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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 9 December 2002

1 December: Gaddis reviews | More on the Poetry-bequest | Easier linking at the Saloon
2 December Review-link site | Some New Statesman reviews | Politically sensitive confusion ?
3 December Söderberg review | Salon on book prices
4 December Amir Arsalan | More year-end (and other) lists
6 December Doughy book sales | New MIT Press director | Steve Aylett - writer of the year
7 December Turow's Reversible Errors | Joseph Roth's Radetzky-March
9 December Film adaptations : The Quiet American - The Discovery of Heaven | Möring's Flying Models | NYTBR note | Poetry and its bequest

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9 December 2002 - Monday

Film adaptations : The Quiet American - The Discovery of Heaven
Möring's Flying Models | NYTBR note | Poetry and its bequest

       Film adaptations

       Over the past week I've had opportunity to catch two recent literary film adaptations. No, not the latest Harry Potter, the latest pseudo-Ian Fleming adaptation, or the Soderbergh re-adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's classic (see also our previous mention). Not even the new Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman Adaptation.
       No, I went to see The Quiet American and The Discovery of Heaven -- mainly because if I didn't see them now I might not ever be able to see them. Both were completed in 2001, but have proven to be rather elusive (while I'm sure I can catch the Harry Potter at my local cineplex for quite a while longer).
       Here some brief impressions, and links:

       The Quiet American
       Christopher Hampton wrote the screenplay for this new adaptation of Graham Greene's novel. It's decent but a bit simple: that works on the stage, but less so on film, where the simplicity is too obvious. (Hampton's style seems far better suited to stage- rather than film-work; I'm surprised he continues to get so many cinematic opportunities.)
       Directed by Phillip Noyce, the film stars Brendan Fraser as Pyle and Michael Caine as Times-correspondent Thomas Fowler. They're both good: suited to the roles, and making pretty much the most of them. There's not much subtlety in the direction (or the screenplay), but even in this stripped-down version it's a powerful, effective story. Greene conveys moral ambiguity considerably better on the page, but since most films don't bother with anything of that sort this gives at least the impression of a certain profundity.
       Disappointing: an occasionally terrible and very annoying soundtrack, an uncertain feel to some of the direction and/or editing (quite a few scenes look uncomfortably staged) -- and those damn simplifications. But overall: not bad at all. Good performances, and a good story.

       There's been a lot written about the movie. Completed over a year ago, it was shelved after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. -- apparently it's apparent anti-Americanism would be too much for the country to take. Now it's being screened for two weeks in Los Angeles and New York (but nowhere else in the US), making it Oscar-eligible. Then it's going to be pulled from even these screens, only to return (perhaps) if and when Michael Caine gets his Oscar nomination .....
       (We make fun of publishers' weird way all the time, but in comparison to the movie world (with its much higher stakes) the publishing industry seems almost sane and sensible .....)
       For articles about all of this, check out Quiet in Hollywood by Jon Wiener in The Nation, or David Usborne (who is "infuriated by the pusillanimity of Miramax") writing in The Independent about The quiet American way of censorship.

       Other links of possible interest:

       The Discovery of Heaven
       Jeroen Krabbé's adaptation of Harry Mulisch's magnum opus (see our review of the novel) is also a film that has been almost impossible to find. Presented as part of the Dutch Treats 2002 festival in New York, the 7 December screening I attended was billed as the US premiere (which will probably be a surprise to these folks in St.Louis).
       It is perhaps also a film that simply can't get any attention. A Village Voice p/review of the series manages not to mention the film at all. Screened in one of the tiny Quad Cinema-theatres (which probably doesn't seat much more than a hundred), the badly publicized film didn't half-fill the room -- and the audience was largely composed of expat Dutch folk.
       I was surprised by this public indifference. The film is based on a book that did fairly well (and received a lot of critical attention) -- and that's even in print. A previous Mulisch-screen-adaptation (of The Assault) won an Oscar for best foreign picture. Mulholland Pictures maintains: "The Discovery of Heaven is the largest film production ever made in the Netherlands".
       On top of it all, it's not even really a foreign film -- no exasperating subtitles for easily overwhelmed American audiences ! (It looks like the film was filmed in both a Dutch and an English version.) For heaven's sake, it stars Stephen Fry (which by itself should be enough to sell a picture to an English-speaking audience), along with Greg Wise, Flora Montgomery, and, most amusingly, Jeroen Krabbé himself (as the archangel Gabriel -- you might not recognize the director/actor's name, but the face will be familiar).
       But so far distributor Intermedia hasn't been able to unload the picture anywhere in the English-speaking world (despite their apparent eagerness -- see this press release from more than two years ago).

