(For more on this fascinating issue, check out this piece I wrote for The Guardian.) And do you feel the same way about Mozart?
“The most expensive book in the world is a Chinese one”
How much is $15,000 worth? It was a question I asked myself a couple of times during the past year when reading books in Chinese. And I believe the answer has to do with the sheer amount of money it takes to buy a Chinese book.
You wouldn’t believe the price of the most expensive book in the world. The latest edition of the Chinese classic Jealousy is selling for less than $800 and for many people, even with a Chinese translator, $800 is a hell of a bargain.
It would take you about four days to buy a single print copy of the book, so to put that in perspective, you can buy the average Chinese house for over $2 million.
You’ll notice that Jealousy is available in English, as well as a range of other languages.
So, what’s the price of all that? $15,000, with over $300,000 spent in marketing it. And, you’ll notice that when you buy a print copy of Jealousy, it’s printed in China – no English translation.
As a result of the price, it has sold only a dozen copies to date, so the bulk of that price was spent to find distribution of the book around the world.
If these books are anything like their English versions, it’s possible they won’t sell for much more.
That’s understandable – they are in English; they are a relatively old classic with lots of history; they are expensive.
But it makes sense. If you read the first one (1911), and were a little bit put off by the author, and that made you think of your Chinese teacher who used to be so angry because no one would listen to him, then, yes, it’s probably worth taking a different tack and reading an old classic.
Jealousy (the Japanese version, which I read in Japanese, as I had no Chinese) is a classic which was first published in 1913. The author – Kobo Abe – is a Japanese academic.
It’s got a few chapters on Japanese culture and history, but mainly it’s about jealousy, and how people envy and resent others. You can see why his name is associated with jealousy – it’s what the character
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