Sunday, February 15, 2009


The literati have made a long-standing habit of lamenting our nation's literary insularity. In the January/February issue of ForeWord, publisher David Godine points out the fact that in the United States "fewer than three percent of all books published are translated from a foreign language, as opposed to roughly fifteen-twenty percent in the rest of the civilized world."

This shameful fact became glaringly apparent last October with the announcement that J.M.G. Le Clezio, a French author little known and published in the States, won the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2008. (There was a bit of a controversy leading up to the award that unfortunately may have obscured Le Clezio's merits.)

All of this is a preamble to the point of this, my first posting on the Green Apple blog. Instead of lamenting our insularity and the narrowness of our literary horizons, San Franciscans should be proud to be the exception to the rule. While we may only have that 3% to choose from, we continue to show our willingness to explore the world's literature and to move past the comfortable boundaries of our national consciousness to investigate how things are viewed beyond our borders.

This was made apparent when I looked at Three Percent's shortlist for the soon-to-be-announced 2008 Best Translated Book award. Among the books listed are several Green Apple favorites and bestsellers, including Bolano's epic 2666, Victor Serge's Unforgiving Years, and one of my recent obsessions, Alejandro Zambra's Bonsai. (My enthusiasm for this book does not come across as well as I would like it to in my shelftalker on the Staff Favorites display, but I like to think it's modestly effective: "Bonsai is a perfectly rendered story about the consequences of falling in & out of love. Read it & see why it was one of my favorite novels of 2008.")

Being a fiercely proud San Franciscan, as is your right simply by virtue of living here, I implore you to carry on with your willingness be more than just a citizen of the United States, but a citizen of the world as well.

No comments: