Thursday, January 17, 2008

Literary culture envy

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.


  1. France has some great literary journals as well like Lire and le magazine littéraire. I've often wondered why we don't have one in English that is exclusively dedicated to books and writing...maybe Book Forum (one of my favorites) might fall into the same category.

  2. Heh, you made me laugh as I tried to imagine The Daily News of Star or The Enquirer with Shocking Photos of Philip Roth eating a hotdog that wasn't kosher.

  3. I did see an article on Gawker that talked about how Elizabeth Dewberry dumped her husband, Robert Olen Butler, for Ted Turner. But admittedly that is no "cover of the Rolling Stone" kind of piece of news.