Tea or Books? #1: books in translation vs. books set in other countries, and Emily vs. Charlotte Brontë


An exciting announcement, everybody! I have entered the world of podcasting – with no less than the wonderful Rachel from Book Snob.

Tea or Books logo


Tea or Books? is the name of the podcast – in which we debate the difficult decisions of literature and reading. The title came to me because the idea of choosing between tea and books was such a difficult prospect (and luckily a decision I don’t need to make). The idea of pitting books, authors, and reading habits against each other seemed like a productive vein, and we’ve already had great fun debating.

The first person I thought of, when wondering whom to co-podcast with, was Rachel. I’ve been following her blog ever since it began, back in its Blogger incarnation, and we’ve met quite a few times in person – I thought she’d be perfect, given her taste in books and her hilarious humour, so I was absolutely thrilled when she agreed to co-host. Thanks Rachel!

In episode 1, we’re discussing books in translation vs. books in English set in other countries, and Emily vs. Charlotte Brontë. We’d welcome suggestions for future topics!

A couple other things…

  • this will be available via iTunes soon, I hope, but the instructions how to get it there have rather confused me. I’ll work on it! And will update when it is. (ADDITION: David says “Those unable to wait for the podcast to be available via ITunes should be able to subscribe via any podcast player or feed reader using this link: http://www.stuckinabook.com/category/podcast/feed“)
  • I’m aware that the sound quality definitely isn’t the best, so forgive us for that (I’ve already bought a new microphone) – hopefully our charm will carry us through episode 1… (helpful editing tips welcomed) N.B. reuploaded from the first try! A bit better now.
  • Rachel’s having difficulty uploading to her blog, which might be the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org… any tips??


35 thoughts on “Tea or Books? #1: books in translation vs. books set in other countries, and Emily vs. Charlotte Brontë

  • June 8, 2015 at 8:00 pm

    Looking forward to the next one already!

    • June 8, 2015 at 10:41 pm

      Thanks Annabel!

  • June 8, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    What fun! Thank you for the warning about the sound – once I adjusted to the difference in the two of you (volume-wise) I was able to understand it fairly well. Rachel mentioned a reprint recently out that takes place in China that I didn’t catch the name of, so if you could put the titles mentioned in the podcast somewhere, that would be most appreciated. Had to laugh out loud at Simon’s admonition to Heathcliff to just “get over himself.” Highly enjoyable and will look forward to the next one! I may be more technology challenged than your average reader, but I think you did an outstanding job with your debut. :)

    • June 8, 2015 at 10:44 pm

      Thanks so much, Susan, I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’ve actually now re-uploaded the podcast with better volume levels (though still not amazing sound quality in general, I’m afraid – hopefully the new mic will fix that!) Sorry that you had to listen to the whole thing with unnerving levels, but thanks for mentioning it; it was v helpful!

      The book Rachel mentioned was Peking Picnic – excellent idea to add the titles. I will have to listen again to remember what we talked about, of course…

      • June 9, 2015 at 4:36 pm

        She also mentioned Ann Bridge’s Illyrian Spring

        • June 9, 2015 at 10:49 pm

          Yes indeed!

    • June 8, 2015 at 11:24 pm

      Oh, thanks David! I didn’t know that – I’ve added your comment into that bullet point.

  • June 9, 2015 at 3:43 am

    Still listening, and.enjoying!, but wanted to insert a thought I’ve often had re: translations, in this case meaning in English but written in different centuries.

    Can we ever understand what life was like ‘exactly’ for, say, the Victorians? We may know much of the history but what of the little nuances? More so with even earlier writing. I feel there’s a gap there, in the same language, and I’m not sure we’re reading them with total understanding.

    Plus, the gap between English-speaking countries. We read each orher’s literature, obviously, but the cultural gap is often quite wide. Oftentimes I read books set in the UK and know jokes and political references, for example, are going right over my head. Same, I imagine, for someone in the UK reading Faulkner, as an extreme example. The history as well as the culture of the US south is so distinct, so nuanced, it may as well be written in a completely foreign language.

    But then there’s Joyce and Woolf and the terrain of stream of consciousness that’s lumped with Faulkner and the whole thing just implodes in on itself!

    I’ve muddied the waters nicely, haven’t I?!


    • June 9, 2015 at 11:24 pm

      That’s an excellent point, Lisa, and has certainly muddied the waters! I guess I tend to want the author to have known it well, and not be guessing – which is also why I struggle with historical fiction. Ideally, I want the author to write about the time and place they know best. But all sorts of exceptions come to mind!

