Books about translation and writing

Thanks to reader Paul Froese for suggesting this topic; Paul e-mailed me, asking about textbooks that might help one become a better translator, or that might be helpful to beginning translators. Paul referenced the free translation course that’s available from, and wondered whether there are comparable textbook resources out there.

I have a few of my own suggestions, but Paul’s question prompted me to research this question in more detail. I find that for this kind of thing, Goodreads is often more helpful than Amazon, because Goodreads users can create suggested book lists on any topic. There are several Goodreads lists with suggestions of translation-related books:

Those should contain enough books to keep you busy for approximately the rest of this lifetime, but I’ll mention a few others. These are all easy to find on Goodreads and Amazon if you want to purchase them.

  • Why Translation Matters, by Edith Grossman. If I had unlimited time to read books, I would start by reading the entire Why X Matters series from Yale University Press. Honestly, they all look fascinating. But if you haven’t read Edith Grossman’s book, start with that!
  • Although technically a memoir and not a translation textbook, Gregory Rabassa’s If This Be Treason is probably my favorite book about translation.
  • Then there’s the “Topics in Translation” series from Multilingual Matters. These are mostly from the late 90s and early 2000s, but a lot of the topics are not time-sensitive and they seem to get quite good reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.
  • When I was in grad school for French Literature, we read Jeremy Munday’s Introducing Translation Studies and I remember it as being a good overview of translation theory, with helpful case studies of how the theory applies in the read world.

Then, since translation is, after all, writing, there are tons of great books on writing. Any recommendations here must be prefaced with Dorothy Parker’s advice, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” Aside from that, The Elements of Style is a great book about writing, and is consistently named as one of the most influential books written in English, period. Back in the day (in the 80s, when I was in junior high and high school), this book was always referred to as “Strunk and White,” rather than The Elements of Style. And it took me an inordinately long time to realize that “White” was not only the author of advice about serial commas, but also of books that I had read until they fell apart at the binding (Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, Trumpet of the Swan). This one should definitely be in your arsenal!

I like style guides, so I use The Chicago Manual of Style on an almost-daily basis. Descartes’ writings or Descartes’s writings (option b)? Northern California or northern California (option a)? Does iPod use an initial lowercase letter even when it’s the first word in a sentence (yes)? Those dilemmas can only be solved with a style guide.

Then, if you just want to read a really good book on writing, read Stephen King’s On Writing. For someone who once described his own writing as “good salami,” Stephen King is incredibly good at writing about writing. From the obvious but often unsaid (leave out the boring parts) to the liberating (it’s OK to use regular words, like “said”), this book is just great.

I’m sure that other readers have good suggestions too; let’s hear them!

18 Responses to “Books about translation and writing”
  1. Michael October 11, 2016
    • Corinne McKay October 11, 2016
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  5. Konstantin Stäbler October 12, 2016
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  7. Mihaela Buruiana October 20, 2016
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  10. Victoria Patience November 7, 2016
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