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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 September 2002

11 September: D.H.Lawrence's birthday | 1 month of blogging
12 September: Lem at 81 | Bending over backwards at Salon
13 September: ¿ Donde está El criticón ? | Gaby's book tour
14 September: Another longlist | Zadie reactions
16 September: Iain Sinclair goes London Orbital | Re-Creation | Random House goes flash | Amis on Koba-reactions
17 September: Another Stoppard review | Washington Post update
18 September: Houellebecq on trial | Franzen on Fox
20 September: The Reader's Manifesto | Hyde Park re-view

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20 September 2002 - Friday

The Reader's Manifesto | Hyde Park re-view

       The Reader's Manifesto

       The latest review to be added to the complete review is of B.R.Myers' A Reader's Manifesto. Readers might remember the stir it caused when this version of the essay was published in The Atlantic Monthly last summer.
       We already addressed the original essay -- and the reactions to it -- in our piece, Considering B.R.Myers' Reader's Manifesto at the complete review Quarterly, but the subject is worth revisiting -- and the book, which includes additional material, such as Myers' responses to his critics, is certainly worthwhile for those who like these kinds of literary debates.
       The book is also of interest because it introduces a new publisher to the scene. You know Dennis Loy Johnson from his weblog, MobyLives, but now he's also become a player in the publishing world: together with Valerie Merians he's founded Melville House. Only two books so far (Myers' and the anthology Poetry after 9/11), but it looks like a promising enterprise.
       (Melville House has gotten some decent press coverage -- though note that in this otherwise nice article from The New York Times (issue of 28 July) author Lewis Beale doesn't even manage to spell poor B.R.Myers' name correctly.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       Hyde Park re-view

       splinters, the weblog at Spike, recently wrote about the mystery of the Hyde Park Review of Books -- launched with some fanfare (or at least a lot of e-mail announcements) earlier this year. Few reviews (and other content), at first, but it looked like it had potential. But there hasn't been much action at the site in a while -- no new reviews since May or June, it appears, a few promised pieces apparently long-delayed. What gives ? splinters wonders -- as, we must admit, did we. It looked so promising (we were thrilled to hear that there might be more book reviews to be found on the Internet) -- and now appeared almost moribund.
       We e-mailed the Hyde Park Review of Books and were pleased to quickly receive a reply. Senior Editor Nicole Hamer acknowledges that "The office was a little nomadic this summer" but assures us that Hyde Park is still planning bigger things (or at least more content and reviews) for the future. Indeed: they've "got a big issue in store for our fall 2002 release (mid October)".
       The site doesn't exactly live up to its rave billing (scroll down for rave) at Utne: "Its vast array of reviews (...) Contrary to what mainstream media's tiny book sections may infer, the Hyde Park Review is proof that literary culture is alive and thriving." (If they're proof -- and "alive and thriving" -- what the hell is a site like the complete review (where reviews are actually added every couple of days, where a weblog is updated almost daily) ? And if they have a "vast array of reviews" what do our 888 amount to ?) But at least the Hyde Park Review of Books looks to be ambitious, and over time the site might really amount to something.
       We look forward to dropping in there again in mid-October.

(Posted by: complete review)

