This is the last newsletter of 2022. Here’s a recap of some highlights and an invitation for you to join me in an annual word-of-the-year exercise.
A couple of years ago, I had shared my annual word-as-intention practice in this Millions essay about my year in reading. It was the first year of the pandemic and I had returned to the US after having been back in India for a few years. It was also the year my first two books were published and I got married. Yes, you could say I had a lot going on that year, especially if you knew the amount of underwater paddling needed to stay afloat with all of that happening.
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For 2022, the word has been “practice”, as in the regular and habitual way of doing some work to gain proficiency. Anything I took on with my reading, writing, or translating work had to be part of one of my ongoing practices and help me toward that intention of gaining proficiency. This newsletter has also been a part of my translation practice because it has helped me focus on learning more about the craft of translation through my reading and building community by uplifting other translators.
I’ll share my 2023 word-of-the-year at the end. And I’d like to use the rest of this newsletter for some end-of-year lists that I hope you might find useful too. Lists are subjective, of course. So I don’t offer these as anything other than personal suggestions. For me, they are also a way to sum up my reading and writing year. I share them in that spirit and hope they may inspire you to reflect on your own reading and writing year.
Reading: My Top Five Books of the Year
I didn’t read as many books this year as I normally do. That’s partly because I didn’t write as many book reviews or do as many features at Desi Books either. De-prioritizing these parts of my writing and translating practice was intentional because I wanted to focus on this newsletter and some of the firsts that you see below. But, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m a slow reader anyway. I need to underline, take notes, write about my reading, etc. which means I take twice as long as the average person to finish a book. I’d rather get the most from a book than read the most books. Your mileage may vary.
1. Catching Fire: A Translation Diary by Daniel Hahn was my favorite translation craft read. I’ve mentioned the book in several newsletters already. Hahn keeps it real as he walks us through his translation of Diamela Eltit’s Never Did the Fire while doing the work. I loved his humor and insights, and that front-row seat to see how a translator develops a custom approach with each book is invaluable.
2. Refuse to be Done by Matt Bell is one of the best books on writing craft that I’ve read recently. So much of this book also applies to translation because it’s about revision and editing. I had the joy of moderating a webinar with Matt at Writing Workshops Dallas, where I teach. [I come in at the end with questions.]
3. Identitti by Mithu Sanyal and translated from the German by Alta L. Price was my favorite translation of the year. I wrote about it at Words Without Borders for their end-of-year list as well and described how and why the book is a personal masterclass in translation. I had the pleasure of hosting a discussion with the author and the translator for the inaugural WAAT Sessions.
4. The Newlyweds by Mansi Choksi is my favorite nonfiction read of the year. I reviewed it for The Star Tribune earlier this year. This book was several years in the making, and it gives us a profound view of today’s India through the lives of three young couples.
5. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel was my favorite reread of the year. I try to revisit a few favorite books each year. And, with Mantel’s sad passing this year, I had to go back to her words. This is the second in her Wolf Hall trilogy and I plan to reread the third shortly. For me, the first book, Wolf Hall, was thrilling because it introduces all the characters and much of Cromwell’s (imagined) early life. In this novel, Cromwell is already powerful, and we get to see how exactly he uses that power. I teach historical fiction workshops at Writing Workshops Dallas too, so Mantel’s craft and research in these books leave me in awe.
I’d love to know about your favorite books this year. Please share in the discussion area below.
Writing and Translating Practice: My Top Five Firsts
Each one of these personal firsts has involved quite a bit of work behind the scenes, and I hadn’t gauged exactly how much until I was pretty much done. That said, I’m grateful for the opportunities and have definitely learned and grown from them.
1. Keynote speech at the Qissa Literature Festival at Sophia College (autonomous), Mumbai: When the students organizing this festival reached out, I was thrilled. Growing up in Bombay, as it was known then, I had dreamed of studying literature at this college. That didn’t happen so you can imagine what this invitation meant for me. The event was private and virtual, but I’ve posted the keynote speech here. I discussed language and translation in terms of culture, diaspora, and identity, which were the festival’s themes.
2. Literary Award Jury Member for the Tournament of Books and the PEN/Heim Translation Grant: If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m ambivalent about literary awards. A lot of conscious and unconscious biases come into play even when the jury members have all the best intentions. That said, the Tournament of Books run by The Morning News has a unique and involved process, and I love how they get the jury members to write essays about their final choices. I’ve followed them for years, so I was thrilled to be included. My decision was controversial, as you can see from the comments. And that’s another terrific thing about this award: how their reading community is so engaged. The PEN/Heim Translation Grant was more about learning from the other jury members, who were all also translators from different cultures and languages. I so enjoyed our deliberation process despite the huge amount of reading. I discussed some of that with Nick Glastonbury, the chair this year, for the second WAAT Sessions. Both awards involved a LOT of reading. But it’s gratifying to see this year’s PEN/Heim translation grants going to an amazing set of works. You can read all the citations here.
