I’ve written about Paper Republic in the past, praising all the resources they’ve collected to promote Chinese literature. It really is a great site, as I was reminded recently when Nicky Harman drew my attention to their 2015 round up of Chinese literature and the Read Paper Republic feature.
The first page is pretty straight forward, but it’s great to see so many works translated from the Chinese—including fiction, poetry, YA, nonfiction—in one place, along with all the awards Chinese literature in translation won this year. (Such as Can Xue winning the BTBA for The Last Lover.)
Read Paper Republic has been going for a while, but this is the first time we’re writing it up, so I’ll let them explain what it is:
We at Paper Republic are a collective of literary translators, promoting new Chinese fiction in translation. Our new initiative, Read Paper Republic, is for readers who wonder what new Chinese fiction in English translation has to offer and would like to dip a toe in the water.
Between 18th June 2015 and 16th June 2016, we are publishing a complete free-to-view short story (or essay or poem) by a contemporary Chinese writer, one per week for a year, 52 in total. Readers can browse them for free, on their computer, tablet or phone.
So, as of this week, they’re half way done. There’s a whole list of accomplishments on that page, but at its core, the simple process of publishing 26 stories, essays, and poems, is rather amazing. I can’t think of a better source for publishers to identify Chinese authors to publish in translation. And for readers, this is a wonderful way to get a sense of what’s out there. Definitely worth visiting and poking around.
Having just glanced through the twenty-six published pieces, here are two that caught my eye:
Painless, by Yerkex Hurmanbek, translated by Roddy Flagg
I love that name—Yerkex Hurmanbek—and the opening is pretty dramatic:
Nobody in the village noticed that my brother’s six-year-old daughter had chewed off all her fingers. Only her little palms were left, like two tiny shovels. But more mobile and fleshier, with a child’s warmth. She took bowls of food using her palms like pincers. The sight stopped her mother’s heart for an instant; the right ventricle blocked and wouldn’t let the blood through so the breath caught in her throat. It was a bit like when their pasta-maker choked on a lump of dough, or the neighbour’s tractor spluttered to a halt outside.
Regurgitated, by Dorothy (Hiu Hung) Tse, translated by Karen Curtis, also sounds really good:
The news that a son had been eaten came at three thirty-three in the afternoon.
At first the news was no more than a current of air brushing past the old faded clippings on the Democracy Wall and the apolitical colors of the national flag. Everything was scattered by the breeze like blossoms in azalea season. The professor bent down, and then further down, to pick up a broken finger of chalk in the classroom. As the news in his head gradually fragmented into an inverted vision, the classroom door suddenly burst open. From under the floor rose the hypnotic hum of a megaphone; the lily-white legs of the female students hung upside-down from the ceiling. Someone noticed a shudder pass through the professor’s shoulders, like an electric shock.
I think I have a think for cannibalism today . . .Tweet
Here’s the beginning of the review:
I recently listened to Three Percent Podcast #99, which had guest speaker Julia Berner-Tobin from Feminist Press. In addition to the usual amusement of finally hearing both sides of the podcast (usually I just hear parts of Chad’s side of the conversation through my office door, and never know what Tom’s responses are), I was particularly intrigued by the Feminist Press book Julia plugged, Thérèse and Isabelle by Violette Leduc. Now, I don’t remember what it was that made me want to read this book—the fact that Feminist Press had published it (and I’ve been interested in their work for a few years now), the fact that Julia sounded particularly excited about it (as we all should be and are about our respective books!), or the fact that it promised some pretty sultry scenes (who doesn’t want to read a little raunch for work purposes?)—but by the time a review copy floated to the top of my many stacks, I had decided to look into it myself.
And to be honest, for the first time in a long time, I found the accompanying texts to be more interesting than the book itself. I know, I’m still kind of reeling. The book has two afterwords, which provide a lot of history on Violette Leduc (who is best known for her autobiography La Bâtarde), her writing, her style, and her attempts and later small victories in getting published:
“ Thérèse et Isabelle formed the first section of a novel, Ravages, which Leduc presented to the publisher Gallimard in 1954. Judged “scandalous,” this work was censored by the publisher. . . . In its original version, Ravages was intended to retrace the three love stories of its heroine, Thérèse. These were inspired by, if not calqued on, the three liaisons that had marked Leduc’s youth . . .”
The first of these liaisons was a “carnal coupling with a fellow schoolgirl.” And that’s basically what the book is about. A schoolgirl, Thérèse, who envies and claims to hate another girl, Isabelle, and who then wind up fingering each other (and more) in Isabelle’s bed (among other places). (The manuscript even made Raymond Queneau, then a member of Gallimard’s reading committee, nervous.)
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
This morning, PEN America released the longlist for their two annual translation prizes—the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation and the PEN Translation Prize (for prose.)
I’m going to start by listing the PEN Translation Prize longlist, which includes an Open Letter title! This has never happened before, so I’m a little extra jazzed up today. (I’ll do the poetry separately, probably with fewer comments, since I’m a philistine.)
And yes, I know you could click the link above and get most of this same information, but I wanted to include links to all the books on the press’s actual websites, instead of the listings on Amazon/IndieBound. Plus, I thought I’d add some commentary.
The Sound of Our Steps by Ronit Matalon, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company)
Prior to this announcement, all I knew about this book is that the review copy is sitting next to Kaija’s desk awaiting assignment and that Dalya Bilu is a translation bad ass. Now I know that it features “Sammy, a gentle giant, almost blind, but a genius with welding.”
The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (New Directions)
Is this the odds-on favorite to win? Yes, it is the odds-on favorite to win. (Especially since somehow Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth didn’t make it. That was the biggest shocker to me.)
The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin, translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
I wasn’t a huge fan of Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik (see this review), but I liked the Ice Trilogy more than most (and went bonkers with this piece) and fully intend to read this book. During a Rochester blizzard, naturally. With a lot of vodka. As you do. That said, can we finally get past this zombie thing? I’m so over it. I blame that Walking Dead abomination of a TV show for keeping this trend going way too long. Zombies are like the dabbing of monster tropes—now that Jerry Richardson is doing it, it’s not cool anymore.
Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell (AmazonCrossing)
This is huge for two reasons: It’s the first time I’ve seen an AmazonCrossing book up for a big translation award, and Bae Suah is about eleven months from taking the world by storm. (We’re bringing out her next novel next fall and everyone is going to go apeshit over it.) I love Bae and Sora Kim-Russell, which is why this is probably the most pleasant surprise to see on the list. I actually reviewed this one for list: Books from Korea.
The Game for Real by Richard Weiner, translated from the Czech by Benjamin Paloff (Two Lines Press)
Super intrigued by this title, which has been on my to read shelf for a while. Benjamin Paloff is a great translator, and the cover is pretty intriguing. I’m always attracted to books that are categorized as “dreamlike, anxiety-ridden fiction.” Which is maybe why my anxiety levels are so damn high. We should translate more sedate literature. Books about cats, perhaps.
Sphinx by Anne Garréta, ranslated from the French by Emma Ramadan (Deep Vellum Publishing)
Deep Vellum opened a bookstore yesterday! They also finally updated their website! Also, this is the first novel by a female member of the Oulipo to be translated into English. It will probably make the shortlist on that fact alone.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, translated from the Russian by Oliver Ready (Penguin Classic)
Just what the world needs now! A new translation of a Dostoevsky novel to go along with all the other new translations of Dostoevsky novels! I’m sure it’s great! But I’ll personally never read this book again. One and done, like Kentucky basketball.
The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Open Letter Books)
This should win. Obviously. Also, you can buy it now via our website for 40% off. Just use the code “BookSeason” at checkout.
Hollow Heart by Viola Di Grado, translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar (Europa Editions)
Another book I’m not familiar with, although I’m pretty sure that my heart is hollow. And filled with rage. I once met Antony in Turin, which is an incredible city. Watch, this is the book that will win, mostly because I’m too lazy to look up the description.
Paris Nocturne by Patrick Modiano, translated from the French by Phoebe Weston-Evans (Yale University Press/Margellos World Republic of Letters)
So many Modiano books! I went on and on about this on the last podcast, but my god are there so many of his books coming out. From so many presses! I’m actually looking forward to reading this and the one from HMH, but I’ll pass on the Other Press one. (Hey look, no Other Press books on the list!)