18 September 2002 - Wednesday

Houellebecq on trial | Franzen on Fox

       Houellebecq on trial

       French author Michel Houellebecq seems to bask in what notoriety he has achieved, and persists in making outlandish statements (to go along with his often outlandish books -- the newest being the controversial Platform (sorry not under review yet -- check out The Elementary Particles (UK title: Atomised) and Whatever in the meantime)).
       In an interview in Lire (September 2001) he said some things that have landed him in a spot of trouble. With exchanges like this one shouldn't be surprised:
Lire: Pour l'Islam, ce n'est plus du mépris que vous exprimez, mais de la haine ?
M.H.: Oui, oui, on peut parler de haine.
       So now he's on trial for these and other ill advised remarks (as today's article in The Guardian headlines it: "Calling Islam stupid lands author in court"). He faces up to a year in prison, and a fine of up to 45,000 Euros. See also this article from today's Le Monde for more about the beginning of the trial.
       Fun background titbits: is his anti-Islamic attitude due to his mother's conversion to Islam ? He says no in the Lire interview. But, while he was a bit more careful with his words in a previous Lire interview (September 1998) where he talks about his relationship with Mom, check out the cheer here:
Lire: Et votre mère ? La voyez-vous ?
M.H.: Je suppose qu'elle est vivante. Je ne sais pas, je l'ai peu vue, une dizaine de fois peut-être. La dernière fois, cela s'est mal passé. Elle s'était convertie à l'islam. Je ne supporte pas l'islam.
       The French haven't ever been all that big on freedom of speech or opinion so expect at least a token fine rather than complete vindication for the author (though no jail time).
       Meanwhile we're wondering what happens when the next person calls an outlandish belief system (like Naziism, animism, atheism, Christianity ...) stupid and expresses a deep hatred for it ..... (Yes, yes, we know there's a bit more to what Houellebecq did -- all that incitement excitement -- but still .....)

(Posted by: complete review)

       Franzen on Fox

       Paula Fox is apparently all the rage, garnering glowing reviews and high praise left and right for her re-discovered fiction and now for her memoir, Borrowed Finery. (Sorry, nothing about any of Fox's work -- yet ? -- at the complete review.)
       A particular fan has been Jonathan Franzen -- his "impassioned advocacy" (so Sarah Churchwell in her TLS review of Borrowed Finery (30 August)) in no small part responsible for the resurgent interest (and re-publication of many of her works). We haven't read much of what Franzen has to say about her work, but twice in recent weeks his comments have been hard to overlook.
       The first is in the TLS review: Sarah Churchwell quotes him as finding the Fox-novel Desperate Characters "obviously superior to any novel by Fox's contemporaries John Updike, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow". We haven't read the novel in question, but suggest that Churchwell's response -- "Not only an overstatement, this is also a profitless comparison" -- seems right on target.
       (We can't resist also noting that use of the word "obviously" should surely be restricted to what is truly obvious: Fox's novel was, even when it first appeared, well-received. Possibly, too, it is superior to all the works of Updike, Roth, and Bellow. But the idea that it was obviously superior ... well, that obviously wasn't obvious to ... pretty much anyone until Franzen came along.)
       Also striking is an advertisement in the 5 September London Review of Books for Borrowed Finery. On page five one finds an arresting full-page advert of the usual sort, with four quotes in praise of Fox -- two, interestingly, attributed only to newspapers (the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph) whose authors were clearly unworthy of mention, two to authors (Zoe Heller and Jonathan Franzen) where, in turn, the forum these quotes are cribbed from is not revealed.
       The quotes are the usual blurb-crap. Zoe Heller pronounces Borrowed Finery: "A memoir of terrifying eloquence." (Note: we have no idea how eloquence can be terrifying. Please do let us know if you have any ideas -- we'd love to give it a try.)
       Franzen's blurb is slightly longer -- though complete with ellipsis:
Inarguably great ... her sentences are small miracles of compression, tiny novels in themselves.
       We know we occasionally get carried away too, but "inarguably great" ? Sorry, we don't buy that. There's always room for argument. And we don't like personal opinion -- on any matter -- that doesn't allow for any dissent.
       Better yet, of course, are the sentences that are "novels in themselves". What on earth does this mean ? And how could this be a good thing ? As we said, we have not read Fox's work, so possibly there is some reason behind Franzen's statement -- such as that each novel consists only of a single sentence, in which case, of course, they would be "novels in themselves" (though of course hardly tiny or miracles of compression). But generally speaking, would we ever want our sentences to be novel-like ? To have character development and plot and everything else you find in a novel ? Perhaps it would be neat to have a succession of such novel-sentences (if such a thing were possible) -- perhaps, indeed, Fox manages this trick. But it doesn't sound very appealing to us.
       Admittedly, we're missing the context of Franzen's remarks -- we have no idea where these words were written (the ad won't say); possibly they have been taken entirely out of context. But we find the hyperbole -- like all hyperbole -- very annoying. And to say Fox's sentences resemble tiny novels doesn't help us in the least in determining whether she might be worth our attention. It just confuses us (and worries us a bit) But perhaps most LRB-readers are more understanding .....

(Posted by: complete review)

17 September 2002 - Tuesday

Another Stoppard review | Washington Post update

       Another review of Coast of Utopia

       The reviews (and other content) at The New Yorker-site usually only remain accessible for a week, so we're not adding the link to John Lahr's review of Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia to our own review page but at least make mention of it here -- so that you can check it out. No guarantees that you'll be able to get at it after the 22nd. Note that they also offer something "from the archives" -- a 1968 interview with Tom.
       (Tad Friend's article in this same 23 September issue of The New Yorker, on the pathetic obscenity that is the entertainment P.R. business, is unfortunately not available online, not even just for the week -- but console yourself with the less upsetting Adam Gopnik piece on Rereading W.H.Auden.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       Inaccessible Washington Post - update

       We recently railed against The Washington Post's perverse new registration policy, making their neat Book World section and other book coverage inaccessible except to those Internet users who have lost their minds and willingly registered (and allowed The Washington Post-site (and their various advertisers) to put cookies on their computers). (We note that barely anybody seems to have taken much interest in what The Washington Post did, or to find much wrong with it. Ah well.)
       We have no good news to report -- the registration policy looks to be firmly entrenched (since users apparently don't give a damn there appears to be essentially no pressure on the Post to in any way change the policy).
       However, we've found that it is still possible to get a glimpse of Book World online -- though all one can see is what books are under review, with very brief excerpts/summaries. If you enter the Book World page by the usual route (the links on their main page, etc.) you just get the -- as we like to call it -- 'please register or go to hell page'. However, there is a ... side-entrance. Click on the print edition of Book World and you at least see what there is to be found in those pages this week ... !
       (You can, of course, register to easily access all these pages and more. We remind you, however, that we don't think even Book World -- or any other content -- is worth that sacrifice.)

(Posted by: complete review)

16 September 2002 - Monday

Iain Sinclair goes London Orbital | Re-Creation
Random House goes flash | Amis on Koba-reactions

       Iain Sinclair goes London Orbital

       We're great Iain Sinclair fans (see our author page and follow the links to our reviews of most of his titles), and we're pleased to hear his new book -- London Orbital -- is set to come out later this month. (We'll review it as soon as Granta gets us a copy.) It's another non-fiction London excursion, i.e. Sinclair doing what he does best. There's also a film of the same title, by Sinclair and Chris Petit, -- catch the screening at the Serpentine Gallery (London W2) on 27 September or wait for it to appear on C4 later this year. And the Serpentine Gallery also has a related exhibit on, En Route (18 September-27 October).
       Meanwhile, get a taste of the book by checking out Sinclair's piece, In Hackney (at the London Review of Books), or learn more about Sinclair and his wanderings in Tim Adam's profile in The Guardian (September 15).
       Other links of interest:
  • London Orbital publicity page at Granta
  • A review of Iain Sinclair's George Orwell lecture at Senate House, Birkbeck (February 2002), at Metamute
  • Purchase your copy of the book:
(Posted by: complete review)


