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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 May

21 May: Pamuk's IMPAC | Big Read articles | Christina Stead Prize awarded | Figes v. Sexton notes | Times reviews
22 May: White Mughals review | Johnson Prize controversy | New VLS | Hay Festival
23 May: Chinese erotica
24 May: Review contest | Poetry sues | Swartz review
25 May: Translation debates | Prickly Paradigm Press | Reviews of James Wood novel | Worst reads
26 May: The dreaded baseball issue | Hay news
27 May: Alasdair Gray story | Exiling the Poets review | Australian top 40
28 May: Caine Prize shortlist | Publishing debates
30 May: New WLS
31 May: Ian Hamilton Finlay

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31 May 2003 - Saturday

Ian Hamilton Finlay

       Ian Hamilton Finlay

       James Campbell offers an in-depth profile of Ian Hamilton Finlay in today's issue of The Guardian. IHF is apparently getting a CBE; certainly he deserves more attention.

       For other information see:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

30 May 2003 - Friday


       New WLS

       The new issue of the LA Weekly's WLS-literary supplement ('WLS' not standing for 'weekly literary supplement' (since it isn't) but rather 'Weekly literary supplement') is now available.
       Among the pieces: John Powers considers The 10 Most Influential Books of the Past 10 Years (which actually considers the most influential books of, roughly speaking, only the last year). Showing our apparent complete irrelevancy, and disconnect from what's important (?) in the literary world we don't have a single of these titles under review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 May 2003 - Wednesday

Caine Prize shortlist | Publishing debates

       Caine Prize shortlist

       The Caine Prize for African Writing shortlist has been announced. It's:
awarded to a short story by an African writer published in English, whether in Africa or elsewhere. (Indicative length, between 3000 and 10,000 words).
       The prize comes with it's own fancy Latin motto -- though only the predictable Pliny-quote: Ex Africa semper aliquid novi (meaning, approximately: 'out of Africa there's always stuff that's new') --, a decent cash award, and considerable prestige. Interestingly, there's been little fuss about the English-language restriction -- surely a severe and problematic one. (Recall that Amitav Ghosh withdrew from Commonwealth Prize contention last year because that prize too is limited to the language of the colonizers.) It certainly makes the name -- 'Caine Prize for African Literature' -- sound presumputous (surely it should be: the 'Caine Prize for African Literature in English' or something like that). And it makes one wonder why they have a Latin motto .....
       (Note that stories must be published in English, but that translations are eligible (unlike at the Commonwealth Prize) -- i.e. foreign language literature is not completely excluded (and numerous works originally written in foreign languages do appear to have at least been shorttlisted for the prize).)

       For more on the shortlist, see Tunde Okoli's article in yesterday's issue of This Day. And note that two of the shortlisted stories are from Transition (though neither is freely available online).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Publishing debates

       There's a lengthy article at the Publishers Weekly site discussing the woes of the publishing industry and possible solutions (link first seen at Arts Journal).
       A mixed bag of comments -- along with the always troubling focus on books as mere commodities, competing for their slice of the dollars consumers spend on entertainment. Still, a few points which we hope were hammered home -- including, most importantly: "book prices are too high". Amen !
       Amusing: the idea of offering works by new and unknown authors at cheaper, introductory prices. Publishers, of course, prefer to throw huge advances (that can practically never be earned back) at new authors, believing that the only way they can sell these books is through the publicity they get for paying such ridiculous amounts to these authors .....
       Still, the article at least offers a few interesting ideas and suggestions.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 May 2003 - Tuesday

Alasdair Gray story | Exiling the Poets review | Australian top 40

       Alasdair Gray story

       With the June issue of Prospect now available, Alasdair Gray's story from the May issue, Aiblins, is now freely accessible.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Exiling the Poets review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ramona Naddaff's look at The Production of Censorship in Plato's Republic in Exiling the Poets.
       Certainly of interest -- particularly given the recent fuss about poets and their comments re. the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Australian top 40

       The Australian Society of Authors celebrated its 40th anniversary yesterday. Among the events they organised was asking their members to vote for the top 40 Australian books (well, members were asked to name between one and five books each, and from the results (with only 500 of 3000 members responding) this list of 40 was compiled); see articles in The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald for the results (and discussions thereof).
       Tim Winton surprises with two of the top four, but at least Patrick White scored five titles, which sounds about right.

