Language of choice

05 Jan

One question I get on a fairly regular basis is why I read so much English and so little Danish. Fair enough question, and as the answer is a composite of many different factors, I thought it appropriate to answer here.

In the following I use “English” as an umbrella to cover all books written in this language. I know that some are English, some are American, some are Australian etc. etc. etc., but it just gets to cumbersome to have to write that out every time.

Reason One: Whether English or Danish, I generally prefer to read books in the language they were written. The only exceptions are books I grew up with before I learned English (e.g. the Narnia chronicles) and authors like Shakespeare where the level of English is just a tad above my capabilities. I don’t care to read books in Danish just for the sake of them being in Danish (same goes for English though).

Reason Two: English books are generally cheaper Even in Denmark. This goes double for ebooks.

Reason Three: There is a larger selection of books by English authors This means that even if the percentage of good books is the same, there is a larger number to chose from (I know the same is true of bad books though…). And the selection of Danish ebooks and audiobooks is ridiculously small.

Reason Four: It’s harder to find books by Danish authors. Not just because there are fewer in number, but because in pretty much all bookstores, libraries etc. novels in Danish are all lumped together, so it’s not immediately obvious whether any given book is written by a Dane or merely a Danish translation. Books in English (here at least) are more likely to be English in origin.

Reason Five: I have very few favourite Danish authors I know, I know, what is cause and what is effect? But regardless, I know of four Danish authors I’d include on my “favourites” list, one of those is only there because of exactly one book, and another stopped writing books some 40-50 odd years ago. I know of no contemporary dependable* Danish writers of chick-lit or fantasy for instance.

* = always read-worthy.

Reason Six: Most of my owned books are in English See reasons 1-5 above. And as I want to get through my tbr-mountain, I read a lot in English.

Reason Seven: I like sharing books with other people One of the very best things about reading is sharing book recommendations with other people. Pretty much everybody I share books with in Denmark are able to read English, but pretty much nobody I share books with elsewhere are able to read Danish. So if I want to discuss books online, I have to read books that are either in English or have been translated to English.

Reason Eight: Not all the books I read are even translated to Danish And the collary: even if they are, it may be ages before they’re published in Danish. Not all books are as popular as “Harry Potter” that they’re translated immediately. I don’t have the patience to wait for Danish translations to be ready when the English ones are right there.

Out of all of these, reasons one and seven are the two most important ones. Reason seven determines my choice of author, and reason one determines which language I read that author in. They all count though; and in fact, I’m sure I’ll think of more the minute I click “Post” here.


Posted by on January 5, 2012 in Reading


2 responses to “Language of choice

  1. Rita B. Lindberg (@rblindberg)

    March 27, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    I definitely share those reasons. But I would add one more, which for me personally, is the most important: Danish translations simply suck because the majority of the Danish translators don’t possess the needed skills to provide an accurate translation of any given text. For some reasons translators believe that it’s enough to understand a language in a mechanical way in order to translate it, but that is not so. Translating any text properly means that you have to be able to go beyond the written word in order to grasp the imagery and thought behind it; and not only that: I believe that you have to be a pretty solid story teller in your own right before you even consider translating someone else’s words.

    • Reading Bliss

      March 27, 2012 at 9:57 pm

      Thankfully I’ve read quite a number of good translations, but the few bad ones I’ve read (the Danish version of “Ghost Girl” by Torey Hayden and “The Atlantis Complex” by Eoin Colfer spring to mind – for the latter it seemed as if the translator just translated the words instead of the meaning – e.g. ‘the Atlantis Complex’ meant that Artemis Fowl had to speak in sentences with words that were a multiple of five. Did the translator realize that? Nooooo! Yet when I mentally translated back to English it was obvious (“Jeg sad på bordet” vs. “I sat on the table”)… but I digress) – the bad ones I have read have been SO bad that I now try to stay away from them.

      Fair’s fair though – I do think Tellerup has a number of good translators. I used to review books for them, so have read quite a few in translation.


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