I’ve been reading more classics of late, a few of them originally written in non-anglophone languages. But every time I settle on which to read, the wading begins. Sifting through my options, going through the process of elimination by scanning reviews and sampling the writing on Amazon. It’s exhausting.
This year I’ve researched and read:
- The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius (Latin – Roman Empire)
- Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Omar Khayyam (Persian)
- Oedipus the King by Sophocles (Ancient Greek)
- The Plague by Albert Camus (French Algerian)
- The Story of the Beauty and the Beast: The Original Classic French Fairytale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (French)
- The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges (Spanish Argentinian)
And now I’m looking at The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Ancient Chinese). Wikipedia says there are 18 translations. And then there are edition preferences to take into consideration – do I want one with notes on the text, extra background and context; or notes that focus on the extrapolation of war to business strategy?
Goodreads says there are at least 1,065 published editions. Discounting out of print and free online editions, The Book Depository has 268 in stock.
That’s an avalanche of choice to contend with. I’m literally lost in translations.
And then you have the fake Penguin Classics impersonation cover editions* to avoid that pop up on Amazon, and I’m not talking about the funny yet obvious fakes. Take Pride and Prejudice, for instance.
While not exactly the same, the fakes are similar enough to fool the average Joe. Note where the ‘World Classics Series’ in the white space of the fake is, where the ‘Penguin [Penguin logo] Classics’ should be – that’s the giveaway.
Anyway, I digress.
Researching to find the edition right for me takes time, time that could be spent reading a book originally written in English. My guess is that’s partly the reason why some don’t even bother to attempt foreign reads.
It’d be nice if there was some authority that discussed the pros and cons of what’s available, which two or three translations are arguably the best, followed by the additional special features offered by publishers wanting to differentiate themselves from the rest, other than by the cover art. That would be a remarkable time-saver, and I bet more readers would venture into foreign literary lands. Combing through multiple university syllabuses to check edition recommendations, if they’ve added them to their course descriptions, is the closest I’ve been able to get.
*Thanks to Moonlight Reader for pointing these out.