As Lauren Schuker reported in yesterday's issue of The Harvard Crimson, well-known Harvard professor and lawyer Alan Dershowitz is being accused of plagiarism (a charge he denies -- see his letter to the editor in response to the article).
Norman G. Finkelstein claims that Dershowitz misappropriated material from Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial for his own recent book, The Case for Israel.
Finkelstein is really going after Dershowitz on this -- see his home page for additional information (including textual comparisons).
Schuker also reports:
Finkelstein attempted to place an advertisement in The Crimson last week with a chart comparing Dershowitz’s quotations to those that appeared in Peters’ book, but The Crimson has not yet run the ad.
Also on this bandwagon is Alexander Cockburn: his piece, Alan Dershowitz, Plagiarist appears in the current (13 October) issue of The Nation.
(The piece is, bizarrely, not available at The Nation site -- but is available at counterpunch.)
For those eager to join in: get your copies of From Time Immemorial and The Case for Israel at Amazon.com and start comparing !
(Dershowitz's book was ranked an impressive 62nd in sales at Amazon.com when we checked yesterday; for additional information, see also the Wiley publicity page for the book.)
What can one say ?
Nothing occurs to us, we're so flabbergasted: the BBC reports (link first seen at Waterboro library blog) that a Welsh school is segregating boys and girls -- the girls get to read books and the boys read Tom Watt's My Side (see our previous mention; we don't understand why people keep referring to it as David Beckham's autobiography).
Okay, so maybe the boys will get a glimpse of some things that resemble real books ("fantasy books like Lord Of The Rings and Terry Pratchett's novels") somewhere down the line -- but this should do enough to stunt whatever intellectual development school might previously have allowed for.
In this week's issue of The New Yorker Rachel Cohen shows that really bad reviews are nothing new: A Very Bad Review describes one of the very worst and most notorious, John Churton Collins' pillorying of Edmund Gosse that she calls "forty-one of the most scathing pages in the history of reviewing".
(As we previously mentioned, over the weekend Robert McCrum suggested that the benefits of review-attention outweigh most any bad criticism the review might contain (i.e. there's no such thing as bad publicity) -- but we wonder whether this could still hold true at 41 pages.)
For near two months now there have been many, many, many comments about Tibor Fischer's Daily Telegraph piece on Martin Amis' Yellow Dog, Someone needs to have a word with Amis.
We haven't bothered to keep track of all of them, but yesterday there were two more mentions which we feel obliged to take note of: Clive Davis writing about Martin Amis' fading career in The Washington Times and Bob Hoover writing about The hunting of the s---y book critic (we've decided to boycott the s-word; it annoys us too much) in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Davis (who claims never to have finished a single Amis book -- quite an achievement) writes amusingly about Amis showing up at Madonna's book-party (despite her not having shown up at his) and other signs of what is now being diagnosed as Amis' long, steep decline in reputation and favour.
He also mentions the Fischer-comments, writing:
a critique by Mr. Amis' fellow-author and erstwhile admirer Tibor Fischer looks destined for a place in the hatchet-job Hall of Fame.
Hoover also mentions the Yellow Dog contretemps:
It was so embarrassingly bad that reading it was like "finding your favorite uncle being caught in the school playground masturbating," wrote British critic Tibor Fischer.
Now why didn't I think of that ?
Because it's just not in the American tradition of fair play.
Plus, the editor would cut it out for being in bad taste.
What both commentaries fail to note is that Fischer's comments came not in a review (as Fischer clearly states), but rather an opinion piece -- an editorial opinion piece that surely must be judged differently than a review (and something where even American editors might allow a writer more leeway than in an actual review).
It is a round dismissal of Amis' new novel, but not a book-critique -- a distinction that seems worth making and preserving.
Hoover also writes about his own, not always appreciated call 'em like you see 'em reviews:
My negative reviews -- and there have been a lot lately -- are not written to cause pain but to tell the readers what I think.
