Reading in Translation with Three Percent: An Interview
To celebrate World in Translation Month, Picador got in touch with the co-hosts behind the Three Percent Podcast, a weekly show devoted to conversations about new books, literary events, and the publishing scene in all its variations.
Tom Roberge, Publicity and Marketing Director at New Directions, and Chad W. Post, Director of Open Letter Books and Managing Editor of Three Percent, a website that promotes literature in translation, bring a unique voice to the literary podcast community with their knowledge of world literature.
Recently, Tom and Chad hosted the Best Translated Book Award ceremony at McNally Jackson in New York City. You can read about the winners here as well as watch the video of the announcement.
Here’s what they have to say about translations.
PICADOR: When did you first become aware of translated literature?
Chad: Julio Cortazar. I read “Continuity of Parks” in Spanish class and was pretty blown away, but also fairly certain that my Spanish was so faulty that I just wasn’t getting it. So I bought Blow Up & Other Stories in English translation and promptly fell in love with all things Cortazar.
Tom: I suppose this happened at some point in college, sometime after all of my Shakespeare and Chaucer classes and before we got to WB Yeats and modernist poetry. Actually, it was probably specifically the Marquis de Sade’s The Misfortunes of Virtue (published as a longer novel called Justine, not the Durrell book). It was the only translated book in a course on 18th Century novels or some such thing, and the last on the syllabus so that it could be left off of the exam since the professor told us it was optional owing to its, well, vulgar content. I of course was very intrigued. My first reaction to Sade was the admiration for his rhetoric, and I suppose my love of distasteful characters began there. But the fact that it was a translation was secondary; it was simply a really good book…
What do you look for when deciding what translated work to read next?
Chad: There are so many things that go into a decision like this. Sometimes it’s the buzz around a book, sometimes it’s the author (I’m currently on a Clarice Lispector kick), sometimes the translator (Bill Johnston is a translation jesus!), and sometimes it’s something totally other (Satantango has a gorgeous cover, The Safety Net is about terrorism).
Tom: I don’t necessarily look to specifically read a translation or a non-translation. I look for good books. When I do find myself choosing from among the vast array of choices, I usually gravitate to plot first, style second. Country and translator are important eventually, but first, for me at least, it has to be something I’ll enjoy reading. There was a time when I read the “difficult” books for my own edification, but I’ve since realized that there are things to be learned about human nature in a wide array of books, not just difficult ones that academics deem worthy.
Do you find that you gravitate towards a certain country because of your interest in the culture?
Chad: I read a lot of Mexican and South American books because I particularly like the aesthetic sensibility prevalent in a lot of works from down there. The aforementioned Cortazar and Lispector, but also Borges, Bioy Casares, Chejfec, Zambra, Saer, Sada, etc., etc.
Tom: In the end, I read a lot of French translations. I like their philosophers and their novelists’ tendency to draw on those philosophies. And I’m a huge French film fan, so the overall outlook on art I’m very familiar with and love. But I also read a lot of stuff from Spain and Latin America — they too seem to zero in on themes I’m drawn to.