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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 October 2002

21 October: New 3 AM blog | NYer "gatekeeper" change | Knowing Eggers'Velocity
22 October: Additional reviews of new books by: Tartt | Eggers | Sebold | Curious about Nell
23 October: Man Booker Prize | Paul Muldoon / TLS event | The NY Observer stories of interest: Frankfurt, Langewiesche, agents | Subtitle mania
24 October: Man Booker judges tell all | Houellebecq gets off | Harry Mathews conversations
26 October: Translation - In Transit | One Book, Two Titles | Aylett's Accomplice on the Internet
28 October: Donna Tartt review | A&L Daily back where it belongs
29 October: More Nell ! | World Bank Literature ?
30 October: Scott Turow makes Reversible Errors | More Tartt reviews
31 October: Houellebecq in English | Goytisolo review

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31 October 2002 - Thursday

Houellebecq in English | Goytisolo review

       Houellebecq in English

       A few days ago we mentioned Brian Dillon's review of the English translation of Michel Houellebecq's Platform in the TLS (issue of 18 October) -- and quoted from it:
As with Atomised, Houellebecq has been ill-served by his translator (or editors); the text is peppered with infelicities.
       Translator Frank Wynne (who also translated Houellebecq's Atomised (US title: The Elementary Particles)) contacted us, noting:
Obviously, since his review does not cite specific 'infelicities' in Platform, I cannot respond to them. As to Atomised, I am aware of and regret a number of minor errors and infelicities in the original English edition which were corrected by the editors for the US edition, The Elementary Particles.
       He also reminded us that the same Brian Dillon reviewed Atomised in The Richmond Review -- and at that time said nothing about infelicities in that translation (see for yourself).
       Wynne also points out that many of the reviews for Atomised/The Elementary Particles actually had very nice things to say about the translation -- as one can conveniently see in the review-quotes found on our review page. Steven Moore writes of "an exceptionally smooth translation by Frank Wynne" (in The Washington Post), Melanie McGrath believes it is "translated with great finesse by Frank Wynne" (in the Evening Standard), and Paul Berman notes "The translation by Frank Wynne is fluent and natural-sounding" (in The New Republic) -- though, in all fairness, there are also other dissenting views (Christopher Caldwell finds it to be a "mistake-filled translation" (in the Wall Street Journal).
       Ah, the difficulties of translation ! (And of judging it !)
       We are also pleased to report that Wynne informs us that there will indeed be an American edition of Platform (we had wondered whether US-publisher Knopf had been scared off by all the publicity Houellebecq has been getting (little of it very good)). Knopf should be bringing it out sometime next year (they are in the process of "Americanising the translation" -- which we hope isn't quite as ominous as it sounds). So we should have a review of it for you ... by that time.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Goytisolo's State of Siege under review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Juan Goytisolo's State of Siege -- first published in Spanish in 1995 but only now available in an English translation (by Helen Lane) from City Lights.
       A paperback original -- poor Juan hasn't gotten the hardcover-treatment in the US in ages -- it probably won't get much review coverage. So far The Village Voice (in its fall literary supplement) is the only major American periodical that seems to have bothered with it.
       We don't really understand the marginalization of this author -- with most of his work out of print (in English), and limited interest in the little that is available. At the very least what he does is interesting; at his best he ranks with the finest living European authors. And there is enough variety to his large oeuvre for there to be something to please pretty much anyone.
       See our Juan Goytisolo page -- and read some of his books !

(Posted by: complete review)

30 October 2002 - Wednesday

Scott Turow makes Reversible Errors | More Tartt reviews

       Scott Turow makes Reversible Errors

       Scott Turow's new novel, Reversible Errors, has now appeared (or -- for those in the UK -- will, in about ten day). Certainly, readers of yesterday's issue of The New York Times could hardly miss it .....
       First, there was the full-page ad (in the A-section, no less) -- all black and white and grey, Turow looking ghoulishly one-eyed (an attempted Halloween tie-in ?). Most interesting about the ad ? There are three "blurbs", from reviews (of sorts). Two pretty much say nothing about the book, only the author:
"The world's preeminent legal novelist ... sets the gold standard." -- Kirkus Reviews