In the course of a dozen or more years of doing this, I have upset several writers, several of whom will no longer consent to interviews with me.
They took it personally; I did not.
It sounds more defensive and apologetic than need be: honesty in reviewing always seems the best policy and worrying about an author's feeling surely shouldn't figure in the reviewing equation.
Sure, authors react to even warranted criticism of their books much as they might if one told them their unattractive children are ugly -- but telling someone their children are ugly is generally just gratuitously mean, while warning readers off of bad books is a public service.
(As to writers no longer consenting to be interviewed by him -- well, that doesn't seem to be a big loss .....)
We're a bit surprised there hasn't been more of a fuss about Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver -- but then it is a pretty big book, and presumably it's taking the reviewers a while to get through it.
We've managed to, and our review is now available.
Remember that we'll be adding review summaries and links when (and if) they appear .....
Tom Stoppard's three-part play, The Coast of Utopia, might eventually show up on an American stage (this Backstagereport (scroll way down) says "Lincoln Center plans an American production in the spring of 2005"), but meanwhile Grove Press has finally made the text available in the US -- as a boxed set (get yours at Amazon.com) or as individual volumes.
We haven't compared the texts with the UK edition yet, but given Stoppard's penchant for textual revision (which is not necessarily always for the best -- consider Hapgood) wouldn't be surprised if there were significant differences.
In today's issue of The Observer Robert McCrum takes issue with John Sutherland's 22 September article in The Guardian, Dead on arrival, dealing with 'killer previews' -- i.e. the recent spate of pre-publication negative reviews of some fairly prominent works.
McCrum argues that the benefits of the publicity (lots of review-coverage, good or bad) outweigh the negative comments.
(For what it's worth: we tend to agree.)
Here is a phenomenon we simply don't understand: Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada.
Admittedly, we have not read the book, and so we should be careful: maybe the majority of the reviews are wrong, maybe the descriptions of the book and the quotes we've seen are all highly misleading, maybe this is actually readable.
But somehow we doubt it: The Devil Wears Prada seems to us the embodiment of the completely worthless book
We thought this book would die a quick and painful death (after all the American coverage), but that hasn't happened.
Proving once again that we don't understand the first thing about the publishing industry -- or readers' tastes (and willingness to throw their money away for tripe) -- this book not only won't die but is apparently a huge success -- it's appearance on this week's fiction best seller list at The New York Times Book Review will be its 22nd (five months ! -- only two other titles have been there longer).
And now it's been published in the UK too.
Rachel Cooke reviews it in The Observer today and finds -- as many have found before -- "What a wasted opportunity this truly dreadful book is".
Neverthless, we imagine it'll make it onto the UK bestseller lists in a week or two .....
Meanwhile Ms. Weisberger has apparently now received an enormous advance for her next work.
We'd point out that the only selling point of The Devil Wears Prada is that it's a roman-à-clef (those who care know who is targeted -- hell, even we (who really don't care) know who).
And Weisberger did not even manage to make much out of this potentially rich material (so say the majority of the reviews we've seen) -- so what exactly are the publishers expecting when she hasn't got anything to work with ?
Or has she worked for somebody else who she can screw over now ?
(Note, again, however, that we clearly understand absolutely nothing about the publishing industry -- we couldn't believe anybody paid the advance they did for The Devil Wears Prada and the publishers have obviously done exceptionally well by that, so maybe advancing her a fortune for her second book is, in fact, a brilliant business move.)
So now we're thinking of buying a copy of The Devil Wears Prada -- not to read it (we don't think we could bring ourselves to do that) but rather to hit ourselves over the head with whenever we feel like trying to make sense out of the publishing and reading world.
Yeah, we don't think we'll be reviewing this one, but it is sort of nice to see something of this sort being taken seriously.
(But only sort of -- it's fiction that deserves the attention and isn't getting enough of it.)
