As anyone who works in any capacity in publishing will tell you, times are hard right now. Nobody quite knows whether we’re in a recession, coming out of a recession or kissed the recession goodbye some time ago. But whatever is going on, money is in short supply unless of course you are a banker, a footballer, Tony Blair or Saudi Arabia. Books are not selling as fast or in such quantities as they once did. However, this is not so across the board.
I’ve just got back from İstanbul where, amongst other things, I had a chance to talk to publishers, publicity people and booksellers about the Turkish market. What I learned was amazing and very encouraging. Turkish books are booming. The book shipping department at my Turkish publishing house looked like a military operation – it was buzzing. It wasn’t just one type of publication on show either. World classics were shifting as quickly as popular fiction and a comprehensive new biography of the murdered ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink is projected sales in the hundreds of thousands.
Everybody smiled. My publisher recalled a time, not too many years ago (I remember it myself) when reading was almost an eccentricity in Turkey. Wandering around with a book or reading on the train or the tram was considered really odd. People would stare and sometimes even try to distract you from your wild and crazy strangeness. Not now. Now everybody has a book and the bookshops and book-fairs are jumping.
Of course none of this has happened over-night. The old book bazaar (Sahaflar Carcisi) dates back to Byzantine times and the booksellers in it have always been caring and learned. In modern times, quality bookshops like Pandora in the Beyoğlu district of the city have been spreading the word since 1991. Other book heroes include Homer Bookshop, Robinson Crusoe and the venerable institution that is the bookseller Simurg. This latter place has served as a second home to İstanbul intellectuals for decades offering as it has always attempted to do, a vast selection of books in many languages, endless glasses of tea and a sleeping cat on every shelf. Now, recession (or whatever) notwithstanding, these places are coming into their own. For my own sales – I am human after all – I am delighted. But I am also thrilled for other authors, for publishers, booksellers and for readers.
On my last day in the city, I found myself in the central city square, Taksim. This is basically a large interchange for buses as well as a park based around a war memorial. There is a lot of open space in and around Taksim Square. On this occasion however, that open space was taken up with something that made me really smile. It was a great big, open-air book-fair – and it was heaving with people whose faces shone with a hunger for books.
Last Friday we were sad to learn of the death of the British author, Gilda O’Neill. A writer of many gifts, Gilda wrote crime and family saga fiction as well as non-fiction historical works about her beloved east end of London. An academic, a novelist, a broadcaster, Gilda was a true believer in people and their potential. When Barbara was a nervous first-time author, Gilda encouraged her to believe in herself. There is an old saying about good people ‘not having a bad bone in his/her body’. That was Gilda. She was a true diamond and the world will be the poorer for her passing.