Books from Finland summarizes the numbers released by the Finnish Book Publishers' Association answering the question: How much did Finland read ? (in 2013).
Not that much, apparently: books sales were down 2.3 per cent from 2012 (apparently the fifth year in a row the numbers have gone down) -- though at least ... textbook sales were up.
Topping the Finnish fiction bestseller list for the year was Laila Hirvisaari's Catherine the Great-novel, Me, Keisarinna -- see also the Otava foreign rights information page -- which sold all of ... 62,800 copies (hey, it's a small country -- population ca. 5.45 million).
And at least it outsold the bestselling work of translated fiction -- Dan Brown's Inferno, which shifted only 60,400 copies.
(In fact, a mere 9,700 in sales was enough to put a title among the top 20 translated fiction books.)
For the totals in various categories, see the (Finnish) official list (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) .
(And may I ask/complain, yet again: why does the US seem to be the only (semi-major) country in the world that does not release actual sales numbers for its bestseller lists ?
I still can not fathom how this is possible.
Everything in this country -- movie box office, car sales, newspaper and magazine circulation -- is quantified and the numbers made public, but for some reasons book sales numbers can't be revealed ?)
In recent years, new bookstores have virtually mushroomed in the city of Sofia.
They have moved on to claim not only street corners and main streets but even crossings. Others have set foot in shopping malls and in residential districts.
(I have to admit being curious/concerned about those shops sprouting in/on "crossings".)
But I have to admit I like the sound of this:
Today we’ve got a bookstore at every two meters, just like pharmacies and bank offices 20 years ago.
But the same bookseller notes:
The unhealthy thing in all this however is that books by serious writers are published in circulations such as 1000 copies, and then they fail to get sold for years.
This I’d call a negative trend.
(I'm not sure it's a trend -- no comparison-points on offer -- but it definitely doesn't sound good.)
Indonesia is to be the Guest of Honour of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015 -- a great opportunity for a country from which relatively little has made it abroad, but which they also have a lot of work to do for to get up to speed.
As an editorial in the Jakarta Globe points out, this is A New Chapter for Indonesian Literature -- but:
Yet despite being the world's fourth-largest nation by population, Indonesia is not known internationally for its writing, with only a very small number of works having been translated into the world's major languages.
The government has long neglected local literature, as evident in the absence of literary studies in the school curriculum, and shown little appreciation for authors and their works.
There have been no special government programs to make great Indonesian literary works available in English, let alone other languages.
Already a bit late in the day they add:
That is why we hope the move by the Frankfurt Book Fair, the biggest and most important event of its kind in the world, to name Indonesia the guest of honor at the 2015 fair will push the government to get more Indonesian books translated into German and English.
Unfortunately, preparations seem to be ... lagging -- I don't even see an official site yet (most recent countries put theirs up years in advance, and while I'm not thrilled about this year's guest of honour's, Finnland. Cool. (seriously, guys ? just giving up on the English-language market from the get-go ? (the name of the country is, indeed, 'Finnland' -- in German; in English, not so much)), at least it's something; the closest I can find for Indonesia is this page.
[Updated: There is a site, of sorts: it seems the Goethe Institut has set up a weblog, Indonesia goes Frankfurt 2015.]
The Frankfurt Book Fair's Guest of Honoure review page has some data from recent GoHs:
2013: "The reading public was presented with more than 335 new releases (in German) from Brazil, including 117 fiction titles."
2012: " German fans of New Zealand were treated to more than 200 new releases in German"
2011 - Iceland: "German-language publishers released 230 new titles"
2010: "the year of Argentina's Guest-of-Honour focus at FBF, 216 new titles were released in the German language alone"
I'm sure German publishers are already scurrying for Indonesian titles, but presumably local help would ... help.
The Lontar Foundation has long led the way re. translations into English, but I think a bigger, more concerted effort is (urgently) needed.
I hope it works out, eventually -- recall that the only US-publisher release of an Indonesian title last year seems to have been The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata, FSG basically just recycling a translation that had already been available (albeit pretty much only in South-East Asia) for years.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Alexander Schimmelbusch's Die Murau Identität, just out in German, coïnciding with the twenty-fifth anniversary of Thomas Bernhard's death -- since the novel posits it never happened .....
