This article is EXACTLY how I feel about Oprah’s Book Club, but put into better wording than I could ever come up with. People I know who swear by it defend themselves by saying things like “At least Oprah is getting people to read!” … But Hillary Kelly explains why the way she gets people to read is far less than ideal.
Since its inception in 1996, the Book Club has carved its niche among readers by telling them that the novel is a chance to learn more about themselves. It’s not about literature or writing; it’s about looking into a mirror and deciding what type of person you are, and how you can be better. While a generally wrongheaded view of novels, this notion is all the more frustrating when the club delves into the true classics, with their vast knottiness, glorious language, breathtaking characters, and multi-faceted, mind-twisting prose. None of that matters in Oprah’s view of books, since reading is yet another exercise in self-gratification. “If you have read him, what do you think Dickens might have to share and teach those of us who live in this digital age?” the Book Club’s producer, Jill, asks on Oprah’s website. This is the Eat, Pray, Love school of reading.
Indeed, Oprah’s readers have been left in the dark. They must now scramble about to decipher Dickens’s obscure dialectical styling and his long-lost euphemisms—and the sad truth is that, with no real guidance, readers cannot grow into lovers of the canon. Instead, they can only mimic their high-school selves with calls of, “It’s too hard!” Or, else, they can put aside any notions of reading to become a better reader and instead immerse themselves in the nonsense of “discovering their true selves” in novels.
A glance at the discussion boards on Oprah’s website confirms my worst fears. “I have read all the print-outs and character materials and the first two pages,” said one reader, referring to supplementary reading guides produced by the Book Club. “The first two pages are laden with political snips and I am trying to grasp what it is saying. I was able to look up cock-lane and figure that out, but where do I go to figure out the innuendos?” And the response: “SparkNotes provides an excellent summary of the context of the book as well as chapter summaries and analysis.”
“If someone breaks your heart, just punch them in the face. Oh sure, it seems obvious now, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t think of it when it’s relevant. Seriously, just punch them in the face and go get some ice cream.”—Chuck Klosterman (via tiportiff)
If you are maybe sitting at work waiting to go out and get trashed tonight, and thinking about that, and maybe looking for something medium-lengthish to read about Katy Perry and Ke$ha and drunkenness and parties and the past and future of our nation and stuff along those lines, then here is something I wrote about that general range of topics, except that I don’t mention your job specifically (sorry), or Dr. Luke’s. Here is a link to it, for clicking purposes or whatever.
This article is interesting. In a way where I have knee-jerk disagreements with it and mutter “cynic” under my breath while reading it.
As Lourie and many others have pointed out, Dostoyevsky the 19th-century writer was ably translated by Constance Garnett, who was born in 1861 and knew Leo Tolstoy. Of course, Garnett’s handiwork is in the public domain and Pantheon and Viking, which gave us the new “Zhivago’’ and “Bovary,’’ couldn’t make any money off of her.
The idea that new translations of classic books are money-driven bothers me, as a person who loves translating and who believes that our language and thought patterns evolve (so why can’t our literature?). I also think there used to be a concept of “translators” simply being scholars who knew the language itself really well, and now writers who are sensitive to the craft of language are starting to step in (this article gives a nod to Lydia Davis’s translation of Madame Bovary). And that, to me, is very important.
Also, the way Beam talks about David Ferry at the end of the article really bothers me.
“My reason for working on this translation is very simple,’’ Ferry e-mailed me. “I’m in love with it and with Virgil, and also in love with the experience of translating in verse. I’ve translated the rest of Virgil, and I’m crazy about those works. So how could I not be trying this one? There are also lots of relationships between these works and the book of poems of my own I’m now completing.”
Fair enough. But four years in, Ferry is only halfway through. Yikes! Tempus fugit (time flies).
So … Ferry should stop translating because it’s taking him too long? YOUR CONDESCENSION MAKES NO SENSE TO ME.
But maybe I’m being overly dramatic and idealistic. Maybe people DO re-translate classic books just for the money. But if it gets the book some press and earns it a spot on a front table in a bookstore, is that really such a bad thing?
As someone who works in publishing, let me assure you that money can be made from many of the translations we already have - that’s not the issue. We could simply repackage old translations to bring these great works back to people’s attention, something most publisher’s, especially Penguin, often do. However, I think Elizabeth is right on the money - how we use and perceive language changes over time. Footnotes and endnotes often serve the purpose of trying to clear up misinterpretations in older translations. Why not go ahead and create new translations where these issues are addressed? Isn’t this part of a publishing house’s responsibility?
Also, if you think publishing new translations is about making more money, that’s a faulty assumption. Translations cost money. Editors cost money. Redesigning new interiors, covers, promotional materials, etc. costs money. Setting new type and making plates to print costs money. And yes, we make some money from new translations. Publishing is a business that allows for past great works to fund future great works. But believe me, no one’s getting super rich in book publishing (well, except for some incredibly talented authors).
You know what doesn’t cost a lot of money? Reprinting outdated and partially cut translations for years and years and offering it up to the public as an economical alternative to more expensive, better quality paperbacks. This is what Barnes & Noble and Borders do. Now don’t get me wrong, as long as people are reading, I’m happy, but I suggest Mr. Alex Beam get his facts in order before accusing publishers of “lust for lucre, rather than the luster of literary merit.”
"It’s hard to imagine sending a submission and being subject to the approval or disapproval of someone who, though undoubtedly super talented and precocious and brilliant in a way that would be uncanny and kind of disturbing if it weren’t so aligned with what I personally think is cool, is 14 years old. What I’m trying to say is that it creeps me out that everyone I know is sending you their resume because I want experience to count for something, and right now it seems like it has never counted for less."
“And, you know, politics aside, the success of Sarah Palin and women like her is good for all women — except, of course, those who will end up, you know, like, paying for their own rape kit ‘n’ stuff. But for everybody else, it’s a win-win. Unless you’re a gay woman who wants to marry your partner of 20 years. Whatever. But for most women, the success of conservative women is good for all of us. Unless you believe in evolution. You know, actually, I take it back. The whole thing’s a disaster.”—the missing portion of Tina Fey’s acceptance speech, which was snipped by PBS from last night’s broadcast of the Mark Twain Prize ceremony. (via washingtonpoststyle)
To tie this all up: as Odd Future proves, writers are quick to take aim when women are in jeopardy. And yet, when it comes to giving women, like Warpaint, their due — which includes the idea that they might, in fact, be desirable and have desires! — it’s that same sense of fear that causes them to lose their tongues.
Great post about how critics approach violence in music with honest aplomb, yet skirt around female sexuality and desire. Click through to read the entire post.
“I’ve sought refuge, to an extent, in the fact that I now know this city relatively well, so I can head straight to places which are reliably lovely – the Housing Works Bookstore, Shakespeare and Co and McNally Jackson for books, Other Music for records. Here – the White Horse on Hudson St – for an end-of-work drink.”—