       What's the problem ?
       Well, there's the movie's metaphysical content, of course. The basic story -- the big guy in the sky is fed up with what mankind has been up to and wants to break the covenant agreed upon in biblical times (and wants the ten commandments returned to him) -- might not play that well to the religious crowds, but really, that's unfair: the film (and book) are about considerably more, the quasi-religious aspects dominant but allowing for a great deal else along with them.
       Krabbé does a decent job with this huge book and complicated material. He actually is also a good Gabriel and the heavenly scenes are, for the most part, acceptable -- the big exception being the angel in charge of orchestrating things. His acting (like that of Neil Newbon in the more important role of Quinten) can, at best, be described as amateur: well-intentioned, but with nothing natural to it.
       Pudgy, misshapen-faced Fry as Onno and pretty-boy rake Wise as Max make an excellent pair, and the part of the movie focussing on their friendship is by far the best; there are some great scenes here -- good acting, clever writing, nicely filmed. Then a woman comes between them: Ada, played by Flora Montgomery -- and in that casting is another of the movie's bigger flaws. Ada remains too much the men's object, with Montgomery unable to make more of her. Too much time is spent with her sawing on her cello, with that I-feel-the-music-in-me look on her face -- it would be fine if the look were believable or the cello-playing looked convincing, but neither is the case. (Since Ada spends much of the film comatose developing her as a fuller character is essential early on.)
       Ada and Max and Onno have a child -- the mysteriously blue-eyed Quinten. Once he appears the movie goes further downhill. None of the Quintens -- or the happenings around them -- are truly convincing. Worse, the two fathers are forced into roles that don't convince either, more distant and disinterested, pretending to be busy with their own affairs. By the end even Fry looks like he's playing a role (whereas early on both he and Wise were entirely believable as their characters).
       Still, things do eventually pick up again. There's some excitement as the big deadline approaches and Quinten has to do what is expected of him. There aren't quite as many supernatural doings as in a Harry Potter flick, but there are some. The special effects aren't state of the art, but they aren't bad.
       Other bonuses: full frontal nudity (added bonus: not of Fry), nice locales (beside rainy Holland: Cuba, Israel, and Rome), and a few clever bits.
       It's hard to make a film out of Mulisch's incredible novel, but this isn't bad. At over two hours it doesn't always use the time wisely, but it's never boring. Really, the acting is the greatest weakness -- a couple of the smaller roles are filled by real actors, and then there's the talented Fry and the old pro Krabbé, but too many of the others simply aren't much good.
       Those in the New York area can catch two more showings at the Quad Cinema: today (9 December) at 21:00, and 11 December at 13:00.

       Other links of interest:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Möring's Flying Models

       The most recent addition to the complete review is a review of Marcel Möring's The Dream Room. The Dutch title was: Modelvliegen, and while there is a 'dream room' in the novella, model airplanes and everything associated with them (flight, picking up the pieces and trying to hold them together, etc.) seem much more significant. In his TLS review (12 July 2002) Jon Barnes mentions that:
The dust-jacket of Marcel Moring's novel opens out into a set of instructions on how to fold it into a paper aeroplane -- an appealing feature which is entirely apt, as The Dream Room begins as a leisurely paean to the art of building model aircraft.
       (Barnes refers to the British Flamingo edition; the American William Morrow edition doesn't offer any such instructions.)
       We would have called it: Flying Models. But what do we know ?
       The translation, aside from the title, reads very nicely. Stacey Knecht is responsible -- though you could hardly tell from the American edition. Her name does not appear on the cover. Or on the inside jacket-flaps. Or on any of the title-pages. The only clue -- the only mention of her name -- is in the small print on the copyright-page: "English translation copyright © 2002 by Stacey Knecht".
       We don't hold translators in the highest regard (though we always appreciate that they at least offer us some version (however inferior) of texts that are otherwise inaccessible to us), but they do deserve more respect and credit than this. Considerably more, actually.

