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Self-Study, Becoming American and the Art of Translation

“Lezende jongen,” by Frans Hals Molly Young is on leave for the next several months. In her absence, colleagues from the Book Review will pick up the recommendation torch and appear in your inbox every two Saturdays. Dear readers, Every book lover is an autodidact at times; it goes with the territory. There are risks associated with this — I can remember the hot shame I felt one summer afternoon in high school when a stranger on the beach asked what I was reading and I held up my copy of “The Moon and Sixpence” before saying, with the utmost confidence, “It's a by W. Somerset MO-gum.” She looked coolly amused. “It's pronounced Mawm,” she said and strutted away. I had never heard it spoken! How was I to know? (Years later, in graduate school, I did something similar with “The Diary of Samuel Pepys.” Pro-tip peeps: Don't say “Peppies.”) But there are rewards as well, and chief among them is the joy of unmediated discovery. With no teacher or reading list curating your cultural diet, you're free to consume what appeals solely because it appeals, without regard for rank or status. You're free to follow your curiosity — to read like the wind, as it were — and create your own syllabus. If I were designing a class around the following books, I might call it “Cultural Exchanges: What Happens When Worlds Collide.” — Gregory Cowles's “The Hyphenated Family: An Saga,” by Hermann Hagedorn […]

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