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Perhaps one of the benefits of having a break in our routine is the fact that it can give us the time and energy to return to projects that we’ve been putting off for a while. While a lot of people have been taking online courses or engaging in new hobbies over the last twelve months, we think that one of the most encouraging developments of 2020 onwards is that people seem to be reading so much more now.

 

There’s something about the escapism of reading that is always energising. Whether you like books to transport you away to magical worlds or to times of historical intrigue, nothing breaks the routine better than spiriting you away from your immediate environment and planting you somewhere different. Reading novels can give us an amazing insight into other people’s lives and situations and can really make us see the world differently in one way or another. Alternatively, they can touch upon universal topics but in ways that we had not necessarily thought of before.

 

But it’s not only novels that can offer us an alternative perspective. We can learn so much from reading non-fiction, whether this is in the form of autobiography, memoir, true crime, travelogues, or current affairs. At a time when our external world can often seem somewhat smaller, there’s never been a better time to expand our internal world and to open our minds to new arguments and ideas.

 

Translators are by nature both readers and writers, so we’d love to hear what books you’ve been reading lately (both fiction and non-fiction). Or, if you haven’t been reading for a while, let us know if there’s a particular book that made an impact on you at any point in your life. 

 

Leave your comments below, and share your literary habits with the world!

43 comments

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    Made in Manchester

    Hi Gunnar, thanks for your recommendation! I looked up 'Egalia's Daughters' on Good Reads and Amazon and it sounds very thought-provoking indeed. Do you have any thoughts about how the English translation compares to the Norwegian original? I saw the one reviewer on Amazon (you can check it out here) said that while it was among the best books they'd ever read in Norwegian, they thought the English translation was lacking in comparison. Have you seen the English version? 

    It's intriguing that you prefer physical books for travel, since a lot of people seem to say these days that they like the convenience of e-books when travelling. I think there's something reassuring about the 'physicality' of print books, though, and I think this would be my first choice for holiday reading, too. And there's no problem with finding charging points! 

    Thanks again for your suggestion, Gunnar :)

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    gunnarbu

    Katarina, I have only read it in English. I prefer reading books in English. My all time favourite leisure/past time author is John Grisham, and I have probably read all his some 30+ novels, in English. Since this thread was to be about favourite our reads of 2020 I think I must say 'My brilliant friend' by Elena Ferrante, which I actually read in Norwegian. Fascinating story about two girls growing up in post war Italy. Specially interesting to read for me, as I have lived in Italy two times (3 + 2 years). Gunnar

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    Katrina Paterson

    Very interesting, Gunnar! I looked up 'My Brilliant Friend' just now and it seems like a gripping read indeed (the Guardian newspaper quotation on the front cover image I saw says that 'Nothing quite like it has ever been published' - very interesting!) It seems from the synopsis that the four novels say a lot about the social situation in Italy, as well as the lives of the protagonists, so as you say, it must be interesting to read it with that extra sense of perspective that comes from having lived in Italy. 

    After your last comment, I remembered that - totally by coincidence - I'd been reading about the British/Norwegian children's author Roald Dahl this morning and I wondered whether he spoke Norwegian (since this was his family background, but his books are in English). I found this very interesting article which describes his childhood between the two cultures and I thought I'd share it with you here: 

    https://www.roalddahl.com/blog/2014/december/roald-dahl-and-norway

    I hope you like it (I think our other contributors would enjoy it too!) 

    Katrina

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    gunnarbu

    Interesting about Roald Dahl. I must admit I have not read much of his works, and I have always thought that he was much more Norwegian than he apparently is! In some Norwegian articles I found about him I see that they state that he was bi-lingual in his younger years, after spending many summer vacations in Norway. I knew that he was quite famous, but not as famous as his track record suggests: His books have been translated to 60 languages and 250 million copies have been sold !! Gunnar

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    gunnarbu

    Back to ‘My brilliant friend’, by Elana Ferrante. I cannot comment on the language in the English version, but I can agree that I found the Norwegian language of that book very rich, and now I remembered that this was actually one of the few books I have read in Nynorsk, which means ‘New Norwegian’, which is quite funny, because it is actually ‘Old Norwegian’ – it is an 'engineered' language based on a combination of many older Norwegian dialects. Nynorsk is actually an official second language in Norway and is mandatory in school, either as primary language, or as secondary language. In some schools in certain districts it is the primary language for the pupils, in others they can choose. This is a very long story, but with your apparent very keen interest for languages and linguistics, Katarina, you can dive further into this topic here: Norwegian: Bokmål vs. Nynorsk (sprakradet.no) 

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    Katrina Paterson

    Gunnar, I'm intrigued by what you say about Roald Dahl! My feeling from growing up in England (I was born in 1989) was always that he was more of an 'English' author, though I guess that since I read his novels as a child, I wouldn't have been old enough to comprehend the idea that he had origins in a different country. I read nearly all of the novels and thoroughly enjoyed them, though I did find some of them a little bit unsettling. I remember the story of the BFG and the giants reaching their hands through the windows to catch the children, and it really scared me at the time because I didn't realise that it wasn't actually true. At the same time I think he had a fantastic imagination. In fact, as with many children's novels from another era, I think it would be fascinating to read them again from an adult perspective, and at a different point in history.  

    I'd love to know more about Scandinavian culture. I see that in the article I linked to above, the following point is made: 

    'Once during an interview for BBC Radio 4 in 1986, Roald Dahl was asked whether he thought there was anything in his blood that explained the magical stories he wrote. His answer was a resounding “NO”; he thought himself to be “very English indeed”. His younger sister Else, however, was of the opinion that, with regard to his more ‘peculiar’ stories, “quite a lot of the Norwegian stories are a bit like that... and I think probably some of that comes out in him”.

    I'd love to know what Else is talking about here. Perhaps I should make it my mission to read more into this! 

    Speaking of reading, thank you for sending me the link about Bokmål versus Nynorsk. I'm fascinated to hear that there are two 'types' of Norwegian and I'm really looking forward to reading through the article further (I've skimmed through already). I think other readers on our forum would enjoy this too since the question of language variation within countries is really interesting to us as 'language people'. Thanks again for sharing it with us :) 

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    didddy

    When it comes to the simplicity of narratives, nothing can beat classic Russian writers like Leo Tolstoy, Maxim Gorky, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol, to name a few.

    In 2020, while atop a hill during the lockdown, I got to read some of their stories and those written by uncelebrated Russian authors (including a simple peasant), although I take pride in saying that I had already read their other masterpieces years ago.

    But what amused me was the write-up of Maxim Gorky, a proletarian writer, about his encounter with the great Tolstoy somewhere in Russia. He described in length their conversation, detailing Tolstoy’s gestures, reactions, and standpoints on every matter discussed, including religion. The two greats had met, after all!

    I wonder if there are still millennials out there reading their stories.  Consider the classics, I suggest.

     

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    Katrina Paterson

    Hi didddy, thank you for your lovely comment. I'm interested to hear more about Russian classics, since I think that many of us think of Russia as being one of those great literary nations. I've also noticed that people generally say that Russian literature is better appreciated in its original language. Do you think Russian literature loses something in translation? 

    Answering only for myself, as a millennial from England, I have to say that some of the literary works that have most moved me have been classics. I think it's a real shame that classic works of literature are sometimes branded 'inaccessible' since I actually think that the classics are often MORE universal than contemporary works, purely because they have stood the test of time where the other works haven't. Like most English kids, I studied Shakespeare in school and I was really reluctant to do so because in my young mind I didn't consider him 'relevant'. But the more we look into Shakespeare's work, the more we see that he touches on some really universal, gripping topics, and with such imagination.  

    I would say that all of the above is even more true of Don Quixote, which I read (sadly in English) as part of my university studies and which has never quite left me. Despite the fact that in many ways it's a very idiosyncratic novel, it just says SO MUCH about the human condition, and so well. It has a lot of really philosophical elements and, most crucially, it's one of those books that can be read in a lot of different ways, so that everyone who reads it has their own personal interpretation of it. I wish that everyone would read it since it has something to teach all of us, for sure. In fact, I'm interested to see whether other people have similar feelings about this or other classic works of literature.

