It’s Time to Read More Translated Books!

This post is part of the Reading Writers of Color 2021 challenge hosted by Lonely Cryptid Media’s staff writer and editor, Dan Michael Fielding.


Why aren’t we reading translated books? According to Literary Hub in 2016 less than one percent of new books published in English had been translated from another language. Of those that were published, 40% originated from Western Europe.

In fact, you’re much more likely to find a book written in English for an American audience translated into other languages than you are to find the reverse.

To my knowledge there are no large scale studies of American publishers which attempt to determine why they aren’t publishing translated works. But Literary Hub and others speculate a general lack of interest, both from consumers and publishers, and a desire to keep costs low. It is much cheaper and easier to snap up a ready-made book in English than it is to hire a translator, navigate the legal systems of two different countries, and pay the original author for the rights to their work.

But works in translation have much to teach us about the increasingly global world we live in. We can learn about the experiences of others who we would never be able to meet in real life. We can reflect on their perspectives and world views and find similarities and differences to our own. And, we can simply discover new beautiful stories that we did not have access to before.

This September, our challenge is to read a translated work by an author of color. If you’re reading this post you’ll probably be picking something translated into English, but don’t feel limited by that. You’re welcome to pick a book translated into any language you’re capable of reading! For an added layer of difficulty, try to find a book that was also translated by a translator of color. You may find this difficult to do, in part because the work of translation is not as highly publicized as the work of writing.

#ReadPOC2021. Read a Translated Book by a Writer of Color. WWW.LonelyCryptidMedia.com

For those looking to double up on challenge prompts, the National Book Award has a category for translated literature. If you found an award in your research for last month that honors translated works please share in the comments below!

Or, if you’re looking to read the works of queer authors consider this list of 21 queer books in translation, or this one with 20 books. Although not all the authors on these lists are authors of color they are a good place to start your search.

I also want to share the wonderful work that has been done by the community of The Story Graph for their Translation Challenge 2021 prompt list. Over 3,000 books have been added to the prompt list, which is growing every day!

For those interested specifically in works translated from Chinese, check out The Paper Republic’s resource guide. They include several “classics,” short stories that are free to read online, and their annual roll call of translated works.

If you’re looking to focus on indie publishers check out Book Riot’s 24 Must-Read 2021 Books in Translation.

There are tons of great recommendation lists out there, so I won’t reinvent the wheel here, except to share one of my favorite authors I’ve been introduced to since I decided to make an effort to read translated works. I’ve mentioned the work of Cixin Liu before, and his supremely realized science fiction continues to interest and engage me. But reading Cixin Liu’s work has also introduced me to Ken Liu, translator of The Three Body Problem. I recently picked up Ken Liu’s short story collection The Paper Menagerie and I have been blown away by every story. Ken Liu is both an excellent translator and a powerful fiction writer in his own right.

The cover of The Paper Menagerie shows an origami folded paper tiger on a plain white background. The paper tiger appears to be prowling forward.

What’s the last translated book you read? What are you hoping to read for September? I’ve picked up another Cixin Liu book that I’m hoping to tackle as soon as I’ve finished with The Paper Menagerie.

Let us know your plans for September. And happy reading!


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19 thoughts on “It’s Time to Read More Translated Books!

  1. This month, there are two titles on my list, both of translated to German: “Natsu monogatari” by Japanese author Mieko Kawakami (Literally someting like “summerstory”, English title “Breats and eggs”, German title likewise: “Brüste und Eier”) and “Memorial” by American author Bryan Washington (German title: “Dinge, an die wir nicht glauben” which translates to “Things, we don’t believe in”).

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  2. I warmly recommend The Paper Menagerie, it has excellent stories!

    I am not sure what I will pick for this translation challenge. Instead I might just read a BIPOC author writing in German. I‘ll see what else I come across. I am running behind anyway. I am still reading my August pick, Rosewater, and my short story anthology from July, Dominion.

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  3. > a general lack of interest, both from consumers and publishers, and a desire to keep costs low

    That‘s so odd! I hazard the guess that in most countries in Europe a massive amount of translated books are published.

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    1. Ok, I checked on a German statistics page. In 2020 a little over 69.000 books were published in Germany. 5,784 books (~8%) were translated from English into German in 2020. This means that English was by far the language of origin for most of the translations for the German book market. French and Japanese translations took second and third place, respectively, with 975 and 927 translations. (I copied and pasted)

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      1. Generally it takes a year or two for mainstream novels of major authors to be translated and published. Bestsellers can happen faster. Michelle Obama‘s Becoming for example was in all bookstores this summer. Bestsellers and prize winners are translated pretty quickly.

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  4. My daughter has been asking me to read one of the manga she’s very into, so I read volume one of My Hero Academia. Now I know who the heck the characters are that she’s talking about!

    We also both gave Attack on Titan a try–she read the first book and I read the first half–and I’m really disappointed to not like it after I’ve heard such great things about the series. Just not my cup of tea.

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