77 years of publishing history and a little insight into the world of books

The 77-year-old publishing house Govostis Publishers was founded in 1926 by the diminutive and ingenious Costas Govostis. A few months ago, Govostis – in the form of the publishing house’s second and third generations, Yiannis Govostis and his son, namesake and grandson of the founder, Costas Govostis – were honored by the Panhellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers for their many years’ service to the world of publishing. Yiannis Govostis told Kathimerini the story of Govostis Publishers over these 77 years. «My recollections begin in 1941 when, as a youngster, I would go to the shop at 79 Academias Street, in a basement where all my father’s friends and acquaintances would gather.» Govostis was first and foremost the hangout of a group, a coterie of cultural figures, mainly of the Left, during the 1940s and 1950s. «During first grade, I attended the Ionian School, which was a little further up from the shop. Telemachos Varikas, one of my father’s employees and brother of the critic Vassos Varikas, would turn up with a little cart. He’d put me inside it and wheel me down the slope on Academias Street. I’d spend time in the shop and was, as you might expect, witness to a number of incidents.» In another basement, 62 years later, in Govostis Publishers’ current premises on Zoodochou Pigis Street, another youngster, Costas Govostis’s great-grandson, plays, while his grandfather continues the story: «I shall always remember the figure of Napoleon Lapathiotis. I would say to my mother: ‘Why does that gentleman wear talc?’ Lots of people would come, from Angelos Sikelianos to Odysseas Elytis. It was the writers’ hangout. Fun and laughter ruled, as did the ouzo. I remember one time, (playwright Dimitris) Psathas wrote a column titled ‘Disturbance at Govostis.’ The scoundrels sued him, took the payment and went and drank it all on Poros one weekend. And among all this, the books were published, important books. «This atmosphere continued until 1958, when my father died, but it was not the same. My father was ill, and this meant that he had to gather his close associates at home, where they would edit the books collectively.» Each afternoon, Costas Govostis’s close associates would come together at his house. Among them was Yiannis Ritsos, who for many years was one of the publishing house’s editors. «My aunt would bake cookies for them and they would start to correct the signatures in the following way: My father would listen – he couldn’t see – while Ritsos would read out the text. Also present were Sergio Protopappas, a journalist at the Acropolis newspaper who was multilingual, and a young helper, either Dionysia Bitzileki or Leonidas Zenakos. They would have the manuscript or the original text, if it was a translation. I also often did this work. It was an amusing process that demythologized great writers and great works. It was a process that was both enjoyable and tortuous. But it was also a process that taught us a great deal. It was fun, but it also provided perspective.» Yiannis Govostis took over leadership of the publishing house in 1958, at the age of 24, suddenly becoming a businessman. The atmosphere of the house had already changed. One of the things he made sure to preserve was personally reviewing each book before it went to press, a habit he maintains even today as the personal interest by the publisher in the publication of each book is something that he learned at an early age. A large part of the enterprise is today run by 40-year-old Costas Govostis, which greatly relieves his father Yiannis, who confesses that his son is much better at organization. «I followed my own father’s tactics in the organization of the business. I’d have a scrap of paper in my pocket and would write, ‘The publisher took out 5 drachmas.’» Yiannis Govostis sees this kind of organization in the new generation of publishers. As for today’s publishing scene, he says: «It’s flourishing. Now, if this boom is like the burning of the trees in the tropical rain forest, I don’t know. Today, we’re burning the readers by publishing so many books. We’re sucking them dry and, in the end, they will wither. The important books are being lost in all this overproduction. There is no point to bringing out pulp books.»

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