Shelf Awareness for Friday, March 29, 2013
Amazon Buying Goodreads: Industry Reactions
Amazon is buying the popular book-focused social networking site Goodreads, which was founded in 2007 and now has more than 16 million members. The acquisition is expected to close by July. Goodreads' headquarters will remain in San Francisco, and its management is expected to stay in place.
As the leading social networking site devoted to books, GoodReads has been considered an important element in addressing the "discoverability" problem that grew with spread of e-books and Amazon and the collapse of Borders: How would readers discover books if fewer of them were visiting the best source for learning about new books, bricks-and-mortar bookstores?
In one fell swoop, Amazon, whose algorithms for recommending books have shown limited effectiveness, now owns one of the major tools built to address the problem it created.
On the Goodreads blog, CEO and co-founder Otis Chandler said the site "will continue to be the wonderful community that we all cherish. We plan to continue offering you everything that you love about the site--the ability to track what you read, discover great books, discuss and share them with fellow book lovers, and connect directly with your favorite authors--and your reviews and ratings will remain here on Goodreads. And it's incredibly important to us that we remain a home for all types of readers, no matter if you read on paper, audio, digitally, from scrolls, or even stone tablets."
But judging from the reaction of booksellers, publishers and some Goodreads users, the process may not be so easy. The overwhelming feeling expressed yesterday on Twitter and Facebook was surprise and disappointment. @NextGenAuthors tweeted us: "Hey, your April Fool's edition doesn't come out until Monday!" Many indies and their fans promptly cancelled their accounts.
The question is how a site that was prized for its independence and noncommercial cred will fare as a part of the Amazon empire. As one person commented on Otis Chandler's own blog on Goodreads: "I liked/would prefer a community of readers not backed by someone with motives to a) unrelentingly mine my data and b) sell me stuff."
In response to Chandler's comment that "We truly could not think of a more perfect partner for Goodreads as we both share a love of books and an appreciation for the authors who write them," Jarek Steele of Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo., wrote on his blog: "Really, Goodreads? You've forsaken all the other opportunities to partner with independent bookstores, Kobo, even Barnes & Noble & the Nook? How about iPad? Also, who at Amazon has a love of books or authors?"
The Amazon record concerning book world companies it's purchased isn't encouraging. While some non-book purchases, like Zappos, have remained independent and fared well, some book purchases are either merged into Amazon World or left to die on the Internet vine, such as Lexcycle and, most tellingly, Shelfari, which, like Goodreads, is a social media site focused on books.
Only last year, Amazon and Goodreads had a public fight that led to Goodreads choosing to use Ingram data instead of Amazon's because of Amazon's requirement that its data not link to another retailer. There was no word on how this might change.
Goodreads has also been marked by a kind of openness that runs contrary to Amazon's penchant for secret. Otis Chandler has spoken at many conferences, giving details about site usage, and Goodreads shares information with publishers. It's likely all that will change very soon.
The move also adds to the sense that Amazon is slowly buying up much of the book world. Over some 15 years, the company has bought AbeBooks.com, Audible.com, Brilliance Audio, the Book Depository, Shelfari, BookFinder.com, Lexcycle, BookSurge, CreateSpace, Mobipocket.com and (through AbeBooks) 40% of Library Thing.
Wired summed up this feeling well, beginning its story on the Amazon purchase of Goodreads with this: "Amazon looked back to its roots in bookselling and forward to its future as the global overlord of all reading and writing by announcing its plan today to purchase social reading site Goodreads."
Forbes called the move a slap in the face of publishers, writing that it's no coincidence that the deal came seven weeks after Penguin, Hachette and Simon & Schuster launched Bookish.
"It's a brilliant move by Amazon," Mike Shatzkin of the Idea Logical Co. told the Wall Street Journal. "If you are a book marketer, the two places you think about the most in terms of online marketing opportunities are Amazon and Goodreads." He added, "It makes me question whether Amazon's competitors are awake. How could they let this happen?"
And in his inimitable style, Knopf's Paul Bogaards tweeted, "That's what all you morons get for sharing your books online."
