The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Nicholas Mosley's Inventing God (published at the beginning of the year in the UK, and due out in a couple of weeks from the Dalkey Archive Press in the US).
It got very mixed reactions in the UK, with lots of critics appreciating Mosley's attempts to fashion a novel of ideas but most finding he forgot many of the requirements of fiction in focussing on the ideas.
As always, we're curious to see how the American critics take to it -- if they bother with it at all.
An 8 July AP report by Hillel Italie describes Carlos Fuentes switching American publishers (see, for example, Author Carlos Fuentes Drops Publisher at New York Newsday).
Italie reports that Fuentes "has dropped his longtime U.S. publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and signed with Random House" -- noting: "In switching to Random House, Fuentes leaves a publisher with a solid literary reputation and joins one with a troubled recent history."
It's an interesting move -- Fuentes was a one-time Latin American leading literary light, but in recent years has been ... something of a dud (albeit one who still has good name recognition).
It's not surprising that Fuentes wasn't happy with the situation at FSG: their online catalogue lists a mere seven of his titles in print -- and while they published The Years with Laura Díaz (see our review) in hardcover they didn't mind Harvest (Harcourt) doing it in paperback (see their publicity page).
Even more surprisingly, it apparently wasn't even worth FSG's while to try to hold onto the paperback rights to a true Fuentes classic like Terra Nostra -- which has just been re-issued by Dalkey Archive Press (see their publicity page -- or buy it at Amazon.com).
(Terra Nostra is a nice coup for Dalkey, but it's amazing that a title of this stature and renown couldn't be kept in print by a for-profit publisher such as FSG.)
Random House gets a literary name but one wonders whether they can make any money with it.
Fuentes hasn't been anywhere near his early form for a while now (the only other titles we have under review are Holy Place and the very disappointing The Crystal Frontier).
RH will be publishing some Fuentes non-fiction, as well as the translation of La Silla del Aguila (already out in Spanish; get your copy at Amazon.com) -- which sounds like it might have some potential (of course, so did The Crystal Frontier and some of his other recent fiction ...).
It's not great behind-the-scenes judging gossip, but Margaret Drabble writes about being a judge at the Aventis Science Book Prize in the Daily Telegraph in My scientific discovery.
(We're still waiting for someone to spill the beans about what exactly went on at the Samuel Johnson Prize, but everyone's keeping very mum about those goings-on.)
Controversial French author Michel Houellebecq's Platform is finally coming out in the US (it should be available by the end of the week), and our review is now also available (though we are chagrined that his newest, Lanzarotte, is already available in the UK (but not in the US); see this mention).
We're curious to see how the American press takes to it -- and how extensive review-coverage will be.
English views were very mixed (making for some entertaining reading).
American President George Bush jr. is now travelling in Africa.
Not surprisingly, not many people bothered to suggest reading matter to him to help him prepare for his trip, but at least one person went to the trouble: Paul Kennedy (in The Guardian -- yes, a British newspaper --, 4 July) suggests The book George Bush should read.
Kennedy thinks it would be a useful tome -- not only for the jr. Bush, but for the actual decision- and policy-makers:
It should be compulsory reading not only for the president, but especially for cabinet members Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleezza Rice, and their think-tank advisers who are running America's quasi-imperial policies today.
Not surprisingly the book (Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism, by Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher) is also out of print .....
But one imagines that someone in the jr. Bush's position (and with a librarian-wife) might -- should they be so inclined -- be able to get their hands on a copy.
Of course, regarding all matters literary, the jr. Bush seems entirely disinclined.
(When former President Clinton travelled to Africa there was a bit more interest in suggesting reading matter -- see, for example: Recommended Reading for President Clinton -- but presumably it wasn't even worth anyone's time engaging in such a futile exercise on behalf of the current leader-on-safari.)
On a vaguely related matter: the jr. Bush's wife recently submitted to Ask the White House ("an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Bush administration officials").
Not many literary questions, but the First Lady did offer some advice for the kids:
Read as many books as you can.
Reading well requires practice so the more you read the easier reading will become.
People who have read widely do better in school and on all standardized tests.
But most important, reading can fill your life with interest.
