September 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
My re-cap of the Brooklyn Book Fest is over at Literary Kicks this year. Click on the picture to read the post.
May 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
Despite the infrequent updates over the last few months, the world of translation has been hopping over the past month. So here are some random bits and bobs from the month of May.
PEN Translation Festival
I was lucky enough to get tickets to two events for the Pen World Voices Literary Festival: The Re-Interviews of Martin Amis & Michael Stipe and Translating On the Edge, a panel sponsored by the PEN Translation Committee. Amis & Stipe were charming, fascinating, charismatic and everything you’d expect two celebrities to be. And the premise behind the their re-interviews, hosted by (who else?) Interview Magazine, was truly brilliant. Three people were on the stage at a time: the interviewer, an actor playing the interviewee and the man, himself. The actors read Amis’ & Stipe’s answers from past interviews (some dating, in Amis’ case, as far back as the 1970’s). Giving the interviewer a chance to address his/her questions to both Amis’ & Stipe’s younger and present selves. Amis & Stipe were then able to correct or confirm the record.
Amis was, as is to be expected, incredibly charming & erudite. Stipe was a bit less articulate – but wonderfully animated and remarkably candid. I attended with a friend and we both enjoyed ourselves immensely. We spent the next morning recounting the entire event – virtually word for word – to her husband’s amusement over breakfast. I can only hope it will become a regular feature of the Festival.
Thanks to an email from the translator, Margaret Carson, I bought a last minute ticket to the Translating On the Edge Panel (sponsored by the PEN Translation Committee) moderated by Heather Cleary. On the panel were three translators: Sara Khalili (Censoring of an Iranian Love Story by Shariar Mandanipour), Robyn Creswell (That Smell by Sonallah Ibrahim) and Bonnie Huie (Notes of a Crocodile by Qiu Miaojin). Cleary did a wonderful job – keeping just the right balance between readings and actual discussion.
Huie’s reading from Notes of a Crocodile, the only book of the three that I wasn’t familiar with, stood out. Notes of a Crocodile is scheduled to be published by New York Review of Books Classics. They also published the English translation of Miaojin’s Last Words from Montmarte. For those of you, like me, who never heard of this incredible author: Qui Miaojin was a Taiwanese author who committed suicide in 1995 at the tragic age of 26. She won the China Times Literature Award for Notes of a Crocodile. The novel is considered a cult classic – in part due to the GLBT subject matter (Miaojin was openly lesbian). I wasn’t able to find a release date online, but here’s an excerpt posted on the Asian American Writers’ Workshop website. And definitely check out the video. The entire panel was excellent – but if you’re limited for time take a moment to fast-forward to Bonnie Huie’s reading.
Women In Translation Month
If you haven’t heard – Biblibio is declaring August WOMEN IN TRANSLATION MONTH. There’s a badge for readers & bloggers who take part, a hashtag #WomenInTranslation or #WITMonth on Twitter, and a schedule of activities forthcoming. This all began in December when Biblibio crunched the numbers and realized that less than 30% of the books translated in 2013 were by women authors. She’s continued to explore the topic – looking at specific publishers, polling readers and bloggers, and putting up this incredible May 25th post featuring an embarrassing riches of charts and graphs. Whether or not you want to acknowledge the bias (I’ve had a hard time with it if only because it seems so ridiculous/unbelievable… and then I took the time to examine my own *blush* reading history) Biblibio makes a solid case. Her sampling is manageable because the number of books in translation published each year is relatively small, and thanks to the database put out by Three Percent she has all the data she needs. The numbers don’t lie. So support the cause, people – read a female author in translation! If you love to read, if you love reading translations, it’s an important one to bet behind.
Some Award News
I’m not sure why, but I’ve been suffering from a case of literary award fatigue. But in case you haven’t:
AND – the lesser known French-American Foundation’s Translation Prize went to Electrico W by Herve Le Tellier, translated by Adriana Hunter – beating out a shortlist that included both The Conductor and Other Tales by Jean Ferry (translated by Edward Gauvin), All My Friends by Marie NDiaye (translated by Gordan Stump).
- Château D’Argol by Julien Gracq, translated by Louies Varèse
- The Corpse Exhibition & Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim, translated by Jonathan Wright
- Ten Years In the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby
January 1, 2014 § 4 Comments
A brand new year! I won’t pretend that I’ll miss 2013… years ending in the number 3 are never among my best. But now is the time to take stock of the last 12 months of reading and set some goals for the upcoming year.
How many books did I read? A sad, sad 47 books. Not even halfway to my goal (Damn you GoodReads! Your badge of reading achievement eludes me once again!!!)
How many of those were translations? 32 books in 13 different languages: French, German, Norwegian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Swedish, Turkish, Spanish, Catalan & Finnish.
Favorite book of 2013? I can’t bring myself to narrow it down to just one. My top 3 books would be (in no particular order): The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber, Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, In the Time of the Blue Ball by Manuela Draeger and 18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev. O.K., that’s four. 18% Gray snuck its way onto the list by way of my subconscious. It made such a strong impression on me that it just felt wrong to leave it out.