America's very best creator of legal thrillers. -- Chicago Sun Times
       But the best is saved for last:
You'll carry all these feelings away with you for days and maybe even weeks after you've turned the last page. -- The New York Times Book Review
       The obvious question -- what feelings ? of nausea ? regret at having shelled out twenty-odd bucks for this ? -- remains unanswered.
       More intriguingly, the quote comes from next week's issue of The New York Times Book Review (dated 3 November). And while the Book Review is printed a few days before it's publication date, it doesn't seem likely that it was in print by Monday (when this ad-copy went out).
       Missing from the ad is any mention of Michiko Kakutani's review, which appears in a different section of the same paper. Choice quotes they might have used ? How about:
As his earlier books attest, plot is not exactly Mr. Turow's forte.
       How about her complaints about "the cheesy contrivances of the story line" here ? Or Turow's "intermittent penchant for maudlin purple prose" ? Well, maybe they'll use some of these in next week's ads .....
       (The Kakutani does have a few nice things to say too, by the way, but it is not a glowing review.)
       Finally, there was a third mention of the book in The New York Times, in an article about the CBS network's The Early Show, where Alessandra Stanley wrote:
The best-selling author Scott Turow chatted with Mr. Smith about his new thriller, Reversible Errors, but his publicist, Elizabeth Calamari at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, said that he was on CBS because both Today and Good Morning America had passed on her client.
       (For those who don't live in America: The Early Show, Today, and Good Morning America are competing morning variety shows on the major television networks (they like to pretend they are news shows, but they're not). The Early Show is, by far, the least successful of these programmes.)
       While Ms. Calamari's forthrightness is admirable, it is a surprising admission -- acknowledging that Turow isn't a big-ticket item on TV any longer.
       She did manage to book him on public broadcasting -- The Charlie Rose Show (has Chuck ever passed on anyone ?) --, where Turow then also appeared on Monday. The Charlie Rose Show at least has a certain cachet, though also not much of an audience (indeed, compared to even The Early Show, a negligible one).

       We hope to review Reversible Errors in the next few weeks; we'll let you know when we do. There haven't been too many reviews yet -- among the little coverage is this non-review from Terry McCarthy in Time (28 October)

       Other links of possible interest:        (The book was already up to number 11 in sales-rank at when we checked yesterday.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       More reviews of The Little Friend

       Donna Tartt's The Little Friend continues to garner many reviews -- see our earlier comments, as well as our review (where you can, as always, find links to most of these reviews).
       It's been a while since a book has gotten such mixed reviews (Stephen Carter's The Emperor of Ocean Park (see our review) was the last one we can recall) -- though the majority do have good things to say about the book, and some are very impressed. Among new additions to our Tartt-review links are two positive reviews from the Telegraphs (Daily and Sunday) -- Jane Shilling suggesting "one gallops through this novel as through a volume of Dickens or Tolstoy", though John Lanchester does acknowledge "the novel does lose momentum over its 555 pages".
       A rare very critical voice: Troy Patterson, in Entertainment Weekly, giving the book a grade of "D".
       (New reviews and summaries will, of course, be added to our review of the book as they appear.)

(Posted by: complete review)

29 October 2002 - Tuesday

More Nell ! | World Bank Literature ?

       More Nell Freudenberger !

       Visitors to this Literary Saloon seem particularly curious about Nell Freudenberger -- "Nell" and "Freudenberger" remain (ridiculously) the two most popular search engine request terms that lead users here -- ahead of even "literary" and "saloon" ! (This also has to do with the fact that we are among the few Internet sites that make any mention of her at all -- see, for example, this previous entry.)
       So now we feel obligated to report every scrap of Freudenberger news we come across -- and offer here a new Freudenberger-sighting, back at The New Yorker. In this week's issue (dated 4 November) she reviews Ha Jin's The Crazed (and does a pretty nice job of it too).
       Significantly, too, the contributor notes report:
Nell Freudenberger will publish her first collection of stories, "Lucky Girls," next year.
       We'll keep you posted, if we hear anything more.

(Posted by: complete review)

       World Bank Literature ?

       Perhaps of interest: Amitava Kumar offers World Bank Literature: An Essay (in Biblio) -- discussing: "The analytic shift from the liberal-diversity model of 'World Literature' to the radical paradigm of 'World Bank Literature'". Oh dear !
       Kumar also edited a book called World Bank Literature (not the worst of titles, admittedly -- in fact, pretty clever) which just came out. See the University of Minnesota Press publicity page on it -- though be warned that they do describe it as: "A trailblazing interrogation of the cultural, political, and economic implications of World Bank hegemony."
       For those who want additional Kumar-information:
(Posted by: complete review)

28 October 2002 - Monday

Donna Tartt review | A&L Daily back where it belongs

       We give The Little Friend the treatment

       Yes, it's here: our review of Donna Tartt's new novel, The Little Friend. You can find it -- and our useful review summaries and extensive links -- at:

The Little Friend-review

       A fair number of other reviews of the book have also come out (see links on our review-page) -- and many, many more are sure to follow. No consensus yet: most have nice things to say about her writing, and a few loved the whole thing, but most had some plot- and presentation-reservations.
       Everybody, too, seems to feel obligated to compare it to Tartt's previous novel, her very popular debut, The Secret History. What is astonishing is how many reviewers actually consider Donna Tartt a full-fledged author on the basis of that single previous book. The Secret History was certainly an accomplishment of sorts (straining credulity, not exceptionally well-written, but certainly an engaging and largely fun read), but it was just one book. But now even a modestly sensible critic like Jason Cowley, writes (in the New Statesman) nonsense such as:
(...) her fiction satisfies what may well be our hard-wired hunger for narrative, for coherent, dramatic representation of the human story. This may explain why she appeals to people who don't really enjoy reading, to those who perhaps buy only one or two novels each year. Why, she is big even in Belgium, an honour few writers can claim.
       But it's not she who appeals to readers (or people who generally aren't) -- her one previous book is what appealed to them. It's not she that is big even in Belgium, but rather The Secret History.
       And whether that popularity carries over to her new book remains to be seen. (Certainly initial curiosity should suffice to make The Little Friend a best-seller, but whether it will be a true success (as in earning back it's incredible advances) remains to be seen.)
       Certainly, one has to admire Tartt for not following up her previous success by trying to repeat it. Yes, The Little Friend begins (and practically ends) with murder, but there's nowhere near as much suspense in it: it is only very intermittently at all thrilling. Despite that -- or perhaps because of it --, Tartt has "grown" as a writer: the writing is far more solid than in The Secret History (indeed, it's overworked, if anything). Unfortunately, that doesn't make for a more satisfying book -- something even many of the reviewers who are fans acknowledge.
       Astonishingly, the fact that the writing is (relatively) good is enough for many of the critics, even those that think the book as a whole is fairly weak. Among the most bizarre: Jennifer Egan in The New York Observer:
There are disappointing books that make you lose faith in a writer. The Little Friend had the opposite effect on me; though it’s an uneven performance, the novel displays such a big talent —- for dialogue, for description, for quiet personal moments and broad, ambitious tableaux -- that I find myself even more convinced than before that Donna Tartt is the real thing.
       How unfair, first of all, to think that a single book should be enough to dismiss a writer: just as a single marvel isn't enough to make a writer, neither should a single one suffice to write a writer off. Someone is only a writer -- the real thing -- when they have produced a body of work -- a body that, admittedly, in some cases may amount only to a few short stories, etc.: it doesn't have to be a shelf full of fat novels. A thirty-something with just two books under her belt and (surely) many more ahead of her can hardly be considered much of a writer (unless, of course, those works are exceptional: Tartt's certainly aren't).
       It strikes us too that a writer who might be called "the real thing" must, if s/he chooses to write a novel (as Tartt has -- twice now), also show some command of the form. Novel-writing isn't just about writing MFA-class-"well" (nice sentences and all), but about creating a larger whole. By that measure The Secret History was a far more impressive work. Indeed, we would argue that The Little Friend suggests Tartt has matured into a better writer and a worse novelist ..... Too bad: fine writers are almost a dime a dozen while good novelists seem to become ever rarer .....
       The over-long, over-written follow-up novel that was a decade in the making seems to be the fall-2002 publishing season theme: Jeff Eugenides' Middlesex (see our review) suffers much the same problem. In all their attention to detail these authors completely lost sight of the bigger picture ..... (And unfortunately their detail isn't enough to carry these books either.)