       Gore Vidal published a novel called Creation in 1981. It turns out that wasn't quite the novel Vidal had written. As Tim Rutten reports in The Los Angeles Times (13 September), Vidal's original manuscript was cut -- first by then Random House editor Jason Epstein and then some "young editor" -- and published in a form quite different from what Vidal had intended. Epstein apparently found Vidal's novel "to be a stew of historical inaccuracies, filled with impermissible exaggerations and assertions." (Note: we are unfamiliar with the concepts of "impermissible exaggerations and assertions" as they relate to works of fiction -- fiction ! for god's sake. We thought (and we like to think) everything is permissible in fiction -- even in pseudo-historical fiction.)
       Now, Doubleday is righting this ... wrong, and publishing Creation: Restored Edition (get your copy at Yes, they're publishing the uncut "stew of historical inaccuracies" ! Judge for yourself who is right -- the impermissibly exaggerating author or the eviscerating editors ! (Note that the list price for this tome is a staggering 39.95 dollars. Almost 40 dollars ! Yes, it's cheaper at and the like -- and you'll soon be able to find remaindered copies for much less -- but it's still outrageous !)
       We generally aren't very enthusiastic about editorial meddling, especially in works of fiction (though a surprising number of works we've come across recently have been in desperate need of some (any !) editorial involvement). And if Epstein's cuts were really made because of "impermissible exaggerations and assertions" -- well, then we agree the cuts should be restored. But is this work really worth the effort ?
       We actually read Creation many years ago -- we loved the premise, and what Vidal was trying to do (sorry -- no review available at the site). But it was almost unreadable -- the cut version, at least, was laughable as a work of fiction (and it's surprising Epstein published it in this or any form -- though it seems to have done quite well, sales-wise).
       Others disagree -- for a variety of opinions, consider reviews (all of the original cut version) by Danny Yee and Steven Saylor. And ever-humble Gore himself thought even this mutilated version invaluable -- asked by Salon to name "five favorite postwar novels" (10 May 1999) he includes one of his own ... Creation ! He explains:
My recommendation here is entirely disinterested: One writes this sort of book to pass on knowledge of worlds we are encouraged to know nothing of
       What a generous guy ! Passing on knowledge (though curiously doing so in a fictional framework -- i.e. where factual accuracy (an integral part, we thought, of knowledge) is completely irrelevant). And his recommendation is entirely disinterested, too ! (Royalties and the publicity don't count as interest, apparently.) And note: not a word of complaint or outrage -- not any mention at all -- that his book had been butchered and not published in the form he had intended.
       You are, of course, free to shell out forty bucks for this Re-Creation. We humbly suggest your money might be better spent on something (anything) else.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Random House goes flash

       American publishing behemoth Random House is proud to announce the redesign of their website.
       Clicking on the site we now learn: "This site is best viewed with the latest version of the Macromedia® Flash™ Player".
       Somewhere out there there are perhaps Internet users who like Flash™-technology. We can't imagine why. After pop-up windows and spam e-mail, we find it the single most annoying Internet-feature (sure, there are worse things out there -- like Macromedia®'s other product, Shockwave™ -- but Flash™ is far more widespread than these). Admittedly our computer is completely outdated and our Internet connection terribly slow (and we refuse to upload yet another, newer version of Flash™) -- but "Flash" is anything but, slowing everything further, to a grinding if not complete halt (and often -- as on the Random House site -- not allowing for a particularly quick escape to Flash™-less pages), and the fancy end-product (the Flash™-page) usually isn't particularly impressive either.
       If there were some benefits to what Flash™ does we might see the point, but it's a bells-and-whistles thing that serves essentially no purpose (except that webpage designers can fool themselves into thinking they've done something really cool by Flash™ing it). Surely it has no business complicating life on a book publisher site. Macromedia® itself touts their Flash Player™ as displaying "web application front-ends, high-impact website user interfaces, interactive online advertising, and short-form to long-form animation".
       Interactive online advertising ! Short-form to long-form animation ! Just what you want when you visit, right ? Just what you need, too ! And remember: it all comes at a huge price -- largely in the form of taking ages to load.
       What happened to the idea of functional design ? When did simple simplicity go out of style ? Why don't consumers demand it ?
       The complete review isn't exactly exemplary in its design, but we like to think that we are fairly user-friendly (and quick-loading). Meanwhile publishers (Random House is far from the only -- or worst -- offender) persist in just making their sites more complicated, time-wasting, and unnecessarily elaborate -- while complicating navigation. Instead of designing their websites in order to facilitate the providing of information they try to make them into entertainment sites. We don't see the point of that.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Amis on Koba-reactions

       Martin Amis' new book, Koba the Dread, continues to elicit all sorts of reactions. (Sorry, no review -- yet; we'll get around to it eventually.)
       Now Boyd Tonkin gives Amis the opportunity to reply to his critics in this interview in The Independent (14 September). Meanwhile, don't forget Christopher Hitchens reply to Martin Amis in The Guardian (4 September).
       It doesn't look like this fun debate will stop anytime soon.

