Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Book Review: That Mad Ache
That Mad Ache by Françoise Sagan, translated by Douglas Hofstadter (Basic Books, $14.94 trade paper, 9780465010981/0465010989, May 2009)
Why is that man reading his book upside down?
Because one side of That Mad Ache, the handsome, newly-released paperback original from Basic Books, is a fresh translation of Françoise Sagan's 1965 French novel, La Chamade, but flip the book over and you'll find another book altogether. Upside down on the other side is a brilliantly-written 100-page essay on the art of translation by the translator himself, Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning genius who created Godel, Escher, Bach. Sagan leaped to fame in 1954 at the age of 18 when her novel Bonjour, Tristesse became an international sensation. That Mad Ache, written 11 years later, contains the same witty, ironic dissection of upper-class French lovers and disenfranchised young people, gracefully baring the souls of her characters and watching them misunderstand each other. Lucille is the aimless, 30-year-old lover of Charles, 20 years her senior. She sits next to a gloomy young man she doesn't much like at a high society dinner, someone else's lover, and together the two cause a scandal by a tactless burst of laughter. From there it's a labyrinthine journey into the human heart, as lively and invigorating in Hofstadter's fresh, airy translation as any novel written today.
Hofstadter lays bare the zillion-and-one decisions that confront any translator. He compares his choices with those of the earlier translator, Robert Westhoff, who was Françoise Sagan's husband and the father of her only child. Translation is a subtle, suggestive art, and Hofstadter reveals, among other things, his clever solution to the vous/tu dilemma and when to have English idioms come out of French mouths. His boldest assertion is blatantly favoring the meaning and idea over the literal translation, and he shows you his daring insertions, alterations and omissions to prove it. Hofstadter is a delightfully endearing smartie who adores the text he's translating, knows how to doubt himself and unabashedly admits his pleasures in this frequently laugh-out-loud funny personal essay.
Not only that, but it's a beautifully made book, a physical pleasure in weight and flexibility, super-readable type face, lovely cover--a book-lover's joy to hold and read in which every aspect of publishing (including the contents, both fiction and non-fiction!) are superbly executed for maximum reading enjoyment. Kindle, eat your heart out.--Nick DiMartino
Shelf Talker: A new translation of Françoise Sagan's La Chamade--subtle and daring--combined with an essay on translation by the translator himself, Douglas Hofstadter.
Friday, June 12, 2009
In this incarnation there are really only six titles on the “hot” portion – but the first one pleases me so much that I count it twice:
Eduardo Galeano’s Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone (Nation Books, 9781568584232) is getting the attention it deserves, and creating evangelists. For example, Lucia Silva of Portrait of a Bookstore in
Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire: How Cooking Made s Human (Basic, 9780465013623) has certainly captured the imagination of radio producers. Having already been featured on 7 public radio programs, including “Weekend All Things Considered,” “Chef’s Table,” and “To the Best of Our Knowledge” (taped, but still to air), Dr. Wrangham has added a high profile eighth: yesterday he taped an interview with PRI’s “The World.” And looking down the summer, we have him confirmed for an appearance on “Talk of the Nation’s Science Friday” on August 28. Famed minimalist Mark Bittman also featured the book in his “Bitten” blog on the New York Times website, and will feature a Q&A with Dr. Wrangham in an upcoming blog post. All of which follows on glowing reviews in the Times (“Catching Fire is a plain-spoken and thoroughly gripping scientific essay that presents nothing less than a new theory of human evolution...one that Darwin (among others) simply missed.”), the San Francisco Chronicle (“Wrangham has a curious mind, in all the best senses…. This is colorful stuff, and Wrangham obviously has an eye on a general readership, but he never talks down, and he's a trustworthy guide through some daunting intellectual terrain.”), and just about everywhere in the science press you could think to look.
Going into last season I thought that Peter Carlson’s K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude Starring
The Skinny Bitch empire continues to expand, with the recent publication of Skinny Bastard (Running Press, 9780762435401). Authors Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin will have their first major national media interview on the Lifetime Network’s new morning show, “Balancing Act with Dr. David Friedman,” the first week in July (exact air date to come). You’ll know from past experience that this is just the beginning of a prolonged onslaught.
Now that the film Food, Inc. is getting broad release, its advocates – and the contributors to our companion book from PublicAffairs (9781586486945) – are burning up the airwaves. Last week Eric Schlosser was on Colbert, Michael Pollan was on Bill Maher, and director Robert Kenner appeared on PBS’s “Now.” This very morning, Mr. Kenner appeared on “Morning Edition,” and ABC’s “Nightline” will run a segment on the film next Monday. There should be no paucity of attention, and we think it’s a great opportunity for the book. I’d like to remind you, and hope you’ll remind your customers, that the book is much, much more than a simple recap of the documentary – it’s almost entirely original material, and should appeal widely. And it’s a paper original! Magic words these days….
And finally (or almost finally), Sunday’s New York Times Book Review will feature a magnificent review of Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the
I can’t help but mention, too, that Mr. Wheatcroft’s review is but a step in Basic’s continuing string of New York Times Book Review coverage – I’ve attached a lovely little sheet showing the reviews they’d received through April; upcoming issues will review The Secret Lives of Boys and Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love. PublicAffairs is also shoehorning in, with several reviews scheduled in the next couple weeks: World War One, The Sages, and (best title ever) The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday. And while we’re in the Book Review’s pages, I must also mention that the eternal bestseller Skinny Bitch has had recent company on the bestseller lists – Thomas Sowell’s The Housing Boom and Bust (thank you, Mr. Glenn Beck) and Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, by John Medina. This one is particularly pleasing – a small, indie press (Pear Press, 9780979777745), succeeding largely through the evangelical efforts of booksellers like you. Many thanks from all of us at team Perseus.