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Book Club in Translation: Or, the Lighter Side of Professional Development

Last Thursday, June 28, Publishing the World’s book club met for its second-ever monthly meeting. You may not know about the Publishing the World book club, but hopefully you remember that Publishing the World launch party from last summer? The one with all the beautiful people having cultured conversations in a picturesque setting? Well, those beautiful, cultured people are back and better than ever, with the fabulous Publishing the World blog that always has coverage of what’s going on in the world of translated literature, videos, book recommendations…and their Weekly Wrap (similar to our 5 Links) is a can’t miss. Then there’s this book club.

Standing, from left: Samantha Steele, Brittany Hazelwood, Michael Reynolds, and other book club participants

The Publishing the World book club votes every month on a book in translation (out of a handful chosen by PTW’s fearless leaders, Brittany Hazelwood of the German Book Office and Samantha Steele of the French Publishers Agency). This month’s pick was the zany, non-linear, hilarious, sad, exuberant I Hadn’t Understood by Diego De Silva, recently released from Europa Editions in translation from the original Italian.

The plot of the novel follows the inner quandaries and external travails of  Vincenzo Malinconico (that’s Italian for “melancholy), a Neapolitan attorney, who, on top of pining after his somewhat estranged wife and worrying about his kids, gets tangled up with the mafia. It’s a highly recommended read, in no small part because this translation sings and swaggers in a way that suggests translator Anthony Shugaar was born knowing how to do this. (Don’t miss PTW’s amazing interview with him here).

Publishing the World not only focuses on the general area of translated literature, but has devoted a lot of time and energy to making its book club an enriching professional experience. Participants are all involved in book business in some way, but it’s probably the minority whose core business revolves around translation. There was, however, a great deal of enthusiasm for learning how to do more and to better understand the business of translation as a whole. Add to all this that the guest of honor for the evening was Michael Reynolds, Editor-in-Chief of Europa Editions, and we had all the makings of a very worthwhile evening.

The first half of the evening was spent talking about Michael Reynolds’ own professional background and experiences, about the history of Europa, and about the challenges and rewards of translating and publishing I Hadn’t Understood. We devoted plenty of time to taking about the book—plot, dazzling metaphors, enigmatic characters—but what I most appreciated was that there was hardly any point of discussion not informed by book-club participants’ own professional knowledge and experience. In this context, even the more classic “book-club discussion” felt not just interesting, but useful. We discussed the challenges a young editor can face trying to argue the merits of acquiring a book in translation; the way different publishers of translations rely on translators in different ways within the acquisition process (Reynolds says that for Europa, it is actually the authors of work they’ve already published who serve as the best scouts for new material. Other houses rely more heavily upon translators.) We also talked about how we seem to be currently living in the ascendant golden age of small independent publishing houses, and about the necessity of nurturing certain skills in oneself if one is going to suitably advocate for literature in translation: “My best advice to you while you’re young:” said Reynolds, “take a year off and go somewhere to really get inside a language. Only then can you come back and properly evaluate books you might want to acquire.” We, “youngsters” looked around nervously and laughed. We all undoubtedly feel sunk into whatever our job and life situations are right now, but it’s a practical and significant piece of advice for those of us who currently carry around less than robust second-language skills.

Melding the pleasures of reading with one’s interests and knowledge as a book professional is a wonderful “extracurricular enrichment” format for the young book professional, and one that could feasibly apply to those with a range of “special book-biz interests” beyond translation. And the networking? Networking—it is universally acknowledged—is at its best when wine and cheese are involved, and what better place to look for wine and cheese than a book club?

If you’re a young book professional with an interest in translation and international publishing generally, be sure to email the ladies of Publishing the World with your name, company, and position at info (at) publishingtheworld (dot) com to find out about getting on the book club mailing list! Even if you’re not in New York, it’s a worthwhile list to be on for all the great news and tidbits they pass along.

One Trackback

  1. […] From the article by Elisabeth Watson Standing, from left: Samantha Steele, Brittany Hazelwood, Michael Reynolds, and other book club participants […]

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