Helsinki: Siltala, 2014. 155 pp.
Aatos Erkko (1932–2012) was a prominent newspaper publisher and principal owner of the Sanoma group; the company’s largest and most prestigious paper is Helsingin Sanomat. Reticent by nature and possessed of a difficult personality, Erkko nonetheless tried to act in accordance with his ideals. Rarely seen in the public eye, during his lifetime he was considered one of Finland’s most influential forces behind the scenes. Even though he was not keen on taking over the reins of the paper from his father Eljas (son of the original founder) whose wish it was, Aatos Erkko took the role seriously, developing Helsingin Sanomat into the Nordic region’s largest newspaper. Journalist and writer Leena Liukkonen’s small-scale, warm-hearted portrait is based mostly on Erkko’s later years, making use of discussions and correspondence, as well as interviews recorded by a Swedish colleague. Known as Finland’s richest man, Erkko talks frankly about his difficult relationship with his parents, and the disappointments of his life. The book leaves the impression of a friendship portrayed in terms that are open and honest.
Translated by David McDuff
Longevity may not generally be a virtue of literary magazines – they tend to come and go – but Books from Finland, which began publication in 1967, has stuck around for a rather impressively long time. Literary life, as well as the means of production, has changed dramatically in the almost half-century we have been in existence. So where do we stand now? And what does the future look like?
This is the farewell letter from the current Editor-in-Chief, Soila Lehtonen – who began working for the journal in 1983
‘The literature of Finland suffers the handicap of being written in a so-called “minor” language, not a “world” language…. Finland has not entirely been omitted from the world-map of culture, but a more complete and detailed picture of our literature should be made available to those interested in it.’
Thus spake the Finnish Minister of Education, R.H. Oittinen, in early 1967, in the very first little issue of Books from Finland, then published by the Publishers’ Association of Finland, financed by the Education Ministry.
Forty-seven years, almost 10,000 printed pages (1967–2008) and (from 2009) 1,400 website posts later, we might claim that the modest publication entitled Books from Finland, has accomplished the task of creating ‘a more complete and detailed picture’ of Finnish literature for anyone interested in it. More…
This year has been an eventful for Finnish literature in many ways, not least in terms of young adults’ and children’s books. The full ramifications of Finland’s turn as the theme country at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair will only be known with the passage of time, but more mega-success stories to stand alongside Salla Simukka’s Lumikki (Snow White, Tammi) trilogy for young adults – now sold to almost 50 countries – are eagerly awaited. Visitors to the Frankfurt Book Fair also got a look at Finland-Swedish illustration at the By/Kylä (‘Village’) stand, which presented varied works by nine illustrators and animators in a memorable exhibit.
Book sales continue to fall in Finland. The major general-interest publishers – WSOY, Tammi, and Otava – have cut back on Finnish titles and are concentrating on high-sellers and proven authors.
Books in series are now a dominant phenomenon in literature for children and young adults, aiming to win readers’ loyalty with their continuing stories and characters. Many longtime authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults have had to look for new contacts, and publishers are increasingly hesitant to launch debut artists. More…
12 December 2014 | This 'n' that
For 41 years, from 1967 to 2008, Books from Finland was a printed journal. In 1976, after a decade of existence as not much more than a pamphlet, it began to expand: with more editorial staff and more pages, hundreds of Finnish books and authors were featured in the following decades.
Those texts remain archive treasures.
In 1998 Books from Finland went online, partially: we set up a website of our own, offering a few samples of text from each printed issue. In January 2009 Books from Finland became an online journal in its entirety, now accessible to everyone.
We then decided that we would digitise material from the printed volumes of 1976 to 2008: samples of fiction and related interviews, reviews, and articles should become part of the new website.
The process took a couple of years – thank you, diligent Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI) interns (and Johanna Sillanpää) : Claire Saint-Germain, Bruna di Pastena, Merethe Kristiansen, Franziska Fiebig, Saara Wille and Claire Dickenson! – and now it’s time to start publishing the results. We’re going to do so volume by volume, going backwards.