2013 Highlights? What were the blogging highlights of 2013 for me? All the extracurricular activities I was able to take part in this year: hosting some of my favorite bloggers in The Rise of the Short Story at the beginning of the year; being invited on the Mookse and the Gripes podcast not just once, but twice (some people are just glutton for punishment); contributing reviews to Necessary Fiction and Literary Kicks; being asked by Kim at Reading Matters to take part in her Advent Calendar; finding the wonderful translator Jordan Stump through Twitter and him graciously agreeing to an interview.
There’s also been an exciting number of innovative independent publishers who’ve released strong and important books in translation over the past year. These indies aren’t just thinking outside of the box to publish great books, they’ve grabbed the scissors, paint, hot glue gun and turned that box into something new and refreshing. & Other Stories, Readux Books and Frisch & Co. have exciting publishing models. Readux focuses on short fiction for the digital age; & Other Stories have an AMAZING list of authors and a subscription program that makes you feel like a member of an elite club; and Frisch & Co. is tapping into the opportunities of e-books.
And last, but definitely not least, the highlight of 2013 was all the wonderful readers – old and new – of BookSexy Review. Thank you for your comments, shares, likes and sticking with this little blog even when the post schedule got a little *ahem* erratic.
2014 Resolutions? This year my goals are more modest than last. I’ll only attempt to read & review 52 translations. 26 of which, as I wrote in my last post, will be by female authors. I’ve also developed a large backlog on my TBR pile. So, in 2014 I’m going to work to make a dent in that. While I love reading new releases, there are authors like Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, more of the works of Juan José Saer, Péter Nádas and every Inspector Montalbano mystery ever written.
Happy 2014 dear readers! Have you made any reading resolutions for the new year? Share in the comments below!
December 29, 2013 § 1 Comment
The blogger Biblibio posted a call to arms in this December 9th post Where In the World Are Women Writers? and the follow-up Women in translation – responses. After informally crunching the numbers he/she came to the conclusion that less than 30% of the literature translated into English is written by women. After reviewing my reading history I came up with results that were startlingly similar. Leading to the obvious question: What the hell is going on?!
I can’t speak for the publishing world as a whole, but I can unequivocally state that I do not seek out male over female authors. Keeping that in mind I went back and tried to determine how the books I read this last year first came to my attention. The result was a mixed bag of publishers, podcasters, book critics, bloggers, booksellers and Goodreads. In other words, useless.
But, just when I was getting my indignation on in defense of the feminine gender, it was brought to my attention by a recent episode of the BBC Radio 4 Open Book Podcast that the majority of literary prizes in English for 2012-2013 were won by women authors. Alice Monro (Nobel), Hilary Mantel (too many to list), Lydia Davis (Man Booker International), Eleanor Catton (Man Booker), Angela Jackson (Edinburgh Festival First Book)… you can see the entire list on the Open Book website. In fact, women have made a strong showing overall on the long and short lists of all the major English language literary prizes this past year.
Obviously, this doesn’t in any way refute or reverse Biblibio’s findings. Yet it does reinforce my belief that this disparity is not happening intentionally. Publishers care about selling books and publishing good literature (hopefully not in that order). It’s doubtful that they have any investment (emotional or otherwise) in an author’s gender. My hope is that what we are dealing with is residual gender bias from the 20th century… a habit easily kicked if readers are willing to make the effort. And more importantly, if those of us who review are willing to get the word out. Because if they sell publishers will take notice.
Case in point: who knew that the Scandinavians were so into crime (or, let’s face it, could name the 3 Scandinavian countries off the top of their head?) before The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?
Now, I realize that in some circles “quotas” is a dirty word. But they have frequently been proven effective. So I propose this informal challenge to fellow readers, bloggers and reviewers: in 2014 challenge yourself to read a set number of books in translation written by women – and then review them. The review part is key. Whether on a blog, as a contributor to a traditional media outlet or on Goodreads it’s important to give these authors a little marketing nudge.
Hmmm… this could merit a hashtag. Something I’m terrible at. Anyone?
This year my personal goal is to read and review 52 books – one per week. Half by women. I intend to alternate – every book by a male author will be followed by a female author, and vice versa. With a modicum of planning this shouldn’t be difficult to implement.
Until I started actively seeking books in translation I had no idea of the incredible literature from around the world I’d been missing out on. Now I look at my bookshelves and see authors whose names, three years ago, I didn’t know. I can’t wait to see who gets added in the year ahead.
August 27, 2013 § 2 Comments
On September 6th a documentary on J.D. Salinger, called simply Salinger, will be released in theaters. For Salinger fans this is a big deal. The television rights have already been sold to PBS. A book full of photographs will be in stores September 3rd. Those attending advance screenings of the film, or who have been given access to the book, have signed non-disclosure agreements. Of course, tons of information has leaked out. (You have to wonder how Salinger managed to keep his secrets for decades, when the Weinstein’s couldn’t manage it for a few weeks). That Salinger was in the intelligence service during WWII, possibly suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was a jerk to the women he dated (well, that wasn’t necessarily news) and that we may be seeing new works in the next 5 years – has all been revealed over the past weekend. So I’m looking forward to seeing the actual film next week if only to find out what surprises – if any – are left.