3. In-person Book Launch for The Shehnai Virtuoso and Other Stories: My first two books were released during the height of the pandemic in 2020 when industry folks were still figuring out virtual events. We had some lovely folks show up and there was some excellent Indian food. Wine and cheese and crackers too. People stayed long into the evening, chatting and asking questions. It was magical. I shared some photos and a link to the video in newsletter #30. Incidentally, that’s also been a popular newsletter because of Vincent van Gogh.
4. Local School and College Visits: I’ve lived in the Dallas area now for three years, two of which were pandemic-ridden (arguably, we’re not out of the pandemic yet, but that’s a different discussion.) I know several folks within the literary community here because of various virtual events and teaching at Writing Workshops Dallas, and I was happy to share my book with them as mentioned above. I also wanted to take my translation, The Shehnai Virtuoso, to folks beyond the literary community. I wanted to introduce Gujarati literature to younger readers. So it was lovely to do some local in-person visits at a school and a college this year. The conversations with these young creatives still linger in my mind. I wrote about one of them in newsletter #39. My thanks to Joel Garza of Greenhill School and Ryan S. Fletcher and Catie Brooks of Collin College for making these visits possible.
5. Guest Editorship of the Gujarati Literature in Translation Collection at Words Without Borders: What a joy and honor to be able to bring together a first such collection at one of my favorite venues. We’ve shared several works by authors and translators already and have a few more coming up in January, including my closing essay and a reading list. If you are a translator from an under-represented language or culture, this kind of work takes time and effort but, as I always say, a rising tide lifts all boats. Of course, you need to choose the right venue, make the right pitch, and select the right authors and translators before the actual work even begins. My thanks to Eric Becker, the editor-in-chief at Words Without Borders, and the entire team there for this opportunity.
What are some personal firsts you’ve had with your own writing and translating work this year? They don’t have to be earth-moving events or ventures. As long as they helped you learn and grow, that is enough.
Most Popular WAAT Newsletters of 2022
When I began this newsletter in January, all I wanted was to maintain a whole year of publication. I did not make any plans or harbor any hopes for subscriber count or attention on social media or at other media venues. I won’t lie that those kinds of metrics are important for validation, but they offer a different kind of motivation and inspiration than I needed to build a sustainable practice. That said, it is still gratifying to find so many of you joining me on this journey. In the coming year, I will be spending even less time on social media. So this newsletter will be one of the main ways to stay in touch.
Looking for book recommendations? Check out my ongoing book lists.
2. #35. ‘The 100’: a Practice for Writers and Translators: I’ve talked elsewhere about dropping out of two MFA programs and constructing my DIY MFA. In this newsletter, I shared some of my DIY approaches.
3. #34. On Foreignization and Domestication: Given the sequencing of these highly-viewed newsletters, I must have been on some sort of streak with widely-resonant topics. This one is an endless discussion, and we’ll revisit it in 2023.
4. #50. WAAT Session: Nick Glastonbury on elevating translations from underrepresented languages/cultures: This edition is still relatively recent, so it’s lovely to see that it’s racked up so many views. I’m not surprised because Nick is such an insightful translator and literary citizen.
5. #26. On Reviewing Translations: Goodness. This got a lot of play on the socials, as I recall. If you’re one of those readers/reviewers who feels strongly either way about “lost in translation” or “translation as a substitute for the original”, you’ll want to read the essays I’ve linked here. [P.S. This was during the old newsletter service, so it’s in PDF form, but I’ll be adding it to the website for easier reference in the future.]
I’d love to know which of the newsletters this year resonated the most with you. It’ll help me plan ahead for 2023. And if there’s any topic you’d like to dive deeper into, please let me know in the discussions area below.
Some Other Quick Updates/Links
1. I contributed to this lovely end-of-year reading list at Words Without Borders: ‘The Best Books of 2022—And What We’re Looking Forward to in 2023.‘
2. The Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (CLMP) featured The Shehnai Virtuoso and Other Stories on their end-of-year list of novels, novellas, short story collections, and fiction anthologies published in 2022 by independent literary publishers.
2023 Word of the Year
First, the word “invent.” Its usage is tracked commonly to c. 1500, when it meant “finding or discovering of something.” It originates from the Old French invencion (13c.) and the Latin inventionem “faculty of invention.” Going further back, it is believed to have Proto-Indo-European roots: in- “in, on” (from PIE root *en “in”) + venire “to come” (from a suffixed form of Proto-Indo-European root *gwa- “to go, come”.) Source: etymonline.com.
Now, we use “invent” to mean “create or design something that has not existed before.” And we use “reinvent” to mean “change something so much that it appears to be entirely new.”
I chose “reinvent” as an intention because, having established some new personal practices for myself these past couple of years, I want to revisit what’s working, and what’s not, and make necessary changes. This will also mean, for the most part, not taking on anything new in 2023 unless it helps me reinvent something I’m already working on. That “re-” prefix is important here in the sense of creating anew rather than simply recreating something that already exists.
I invite you to consider a word as an intention for yourself for 2023 and share it in the discussion area below. I’ve been doing this for a decade now. During my corporate years before 2012, I used to set specific goals, but I find this intention approach more sustainable, clarifying, and profound than the goals approach.
Have a lovely holiday break and a happy new year. If you’re looking for a year-end gift for a reader friend, perhaps one of my books might fit the bill?