Though New to Frankfurt, Iris Mor is No Newbie

In Feature Articles by Chip Rossetti

By Chip Rossetti

A newcomer to Frankfurt this year, Iris Mor, editor-in-chief of Israel’s Keter Books, is looking forward to meeting some of her growing list of contacts in person. Mor came to Keter last year from Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, where for fifteen years she had been the arts and culture editor, although she had always hoped to move to books: “It was a dream that somehow came true. For years I thought that one day if I ever did something else, it would be with books.”

Founded in 1958, Keter Publishing House has a wide range of general interest fiction and nonfiction titles, including children’s books. Israeli authors make up only around 25% of their list, while the remaining 75% consists of works in translation, including authors such as Haruki Murakami, Per Petterson, W.G. Sebald, and Muriel Barbery, author of the international bestseller The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Keter also publishes distinguished Israeli novelist Amos Oz—a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize—who is attending the Fair. Keter is hosting a 70th birthday celebration for him and his foreign publishers.

The global economic downturn is having its effect in Israel, however: “I think everyone is feeling the pinch. We are much more choosy these days about the books that we buy. We are buying books we are sure about—although of course nothing is ‘sure’ in this business.” Competition and a tighter economy have also driven down cover prices in Israel in the last few years. Like other houses, Keter has cut back on its list this year, publishing 10% fewer books than it has in recent years.

One thing that has yet to have an effect on Israeli publishing, however, is digital publishing: as a right-to-left language, Hebrew (like Arabic) poses unique problems for e-book software. And with only 4-5 million readers of Hebrew, developing e-book technology remains a low priority for software developers, say Mor: “We have tech companies in Israel trying to do something about it, trying to show us their version for digital books. But they’re not there yet—they still have a lot of work to do to make it viable.”

“The Israeli market is a strange one,” More points out, “because at least half of our bestseller list is composed of highbrow literature. At the same time, big commercial titles that have been huge bestsellers in other countries often don’t work here.” One of Keter’s top-selling titles this fall, for example, is a Hebrew translation of Truman Capote’s classic In Cold Blood. Mor is heartened by the fact that “there is a thirst for good literature” among Israeli readers, and with that in mind, she is looking forward to finding some great new additions to Keter’s list at her first Frankfurt.

About the Author

Chip Rossetti

Chip Rossetti is the managing editor of the Library of Arabic Literature translation series at NYU Press. He is a translator of contemporary Arabic fiction.