       We're surprised The Dream Room didn't do better. It received very little review coverage -- despite Möring having gotten some good notices for his previous works (see our reviews of In Babylon and The Great Longing).
       We were also surprised that it didn't receive better notices: this is a rare book that we liked considerably better than practically any of the critics. We were really impressed by it; most people weren't. Some of the criticism is justified, but for example Jon Barnes writes: "What is crucially missing in the novel is any real ambition" -- while we thought the book was filled with ambition (both personal (from the characters) and literary (from Möring)).
       We wonder whether Möring is well-served by his American publisher (William Morrow, a HarperCollins imprint). He's a literary author -- the kind praised in the TLS (this time by Paul Binding, in the issue of 2 July 1999) as "beyond doubt one of the most imaginative and perceptive novelists writing today" -- and he really should be getting more attention and publicity than he is. A smaller outfit, with a more literary reputation, might be better able to get him the attention he deserves.
       This is the third Möring-title we have under review. Remarkably, the two previous ones -- even the well-received In Babylon -- attract very little user-interest at the complete review: the reviews are among the least-read we have on our site. Part of the problem is, of course, that English-speaking reader's can't handle the ö (and can't find it on their keyboards) -- making search queries near-futile (type in "Marcel Moring" at you favourite search engine and you won't find our review pages ...).
       So, we remind you here: he's a very good author, and two of his books have impressed us a great deal. They deserve more readers.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The New York Times Book Review note

       Yesterday's issue of The New York Times Book Review was the "Holiday Books" issue. One can find there, among other things, their "Editors' Choice" list (seven books, two of which we have under review -- Ian McEwan's Atonement and Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex) and their "Notable Books 2002" list -- hundreds of their favourite titles.
       A while back we wrote in the crQuarterly about the similar 3 June 2001 issue, the "Summer Reading Special Issue" -- and had a complaint that bears repeating (because they did it again ...).
       Beside the best-of lists, the "Holiday Books" issue also includes special review-sections devoted to six categories -- all non-fiction (Architecture, Art, Cooking, Gardening, Photography, and Travel). There's the periodical "Children's Books " section. And there are the usual real, full-length reviews.
       Notable among the full-length reviews is, once again, the fiction v. non-fiction divide. There are two full length reviews of two fiction titles. There are eleven (!) full-length reviews of sixteen (!!!) non-fiction titles. (Not to mention the dozens of other non-fiction books covered -- more briefly -- in the special Architecture, Art, Cooking, Gardening, Photography, and Travel columns.)
       The suggestion: fiction is worthless, and certainly not worth The New York Times Book Review's attention. Which is fine, if they feel that way. Except that their "Editors' Choice" list is much more balanced (three works of fiction, four non) -- as is their "Notable Books 2002" list -- suggesting that there are about as many worthwhile fiction titles as non-fiction titles out there.
       Since fiction is almost on par with non-fiction when making best-of-the-year lists at The New York Times Book Review why is there such a review-disparity -- especially in this issue (though, as we have frequently pointed out, it exists throughout the year) ? And given that this is a special holiday section, which people might well refer to when looking for gifts, why aren't new fiction titles suggested to readers at the same clip as non-fiction titles ? It's almost like they don't want people to consider fiction .....
       Like many publications, The New York Times Book Review takes non-fiction far more seriously than fiction (and devotes considerably more review-space to it), which we find a great shame. Readers, we hope, aren't fooled and will remember what's important (fiction -- fiction above all !).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Poetry and its bequest

       We've mentioned the 100,000,000 dollar Poetry bequest from Ruth Lilly several times (see, most recently, this entry).
       Additional reactions include a short note in J.C.'s NB column in the TLS (issue of 29 November), suggesting that throwing money at poets isn't really that helpful:
In America, in particular, poets, many of them already tied to universities, live in hope of a MacArthur, a Lannan, a Bollingen. None of these worthy and highly remunerative awards is known to have been responsible for a single decent poem; many poets are past their best by the time the gravy train comes along (consider the career of Robert Creeley, for one).
       J.C. closes noting:
The $100 million could have alleviated a lot of misery at the local cat-and-dog home.
       (Note that J.C. -- like most commentators -- fails to mention that Ms. Lilly is apparently (legally) out of her mind.)

