Does his own translations

Mark Kurlansky: Does his own translations

Sylvia Plachy

With his best-selling books “Cod” and “Salt,” the prolific writer Mark Kurlansky took on big, complicated questions about what we eat. With his new cookbook, “International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World,” Kurlansky addresses one simple question: What should we make for dinner? The duo will be at Brookline Booksmith on Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

Kurlansky: I’m just finishing researching a book about paper and civilization. I read about 120 books. I have a stack of books I’m looking forward to finally getting to, mainly novels. I have “Middle C” by William H. Gass, a novel about music. I have Lydia Davis’s new short-story collection, “Can’t and Won’t” and “The Stories of Frederick Busch.”


BOOKS: When have you read for pleasure the most?

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KURLANSKY: When I was a commercial fisherman during summers in college. I read a huge amount because there was a lot of downtime, even on the boat. We’d go out really early in the morning so I wouldn’t go out at night. I’d just stay in and read while listening to the foghorns to guess if I’d be going out the next day. I think I read six or seven hours a day then.

BOOKS: Are you a fast reader?

KURLANSKY: When I was 13 or 14 I took this speed-reading course. A lot of the things you do in speed reading you shouldn’t do to a good author but I’ve been reading really fast ever since. I read in other languages, and I can read faster in some than others.

BOOKS: What languages can you read in?


KURLANSKY: I struggle in German and Italian. I read pretty well in French and Spanish. I don’t want to read a book written in French or Spanish in translation. I translated an Émile Zola book, “The Belly of Paris,” because I didn’t find an existing translation that captured his sense of humor. Humor is the first victim of translation.

BOOKS: Do you have a favorite book about food?

KURLANSKY: “The Belly of Paris.” Food is the setting for everything. My favorite scene in the book is the one where the lead character is telling his niece this story about a man who was eaten alive by crabs. While he tells the story her parents are making blood sausage for their charcuterie.

BOOKS: Since you’ve written YA, have you read it?

KURLANSKY: No. I know from having written YA, there’s a kind of set formula that has to do with the mentality of kids and their dreams. You’d think adults would move beyond that. When I was a kid we had this great advantage of there being no YA books. You read kid books and then went on to adult books. When I was 12 or 13 I read all of Steinbeck and Hemingway . I thought I should read everything a writer writes.


BOOKS: Do you still read everything an author has written?

KURLANSKY: Only for the people I interview, such as the biologist E. O. Wilson. I read all of his books. His memoir “Naturalist” is extremely interesting.

BOOKS: What was your last great read?

KURLANSKY: “The Book of Night Women” by a young Jamaican writer named Marlon James. It is set in the time of slavery, and is a book of such remarkable passion, anger, and gentleness. I’m always on the look out for Caribbean writers since I’ve spent a lot of time there.

BOOKS: Is there a book that surprised you?

KURLANSKY: I had my local bookstore send up a pile of books by new writers. “The Story of Forgetting” by Stefan Merrill Block was one they sent. It’s about Alzheimer’s. I thought, “Oh, God, I’m not going to want to read this.” I forced myself to. It’s just fantastic. You never know where you are going to find a book that moves you.

Amy Sutherland

Amy Sutherland can be reached at