Terry Eagleton's After Theory is now out in the UK (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk -- or pre-order at Amazon.com (where it will only be available in March of next year)).
In today's issue of The Independent Christina Patterson profiles Eagleton, while Independent-man Boyd Tonkin reviews the book in the October issue of Prospect.
The paperback of Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex is now available (both in the US and the UK), and he's still getting publicity all over the place (see also this recent mention).
New pieces include a profile in The Oregonian, as well as a piece in today's issue of The Guardian by Eugenides in which he writes about having the gods on his side in the writing of his novel.
(The latter suggests that if you write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel reputable newspapers will print pretty much any drivel you offer them.)
One more Freudenberger mention: there's finally a review of Lucky Girls by a man.
Keith Phipps reviews it in this week's issue of The Onion -- and he likes it too, calling it: "A collection with a remarkable command of delicate psychologies".
In the September Prospect (now freely available in its entirety online) Tim King writes about The bizarre ritual of the Prix Goncourt -- that being the most prestigious of the French literary awards.
Probably of similar added-sales-value and prestige as the Man Booker, it differs from it decidedly in actual prize-money on offer.
(They don't seem to be able to afford much of a web-presence either -- the not-up-to-date Académie Goncourt site was the most we could find.)
King discusses a few of the new French titles, but by and large they're not the ones we would have chosen (nor the prize committee -- see the first round of selections).
But Frédéric Beigbeder's nominated Windows on the World -- which is bound to wind up in English sometime fairly soon -- does get a mention (and dismissal).
Prolific translator-from-the-German Michael Hofmann has had a go at Ernst Jünger's 1920 In Stahlgewittern, now available as Storm of Steel (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk -- or get the original at Amazon.de; there doesn't appear to be a US edition in the works yet).
The text has been previously translated (by Basil Creighton), but the oft-revised (in the German original) text probably required a new translation.
CNN offers a review of sorts of Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver by Porter Anderson.
Not exactly what we understand a review to be, but so far that's been par for the course for this book .....
One point of note: Anderson writes:
Quicksilver runs 927 pages.
This is a serious issue.
The conscientious reader must consider how many other books and authors will be missed in a commitment to one or all three huge novels of this series.
Admittedly, Quicksilver is one hefty book -- and the planned trilogy takes on Proustian proportions.
Nevertheless, have we really reached a stage where reading a thousand pages is such a major investment that "the conscientious reader" has to weigh this (heavy) book against the others that might (?) go unread (presumably three or four of average size) ?
We find reading an open-ended sort of thing -- if a book grabs us we'll simply make the time to read it.
Three 300-page books are often not a substitute for thousand-page book -- the time it takes to actually read each (3x300 vs. 1000) might theoretically be close to the same, but if the books don't hold the same appeal then it might take very different amounts of total time to read them.
A thousand-page page-turner might be finished in three or four days, while a hundred-page novella that doesn't grab our attention might take two weeks to get done with .....
Of course, most people don't set aside as much time to read as we do (though we imagine some of the visitors to this site might), so perhaps a thousand-page investment really is something they have to carefully consider.
But we find it hard to relate to that.
Slowly Neal Stephenson's massive Quicksilver is beginning to sink in and reviews are beginning to appear (see also our earlier mention; as to our review -- a few more days ...).
Reviews now available online include one at Entertainment Weekly (rating it an A-) and -- grudgingly linked to, since it's a subscription-requiring (i.e. user-unfriendly and (to us and many others) inaccessible) site -- Andrew Leonard's at Salon.
(Since we refuse to jump through the Salon hoops we have no idea whether this review is favourable or not.
Note also that it's in their "Technology and Business" section.)
Another notice, of sorts: Paul Boutin's in Slate (link first seen at Maud Newton).
He notes the abrupt turn to "a new story line" on page 335 and imagines:
That's where most readers will hit the wall.
