As a writer who lived almost two decades in Saudi Arabia, I read certain articles in Publishing Perspectives and on literary blog spots with, if not a smirk, a grain of salt. I have found praise heaped on allegedly “smart” blogs paying a lot of attention to readers and writers in third world countries. My experience in the Middle East has taught me the extent to which people actually read new fiction and nonfiction books in their native tongues. It would take me more than the normal length of this blog space to indicate the humble status of “new” books in Saudi Arabia and other spots in the Arab Peninsula. Such books are bought mainly by people who–how shall I say this–not only have college degrees but generally speak, read and write in more than one language. Cosmopolitan people.
In the Muslim world, those who gain their degrees in their native language (learning no other language well enough to read in) do not tend to buy books once they have graduated with the desired college degree. The books from their courses are kept in their home offices, behind glass doors. In North Africa, while the books are of cheaper quality, they are more widely dispersed to readers, probably because most North Africans learn to speak two to three languages.
Of all Arabic countries, the Lebanese are best known for their high degree of literary fervor. But the Lebanese are almost always trilingual.
Muslim fundamentalists tend to feel guilty–even those who speak two languages– if they read anything except religious literature. (Come to think of it, wasn’t that the attitude of Christian fundamentalists in the 18th and early 19th centuries?)
Any country that has a despotic, corrupt, totalitarian or rigged government is going to do its best to make sure books that stimulate critical thinking or imagination are not easily available, or if they are, that such objects should somehow not be favored. Anyone who has traveled begins to pick that up. Since it is really hard for intelligent writers not to make wry or dangerous political commentary, they have a hard time finding local publishers in such countries or even a safe place to sleep.
Here is an interesting fact: non English language nations tend to be jealous of English language writers, or at least, that was what a Swiss German writer once told me. He said that German language authors look with green envy upon our English language commercial world, for only in the English language can an author make the massive coup. The European language author dreams of his or her book doing well and THEN being translated into English.
Russian authors post their work for free on the internet until they may see the happy day of fame and possibly be translated into English, thereby making a few bucks.
I speak only of what I know or glean and invite comments on the reading and publishing going on in other parts of the world, particularly Spanish-speaking. However, it seems to me that some literary blogs may be spending a bit too much time pondering publishing in Pakistan or China. Reading is about freedom, one of the main reasons people come to the West. English has become the main language of communication in the West and therefore dominates all media.