This post originally appeared on the Frankfurt Book Fair blog. I highly recommend visiting the official blog for interesting posts from Richard Nash, Alex Hippisley-Cox, and Arun Wolf
The long term impact of being the Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair has been demonstrated time and again. Not only does this honor result in the translation of a country’s books into a languages around the world, but it also bolsters the book industry within the country itself.
The latter half of this statement was what Vladimir Grigoriev, the Deputy Head for the Federal Agency of Press and Mass Communication (and organizer of Russia’s 2003 Guest of Honor program), focused on in his presentation this morning on “Market Trends in Russia and Digital Publishing.” Grigoriev’s figures were pretty impressive. Since 2003, the overall production of titles in Russia has more than doubled from 47,700 to over 123,000 last year, and overall book sales have followed a similar trajectory, shooting up from $1.6 billion USD in 2003 to over $3 billion last year.
It’s not all good news though. The economic collapse of 2008 hit Russia pretty hard, including the book market. Although things could change over the next couple months, experts are projecting a 20% decrease in sales (to $2.4 billion USD) for 2009. According to Grigoriev, a recent study pointed to a decrease in reading among young people, and a startling statistic that “almost 40% of the population is not buying any books.”
When asked to name a few contemporary Russian authors worth reading, Grigoriev hedged, claiming that he could name a dozen or two, but that they weren’t on the level of Chekhov, Tolstoy, or other Russian Masters. He also pointed to the nonexistence of a “promotional infrastructure” (like the German Book Office or other similar, government funded agencies around the world) as one of the main reasons for the lack of translations of Russian works into other languages.
(As a U.S. publisher specializing in literature in translation, this is a huge pet peeve of mine. Granted, I love data. Numbers. Statistics. The Book Industry as Industry. Business and Growth. But damn it, I also love literature and reading. And finding new voices. Which is what the Frankfurt Book Fair is best at. Providing interested and curious editors with lists upon lists. With more recommendations than you can ever process. This is the second year in a row I’ve attended the Russian Book Presentation, and here’s to hoping that in 2010 the event will include a booklet featuring a dozen contemporary Russian writers whose last names aren’t Sorokin or Pelevin. . . . I will make my way over the official Russian stand at some point, so hopefully I’ll be posting a cool update to this sometime soon . . .)
On the eBook side of things, Alexander Roife, the CEO of LitRes.ru, highlighted the rapid sales growth Russian eBooks are experiencing. As he admitted, Russia is probably best known for its e-piracy and distribution of free books, music, and videos, but nevertheless, best-sellers on LitRes.ru—a legal eBook retailer founded in 2007—are selling between 3,000 and 6,000 copies. Which seems almost too good to be true . . . But if it is, Russia’s book market is definitely primed for a strong recovery from last year’s economic slump.
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .
Like any good potboiler worth its salt, Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun wastes no time setting up its premise: “Last night, I found a gun. Or you could say I stole it, I’m not really sure. I’ve never seen something so. . .
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If you’ve ever worked in a corporate office, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Perception is reality.” To Björn, the office worker who narrates Jonas Karlsson’s novel The Room, the reality is simple: there’s a door near the bathroom that leads. . .
I recently listened to Three Percent Podcast #99, which had guest speaker Julia Berner-Tobin from Feminist Press. In addition to the usual amusement of finally hearing both sides of the podcast (normally I just hear parts of Chad’s side. . .
Let’s not deceive ourselves, man is nothing very special. In fact, there are so many of us that our governments don’t know what to do with us at all. Six billion humans on the planet and only six or seven. . .
“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
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Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .
In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:
When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .