After 6 years of crisis in Greece, there is a resurgence of activity in the Greek book market. It’s the dawn of a new age. Learn more!
By: Chryssoula Katsarou
Greek book market
Over the last six years, the book market in Greece has faced a severe crisis which resulted in declining book sales. But despite the crisis, the problems — and the pessimism — something fresh and hopeful is happening. New publishing houses and bookstores have appeared. People who have worked for many years in the book industry — and love a good book — are proposing special books and designing publications that stand out for their top quality. Let’s take a look at some of the players in the Greek book market, those creating a new age for books and publishing in Greece.
New book publishers in Greece
The publishing house, «Δώμα» (Doma), published their first book, About Freedom from the Dissertations of Epictetus, in July 2017. The first copies were printed on an old printer and had a cardboard cover wrapped in rope. Owners Thanos Samartzis and Marilena Karamolegou shared them with friends just to see their reactions. They spoke about it in an interview with Lifo.
“The Greeks, though they know that the ancient thought is great, they usually do not know anything about it. And that is not because they do not know anything from an encyclopedic point of view, but because they have never come into personal, mental contact with ancient thought. That’s why they do not love these things with their soul”.
The first 1000 produced on the printing press are really works of art. Etcher George Makris, responsible for the book cover, collaged a man who has fallen on a woman’s feet. Ηe made the engraving and then, one by one, and the 1,000 prints in hand, with white ink.
The owner’s philosophy is to make the texts of Epictetus accessible and simple. In the future, they plan to publish more works from antiquity but also some modern philosophical works.
This publishing house isn’t the only one that appeared in the years of crisis. Antipodes (Αντίποδες), Asini (Ασίνη), Purple Squirrel (Μωβ Σκίουρος), and Pikili Stoa (Ποικίλη Στοά) are other examples of small but notable publishing houses. They’re difference from mainstream publishers and bookstores is that they are not…mainstream. They choose to focus on “difficult” subjects such as poetry, philosophy, and psychology, or publish writers that aren’t widely known, either Greek or foreign.
Although to some, it may look like a suicide movement, over the years there have been people who decided to start something new, fresh, and from scratch. Small publishers and bookstores (not in the “traditional” center of Athens), staffed by people who know and love books, made their appearance. People with vision are working in those new cultural “hives”, putting in endless hours by reading manuscripts, carefully checking all the typographic details of each book, editing covers, and selling to bookstores. Distributors, journalists, and readers alike have acknowledged and supported these efforts as sales are going up concerning books other than the usually best selling ones — 10% by some research.
Popular writers embracing Greece
Another sign of the emerging spring for the book industry is that every year more and more popular foreign writers are coming to Greece to present their latest work. Jo Nesbo, the famous Norwegian crime writer, Scotsman Ian Rankin, and Historian Mark Mazower are among the many.
Victoria Hislop and Greece
Meanwhile, more and more foreign writers choose to live or write about Greece.
Brit Victoria Hislop is the most famous example. She had visited Crete for holidays since she was a child. The images of Lasithi inspired her to write a novel that sold millions of copies in Britain, Greece, and all over the world. The Island, hailed as the new Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (the famous novel by British writer Louis de Bernières, set on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the Italian and German occupation of WWII, subsequently adapted into a hit movie), was filmed as a TV series by the Greek TV channel MEGA.
After a second novel set in Spain, Victoria returned to Greece, this time in Thessaloniki, with The Thread, in which she tells the troubled history of Thessaloniki and its people. Her writing activity continued with the highly readable collection of short stories on the background of Greece, called The Last Dance. She’s learning Greek, trying to speak the language on TV shows. She divides her time between England and Crete.
Thriving community of writers
Today, a thriving community of American writers and poets live and create in Athens, Thessaloniki, and in the islands. The poets Philip Ramp and Jeffrey Carson live in Aegina and Paros, respectively.
Philip came to Greece in 1964 with his wife Sarah, planning to make their home there. Originally, they settled in Athens, but life in the capital lost its charm during the grim days of the junta. So the couple moved to Aegina where they had friends. Though his vocation is poetry, translation work pays the bills. Shortly after moving to Aegina he met the Greek poet and translator Katerina-Angelaki Rooke, and for some years they worked on translation together. He started working on his own in 1975 and has done so ever since.
Jeffrey Carson, professor of creative writing, art history, and literature at the Aegean Center, and his wife, photography professor Elizabeth Carson, have called Paros since the 1970s. He learned Greek by teaching himself from school books, doing little translations to understand the poems better.
Another poet, Don Scofield, lives in Thessaloniki, where he is currently the Dean of Perrotis College, a branch of the American Farm School. He has published poems, essays, and translations in numerous American and international journals.
Athens: World Book Capital 2018
Finally, the declaration of Athens as UNESCO World Capital Book for 2018 seems very promising tο publishers and bookshops. There will be many events for all ages. Particular care will also be given to refugees and immigrants, as well as to foreign visitors. Some of the events will be reading festivals, and activities in schools and libraries. Plus, three-day events each month (meetings with writers, thematic reports, etc.), and White Reading Nights (one day a month every bookstore will stay open at night). Restaurants will list quotes from various novels on their menus. There are two competitions related to books and the art of writing and reading. Additionally, there will be two international conferences on book policy in Greece and freedom of speech and expression.
Greek book market on the rise
It’s definitely a new era for Greece’s book market. With new publishing companies, new works, and authors now paying attention to Greece, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Chryssoula Katsarou was born and raised in Athens. She studied journalism and international relations in Athens and in Leeds, UK. She wrote for the newspaper, Ethnos, for 17 years. For several years, Chryssoula translated books — mainly crime fiction — for the publishing house, “Kaktos”. She loves books, cinema, world politics, and most of all, a good dinner with good friends and good wine. She and her husband have two children.