Ben Schott's Original Miscellany has been enjoying good publicity and good sales, first in the UK and now in the US, where it's just been published.
Our review of this winning little book is now available.
Yes, it's 'rentrée littéraire' time again !
The French, in their infinite wisdom, have taken an unusual approach to book-publishing, pretty much flooding the market all at once with all the books they think anyone might be interested in -- the rentrée littéraire (which is followed by the prize-giving season, which culminates with the Prix Goncourt).
691 titles this year (i.e. this week), all competing for attention.
(And no, it doesn't sound at all like a sensible way of doing things, though actually we wouldn't mind getting an entire season's worth of books all in one week, rather than piecemeal as we now do.)
For overviews (yes, sorry, in French) see Lecture pour tous in L'Express (which does have a nice chart showing the growth in books published in this week, divided into various categories (French, foreign, debuts)) and A quoi sert la rentrée littéraire ? at Le Nouvel Observateur, as well as L'Express's sélection (a sort of highlight-list).
What we're most interested in -- Amélie Nothomb's newest, Antéchrista.
We've been woefully neglecting her -- no one even sent us her last book ! -- but we do hope to be able to get our hands on this one soon.
Thierry Gandillot promises in his L'Expressreview:
Avec Antéchrista, on retrouve l'univers nothombien avec un zeste de sadisme, un soupçon de masochisme, une goutte de perversité, une larme d'humour et un doigt de cruauté.
In utter humiliation we too admit defeat in the face of summer's end -- sloth (and cheap excuses) have spread so far and deep that we will be unable to service the site for a couple of days.
No reviews, no saloon entries until, at best, Tuesday 2 September.
Our apologies; rest assured, sanctions will be imposed (we'd love to fire some of these sorry, lazy asses -- ours included -- but since we exist upon the sufferance of what amounts to voluntary labour we wouldn't really get too far doing that -- but we are giving ourselves an earful).
We hope you can manage a few days without us (and we're sorry about the timing, since many alternative sites of interest currently seem similarly indisposed).
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tibor Fischer's forthcoming novel, Voyage to the End of the Room -- and we've now also added a Tibor Fischer page
Fischer has been making headlines for his recent Amis-comments -- but he hasn't exactly been a critic-favourite in recent years either.
William Deresiewicz's rip in the 29 October 2000 issue of The New York Times Book Review remains one of the most devastating author-eviscerations we've come across -- and certainly this new book won't win over any critics who didn't like the earlier stuff.
(We would like to see Deresiewicz take it on too, just to see how he could top himself.)
In yesterday's issue of The Guardian D.J.Taylor writes about John Bayley and A.N. Wilson sparring over how Iris Murdoch should be seen, in They knew her too well.
Not a pretty sight, when folks try to shape the images of the dearly departed.
We don't have any books by Wilfred Thesiger under review, but we've enjoyed a number of his books and would certainly recommend them.
He died on Sunday; he certainly seems to have lived a full life.
The only online obituary we've found so far is this one from the Daily Telegraph.
(Yeah, there's also one at The Times, but it requires registration, so forget that .....)
This week's print-copy of The New Yorker comes with a forty-page insert touting The New Yorker Festival, which runs September 19-21.
Actually, it mainly touts lots of commercial products -- they sold a lot of ad pages -- but there is some "festival"-information too.
Most of it can also be found at their online festival site.
We don't really get the whole festival idea, but no doubt they know what they're doing and put on a good show; as we understand it, in previous years they've sold out pretty much everything they've had to sell out.
If anything their Fiction Night sounds most tempting, but the whole pairings-idea, and the odd pairings themselves, make none look like a real winner (to us).
We'd be curious about A.S.Byatt but A.S.Byatt and Tobias Wolff sounds entirely too much to take.
The most recent additions to the complete review are reviews of two Edward Bulwer Lytton biographies, Leslie Mitchell's recent Bulwer Lytton: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Man of Letters and T.H.S.Escott's 1910 Edward Bulwer: A Social, Personal, and Political Monograph.
As John Sutherland wrote about Bulwer Lytton in his TLS review of Mitchell's book (8 August): "He may have written badly, but few wrote more inventively."
In our opinion, he didn't even write all that badly -- at least not all the time (and he wrote an enormous amount, making for some decent pickings) -- and there's a good deal that is well worth a look.
Both biographies, and Mitchell's in particular, focus more on the man than the writing -- admittedly it's good material, but it doesn't give enough sense of what he actually accomplished as a writer.
Still, maybe the Mitchell will lead more readers to explore his novels.
Without much ado Gilbert Adair's The Real Tadzio (see our review) -- available from Short Books in the UK for a couple of years now -- has just been published by Carroll & Graf in the US.
No American reviews yet, as best as we can tell, but it surely has the potential to do modestly well.
Our review has consistently attracted considerable if unusual traffic (people searching for information about Bjorn Andresen and the like).
Different strokes for different folks -- but this sounded like a good idea ?
The Random House publicity page describes Arnold Weinstein's A Scream Goes Through the House: What Literature Teaches Us About Life in these gripping terms:
Provocative, beautifully written, essential, A Scream Goes Through the House traces the human cry that echoes in literature through the ages, demonstrating how intense feelings are heard and shared.
With intellectual insight and emotional acumen, Weinstein reveals how the scream that resounds through the house of literature, history, the body, and the family shows us who we really are and joins us together in a vast and timeless community.
Yeah, we can hardly restrain ourselves from rushing out and buying that .....
(Who writes copy like this anyway ?
But then: who writes books like this anyway ?)
Not everyone has been entirely won over, apparently -- see Bob Blaisdell's review in yesterday's issue of the San Francisco Chronicle.
A Scream Goes Through the House is not, as Weinstein seems to hope, a tour de force but a one-man performance piece of No Exit.
And he's not impressed by Weinstein's method:
The works Weinstein then autopsies, arguably great as they are, do not look good after he has had his way with them
As ... intriguing as Weinstein's idea sounds, don't look for a review from us any time soon.
But you can always get a copy at Amazon.com.
We recently mentionedSteve Aylett's entertaining new CD, Staring Is Its Own Reward -- but lamented the relative difficulty of getting one's hands on a copy.
Turns out it's not so hard at all -- its readily available at CD Baby.
Added bonus: you can preview several of the tracks at the site.
The September/October issue of the Barnes & Noble publication, Book magazine, is slowly coming online.
As usual, it's an odd and not particularly literary production -- though this time they go further than usual in distancing themselves from bookish things: the cover features ... Nicole Kidman.
No, Ms. Kidman hasn't written a book: she's on the cover because she's apparently starring in the soon to be released film version of The Human Stain.
We understand that it's difficult to find eye-catching cover-material for a (supposedly) book-focussed publication (and god forbid they'd forego a headshot and do something like put ... words on the cover), but surely they could do better than this.
Or, if they're already going down the eye-catching route, why not go all the way and offer something truly titillating ?
(Cleavage ! Nudity !)
Despite ostensibly being about books (at least that's our impression, what with the title and so on) -- and despite it being the fall issue, when a great number of new books are coming out -- a major focus of this issue is ... movies.
Yes, the focus is admittedly on literary adaptations, but still, the last thing we need or want in a magazine about books is a Fall Movie Preview (an article which apparently required the talents of three writers).
It's not like we can find "fall book preview" features in all those movie magazines, after all.
The whole issue looks like an admission that focussing on books is a doomed and hopeless exercise, that nobody would buy this magazine if all that Book was about was actually books.
The whole book-embargo idea baffles us.
If we get a copy of a book and we're in the mood to review it, then we do -- regardless of whether the official publication date was a hundred years ago or is three months in the future.
Granted, we don't get many titles ahead of time (except for foreign-language titles, several of which we've reviewed years before there's been an English translation), but we have published a few reviews months before official publication (most recently Adam Thirlwell's Politics, which we reviewed in June while everybody else is only now getting around to it).
Apparently, some publishers send out review copies with strict embargo instructions.
Nobody has ever sent us any such embargo letter, but we can't imagine we'd respect such demands (though we probably wouldn't go out of our way to rush a review -- we tend to review whatever is both convenient and appealing at the moment).
A recent embargoed title is Martin Amis' Yellow Dog (though we note the embargo didn't stop publisher Jonathan Cape from handing copies out to the Booker judges, who went on to long-list it).