(Posted by: complete review)

14 September 2002 - Saturday

Another longlist | Zadie reactions

       The Guardian First Book Award 2002 longlist

       Another prize-longlist was announced earlier this week, for The Guardian First Book Award 2002.
       This is a relatively new award, the successor to the Guardian Fiction Prize that lasted from 1965-1998 (see this list of winners). The First Book Award does not distinguish between fact and fiction (or, presumably, poetry, drama, or picture book). First is all that counts.
       As Claire Armitstead explained in The Guardian (27 August 1999) when the format was changed:
We decided to replace the long-standing Guardian Fiction Prize with a more general award for first books because we felt that readers do not segregate their reading into fiction or non-fiction, so neither should we. At a time when the printed word itself is facing the huge challenge and opportunity of the internet, to discriminate between one form and another seems like a primitive sort of factionalism.
       Another sign of fiction falling out favour, much to our chagrin. And we can't help but point out that restricting an award to first efforts is more limiting, rather than "more general" -- and tell us, Claire, do readers "segregate their reading" into first efforts and all other efforts ?
       It's not the worst idea for a book award (though it is pretty far from the best), and the consensus is that the first few winners have been deserving (of the attention that comes with prize-winning). Still, we regret it any time attention is drawn away from fiction, which seems to get ever less respect. And it's not as if there are not enough other awards for titles in these other genres. (Of course, there are a lot of other fiction awards too -- but few that are taken at all seriously (as the Guardian prize once was).)
       There's not much for us to say about the books that were longlisted -- not a single one is under review at the complete review. The genre-confusion makes for an odd mix (leading us again to doubt the value of the prize). But maybe it's of interest to somebody .....

(Posted by: complete review)

       First reactions to Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man

       Zadie Smith's much anticipated second novel, The Autograph Man, is almost out -- Amazon says it'll be available 26 September in the UK and 1 October in the US. Review copies were only recently sent out (for an explanation for the delay, see Robert McCrum's embargo-rant from the 11 August issue of The Observer), but reviewers have been quick to react, not bothering to wait until nearer to the publication date to have their say.
       Things started out well, with the book making the Man Booker Prize longlist. Critical reception has also been largely positive. David Sexton was enthusiastic in the Evening Standard (3 September), Laura Miller effusive at Salon (5 September), Adam Mars-Jones generally impressed in The Observer (8 September), and now Alex Clark finds Smith has exceeded the promise of White Teeth (whatever that was) in The Guardian (14 September).
       Now comes at least one dissenting voice: The Economist (14 September) writes: "Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man is just a failure" (note: this article will only be freely available on or after 19 September). The anonymous reviewer also opines:
The characters are shrill, cartoon-like figures, and the bubblegum text is so distended (...) that you end up wanting to stick it to the underside of your chair and leave it there.
       (Note that The Economist's fiction reviews vary greatly in quality. The complete review also reviews anonymously, but we speak, pretty much, with one voice (it's a really messy editorial procedure behind the scenes here that leads to our reviews with their semi-uniform point of view), while behind their anonymity many different voices appear, many with very different criteria for their judgements. Currently, we don't have a great deal of faith in The Economist's fiction reviews (they're much better at non-fiction) -- but they can always surprise you.)
       We haven't seen the Smith-book yet (no one's sent us a review copy, even post-embargo) but we'll probably eventually get around to reviewing it. But it's not high on our list of priorities. Meanwhile, check out the excerpt in The Guardian, or buy a copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)

13 September 2002 - Friday

¿ Donde está El criticón ? | Gaby's book tour

       Where is The Critick ?

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Baltasar Gracián's The Oracle (or, as another popular translation would have it, The Art of Worldly Wisdom). It's an interesting book -- as is the man behind it. But what really interests us is some of his other work. Like El criticón ("The Critic").
       El criticón is a big, big book, which Gracián completed in 1657. In his introduction to The Oracle L.B.Walton writes it is "Gracián's most ambitious work and embodies a lifetime of reading and experience." It is a "secular Pilgrim's Progress", he suggests, and he believes:
It is also an indisputably great book which, if it had been written in a less obscure and tortured style, might well have received as much attention as the world's other great allegorical and satirical romances.
       A few months ago, in a review in the Times Literary Supplement (12 July) of a book about Cervantes, A.J.Close calls it "caustic, bleak, and wittily sententious" -- and notes that in it Gracián "forbids the reading of Don Quixote to the man of mature judgment".
       Sounds like just the thing for us. So why haven't we read and reviewed it ? Well, the Spanish original is too daunting; Spanish isn't a forte hereabouts, and Gracián's style and 17th century idiom don't make it any easier. So why don't we pick up an English translation at our local bookstore ... ?
       Why indeed ? A major Spanish classic, by a well-known author. There must be several editions to choose from .....
       Yeah, right.
       All that's been rendered into English of El criticón is, apparently, part one (of three), by Paul Rycaut -- in 1681 ! Three centuries have passed, and all we have is The Critick (which incidentally neither our local bookstore nor our local libraries carry -- it doesn't appear to have been re-printed for the past couple of centuries).
       Admittedly, Gracián's book sounds like a tough one to tackle and translate, and it hasn't fared too well elsewhere either. But the Germans did it (well, Swiss publisher Ammann, at least): they finally got around to translating the whole thing last year (previously only edited versions were available) -- for which they've been much praised. See reviews (all in German) in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Die Welt, and Die Zeit (though note some -- like -- were decidedly overwhelmed). And Hartmut Köhler's translation, Das Kritikon, even seems to have sold quite well (get your own copy at
       El criticón is, quite clearly, a piece of 'world literature', and surely something that should be available in English. It's length (the German translation weighs in at about a thousand pages) and difficult style pose problems, but surely there must be a way for a publisher to get this thing into English and into print. Isn't that what university presses are for ? Aren't there some Spanish cultural organizations that would want to subsidize an endeavour of this sort ?
       Of course, the exemplary edition of The Oracle we reviewed -- a bilingual (hurrah !) edition, a volume in the accessible and affordable Everyman's Library collection (published 1962) -- has been allowed to fall out of print, leaving the edition you're likely to find at your local bookstore instead Joseph Jacobs' The Art of Worldly Wisdom (which L.B.Walton insists is quite inferior). Jacobs translation (from 1892) is out of copyright -- i.e. cheap -- and so the publisher can presumably earn a bit more off of it. Interest in actually presenting readers with the best possible text is ... limited. And in such a 'literary' environment a venture like translating El criticón stands little chance of even being considered.
       At least you can check out the original online, at Biblioteca Virtual (note that the pages here are all scanned).

       A final thought, too: if a major piece of world literature by a very well-known author can't get translated into English at some point over more than three centuries imagine what else goes untranslated ! Remind us again about 'book culture' and all the wonderful things publishers are doing for us .....

(Posted by: complete review)

       Gaby Wood tours with Edison's Eve

       We don't really get the whole book-tour and book-reading thing. Surely there are few things more boring than a talking author (they're writers, for god's sake, writers not readers). But, of course, there are some who are good performers and can put on a good show, and there are also some books that are better-understood with the help of a writer's personal explanation.
       We recently reviewed Gaby Wood's Edison's Eve -- and also complained in these pages about, among other things, the American title differing from the original British one (Living Dolls). We weren't too taken by the book, but this really might be a case where the author's additional input might be of interest -- and conveniently enough Gaby Wood is currently on tour in the US. Maybe she'll bring some living dolls (or midgets !) for demonstration purposes ! (Note also that young Ms. Wood appears (at least in her publicity still) to be quite easy on the eyes, if that helps any .....)
       So, for interested American readers, here at least part of her American schedule (but note all times etc. may be subject to change):        And don't forget to ask her why her publishers couldn't agree on a title !

