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Has English conquered the world book market? Sure looks like it ...

Posted by Libor Safar on Tue, Jun 19, 2012 @ 08:05 PM

BookstoreIn a departure from our usual news (for example, on the opening of our new office in San Francisco), this fascinating look at the state of world literature in translation, as prompted by a post from the New York Review of Books.

Tim Parks is a British novelist and an associate professor of literature and translation at IULM University in Milan. There, working on a group research project, he studies the effects of globalization on literature. In his article "Most Favored Nations," he reports that the European impact is especially startling:

Statistics provided by Dutch Fund for Literature show that while the number of translations coming from other languages has been static, or risen only slowly, as English is taught more and more widely in schools and universities through the seventies and eighties there has been a huge leap in translations from English. In 1946 only 5 percent of Holland’s book production was made up of translations; by 2005 it had reached 35 percent and in the area of prose fiction the share had grown to 71 percent. Of those translations, 75 percent now come from English. What figures I have managed to find for Germany and Italy do not differ a great deal.
According to Diversity Report 2010, this is a global trend. In the report, researchers Miha Kovac and Rüdiger Wischenbart note that translations from English represent "roughly two out of every three" of the works in the Index Translationum, UNESCO's database on the world's translated and published titles. Unsurprisingly, they report, this is "a clear advantage to writers from Europe and North America."

Parks spent a month in a bookshop in central Amsterdam and eventually interviewed forty customers -- male, female, 20 to 60 years old -- on their reading choices. He said, many were surprised themselves to see how large a role English-sourced works played in their reading lives.

We're curious ourselves. Do the bookshelves of our own multilingual customers represent this trend? In the comments, let us know what you've read recently and where those books hail from.