Happy birthday to us!

13 February 2014 | Letter from the Editors

Picture: Wikipedia

Picture: Wikipedia

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.

And we reflect how things have changed – in the old days, when Books from Finland was a print journal, we had no real way of knowing who our readers were, or even how many of them we had. Our rule-of-thumb way of estimating reader numbers was to multiply the number of copies we printed by three, which we happily did, imagining the magazine being passed eagerly from hand to hand, and keeping to ourselves the dark possibility that many of them may have ended up in the waste paper bin.

Our typical reader, we supposed from the correspondence and magazine orders we received, was a granny from Connecticut with Finnish family connections. Now, our online analysis suggests you’re slightly more likely to be a woman than a man, probably between 18 and 34, and marginally more likely to be a native English-speaker than anything else. Oh, and you probably either have a smartphone or tablet, or are thinking of getting one.

So what else is new in the world of Finnish literature, and how is it making its way in the world?

‘The export of literature, it could be argued, is not Finland’s strong suit.’ This is how we started an editorial way back in 2001. Little did we know that the export of literature was about, in its small way, to take off. Back then, we noted that Finland had no Ibsen, Strindberg or Blixen, although on the other hand we did have the Kalevala, Mika Waltari and Arto Paasilinna.

Taking a look at the figures from 2009 to 2013 of the most translated Finnish authors, we now have, for example, Sofi Oksanen (33 languages, 48 translations), Mauri Kunnas (18 languages, 35 translations), Leena Lehtolainen (17 languages, 28 translations), Riikka Pulkkinen (14 languages, 22 translations), or Rosa Liksom (10 languages, 10 translations).

There are many more Finnish authors who have been discovered by foreign publishers; it wouldn’t be fair any more so say that exporting literature isn’t Finland’s forte.

Here's to Moomins – Moominpappa and Moominmamma on a picnic

Here’s to Moomins – Moominpappa and Moominmamma celebrating

Oh –and  of course we also have Tove Jansson: we have always had, then and now; both her Moomin books and her fiction for adults have been featured on our pages since the 1980s, and are constantly being reissued in translation. (There’s a mini-boom in Great Britain, for example, in her fiction for adults, and a growing interest in her as a person; Boel Westin’s biography has just been published, and a new one, by Tuula Karjalainen, will be later this year.)

Slowly and steadily Jansson’s name has become better known around the world – between 2009 and 2013 she was translated into 29 languages with 74 books. As 2014 is her centenary year, she will be celebrated in many ways – on these pages too! (This picture: see Moomin food)

When we launched Books from Finland, we were very concerned that going online shouldn’t mean dumbing ourselves down. In designing the website, we wanted it to be a place for reading and reflection, not just a screen to click through on the way to somewhere else.

Since we went online, though, the length of the translated extracts from the novels we feature has gone down slightly. We’re not sure why we’re doing this – after all, since we no longer have to pay for paper, printing or postage, we can run pieces to whatever length we like. Maybe we’re responding to the general pace of the internet – as well as to the editorial process of a journal publishing posts every week – but, in a spirit of positive self-criticism, it’s a tendency we promise to keep an eye on in future.

But the pace and ease of internet publishing has had some purely positive results, too. We’re in the middle of a big project to publish all our archive material – we’re currently in the year 2000, volume XXIV – which by the time we finish will make all the fiction we’ve published since 1976 available online.

The great news, for us, is that you, out there in the rest of the world, are finding your way to us in ever increasing numbers. Perhaps that’s what links our increasing visitor numbers with the growing number of translations of Finnish literature. The internet has indeed made the world a smaller place – and the literatures of small and far-flung countries like Finland easier to find.

Books from Finland was founded back in 1967 with a mission to breach the language wall between Finnish literature and the rest of the world. Thanks to new technology, that wall is lower now than it has ever been, giving a new twist to Johann von Goethe’s idea of world literature. On our birthday, we renew our commitment to slow literature, to local literature, to literature without frontiers.

We wish you many happy returns to Books from Finland’s pages!

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