Friday, October 3, 2008

American Authors too....Ignorant?

Not one to shy away from controversy, I thought I'd tie into this recent discourse I read about in the newspaper. The Nobel Prize committee stated that there was a glaring reason as to why no American authors are on the shortlist for the Nobel Prize in literature, namely, we are too ignorant, too suffused in the American diaspora, too - tell me if this is beginning to sound very 1920s pre-WW II - islolationist.

I lived six years of my life in Europe, and while I can say that, yes, Americans as a whole do have a tendency not to see very far beyond our own borders, I can't say I ever had that feeling about our writers. We've got loads of books out on all manner of topics, many very international. I sort of get the impression that we've currenlty got a disproportionate number of middle-eastern themed books in the limelight presently, but that's hardly a sign of ignorance about the big world beyond our front door.

We don't do such a marvelous job of translating foreign works into English and getting those books on the shelves of bookstores nationwide. I'll give the committee that. I wish we did. In every bookstore I was in in Germany and Austria this summer, American titles were on the bestseller list, front of the store, right as you walked in. I can't say the same about American bookstores and foreign titles.

So maybe it's time we broadened our horizons and translated and read more international works. I, for one, wouldn't mind a little more variety in the smorgasborg of titles to choose from. The bestseller list seems a bit, well, predictable. How about spicing it up a bit?

That raises the ageold American question: Is is possible to make a profit on foreign authors and their books in the U.S.? Are we that cosmopolitan? Or has the Nobel Prize committee hit a little closer to home than anyone wants to admit??

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