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Book news: a sexy author and works in translation

November 21, 2008 | 11:45 am

Robertdowneyjr_1121

Topping Salon's 2008 sexiest man living list -- an intellectual response to People's annual sexiest man alive issue -- is Robert Downey Jr., who Salon salutes for "dancing around the void" as well as for his brilliant acting and "beautifully chiseled features." Indeed... ah, what was I saying? Oh yeah -- 34-year-old Indian author Aravind Adiga also makes the list. His debut novel, "The White Tiger," won the Man Booker Prize this year; Adiga, as Salon says, looks quite debonair in his tuxedo, holding the award high. Authors can be sexy too.

On to, ahem, more intellectual matters. Google is facilitating a truly global blogosphere by adding a translation feature to its RSS reader. If you'd like to read a blog that is in another language, you can subscribe and, they say, "check off 'Translate into my language' in the feed settings, and (voilà!) the feed will be immediately translated for you." I'd love to try it, but I'm not sure where to start. If you've got a favorite non-English literary blog, please post it in the comments.

The idea of a universal translator is appealing. Ever since I first read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," I've wanted one of its ear-embedded translating Babel fish -- and I'm not the only one. The Internet's first Web translator, launched by Altavista in 1997, was called Babel Fish (it can now be found on Yahoo). But can an automated tool really hope to capture the nuance and rhythm of translation?

So far, when translating literature, human beings are still required; Russian Alexei Bayer provides a snapshot of his experience with translation in the new issue of Words Without Borders, the online magazine of international literature. "My first English word was 'knife,' " he writes. "Pronounced Ka-NAIF, with the second syllable midway between KNAVE and NAÏVE, I thought it was an excellent name for a dagger." Also of note is the story "The Truth According to Parviz Mansoor Samadi," translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein; it's a chapter from Amara Lakhous' excellent "Clash of Civilizations Over an Elevator on Piazza Vittorio."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Paramount Pictures & Marvel Studios

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