An Interview With Michael Reynolds Of Europa Editions
Hello Michael! What’s new in New York City? What you’re reading at the moment?
Well, I’ve just gotten back to the city after about six weeks in Italy, some of that time working from the offices of our sister company, Edizioni EO, in Rome, and the rest on holiday. So, I really haven’t had a chance to figure out what, if anything, is new in town. Right before I left for Italy in July, electric mopeds appeared on the streets of Brooklyn, hundreds of them, literally from one day to the next as if beamed here from outer space. This was a novelty, and before I left and since I’ve been back, I’ve been using them like mad.
Over the break, I finished reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses — I have been on a classics jag of late — Panorama, an artfully constructed Sebaldian novel about exile and loss by a Slovenian writer named Dušan Šarotar that I hadn’t heard about until I found it face-out at Skylight Books on a recent trip to L.A., and I re-read Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, which, in the past, I'd struggled through in French; I decided to whizz through it in English over the summer. It is a masterpiece, but not, I realized, a novel to be whizzed through, and I’m on the last hundred pages or so now.
Can you sum up Europa Editions' publishing philosophy and share with us some of the more memorable moments or manuscripts that you have come across over the years?
Europa Editions set out, 15 years ago now, as a publisher of international fiction, one that sought to publish the best fiction from all over the world, without letting the languages in which authors write to pose limitations. Our idea was that good stories well told connect people and create bridges between cultures. At the time it felt like those kinds of connections and bridges were very much needed. They still feel necessary today, and the kind of “global empathy” they can generate feels more important than ever.
Today, we are one of the leading publishers of translated fiction in the country, both in terms of number of titles published, and number of copies sold of translated titles. But compared with most other publishers who release a lot of books in translation, we do not publish only works in translation—we publish a growing number of American, British, and Australian authors, for example—and we publish a lot of titles that have enjoyed considerable commercial success in their native markets. Defined broadly, the job of every publisher, including Europa, is to connect writers to their natural readership. But at Europa, we also feel that our job is to connect readerships. If we can take a book that has been read and enjoyed by thousands or hundreds of thousands of readers abroad and bring it to the same number of readers here in America, then we have created a kind of bridge between all those readers, one that is built on the book they’ve read, one that may shape their sensibilities and how they see the world. And, if two of those readers ever find themselves eating in the same cafe in some far-off locale or on ferry going somewhere and they are able to connect and converse because of a book they’ve both read and that we’ve published… well, then we’ve done our job.
When a manuscript that you’ve believed in and worked hard on doesn’t find the readers you hoped for, the experience is heartbreaking. When it does, it almost makes up for the heartbreak. Almost! The manuscripts and the moments spent with them are all memorable, just the nature of the memory changes.
Given that Europa Editions publishes books translated from different languages and as a translator of Italian and German yourself, have you ever been concerned that things get lost in translation? What would you consider a ‘bad’ translation?
Much is lost in translation. Possibly some things, sometimes, are gained. But the alternative — not having access to writing from around the world, or only to works in languages that one reads — is worse. It represents a much greater loss.
I think translations should conform to what translator, author, and publisher decide is the best kind of translation for a given title. Excluding sloppy or unedited translations, there is no right or wrong way to translate, there are simply unsuitable translations and suitable ones.
How do you 'compartmentalize' your roles as translator and editor?
I rarely undertake book-length translations these days. And even when I was doing more, it was for one of two reasons: either I was smitten with a book and against my better judgement I put my name forward as translator, or because I hoped that keeping my hand in as a translator made me more sensitive to the problems facing the translators I work with as editor. And, with any luck, more able to work with them on finding solutions to those problems.
A good editor does not interfere with the voice of an author, and I think that is also true of a good translator. Both editor and translator are conduits, humble servants, in my opinion. I've never really felt that I had to compartmentalize the two roles.
Could you give an estimate of how many manuscripts you read and pass on, compared to those you accept? Do you have to personally like a story or does it have to fit into a criteria that you have at the back of your mind?
I probably accept a manuscript for every 50 or 60 I (very selectively) read. But that’s really a rough estimate, and it depends very much on the period.
I have to like a manuscript first and foremost. Actually, I have to love it. Then, I begin to think about whether it fits on the Europa list, if I believe there is a readership for it, I talk to the publishers and my colleagues about it and get their opinions. I can’t imagine working in the opposite direction, and fortunately at an independent house like Europa I don’t have to. Europa is a for-profit publisher, so I do have to consider the audience for a given title as well as my own likes and dislikes. But I am never in a position, and never hope to be, where I feel obligated to acquire a title I don’t like just because it has sales potential.
To strike a balance between publishing more books versus publishing better books, would you say that this accurately sums up one of the challenges you face as an editor?
More as a publisher than an editor, but yes! That about sums it up.
Lastly, how do you get past your reading lulls? What are some of your other passions and interests?
Oh, I think these days we do not lack for alternatives to reading. On the contrary, the culture of reading is passing through a period of instability partly because of the sheer number of alternatives to reading. Personally, I like to get out into nature, to travel, to exercise, to spend time with my family, to play music with my older daughter, who has to my great delight taken an interest in the guitar, or go for a run with my younger daughter. I don’t really have reading lulls, per se. I may occasionally grow weary of the kinds of books that I read at work, but when that happens I will read in another genre, or return to the classics, or concentrate on a literature from a place I have never read about previously. Sooner or later I find myself hankering for the kind of contemporary fiction that I love and that I am lucky enough to spend my working life with.