German literary culture is healthy, lively, worthy of our envy. This is a vague concept, I know, and I don't want to exaggerate. A big German bookstore looks a lot like a Borders, and the bestseller lists look a lot like ours, all thrillers and other Krimi novels.
The New Republic recently had a cover and a couple of articles about the American "crisis in book reviewing". I'd link to it if it were worth reading. They should have pointed to Germany - there's a lot more serious book reviewing in a lot more newspapers. There's also a German-language magazine, Literaturen, that's like The Atlantic, except devoted entirely to literature. Pretty great. I don't think we have anything like it.
Here's a funny example of what I mean from Austria. In a way this is cheating. Austria only has a population of 8 million or so. So the standards for being a celebrity are a little different there than here. Still, what a shock to see, on the cover (the cover!) of Austrian tabloids (tabloids!), teasers for reviews of Peter Handke's new novel. Handke was once, probably no longer, a likely Nobel Prize-winner. But he is also a genuine avant gardist, with no interest in any sort of mass audience. It's not like seeing The New York Post announce a review of the new Phillip Roth novel. More like the Post reviewing Walter Abish or William Gass.
Even funnier, in a way, was the tabloid Heute featuring, again on the cover, juicy, shocking details from the tell-all memoir of an ex-girlfriend of Handke.* I don't mean to make light of this, but it made me wonder exactly what Roth or Cormac McCarthy would have to do to make the cover of the Daily News.
* If I understood this correctly, on which one should not count.**
** Update: I did not understand it, but I was close enough for my point, so I'll leave it as is.