topic: foreign language books in american markets

12 February 2014

(source) this reminds me of my favourite cover of Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

Hello everyone!
   I promised more reviews and I think I've upheld that promise with three consecutive book reviews. But they're not very interactive, so how about a topic post?
   I've gone through about every classic that I consider interesting (excluding Pride and Prejudice, or any Victorian novel, really). Like I did with films, I decided to venture forth into the foreign market. My first thought was French contemporary novels. The French often lead in everything, like they did back in the Enlightenment producing great writers like Voltaire and Montesquieu, and in fashion and much more. I decided that my first step into modern European literature should be with the French, then with the Spanish, and then into the mystery and thriller of the Nordic countries. However, on my search for foreign books, I found very few. When I explored Goodreads Lists section, most titles were in French and weren't even translated to English titles. I searched through my local library's online catalogue and found maybe a  couple of French books translated to English. I myself have read the French modern classics, which I'm sure most of you have already read: The Stranger by Albert Camus, the works of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. But past the existential fiction boom, what other books do we know that are written by the French?

  I went online to do some research and found two contrasting articles. One from BBC titled "Why don't French Books Sell Abroad?" and a response article on Frenchculture.org titled "Why do French Books Sell Abroad?". Both made interesting points and cited fascinating facts. For instance, the Anglophone book market prefers English books. Americans don't need foreign books because they have their own contemporaries at home. Plus American publishers are turned off by the high costs of translations, so they are complacent with sticking with American-born novels.
French book covers are not made to look appealing (from BBC)


BBC: "As for US publishers, they're so convinced that with 350 million potential readers and a big stable of American writers, they've got everything covered - every genre, every style. So why bother?"
French Culture: "It is not that French books don’t export (in fact, they do quite well in other countries), but that the demand for translations in the UK and the US is not at its best."
BBC: The costs and difficulty of literary translation are clearly part of the problem. So too is the fact that the Anglophone book market is thriving - so the demand for foreign works is limited.
French Culture: "1% of novels published in the US are translations, whereas in France, they count for about 33% (American novelists, loved by French readers, hold the first rank)." <--i found="" interesting="" p="" this="">
French Culture offered a rebuttal to BBC's dire statements about the decline in foreign literature in Anglo-Saxon countries.

French Culture: "French literature does sell abroad, and it sells better than ever...The number of books translated from French to English has increased by about 30% in the last few years [1]. According to a list compiled by the Book Department of the French Embassy in New York, many more translations from French are published than the available statistics usually suggest: between 300 and 350 translations from French are being published in the US every year, among which at least 62 were contemporary French novels in 2012, and 77 in 2013."

With all of these is the simple fact that the American book market doesn't favour foreign literature. I can't even name one French contemporary, post-war novelist. I find it...regretful that the French read more foreign literature than Americans do. It's a problem that not only are foreign (translated) literature books aren't as popular, but they're not even made available. And if they are, they're not translated. If I can't even dip my toes into French contemporary literature, then how am I expected to explore the wide array of culturally enriching literature of Europe? I would like to offer a protest to publishers, but I know that they're already suffering from e-book sales and a general decline in book sales due to the still somewhat difficult economy.

On a slightly relevant tangent, I'd like to mention something else

  1. French cinema is literally non-existent outside of French countries. I'm pleased that Bollywood's appealing to Anglophone countries, but I'd like to see some other foreign films in the cinemas. My favourite director ever, Xavier Dolan: well, his new film  Tom à la ferme was released in 2013, but unfortunately it won't come to American viewers. His first film, which will forever be my most favourite film ever ("I Killed My Mother"), was one that I discovered by chance by going trailer hunting on youtube for foreign films. I connected so much to it, and I'm incredibly fortunate to have found it. I wish that films as amazing as his could be shown to American audiences, and viewers like me.

Anyway--what's your opinion of foreign literature and maybe even foreign films in American markets and media? Do you think something should be done, or should foreign gems be kept hidden for those willing to find them?
  

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