What Do You Look for in a Translation? Edification or Entertainment?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

For many readers something that is edifying is entertaining. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

By Edward Nawotka


In today’s interview with Michael Reynolds, Editor-in-chief of Europa Editions, he describes his readers as being in two camps:

There are those who are curious to read something from another country, because it is from another country—that fact is foremost in their considerations. And then there is a larger group of readers who don’t really care where a book comes from or what language it was written in. They are interested in an entertaining read, food for thought, quality fiction, a strong story — more or less the same things they look for when they chose any book, by an international author or otherwise.

Successful publishers of translations are able to strike a balance between publishing books that are entertaining, as well as edifying. In fact, for many people, something that is edifying is entertaining. They aren’t mutually exclusive. (Of course, you wouldn’t know that from some of the most popular titles in translation — after all, how many ways can you kill a man? Honestly, what’s there to learn from reading about murder over and over and over again?)

So, tell us, what do you look for most in a translation? Exoticism? Distraction? A sense of place? Or, perhaps, something else?

In answering that question, I like to think that “translation” doesn’t always have to be literal. If someone can “translate” a point of view to me through literature — say what it’s like to be dying of a chronic disease or be living with a sexual orientation from my own — it is just as exotic, edifying and, consequently, entertaining to me as a work of linguistic translation.

I suppose what I’m really looking for is a sense of wonder.

Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.