Editor's Note: Judging from our e-mail over the last 12 hours, many in the industry believe that the main reason Amazon bought Goodreads is to bolster its discoverability problem. Although we don't usually "shelf promote," please indulge us a moment. Two years ago, the Shelf launched its consumer publication, Shelf Awareness for Readers, a free twice-weekly customized newsletter that helps indies help their customers discover the best 25 books published that week and that drives them back to their local store for purchase. We now have 50 partnership stores, with 200,000 subscribers; we've helped those stores to sell more and more books and helped them reinforce customers' faith that their local indie is the best place for learning what to read next. To find out more information about our program, go to shelf-awareness.com/bookstores.html.
New York Court Upholds 'Amazon Tax'
The New York State Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision by ruling yesterday that Amazon and other out-of-state online retailers must collect state tax on purchases by New York state customers in a "decision at odds with other courts that could set the stage for a showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court," Reuters reported. The case, which was decided by a 4-1 vote, combined two lawsuits brought by Amazon.com and Overstock.com.
Thomas Mattox, commissioner of New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, praised the court for "recognizing the logical application of existing precedent to the 21st Century economy."
American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher said the ruling "makes even more clear that the tide is turning in favor of sales tax fairness. The court's decision affirms what ABA has been saying for years: that online affiliates constitute nexus in the state. By any definition, the online affiliate business model is a sales agent model, and, as this court and others have ruled, the presence of a sales agent in a state establishes a physical presence in the state for that business--and establishes the requirement that it collect sales tax.”
Regarding the implications of the decision, he added that "this ruling should make clear to other states the legality and importance of sales tax fairness legislation. We hope, too, it will spur the U.S. Congress to put the Marketplace Fairness Act up for a vote."
Amazon "denounced the New York Court of Appeals ruling as conflicting with precedents by the United States Supreme Court and decisions by other state courts," the New York Times reported.
Changing Hands to Open Second Store, in Phoenix
In early November, Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, Ariz., is planning to open a second location, in Phoenix. The 5,000-square-foot store will include a wine and beer bar and share a commons area with several other businesses in a nearly 18,000-square-feet building that used to house Beef Eaters Restaurant. The site is on Camelback and Third Avenue in the light-rail corridor.
Now called the Newton, the building will also house, in different spaces, a restaurant and the Lively Hood, a co-working, meeting and event space for mobile professionals. The Newton developer is Venue Projects, whose mission, Changing Hands co-owner Gayle Shanks said, is "to create inspiring places that serve and celebrate nature while promoting community." Architect John Douglas will reuse "the basic structure of the existing Beef Eaters building, including its fired adobe walls, heavy timber framing and iconic fireplaces, while transforming it into our collective vision of a comfortable place to read, work, eat, and hang out."
On the store's website, Shanks wrote: "When Changing Hands began as a fantasy in the early '70s, we dreamed of a place filled with ideas and books that would change people's lives. Forty years later, we are living that dream and expanding it for a new generation of readers. We're convinced that the Valley is ready for another Changing Hands, one that's smaller in footprint but just as exciting in its own way as our Tempe store. The new bookstore at the Newton will build on the strengths of its sister Tempe location, and put to good use all that we've learned in creating a local gathering place.
"We believe communities need independent bookstores, now more than ever. We all need places where we can meet, greet, laugh, play, relax, think, communicate, celebrate the arts, bring our children, connect with the great authors of the past and discover new voices with their own unique visions to share."
Penguin Speeds Up Library E-Book Access
Effective Tuesday, U.S. libraries can offer Penguin e-books at the same time the hardcover is released, the Associated Press reported. This represents a change from the previous policy of delaying library downloads until six months after a book's print release date. Penguin will continue, however, to limit libraries to lending one e-edition at a time. E-books can be purchased for one year, then must be paid for again if a library wants to continue making them available.
"We feel that we're ready to take the next step and offer what consumers and libraries have been asking for," said Tim McCall, Penguin's director of online sales and marketing.
American Library Association president Maureen Sullivan said she was "pleased to learn that Penguin's pilot is confirming what research suggests and librarians believe: There is more to be gained than lost when publishers work with libraries. We are encouraged by Penguin's willingness to experiment, make adjustments and move forward with libraries and our millions of readers."
