was a gift. Happy New Year, my dear friend.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Thank you Elisabeth for all your book proposals:) “Three Apples Fell from the Sky” by Narine Abgaryan is tempting me and I have written it down! Last year I read “The Slaughterman’s daughter” by Yaniv Iczkovits a Belarus writer. I very much liked the humor within tragic history! All the best Martina

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Three Apples is a lovely and original story, very likeable. And thank you in turn for your suggestion, I haven’t read it and I even don’t think that I ever read anything by a Belarus writer. I’ll add it to my wish list 😀
    Happy reading, Elisabeth

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Excuse me, Elisabeth, but I made a mistake when I said that this writer was from Belarus. He is in fact Jewish and Belarus belonged at the end of the 19th century to the Rusian empire and the story is about the Jewish people living in the area known as the Pale of Settlement!:)

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Thank you so much, Charlotte. Like you said in your recent blog post, it’s better to try to focus on the positives and on the things we can control 😀 Take care and have a wonderful 2021, and hopefully you’ll get married this year!

    Liked by 2 people

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