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.

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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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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.

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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

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

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

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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


  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
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  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
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  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
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  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
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  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
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  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
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  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

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...
  2. This Month, We’ll Be Reading Buddenbrooks Last spring I was completely blown away by Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus. On the spot I vowed to read more Mann, and then didn't...
  3. Buddenbrooks: A Post-War and Peace Novel While we're reading Buddenbrooks, I think it will be useful to consider the book as a sort of work written in the tradition of War...
  4. Hahn’s Translation Blog There continues to be good material up at Daniel Hahn’s blog, where he chronicles his translation of Estação das Chuvas ("The Rainy Season") by José...
  5. In Translation The Guardian asks 10 experts to recommend 10 writers not writing in English that we should be reading. Of the 10, 2 ring a bell:...

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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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