Alison Watts: The Life of a Translator and Reading for Fun When Your Job is in the Literary World
In Conversation with Christopher Hermelin on So Many Damn Books
Alison Watts zooms through the Damn Library hypserspace from Japan to talk the new novel she translated, The Boy and the Dog by Seishu Hase, as well as the life of a translator. Plus, we talk the prevalence of Japanese cat fiction, the ascendancy of dog fiction, canine noir, and so much more. Plus, she brings along (and does some spoiling of) Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, a shaggy dog of a post-apocalyptic novel. Quite a hang!
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What’d you buy?
Alison: Copper Wire Mesh Coffee Dripper from Kyoto
Christopher: Bambi by Felix Salten, translated by Damion Searls
• TAO: On the Road and on the Run in Outlaw China by Aya Goda • Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa • Spark by Naoki Matayoshi • The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda • Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight by Riku Onda • The Littlest Hobo (created by Dorrell McGowan) • The Adventures of Tintin by George Remi • Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby • The work of Elmore Leonard • The work of Hemingway • The work of Raymond Carver • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller doesthedogdie.com • The Road by Cormac McCarthy • Severance by Ling Ma • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel • Out of the Silence: After the Crash by Eduardo Strauch Urioste • On the Beach by Nevil Shute • A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Alison: Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa
Christopher: The Every by Dave Eggers
From the episode:
Christopher: Do you always have your translator mind on when you’re reading Japanese? Whenever you’re reading a Japanese novel, are you thinking like, Oh, I should be translating this one? Or can you hold yourself back from that?
Alison: Well, not so much anymore, because I’m actually overloaded with books to translate.
Christopher: That’s a nice place to be.
Alison: It is. Yeah, it is. I’ve just this last week finished translating another one which will be coming out next year and it’s called What You Are Looking For is in the Library, which is a great title. So with Japanese books, it’s rare these days that I read in Japanese just simply for pleasure. I just don’t have the time and also in English as well, because I’ve got to read in two languages, I’m always trying to read books to match up with the book I’m currently translating. So the only time I actually read for pure pleasure is when I’m on holiday and in the half hour before I go to sleep at night.
Christopher: What were you reading for while you were working on The Boy in the Dark? What was what were your key texts?
Alison: I tried to read noir so one of them was I read Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby. I really enjoyed that. And that was a great lesson in what expanding what you could do with noir style writing. Oh, he’s a brilliant writer.
Christopher: Absolutely. Yes.
Alison: Yeah. So you know, I looked at some of the authors that Hasan is influenced by. Elmore Leonard and Raymond Carver. Ernest Hemingway. I guess it was a blend of different writers.
Christopher: Do you read them? Would you read a Raymond Carver story like translated into Japanese and then translated back out to see how someone else has done that?
Alison: No, no, I just more or less go foraging. And for example, on my Kindle, I’ll download lots of samples of authors I might think could be useful and see if the samples fits the style I’m looking for and if it does I’ll download the book and then I’ll make lots of notes and highlight some words I could steal or phrases I could use in my translation.
Christopher: It seems like the work of a translator is like a work of a plunderer in some way. Like it seems like you’re going treasure hunting.
Alison: I am. I always think of myself as like foraging for words. I’m always making notes and writing them down on Post-its and memos to use for later.