discovering new reads…

The Magician - Rider Waite Tarot

It’s been a long time since I’ve listened to any podcasts, but when I received an email announcing that my favourite quarterly had started up the Slightly Foxed Podcast, I decided it was time for old habits and new reads.

If you’re unfamiliar with Slightly Foxed, it’s a very down-to-earth publication that is all about the delight of reading, and of discovering new (often “unpopular” or obscure) books.

“We’re not snobbish about this. We believe that reading is a pleasurable activity and there are some books you need at particular times in your life, and they’re for pleasure, for comfort, diversion, inspiration.”

The quarterly itself, and now the podcast, are excellent sources for discovering books that fall in the cracks between the latest popular novels, and the classics. I remember reading the article on Georgette Heyer that finally convinced me to pick up one of those lovely editions that I kept seeing in Galloway’s, back when I was far too much of a literary snob even to entertain the notion of reading romance. What a lucky thing I did!

On Chronic Re-reading

One of my resolutions for this year is to read more fiction. While I sample widely of non-fiction, I’ve realised that recently I’ve fallen into the cosy habit of re-reading my favourites (His Dark Materials, Ivanhoe, North and South, Cadfael), and of only taking on books that I’m certain I’ll like.

These days I rarely even read any fiction published in the 20th century, let alone the 21st!

To test my resolve, I picked up the ugliest book on my Dad’s bookshelf – a copy of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. In all honesty, classic sci-fi is well within the bounds of my comfort zone, but… it’s a step in the right (temporal) direction!

I can’t say it turned out to be one of my favourites, but it did make me realise that I would really enjoy filming some book reviews specifically for writers, that hone in on the text more closely.

On Booktubers

I’m just getting into following booktubers, but they’ve already led me to some intriguing additions to my TBR list.

Here are a few channels I enjoy:

  1. Getting Hygge With It
  2. Jen Campbell
  3. Mercy’s Bookish Musings
  4. Reads & Daydreams
  5. Steve Donoghue
  6. EarnestlyEston
  7. Britta Böhler

If you have any more recommendations for booktubers (preferably focused on adult fiction), then please let me know!

On Translation

The first episode of the Slightly Foxed Podcast mentions the late Anthea Bell, who translated many important works from French and German into English, among them Simenon’s Maigret and much of Stefan Zweig’s oeuvre. Zweig is enormously popular in Turkey (and possibly on the Continent?) but I don’t hear him mentioned as often in the UK. His novella, Chess (German: Schachnovelle) is probably the best known, although I first read Amok, which bears some resemblance to Heart of Darkness, and which is still my favourite of his works I’ve read thus far.

As I’m in the thick of my own translation work, I was interested to discover an article Bell wrote titled, Translation: walking the tightrope of illusion, which was published in The Translator As Writer.

She writes:

… in the modern debate over the merits of ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ translation I am an unrepentant, unreconstructed adherent of the school of invisibility, and cannot change an honestly held opinion because it is out of fashion.

I can’t deny that I love Bell’s translations, especially of Asterix, and I think that when it comes to children’s literature, a natural, “native” style is best. However, for more “literary” works… I’m not sure. While I adore a flowing, almost-disappearing style of narration, over time I’ve grown fonder and fonder of the strange syntax and word choice of strangers. It’s like looking at your own language with new eyes, and I think it’s the same pleasure that Bell describes as her early impulse to translate:

… a keen love of language and literature in general can lead to work in the field of translation, and one sometimes reaches it along unexpected byways. I suspect the process is something like this: people who are naturally voracious readers as children will be anxious to get at the contents of books in a language they cannot yet read, and will therefore work full tilt to grasp the basics of a language so as to gain access to those tantalizing volumes. Never mind passing exams; they want to get at the books.

That’s certainly been my experience!

As far as my translation of Aşk-ı Memnu (‘Forbidden Love’) goes, however, the matter is even more complicated. The novel was serialised at the end of the 19th century, when Turkish was written with Arabic (and a few Farsi) letters, and the vocabulary (and the grammar that accompanied it) was so different that it is incomprehensible to the average Turkish-speaker today.

Even within the author, Halid Ziya Uşaklıgil’s lifetime, the language (or at least the literary fashions) had changed so much, that when he published a Latinised version of the novel, he also thought it expedient to simplify the language. Since the work’s lapse into the public domain in 2016, there have been dozens of new editions and further attempts at simplification, all of which come with their own slight deviations from the “original”. Native speakers themselves are effectively reading a translation from Turkish to Turkish!

There is an amusing passage at the beginning of his book Sanata Dair (‘On Art’), where Halid Ziya bemoans his earlier penchant for writing flowery, incredibly ornate language. The examples he provides are, today, barely recognisable as Turkish, and the ultimate irony is that even his discussion of them is glossed for a modern audience. For comparison, here is a list of works published in the year 1900. Imagine struggling to comprehend the language of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Marie Corelli, or Joseph Conrad, and you will have an idea of how much Turkish has changed in just a short time.

The Early Turkish Novel

There is one other hesitant idea that is always at the back of my mind, but that might be completely misleading; I imagine a language-learner picking up my translation to aid them with understanding the “original”. Like Bell, my main incentive for grappling with a new language is always (thus far) to read novels, so I can’t help but sympathise with my fellow learners! I keep worrying that this imaginary student will search in vain for a word or phrase that I’ve translated into idiomatic English, and that they will wonder if that certain figure of speech existed in Turkish too, or whether it’s been inserted in translation.

But, after all, how many people are likely to take up a difficult Turkish novel, even at an advanced stage of their study? English-speakers won’t even have the benefit of language-family familiarity to help them muddle through. Furthermore, I don’t think many literature-lovers go through a “Turkish phase” the way we all go through a “Russian phase” or a “French phase”. Maybe that will change in the future as more works become available in translation, but until then, I should probably abandon my imaginary Türkçeci…

Traveller's Notebook

Nevertheless, that doesn’t change the fact that books in other languages are an excellent resource for leading reading out of your comfort zone. And if you’re a linguaphile, remember, translations aren’t a cop-out! :) Here is a list of 52 Books from 52 Countries that has some exciting suggestions, although, personally I found Orhan Pamuk’s Snow extremely boring in Turkish. Maybe it fares better in translation after all?…

P.S. Thank you to The Write Life for listing this website as one of the 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2019, and thank YOU for reading and sharing!

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