Considering the coming year

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions (though I did like one mentioned on Kerry’s blog here, I will to try to stay alive in 2010 if at all possible, that’s a resolution I can get behind), but with A Dance to the Music of Time drawing to a close it’s time for me to think about whether I want any major reading projects for the coming year.

One project I’ve already decided on, I’m going to try to read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time this year. That alone will take I suspect a good chunk of my reading time, but I think it will be worth it. I own the Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright translations, so those will be what I go with.

That’s probably more than enough, but the other project that tempts me in addition is to improve my knowledge of Russian literature. In particular, I’m thinking of trying to work my way through the major superfluous man novels, the question there then is working out which ones are best to read.

I figure Byron’s Childe Roland, though not Russian of course, is worth looking at for its influence on Eugene Onegin. Oblomov has to make an appearance, Diary of a Superfluous Man sounds like it might be somewhat relevant, all other suggestions welcome.

For the curious, I have read A Hero of our Time, as the blog title probably suggests, but I shall likely try to reread it this year as well.

On an unrelated note, I’m trying a new theme for the blog to make it a bit easier on the eye. All thoughts welcome, I’m undecided currently.



Filed under Personal posts

38 responses to “Considering the coming year

  1. Your new blog heading is … well amazing. I too plan on rereading A Hero of Our Time this year. It’s another re-reading that’s long overdue. Which translation are you going to read? I have the Nabokov–he was a great admirer of Lermontov, so I am going to stick with that.

    Also which translation of Oblomov are you going for? There’s a new one by Marian Schwartz (who translated Berberova’s stuff), but I have a tatty old Goncharov I’m thinking of sticking with.

    The film version of Oblomov is amazing if you want to see it. The film version of Hero of Our Time still doesn’t have subtitles but clips are available on youtube.

    One of my reading goals is to read Troyat’s hefty bio of Pushkin. I want to finish the Zola too.

  2. Suggestion: read Dead Souls. Get the Pevear Volokhonsky version.

  3. Turgenev’s Nest of the Gentry….

  4. I haven’t decided on the Lermontov translation yet. Oddly enough, I’ve been reading online criticisms of Pevear Volohonsky’s translations, how accurate they are and that sort of thing. Fascinating stuff.

    and following up:


    How fair any of it is, I can’t say, though I note you like them for Dead Souls wich certainly carries some weight with me.

    Fascinating article for Pevear and Volohonsky here:

    Confusing stuff, picking translations.

    Edit: For completeness, a thorough if rather dry essay on the topic that criticises P/V heavily:

    I’ll still probably give P/V a try though. Infelicities are regrettable, but it doesn’t sound like other translations avoid them, rather that they have different examples.

    Edit 2: And a lengthy piece which includes views from P/V. Mostly positive, though with a lengthy digression in the middle about Nabokov that added little to my life. Still, an interesting article and worth reading.

  5. I quite like the new theme. Your reviews tend to be longish (that’s a good thing) and this is more reader friendly, at least for me. In a perfect world, I’d love it if you could include titles (perhaps as a subhead to your headline) or add a title list on your sidebar. You review a fair number of lesser known titles by lesser known authors and when I go searching for them months down the road motivated by a memory of the idea but not the title it is a challenging search.

    Proust AND Russians in the same year! Now that is setting the bar very high. I’m sure you will find some diversions along the way.

  6. Sorry for all the comments, but I am thinking this over:
    Tolstoy’s The Cossacks is supposed to be his answer to Lermontov’s Caucasus story.

    And Turgenev’s Rudin which I haven’t read yet. Academics think this one is seminal.

    Anything Pevear and Volokhonsky is worth buying.

  7. Hm, I’ll give some thought to titles. I like having a representative quote, something about it appeals to me, but I hadn’t thought about the implications in terms of search functionality.

    I’m glad it helps readability. The original theme was much better than at my old blog location, but it was a bit stark. I’d rather the place wasn’t actually forbidding after all.

  8. I asked someone who reads and translates Russian to look at two versions of The Demons–the Pevear/Volokhonsky version and another older translation. The former won hands downs, so that’s the one I read.

  9. Pevear and Volokhonsky certainly seem eminently readable, based on a quick browse at Waterstones this lunchtime.

    It’s a fascinating topic translation. I looked at the McDuff Crime and Punishment, McDuff was born in 1945 so it’s a contemporary translation essentially, but the style is very Nineteenth Century. McDuff explains in a foreword that that’s intentional, a desire to reflect the language of the period and the influences Dostoevsky drew upon. Pevear and Volohonsky seem to aim more at precision of translation, and readability, which is a somewhat different approach.