The first to go online was the fiction published in 2008: among the authors are the poets Tomi Kontio and Rakel Liehu and prose writers Helvi Hämäläinen (1907–1998), Sirpa Kähkönen, Maritta Lintunen, Arne Nevanlinna, Hagar Olsson (1893–1979), Juhani Peltonen (1941–1998) and Mika Waltari (1908–1979).
To introduce these new texts, we will feature a box on our website, entitled New from the archives, where links will take you to the new material. The digitised texts work in the same way as the rest of the posts, using the website’s search engine (although for technical reasons we have been unable to include all the original pictures).
By the time we reach the year 1976, there will be texts by more than 400 fiction authors on our website. We are proud and delighted that the printed treasures of past decades – the best of the Finnish literature published over the period – will be available to all readers of Books from Finland.
The small world of Finnish fiction will be even more accessible to the great English-speaking universe. Read on!
It starts next week: Finland is Guest of Honour at the Book Fair in the German and global city of Frankfurt. This link will take you to it all.
Approximately 170,000 professionals from the literary world are expected to visit the exhibition halls from Wednesday to Friday; the weekend is reserved for the general public, c.100,000 visitors. Since 1980s different countries have been in focus each year. More…
Toim. [Ed. by] Markku Löytönen, Tommi Inkinen, Anne Rutanen
Helsinki: Suomen tietokirjailijat ry. [The Finnish Association of Non-Fiction Writers], 195 p., ill.
paperback; available also online:
In the Western world the experience of reading is undergoing a critical change. There is even talk of a third information revolution. Books are increasingly acquiring electronic form, and the future of the printed book is being called into question. Kirja muuttuvassa tietoympäristössä contains the considered opinions of 18 experts on what is taking place in the field of non-fiction, and gives an overview of the literature on the current situation, which is seen from the point of view of the bookstore, the library, the author and the publisher. There is a discussion of intellectual property issues, developments in technology, and changes in the use of teaching materials, language, and reading habits. Finland is a leading country in both literacy and reading. The number of books has slowly declined in recent years, but it seems that the country’s youth has maintained an interest in books, and in fiction in particular. Although printed reference works of the encyclopedia type have given way to the information provided by the Internet, it is likely that literature and reading will preserve their status as a part of human culture.
Translated by David McDuff
A precise translation of the word non-fiction doesn’t exist in the Finnish language. Fiction is kaunokirjallisuus (a word invented by two diligent scholars, D.E.D. Europaeus and A. Varelius in mid-19th century for their Swedish-Finnish dictionary) – and a pretty word it is: kauno- is derived from the word kaunis, beautiful, beauteous. Non-fiction translates as tietokirjallisuus: literally, ‘literature of knowledge’.
Recently the status of Finnish non-fiction has been discussed in various media. Authors of non-fiction, as well as a number of readers, have been worried about diminishing sales, a decline in interest among both the general public and publishers, a lack of professional publishers’ editors. In a small-language area producing and profitable publishing ‘literature of knowledge’ is financially hard. More…
8 May 2014 | In the news
Not a lot of new titles made it to the list of the best-selling books – compiled by the Finnish Booksellers’ Association – in April, it seems. Number one on the Finnish fiction list was still Tommi Kinnunen’s first novel, Neljäntienristeys (‘The crossing of four roads’, WSOY).
In March this title reached the top after favourable reviews – in the Helsingin Sanomat daily paper in particular. The narrative spans a century beginning in the late 19th century and takes place in the Finnish countryside.
Number two – again – was another first novel about problems arising in a religious family, Taivaslaulu (‘Heaven song’, Gummerus, 2013) by Pauliina Rauhala. Number three was the latest crime/police novel by Seppo Jokinen, Mustat sydämet (‘Black hearts’, Crime Time).
On the translated fiction list, after George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons – top of the list in March too – is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Another donna (Donna Leon) was number three with her Beastly Things.
On the non-fiction list number one was a book on the Finnish actor / television journalist Ville Haapasalo’s life – and adventures during his travels in Russia, where he is a big celebrity and film star – by Haapasalo, Kauko Röyhkä and Juha Metso (Docendo). Number two was an autobiographical book by Katri Helena, a pop star who began her career in the 1960s.
The selection among the 20 best-selling books included, as usually, autobiographies and biographies, cookery, books about birds and nature. And Moomins. Books about Moomins and their creator Tove Jansson (1914–2001) certainly will rule this year – Jansson’s centenary.
