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2020 Has Been Rather Suboptimal

I can’t imagine I’m the only person who feels like they haven’t been their best work self over the course of the past six months. We all have acedia. Some days are foggy, others start out fine and then you find out that your local police department killed a black man in MARCH and just released the information about it. I know I’m not alone in trying to find ways to forgive myself for not being “peak” in the middle of a pandemic, living in a country whose shit is stirred daily by racists and madmen.

This is my excuse for the Translation Database not necessarily being 100% up to date for 2020.

There have been mitigating factors, obviously. I generally enter in books every week based on review copies and catalogs I receive in the .  . . mail. WELL. Over the past six months, Open Letter has received maybe four bins of mail compared to the three we were receiving each week when lockdown started. I’ve entered in all the translations PW has reviewed, all (hopefully?) of the e-galleys that have been sent my way, and everything else I’ve come across. And I’ve approved all the submissions for 2020 that people (thank you AmazonCrossing and Glagoslav) have entered in on their own.

Have I dug deep into new Japanese “light fiction” to make sure it’s all there? Well . . . no. I haven’t even done my quarterly review of Europa,  Dalkey, AmazonCrossing, and Seagull.  In other words, some things are probably missing. (This is probably the least effective way to ask all of the publishers, authors, and translators out there to add your books, but here we are.)

I’m also not 100% sure I caught all the delays due to COVID, despite finding a decent number on PW‘s handy spreadsheet.

All those caveats aside, 2020 isn’t looking so great in terms of new translations coming out. Like, we knew the election would railroad a lot of fiction publications, but this seems a bit more drastic.

Let’s take a quick look at the numbers through September!

In 2020, 276 works of fiction in translation will have been published by the end of this month, and 28 of poetry. (Which can’t possibly be right, right?) That’s 304 total titles, a 30% drop-off from 2019, which had 434 works coming out between January and the end of September—381 works of fiction and 53 of poetry.

A 30% decline is gulp worthy. Even given my belief that readership is more important than production, and that translation publishing may well be cyclical and in a bit of a corrective moment (costs have expanded due to better negotiating techniques by translators and more publishers vying for the same books)—still, not great.

Here’s a spreadsheet with all the titles—including children’s books and nonfiction—that I have for 2020 so far. Let me know what’s missing, because, really, fuck 2020, but a 30% decline seems extreme. (And a crappy way to kick off National Translation Month!)

Over the rest of the month, I’m going to be reading and writing about a number of titles coming out in September (there are 53 currently in the database) and writing/summarizing/digressing about many more. Part of this is a funk-breaking exercise, part of it is to get back to basics and give everyone new reasons to discover new translations. For long-time readers, these posts will likely be shorter and less theoretically fun, but we’ll see. I don’t actually know how to write—or at least don’t know how to plan my posts—so your guess is as good as mine as to what this will end up looking like.



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