CULTURE

Hellenic Quarterly homes in on Frankfurt

The ninth issue of the Hellenic Quarterly, an up-and-coming magazine that strives to offer a wide-ranging review of Greek cultural, social and economic life, is ideally timed to coincide with the upcoming Frankfurt International Book Fair (FIBF), which opens Wednesday. As Greece is the guest of honor at the 53rd annual event, with myriad cultural and literary presentations and exhibits designed to give maximum exposure to its small but growing book market, this issue of the journal is clearly aimed at putting a positive spin on contemporary Greece for a foreign audience, as viewed through the prism of its book industry and changing readership patterns. But far from being just a public relations exercise, it also has the virtue of presenting publishing-related issues without sugar-coating the problem areas and with some useful research behind it. As with the prior two issues, which focused respectively on the 2004 Olympic Games and globalization, this issue is also thematic, combining general overviews of the changing state of Greek publishing with a separate, substantial book reviews section. Because of the targeted occasion of Frankfurt, the latter tends to predominate in terms of space, with around 75 one-page reviews of recently published books, including a short review of each work and a brief author bio. This section is without formal divisions, but begins with non-fiction (selected works on philosophy, current affairs, history) and leads into novels and other works of fiction that explore, among other perennial writerly interests, the intricacies of the Greek identity and the dramas of life in the contemporary age. The opening articles provide useful overviews of the state of the Greek book industry broadly construed, over the past quarter century. Such a time frame was not chosen just because it is navigable, but those 25 years (OK, 27) since 1974 have great significance for Greece, in so far as they mark the fundamental modernization of Greek society. And as several essays point out, this period has been a watershed for the Greek publishing industry as well – not just in terms of industry consolidation and proliferation in churning out books (close to 6,000 were published in 1999, double the amount in 1990), but also in changing subject matter as well, reflecting a diminishing of elitist attitudes, a growing focus on personal issues (e.g. self-help, psychology, children’s literature) and a corresponding – some might say healthy, in what is usually thought of as a politics-besotted society – de-emphasis on overtly political topics, which accounted for just 125 new titles in 1999. But readership remains both narrow and low (just 38 percent of the population read a book last year), and the execrable state of public and school libraries remains a huge problem area for readers and publishers alike. A country is what it reads, to a large extent. As a vehicle highlighting these developments, the Hellenic Quarterly has many virtues, although growing pains are still evident. Proofreading remains spotty, and the essays are occasionally word-heavy. To counteract any such editorial slips, it still would seem necessary, in this otherwise laudable effort, to find the resources for a spell- and fact-checker. One brief example: Thanassis Valtinos’s recent publication has on its cover (in the translation by Jane Assimakopoulos and Stavros Deligiorgis for Northwestern University Press) Data from the Decade of the Sixties, but is loosely translated in the Quarterly as Evidence for the ’60s; such problems are ultimately easily correctible but need that extra bit of effort. And given that all of the Quarterly is translated from Greek originals, perhaps another translator or two could have spread the load. Even so, the editors have managed to retain a reasonable overall quality while gathering together a compendium of information of potential interest to a much wider audience. And readers will certainly get a good sense that Greek literature is no longer, if it ever was, only a matter of famous names like Elytis, Seferis, Cavafy and Ritsos, but now has a distinctly contemporary feel to it as well, with plenty of non-fiction works and postmodern novels to complement the traditional emphasis on poetic works. It is not without reason that Greece will emphasize the contemporary face of its national literature at Frankfurt, an arguably difficult, but also necessary and even admirable task in helping overcome long-held outside views of Greece that can range from the mythological to the stereotypical to the merely ignorant. And the intention of using Frankfurt as part of a broader, longer-term strategic thrust to promote Greek literature internationally, rather than just showcasing new books for a week, is no less noteworthy. With such an ambitious agenda in store, both for the fair’s promoters and the Quarterly’s editors, it promises to be a busy time ahead. Stet appointment. Mobile operator Stet Hellas announced yesterday that it had appointed former DHL International Commercial Director Dimitris Papagiannopoulos as chief commercial officer. Papagiannopoulos will coordinate Stet Hellas’s marketing, sales and customer service departments, the company said in a statement. Stet competes with Panafon and CosmOTE in the Greek mobile market, and has an estimated 27.4-percent market share, which places it third. (Reuters)