We're great Arno Schmidt fans, but even we recognise that the most recent addition to the complete review -- our review of Robert Weninger's Framing a Novelist: Arno Schmidt Criticism 1970-1994 -- isn't going be considered the must-buy read of the summer.
(In fact, it's already near the top of our most obscure books under review page.)
Readers unfamiliar with Schmidt's work probably couldn't be convinced to consider the volume, but one hopes that those that have had a look at some Schmidt are tempted: Weninger's book really is a useful and well-done piece of work -- probably as good as any English introduction to author and work that you'll readily stumble across.
(There's also that 1988 issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction devoted to Schmidt which is -- like practically all issues of the RCF -- highly recommended, but that's probably even harder to get your hands on.)
And it's an interesting study of literary criticism per se.
We've previously mentioned Keith Alldritt's new biography, David Jones, and the first reviews of it.
Additional reviews are now available online: a fairly useless short notice in the Financial Times, and Julian Mitchell's review in the 21 June issue of The Spectator.
Mitchell isn't overwhelmed:
Alldritt is brisk and straight-forward, an unsuitable approach to such a complex character, and itís difficult to see for whom the book is intended.
Jones does not have admirers so much as devotees, who need something much more detailed.
Meanwhile, this week's issue of The Spectator also offers Sibylla Jane Flower's review of Leslie Mitchell's new Edward Bulwer-Lytton biography (a book we'd very much like to review).
(See also John Gross' Daily Telegraphreview.)
We're Weiß (and Weiss) fans too: we venerate Peter Weiss (and perhaps the single book we most look forward to this year is the October publication of his Inferno-fragment by Suhrkamp), we think Ernst Weiß doesn't get his due, and we keep meaning to review more by Daniel Evan Weiss.
But the Weisss get obscurer still -- consider poor Konrad, entirely out of print even in German.
Botho Strauß does a nice service with his profile of this Weiß in this week's issue of Die Zeit (yes, sorry -- it's in German).
Absurd wäre es, sich ein erweitertes Lesepublikum fŁr Konrad Weiß zu wünschen.
Einem solch erratischen Brocken der Literatur wird stets auch nur der aus allgemeiner Leserschaft Abgeirrte begegnen.
Hier zählt allein die Qualität der Verbindung, die dieser mit dem Autor eingeht.
(It would be absurd to wish a wider reading public for Konrad Weiß.
Such an erratic morsel of literature will in any case only be encountered by those who have deviated from the common reading path.
Here all that counts is the connexion that the reader establishes with the author.)
(To vaguely placate English-speaking readers and lovers of lists see also translator Jürgen Brôcan's top-100 books list -- which can't be too bad since it includes titles by both Konrad Weiß and David Jones.)
(To no one's surprise we didn't make the cut -- links to German Konrad Weiß-stories and the like just aren't going to make for much influence except among the very few.
(In any case, one of our major concerns has always been that someone might actually take us seriously -- in which case we'd feel the weight of all that responsibility ..... don't think we'd care for that much.)
All this on the day after the Literary Saloon, at least, enjoyed it's largest readership (roughly triple the average Thursday) -- the surge not in popularity but at least curiosity occasioned by a mention at the Rediff Guide to the Net ("Between the covers: Eight weblogs for those fascinated by books") -- the most traffic any link has driven to any page at the complete review in all its history.)
A few days ago Deirdre Donahue wrote in USA Today that:
Hillary Rodham Clinton's Living History will make its debut at No. 1 on the USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list, published Thursday.
The book sold more in its first week than any other book since the list was created in 1993 except for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2000.
600,000 copies in the first week, apparently.
We'll be the first to acknowledge we understand nothing about publishing, or what people might want to spend their money and time on (recall: the last book we bothered reviewing is something titled: Framing a Novelist: Arno Schmidt Criticism 1970-1994, which probably hasn't sold 600 copies in the eight years it's been available), but we're simply dumbstruck.
At least the Harry Potter-books (the newest of which should easily beat Clinton's first week totals next week) are fiction and apparently have some literary appeal -- there may be some worth to reading them.
But of what possible worth is Hillary Clinton's book ?
As, for example, the Book Babes at PoynterOnline point out: "Clinton's memoir isn't a book; it's a media event".
We're almost glad for the appearance of the latest Harry Potter tonight: also almost buried as an event, there at least seems to be something of a book to it (unlike Hillary's publicity vehicle).
Not that we think we'll manage to review it any time soon.
It's been announced that Susan Sontag is this year's recipient of the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels -- the book-trade peace prize handed out at the Frankfurt Book Fair (last year it went to Chinua Achebe).
She'll receive it on 12 October.
See the official announcement (in German) or read about it at Deutsch Welle (in English).
Charles Paul Freund offers a modestly amusing take on the Hillary Clinton book and The art of ghost-reading at Reason yesterday.
He still pays more attention to the book than it is surely worth, but for those interested in it .....
We complain about it all the time, when US and UK publishers can't agree on a book title -- because it seems to happen all the time.
Harry Mount discusses it in the Daily Telegraph, maintaining Book titles should be peculiar.
He doesn't give too many examples -- and then gives one which suggests to us that maybe there is, occasionally, a case to be made for alternate titles (at least in the rare case of a British publisher meddling with an American title).
British literary agent Peter Straus relates:
When The Bridges of Madison County was released over here, they changed it to Love in Black and White and it did nothing.
They changed the name back to The Bridges of Madison County, and it was a huge hit.
It would seem to prove again that changing titles is a bad idea -- though in this instance it did produce the desired result (the ignoring of a book better left ignored).
So, for once, we're for the poorly chosen trans-Atlantic title-change, as the English population would surely have been better off had the publishers not corrected their original mistake of changing the title.
We mentioned that The Independent was holding a contest looking for the best opening sentence(s) "of a classic unpublished novel".
"The response was overwhelming", and the results are now in -- at Opening Gambits.
Roughly six years ago I gave a talk at a D.C. think tank complaining that it was outrageous for the conservative community (that vigorous, virile young beast) to allow New York City to subsist on the thin gruel of the New York Times Book Review and the New York Review of Books, both left of center.
Don't books matter ?
Doesn't critical opinion at the center of the publishing (not to say the cultural) world count ?
We were surprised by a number of things here.
First of all, it's an article ostensibly considering "Replacing the New York Times" -- and he begins with two periodicals that hardly count as newspapers, the one a weekly, the other not even a bi-weekly (The New York Review of Books appears a mere twenty times annually).
Equally baffling (to us): the complaint that they are "left of center".
First of all the semantic question: as opposed to what -- left of up ? left of Thursday ? (i.e. what else could left be left of but centre ?).
Then this whole idea of left-leaning book reviews ... editorially The New York Review of Books certainly seems to lean towards what is generally considered leftist in the US, but as far as most of their reviews go ... well we don't see it (no doubt there are exceptions, but in the area of greatest interest and significance -- reviews of works of fiction -- leftist or other leanings do not appear obvious to us).
And to call The New York Times Book Review a vehicle of the left seems about as useful as saying that of their sports coverage -- possibly true on some level, but almost entirely unfathomable to us (and certainly there are far more objectionable things about The New York Times Book Review than their supposed leftist leanings).
Finally, while there aren't any comparable right-wing dedicated book review organs of equal prominence (and with 'New York' in the title) there certainly seem to be an adequate number of right-leaning periodicals appearing with the same or a similar frequency that also provide a decent amount of book-coverage (including the Weekly Standard).
Gelernter turns more to newspapers in the rest of his piece, and goes on to commend the relatively new New York Sun:
long may it prosper.
For all I know, "America's next great newspaper" is the Sun -- but on the web.
(It's on the web today, of course -- but in conventional antique style.)
While aspects of the Sun's news-presenting model may be commendable, the paper (so far) seems less so.
For one -- to return to Gelernter's opening gambit -- their book coverage remains flimsy at best: books apparently don't matter.
(They also have a horrible, registration- and fee-requiring site, something we of course strongly oppose.)
Still, maybe the article will cause others to ponder the place and role (and politics) of book reviews .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of James Gleick's biography of Isaac Newton.
It's an odd achievement -- very well done, but essentially an exercise in futility, as Newton's life simply can't be compressed into so few pages.
It's surprising, coming from Gleick who was much more deliberate in, for example, his fine Feynman-biography, Genius.
In today's issue of the Evening Standard David Sexton decries the "rush to make books into events", in Not such a wizard idea.
Apparently the latest 'Harry Potter' title is being published sometime soon, and it will go on sale with quite a bang -- midnight store openings, mass merchandising (see also an article in today's issue of The New York Times by David Kirkpatrick), and with first day sales expected to be very large.
Sexton correctly points out that this is probably not such a great thing:
For this accelerating rush to make books into events is a folly, a self-inflicted injury.
Films have openings, shows have first nights, even exhibitions have private views, but books do not need launches at all (authors are another matter).
They are objects, not events.
(Well, we don't entirely agree: authors should certainly not be launched either, but rather be completely ignored: the book is all that counts.)
He also notes:
We conspirators all do our best to turn these permanent objects into passing events, as though we miss the very moment of publication at our peril.
Books are increasingly promoted like movies, to be consumed now or never.
Book-promotion is, of course (like any sort of promotion) almost invariably a terrible thing, and a terrible waste of money (though, since consumers fall for it time and again, still worth the publishers' and marketeers' while).
The 'excitement' about Senator Clinton's recently published book is, of course, even more bizarre than the Harry Potter-phenomenon -- effective promotion, certainly, but of hardly any value to the consumer (literarily and informatively worthless, the book's only use is as a platform for the promotion of the product 'Senator Clinton', getting her interviewed on prominent TV shows and so on).
In fact, regarding the Clinton book one might argue that it is all in the event: that surely is a book that must be consumed "now or never" -- if read now it can serve as cocktail party small-talk fodder, while a few years from now no one will surely have the slightest interest in it.
Amusingly at the end of the Sexton article the good folk at the Evening Standard offer links to "More".
Additional information about why treating books as events is a bad idea ?
Instead they give links to "Buy Harry Potter books and treats here" and "Pre-order your copy of Order of the Phoenix".
It's not a losing battle, it's a long lost battle.
So we'll (briefly) jump on the bandwagon too: buy your copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at Amazon.com (in the US) or Amazon.co.uk (in the UK).
It's already the bestselling title at both outlets.
The summer issue of Bookforum is now available -- though, as usual, only a very limited number of the articles are available online.
But at least you can read John Banville's review of Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis -- though his conclusion seems pretty feeble to us:
Cosmopolis may not be the best book that he has written, or is capable of writing, but in these grim days it is probably the best that we can expect
More interesting, we imagine, is Peter Bush on Rosmarie Waldrop's Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabès.
That sounds like a book that we'd be interested in covering too (we've been meaning to review some Jabès, too, but haven't gotten around to that yet).
See also the University Press of New England publicity page for the Waldrop book, the Rosmarie Waldrop page at EPC, or buy the book at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
At National Review Online Mark Goldblatt writes about The Devil & the Gray Lady, about Lauren Weisberger's much-maligned The Devil wears Prada, and specifically "the critical jihad the book ignited at the New York Times".
We always enjoy a good critical jihad, though we're not particularly impressed by this one -- but Goldblatt has a point when he notes;
The fact that the paper twice reviewed a literary debut by a previously unknown author would be noteworthy in itself; what's unprecedented is the fact that its reviewers twice ripped the book to shreds -- arguing not simply that it fails as literature, but that it should never have been published in the first place.
We'd almost never argue that a book doesn't deserve to be published at all (though often we would appreciate greater editorial care in what is served up to the reading public) -- and much fiction that is published is ... not very impressive.
Still, there's no reason this particular piece of junk shouldn't have been published (and based on its prominent position on the bestseller lists, the reading public seems to be glad it is available).
To us it's the press-attention (including the Times double-reviewing it -- but also Goldblatt bothering with it) that's unfathomable.
There are real books worthy of attention out there, and everyone would be better served if that's what prominet publications (from the Times to the National Review) focussed on them.
In today's issue of The Guardian James Fenton writes about Textual healing -- "on overcoming problems of translation and interpretation in opera".
Apparently the English National Opera is considering installing a system that would allow audience-members to read the text of the opera being performed (or a translation thereof).
The fundamentalist position in the argument is that any visually offered text counts as a distraction from the drama on stage.
A translation adds a confusion: one is hearing one text and matching it to another.
One answer to the fundamentalists is that the alternative, a sung translation, is much more of a distraction.
The translator provides a new set of linguistic sounds to replace those anticipated by the composer -- this must be a major interference.
- "Peter Jones says that universities are becoming factories of jargon and illiteracy" in Language barriers,
- Rachel Johnson writes about academics forced to Publish or be damned, taking on the British Research Assessment Exercise ("a production quota for published work that makes Stalinís five-year plans look positively market-driven").
(For more RAE information, see the 2001 report (the most recent available online) -- and know also that the RAE is itself being assessed: see the Review of research assessment: final report.)
- And finally, a rousing defence of Jeffrey Archer by Rod Liddle in Some are more guilty than others (though somehow we just can't feel the same sense of outrage that Liddle does).
Much-favoured but still essentially untranslated (just a few stray poems and bits, no whole collection yet) Büchner-Prize-winning German poet Durs Grünbein recently came out with another small collection of essays, Warum schriftlos leben -- and our review is now available.
John Gross' Daily Telegraphreview of Leslie Mitchell's Bulwer Lytton: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Man of Letters is now available online.
We're glad to see there's a new biography out; we hope eventually also to review it.