More Books You Won't Read in the U.S.

Lewis Manalo, the buyer for Idlewild Books in NYC, must be doing a good job. Though I’ve never been to the store, by all reports Idlewild has a great selection of world literature.

What’s more, Manalo has penned an op-ed where he describes his efforts to get books–often great works of world literature–that have never been published in the U.S. into the hands of his customers. At the very least, this is evidence against the claim that “culturally insular” Americans don’t want to read beyond their borders:

Telling your bookseller that you’ve tried every other shop in the city before you’ve tried his won’t gain you any sympathy (I’m thinking, “Why, after all, didn’t you just try mine first?”) but I always do my best. In those few instances when I can’t produce the book, the customer always has to ask, “Why not?”

Though the answer is usually that the book is out of print or out of stock, very often the book is not American and has never been available in the United States. Since I started working at Idlewild, it’s very often the case that the book has never been published here. Now, in the face of all of these requests I can’t meet, the paltry amount of world fiction printed in the U.S. has become a personal embarrassment. For every customer who asks, “Why doesn’t the shop have more titles by Mian Mian?” “Only two titles by Cendrars?” or “Where is all the Clarice Lispector?” I can only offer an apology.

Of course, for about 50 suggestions for what classics of world literature need to be published in the U.S. right this minute, go right over to The Quarterly Conversation’s winter feature Translate This Book!. Featuring the likes of Chris Andrews, Susan Bernofsky, Enrique Vila-Matas, and Margaret Jull Costa, it’ll definitely make you wish more translated literature was available in the U.S.

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As I follow blogs and news, I see more and more mediocre writers in German being translated into English, whether it’s Pascal Mercier, Ingo Schulze or Thomas Glavinic; if we additionally consider how few German novels are translated at all, the fact that so many bad writers make the cut while so many good writers don’t almost amounts to a tragedy.

For what it’s worth, I decided to put up a list of writers or books who deserve to be translated into English, who deserve a wide audience, accolades and admiration, although they don’t, at the moment, get either beyond the borders of Germany, Austria or Switzerland. This list is made up of two times four writers/books. Four living, contemporary writers, and four ‘dead’, classical writers.

Part 1 (Contemporary Books)is here http://shigekuni.wordpress.com/2009/12/30/translatables-part-1/

Part 2 (Classic Books) is here http://shigekuni.wordpress.com/2009/12/31/translatables-part-2/

I really hope these books will be translated. The living writers all deserve it and you guys deserve to read the classical books especially.

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