The Lost in Translation Project, Questions for Frances Evangelista

By Bud Parr

The Lost in Translation reading challenge, created by Frances Evangelista who blogs at Nonsuchbook, is bringing together readers and bloggers to read and discuss literature in translation. There are over 50 participants and the site is full of great reading suggestions and resources for readers. We think it's a great and interesting project and decided to ask Frances a few questions:

Could you explain what the "Lost in Translation" project is and what you hope it might accomplish?

The Lost in Translation project is a simple reading challenge intended to motivate readers to pick up a half-dozen translated works in 2009. The whole Nobel brouhaha this year has really highlighted to many our own literary ethnocentrism, and the challenge provides a casual community in which we may all stretch ourselves a bit as readers.

Lost in Translation looks like a lot of work, compiling commentary on books from a wide range of people. What prompted you to initiate the project?

It really is not that much work. We still have less than 50 participants although the lurker numbers are larger. That makes me feel as if I really need to step it up to get those maybes to sign on. Or maybe those just stopping by are reading translated works as well and not just formalizing their participation. All good I suppose.

In terms of what prompted me to initiate the project, I love all of the great reading challenges out there right now, and this idea just came to me when I was clicking through a stock image website. Random. But instantly appealed to me.

By the looks of responses and posts on your site, you're getting an enthusiastic response. Do you think there's more of an appetite for literature in translation than U.S. publishers estimate?

Absolutely. I think that there is just a huge appetite for "the other" right now in general. The whole literature for a post-racial world thing. New president, new approach, new motivation to re-define ourselves in so many ways and that includes as readers. So many great books will only come to us through translation.

U.S. publishers have under-estimated the appetite for books in translation, certainly, but part of the problem is that they do not really market them well either. The whole industry has centered their marketing efforts on the hyper-common (Oprah picks, Target Bookmarked, etc.) so as to save themselves from extinction I suppose. Is it necessary or prudent to have a non-existent marketing plan for the mid-list or back-list book? Does not seem so. Perhaps the industry would be better served by a little micro-marketing whatever that means. Also, how will the publishing world provide access to works in translation and other lesser-knowns in digital form? What will be immediately downloadable?

Have you always read much translated work, or is this a challenge to you too?

Challenge to me as well.

Do you read any other languages or have you done any translation yourself?

I do read French and struggle along in two other languages. I have no translation experience.

Are there any untranslated authors you know of you'd like to see brought to English?

Not so much specific authors as whole bodies of work from different countries especially Soviet Union/Russian works that comment upon the political transformations of the 20th century but were banned and subsequently lost to view.

What's your favorite translated novel?

I do not have an original answer here. Anna Karenina which is also one of my favorite books in general.

It looks like you've been blogging altogether at your nonsuchbook blog for about six months. What are your impressions of the 'blogosphere' so far? Do you think the 'cult of the amateur' as some people call it is here to stay?

I started to blog to journal my own reading experiences, but have discovered a great community of fellow biblio-bloggers. Supportive. Engaging. Smart.

The whole "cult of the amateur" kind of makes me laugh. Professionals are blogging too. Everyone is blogging. It is what Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic so aptly described as "thinking out loud." Conversational. Immediate. Fragmented. Personal. Communal. Participatory. One way in which we are not alone in our digital consumptions. If I write the occasional book review that does not mean that I equate my effort with that of a professional. However, I do think that everyone sharing does not detract from professional efforts so much as draws greater interest to them. I know I read more book reviews now in general as I seek a more refined expression of my own reading impressions. Unfortunately, it appears that the professional efforts are disappearing from many newspapers. Again, like the book publishing industry, it is just about re-inventing yourself to suit the tastes and habits of the present.

What are some great sites - particularly related to international literature that you read?

Three Percent and, of course, Words Without Borders. Also, the Washington Post does a fabulous job regularly reviewing works in translation. Besides that, feel free to suggest as I am still growing this new endeavor.

The Lost in Translation Project


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