In her fine writer’s manual, The Passionate, Accurate Story, Carol Bly asks whether a link might exist between the lack of reading and a culture’s viciousness. Such a conclusion “sounds neurotic,” she admits, but only if one grants that “it also sounds neurotic to worry about the electromagnetism generated in transformer canisters which stand, two to an alley, in most American cities, causing, it seems, two to three times the incidence of leukemia in children in houses near them.” Ouch.
Writers and readers alike are prone to self-congratulatory—but probably apt—arguments like the above. Here’s another one: Educated Americans don’t read much foreign fiction, while we find ourselves shackled to a proverbial reputation for provincialism. I don’t want to reinforce the old myth of “America stupid/Europe enlightened,” but the minor amount of translated fiction that reaches our notice is a bad sign. So let’s be thankful for publishers who bother to translate foreign literature: works by new authors, by authors unknown outside their home countries and new versions of established classics.