  • June 9, 2015 at 4:23 am

    And the Brontes… Well, I need to re-read ‘Agnes Grey,’ first of all. Emily v Charlotte I find too close to call. I DO love ‘Wuthering Heights,’ though. It’s about the fine line between love and hate, plus hating yourself for loving the complete wrong person. They’re somewhat oil and water but underneath, and despite, are passionate in what they feel. Maybe it depends on personal experience, having known a similar impossible love, but I find it a completely, absorbingly beautiful book. Dark but perfect in its cruel, horribleness. And I believe it is highly autobiographical, in ways we may never know or want to, re: Heathcliff as Branwell, a terrible, troubled man Emily loved anyway, because she knows that inside he’s more than the sum total of his addictions and cruelty. In any case, it’s the most tumultuous and raw of the sisters’ books, hands down. And probably my favorite. There! I’ve admitted it! ;-)


    • June 9, 2015 at 11:25 pm

      Lovely Agnes Grey! Hurray!

      We may be forever divided on Heathcliff and Emily, though I do think it extremely good at conveying passion. I just don’t see love lurking anywhere in the passion! But I am grateful for your confession ;)

    • June 9, 2015 at 11:26 pm

      Thanks Miranda! You know what a fab blogging partner Rachel is, of course :) We had the most fun doing this one, so I can’t wait for more!

  • June 9, 2015 at 8:24 am

    This is wonderful — well done, you two. But Simon, you reviewed My Family and Other Animals (written by an Englishman, set in Corfu) very favourably, and I seem to remember you very much liking Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth (American writing about China) — so maybe you don’t hate this category as much as you think you do?

    • June 9, 2015 at 11:27 pm

      Thanks so much, Harriet, I’m glad you liked it!
      And you’re so right. I just keep thinking of more and more examples that contradict my purported opinion. (Although I might put My Family and Other Animals in the insular-family-abroad category?)

  • June 9, 2015 at 9:04 am

    First impression: sheer horror! Can I cope with a podcast? Good news: I can! It was easy, and the sound was fine played through headphones. So thank you for making it so simple. It was interesting and thought provoking to hear the two of you discussing books, but I think my listening skills need honing – each time I thought of something I wanted to say you moved on to another point (but I can stop and go back, so that’s no problem).

    Regarding the Bronte debate, do you think the times we live in influence our responses to books and authors? Perhaps Anne’s writing is easier for people to relate to today, especially those of you who are younger and have different ideas about women’s roles and expectations.

    • June 9, 2015 at 11:30 pm

      Brava for coping with the podcast, Christine, I’m delighted! Next time you’ll have to listen with a notepad in hand ;) I do find, with the podcasts I listen to, I’m constantly wanting to join in – and realising that, of course, I can’t – and immediately forget what I wanted to say.

      You’re probably right, re:Brontes, but I do think Anne fought a feminist battle in her fiction even more persuasively than Charlotte or Emily. Agnes overcomes the same difficulties as Jane, I reckon.

  • June 9, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Oh, thanks for this, Simon and Rachel.

    But my dears, I HAVE to jump in here. Brontay? That’s not an aigu on the E (Bronté); it’s a diaeresis. Brontë. (Originally Prunty, then Brunty, when Patrick first left Ireland).
    I know there are people these days who don’t know it’s Brontee. But surely not English scholars.

    Charlotte. Definitely Charlotte.

    • June 9, 2015 at 11:30 pm

      Oh Susan, I am ashamed of us! I have to admit, I’d heard the correct pronunciation of Bronte (sorry for lack of accent) many times, and assumed people were getting it wrong. Mea culpa!

      But thanks for listening, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it :)

      • June 10, 2015 at 1:53 pm

        Thanks for taking it well, Simon. I realise I was being a tad know-it-all (a trait of mine). And of course, do we really know how they pronounced it? I only know it’s been Brontee all my life, until just lately.

        I’m looking forward to the next installment.

  • June 9, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    You were so brilliant as a guest on The Readers podcast and I was going to petition Simon to make you a permanent co-host, so this is such wonderful news! Among book podcasts, there is a definite need for more talk about older and less well-known books. I hope you will fill that niche with your wisdom and familiarity concerning more obscure writers and books.
    Best wishes for a successful new undertaking!

    • June 9, 2015 at 11:32 pm

      Jonathan, what a lovely comment, thank you! Appearing on The Readers certainly helped inspire me to get this podcast started, as it was such fun. And Rachel and I definitely love our old books! We are very excited to fill that niche :)

  • June 10, 2015 at 12:23 am

    I was wondering when this would happen. Simon, you and Rachel are naturals and I really enjoyed listening. As soon as it is available on itunes I will add you to my roster.
    I have never read any Anne Bronte (yet), so I had to not listen to those bits. I don’t want to get spoiled. If I had to choose, based solely on Wuthering Heights vs Jane Eyre, I would vote for Charlotte. But I agree, the Kate Bush song is amazing.
    No great American Classic? I cannot really convincingly argue that this is not true, because I haven’t read enough, but I still think you must be mistaken! But no worries, I like listening to people with strong opinions about books and authors, even when their opinions differ from mine.
    I do appreciate that you also have trouble with understanding description in books! So do I, in particular with architecture and direction. I thought it was just me.

    • June 11, 2015 at 12:35 am

      A lovely comment, Ruthiella, thank you! I am so pleased Rachel agreed to do it – I feel like she made it very easy to feel natural, since she is such a fun person to chat with! I haven’t had a chance to do the iTunes thingummy yet, but hopefully sooon.

      I wrote a post about not seeing description in books a couple of years ago, and so many people came out of the woodwork saying the same thing! It felt so good not to be the only one.

  • June 10, 2015 at 4:27 am

    Lovely! In spite of the problems raised by translation I’m extremely grateful for the all too few that do make it; I love being able to read all over the world. Constance Garrett deserves much credit for bringing the Russians to the West, but she cut or changed parts and language she considered ‘unsuitable’ . This was particularly true of her translations of Dostoyevsky. Thanks to you both for taking the time and trouble!

    • June 11, 2015 at 12:36 am

      I didn’t know that about Constance! She was so liberal and anything-goesy that I’m surprised about her cuts. Maybe publishers forced it on her? I’d love to know more.

      And thanks for your lovely comment! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

      • June 11, 2015 at 7:30 am

        That’s an interesting question, but from what I’ve read, it seems to have been Garrett’s decision. For instance, if she didn’t know the meaning of a Russian word she would skip it; maybe part of the problem was how quickly she worked. Not that she cut large chunks, but problematic things, as in ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ ‘drunkenness and orgies’ orgies is dropped. Russian writers like Joseph Brodsky and Vladimir Nabokov both said Garrett didn’t catch the individual writers’ voices. And yet! – what an fascinating person she must have been!

  • June 10, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    I enjoyed listening to the pair of you first thing this morning. I knew I wasn’t going to get back to sleep, so it was 40 minutes better spent than it would have been if given over to random thoughts and worrying. Yes, the microphones sounded a bit telephonic, but one could always suggest that this was a deliberate attempt to create an authentic vintage sound?

    I agree with you both when it comes to lack of enthusiasm for Wuthering Heights: preposterous piffle popular with the pubescent. Piffle isn’t really the right word but I couldn’t resist the alliteration. I do, however, disagree with Rachel as regards Shirley. Not that I can remember what I liked about it though, so it’s possibly time for a re-read.

    • June 11, 2015 at 12:37 am

      Thanks David! Let’s say it was an authentic vintage sound, to go with our 1920s jazz opening :)

      Piffle isn’t far off, I think! Anne really shows Emily how to write a more sensible sort of book.

  • June 12, 2015 at 2:12 am

    Yay! I am so excited! I am obsessed with the Reading the End podcast, so I am THRILLED to find another lovely, smart, and entertaining book podcast! Congrats on a wonderful first podcast and I can’t wait for more!

    • June 16, 2015 at 11:37 pm

      Aww, thanks so much Amy!

  • June 14, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    Hi Simon! Since you introduced me to both The Readers and Reading the End podcasts (via Twitter), I feel extra compelled to support your effort. I like the idea that you’ll be reviewing/discussing older books since neither of the other two podcasts do that often. I already listened to episode 1. Keep up the good work and best wishes!

    • June 16, 2015 at 11:38 pm

      Thanks Lindsey! Rachel and I do both love older books, so it’s great to have a co-host and (hopefully!) an audience with the same enthusiasms :)

  • June 18, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Thanks for this. Painting the house is much more fun when you both are in the room talking about all things important.

    Books in translation, I’m happy they are there. Being Dutch there only are so many books I can read in my own language. I was just wondering about Simon’s confession he never/ hardly ever read books in translation and our necessity to read in translation: does our reading books from so many countries influence our usage of Dutch. Speaking for myself reading books in translation made me aware of the fact that language is a thing of identity. I remember trying to read ‘The Idiot’ by Dostojewski and the realisation it could have been written by little green men from another planet: you couldn’t have so many emotions in such a short space of time, and how many times could a person faint from excessive emotions? I read ones that the Russians have great writer’s but not so many great philosophers because how could they ever rationalize all these contrary emotions? So as far as I’m concerned: the answer is yes, translations influence my usage of Dutch. You can be exuberant and rich in using words.

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