What makes you put down a book? (And the problem with translation) (1 Viewer)

mjp

Founding member
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If you want to read the 1,000 comments (it's Goodreads, after all) they are here.
 
Interesting that Catch-22 is at the top of the abandoned list. I love that book and the film is so much better than M*A*S*H despite being completely overshadowed by it in 1970.
 

number6horse

okyoutwopixiesoutyougo
I recently abandoned "Fates and Furies" by Lauren Groff for a reason I didn't see coming. I was about halfway through the book when I realized the author despised her two main characters and seemed poised to make a giant train wreck of their marriage not for literary purposes but just for the hell of it. Like she had a mean streak or something. Very weird.
 
I find Latin histories (in English) hard to get through. I guess if I was a lot more familiar with the individuals then I'd enjoy picking up references and contradictions. I can't ever finish non-ancient epic poems. Childe Harold, Shelley, Dryden, Milton.... never finished any of them. :(
 

d gray

tried to do his best but could not
Founding member
i'm gonna get run out of here for saying this but i recently reread ham on rye and was really taken aback by how unlikable his character was.

i know, horrible childhood and abusive parents turned him like that - i can relate - but i found myself disliking him so much i didn't finish it.

so sue me!
 

Pogue Mahone

Officials say drugs may have played a part
Carl Hiaasen is my favorite modern day writer. His first chapter always sets up the plot for the novel. The first chapter is always hilarious and some fucked up only-in-Florida crime is committed. His first chapter is always like a fucking rocket -- as a journalist, he knows you have to get the readers' attention fast.
 
I'm tired of drawn out novels. I'm decent at judging a book by its cover, so I haven't had to set many books aside for bad writing. However, no matter how great the writer is, I find myself less likely to finish a book as soon as it hits about 300 pages. I won't finish the book unless the writer is impressing me every page. I liked what Bukowski said about how writers take too much time "setting the stage."
 

Hosh

hoshomccreesh.com
...and was really taken aback by how unlikable his character was.

There are a lot of folks who equate the "likability" of the narrator with how "good" the book is. This has always been curious to me. I love Catcher's Holden Caulfield, Lolita's Humbert Humbert was absolutely compelling but not "likeable." There are a whole host of recent female protagonists in novels-turned-blockbuster-films that are really complex characters but, again, not very likeable.

Is "likability" a deal breaker for others as readers?
 

PhillyDave

“The essential doesn't change.” Beckett
redundancy, redundancy, redundancy, redundancy.... It drives me nuts. It drives me nuts.

"Likeability" is not a deal breaker. I can very much dislike a character but if I understand why they act and/or feel they way they do then I'm okay with it. The character, no matter how wild, weird or downright dumb their decision, has to do things that are consistent with who they seem to be. If their actions are out of character, so to speak, then who cares? That's just dumb made up shit and no effort made on the author's part to be real/realistic/honest about the character. Of course imagination can make anything happen but can your author influence me to give a shit about the character and what is happening at all?
 

Skygazer

And in the end...
No I don't think the protagonist has to be likeable, often that makes for a boring read, better if they are contradictory, flawed, inconsistent etc. that way you feel like you're investing your time in a real person, not a cardboard cut out.

On a more practical level, things that have made me put a book down is; if the paper feels or smells horrible, if the print is very small or too faint.
 

d gray

tried to do his best but could not
Founding member
There are a lot of folks who equate the "likability" of the narrator with how "good" the book is.

that wasn't the case for me with this read. i do think it's a good (great) book.

i had read it a few times years ago and remembered feeling very sympathetic towards him.

for whatever reason in rereading it i had the opposite reaction, which really surprised me.
 
Maybe your way of looking at things has changed.

I read Carson McCullers' The Heart is a lonely Hunter and Hamsun's Hunger in my twenties, and I was thrilled by both books. When I reread the former one some twenty years later I couldn't even finish it, and Hunger pretty much bored me, both the main character and the language.
 

d gray

tried to do his best but could not
Founding member
yeah, i don't know what the difference was -

funny you said that cause i'm just about to reread heart is a lonely hunter so i'll see how that goes...
 
Carson McCullers' The Heart is a lonely Hunter
Did you know, that in 2011, a new/revised edition of the translation came out?

I tried to compare the two translations for about 20-30 pages once, then gave up the hard work.
Interesting enough: At different textparts it was one translation, then later the other, that catched me more. I dunno the English Original, so can't decide, which one is closer.


McCullers_two-translations_.jpg


(left-to-right: translation by Susanna Rademacher [1950, revised by the translator 1963] / newly (revised) translation by Elizabeth Gilbert [1974[?] - published 2011].)
 
Roni, I'm always amazed by how beautiful the typography and design is on German and French books. Thank you for sharing them.

Maybe your way of looking at things has changed.

I read Carson McCullers' The Heart is a lonely Hunter and Hamsun's Hunger in my twenties, and I was thrilled by both books. When I reread the former one some twenty years later I couldn't even finish it, and Hunger pretty much bored me, both the main character and the language.

Well gee, thanks for spoiling the fact I won't like any of my favorite books 20 years from now.
 

Hosh

hoshomccreesh.com
maybe this time i saw myself in his mean side and it turned me off.

This is tremendously interesting to me! In my youth, I felt "sure" about a great many things...almost all of which I have abandoned over the years. These days, I am suspicious of myself as soon as I think I "know" something. In reading, I suppose the same dynamic is exposed by what we identify with in those characters and books we love (or loved). And let's hope, as we age, our wise-mind pushes us deeper into grey complexities, changing us as people (and readers).

d gray, what were you drawn to in the character when you were younger?
 
I always found the protagonist of Hunger to be frustrating because he is so self-destructive but that's partly his character and partly the way hunger makes him more emotional and irrational. I also think it's a plot reason because of course his behaviour and bad choices create a more interesting narrative.

I have put down other classics of that period (1890-1920). (Musil's A Man with Qualities comes to mind)

I put down His MAsterpiece by Zola but that was because the translation was terrible. Has anyone else been put off by bad translations?
 
The last bad translation I remember was an edition of Henri Barbusse's novel Under Fire. The translator preserved too many Gallicisms, such as "is it not" for "n'est-ce pas" and the like, as if French is at all such a clunky language. I have a hard time imagining soldiers of any era talking the way this translator made them by preserving the French syntax. I notice this far more often with French books just because I studied it for awhile, but when I read Russians and Germans, I don't notice this as often probably owing to ignorance.

Speaking of Hunger, I've always suspected that we have yet to get a good translation of that novel in English. Maybe I'll start a Duolingo course on Norwegian... after all, James Joyce learned it in a week, didn't he?
 

LickTheStar

Sad Flower in the Sand
I read the Robert Bly translation of Hunger and enjoyed it, but the Sverre Lyngstad translation was far, far superior. There's a certain musicality of prose that made for a much better reading experience.

I also finished The Three Body Problem (translated from Chinese) and found it very readable, but I'm concerned because the second book in the series is translated by a different person... I guess I'll have to bite the bullet soon since the third (and final) volume in the trilogy is out in a month...
 
I read the Robert Bly translation of Hunger and enjoyed it, but the Sverre Lyngstad translation was far, far superior. There's a certain musicality of prose that made for a much better reading experience.
I always wonder about translations. You see a lot of translations by established authors who don't speak the original language. They have a literal translation then they interpret it. You see it all the time in drama when people adapt Ibsen, Strindberg and the Greek authors. How many well-known US/UK playwrights speak fluent Norwegian, Swedish or ancient Greek? Virtually none.

The last bad translation I remember was an edition of Henri Barbusse's novel Under Fire. The translator preserved too many Gallicisms, such as "is it not" for "n'est-ce pas" and the like, as if French is at all such a clunky language. I have a hard time imagining soldiers of any era talking the way this translator made them by preserving the French syntax.
Consider the way Hemingway used Spanish grammar in the dialogue in FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. As I know some Spanish I could spot that and I really liked it. Hem obviously used it deliberately and I think it worked. I can see how very literal translations can seem stiff and distracting.

I remember someone writing that a novel in the original language can still read well after centuries but translations always date. Seems weird but true.
 

PhillyDave

“The essential doesn't change.” Beckett
I read the Robert Bly translation of Hunger and enjoyed it, but the Sverre Lyngstad translation was far, far superior. There's a certain musicality of prose that made for a much better reading experience.

I also finished The Three Body Problem (translated from Chinese) and found it very readable, but I'm concerned because the second book in the series is translated by a different person... I guess I'll have to bite the bullet soon since the third (and final) volume in the trilogy is out in a month...
I read the Robert Bly translation as well. It is excellent. I wonder who translated other Hamsun books. I'll have to investigate that.
 

Skygazer

And in the end...
Last year I read acouple of books, transcripts really (translated) called Conversations Vol 1 and 2, between Jorges Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari, one thing they discussed was the difficulties in translating,
Borges translated into Spanish, novels by Kafka,Woolf, Lawrence, Whitman, Faulkner etc.But even he, as a writer and multi linguist didn't feel the need to stay true to the original text, because a literal translation lost too much of the feel and mood of a book.The syntax and idioms became too stilted and clunky, so he took what many would consider a very cavalier attitude and set it to work in his own culture, often altering a lot.But was unapologetic about it, saying that was the way to make it work best.
 
Another book which seemed too literally translated was Blindness by Jose Saramago, though perhaps inserting more periods and cutting out his commas and semicolons would have felt wrong to the translator. I guess that was supposed to be the Portuguese publisher's job.

I read the Robert Bly translation of Hunger and enjoyed it, but the Sverre Lyngstad translation was far, far superior. There's a certain musicality of prose that made for a much better reading experience.

Bly's version is the one I've read twice. There's an earlier version of which I don't think highly (maybe Bukowski read that one). I'll give the Lyngstad a try next time I'm up for it. The Bly version is good—it is all that I have to go by, really—but I have a feeling that it could have been better due to something I read about the original in a Hamsun biography. The biographer said that Hamsun's prose was more conversational. I don't remember it being that way throughout the Bly version, such as in the narrative bits, but the dialogue was pretty good. I didn't feel as if someone was telling the story aloud to me.

Anyway, translation is hard and for a less studied language such as Norwegian, there are bound to be more problems. This ties into Joseph K's comment about adaptations in theater from lesser known languages. In the case of Hemingway, I haven't read For Whom the Bell Tolls, but if a writer can pull it off, I'm all for them writing however they want. I think the same about translators, so I would be in favor of what Skygazer said about Borges' work. I imagine someone like Borges would do a good job of preserving an author's intent while maintaining a good sense of style in his native language. Maybe that's what I see as a good translation.
 
I know that someone who read Naked Lunch in English said that the French translation had a degree of "elegant variation" (basically the principle of using synonyms to introduce some variety and to prevent repetition). Now although elegant variation is a fair principle it is one that Hemingway deliberately avoided because he liked the effect of simple, precise vocab and the effect of repetition. Burroughs didn't used elegant variation because he often had mechanical cut ups where the words repeated because he was using found texts. Using elegant variation - while useful in composing prose - in translations of Hem and Burroughs is entirely wrong and misleading.
 

Skygazer

And in the end...
For me there were absolutely no likeable characters at all in Les Enfants Terribles, but it's Cocteau's compelling story that makes you keep turning the page, despite this.

Maybe your way of looking at things has changed...].
And sometimes it can just be the mood your in.I started a Chrisopher Brookmyre book (and I'd read one of his before and enjoyed it)
but this time round, I really disliked the main character and the author's sarcasm too, when I found myself thinking of the main character "well if your so smart you do it then" - to a sitution and I wasn't even out of chapter one, I stopped reading and haven't read another by him, it put me right off.
 
I would have to say that Blood Meridian has the most despicable characters of any fiction I've ever read. Obviously character likability was clearly not Mccarthy's point.
Possibly the most relentlessly depressing novel I've ever finished.
Wait wait, I fucked up! Walking With The Beast was way more depressing than Blood Meridian.
 
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