In Search of French Literary Magazines

One substantial piece of advice for both aspiring and experienced translators, especially literary, is to read widely in your source language. For me, that’s French. And since I focus on literature, books are best. Or at least, significant.

It’s also just as important to keep up with current affairs. And again, for me, that’s the world of books. The new releases, the new short stories, the new authors. So for these, literary magazines are best.

But as you can imagine, French literary magazines are hard to find in the States. Pretty thin on the ground. (“Just generally pretty trim,” as Eddie Izzard would say.) So now that I’m back in France for a few months, I figured it was high time to root some of these magazines out. Which is, of course, easy enough, once you’ve gone to both a librarie (bookshop, in English, not a library) and a tabac presse (basically a glorified newsstand mixed with the checkout shelves at a grocery store) and had extensive conversations with the employees.

Having now taken a few weeks and read through all of them, I present to you my highly skewed, biased, and unscientific reviews:

Monthlies

LiRE (March issue): This magazine has it all. Released by the same company as L’Express (a weekly news magazine), it’s bursting with news, features, thematic segments, reviews, five excerpts from upcoming novels, a couple interviews, and editorial content. It covers French books, foreign books, historical non-fiction, scientific books, essays, graphic novels, YA and children’s lit, paperbacks, the works. And everything in this issue is well-written, engaging, varied, intelligent, and well-thought-out, no matter how short. It should be extremely useful both in following industry trends and reading new fiction.

Le Magazine Littéraire (March issue): Maybe I shouldn’t have read this directly after LiRE. All I could do was compare the two, as they both purport to serve the same purpose…and this one fell at the other end of the spectrum. The content wasn’t as varied. There was only one excerpt, and it was middling. The news seemed stale, or not expansive enough, or devoid of emotion. The thematic content (this month: vampires….wheee…..) overshadowed everything else, and didn’t leave enough room for what I really cared about. Even the layout was grating. I was disappointed when I tossed it into the trash can (no recycling here), but not too sad.

Le Tigre (March issue): This is an interesting magazine. I almost didn’t grab a copy because their editorial mission includes the warning that they don’t publish fiction. But no matter; this is a fantastic selection of artistic prowess. Wordplay, photojournalism, illustrations, and twisted essays thrive alongside each other. One spread takes a roadmap, marks out a few towns that have “real word” names, and makes sentences out of them, haunting and sad. I’ve also just discovered that all their archives are free online. Looks like I won’t be reachable for the next week while I read ALL OF THEM.

In-betweener

Marianne (April-May issue): Not actually a real thing, for these purposes. Neat idea, though: an extra publication from a weekly news magazine, treating a different subject every issue. This time is death. Very bright and happy, I assure you. But it’s more of an anthology from older, established texts. Interesting, but unhelpful.

Quarterlies

Muze (Spring issue, April-June): Oh, how lovely this thick tome. Technically a female-oriented cultural revue, this journal really has its finger on the pulse of life. It seems. Everything includes a healthy dose of analysis, which I started skimming when it turned too philosophical, but it doesn’t detract from the wonderful behind-the-scenes look we get at every single topic the journal undertakes. Every theme includes current happenings, cultural tie-ins, movies, psychology, art, poems, and fiction. And the physical thing is a beauty to behold. The cover is even embossed. A tactile and visual dream. Definitely going on the list of not-expensive-enough-to-prevent-me-from-ordering-an-international-subscription.

Longcours (Spring issue): Also a very pretty, thick journal. But, as I realized when I started reading it, dedicated almost exclusively to long-form journalism. Very well-done long-form journalism, from what I’ve read. But only one short story. And although it was fascinating, that one thing is not enough to warrant a subscription. Still, I’ll be flipping through it whenever I walk into a French bookstore.

XXI (Winter issue): Ditto the above, with a heavy sigh. Really well-done long-form journalism (has apparently won scads of awards), including graphic novel journalism, but not what I’m looking for right now. Kudos to them on their Manifesto for a new media, though (if you understand French, it’s a good read).

 

So in the end, I’ve got at least three that I’ll be subscribing to upon my return to the States. What about you, lovely readers? Do you know of any others? Did I forget your favorite? Fall in love with your worst nightmare? Tell me what I’ve missed.

Recap: SAND Journal’s Found in Translation Workshop

There once was a guy from Berlin
Who went to a workshop on a whim
He had so much fun
That when it was done
The SAND Journal meant much more to him

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the  Found in Translation workshop run by the SAND Journal, Berlin’s English-language literary journal. Because of the support they received from Youth in Action, it was exclusively for translators under the age of 30. This meant that I was joined by a host of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young translat0rs, raring to go. A little nervous about their blossoming or future careers, a little concerned that their work is very niche — too niche, perhaps — but brimming with wit and intelligence. We explored Berlin and ate marvelous food, of course, but the forums and workshops that the SAND team organized were the real highlight of the weekend.

In one workshop, we explored what characteristics of written texts could “give them away” as translations, and it was interesting to realize that even as translators ourselves, we have a notion of “bad” or “off” or “unnatural” vocabulary or punctuation as what marks a translation. And it is high praise for a translated text to read like it was originally written in the target language, that it flows well enough to be considered as belonging to that language’s literature.

The next morning, we played with language. Limericks, Oulipo exercises, snowball poems, Spoonerisms, and anagrams were all fair game. Just to prove that yes, translating puns and humor are hard, but doable. We’re all creative people.

On Saturday night, we joined Naris at Dialogue Books to introduce the new issue of SAND, and we read a little,
Then had a wandering discussion about the future of translation, ending with one guy who led a riddle

(Spoonerisms are hard.)

In the end, we had a lovely brunch on the last day. Because really, what is a weekend of working without brunch? It was a lovely and delicious brunch.

Most important, though, is the network we created. Literary translators from many different languages, all on the cusp of their careers, all looking for jobs to do and magazines to submit to and new things to write and friends to commiserate with. Our support groups have just exploded exponentially. Such connections are even more important for people like us, who work very solitary jobs. It’s reassuring to know that real people are out there on the other side of your Internet connection, who are all going through similar challenges and wonders.

I’m very honored to have been a part of the inaugural year of workshops, and I’m confident they will continue to be an annual event.

I
no
now
more
about
lovely
written
artistry,
wonderful
enchanting
translation,
gloriously
beguiling,
soothing
sparked
energy…
makes
glad
the
me.

(Yeah, okay. Snowball poems are hard, too.)

Dear bilingual dictionary,

You and I have been partners for a long time. Some might even say friends. (Maybe frenemies.) But we have a decent, cordial, mutually respectful relationship, and have for years.

But enough with the formalities. You and I need to have a heart-to-heart. Right here, right now.

See, there are times when I feel you’re limiting me. Like you’re cornering me into a little box of conventions and traditions, of the way it’s always been done, perhaps even the way it’s supposed to be done. Says you. I come to you with a question, an open-ended question. This is not a yes or no, black or white question. There are shades of beautiful gray, shadows in the dark and streams of dust-filled light. This question invites research, discussion, discovery. I’m looking for the many different facets and shades of meaning, the many different turns and tunes of how to say something, how to sing or mumble or cry or shout or threaten something, in my own tongue. I come to you on my knees, ready to learn.

And lately, it seems that you see this delicate and luxurious Fabergé egg that I present before you, a treasured gift on a velvet pillow, and you just slap it out of my hand. And then you shove a dull cube of lead in front of my face, and I almost choke on this unimaginative, unpolished lump. Too familiar. I’ve seen it dozens of times before. The one word that is the only possible translation of this word I’ve brought before you.

But no. No. NO! Never! There is not ever only one right answer! This translation I am doing, it is not a machine, a mechanized process that takes input and spits out deadened, predetermined outputs out, day in and day out, forever until the end of time, never changing, never growing, never creating things of beauty. This is a creative process, a process of creation, of breathing new life into something already lovely, of using a new prism of clear cut glass to catch the sunlight in a new way and spurt forth new colors to send out into the world, scattering and dancing as they go. This is not a process of boxing in, of limiting the possibilities, but one of springing the lock on Pandora’s box, and watching as all the wonderful and strange and unknown and terrifying and beautiful things go flying out of your control.

The paths that have been trodden before me are good, and solid, and reliable, and have their place. I pad and stomp over them often myself. But you must not build fences of cold steel and barbed wire, penning me in from ever leaving them! I will be forced to break free, tearing down the iron gates much as I tear apart your whisper thin papyrus sheets.

So I will slam you shut, and I will shove you off of the table in a fit of frustration, and I will curse as I stub my own toes in an attempt to injure your pages and your pride.

And yet.

Although. Still.

As it happens, lumps of lead can be beautiful, too…if combined in a new way, stacked on top of each other in precariously swaying towers, sculpting the likeness of a new creature that no one has ever seen before, nor even imagined. Even as a limited and limiting tool, you are useful. Of constant, and yes, essential use.

We shall remain partners.

Warily and forever yours,

Allison

 

P.S. I did not originally mean for this to be an ode to this creative process, something dearly loved. I have learned something new, that you are inspirational in a muse-like way I did not imagine before. You still have some surprises and tricks up your binding.

“Dancing isn’t creative.”

What. I’m sorry, what??

Last night, as has become my Wednesday habit, I went out swing dancing at a studio in Rochester. There’s a good scene here, nice people, lots of beginners, and a solid contingent of experienced teachers. There’s also a dearth of male leads, which means it’s very common for girls to ask guys to dance (and/or snatch them away from the 20 other girls also looking for a partner…which is fine, it hasn’t become cutthroat yet…).

So I went up and asked a guy to dance that I hadn’t seen before. Wearing a nametag, so probably a beginner from the earlier lesson, and looked like he had a good head on his shoulders. He agreed readily. And as he was leading me out onto the dance floor, he said:

“I really don’t get this dancing thing.”

Sorry? What do you mean?

“Well, it’s not creative at all.”

…Sorry?

“You’re not creating anything, you’re just doing the same steps everybody else is. I’m a musician.”

Oh. Wait, what?

“Every time I sit down to play, I’m creating something. There’s something new.”

And I just let my mouth hang open in flabbergasted astonishment for a few moments.

But wait! I have rebuttals! I dabble in both dance and music. And just last month, I was lucky enough to attend a day-long workshop put on by the current International Lindy Hop champions, Todd and Ramona, where they talked at great length about how every dance is different, because everyone dances with their own style, and putting two people together as partners will create something wonderful and fresh. I hunkered down and started probing deeper. Mostly out of morbid curiosity. And probably a little masochism.

He plays guitar. Okay. Chords. There are basic chords to playing guitar. Everything builds off of those. Everything that is “creative” is created upon that foundation. Yes?

“But nobody leaves the foundation here. Look around. Everyone’s doing exactly the same steps.”

BUT NOT IN THE SAME WAY! I don’t actually scream that, though. Instead, I continue that sure, many of them are, but they’re just learning. Lots of beginners in this scene. Here, let me point out the more advanced dancers, who are doing their own thing with their partners, more “creatively,” as you say.

“Yeah, but it’s still all the same steps. They have to know what steps they’re going to do ahead of time.”

GAH. No. That’s the difference between social dancing and choreography. New tack. “Okay, you’ve been playing guitar for how long?”

“Ten years.”

“And how many years of those ten have you been done with the basics, creating something new every time you sit down to play?” (As a side note, I know most musicians — and dancers — are never really “done with the basics.” It was for the sake of the argument.)

“Ten.”

What. Fine. But dude. All those chords have been played before, and they will all be played again.

No real point in trying to explain to him that there are people like that in the dance world, too, even in the world of partner dances.

Why are you even here? Being a really good friend with a car to his buddy with a girl. Who now owes him big time. Seriously? Dude, go to the bar, there’s a nice one across the street. Which he likes. Fine. I’d suggest not sharing your opinions, your vitriol, with any of the other dancers here. You may incur their ire. Their wrath. Don’t do that.

In conclusion…yep. Good (read: solid) head on his shoulders. Actually, just solid. Solid, rock-hard, and stubborn. I wish him all the best at his bar. Because his friends, the lovebirds, were adorable, and really interested in dancing.

He better not have driven them home drunk.

 

But look. There’s another story in this. These are the same arguments that people use to support the theory that translation isn’t creative (albeit in different clothing).

“It isn’t writing, you’re just copying what other people have said.”

“It’s all the same words, found by flipping through the dictionary. You don’t create anything.”

“Maybe literary translation is kinda creative, but those boring legal documents and medical texts aren’t.” (Don’t ever tell me this. I’ll grant that literary translation can be more creative than pharmaceutical reports, but writing is still writing. There’s an element of creation in all of it.)

Sure, think they’re wrong. But what would you tell people who express such opinions? More ideas are always welcome.

Hey! You won!

Specifically, two of you:

First book goes to JUAN MARROQUIN! Congratulations! He wrote: “My favorite ‘strong woman’ is Elizabeth Bennet, from ‘Pride and Prejudice’. She is strong and does her best with the resources she had at hand, gracefully but without giving up.”

Second book goes to LIZ W, who is @westbynorth on Twitter. Congratulations to you, as well!

Juan, Liz, I’ll be in touch later today to get your mailing addresses.

Now, for the rest of you amazing people who indulged this little game, you can still win a copy of the book, in a sense. It just requires a purchase — of the book.

(Sorry. It’s the opposite of “No Purchase Necessary.” I had to.)

Anyway, The Last Love of George Sand is officially on sale from all your favorite sellers (disclaimer: first two are affiliate links, but you can bypass them if you so desire):

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound
…or your favorite local bookshop

Spread the word! George Sand is here, in English, as you’ve never seen her before.

And now, THE GIVEAWAY

*doot doodoodoo doot doot doot doooooooooooo*

And ain't she a beauty?

And ain’t she a beauty?

As promised. I wouldn’t let you down.

The Prize: Two (2) randomly-chosen people will each receive one (1) hardcover copy of The Last Love of George Sand, by Evelyne Bloch-Dano, translated by yours truly, published by Arcade Publishing, released February 6, 2013. Each book will be signed by me and inscribed however you’d like.

The Entry(-ies): There are two ways of entering, each of which grants you one entry (so every person can enter up to twice).

  1. In honor of George Sand, leave a comment on this post of who your favorite strong woman is. Bonus brownie points for explaining why.
  2. To help spread the word, tweet a link to this post. Must either tweet at me (@sunshineabroad) or include this hashtag: #GeorgeSandGiveaway

The Deadline: Tonight! Wednesday, February 6, 2013, at 11:59 p.m. EST.

The Rules: After the contest, I will randomly select two entrants (by assigning a number to each comment and Twitter account and using a random number generator), and announce the winners on this blog on Thursday, February 7. I will then contact the winners for their mailing address. Anyone with a valid mailing address anywhere in the world may enter. Limit two entries per person.

The Why: George Sand is freaking cool. And I loved working on this book. I’d like to share it with people.

Good luck to all!

TK: Giveaway!

Yes, you read that right. It’s almost time for the First Not-Nearly-Regular-Enough-To-Be-Called-Annual A.M.C. Giveaway!

(A.M.C. stands for me. Allison M. Charette. Not that similarly-named movie-related company. All rights reserved, or something.)

I’ve just received my box of books for The Last Love of George Sand, and boy, do they look nice. Take a look!

The Last Love of George Sand

Look at the pretty!

To celebrate, I’ve decided to give not one, but TWO FREE COPIES away! Not today, mind, you, but when the official pub date rolls around.

So, mark your calendars for February 6. That’s pub date, and that’s when I’ll be giving away two (yes, 2) copies of the book. For free. Should be awesome. Details TK.

 

P.S. “TK” is publishing-speak for “to come.” Why it ended up not being a real acronym is beyond me.