BOOKS SERVED BY ROBIN D. GILL OVER 20 YEARS AS AN EDITOR
While working for 20 years with one Japanese publisher (Kousakusha) and 5 years with another (editions Papyrus), I was able to read all the good non-fiction I wished to, so long as no other Japanese publisher had already laid claim to the translation rights. I was only able to advise the editors and not make the final decision on whether to buy. Unlike the case with acquisition editors in the USA, my work only began with the acquisition. 90% of my time was spent checking and correcting the Japanese translations. Most books translated from English to Japanese have an error (an unintentional discrepancy between the meaning of the original and the translation) on every page and a few whoppers every chapter. Native speakers only check what the translator or the Japanese editor call to their attention and most mistranslations are not noticed. And the publishers cannot be faulted for not checking more thoroughly, for the truth is that they cannot afford to do so. Mine was a special situation. I was not paid what my level of skill deserved. When I did an outside job for a pr firm (which was seldom, for I had little time to spare), I would get 5X more per hour. But it was fine by me, for the company was itself not making much money and I enjoyed working with good books and knew that if I did not do the work, no one else would. Many of the translators had a good word for me in their "translator's postscript," and that was my honorarium.
Still, it is sad not to receive any official recognition when one is poor, for a poor man has only his name. When I decided it was time to leave Japan, an editor and friend wrote me that had I been working in country that valued culture, like France, I would have received a cultural award of merit, so I could have gained a measure of nominal recompense for my contribution. I replied that I was honored that he thought so, but that France probably did not honor people who helped with translation into French, for the vector of culture is wrong. French or Japanese, the people who get cultural awards are those who most obviously promote their own culture. I had an acquaintance who translated in that direction and, sure enough, it brought him great recognition for far less work. Now that I am translating and writing about haiku, perhaps I, too, will be rewarded some day, perhaps even more than I deserve! This is not fair, for quality control of culture is equally important whether it is for export or import. But, that is how it is. - rdg
Allen, Mea: Darwin’s Flowers. A good study of Darwin’s botanical interests and contributions starting with the best condensation of the Beagle trip I have read. (I always pay extra attention to a book about Darwin, for I am a big Darwin fan. I found this book in a used-book-store. We had trouble getting the rights for not only was the author deceased, but the Executioner of her Estate as well!)
Beer, Gillian: Darwin’s Plots. I am not a big fan of literary criticism, but Beer has a foot on the ground (science) and writes beautiful convoluted sentences I like but which are hell for translators. (I helped some with the translation, but not as much as I would have liked to).
Cole Robert: The Spiritual Life of Children, The Moral Life of Children. These books full of taped quotes of children’s voices are far better than Cole’s other work I have read. (I found and helped with both books, published respectively by my two employing publishers, but more so with the second, for its translator is a friend whom I first met after she wrote me about my book on Mistranslation, Goyaku Tengoku.)
Cronin, Helen: The Ant and the Peacock. The subjects of sexual selection and group-fitness are brilliantly summarized. The only weakness is the author's weakness for a certain British scientist whose work got a bit too much attention for me. (Checked the entire translation. The translator, a working biologist herself, was later to translate other Darwin material for other publishers which I regret not having time to check, though no one asked me to do so. I like Darwin that much, and I KNOW his long sentences stymie Japanese translators.)
Desmond & Moore: Darwin. This is the biography, very thorough and very long. (This book had an excellent translator, himself a scientist, but I still had to work. Huxley's rhetoric was particularly difficult to Japanese. )
Dillard, Annie: Writing Life Another publisher already had her best book, Tinker Creek (which I recommend to all who want to see a modern nature essay at its best) but I was happy to get this. (Checked the entire translation for though the translator is well known, she was not creative enough to catch or recreate the nets of poetic metaphor. The author was kind enough to let us switch chapter 1 and 2 for Japanese want something concrete first. )
Eiseley, Loren: Darwin and Mr. X, Night Country, The Star Thrower. I have a line of Eiseley's in all of my own books and worked hard to sell the publisher on something as vague as "essays." I wrote an afterword for the Japanese edition of Night Country at the translators' request. (Donne-loving Eiseley can be ambiguous for a translator, so I really had to work on rewriting as well as checking his books!)
Fontenelle: Entretiens sur la Pluralite des Mondes (Plurality of Worlds). An old French Classic that makes science romantic. (I confess I discovered it from English and my role was only that of convincing the publisher to do the first Japanese translation).
Gould, Steven J. : Ontogeny and Phylogeny (No easy task checking this huge book! brought in my a team of 5 scientist-translators after another publisher pooped out on them), Time’s Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle. (I also helped one of his translators working for another publisher. If only Gould had not up and died on me, I’ll bet RISE, YE SEA SLUGS! would have tickled his fancy and made his column! Yes, I confess that one reason I mourn his passing is selfish. One Gould Story. When we met in Japan, the first thing he said to me -- as if he had been holding it in for a long time -- was how much he loved what I did with my signature! What intrigued him was the way I make the right side of my "R" serve for the left side of my "G" in my short-style signature first devised for signing books. Needless to say, it ties in with his writing on uses of parts of the body.)
Gonzales-Crussi: The Five Senses. Like Primo Levi, a cultured essayist with a scientific background. His earlier Notes of an Anatomist is better known. That he is not much better known proves our fiction-crazy culture fails to properly appreciate the essay (The translator did not leave me much to do).
Grinspoon & Bakalar: Psychodelics Reconsidered. If a Nobel prize were given for non-fiction, for the advancement of scientific thinking and sanity, these men would get it. This and Marijuana Reconsidered (a book I could not convince my publisher to do) , noteworthy for being the most lucid exploration of anecdote-as-evidence ever written, are objective. . (The book had horribly bad luck with translators and I put in hundreds of hours checking and still don't know if it came out!)
Hansen, Chadwick: Witchcraft at Salem. It turns out that Cotton Mathers is a hero who deserves our admiration for what he did to prevent the witch trials from being worse and the author, likewise, for the rehabilitation of a good soul. This book brought tears to my eyes, for the long quotations bring out the goodness of the people of Salem. (I had fun correcting the translation, especially the man with the hole in his yard, which in translation became topiographical)
Jenning, Humphrey: Pandemonium A history of the industrial revolution almost entirely created by selections from the time. I wish more histories were like that. (The old English was hell for the translator and I had to resort to my OED for many words! The translator and editor and I finished the book with a bottle of Okinawan liquor and a bottle of retsina (i found) and squares of sake. What a fun time we had!)
King-Hele: Doctor of Revolution. Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus was the English equivalent of Ben Franklin and deserves an equal place in history. I was delighted to get this biography that was out of print in English translated. (The translator had particular trouble with Erasmus's poetry. I regret not succeeding in getting the publisher to enlarge it with the recent greatly enlarged reprint, Erasmus Darwin, from De La Mare Press. Read it!)
Levi, Primo : Periodic Table. I am a big Primo fan. (While the translation was from the Italian, I was able to make a few small corrections. Had he lived, I had hoped to edit a selection of his shorter work for translation. Since Koestler had killed himself shortly after we exchanged letters, the chief editor at Kosaku-sha raised her eyebrows and said “Robin!” suspiciously when Primo Levi did the same . . . I didn’t mind Koestler’s death. It made sense. But Primo Levi . . . it just doesn’t make sense. What a loss for all of us!) I was not able to get what I think of as his second best book, The Monkey Wrench translated.
Lopez, Barry Winter Count. A fine book. (The translator was good and I had little to do. Although he refused my offer to put some facts between the chapters in the style of Melville’s Moby Dick, I must say I found Barry the most considerate author I have ever worked with. )
Lovelock, James : Gaia, and The Ages of Gaia. (Mie Uchida, who got me my job with Kousaku-sha, took care of most of the first book, but I was able to help with the second. Lovelock is one of my favorite scientists and, next to Barry Lopez, the most polite author).
McGrayne, Sharon Bertsch: Nobel Prize Women in Science. A well-edited selection. (A pretty good translation, so I had little work to do.)
Merchant, Carolyn: The Death of Nature. (This was right up the chief-editors alley and I think I did not have to correct much, but it has been a while and i forget.)
Michell, John Eccentric Lives and Peculiar Notions. (A young translator, so I had to work a bit, but he was very bright and improved quickly. I must admit to feeling a bit weird as I realized that I may be as strange as some of those eccentrics!)
Nollman, Jim: Dolphin Dreamtime. A personal account by a man who made a name making music with animals. (Had to work a bit with neophyte translators, who, however, had a better style of writing than many veteran translators and have since become veterans themselves).
Prishvin, Mishvin: Nature’s Diary. The happiest nature writing I have ever come across. Usually happiness kills books, so I knew right off that Prishvin was really something (What luck! When I told Papyrus’s Tsurugaya-san about it, he called a translator friend who was leaving for Russia the very next day. The Japanese version was translated from a far more complete original than that used by Penguin America, which deletes most of the folklore-related parts. Since Penguin's series was edited by Hoagland and he writes about people, too, I assume the Russian version they translated from was at fault).
Raymo, Chet: The Soul of the Night. (Not much I could do for the translation which was accurate enough but, as is often the case, didn't seem quite so poetic as the original.)
Regis, Ed: Who got Einstein's Office? (I had very, very little to correct, for the translator, Ohnuki Masako, was and still is superb. Still, both she and the author are such fine people that they made me feel like I did a lot.)
Rucker, Rudy: The Fourth Dimension. (I recall reading and recommending the book but can't recall how much I contributed to the translation. Probably, not much.)
Russett, Cynthia: Sexual Science. This Harvard Press book is a favorite of mine for it shows how scientists saw what they wanted to see in constructing images of women and does so while being consistently fair to everyone. Russett even had sympathy for the phrenologists (I cannot remember how much work I had to do on it, but I do recall that I had a hard time finding good blurbs, for pc feminism could not appreciate a book convincing for being well-balanced rather than a diatribe.)
Schiebinger, Londa. The Mind Has No Sex, and Nature's Body. This is feminism with content = science history. (Not too many corrections needed)
Sheldrake, Rupert. A New Science of Life. I met Rupert later in London. It is splendid how he brings science to bear on phenomena generally avoided by scientists. (Can't remember how much I had to correct. ).
Stafford, Kim: Having Everything Right. This book, published by a small press was one of a few decent second-generation nature essays (with some town/folk aspects such as found in G. Ehrliche’s and Hoagland’s best work. A friend who is a talented writer herself translated it as her first book, so I had my hands full!)
Steinbeck, John: Log of the Sea of Cortez. Found in my research on nature writing. (There are many translations of Steinbeck’s novels, but no one in Japan wanted this. . . I had to work on this one, for the translators were relatively inexperienced and some chapters include what we might call bull-shitting.)
Stevens, Jay: Storming Heaven. A finely crafted telling of the rise and fall of what might be called Leary’s LSD cult. (As with Grinspoon’s book, the translators used were just not good enough, and I put in a lot of work, but still do not know how it ended up!)
Thoreau, Henry: Cape Cod. For all the dozens of Walden translations, there was not a single Cape Cod in Japanese. (I was delighted to get it translated and, having read Thoreau’s entire Journals, particularly suited to help with the nuances of translation.)
Todd, John & John: Bioshelters. (I know I did some correcting but cannot recall how much).
Todes, Daniel: Malthus Without Darwin. This (Oxford UP) book is an unsung gem. Reading of the creative diversity in late 19th century Russian science, one cries for what might have been . . . (Content-wise, this was right up my alley and I was able to help the translator a lot, as he honestly recorded in the Translator’s Afterword. It hurt to read an acquaintance savage the translation for a technical fault, a failure to use the correct Japanization of the Russian names, when the book has far less substantial mistakes than 99% of translated books.)
Tompkins and Bird: The Secret Lives of Plants. An earlier translation by a famous man left out many of the wonderful details and all I needed to do is confirm that after a would-be translator brought it to our attention! (I had little to do)
Watson, Lyall: Lifetide Some of the early "new science" books were really good. This may be the best. My only complaint is with instances of doubt about "how this or that thing came to evolve by darwinian methods." (One of the first books the editor who invited me to work at Kousakusha showed me was Lifetide and all I needed to do was back her up with my opinion that the publisher take a chance with a large first run to keep the price down. This editor's taste in books is excellent and it was her translation of one of my favorites, The Ethical Animal by C. H. Waddington that drew me to Kousakusha.)
Whetherford, Jack: Indian Givers. The best short summary of the contributions of Amerindians to world culture I read. (I had little work to do on the translation)
Yi-Fu Tuan: Landscapes of Fear and Dominance and Affection (the making of pets). None of Tuan’s books are masterpieces, but all are entertaining and educational (I suspect the same will be said of my books). He explores themes I would think of as psychological, in an international, or as he might put it, geographical, context (checked all the translation).
I am sure I have missed many books I would say "Oh, yes, that, too!" but I only have an old catalog for one of the publishers and nothing for the other on hand. Maybe I will enlarge this another time.