    Which is better I don’t know, the P/V C&P was easier to read (both were in the shop), but the McDuff did feel very 19thC. Both translators’ goals are understandable. To the lay reader, as long as the text doesn’t jar readability perhaps has much to recommend it.

    What’s impressed you with the P/V translations Guy? Accuracy? Liveliness? Readability? Something else? A combination thereof?

    Edit: Ah, I see you’ve already answered. Thanks.

  10. I think it’s a combo of all the things you mentioned. To the Russian translator it was the accuracy, but the books just read well. I took several pages from the Demons–both translations–and read them side-by-side.

    I could see someone having a fit over the Parmee translation of Zola’s The Earth. It was very modern and frank. I loved it. When I say frank, it wasn’t overdone. There were no modern slang phrases or words such as that appallingly bad, teeth-grindingly annoying ‘girlfriend’ that women sometimes love to call each other, but the passages seemed very real, and very likely to come out of the mouths of the French peasants (even 19th C ones). In other words, it wasn’t stiff.

  11. I rather prefer your old theme. It had a certain dignity, a certain polished look. This one shines off the screen in a too-bright white.

    As for the title business, why don’t you just include cover-photos? The title is written on them.
    I, too, like quoting for titles (I regularly use it), and just maintain an exhaustive categories list for the sake of mavigability.

  12. Cover photos don’t help with searching I suspect is the trouble. I could add titles as Categories, but I fear it would lead swiftly to Category bloat.

    I’ll continue thinking on themes, I do like having a custom header though I have to admit.

    Guy, thanks for all the suggestions. My posting of links praising and criticising P/V is simply because the topic fascinates me, from what I’ve seen their translations do look pretty good.

    Extraordinary though that Oprah put their translation of Anna Karenina as a recommendation in her book club, without apparently ever reading it. I wonder what her fans made of it…

  13. Or you could put authors as categories.

    As for themes, I have to admit that you chose a great header pic.

  14. I do have authors as categories. I use author, type of literature, and sometimes some other salient feature that strikes me and that I think will come up more than once. I dislike one use only categories where avoidable.

  15. The only comparison reading I’ve done between Pevear and Volokhonsky and another translator was Anna Karenina. I had read the Constance Garnett translation and really was only so-so. But when I read the PV translation I was blown away. So much more subtlety, so much more texture. I plan on doing the same someday with The Brothers Karamazov which I loved when I read some old translation (not sure which) but which I hear is even better from PV.

    I’m currently working my way through their translation of War and Peace. Admittedly, I’m having a harder go at it, but I think that’s because I’m having a harder time with the characters. Anna Karenina began with Oblonsky, and I was hooked from the beginning. Here I’m still not fully certain who will be the main characters and who will be the side characters. So I’m still not sure how I’ll feel about the book or the translation when I’m done.

    On another note, love your new look. And I agree with Kevin’s comment above when he suggests an author/title subtitle. I think that would help readers enter into your long reviews (also, I agree with Kevin that I like your long takes).

  16. Trevor, thanks for the thoughts on P/V, I’m getting the impression the objections to them are partly:

    1. Technical matters unlikely to affect me (and no translator/translation is free of problems);

    2. A reaction to their huge and sudden success.

    On subtitles, would it work if I simply put them in as the first line of the text? For example, where in this post I start with the words “I don’t believe in” I could bump that down a couple of lines and (if it were a book) put the book’s author and title as an item there. Would that do the trick?

  17. Hm, the Schartz Oblomov, which does tempt me, is currently still in hardback. As I don’t buy hardbacks, that leaves me having to wait on Oblomov, or trying another translation.

    Choices, choices.

  18. Kevin/Trevor,

    I’ve tried inserting a subtitle in the Combat Archaeology entry, while I appreciate Newton’s Wake isn’t a title either of you will have the faintest interest in, it’s a recent entry so a reasonable place to see how it looks.

  19. That works for my admittedly selfish needs. Thanks.

  20. Re: the translation wars, I think we all basically end up with what feels (reads) best. I know when I”ve done side by side comparisons of some translations, I think ‘oh come on,’ over the choice of a word. Some things are just a matter of taste or choice, and you can argue one word quite easily over another. It can get a bit too English-teachery, if you know what I mean.

    I do get annoyed about the WOW effect of some of the newer translations, and I don’t think that just because something is the NEWEST translation that it is necessarily the best. That said the Maude translation of The Cossacks was godawful. So I’m glad P&V are around.