Reading The Cather in the Rye was not a world altering event for everyone. Some of us prefer Salinger’s short stories – particularly those about the Glass family. After reading Nine Stories; Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction; and Franny & Zooey I was so enamored that I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get my hands on anything he’d ever written. What did I discover? That there wasn’t much out there to discover. Some uncollected short stories on microfiche at the New York Public library; a copy of The Way of the Pilgrim (the source of the Jesus Prayer that Franny takes up in Franny & Zooey); In Search of J.D. Salinger, a.k.a. – Ian Hamilton’s Hail Mary attempt to see a return on years spent researching the Salinger biography he wasn’t allowed to publish; and a small 1960’s paperback collection of essays on Salinger’s work (more on that later) discovered in a second-hand shop.
I had and have no interest in reading Joyce Maynard’s memoir. I’m still on the fence regarding the book written by his daughter.
I also haven’t read Kenneth Slawenski’s 2011 biography J.D. Salinger: A Life, which came out long after I’d resigned myself to waiting patiently for the subject’s death.* (I made the calculations… being 55 years younger than Salinger, barring a horrible accident, the chances were pretty good that I’d live to see the posthumously published works). And, anyway, I was never really interested in learning about J.D. Salinger the man. I wanted more of the Glass family.
The 1963 collection of essays, edited by Henry Anatole Grunwald and entitled simply Salinger: A Critical & Cultural Portrait, is the book which provided the foundation of my Salinger research. Originally published by Harper & Row in 1961, mine is the small Pocket Books paperback edition. It includes a number of essays published by the likes of John Updike, Alfred Kazin, Joan Didion and contains an introduction by the editor. It was from this little book that I learned about Hapworth 16, 1924, the last short story Salinger ever published. It’s a strange little story (which I can’t imagine the magazine agreeing to publish if the author hadn’t already received so much critical attention) that takes the form of letter home from camp written by a young and precocious Seymour Glass. Salinger: A Critical & Cultural Portrait also contains the TIME magazine article which states that “a friend reports that Salinger intends to write a Glass Trilogy” and provides a brief overview of Salinger’s military career – a period Slawenski’s biography seems to have covered and the new documentary expands upon. Less exciting (for me) was the information that the Caulfield family had a cycle of short stories, similar to the Glass family which were cannibalized and consumed by The Catcher in the Rye. There are about four of these – two only accessible to the public through Princeton University Library – and they all seem to contain major discrepancies from the final novel: name changes, variations on the cause of Holden’s younger brother’s death (heart condition, drowning, and finally leukemia) and some timeline issues. For Salinger the two families, Glass and Caulfield, were a constant work in progress. He couldn’t let them go.
The fact that Salinger continued to write in isolation shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with even a passing interest in the author. The real surprise would have been learning that after all these years of waiting he had left behind no manuscripts whatsoever. Or that he’d left instructions to burn the manuscripts. *shudder* Rumors of his continued work have been persistant. Even my little 1963 paperback mentioned House of Glass – the supposed working title for the epic Glass family history that’s apparently been years in the making. So the New York Times article published over the weekend regarding the release of new works between 2014-2020 is mildly exciting – but for those of us who have been waiting patiently it raises a lot of questions.
If David Shields, Shane Salerno and Slate.com are to be trusted, and there’s no reason at this point to believe otherwise, we have confirmation that there are 5 books and instructions as to when they are to be published. And that among these manuscripts is a novel The Family Glass. But how much of the work will be entirely new? Is this novel a re-working of the early Glass stories – like what happened with Caulfield stories in the writing of The Catcher in the Rye - or a continuation? We’re also told that there will be more stories featuring members of the Caulfield family. We’re told definitively that these will include new stories, as well as the re-packaged older stories. Have the continuity issues been resolved or will they be preserved?
Which leads to the next logical question: who will act as editor? Considering most of the famous short stories were published in The New Yorker and edited by William Maxwell this is of real interest to fans. Or it should be.
OK, I lied. This is all more than mildly exciting.
It’s been three year since J.D. Salinger died and I’m still making mental calculations. If the timeline is right I’ll be under 50 when the last of the new books is published. Hapworth, 16, 1924 appeared in The New Yorker close to a decade before I was born. I’ve been waiting since I was 14 years old for a new book or story to see the light of day. That seems strange. (“Sad!” my husband says, looking over my shoulder). And inexplicable. Because I’ve read better authors. There are plenty of books out there with more sophisticated plots. Yet I continue to love Salinger’s stories. I still want to know what happens to the characters. So do a lot of other people! (I yelled that last bit back at my husband).
If you’re one of them I’d love to hear why. Are you planning to see the documentary? Are you Team Glass or Team Caulfield? If you’re looking forward to new books and stories, do you have any expectations? Or do you think Salinger was a big phony? Comments are open below… and it looks like we have at least two more years to fill them.
*Don’t you judge me!