Reading beyond our borders

Spurred by Thursday's announcement that French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio (a writer of whom, it's safe to say, most Americans had never heard before last week) won the Nobel Prize for literature, NPR did a good piece yesterday called "The Best Foreign Books You've Never Heard Of."

Echoing some of last month's comments by Swedish Nobel judge Horace Engdahl that American readers are "too isolated, too insular" and that the American publishing world is closed off to translations, the piece points out that only about 3 percent of all books published in the US are works in translation.

(When it comes to literary fiction, the number is apparently less than 1 percent.)

The NPR story concludes with a list of the favorite non-US authors of David Kipen, director of Literature and National Reading Initiatives at the National Endowment for the Arts, a list of writers the story claims "most Americans have never heard of."

Here's the list:


Jonathan Coe, The Rotters' Club and The House of Sleep


Victor Pelevin, The Sacred Book of Werewolf and Buddha's Little Finger
Boris Akunin, The Winter Queen
Ludmila Ulitskaya, The Funeral Party


Ismail Kadare, The Three-Arched Bridge and Spring Flowers, Spring Frost


Imre Kertesz, Fateless, The Pathseeker


Antonio Lobo Antunes, What Can I Do When Everything's on Fire?


Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses


Naguib Mahfouz, The Thief and the Dogs
Muhammad Yusuf Quayd, War in the Land of Egypt
Alaa Al Aswany, The Yacoubian Building


Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle


Carlos Fuentes, The Death of Artemio Cruz

In fairness to both US readers and US bookstores, I can't agree that "most" of us have never heard of Carlos Fuentes, Haruki Murakami, Alaa Al Aswany, Naguib Mahfouz, Per Petterson, or Jonathan Coe.

And I am pretty certain that I could easily find all of their books listed above already on the shelves at the Barnes & Noble nearest my house.

Nonetheless, overall, point well taken. And the list is a good one.

And in my case, it certainly does spur me to move those unread copies of "Out Stealing Horses" and "The Yacoubian Building" on my nightstand just a little closer to the top of the stack.

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