Thursday, October 15, 2009

Literature not popular in the USA

I grew up in Canada, but now live in the USA. In the grand scheme of things, Canada and the USA are very, very similar. Yet even so there are odd differences. One of them being that there are books which are popular around most of the English-speaking world (and often farther) that are popular in Canada which nobody in the USA has heard of.

In some cases it is obvious why. For instance consider Yes, Minister which is one of the most brilliant descriptions ever of how bureaucracies work. However it assumes you understand the British parliamentary system. This political system is used in most places that were part of the British empire, including Great Britain, England, India and Australia. Therefore there is little surprise that while I've met plenty of fans of the series from all of those countries, virtually nobody in the USA has even heard of it.

In other cases it is less obvious to me why it is so. Consider, for instance, the comic series Asterix and Obelix. Originally written in French, the series has been translated into many, many different languages and is loved by children around the world. I've talked with fans from France who didn't know it was translated, fans from Spain who didn't realize it was in English, fans from India who didn't know it wasn't originally written in English, and so on. Yet I think I've talked with a grand total of one person from the USA who had heard of it - and I believe he learned about it while traveling through Europe!

Why would this be so? I suspect that some marketer looked at the series and said, "A comic series set in ancient France shortly after the Roman invasion? No American kid will ever go for that!" And so it was never marketed here.

I think this was just a bad decision. Certainly no American that I've lent it to (including several children) had trouble with the material. They all loved it. Besides, the books are meant to be appreciated on many levels. I can read it to my 4 year old son and he laughs at how Obelix accidentally breaks doors when he knocks at them. I loved it at 9 even though I missed most of the jokes embedded in the names. And my kids' babysitter wants me to buy more so she can read them. It really is a series that grows with you as you learn enough to understand more of the jokes.

In short you'd think that any series that is popular around the world in multiple languages is worth trying in the USA as well. But apparently publishers don't think that way. And so American audiences miss out on some really great works.

But this makes me wonder. I'm aware of these works because I grew up in Canada. But the USA and Canada are very similar. What popular works would I love that I don't know because they were never marketed in either country?

1 comment:

Christian R. Conrad said...
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