Having made it through what is essentially a full-sized novel, it takes more than a deep breath to dive back in for Quicksilver's two remaining 300-page sections.
It sounds more like that's where he hit a wall, unable to get through more of the book by his deadline and thus just offering this take instead.
(He's not the first to offer such a vague introduction -- but newspapers were apparently desperate to print something -- and at least this approach (suggesting this tome, and volumes two and three, will be much-bought and little read) is, in this respect, an honest one.)
(Updated - 26 September): Note, however, that Mr. Boutin assures us that 'tis not so, writing to us in an e-mail:
Au contraire, I read the whole book and I pretty much set my own deadlines.
You could have asked.
The focus on the book's cultural impact rather than its narrative qualities was what my editor was interested in publishing -- after all, it's the Technology section rather than Books.
Also: the 20 September Edward Rothstein profile of Stephenson in the registration-requiring (and thus unlinked to) The New York Times is now available at their registration-not-requiring International Herald Tribune site -- albeit (don't ask us why) under a new title: Hacker heaven: The code of life.
In the Sunday Telegraph Sam Leith offers a small overview of the strategies authors employ in dealing with reviews, good and (mainly) bad.
Among the points of note: Martin Amis does fess up to having a look at some of his reviews after all -- just a few weeks after he told John Preston in an interview that he couldn't be bothered (and was instead looking towards what apparently really counts: posterity; see also our comments from back then).
Peter Kuper (see his site) has come out with a picture-book version of Kafka's famous Metamorphosis (see the Crown publicity page -- though we got so bored waiting for the Flash to flash that we never did find out what it says/shows there).
There's a review by Lenora Todaro, in this week's The Village Voice.
We're not particularly interested in this version, but it does bring to mind a question that frequently bothers us: why is the title of Kafka's novel translated as "Metamorphosis" ?
The German title is Die Verwandlung, and while that can certainly be translated as "metamorphosis", "transformation" seems closer to the mark.
Especially when one considers that the word "metamorphosis" also exists (with the same meaning) in German -- "Metamorphose" -- and Kafka would surely have used that term if that's what he thought was appropriate -- but he didn't.
(Note, for example, that the other famous metamorphical book, Ovid's, is called Die Metamorphosen in German.)
Some discussion of this issue -- and the translations of that text in general -- can be found here.
(A couple of other texts are also considered here, looking at Translation - What difference does it make ? -- worth a look.)
In some misguided democratic spirit, the GuardianUnlimited site gives users the opportunity to vote for their favourite prize-contender on a Booker Prize ballot.
Given how few people have read any, much less all of the shortlisted titles (see links here for the embarrassing totals) one wonders how people decide who to vote for (and note that it is who, not what: the ballot lists the author's names, not even bothering to include the book-titles -- since no one would recognise these, and since this is obviously a popularity contest for people (i.e. the authors), not texts).
The two leading vote-getters are, of course, the two most recognisable names (properly ranked in order of their recognisability too).
We know this is all meant in good fun, but is this really a good sort of fun ?
Doesn't it just muddy the literary waters even more, emphasising, yet again, personality (and publicity) over the written word ?
In a year where most of the authors are familiar figures (or the shortlisted books had sold better) there might be some (though still not much) sense to it -- but with this year's batch it seems a particularly foolish exercise.
We've mentioned Nell Freudenberger's debut, Lucky Girls, before, and no doubt we'll mention it again.
The reviews haven't exactly been rolling in, but finally there's another one: Joanna Smith Rakoff's in this week's issue of The Village Voice.
Not quite as enthusiastic as most of the previous reviews ("enjoyable, if occasionally frustrating") -- and, we note, once again a female reviewer at work (meaning we still haven't seen any men have a go at it).
A week ago we mentioned Michael Frayn's new play, Democracy, and provided you links to the first British reactions.
Now there's also a stateside review: John Lahr offers his, titled Me and My Shadow, in this week's issue of The New Yorker.
