No accounting for taste

Personal preferences have been weighing on my mind a lot lately. Over at my other blog (9 Months with the Chicago Manual of Style), this is a familiar preoccupation of mine, something I’m pretty sure determines much of how we write and revise others. But it applies to other things in life, too. For instance, I have a friend who doesn’t like Indian food. Whenever she eats it, she tells us “It’s too sweet.” For her. It’s too sweet for her. The chef didn’t make a mess of it—she doesn’t like it. And when it comes to music, I’m always reluctant to say a band or a certain type of music is bad—I don’t like it, that’s all. There’s a difference.

So I always feel a pang of guilt whenever I give a book a 1- or 2-star rating (out of five) on Goodreads. But then I remind myself, it’s not the book I’m rating—it’s whether I liked it or not. La fiancée américaine, a piece of Québec fiction I absolutely love, has a few 1- and 2-star ratings on Goodreads. I caught myself thinking that these reviewers didn’t know what they were talking about until I remembered they were saying whether they liked something or not, not whether it was good or bad. (The aim of the website is to help us discover books similar to ones we and other like-minded readers have enjoyed.)

In publishing, personal preferences and tastes reign supreme, too. No one’s going to publish your book or translation if they don’t like it. They’re not necessarily saying it’s good or bad, just that it’s not what they’re interested in right now.

So what’s the answer? Finding something to translate that’s so good everyone will love it and jump at the chance to publish it? Finding a like-minded publisher who shares your tastes? Probably, yes. And in the meantime all I can do is keep reading, keep liking and putting to one side, and hoping that some day someone is going to like the next translation I’m working on just as much as I do.