       See also an edited extract of Thomas Keneally's address at the celebratory dinner, The looming threat to Australian culture in today's issue of The Age. (Note that none of Keneally's books made the top 40.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 May 2003 - Monday

The dreaded baseball issue | Hay news

       The dreaded baseball issue

       Spring training passed, the American baseball season began -- and we thought the good folk at The New York Times Book Review finally had come to their senses and spared us the ridiculous annual baseball-heavy edition of the Book Review. Alas, it was not meant to be.
       Last year 'On the Ball for the 2002 Season' appeared 31 March. This year they weren't quite as on the ball, missing opening day by more than a month, but here it is: yesterday's issue is 'Brush up your Baseball'. And, perhaps to make up for the delay, it's jam-packed with reviews of baseball-related books (unlike last year's issue).
       There are full-length reviews of eleven (11 !) baseball titles and books-in-brief reviews of six (6 !) more. In keeping with the Book Review's relative indifference to all things fictional, all the baseball books under review are non-fiction. Meanwhile the issue contains a measly three reviews of other non-fiction books, three of fiction titles, and one of a poetry title.
       (Last year's issue wasn't anywhere near this bad: full length reviews of only three (non-fiction) baseball titles, along with reviews of three additional non-fiction title, a phenomenal six fiction titles, plus books-in-brief reviews of five additional fiction titles and a poetry collection.)
       What the hell happened here ?
       We're all for editorial freedom in what books any periodical chooses to review -- and we're certain we annoy enough of our users with our eclectic choices ('Not another untranslated Dutch novel!' readers probably often mumble to themselves when seeing what new reviews we have). Still, given the dearth of review-coverage in the American media, and The New York Times Book Review's pre-eminent position among the few publications that still publish a reasonable amount of book reviews, we're very disappointed to find so much space wasted on a single, marginal (and not very literary) topic.
       Seventeen baseball books are discussed -- and only three works of fiction. Not a single work of foreign literature. And all this in a pre-summer issue when people might be interested in reading reviews of potential vacation books and beach reads.
       We know the national pastime holds a special place in many Americans' hearts, and that there is some decent writing on the subject (and there are some high profile authors reviewed here -- including Michael Lewis, Stephen Jay Gould, and David Halberstam), but why it should be granted such special status is beyond comprehension to us. Especially since it's not supplemental coverage, but rather takes away space that could have been devoted to other books -- a few more novels, for example. And in this case it truly seems like overkill: way too much on one subject.
       Also: wouldn't it be better to review these things in the Sports section ? Business books are regularly discussed and reviewed in the Sunday Times' Business section, so why not do the same for sports fans (and not limit it to dreary baseball but rather include other sports-books) ?
       We hope we've seen the last of the not-so-special baseball issue of the Book Review -- or that the folks there atone for their self-indulgence by reviewing more literary works (novels ! literature in translation !) in the weeks to come.

       Note that Charles McGrath and friends aren't the only book review editors who wallow excessively in baseball books: yesterday's issue of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette -- which offers far fewer reviews -- also wastes most of its precious review-space on them. Read a round-up of A starting lineup of new baseball books, or a triple-header of books on the first World Series (by another baseball-fan-book-editor (is this a new requirement for the job ?) Bob Hoover), or a review of Michael Lewis' book.

       For god's sake people: there are real books that deserve coverage in these book review sections !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hay news

       So, the Hay Festival of Literature is underway.

       The first newspaper reports we've come across:

        - Johann Hari reports in today's issue of The Independent on Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hitchens going at it.

        - Angelique Chrisafis reports in today's issue of The Guardian that Anti-American sentiment dominates discussions as "American polemicist" Michael Lind apparently polemicized.

        - and Angelique Chrisafis also reports that Hanif Kureishi accuses 'fascist' Labour in the Raymond Williams lecture.

