European Reading Challenge 2022

ERC 2022
The Journey begins!  After shadowing the tour in 2021, this year I’m officially signing up for the trip . . . .

Although I have a dismal completion rate, I adore book challenges!  There are few joys to compare with lovingly pawing through my stacks (and I really do have stacks.  And stacks) of unread books, searching for just the combination that will inspire me (for once) to finish whatever challenge it is that I’ve decided to undertake.  I think I basically love book challenges for the sense of possibility they offer, the lure that this will be the year I read Ulysses; or five 19th century classics by unfamiliar authors; or a pre-1970 novel that has an animal in the title!  Of course, my January exuberance is counter-balanced by my December  reality check, when I (again) sadly acknowledge that most of these wonderful accomplishments didn’t materialize (even so, however, I always discover at least a few great new books/authors).  But away with the pessimism because — it’s the beginning of January!  The possibilities are endless!  Reverting to my southern, down-home roots, I tell you, dear readers, that January, with its plethora of fresh, shiny new challenges, is a month when I’m in hog heaven!

One of my favorite challenges from last year was Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge, which focuses on reading books by European writers or set in European countries.  Given my dismal completion rate for such things, I was sensibly doubtful about participating.  The Challenge looked so much fun, however, and was such a painless way to read more translated literature, I decided to go for it.  I had only discovered the challenge, however, very late in January and lingered just a bit too long over my selections.  Then, with my utter lack of technical ability, I was unable to satisfy Mr. Linky in time to sign up officially.  Quel désastre!  There was clearly only one solution — I would be a shadow participant!  Although I ultimately didn’t review any of my selections, I actually read quite a number of them and, most importantly, really enjoyed the experience.  After a few substitutions for my original choices and a false start or two (my apologies to Linda Olsson’s Astrid and Veronica, but the time just wasn’t ripe for you), I read eight books I selected specifically for this challenge.

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The very satisfying results of my shadow participation in last year’s European Reading Challenge.  Each of these authors was new to me and each novel offered something enjoyably different from the others.  What more could a bookish blogger reasonably ask?

After shadowing in 2021, I decided that in 2022 I’d do the real thing and officially sign up for this year’s Challenge (besides, I now have almost a month to outwit Mr. Linky!).  The Challenge simply requires participants to read books set in a European country or by a European writer; each book must be by a different writer and set in a different country.  It’s very flexible in that participants decide how many books they want to read, from Pensione Weekender (one qualifying book in 2022) to a Deluxe Entourage (five).  This year, as I did as a shadow participant, I will also observe a couple of my own idiosyncratic rules in choosing my selections.  Because my reading is so overwhelmingly slanted towards books originally written in English, I will choose novels by non-Anglophone writers set, where possible, in their native or adopted countries.  For the same reason I also won’t select any works by writers from the U.K. or Ireland; at least half of my reading comes from British and Irish writers, and for this Challenge I’d like to continue learning more about books from other European countries.  Because I’m full of January optimism, and given that last year I read eight books that met the Challenge’s requirements, I’ve decided in 2022 to sign up for the deluxe package!

One result from a year of massive self-indulgence in acquiring books is that I’ve managed, with very little effort, to compile a list of some very enticing possibilities.  This has been aided enormously by the fact that I’d already decided to participate in Annabookbel’s Reading Nordic Literature month; in effect, I’ve already had a lot of fun looking for reading possibilities from Scandinavia.  As the reading year develops, my precise itinerary may change, i.e., I may add or eliminate countries and/or books; what you see below is simply the rough pool from which I plan to draw my selections.  Although my goal is a minimum of five, I hope to read at least a few more.  Because Scandinavia is a very much anticipated part of my tour, I’m starting my European journey with:

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Since Annabel’s Nordic Lit month begins with Denmark, I decided to begin my European journey in Copenhagen, with Tove Ditlevsen, a new-to-me writer.  Originally published in three volumes, these autobiographical works were combined and published together around 2019.  I’m almost through Childhood, with Youth & Dependency yet to come.  Spoiler alert:  so far it’s wonderful!

After Denmark, I’m on to

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the rest of my Nordic journey.  Iceland (Land of Love & Ruins, top of the stack, deliberately blurry title on spine); Finland (Dark as My Heart); Norway (Novel 11, Book 18) and Sweden (My Brother).  Land of Love & Ruins, an autobiographical novel told in the form of journal entries, is a definite stylistic stretch for me.  As for Novel 11, I may end up replacing it with Vigdis Hjorth’s Will & Testament (dark family secret uncovered by a sibling struggle over property), which has long been on my TBR.  

It’s now time to head south for to visit the German speaking lands:

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Higher Ground & Broken Glass Park are both set in Germany, so I’ll have to choose one; I’m leaning towards Park because I very much liked the other Bronsky novel I’ve read (The Hottest Dishes In The Tartar Cuisine).  For Austria, I’m attracted to Thomas Bernard’s Extinction, a tale of an Austrian aristocrat who rejects his heritage but . . . it does look difficult & I may need a backup!  On A Day Like This, by the Swiss German writer Peter Stamm, almost made my list last year . . . .

It’s finally on to a very interesting tour through France, Belgium, Italy and Spain:

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Several new writers here for me!  I’ve read a little of France’s Patrick Modiano in the past and liked it, so his Invisible Ink (a mystery dealing with the illusion of memory) was a relatively easy choice.  For Italy, I was very tempted to choose Natalie Ginzburg’s Family Lexicon; because I’m somewhat familiar with her work and wanted to try something new, however, I decided to go with Domenico Starnone’s Trick (besides, there’s always women’s literature in translation month for Ginzburg!)  Did you know (I didn’t) that Madeleine Bourdouxhe worked for the Belgian resistance in WWII?  I very much look forward to her La Femme de Gilles, her tale of a love triangle set in 1930s Belgium.  I’m a little dubious about Winterlings, as it was an impulse selection; but its setting (northwestern Spain in the 1950s) sounded quite interesting.  Has anyone read it? 

If I’m not totally exhausted by this point, I may take brief side trip:

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I’ve had a copy of the great Hungarian writer Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy gathering dust on my shelves for several years now.  I won’t say I’ve totally ignored it; every year or two I read a few pages, scratch my head and decide that, next summer will be the perfect time to dive in!  You can imagine my delight when I discovered The Enchanted Night, Pushkin Press’s collection of Bánffy’s short stories.  At last, something that fits my attention span and is (I hope) an accessible introduction to Bánffy’s work.  Lana Bastašić is a contemporary Serbian writer whose debut novel, Catch The Rabbit, won the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature.  Having been in a few myself, I love stories about complicated friendships;  Bastašić’s tale of two semi-estranged childhood friends on a road trip through post-war Bosnia looks really interesting.

Well, that’s it for my 2022 trip through Europe.  Has anyone read any of my choices?  If so, please share your opinion!

44 thoughts on “European Reading Challenge 2022

    1. Hi Asha — thanks for the good wishes! I had a lot of fun with this challenge last year, so I’m really looking forward to it. I love the element of surprise; exploring new books and writers is a bit like opening nice Christmas presents!

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    1. Hi Alison — thanks for the kind words! As I said in my post, I’m full of enthusiasm in January! Hopefully, some of it will still be around six months from now. As for the book collection — I do love my books (imagine me gloating over the piles) and, since I moved at the beginning of 2021, now actually have shelf space for them (although I’m starting to run out). I’m afraid that 2021 was such a stressful year I was incredibly self-indulgent about adding to the stacks; I need to make 2022 the year that I actually read some of them!

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  1. Good luck with the challenge. So many interesting choices on your pile. Looking forward to your reviews/thoughts on these.

    I am still tempted to pick up some nordic reads but we shall see if I can manage in time

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    1. Thanks for the good wishes Mallika; I will need a fair amount of luck to get through 5 or 6 from my “pool” of potentials. Managing to read on a schedule is really tough and I can’t say it’s a skill that I currently possess, which is one reason my completion rate for challenges is so poor (also, I tend to delay the writing/reviewing because I want to read another book). I do hope you have time for the nordic reads, as I’d love to see your choice!

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  2. I really do admire your enthusiasm and your tenacity ( shadow participation and managing 8 books is such an amazing achievement! ) I have been planning to read the Hottest Dishes in Tartar cuisine for some time now but with your vote I will get to it sooner. I too have The Transylvanian Trilogy gathering dust, but one day, one day for sure!

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    1. Cirtnecce: Thanks for the (undesered) compliments! As I said in my post, I’m always full of January enthusiasm (usually this is pretty faded by mid-year). I love going through my books and fantasizing about reading all of them, so January is a great month for me.
      If you do get to Tartar Cuisine, I’d love to read your thoughts. I absolutely loved it, but then I like nasty, funny protagonists, which some people don’t. Humor is usually a key component in most of the books I really like and I found Tartar Cuisine to be very, very funny. I’ve been wanting to read another novel by Bronsky’s for some time; hopefully this Challenge will prompt me to try Broken Glass Park, which I understand is quite different.
      Let me know if you have any luck with the Transylvanian Trilogy. As you say — one day for sure!

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    1. Hi Mary! Since planning in this context usually involves gloating (literally) over a stack of books, it’s a breeze! Ah, but the execution of the plan is a different matter altogether; as I said in my post, my challenge completion rate is very poor.
      Like you, I gave serious thought to just winging it this year, as I have so very many unread books (last year was so stressful I just went nuts; I also visited a great used bookstore back near my old home). I had so much fun with the European reading challenge last year, however, I couldn’t resist!

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  3. What a lovely challenge! I always seem to yearn towards America, the Indian subcontinent and now Africa, without going to Europe too much, apart from Iceland, of course! I have read Miss Iceland from last year’s pile and none of your new ones. I’m doing NordicFINDS with seven books out of my TBR, not all of them actually Iceland, thinking about it – one Svalbard (Norway) and one featuring a lot of different bits. Happy reading!

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    1. Hi Liz! Thanks for the good wishes and am glad you enjoyed my rather overly ambitious list (I remind myself I’m only aiming for 5-6 completions, although I’d like to read them all). Isn’t it funny how one’s yearnings seem at least a little dependent on one’s physical location? For me, Europe (I include the U.K. here!) is incredibly exotic and strange; it must be all that Henry James I read when I was younger. The Americas, well, not so much!
      How did you like Miss Iceland? I read it for its quirky title, wasn’t sure about it after the first few pages and ended up loving it. I was tempted to pick another of ólafsdóttir’s books for NordicFinds, but decided to try someone new. I probably won’t get through more than two of my Nordic choices at most, but that’s o.k. I very much look forward BTW to reading about your own selections!

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      1. I really enjoyed Miss Iceland apart from the sad bit about the cat – my review is here https://librofulltime.wordpress.com/2019/11/28/book-review-audur-ava-olafsdottir-miss-iceland/ and links to my review of her Butterflies in November. At least she’s an Icelandic writer not writing about violent crime who gets to be available outside Iceland! I think you’re right about the yearnings, although I know plenty of British people who look towards Europe rather than the US … I’ve always had American friends and contacts, too, so I wonder if that influenced me.

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      2. Liz –thanks for the link. I just popped over to read your
        Ólafsdóttir reviews, which I enjoyed very much. You’re totally right about the cat — as soon as appeared, I honestly knew it was a goner (this type of thing appears to be a common fictional device) and prepared myself to skip a page or two.
        What I particularly enjoyed about Miss Iceland was its portrayal (alas, probably all too realistic) of Icelandic society in the 1960s, which, as you pointed out, was quite, quite different from our current notions about the Scandinavian countries. I definitely plan to read more books by Ólafsdóttir (Butterflies in November, perhaps. Thanks!) but . . . next year maybe!

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  4. Some stunning books here. Other Gert has read Tove Dittleson and greatly enjoyed. I have read Thomas Bernhard’s Extinction and loved it. But I am a Bernhard fan I love his castigation of absolutely everything about Austria. We have reviewed these authors.
    Myself I am having a no rules year after my Great Reads of 2021.But I am having trouble getting going with anything at all at present.

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    1. Hi Gerts! Hope all is going well with you & that you’re enjoying that lovely album of birdsong you tipped me off about!
      I’m about halfway through Tove’s life and times and, like one of you, am enjoying it very much. I usually avoid memoirs for no particularly good reason, so this is a stretch for me. The writing, however, is lovely and it’s amazing how Ditlevsen manages to weave the threads of a really horrible early life into this rather beautiful tapestry. And these carefully (my judgment word) selected incidents that are preparing us to realize that she’s going to emerge from this unlikely background to become a “real” writer.
      I’m indebted to the commenting Gert for her endorsement of Bernhard! I only became aware of his work when I was doing a little research for Jaeggy’s Water Statutes. In searching for an Austrian writer, I knew as soon as I saw Extinction I had to try it! I am somewhat intimidated, however, so we’ll see how it goes.

