Of the many reasons to read, a top one for me is taking a break from my life and the particular voices in my head, to listen for a while to the voices in somebody else’s head. Even though I write, and therefore encourage loquaciousness in my personal voices, I get tired of them always nattering on about dark green forests and frog people and old ladies with no teeth. I get bored of them. After a while, I think they are all the same, and not only do they have nothing new to say, that there is nothing new to be said. By anyone. Ever.
A good cure for this is a book by somebody else. Particularly somebody not very much like me. For that reason, I make an effort to read books not written by living white U.S. of Americans. When I need a cure, the less I know about the place a writer’s coming from (geographically, linguistically, temporally, or metaphorically), the better.
Sadly, finding this medicine is an effort. I read book blogs, writers’ blogs, publisher’s emails, & my local library’s RSS feed, and as Tayari often points out, writers of color slip discreetly under the rug of the US publishing industry’s publicity machine. So do translations. (And let’s not even talk about all the great books from everywhere that never get translated. Gnash! Frustrate!)
Reading something totally alien (not just something written with the intent of “explaining” a different environment to your western middle-class self) is really invigorating. Good for your brain, just like eating fish. Don’t know where to get started? For translations try:
- The Guardian’s ongoing ‘World Literature Tour’ (each week a new country is proposed in the books blog, and readers make their nominations in the comments. Ongoing since March 2007).
- Booktrust’s Translated Fiction: Recommended, Recently published, and Forthcoming
- UK Society of Author’s ’50 outstanding translations from the last 50 years’ (skews European, but hits the classics)
- 2008 CWA Duncan Lawrie International Dagger shortlist (not all translations are capital-L ‘literature’)
- Three Percent blog’s ‘Best Translated Book of 2008: Fiction Longlist’
- 2008 Kiriyama Prize finalists (“outstanding books about the Pacific Rim and South Asia”)
Whoo, that’s enough. I’m making myself dizzy, especially from Booktrust’s page with all those yummy covers.
Up next: Lesser-read voices within the U.S.