Back when I was a kid, I used to love the start of every New Year. A fresh calendar, new journal to write in every day for a week before forgetting it in the back corner of a desk, dedicated routines (read for an hour a day! only watch TV once a week!), promises of better health and finally talking to that girl I’d been crushing on . . . The New Year is an annual attempt to start afresh. Although we all know that’s impossible, it’s extremely beneficial to the human psyche to believe we can start anew.
For those reasons, I still dig New Year’s resolutions. Not of the “eat fewer cookies” sort (although I am determined to lose 5 pounds this year), but of the life vision and work variety. So here are a some resolutions for 2012:
1) Let’s start with some reading resolutions. Last year, I told the L.A. Times that my resolution was to read 52 works in translation—one a week. Looking through my GoodReads account (where I NEUROTICALLY enter every second of my reading life), it turns out that I read exactly 52 works in translation in 2011. AND I reached my GoodReads Reading Challenge of finishing 80 books total. Which maybe sounds impressive, but not when compared to my friend Karen, who works at B&N on Union Square, is pursuing a library science degree, and read 230 book last year—almost three times the number I did, and a mere 57.5 times that of the average American.
Anyway, this year I gave the L.A. Times a slightly more challenging goal: to read 10 “huge” books this year, including 1Q84, the new translation of War and Peace, Bleak House, Against the Day, and the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy. This will not be easy, but hopefully will serve as a sort of antidote to my increasing ADD reading issues and provide me the opportunity to really get lost in a work of literature for weeks at a time.
2) Plan the best ALTA ever. As many of you know the American Literary Translators Association is having its annual conference here in Rochester from October 3-6. This is always one of my favorite conferences, and I’m especially pleased and honored to be helping organize it. Because I love hyperbole and superlatives, I’ve decided that this year’s conference will be nothing less that THE GREATEST CONFERENCE IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE OF CONFERENCES. And that’s a two-fold statement: our programming is going to be incredible (I have lots of ideas to share in the not-too-distant future), and the nighttime scene will be loaded with salsa, karaoke, scavenger hunts, and parties in the subway. (And something to top this year’s bull riding . . . but that’s a secret.) So if you’re a publisher/translator/student/professor/reader, you should plan on being here. IT WILL BE THE MOST AWESOMELY EPIC CONFERENCE EVER.
3) In terms of Three Percent, I always want to increase our content in terms of reviews and actual book-related info. So, that. But to be more specific, I want to get back to posting monthly updates about the translation database and weekly overviews of forthcoming and recently released titles. (I have a great idea for these that will be both informative and extremely fun to write.) Additionally, I want to publish more Three Percent ebooks this year like _The Three Percent Problem. More details TK, but ebooks collecting write-ups on all the BTBA books, collections of book reviews, etc. With all the money from these sales going directly into the pockets of translators.
4) Popularize the hyphellipses. OK, bit of explanation. Every week, the translation students at the University of Rochester (and some other local translation aficionados) meet at a local bar to workshop each other’s translation samples. We call this Plüb, and the action of attending it, Plübbing. Anyway, these events are both helpful and hysterical, with
me Kaija all of us getting a bit off topic with off-color jokes, over-the-top story sharing and whatnot. During one particular Plüb, we came up with the idea of the hyphellipses. Basically, this is for those times—especially when you’re translating Eastern European and Russian prose—that you’re in danger of over-using the ellipses, but an em-dash is a bit too strong . . . Thus, the hyphellipses, a set of ellipses that float mid-line where a hyphen or em-dash would go. THIS IS EXTREMELY USEFUL PUNCTUATION THAT SHOULD BE ADOPTED BY ALL. Matt Rowe is working up some hyphellipses characters for us to drop into various fonts, and I promise you that this will appear in print (and on this blog) sometime this year. (Words Without Borders was almost the first to run with this, but couldn’t pull it off. For shame!) And to tie this resolution #2, Kaija and I (and maybe others?) are getting hyphellipses tattoos during ALTA. (Now that this is on public record, THERE’S NO BACKING OUT.) And to answer the obvious question, the tattoo is three dots between two brackets. Modern, sleek, hip—all the things.
5) Open Letter has a billion goals for the new year. Hit our fundraising goals (gulp), continue to find and publish excellent works of international literature (easy!), get our books in more bookstores (I think we need a Penguin/Random House/Grove/FSG to start distributing us so as to reach our full potential . . .), get better at responding to submissions, etc. Seeing that July 2012 will mark our 5th Anniversary, I think it’s time we have a best-seller. Or at least really really really good seller. And I think that book could be Benjamin Stein’s The Canvas. I love all our books and do all I can to promote all of them to as many readers as possible, but I have to say—I can envision this book on the cover of the New York Times, featured on Fresh Air, given a full-page write-up in O Magazine. It has the potential to transcend the literature, translation reading audience and appeal to EVERYONE. The book comes out in September, and, based on my scientific beliefs, we should sell a million copies by about December 12th. Or thereabouts. (And no, I’ll never resolve to cut back on the hyperbole. Ever.)
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .