What an overwhelming ten days since the launch of the Asymptote Book Club! We received queries from as far afield as Australia and Canada—so much interest from Canada, in fact, that we decided to open our book club to Canadians four days ago. But why a book club in the first place? some asked. Well, in a nutshell: the idea was to take the important work we have done with our award-winning, free online journal and our Translation Tuesday showcases at the Guardian—that is to say, showcasing the best new writing from around the world, and giving it a physical presence outside of the virtual arena. We also wanted to celebrate (as well as support) the independent publishers who work hard behind the scenes to make world literature possible.
What sets your book club apart from others?
Curation is a big part of what makes the book club special. We have a large team of editors based in six continents to research and pick the best titles available from a wide variety of publishers. Subscribers will receive a brand-new (just published or, in many cases, not even in the bookshops yet), surprise work of fiction delivered to their door each month. This is another thing that distinguishes us from a few other book clubs before us: we choose from new releases only—nothing from a backlist that readers may already have on their bookshelves.
Subscriptions are for three or 12 months (for as little as USD15 a month, shipping included!) and, depending on the package the subscriber picks, they may receive additional perks in the form of Asymptote merchandise and ebooks (see below), but the real focus here is on creating a serious book club for a dedicated reading public. Many subscription services focus as much on the gifts as the books themselves, but we do not see ourselves as experts in tea or socks, so we’re concentrating rather on ensuring our readers get their hands on the most amazing literature we can source, applying the same curatorial instincts that won us a London Book Fair Award in 2015.
The book club focuses on translated fiction from around the world—why is this so important to you?
Asymptote has, to date, published new writing from 113 countries in 97 languages, by beloved authors and translators such as J. M. Coetzee, Yoko Tawada, Lydia Davis, and Ismail Kadare—as well as authors appearing in English for the first time, such as Maryam Madjidi, winner of the 2017 Prix Goncourt for a first novel. We do what we do because we believe that literature in translation is already of interest to a much wider audience than just translators—but this real appetite for international literature is simply not being met by the traditional sources.
We also want to play a role in growing this community of readers while advocating for greater inclusiveness: there’s currently a great bias in favor of European works, for instance. One of my Assistant Managing Editors, Sam Carter, recently pointed out that nine of the last ten Nobel Prizewinners in Literature were working from European languages. This should be recognized as a failing not just on the part of the Nobel Prize judging committee, but also on the part of mainstream publishers working out of their New York or London offices. We can surely do better.
In an age of growing divisiveness (think Brexit, border walls, travel bans), translation can also play a role in bridging understanding and fostering empathy for groups of people who have been unjustly othered. That’s why, for example, within three months of the original travel ban being issued in January 2017, we put together a showcase of new writing from the seven Muslim-majority nations targeted by Trump—we wanted to counter alternative facts by giving a platform for real lived experience told through stories written originally in other languages but unlocked through English translation for those who have no idea what it is like to be from these countries. Headlined by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, this ebook anthology, containing exclusive work not featured elsewhere, will be presented to all new Book Club members as a welcome gift.
I’m not based in Canada, the UK, or the US. What else might I do to support Asymptote‘s mission?
If you really love what we do and/or if you think our work essential, consider becoming a sustaining member or a masthead member. Or make a one-time donation that you can afford (US residents can even make a tax-deductible donation via our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas)! Because Asymptote is incorporated in Singapore, whose Arts Council is constrained by a nationalistic agenda, we still receive no institutional funding on an ongoing basis. As such, our work is hard going and we rely on reader donations to continue. Without your support, it would get terribly lonely! We have been working very hard, though, toward a sustainable future that won’t see us relying on donations as much (the Asymptote Book Club is a firm step in that direction). Until that day comes, however, we hope you can stand with us!
Three more days left to subscribe to the Asymptote Book Club—in order to receive our first title going out in Demember! (After December 10th, you or your loved one will still be able to receive our handpicked fiction titles, of course, but the earliest book you’d get would be our January title.) Remember: Group discounts are also possible and gift subscriptions can be personalized with text of the buyer’s choice. Send all queries to firstname.lastname@example.org.