Books for commuters

Here’s a worthwhile campaign that the Athens metro could put together with some publishers. Why not sell cheap paperbacks at the metro stations that thousands of commuters use every day? With a slogan like «Every minute on the metro counts – don’t waste your time,» they might galvanize more Athenians into reading, as people do on public transport in other countries. The metro has brought some readers out into the open, but much more can be done. When the rail lines were laid all over the English countryside 150 years ago, publishers found a way to get rich. The number of people traveling by train boomed and they had time on their hands. Early Victorian publishers showed them how to use it productively. Light fiction, published in the famous yellow covers, the forerunners of pocket-sized books, became immensely popular. The painters of the era immortalized travelers in tailcoats and crinolines, book in hand. Back to Greek reality in 2008, one inexplicable thing is that you see more people reading on the metro than on the electric railway or the tram. Let others find the answer to that; what matters is that no Greek publishers have emulated their forerunners in Victorian England and launched a new product to draw commuters’ time. Greece must be the only European country in which pocket-sized books (with the exception of Bell editions) have not developed. Papyrus’s Viper series in the 1970s had an impact, but nowadays good books with mass appeal don’t interest publishers. In recent years, some of the larger publishing companies have announced ambitious plans to promote literature, history and essays by putting them in pocket books, but they haven’t taken off. Gallimard’s biography series, published in Greece by Kastalia, is the closest thing we have to high-quality, pocket-sized books. Let’s hope they find imitators. Can it be so difficult?