ABOUT ELAND BOOKS
Thirty-three years ago, John Hatt set up as a publisher. His office was his attic, perched at the top of his house on a grid of 19th-century terraced streets. Thus was Eland born, earning its identity from a south London street named after a large African antelope, which had been nicknamed by a Dutch-African back in the 17th-century, half-remembering the German slang for an elk. Only later did we find out that there had been an old Devonian family of bookseller-publishers called Eland. But it is to the large, docile, spiral-horned antelope that we owe our brand name.
They sound fine animals these African Elands. A bull can stand six feet tall at the shoulder and weigh over two thousand pounds, and can pretty much barge his way through anything in his path, especially when backed up by the rest of the herd. Unlike publishers they tend to avoid lunch, preferring to eat at dawn and dusk and digest with a siesta in the middle of the day. When the herd moves in the night, they create a distinctive castanet-like chorus from the clack of the two halves of their hooves. The Eland has now and then been domesticated (their milk keeps well) but they are essentially nomadic, which is partly true for those who work at Eland, who have spent as much of their time as journalists, writers, editors, musicians and dragoman-guides as behind a desk. And that is as it should be, for the purpose of the Eland list is to relish the fascinating diversity of our world.
We can never define exactly what we are looking for in a book until we stumble across it, but it needs to be observant of others, capable of summing up the spirit of a place and catching the moment on the wing … as well as being funny, wry, intelligent, humane, tragic, lyrical, universal, self-deprecating and idiosyncratic. And the whole book must be held together by a page-turning gift for story telling.
John Hatt’s Eland was the first of a wave of travel lists that emerged in the early 1980s, quickly joined by Century Travellers, the Penguin Classic Travel Library, Picador and Virago. You wouldn’t have wanted to put any money on it, but only the Eland list has endured. Nowadays, E-editions enable our books to be read in parts of the world where bookshops do not exist, but otherwise Eland continues, very much as it first started, with between two and eight new titles a year, and run from an attic. It is a classic tale of the Hare and the Tortoise, or should one say the Leopard and the Eland. For one of the defining characteristics of the Eland is that it is no good at high speeds but ‘can trot along at fourteen miles an hour indefinitely.’