Ebooks are not books, says Teemu Manninen, and publishers who do not know what marketing them is about, may eventually find they are not publishers any more
At least once a year, there is an article in a major Finnish newspaper that asks: ‘So, what about the ebook?’ The answer is, as always: ‘Nothing much.’
It’s true. The revolution still hasn’t arrived, the future still isn’t here, the publishers still aren’t making money. In Finland, the ebook doesn’t seem to thrive. The sales have stagnated, and large bookstores like the Academic Bookstore are closing their ebook services due to a lack of customers.
Why is Finland such a backwater? Why don’t Finns buy ebooks?
The usual explanation is that Finland is a small country with a weird language, so the large ebook platforms like Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBook store have not taken off here. Another patsy we can all easily blame is the government, which has placed a high 24% sales tax on the ebook. If that isn’t enough, we can always point a finger at the lack of devices and applications or whatever technical difficulty we can think of. More…
13 February 2014 | Letter from the Editors
It’s been five years since Books from Finland went online, and we’re celebrating with a little bit of good news.
In the past year, the number of visits to the Books from Finland website has grown by 11 per cent. The number of US and UK readers grew by 29 per cent, while the number of readers in Germany – stimulated perhaps by the publicity Finnish literature is attracting as a result of its Guest Country status at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair – increased by an astonishing 59 per cent.
We’re chuffed, to put it mildly – and very thankful to you, dear readers, old and new. More…
30 January 2014 | In the news
The book year 2013 showed an overall decrease – again: now for the fifth time – in book sales: 2.3 per cent less than in 2012. Fiction for adults and children as well as non-fiction sold 3–5 per cent less, whereas textbooks sold 4 per cent more, as did paperbacks, 2 per cent. The results were published by the Finnish Book Publishers’ Association on 28 January.
The overall best-seller on the Finnish fiction list in 2013 was Me, Keisarinna (‘We, tsarina’, Otava), a novel about Catherine the Great by Laila Hirvisaari. Hirvisaari is a queen of editions with her historical novels mainly focusing on women’s lives and Karelia: her 40 novels have sold four million copies.
However, her latest book sold less well than usual, with 62,800 copies. This was much less than the two best-selling novels of 2012: both the Finlandia Prize winner, Is, Jää (‘Ice’) by Ulla-Lena Lundberg, and the latest book by Sofi Oksanen, Kun kyyhkyset katosivat (‘When the doves disappeared’), sold more than 100,000 copies.
The winner of the 2013 Finlandia Prize for Fiction, Riikka Pelo’s Jokapäiväinen elämämme (‘Our everyday life’, Teos) sold 45,300 copies and was at fourth place on the list. Pauliina Rauhala’s first novel, Taivaslaulu (‘Heaven song’, Gummerus), about the problems of a young couple within a religious revivalist movement that bans family planning was, slightly surprisingly, number nine with almost 30,000 copies.
The best-selling translated fiction list was – not surprisingly – dominated by crime literature: number one was Dan Brown’s Inferno, with 60,400 copies.
Number one on the non-fiction list was, also not surprisingly, Guinness World Records with 35,700 copies. Next came a biography of Nokia man Jorma Ollila. The winner of the Finlandia Prize for Non-Fiction, Murtuneet mielet (‘Broken minds’, WSOY), sold 22,600 copies and was number seven on the list.
Eight books by the illustrator and comics writer Mauri Kunnas featured on the list of best-selling books for children and young people, with 105,000 copies sold. At 19th place was an Angry Birds book by Rovio Enterntainment. The winner of the Finlandia Junior Prize, Poika joka menetti muistinsa (‘The boy who lost his memory’, Otava), was at fifth place.
Kunnas was also number one on the Finnish comic books list – with his version of a 1960s rock band suspiciously reminiscent of the Rolling Stones – which added 12,400 copies to the figure of 105,000.
The best-selling e-book turned was a Fingerpori series comic book by Pertti Jarla: 13,700 copies. The sales of e-books are still very modest in Finland, despite the fact that the number of ten best-selling e-books, 87,000, grew from 2012 by 35,000 copies.
