Translation is hard work. Lydia Davis is exciting.

Lydia Davis learned German after being placed in a classroom in Graz, Austria, at the age of 7. Schokolade mit Schlag (hot chocolate with whipped cream), and if he sleeps late Schokolade ohne Schlag (no mixed oil). After immigrating to America soon after, he learned French, Latin and Italian. A lifetime of work as a translator (as well as a novelist and short story writer and journalist).

His new book, “Essays Two,” is organized around translation. As Davis points out in a preface, the book is more focused on its subjects than his first column, “Essays One.” With “two,” it helps to have a first interest in translation, or at least a strong interest in language, but to enjoy the first collection you need to the first interest in “things.” But whatever the subject, Davis is the best team: smart, cool, surprising.

Instead of translating Proust and Flaubert, he recorded “books of all levels of good and bad, interesting and uninteresting” – among them an autobiography of Marie Curie, picture books, travelogues and stories of China. Whatever the reason, Davis finds great joy in his search. The first article here lists 21 of these pleasures. Translation, he says, puts a person in a close relationship with a writer, removes the anxiety of the thinker that attends most literary works and provides eternal riddles ( but can often be canceled). It also offers a kind of complex walking tour: The puzzle through “Madame Bovary” is shooting into a wormhole from America of the 21st century to France of the 19th.

In an article about translating Proust’s letters, Davis runs into the office where he wrote most of “In Search of Lost Time.” The office was abandoned when Proust left it, along with its furniture and valuables, but became part of a bank. Davis gets a tour of the writer’s office from an employee who runs from time to time and deals with bank questions. Client meetings are held in Proust’s bedroom, and the bank’s waiting room is where the author keeps a loose pile of heirlooms. “A thoughtful investor with little experience may be happy, sitting next to the plant in the empty pot, because of the spirit of collecting fin de siècle furniture. grief and bric-a-brac, linked to Proust’s private associations,” Davis. writing.

Although he learned German in the environment, Davis’ language acquisition was very different and, to an outside observer, a demonic critic. what it means.

credit…Theo Cote

To improve his Spanish, he digs out a copy of “Las Aventuras de Tom Sawyer.” In some cases, decryption is easy. Words like “plan” are similar in English and Spanish. In some other sources, he establishes the meaning of a word after seeing it in different ways. Hoja record it first when it comes up in the word sheet of paper — “paper of paper.” Later in the book, it is found in the context of a tree. Finally, Huck connects to a dry paper around something to make a cigarette, and Davis knows that paper has only one meaning like wood or tobacco: “leaf.” Of course, it is possible to fix the paper enigma in two seconds by plugging the word into Google, but that would kill the fun.

The Norwegian is a difficult case. For this, Davis chooses a complex family story by author Dag Solstad. At 426 pages, the novel consists of “unbroken blocks, without chapters or paragraphs.” Davis reads with a sharp pencil in hand, jotting down lists of words. In the language sarcastic (sarcastic) gave him a trick to decipher the others: If he replaced the k’s with c’s, Davis found, some foreign words were easier to decipher. kitchen can be read as “cousin,” a com as “come.”

Trying to learn a language from scratch by reading a book is like trying to write a complicated cake recipe by sitting down and staring at the finished cake for details. hundreds of hours. Is this the best education? No, but Davis takes endless joy out of the difficult process. His stories do a good job of sending that joy to the reader, though I was tempted at times to flex my neck muscles at the places where he dove deep into the woods. Skimming, however, is the wrong move through a book that has so many life-enhancing parts, as the sound of a sneeze says in Norwegian. aww.

In a section about the French city of Arles, we find that Arles not only has the mistral wind in the northwest that is said to blow people away, but there are also ancient images called “wind roses” up to 32 named winds, each. blowing from a direction. If you’re not someone whose activities are closely related to wind – the ocean, surfing, kite enthusiast – you probably don’t think about the nuances of air movement in your life at that time. including today. “It can’t start soon enough!” You may be thinking, wondering if you can get a wind rose that suits your neighborhood.

Davis’ novels are full of these windows of opportunity to think deeply – or not – about many subjects. Others include paving stones, Gascon folk tales, parataxis, punctuation, cognates, medieval architecture and sheep dogs.

I was very pleased with the size of the book and I wasn’t disappointed by its compact body, which is nice to hold but designed in such a way that the book tries to close itself as you read. No amount of strong spinal cord injury could break the object’s resistance, and at about Page 300 I turned a corner and became fascinated by his actions. I will read it to you and you will like it, I read my copy of “Essays Two.” And lo and behold, I loved it.

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