Spreading the Word on Quality Literature, Providing Global Perspective
With all the mainstream "best book" lists for 2008 flashing before our eyes in the media these days, it seems an appreciation process for the great books of international literature that made their way into English last year—along with the global perspective these works contain—is also well on the way.
Three Percent (rochester.edu/threepercent), a blog and review Web site dedicated to books in translation, recently announced its long list of 25 titles for the Best Translated Book Award of 2008. The 25 books, produced by publishers of all sizes, include works originally published in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Hungarian, German, Arabic, Greek, Catalan, Icelandic, and Hebrew. The list will be cut down to 10 finalists on Jan. 27. The best translated book of 2008 will be announced at a reception on Feb. 19 at Melville House Books in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"This is the only award in America honoring international literature that is given to the book itself," says Chad Post, director of Three Percent and Open Letter (openletterbooks.com), the University of Rochester's literary press that publishes works of translation. "Unfortunately, not many works of translation get the attention they deserve, but it's good, maybe even emotionally essential, to celebrate the great books from other countries that have made their way into English."
Post says that while there are awards given to translators of specific languages, such as the French-American Translation Award, until now there hasn't been a prize that honors the actual book in translation—what Post calls the "complete package"—taking into consideration the work of the original writer, translator, editor, and publisher who brought the work to the American public.
Selected by a noted panel of literary editors, reviewers, and booksellers from the international publishing community, including Post, the books that made the Best Translated Book Award long list includes classics by Marcel Proust and Nobel Prize winner Halldór Kiljan Laxness to works by first-time novelists Céline Curiol and Horacio Castellanos Moya, and translators such as Gregory Rabassa and Charlotte Mandell.
"In light of the developing global culture, international literature is the necessary avenue we must travel in order to achieve a greater understanding of our place in that global culture," says panelist Monica Carter, bookseller at Skylight Books of Los Angeles, Calif. and editor of Salonica (salonicaworldlit.com), a Web site dedicated to the promotion of international classic and modern literature to English-speaking audiences. "This is a chance to honor the writers, poets, and translators who also believe this and have made an impact on America's perception of what exists outside our borders."
Only about 3 percent of all books published in the United States yearly are works in translation. In terms of literary fiction and poetry, the number is less than 1 percent, which, according to the most recent tracking survey conducted by Three Percent, brings the total number of all original translations of fiction and poetry published in the United States in 2008 to just over 350.
As Post recently told the Los Angeles Times, most newspapers in the United States simply don't review literature in translation—and due to increasing media cutbacks, are less likely to review literary fiction as a whole—while a variety of dedicated literary Web sites continue to advocate for and review works of translation.
"In many ways, international literature is much richer and more interesting than what's currently being published stateside," says book award panelist Scott Esposito, the editor of Conversational Reading (conversationalreading.com) and The Quarterly Conversation (quarterlyconversation.com). "With our government playing such a prominent role in world affairs, I think it's our responsibility to learn about these other nations that our politicians are affecting. Obviously reading their literature is one way of doing that."
This year's panelists also include Steve Dolph, editor of CALQUE (calquezine.blogspot.com); Brandon Kennedy, bookseller at Spoonbill & Sugartown of Brooklyn (spoonbillbooks.com); Michael Orthofer, editor of the Literary Saloon (literarysaloon.com) and Complete Review (complete-review.com); E. J. Van Lanen, senior editor of Open Letter and Three Percent; and Jeff Waxman, bookseller at the Seminary Co-op Bookstores of Chicago (semcoop.com) and editor of The Front Table (blog.semcoop.com). For additional information about the award, panelists, and a full list of selected titles, visit www.rochester.edu/threepercent or contact email@example.com.