Saturday, June 18, 2011

Books and Baby Talk

I'm reading Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes From The Underground.

It's a grand book. In every sense of the word. Not only in its premise, but also its execution. The choice of words, the phrasing, the tone, the subtexts. In my opinion this has a lot to do with the spectacular Russian to English translation by Constance Garnett.

I have always regarded book translators with utmost esteem, because not only do they have to carefully interpret the authors' ideas and convey them perfectly in another language, they also need to keep the cultural subtleties intact while doing so. Mediocre translators can easily translate words, but all art will be lost in translation.

Which makes me wonder, if the book is so good in English, a language with which Russian has almost nothing in common, then how must it be in Russian? The thought of being able to even decipher the original Cyrillic-written back cover of the book is tantalizing enough. Hmmmm...

No, I'm not high. I just love my books. A friend once saw me very upset after I accidentally puppy-eared the cover of my Catch-22. He jokingly said I took my books way too seriously. I do, but only with the good ones. I couldn't care less if someone would tear my copy of Mary Higgins Clark's Two Little Girls In Blue into pieces and burn them in a voodoo ritual. It's a shitty book, by an overrated shitty author (I bought it at a train station in Venice because it was one of the very, very few English books they had and I was going on a 6-hour train ride to Florence thus desperately in need of a reading material). But if something were to happen to the good ones, I'd be almost devastated. The pages of my Midnight Children fell out of their binding months ago. And I still haven't gotten over it.

That's why, three years ago when I had my bag stolen on a trip to the French Riviera, I decided to end the trip there and then and go back home. It wasn't because of the camera or the iPod I had inside it (well, only a little bit). It was mostly because I also had a rare early hardcover edition of Madame Bovary for which I stayed up all night bidding on eBay.

This obsession might be due to the fact that every day I dream of having a huge library in my future house, and I would like for the books there to be used, but in very good condition, just like in a real library. Used, so that the library will smell of yellowed-paper (the best smell in the world). And in very good condition, so that they will still be appetizing for my kids to read and not be put off by their ungodly appearance. Oh, and my kids will not just have those huge-ass pictorial books with pictures of talking farm animals on them. The moment they know how to read and write and speak fluently, I'll make them read Stendhal's The Red and The Black. I'll also be the no-nonsense father who doesn't use baby talk with my children. I still remember people baby-talking me up until I was six or seven, and I found it annoying as hell because I was already very eloquent since I was four or five. Baby talk is cute, but it doesn't help with children's mental growth whatsoever. If anything, it makes them dumb because they'd think that's actually how adults talk.

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