(Posted by: complete review)

12 September 2002 - Thursday

Lem at 81 | Bending over backwards at Salon

       Stanislaw Lem celebrates his 81st birthday

       He's stopped writing fiction but he's still working away, so maybe there is hope for one more novel or novella -- or short story or essay or just an interview. (Or even that some more of the non-fiction will finally be translated into English.)
       Lem isn't entirely forgotten, though he never really caught on in the English-speaking world as he did in most of continental Europe -- where he is duly venerated. (Our opinion ? P.K.Dick and Lem will be the only 20th century SF authors that will endure. No angry e-mails, please.) Now it isn't his 81st birthday (which is today) that attracts attention, but rather the George Clooney-connection. 27 November is the release date for Steven Soderbergh's re-make of Solaris, the Lem novel previously filmed (almost four decades ago) by Russian great, Andrei Tarkovsky. The new version stars George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Jeremy Davies, and Viola Davis; see the official site for more information.
       (Note: at Steven Soderbergh Online the director is quoted as saying the movie is: "a combination of 2001 and Last Tango In Paris." Not exactly what we wanted to hear.)
       Until then you can always rent Tarkovsky's version -- or, if you're in New York, you can actually catch it at the Walter Reade (at Lincoln Center), where they are currently having a Tarkovsky retrospective (hurrah !). Solaris can be seen 15 September at 13:00, and 16 September at 18:30. (The other Tarkovsky films being screened -- plus Chris Marker's biopic -- are also highly recommended.)
       Embarrassingly, we only have half a Lem-book under review, Peter Swirski's rather disappointing Stanislaw Lem Reader. Other links of interest include:
(Posted by: complete review)

       Tough words on Salon's soft criticism

       Once a month, Salon offers a bundle of reviews where they suggest what the hot reads of the coming month might be.
       The presentation of this once-a-month collection of reviews has long annoyed us, because there is generally only a teaser on the front book-page -- and often on the introductory page before the actual reviews -- where the books are only vaguely described, and one has to click through page after page to see what these books of the month actually are. In addition, each new page used to come with a new pop-up page attached, making it highly irritating to even try to flip through the reviews. Finally: one has to go page by page -- there is no way to jump ahead to the final review, or to reach any specific review without going through the others. (Our frustrating attempts to read these reviews actually led us to complain to editor Laura Miller a while back; we are pleased to note that this feature has since become more user-friendly: we don't get any pop-up pages any more (hallelujah !), and the authors of the works being reviewed are prominently displayed on the introductory page -- at least they are this month. But you do still have to flip through all the pages to get to the last review .....)
       So: this month Salon offers: What to Read in September. But before you check that out we suggest you read Alex Good's commentary, What Not to Read in September, which makes some very good points about the Salon-reviews. He's right on target, and the quotes are priceless. As Mr.Good sums up: "I often use the word obsequious to describe the critical response to celebrity authors, but even that seems too mild a term for such a degrading performance". (Degrading, yes, but there is entertainment value here, in seeing how low the Salon reviewers can crawl !)

       We link to a lot of Salon reviews; they review a fair number of books (or did), and lots of those that are of interest to us. We don't worry much about the quality of the reviews that we link to -- readers can make up their own minds (we hope) -- but the decline of Salon has become ever-more pronounced. We're actually more bothered that there is less coverage (they seem to have cut their reviewing back quite a bit), but there are quality issues as well. The whole site seems to be flailing rather helplessly, not quite sure of how to right the ship. (Salon-blogs are the newest thing -- impressively they've somehow managed to convince a few people to actually pay for what they could do at Blogger or elsewhere for free .....) Salon's been in a horrendous financial mess for quite a while now (their stock price hovering around single-digit penny stock level, little money left in reserve), and they've been bailed out just in time several times. They soldier on, which we suppose is somehow admirable -- though spending a lot of money and not making very much is just plain bad business, it seems to us. Unfortunately, with their new increasingly pay-per-view model they see ever-less of users like us (who wouldn't drop a nickel for content on the Internet).
       The September-recommendations also reek of some sort of desperation -- though we can't quite figure out how it's supposed to help. Perhaps the idea is that the reviews will get blurbed and quoted in ad-copy a lot, making book-buyers aware of the Salon brand name. That might explain the fawning: to get a quote on Zadie Smith's new book (which one can expect to be widely praised both in the US and the UK) one needs to say something that stands out. And, as Alex Good shows, the Salon-folk certainly managed that. Too bad most of their credibility is undermined by all the high praise .....

(Posted by: complete review)

11 September 2002 - Wednesday

D.H.Lawrence's birthday | 1 month of blogging

       D.H.Lawrence's birthday

       11 September is, of course, D.H.Lawrence's birthday. Born in 1885 (died 1930), Lawrence is best remembered for the to-do about Lady Chatterly's Lover, and his novels, The Rainbow, Women in Love, and Sons and Lovers.
       Alas, the complete review has (as so often) been remiss and not yet gotten around to reviewing any Lawrence title. A sop, of sorts, is Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage (see our review) -- a Lawrence-tribute and more which we can highly recommend.
       We can also recommend the D.H.Lawrence page at books and writers -- and we suggest you take this time and occasion to perhaps turn to the neglected Lawrence-as-poet. Nothing to Save seems particularly apt in these times.
       Additional resources:
(Posted by: complete review)

       The first month at the Literary Saloon

       A month ago, on 11 August, the complete review jumped on the weblog bandwagon and launched the Literary Saloon, our on-site literary weblog.
       In terms of generating user-interest it's been a fairly modest success, averaging only some thirty visitors daily -- and even on the best days reaching barely more than one percent of the total number of visitors to the complete review. Still, there are signs it might catch on.
       A few weblogs have made mention of the Literary Saloon -- and some have added permanent links to it (much appreciated). Google has also increased it's "daily crawl", and while that doesn't reach deep into the site it does seem to often cover the Literary Saloon page, directing Google searchers (and those searching on affiliated sites like Yahoo!) to the site (often with some decidedly odd requests) in timely fashion.
       (The Google crawl is fickle, however -- on Friday it was up-to-date, then over the weekend the Literary Saloon disappeared entirely from the search engine (or the servers we reached), and now it's back again.)
       The most popular query to date ? Mystery-author (or should we say: almost-author) Nell Freudenberger, mentioned in our note, The NYer Festival ... and Nell.
       So far the audience is also -- curiously -- considerably more American than the larger complete review audience. Still, even visitors from small outposts -- Luxembourg, Malta, Iceland, Singapore -- have reached us.
       User feedback has been limited -- but given the relatively small number of visitors that isn't too surprising.
       We're still getting our bearings too, trying to figure out what we can (and what we should) do on the site. The literary focus is an obvious one, but there are any number of ways we could go about that. The balance between commentary and linking (which do users prefer ? which is more useful ?) is a particularly vexing one. Often, too, there is the temptation to stray further afield, beyond the simply literary -- a temptation we'll not always resist.
       So far we like the mix, and we think we provide a decent amount of information, much of it not found elsewhere. Despite being a weblog we also think we will continue to provide coverage of and commentary on articles and information not found on the web (or that can't be linked to because of registration, subscription, or other "keep out" barriers). So many sites now leave much or all of their content inaccessible to casual, non-paying Internet users that it is pointless to try to direct users there -- but often the information hidden away from sight (at everywhere from the Times Literary Supplement to the New Statesman) is of interest and deserves mention.
       We do hope we're providing a service to users. But even if we're not, we enjoy having a place for the occasional rant -- and for keeping track of various literary doings and stories that we might otherwise quickly forget.
       Looking ahead: we like the format, and can't imagine that we'll provide a great deal more (or less) than we do at the current Literary Saloon pace. The content should remain more or less along these general lines. As to reaching a larger audience: we're aiming for a steady stream of a hundred visitors a day by Christmas (or rather by 15 December -- the seasonal Christmas lull will lower totals all around), which seems a bit ambitious (given how little traffic has increased after the first week of blogging) but might be possible.

(Posted by: complete review)

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