Monday, 12 December 2011

Reading Group? Ask the Translator.

The Germans don't tend to be early adopters (see also: e-readers, tasty sandwiches). Whereas a whole slew of books in the UK and the US have made it big via reading-group word-of-mouth and major publishers often include a list of discussion points at the back of likely novels, Germany hasn't quite caught on yet. On the other hand, of course, the Germans are already a nation of readers and may not need as much encouragement.

But still, there is a book-group book out there - Das Lesekreisbuch - authored by Thomas Böhm, a man who wears elbow patches in public. Apparently he even provides tips for the right kind of nibbles to serve. He bigged up the idea in the NZZ earlier this year, mostly with reference to UK/US examples. Most of the reading groups I'm aware of in Berlin do in fact focus on English literature - I used to attend one initiated by the British Council a few years ago and the bookshop Dialogue Berlin runs another excellent one. BUT some of the cleverest German literary types I know also happen to have a reading group on a less formal basis. In fact, I believe I lent one of them a book and never got it back - I assume that's a good sign. In New York, Boston, London and Glasgow, however, you can read books in German and discuss them in English. Or you could even set up your own German reading group if you're that way inclined.

All of which brings me back to the title of this post. I recently came up with a list of questions and discussion points for one of the books I translated (more later, as and when anything comes out of it). And I found it really easy, not just because I'm a chatty kind of person but because having translated the book, I knew it inside out. But at the same time, I had the distance necessary to step back and look for overarching themes, weaknesses, and issues in the book. Which I think can be difficult for some writers to do themselves.

Anyway, my idea is this: if you already have a reading group in Germany or elsewhere and you happen to read the odd translation, why not choose a book done by a local translator and get a bit of added value by inviting the translator along? How cool would that be? I bet they'd be thrilled to bits and have loads of great anecdotes to tell you, as well as understanding the book really well. Plus they're more likely to attend than, let's say, W.G. Sebald or John Steinbeck. Just don't say you prefer to read the original.

1 comment:

Tom Cunliffe said...

Very interesting to read about the German literary scene. I suspect Germans read far more than the British and perhaps they concentrate on their own authors -- fewer of whom are translated into English than the other way round unfortunately.