Which was the first book I’ve ever read in translation? In all honesty, I haven’t the faintest idea! Reading translated books is something really common in Portugal, and I have been doing so since childhood. Thus, it is always with particular interest that I follow, usually from the sidelines, the aspiration of some bloggers from English-speaking countries to read more books by authors whose first language is not English. Since I have stopped reading translations from books originally written in English in favour of reading them in the original, the number of books in translation that I read decreased considerably, though, revealing the Anglo-centric tendencies of my reading.
Reading books by authors from different countries to ours allows us to improve our understanding of the world we live in. It helps us to better comprehend other people and cultures, while being introduced to the diverse realities and problems they face. Moreover, it also gives us the opportunity to fictionally travel to locations all over the world. Obviously, authors can write stories set in countries different from the ones they live in. But, although a variety of perspectives is always welcomed, the inhabitants of a country tend to have a more in-depth perception of the place they live in.
As I know both Portuguese and English, I can read books by authors from various countries in the original. That is a fantastic alternative to read in translation! (I hugely admire people who confidently speak more than two languages.) Language and culture are closely connected in my opinion, so it’s even more enlightening to read books in the original. Currently, I read Portuguese language editions of books originally written not only in Portuguese but also in Spanish, Italian and French, since all of them are Romance languages and share similarities. All the other books I tend to read in English, also taking advantage of them being cheaper.
However, (unfortunately) it’s impossible to learn and be fluent in all of the languages spoken in the world. This is why translators have such an important role to play. They make people from all over the globe to feel much closer to each other. From what I could gather, people from non-English speaking countries tend to read more books in translation. Bookshops in Portugal, for example, are full of books in translation, particularly from English-speaking countries, but also from South America and other Western European countries. Books translated from the English can be found and seem to be read all over the world, while the opposite isn’t quite true. There seems to be a cultural imbalance.
Reading translated books is something that I do without rationalising or planning. Although, as I have mentioned previously, my reading has been dominated by English-speaking authors (and also Portuguese) in the latest years, I have read a good proportion of books in translation in my lifetime without giving it much thought. 2018 has been an outlier in the tendency of reading less in translation because of the ‘EU still 28’ project. But the purpose behind it wasn’t even to read more in translation.
From my perception, it doesn’t seem to be as natural for people from the UK and the US to read in translation. Why do you think that is? Have I got the wrong impression? Do you usually read books in translation? Tell me in the comments!