CULTURE

Greek books going for a higher profile

The Greek book world had a healthy year in 2002, both at home, with ongoing though slower growth, and abroad, with more titles translated and a higher profile. New books published dropped slightly, according to Biblionet SA, but the overall growth trend was maintained. One healthy segment of the market is the growing English language teaching field, where several local publishers, such as Hillside Press and Express Publishing, have carved out sizable niches for themselves. Their success is not reflected in Biblionet’s figures because they publish their books in the UK and their books have British ISBNs. One encouraging sign is the growing penetration of the overseas market by Greek books. Ziranna Zatelli and Ioanna Karystiani are two examples of successful writers from the Kastaniotis stable whose work has been translated into many languages, carrying Greek voices not only to the English-speaking world but also to other European countries. Local initiatives have helped promote Greek books and writers abroad. The Culture Ministry, the National Book Center (EKEBI), and the Panhellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers have together adopted a more vigorous, extroverted approach to international markets, capitalizing on the momentum generated by the Greek stint as guest of honor at the 2001 Frankfurt Book Fair. Greece has since participated officially in numerous book festivals in Europe, raising the national profile. The Greeks have been putting small contingents in handsome, tailor-made pavilions and enlisting the aid of specialists; in Barcelona the Spanish-speaking translation students who had done a course at the European Translation Center (EKEMEL) were excellent ambassadors. EKEMEL has taken its own practical initiatives, supplying experts to translate, mediate and speak at presentations, holding its own seminars attracting leading lights from the literary world abroad, and of course, teaching translation and related skills. Other official initiatives this year supported the long-neglected institution of public libraries, encouraging local communities to use them and organize activities in them. EKEBI’s monthly magazine Ithaca tells the world about Greeks books and writers while EKEBI’s participation in the Sunday screenings of literary films at the Apollon cinema keeps alive connections between the arts. The Stoa tou Vivliou book arcade continues its series of events related to books, hosting many of the numerous book launchings that dot the week. Making these presentations a social occasion, the organizers heroically continue to offer refreshments, despite the occasional rout by some incorrigible scavengers who haunt such events. James Joyce would surely have been amused at the evening held in his honor, where the food fiends practically started a riot, attacking the buffet and even the waiter. Private enterprise is also spreading the word. Publishers are selecting different locations – the Old Parliament, Byzantine Museum, theaters – to pep up their book launchings, and sometimes have singers or actors perform. While some invited speakers appear determined to bore for Greece, others have mastered the art of the brief and pertinent introduction. Bookstores, often the most innovative in this regard, frequently have poetry readings, guest speakers and children’s days, which engender a love of books and reading in general, and are not necessarily tied to specific titles. Compendium and Eleftheroudakis deserve praise here. All in all, 2002 was a positive year in the Greek book world.