Wednesday, August 26, 2020

WITMonth Day 26 | The 100 Best WIT, one year later

On this day last year, I published the final list of the 100 Best WIT.

The idea behind the 100 Best WIT started, originally, as a response to the erasure of women writers in translation from the book The 100 Best Novels in Translation. While I would personally never claim to having enough experience, expertise, or understanding to write my own definitive top-100 list, I thought that a crowd-sourced list would be a great way to see what readers around the world feel are the worthiest books. As I wrote last year, it was never going to be the 100 "best" books, but the 100 most "popular", and even that assessment was heavily skewed by my audience and the folks who even engaged with the project.

There are a lot of things I would do differently today, if I were to repeat the project. To begin with, I would try to reach a much wider audience - the couple hundred or so readers who participated are without a doubt a remarkably diverse and widely-read bunch, but the overwhelming majority came from within the same online translated literature community. This, I think, contributed in part to the heavy contemporary tilt of the final list, since these were the books that were fresh in readers' minds, and many reflected recent literary trends within this particular community. 

I would want to better define the scope of the project and separate between translated-into-English versus untranslated works. Ultimately, while many readers did submit works that have not yet been translated into English, there was no real way these had a fighting chance to make it to the final list, given that the overwhelming majority of submissions were through the English-language lens. I would love to compile a truly international list that includes works that have never been translated into any other language (but deserve to!), but that would look very, very different and would require a completely different perspective. Maybe someday.

And ultimately I would probably want to have a stronger editorial influence. The biases that are entrenched in this complicated world of literary translations mean that the list itself reflects some of those biases, most notably a strong European slant. As difficult as it would be to crowd-source a list while also giving myself (or some sort of editorial team) unique powers, I think there is something to be said about limiting books from similar backgrounds or from the same authors. In terms of nominations, some authors had almost all of their books individually nominated in such a way that I feel shut out many other writers. 

Similarly, had the tallies been public, would readers have nominated the same books? On multiple occasions, readers told me that they wanted to nominate book "X", but decided that it must be in the top spot so instead they nominated "Y", and book "X" was nowhere on the list. Would people have chosen differently if they knew which books were leading? Which books had already been nominated? Which authors were already guaranteed a slot (or two) and didn't need more votes for their third-fourth-whatever book?

I'm still so extraordinarily proud of what we did with the 100 Best WIT. I think it's a list quite unlike any other out there in the world, and as I wrote earlier this month, I think there's what to learn from it in terms of how to build a future canon. And as a reading list, I've found it to be interesting and diverse (even with its flaws). One year later, I am happy to keep revisiting the list and think about what it meant... and what we can continue to learn from it for the future. Should we start planning a more streamlined version for WITMonth 2021...?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments have been disabled due to an increase in spam. Sorry!