Our favourite things
29 January 2010 | Letter from the Editors
Every reader has his or her favourite book. It is possible to define, with acceptable criteria, when a work of fiction is ‘a good novel’: do the plot, characterisation and language work, does it have anything to say? But when is a ‘good’ novel better than another ‘good’ novel?
The final truth remains unprovable; opinions rage. But what demonstrates what is read the most are the best-seller lists. Would you, dear reader, be interested in Fart: A Spotter’s Guide (Craig S. Bower, tenth on the Finnish list of translated fiction in December)?
Or would we, the Editors, buy, for example, Juha Vuorinen’s latest book? More than 850,000 copies of Vuorinen’s 19 books have been sold over the past 11 years. His Juoppohullun päiväkirja (‘Diary of a crazy drunk’) – which really did begin life as a journal – has sold more than 150,000 copies, and Vuorinen is now writing the fifth volume. His most recent book, a funny crime thriller called Painajainen piparitalossa (‘Nightmare in the gingerbread house’), was eighth on the Finnish fiction best-seller list in December.
The Juoppohullu books are all about, yes, well, the ravings of a man under the influence. It’s extraordinary how many readers are gripped by the graphic description – inebriation, hangover, vomiting, sex etc. – of alcohol and its effects. Finland, it’s true, leads the Nordic countries in alcohol consumption, and a every third person of working age misuses the stuff. Because Vuorinen writes with comic fluency (and accuracy?), his boozy novels have also risen to prominence in Estonian, Norwegian and Swedish translations.
And is number one on the December list, Dan Brown’s latest megaseller, an unusually fine novel? Or The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho (‘loved by readers, hated by critics’), at number three?
The number one spot on the Finnish fiction list went, slightly surprisingly, to a novel by Antti Hyry (born 1931) for his 400-page novel Uuni (‘The stove’). The book was the newly announced winner of the Finlandia Prize, which always attracts a great deal of media attention and is designed to stimulate book sales. It clearly does its job.
It’s not really a fact that ‘critics’ mostly hate what ‘readers’ – as if these really were two separate categories – love; often, opinions converge, as for example with the 2008 Finlandia Prize winner, Sofi Oksanen’s novel Puhdistus (which will be published in English by Grove/Atlantic in April, translated by Lola Rogers).
So which, dear readers, will we be offering you in 2010? Well, we won’t be constrained by the narrow strictures of what’s considered good writing, any more than we will pander to what sells most. Instead, as always, we’ll be trawling the publishers’ lists for what’s interesting, innovative, quirky, compelling, endeavouring (as Books from Finland has been doing since 1967) to seek out examples of interesting, original literature, both fiction and non-fiction. And as always, we’d like to hear your thoughts about these pages.
The year begins, aptly, with wintry prose poems by Sirkka Turkka: ‘Trees have the snowy faces of ancestors, and on the road where dogs walk in their wind-blasted trousers, silence eats itself like silk.’ More poetry is on the way, as Jyrki Kiiskinen (an author and poet himself, and once editor-in-chief of Books from Finland) takes a look at last year’s new verse. A short story by the Russian-born Zinaida Lindén scrutinising the life-story of a former citizen of the Soviet Union will be next – and as the new spring novels start appearing, we’ll keep you posted.
Wishing you a great year in the company of good books, from Finland and elsewhere,