Books in Translation

If you read my about page you know that I’m not an English native speaker. Why is this relevant? Well, it is for the theme I want to discuss today.

Where I come from, the majority of books in the market are translated. From the huge universe of translated books in the bookstores, most of them are translated from English. Furthermore, it is a true universally acknowledge (at least between readers from my country), that our national writers are not very popular. It’s not that they are not well-known or that they don’t make it to the top best-selling lists in bookstores. It’s that people usually prefer to buy translated books over untranslated (aka, native language). Why? I can tell why I preferred to buy translated books before I started to read directly in English: #1 Our national authors were too expensive, considering there was no translation cost. #2 Small offer, less variety. From what I can gather, both the price and the themes/genre variety are issues that Portuguese publishers and authors are succeeding to improve.

Now that you have some background info about my experience and overall acceptance regarding translated books, let’s move on to the actual topic of this post. Not too long ago I came across a post in Publishing Perspectives that says:

Last year during International Translation Day, Alexandra Büchler from Literature Across Frontiers provided evidence that translation makes up only 2.5% of all publications in the UK, with a figure of 4.5% for literature. The United States, a nation which prides itself on its immigrant history, is no better with a mere 3% of the market. By comparison other countries far outstrip the UK and US in this regard; in Poland a staggering 46% of books published are titles in translation, in Germany over 12%, in Spain around 24% and in France around 15%. (source)

This stopped me immediately. From a reader whose 60% of her owned books are translated, I find it very odd that other readers will have some reluctance to read translations. Therefore, I tried to come up with some reasons to justify the fact that US and UK readers tend to avoid books in translation:

1. Themes: If you look carefully, you can see a small pattern of book themes for each country. For example, when I think of Scandinavia and Northern Europe countries I always associate them with crime novels. Could it be that you are not particularly fond of the themes and genres explored in foreign books? OR, Could it be that you think that the variety and offer of translated books is not good enough when compared with US and UK authors?

2. Fear of translation mistakes/reading flow: One of the reasons I decided to start reading in English is bad translations. I got tired of buying books with so many mistakes and inconsistencies. You don’t often get those awfully edited books, but when you do, it’s impossible to enjoy your reading. So, could it be that you avoid translated books because you’re trying to avoid this situations? It can be really annoying.

3. Price: This is something I would need time to do a quick check (yeahhh, having time even for this is being an issue lately), but sometimes translated books can be a little more expensive, since the publisher needs to pay a salary to the translator (of course!). Could the price factor be an influence?

These are the reasons I can come up with for the moment. I would love to have your feedback about this. Have you ever thought about this issue? Do you ever think about whether a book is translated or not when you’re buying? The fact that the book is translated or not has any influence in your decision to read it? If it does, why is that? Let me know all about it! 😉

If you want to know what other topics people are discussing in the book blog world,check out Oh Chrys! blog for weekly updated lists.

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Life as a Genre Hopper

Isn’t this a cute graphic? I love this sort of bookish tests. Nevertheless, this one isn’t really right for me, since the answer to the question in the picture above is “I’m all of them”. The truth is I can’t define myself as a reader with only one genre, or a couple of genres, because I read everything that is appealing to me. I’m a genre hopper and I’ll  tell you how it is to live and read as one.

Let’s start with the perks of being a genre hopper:

You rarely feel bored or disappointed. Because you’re constantly trying new things, you’re not reading the same base-plot associated with certain genres and sub-genres. I talked about a book’s secret formula not too long ago, and genre hopping works like a charm against the feeling of reading the same story over and over again.

Getting out of your comfort zone. This doesn’t work for everyone. While I love to get out of my personal comfort zone as a reader, others may find this stressful. Don’t get me wrong, I like my comfort reads (I’ll tell you about them some day), but most of all I love a challenge. Most of my favourite books were found because I’m always ready to read something that I never tried before or will challenge me in one way or another. I like it because I feel that I’m allowing myself to grow as a reader and a person (because I also believe that each book we read teach us something new).