  21. Works for me too, Max. But if you have reasons to leave it off, no problem, though I admit I like to get that information up front.

  22. May I suggest that in between your heavier reading, you launch into Donald Westlake’s masterpiece, the Parker series? They are very quick and easy to read and might offer a nice refreshing break between the longer tomes on your list.

  23. I have been struggling with Proust for quite a few years now and have only read three volumes so far. I find the intricacies of French society life rather wearing after a few hundred pages but there are so many worthwhile nuggets among them that I plough on. Sodom and Gomorrah this year perhaps.

    I read Oblomov but found him to be no Dostoevsky or Tolstoy. I will be interested to hear what you think of him.

    Thanks for visiting mine.

  24. leroyhunter

    2 impressive projects you’ve set yourself, Max.
    I can’t comment on your Russian dilemma, as that’s a gap in my own reading. I have the new Briggs War & Peace (a gift) unread at home, but wonder if I’d be better off with eg Garnett or Maude versions. Oh well, will try it some day and see how I get on. I admit I’m unlikely to read 2 different translations of Tolstoy purely for comparison purposes.

    I’ve made it half-way though In Search Of Lost Time but there’s been such a gap now since the last volume I’m debating whether to press on or re-read. I’ve read the first 2 volumes twice (same reason – too long had passed since the last one) and found that really helped get to grips & enjoy the scale & complexity of Proust’s work. I think I’ll reread “The Guermantes Way” before pushing on, although this approach makes having a deadline unrealistic.

    As an aside, I tried the Moncreiff / Kilmartin translation 20-odd years ago and found it hard going, so I bought the new Penguin set when they came out in 2002 and have enjoyed them to date. I know there has been a lot of criticism of the approach (using different translators etc) but in practice this hasn’t affected me and I find the less stuffy style more amenable.

    Anyway, look forward to your reviews as you make your way through Proust’s universe…

  25. leroyhunter

    Also meant to say, I find the new Penguin approach of each volume of ISOLT being a separate book to be preferable. They’re nicely designed volumes as well.

  26. You had me checking my copy of The Cossacks Guy, which I’ve not read yet, to ensure it wasn’t the Maude you mention. Thankfully it’s the McDuff.

    Much as I loved Somebody Owes Me Money, I’m not sure about Parker. I browsed the first one and there was an awful lot about how amazingly attractive to women he was, which felt a bit wish-fulfimenty. Plus a bizarre line about how women were attracted to them because they knew what he would be like in bed, like a tree falling on them. Perhaps my life has been a sheltered one, but I wasn’t aware that the sensation of a large object collapsing on top of you was a key erotic goal for that many women.

    Still, it has been recommended to me before, so perhaps I misjudged it.

    Guy, have you read Oblomov? Any thoughts on Tom’s question?

    I already own the Moncrieff etc. set, so I’ll work with that one. Interesting to hear the multiple translators thing wasn’t an issue with the Penguin though, I have to admit that’s partly what put me off their set. I wasn’t aware of the criticism I have to admit.

    War and Peace is a daunting novel, I’m looking forward to Trevor’s take on it. Reading it once is no small thing, twice for comparison would seem a touch heroic unless you love it so much the first time an opportunity to revisit it is a reward rather than a chore.

    Good luck with In Search, I have to admit, I’m keen to read it but it looks a tad daunting also.

  27. GB Steve

    I recently read Notes from Underground (and a graphic novel version of Crime & Punishment) as well as a fair bit of Russian SF. It was interesting with NfU to have a look at the four different translation that they had in Waterstones Charing Cross. In the end I went with PV because it flowed better in English.

    Sadly I’m now pretty sure I don’t want to read any more Dostoevsky. It’s like The Office but without the laughs.

  28. What Russian SF? Anything good?

    I saw a comparison once of the same passage from Three Musketeers, but from six different translations. The amount it changed by was remarkable.

    Apparently Jules Verne is one of the writers worst served in translation, notoriously most of his books in English have whole chapters omitted. There was a Guardian article a while back arguing he’d never actually been given a decent English translation, which may perhaps explain why I found his stuff so incredibly boring. Or perhaps not.

  29. No I haven’t read Oblomov. I bought a (used) copy and it’s sitting on my shelf. I don’t like buying duplicates of books so I hesitate on new translations. Although, that said, Schwartz interests me as she has translated all of the available Berberova’s publications. But at this point, given the sheer number of books on my shelf, I can’t talk myself into buying another translation. I’ll go with what I’ve got and see what I think of it.

