Books I’m Reading

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is the current book I’m reading and the first fiction work I’ve read in a long time. It’s by Alina Bronsky, which is pseudonymous. I haven’t much to say on the book’s content, but there a couple of thoughts I have on it as a material and commercial object.

First, the book is paperback. The covers are, well, paper and not boards. The book is glued and not sewed into the cover. But, true to its narrator’s character, the book has pretensions, namely several features that make it look more like a hardback. The covers, while indisputably paper, are thicker than the average trade paperbacks’. They have little flaps that feature a summary of the book on its recto and a biography (however true) of the author on the verso, just like the normal hardback book jackets. While being of the size and weight of a paperback, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is printed on solid, sturdy paper that is acid-free.

Second, the book is a translation from the original German. It came out in April of 2011, a little more than half a year later than the German original. Half a year for a book to go through translation! Pretty good! (Although the translation may have been commissioned before the German publication date.) The book’s publisher has the continental sounding name of Europa Editions and operates in at least the US and the UK.

The note I want to make of this is: if a book in translation can hit a foreign market this quickly, why is there such a lag in publication for English-language books in exactly those two countries, the US and UK? The Fear by Peter Godwin came out in the US in late March 2011, lagging its UK edition release of October 1, 2010 by six months.  Philip Mansel’s Levant publication in the US took place May 2004, 2011 , whereas the hardback cover in the UK was released seven months earlier in November 2011. These are two examples that I have off the top of my head, but at a time when other medias are being released simultaneously worldwide (to combat piracy), why are books that need no translation and at most only cosmetic changes to its cover and title take so long to be released in a foreign market after its domestic publication? Would it help if books were pirated as much as music and movies? Would this give an additional incentive to publishers to move quickly? Would it help if they can be convinced that it’s terribly annoying to read an intriguing book review in The Economist only to realize that the book can’t be purchased here in consumers’ paradise, the good, old US of A?

Lastly, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine was released simultaneously in the US in paperback and e-book form. A smart move, no doubt, considering that there was no hardback copy, and the paperback and e-book are at roughly the same price point. I did think it a little funny that the publisher pointed out in several places how a book “nominated for the German Book Prize” by an author who’s been “shortlisted for one of Europe’s most celebrated literary awards, the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize” did not warrant a having her book published as a hardback.

(PS. In any case, Stanford Libraries have deemed the book “academic” enough for purchase, in which case, the libraries may spend the money to give the book library binding.)

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