       An amusing idea from the San Francisco Chronicle's critic:
It's tempting to read The Little Friend as Tartt's artfully sublimated freak-out at having to top one of the most acclaimed first novels in modern publishing history.
       It's also amazing to see how successful the publicity-push for this book has been -- it really has been "much-anticipated", as some sort of of pent-up demand has now exploded in a bright, loud ... well, we still think it'll ultimately just be a fizz (all noise and air, with little substance), but who knows ? If nothing else, Tartt has been successful in achieving some sort of 'mystique'. (We're completely mystified by it, but there's no denying that people -- or at least the media -- have made the new Tartt publication an "event" and that there is a continued fascination with the author.)

       For those who want the whole Tartt experience and aren't satisfied with just reading the book, here are her reading tour dates.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Arts & Letters Daily back where it belongs

       Lingua Franca went bankrupt, their holdings were sold off. For a while Arts & Letters Daily (part of those holdings) closed shop, reappearing as "Philosophy & Literature" under a different URL.
       Now the Chronicle of Higher Education bought up the A&L Daily-URL and restored the old order once again (same editors, same type of content).
       A restoration of the status quo we certainly approve of.

(Posted by: complete review)

26 October 2002 - Saturday

Translation - In Transit | One Book, Two Titles | Aylett's Accomplice on the Internet

       Translation - In Transit and more

       We reviewed Brigid Brophy's In Transit a few months ago, but only recently came across an additional link of considerable interest -- Translating In Transit: Writing - by Proxy ! by Bernard Hoepffner (from the Review of Contemporary Fiction Vol. XV, no. 3).
       And, looking more closely at the site we found that at -- Hoepffner's very own -- we find considerably more that is of interest (and should be to all those who are interested in translation). For one, there's En Transit, a French translation of Brophy's novel by Hoepffner.
       But check out his site as a whole -- especially the English texts.
       Recommended:        And how can one not enjoy it when someone offers Définition de Zoellner -- Murray Bail in French (see, for example, our review of Camouflage). Or translates Anatomie de la Mélancolie by Robert Burton (see also our review of the original).

(Posted by: complete review)

       Another Case of: One Book, Two Titles

       Martin Cruz Smith (of Gorky Park-fame) has come out with a new thriller, called December 6.
       At least that's what it is called in the US. In the UK it's being sold as Tokyo Station.
       A review in The Economist (issue of 19 October) argues the British re-titling:
(...) seems sensible. How many British readers are likely to remember that December 6th 1941 was the day before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour ?
       Considering that the elder Bush-president famously once referred to September 7th as the day that would live in infamy one has to wonder how many Americans get the reference (which does not, on the book-cover, include the helpful "1941"-clue). (But then in matters of history and international relations the entire Bush clan seems singularly unconversant, so perhaps one shouldn't take them as representative of the American public.)
       The dual-titles manage to confuse even bookseller -- or at least the British branch. They offer both titles for sale, and even suggest a great deal, believing they have the "Perfect Partner" for those who purchase Tokyo Station:
Buy Tokyo Station with December 6: A Novel today!
Total List Price: £33.76
Buy Together Today: £28.68
You Save: £5.08
       We wonder how many fell for that "deal" !
       It'll also be interesting to see what happens to the title in other European countries, where 6 December is best known as St. Nicholas' Day .....

       To buy either (or both) versions of the same book:        And see Mark Lawson's review in today's issue of The Guardian ("My final reaction was the one Cruz Smith must dread: a sudden desire to reread Gorky Park")

(Posted by: complete review)

       Aylett's Accomplice on the Internet

       There is now a companion-site to Steve Aylett's quartet of Accomplice-books -- Accomplice, offering maps, a glossary, and other information and entertainment.
       Only two volumes of the tetralogy have appeared so far -- see our reviews of Only an Alligator and The Velocity Gospel -- but the next is due soon. And the site certainly helps in keeping track of the many very unusual characters and occurrences .....

(Posted by: complete review)

24 October 2002 - Thursday

Man Booker judges tell all | Houellebecq gets off | Harry Mathews conversations

       Man Booker judges tell ... something

       Among the few ways the Man Booker judges can earn an extra bit of cash (and keep their names in public view as prestigious (?) Man Booker judges just a little while longer) is apparently by writing long articles in the big British papers about what it's like to be a Man Booker judge. So, in the 22 October issue of The Guardian you can read Russell Celyn Jones' account, while in the 22 October issue of The Independent you can read fellow-judge Salley Vickers' account.
       Of course, no one gives the true low-down, the real dirt (the bickering, the shouting and book-flinging, the fist-fights, the alcoholic excesses ... -- hey, we can dream, can't we ?), but for behind-the-scenes reports (of sorts) these are marginally better than nothing at all.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Houellebecq gets off, nobody cares

       We mentioned last month (here and here) that French author Michel Houellebecq was on trial for some things he said about Islam. The verdict came in a couple of days ago: not even a slap on the wrist (which, given the charges and the Houellebecq-statements at issue, seems entirely reasonable).
       We expected to find some press coverage about the verdict, but there's been very little. The Guardian offered a pathetic summary (assembled by "staff and agencies"), and even French coverage seemed very limited (see articles (or at least notes) in Libération and L'Humanité). It sounds like the French are pretty much fed up with the whole thing, and not willing to give Houellebecq a ... platform any longer. But the verdict will apparently be appealed.
       (Yesterday's issue of The New York Times (no link) had a longer article, by Alan Riding, with a bit more information -- though largely also only of the summary sort.)

       Note that the 18 October issue of the TLS also offers a review of the English translation of Houellebecq's Platform; they reviewed the original 12 October 2001. In this review Brian Dillon opines: "boredom is the most fascinating thing about Michel Houellebecq's three novels". He also notes:
As with Atomised, Houellebecq has been ill-served by his translator (or editors); the text is peppered with infelicities.
       (For the record: Frank Wynne translated both Atomised (or, as it was called in the US, The Elementary Particles) and Platform. We're not sure that anybody bothered to edit either translation; it doesn't seem to be something publishers are much interested in any more.)
       We've actually been patiently waiting for the American edition of Platform to show up in order to review it -- but it looks like there isn't any planned in the near future (or maybe -- dare we hope it ? -- the delay is because they've commissioned another translation .....). Knopf published The Elementary Particles, but apparently it wasn't successful enough for them (or anyone else) to do Platform .....

(Posted by: complete review)

       Harry Mathews conversations

       Harry Mathews' new book, The Human Country, recently came out (see our review). This week the two major free New York weeklies offer interviews and/or profiles of the author.
       In The Village Voice there's a conversation with Mathews, conducted by Joseph McElroy.
       In New York Press there's a profile (along with a bit of conversation) by John Strausbaugh.
       Question: why the preference for meet-the-author puff-pieces rather than actual book reviews ? Granted, there's some mention of the book, and a bit of description -- perhaps even as much as one finds in some reviews -- but the author is the dominant figure here, his new work little more than a prop.
       (Note that New York Press does have the occasional actual book review -- such as good one of Jonathan Franzen's new collection, How to Be Alone (see our review for links to this and other reviews).)

       Also of possible interest: Harry Mathews will be centre-stage (or at least share it, with Ben Marcus) at Makor in New York on 7 November, at 19: 30. See their site for more information.

(Posted by: complete review)

23 October 2002 - Wednesday

Man Booker Prize | Paul Muldoon / TLS event
The NY Observer stories of interest: Frankfurt, Langewiesche, agents | Subtitle mania

       Pre-mature Man Booker winner matures into actual winner

       The announcement was prematurely posted on the official site (see Aida Edemariam and Giles Foden's article in the 17 October issue of The Guardian), then denied. Yesterday it turned out they had it right all along (never trust public denials seems to be the lesson to be learnt here ...): it became official: Yann Martel was awarded the 2002 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel, Life of Pi.
       See the official announcement.
       (Additional press coverage can be found at pretty much every British newspaper- or news-site you care to visit.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       Paul Muldoon - TLS centenary celebration

       Yesterday the Times Literary Supplement held a Paul Muldoon-reading at the Algonquin Hotel in New York -- a centenary celebration thank you of sorts for subscribers, as well, presumably, as to introduce new editor Peter Stothard (formerly editor of The Times) to the crowd. It actually wasn't that much of a crowd -- not that many TLS-subscribers in the Tri-State area ? not that many Muldoon fans ? not that many who could find the Algonquin ? -- but there was a decent literary contingent.
       Muldoon -- whom I'd never seen in person, only in publicity stills -- was not quite as frazzle-haired as expected (and more compact). He read from his new collection, Moy Sand and Gravel (see our review), usefully offering some background and explanation. He mentioned considering an alternate title for the haiku-sequence, News Headlines from the Homer Noble Farm: presumably to shock his publishers (and cause some misunderstanding among readers who wouldn't get the reference) he thought a fine title might have been: Deep Thoughts (a popular old Saturday Night Live-bit offering pseudo-serious contemplative sayings (of the greeting-card sort)).
       Favourite poets and their influence were explained, a bit -- Yeats, Robert Frost (of Homer Noble Farm and other fame, Muldoon almost committing himself to calling him his favourite of all before drawing back a bit).
       Besides his own poems, Muldoon read some other work (Yeats) -- and Tom Paulin (presumably in town to launch the US publication of The Invasion Handbook), was briefly lured to the lectern to read some Edward Thomas.
       All very fine, for this sort of thing.

       The promotional volume, A Century of Poems (collecting notable examples from among those published in the TLS over the past hundred years), was there to be had too, as well as the most recent issue (18 October) of the TLS -- thus in my hands considerably earlier than usual. A few articles of note therein, including George Szirtes asking Who is Imre Kertész ? Mr. Szirtes obviously knows (if not particularly well -- "my own reading of Kertész was limited to some Hungarian works and the little that has been translated into English"), and offers a reasonable if fairly ambivalent introduction to the author. Still, it's nice to have at least another English-language appraisal of the new Nobel laureate. (Odd, though: Szirtes writes that the two English volumes were "translated by the same pair of husband-and-wife translators, for different, small American presses". He even goes out of his way to mention the names of the presses -- Northwestern University Press and Hydra -- but is apparently completely oblivious to the fact that Hydra is merely an imprint of NWUP.)
       Of interest too: some letters to the editor regarding the Polonsky-Figes to-do (see our previous entry and associated links) -- not so much about that, but rather J.C.'s mention of it in his column. Among the respondents: Jason Cowley and Roger Scruton. Scruton writes to complain about having also been savaged in the TLS (of one poor review he writes: "so spiteful was this particular attack (one of many I have suffered in your pages) that people even wrote in to say so" -- oh dear !), but he is even nastier about The New York Review of Books:
which is written by a self-promoting clique of Establishment liberals, for whom "personal prejudice, fellow feeling and career considerations" do indeed seem to be the principal motives for writing.
       Wow ! Where did that come from ? (And I can't wait to hear the NYRB reaction.)
       For further discussion of these letters to the editor, see also A.N. Wilson's opinion piece in the 21 October Daily Telegraph.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)

       Stories of interest from The New York Observer

       The New York Observer generally has good publishing-industry coverage, and there have been several stories of interest in the past few issues. Only now are the permanent links to these available, so here they all are at one go:

       The Frankfurt Book Fair
       We haven't come across many round-ups of what went down at the big Buchmesse, but Big Boff at Frankfurt Hof by Sara Nelson (21 October) provides a decent one.

       American Ground trembling ?
       In Gould’s Wife Takes On Atlantic Scribe (21 October) Joe Hagan writes that Rhonda Roland Shearer (Stephen Jay Gould's widow) is ... out to get William Langewiesche, author of the recently published American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center (much of which first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly). Hagan writes that Shearer "is on a personal crusade to debunk Mr. Langewiesche’s reportage, derail his Pulitzer hopes, and see the book recalled and destroyed."
       Her efforts haven't made too much of a dent yet: Michiko Kakutani's review of the book in yesterday's issue of The New York Times, for example, makes no mention of them (or any other efforts at discreditation). (Kakutani is impressed by parts of the book but also finds it "weirdly voyeuristic" and chastises the author for "forgetting in his celebration of the heady recovery effort that it was occasioned by a national tragedy".)

       Agenting failures
       Another Joe Hagan story, Fickle Authors Turn Agents Nasty: Not a Love Story (14 October), describes another episode from the whacky world of author-agent-publisher relationships. He writes about author Michael Capuzzo switching to agent Robert Gottlieb of the Trident Media Group and ... not having as stunning a success as hoped for. We tend to sympathize with authors, but when you put your work in the hands of an agent you have, of course, made a pact with the devil (an often very remunerative pact, mind you, but a soul-selling leap into the abyss nevertheless).