You will find some precious gems. Yes, this is true and one of the most surprising things for me when I started genre hopping several years ago. The first genre I loved was epic fantasy, so all the books I wanted to read next were part of that genre. Eventually, I ran out of books to read and was possessed by an irrational fear that my life as a reader would come to an end, (at the time I was a teenager in a country that needed to wait several years for a book to be translated and published, good economical waves and publishers inclined to publish some new titles per year). I strongly refused to let it happen, so I tried YA chic-lit (or romance) and was mesmerized because, to be honest with you, I loved it. I started to live book after book as an adventurous treasure hunter, looking for the next gem to add to my collection of discoveries. And what a feeling that is, to discover a new look to love and be utterly surprised by it. One that you say “Gosh! I would never thought that this would be so amazing!”

Now, the cons:

It’s hard to keep up. If you like to read almost every genre (and are a slow reader), you must agree with me that it’s incredibly hard to keep up with every new release, plus the genre classics, plus the books in between and friends recommendations. It’s impossible! My wishlist is gigantic, my TBR pile is now under the “no comments” label and I feel desperate (and frustrated, sometimes). Which takes me to cons #2.

Being an easy target. Yes!! I feel desperate because everything appeals to me. Well, not everything because I am a little bit selective with the books I read sometimes. Let me put it this way: some of you may only read YA and, therefore, only have to struggle with YA’s that are screaming from the shelves demanding that you take them home and read them. Now try to put yourself in my shoes. You step inside a book shrine, (library, bookstore, even charity shops with that corner for books), and the YA groupies start crying for your attention… But wait! It’s not just the YA, the historical romance group is also calling for you, and the crime novels, and the chic-lit, and the fantasy novels, and the paranormal romance novels, and the smutty books, and the urban fantasies, and the classics, and the dramas, and the realistic fiction, and the horror books…even the mangas and graphic novels!! I mean, just take a moment to consider this and tell me how would that feel. I’m the perfect target for the clever genre marketeers of all the publishing houses, since I can’t really resist them very well. 

Costs. Well, after reading cons #2 you don’t really need to tell me how costs are an issue. Let’s just say that being a genre hopper doesn’t do any good to my bookaholic disorder.

As a result of my life as a genre hopper, and my increasingly lack of time to read as much as I once did, I’ve become a more selective reader. Because I can’t read it all, I try to select only what I think to be “the very best” of each genre, or the hyped books. while I still discover new precious books and challenge myself, I’m starting to lose the hidden gems that are not hyped or mainstreamed. That makes me a little sad. but hey, that’s something we all struggle with, whether we stick to only one genre or not.

Overall, I think genre hopping is a rewarding experience for a reader. I can’t see myself sticking to one or two genres anymore, and I’m happy with my life as a reader as it is, despite all the cons.

However, I’ll now put my reader self to rest for a while and let my publisher grad self talk. Genre hopping isn’t so good for authors, publishers, and even bloggers. Why? Brand image and target market. When you look at things with a business perspective you have to be very objective. The book is no longer a treasure. It’s a product. Not a product like denim jeans or canned tuna  since it as a whole immaterial and even spiritual dimension we have to consider. Nevertheless, in the end of the day, it’s a product we need to sell and to do it we need to have a target market in mind and position our product in that specific market.

If you’re an author, you’ll get many advisers saying that you must keep to a genre and explore it. That way, you’ll already have a target market in mind and, with time, you’ll have the opportunity to develop a brand image associated with that genre that might make it easier for readers to find you. Of course, you can and should write about everything you want in any genre you want. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at J. K. Rowling (it’s the author that pops in my mind at the moment). She is a genre hopper author. She wrote the Harry Potter series (fantasy), The Casual Vacancy (contemporary fiction) and now The Cuckoo’s Calling (crime), under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. From what I could gather, The Casual Vacancy had some trouble because readers associated her with a specific image and brand (HP series). Might be that’s the reason why she felt the need to write her crime novel under a pseudonym. Because, no matter if we like it or not, in business brand image matters to most. The same happened with Nora Roberts, who released her crime series under the pseudonym J. D. Robb.

You may also notice that the smaller publishing houses tend to focus their offer in one genre, or a couple of genres that “fit” well with each other. Why? Same reason I told you before and because it is easier and more clever to explore a specific market than shoot everywhere and hope to get something to take home. Keep in mind that in publisher’s case we’re investing not only time and creative effort, but also a considerable amount of money to make a book work (at least, it should be so, always).

Now, enough of me talking. Let’s hear it from you. Are you a genre hopper? Which genres do you read? Which is your favourite genre? What was your result on the little test above? 😉 Do you agree with my perks and cons? Do you have a point to add? Do you think that genre hopping might be a disadvantage to authors, publishers or bloggers? Share your thoughts with me. 🙂

Road Trip to Brú na Bóinne (Ireland)

Today I couldn’t get around writing a discussion post as I wanted to. Nevertheless, I’ve been wanting to share with you my road trip to Brú na Bóinne, a Neolithic archaeological complex in Co. Meath, Ireland. (I did it to celebrate my birthday last week). So, that’s what I’m going to write about. I think that if I hadn’t chosen publishing as a career, I would have definitely studied archaeology, anthropology or special education. So, I was really excited about this trip and I managed to took some photos to share. 🙂

Knowth. One of the smaller tombs.

Now, some info about the place:

Brú na Bóinne, which means the ‘palace’ or the ‘mansion’ of the Boyne, refers to the area within the bend of the River Boyne which contains one of the world’s most important prehistoric landscapes. It is located close to the east coast of Ireland approximately 40 km north of Dublin city, about 8km west of the medieval town of Drogheda and about 5km east of the village of Slane.

The archaeological landscape within Brú na Bóinne is dominated by the three well-known large passage tombs, Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth, built some 5,000 years ago in the Neolithic or Late Stone Age. Archaeologists discovered that these tombs are older than Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza. An additional ninety monuments have been recorded in the area giving rise to one of the most significant archaeological complexes in terms of scale and density of monuments and the material evidence that accompanies them. The Brú na Bóinne tombs, in particular Knowth, contain the largest assemblage of megalithic art in Western Europe. Brú na Bóinne was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in December 1993. (more info here, here and here)

Knowth

The tombs are absolutely huge and the place is so green, earthy and even a little mystical. There’s many speculation about these rounded tomb-hills. What we know is that they were built by farming people and it was a work took more than one generation to accomplish. It’s really incredible to stand there and imagine people who haven’t even learned to domesticate horses being able to transport such have stones from miles and miles. Talk about having a dream and dedication to fulfill it…

Newgrange

To make things more interesting, these farmers were clearly engineering “experts”. Each large tomb from Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth, which are miles away from each other, has a specific alignment to the sun. So, during the Solstice, Equinox and other sun related events, the the main entrances would allow the illumination of the inner chamber by the sun, marking the passage of a new season. This means that this prehistorical people were technologically learned (don’t ask me how). Also, there is the belief that, since they were farmers—and, therefore, recognised the importance of the sun in their daily lives—these people might have been Sun worshipers and used these tombs also as temples and places of gathering. Of course, some also say this is all nonsense and these tombs were actually built by aliens. Either way, it’s overwhelming just to stay in front of them.

Megalithic art.

However, I did get a chance to go inside Newgrange and experience a recreation of what would happen during a Winter Solstice, when we would be lucky to have the sun picking through the usually grey and rainy Irish sky. (no pictures allowed, though I did get one from Knowth)

Inside Knowth largest tomb.

If you ever come to Ireland, don’t miss Brú na Bóinne. It’s absolutely incredible and you’ll feel really humble next to it. What about you? Are you interested in archaeology, history and the related things? Where would you go to celebrate you B-day? I really don’t like parties, so visiting places that sell books and places really ancient and full of rocks are really my thing. Now, I’ll leave with some more amateur-ish photos of the beautiful landscape of Ireland, Trim castle (where some of Braveheart was filmed) and some pics of me. Enjoy! 😉

Trim Castle

A Book’s Secret Formula

Have you ever felt that you are reading different books, yet it’s the same story over and over? You have a different setting, characters with different names, a slightly different plot, but essentially, it’s just about the same thing. Well, sometimes I have this feeling, specially when I’m reading YA and chic-lit. This lead me to think perhaps there’s a secret formula only accessible to authors, telling them the basics to write a best-selling plot, and then they just add some little adjustments to imprint their brand in the story.

I’m not saying this happens all the time or that there is some sort of written guidebook that teaches authors how to write a successful book. But, you must agree with me that sometimes we get a few déjà vu feelings while reading.

