Monday, 25 January 2016

Clemens Meyer Reference Works

I'm on the home straight for my translation of Clemen's Meyer's Im Stein – although we don't have an English title yet. So I thought I'd share my extracurricular reading and reference works for the novel. In order of decreasing naivety.

The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes

Let's Sing Together 

The Penguin Rhyming Dictionary

It's all part of the job. Deutsch für die Polizei

A Dictionary of Marxist Thought

Karl Marx: Capital

Alfred Döblin: Berlin Alexanderplatz

Bobby Cummines: I Am Not a Gangster - Fixer. Armed robber. Hitman. OBE

William T. Vollmann: Whores for Gloria

Rachel Aimee, Eliyanna Kaiser, Audacia Ray (eds.): $pread. The best of the magazine that illuminated the sex industry and started a media revolution

Wolfgang Hilbig, I (trans. Isabel Cole)

David Peace: Tokyo Year Zero

Skip the Games: Escort terms, sex definitions and abbreviations in escort ads

I might have forgotten some.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

My Feelings about My Writers and Your Feelings about David Bowie

I had been puzzled by how strongly people feel about David Bowie's death – the street renamings, the pilgrimages and flowers, the deep sadness, the need to share the tiny encounters or the life-changing effects of particular songs or Top of the Pops appearances. I have a different feeling about death to many people anyway, as a fourth-generation atheist, and have struggled to understand people's reactions in the past. A lot of them felt to me as though people thought the dead person was looking down at them and checking they were behaving suitably. Maybe they did think that, I don't know. When you've never entertained the idea of an afterlife that's hard to relate to. But I have at least learned something about the comforting power of ritual and sharing of grief.

So I had been idly reading various people's responses and it began to dawn on me that I had in fact felt something similar to that one-way devotion to someone who is unaware of your existence. And that's the feeling I have about my writers. I spend months or years mentally immersed in their creative work in a similar way to that time spent listening to favourite songs, poring over lyrics, interpreting their meaning, internalizing the rhythm, singing along at the top of your voice, imagining the song is all about you. Such a joyful teenagerly activity, best performed on a single bed with headphones and spots. I know you don't have to be a teenager to do it; here's the last song that did that to me.

And that's very like what happens to me when I'm translating a novel. It's a work of art that's been created entirely independently of me and even if I know the writer personally, which I usually do but not always, I will always know far more about their work than they do about mine. I will always think I know them far better than they know me – and yes, I know that's wrong thinking. But it's still a joyful activity, wallowing in the writing to create my literary cover versions. Sometimes translators do get romantically involved with their writers. I don't know about that really; it's always a secret yearning, I think, but could it ever be a balanced relationship?

None of my writers has died since I started working on them. It will be devastating, I expect. So now I understand the David Bowie sadness better.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Happy New Stats

Happy 2016! I was in a less-than-creative mood anyway so I did some counting. I'm working on an article on gender imbalance in translated fiction for New Books in German. And I'd found it impossible to find any statistics on books published in German in the first place. So I combed a selection of publishers' catalogues from Spring 2016 and Fall 2015. For the purpose of comparison with other stats, I've included only fiction (novels, novellas, short story collections but no poetry, drama, essays or children's books) written in German and published for the first time. The publishers are thirty literary, genre, indie, major group-linked, small, large, medium houses – but of course this is by no means a comprehensive list. Anyway, here it is.

You'll notice the numbers are surprisingly low. Only 128 original German-language titles published in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in Spring 16, 144 in Fall 2015. Obviously that's because I haven't made any attempt to cover all publishers. But it's also because a lot of translations come out, especially fiction. In Germany in 2013, 11,894 published first editions fell under "German literature" and 6,164 literary translations were published, according to Buch und Buchhandel in Zahlen 2014.

Adding the two seasons together, books authored by women made up 43% of original fiction in my selection.

Going by a previous count of mine, about 30% of fiction translated from German to English was written by women. So something does seem to be getting lost along the way.