We spoke with the editor-at-large of Scribe UK about what's driving the success of the house's recent bestseller Gut, and a forthcoming Spanish book that he thinks will change English language readers' ideas of "what Spanish nonfiction can do."
You recently acquired a Spanish book you're very high on. Can you tell me a bit about it?
I’ve just taken on—after months of dither and four readers’ reports—In the Land of Giants: Hunting Monsters in the Hindu Kush by Gabi Martinez. It investigates what became of a venturesome Spanish explorer, Jordi Magraner, who went hunting the Yeti in the Himalayas only to end up murdered in mysterious circumstances. The adventurer, Jordi, tastes of T.E. Lawrence, Bruce Chatwin, Eric Newby and Julien Sorel all at once. And I am sure Gabi’s account of Jordi's travels is going to be a significant book in English. This book could be the one that reinvents the Anglosphere’s understanding of what Spanish nonfiction can do, and can mean, and how far it has come. We have the prize-winning Daniel Hahn translating, and hope to publish at the end of next year, ideally with a U.S. publishing partner yet to be identified.
Let's talk a bit about Giulia Enders's Gut, which is currently a huge hit for your house. Why do you think the book--which Scribe published in May (and which was released in North America by Canadian house Greystone)--is selling so well throughout Europe?
Well, just recently The Times’ fashion editor did a small piece on her fashion pages about what she terms "the world’s most surprising page-turner" and I guess this is just the latest demonstration of how wide the reach of interest is in the new science of gut health. We’ve also just authorized our fourth reprint—a further 15,000 copies. Appetites are undiminished, it seems. And, interestingly, we’re selling almost as many copies in Germany as we are here in the U.K., of our edition.
What kind of submissions aren't coming across your desk that you'd like to see more of?
It feels like, this year, the dearth of nonfiction submissions here in the U.K. has only intensified. With the exception of science and health and Powerpoint-friendly behavioral economics, there is very little coming across the transom of the kind of ambitious, original writing in travel lit, cultural criticism, investigative journalism, history of ideas, memoir, environmentalism and new political science. I was getting these kinds of books for the past 25 years, as both a reader and publisher. It’s still coming down the pipeline from North America and Europe, but here in the U.K. we might just be approaching something like a drought.
What are some trends that you wish would go away?
Cowardice, prejudice, defeatism. I have this terrible, if unprovable, suspicion that some of the most interesting nonfiction proposals—those that require the commitment of much time and intellectual graft—are not reaching the desks of publishers like me. I fear that the reason is because disenchanted, and unsalaried, prospective authors choose not to write them and, instead do something that puts food on the table. Serious writing from serious, but untenured, writers needs a new economic dispensation. Bring back patronage, I say! Bring back the Republic of Letters and the enlightened exchange between ideas, explorers and investors.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said Gut was not yet published in the U.S. The book is published in North America by Greystone.