31 October 08 | Chad W. Post

It’s been a few months since I last posted an update to our ongoing “translation database” project. Over the past 10 months, I’ve been going through every catalog I can get my hands on, all reviews in Publishers Weekly, every new book announcement from Small Press Distribution, and e-mails from cultural centers and publishers from around the world in hopes of building an accurate list of all new works of fiction and poetry published in translation this year.

(Disclaimer: I only tracked new titles that had never been translated before, so no new translation of Kafka, no reprints, no paperback versions of previously published hardcovers, and no kids books or graphic novels.)

It’s gotten to the point where I’m not finding any new titles, and with our “Best Translated Book of the Year” award on the horizon, it seems like the perfect time to post the most up-to-date (and possibly final) spreadsheet of 2008 Translations.

As in the past, this file contains info on all 328 books I identified (261 fiction, 67 poetry), breaking the list down by country of origin, language of original, publishers, month published, etc.

At the start of this project, I naively predicted that there would be “420-450” titles by the end of the year. . . . Well, being off by more than 100 (or 25%) isn’t too bad . . . right?

So the number is even smaller than imagined. And assuming that Bowker’s numbers for 2008 are similar to 2007, these 328 titles represent 0.6% of all the new fiction titles being published in the U.S., and 3.3% of all literature titles. (I assume I know the difference in these categories, but Bowker’s info isn’t all that clear.)

Michael Orthofer wrote a great piece on this a while back, but the growth of works of fiction and literature published in 2007 is astounding:

According to Gallagher, among the major publishing categories, the big winners last year were once again Fiction and Literature. There were 50,071 new fiction titles introduced in the U.S. last year, up 17% from 2006, and the number of new titles in the category in 2007 was almost twice what it was as recently as 2002. Similarly, there was an 19% rise in new literature books last year, to 9,796, which followed a 31% increase in new literature titles in 2006. Bowker

As I mentioned above, we’re gearing up for our “Best Translated Book of 2008” award. This year we’re going to do things a bit differently. We will be announcing a longlist of 25 works of fiction in December, announce a shortlist in January, and a winner in February. (For poetry, we’ll announce a separate shortlist, since there’s a disproportionate amount of fiction titles, and merging the two into one list would do a disservice to the great works of poetry published this year.)

In addition to our panelists, we really want to enlist your help. So, if you have any titles you’d like to recommend, please post them in the comments below, or e-mail me at chad.post at rochester dot edu. We’ll include all reader votes in deciding on the longlist. And as we did last year, we’ll allow everyone to vote on the shortlist and will announce your choice along with the panel’s as the best translation of the year.

Point of clarification: what we mean by “best translated book,” is the best overall book published in 2008 in terms of literary quality and translation. In other words, we’re not looking for just the most skillful translation from last year, but the best book that was published in translation. A translated book is only as good as its translation, so we’re not ignoring the skill of the translator, but a quality translation of a flawed novel isn’t what we’re interested in.

Enough said for now . . .


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