       Now we love good (or bad) political debate as much as anyone, but we were under the impression that this was a "Festival of Literature". And these events described in these articles have what to do with literature ?

       Literature ... fiction ... does anybody remember these ? Does anybody care ? Hello ? Anybody ?

       So we're glad we're not in Hay but rather able to actually sit back and do something vaguely literary -- like read an actual book.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 May 2003 - Sunday

Translation debates | Prickly Paradigm Press
Reviews of James Wood novel | Worst reads

       Translation debates

       We're quite impressed by the amount of interest first in Open Brackets' critique of some of our attitudes re. translation and then our response. Beside quite a few comments at the original Open Brackets post there have been longer responses (often also with user-comments) at, among others:        The 'we-hate-translation' exclamation is, of course, easily attacked, but we were pleased to see that quite a few people seem to have taken our rantings and comments pretty much as they were meant (and that a few people even noticed that we occupy ourselves with foreign and translated literature more than most review sites (28 of the past 100 titles under review are translations -- and five additional titles are not even available in English translation yet)). And if our comments have served as nothing more than a reminder to readers that, when reading translated literature, they are reading something that has been transformed from its original state -- well, that's something already.

       It's understandable that pronouncements such as: "We hate literature" draw crowds and loud responses; still, I'm surprised that other translation-related issues we've raised haven't elicited anywhere near as much interest. In particular, I think of the obscenity of double-translated books (Sándor Márai's Embers, recently offered to English-speaking audiences in a translation from the German translation of the Hungarian original, and Stanislaw Lem's Solaris (translated from the Polish to the French and only from there to the English -- with no new translation being commissioned despite the recent film tie-in opportunity) being only two of far too many examples). Surely, this is an indefensible practice that all translators should protest against (and raise a hue and cry when it does occur). We mention it whenever we come across it, but the general outrage-level regarding this doesn't seem particularly high.
       I would have also thought that our mention of the twice-translated Ahmadou Kourouma novel, En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages and the very different reactions the British edition got compared to the non-reaction the American edition got would be a subject of great interest to anyone dealing with translation and questions of the publishing and the reception of translated literature. Apparently, however, not. (We will be writing more extensively about the Kourouma book in the next issue of the crQuarterly.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Prickly Paradigm Press

       An advert in the London Review of Books made us aware of the Prickly Paradigm Press.
       They're "devoted to giving serious authors free reign to say what's right and what's wrong about their disciplines and about the world". There are not very many titles available yet, but it is an intriguing list. The Eliot Weinberger title is particularly tempting (we already have four of his books under review), but we think we'd be interested in most of the others as well. We hope they send us some (or all !) of them.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Reviews of James Wood novel

       There was a big profile of James Wood in yesterday's issue of The New York Times, as the American publication of his debut novel, The Book Against God, is upon us. We don't have the book under review yet (but hope to once/if we get a copy from FSG), but people are seeking out information about the book here, so here a few links to tide you over:
       (Choice review-quote for the impatient: "The whole thing, though, reads rather like Barbara Pym rewritten by Schopenhauer" - D.J.Taylor, The Spectator.)
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Worst reads

       A few weeks back John Walsh introduced Read it and weep in The Independent, where "50 leading lights on the literary, political, opinion-forming and media scene identify their worst reading experiences".
       Now Stephanie Merritt wants to expand on the idea (and counter the BBC's Big Read). In today's issue of The Observer she invites readers to nominate The Worst Read

       Her hopes of editing The Faber Book of Crap Writing may yet be realised !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 May 2003 - Saturday

Review contest | Poetry sues | Swartz review

       Review contest

       The Modern Word is staging an Imaginary Book Review contest:
In the spirit of Borges' remark, write a book review of an imaginary book. The book may be from any time period, it may be fiction or non-fiction, and it's author may be either an invention or an actual writer.
       If you need some inspiration, turn to Stanislaw Lem's book of imaginary reviews, the wonderful A Perfect Vacuum. (We unfortunately do not have it under review, but see the publicity page from Northwestern University Press, a review from Samizdat -- or buy a copy from (in the US) or (in the UK).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Poetry sues

       We've previously mentioned the enormous bequest made by Ruth Lilly (or rather: the trustees of her estate, ostensibly on her behalf) to Poetry magazine. (Previously run by the Modern Poetry Association, but for tax-purposes now transformed into something apparently called the 'Poetry Foundation of Chicago'; note, however, that their site has not yet been updated to reflect these (or indeed any) changes.)
       It seems, however, that the expected $ 100,000,000 (give or take) has dwindled in the perhaps not so capable hands of the money managers holding onto the cash (or rather: the stocks), National City Bank -- and Poetry has filed suit. See articles in the Chicago Sun-Times and Indianapolis Star for all the fun details (links first seen at Arts Journal and MobyLives respectively).

       Not much information at the bank's Charitable and Endowment Services -- but note that there are apparently other dissatisfied customers at this institution.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Swartz review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Mark Swartz's curious little novel, Instant Karma.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 May 2003 - Friday

Chinese erotica

       Chinese erotica

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Lü Tiancheng's frankly obscene 17th-century novel, The Embroidered Couch -- which is now available (after almost 400 years) in an English translation.
       It's an odd little book, more pornography than erotica, but with a few historically interesting points and spins. And it's short enough to get through fairly quickly and painlessly (except, of course, for those readers who are easily ... distracted by such descriptions).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

22 May 2003 - Thursday

White Mughals review | Johnson Prize controversy
New VLS | Hay Festival

       White Mughals review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of William Dalrymple's account of Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India in White Mughals.
       It's been much-discussed (and generally praised) in the UK -- and India -- but doesn't seem to have attracted much notice yet in the US. It should be of some interest, especially as it offers an interesting example of the co-existence (and the failures to co-exist) of a variety of cultures and colonialists -- British, Muslim, and Hindu, in that case.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Samuel Johnson Prize controversy

       We've mentioned David Sexton's controversial 14 May article in the Evening Standard several times (see also our mentions from yesterday and previously) but aren't much closer to understanding what is going on. Many questions -- what was objectionable or inaccurate in it ? why was it removed from the Evening Standard site ? why isn't the press covering this ? -- all remain.
       We did get word from the Samuel Johnson Prize (or rather their PR firm, Colman Getty PR). Their official statement on the article begins:
The organisers of the BBC FOUR Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2003 refute the claims in today’s (Wednesday 14th May) Evening Standard that one of the shortlisted titles, Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes (Allen Lane), has been ‘ruled out’ as a possible winner.

The judges made their decision to include the book on the shortlist in full knowledge of the controversy surrounding the book.
       We apparently have a different understanding of what 'refute' means (surely, that usually includes providing some sort of evidence to the contrary) -- but maybe 'deny' was considered too stark a word. (Note also that the second sentence has nothing to do with the first, and that Sexton similarly made clear (indeed made a point of) the fact that the judges were aware of the "controversy surrounding the book" in including it on the shortlist.)
       Sounds like those judging deliberations will be a lot of fun .....

       We'll keep you posted whenever we hear of new developments.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New VLS

       There was a time when the Voice Literary Supplement appeared on a nearly monthly basis. It has, however, been radically reduced in recent years -- now to spring/fall bi-annual status.
       The new issue is now available (what little of it there is). Shockingly, The Village Voice hasn't even bothered to make it a separate pull-out section this time. Instead, it's just a bit bigger-than-usual book section.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hay Festival

       The 2003 Hay Festival runs 23 May - 1 June. (See also The Guardian's special reports.)
       An overwhelming programme -- including quite a few of the Samuel Johnson shortlisted authors (Olivia Judson (26 May at 10:00), Claire Tomalin (24 May at 14:30), and Orlando Figes (24 May at 13:00)).
       Among the many things of interest, consider Derek Shiel and "David Jones: The Maker Unmade" (27 May at 10:00). (You can also catch him on 23 May speaking about The Works of David Jones (19:30, Ditchling Museum) -- allowing you also to catch the exhibit David Jones in Ditchling (5 April - 31 August).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

21 May 2003 - Wednesday

Pamuk's IMPAC | Big Read articles | Christina Stead Prize awarded
Figes v. Sexton notes | Times reviews

       Pamuk's IMPAC

       The 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award was awarded to Orhan Pamuk for his My Name is Red. (See also Michelle Pauli's report in yesterday's issue of The Guardian.)
       We don't have any Pamuk under review (though he's an author we'd like to cover at some point), but here some links of possible interest:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Big Read articles

       There have been several articles about the top-100 list from the BBC's Big Read.
       The Daily Telegraph (20 May) offers a nice overview, noting among other things:
In a robust judgment on the Booker Prize, criticised year in and year out for being too highbrow, only two of the Booker's 35 winners have been voted into the Top 100
       They also note that the BBC managed to get considerably more people involved (140,000 voters) than Waterstone's managed recently when they tried to determine the best 20th century book (they only got 25,000 voters). And, while some 'classics' made the list: "there is not one book published before 1800".
       See also Andrew Johnson's article in The Independent (17 May).

       Of related interest: Alex Good writes about Kid Stuff (noting, among other things, the reason: "why The Lord of the Rings and The Catcher in the Rye hold top spot on all of those 'favourite book' lists. These may be the last books many people have read.") Of related interest to that: Francis Spufford -- who wrote The Child That Books Built -- offers a review of Alison Lurie's Boys and Girls Forever: Reflections on Children's Classics (Evening Standard, 19 May).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Christina Stead Prize awarded

       Kate Jennings' much-shortlisted (most recently for the Miles Franklin Literary Award) novel, Moral Hazard, has now taken an award: Angela Bennie reports in the Sydney Morning Herald that it won the "Christina Stead Prize for Fiction at the 2003 NSW Premier's Literary Awards".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Figes v. Sexton notes

       We recently mentioned that David Sexton's 14 May article in the Evening Standard, War of the words, is now apparently the subject of a libel complaint by Orlando Figes.
       The article was available at the Evening Standard-site (here) until -- as best we can tell -- late Monday, but it has now been removed ("the page you have requested is currently unavailable. Please try again." is all it says -- though trying again didn't help retrieve the page). There are no indications at the Evening Standard-site as to why this was done, but presumably it has something to do with the threat of legal action. We still don't know exactly what was objectionable (or rather: actionable) about the article; in their communication to us Figes' lawyers mentioned "inaccuracies", but what these actually are has not been made clear (or even suggested) to us.
       The Evening Standard's retreat (by pulling the article) would seem to suggest that they have some concerns regarding their legal position and the content of the article; still, we'd love to know exactly where the problem lies.
       Curiously, we've still found no mention in the press of these events; it would seem to us to be exactly the sort of literary dispute that the British literary press would enjoy.

       Note that we previously mentioned that we had been told (by Figes' lawyers) that in later editions of the 14 May Evening Standard one section of the article (that we also quoted) was omitted (the paragraph beginning "The Johnson Prize judges (...)", which also included quotes from a judge (or judges) regarding their opinion of the criticism Figes' book has been subject to, and of his response). The implication was that the Evening Standard had (of their own accord or under pressure from Figes' lawyers) reconsidered the wisdom of publishing that paragraph. We are now under the (strong) impression that the cuts were not based on such editorial concerns but rather were, if anything, incidental. (In particular it seems unlikely to us that any outside concerns were responsible, as there would surely have been too little time to take them into account). In addition, the cuts were not made from the text that was available online (until Monday, at least) -- and when the Evening Standard acted they simply pulled the entire article rather than cut that paragraph.

       We hope some newspapers which are better equipped to look into this finally start digging into this whole mess, and we hope eventually to get to the bottom of things. We'll keep you informed.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Times' reviews

       Two books we've been following (and which look to be very popular) are reviewed in today's issue of The Times:

        - Simon Barnes reviews Simon Winchester's Krakatoa (as does Anne Wroe in the Daily Telegraph).

        - And Malu Halasa offers the first British review of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis we've come across.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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