       Meanwhile, Poetry also continues to celebrate it's 90th anniversary. Join them tonight in New York at the 92nd Street Y, where Diane Ackerman, Linda Gregerson, Galway Kinnell, Joseph Parisi, and Charles Wright present "correspondence and poems from the archives of Poetry magazine".
       That should be a sell-out event -- with desperate poets no doubt lining up to ingratiate themselves with the now very powerful poetry (i.e. Poetry) powers that be .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 December 2002 - Saturday

Turow's Reversible Errors | Joseph Roth's Radetzky-March

       Turow's Reversible Errors

       We mentioned Scott Turow's Reversible Errors when it was first published, just over a month ago. Now we have also gotten around to reviewing it.
       Rest assured: we've had our fill and met our quota (not that we really have any quotas): no more blockbusters for us this season. If we read the words "first printing" followed or preceded by any number higher than ... 1,000 in any of the publicity material we receive we will fling the goddamn book away. (In the case of Turow's book the magic first printing number (for the US edition) was 750,000. Which is apparently supposed to impress people.) It's not that these huge-marketing-budget books are bad, but we've done what ? four of them this fall season (Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, Mike Crichton's Prey, and now the Turow) and only the Eugenides is (and that just marginally) a book we're not sorry to have spent all that time reading.
       Turow's book is perfectly fine, but it's not good. (It is, however, selling: like the Tartt it continues to linger on the bestseller lists.)
       Reversible Errors is being billed as a death-penalty novel, and capital punishment is, vaguely, at its centre: a character's execution date is near when the novel begins, and it's the last appeals that set most of the action into motion. Striking, though, is how little that aspect of the situation -- the imminent threat of execution hanging over one of the characters -- matters. Turow doesn't pay much attention to the criminal in the novel; he's little more than an incidental figure and there's not enough to make readers care much about his fate. Perhaps it's because it seems pretty clear from the outset that he won't be killed (why this particular title otherwise ?). Still, despite the fact that in 'real life' we are vehemently opposed to capital punishment, we actually think it wouldn't have mattered to us much one way or the other which outcome Turow chose.
       By focussing on the lawyers and investigators and judges Turow does throw some light on the (capital) punishment system in the US -- and the possibilities for miscarriage of justice. (Turow served on the Illinois commission whose disturbing report on that state's capital punishment system led Governor George Ryan to declare a moratorium on executions there.) But presented like this it isn't a very compelling case. (It should be noted, however: the capital-punishment spin seems to just be a marketing-strategy: Turow doesn't appear to have meant to write a novel-with-a-message.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Joseph Roth's Radetzky-March

       If you can't resist buying the Turow (see above), well, that can't be helped -- but we still suggest: your time (and money) would be better spent with a real book ... like Joseph Roth's Radetzky-March, now available (in the UK) in a new translation by Michael Hofmann as The Radetzky March.

        (Brief rant: the German title is Radetzkymarsch (i.e. Radetzky-March). In German the definite article is used just as it is in English. If Joseph Roth had wanted to call his novel The Radetzky March he would have called it Der Radetzkymarsch.
       He didn't.
       Other novel-titles of his have a "the" -- Die Kapuzinergruft ! This one doesn't. Except in the English translations. (Well, the French do it too .....)
       Why ? Why why why why WHY ??!?!?!?
       And there are people out there who are still surprised we have so little respect for translators and editors and publishers. No doubt, Hofmann and the folks at Granta had their reasons. But if they can't even get a simple thing like this right (and including a "the" is so not right) .....)

