The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


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Buddenbrooks: Which Translation?

Katy at Love German Books asks which translation of Buddenbrooks we're reading. I don't know which Sacha and John are reading, so maybe they'll chime in and enlighten us as to which and why.

For my own part, I'm reading John Woods', and I can tell you exactly why. I read the Porter translation of Doctor Faustus and found it decent, until a few months later when I happened to get a hold of a copy of Woods'. The Woods was clearly superior work, so I saw no reason to even bother with the Porter for Buddenbrooks.

According to Theodore Ziolkowski's review in The New York Times, I made the right choice:

"Buddenbrooks" was the first product of the 30-year collaboration between Thomas Mann and the American translator Helen T. Lowe-Porter (1876-1963), through whose renditions most of his works became known to the English-reading public. Although its competence was acknowledged, it is not the strongest example of her craft. As she pointed out in her "Translator's Note," Lowe-Porter had special difficulties with the dialects, to which the novel owes much of its humor and the sharpness of its characterizations. "This difficulty is insuperable," she concluded. "Dialect cannot be transferred." Accordingly, she leveled Mann's colorful variety of speech into a uniformly even style, in certain cases simply omitting passages. As a result, much of the novel's humor was lost.

These inadequacies alone would probably justify a new translation. John E. Woods, whose intrepidity in the face of linguistic difficulties is attested by his prize-winning renditions of such writers as Arno Schmidt ("Evening Edged in Gold") and Patrick Suskind ("Perfume"), is not dismayed by Mann's play with dialects. He has restored passages omitted by Lowe-Porter and found ingenious renderings for tricky puns: for example, a Latin teacher's rule of thumb for rules of gender: "What's good for the goose is good for the gender." He has also retrieved occasional passages that Lowe-Porter omitted for reasons of delicacy: some lines on flatulence, for instance, that aptly characterize Tony Buddenbrook's boorish son-in-law.

Elsewhere Mr. Woods's vocabulary is closer to the earthiness of Mann's language, as when Hanno Buddenbrook, after gorging himself on Christmas sweets, states that he's about to "throw up" — which Lowe-Porter ambiguously renders as, "I think I'll just have to give it all up." Mr. Woods not only remains closer in vocabulary to Mann; he renders Mann's style more faithfully than his predecessor, who did not hesitate to recast and shorten Mann's sentences.

It is a truism that every generation needs its own translations. Lowe-Porter provided a valuable service by making Mann's novel initially accessible to the English and American publics. In Mr. Woods's sparkling new translation, the reader approaching "Buddenbrooks" in English now encounters a work that is closer in style, vocabulary, idiom and tone to the original and can thus appreciate more fully the monumental achievement of the artist as a young Mann.

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  1. The Danger with Translation Wyatt Mason: My professor, upon returning the paper, patiently explained that Helen Tracy Lowe Porter, Mann’s erstwhile voice in English, had a habit of serial...
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1 comment to Buddenbrooks: Which Translation?

  • Thanks for clearing that up. John Woods really is an excellent and highly spirited translator. But it’s also the case that translation as a whole has moved on since Lowe-Porter’s time, and certain things that were perfectly acceptable back then are anathema now (like the omissions and smoothing out mentioned in the review).
    So I’m with you all the way…

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