26 February 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Every spring, I teach a class on “World Literature & Translation” in which we read ~10 new translations, talk to as many of the translators as possible, and then the students have to choose one of the books to win their imaginary “Best Translated Book Award.” It’s a great exercise—trying to explain why they want to choose one book over another opens up a ton of different ideas about translation, international literature, readership, etc.—and a fantastic way for me to try and keep up with the important books that are coming out.

In choosing which titles to include, I try and hit as many different languages/countries as possible, and include as many publishers as I can. It’s not quite as varied and diverse as it could be, but for students who have generally only read some of the classics of world literature, this is their first real exposure to contemporary world literature.

It’s interesting to look at the titles in the class as a whole and see what sorts of themes just happen to run throughout. For example, here are the titles I’m using this semester [WARNING: SOME SPOILERS]:

Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba (Kids in an orphanage who end up ripping apart the main character.)

History of a Disappearance by Filip Springer (Fairly depressing history of a German/Polish town that totally falls apart and ends up sinking into the ground.)

Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo (About the modernization of Madagascar and includes some disgusting torture scenes, a bunch of Christians being tossed of a cliff, and a rather unhappy ending.)

Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo (One young student murders another.)

Book of the Dead by Orikuchi Shinobu (A murdered prince comes back to life and thinks he sees his lover at a temple.)

Wolf Hunt by Ivailo Petrov (After fairly tough lives, a bunch of Bulgarians go out hunting and several of them die and/or are murdered.)

Notes of a Crocodile by Qui Miaojin (Young girl growing up, embracing her lesbian identity. Author killed herself.)

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska (Siamese twins growing up in Yugoslavia during the war. One of the two dies during an operation to separate them.)

I Am the Brother of XX by Fleur Jaeggy (Stories that, according to the jacket copy, are “seething with quiet violence.” Includes one story about tormented siblings in a Swiss boarding school.)

Compass by Mathias Énard (Narrator lies in bed with his memories, suffering from a fatal illness.)

Oraefi: The Wastelands by Ófeigur Sigurdsson (A man goes on a grueling expedition to an Icelandic glacier, returns broken and barely alive.

The Bottom of the Sky by Rodrigo Fresán (About two boys who grow up as part of the burgeoning science-fiction community in the 1940s.)

Those are some bleak sounding books! With the exception of the Fresán these all sound like downers (or at least intellectually heavy), and almost all of them involve bad things happening to children. One of my students asked the other day when we were going to read a book that didn’t make her cry . . . Like, I guess, never? WORLD LITERATURE IS NOT ABOUT JOY! IT’S ABOUT WORLD WARS AND SUFFERING!

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I know I’m being a little facetious, and I assume that if I had dug more into the Translation Database I could’ve found a few titles that were a bit more uplifting. Like . . . um . . . The only books that come to mind are Grossman’s A Horse Walks into a Bar and Echenoz’s Special Envoy. Clearly, there must be others that I’m just not familiar with, but it’s hard to deny that there’s a trend among translators and serious publishers of translations to focus on “weighty,” “heady,” “important” texts. Just look at the recipients of this year’s PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants who are translating fiction:

Lindy Falk van Rooyen for her translation of contemporary Danish writer Mich Vraa’s Hope:

Set in the period from 1787 to 1825, Hope tells the intertwined tales of a Danish humanist commissioned to report on the slave trade in the former Danish West Indies, and a fifteen-year-old girl conceived during a mutiny on the slave ship “The Hope.”


Bruce Fulton and Ju-Chan Fulton for their fine translation from the Korean of One Left, a novel by Sum Kim, published in 2016:

Sum Kim’s important novel is the first Korean novel devoted exclusively to the subject of comfort women. During World War II 200,000 Korean girls, ages 12-16 were forced into sexual servitude to the Japanese forces.


Michael Gluck, for his agile and energetic translation from the Russian of Matisse by Alexander Ilichevsky:

Matisse hearkens back to the great 19th century Russian philosophical novels, with great yarns spun by unsavory characters that sparkle with the language of the heavens and the language of the streets (literally—the protagonist is a theoretical physicist who abandons his former life to be a bum)


Mariam Rahmani for her translation from the Farsi of Mahsa Mohebali’s Don’t Worry:

This novel, published in 2008, follows a wealthy, disillusioned junkie as she makes her away through Tehran on a day punctuated by earthquakes.


Aaron Robertson for his spirited translation from the Italian of a provocative and expansive contemporary novel by Igiaba Scego, an Italian-Somali writer from Rome:

This novel, Beyond Babylon, spans three centuries as it explores the lingering aftershocks of Italy’s colonial interventionism in Somalia and Afghanistan.


Julia Sanches for her translation from the Spanish of Slash and Burn by Claudia Hernández:

Although Hernández hails from El Salvador, this direct and unsensationalized novel about a nameless woman’s post-war struggles to secure a better life for herself and her daughters is set in a nameless country.


Jamie Lee Searle for her translation from the German of Valerie Fritsch’s novel Winter’s Garden:

This masterful translation of the young Austrian poet and prose writer’s prize-winning novel brilliantly captures its complexity, originality, and stylistic tour-de-force. Winter’s Garden brings together a fascinating juxtaposition of utopia and dystopia, mixing the idyllic with the apocalyptic.


Ri J. Turner for her moving translation from the Hebrew of Fischel Schneerson’s seminal Yiddish novel, Chaim Gravitzer:

Chaim Gravitzer is an epic of Eastern European Chasidic life, written over nearly twenty years by Schneerson, himself an initiate in the world of Chasidism and a secular psychologist.


A lot of these sound really interesting, but with a couple of exceptions, they don’t necessarily sound fun. These are the sort of books that Sessalee Hensley from Barnes & Noble envisions when you tell her a book is translated—dry, European, challenging, medicinal. It’s quite possible that these books are incredibly joyous to read, but the way that they’re described . . . Most of them sound like books you feel you should read, not necessarily the book you’d zone out with on the beach.

This isn’t to say that these books aren’t valuable, stylistically amazing, really gripping, emotional, etc. It’s just that I think there’s a sort of weird bias at work in the translation world, where we favor the serious over the entertaining, and this might be hampering the “brand,” so to speak. If you’re a casual reader—not someone who is anxiously anticipating the next volume of My Struggle or who is deep into mid-century Russian literature—you’re much more likely to buy a book that sounds fun, enjoyable, a diversion, humorous. Where are these translations?

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(Not the final cover!)


Sure, I know I’m being a bit reductive—and definitely play a role in this whole situation—but it is a bit odd to look at my “to read” shelves and see so many foreign books that look dense and depressing, versus so many books written in English that seem much more escapist in nature. Which is why, for this week’s 2018 translation, I decided to read Abrupt Mutations by Enrique Luis Revol, translated from the Spanish by Priscilla Hunter.

I’ve never heard of Revol, but a “Menippean satire of the cosmopolitan west in the sixties, detailing hilariously but humanely the lives of intellectual and artistic émigré’s” sounded so refreshing after all the bleak books that I’ve been reading. (Including The Stone Building and Other Places by Asli Erdogan, the subject of next week’s post.) Besides, I generally have faith in Dalkey Archive’s editorial vision. Like with any press, there are some titles that sound deadly to me, but John O’Brien has always been great at finding obscure classics that are unique in style, voice, subject matter. These books are frequently operating way outside of the current literary trends, which is why they’re rarely buzzed about in the normal Twitter-circles, but are also incredibly refreshing to read.

And Abrupt Mutations is the most Dalkey book that I’ve read in a long time. It’s so very 1970s in terms of its approach—the narrative is wild, a bit slapdash, incomplete in almost every way—and its general sense of humor. This is a book that no other press would ever publish, and a good justification for why different presses should have different editorial visions. The literary world is a richer place when we’re not all in a bidding war for the same book.

I’m at a loss of how exactly to talk about this book. One idea is to compare the differences between Revol’s fragmented narrative and that of Empty Set. The second I started Empty Set, I knew that it would play really well with all the translation-friendly booksellers. Bicecci’s novel is broken up into little components, but they all are written with the same sort of voice and emotional self-importance. It’s the sort of book that makes you feel like it’s more important than it really is, and gives you a sort of reading adrenaline-boost as you piece everything together. I found it a bit precious and tiresome, but it’s exactly the sort of book that a lot of readers gravitate toward. Unusual, but not too unusual.

By contrast, you can piece together the narrative of Abrupt Mutations, more or less, but it keeps, well, mutating, and doesn’t really come together into the sort of satisfying whole that most readers are looking for. The first part (which makes up more than half of the book) introduces the reader to a ton of academics, artists, heiresses, self-involved poets, and the like, each one as easy to ridicule as the last. Their lives and loves are interwoven, and they’re all heading toward a going away potlatch for O Jango, a multimillionaire who’s going to burn all his expensive works of art before heading back to Brazil.

The main event in terms of the novel’s plot, I guess, is that at this crazy party, Kiki (a short story writer and puffed up crap academic of kitsch) sees his ex-wife Celia making love to another woman, which weirdly freaks him out. An accident involving the bed’s curtains takes place and the two women go up in flames as part of the ritual bonfire of O Jango’s possessions.

At this same party, Kiki gets together with an old professor and they decide to get married. (Because why not?) In Part Three, he goes with her to Brazil to search for a heretofore unknown jungle tribe of descendents from eighteenth-century French adventurers. The image of a bunch of pasty white people living in the middle of Brazil with powdered wigs smoking crazy ass drugs is a pretty fun one, even if it doesn’t really seem to connect to any sort of overarching plot.

The second part—probably my favorite—is about Chief Nobodaddy (a sly reference to another Dalkey title) trying to solve the mystery of O Jango’s party. This part mostly consists of reproducing O Jango’s notebook of who to invite to the party, which is both cutting and fairly entertaining, calling to mind some of the more savage bits of Gilbert Sorrentino’s writings.

Roslyn Lupescu.

Twenty-five.

When you look at her, the first thing you say is: commonplace.

She’s the woman whose high heel always breaks in the subway as she’s about to board the train.

The woman who is out to be modern, but really only wants to do housework, surrounded by stinking, squealing kiddies while she tortures a dutifully bovine husband for years.

The woman who reads books she doesn’t understand. And respectfully stops to look at pictures she doesn’t like.

The woman who smiles but doesn’t really want to, ever. Who is envious and doesn’t realize that she envies anyone.


I also really like this one:

Troika Soares.

Fifty-eight years old.

She believes there exists an obligation for everyone to always be happy. To that point, her friend Trinidad, in a witty remark I would never have believed her capably of uttering if I hadn’t heard it with my own ears, gave the best description of Troika ever. Trinidad was complaining about her and said: “Oh, no! Just think, as soon as Troika gets here, we will all have to keep laughing.”


This book is basically a hodge-podge of character sketches that end up parodying a number of different artistic and academic ideologies that were probably more prominent in the 1970s than they are today. (If I didn’t mention this already, the book was originally published in Spanish in 1971.) That sort of 70s vibe definitely shows up in the treatment of women throughout the book. There are any number of cringe-worthy representations of women to cite here, with Barbara Dowd’s entire story arc being the pinnacle.

Barbara comes to Megalopolis (a stand-in for NYC) to find Nick—the man who visited her provincial town and took her virginity. Expecting the Village to be more or less like her own village, she randonly asks someone to direct her to “Nick,” and ends up finding a Nick, who quickly figures out what’s going on and takes advantage of her naivete and confusion to get her into bed. She then goes to O Jango’s party to find Nick (one or the other) and ends up being straight-up molested by Professor Orvieto, to whom O Jango, in his invitation book, refers as a hero “but mostly a lecher.”

(At this point come a new pause by the orator and the complete success of doctor Orvieto’s most recent efforts: the Scottish plaid skirt suddenly lies at the feet of our tender heroine, who contemplates with horror what she, however, still considers merely another mishap of no consequence to the outcome of her quest. But when she attempts to bend over to pick up her evasive article of clothing, she unexpectedly bumps up against some sector of Dr. Orvieto, which for its part, most naturally, is waiting for her.)


Of course, in a throwaway line it’s revealed that Barbara and Orvieto get married after the party. (So much spontaneous marriage in this book! It’s sort of a fun joke, partially through the sheer repetition of people meeting on a train, then immediately deciding to get married.)

I’m all for non-PC books (and find articles like this new Lionel Shriver piece interesting and valuable), but I can’t imagine this is going to go over that well with most readers.

I doubt this book is going to win any prizes or win over a new crowd of readers, but it was an enjoyable diversion from all the serious books I’ve been inundated with this year. It isn’t exactly laugh out loud funny—except maybe when Nick falls out the window by accident and most of his friends are unaware that he “committed suicide” for quite some time—but it’s weird and unique, and in today’s world, that’s good enough for me. As I mentioned above, next week I’m back into the sincere and serious—a book about Turkish women trapped by various power structures.

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It’s no secret that I think all the Buzzfeed/LitHub/Ozy book lists are stupid. Even if you can put aside the fact that these exist only as clickbait, the content of what’s on any given list usually just displays the list-maker’s prejudices and/or lack of awareness of the literary history of the topic at hand.

I’m too lazy to go find examples, but Google basically anything and you’ll see what I mean. Ozy (which isn’t a Superman villain?) recently ran a few “Best Chilean Fiction You NEED to Read” pieces that are as ignorant as the day is long. Being poorly read is a badge of honor in 2018 though, so who can blame them? It’s so much easier to just find two or five recent books that “everyone” has heard of and that you can slot in there to make your list feel like it’s cutting edge. I mean, fuck, Riverhead loves to retweet these kind of back pats, so you’ve at least got a fighting chance at getting a decent number of clicks and keeping your underpaid freelance position.

Anyway, Spanish-language books are such good list generators. And since I’m trying to be more popular in 2018, I figure that I should make my own list. So below is a list of the ten presses who have published the most impressive array of Spanish-language books since 2008. Is my list dumb? Do flies like shit? Is there a methodology? Duh and or obviously. My scheme: Using the PW Translation Database,1 I ran a list of all Spanish-language books in the system. Then I ranked the top 50 in inverse point order. (Top ten books get 50 points each, second group of 10 get 40, fifth get 10 a piece, etc.) Was this subjective? Is online media and book coverage a joke? On the upside, I’ve read more than 1/4 of these books, so I’m 150% more informed than the average list-maker?

Then I took the total number of presses and the total number of Spanish titles they’ve published and crafted a similar sort of numerical score. (The press with the highest number of publications got 50, then I applied a semi-standard curve so that a press who published half as many books got a 25, one-fifth as many books a 10, etc., etc.) I added together all of the press’s individual book scores, then added on the publisher score, and then ranked them. As flawed as it obviously is, at least I’m transparent about the system I’m using, and it isn’t “hey, look, here are four Spanish books in my office!”

First off, here are the ten books that received scores of 50, in alphabetical order by author last name:

2666 by Roberto Bolano, translated by Natasha Wimmer (FSG)

Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto, translated by Esther Allen (New York Review Books)

Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue, translated by Natasha Wimmer (Riverhead)

The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresan, translated by Will Vanderhyden (Open Letter)

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman (And Other Stories)

Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House)

Your Face Tomorrow: Volume Three by Javier Marias, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (New Directions)

Talking to Ourselves by Andres Neuman, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia (FSG)

The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Sarah Booker (Feminist Press)

Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Carolina De Robertis (Melville House)

There are quibbles to be had, but I’ll bet 7 of the 10 quibbles are in the 40 point range and were tough choices. Again, I know this is flawed, but I’m doing my best to set forth a system and follow it to its bitter end, so cut me as much slack as you cut those other horrible listicles.

Here are the ten presses, in descending order, who have published the most number of works translated from the Spanish since 2008: AmazonCrossing, New Directions, Dalkey Archive, Hispabooks Publishing, Open Letter, Atria, FSG, And Other Stories, Deep Vellum, HarperColins.

And here, using my janky points system, are the top ten presses for Spanish-language literature in terms of quality AND quantity:



Honorable Mention: New York Review Books (1 title, 51.16 total score)

Notable Books: Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto, translated by Esther Allen.

Commentary: If all of the NYRB retranslations of Spanish books were included here, they would definitely be ranked higher.




10. Feminist Press (4 titles, 54.65 score)

Notable Books: The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Sarah Booker (Feminist Press)

Commentary: If I liked August by Romina Paula a bit more, they would be ranked 7 or 8. But I didn’t. It’s a fine book, but there’s something about that voice—so contemporary!—that doesn’t work.




9. Melville House (6 titles, 56.98 score)

Notable Books: Bonsai by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Carolina De Robertis

Commentary: I gave The Private Lives of Trees some points, but none of the rest of Zambra’s books merited a score. I don’t care what James Wood or Scott Esposito think (correction, Scott liked Bonsai better as well, apologies to him for misremembering while writing this)—those recent Zambra books aren’t nearly as interesting. Especially not Ways of Being or My Documents. But being trendy has no connection to aesthetic value. (Whatever. I know we’ll lose the rights to our book—our best-selling title—in a year or two because he signed with the Wylie Agency, who likely believes our title can make them more money elsewhere. Such is baseball, such is life. I refuse to suck up to agents/agencies. Especially this one.2)




8. Riverhead (11 titles, 72.79 score)

Notable Books: Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue, translated by Natasha Wimmer; The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, translated by Anne McLean

Commentary: If you’re creating a metric, one of the tests for its validity is whether or not it passes the eye-test. Riverhead at 8? Seems right. Also, I included a Vasquez book in the top 50 and I think The Sound of Things Falling sucks.




7. Deep Vellum (13 titles, 75.12 score)

Notable Books: The Art of Flight by Sergio Pitol, translated by George Henson; Target in the Night by Ricardo Piglia, translated by Sergio Waisman

Commentary: If I had included Texas: The Great Theft, Deep Vellum would be higher. But I’m not big on that book. (Tedious. Self-indulgent.) Also, if you want to manipulate these rankings, either get a book in the top twenty, or publish a ton of titles. There is a pattern.




6. Coffee House (6 titles, 86.98 points)

Notable Books: Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli, translated by Christina MacSweeney; Empty Set by Veronica Gerber Bicecci, translated by Christina MacSweeney

Commentary: Building on the last commentary, Coffee House hasn’t done very many Spanish books at all (you wouldn’t know that if you only read LitHub, but I’ll cull the snark right here because I love internet democracy and don’t feel at all like those lists are based in willful ignorance in which twenty-year-olds log-roll their idols and that’s literary criticism, folks!), but they did hit a grand slam with Luiselli. That was a big help in these rankings.




5. And Other Stories (13 titles, 115.12 score)

Notable Books: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman; Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera, translated by Lisa Dillman; Open Door by Iosi Havilio, translated by Beth Fowler; Islands by Carlos Gamerro, translated by Ian Barnett

Commentary: Those early books of And Other Stories—Islands and Open Door—got them to this spot. It’s too bad more people didn’t read them.




4. Dalkey Archive (31 titles, 146.05 score)

Notable Books: News from the Empire by Fernando del Paso, translated by Alfonso Gonzales; Hypothermia by Alvaro Enrigue, translated by Brendan Riley; Recounting: Antagony, Book I by Luis Goytisolo, translated by Brendan Riley; Op Oloop by Juan Filloy, translated by Lisa Dillman; House of Ulysses by Julian Rios, translated by Nick Caistor

Commentary: If I had read more Dalkey titles, they might rank higher. Then again, the last books from Fuentes are tossers, and some of their titles are grant-based, not quality-based. Fourth seems about right, although props to Dalkey for publishing so many unconventional Spanish-writing authors.




3. FSG (14 titles, 146.28 score)

Notable Books: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer; Talking to Ourselves by Andrés Neuman, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia; Traveler of the Century by Andrés Neuman, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia

Commentary: I might be overrating Talking to Ourselves (fuck you, this book is great), but Savage Detectives predates the database, so . . . fair? Also, who isn’t excited for a new, non-Restlless Neuman book to come out?




2. Open Letter (19 titles, 302.09 score)

Notable Books: The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán, translated by Will Vanderhyden; My Two Worlds by Sergio Chejfec, translated by Margaret Carson; Navidad & Matanza by Carlos Labbé, translated by Will Vanderhyden; Gesell Dome by Guillermo Saccomanno, translated by Andrea Labinger; La Grande by Juan José Saer, translated by Steve Dolph; The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell; Things We Don’t Do by Andrés Neuman, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia; A Thousand Forests in One Acorn edited by Valerie Miles; The Dark by Sergio Chejfec, translated by Heather Cleary

Commentary: 1) Awareness Bias—I’ve read far more of your books, than you’ve read of ours. So as biased as this might seem, objections are invalid until you’ve finished these titles. 2) Neuman! He burst onto the scene and dude, FINISH YOUR NEW BOOK. Also, don’t sign with . . . oh, hell. Well, that’s gonna be a mess. 3) Chejfec is a writer’s writer who’s likely too obtuse for the buzz-set. That’s unfortunate. He fucking rules. 4) I knew we did a ton of Spanish-language books, but 20% of all our titles? Dang. 5) That Valerie Miles anthology includes excerpts from like 50% of the authors listed in this post alone—many of them (like Chirbes) being their first appearance in English. (Just buy the books now. If you’ve read this far, you know I’m not fucking around in terms of recommending good books.)




1. New Directions (42 titles, 328.83 score)

Notable Books: Your Face Tomorrow: Volume Three by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa; Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Chris Andrews; Ghosts by Cesar Aira, translated by Chris Andrews; Senslessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated by Katherine Silver; On the Edge by Rafael Chirbes, translated by Margaret Jull Costa; The Literary Conference by Cesar Aira, translated by Katherine Silver; Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated by Anne McLean; Armie by Evelio Rosero, translated by Anne McLean; The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales, translated by Anna Kushner

Commentary: Again, eye-test. After forty-two titles, New Directions deserves the top spot. Granted, they’re riding a bit on Bolaño and Aira, but people love the Chirbes (if you like him, check out Antonio Lobo Antunes) and it’s not like they’ve turned away from Spanish-language literature. This is a legit list that includes superstars and new voices.

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1 If you’re not using the database to generate your lists, then I’m 100% going to keep making fun of you. There’s a legit resource right there, free to use, informed!, and yet you decide to roll out all the recent press releases? And I’m the asshole for pointing out your ignorance? Cool, cool.

2 Here’s the narrative that I’ve heard, which may be inaccurate, yet rings true to me: For years, Andrew Wylie (of a certain poetry fame which, really, this was a post deleted in the Gawker takeover?) didn’t represent many Spanish-language authors. But wanting to be global AF, he decided to hire Cristóbal Pera of Penguin Random House Mexico to sign on as many Latin American writers as possible—with the goal of creating a context that would win over Gabriel García Marquez. (Side Note: García Marquez is represented by the venerable Carmen Balcells, whose agency Wylie failed to buy, and who sadly passed away a few years ago, which resulted in several of her best authors moving to Casanovas & Lynch.) Guess what? García Marquez didn’t sign with Wylie, and Pera left the agency shortly thereafter. Draw your own conclusions. About this separation and the future of authors who got on the Wylie gravy train. (Spoiler: Rumor has it a significant number of recent Wylie Agency clients are less than happy with the agency’s turnover and inability to do shit for them. Is Wylie just the Scott Boras of literature? Holy shit does that idea make me smile. And yes, I know that like, one of every one hundred people reading get that.)

22 February 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Chad and Brian are joined by Tom Roberge of Riffraff (and the Three Percent Podcast) to discuss the first section of Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow. They talk about the book’s general conceit, the minotaur myth, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Eastern European history, fascism and communism, and much more. It’s a really fun episode—and one that you can actually watch on YouTube.

Caitlin Baker of University Bookstore in Seattle will guest star on the next episode, which covers Part II (59-72). This episode will be broadcast live on YouTube on Sunday, February 25th. We’ll be discussion Part II (pgs 59-72), and you can watch us, ask questions, make general comments, talk about the lighting in Brian’s closet, etc. Or you can wait for the normal podcast release next Thursday, March 1st.

As always, The Physics of Sorrow (and all the previous Two Month Review titles) is available for 20% off through our website. Just use the code 2MONTH at checkout.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, and Brian Wood, for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests. And you can follow Tom Roberge and Riffraff for more info about books, bookselling, and other general commentary.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. And be sure to leave us a review on iTunes!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Stars and Babies by Splendor and Misery, featuring Georgi’s translator, Angela Rodel!

20 February 18 | Orisa Santiago Morrice | Comments

Throughout this season of the Two Month Review, Santiago Morrice will be writing weekly pieces about the section of the book discussed on the previous week’s podcast. These will likely go a bit more in depth into the style and content of the novel itself, nicely complementing the podcasts.

On last week’s podcast, Chad and Kaija talked a bit about how Open Letter came to publish The Physics of Sorrow, its general success, their personal relationships to the book, and how to correctly say “Georgi” and “Gospodinov,” but I thought I’d give you a bit more background into his work, and this novel in particular.



Georgi Gospodinov is one of the most translated Bulgarian authors of the late twentieth century. He has written award winning works in a variety of genres. His earliest poetry collection, Lapidarium (1992, Modus Stoi͡a︡nov), named after the archaic Roman word for stonecraft galleries, won the Bulgarian National Debut Prize. He then published two other poetry collections, Letters to Gaustin (2003) and Ballads and Maladies (2007). Many of these poems have been anthologized within European collections. He’s also served as an editor for I’ve Lived Socialism: 171 Personal Stories (2006) and Book of Socialism (2006), collections of reflective pieces on life in Bulgaria. And Other Stories (2001; translated to English in 2007 by Zornitza Hristova and Magdalena Levy, Northwestern University Press), Gospodinov’s first formal collection of short stories, was longlisted for the 2007 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award for its English translation. From this particular collection, the short story “Blind Vaysha” was adapted as an animated short by director Theodore Ushev, which was nominated for Best Animated short at the 89th Academy Awards. His first full-length novel, A Natural Novel (1999; translated to English in 2005 by Zornita Hristrova, Dalkey Archive Press), was well received globally.

Stylistically, Gospodinov abandons long and cohesive narration for series of short, fractured, yet interrelated stories. He utilizes these stylistic choices to address a calm doom that pervades life, and he frequently comments on the influence of the Communist politics on everyday Bulgarian life.



And these themes continue in new permutations in the text at hand, The Physics of Sorrow, which, like so many of Gospodinov’s titles, lives up to its name. Originally published in 2011, this work has been translated into seventeen languages, including to English by Angela Rodel in 2011 through the Open Letter Press. It has won numerous awards across Europe, and was a critical and commercial success in Bulgaria.

At is simplest and most concrete the The Physics of Sorrow is a receptacle of the experiences, memories, and imagination. Through a process of “embedding” primary narrator Georgi Gospodinov can enter and experience the memories of others. Through this process he experiences the memories of others both as they occurred and as someone encountering a history he did not personally understand.

Gospodinov’s writing remains clear from the most concrete to the most metaphysical of moments. At times the piece feels like a memoir highlighting the emotional mechanisms of people surviving the horrors of war, then smoothly shifts into pages of contemporary scientific methodologies or anthropological observations on cultural customs, which then shift into the blunt reflections of an author towards the craft of their own work, which then transforms into another form for another topic or another landscape—these shifts sometimes occurring all within the span of a page. At each shift Gospodinov maintains a clear vision and approach to the work at hand and carries the reader gracefully through the chaos of memory. As you will come to learn The Physics of Sorrow lives up to its name. As a meticulous exploration of the world at large, Georgi Gospodinov’s work challenges conventional understandings of memory and truth, fracturing one into the other and providing a detailed, scientific account to the mechanisms by which this process of breaking occurs. As a collection of deep dives, The Physics of Sorrow constructs experience where gods, the unborn, invertebrates, children, minotaurs cows, mothers, soldiers, time capsules, and the perpetually misplaced each have a perspective and a stake in what can be known.

The translator, Angela Rodel, lives and works in Bulgaria as a translator for contemporary Bulgarian writers. She received her B.A. from Yale and her M.A. from Yale in Linguistics. Angela Rodel received an NEA translation grant for her work on this book and provides her expertise with Bulgarian translations to bring Gospodinov’s genius to English audiences. For the last decade, she’s worked to translate the most celebrated Bulgarian literature for English audiences and has worked on dozens of translations, cementing her position as an authority on Bulgarian to English Translation. Among all these translations, she’s received awards for her translation of The Physics of Sorrow, including the National Book Center’s 2015 Peroto Prize for translation from Bulgarian and 2016 American Association of Teachers of Slavic and Eastern European Languages (AATSEEL) Prize for Best Book of Literary Translation.

Due to the Communist government following World War II, modern Bulgarian literature was relegated to government control for much of the twenty-first century. At this, we can look at Dimitar Dimov’s Tobacco (1951) as an exemplary work of Communist-controlled Bulgarian literature and Dimitar Talev’s The Iron Oil Lamp (1952) for Bulgarian authorship at large. But as Communist control lessened towards the end of the 20th century, and authors experienced newfound freedoms, the scope and variety of literature blossomed. As you prepare to dive into Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow, or as a follow up or compliment to the book, two works that really help define the modern state of Bulgarian literature are Ivailo Petrov’s Wolf Hunt (1986), translated by Angela Rodel, and and Hristo Karastoyanov’s The Same Night Awaits Us All (2014). Thanks to the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation and translators like Angela Rodel, interested readers have access to far more Bulgarian books now than they did just a few years ago.


19 February 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

When I first decided to undertake this project of writing about one 2018 translation a week, I knew that there would come a week in which I didn’t finish the book that I had planned to write about. This might be due to time constraints, or simply because I didn’t feel like finishing the book in question.

Well, it took less than two months to run into a book that I just gave up on: The Neighborhood by 2010 Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman.

I’ve got a lot to say about why I quit on this book, and how that reflects on readerly expectations, but I think the best place to start is by articulating my own reading history with Vargas Llosa.

Back in the 1990s, when I was working in bookstores and really starting to immerse myself in international fiction, Vargas Llosa was one of the Spanish-language giants you had to read, along with García Marquez, Fuentes, Cortázar, and Borges. There are other (better) Spanish-language authors from this same period (Onetti and Cabrera Infante come to mind), but these were the authors that I felt that I had to have some familiarity with if I was going to make any sort of claim to liking—and knowing something about—Spanish-language literature, especially what was coming out of Latin America.

Insecurity has played such a large role in my reading history. When I started at Dalkey Archive, I was greatly intimidated by the literary knowledge that everyone around me possessed. Not just John O’Brien—who, at that time at least, knew more about twentieth-century writing than anyone I knew—but also Martin Riker, Curtis White, Charlie Harris, Greg Howard, etc. (And that doesn’t even include David Foster Wallace, who was maybe the most intimidating?) The way they talked about the greats of the past century, from Céline to Gaddis to Gass to Queneau to Sorrentino to Ishmael Reed to Flann O’Brien to the wealth of undiscovered gems in the Dalkey Archive catalog (Stanley Elkin! Stanley Crawford! Nicholas Mosley! William Eastlake! Arno Schmidt!) really put into perspective how little I had actually read. I spent every spare moment of my first few years there catching up on the things I had missed. Granted, I had read a lot (someday I’ll write about the insane self-directed reading program I put myself through in preparation for the GRE English subject test), but not nearly as much as everyone else. This is how my personal canon was formed.

Before the Dalkey times though, I had read a couple Vargas Llosa books. The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta was probably the first (and a good contrast with Nabokov’s The Real Life of Sebastian Knight) followed by Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, of which I remember nothing, and The War of the End of the World, which, assuming it still stands up, is one of those complete Latin American novels that’s political, harrowing, and all-encompassing.

Aside from personal insecurities, the other major motivating factor behind my reading choices was a desire to champion the more obscure greats. To find that incredible, transcendent book that wasn’t in every Norton anthology, that wasn’t being taught, that was rarely on display at the bookstore.

This has not changed at all.

Which is why, at that time, I respected Vargas Llosa more than I liked him. Too conventional. Too accepted. Not fringe enough. But then, at Dalkey Archive, John had me read The Green House and Conversations in a Cathedral and my opinion of Vargas Llosa skyrocketed.

These are both early books of his. (For those who don’t know, The Neighborhood is his nineteenth work of fiction to be translated into English.) And they’re fantastic. Conversations in a Cathedral is probably Vargas Llosa’s most experimental book that has a really intricate structure and requires a certain amount of attention and struggle for the reader to get into it. Exactly the sort of book I loved at that time! Too bad HarperCollins reissued these instead of letting us do them . . .

*


I haven’t read any of the recent Vargas Lllosa books. Nothing since he won the Nobel Prize in 2010 at least. Which is why I thought I’d give The Neighborhood a try. Like it would be fun to check in with him and see how he was writing these days.

That said, I did have some conflicting expectations going into this book. First off, I expected it to be dense and intelligent, with labyrinthine sentences—like his books of old. For example, here’s a paragraph from part IV of The War of the End of the World (translated by Helen Lane):

When a servant informed him who was asking for him, the Baron de Canabrava, rather than sending him back, as was his habit, to tell the person who had appeared on the doorstep that he neither made nor received unannounced visits, rushed downstairs, walked through the spacious rooms that the morning sun was flooding with light, and went to the front door to see if he had heard correctly: it was indeed he, no mistake about it. He shook hands with him without a word and showed him in. There leapt to his mind instantly what he had been trying his best to forget for months: the fire at Calumbi, Canudos, Estela’s crisis, his withdrawal from public life.

The opening paragraph of The Green House is thirteen pages long, so I’ll just quote the first few sentences in Gregory Rabassa’s translation:

The Sergeant takes a look at Sister Patrocinio and the botfly is still there. The launch is pitching on the muddy waters, between two walls of trees that give off a burning, sticky mist. Huddled under the canopy, stripped to the waist, the soldiers are asleep, with the greenish, yellowish noonday sun above: Shorty’s head is lying on Fats’s stomach, Blondy is breathing in short bursts, Blacky has his mouth open and is grunting. A thick shadow of gnats is escorting the launch, and butterflies, wasps, horseflies take shape among the bodies.

Neither of these are “blow your top off” sort of quotes, but they’re both good for setting the scene while retaining a certain distance that compels the reader to try and figure out what’s happening. These are sentences written by a professional writer. A writer who knows what he’s doing. I expected that from The Neighborhood.

At the same time, I didn’t expect The Neighborhood to be anywhere near as great as these early books. My expectation is that Vargas Llosa is past his prime.

There’s no logical reason why an author’s twentieth book can’t be his best. But it rarely works that way.

     (AuthorTalent(TAL) x CraftAwareness(CA)) / PublishedWorks(PW) = CurrentAbility(ABL)

This is a callback. But one that fits, even if that equation is garbage. Basically, authors have a certain amount of inherent skill. And as they learn their craft, they hone this skill more and more. But the more books they write, the less fresh the ideas and the inherentness really seem. The more books they publish, the more craft takes the place of pure talent, and the less interesting the books become. See: John Updike. See: Philip Roth. See: Joyce Carol Oates.

So I expected something really smart, written in a way that was as engrossing as it was challenging, but nothing that would rewrite my general assessment of what Vargas Llosa was.

And maybe that’s exactly what this book is. And maybe this weekend it will get a glowing review in the New York Times or win the National Book Award in Translation and I’ll feel compelled to pick this up again sometime and give it another chance. But for now, I’m done.

*


There’s a great Tim Parks essay in Where I’m Reading From about quitting books. (I can’t find my book, and can’t recall the title of this piece, but trust me, it’s a real thing.) Not necessarily because the book is bad, but because you’ve gotten what you want to get out of the book already, and there’s nothing more to be gained by finishing it to the end.

Granted, this makes more sense if you’re the type of reader who reads the type of books that are more about style than plot (how many people set aside a detective novel mid-mystery because they have a good enough sense of what the author is up to?), but still, it’s an intriguing—and liberating—idea. It’s probably a good approach for reading Knausgaard! You don’t need to know the ending to know what makes his writing particular.

For me, fifty pages of The Neighborhood was enough to feel like I get the style and structure, and that I just don’t care. Yes, I know this is slightly different from what Parks is talking about, but it’s not like I hated this book—it just doesn’t have anything more to offer me at this time.

*


I have more to say about expectations, the right books at the right time, and West Cork, but I should probably make a list to explain what shut down The Neighborhood for me:

1) It opens with a lesbian love scene that feels like someone who’s read about lesbians and thought it would be trendy to include something like this in their novel. It’s like reading a book by an old man (Tom Wolfe?) about teenagers (I Am Charlotte Simmons?) in which nothing sounds quite authentic.

I abide by the idea that writers should feel free to write about whoever and whatever they want, but the workmanlike prose in The Neighborhood mixed with the strange prudishness of all the characters drags this particular storyline into a realm of unbelievability. This is a novel in which all the parts of novel-making are laid bare. You can see it all being constructed, which definitely doesn’t help.

2) Fuck this dialogue. Sorry, I’m done pretending that I can sound smart. The real reason I just quit was because of paragraphs like this:

“Everything in this life has a solution, Quique, except death.” He encouraged him: “Go on, tell me all about it, as Luciana, my younger daughter, says.”


What the fuck is that? Not only is “tell me all about it” not a phrase marked by youth or hipness, but why is one friend reminding the other of his younger daughter’s name. This is unnatural and dumb.

On the other side of things, this is probably my favorite bit:

“I finished the article, boss. One-Eye will shit fire.”


3) This “one-eye” thing bugged me so much though. It comes up in a chapter in which a muckraking journalist is trying to get dirt on a stage actress who shit on his paper on a nightly talk show. Here’s more crappy dialogue from when he’s berating a photographer he hired to get really unflattering pictures of her:

“It isn’t a question of giving her publicity of raising the one-eyed cow’s fees. It’s a question of sinking and defeating her, of discrediting her forever. It’s a question of their throwing her out of the show because she’s ugly and old and can’t move her ass. These pictures are going to illustrate an article where we say that the one-eyed cow is turning the show at the Monumental into a hodge-podge that nobody can stand.”


Admittedly, I’m totally going to incorporate “hodge-podge” into my active vocabulary? “Riverdale is such a hodge-podge!” (Damn it. That’s actually a good way of describing that show. WHICH IS AWESOME.)
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4) I had enough of the plot. A seedy reporter has pictures of a powerful CEO getting nasty at an orgy and wants to take him down. The CEO’s wife starts a secret affair with his best-friend’s wife. There is a guy they all know who has been kidnapped who they mention with near disinterest a few times. The reporter driving the plot is motivated by vengeance. Cool. I don’t know how this all develops or is resolved, but I’m good.

*


Again, this book isn’t bad . . . well, that dialogue is bad, objectively bad, but aside from that, it’s fine. Some people will likely like this book. And maybe it gets more interesting! It’s possible that the mosaic structure of jumping from character to character will spiral outward to people who aren’t annoying and don’t speak like morons.

It’s just not the right book at the right time for me—possibly because of my expectations. I expected something different from Vargas Llosa. And I’d rather not have this book bitch up my personal feelings about his writing.

I know this is by far the most restrained and serious of these posts to date, and as tempting as it is to swerve back to the funny, I want to say two more serious things about expectations.

For anyone who knows anything about behavioral economics, they know how powerful they can be. If you have a certain expectation, you can overwrite what you actually experience so that it fits your pre-existing schema. You can come to believe in insane things based on small samples that happened recently. You can dispense with contradictory knowledge that would enhance your understanding of the world and its nuances simply because it doesn’t fit what you already know you know is what you know is right.

In the class I teach on world literature and translation, this came up in regard to Filip Springer’s History of a Disappearance (trans. by Sean Bye), a work of Polish reportage about a city in Western Poland that has a crazy history and that essentially collapsed in on itself and is now completely gone. It’s an interesting book that juxtaposes factual history with people’s warped recollections and pieces together a fairly depressing history of a place.

My students didn’t know what to make of this book at all. They had expected it to be a “novel,” which, in their world means a book with a main set of characters and a primary plot that’s developed from page one till the end. A book in which there isn’t a protagonist to follow was a bit baffling to them. They had no idea what to make of this book and it ruptured their idea of what a book could be in a few ways—the main one being that they simply didn’t like this because it didn’t fit their expectations.

This is my insecurity about the future of reading: That the way in which the market ends up taking popular books and making them MEGAPOPULAR (Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, to a lesser extent the Knausgaard and Ferrante phenomenons, whatever garbage BookMarks is tracking) will create a set of literary expectations in readers that will train them to look for a very small range of things to define a “good” book. This sort of blindered view of literature has always existed, but right now, thanks to our late-capitalist moment and the nature of aggregating websites online, there’s a crazy velocity to books that make it. It’s not like there are even twenty really popular books at any point in time nowadays—there are about seven. And these dominate all conversations, all the top spots on BookMarks as the “most reviewed” titles. They’re on every bookstore front table—B&N and indie—and promoted through every extant algorithm. If these books—which are usually pretty fine, if not using very predictable tropes with slight deviations, basically the NPR of fiction—are responsible for wiring readers’ expectations, there will be little space for the odd, the defiant.

*


I have a lot to say about expectations in relation to West Cork, the Audible Original podcast/audiobook about the still-unsolved murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier.

Firstly, I know this will come as a shock to some, but Serial wasn’t the first podcast ever produced. That said, it would be ignorant to claim that it didn’t have a huge impact on the nature of podcasting. What used to be an audiospace for smart people to say smart things to each other about various topics turned commercial1 and over-produced. And one that was based in a particular style of narrative.

The Serial model—a long-running story filled with reversals, shocking revelations, cliffhangers—spawned a million deviations. Suddenly, this was the way in which podcasts should exist.2 This was all the rage. (For season one at least. You can’t go home again, can you Carol Sarah?)

And then there was Finding Richard Simmons and Shittown and maybe few other things whiskey is preventing me from remembering right now. My basic point though: These all work in a particular way. One hour. Cliffhangers to make the next episode seem like there’s going to be a big revelation. Ambiguity all the way down. It feels really comfortable to listen to these podcasts. They meet all expectations.

West Cork plays this game, but not exactly. There are revelations (for us who don’t pay attention to Irish news), a core mystery, reversals that mostly exist thanks to editing3, and ambiguity. But most episodes are 35 minutes. Most episodes don’t have a cliffhanger. Most episodes aren’t that revelatory. It’s a character piece that doesn’t quite one-up what came before. And can you really be bingeable in 20184 if you’re not one step more HOLY SHIT than the last podcast?

I want to break this series down in more detail, but I highly doubt anyone reading this has actually heard it yet. It’s good! It’s not great! The horse did it! But my point: Do we have a market that can support a quiet version of Serial? Or do we live in the arms race period of podcasting in which a murder has to be THE CRAZIEST MURDER WITH THE BEST CHARACTERS EVER to deserve a listen? What do we want? What are our expectations? And what does that mean about new start-up companies trying to make podcasts? Past performance influences future innovation and yet . . . What’s new and interesting and not designed to tickle the expectations crafted by NPR + Blue Apron + Square Space?


1 Where would Blue Apron be without podcasts? And podcasts without Blue Apron? Can you imagine who would be fucking nuts enough to sponsor the Three Percent Podcast? Is there a corporation trafficking in cynicism and middle-age? Who like swearing and other unpopular things? To be honest, I would shill for anyone—including Blue Apron, which, really? This needs to exist? I hate 2018. (I feel better now that I got one joke into this post.)

2 Sorry, now I just can’t stop. You should check out Finding Tammy Jo, a podcast from the local Rochester paper about an unsolved murder from 1979. It’s pretty horrible! Not only is the title an absolute lie—they found Tammy Jo’s body, they just didn’t know who she was, so what is “finding” anyway—but the production is such an aping of Serial that its identity is subsumed behind an attempt to take a popular format and shoehorn an uninteresting story into it. Also: one episode is just 2 minutes of piano.

3 Someday I’ll write about the relationship between This American Life, MFA programs, and PKD’s Valis in relation to the idea of what you believe as truth and why.

4 I literally punched myself for typing “bingeable” in a non-ironic way. I may have to stop soon. My fat belly can not absorb my own drunken fist.

16 February 18 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Consider this your friendly, neighborhood reminder to head on over to the Albertine Prize page to vote for your favorite French book in translation from their shortlist!

Last year’s inaugural Albertine Prize was won by Antoine Volodine and J. T. Mahany for Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo, published by Open Letter Books.

From the Albertine Prize press release:

Showcasing the diversity and inventiveness of contemporary French-language writing, the five nominated books map a literary journey that encompasses a Congolese orphanage in the 1970s (Black Moses, Alain Mabanckou); a young man’s sexual awakening in a French factory town (The End of Eddy, Édouard Louis); artistic rapture in the Middle East (Compass, Mathias Énard); and interior explorations of love (Not One Day, Anne Garréta) and violation (Incest, Christine Angot).

[. . .]

Dedicated to introducing the very best of contemporary French-language literature to American audiences, the annual prize was launched in 2017. “We launched the Albertine Prize with the belief that American readers, who have always had a deep appreciation for French literature, would eagerly embrace contemporary voices–our expectations were richly rewarded,” said Bénédicte de Montlaur, Cultural Counselor of the French Embassy in the United States. “We hope to build on the success of our first year by creating a truly democratic prize that is a source of pride for both the readers and the winning author and translator.”


Readers can vote for their favorite title until May 1st. Prior to that, Albertine Books will host a book battle on April 10th, where five authors and journalists will defend one title each. The prize ceremony, which will be held June 6th, will also see the winning author and translator awarded $8,000 and $2,000, respectively.

For more information on the prize, the bookstore, and the shortlisted titles—and to vote!—go here.

15 February 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Tara Cheesman, a freelance book critic and National Book Critics Circle member whose recent reviews can be found at The Rumpus, Book Riot, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Quarterly Conversation. Since 2009 she’s written the blog Reader At Large (formerly BookSexy Review).

As long as the Best Translated Book Award long list is (twenty-five books—which is pretty long) the majority of the books in translation published in 2017 won’t be on it. Yes, I’m stating the obvious, but it still merits consideration. I’m one of those people who calculates how many books I’ll read before I die, so this is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

Bringing attention to those books that could otherwise be forgotten or overlooked in the onslaught of titles published every year is one of the most important things this award does. As a judge I’ve read so many good books that it’s hard to accept a limit on how many we can talk about and promote in the context of the prize. So, I decided to throw a few extra recommendations out there. Here are three completely random books I enjoyed, found interesting, thought worth talking about and which may or may not make it onto this year’s long list.



Mr. Fix-It by Richard Ali A Mutu, translated by Bienvenu Sene Mongaba, has the distinction of being the first novel translated from Lingala, a language spoken by approximately ten million people residing in the Democratic Republic of Congo and neighboring countries, into English. Which means that when it was originally written the likelihood was that it was intended exclusively for non-Western readers. That alone, in an increasingly homogenized literary landscape, makes it worth reading. But, curiosity factor aside, Mr. Fix-It is like an episode in a daytime soap. The protagonist drags us with him on his romantic misadventures and it’s all surprisingly amusing and incredibly sappy and just fun. (Phoneme Media)



Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell. I was hesitant to include this book if only because it gotten a ton of press, from Lithub to the New Yorker—but I found it so quirky that it felt more wrong not to write about it than to add my voice to the choir. The premise is deceptively simple: a dying woman lays in her hospital bed and has a conversation with her friend’s son. Together they attempt to retrace the events that have brought her to the present moment in which they are speaking. The immediacy of the two voices creates an eerie, searching, out-of-time quality similar to A Scanner Darkly (that 2006 movie with Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey, Jr., and Winona Ryder) or 12 Monkeys. Or, better yet, Rick Moody’s novella The Albertine Notes. Which, if you haven’t read it, go do that and then feel free to DM me on twitter. (Riverhead Books)



Hadriana In All My Dreams by the Haitian writer René Depestre and translated by Kaiama L. Glover, is the most traditional of the three books I’ve listed here. Set in the 1930s, it’s the story of a young bride who seemingly dies at the altar from a heart attack, but is actually the victim of zombification. I’d describe the writing as more ribald than erotic, which actually helps to balance and make bearable the magical realism Depestre incorporates into the plot. Hadriana In All My Dreams is narrated from the perspectives of both the bride and her godbrother, a young boy at the time of the wedding who grows into manhood haunted by Hadriana’s fate. This story sprawls outward. The author has created a huge cast of characters, human and otherwise, all of whom he seems to feel real affection for. He writes convincingly about the tension and contrast between Catholicism and Voodoo. And has given us what might be the greatest description of a Haitian Carnival ever written. (Akashic Books)

15 February 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The new season of the Two Month Review kicks off now with a general overview Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow, one of the most beloved books Open Letter has ever published. Brian’s on the lam, or in witness protection, or something, so Open Letter senior editor Kaija Straumanis stepped in to talk about one of the first books she ever worked on for the press.

You can participate in the next episode—covering the Epigraphy, Prologue, and Part I (1-58)—which will be recorded on YouTube LIVE on Monday, February 19th at 9pm EST. All you you have to do is click here and you can comment or ask Chad, Brian, and Tom Roberge about anything you want.

The podcast recording of this episode will be released in normal fashion on Thursday, February 22nd. So you don’t have to watch it live, but if you want to come hang out with us and participate in the making of these episodes, we’d love to see you there!

As always, The Physics of Sorrow (and all the previous Two Month Review titles) is available for 20% off through our website. Just use the code 2MONTH at checkout.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, and Brian Wood, for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests. And also follow Tom Roberge for more book and bookselling related content. (And other fun stuff.)

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. And be sure to leave us a review on iTunes!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Stars and Babies by Splendor and Misery, featuring Georgi’s translator, Angela Rodel!

14 February 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This semester, in my World Literature & Translation class, we’re reading twelve translations from 2017-18 and talking with almost all the translators, including Allison M. Charette, who is responsible for the publication in English of Naivo’s Beyond the Rice Fields. Over the past few weeks, we conducted this conversation through email about the book, and I thought it would be of interest to some of our readers. In terms of Allison’s background, she’s a University of Rochester MALTS graduate, founder of the Emerging Literary Translators’ Network in America, ALTA board member, translator from the French, and devotee of bringing Malagasy literature to American readers.



Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo, translated from the French by Allison M. Charette (Restless Books)

Chad W. Post: As is stated in the jacket copy, Beyond the Rice Fields is the “first novel from Madagascar to every be translated into English.” I know that you started investigating Malagasy literature when you realized that nothing had been translated from there, but why did you/Restless decide on Naivo’s book specifically to be the first one translated?

Allison M. Charette: The English-speaking world got well into the twenty-first century without being able to read any novels from Madagascar, so whichever one got translated first would have to serve many purposes. First and foremost, it had to be an excellent book, great literature, of course. But it would also be most Anglophones’ first exposure to real Malagasy culture (sorry, no, the Dreamworks movie doesn’t count), so it would also necessarily serve as a primer to the Malagasy people. And Beyond the Rice Fields did one better by serving as a history lesson, too. Naivo’s book was also an excellent choice to translate because the original French novel is already very translation-like. Naivo had several audiences in mind when writing Beyond the Rice Fields, including a French readership from France, so a lot of the work of balancing the original unfamiliar culture of a book and making it accessible for an American/British/etc. audience (i.e. domestication) had already been done. We made some different choices for the English translation, including taking all the original French footnotes and putting them in a glossary at the end, but there were a lot of general translation decisions that I made by just asking Naivo what his thought process had been while writing.

Now, Beyond the Rice Fields wasn’t the only novel from Madagascar I was (or am) trying to get published in English, but on a practical level, it was helped along by several things: mainly, I received a PEN/Heim grant for it in 2015. That really kick-started the whole publishing process, and it’s how Restless found the book. It also helped that Naivo lives on this continent and speaks English very well, so he’s been very active in not only the translation process, but doing publicity for the English book, as well.

CWP: One of the things that struck me about the book is how, despite all the cultural differences in the book, that the plot and story are very recognizable. (Although the ending—NO SPOILERS—might set this apart from your average American novel.) I assume that Malagasy literature grew up alongside French literature, but are there particular authors or trends that sort of laid the basis for Malagasy writing? Or, in other words, what is the history of the country’s literature? (In brief, obviously.)

AMC: Briefly, yes: Malagasy literature was mostly oral until the colonization period, when Malagasies were exposed to French literature. Several writers at the turn of the twentieth century adopted the structures of French romantic, modernist, and surrealist poetry—Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo is the greatest example of this. The Malagasy novel was born mid-century, again following the structures of French novels. Much of this writing is an attempt to make Malagasy ideas fit into and subvert French/Western structures at the same time, with subversion increasing as time goes on. Obviously, this is a very simplistic overview, and is directly the result of colonialism: students get educated in a French system, get taught that there’s a “proper” way to write, so they’ll write like that; add in the desire to get read by a wider audience and validated by other great (Western) authors, and this is what you get. However, there have been many authors who are really talented at writing a very Malagasy-feeling story in the French language and using Western novel structures, especially starting in the renaissance period of the 70s-80s. Naivo is one of them; he follows in the footsteps of authors like Michèle Rakotoson and Charlotte-Arrisoa Rafenomanjato.

(Funny story about the ending of Beyond the Rice Fields: it’s such a trip that I actually forgot about one of the major players’ deaths when I was first pitching this book. I chalk it up to having read 30+ novels all in a row and trying to keep their plots straight, but . . . I did have to email one editor who had specifically asked about the ending to say “Whoops! Sorry, no, it’s the opposite of the way I told you. That changes things, doesn’t it?!?”)



CWP: That’s a great story! And I can totally envision certain editors or presses wishing they could just tweak the ending a bit . . . One specific choice that I was wondering about: Did the setting of the book (early 1800s) impact how you translated the dialogue? Was the idea that certain words “couldn’t” be used, or that characters should “sound” like they’re of the time even a concern for you?

AMC: Well, of course it did, but not very strictly. I never drew up any draconian rules for what characters could or couldn’t say, and sometimes the humanness and personality of the characters took priority over making them sound perfectly Victorian. Making this novel sound really contemporary would be doing it a disservice as historical fiction, but there were times, like when Fara becomes a teenager and is trying to figure out love and sex and all that, when I slipped in a few more modern-sounding turns of phrase.

The more interesting consideration with the dialogue was making the Malagasy characters sound Malagasy, even though you’re reading a book in English. Naivo used a lot of calques in the characters’ speech: direct translations of common Malagasy phrases, especially the oft-repeated proverbs, into French, which I then would take directly into English. They definitely sound weird, but they add so much richness and authenticity. One of my favorites is a really strong curse in Malagasy: “By my father’s incest!”

CWP: How familiar did you feel like you had to become with the customs of Madagascar before translating this book, or did you just let the text guide you? I personally didn’t realize there was a glossary in the back until I was about halfway through it, so there were a few things that confused me (like the role of Ranaka in society), but most everything was made clear by the context.

AMC: It’s rather relieving to hear you say that most things became clear through context, because there was a lot of research and conversations I had to get through before finishing the translation. In fact, the reason I originally went to Madagascar in 2014 was to learn what I could about Malagasy culture and customs, because I couldn’t get through a short story translation without feeling horribly lost. Naivo’s a good writer; between his writing and the glossary, I could easily have just let the text guide me, but there were a fair amount of things in my early drafts that almost bordered on fetishization—without a full understanding of the customs, if I was translating what I saw on the page, the English text became something between an oversimplification and a parody of the customs being described. The more Naivo explained to me, the better I understood the customs, the more I was able to depict them with the proper elegance and distinction, instead of playing into the rather awful trope of assuming that any culture different from ours is “primitive” or “backward.”



CWP: Beyond the more direct explanation of customs (like the dancing competition), there’s the much larger historical context, and Madagascar’s place in the world in relation to foreign countries and allowing foreigners (and their ideas) into the country. As a result, the book sort of balances a number of different goals—a fairly epic love story, an investigation of the impact of progress on Madagascar, and a retelling of a horrible massacre—in a way that’s supposed to be both satisfying to Malagasy readers, while also looking outward towards readers in France and the rest of the world. How do you feel that Naivo accomplishes this in the book itself, and did these various goals ever impact your decisions as a translator?

AMC: It is a lot to accomplish (which is probably why the book is so long!). Naivo is very good at balancing the personal and the politics, mostly by showing how the big historical decisions affected the lives of specific individuals. Tsito occasionally gets somewhat close to some of the major players of the era (Queen Ranavalona, Prince Rakoto, Laborde), but most of the time it’s just proclamations being handed down, witch hunts being encouraged and carried out (literally), even slave traders complaining about higher regulation. It’s the historical told through the personal. The dual narration also helps—because of the fact that it’s from two characters who (spoiler alert) fall in love with each other, their narration keeps refocusing on each other every time the politics start encroaching. And while yes, Tsito does get swept up in the larger political discussion and starts to learn how the French and British are affecting the Malagasy leadership, Fara has zero idea about all of that, just living a simple life in a village for the most part. Their different perspectives help keep things balanced.

The attempt to please both Malagasy readers and the rest of the world happens on a smaller scale in the writing, with Malagasy words being dressed in a Western context. What if a Western reader sees an unfamiliar phrasing, like the oft repeated “All this occurred in the nth year of the Sovereign King’s reign”? Well, it always occurs within a familiar structure, closing out a chapter or major section. And all these proverbs about transplanted rice and setting suns? Sure, they’re unusual, but they’re all talking about love and power and other fairly universal concepts.

My perspective is necessarily that of the rest of the world, and I can only speak to how satisfying the book is for Malagasy readers based on what they tell me. I’m an outsider. Fortunately, any English translation of this book is also primarily for outsiders, so I was generally able to just do the translation from my perspective. There’s always something familiar for an American/other Western reader to grab on to, so I just had to make sure not to erase or smooth over the elements that I found very jarringly unfamiliar—they exist for a different audience. And there are plenty of Malagasies in the States who were going to read the English translation, so even if I can’t know what their perspective is, I couldn’t just breeze over the elements of the book that are for them. Besides, those unfamiliar things can teach us Americans a thing or two.

13 February 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Alex Shepard from The New Republic joins Chad and Tom to discuss the state of book journalism, the new National Book Award for Translation, Chad’s annoying whining about BookMarks, Winter Institute, and more. It’s a fun episode that goes deep into some contemporary book publishing issues—and the disparity between the haves and have nots—while remaining entertaining and a bit unhinged.

This week’s music is The Best Trick in Modern Science by Unlikely Friends. Yes, this is the second week in a row that we’re featuring this album. It’s great!

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9 February 18 | Chad W. Post | Comments



Empty Set by Verónica Gerber Bicecci, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House)

Although five books is most definitely a small sample size of throwaway proportions, out of the books that I’ve written about for this weekly “column,” Empty Set by Verónica Gerber Bicecci and translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney is my favorite. I don’t know where it will stack up by the end of the year—there are a number of titles coming out this summer that I’m looking forward to, and as a gesture toward impartiality, I’ll should really leave Fox, The Bottom of the Sky, The Endless Summer, and other Open Letter titles out of these evaluations—but for now I’d put it ahead of The Perfect Nanny, In Black and White, Frankenstein in Baghdad, and Theory of Shadows. (And that is how I would rank them, one to five.)

As you can probably predict, I’m not going to write a full, well thought out review for this book. If that’s what you want, I’d highly recommend checking out Lisa Fetchko’s review over at the _Los Angeles Review of Books. She breaks the book down really well, and even gets into a particular translation issue about the use of _ in place of _Yo(Y), which is also discussed in an afterword that will be of particular interest to translators or those interested in the translation—or editing of translations—process.

I’m going to use this book as an opportunity to write about something entirely different, but before I do that, I have two or three quick points.

1) I like the use of the charts in this book. I’ll come back to this in a few different ways down below, but drawings such as this one—which is preceded by, “Here’s where this story ends,” a statement that means more once you have reached the end—is what makes this book unique.



And obviously, all the Venn Diagram charts are why I initially chose to read this book. Who doesn’t like a Venn Diagram?! This is one statement about math and statistics that everyone can agree on.

2) In a way, this is The Perfect Nanny for an entirely different set of readers. Written to be a blockbuster, The Perfect Nanny includes a lot of techniques and tropes and literary moments designed to make a certain set of readers feel comfortably stimulated. The set of readers (R-1) who prefer linear plots, heavy character development, detailed settings, psychological tension.

Empty Set generates an equal amount of reading comfort in a different set of readers (R-2) who feel more at ease in a text of evocative fragments, acrostics, plots like puzzles, and characters whom you don’t feel obligated to relate to.

For both R-1 and R-2 these books are equally successful in their approaches. And R-1 probably doesn’t care for Empty Set (“too confusing!” “I couldn’t relate to anyone!”), and vice-versa (“I’d rather see the movie”).

You could, I don’t know, draw a Venn Diagram of these two subsets of readers . . .

3) Not to take anything away from this novel, but wow have January and February been slow months for international literature. There doesn’t seem to have been anything buzzing on Book Twitter or Book Marks or in the blogosphere (doesn’t anyone say that anymore?) or at Winter Institute. I’ve written about the drop in translations both of the past two months, but that was just focused on pure numbers, not quality or sales or impact or anything else. But looking back at what I have read, and forward to what’s on my docket, it feels like pretty quiet year so far.

Although I’m personally hoping this New York Times review of Madame Nielsen’s The Endless Summer changes that, this still feels a lot like the current situation in Major League Baseball—the slowest in all of history—in which no free agents are being signed and nothing at all is happening. There are so many interesting explanations for this situation in which several of the game’s best players are currently unemployed: it could be collusion, it could be that clubs have more advanced understanding of the value available in the free agent market, it could be due to the fact that 1/3 of the teams are tanking in 2018 and another 1/2 aren’t really in a position to do anything but tread water, it could be because of the new collective bargaining agreement and traditional big spenders (LA Dodgers, NY Yankees) trying to reset their competitive balance assessments by getting under the spending threshold for one year, or it could have something to do with yachts. God bless Scott Boras!1

Anyway, this combination of thinking about baseball (how to best build a team, player valuations, etc.) + reading a novel centered around set theory2 + a stray comment I made in an earlier post —> an idea to try and create some core concepts for a sabermetric approach to the book industry.

*


     Sales(S)

This is an obvious building block. People usually value books based on how many copies they sold. “We sold 10,000 copies!” Or, “It was a best-seller in Mexico!”

(Not to be confused with “Print Run(PR),” which is a number based in hope that signifies nothing more than the publisher’s wish to sneakily manipulate the bookseller market. Print Run(PR) is equivalent to Scott Boras’s bullshit stats packages for players like Eric Hosmer who are hoping to receive contracts that are far larger than the value they’ll generate for their team. Print Runs(PR) are generally lies.)

Are sales really all that useful of a statistic though?

First off, the latter statement up there—repeated way too frequently in meetings with foreign agents—is crap. It’s descriptive, not objective, and lacks any and all context. How many books did this title beat out to become a best-seller? For how long was it a best-seller? How predictive is the Mexican best-seller list for a book entering other markets? Are the coefficients mapping it onto the French and U.S. markets radically different?

Another criticism: Sales in a vacuum takes into account none of the expenses involved with generating those sales. A book with a million dollar marketing budget that sells 100,000 copies is vastly different from a book that sells 100,000 based on a viral video that cost $.49 to make.

It also doesn’t take into account the list price of the book itself. It’s obviously way easier to sell 10,000 ebooks at $.99 than 10,000 hardcovers of a scholarly investigation into the sexual life of mollusks that lists for $149.

Sales is like batting average. A nice metric the average citizen can understand, but really not all that valuable.

Actually, that’s kind of a lie. Batting Average has values that most people can recognize as “good,” (.280) “amazing,” (.320) and “hall of fame.” (.340+). What are the equivalents for books? If I tell the people sitting next to me at the bar that we sold 3,000 copies of a book, will they think that’s great? Or pathetic? Without a commonly accepted baseline—among the larger audience, not just book nerds—this doesn’t mean a whole lot.

And it doesn’t take into account the idea that a book is more than its purchases. Thought experiment: Which is better? A book that sells 10,000 copies, 2,000 of which are read, with 10 readers capable of recalling the book one year later, or a book that sells 1,500 copies, 1,000 of which are read, with 200 readers taking this to the grave? (A: If you’re Big Five it’s the former, if you’re nonprofit the latter. There is no unified theory of sales.)

     (Sales(S) x List Price(P)) x Readership® – Fixed Operating Expenses(FOE) – Printing(PR) – Author Payment(AP) – Translator Payment(TP) – Marketing Costs(MC) = True Profit(RP)

OK, so this is two steps in one: I’ve added in all the variables mentioned above (costs, list price), but then thrown in the idea of “Readership®” to try and point at the fact that overall impact of a single printed book isn’t a one-to-one ratio with copies sold. On the most basic level, there are used copies. How many students a year buy used copies of The Great Gatsby for class? Or check it out from a library? A book’s true value, or “Profit” (capitalist term, I know), is always and forever greater than the number of printed copies.

We’re still missing a few things though: What about people who know about a book, yet don’t buy it? And what about the longevity of readership? It’s one thing to read Gone Girl and then keep on living, another to read Ulysses and have your life perspective changed. That Cultural Value(CV) isn’t captured here, and I’m not sure it ever can be quantified in this way. So let’s change tactics a bit.

     ((Expected Sales(ES) x List Price (P)) – ((Publishing Interest(PI) + Agent Status(AS)) – Total Expenses(TE))) ) = Cash Profit(CP) + Cultural Capital(CC)

If we really want to create a sabermetric approach to books, we have to look for exploitable inefficiencies in the marketplace. And my first inclination is that these inefficiencies come in two flavors: leveraging reputations against author advances and finding a way to decrease artist payments.

That’s not quite right though. Let me back up a bit and math this out.

In the early 2000s, there were no translations3 and there was a major gap between the best /most expensive translators (Margaret Jull Costa, Edith Grossman, Richard Howard, Gregory Rabassa) and everyone else. Without a middle class—and without competition—certain publishers saw an exploitable inefficiency. How much can you make when you pay $1,000 as an author advance, $1,000 to a grad student translator (“Hey, yo, we’re gonna like, launch your career!”), and can get $3,000+ from foreign agencies desperate for American publishers to acknowledge that their literature even existed? In that situation, you can flip 2,500 sales into a decent amount of money. That is the dirty truth of translation publishing in the early part of this century.

Then things changed! International lit got more popular. Translators got organized. Now, the idea of going overseas to find the best books that no one knows or cares about is complicated by the two dozen new presses trying to beat you there, and the combination of ethical obligations in relation to translator payments and agent involvement in raising author advances (good in the short term, maybe, and probably not in the long term, but that’s its own metric), raised Total Expenses(TE) in an astronomical fashion. As well as altering the Agent Status(AS) (“I have the next Ferrante on my list . . . “) and the Publishing Interest(PI) (“We’re starting a new press and want in on the hot trends, so which book is the one that’s going to get us critical attention AND be most readable by the (R1) readers of The Perfect Nanny?”). Increase the second half of the equation above while not changing the overall sales, and you’re going to kill your margins.

That doesn’t mean that publishers will stop pursuing books that are unlikely to earn back expenses. Look at Penguin paying a million dollars for a Knausgaard novel. There’s basically no way that he’ll earn that back in straight sales. Same with Knopf and Javier Marías. PRH can definitely expand the audiences for these authors, but there’s a ceiling. Even knowing that, they’re willing to go ahead because there’s a value just to having these names on your list. Reputation, cultural capital, whatever you want to call it, it’s part of this equation as well.

     Expected Sales(ES) = Author Fans(AF) x Purchasing Coefficient(PC)

If someone were able to come up with an algorithm that was even 90% accurate in predicting sales, they would be in a position to basically print money. Long time readers—or anyone involved in the book word—know that publishers don’t really do any market research. Unlike movies, there is no pre-release tracking figures for blockbuster titles. Sure, you can “have a pretty good sense” about how well a book is or isn’t going to sell, but outside of Harry Potter, James Patterson, and a handful of other brands, the error bars on predicted sales are really wide.

Past performance by the author and publisher are major indicators of how a particular title will sell, so maybe this is something that could be calculated . . . Throw in a few sensible metrics about the author—Twitter Followers(TF), Reviewing Connections(RC), etc.—along with some sort of figures about the publisher—Sales Reps(REP), Average Reach(REA), Influencer Access(IA), etc.—and maybe you can come up with some sort of prediction.

     (Pace of Reading(PAC) x Length(LEN)) x (Character Connections(CC) x Plot Points(PP)) x Buzz(BUZZ) = Reading Desirability(DES)

Amazon’s metrics about how fast people read various books, where they tend to stop, which titles are most/least likely to be read in their entirety, etc., totally freak literary people out. There are a ton of Silicon Valley people who would love to create a program that would use some complex algorithm to churn out best-selling book after best-selling book without any author’s involvement whatsoever. They would flood the market with exactly what most people want, all more or less for free, and utilizing some sort of textual analysis that combines all the typical plot elements of popular books (hero’s quest, typical plot structure of rising action, climax, denouement) with other quantifiable elements (language level, sentence and chapter length, number of chapters) that have been found to keep readers engaged and flipping pages.

Take all that, mix in some BUZZ (readers want to feel like they have to read a book so as to not be left out) and you can figure out how likely a book is to appeal to a wide audience.

     Turnover(TO) x Cash Profit(CP) x Hipster Quotient(HQ) = Indie Stock(IND)

Bookstores actually have the ability to come up with a ton of different measurements, depending on what they want to track or evaluate. Sales per linear foot in given sections. How fast different subjects turn over. Average amount spent by a customer. Frequency of returning customers. There’s tons of data sitting right there that could be analyzed in a totally straightforward fashion.

But indie stores aren’t necessarily about efficiency in the way Barnes & Noble or Amazon would like to be. Part of their reason for being is tied to having the books that you don’t always find at the big box stores, at pushing a sort of aesthetic agenda that sets them apart. If, as a store owner, you could always know which books will both increase your coolness factor with your clientele and sell with the necessary velocity to keep you paying your rent, you’d be in the best spot possible. This might seem intuitive, but I think it can be a bit more complicated depending on how you value your reputation. For example, you may not want to carry Fifty Shades of Gray because you have standards, but that means you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. And carrying too many different titles that sell one time a year, yet make you seem like the smartest bookstore around, is a recipe for closure. Figuring out that balance—and which books maximize Cash Profit(CP) and Reputation(REP)—would be ideal.

*


There are tons and tons of different types of equations one could come up with in hopes of finding exploitable inefficiencies. And that could be kind of fun! But so is ignoring data completely and publishing/reading/stocking a book just because it feels right.

Besides, a lot of this calculus is already done on a daily basis by most everyone. Even though it’s not quantified in a sortable, sharable way, people are constantly making these sorts of decisions. They may not think about them quite as honestly as they should though, and maybe something like a set of publishing sabermetric ideas could help publishers and stores be all that they could be. It’s fun to come up with various calculations, mostly because it makes you think about what you’re actually trying to measure, and why the measurements you might already have fall short. It can help define your mission, and by working in various intangible benefits, you can better justify various investments or decisions.


- – - – - – - – - – - – -


1 For anyone not willing to click through (and good on you!), here’s the amazing quote from super-agent Scott Boras:

The off-season is like the America’s Cup. We have 30 boats in the water. They take off and eventually they get to the free-agent docks. Normally, there are trade winds, and there are economic investments in the capacity of the boat, which allow those boats to get to the appropriate free-agent docks.

This year, there was a detour to Japan, where there was a $250 million asset available for $3 million (Ohtani). All boats went to Japan. Then they sailed back a good distance. They came to Florida and found a sinking ship and all of its cargo was in the water (Dee Gordon, Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich). All teams tried to load it on their boats.

That took additional time. Then, as they moved forward to the free-agent docks, they found other ships dumping cargo—Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay and a few others—which then slowed their arrivals to the free-agent docks. So, trade winds, Japan, shipwreck in Florida, more cargo-spewing, all those things artificially delayed the arrivals to the free-agent docks.


Sorry, I have no idea—but I love it! More literary agents need to go off the rails when making random comments about the books they’re trying to auction. That would liven up book journalism!

2 Representative bit from Bicecci and MacSweeney’s Empty Set:

There isn’t much documented evidence of this, but during the military dictatorship in Argentina, teaching basic set theory was prohibited in schools. We know, for example, that a tomato belongs to the tomato(TO) set and not to onion(ON) or chilies(CH) or coriander(CO). Where’s the threat in reasoning like that? In set theory, tomatoes, onions, and chilies might realize they are different foodstuffs, but also that they have things in common, like the fact that they can all belong to the fresh hot salsa(FHS) set and, at the same time, to the Universe(U) of cultivated plants(CP), and might perhaps unite against some other set or Universe(U); for example, that of canned hot salsa(CAHS). In short, a community of vegetables. Venn diagrams are tools of the logic of sets. And from the perspective of sets, dictatorship makes no sense, because its aim is, for the most part, dispersal: separation, scattering, disunity, disappearance.


3 My sabermetric principles apply to BOOKS in general, not just translations, but I want to focus on exploiting this market since it might explain what’s going on in 2018 with the weird decrease in translation publications.

Although! Let me promise the four of you reading this that next month I’ll run some three- and five-year rolling average stats to avoid comparing 2018 to the Best Year Ever. I’ve been statistically irresponsible and I know it. Sorry.

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