We had a traditional book fair Wednesday dinner at the much-loved Casanova restaurant. A tip. Ignore the menu and simply ask for the mushrooms followed by loup de mer simply baked in salt and creme caramel to finish. Around the table were one American, one Canadian, two Poles, one Australian, and a couple of indeterminate Brits. It got me thinking about cultural differences and how they are reflected in a country’s taste in books.
Of course, phenomena like Dan Brown or Harry Potter are totally universal and there are some books which are totally national. What I find interesting are the ones in between.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love is one such. It has sold 5 million copies in the USA, published by Penguin. It is selling 40,000 copies a month in Dutch. It is breaking all records for a Hebrew book ( since Genesis?) at 7000 copies a week. The Irish and the Australians (and in particular the New Zealanders) can’t get enough of it and South Africans are not far behind. But the French edition is languishing (perhaps the French won’t buy an Anglo-Saxon book with the word ‚eat‘ in the title). In Germany sales are okay but not startling yet and the British are only just discovering the book four years after its publication. One theory is that ‚pray‘ puts off the increasingly secular Brits. Perhaps Eat, Pray, Love is the solution to the troubles of the world.
Trivial publishing fact of the day. The distinguished academic publisher Routledge established itself by setting up an editorial office to acquire American authors. However, greater and quicker success was found by the production manager who used to get his peers at other publishing houses drunk so that he could get his hands on the galleys of their latest novels. These were then sent by steamer to London where Routledge was able to publish ahead of the original US edition. One such novel was Uncle Tom’s Cabin whose success provided the fortune to lay the foundations of one of the world’s most distinguished academic publishing houses. Of course, these were the days before international copyright but such goings-on aren’t unknown today, especially in the digital world.
The standard greeting in Hall 8 is: ‚Is everything okay?‘ It reminds me of the New Yorker cartoon of the two Jewish ladies at a table in a restaurant and a harrassed waiter asking; ‚ Is ANYTHING okay?‘