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      1. I am also inspired by your list of books read.in 2021 On the hunt for The Hottest Dishes of Tartar Cuisine I hadn’t heard of Alina Bronsky. Also Miss Iceland and The Land of Love and Ruins.

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  5. This was a challenge I really enjoyed taking part in last year, but this year I’d like to shift my reading a bit to other places so will move on. Now I just need to do a summary post. You’ve got some wonderful choices here, have fun!

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    1. Hi Julé — thanks for the good wishes; I glad you enjoyed my choices (hopefully I’ll actually get a few of them read). The European tour is a fun challenge but I totally understand the need to try something new. Regardless of what you’re reading, however, I always enjoy your posts!

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  6. Oooh! Glad you’re joining in. A bunch of fun looking choices there. I’m especially curious about Miklos Banffy because I, too, have had him on my TBR shelf for a while…

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    1. Hi Reese! I’ve missed reading your comments here and there (do you have a blog BTW? I can’t seem to find it); so happy you clicked by.
      I’m not quite read to move Banffy’s Transylvania Trilogy to my my “jinx” shelf (former inhabitants: Proust; Middlemarch; Moby Dick; currently dominated by Joyce) but . . . I may be getting close. A couple of years ago, I chose TT as one of my Back to the Classics books, made an honest effort (defined as a minimum of fifty pages) and just couldn’t do it. In my youngere days I routinely read these big sprawling 19th century things; now my choices tend to be 20th century & contemporary fiction and I seem to have lost the knack for the fiction of a more leisurely age. This is one reason I like the challenges; they force me to switch mental gears.
      I very much look forward to reading/seeing your own selections in 2022!

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      1. I’m hopeless at picking in advance so I didn’t even try for this one. I did for Back to the Classics, but I know it’s hopeless!

        Things that look like URLs seem to be tricky. I’m at reesewarner blogspot com.

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      2. Hi Reese: thanks for the address to your blog. I knew I had read it, but couldn’t seem to locate when I went searching this time. I haven’t yet followed, because when I try to, it tells me I’ll be following under my public (non-internet) name. I will get this figured out, eventually.
        Although I love picking books out in advance (the “January optimism” of my post. I wasn’t kidding), I’m totally rubbish as our British friends say, at follow through. I was rather surprised this week when I realized that in 2021 I had actually managed to read a few translated novels!
        I was very happy to see the Back to the Classics challenge re-appear. If my January optimism holds up for another few days, I may participate (at least theoretically). Doing so will goad me into a serious read or two and I’ll have a great time pawing through the stacks to compile my list.
        Here’s wishing you a happy and productive reading year in 2022!
        P.S. It’s nice to discover an Ogden Nash fan. I hadn’t looked at his poetry much in recent years and had forgotten just how funny he could be!

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      3. Ogden Nash is so much fun.

        It is nice to rummage around in the books and take pictures of them. I love that part of your blog and should do it more myself–challenge signups are a great opportunity. Of course, then I forget to put them away, never find them again, and can’t then read them, even if my followthrough were up to it…

        And happy new year and happy new year’s reading to you!

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  7. Hello, I’m new to your blog and enjoyed this post very much! I completely understand not getting to grips with Mr Linky and the reading but not reviewing – shadowing is a very good way of describing it. Good luck with your challenge, aren’t new year’s wonderful things?!

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    1. Hi Jane — glad you dropped by and that you enjoyed the post. Mr. Linky can be one nasty little critter but I finally (I think) got past him this year and became an “official” participant.
      I’m afraid I’ll always prefer reading to reviewing, although I love talking about books, and exchanging ideas about them (Mr. Janakay was very happy when I took up blogging, as he’s not particularly interested in fiction!). Formally structuring a review, however, is very time consuming; hey, I could be reading another book!
      Thanks for the good wishes, and same to you!