Not sure whether this will translate into English -- despite a prominent Andrew Wylie presence, and Schimmelbusch's easy familiarity with New York (he apparently grew up here) -- but I could see an outfit like Seagull giving it a shot.
They've announced the twenty-title-strong longlist for the Europese Literatuurprijs, for best European novel translated into Dutch.
Limited to European fiction, it's perhaps not that surprising that only three of the titles are translated from the English (versus, for example, six from the German ...) -- but the big surprise is that only one title from the French makes the longlist.
(Among the longlisted titles: Edgar Hilsenrath's (not that new) Fuck America -- which, amazingly, has still not found an American publisher .....)
Cervantes Prize-winning author José Emilio Pacheco has passed away; see, for example, Nick Caistor's obituary in The Guardian.
New Directions published his Battles in the Desert & Other Stories (as well as a collection of his poetry); see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Bookslut has a sensible/fun idea in launching 'The Daphnes', which annually: "will celebrate the best books of 50 years ago".
The idea being that in the moment literary-prize-choices tend not to reflect lasting value (i.e. they want to: "right the wrongs of the 1964 National Book Awards, which ugh, decided that John Updike's The Centaur was totally the best book of that year").
It gets a bit confusing with some of the translated stuff -- Bernhard's Frost is a nominee, despite first appearing in English translation less than a decade ago -- and other titles come with a lot of baggage by now, too (The Bell Jar for, well, being The Bell Jar; Tevis' (an underappreciated author in his own right) The Man Who Fell to Earth because of the classic Nicholas Roeg/David Bowie/Rip Torn/Buck Henry film-version).
And let's face it, The Group may be a significant novel, but it is not a good one.
(Actually the fiction-category -- even without Grass' Dog Years -- is a slam dunk: Hopscotch, no question or debate.)
See also Carolyn Kellogg's report, Bookslut launches the Daphne award: What's the best book of 1963 ?
In The Standard Tinashe Mushakavanhu wonders What happened to our literature ? -- and blames: "local publishers for letting down Zimbabwean readers. They have killed our literature" (which seems a bit harsh).
Mushakavanhu complains of: "the proliferation of donor-themed fiction being produced" -- money (and the lack of it available for things literary), as so often, being the root of many of the problems.
On the other hand, there apparently is at least enough being published that Mushakavanhu can complain: "I think certain Zimbabwean writing is overrated, massively overrated, and I really hate to read it".
As The Daily Star notes in A literary forerunner, Bengali author 'Michael Madhusudan Dutt's 190th birth anniversary observed' on Saturday.
Penguin have brought out his interesting-looking The Poem of the Killing of Meghnad; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Gotta love that Radio Bulgaria calls their series on classical Bulgarian literature 'Intense Literature' -- and that they manage to find depressing example after depressing example.
This week there's a trifecta reminding us that: Death is young: Dimcho Debelyanov, Hristo Smirnenski, Geo Milev -- as, yes, none of these guys made it past 30.
'Literary' agent David Godwin (of DGA) came to India bearing warnings: with "big publishers becoming a major force in the industry" he predicted: 'India will become dumping ground for American literature'.
I'm not exactly sure what his theory is, but, hey, it's a great headline.
And it's nice to see someone believe: "these big, monolithic publishing houses are extremely powerful and it's a terrific problem".
I'd love to see a more detailed report -- I don't think/hope that they're quite doing him justice with quotes such as: "The e-publishing industry, he said, is a 'tricky business' when it comes to writers getting paid but is a good option for making their work visible and available" -- but at least it should help stir things up.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jürgen Leonhardt's Latin: Story of a World Language -- a rare work of non-fiction in translation under review, recently published by Harvard University Press.
And now, we’re up to 517 (427 fiction, 90 poetry).
That’s a 50% increase from 2010, or, in actual terms, 173 more translations came out in 2013 than in 2010.
Seems unbelievable .
Yeah, well .....
Much as I (would) like to see a lot more published in translation, I don't think the picture is as clear as the 'numbers' (which, much like that infamous three-percent figure, are missing some foundations ...) suggest.
So, for example, Chad writes:
For example, how many of you have heard of Lontar Foundation ?
Well, as part of their programs to support Indonesian literature, they published 8 titles last year.
Granted, I doubt these are available anywhere outside of Amazon, but still.
