Translations and Bookstores

wherever-cover-medAfter spending the last few months consciously trying to read translated books, I found the newest anthology by Center for the Art of Translation, Wherever I Lie Is Your Bed, the perfect introduction to translated literature from around the world.  The anthology is a mixture of short stories, book excerpts and poems.  The works are stellar; one after another capturing a haunting moment, the beauty of a life, the isolation of a life alone, with an immediacy that some people believe cannot be translated from one language to another.  When I read a translated book, I often feel like the translator is a person in the corner watching me, knowing but silent.  I poured over the translators introductions to each entry finally feeling like an essential person in my experience was finally given voice.

“Rain at the Construction Site,” a short story from a Greek writer, Ersi Sotiropoulos, translated by Karen Emmerich, contained a combination of the universal, the sadness of a life not lived, a life suddenly and seemingly inexplicitly stolen with elements that were definitely foreign to the American reader.  In a snapshot of one afternoon, the reader feels the main characters isolation and kindness as he stops to keep a stranger company during her grief.  Even if I didn’t know I was reading a translated story, the second paragraph would have screamed it:

    In his opinion the construction of the road wasn’t moving fast enough, not at the pace he would have liked.  “What do you care?” the workmen would bark at him, annoyed.  Sooner or later the road would get built, that was their philosophy.  “Are you really in such a rush to be out of work?” the foreman would joke.

Clearly, not the overworked American philosophy we’re so used to reading about.

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Working with Book Clubs


Book clubs are a great constant source of clientele for a bookstore.  I chatted with Julie Robinson of Literary Affairs about  hints for how bookstores can better serve book club members and tap into that book loving audience.  Julie is a professional book group facilitator who runs dozens of monthly book groups, in addition to hosting luncheons with literature professors and literary themed trips around the world.  For many of her events, she works with Book Soup of Los Angeles – Julie provides the event and Book Soup provides the books, a perfect match.

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A Journey to Opening a Bookstore

After years of dreaming and almost two years of planning, Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting finally opened Greenlight Bookstore in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. I’m well aware of Greenlight Bookstore’s opening even though I live 3,000 miles away and have never been to Brooklyn. How did they do that?

The Perfect Pair

…Yet, sitting down with War and Peace or Madam Bovary can feel intimidating. Not everyone has the option of a book club or a literature class. One answer–pair classics with modern literature and create a literary dialogue between the two books.

Great Books and Banned Books (yes it still happens!)

Walking through Latitude 33, a bookstore in Laguna Beach, CA, I noticed all of my favorite display tables–NYT bestsellers, Indie Next choices, staff picks–and then one that caused me to stop: “Books Bought for their Cover.”  I picked up and looked at each book wondering, what is attractive about this cover?  I bought Modern American … Read more

Bookstore Tourism

I’m a practicing bookstore tourist. Wherever I travel I look for a bookstore to visit and talk to an employee about what she recommends or what is selling at the store. I’m not a book collector in the sense that I’m focused on a certain type of book, my goal is to find new books and to make a connection beyond the usual tourist conversations.

Archipelago Books and reading Great Translated Books

shakespeare&coLast fall, Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy that picks the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, created quite a stir when he called the US “too insular” because we don’t translate enough works “and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.”  He described our ignorance as “restraining.”  Statistically, he’s correct, only about 3% of the books published in the United States are translated works.  While I didn’t think much of Mr. Engdahl’s comment, I thought of it again when I was stunned by beauty of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and wondered what I was missing.  I discovered that I’m missing a lot.

On the other blog I write for, Bookstore People, we’re hosting a summer series called Translated Tuesdays.  Every Tuesday we review a translated book and we’ve discovered a new world of reading.  One of my favorite publishers is Archipelago Books, a non-profit press dedicated to publishing translated books.  Three Percent chose Archipelago Books’ Tranquility, written by Attila Bartis and translated from the Hungarian by Imre Goldstein, as the winner of its 2009 Best Translated Book Winner.  I reviewed The Waitress is New, by Dominque Fabre and translated from the French by Jordan Stump, and felt like I carried the main character Pierre in my head for days after reading it.  The Twin, by Gerbrand Bakker and translated by David Colmer, received great reviews and is rising to the top of the TBR pile. I’ve enjoyed Archipelago Books so much that I subscribed to the fall series.

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