As a general rule I try to carve out time to read 30 or more translated books over the course of the year. At least half of them must to written by women, half of them must be from different countries. For the loose rules I try and make sure that I read a book from each continent and that I don’t wind up reading nothing but European literature or books primarily from only one country.
In general, the English-speaking publishing world lags behind with translated books, leading to a dearth of world literature beyond the classics and already well known translated books. Books translated into English are an estimated three per cent of all published books in the US. Similar numbers can be found across the Atlantic in the UK. Some people suspect that percentage is too high though and that the real number may be much lower.
With such low numbers already, why specifically focus on books written by women? Similarly to other areas of publishing and literature, books written by women receive much less attention and critical acclaim than books written by men. It’s estimated that about a quarter of all translated books are written by women. And even though I was never terribly good at math, it doesn’t take me a calculator to figure out that 25 per cent of three per cent is a pitiably small number. Books written by women are far less likely to be translated than books written by men. And even when they are translated, they are much less likely to be nominated or to win awards.
This then kind of creates a cycle where people are not used to reading translated books, particularly books written by women, so they don’t buy them. Which leads to publishers not publishing more translated books because they don’t sell well, so then there continues to be a lack of translated literature. And it’s all a terrible shame really, as readers and publishers are missing out on such a wealth of amazing literature from across the globe. There’s a lack of statistics in this area, but I found that when looking for translated books by women, too often are European authors overrepresented, erasing fantastic books written by women in Latin America, Africa and Asia.