LibraryThing State of the Thing – February 2011

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LibraryThing: State of the Thing
Dear Catherine Smith,

Welcome to the February State of the Thing. This month we have new features, an author interview with Wendy Burden plus our first ever translator interview, 2,645 free Early Reviewer books and hundreds of Member Giveaway books available.

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News and Features

Work-to-work relationships. We've added some new ways for displaying relationships between works, so members can link together works contained within other works, as well as abridgments, retellings, parodies, etc. Check out the blog post and come discuss in Talk. Visit the HelpThing page for examples.

Bookpile contest winners. We've chosen the winners for our International Bookpiles contest! The winning images will soon be rolled out on the various language home pages. See the blog post for a list of winners (and if your name is on the list, email me to claim your prize). Thanks to all those who submitted bookpiles! We're still looking for bookpiles in a few languages (including Latin and Italian), so feel free to post links to new bookpiles in the Talk thread. If we use them, we'll send you a prize!

New LibraryThing for Publishers pages. This month we'd like to welcome Indiana University Press, Sunbelt Publications, and Otago University Press, and several other fine publishers to LibraryThing for Publishers. Publishers, we'd love to have you! Find out how to sign up here.

Legacy Libraries news. Some 29 titles (in 74 volumes) from the retirement library of Thomas Jefferson have been discovered at Washington University in St. Louis. Read about the find on Monticello's blog, in the New York Times, or in the Los Angeles Times Jacket Copy blog post, which mentions the Legacy Libraries project. You can also browse the list of titles in Jefferson's LT catalog, thanks to the work of Endrina Tay, Associate Foundation Librarian for Technical Services at Monticello's Jefferson Library.

Free books: Early Reviewers

Read and review free books, before they even hit the shelves! We've given out 70,722 books so far through Early Reviewers.

The February batch of Early Reviewer books contains 2,645 copies of 105 different titles (our second-largest batch ever). The deadline to request a free book to read and review is February 28 at 6 p.m. EST. The next batch will be up during the second week of March.

The list of books

The most requested books so far this month:

Interview with author Wendy Burden

Wendy Burden, a great-great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, has worked as an illustrator, a zookeeper, a taxidermist, an art director, and a chef. Her memoir, Dead End Gene Pool, will be available in paperback from Gotham Books on March 1.

More than a few of the reviews of Dead End Gene Pool include the line "more money than sense." Do you think that's a fair description of your family?

Yes and no. For all the advantages within a family like mine, there are disadvantages that one cannot be totally blamed for. It's sort of like sending a cosseted lap dog out to interact with a pack of normal, rough and tumble canines. The lap dog understands the mechanics of how things work because of genetics, but has no real education to deal with it. You can go to Harvard Business School and graduate top of your class and still not understand money because you’ve never been expected to do anything but enjoy it.

After a childhood with not just a house but houses full of staff, did you find it difficult to transition away from that lifestyle, or were you ready to leave it behind?

I actually love doing housework, laundry, and ironing—I have a thing for starch—but because I’m so obsessive, it takes me four times longer than anyone else. Being guilt-ridden by nature, a by-product of WASPdom, once I was old enough to have a conscience I was never comfortable with having someone do stuff for me, like make my bed or clean up after me. (Of course, once I had children, I loved the idea of someone cleaning up after them.) And in truth, I was only able to enjoy houses full of staff when I was with my grandparents. After my mother remarried, and our beloved cook and bibulous nanny were booted, guess who became the staff: my brothers and me. We did have a cleaning lady, a nutty Jehovah Witness named Daphne, who came in once a week and pushed dirt around, but other than that, we did it all … and in England, for the first few years, we had neither dishwasher nor washing machine, not because we were so bereft, but because no one t! here really had the sort of appliances everyone had in the States at that time. I had to wash out my school uniform things in the sink every night in this green stuff called Fairy Liquid.

Your book is both intensely funny and at times heartbreaking. Was it hard to write about the difficult things you saw, or did you find the writing process and getting these things off your chest to be cathartic?

No, because I am a realist, and I expend very little energy on self-pity. Also, I’m extremely detail-oriented; the minutia of a story or situation is what fascinates me, and I become so caught up in the stuff of it that it leaves less room for emotion. "Just the facts. Ma'am" is sort of my mantra. The book I’m working on now, however, has been quite cathartic, and not always happily, but the subject is very different, much more personal in a way.

How did your experiences as a child and young adult affect the way you handled your own relationships, including those with your children?

