My Percentage of Foreign Books

A recent flurry of Twitter exchanges made me realise that I’m a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to literature in translation. I’ve read 64 translated books (or in the original French or German) this year, which sounds like a lot. Until you realise that my grand total of all books read is 175, which makes it a proportion of 37%. If I manage to finish all the books I have planned for December as well, I will have read 65 foreign books out of a total of 182, which reduces the percentage even further to 36%. And even that’s from a rather narrow pool: mostly European countries (OK, make that predominantly French and German-speaking writers).

That may not seem too bad, but I am humbled by comparisons to some of my favourite book bloggers. Stu Jallen has read 126 translations out of 130, Tony Malone has 112 out of 120 titles in translation, Jacqui 67 out of 97. I have even less an excuse than most to NOT read foreign books, since I am based in a non-English speaking country. I have access to French and Swiss writers galore, plus so many translations into French from writers who are not easily available in English. I am not even a native English speaker… originally. Although my parents assure me that my Romanian has gone to pot since I moved abroad twenty years ago.


So you know I joined the TBR Double Dare Challenge for the first 3 months of 2015 – or possibly longer, until I make some inroads into my toppling piles of books? I thought I’d take a quick sneak peek to see how the translated/foreign percentage fares over the next few months.

On my bookshelves I’ve got about 28 foreign books, plus 4 graphic novels (BD), and 23 in English (by which I mean, of course, also American or Australian or other writers who write in English). On my tablet it is the other way round – almost frighteningly so! 90 in English, 22 in translation. The eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that the numbers don’t quite match up with my previously stated totals, but that’s give or take a few piles or files that are temporarily misplaced. The result is the same: 50 out of 113 are foreign, which makes it 44%. Slightly better, I suppose.

I’ll have to be careful what I borrow from the library from now on… I’ve got Modiano and Daniel Pennac waiting in the wings (i.e. on my night-table). And, who knows, maybe I’ll get an aid parcel of books by Romanian writers from my parents and friends at some point? (That surely doesn’t count against the TBR double dare, if it’s someone else’s initiative?)



25 thoughts on “My Percentage of Foreign Books”

    1. Oh, no, English is most decidedly my first language and the one I can read fastest in (as for writing, well, it’s probably the only one I can write properly in… although ‘properly’ is a matter of interpretation).

  1. I wonder if you’re being a little hard on yourself? 37% is still well above the average, although I know you’d like it to be higher! Over the last six months, I’ve been aiming for a 50:50 balance between translations and books in the English language – my overall % in translation was almost certainly pushed up by shadowing the IFFP in the spring. Going forward, I think I’d be happy reading anywhere between 40 and 50% in translation, simply for breadth and balance.

    1. It just struck me that the three of you in particular (and quite a few others, such as Caroline, Lizzy, Bellezza) make such a concerted effort to read foreign books although they are based in English-speaking countries, while I am not and have those ‘foreign’ books of all descriptions (the French translate quite a bit of Asian and African literature) easily to hand.

      1. My objective is 33% translated fiction. Am pitching around 50% this year thanks to 3 Ferrantes, 10 Simenons and 20 from German, with a smattering of Spanish and Japanese in there. I’m not the parragon of virtue you take me to be.

  2. Marina Sofia – I too think you’re being a bit too hard on yourself. You’ve read far more foreign work than a lot of other people. I’m really impressed!

    1. Luckily, there’s a lot more literature being translated nowadays. I still shy away from reading foreign books translated into French – although that would probably be a good strategy, as they translate very many…

  3. I’m with the people who say you’re being too hard on yourself! 37% is miles above the percentage I’ve even considered attaining (though that could mean I’m being too soft on myself :p). To me it looks like you’re doing great!

    1. Thank you – it wasn’t self-flagellation, more like ‘wow, I wasn’t expecting that’. I’ll forge on regardless. Reading has to be fun, not just ‘worthy’.

  4. You can compare yourself to my percentage of novels read in translation, which I doubt very much makes it to double figures! I often think my role in life is to make other people feel better about themselves. 🙂 Actually I am a bit horrified that I haven’t read a single novel in French this year – I’m going to forget all the vocabulary unless I do something about that in 2015.

    1. Yes, I find I’m in danger of doing that even with my mother tongue, Romanian, because I hardly ever read in it… Sorry, I didn’t mean to make you feel bad, it was more of a reflection on the gap between my own perception and reality.

      1. It’s okay, really, I’m just teasing! I’m fine with reading only a small percentage of books in translation. If I could, I would read everything, but given that’s impossible I’m okay with reading whatever comes my way. 🙂 Isn’t it hard, though, to keep up another language! I really wish osmosis worked…..

  5. I’ve been trying very hard not to get caught up in these end-of-year stat things. What percent by gender, genre, format, etc. However, I can’t resist it. I thought I read a lot for translated works and it turns out to be about 30 per cent. I’m happy with that because I had a lot of diversity in my other reading: Caribbean, Black Americans, immigrants writing in English. Some of these had the feel of “foreign” fiction (even though they were written in English) because they were so far outside my own life experience.

    1. To be honest, I’m doing these calculations for myself – to see if I live what I preach. And it’s infuriating to see that there’s a gap between what I believe to be true and what actually happens in practice… I agree, however, that there is such a variety of English language writers – Africa, the Caribbean, India, Australia and New Zealand – a lot of exploration to be done.

  6. I think you are well above the average reader it is great see so many books from around the world being read thou so many more than when I first started blogging

    1. You are right, I do think it’s beginning to change. Independent publishers are coming up with great new works in translations and big publishers are starting to sit up and take notice. Good news!

  7. 175 books a year – i wish i would come somewhere close… just not enough time..ugh… i love reading books in english to get more fluent and everyone once and a while a german one – just to relax

  8. Well, my friend, you have no reason to be “ashamed” in my opinion, as you have already achieved a far high total than I (only 85 or so total books read this year). I don’t know the percentage of translates books, but any one of them would be more than many people have read ever. I know that there’s always something out there waiting to be read, and I’ll never read all I want to, but we are making a good inroad. And, your language ability impresses me so much when I can only read in English.

  9. Congrats and good luck to all – every book read in translation is a pat on the back to those who translate them and allow great reads to travel the world! Very impressive mind Marina – enjoy!

      1. Its great how you’re showing people what you thought and how you’ve changed your mind. People relate to that. And just think of all the lovely new books you can read now! Would love to hear more of your discoveries!

  10. I feel you! I may cheat by saying that I’m not a native English-speakers so *technically* the 85% of English book I read can be considered as translation or at least not in my native language. This is bs. I’ve also been trying to balance it more, but Anglo-Saxon literature feels so comfortable, so familiar that’s it feel almost like homework to move away (shame on me!). I think I’ll dedicate 2015 to pushing for both translations and reading in the original language (Portuguese, Spanish and French).

    1. Same here, although English really is by now the most comfortable language for me to do anything in – as you say, comfort reading, rather than hard work…

Do share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.