The cold fact is that Finns are buying fewer printed books. What can be done? Writing and publishing better and/or more interesting books and selling them more efficiently? Or is this just something we will have to accept in an era when books will have less and less significance in our lives?
Finnish picture books for children have long been reliable export goods around the world. In the last few years, a number of novels for children have come along in their wake: works by authors such as Timo Parvela and Siri Kolu have been translated into a good many languages.
Now young adult literature has also blazed a trail on to the international market – in what also seems to be almost a matter of precision timing with regard to the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014. Finnish publishers have been investing in their home-grown lists of children’s and young adult books ever since the turn of the millennium, and now the time has come to harvest the fruits of their long-term efforts.
In an era of ‘liveblogging’‚ we are all storytellers. But what’s the story, asks Teemu Manninen
One score of years ago, when the internet was new, the cultural critics of the time were fond saying that it would usher in a new utopia of free distribution of information: we would be able to read everything, know everything and share everything anywhere and every day.
Truly, they told us, we would become enriched by the internet to the point of not knowing what to do with all that wealth of knowledge, the amount of connections between us and the ever-increasing online availability of anyone with everyone, every waking hour.
Now that we really do have this always-on connectivity, you will indeed be available every waking hour: you will update your status, check your inbox, post pics and be available for chatting, texting, a quick email and a message or two, just to make sure no one is offended by your unreachability, since – from experience – a week’s worth of not tweeting or facebooking can make someone think that something serious has happened, or that you don’t even exist anymore. More…
8 November 2013 | Letter from the Editors
More and more new Finnish fiction is seeing the light of day. Does quantity equal quality?
Fewer and fewer critical evaluations of those fiction books are published in the traditional print media. Is criticism needed any more?
At the Helsinki Book Fair in late October the latest issue of the weekly magazine Suomen Kuvalehti was removed from the stand of its publisher, Otavamedia, by the chief executive officer of Otava Publishing Company Ltd. Both belong to the same Otava Group.
The cover featured a drawing of a book in the form of a toilet roll, referring to an article entitled ‘The ailing novel’, by Riitta Kylänpää, in which new Finnish fiction and literary life were discussed, with a critical tone at places. CEO Pasi Vainio said he made the decision out of respect for the work of Finnish authors.
His action was consequently assessed by the author Elina Hirvonen who, in her column in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, criticised the decision. ‘The attempt to conceal the article was incomprehensible. Authors are not children. The Finnish novel is not doing so badly that it collapses if somebody criticises it. Even a rambling reflection is better for literature than the same old articles about the same old writers’ personal lives.’ More…
17 October 2013 | This 'n' that
The Finnish book world is preparing for the big event of ‘F14’: Finland will appear as Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October next year.
The slogan for this enterprise is Finnland. Cool.
The coordinating organ is FILI, the Finnish Literature Exchange, a part of the Finnish Literature Society. Co-operating with FILI are three ministries, literary organisations and publishers, the Finnish Embassy and Finnland-Institut in Berlin and the Goethe-Institut in Helsinki.
Last week a large proportion of the FILI staff – who now need to keep their cool for the next busy year – went to Frankfurt, and on 10 October (aptly, the memorial day of the national author Aleksis Kivi and also Finnish Literature Day) the press conference was opened by the Finnish Minister of Culture and Sport, Paavo Arhinmäki. On 13 October the 2013 Guest of Honour, Brazil, passed the baton to Finland. (More photographs here.)
The world’s largest book fair, Frankfurt, attracts some 300,000 visitors each year. Accessible to both professionals and the general public, the fair is also the biggest cultural event in Germany.
The Guest of Honour countries receive a vast amount of attention in the media, and the number of new translations from the respective languages into German, as well as other languages, will increase.
The total Finnish budget for the years 2010–2015 is approximately four million euros, half of it money from the government. And the mission? Here are some warm words from the cool FILI agenda:
‘Why are Finns reading so much? Why are Finns so good at reading? Because we love it. Because reading plays such an important role in everyday life.
‘And because it is so important in Finland that everybody has access to reading – regardless of whether you are male or female, where you live, where you work, what your education or talent is. Fun, everyday life and for everyone – these are the main themes of the satellite programme for the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2014.’