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Feature 12 Feb 13

Exploring Belgrade’s English Books Scene

For fans of Tolkien or aficionados of the chick-lit genre Belgrade’s selection of English-language books leaves little to be desired.

Andrej Klemencic
BIRN
Belgrade

The classics like Charles Dickens can be bought at bargain prices but if you want to get your hands on the latest highbrow best-seller you’ll be in for a tough search.

Generally the availability of English books is good in Belgrade. Two big bookstores, Delfi and Vulkan, offer thousands of volumes and the smaller shop, The English Book, also has a wide selection. 

Prices vary from €3 for classics paperbacks to €10 for popular fiction paperbacks, while specialist tomes can go up to €250.

Belgrade Insight went to the city’s four major outlets for English books to find out why it’s easier to get your hands on some obscure fantasy anthology  or the complete “Shopaholic” series than the latest Booker Prize winner in the Serbian capital.

The answer is in the way the stores order their books.

They place orders only every couple of months and go for mixed packages that contain a certain amount of best sellers, mixed with monographs, encyclopaedias and children’s books.

It is a bit of a grab bag which could explain why one bookshop ended up with a €250 French specialist book on the world of oil.

The sales manager of the large Vulkan bookshop on Sremska near Knez Mihailova, Milos Romcevic, explained that shops get a discount on quantity when they order bigger packages.

His Vulkan branch has four floors and a dedicated section for English fiction on the second floor, with around 2,000 titles.

The selection covers a wide range, but focuses on writers which have made a broad-scale impact in recent years both in critic’s circles as well as with the audience, like goofball crime writer Janet Evanovich, Japanese post-modern writer Haruki Murakami and American author Cormac McCarthy.

E L James is represented here with all three books from the Fifty Shades Trilogy.

There is an excellent Fantasy section with a special shelf dedicated to Martin and Tolkien, with luxury guides to their worlds.

Scattered around the entire shop are other English-language books, mainly volumes on architecture and nature. In total, of all titles sold at Vulkan, some 15 per cent are in English.

“We sell less English books than we used to, partly because of the growing popularity of e-books, and also because people can now order foreign books more easily via the internet,” Romcevic said.

For Serbs --who are the most important buyers of English language books in all the bookshops visited-- the fact that translations of popular books are also available sooner means many people wait for the Serbian version now, Romcevic explained.

He added that foreigners and expats mostly look for English translations of domestic authors, while local readers buy books about the Balkans to read what foreign authors have written about their country.

For the largest stock in foreign language books Belgraders should head to Delfi bookstore, located at SKC ground floor on Karlja Milana, which boasts as many as 15,000 titles, or one third of their entire sales volume. Delfi also has a specialised section with French books.

Nikola Zecevic, who runs the Delfi foreign language section, says that his customers, mainly locals, more often seek translations of foreign books into English rather than reading the Serbian translations. Foreigners and expats make up some 5 to 10 per cent of his customers.

He added that what he can order is constrained by financial concerns.

“Bookshop managers in Serbia must be mindful of the price when ordering, bearing in mind the overall economic situation,” he said.

Delfi has a big foreign language section with a pleasant café in the middle and a bargain shelf offering titles at 199 dinars. There is also a Travel section as well as Wine and Food sections, mainly with hardbacks.

The fiction section has a lot of books by Umberto Eco and Dean Koontz, as well as 7 titles by Orhan Pamuk.

There is a special Film section, with “Burton on Burton” featuring a foreword by Johnny Depp and some 300 hardbacks on art & design, and equally as many on architecture.

There is a big history section, and a shelf they call ‘Great Ideas’, meaning modern philosophy and sociology. Jeremy Clarkson’s books feature heavily in the Sport and Hobby sections.

The Fantasy section begins with Anne Rice and also has some lesser known Tolkien titles. There is a big section of graphic novels, from Asterix and Marvel to some more exotic titles.

Belgrade Insight also visited the Plato bookshop in Knez Mihailova, once the place to be for English language books in Belgrade. For the moment their English section is reduced to some 300 books, whose titles show that stock has not been renewed in a long time.

The only specialised English language bookshop in Belgrade is located in a cosy two-storey shop in the upper part of Kralja Petra. The English Book looks like a classic British bookshop with a lot of wood panelling and carpets on the floor.

The customers here are from Belgrade’s international community or students who want to buy textbooks, said store representative Branislava Marjanovic.

“We choose our fiction selection from the bestseller list and also take into account the wishes of our regular customers,” she said.

The shop’s layout is simple. A standing floor cabinet has popular titles of world literature translated into English and also books by writers from English-speaking countries. Behind there are thousands of textbooks for learning English for all ages and all levels.

There is also a section with paperback classics. These are bestselling items at all Belgrade bookshops offering English books, partly because of the large student population and also because of the affordable prices.

Among the fiction titles are Doris Lessing’s 1962 novel “The Golden Notebook”, Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient”, Isabel Allende’s “The Infinite Plan” and six titles by Orhan Pamuk, as well as two titles by Khaled Hosseini.  

The shop caters to broad tastes with many books by Paulo Coelho, Danielle Steel, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and again the popular ‘mummy porn’ with  “50 Shades of Grey”.

There is not much of a choice of Fantasy and in general the fiction section has around 500 or so titles. The bookshop also has a section of interactive gift books for children.

Downstairs is the section with bigger volumes, varying from monographs and autobiographies about and by the famous, from Sean Connery and Bob Dylan to Nelson Mandela and Tony Blair, to fashion and art sections, with titles like “500 Earrings” and “Gauguin in Tahiti”.

The English Book

Address: Kralja Petra 51

Vulkan

Address: Sremska 2

Delfi

Address: Kralja Milena 48

Plato

Address: Knez Mihailova 48

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