Publishing & Californication

The Literary Saloon deconstructs Pierre Lepape’s “Lost Without Translation,” which appeared in Le Monde Diplo. Lepape’s main point is the sorry state of publishing today in general, and the increasingly large market share accorded to books published in English, in particular.

And [the Frankfurt Book Fair] reflects the increasingly one-way flow of trade between the United States and its sidekick, Britain, and the rest of the Western world. French, Spanish, Italian and German publishers all go to the fair with a single and near-impossible dream: to sell a book to the Americans even for a derisory amount, or to a British publisher as a first step to the paradise of the US market.

Lit Saloon takes exception with two claims made in the article: that the number of books published in Spain is greater than in the UK, and that there have been no translated works to hit bestseller lists in the US. While Lepape’s general argument about the lack of translated works in the US is certainly true, his bold assertion that there haven’t been any that have sold here calls for counter-examples, and the Lit Saloon provides a couple: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, and his recent Oprah selection, One Hundred Years of Solitude. I believe Bernard-Henry Levy’s Who Killed Daniel Pearl (translated from the French) did quite well last year and, if memory serves, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (also translated from the French) sold approximately 40,000 copies, although I’m not sure if either book was on the NY Times bestseller list. Of course, the exceptions only serve to reinforce the general rule about the paucity of foreign works in American readers’ hands.