Take Nora Roberts, for instance. I don’t know if you’re familiar with her books, but she writes entertaining chic-lit. A couple of years ago I read her books like a crazy person. *It was a NR phase.* I’ve read more than a dozen of her books so far, as well as some other chic-lit authors, and I see a pattern. With NR trilogies we always have a kick-butt/tomboy heroine, a force of nature/incredibly sexy heroine, or a quiet/angelic/peaceful heroine. Sometimes they have read hair, sometimes blond, occasionally black or brown… Sometimes they work in the police force or have artistic professions… But it’s always the same! The same insecurities, the same main personality traits, the same obstacles and the same dazzling irresistible men to sweep them of their feet (again, always sexy and incredibly skilled in bed, usually dark-haired, but we also get some blond specimens along the way). They meet, they feel attracted to each other. They either have their fears and traumas to deal with, or there’s an outside force that is keeping them apart… or there’s both! After some tears and hot sex scenes, they find their way to each other and live happily ever after. This is the pattern. It makes me sad that it’s so far from reality, but I liked them because I need a break from it sometimes. Hey, dreaming never hurt anyone. It’s just annoying that after some time, the “dreaming”/reading is always the same. No surprises, not plot changes, nothing refreshing.

Now let’s get to YA books. I’m not an experienced reader in this genre, but as far as I ventured myself, I can see a pattern as well. Beginning with dystopias/alternate fantastic universes and ending with love triangles. Again, the same thing over and over. There’s either the kick-butt heroine or the insufferable whining heroine. When it comes to the latest, her main actions are complaining about everything and nothing, all the time. The two of them never seem able to make up their minds about the person they love. The boys they love are always a) very dark, mysterious and sexy, or, b) the boy next door, cute, friendly and reliable. A devil and an angel. Plus, they always have a world crisis sort of situation to solve. Oh, yes…and the main character is always a girl!! Why can’t we have more boys as MC’s in YA? *If you know of an non-realistic YA with a boy as a MC, please let me know the title! I would really like to read it.* 

Please, do understand that I’m not ranting against chic-lit and YA. I read both genres and I like them. Nonetheless, to be honest with you, I would like some variety. It seems that we find this constant repetition mostly in these genres! It also looks like these are always best-selling books. So, this got me wondering…

Is this a “formula” that helps an author get popular? A “formula” that publishers are betting on because they know the books practically sell themselves? What does it say about us, as readers? That we like to read the same story over and over? That we’re not choosy or demanding about the originality of the books we read? That we are easily satisfied?

Let’s discuss! Post a comment below and let me know what you think about this, or if you share my thoughts about the existence of a “formula”, particularly in chic-lit and YA, but also in other genres.

If you want to know what other topics people are discussing in the book blog world, check out Oh Chrys! blog for weekly updated lists.

What about Poetry?

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Heavy Words. Photography by Maria Sardari.

So, the other day I was talking with someone about our favourite readings and what kind of books we like to read. We talked about fantasy, chick-lit and crime novels, the classics… and then out of nowhere: “What about poetry? Do you read any?”. We just stared at each other and I found myself saying “Yeah, I do!…but rarely. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that…”. Well, this got me thinking about poetry and “my relationship” with it.

(*Oh no… why is she talking about this subject, above all things!? it’s death boring!!!* Just bear it with me for a moment, will you? It might end up being something interesting.)

I first met poetry when I was about 12 years old. Before that, I remember being incredibly naïve and think that poetry was a bunch of songs written in The Lusiads to praise our people’s adventures during The Discoveries, a way to record and remember our history. Then school told me that, nop!, there’s actually some more people writing it. My teachers introduced me to Fernando Pessoa, Florbela Espanca, Jorge de Sena and several other great national poets that you probably never heard of and many international poets. To be honest, I didn’t care about any of them, mostly because I couldn’t understand them or relate to what they wrote. My teachers saw my lack of interest, but they kept insisting that poems were far greater and much more interesting than the last Harry Potter book. Come on… you’re saying this to a teenage nerdy/geeky girl! Nothing is more interesting than Harry Potter and The Princess Diaries to her (aka little 12 to 14 years old me).