    It's really interesting that you got to read works by lesser-known authors. I have a question for myself and for other people reading - which would you say is the best Russian literary work to take as a 'starting point' for people (like me) that don't have a background in this area and that would be reading in English or other foreign languages?

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    didddy

    Hello Katrina! It is good to know that a millennial like you has that appreciation for classics.

    Yes, Shakespeare has so much influence on the literary landscape. Try to dissect some contemporary works (even films), and you will find a Shakespearean element in them – the jester character.

    About what Russian book would be the best  to take as a 'starting point' of appreciating Russian literature, I suggest you begin with Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” and his “War and Peace” (the unabridged one) and Gorky’s “Mother.”  You may also read Russian works and other classics found here: https://www.gutenberg.org/

     

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    Katrina Paterson

    Happy Monday everyone! 

    I'm picking up the discussion again because I wanted to say more about Gunnar's discussion of Bokmål versus Nynorsk, and about Didddy's Russian reading recommendations. 

    Gunnar - I had a look at your article and I see what you mean about 'Nynorsk'/'New Norwegian' actually being a combination of older Norwegian dialects. To me, that sounds impossibly romantic and archaic, and yet when I did some more reading about this topic (on Reddit, hardly the most intellectual of sources, but still...) I saw that some Norwegian kids were calling Nynorsk 'Spynorsk', AKA 'Puke Norwegian', because they disliked learning it. Is that a thing?! I had to laugh because it's such a typical 'schoolchildren' thing to say. In the UK, we have older languages that kids learn in school depending on where they come from, like Welsh, Irish, and Scottish Gaelic, and I think that sometimes it's hard to convince children to learn what they see as being out-of-date languages. But it's really sad because they're so much part of the heritage of a country. I myself am trying to learn Irish at the moment because I now live in Belfast, and it's a struggle but I really think it's a beautiful language, and I think that all languages and all dialects are so much part of the lifeblood and the culture of the places they come from. Thanks for opening my mind about Bokmål and Nynorsk, and about the wider language history of the Nordic countries. 

    Didddy - I'm very interested in what you said about Shakespeare's themes being apparent in contemporary works, particularly your point about the theme of the jester. I've read similar things about Don Quixote, in fact, since a lot of the novel, and particularly the first half, is involved with how Don Quixote and Sancho Panza bounce off one another and get into scrapes and things, and it has been said that this like a precursor to the kinds of 'bro' movies that we have in this day and age. (I think it also reflects the fact that Don Quixote contains a lot of humour, as well as the other, often very complex, topics that it touches upon.) To come back to the Russian literature - thank for your recommendations! I'm going to download 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich' onto my Kindle this evening. And I had NO IDEA about Project Gutenberg! 60,000 free e-books is a very good resource to have indeed, and I'm sure other people reading our discussion will find this very useful, too. Thanks again for your recommendations! 

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    gunnarbu

    Katarina, I had to laugh about 'Spynorsk' too, because I had not heard that one, but the problem is real: Many kids, and some parents,  dislike that they have to learn Nynorsk. But it can come to use in grown-up life, if you get a job in certain municipalities, in the Norweagian main broadcaster or in newspapers etc. you will be required to use written Nynorsk in many cases. Some municipalities do all their official correspondence in Nynorsk. (BTW, I have to concentrate to capitalise language names, because in Norwegian they are not.) Finally - I have digged up some interesting fun facts about Roald Dahl for you - if you send me an email i will send it to you. (I guess you will find my email in the Gengo system, if not, Lara has it ...) Gunnar

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    Katrina Paterson

    Hello Gunnar, that’s good to know about the importance of learning Nynorsk. I can certainly see how it can home in handy, even if some people are reluctant to learn it! Sure, you can email me directly at katrina.paterson@lionbridge.com with the Roald Dahl links (although you’re also more than welcome to post them on the forum in case other people would like to take a look!)

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    didddy

    I am glad to know that someone like you recognizes the importance of classical literature. You are in the right direction. I would like you to also know what postmodernism is in literature and compare it to classical literature. The difference between the two is huge. Millennials are exposed to the postmodernism that is prevalent today. It is also called post-structuralism. Happy reading!

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