25 março 2006

Who publishes more translations, the U.S. or the U.K.?

For my final London wrap-up, I wanted to ask who publishes more translations--U.S. or U.K. publishers? This is a question I've encountered every time I've been in London, but it's never seemed as evident and interesting as it did this time. Reviewers at the Guardian felt like the U.S. was more receptive to translations, as did those at the BBC. And in Foyle's and the London Review Bookshoppe (both of which, by the way, fucking rock in the bookstore world) everyone I spoke with--from John Creasey at LRB, to Tammy and Kenny and Jo at Foyle's--seem to think more translations are published in the States than here.

They have some reason for concern with Harvill merging with Secker, with Christopher MacLehose leaving the Secker Harvill superpower . . . but they still have presses like Serpent's Tail, like Arcadia (though I can't really figure out what they're up to), etc. My initial impression was that in the States, the big presses--Random House, Penguin, FSG--don't do as many translations as they do here. And that as a result 3% of all books published in the UK are translations compared to 2% in the U.S. (Let's put aside the qualitative number for a minute--proportions rule perceptions in realms like this.)

But I think I'm wrong. For every Bitter Lemon in the UK there's a Ugly Duckling Press in the States. The big difference may be in the stores and in the reviews. In both places translations aren't treated like that insane aunt you keep in the basement and feed every year at Thanksgiving. Translations are just books. Reviewed for their quality as books. Nor ghettoized, not ignored. On display. In the book pages. (Michael Orthofer should do a study of the Guardian vs. the New York Times in terms of number of reviews of translations over a year.)

I don't think that the U.S. is doing a bad job by any means. It may be the location, the tradition, the multilingual nature of London, but it's like, not a big deal to read, display, talk about a French translation. It's some subtle mind shift that distinguishes U.K. and U.S. reviewers, readers, booksellers. Not that one is "better"--we both feel we do a horrible job re: translations--but in one case it's translation qua translation, the other it's the superiority of international literature to chick-lit.

And there's a hell of a lot of odd books (like chick-lit) advertised here. Like The Rise and Fall of a Yummy Mummy. (Don't buy it. Please. Don't make me regret making fun of things I know little to nothing about.) This can't be a good book. Just look at the cartoon on the cover. And then there's the book that guarantees "as good as Grisham or your money back." (I'm not even going to list the title of this one.)

While I'm digressing, what the hell is up with CCTV here in London? You're on Closed Circuit virtually everywhere in the city. I kid you not, from where I'm sitting in the Easy Internet Cafe (who has much better rates than the computers at the Copthorne Tara--computers, which, via their ISP decided I can no longer access my e-mail because there's something "inappropriate" in my inbox. And we're the conservative, repressed, purtianical country?) I can see myself on CCTV. No matter where you are--inside or out--you're on camera. It's invasive, pervasive, and a normal way of life for Londoners. And scares me, having come from the Midwest. Where the corn keeps your secrets.

But now that I'm going back to Normal (via Edinburgh--more later on that though), I've decided to incorporate a few British phrases into my speech patterns. Like "rubbish." It's so dismissive to declare, "what rubbish you're speaking!" And "scheme" for any plan under the sun (legal or not) is still pretty good. "Cheeky bloke" ain't bad, but I don't think I can cotton to that . . . And LCD for "least common denominator," which isn't British at all, but it's fun to say "yeah, that movie was OK . . but a bit LCD, if you know what I mean."

From the Words Without Borders blog

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