So, I grew up ignoring poetry, knowing people who avoid it like the plague and hearing everybody say that poetry is dead, or about to die… People seem to be incapable to decide if it’s dead, just about to die or about to reborn (like a phoenix! who reborn from the ashes!). And life passed quietly by, while me and poetry were on “not talking” terms. Until college, where I was forced to meet it again and actually engage in conversation for more than 5 minutes. Oh…to hear it being praised for transforming the most ordinary things in golden rainbows and glittery palaces, that it could elevate the lowest mortal and show him/her the meaning of life and the universe beyond… (poetry bored me to the point of making me scream, so it’s normal I didn’t want to talk with it). So, there I was, sitting in a classroom full of people getting ready to enter in a brain collective coma, when out of the blue the professor says the unthinkable: People, lose your sad faces. Poetry is not a goddess we have to worship, neither a complicated mathematical equation of words and verses we need to crack during the next couple of hours. Poetry is a form of writing in which the length of the line is decided by the author, not by the printer. It is not the affirmation of what is the Truth, it is a way we use to express our truths and make them more real. 

That got me interested. What he showed us later made me review what I had learned about poetry. We met Sharon Olds, a favourite of mine, who wrote about being a feminist and women rights, and several other cool people who spoke their minds in verse because they thought it cooler than just writing plain prose. And I actually liked it. I even wrote some scribbles myself, at the time.

Nowadays, despite rarely reading poetry, I enjoy it. Why don’t I read more poetry? Because no one talks about it and, unless I go digging to find some new and interesting stuff to read, I have no information whatsoever on the subject. Of course, this refers to contemporary poetry; there’s plenty information of poetry classics, but we can’t forever read the same things, can we?

So, this lead me to think that poetry has trouble making friends for 3 main reasons:

  • Classroom Boredom: The way school talks about poetry doesn’t help its case. Obligatory readings should be revised. There’s no way an early adolescent kid will be interested in the classic poets, much less like it if you are obligating him/her to read it over and over. We need to find new teaching methods. I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach poetry at schools. I’m saying that we should try to do it in a more interesting way, with a selection of poems that would be more appealing to nowadays kids. Otherwise we’ll be growing people afraid of poetry, we’ll continue to push people away from it. Stop doing it teachers, please. Make it fun instead of boring.
  • Pride and Prejudice: No, it’s not Mr. Darcy’s fault. It’s people’s general mentality saying that poetry is too proud about itself, siting in a high pedestal, waiting for us to bow down and worship its greatness. That’s untrue, and it’s a consequence of the Classroom Boredom time we have to endure during our teenage years.
  • “It’s dead, haven’t you heard?”: Once in a while we have a bunch of articles spreading the rumor of its dead and that’s never a good thing. Why they focus on saying poetry is dead instead of promoting contemporary poets, is something I’ll never understand. What we need is to know more about the new poets. We should be hearing about the poets of our days, who write about stuff we are concerned now.

Poetry isn’t about an absolute truth with elaborate or fancy logical arguments. In fact, I think it is about something that is real to us, made more truthful by writing it on paper. In the end, poetry can be about anything we want to. It can be fun or sad, it can leave you breathless. It can be powerful, or just silly. You can find yourself in it, or lose yourself in it. It matters everything and nothing. It doesn’t have to follow strict grammatical rules, be hard to follow or relate to. It doesn’t have to be embroidered in gold. It comes in different genres! Now that I mentioned it, we probably have sci fi and steampunk poetry and no one even bothers to spread the word about it.

Anyway, this is why I avoid discussion posts. When I start talking I have trouble stopping. If you kept reading until now, thank you! I love your dedication and I’m sending you lots of virtual hugs. As a treat, I suggest you to read a great poem by Patricia Lockwood called Rape Joke (click here to read it, it’s published online for free). It just blew my mind off when I read it.  Also, check out Taylor Mali’s poem What Teachers Make adapted to comics by ZenPencils (click here to read it). It’s a really good example of how we can make things interesting and fun!

Now, I’ve said enough already. Let me know what you think about poetry! Do you read it? Do you fear it? Do you hate it? Do you think my perception on this matter is wrong? How was your first experience with poetry? I do admit that being from a non-English speaking country with its own school system might have a huge influence in my perception and experience with poetry. Still, share your thoughts and experiences with me and, if you read Lockwood’s poem, let me know if you liked it or not. 😉

If you want to know what other topics people are discussing in the book blog world, do check out Oh Chrys! blog for weekly updated lists.