His reaction is also generally positive, with the usual reservations, including:
In Frayn’s theatrical shorthand, where characters talk alternately to one another and to us, ideas are narrated, not demonstrated, which, for me, is a theatrical limitation.
Democracy is really an essay with legs.
Nonetheless, the playwright’s sinuous intelligence and his daring narrative design are in themselves a spectacle.
Frayn is all finesse.
As we've mentioned: we're looking forward to covering it (eventually).
Yesterday was, by far, the most successful day ever at the Literary Saloon.
Just a few weeks ago a Salon-mention drove a then-record number of visitors to the complete review; yesterday a Metafilter mention proved even more popular -- by far.
(Traffic to the Literary Saloon usually only makes up a few percent of total traffic to the complete review, but yesterday it was actually by far the most popular feature on the site, this one referral alone drawing in several thousand readers.)
For some reason a lot of people got excited about this debate -- note the number of comments.
We originally ran our part of the story (wondering about what was possibly the Most depressing cover of the year ?) over a week ago.
Posted on a Friday afternoon, it didn't appear to catch the eye of any of our usual linking readers -- though a couple of new faces did make mention of it, and it's been linked to quite a bit for the past ten days.
The MeFi mention, however, has led to much-increased interest -- a stratospheric jump.
The cruel irony that one of the few breakout stories at this supposedly literary site is on, of all things, bookcovers, is not lost on us.
But it shouldn't surprise us, as we frequently note: appearances count for so much more in this day and age than actual substance, and so bookcovers excite more interest than book content.
So: a good day, interest-wise (at least superficial interest-wise -- we don't know if we've won over any new readers).
But, in fact, it was a red-letter day: UPS brought by a copy of Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver (see also yesterday's mention) bright and early, so we're happy folk.
Look for our review by next week.
The fall issue of RainTaxi is slowly coming online; among the first things available is Trey Strecker's interview with James McElroy -- worth a look.
One of the books we have near the top of our ever-shifting (and generally ever-growing) to-do pile is Joseph McElroy's recent Actress in the House (see the Overlook publicity page, or reviews in, for example, electronic book review and The Village Voice).
But we'd like to tackle several of his titles at one go, so it may be a while.
One of the difficulties of this reviewing game is finding titles to consider.
It's not that there aren't enough, but rather that finding the ones that are of greatest interest (instead of just the one's with the biggest publicity budgets) can be difficult.
(Occasionally we get good advice; usually suggestions -- insofar as they are not motivated by some form of personal gain (as about ninety-five percent are) -- can charitably be called little more than banal.)
This weekend we stumbled over a title that certainly tempts us (not that we know that we'll be able to get a copy and see whether it's really worth our while): A.C.H. Smith's The Dangerous Memoir of Citizen Sade.
It's published by Loxwood Stoneleigh (who don't seem to have their own web-page) -- and doesn't seem to be a great hit at Amazon.co.uk yet.
A bit of information is available here.
We actually have a Smith title under review -- the documentary Orghast at Persepolis -- and that, along with his longtime Stoppard-friendship (Tom was best man at his wedding, way back in 1963), make him an author of some interest.
And we're always curious about de Sade-variations.
We'll let you know if we get our hands on a copy -- but in the meantime (which might be a long time): it's something you might want to look out for.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Conversations with William H. Gass (part of the University Press of Mississippi's "Literary Conversations Series", edited by Theodore G. Ammon).
We mention it in the review, but one exchange is worth repeating, as it sums up why we admire Gass so (and why a more workmanlike author like John Gardner holds far less appeal): in an exchange with Gass Gardner complains about Gass' approach -- but Gass gives the proper response, the aspiration that marks him as the true artist:
J.G. : But what I think is beautiful, he would think is not yet sufficiently ornate.
The difference is that my 707 will fly and his is too encrusted with gold to get off the ground.
W.G. : There is always that danger.
But what I really want is to have it sit there solid as a rock and have everybody think it is flying.
That's exactly what we want in our authors: that desire to create something that just sits there but that everyone is convinced is flying.
But almost all the authors we come across instead painstakingly try to get the damn things to actually get off the ground -- the result, at very best, lumbering unsteadily in the air (and usually crashing long before the journey is done).
Among the most anticipated books of the fall season is Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver -- volume one of a projected trilogy, The Baroque Cycle (and prequel, of sorts, to Cryptonomicon), which is hitting bookstores in the US this week (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- and see the official Baroque Cycle site or the Harper Collins publicity page).
The publicity roll-out has commenced -- a Wiredinterview, a profile in the 20 September issue of The New York Times, etc.
The first Stephenson author-appearances will be in the Northwest, and one of the first semi-reviews appears in The Seattle Times, while The Oregonian also offers a piece about Stephenson and the book.
So far: nothing too informative -- and, as to the main point of interest (the book itself), well, we haven't seen a copy yet (though we understand a copy is on its way to us -- hurrah !).
We ambitiously expect to have a review up by 1 October -- and we figure this will be a very widely covered title.
We're curious to see how he's developed, and how he handles the historical material.
We're fans -- and think there's an argument to be made for the idea that Stephenson is the foremost American author of his generation.
What's the competition, after all, of other fortyish writers ?
Most haven't written enough to be seriously considered (Eugenides, Tartt, etc.), making for limited competition.
((Updated - 23 September)
: As readers have pointed out (and we have realised) there are few other names to consider, including Richard Powers, William T. Vollmann, and David Foster Wallace.
Stephenson is still branded as a sci-fi guy; it'll be interesting to see to what extent he can convince readers he's bigger than that.
There's a story by Jonathan Franzen at Die Welt -- the only problem being that (as you can guess from the venue) Kamel is printed in German.
They say it's previously unpublished (though we don't know if that means in German or in English too).
From way back in 1983 it's certainly an early Franzen oddity.
(The version printed here is a slightly edited version of the text that will appear in a new anthology, Wo liegt Amerika ?)
More German stuff from Die Welt: after the Pulitzer, Jeffrey Eugenides (apparently still a Berlin resident) has picked up the WELT-Literaturpreis (the Man Booker it apparently ain't -- but then, unlike the M-B, American authors seem to be eligible for it).
As part of the deal they apparently get to profile him.
(The ceremony is on 7 November, if you want to mark the date in your calendars).
But Eugenides hasn't entirely forgotten his English-speaking audience: there's a new interview with the author at 3 AM.
(Interestingly they bill it as: "Bram van Moorhem interviews Jeffrey Eugenides, author of The Virgin Suicides" -- despite the fact that it's his more recent title, Middlesex, that is more discussed.
In today's issue of The Observer Robert McCrum comments on the Man Booker shortlist.
Two notes on that: first of all he writes: "So it was farewell Caryll Phillips" .....
We'd suggest it isn't that surprising that Mr. Phillips was dropped from the list, since he's apparently so not-well known that a literary editor as prominent as Mr. McCrum (and his copyeditors) can misspell Phillips' first name (it's only the last name that has the doubled-l).
More entertainingly: Mr. McCrum suggests:
The Observer's record in tipping the winner is abysmal, so no significance should be attached to our opinion that Damon Galgut's The Good Doctor looks like an extremely good bet.
Is that right ?
Let's just leaf back to 17 August, shall we, to when the longlist came out and The Observer offered: Our pick of the list....
One finds there Galgut's not among the favourites, but rather among the distant "rest of the field" ... with odds of 25 to 1 (only two titles had lower odds -- though all of those were admittedly offered by Ladbrokes).
Is it possible that The Observer hadn't even looked at the book before naming their favourites ... ?
If so: poor show.
If not ? Well, it's a very curious go-with-the-flow turnaround, no ?
Either way: disappointing.