Hi, I’m Kaja and I live in Slovenia. Usually, that’s not really important for this blog, but today I want to talk about how living in a very small country affects my (genre) reading habits.
Slovenia is one of the smallest countries in the European Union both by surface and by the number of inhabitants. It is this last number – a bit more than 2 million citizens – that is important here. To put this into perspective, London has more than 8 million people. Queens, just one of the boroughs in New York, for example, has 2.3 million. Ljubljana, our capital and my home town, has approximately 300,000 inhabitants.
Where am I going with this?
I always considered myself to be a big fan of the genre. I read fantasy (not so much sci-fi but still), I buy books, I blog about them, I try to make other people read them. My husband probably reads even more fantasy than I do. All in all, by Slovenian standards, we’re that weirdo couple who can always be counted on making incomprehensible LOTR-related jokes and then sniggering while others watch with bemused expressions on family meetings. My grandma still talks about the time I dragged her to the cinema to see The Two Towers with a pained expression.
But I’ve been participating in this weekly feature, Tough Travels, for several months now. It’s great fun and I love doing it but what it brings to light every single week is just how little I really know of the SFF genre.
In Slovenia, we have one major chain of bookstores owned by our largest publishing house, Mladinska knjiga. They have a pretty well-stocked English section in their largest store in Ljubljana but if you go to the fantasy aisle, you’ll only find the usual suspects: George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Jordan, Robin Hobb, a shelf or two with vampire-related paranormals, and a couple of other titles. It’s no wonder – these are the bestsellers, of course, but what I’m trying to say here is that there is no place I (or any other fantasy enthusiast) can go to browse the titles and discover something a bit less popular.
Sure, I can order books online (which is what I do most of the time, anyway) and have them delivered from the US, for example, but I have to know which ones I want, first. Ok, so I got into blogging – only last year – and I use Goodreads, but I’m computer literate – and most importantly I SPEAK ENGLISH VERY WELL (at least I’d like to think so…).
The real problem arises when you’re a Slovenian reader and your English is passable (it mostly is with people under 50 in Slovenia, pretty much everyone can make themselves understood in English, one of the side-effects of your language only having 2 millon speakers is the absolute need to learn a foreign language – or two) but not great. You might be able to order pizza and coffee, but you prefer your movies with subtitles and you’re certainly not up to reading a 900-page monster of a book with very elaborate language. Or maybe you just like to read in Slovenian. If that’s the case, your choices are severly limited in terms of fantasy literature. Again, the number of authors that have been translated is abysmally low: Tolkien, of course, Martin, Hobb (just one trilogy), Gaiman, Le Guin, and now Rothfuss.
I think there are two main reasons for this lack of translations:
- Fantasy is still a very underrated genre here. It is perceived to be childish (we do have plenty of translated books for kids – and young adults – that’s true, both the classics and the new(ish) titles). This is slowly changing, probably due to the popularity of the HBO’s Game of Thrones which has bewitched our audiences with violence and nudity. :)
- There are very few people who actually buy and read (fantasy) books. The average print run for a popular book (like a translation of a historical romance) is 2000 copies. For something like Harry Potter, it might be up to 5000 when all is said and done. Ime Vetra says 1300 copies for the hardback. Books get very expensive because of this!
I wish there were more people who read fantasy in my country. While the situation is definitely improving, we still have a long way to go. It’s probably important to note that there is very, very little original Slovenian fantasy out there, especially for adults (we do alright with fairy tales and some children’s books).
I wish there were more author events, debates, and other fantasy-related occasions. I only ever saw George R. R. Martin and Patrick Ness and I’ve been to a couple of small-scale fan debates in the last year but there’s still much to desire. I’m seriously thinking of starting my own association or something with several like-minded people…
What is your experience with reading fantasy? How did you get into it?
Do you go to lots of author events, conventions, talks and such?
Where do you live?
I’d love to hear from you! :)