       The new edition, published by Granta (see their publicity page), has been getting rave reviews. In today's issue of The Independent Boyd Tonkin writes: "Hofmann's version restores a landmark work to a quite dazzling luminosity." And he suggests:
Read The Radetzky March and the season's finest classic serial will unfold -– unaided -– in the matchless theatre of imagination.
       In the 1 December Sunday Telegraph Julia Flynn wrote:
First published in 1933, and now reissued in a polished new translation by Michael Hofmann, it can fairly claim to be one of the great novels of the last century.
       And in this week's issue of The Economist it is called:
(O)ne of the gravest and grandest of all 19th-century novels written in the 20th century.
       We're fans of the book, but we don't have it under review (we would want to tackle several Roth-works at once, but it doesn't look like we will for quite some time). Still, that shouldn't stop you from considering it -- hence this information and the links here.
       We also have to point out to readers that Hofmann's translation is currently only available in the UK (get your copy here at In the US you will also find a recently published paperback version -- but the translation is an older one, by Joachim Neugroschel. In fact you have your choice of Neugroschel-editions: the paperback published by Overlook, which comes with an introduction by Nadine Gordimer (buy it here at or an Everyman's Library edition with an introduction by Alan Bance (buy it here at (Have we mentioned how much we like publishers, who always make everything as easy as possible for potential readers .....)
       We haven't examined either translation, so we can't recommend one over the other. Despairing readers might turn to the French version (La Marche de Radetzky) or, more sensibly, the German original (that's: Radetzkymarsch !) -- the only one we can unequivocally recommend.

       Additional information of interest:
       Reviews/comments on the Neugroschel translation:        German information:        About Joseph Roth:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 December 2002 - Friday

Doughy book sales | New MIT Press director | Steve Aylett - writer of the year

       Doughy book sales

       Martin Arnold begins his 5 December "Making Books" column in The New York Times: "Book sales seem doughy so far this holiday season."
       The rest of his column suggests he means that books sales are less than expected and/or hoped for; why he uses the word "doughy" is unclear to us. (A synonym for (the similarly inappropriate) "soft" ?).
       In any case: 'tis the season when publishers rake in most of their money and so for the month leading up to Christmas there is a great deal of fretting about book sales. Arnold's column notes the absence of any book with a great deal of buzz this season (unlike Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections last year) -- and also "the apparent erosion in the sales of brand-name authors".
       Arnold only gives one "for example" regarding brand-name authors -- Michael Crichton. Sales for the newly-released Prey are good -- it's beginning to top bestseller lists -- but apparently below some expectations; Arnold writes that Barnes & Noble expected to flog 75,000 copies last week but only sold half that number. Crichton publisher HarperCollins reportedly "initially shipped 1.5 million copies of Prey" -- suggesting some pretty high expectations. Curiously, neither Arnold nor the people he quotes ask what surely is the most pertinent question -- is the book any good (and therefore worth wasting 26.95 (or whatever you can get it for) on) ? Our verdict was: barely -- and some other reviewers have been less kind (though others also found it a gripping page-turner -- see our review for review summaries and links).
       Prey is a success: Arnold notes it will top the 15 December bestseller list from The New York Times (brief aside: why the two week delay in reporting the bestseller list ? The small print on the 1 December New York Times' list, for example, informs that "rankings reflect sales for the week ended Nov. 16" -- which sounds pretty stale to us. And if Arnold can already tell us who is going to be number one ten days before the official publication date of the list, why is it kept from readers for so long ?). Other lists tell the same story (see the Publishers Weekly list, or that at USA Today) -- but success is apparently relative. Only sell a million copies and the book is a flop .....
       Big Crichton-sales may be nice for HarperCollins (and the Crichton family) but don't seem like they would greatly benefit publishers of real books (i.e. the literary stuff) -- Prey-purchasers might make for more bookstore traffic, but seem unlikely to make significant real-book purchases. (Still, the added sales volume does benefit the bookstores, who can then go about their business of pushing real books, so there's something to it.)
       (See also this 5 December Newsday article suggesting -- yes, this apparently really needs suggesting -- Don’t Judge A Book By Sales, Study Shows. It refers to Gayle Feldman's National Arts Journalism Program report recently presented at Columbia University. (The report itself isn't available online yet; we hope it will be soon.) Dinitia Smith also writes about it in today's issue of The New York Times, as does Collin Levey, writing about So Many Books ! More to read, and complain about in today's Wall Street Journal. Nothing too surprising or interesting in the reports on the report: more books are being published and bought than ever, but there's also lots of concern about segments of the industry and the industry as a whole .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New MIT Press director

       After more than a quarter of a century, the venerable MIT Press is getting a new director. Frank Urbanowski announced he was stepping down after a long tenure; Publishers Weekly reports a Houghton Mifflin V.P., Ellen W. Faran, will succeed him.
       MIT Press is one of those university presses that has been particularly successful in carving out a niche position for itself; Urbanowski was very good at establishing a fairly clear identity for it. Focussing on specific fields, they have a very nice catalogue (though there's not enough literature for our tastes ... but then that isn't one of the areas they focus on). With 220 titles per annum they're also pretty big .....
       We hope things continue as well under the new administration .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Steve Aylett - writer of the year

       The always entertaining Steve Aylett has been named the "bookmunch writer of the year" -- whatever that means. Being bookish folk, we're not exactly sure how one determines an author of the year (it's the books that count, only the books ...), but we're always pleased when authors who don't get enough attention do get some, and so we make mention of this (and send our heartiest congratulations too).
       Read Aylett's acceptance speech -- and then give some of his books a try.
       (And for other bookmunch accolades and best of the year lists, see this page.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 December 2002 - Wednesday

Amir Arsalan | More year-end (and other) lists

       Amir Arsalan

       Visitors to the complete review may suspect that we like to revel in obscurity. Why, we even have an index of the most obscure books under review .....
       But obscurity is relative. The most recent book to be reviewed at the complete review, Muhammad 'Ali Naqib al-Mamalik's Amir Arsalan, might, at first sight, appear to be about as obscure as a book can get. So it is -- in the English-speaking world: Amir Arsalan has apparently never been translated into English (which, by the way, disqualifies it from our most-obscure list, restricted as that is to titles that are at least available (or were, once) in English).
       In the Middle East, however, Amir Arsalan is known ... probably everywhere. This rollicking late-19th century classic, written in Persian -- though set in Cairo, Istanbul, Europe, and various other-worlds -- is half traditional romance/adventure story (think Alexandre Dumas), and half Arabian Nights.
       Contemporary English mentions of the story are few and far between -- but see, for example, Iraj Pezeshkzad's My Uncle Napoleon (a rare recent translation from the Persian -- see the publisher's publicity page), where the narrator recalls the text (see this excerpt)
But then a flash of lightning lit up my mind with hope: we'd heard and read the story of the famous Amir Arsalan many times; only Amir Arsalan had brought his longing to a successful conclusion. Although the story of Amir Arsalan, and its happy conclusion, did on the one hand somewhat allay my terror of romantic adventures, on the other, in answer to my basic question, it weighted the scale in my mind toward the positive answer, that I had fallen in love. How had Amir Arsalan fallen in love ? He'd seen a picture of Farrokh Laqa, and in that moment he'd given his heart to her. So, was it possible that I too had fallen in love with a single glance ?
       And if you can't read it, maybe you can find the video of this 1954 version .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More year-end (and other) lists

       The year-end best books and/or Christmas lists continue to appear all over the place -- everybody is doing it, it seems.
       You can find the lists at all your favourite publications, so we won't bother collecting them for you, but here for your amusement some of the more incongruous ones:
  • Today's Christian Science Monitor doesn't offer religious fare, but rather: The year's best garden books

  • This week's issue of The Village Voice doesn't focus on the avant-garde or any fancy literature but offers a survey Collecting This Season's Coffee-Table Books

  • The 2 December issue of USA Today doesn't focus on popular literature but rather, ambitiously, thinks they can offer suggestions For the scientifically inclined (maybe it's meant as a joke ?)

  • Still, our lasting favourite remains a holdover from The Times -- defying the season they still offer their Summer Books section .....
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 December 2002 - Tuesday

Söderberg review | Salon on book prices

       Söderberg review

       We only just received our 28 November issue of the London Review of Books -- and were very pleased to find Michael Hofmann's review of two recently re-issued Hjalmar Söderberg titles. (Hofmann's review isn't freely available online, but see our reviews of Doctor Glas and The Serious Game.)
       We're a bit surprised these two novels haven't gotten more review-attention -- though it always seems hard to get newspapers etc. to review century-old titles. (In the UK these two titles were also published by different publishers, which probably makes for less of a concerted effort to get coverage, etc.)
       In any case, Hofmann likes them:
     These two books offer, it seems to me, generic satisfactions from a golden age of the novel. (...) Doctor Glas is about love and death; The Serious Game about love and money. I would recommend both of them to anyone.
       As would we, which is why we remind you of them again. Though we wouldn't put what they're about quite so simply .....
       (See also our previous mention, which also makes note of Dannie Abse's Söderberg-based The Strange Case of Dr Simmonds and Dr Glas.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Salon on book prices

       There's a piece in today's Salon on one of our favourite bête noires -- rising (and outrageous) book prices.
       Christopher Dreher wonders: Why do books cost so much ?. It's not a particularly informative piece (suggesting that people might be surprised to learn that authors only get a 10 to 15 percent cut, for example), but at least covers most of the basic points.
       And at least he does properly point at one of the worst offenders:
But what's taken a huge bite out of America's book budget is the rise of the trade paperback, those larger paperbacks of better quality that can now be found occupying prime real estate on tables at the front of bookstores
       Oh, how we hate the terrible trade paperback ! The worst "innovation" in publishing ever.

       (What a thrill to see in bookstores, for example, the newly published mass-market paperback edition (finally !) of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon -- still an unwieldy brick of a book, but ever so much more appealing in this far superior size (though still outrageously priced).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

2 December 2002 - Monday

Review-link site | Some New Statesman reviews | Politically sensitive confusion ?

       Review-link site

       We like to think that the most useful feature at the complete review is the links that we offer, leading users to other reviews and information. We're always pleased to find other sites that do the same. describes itself as "a gateway to book reviews and author interviews". Simple to use and nicely organised that's what they do, providing links. So far they only refer to a limited number of sources (so you won't find anywhere near as many review links as you typically would on one of our review-pages), but they appear to be adding to that (including adding links to our very own complete review reviews). It looks like this will be a useful reference site. Especially impressive: their reach -- currently they already have 15,672 books in their database .

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       Some New Statesman reviews

       This week's (2 December) issue of the New Statesman has some interesting reviews -- focussing not only on the brand-new, but the worthwhile old as well. We were particularly pleased to find the likes of Louis-Ferdinand Céline's Journey to the End of the Night (see Andrew Hussey's review) and even Charles Dicken's Great Expectations (see Amanda Craig's review) under review.
       Another reason we bring this up is, as readers may be aware, book reviews haven't been easily accessible at that site. Go to the New Statesman's book page and you'll find brief excerpts from all the week's reviews (and last week's too), but try to read any review in its entirety and you'll find that's a pleasure reserved for paying guests. Funny thing, however: go to the NS bookstore-page on the site, and you'll find most of this week's reviews in their full glory -- and freely accessible.
       Additional bonus, at least for the two books mentioned above: you can buy them direct from the NS-bookstore. Generally not something we would recommend, but in this case the listed "Discount price" is just too good to pass up -- £ 0.00 for either volume (buy them both !). O.k., we don't think they'll let you hold them to that pricing, but you can raise a stink about it .....

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       Politically sensitive confusion ?

       Disturbing book-review quote of the week, from the 1 December issue of The New York Times Book Review, Stephen S. Hall's review of Dick Teresi's Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science -- From the Babylonians to the Maya (get your copy at
A dozen pages into the text, I found myself wondering how many publishers would have been courageous enough, after Sept. 11, 2001, to take on a book that documents, among other things, the superiority of Arab intellect and Muslim science in ancient and medieval times.
       What times do we live in that such thoughts even occur to people -- and that publishing something that is widely known and obvious (that, for example, Europe in the days of the "Dark Ages" wasn't a hotbed of intellectual rigour and scientific innovation compared to the Arab world) is enough to be considered an act of publishing courage ? (Well, actually, in contemporary America publishing anything that sounds remotely intellectual, or is translated from any foreign language is probably courageous -- at least if you have to try to justify it to your shareholders or the conglomerate of which you are some tiny piece.)

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1 December 2002 - Sunday

Gaddis reviews | More on the Poetry-bequest | Easier linking at the Saloon

       William Gaddis reviews

       William Gaddis died in 1998, and Viking/Penguin have now released two posthumous volumes (in the US) -- which we have now reviewed: the short novel, Agape Agape, and the collection of "Essays and Occasional Writings", The Rush for Second Place, both volumes edited by Joseph Tabbi.
       These aren't desperately cobbled together posthumous leftovers: Agape Agape is, indeed, Gaddis' final complete work, presented in the form he intended.
       For such a significant author -- a two-time National Book Award winner, and an acknowledged (if not widely read) modern American master -- these books haven't received very much review attention. The Rush for Second Place was even simply published as a paperback original (to which reviewers apparently pay even less attention).
       The most notorious attention has come from Jonathan Franzen, who wrote a piece on Gaddis in the 30 September issue of The New Yorker (see also our earlier comments on the article). Not having read the books at that time, we were in no position to judge his comments on these two Gaddis titles when we originally wrote about his piece. Having now read the books we're a bit disappointed, especially by Franzen's all too easy dismissal, especially of the non-fiction collection. And, we would suggest, there's more to both books than Franzen allows. We also find that the texts aren't burdened by any undue difficulty. (Working at the texts, in some sense or another, probably -- as with most any text -- enhances understanding and reading-pleasure, but it seems to us that lazy enjoyment of these books can also be quite satisfying.)

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       More on the Poetry-bequest

       The story of the 100,000,000 dollar bequest to Poetry magazine continues to be a popular one, though as we mentioned recently (see here (scroll down), for example), significant aspects of the bequest -- such as the fact that supposed donor Ruth Lilly isn't allowed to handle her own affairs (having been declared legally incompetent some two decades ago) -- get scant attention.
       Coverage in the British papers has been no better than in the US. A fairly detailed article in the The Independent (30 November) by David Usborne, Poetry's fairy godmother, is the latest example of this odd coverage. Most striking the bizarre mention:
As another of the Poetry staff members noted, there is an almost "Dickensian element" to the whole affair -– a mysterious, very wealthy, benefactor bestowing her largesse on the magazine from afar, allowing her lawyer to represent her in all respects.
       "Allowing her lawyer ..." ? The point is that she is not allowed to represent herself in any respects -- raising the question of who exactly decided to hand out this money. (A court did sign off on the bequest; still, a lot of unanswered questions remain here. We're looking forward to the exposé that's bound to follow .....)
       We note also that no one has asked many questions about the (as we called it) unpoetic board of the Modern Poetry Association. The whole association will have to be reconstituted as a private foundation because of the size of the gift, and one hopes an entirely (or at least close to entirely) new board will be put in place to oversee things -- but no one seems to be addressing this issue. (What's wrong with the current board ? To repeat: they're not geographically diverse, not very poetic, and, most significantly, were clearly chosen largely (if not, in many cases, solely) for their ability to fund-raise -- while what Poetry needs now is a board that knows how to spend money (since they're never going to have to raise any again).)

       For other stories on Poetry's windfall, see everything from an editorial in today's The Japan Times to a pretty pathetic attempt at a humorous take on it by Sam McManis in the San Francisco Chronicle (29 November).

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       Easier linking at the Literary Saloon

       Occasionally other bloggers or sites actually link to stories at our Literary Saloon (always appreciated). To make this easier for them we are now adding each Saloon update to our archives immediately. In addition, webmasters (and casual users) will now also find a link at the bottom of each story ("- permanent link -") which functions as the permanent link to each story (clicking on it leads to the archived copy).
       So if you want to link to any specific story you should just click on the "permanent link" and copy that URL. (Stories from before 1 December do not have this feature, but can, of course, be found already neatly archived ...)

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