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Books: Lost in Korean-English translation, another winner from Celeste Ng, science fiction and more

Hi, I'm books editor Carolyn Kellogg, and this week, our books newsletter has gotten a little bit interactive. Read on to play.

THE BIG STORY

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Maybe you read Han Kang's "The Vegetarian" — I know I did after it won the Man Booker International Prize. The novel is a spare, strange tale of a South Korean woman who stops eating meat, in an unspoken resistance to her husband, and wastes away. The book was an English-language bestseller and young translator Deborah Smith was lauded with praise. But a closer look at her translation caused a huge controversy in South Korea: Did it go too far? Charse Yun, a Korean American who is now a professor in Seoul, explains what happened in this fascinating essay that raises questions about the pitfalls of translating, which errors are important, and what we can expect when reading works in translation.

Translator Deborah Smith, left and author Han Kang, winners of the Man Booker International Prize.
Translator Deborah Smith, left and author Han Kang, winners of the Man Booker International Prize.

THE INTERACTIVE PART

Take our poll: How many works in translation have you read this year?

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1-3

4 or more

"The Vegetarian" published in England, South Korea and the U.S.
"The Vegetarian" published in England, South Korea and the U.S. (Portabello Books / Chagn / Hogarth)

BOOK REVIEWS

Celeste Ng's novel "Little Fires Everywhere" won't disappoint fans of her bestselling debut, "Everything I Never Told You." Ng goes into the suburbs again with "a lovely dioramic quality," writes Steph Cha in our review, "while keeping the story moving at a thriller's pace."

In her novel "The History of Bees," Maja Lunde looks at man's intersection with nature through one thing — yes, bees — and three distantly-removed generations. "It's a deftly managed if somewhat predictable story" of environmental disaster, writes Ellie Robins in our review.

Reviewer Swapna Krishna highlights four science fiction novels that are criminally good. I mean, they're great reads that are both science fiction and crime fiction: "The Salt Line" by Holly Goddard Jones, "Six Wakes" by Mur Lafferty, "Black Mad Wheel" by Josh Malerman and "Yesterday" by Felicia Yap.

Join Agatha French looking at "I Fought the Law," a book of photographs by Olivia Locher that illustrates unusual laws that are — or maybe aren't — on the books across America. In Nebraska, can a parent without a proper license perm their child's hair?

From "I Fought the Law" by Olivia Locher.
From "I Fought the Law" by Olivia Locher. (Chronicle Books)

HOMEGROWN

Jason Tougaw, now a literature professor in New York, grew up gay in a hostile environment in Southern California. His memoir of those ups and downs, "The One You Get: Portrait of a Family Organism," combines ideas of the mind and neuroscience with personal experience. (Tougaw's heritage may ring a bell with longtime Angelenos and horse-racing fans: his grandfather was the jockey Ralph Neves, who famously was declared dead after being thrown from a horse, taken to the morgue, awoken with a doctor's shot and rode again the next day, winning four races). Scott Cheshire talks to Tougaw about his book.

Jason Tougaw
Jason Tougaw (Dzanc Books)

LITERARY NEWS

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Lillian Ross, the celebrated New Yorker writer, died this week at age 99. Her last piece for the magazine was a 2012 essay about her friendship with J.D. Salinger.

Birds of a brother: Hank Green, whose brother is the wildly popular YA novelist John Green, will publish a book of his own next year titled "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing." Both Greens come to L.A. in November to celebrate the release of John's forthcoming book, "Turtles All the Way Down."

Kirkus announced the finalists for its $50,000 prizes in fiction, nonfiction and young readers literature.

Merriam-Webster has added 250 new words to the dictionary, including "sriracha" and "alt-right."

As the massive citywide art celebration Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA gets underway, take a look at "Visualizing Language" at the L.A. Central Library (online here, but also in person). The library asked the Oaxacan art duo Tlacolulokos to create paintings in dialogue with the murals in its rotunda, and the result is nothing short of extraordinary.

Artist Dario Canul of Tlacolulokos working on the murals in the L.A. Central Library.
Artist Dario Canul of Tlacolulokos working on the murals in the L.A. Central Library. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

BESTSELLERS

Debuting at No. 8 on our nonfiction bestseller list is Patti Smith. The rocker turned writer (but also still a rocker) tells a layered tale of art and creativity in "Devotion," partly derived from her own journals and created from her presentation at the Windham Campbell Prizes, published by Yale University Press.

Patti Smith performed Sept. 13 in New York.
Patti Smith performed Sept. 13 in New York. (Michael Loccisano / Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)
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