(Note that we're not really enormous fans of the call just to read as much as one can -- quality should matter more than quantity, and it's disappointing that this isn't emphasized more often.)
We're curious whether she gives this advice to her husband (and what he tells her when she does).
His focus seems to lie elsewhere -- as she notes, adding in the same response:
The President tells children to be sure to listen to your mother and as a mother I think that is really good advice
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two University of California Press titles that have recently been advertised together quite a bit (and a number of publications have also reviewed them together) -- both semi-food-consumption related: Marion Nestle on Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism in Safe Food and Maxime Schwartz on How the Cows Turned Mad
Readers of this week's issue of The New York Times Book Review (dated 6 July) will have found an odd full-page ad in it -- a letter ostensibly from Farrar, Straus & Giroux's general counsel to Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman's attorney regarding James McManus' book, Positively Fifth Street.
In his book McManus apparently included:
a passage reporting "lore" to the effect that Mayor Goodman (long before he was Mayor) was present at a meeting in which the assassination of Judge Wood was arranged.
FSG is removing the passage in question from further printings -- though note that this AP report on the ad and the settlement says it isn't clear that there will be any additional printings.
(The report also mentions that FSG apparently did not pay for the ad, and it's unclear who did -- though beside the letter the ad also features a postcard-type picture of a pensive looking O.B.Goodman on it.
The terms of the settlement -- other than deletion of the passage in future printings -- have also not been revealed, as far as we can tell -- pretty odd (it seems to us) if the public is supposed to believe the mayor was actually wronged.)
For additional information, see also Vegas Mayor Slams Author Of New Poker Book (Gambling Magazine, 5 May), mayor Goodman's city hall page, and FSG's publicity page for Positively Fifth Street.
(One would think that if they wanted to make readers aware of a potentially libelous and apparently entirely inaccurate statement in this book they would offer that information on their webpages (and that the mayor's attorneys would insist on it) -- but they don't appear to do so.)
We were pleased recently to find some Thomas Bernhard poetry being made available on the Internet: Conjunctions recently posted a translation (by James Reidel) of In hora mortis (and also provide the German original) (link first seen at wood s lot).
This isn't one of our Bernhard-favourites (we prefer the later collection, Ave Vergil (see also the piece on Fragments Shoring Ruin)), but his poetry is generally neglected and worthy of some attention, so maybe this is a start.
(We aren't too thrilled about the translation itself, but at least the original is nearby and can be consulted by interested readers.)
Pieces on David Jones keep popping up.
The newest is A.N.Wilson's 30 June piece from the Daily Telegraph.
(Yes, we're a bit concerned about the conservative tilt a lot of these commentaries take, but one hopes that at least the discussion of the author might pique some curiosity among some readers.
And Wilson does offer a decent little overview.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Javier Marías' 1986 novel (only now available in English), The Man of Feeling.
New Directions is slowly introducing Marías to American audiences (this makes half a dozen titles), but they still have a way to go.
We're curious to see whether he'll truly catch on, as he has in Europe.
We haven't been disappointed by anything of his yet.
In the 29 June issue of The New York Times Book Review Lawrence Venuti wrote about Marias' fiction: "There is nothing quite like it in fiction today."
We're not certain about that (and what's the big deal about uniqueness anyway ?), but what he does he does well.
The summer issue of the Boston Review is now available online.
Among the pieces of particular interest: Susie Linfield's Memory’s Lair, in which she discusses Avishai Margalit's The Ethics of Memory, W. G. Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction, and two out-of-print titles by the too-little known Jean Améry.
A book that's been getting a fair amount of attention recently is Aniruddha Bahal's Bunker 13.
Bahal is a fairly prominent figure in the world of Indian journalism, especially because of his involvement with the news-site Tehelka.com.
Now he's also tried his hand at fiction.
Our advance reader's copy of Bunker 13 (not obtained from the publishers) announces a US first printing of 75,000, and FSG "President and Publisher" Jonathan Galassi offers a letter of recommendation in it, proclaiming the book to be: "something new and tremendously exciting in world fiction (.....) an utterly new kind of Indian literary fiction."
Despite our general interest in Indian fiction (and our somewhat desperate search for Indian English-language writers doing something different), Bunker 13 did not make the initial cut at the complete review -- we couldn't be bothered to review it.
From the second-person voice to the first line ("You have soldiering boots stuck between your teeth so you don't maul your tongue" to a few glimpses of the end ("They even patch you through to army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The general attempts to pump you up." (...) "You take your last infusion of heroin.") it just didn't hold much appeal.
(We don't know if the book is good or bad -- we simply weren't tempted enough to find out.)
In the new Boston Review Bahal writes about what he set out to do in An Indian Realist in a World of Fiction.
My ambition for Bunker 13 was to capture the new energy of contemporary India, especially that of the middle-class Hindu elite -- an energy reflected in the growth of India’s software industry, textile entrepreneurs before that, the export of doctors and engineers, and the creation of the world’s third largest English-speaking pool of professionals.
We weren't convinced -- but then we only glanced at the book; judge for yourselves.
It's good space-filler, and periodicals can put as much or as little effort into it as they like, so the lists of summer reading recommendations appear year after year, in all their wonderful (and, more often, less than wonderful) variety.
The Guardian offers a good amount with its Celebrity picks, a mix of recommendations and what-I'll-be-reading mentions from quite a list of ... "celebrities".
Some serious folk here (real authors ! -- not that that means they should necessarily be taken seriously as readers), and it's always interesting to see what they read and recommend.
The Independent, on the other hand, apparently forced poor Emma Hagestadt to compile a list of no less than The 50 best books to read on holiday -- making for wildly uneven results (but at least the presentation -- pop-ups with decent book information about each of the titles -- is handy).
For a short but at least vaguely creative list, see the Voice Literary Supplement's "Sun Burnin', Page Turnin'" list of Beach Reads.
There are other creative approaches too: January Magazine offers quite a number of suggestions for The Books of Summer -- and is worth consulting if only for the bizarre "brain scale" which they use to rate them (indicating, apparently, the mental effort required to turn the pages of the listed books).
(The brain-scale ranges from a half to three -- suggesting that, for example, a three-brainer (so the highest rating) might require three people to read it; a scale from zero to one, comprised of fractions of the single brain which is all that most individuals are blessed with was apparently deemed too complicated for summer readers to deal with.)
Other than our monthly Editors' Choice list we don't really have any special recommendations to make.
We don't really get the whole seasonal-reading idea and don't even know if the grand reader ambitions at this time of year tend towards light beach reading or weighty tomes that readers might finally think they have time for.
Our reading motto remains: anything, anytime, anywhere.
In the new issue of Poets & Writers Jane Ciabattari offers an article on Editors On Reviews, offering an overview of the state of American book reviewing (link first seen at MobyLives).
Nothing particularly new or interesting, but a decent overview, looking at various large and small (mainly newspaper) fora.
One note: the situation at The New York Times Book Review is described as follows:
McGrath and his staff of editors sift through some 80,000 books a year and assign reviews of about 15 to 20, plus another half dozen or so in brief, each week (that’s about 1,200 a year).
Writing that they: "assign reviews of about 15 to 20" of course also suggests they publish that many.
Do they ?
Consider the past few issues of the Book Review, and the number of full-length reviews in each:
29 June: 11 reviews of 11 books
22 June: 13 reviews of 15 books
15 June: 12 reviews of 13 books
8 June: 18 reviews of 19 books
1 June: 9 reviews of 9 books (note that this is the so-called "Summer Reading" issue, and also contains round-ups of other books (travel, gardening, etc))
25 May: 15 reviews of 18 books
18 May: 12 reviews of 13 books
11 May: 12 reviews of 12 books
4 May: 18 reviews of 22 books
Note that in six of the nine issues considered here the number of books reviewed fell outside of the "15 to 20" range (five times below, once above) -- "about" indeed !
Note also that the average number of books reviewed per issue is (just) below 15 -- i.e. outside the given range as well.
Admittedly, the number of books review fluctuates, but this seems a fairly representative sample (if we wanted to skew the results, check out the three consecutive issues of 29 December 2002 and 5 and 12 January 2003: in these 8, 8, and 10 books were reviewed).
But the suggestion that The New York Times Book Review consistently reviews 15 to 20 books a week (not counting the books in brief and genre reviews, of course) is clearly an exaggeration.
In this week's issue of The Village Voice Cynthia Cotts' Press Clips-column is devoted, vaguely, to book review coverage, as she profiles the new editor of Bookforum, Eric Banks, in Banks Knows His Books.
Apparently the magazine now looks different -- not that you can really tell from the still very limited online edition.
Cotts focusses on the important things, of course, and so readers learn fascinating titbits about Banks such as: "He buys ties from Paul Smith and Bergdorf Men's, and is fond of pastels."
(There was a brief moment when we read that and our jaws dropped in amazement -- that anyone who edits a magazine devoted to book-coverage could afford Paul Smith ties and shop at "Bergdorf Men's" (we don't even know what that is but we know we're impressed).
A moment later came a sigh of relief that we were not in a similar position: reading Cotts' piece we'd have strung ourselves up right there and then, if we had had a tie on hand (or conveniently already around our necks).)
Search engine queries apparently lead some users to these pages in search of American First Lady Laura Bush's summer (or other) reading list, so we re-direct those searchers to the official page with Laura Bush's Recommended Reading.
It's not all bad either -- and allows for fun guesswork as to which (if any) of these titles she's made her husband read.
(We're not sure whether she chooses his books from the list described as: "Bedtime favorites and Lap-time reading" or goes straight for the "Special Comfort Books".)
We have quite a few Lolita-variations under review: from Nabokov's original to his screenplay, to Stephen Schiff's screenplay to Pia Pera's different perspective to Richard Corliss' study of the Kubrick film.
(Several of these continue to figure prominently each month on our list of most popular reviews -- though we suspect this has less to do with users' literary interest than their hopes of finding provocative nymphet-material.)
Now another variation: our review of Edward Albee's stage-adaptation (generally overlooked, forgotten and dismissed -- perhaps for good reason).
We were briefly thrilled to find the Albee-book listed at Amazon.com, and then impressed to find 319 (!) customer reviews there -- until, looking closer, we found these apparently all refer to Nabokov's novel, not Albee's play.
This confusion of reviews happens more often than one might think (or at least hope) at Amazon.com -- especially with different editions and translations of works with the same title -- very disappointing.
Newspapers will apparently seize any opportunity not to offer actual book coverage in their book sections -- so, for example, in the past week one finds instead bookshop coverage in the Evening Standard (wondering Who goes to John Sandoe ?) and the Financial Times (profiling -- very far afield -- the Pilgrims Book House, Kathmandu).
But bookstores might need the publicity help: an article in yesterday's issue of The New York Times by David Kirkpatrick claims that only 38 percent of adult trade book sales in the US came at bookstores last year (down from 50 percent in 1992).
The total doesn't include used bookstores, but is still pretty shocking.
Discounters and price clubs are apparently making big inroads -- up to 13 percent of all sales, from 9 percent a decade earlier, and a much bigger slice of the best seller market (up to 50 percent).
Since best sellers -- as sold here -- are high volume but low margin this is, at least, not the worst segment of the market to lose (though even bookstores would like the cash flow thus generated) -- but it's a shame that many consumers apparently don't even come into bookstores anymore (where they might catch a glimpse of other, real books).
(A quote from a Ms.Pardo, a customer at a "Costco warehouse store on the Brooklyn waterfront", where the new Harry Potter is piled "next to a display of girls' Speedo swimsuits for $11.49 a piece", has got to be among the most depressing we've recently come across: "This is the only place I buy books", she said.)
Is it a summer drought or are we just getting too damn critical ?
We reviewed 19 titles at the complete review in June, and none of them rated higher than a "B+".
Okay, the whole rating thing shouldn't be taken too seriously -- it's just a very rough guide -- but still .....
Fact is, we haven't been really enthusiastic about anything we've come across in a while (it's been 28 titles since we even deigned to award an A-, and some three months since we went all the way for an A).
We're always hoping that the next title we pick up will be the one that we can wholeheartedly endorse, after losing ourselves in it completely, but the disappointments, small and large, pile up.