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26 February 2012

'Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything' by David Bellos

Fantastic book about a difficult, under valued topic.  Read this book and take your time.  David Bellos' arguments are well thought out and often illuminating because we take language for granted.  I usually notice translations when done badly.  I am fairly certain most people have the same experience.  I have tried to put furniture together based on horrific translated instructions.  But, when a translation is done well, who notices, at least in English?

Most of us have news sources that we trust.  What if you found out that most of the news you see or read are translations of the news originally reported? Would you continue to trust your news source?  Probably not.  Most people mistrust translation and often wish that we could read books in their original language.  (I am talking to you manga fans, you know who you are...)  This book is not only about what translation is but what translation does.  Translation in history (remember the Rosetta Stone?), translation of literature, instant translators in conferences, Google Translate and the future of translation are all discussed.

Some of my favorite writers did not write in English, so now I must bounce upstairs and find the name of the heroes who lovingly introduced me to Japanese, Russian, Portuguese and French literature.  I feel rather ashamed of all the writers I desperately rushed through in order to read, comprehend and retain in university.  Without some excellent translations my literary world would be much poorer.  Next time I read Paolo Coelho I will give a silent thanks to his translator for the peace and wisdom I receive as I read.

But this book takes me much further than the art of translation in the literary world.  Bellos defines language, translation and meaning.  He gives some powerful examples to illustrate his points and arguments. Yes, arguments.  People make assumptions about definitions and are shocked when their definitions are wrong or biased, especially about language and meaning.  "Native speaker" and "mother tongue" were quickly dispatched as inaccurate and deceptive terms for language competence.  I cheered out loud and felt vindicated.  He defends his definitions and places them in the context of western culture and philosophy, no small feat for one book.  Without definitions we cannot explore boundaries, argue, learn or share.

He also brings us into the real world of translation.  The European Union and the United Nations are the most unbelievable consumers of translations and translators.  The chapter devoted to law and politics had some real "wow" moments.  Statistics and charts illustrate the hierarchy of languages and the importance they have, for instance, in the dissemination of news.

Every chapter clarified or opened the world of translation and finding meaning.  We are all affected by translation and translators in every aspect of our lives, now I know just how much.  As for the title of the book, it is taken from 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' so be warned, there is humor in this book as well even if the bagels joke was a little lame.

ISBN: 9781846144646

19 February 2012

'Keeping my Books Clean & Tidy'

I wasn't going to say anything about this issue because dirt and dust do not lend themselves to discussion; what is there to discuss?  You should keep your home clean.  Right.  Books are part of your home, so they should be clean and tidy.  Right.  So much for theory and logic.  Dusting books, in practice, is one of the most difficult tasks I know for several reasons.

1. I hate dusting... not just books, though.

2. Books are exceptionally good at attracting dust, I would argue even better than the television.

3. Once I start dusting I stop on account of picking books up and obviously opening a few to have a look, you know, just in case the letters have moved about...rather like when I rush to the bank before it closes (on an errand for Honey) and I bump into a friend I haven't seen in ages... right in front of my favorite coffee place.

Ok, so I am a failure at dusting, but excellent with coffee.  Eventually the chore gets done and every so often someone (thanks Mom) attacks it with vigor and resolve.

How about neat and tidy, though?  See, that is a divisive issue around here.  My beloved proof reader likes them all in a row, preferably arranged by size with no gaps or books haphazardly placed horizontally above a gap like a makeshift bridge between two old villages.  I, on the other hand, like a messy bookcase.  It feels dynamic; a bookcase that is constantly consulted and shuffled is loved, in fact.  Every now and then I discover something bought but forgotten.  It is like Christmas all over again.  A treasure rediscovered doubles in worth.

And it is not true that my bookcase has no order or logic.  It does to me.  I like to put Vonnegut next to Heller and Irving.  Pratchett is often near Gaiman, Mieville and Murakami.  Fforde sits with them enjoying the show.  Fannie Flagg is with Isabel Allende.  Chekov is with Stoker and, naturally, the Brontes.  Some authors and stories have an affinity in my mind.  Why not?  It is my bookcase after all.  I do keep all the works of the specific authors together with their biographies when applicable, so all of Butcher stays with Butcher.  Bradbury, in case you are wondering, is with Ishiguro.

My books are currently neat and tidy because my mother was just here and attacked them.  But there you are, real life amongst book lovers intrudes... I just bought seven new books.  They are big, they are thick, will they fit any other way but horizontally?  I know, the suspense is killing you.  Proof Reader (aka Honey) resigned himself long ago to MANY books but not the mess.  If he is really lucky his Mother in Law Dearest will visit again soon and clean it up.  I should add a sympathy button at the bottom of the blog for Honey.

So which system is better?  Too much dust and you are begging for mold.  Too much mess and you are begging for a concussion.  Too much tidiness and, as Honey points out, it looks great.  But, I can't find a thing.  It is frustrating to go in search of "Shakespeare on Toast" only to fail to find it.  Of course, the books I do find are clean and tidy... and utterly useless because they are not the ones I need!