Friday, March 24, 2006

WHAT I THINK ... Bookshops & Literary Fiction

MODERN BOOKSELLING needs a dose of optimism and fresh ideas if books are to gain bigger and wider readership. Publishers and booksellers always say that literary fiction is a tough sell. To promote and encourage the reading of literary fiction (so as to arrest its declining general readership), bookshops, Malaysian or otherwise, ought to think about including a couple of new subsections in the literary section. Bookshops have a responsiblity to educate a public that doesn't necessarily know what it will enjoy since growing a readership means a bigger customer base in the long term. Besides retailing books, it is vital that bookshops educate their customers because most of them do not really know what to buy. It makes sense in the long run to educate readers. I think Kinokuniya is doing a great job! I have a couple of suggestions that booksellers might like to mull over:
  1. AustLit fiction (Australian and New Zealand fiction: egs. include Geraldine Brooks, Peter Carey, Brian Castro, Kate Grenville, Shirley Hazzard, Elizabeth Jolley, David Malouf, Roger McDonald, Andrew McGahan, Eva Sallis, Carrie Tiffany, Brenda Walker, Patrick White and Tim Winton);
  2. Women’s fiction (both prizewinning and non-prizewinning fiction by women writers: egs. include Helen Dunmore, Shirley Hazzard, Andrea Levy and Valerie Martin);
  3. Prizewinning fiction (to include both novels and short-story collections that have won major literary prizes: Los Angeles Times Award, Man Booker Prize, Miles Franklin Award, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, Orange Prize, Pulitzer Prize, Whitbread Award); and
  4. Short-story collections and novellas (both prizewinning and non-prizewinning collections of short stories and novellas: egs. include Ann Beattie, Saul Bellow, Raymond Carver, Deborah Eisenberg, Mavis Gallant, David Leavitt, Yiyun Li, Alistair MacLeod, Valerie Martin, David Means, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, Joy Williams, Tobias Wolff and Richard Yates);
  5. Neglected gems of the past (to encourage the reading of notable books that somehow got neglected, that have withstood the test of time, left behind by the marketing juggernaut of modern business: egs. include Noel Barber, Elizabeth Bowen, Penelope Fitzgerald, John McGahern, Shirley Ann Grau, Bernard MacLaverty, Bernard Malamud, Grace Paley, V.S. Pritchett, Mordecai Richler, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Yates);
  6. Contrary to popular belief, excellent first fiction is still being written and published in these dismal times; however, sadly, most of them tend to get lost in the pile or submerged in the chaos of modern bookselling, especially in a culture that tends to promote established writers only, therefore, a section devoted to such works will work wonders in highlighting first-time writers and new writings (egs. include Naomi Alderman, Yasmin Crowther, Diana Evans, Dave King, Olga Grushin, Jane Harris and Carrie Tiffany); and
  7. Translated fiction (there’s a vast cornucopia of literature in translation by a number of publishers such as Arch, Faber & Faber, Granta, Harvill-Secker, Hesperus, Marion Boyars, Peter Owen, Portobello and Serpent’s Tail that ought to be read and enjoyed by more bibliophiles: egs. include Tahar Ben Jelloun, Javier Cercas, Ismail Kadare, Imre Kertesz, Andreï Makine, Javier Marías, Margaret Mazzantini, Haruki Murakami, Irène Némirovsky, Orhan Pamuk and Per Petterson). Excellent translators include Anthea Bell (German), Anne Born (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish), Andrew Bromfield (Russian), Linda Coverdale (French), John Cullen (French, Italian), Carol Brown Janeaway (German), Maureen Freely (Turkish), Edith Grossman (Spanish), Erdag M. Göknar (Dari, Turkish), Michael Hofmann (German), Margaret Jull Costa (Portuguese), Anne McLean (Spanish), Tiina Nunnally (Swedish), Ina Rilke (Dutch), Jay Rubin (Japanese) and Frank Wynne (French).


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