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  8. Hello LG: hope all is going well with you (will click over soon to your blog to see what you’ve been up to). I’m glad you like my book selections, which I’m very excited about (several of them will be a stretch for me, so we’ll see how it goes when I actually start reading).
    I’m glad you liked my bird bookends, as they’re one of my favorite things to look at (I generally have them positioned so that I can see them from my “reading” chair). I come from a long line of tchotchke collectors (it’s pretty frightening, actually; the disease manifests itself around midlife. So far, I’ve resisted spoon collections, although I admit some are pretty cool). The glass birds are far and away the best of the lot, although I’ve got a pretty good pottery hedgehog . . .

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  9. OOOOH!! Some new-to-me reading challenges!! I’ve come to love the Japanese Lit Challenge in Jan/Feb, but European? Danish? Sure! I’ve read two of the books you have pictures–Three Summers (which was ok) and Often I am Happy (which I really liked). Go, Went, Gone was a contender for German Lit in December of 21–maybe in 2022 I’ll read it? Miss Iceland is on my TBR as is a Modern Family. I see a few here I could use to accomplish my goal of “visiting” a new-to-me country through a book in translation! I’ll bookmark this post! GREAT job!

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  10. Hi Hopewell — so glad you dropped by and liked the list, particularly as I had a great time putting it together. Since all the writers are new to me, I think I’ll have a lot of fun with this challenge, even if I ultimately read only a few of the books.
    Aren’t challenges wonderful? At least for me, they really serve as great introductions to unfamiliar areas, or incentives to stretch my reading a bit. Like you, the Japanese literature challenge really opened my eyes to a whole new area of great authors. The books I read last year for the European Reading Challenge introduced me to totally new areas of literature & solidified my nascent interest in translated fiction. The “problem” is that there are so very many great challenges! And for me, so little time/energy & so very hard to choose. Then there are the read-alongs, the projects, the reading weeks & months — very difficult for undisciplined types such as myself, since I want to do them all.
    I’m so glad to come across a fellow Grøndahl fan, as Often I Am Happy was one of my great discoveries last year. I was very tempted to read anothe of his novels for the European challenge but I like to use the challenges to find new fiction, so I resisted.
    For last years translated fiction, I liked Three Summers quite a bit — so lyrical and so suprisingly sensual — but emotionally it wasn’t quite my thing. Erpenbeck’s Going, Went, Gone was magnificent. I had originally started with her Not A Novel, realized it wasn’t working for me and, in one of those happy things that happen sometimes, switched. I’ll be interested to read your thoughts on Modern Family if you decide to go there. I liked it, definitely thought it was worth reading, but was slightly disappointed as it didn’t do quite what I wanted it to (so disobliging of Flatland!), i.e., I wanted more focus on the parents and their reasons for divorce while the novel really centered on the reactions of the adult kids. Oh, and I adored Miss Iceland, after a little initial resistance to the unfamiliar names & setting.
    Good luck on your world tour! I look forward to reading your travel notes!

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  11. This is a really excellent challenge and one I’ve considered – and although I don’t take part formally, I know I’ll read a lot of European lit this year. Your choices look great, and from your images I can see only one I’ve read (Three Summers, from your last year’s pile). I do hope to get to Ditlevsen this year, and I’ve already read a Tove Jansson for Annabel’s FINDS challenge, so that’s a win. Currently reading from Japan though – will get back to Europe eventually!

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    1. Hi Kaggsy! I really considered being a “shadow” participant again but since Mr. Linky was in a benevolent mood this year (unlike last) decided to “officially” sign up. If I only make it through five of these, it will be a win/win, as all the writers are new to me.
      Can you believe I’ve never read anything by Jansson? Although I didn’t list any of her works I’m going to fit her in this year. I’d love to read some Japanese lit in the next month or two; hopefully I’ll find something I can handle in the overflowing piles that’s both Japanese AND small press! As for Ditlevsen, I’m about 60% of the way through (a very easy read but I’m going slow) and, despite my reservations about memoirs, liking it very much.

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      1. Oh, I’m so envious! You have a PAIR! I only have one, which I found at a flea market; I suspect his little pal suffered an accident and the survivor was placed for adoption. Not to worry, he’s now a treasured member of the household and adequately protected from those nasty, climbing (and very destructive) felines . . .

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    1. Thanks very much for the good wishes, as judging from the past I will need all the luck I can get in order to complete my reading. I’m afraid my annual participation in various Challenges is the triumph of hope over experience! (one day I must goggle that quote to see where it comes from).
      I’m glad you liked my picks, as I’m really looking forward to several of them . . .

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