Kaija Straumanis (our editor!) has won the 2015 AATSEEL award for the Best Translation into English for her translation from the Latvian of High Tide by Inga Ābele!
This isn’t on the AATSEEL website yet, but it was shared on the listserv, so I’m deciding that it’s public knowledge.
I’ll say more about the book in a minute, but first, I encourage you to click on that link above and see the competition that Kaija was up against. In terms of translators, Ellen Elias-Bursac, Marian Schwartz, Sean Cotter, Bill Johnston, Ross Ufberg, Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, Eugene Ostashevsky, and many more were finalists. Basically the cream of the crop when it comes to Eastern European and Slavic translators!
And the other authors! Books by Dostoevsky, Marek Hlasko, Vasily Grossman, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Tolstoy, are all on the list.
To be honest, I have no idea how this award is judged—based on the translation alone, or a combination of book and translation like the BTBAs. Either way, it’s amazing that Kaija and Inga won!
In terms of the book, here’s our jacket copy:
Told more or less in reverse chronological order, High Tideis the story of Ieva, her dead lover, her imprisoned husband, and the way their youthful decisions dramatically impacted the rest of their lives. Taking place over three decades, High Tide functions as a sort of psychological mystery, with the full scope of Ieva’s personal situation—and the relationship between the three main characters—only becoming clear at the end of the novel.
One of Latvia’s most notable young writers, Ābele is a fresh voice in European fiction—her prose is direct, evocative, and exceptionally beautiful. The combination of strikingly lush descriptive writing with the precision with which she depicts the minds of her characters elevates this novel from a simple story of a love triangle into a fascinating, philosophical, haunting book.
It’s also worth noting that this was Kaija’s MA thesis here at the University of Rochester, which makes this all that more special, I think.
Everyone should send Kaija a congratulatory email, and purchase a copy of the book. If you buy it through out website, use the code “BookSeason” at check out and you’ll receive 40% off!
This is turning into a great week for Open Letter, our books, and our staff!Tweet
Jeremy Garber is the events coordinator for Powell’s Books and also a freelance reviewer. He is also currently serving on the BTBA judging panel.
Here’s a peek at Jeremy’s review:
Devastating, desolate, and disquieting, Rafael Chirbes’s On the Edge (En la orilla) ought to rank as one of the decade’s finest novels. First published in its original Spanish in 2013, On the Edge was awarded both Spain’s National Prize for Literature and the Critics Prize the following year. The Spanish novelist (who passed away in August at the age of 66) is the author of nine published novels—with a tenth due out posthumously. While billed as his English language debut, On the Edge was actually preceded in translation by Mimoun, Chirbes’s first novel, published some 22 years ago by Serpent’s Tail (and out of print since).
Set in late 2010, following the economic crisis that ravaged the Spanish economy (as well as many others around the world), On the Edge offers an unflinching glimpse of a nation despoiled and reeling. An unemployment rate of 20% (and rising), poverty, prostitution, xenophobia, Islamophobia, immigration fears, human trafficking, violence, corruption, and environmental decay are the real-life milieu upon which Chirbes situates his unforgiving tale. Septuagenarian Esteban, tasked with end-of-life care for his terminally ill father and burdened with the stresses of his recently bankrupted carpentry workshop (and impending legal charges resulting therefrom), recounts his life, as well as his myriad failures, disappointments, and betrayals, through an unrelenting series of recollections and dirge-like soliloquies.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Jason Grunebaum, senior lecturer at the University of Chicago, and translator from the Hindi. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.
When November turns to December, and foreboding over sinking temperatures and greying Midwestern skies is followed by a fear of even colder, starker days to come, suddenly and possibly forever, and when this fear leads one’s thoughts to turn further inward, toward self-absorption, toward the soul, to questions of pride and guilt, joy and innocence, and choices that make life worth living, or not, one could do far worse in raveling and unraveling these questions than taking a night walk through snowy, moody Paris with the impulsive, talkative Changarnier, his co-walker Violette, encountering with them along the way a little man, a police captain, a witness to a murder, and confessed confessions, both real and imaginary, for crimes, equally fuzzy whether true, against self and others, all courtesy of Emmanuel Bove’s 1932 novella A Raskolnikoff, translated by Mitchell Abidor, with an introduction by Brian Evenson, and published by Red Dust.
Changarnier is a lonely man with worn shoes living in a squalid room who’s visited one evening by Violette, frail and dressed in a ragged, dyed rabbit coat. He berates her for her wretchedness one moment, and idealizes her the very next, proclaims his love, asks for her faith in him. She takes both pronouncements in stride, and accedes to his suggestion for fresh air out in the open. The oxygen activates his brain:
[That] boundlessness above the city’s limits, above human order and constructions, seemed to him to be a spectacle, a spectacle that contrasted with the world in which he found himself. He understood that there was an immensity which he was not part of, that no one was part of, and since no one was part of it, he understood that beneath the magnificent sky, on this overpopulated earth, it belonged to whoever knew how to get by. For a brief moment he saw himself to be a brother of the happy, of the unhappy, of the rich, of the ill. He resembled all these men, and this feeling gave him a shiver of joy. But it seemed to him that all these people had reasoned the same way before he did, and that was why they had been able to seize a portion of the happiness of this world while he hadn’t been able to.
“Walk faster,” he said to Violette, who was struggling behind him.
“But where are we going?” she asked, for she was getting tired of being outside.
“I don’t know. We’re walking straight ahead with the hope that something will happen to us.
These micro-reversals of the mind in quick succession are the sparks that keep the novella’s pace lively, and are emblematic of the “some things” that soon do indeed happen to the two. A stop in a café leads to discussion of possibly joining the Foreign Legion, possibly becoming an usherette in a theatre, maybe saving payday money for splurges on restaurants and hotel beds and cigarettes.
A carelessly broken glass prompts an altercation with the café owner, a tense exit from the café, and the expansion of the duo to a triad with the entrance of the Little Man, witness of everything, who offers classified information about the true identity of the café owner. (Changarnier is nonplussed; Violette is upset). The Little Man decides to tag along.
Soon Changarnier is upset, and imagines killing the Little Man, who refuses to get lost. His upset quickly transforms into a fantasy of homicide. At the dream trial for the dream killing, Changarnier recounts in horror as the court sides with the dead Little Man. “In this dream, death didn’t prevent him from being real. On the contrary, it made him look like a victim, a martyr, and consequently he attracted everyone’s sympathy and protection.”
The Little Man soon confesses to the crime of uxoricide, which he got away with but has forever trapped him. “I’m aware that I will remain miserable for the rest of my life. No joy will ever warm my heart. No happiness is accessible to me. I’m not capable of attaining the only one that’s reserved to me, that of expiation. What’s left for me? Repentance.”
The two shake the Little Man, but Changarnier must repent, too, for a heinous crime he insists he committed. Violetta is baffled. Now possessed with the goal of turning himself over the authorities, Changarnier happily walks into a crowd of cops on the lookout at that moment for someone guilty of something.
He is hauled in, but not without a fight. The final section of the novella describes a cat-and-mouse interrogation down at the station, with Changarnier claiming his struggle was because he wanted to give himself up. “I tried to flee in order to run to you, to turn myself in,” he insists. The police captain is not amused.
What makes this novella so delightful is the feeling that Notes from the Underground and Crime and Punishment have been distilled to a 104-page novella: the character unpredictability and looking-glass morality, detail-driven mood and quickly shifting intrigue.
Perhaps this was the very challenge Emmanuel Bove gave himself. Doubtless he wrote the book in winter, the very season you ought to pick it up, too.
[Note from Chad: If you’re interested in Bove, you should also check out _Henri Duchemin and His Shadows, which came out in July from NYRB.]Tweet
Somehow I convinced myself that the official release date for info on this year’s National Endowment for the Arts Awards was on Thursday instead of yesterday, otherwise this would’ve been online earlier.
Anyway, here’s the official press release with my comments below:
National Endowment for the Arts Awards More Than $27.6 Million Across Nation
Includes $30,000 awarded to Open Letter Books.
Rochester, NY—In its first 50 years, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded more than $5 billion in grants to recipients in every state and U.S. jurisdiction, the only arts funder in the nation to do so. Today, the NEA announced awards totaling more than $27.6 million in its first funding round of fiscal year 2016, including an Art Works award of $30,000 to Open Letter Books to publish four works of literature in translation.
The Art Works category supports the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts through 13 arts disciplines or fields.
NEA Chairman Jane Chu said, “The arts are part of our everyday lives—no matter who you are or where you live—they have the power to transform individuals, spark economic vibrancy in communities, and transcend the boundaries across diverse sectors of society. Supporting projects like the one from Open Letter Books offers more opportunities to engage in the arts every day.”
“The NEA’s funding to Open Letter is one of the key reasons for our continued success,” stated Chad W. Post, founder and director of Open Letter. “It allows us to continue to introduce English readers to important and innovative voices from around the world, both by helping subsidize the costs of translation, and by allowing us to do additional marketing for these books.”
The four titles included in this project are: The Brother by Rein Raud, translated from the Estonian by Adam Cullen (Estonia), One of Us Is Sleeping by Josefine Klougart, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken (Denmark), Gesell Dome by Guillermo Saccomanno, translated from the Spanish by Andrea Labinger (Argentina), and Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lucio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa (Brazil). All four titles will be published in 2016, and both Josefine Klougart and Guillermo Saccomanno will go on reading tours in the fall.
To join the Twitter conversation about this announcement, please use #NEAFall15. For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, go to arts.gov.
To see the complete list of grantees by category, download this PDF. Here are some of the highlights that I think Three Percent readers will most be interested in:
Center for the Art of Translation: $35,000
Coffee House Press: $65,000
Graywolf Press: $80,000
Milkweed Editions: $50,000
Archipelago Books: $70,000
Words Without Borders: $30,000
Rain Taxi Review of Books: $10,000
Ugly Duckling Presse: $15,000
White Pine Press: $15,000
Nightboat Books: $10,000
Feminist Press at CUNY: $55,000
BOA Editions: $25,000
Copper Canyon Press: $70,000
Our grant for 2016 isn’t quite as high as the one for 2015, which makes it even more important than ever to donate to Open Letter so that we can continue to offer internships, maintain the Translation Database, pay translators a decent rate, introduce readers to international voices, run the Three Percent website, administer the Best Translated Book Award, and provide numerous benefits (tangible and not) to book culture as a whole. Without significant support, we won’t be able to keep all of these things going, so please consider donating to us. Every dollar helps.Tweet
That post was a bit bleak, talking about a 15% reduction in the number of works of fiction and poetry published in 2015 when compared to 2014.1
Since that went live, a lot of things happened. As always, I encourage people (publishers, translators, readers, booksellers, cultural organizations) to let me know if there are any missing titles. That happens regularly, although not all of the titles submitted actually turn out to be eligible. On Friday, the entire narrative changed.
In that initial post, I wrote about how the top ten publishers of translations—especially AmazonCrossing and Dalkey Archive—didn’t do as many books in 2015 as 2014, which explains a huge chunk of the decline. On Friday, a PR person for Amazon told me that I was missing a ton of AmazonCrossing titles. Eventually she sent me a list of all the books they published in 2015.2
Now, a few days later, the situation has changed dramatically. Let’s start with the basics:
According to the most current version of the database, in 2014, 600 works of fiction and poetry were published for the first time—502 works of fiction, 98 of poetry.
Right now, I’ve identified 549 titles that came out in 2015—468 works of fiction, 81 of poetry. That’s a drop off of 8.5%, which isn’t as bad at the previously reported 15%, but is still something.
Looking closer at 2014: 202 publishers brought out at least one new work of fiction or poetry in translation, and these titles were translated from 49 different languages and authors hailing from 73 different countries.
In 2015, only 151 presses brought out an eligible translation, with the books published being translated from 48 different languages by authors from 79 countries.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to investigate the 51 presses who fell off the list, and hopefully I’ll uncover a couple dozen more titles. For the sake of this post, I’m going to put that aside, since there’s no clear indication that I’m missing a(nother) huge chunk of books.
Let’s look closer at the publishers though, since that’s where things get interesting (in my opinion). Here are the top 10 publishers in 2014:
Dalkey Archive 30
Seagull Books 21
Europa Editions 19
Gallic Books 16
Other Press 15
New Directions 13
K A Nitz 11
Those presses account for 191 titles, or 32% of all the counted titles.
Dalkey Archive 25
New Directions 20
Seagull Books 16
Gallic Books 13
Le French 11
Open Letter 10
These presses account for 202 titles, or 37% of the grand total.
But what obviously stands out is Amazon, sitting up there with 75 titles—three times more than the next press. Three times! They make up almost 14% of all the translations included on their own. That’s incredible.
So, why is there a decrease between these two years? From a cursory glance at these reports (I’ll do more later, when I’m not exhausted, half-sick, and watching football), it seems like fewer presses did translations in 2015, and the ones that usually do the most fell off just a bit. I’m not sure why . . . Might be because the market isn’t supporting a lot of the smaller presses that have been doing two or three translations a year, so they cut back to one or zero. I know Dalkey switched distributors and locations this year, which is obviously going to throw things off for a bit. Kerri Nitz told me that he had to slow down on his translation and publishing project this year because of a move. It happens. And hopefully this is just a fluctuation, not a trend.
But if there’s one thing that we could do to change this, it’s to buy more works of international literature and to get people who don’t usually read international lit to but one or two books. If all of these books sold an additional 250 copies on average, things would most certainly change. This is especially true of small, independent, nonprofit presses. If we sold 250 more copies of each of our books, I might actually be happy and less neurotic.
Also, without making too big of a deal out of it, I want to point out that it takes a lot of work to keep up this database. It’s not part of my official job, and it’s not something that we as an organization are obliged to maintain and share. But we do. For free. I spend most of my day working on this because I think it’s important for the literary community. And although I’m always tempted to lock it down and charge for access ($10 a year? $100 for institutions?), I can’t bring myself to do it.
Open Letter is a nonprofit, which means a few things to me. Most importantly, I think a nonprofit should do things to benefit culture as a whole. Yes, we need to sell books and reach as many readers as possible—it’s not like we can just do whatever we want and live off of donations. But I personally believe nonprofit presses should be doing some things that aren’t financially motivated. It could be offering internships to high school and college students. Giving away books to correctional facilities. Hosting free public workshops or bringing authors to communities that aren’t New York and don’t often have access to professional writers. Or, maybe, providing a database of international literature and trying to support the field as a whole. Nonprofits should be good literary citizens.
That said, we obviously need donations to survive. We don’t get nearly the amount that we need (no one ever does, I know), but for something like this, it would be great if literary patrons would consider donating to Open Letter to ensure that we can continue to publish and promote this database. It’s something I want to continue to do, for everyone, but a bit of financial support would go a long way.
1 What I track in the database are all the works of fiction and poetry published in translation for the first time ever. Just to make sure there’s no confusion, I’m going to expand this footnote to explain that is and isn’t included. I don’t currently track non-fiction, graphic novels, manga, or children’s books. Just fiction and poetry. New translations (even if they’ve never been published before) of books previous available in an English translation are not included. If a collected poems comes out and more than half of the poems are available in other, previously published volumes, I don’t include it. All books in the database have ISBNs and/or are registered in WorldCat. They are available for sale in the U.S. through normal distribution methods (bookstores can order them), although the presses don’t have to be based here. The key: Fiction and poetry ONLY, and books that have never been available in any prior English translation.
This isn’t a reflection of ALL translations being published, since there are a significant number of new translations and reissues coming out every year. And a significant number of nonfiction books. (Probably.) Take it for what it is. If we got any money whatsoever for doing this, we might be able to expand it. But the situation being what it is—note that I just spend four hours on a Sunday working on it—I’m doing the best I can.
2 I don’t want my musings/jokes to overrun the story above, so I’ll put them here. First off, the initial email from Amazon simply stated that my reporting was wrong. They were publishing 76 titles this year. (This wasn’t quite accurate—she missed a few titles and included a book of essays and one by an Australian originally written in English.) Without actually listing the titles [insert joke about Amazon not being great with sharing actual data], it was kind of hard to figure out what was missing, what had gone wrong.
I use two sources for info on what AmazonCrossing is publishing: a monthly email from their team with links to review copies, and this website. Maybe someone reading this will really “get” the Crossing site, but I don’t. It’s totally fine, but figuring out what books to add to the database requires clicking on those “new release” options on the left every 30 or 90 days, and checking all the titles there against what’s already been logged. There’s no quarterly catalog, no easy way to do this. And when they’re doing so many books, it’s quite a bit of work.
What’s weird to me, what I want to make fun of, is that I’ve sent updates of the database to over 200 publishers (including Amazon) on multiple occasions this year. That’s one of the ways I find out what’s missing. As recent as two weeks ago, Amazon said nothing about titles missing from the official list, although they did respond with submissions for the Best Translated Book Award. Which is fine, except that I feel like people in charge of PR should be doing PR for their books, such as by telling a website focused on international literature about the books they’re publishing. That would be nice. Because I can tell you, having gone through all of the titles they’ve published, I’ve seen almost no attention whatsoever for these books. I’ve been a long-time supporter of this particular aspect of Amazon, praising the fact that they’re doing the books other presses ignore (romance in translation, for example) and giving jobs to translators.
But it would be so much better if people were discussing these books! Sure, there aren’t many outlets reviewing translations at all, and I’m sure there’s a widespread bias against books coming out from Amazon, but I also don’t think they’re doing all that they can to get the word out within the existing community of people interested in international literature. (Although I want to point out that they do a great job working with ALTA and advertising at the annual conference.) Maybe they don’t need to, instead relying on direct marketing to readers. But I feel like more could be done, and it’s sort of unfair to some of these books. (Like Bae Suah’s Nowhere to Be Found.)
Basically, what I really want is a PDF catalog describing all of their titles. It would make my life easier and I am selfish.Tweet
A couple weeks ago, Chad and Tom recorded a podcast about a slew of recent events, including ALTA 38, the Albertine Festival, the “New Literature from Europe Festival, Wordstock, and the Texas Book Festival. Unfortunately, that podcast—one of the best ever recorded—had to be tossed because of technical difficulties. So, this week they talked about some of the same stuff and some new stuff (like Jessica Jones).
As a bit of a tease, here’s a list of all the books and stuff they discussed in the “lost epidose”:
Knausgaard’s review of Submission
My Struggle in _You’re the Worst.
The Pushkin Vertigo series
The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell
The Large Glass by Mario Bellatin
Home by Leila Chudori
Radiant Terminus by Antoine Volodine
Gesell Dome by Guillermo Saccomanno
All the books from Chad’s spring class
And this short film about Mario Bellatin
This week’s music is Seventeen by Sjowgren.
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This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Tom Roberge from New Directions, Albertine Books, and the Three Percent Podcast. He’s not actually a BTBA judge, but since he’s helping run the whole process, he thought he’d weigh in and post as well. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.
I’m just back from seeing Houellebecq’s new cover, Submission, and am writing you to try to make sense of it. My first impression is that it’s asking the viewer to do a lot of work. And I’m not entirely sure it’s successful, commercially, to have taken this approach, but it has been taken and here we are.
The canvas is bleached white, the material left untreated. No gloss. No coating at all. The visual elements consist mostly—with one enigmatic exception—of black text, all in the same elegantly simplistic serif font employed with a few variations on style and formatting. SUBMISSION itself appears in all capital letters, centered horizontally (as is all of the text). It’s also the largest of the words on the canvas, sitting atop the others in an obvious position of primacy. Below this are the words A NOVEL, also in all caps, but so much smaller that it seems almost inessential, a presumed fact, perhaps, or, on the other hand, something no one particularly cares if the viewer incorporates into the overall message. On either side of these two words, stretching to the width of the word SUBMISSION, are thin black lines that serve to separate SUBMISSION from the text below. Bracketing A NOVEL in between these division lines only further enhances the impression that the proviso was included reluctantly. That said, I admit the possibility that rather than it being a bit player in the visual drama unfolding, it might be the most subtly important clue to understanding the assemblage, a nuanced sort of knowing nod, the artist saying, basically, “I know you know it’s a novel; no need to shout.” I’m unsure. Beneath the line is Michel Houellebecq’s name, centered, with his first and last names occupying their own lines. Michel is formatted slightly smaller than Houellebecq, the latter of which is in all caps while the former is not. It seems obvious that the artist wanted HOUELLEBECQ to be as large as possible within the decided-upon design, by which I mean that it couldn’t be wider than the word SUBMISSION above. The length of the name prevents an equivalent size, and so the result is that it’s smaller. Alas. My eyes, for what’s it worth, are consistently drawn to the tail on the capital Q at the end of HOUELLEBECQ. It seems, to me, to be somewhat ostentatious, as though the font was largely designed with great restraint, apart for a few flourishes, this Q included. Lacking any other tailed letters, this Q stands out and hints at a certain disassociative quality to the work. Below HOUELLEBECQ is another line, and beneath that, in nearly the same size font as A NOVEL above, is a line that reads AUTHOR OF, and below that, in a slightly larger although still quite small all-caps letters (the three words don’t span the width of the words SUBMISSION or HOUELLEBECQ) is a previous work’s title, THE ELEMENTARY PARTICLES. All of these elements, I should add, are debossed, which definitely made me smile to myself when I realized this fact. Submission, recession, blending in… there’s something playful happening here, and I appreciate it.
There is one remaining design element to mention, one that, even as I write, I’m still trying to make sense of. Stretching from the top of the frame to the bottom, edge to edge, is a thin red line. Writing that phrase (thin red line), made me, just now, think of the Terrance Malick film, which led me to the Internet for a few minutes of research on the possible origins and meaning of the term and, perhaps, I’d hoped, an indication to its visual manifestation here. (You see what I mean about asking the viewer to do a lot of work?) Wikipedia’s page on “Red Line (Phrase)” includes the following in its “Thin Red Line” subsection:
From British English, an entirely different figure of speech for an act of great courage against impossible order or thinly spread military unit holding firm against attack, a or the “thin red line”, originates from reports of a red-coated Scottish regiment at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. A journalist described a “thin red streak tipped with a line of steel” with the appearance of the 93rd (Highland) Regiment and parts of the Turkish army as they stood before (and repelled) a vastly superior force of Russian cavalry. The reference soon became apocopated into the thin red line, and famously described by Rudyard Kipling in the poem “Tommy” as “the thin red line of ‘eroes [heroes].”
Is it safe to assume the artist’s intention was an allusion to this sort of militaristic framework? I mean, it’s never safe to assume such things, but we do it all the time. We’re incapable of refraining.
Having gotten these thoughts down in writing, I am still of the opinion that the cover shirks some of its responsibilities in terms of providing context or access points. But to be fair to the artist, a lot of that work has been done by the media, which has repeated Houellebecq’s name and the title and a brief (if perhaps inaccurate) summary of the work ad nauseam over the last year or so. Its fame precedes itself, as they say. And so the artist needs only to convey the bare essentials, to remind viewers of certain recent events, of discussions and articles and pictorial cues that may have already left a deep impression on the viewer. It’s communication via nudging. Everything else—the debossed text, the thin red line—is fun and games, a friendly wink to the cognoscenti.
I think I like it.Tweet
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. . .
Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so. . .
Heiner Resseck, the protagonist in Monika Held’s thought-provoking, first novel, This Place Holds No Fear, intentionally re-lives his past every hour of every day. His memories are his treasures, more dear than the present or future. What wonderful past eclipses. . .
If you’ve ever worked in a corporate office, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Perception is reality.” To Björn, the office worker who narrates Jonas Karlsson’s novel The Room, the reality is simple: there’s a door near the bathroom that leads. . .
I recently listened to Three Percent Podcast #99, which had guest speaker Julia Berner-Tobin from Feminist Press. In addition to the usual amusement of finally hearing both sides of the podcast (normally I just hear parts of Chad’s side. . .
Let’s not deceive ourselves, man is nothing very special. In fact, there are so many of us that our governments don’t know what to do with us at all. Six billion humans on the planet and only six or seven. . .
“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“And this—what. . .
Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .
In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:
When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .