This is my Read-a-thon progress report, which means that rather than bombarding the cyber-wires with lots of new posts, I updated this one regularly over 24 hours. I posted new stuff above old, so if you’re checking in for the first time on Monday morning, you might want to start from the bottom and work backwards. 🙂 Click here to read details of my mini-challenge. [Read more…]
24 hour Read-a-thon: mini-challenge
I’m taking part in my second 24 Hour Read-a-thon today. It starts at 1400 GMT / 0000 AEST and is being run by the rather amazing Dewey over at the hidden side of a leaf. Click through for all the details on the who, the what, the where, and of course, the why (assuming it’s not immediately obvious!). For a list of everyone participating, [Read more…]
When writers judge a book by its cover
Can you imagine how it must feel to spend weeks, months or even years finding just the right words to tame your thoughts onto a page, only to have someone else completely rewrite those words? And in a way that you, the owner of those thoughts, will never truly grasp? This is what happens when an author is granted an elusive foreign book deal, and with it, sees their work in translation.
Many writers are understandably thrilled by the whole process. Meg Cabot, for example, offers an amusing insight when she described opening her mail to find the latest translated edition of one of her books, with its unrecognisable cover art and not even a cover note to let her know which language it was in. Meg Gardiner is delighted by how even her name changes on the cover of her books in Czech.
Others are disappointed that their foreign covers seem to be completely unrelated to their book’s content, sometimes to the point of being misleading. Trudi Canavan explains how frustrating it is to have so little imput into the artwork on her foreign book covers, yet also acknowledges that it is job of the overseas publisher, not the author, to understand how best to market the book in their particular market.
There are even a couple of interesting collections by fans of American authors, in particular. For example, an excellent study of Gore Vidal‘s foreign covers, and a beautifully catalogued collection of Jack Kerouac‘s On The Road.
The heady heights of a foreign book deal is clearly the ultimate dream for many authors. Yet the artwork on the book cover is often an author’s only insight into the way their labour of love might be perceived by readers with a whole other set of cultural, social and linguistic frameworks. Because when you read a translation, you’re not reading the words of the author. You are reading the words of the translator who has tried to re-write the thoughts of that author in a way that you, the reader, will understand. It’s not surprising that so many English–speaking authors comment on the foreign covers of their novels, yet as fellow wordsmiths, it’s also disappointing to see how many of them fall into the trap of using this as a means to judge the quality of the translation within.
Authors with foreign book deals are often asked by less experienced authors whether they worry about the quality of their translations. Because without a knowledge of the foreign language that at least equals your knowledge of English, how on earth can you judge, right? But here’s the catch – there is no way to know, not really. An element of blind faith on the side of the client is often inherent in the translation process, which is why you have to be very, very sure you can trust your translator.
One of the most insightful pieces I’ve seen by an author on the reality of a foreign book deal is by Janet Berliner over at Storytellersunplugged. Her comments on translation are all the more credible because it’s clear that her linguistic background extends beyond a couple of years of high-school French. Here’s an author who genuinely understands the lot of the literary translator.
My advice to authors would be to take an interest in the translation process from the beginning. Make yourself available to your translators and answer their questions – and if your translator is not asking you questions, ask why. This is the single biggest thing you can do to influence your translation for the better. In fact, insist on being involved, because no-one knows the meaning behind your words better than you. And it is this meaning, as much as the words themselves, that a translator has to translate.
Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr
I’ve just come across a 24 hour Read-a-thon which is being planned for the 20th October, and I’m all excited about it. “So why not do it?” I’m thinking to myself. But there are plenty of reasons why not:
- 24 hours of reading is a long time. I’ve done it before out of choice (nothing better when it’s cold outside and Mr D is away) but I’m not sure I could face it just off the bat like that.
- I’m busy at weekends, every weekend. Although I’ve nothing in particular planned for the 20th October.
- I don’t necessarily enjoy reading the kind of books that other translators read. Why publicise that more than I need to?
- I’m precious about my weekends. They’re mine, and I like having the freedom to do whatever I like, and at the very last minute if I so chose.
- Do people really want to read about a Read-a-thon on this blog?
- Did I mentioned I might decide to be busy that day?!
But then it looks like so much fun that I think I’ll throw caution to the wind, face my issues head on and just go for it. With a few provisos of course – I’ll do it for as long as it’s fun (12 hours is wishful thinking, let alone 24), I’ll read whatever I fancy and then I’ll only review whatever is most relevant here on my blog.
I have reviewed books here before of course, along with articles I’ve read or training sessions I’ve attended – usually those I’ve found interesting and relevant to me and my freelance career (although very few of these address the process of translation itself). So it’s not entirely unprecedented from that point of view.
So any suggestions for books for me to read? Why not use this as a chance to make some headway on your Amazon wishlist? Or if there’s a book that’s been languishing on your I-know-I-should-read-this-to-help-my-career-but-I-just-can’t-bear-to pile, then let me know. Maybe it will interest me enough to add it to my Read-a-thon list, then you’ll have me to do the donkey work and send you the condensed version. How bad?!
And of course, if you fancy participating yourself, then all the better!