Critical Mass

Footnote to Reading the World

By Anna Clark

As Reading the World wrapped up over the weekend, it's worth celebrating the top-notch titles promoted by publishers and independent booksellers across the U.S. Surely the larger thrust of the campaign–“don't let borders limit the vitality of your reading”–is a critical one in a time when Words Without Borders reports that 50 percent of all the books currently published in translation worldwide are being translated from English, while a mere 6 percent are translated into English. And even that miniscule number is inflated by instruction manuals and other nonliterary material.

And yet, even Reading the World's exciting project is lacking. Of the 40 titles hand-picked for the campaign, only 12 are written or edited by women.

The 70/30 gender split is, sadly, a generous one, compared to lists and articles by other translation advocates,I detailed in a recent article for Women's eNews, but what it comes to is this: while the gender gap certainly is rooted in who does and doesn't get published, translation advocates must be vigilant about not exacerbating the the near-erasure of women's voices around the world.

Reading the World emphasizes the joy of meeting “a variety of cultures and ideas found outside our borders—ideas and cultures that we must have access to in order to understand our world.” As we keep our eye on that prize, let's not accept the half-truths and partial understanding that is neccessarily the result of tacking on writing by women in hardly more than a token level. We'd all be at a loss.–Anna Clark