Tibor Fischer, who, as we've mentioned, wasn't at all impressed by it, wrote a couple of weeks ago:
I received a copy of Martin Amis's new novel, Yellow Dog, and an embargo letter that demands that no part of the book be disclosed or reproduced in any form.
I feel I should respect that embargo
We're actually quite curious why he feels he -- or anyone -- should respect the embargo; nevertheless, he does, just throwing around a few barbs and conveying his general dislike for the work.
It's unclear how long the publishers insist on the embargo (a permanent embargo ... now that would be something !).
Presumably until about the release date -- in the UK it's officially 4 September (though in the US books generally hit the bookshops a week before the 'official' release date).
Robert Douglas-Fairhurst and the folks at The Observer either got confused -- or did the right thing and thumbed their noses at the ridiculous embargo-notion: Douglas-Fairhurst's review is to be found in today's issue of The Observer.
Amis and his publishers will have a hard time getting too upset, since it's a glowing review -- Douglas-Fairhurst finds the novel "mind-tinglingly good".
We're curious to see how the other reviewers react-- whether newspapers and magazines will push up their review-coverage to compete with The Observer's review, or whether they'll be obedient and wait.
Karl Kraus's Die Fackel, a periodical whose pages he filled almost entirely with his own writing, is among the more remarkable literary achievements of the past hundred or so years.
The entire archive -- 922 issues, covering 23,000 pages -- is now available on a single (very expensive) CD-ROM (get your copy -- possibly -- at Amazon.de).
There's a useful and extensive review by Heinz Lunzer at Literaturhaus (sorry, in German) -- and a publicity page from the publishers (English -- but, sorry, an annoying .pdf file)
As reported by Jason Steger in today's issue of The Age, Sonya Hartnett won The Age Book of the Year award for her novel Of a Boy, while Ann Galbally won the non-fiction prize for her biography, Charles Conder: The Last Bohemian and Laurie Duggan took home the poetry prize with Mangroves.
As previously mentioned, the so-called Sobig virus was a real pain around here, flooding our e-mail boxes and keeping us from most any sensible work.
(Our computers weren't infected, but we couldn't filter out the 100KB e-mails and attachments right at the off-site server but rather only once they had been relayed to our computers -- which, given our slow modem speed and the huge number of e-mails (over a hundred an hour) took forever.)
We feel stupid that it took us so long to figure out a solution (auto-forward all our e-mail to an AOL address, as AOL actually manages to filter most of this crap out), but at least now we can get back to some serious work.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Charlotte Jones' Humble Boy.
It did well in London, but less so on a recent NY run.
The Faber playscript was to be found in copious quantities in bookstores all across town when it played NY -- it's rare to find any place stocking more than individual copies and there were literally piles of this at a number of stores we visited.
We can't imagine it was the best-seller that some book rep had obviously very effectively promoted it as.
- The first review of Tibor Fischer's Voyage to the End of the Room, by Lloyd Evans.
(We'll have our review up sometime next week.)
Evans finds here: "a copious talent being deployed lazily and in the service of the author rather than the reader".
- One of the first reviews of Adam Thirlwell's Politics; see our review for all the links and review-summaries so far.
Yesterday's issue of The New York Times has an entertaining story by Dinitia Smith, about Martha Grimes' new novel, Foul Matter (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
It seems Ms. Grimes' publisher used to be Alfred A. Knopf, but about a decade ago Sonny Mehta ditched her.
The reason seems sensible enough: she wasn't earning back her advances -- something she suggests is all too common among brand-name and supposedly popular authors of her ilk.
Her book -- which apparently is based at least in part on her own experiences -- sounds like a fun attack on the weird ways of publishing, and she certainly wins us over with candid admissions such as:
Among Ms. Grimes's gripes are the big advances paid to some writers.
"It's decadent," she said.
"Most authors can't possible earn them out."
('Decadent', however, seems the wrong word; surely it's just bad business.)
And she admits to hating agents -- apparently understanding that, despite making her a wealthy woman, they don't act in the best interests of readers or literature generally, and that relying on them (whether as author or publisher) means pacting with true little devils.