Introducing the 2015 Visual Guide to Translated Fiction

Introducing the 2015 Visual Guide to Translated Literature

Anyone who reads this site knows one thing: around here we love translated literature. Whether it’s our Typographical Translation Preview highlighting the best books that you need to get your hands on, our (now) monthly New in Translation series showcasing the latest in translated fiction, our shelves dedicated to calling attention to reviews of translated literature, or the Typographical Translation Award, where you get to tell us what the best translation of the year was—we’re always looking for new ways to publicize the amazing wealth of world literature out there just waiting to be enjoyed. Today, we’re excited to introduce our latest effort to promote the awareness and discovery of translated fiction: The 2015 Visual Guide to Translated Fiction.

Last spring, Will Evans of Deep Vellum challenged those of us who want to help the cause to start our own publishing houses. An interesting idea indeed, but realistically speaking, that’s not quite in the cards for us. In his article, Evans clearly and passionately states the case for the need of more translated literature to be published in the United States:

There is a desperate need for more translations of world literature into English, and an infinite amount of discussion around that need if you know where to look. Some call it the “Three Percent Problem,” which has become the catchall phrase to describe the lack of translations published each year in America (the term has gained a wider international audience as the name of the blog of the translation publisher Open Letter Books). “Three percent” refers to the share of translated work in publishing in a given year, but in reality, it’s a generous estimate. If you look at original translations of literature in general, as opposed to academic and scientific works, cookbooks, re-translations of the classics, and the like the number is much lower, and is never more than 0.5% of everything published in America each year.

IF you know where to look. That bit got us thinking. When it comes to translated literature (or in our case specifically fiction): how do people discover what’s out there? Sometimes works of translation are published without mention of the translator’s name on the cover. Further still, often you won’t find any credit given to the translation process at all, or when it is, this information is listed only as part of the teeny tiny print of the colophon. What have we got to hide exactly? Why aren’t more publishers doing a better job of embracing and championing these works of literature for what they are? And why aren’t they taking any chances when it comes to finding and publishing new and exciting world voices?

Evans goes on to crunch the numbers (we love infographics almost as much as we love translated literature) with support from the the amazing work done by Chad Post, Open Letter Books and the Three Percent website in creating their easily downloadable translation databases. These files offer up a huge wealth of information. Statistically, anything you want to know about translated fiction or poetry, dating all the way back to 2008, can be attained. Except…

What do all these books look like? What are they about? Where can I get them?

That’s the gap we’ve identified. That’s the one we’re trying to fill with our 2015 Visual Guide to Translated Fiction (a mouthful, we know, come up with a better name and we’ll gladly consider it). Let’s show people what these books look like. Let’s give people a way to quickly and easily find out what these titles are all about. Let’s provide people with a simple way that they’re already comfortable and familiar with, to get translated fiction into their hands.

What if there was a way for you to browse through covers for all of the new translated fiction titles published, or to be published, in the United States in 2015? What if you could filter them all by letter, author, language, month, publisher, or translator? Randomize them?  Go to Amazon to learn what they’re all about, read customer reviews, and make a purchase or two?  Okay, can do!

Full disclosure on that last bit—we’ve put our affiliate id in the links, so if you do end up buying something we’ll get a small taste of the action. That money goes directly back to supporting the site to help cover the costs of things like hosting fees, award prizes, giveaways, and the continued development of tools like this one. We’re open to alternatives to the evil empire if someone has suggestions, but this was truly the easiest way we could find to quickly and uniformly link up all of the covers so folks could learn more about each book. And remember, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy anything. This is all about discovery. To that end, we’ve also include a page chock full of links to each of the featured publisher’s websites so you can learn more about each press and how you can directly support the future publication of even more great titles.

Let us know what you think of the visual guide and be sure to give us your suggestions on how we can make it even more useful. If you’re an author, publisher, translator, or avid reader of world literature, please email us with any additions/corrections/deletions. We’re launching the tool with roughly 150 titles, but we plan to update it on an obsessive basis. So even though we won’t be realizing our dream of launching the Typographical Translationals publishing house any time soon, we hope this visual guide to the fantastic work being done by others will more than make up for it.

We’re tagging this visual guide with the beta designation for now because there’s so much more we want to do with it. Here’s some items/thoughts/questions we have for future improvements:

  • Include retranslations/republications or only titles translated to English for the first time? We’ve currently got a mix. Maybe introduce a way to filter between the two? New translations only would be a nice visual way to compliment the translation database (and much easier to maintain), but there are some stellar retranslations published each year as well.
  • Expand beyond fiction?
  • Include multiple years?
  • Get more titles in there!
  • Add visual chart breakdowns of language, publisher, etc to geek out to.
  • Create a streamlined way for visitors to submit updates.
  • Add AND filtering. Show me all the French AND Spanish translations at the same time, for example.
  • Introduce multi-level filtering. Show me only the German translations published by And Other Stories this year, for example.
  • Optimize the mobile experience. It looks pretty decent right now, but there’s room for improvements.

Enough already, here’s the link (it’s also available from the Literature drop-down menu above). Enjoy, and please, do give us your feedback, even if it’s just to let us know your thoughts on what the shittiest book cover of 2015 is.  Seriously, it’s Sea Air, right?

About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.

  • Maria Giordano

    Have you guys thought about doing a weekly YouTube update on current and upcoming translation titles ? look at the Book Riot You Tube videos as good examples. book riot is also a great website that has it together.