Guest post by Ann Dixon: Last Post from My Other North

Thanks to Ann for being our July featured author.

Airports can be mind-numbing places. But I passed a quite pleasant hour in Sweden’s largest airport, Arlanda, by examining one of several book kiosks.

First I simply looked at books: titles, authors, and content. I was surprised to see how many books were translated from English. Individual titles ranged from Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth to He’s Just Not That Into You, charmingly translated as Dumpa Honom! (Dump Him!). Marilyn Manson’s face glared from the cover of a Swedish edition of The Long Hard Road Out of Hell, just across the display table from Jeremy Seahill’s even more chilling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. On the same table, juxtaposed between the two, one of Alexander McCall Smith’s “#1 Ladies Detective Club” mysteries invited a far more comforting read.

Ever the split personality, I soon found myself eyeballing the layout as a librarian might: about ¼ of the space devoted to novels, both in translation and original Swedish; at least ¼ to mystery/suspense, primarily in Swedish; a shy quarter to miscellaneous nonfiction; and a generous quarter to English translations. The “LOOK HERE NOW!!” tables were primarily an amalgam of the suspense, nonfiction, and English translation sections.

In nonfiction the Obamas were clearly a topic of interest, with at least four titles by or about Barack and one about Michelle. Fiction looked to be fairly equally divided between English (American/British) authors and Scandinavian. The number of Scandinavian mystery/suspense authors was notable. Mari Jungstedt, Camilla Läckberg, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, and Leif G.W. Persson all scored at least four front-facing titles. That doesn’t include the dozen or so writers with fewer titles, or the table devoted solely to Mankell’s new novel, Kinesen.

American authors were well-represented, both in translation and original English. Notables included Dennis Lehane (at least six titles), David Baldacci, P.D. James, Andy McNab (Seven Troop), Jennifer Lee Carrell (The Shakespeare Secret), Dean Koontz, Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Michael Connelly, Dan Brown, Elizabeth George, John Grisham, and Robert Ludlum.

In sum, I was struck by three things: the overall number of thriller stories; the popularity of Scandinavian mystery writers; and the plethora of books of all types in English.

English is indeed the lingua franca of Europe, the one language most commonly spoken at least rudimentarily by people from different countries. So I suppose it makes sense to find so many books in English at a European airport. Yet as I looked at the offerings, I thought about a question posed by a Swedish writer friend: Are many books translated from other languages into English? Off the top of my head I could think of a few titles I’d read in the last year or two: The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (German); Blindness by Jose Saramago (Portuguese); Stieg Larsson’s recent best-seller The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo (Swedish); Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson (Norwegian); Independent People and World Light by Halldor Laxness; and numerous children’s books from the German by Cornelia Funke.

I know there are many more translations out there and that my personal list is Eurocentric with a pronounced slant to the Nordic. But my point is this: think what it means to walk into a bookstore and routinely find half the books written by authors from other countries!

We like to think of ourselves as multicultural. A little translation — or bilingualism — anyone?

By Ann Dixon

2 thoughts on “Guest post by Ann Dixon: Last Post from My Other North”

  1. Fascinating report. I'm curious about romance, having heard on TV that sales boom in recessions. Is it mostly an American phenomenon?

  2. Good question! I remember seeing romance sections at a couple other bookstores (non-airport) but not in this one. Every bookstore I went to seemed to have lots of thriller and mystery titles. This airport store did not have any children's books, either, which surprised me. There was a store for children but I ran out of time. Maybe kids' books were there. Back to your question, though…now I'm curious. Are romance books more popular in some countries than others? What about other genres? Sounds like a good research question. Or a good article!

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