I was recently browsing the bookshelves of my local Waterstone's. Let me add that my local bookstore is on a university campus, so I had heightened expectations. I thought that perhaps students in particular would be interested in a wide variety, in terms of both international voices and genre.
So I strolled the store, looking for Nordic authors. What I found was unsurprising, but disappointing nonetheless. I saw books by Swedish authors such as Henning Mankell and Håkan Nesser, and Norwegians such as Jo Nesbø. In other words, crime novelists.
Where, I wondered, were the more literary authors? Even an old Nobel Prize-winner or two would have satisfied me. But alas. The only Nordic voices to be found were those of detectives.
Now, some people have said that the popularity of Nordic crime fiction is an excellent thing, since it might get readers interested in the Nordic cultures and languages, and thus, by extension, in other kinds of literatures. But I'm not seeing evidence of that. I don't see bookshelves at libraries or bookstores devoted to Nordic literature and I don't see Nordic authors highlighted in newspapers or book reviews. If Nordic writing is mentioned at all, it is in the context of crime fiction, and crime fiction only.
So what will it take to get people to people to want to learn more about Nordic literature and authors? I don't have an answer, but I long for the day when crime doesn't pay.