ABFFE Benefit: My Bookstore Donates $8,000
Black Dog & Leventhal and its distributor, Workman Publishing, have contributed $8,000 in special royalties from the sale of My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop, edited by Ronald Rice, to the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.
When My Bookstore was published in November, the publisher and distributor said they would donate a portion of the proceeds to ABFFE. The book celebrates more than 80 bookstores around the country in essays, stories, odes and more from many authors, including John Grisham, Isabel Allende, Daniel Handler and Lisa Brown, Dave Eggers, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Simon Winchester, Ian Frazier, Francine Prose, Pete Hamill and Chuck Palahniuk.
ABA Unveils Educational Program for BEA
The American Booksellers Association released its schedule-to-date of educational programming for this year's BookExpo America. Bookselling This Week noted the free programming "is aimed toward ABA bookstore and provisional members but is open to all BEA attendees," adding that more information "will be provided in coming weeks, and the schedule is subject to change."
Image of the Day: A Cake of a Cover
Last Thursday the Rainbow Road Barnes & Noble in Las Vegas, Nev., hosted the launch party for Vicki Pettersson and The Lost, the second book in her Celestial Blues series (Harper Voyager). Here she shows off the delicious cover.
Happy 60th Birthday, City Lights!
Congratulations to City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, Calif., founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year with a full calendar of events, starting with a birthday party open house at the bookstore on Sunday, June 23. Among other events "centered around themes we love, and some that are integral to our long history":
- During the summer, a series of Sunday afternoon happenings, including casual literary readings and musical entertainment outdoors in Jack Kerouac Alley, next to the bookstore.
- In July, the store will partner with the Contemporary Jewish Museum--host to a traveling exhibit of Allen Ginsberg's photographs--for an event about the continued struggle against forces of conservatism and censorship, focusing on Lawrence Ferlinghetti's successful defense of Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems, published by City Lights Publishers.
- Also in July, San Francisco Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguia will host a gathering of writers in Jack Kerouac Alley.
- In August, some of the contemporary poets in the new City Lights Spotlight Series hold a group reading to celebrate the series.
- In September, the current and past poet laureates of San Francisco read and celebrate our Poet Laureate Series at the new SF Jazz Center.
- Also in September, City Lights will host an evening at which its publisher, bookstore buyer and events director will answer "all of your burning questions about how this place works and how we got here!"
- In November, an evening focused on Surrealism will include surrealist games and activities.
The store is also celebrating online: throughout the year, City Lights will feature historical photos, stories, reminiscences and more on the City Lights Blog, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Personnel Changes: Candice Chaplin, Jacqui Lebow
Candice Chaplin has been named v-p, imprint sales director, for the Crown Publishing Group.
Jacqui Lebow has been named imprint sales director, publishing brands, and will work with Fodor's Travel, Living Language, Prima Games, Princeton Review and Random House Audio.
Book Trailer of the Day: Let's Bring Back
Let's Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition: A Collection of Forgotten-Yet-Delightful Words, Phrases, Praises, Insults, Idioms, and Literary Flourishes from Eras Past by Lesley M.M. Blume (Chronicle Books), which includes a cameo from "Lipstick Queen" Poppy King.
Media and Movies
Media Heat: John Sexton on CBS Sunday Morning
Tomorrow on NPR's Weekend Edition: David Sheff, author of Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25, 9780547848655).
Sunday morning on Face the Nation: Jeffrey Frank, author of Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage (Simon & Schuster, $30, 9781416587019).
Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning: John Sexton, co-author of Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game (Gotham, $27.50, 9781592407545).
Sunday on NPR's Weekend Edition: Rachel Kushner, author of The Flamethrowers: A Novel (Scribner, $26.99, 9781439142004).
Sunday on OWN's Super Soul Sunday: Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Gotham, $26, 9781592407330).
Monday morning on the Today Show: Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed (Scribner, $25, 9781451697247).
Monday night on the Daily Show: Mary Roach, author of Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (Norton, $26.95, 9780393081572).
TV: Mr. Selfridge; Girl of the Moment
Wondering if "the love affairs of a store's clerks and wealthy patrons enthrall viewers as much as the downstairs-upstairs goings-on at the Grantham estate," USA Today noted that Mr. Selfridge, which premieres Sunday on PBS Masterpiece, is, like Downton Abbey, "a lavish costume drama set in early 20th-century England," though this story focuses on "the rags-to-riches story of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the charismatic, American entrepreneur who in 1909 threw open the doors to Selfridge's, welcoming London and the world to the first truly modern department store."
The show, starring Jeremy Piven (Entourage) and adapted by Andrew Davies (Pride and Prejudice), is based on the book Shopping, Seduction & Mr. Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead, which is available in a series tie-in paperback edition (Random House, $16, 9780812985047).
Author Lizabeth Zindel and Richard N. Gladstein's FilmColony are teaming on a half-hour television comedy series based on Zindel's 2007 novel Girl of the Moment, Deadline.com reported, adding that Oscar-nominated Gladstein (Finding Neverland, The Cider House Rules) will produce with Melanie Donkers. Zindel will write for the show. The project is still in the pitching phase.
Movies: The Host Trailer; Great Gatsby Teaser
Open Road "is gunning for a Twilight-sized hit" with their adaptation of Stephenie Meyer's The Host, Deadline.com reported in featuring the latest trailer of the film starring Saoirse Ronan, Jake Abel and Max Irons. The Host opens March 29.
A teaser has been released for Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatbsy, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan. The movie hits theaters May 10.
Books & Authors
Awards: Lionel Gelber
Chrystia Freeland won the $15,000 Lionel Gelber Prize, which recognizes a "nonfiction book in English on foreign affairs that seeks to deepen public debate on significant international issues," for Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (Penguin).
The judges praised Freeland for exploring "consequent issues of equity and accountability with fluency and intimacy, capturing the human dimension of a powerful and disturbing phenomenon."
IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites
From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:
Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman (Ballantine, $27, 9780345527264). "Do you want to take a trip around the world without leaving your favorite chair? This is your chance! Goodman has created a vivid picture of the race to circumnavigate the globe made by two women journalists who were determined to turn Jules Verne's fictional journey into a reality. This one has it all--a race between two formidable adventurers, visits to foreign lands, encounters with nature's foibles, and 19th century society in all of its glory, full of hope and clamoring for recognition. A wonderful read!" --Linda Bond, Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, Wash.
Mary Coin: A Novel by Marisa Silver (Blue Rider Press, $25.95, 9780399160707). "If a picture is worth a thousand words, this novel, in turn, speaks volumes about the iconic photograph The Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange. Silver weaves a tale of human survival, passion, and will spanning several decades and involving Lange, a modern professor of cultural history, and the woman in the photograph she took. Evoking the desperate times of the Great Depression and the lives it affected, Silver brings to life the iconic image of the decade. Written with compassion and insight, Mary Coin deals with the will to survive at all costs." --Frank Pester, Weller Book Works, Salt Lake City, Utah
The Beggar's Opera: An Inspector Ramirez Novel by Peggy Blair (Pintail, $16, 9780143186427). "The Beggar's Opera introduces readers to a once beautiful but now crumbling Havana and a cast of wonderful characters, including the sensitive and cunning Inspector Ricardo Ramirez and medical investigator Hector Apiro. The stark picture of life in modern day Cuba adds atmosphere and interest to the complex criminal investigation of the mystery--the rape and death of an eight-year-old boy. This is a totally captivating debut to a mystery series with an unforgettable setting and compelling characters." --Nancy McFarlane, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, S.C.
For Ages 9 to 12
Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, $15.99, 9780763645618). "Introduce children to the feathered wonders around them through this essential birding guide. For beginning birders, this book answers questions about what we see and hear around us and why it is important to pay attention--and it's funny, too! Eye-catching illustrations will help a child identify their backyard birds right down to the last little detail, and a reference index with author's notes is included for older children wanting more information." --Broche Fabian, World's Only Curious George Store, Cambridge, Mass.
[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]
Book Brahmin: Rebekah Lyons
Rebekah Lyons is the author of Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Towards a Life of Meaning (Tyndale, April 9, 2013). She and her husband, Gabe, co-founded Q Ideas, a nonprofit learning community that educates church and cultural leaders. She lives in New York City with her husband, three children and two dogs.