    I can’t take too much Dostoevsky in a row. I needed to recuperate after The Demons. The build up to the murder was daunting.

    The funny thing about Maude and Garnett is that I think they became almost institutional. I once spoke to a professor of Russian lit (in translation) about the Maude translation of the Cossacks and its quality. I was assured that it was good, and that the Maudes lived with Tolstoy, knew Tolstoy, understood his work etc, and that it was THE edition.

    So then I asked him if he’d read it. He hadn’t.

    If some things stick around long enough, they become as immovable as concrete. So I’m glad new translations are emerging–for the change, and for the hope that new translations may attract new readers.

  30. Ah okay, if that’s how you interpreted that passage, I’ll retract my recommendation for the Parker series. The writing becomes much less florid after the first novel (which wasn’t intended to launch a series), but that attitude definitely remains, so you probably won’t find it enjoyable.

  31. Proust is an excellent target for the forthcoming year Max. Personally, I found the Moncreiff / Kilmartin translations suprisingly readable, certainly more so than certain other Modernist classics (that’s you Mr. Joyce and Mrs. Woolf).

    I would suggest as an accompanying text Malcolm Bowie’s ‘Proust Among The Stars’, which was a useful companion for surveying the variety of themes and ideas in the novel.

    Upon completion you may be tempted by some Proust-inspired cinema. The masterpiece to seek out is the French film ‘Time Regained’, a brilliant distilattion of the novel. Light years ahead of both ‘Swann’s Way’ and ‘The Captive’, the other two efforts to bring Proust to the sreen.

  32. GB Steve

    I read We by Zamyatin, a precursor to 1984 and Brave New World, Roadside Picnic (in someways a precursor to Light) and Noon, 22nd Century (a history fo the future) by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and a selection of Eastern European SF including some Lem.

    It was all good stuff, especially Roadside Picnic.

  33. Well, I shouldn’t put too much weight on one passage Walker, yours is far from the only recommendation I’ve had and yours (retracted as it may be) does carry some weight. I’ll take another look at it.

    Richard, I’ll check out the Bowie, the movies too but only after I’ve finished the books…

    Steve, I’ve read We, I’m a huge fan of it actually. Tremendous fun, a fascinating marrying of serious themes and a bit of early pulp sensibility. It certainly deserves to be as recognised as 1984 and BNW, and for those who’ll read them but not SF generally I think it would be just as satisfying.

    My only Strugatsky is Roadside Picnic, which was marvellous, how did you find it and the other one of theirs? Edit: Rereading this, I see Roadside Picnic was the best of them, a comment that doesn’t surprise me, it is very good.

    Lem gets taught in schools in Poland I understand (though that may be apocryphal), a brilliant writer and one I’d like to see read outside the SF genre frankly. There’s some SF authors, Banks say or Reynolds, who’ll only ever appeal to SF fans and there’s some who can appeal to literary fans also should they but know of them. Lem for me is one of that small latter group.

  34. Nick

    Proust… good luck with that. I’m sure it’s terrific, but it’s also a terrific goal. Especially if you finally end up reading only this for the whole year (which would still be quite impressive).

    I don’t have much issues with translations, since I read French (native) and Russian (which I’ve studied) … actually I have to work a lot lot on the Russian to be able to read again Tolstoi or Dostoevsky, but that could be my new year’s resolution, with buying less books (I probably already have 1 or 2 years of books to read), and improve my Spanish sufficiently to read it proficiently.

    Also, I’m not a big fan (even though I’m full of wind) of your heading. Titles would be wonderful, since its lack of it is the only thing annoying me on your otherwise fantastic blog.

  35. Pingback: My Favorite Lit-Blog Things: January 14, 2010 « Hungry Like the Woolf

  36. Nick, there’ll be titles going forward, subtitles anyway which hopefully is sufficient.

    I’m looking forward to the Proust and the Russians, but it’s been a dismal year so far. I’m still reading the last Powell, I’ve got hardly any reading done over the past fortnight, not the best start.

    I do rather envy your French and Russian, particularly the French. There’s so much I’d like to read in the original, but I won’t have time to get that good in those languages (particularly Russian, which I don’t have at all) until I retire I fear.

  37. I always much liked David Magarshack’s translations of Russian novels. He died a few years ago. I’ve certainly liked the Pevear and Volokhonsky translations I’ve read and will always look for them now. But there’s somthing to be said for the old Constance Garnett translations too, having withstood the test of time.

  38. Pingback: Objects in the rearview mirror… | Pechorin’s Journal

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