       Agent and editor e-mails
       Many authors desperately do want to sell out (to publishers, via agents), and as we mentioned weeks ago, Gerard Jones' Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing is a marvelous resource to help them. It is an impressive list of agent and editor contact addresses and e-mails -- information many of these people don't want you (insofar as you are a budding (or fully flowering) author) to have.
       There have been a few reports about the site (and the consequences of this information becoming public) -- including this long report by Brian L. Dear at Nettle (recommended) --, but The New York Observer is one of the few mainstream press outlets that have devoted much space to it -- in Rebecca Traister's Represent Me or Die (14 October). She has some agent/editor reactions -- here's hoping the chaos continues !

(Posted by: complete review)

       Subtitle mania

       We recently noted (at the end of some praise for the NYTBR) the prevalence of sensational elaborating sub-titles among American non-fiction bestsellers. In this week's issue of The New Yorker (28 October) -- chock full of adverts for books, incidentally -- lots of marketing bucks being blown here) -- there are some more fine examples of how publishers feel titles alone no longer suffice (at least for non-fiction) and must be supplemented with summarizing sub-titles. Not an entirely new innovation, but it doesn't seem to have been this prevalent for a while.
       Examples (all from books advertised in the magazine -- though there's also: a review of Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA):
  • Title: Last Train to Paradise
  • sub-title: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean

  • Title: Caviar
  • sub-title: The Strange History and Uncertain Future of the World's Most Coveted Delicacy

  • Title: The Measure of All Things
  • sub-title: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World

  • Title: Blue Latitudes
  • sub-title: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before
       In addition one often finds blurb-clutter and more verbiage on these covers -- meant, no doubt, to help convince potential buyers that the words in between the covers might also be of interest. It doesn't seem like sensible excess to us -- but what do we know ...?

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22 October 2002 - Tuesday

Additional reviews of new books by: Tartt | Eggers | Sebold |
Curious about Nell

       Additional reviews of new books by:

       Authors whose books we don't yet have under review (Donna Tartt -- expect our review within a week) and authors whose much-discussed books we don't expect to review any time soon (Dave Eggers and Alice Sebold):

       Donna Tartt's The Little Friend
       Still not yet officially available, but the next big review is already out: Daniel Mendelsohn's in The New Yorker (issue of 28 October).
       He finds it: "wayward but rich", noting:
The fact that The Little Friend turns out to be quite different from the thriller that the reader -- and, I suspect, the author -- may have anticipated is a serious flaw.
       Dave Eggers' You Shall know our Velocity
       A few more reviews that have come to our attention:
       In New York (21 October), John Homans calls it "a messy, funny book".
       In this week's issue of The Village Voice Joy Press is less enthusiastic, finding that: "Eggers's novel limps along, strangely static."
       But in Time (14 October) Lev Grossman is generous and forgiving: "But there's genius here, and if it occasionally staggers, the book deserves our forgiveness and our respect, as does Eggers himself." (This link will likely only be temporarily freely accessible.)

       Alice Sebold's The Lonely Bones
       This got a big write-up in yesterday's issue of The New York Times by Bill Goldstein, "A Dark First Novel Suddenly Soars to the Top", describing the somewhat surprising success of this book -- part of (so Goldstein) "a trend that appears to be blurring the boundaries of literary and commercial fiction". (We prefer to differentiate between literary and crap fiction (which usually dominates the bestseller list); the idea that "literary" and "commercial" are thought of as having been largely mutually exclusive is too ridiculous to subscribe to (except, of course, to publishers ...).)
       Now there's also Rebecca Mead's review in the London Review of Books (issue of 17 October), which also notes: "The book's success is a categorical surprise, since literary novels hardly ever reach a mass audience in America".
       (No doubt you can tell that we're itching to figure out why everybody is so ready to put this book in the "literary" category (whatever that might be); but unfortunately we haven't yet read it (and don't plan to anytime soon), so this must remain a mystery to us a while longer.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       Curious about Nell

       An inordinate number of visitors to this weblog yesterday came by way of search engine queries regarding "Nell Freudenberger". Presumably people were curious about Ms. Freudenberger because of the mention in yesterday's The New York Times-article (about the new fiction editor at The New Yorker (see our previous comments)), noting that the summer 2001 debut fiction issue of The New Yorker:
helped Nell Freudenberger, who was 26 and an assistant at the magazine, sell the rights to her first book for an advance of more than $ 100,000.
       Little has been heard from or about Ms. Freudenberger since the big book- (contract-) signing; our one previous blog mention came a while back, when there was a Freudenberger sighting, as she appeared at The New Yorker Festival last month.
       Of more interest, presumably, is our Literary Saloon dialogue from the August 2001 issue of the complete review Quarterly recounting most of the Freudenberger-get-rich-quick-saga, Whoa Nelly ! Real Life, Lucky Girls, and Advances in Non-Fiction. (Note that we have updated what few links there were there; unfortunately the one Freudenberger story that was available online has been removed.) There doesn't seem much new to report -- and there's no short-story collection on the bookstore bookshelves yet. But we'll try to keep you informed.

