There are two big updates worth noting here, before getting into some of the breakdowns: 1) I added over 150 titles to the 2016 database, so this is starting to look a little bit more robust than last time, and 2) each of these lists the gender for the author and translator, along with reports breaking these down by percentage by fiction and poetry. (More on that below.)
First off, here are the general comparisons that seem most worthy to note1:
Overall Number of Titles
Fiction Poetry Total
2014 502 98 600
2015 478 91 569
2016 209 17 226
We can ignore 2016 for now—there are zero books currently listed for October, November, and December—but it’s worth pointing out that the total number of fiction and poetry translations published for the first time in 2015 dropped by 5% from the previous year. That’s not a huge number (31 titles), but it is the first time since 2010 that the figure has dropped. (2009 we logged in 360 titles, 2010 only 346. Since then we’ve gone up to 378, 459, 544, then 600. Percentage-wise, that’s pretty solid.)
In terms of the most-translated languages, French, German, and Spanish take up the top three spots in each of these reports. For 2014 and 2015, the order is French, German, Spanish, but so far in 2016, it’s French, Spanish, German.
Between 2014 and 2015, Chinese jumped from seventh overall to fifth, Russian fell from fifth to ninth, and Danish replaced Japanese, but other than that everything was pretty much the same as it has been for a few years. Italian came in fourth, with Arabic, Swedish, and Portuguese being the other languages that appeared in the top ten along with the aforementioned Russian, Danish, Chinese, and Japanese.
Publisher-wise, Amazon is still the main story. They did 46 books in 2014, 75 in 2015, and have announced 31 titles so far in 2016. (Just a note: Dalkey is above them so far this year, with 34 titles listed, but that includes titles they’ve announced through September 2016. By contrast, the Amazon titles are all from the first half of the year. In fact, 28 of the 31 are from January through April. It looks like they’re going to end up over 70 again.)
I suspect the data about the gender of authors and translators will be the most discussed part of these reports, so let me explain a bit first.
Over the past summer, a couple of my interns went through every record we have from 2008-2016 trying to figure out if the author and translator identified as “male” or “female.” Theoretically, we could/should expand this out into other gender categories, but this seemed like a relatively good starting point. We used author/translator bio pronouns to determine how to categorize all of the artists, with a few minor exceptions. If we absolutely couldn’t figure out if the artist was male or female we generally logged him/her as “Both” for the time being. (I can always change those later.) In a few instances, I don’t know who the translator is—those records are left blank. Also, if the book is an anthology containing pieces by men and women, or if a book has a translation team with men and women, it’s marked as “Both.”
If anyone is identified incorrectly on these spreadsheets, just let me know.
Here’s the general data, as I have it:
2014: 30.68% of fiction was by women (154 books, compared to 343 by men, and 5 by both), 36.73% of poetry was by women (36 to 59 to 3), meaning female authors made up 31.67% of the total (190 to 402 to 8).
2015: 29.50% of fiction was by women (141 to 325 to 12), 34.07% of poetry (31 to 54 to 6), and 30.23% overall (172 to 379 to 18).
2016: 33.01% of fiction was by women (69 to 134 to 6), 35.29% of poetry (6 to 11 to 0), and 33.19% overall (75 to 145 to 6).
In short, the percentage seems to be hovering around 31% total, which isn’t great.
Female translators fare slightly better, but only slightly.
In 2014, women translated 39.50% of the fiction and poetry published in English for the first time (237 books compared to 317 translated by men, 46 by both).
In 2015 that percentage went up to 43.74% (248 titles compared to 277 by men, 42 by both).
And so far 2016 is right in the middle: 40.89% (92 titles to 121 to 12).
This can be broken down by language, by publisher, by any number of things, and will be, once I find some more time. For now, download all of these, play around, send me corrections, and find some books that sound interesting to you.
1 As always, here is my set of disclaimers: I only count works of fiction and poetry that have never before appeared in English translations. No new translations, no reissues, no manga, no creative nonfiction. Also, I do this by myself, so all mistakes and omissions are mine. Some might be justified, others might be related to how many hours exist in a week and how many jobs am I trying to do again? If you know of something that’s missing, let me know and I’ll either add it or explain why I’m not sure it counts. Also, send me your 2016 books, poetry people. These are always the hardest to find, but to have only 17 listed at this point in time? That’s just sad.
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .