Literary Blogging: A Perspective

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Mandy Wight won the Goethe-Institut Award for New Translation in 2018, for her translation of an extract from Juli Zeh’s novel Unterleuten. The prize included a place at the International Translators’ meeting in Leipzig, and the opportunity to network with translators of German from all over the world. Back in the UK, Mandy is a leading light in a different kind of network – the book blogging community. Here, she shares the pleasures of writing and reading blogs, along with recommendations of the finest blogs featuring literature in translation.

When I started my blog four years ago I was primarily hoping to recommend books I’ve loved to friends and family. I had no idea that I was joining such a large and growing community of book bloggers with a particular focus on literary translation. It’s been a pleasure to know that my reviews have tempted friends and followers to read numerous titles in translation, from Jenny Erpenbeck to Javier Marías, Han Kang to Judith Hermann. Although the title of my blog, Peak Reads, refers to my home near the Peak District, I also wanted to share books I’d read while away – combining my two loves of travel and reading. So there have been posts on ‘Reading in Cambodia’ and ‘10 books to read about Peru’, and I’m working now on a similar compilation about Colombia. I regularly read and review books in German, finding other readers who share my enthusiasm for particular writers, and introducing those who don’t read German to books available in English translation.

There are numerous blogs discussing literature in translation. Some focus primarily on German-language titles, such as Katy Derbyshire’s trailblazing Love German Books, while others post on books in multiple languages: here Asymptote’s blog springs to mind. There are blogs that focus on contemporary German fiction and others that encourage re-reads of classics, such as the discussion of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain in Lizzy’s Literary Life. Some platforms specialise in a particular literary genre, such as Kat Hall’s focus on crime fiction in Mrs Peabody Investigates, while others cover literary events and awards.

Blogging, of course, is all about interactivity. Bloggers are writing to share their views but are also hungry for feedback. This may simply happen via the comment function, but some blogs promote interactivity between readers and with other blogs more strongly. Caroline, who blogs at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, invites her readers to participate in Hermann Hesse ‘reading weeks’, with her readers discussing a particular book on the blog and posting reviews on their own blogs. Similarly #germanlitmonth, hosted by Caroline with Lizzy Siddal, encourages readers and bloggers to read a German-language book and write a review for publication on the blog. On Tony’s Reading List, Englishman-in-Australia Tony Malone hosts a shadow jury for the Man Booker International Prize, with a jury of readers and bloggers reviewing the nominated books and publishing their own shortlist.

So what are the advantages for readers of literary blogs over reviews in newspapers or magazines? The more individual, informal style of the blog and the views expressed enables readers to find bloggers on the same wavelength, whose reading recommendations may resonate more than reviews in the traditional media. And the interactive nature of the blog encourages readers to comment and participate, rather than remaining passive recipients of others’ views. Readers feel part of a community, a virtual one that sometimes – at International Translation Day events, book launches and awards ceremonies – transforms into face-to-face contact. But most of all, these blogs open up a public space for books that are neglected in the ever-shrinking literary pages of the mainstream press. As a lover of international literature and translator from German, this opportunity to celebrate and share literature from across the world is the finest one of all