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.)
Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by. . .
In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of. . .
Eliot Weinberger takes big strides across literary history in his genuinely breathtaking short work, 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, tracking translations of a short ancient Chinese poem from the publication of Ezra Pound’s Cathay in 1915 to Gary. . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
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. . .