Saturday, November 27, 2010

How to choose a translation.

Choosing a translation can be a daunting task and a bad translation can turn you off a great novel. So if you don't happen to know a native speaker what are you to do? Here are three steps I have found helpful:

1) Read the translator's preface or introduction. Translation is a complex and difficult process and translators have different methods. Most translators will explain their theories and methods. Some strive for word-for-word exactitude, others seek to recreate the tone of the original; some set the work in its historical context, others update the work. Consider whether you agree with the translator. There is no correct way to translate a novel, it is a matter of taste and as the reader it is your taste that matters.

2) Consider the date of the translation. Like original authors, translators are products of their times. This is especially important with historical translations. Alexander Pope's translation of the Iliad, for instance, is a beautiful work of art but is very much an eighteenth-century retelling of Homer.

3) Carefully read a few passages, including some dialogue. If there are several translations you are considering, read the same passages in each. Do you like the writing? Does it sound right? Can you imagine reading it for several hundred pages? Again this is a matter of personal taste; unless you like the writing you are unlikely to finish the work, and that would be a shame.

And if you can't find a translation you like? Don't read the book. A bad translation of the best book will be a terrible read. Wait for a better translation. There are thousands of books worth reading in the meantime. Of course you could always learn the original language . . .

Finally, here are three translated works that I can enthusiastically recommend:

The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevasky
translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
translated by John Ciardi

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

75 Years of DC Comics

There's been a lot of buzz ever since Taschen announced a number of months ago they were publishing 75 Years of DC Comics by Paul Levitz, longtime DC Comics editor and publisher. It has just arrived in the store in time for the holidays. Produced in their large format XL edition it is, as they say, "the single most comprehensive book on DC comics" with over 2,000 images reproducing covers, interiors, original illustrations, film stills, collectibles and more. Some interior views can be seen on Taschen's website. Better yet, come into the store and take a look at our display copy firsthand.

Book Donations for Kids in Shelters

It is a very busy time of year, we know. But next time you are in the store, please take a moment to purchase a book for a child, newborn to age 18, and drop it in our donation box. For the last three years, we have been helping the Cambridge Public Library collect new books for kids in transitional housing in the Cambridge area. You will get a 20% discount on any books purchased for this program. The staff at the library then wrap and distribute the books to shelters. One among them houses over 300 kids so the need is great. Thanks in advance for your help.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Carlos Eire

I happened to catch yesterday's broadcast of Fresh Air while sitting in the cell phone lot at the airport. The time passed almost without notice as I listened to Carlos Eire's sonorous voice describe the experience of leaving his homeland, his parents, and all that was familiar to escape Castro's Cuba in 1962. He tells the story in his new book Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy. This can be read in conjunction with Eire's Waiting for Snow in Havana which describes his childhood in Cuba and won the National Book Award in 2003. Either would make a great gift and together they paint a fascinating portrait of a life lived very consciously.

Tree of Codes

The word is spreading about the "new" Jonathan Safran book, Tree of Codes. I say "new" since the novel is created by excising text from the novel Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz. Whatever its merits as a work of fiction, the production of the physical book is impressive (and so also carries an impressive price). New York Magazine just published a short piece with a terrific photo about it that's worth a look. Our original order was shorted by the publisher as the demand for the book outstripped the initial supply so if you would like a copy act soon. A reprint is expected in mid-December.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NEIBA Holiday Catalog

Every year the New England Independent Booksellers Association puts together a holiday catalog filled with great book recommendations. The catalog is organized into sections featuring suggestions in Cooking, Fiction, People, Nonfiction, Arts, Children’s, and Young Adult. It also highlights the 2010 New England Book Award Winners: Father of the Rain, by Lily King; Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell; and City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems.

You can see the full list here or pick up a physical copy in the store.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Borrowing a Critics's Brain

Too often, I find that contemporary criticism is more interested in proving a particular point than in helping readers deepen their understanding of the book in question. I believe book critics are like park rangers or tour guides in museums; readers don’t need critics to get a lot out of books, but critics provide the skill and knowledge to open up a whole new understanding of books. They give readers the opportunity to see things they otherwise never would have and to do so with a better overall understanding of the context of the book. Though I think there is a lot of value in “making a point” criticism (criticism whose first goal is to convince readers of something in relation to the book in question), I wish there were more general criticism; criticism that demonstrates the kind of exploration that great readers do while they read. (The New York Review of Books is filled with the latter and that's probably why I like it so much.)

One way to understand Declan Kiberd’s Ulysses and Us is as the story of an intelligent sophisticated reader, reading an intelligent and sophisticated book. Kiberd organizes his reading around daily actions that he believes are explored and celebrated in Ulysses; walking, eating, reading, ogling, teaching, etc, but his writing goes beyond a strict adherence to showing that episode X is devoted to mundane activity Y. He essentially allows us a look into his mind as he reads Ulysses; the mind of a Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature at the University College Dublin, of the author of Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation and Irish Classics, and of the editor of The Annotated Students’ Ulysses.

You don’t have to have read Ulysses to enjoy Ulysses and Us and though I always hope more people read Ulysses, Ulysses and Us is interesting even for those with no plans whatsoever to read Joyce’s masterpiece. Kiberd gives us a chance to borrow the brain of a critic and use it to read for a while.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rut - Concord Free Press

Once again we have an offering of free books from the Concord Free Press. If you follow our posts regularly you might recall that they give away the books they publish only asking that you donate money to a person or organization that needs it and when you've finished the book to pass it along so the giving can continue. Ideally you'll also let them know that you donated on their website so they can keep tally of their impact. To date their readers have donated over $165,000!

This season's title is Rut by Scott Phillips. Stop in right away as it's first come first serve and we only have a case to distribute.

The Walking Dead

Now that AMC has run the first episode of "The Walking Dead" I thought it would be a good time to talk about the source material. AMC's show is based (rather closely it would appear) on a series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman. There are a dozen volumes so far and the series shows no signs of stopping.

From the very beginning The Walking Dead proves to be a cut above the typical zombie epic. The art is well executed in a realistic style ideally suited to the writing. The writing itself is dramatic, surprising, and tightly paced. Though the characters often wander at a loss the story never does, maintaining a forward momentum that pulls the reader along. Each issue offers new and horrific surprises that will leave readers waiting for the next volume with anticipation and dread. The characterization is almost painfully deep, especially considering the suddenness of some of the many, many deaths. Characters that the reader has watched survive and grow for volumes are suddenly killed with no warning. No one, it seems, is immune and death -- whether it is slow or sudden -- is always catastrophic and harder for the survivors than the dead.

The Walking Dead is a story of hard choices and harsh consequences. The violence comes in sudden shocking bursts and very often the living are worse than the dead. The zombies may be average shamblers but these comics are anything but average.

Keys to Good Cooking

Not a square inch of space was wasted in the production of Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes by Harold McGee. Right on the jacket cover are the chapter headings and the endpapers are packed with invaluable information such conversion charts, target temperatures, substitutions, and often used formulas.

McGee is an authority on the science of cooking and is also the author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen and a column for the New York Times, "The Curious Cook".

The above mentioned chapters cover basic material such as kitchen tools; handling food safely; eggs; nuts and oil seeds; coffee and tea; and sauces, stocks and soups to name just a few of the 24 chapters. The material is presented crisply and thoroughly. There is always Bittman and Rombauer and The Silver Palate, but this volume just seems more accessible and informative. It makes a great gift for newlyweds setting up house; for the young grad starting out on his/her own; or for any cook whose working library lacks a volume with just enough chemistry to keep it really interesting.

Blog Archive