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21 October 2002 - Monday

New 3 AM blog | NYer "gatekeeper" change | Knowing Eggers'Velocity

       New 3AM Magazine blog

       3AM Magazine -- who already bring you the very worthwhile 3AM Magazine as well as the informative Buzzwords -- recently expanded, adding a blog to their site:

Joe Bloggs.

       Certainly something to keep an eye on.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Buford out, Treisman in

       What a dramatic headline in today's issue of The New York Times: "The Gatekeeper For Literature Is Changing At New Yorker".
       And what a beginning:
       For decades, the fiction editor of The New Yorker has controlled the velvet rope at the gateway to literary stardom
       (It took two people to write that -- the byline names both David Carr and David C. Kirkpatrick.)
       For a few years now it's been Bill Buford who ran the show. The name of his successor comes as no huge surprise, as it is his deputy, Deborah Treisman. Still, it seems a daring choice. For one there's the Deborah-who-? factor: she did edit Grand Street, and she has worked for The New Yorker for a couple of years, but she isn't exactly a household name.
       The New York Times describes her as "a 32-year-old prodigy", though it is unclear what she has excelled at other than having now been named to this particular fiction-throne at a still very young age.
       She has apparently translated some stuff from the French, but the only thing we could find that might give some insight was an interview with Gabe Hudson at McSweeney's. Hudson published a story in one of The New Yorker's debut fiction issues, Dear Mr. President -- something Treisman no doubt had a hand in. The story is now part of a book, and to publicize the book Treisman interviewed Hudson. (This all smells a bit incestuous to us, but what do we know ? It's a McSweeney's interview, so we don't know if it's meant to be taken ironically or seriously or what.) I Got a Letter from the President: an Interview: see parts one and two.
       It's not much to go on -- though "Q: Is your book worth a damn ?" didn't exactly reassure us -- and only time (and the stories she publishes) will tell whether Treisman's suited for the job.
       The New York Times sort of interviewed her, but the quotes aren't particularly helpful:
I suppose it is not wrong to say that I am interested in younger, more experimental, edgier voices.
       This apparently suggests "she wants to make less well-known writers a part of the regular mix." Elsewhere the Times notes: "people who know Ms. Treisman well say she has long hoped to showcase more experimental stories and less fiction by and about men." It is unclear why the Times' did not get a firmer opinion from her (getting her instead to say things like: "It's been a good week for our family"),but it didn't stop them from speculating:
Given Ms. Treisman's youth, history and literary values, expect more global, less Eurocentric stories and a raft of new young writers known, for the time being, only to her.
       (Since they're only writing about literature these 'journalists' are apparently allowed to engage in such completely idle speculation as much as they please.)
       Well, we're curious to see how it all turns out.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Speaking of McSweeney's ...

       Just a few notes on the Dave Eggers' self-published saga, You Shall know our Velocity. The McSweeney's site offers a very select few review links and quotes for those looking for reactions to the book.
       Not included, however, are reviews such as Dan DeLuca's in the 17 October issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer. He believes this is "a classic example of a good writer with a bad idea". He also writes:
But the gist of Velocity (...) is so patently lame and loaded down with self-pity that it's a wonder somebody didn't inform Eggers (...) that he was working with an absolute dog of an idea. Such are the perils of self-publishing.
       Also entertaining is John de Falbe's review in the 19 October issue of The Spectator -- particularly the difficulties he had in obtaining the book. As to his opinion of Eggers and the book:
He is serious, and he has lots of amusing ideas, some fine phrases and a readiness with contemporary references that some will mistake for originality. (...) And some passages are very tedious indeed. Dave Eggers is assuredly at the cutting edge of something, but not yet of fiction.
       Still, the book looks to be a grand success (in publishing if not literary terms). We're afraid we shan't be reviewing it.

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