Of course, readers of the Literary Saloon are familiar with the Lontar Foundation because I've mentioned them quite frequently -- and have reviewed several of their books (Telegram, The Pilgrim, and Never the Twain).
And while it's great that eight Lontar titles make the 2013 database (good for a tie for the seventh most prolific publisher of fiction-translations, according to the database) it should be noted that no Lontar publications were included in previous years' databases -- yet as you can see, they've been publishing five or six English translations a year since 2010.
Yes, now they're technically sort of distributed in the US and previously they weren't, but the difference is barely even academic (much less administrative: it was as easy or difficult to get one of these books in the US last year as it was three years ago ...).
(In addition, lots of this stuff isn't new: picking just one to check up on at random I find Iwan Simatupang's Drought came out in English from Heinemann Educational Books (Asia) in 1978 (the Lontar edition is merely a revised one) -- not easy to get (and technically presumably never really US-available) but at least vaguely available for quite a while now.)
Distribution in the US is the threshold for database inclusion, and so we find the 2013 totals padded by quite a few publishers who have been churning out translations for a few years at least, and only got US distribution in 2013 -- notably, besides Lontar, Gallic Books, Quercus, and And Other Stories.
So at least some of the supposed increase isn't much more than a bookkeeping-trick (again: while technically their titles might not have been previously available in the US, in most cases they were as easy (or hard) to get as they are now).
Indeed, it surely already says a lot that three of the top seven publishers of translations of works of fiction are not even US-based (Seagull, Pushkin Press, and Lontar).
Technical/theoretical availability -- as Chad notes re. Lontar (but it applies to many of the others, too): "I doubt these are available anywhere outside of Amazon" -- has certainly improved (though I note it reaches much further, to many titles not included on the database, beginning with the many Indian publishers of English translations), but real availability, in the sense of some of these titles getting into any sort of circulation, seems to lag far, far behind.
(I note that as a judge for the Best Translated Book Award I should and would like to consider all the fiction titles (well, except for the ineligible anthologies also included here, and a few stray other ineligible titles -- how often do I have to repeat that The Time Regulation Institute is a re-translation ?) -- yet I have probably only seen about half of these (and we've made a decent effort to solicit and seek out as many as we could); indeed, to me 2013 felt like a step backward, translation-wise, because I've received considerably fewer books to consider than when judging the 2012 batch.)
There definitely has been a growth in publishers publishing works in translation in the last year or two -- many foreign-based (Hispabooks and ebook-only Frisch & Co. are among the impressive stand-outs) as well as some in the US (New Vessel Press and Two Lines Press, for example) -- but here too some of the numbers are potentially worrying.
While I have little faith in the 'big' publishers, there's definitely something wrong when the best-ranked 'major' (Penguin) ranks behind four much smaller independents (well, three and the bizarre entity that is AmazonCrossing).
And it's no great sign that leading publisher of translations Dalkey Archive Press dominates the field as it does, with almost one out of every ten fiction translations (as defined by the database ...) published by them.
Smaller, more nimble publishers have definitely brought new blood and new life to publishing-in-translation, in both the US and UK, and there certainly seems more activity and discussion.
Whether that translates into actual interest among the larger reading-public, and sales, and a truly expanded literary horizon ... I still have my doubts.
Among the early ones to jump on the bandwagon was the wonderful publisher Aflame (see their titles under review at the complete review) -- which quickly flamed out.
Now Quercus, who have bet heavily on translation, seem to be wobbling and have put themselves for sale.
More does seem to be vaguely -- though not necessarily really -- available, but as to its impact .....
No, I don't quite see a renaissance yet.
Via I'm pointed to this interesting Q & A Siji Jabbar had with Caine Prize-winning author Tope Folarin at This is Africa -- both about 'African' identities and the publishing industry.
(It's great the prize-win helped him along overnight -- but more than slightly troubling that industry 'professionals' need that sort of seal of approval before they'll take someone on.)
At Eurozine they print a statement by the Ukrainian Centre of the International PEN Club, To prevent the escalation of violence.
Sadly, this is just one of too many international crises that deserves attention at this time -- but certainly not one to be overlooked.
They've announced the shortlist for the new Etisalat Prize for Literature -- "the first Pan-African literary prize created to recognize and reward debut fiction writers in Africa" (as long as they write in English ...).
Three titles on the shortlist -- NoViolet Bulawayo's already much-praised and prize-contending We Need New Names, as well as two less well-known works now getting some deserved attention.
Also, since people seem to focus on this sort of thing (rather than the books ...): all three shortlisted authors are women.
They've announced the winners of the thirtieth Deutscher Krimi Preis -- one of the big German mystery-book prizes -- with the German-language prize going to M, by Friedrich Ani, and the translated prize going to Ladrão de Cadáveres by In Praise of Lies-author Patrícia Melo, which beat out books by John Le Carré and Jerome Charyn.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mikhail Shishkin's The Light and the Dark, which is now out in the US, too.
It's published in English by Quercus -- who announced poor 2013 results a few days ago and then yesterday followed that up by putting themselves on the block.
One hopes this works out well -- they seem to have over-extended themselves, flush with all the Stieg Larsson cash, and without finding any new break-out titles (surprising, considering their quite impressive list).
Ask any publisher of Urdu books, great or small, about the sale of Urdu books and probably you will have to bear with a litany of complaints, including dismal figures of ever-dwindling sales and readers' declining interest towards books in general and Urdu books in particular.
But Parekh isn't convinced:
What I want to say is that during the year 2013 most of the publishers of Urdu books kept on churning out new as well as old titles despite their never-ending albeit fake pessimism.
What is more interesting is the fact that while some of them are reluctant to pay any royalties to authors or respect copyright laws, they not only reproduce old titles, especially the ones that are always in demand and sell well, but they themselves claim the copyrights of the works they have published illegally.
Well, I guess as long as things get published it's ... sort of positive.
And at least a fair amount does still seem to get published.
Now how about some more translations into English of this stuff ... ?
On March 16, 2013 the people-driven Constitution ratified as Zimbabwe's official languages, Chewa, Chibarwe, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Shangani, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa in addition to Ndebele, Shona and English.
How the development of these languages is going to be feasible with publishers who are neither preserving old authors nor publishing new ones staggers the rational mind.
Zimbabwe needs prolific authors, pro-active publishers, facilitative media, supportive government ministries and an interactive audience to grow this clause from a constitutional theory to a social reality.
While "pro-active publishers, facilitative media, supportive government ministries and an interactive audience" seem an awful lot to hope for (though I figure those prolific authors are a dime a dozen ...), he makes a particularly good point regarding all the books already out there -- or that were out there once, but have since been sidelined (or worse).
Good to see the local concern, at least, and if the over-ambitious constitution (sixteen official languages in a country of maybe fourteen million people ? just think how the much larger EU struggles ...) helps get more attention and support for writing in some of these languages ... that'd be a pretty good thing.
Slate.fr offers an overview of what books (as opposed to what French novelists; see my previous mention) sold best in France in 2013, in Ventes de livres 2013: cinquante nuances de blé et Astérix chez les Pictes-sous -- with Asterix leading the way and the three variations of Fifty Shades close behind (and Dan Brown in that mix) .....
Particularly useful/interesting (if badly presented ...), see this chart, which lists the top 25 -- and reveals both units sold and box office (well, bookstore) take (and I ask yet again: why aren't there American charts providing this information regarding US sales ?).
Guilluame Musso's Demain was the top-selling French novel -- 6th place, 303,867 copies sold -- and several of these titles are forthcoming in English this year, including The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puértolas (12th; 150,785 sold; coming from Harvill Secker; pre-order your copy from Amazon.co.uk) and The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker (9th; 201,375 sold; coming from MacLehose Press and Penguin; pre-order your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), with the Pierre Lemaitre (7th, 272,537 sold) to presumably follow soon.
Aside from the aberrations James and Brown the French hold their own pretty well for the year: yeah, there are two Stephen Kings, a Douglas Kennedy, and a Richard Ford (as well as a Camilla Läckberg -- the only non-English, non-French title in the mix) in the top twenty-five, but the French don't fare badly at all.
The "international journal dedicated to literary translation", Asymptote is having an extended Third Anniversary Global Party -- and tonight's stop is in New York, at Housing Works at 19:00, where they'll be featuring a discussion on The State of Translation -- certainly sounds worth a look, if you're in the neighborhood.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Hiraide Takashi's The Guest Cat, just out from New Directions.
Hiraide's For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut was, you might recall, the Best Translated Book - poetry winner in 2009.