OK, now that ALTA is over and the new catalog doesn’t come out for two months, I have a bit of time to concentrate on this year’s Best Translated Book Awards. Over the next couple weeks I’ll be posting information about the fiction and poetry panelists, along with an updated list of all translations published in the U.S. this year. Also might highlight some of the books I think will be favorites, announce official dates for the announcements of the longlist, shortlist, and winners, etc.
(And at some point we’ll figure out how to update the official BTBA website. With E.J. gone to Berlin, we’re still getting a handle on some of these logistical things.)
First up, I wanted to provide a general update about the fiction award. Here’s the list of this year’s Fiction Judges. Added to this year’s group are translators Bill Martin and Tess Lewis, and booksellers Stephen Sparks and Jenn Witte. They’re joining Michael Orthofer, Susan Harris, Bill Marx, Scott Esposito, and Monica Carter to determine this year’s twenty-five title longlist, and eventual winner.
Just to recap for everyone’s benefit, here are the general rules for this competition:
Right now, the nine judges are reading their way through all the books they’ve received this year, but to make everything easier on them, presses that want to ensure that their books are being considered for the award should send copies to everyone on this list by November 30th.
A certain press that will remain unnamed (but published more translations that any other over the past couple years, and probably receives more funding for “marketing” from foreign agencies than everyone else in the States combined . . . speculate as you will) recently expressed some dismay about the perceived “cost” of giving away “free books” to this many panelists, especially since they “haven’t won” the award in the past.
Before explaining why I think this is not just stupid, but damaging to book culture as a whole and a slap in the face to the translators this press claims to be concerned about, I want to reiterate that presses are welcome to submit PDF versions of the books to all of the panelists. It’s not preferred, but if a press is concerned about the costs of shipping their product to ten of the most adamant supporters of literature in translation in the United States, then they can save a few bucks and just email them to these addresses.
Now onto the rant: The “logic” behind “demurring” from sending books to the BTBA judges is totally insane. These are ten of the most supportive readers of international literature in the country—many of whom already receive this press’s books. (Sidenote: If a press has already sent a book to one of these reviewers, they don’t need to resend it. And feel free to email and check in before sending a duplicate.) If these reviewers and bookseller’s AREN’T already receiving this press’s books, where are they sending them? Have they decided that reading copies are an unnecessary expense?
As a publisher myself, I can say that the LEAST you can do for one of your books is send copies to readers who are likely to review or recommend these books. It’s not like there’s a ton of huge media outlets for experimental fiction in translation—presses depend on readers like these judges to help spread the word about their titles.
To claim that sending out ten review copies would “leave a smoking hole” in one’s budget is kind of absurd. What is the actual cost of this? In terms of cost accounting, the books themselves are valueless—the printing is a sunk cost, that’s already paid for, and copies that haven’t sold have no intrinsic value until a reader wants to buy them. So basically, the cost is about $20 for shipping these books by media mail to the ten panelists, and maybe an extra $10 for packaging materials. To get this straight, this press’s marketing budget can’t absorb $30 per title to ensure that these titles get serious consideration for one of the most prestigious awards for international literature? An award that would result in their author & translator receiving $5,000 apiece?
This is an award that was designed to benefit all of the translators and international authors whose books are published here in the States, and which tend to be underpromoted and overlooked. Our goal is to highlight the best books in translation as a way of creating a sort of “crib sheet” for readers out there looking to explore the world of literature outside of our linguistic boundaries. And I think we’ve done a damn good job of doing this. Looking back at the shortlisted titles, I’m impressed by just how awesome this collection of books is. And as relatively small as this might be in comparison to awards like the NBCC, NBA, Nobel Prize, I think it’s fantastic that the translators of these books get some recognition for the work that they’ve done. And it they win the $5,000, that’s even better.
The translation field is one that can be pretty lonely and disconnected, and can often leave you feeling unappreciated on the whole. It’s important that everyone involved in this—particularly publishers who are making their living off of the work of underpaid translators—do whatever they can to help raise the awareness of the great books that came out last year, and the people who made these possible. As cheesy as it sounds, I truly believe that every non-profit (or for profit) who has titles eligible for this award should put aside their differences to help make this award as impactful as it can be. It’s a step in the right direction for literature in translation, and to try and undermine it because of personal grudges or “marketing budgets” is small and pathetic.
The last five days of the eleventh-century Icelandic politician, writer of sagas, and famous murder victim Snorri Sturleleson (the Norwegian spelling, Snorre, is preserved in the book) make up Thorvald Steen’s most recently translated historical fiction, The Little Horse. Murdered. . .
We all know Paris, or at least we think we know it. The Eiffel Tower. The Latin Quarter. The Champs-Élysées. The touristy stuff. In Dominique Fabre’s novel, Guys Like Me, we’re shown a different side of Paris: a gray, decaying. . .
One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .