Since taking up literary translation about ten years ago, I’ve read many more books on a daily basis than ever before. Always within arm’s reach is a combination of English-language books, French-language books and books translated from other languages. On any day I can name roughly eight books I’m currently reading. There’s one in my backpack, one on the coffee table, one beside my bed, one under my bed, one on the breakfast table, one on my desk, and one in my tutoring bag. I gathered up all of today’s books and took a photo.
Today there are nine. I’m surprised.
Here’s a bit about each one, whether it’s a translation, whether it’s in English, why I’m reading it (and whether I’ll finish it) :
1 Les contes bleus du chat perché. In French, by Marcel Aymé, a collection of children’s stories (told to the author by a cat perched in a tree) and first published in the 1930s. I’ve read each story quickly and three of them again, slowly. I’ve translated two, and one has been published, ‘Le Loup’, ‘The Wolf’, in Delos Journal in 2018. Two small girls live with stern parents and farm animals that talk. Love it. Les contes bleus is on my desk.
2 Les contes rouges du chat perché. In French, by Marcel Aymé, more stories from his collection. I’ve read each story quickly and one slowly, the one I translated which has not been published. Yet. More talking animals. It’s on my desk.
3 Aymé. Nouvelles complètes. In French, by Marcel Aymé. All his short stories. I’ve read about half of this book. Every story is quirky but quietly clever. It’s beside my bed and is often the last book I read before sleeping, and in the wee hours when I can’t sleep.
4 Biblical Literacy. In English, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. Interesting notes on the Hebrew Bible books, teaching me things I never knew. For instance, loneliness was the first thing that God saw that was not good: ‘It is not good for man to be alone’, Genesis 2:18. I’m not Jewish but I like the author’s approach to studying the old texts. It’s under my bed.
5 David Copperfield. In English, by Charles Dickens. My husband and I read a few pages to each other every night. It’s long but we’ve never grown tired of it. Dickens deserves his reputation as a gifted writer. It’s on the coffee table.
6 Gould’s Book of Fish. In English, Australian English, by Richard Flanagan. You could be forgiven for thinking Richard Flanagan is the title of the book, so large is his name and so ridiculously small is the title due to this publishing trick to get us to buy it. This book is dreadful so far, but I’m only a quarter of the way through it. One of my students asked me to read it with her, to help her learn English. There are horrific descriptions of what people did to people in the colonial days of Australian history, so I skip the disgusting bits when we read it together. It’s in my tutoring bag. Possibly won’t finish it.
7 People From My Neighbourhood. In English, by Hiromi Kawakami, translated from Japanese by Ted Goossen. A Christmas present from a relative. A small thin book that I read at breakfast every few days. Not bad, the stories are very short and often don’t go anywhere. On the breakfast table.
8 The Thurber Carnival. In English, by James Thurber. A book of American short stories. Very entertaining, but some stories are better for me (not being American) than others. Lent to me by the relative who gave me number 7. I read it most days. It’s on the breakfast table. Possibly won’t read every story.
9 Why Do You Wear a Cheap Watch? In English, by Hans Fallada, translated from German by Michael Hofmann. One of the 50 small Penguin Moderns that come in a long rectangular case. The stories are not bad, but the book is handy should I have to wait somewhere for someone. (I don’t read my phone.) I carry it in my backpack because it’s almost weightless.
Which of the nine would I recommend? David Copperfield.