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.