Lithuanians and Their Books: Highly Literate Readers, Fond of Translations

In News by Dennis Abrams

In Lithuania, writes Inga Janiulytė for DW, ‘reading remains a popular activity—whether in spite of, or because of, social media.’ Most translations are from English.

At Vilnius Book Fair last month: Lithuanian readers see their books as ambassadors for their culture. Image: Vilniaus knygų mugė 2017, by Vidmantas Balkūnas

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

A Country ‘Full of Bookworms’
At Deutsche Welle’s DW, Inga Janiulytė writes that Lithuania may not have “dark crime novels like Scandinavia or Nobel Prize-winners like the Belarusians.”

But it’s a country, she writes, “full of bookworms and a diverse history that’s reflected in its books.” Indeed, last month Publishing Perspectives reported on the Vilnius Book Fair’s strong opening and a traditional turnout of some 70,000 people.

In her article for DW, Janiulytė looks at what’s popular among so many readers.

Fiction and nonfiction, she writes, are well represented, including works in such fields as psychology, neurolinguistic programming, and body language. Cookbooks sell well, she reports, but it’s children’s books that get the largest print runs in Lithuania. According to the Lithuanian Publishers Association, children’s books have an average first print run of 2,200, as compared to an overall average print run of 1,300 copies for other books.

In the last few years, Janiulytė writes, “fewer copies are being printed of more titles.” According to the association, 4.3 million copies of 3,400 book titles were published in 2015.

At Vilnius Book Fair in February. Image: Vilniaus knygų mugė 2017

The Lithuanian Readership: 50-50 Translations

The ratio of original Lithuanian books to translations is 50-50, she reports. The majority of translations are of English language titles, especially from the US. What’s more, translations need to be made quickly, she writes, because many Lithuanians are strong enough in English to read original editions. Because of the easy availability of English titles in print and electronic versions, she writes, many many readers, especially young ones, don’t wait for a translation into Lithuanian.

Among recent bestsellers in fiction in Lithuania is a quartet of historical novels, Silva Rerum by Kristina Sabaliauskaitė. It looks at aristocratic family life in the 17th and 18th centuries. Andrius Tapina’s steampunk novel Hour of the Wolf and its sequel were also popular, Janiulytė reports, depicting “a decidedly alternative version of early 20th-century Vilnius.”

Among nonfiction titles, books about the capital city have been popular. Darius Pocevičius’s 100 Historical Relics of Vilnius looks at the city’s history through an examination of “buildings, inscriptions, and the origins of street names.” Laimonas Briedis’ Vilnius: City of Strangers, looks at the city from the perspective of various outsiders including Napoleon Bonaparte, Dostoyevsky, and Stendhal.

Of Briedis’ book, Janiulytė writes, “It’s an important book for Lithuanians to understand the roots of their capital city and their country’s image in other parts of the world. But it’s also aimed at a much broader audience: Laimonas Briedis, who grew up in Vilnius and now lives in Vancouver, wrote the book in English to make it accessible around the world.”

Lithuanians view their books as a way to introduce themselves and their country to the world. And it’s why, as Janiulytė reports, Lithuanians were “determined to make a good impression as the guest country at the Leipzig Book Fair” last week, and next year at the London Book Fair, where Lithuania will be featured together with Estonia and Latvia as the Market Focus.

The full article at DW by Inga Janiulytė is here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.