I hate to admit it, but I'm a textbook case in that the lack of affection that I grew up with makes it difficult for me to be physically affectionate with people, other than my children, or a love interest. (Also accordingly, I slather my two daughters with adoration.) And because of my mother and stepfather's overt and, ahem, inappropriate sexual display at home in front of us, I become like a nun when I am with someone in front of my own children.

Did you inherit the family collecting gene? If so, what do you collect?

This is my favorite question! Boy, did I ever. Animal skulls, everything from squirrel monkeys to a camel; vintage sprinkler heads, moths, beetles, Japanese anime toys, bull terrier porcelain figurines, bamboo knitting needles, porcupine quill boxes, BOOKS! I have a problem with the book thing, especially reference books, because I'm a painter, both by training and vocation, and I paint highly realistic and detailed (surprise) still lives of birds and bones and flowers and nature, which means I can justify the purchase of just about any book with a photograph in it … and I have the crammed shelves and piled-high floor to prove it. It's kind of a (wonderful) problem.

Read the rest of the interview with Wendy Burden.

Interview with translator Alexander O. Smith

Alexander O. Smith is a professional Japanese/English translator. His most recent translation is Keigo Higashino's novel The Devotion of Suspect X, a recent Early Reviewers selection. Smith has translated several other novels, as well as manga and video games.

How does one become a translator? How did you first get involved with the translation process?

There are several routes, though one thing all professional translators have in common is expertise in a field outside of their advanced language skills. After all, you have to be a competent writer in your target language in order to translate well, and different kinds of writing require different skill sets. Someone with a strong business background will do the best business translations, and professors of literature are often approached to translate novels. Generally speaking, if you can write convincingly in a particular genre, be it legal, medical, or fantasy, you'd probably make a good translator in that genre. It is possible to gain this kind of field-specific experience translating for an agency who works with a rewriter, but anyone serious about doing translation full-time will greatly benefit from gaining a field or fields of mastery first, then looking for translation work.

In my case, I gained experience in creative writing and translation in undergrad and a PhD program in Classical Japanese Literature which I left after getting my masters to join a game company in Tokyo (Squaresoft, now Square-Enix) as a staff translator. There, I was able to leverage my academic experience and experience gained from a lifetime of gaming as a hobby to establish myself as a lead translator on several projects before going freelance in 2002. My first novel translation was a fantasy adventure series called the Guin Saga, for which I enlisted the help of Elye Alexander, a friend who is a fantasy writer and poet, as a 'collaborator.' Elye gives my finished translations a pre-edit pass, tweaks wordings, and eradicates any remnants of translationese. We've continued this collaboration through several other series, and now with The Devotion of Suspect X.

Many of the reviews of The Devotion of Suspect X focus on the formality of the language, and question whether that's a result of the translation or whether the novel would be as formal in the original language. Can you describe the process or methods you use to maintain a similar tone and style to what the author intended?

Since many elements of style are often language-specific, the decision about how much of the original style to honor vs. how much to 'localize' is never an easy one. On a line-by-line basis, for most prose, this comes down to decisions about switching up sentence structure, combining short sentences, or unpacking longer ones. Where there is a distinct feel to a text, I will try to duplicate that effect in the English. If the text takes a backseat to the story, I'll preserve the ordering of elements within a paragraph or the length of various sentences where possible, but always adjust for the smoothest read possible in English.

With Devotion, given the status of its author in Japan, I decided to err on the side of preserving the sparse, methodical tone of Japanese, and I think it does justice to both the nature of the central character in the story and the central irony of a book about "devotion" where nearly every character is separated by figurative (and sometimes literal) walls.

Read the rest of the interview with Alexander O. Smith, including questions from LT members.

Author chats

Author Chat lets you talk to authors—ask questions, get answers, and find out more about how or why a book is written. The schedule of upcoming chats is posted too, so you can plan to read the author's book ahead of time.

Current chats

Upcoming chats include Victoria Strauss discussing The Arm of the Stone and Larry D. Sweazy discussing The Badger's Revenge.

Take me to the chats!

More free books: Member Giveaways

At any given time, there are hundreds of books available from our Member Giveaways program. Member Giveaways is like Early Reviewers, but isn't limited to select publishers—any author or member can post books. Request books, or offer your own!

Popular this month

  1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
  2. Matched by Ally Condie
  3. Just Kids by Patti Smith
  4. Room by Emma Donoghue
  5. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
  6. The Confession by John Grisham
  7. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
  8. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
  9. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
  10. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

That's it.

Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions? Send them our way.

—Jeremy (

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