Monday, October 6, 2008

On American Literary Insularity

Controversy surrounds this year's Nobel Prize in Literature sparked by comments made by Horace Engdahl (permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy) labeling the U.S. as insular.

The Literary Saloon has this cogent and interesting explanation for U.S. literary insularity:
Part of the problem/issue is the sheer volume of American literature that's produced. Remember that, with surprisingly few exceptions (Germany, France, China, Japan, but not too many others), it would be possible for a book-a-day reader to make his or her way through the entire annual domestic fiction output of any given European (or Asian or African or South American) country. In the US, a very conservative estimate would have 10,000 new works of actual fiction appear (sorry, those thrown around figures of 200,000 or 300,000 books published annually includes everything from reprints to cookbooks to how-to manuals; the number of actual new readable fiction titles is, at best in the low 10,000s). So from the start the stage is different: American readers could easily get their fill domestically, readers in the majority of other countries can't.

2 comments:

Sarah said...

I don't agree that American writers are particularly insular (and I'm not an American but an Australian)).

The Literary Saloon's seems to and then offers a ridiculous explanation. Could a book a day reader, who would read 365 books, get through a country's literary output in any given year?

Unless the country is third-world poor and/or going through huge upheaval, I'm sure every nation publishes a few more books than 365 a year! Books may not be translated, available or publicized from elsewhere but plenty are being published, certainly in numbers to enable you to only read Italian or Nigerian or Argentinian or Indian or Australian books if you want to.

Gwen Dawson said...

I hope you're right.