On your nightstand now:
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I was intrigued by Gretchen's formula of tackling one month at a time, as each subsequent month builds on the one before. Her practical tips show that you can act your way into feeling. Hard to imagine that we need practical steps on going to bed earlier, but we do! I resonate with her Secrets of Adulthood, those lessons learned as a mom and writer living in New York City. She inspires me to run toward a life that is full and abundant!
Favorite book when you were a child:
Nancy Drew Classics, all 64 by Carolyn Keene. I read all of these books in fourth grade. My mom was a teacher, and I would trade in the books after school at the library every few days so I could keep going without interruption. I often remember reading that Nancy was an amateur detective, even though at the time I never understood what the word "amateur" meant. I always fancied she and Ned would fall in love, but they kept it more professional than I preferred.
Your top five authors:
Brené Brown, Richard Rohr, Ann Voskamp, Anne Lamott, Shauna Niequist.
Book you've faked reading:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I've had good intentions... it's embarrassing, really.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. "We arrive in this world with birthright gifts--then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them.... Then, if we are awake, aware and able to admit our loss--we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed."
Book you've bought for the cover:
Bossypants by Tina Fey. Seriously, who could resist those man arms! Her chapter describing her first photo shoot says it all. I laughed so hard on the plane tears kept streaming down my cheeks, and my youngest was so confused by my simultaneous laughter and tears. She kept asking if I was okay.
Book that changed your life:
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Ann gave me permission to be real. To find the gratitude in all things, even in brokenness and suffering. This kind of brokenness helped me heal. Her weapon of penning the gifts in our life adds to the fullness of our life. My perspective is forever changed.
Favorite line from a book:
"Unsure of what lies ahead or why you've chosen to go on such an arduous adventure... you sense a call to come larger purpose, a call that will not be denied." --from Pilgrimage of a Soul by Phileena Heuertz
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I first read this book years ago on an inlet in Santorini, Greece, and imagined I was braving the elements on a treasure hunt, right alongside Santiago. Caught in the middle of my own season of searching, the story captured my attention from sunrise to sundown--I read the book in one day. I would love to relive that exhilarating adventure year after year, in some other part of the world.
Review: The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis
The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis by Steven J. Harper (Basic Books, $26.99 hardcover, 9780465058778, April 2, 2013)
The Lawyer Bubble is a cogent critique of the legal profession by Steven J. Harper, who speaks with authority. For 25 years, he was a partner at the Chicago megafirm of Kirkland & Ellis, after which he became an adjunct professor at Northwestern University and its law school. Yet the two types of institutions at which he's spent his professional career--a large law firm and a law school--are at the heart of what he believes are the profession's most serious ills.
In 2011, some 44,000 students graduated from American law schools. Nine months later, only about half had obtained full-time jobs requiring a law degree. Employed or not, many stagger under debt that often exceeds $100,000. Instead of responding to their plight, Harper argues, law schools pay more attention to their annual U.S. News & World Report rankings,willing to resort to unethical tactics to move up the list.
Big law firms are engaged in similarly fierce competition for a place in the Am Law 100, the ranking of the nation's top 100 firms compiled by American Lawyer, a magazine whose arrival marked the birth of the modern era of what Harper calls law firm "corporatization." These massive firms (the largest exceeding 4,000 lawyers worldwide) are driven by an obsession with short-term profits at the expense of traditional values of collegiality and mentoring young lawyers. Exhibit A: The once thriving firm of Dewey LeBoeuf collapsed spectacularly in 2012, $315 million in debt--much of it incurred by offering guaranteed contracts to high-price lateral hires.
With the thoroughness of a skilled trial lawyer, Harper marshals impressive statistics and other materials to make his case. If The Lawyer Bubble has a flaw, it's that it's written mostly in the bloodless style of a legal brief. It's only near the end of the book, when Harper recounts the tragic story of Mark Levy, a partner in a large Washington, D.C., law firm and a highly regarded appellate advocate, who committed suicide in his office when he was downsized in 2009, that his critique takes on a truly human dimension.
Harper offers some useful prescriptions--from curbing law school admissions to reducing reliance on the billable hour--which he believes may help restore the law to its former status as a learned profession. As someone who has spent 37 years in that profession, I can only observe that change, if it comes at all, will come slowly.--Harvey Freedenberg
Shelf Talker: Harper, a 25-year partner at a large Chicago firm and a Northwestern law professor, offers a cogent diagnosis of some of the legal profession's major ills.
Robert Gray: Dreams of Retail Translation--Handselling Tabucchi
"Fernando Pessoa died three years ago. Very few people, almost no one, even knew he existed. He lived in Portugal as a foreigner and a misfit, perhaps because he was everywhere a misfit," writes Dr. Pereira in his "Anniversaries" feature for a Lisbon newspaper in Antonio Tabucchi's novel Pereira Declares (New Directions).
This past Monday marked the first anniversary of Tabucchi's death. Although we often publish an Obituary Note when someone in the world of books dies, last year I went a step further and wrote about my discovery of this Italian author, whose relationship to Portuguese culture--as well as Pessoa's life and work--has fascinated me since I was introduced to Pereira Declares more than a decade ago by Martha Cooley's simple question: "Have you read Antonio Tabucchi?"
And now, perhaps, is just the right moment for my own "Anniversaries" piece about him. When I was a bookseller, I used to love the challenge of handselling Tabucchi's books. It was a form of retail translation, as I searched for just the right words, depending upon the customer, to convey my love for his writing without scaring off a potential reader.
My thoughts have returned to Tabucchi for another reason. More of his work is appearing from Archipelago Books, which recently published The Woman of Porto Pim and The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico, both translated by Tim Parks.
"I have felt very close to and lit up by Tabucchi's work since I first began to read him years ago," Jill Schoolman, Archipelago's publisher, told me. "I believe it's his own profound mixture of humanity (on both the individual/local and more universal planes), insight, his irrepressible need to play, his elusive ability to infuse dream with earthly matters, his fierce devotion to human dignity, and his exploratory ways--basically his kaleidoscopic mind and rare ability to love--that draw me to his work. Nothing is too small to illuminate for us, and nothing is too large to begin to chip away at, alter or ponder. I return to his books the way I feel the deep urge to return to old friends."
Archipelago will also release Time Ages In a Hurry, translated by Martha Cooley and Antonio Romani, next year and Tristano is Dying in Elizabeth Harris's translation soon after.
While that "handseller retail translation" theory I mentioned earlier may exist only in my imagination or dreams (a prospect I suspect both Pessoa and Tabucchi would approve of), I'm deeply curious about the actual process of translating Tabucchi. I asked Cooley how she and Romani, her husband, opened the door of Il tempo invecchia in fretta for English-language readers.
Noting that the author "writes about people for whom time itself is the key player in their lives," Cooley observed that "Tabucchi's vivid tales are suspenseful, surprising, quietly comic and very moving. Working with my co-translator, I've found it both great fun and greatly challenging to take each of these rich tales from Italian to English. How to handle Tabucchi's often long sentences--should we simplify them (good grief, no!) or shorten them (also no!) and, if not, how to make them sound just right? What to do with the speech of a young girl who switches between formal and informal ways of saying 'you' to the adult (a man who's ill, possibly dying, yet wry and affable) whom she's talking with? And how to render the half-affectionate, half-insulting nickname given by a former spy to the man he used to tail?
"For translators, working as a duo is wonderful. Collaboration opens up all kinds of possibilities, especially if (as in the case of my co-translator and myself) the two translators are (1) married and (2) quite well versed but not fully fluent in each other's language. Translation is a dance that starts and ends with sounds and rhythms. Meanings are essential, of course, but music comes first nonetheless--and music, like language, loves repetition."
Cooley mentioned that she'd re-read Pereira Declares quite recently: "My co-translator and I keep hearing in our heads all its haunting refrains--phrases and actions its reluctant hero keeps repeating to calm himself as momentous changes occur within and around him. Can any reader of this terrific short novel ever come across the words lemonade, omelette or obituary without also thinking of Pereira, so baffled and beleaguered yet so brave, too?"
The answer, for me, will always be no, never. Pereira lives, as his creator still lives, in all those irresistible words translated for us to read, re-read and share. "Rather than regret for what I have written, I feel regret for what I shall never read," Tabucchi wrote in a preface to Little Misunderstandings of No Importance (New Directions). And here am I, his retail translator, still handselling like a street vendor: Read Tabucchi! You won't regret it. --Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now).