Often controversial Princeton philosopher Peter Singer's most recent book is a more personal one, as he considers My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna in Pushing Time Away; our review is now available.
Chairing the Man Booker prize proceedings leads, of course, to media interest, especially as the award-date approaches (god forbid anyone would focus on the damn books ...).
So, after all the author profiles, readers are now treated to things such as The Independent's John Carey profile.
A number of new author profiles and considerations are available at the Telegraph site:
- William Boyd argues that the overfill of information available about Evelyn Waugh detracts from what should be the proper focus, his work, in Behind the pose.
As he says:
perhaps only Virginia Woolf has been more compendiously documented.
This is a genuine shame because, however diverting the show might be, the spectacle of Evelyn Waugh guying or exploiting various forms of eccentric Englishness detracts serious attention from a fascinating and enduring body of work.
For some reason we didn't get caught up in the W.G.Sebald euphoria of the past couple of years.
Praised to the skies, what books of his we did have a look at never really convinced us to sit down and deal with them -- though we always felt we should (and, eventually, we probably will).
We finally got our hands on his most recent publication, On the Natural History of Destruction, which we've been very eager to cover -- and find there an explanation for why we're not drawn to his fiction.
It was a much-discussed book, perhaps because the subject-matter (ostensibly the horrors inflicted on Germans in the Allied aerial warfare campaigns during World War II) lends itself to all sorts of discussion.
Certainly, the review coverage was varied: from Sebald-nostalgia (he died shortly before publication of this volume) to German-bashing the book allowed for all sorts of pontificating, much of which had relatively little to do with what Sebald wrote.
(Particularly disappointing was how few critics dealt with (or tried to tie in) the three essays that discussed individual authors (Andersch, Améry, and Peter Weiss -- with Charles Simic simply dismissing the latter as "the painter Peter Weiss" in his review in The New York Review of Books).)
Our review is among our longer ones (3000 words) -- and we had a very different take on it than most of the other critics.
To us it seemed that the book is, indeed, a cohesive whole, with all four essays making the same point, as Sebald articulates a theory of what literature (including fiction) should (or even: must) be.
Unfortunately, it is (to us) a very unappealing theory.
Perhaps we saw it differently than most of the other critics because we are largely unfamiliar with Sebald's other writing; we're curious how we will react to his fiction now that we have this pre-conceived notion of what he's after in his writing .....
Over the weekend they held the National Book Festival in Washington D.C.
The distinctly unliterary American president apparently wasn't too excited about the goings-on, but wife Laura, of course, had to do her part (she was the official host).
Read her opening remarks !
Read her closing remarks !
In her opening remarks she spews wisdom such as:
Books and reading bring out the excitement in all of us.
This commonality connects us to one another -- and so do the stories in a good book.
Our history as a people and a nation is one great story -- pieced together like a quilt bit by bit, generation by generation.
By reading together and sharing stories, we become part of the fabric of the American community.
We can't wait to pick up a book again and bring out the excitement in us (we never knew it was there).
But we are a bit confused by the 'commonality' she refers to (our dictionary suggests a different sort of meaning -- and what's the 'this' the commonality refers to ? the brought-out excitement ?)
Deirdre Donahue got a sort of book-focussed interview with the First Lady for USA Today -- in which we do learn of yet another book George Bush jr. is supposedly reading, The Era: 1947 to 1957 by Roger Kahn (get your copy at Amazon.com or see the publicity page at the University of Nebraska Press).
Sounds both relevant and timely .....
Bonus gratuitous Bush 'n' baseball coverage: George jr. could, of course, do with brushing up on his baseball (as he could with brushing up on most everything having vaguely to do with facts): this week's issue of Newsweekquotes him (scroll down) saying: "I made a significant contribution to the Cubs, as you might recall... Sammy Sosa. Iíll take great delight when they win" -- Newsweek noting then that this refers to:
President George W. Bush, on the Texas Rangersí -- where he was formerly a managing partner -- trading Sammy Sosa to the Cubs, which never actually happened. The Rangers in fact traded Sosa to the White Sox.
Bush made much of his fortune (one can hardly say he earned it) in the stadium scam he engineered as part-owner and figurehead ('managing partner' -- yeah, right) for the major league baseball team, the Texas Rangers.
The fact that he doesn't even recall what team he threw away one of his most promising players to shows how much attention he paid to the running of the team .....
Of course, Bush jr.'s involvement with the Rangers never had anything to do with baseball, but rather with contacts, which he parlayed very effectively into great heaps of cash -- though, admittedly, even post-Bush jr. the Texas Rangers, despite being talent-laden, are among the sorriest excuses for a baseball team around.
Bush jr's tenure should not, however, be forgotten: the fate of the Texas Rangers, past (dismal) and present (overextended and even bleaker), may very well prefigure the American fate under Bush jr.'s very similar 'leadership' of the nation.
Anyway, Bush jr. reading about baseball in the '40s and '50s -- yeah, that sounds like he's got his priorities just right .....
A cache of Bertolt Brecht goodies, left behind in Switzerland after World War II, has come to light.
Besides books and other personal possessions there are apparently also some manuscripts: the Koloman Wallisch-cantata (previously believed to have been lost) and twelve unknown Keuner-stories are the highlights (pretty damn high at that).
(See also our review of Brecht's Stories of Mr. Keuner.)
Werner Wüthrich, who made the find in January 2002 and has now made it public (to some extent; due to archival wranglings there's still some secrecy surrounding what exactly the find consists of), also dropped the significant bombshell that Brecht apparently wanted to remain in his Swiss exile but had no choice but to leave for what became the German Democratic Republic (though not before securing an Austrian passport, of course ...).
An English-language report can be found at The Scotsman, while German reports are available from Der Standard and Der Spiegel -- along with this Medienkommuniqué ('media-communiqué' -- a particularly elegant way of saying 'press release') from the Institut für Theaterwissenschaft at the University of Bern.
We've haven't paid that much attention to Nell Freudenberger's Lucky Girls in a while (go here and back for previous mentions), but a 7 October reading at the Elliott Bay Book Company has garnered her considerable (upper) West Coast attention, so we offer another round-up of reviews (six, with two more by men):
First, some we missed previously: Dan Cryer's at Newsday -- impressed: "She seems not a young writer of great potential but one already in full bloom" -- and Julia Ridley Smith's in the News & Observer -- less so: "Freudenberger does what she does very well. In the end, though, these stories are long, static portraits of spoiled girls who end up doing not much more than feeling sorry for themselves."
On the West Coast then one finds a variety of reactions.
Michael Upchurch, writing in the Seattle Times, found:
(H)er sheer writing chops all make a reader feel fortunate indeed to enjoy the company of these Lucky Girls and their assorted male companions.
Katie Schneider (The Oregonian) is also impressed:
Freudenberger writes with a self-assurance that is engaging, carrying the reader well past the hype and into solidly constructed fictional worlds.
On less sure footing Laura Cassidy also seems to mean to praise in her review (scroll down) in the Seattle Weekly:
Having spent time in Asia after graduating from Harvard, Freudenberger has a sophistication and worldliness that eludes well-traveled authors twice her age.
More important, whether her stories are set in Thailand, India, or the U.S., she makes even the dreariest of situations seem auspicious.
Most enjoyable is the Emerson- and Britney Spears-comparing (and largely unimpressed) Kate Preusser (The Stranger), who concludes:
Freudenberger's narrators -- moving through stories as outwardly polished but ultimately uninteresting as pop songs -- do not attempt to find answers to the questions posed by Spears; like tourists, the Lucky Girls simply look.
(Get your copy of Lucky Girls at Amazon.com -- or pre-order it at Amazon.co.uk; we probably should finally just get around to covering this title in order to spare ourselves these frequent updates ....)
Juan Goytisolo's very fine autobiographical works (see our reviews of Forbidden Territory (Memoirs 1931-1957) and Realms of Strife (Memoirs 1957-1982)) have been out of print for quite a while, but Verso has admirably brought them out again -- conveniently in a single volume, no less (see their publicity page).
Goytisolo remains among the more impressive writers of our times (yes, right up there in that Nobel-worthy category), and the memoirs are a good introduction to the man and his works (they're also more approachable than much of his fiction).
Worth more than a look -- check out our reviews, or get you copy at Amazon.com (nicely discounted too) or Amazon.co.uk.
Adam Thirlwell's Politics has gotten a lot of attention and review-coverage in the UK (see our review for review-summaries, links, etc.).
Now it's also come out in the US -- to little or no notice so far.
We're curious to see what reactions will be like (if, indeed, there eventually are any).
Nice (if not entirely appropriate) touch on the US cover: the use of an Inge Morath photo.
(Updated - 6 October): It's been pointed out to us that the cover of the British edition also uses the same photgraph (albeit less prominently); the picture at Amazon.co.uk is so blurry we hadn't even noticed.
Judy Moir, who recently resigned from Scottish publisher Canongate (see, for example this article from The Guardian), writes about Scottish publishing in Publish or be damned (The Scotsman, 3 October), noting:
Canongate proved, in this era of global media corporations, that itís absolutely possible to have an indigenous, innovative and independent publishing house that is regarded as world-class, to publish Scottish and international books with distinction and flare, and to pick not just the most popular Booker Prize winner in years, but many other high-quality, long-lasting books.
The name J.M.Coetzee is now familiar to a larger audience, thanks to his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this week.
In the days, weeks, and months to come there will be more of his books in bookstores -- many with the "Nobel Prize Winner" sticker on them (lest book-buyers forget !).
Among the forthcoming titles with his name on the cover is a Princeton University Press book, an anthology of contemporary Dutch poetry, Landscape with Rowers, translated by Coetzee, due out in February 2004 (see the PUP publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Even before he won the Nobel Prize it was apparently thought that Coetzee was pretty much the only selling point to this volume -- see the relative sizes of the title and his name on the book's cover.
It's not often a translator gets such prominent billing .....
An edited extract from his preface is available in today's issue of The Guardian, as is one poem from the book, the great Hugo Claus' Ten Ways of Looking at PB Shelley.
(Claus -- and Harry Mulisch -- have reportedly themselves been serious Nobel contenders over the years; not that it means much, but we would have chosen either one over Coetzee (though we can't complain too much about this fairly worthy laureate).)
Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies has been made into a film, directed by Stephen Fry: Bright Young Things (see the IMDb page for cast and production details).
It was premiered with great fanfare last night.
Among the articles etc. about the film, see Waugh-grandson Alexander's opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph, as well as reviews from the BBC, the Daily Telegraph, and The Guardian
His most recent novel, Elizabeth Costello, was good enough to make this year's Man Booker longlist, but failed to make the final cut (.i.e. the shortlist) -- but, on the other hand, he is one of only two authors (Peter Carey being the other) to have won the prize twice and so perhaps the judges thought giving it to him a third time would be overdoing things.
But the Swedish Academy does think he is the man of the hour, and the year: they did not go for supposed favourite Ali Ahmad Said (and so (somewhat -- but only somewhat -- to our regret) there won't be a Nobel laureate known as 'Adonis' (at least not this year)) -- naming John Maxwell Coetzee the winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature.
See their press release making the announcement, as well as a Reuter's article.
For a bit of Coetzee background and information (don't worry, there'll be way too much of this in all your newspapers all too soon), see:
The fall issue of Bookforum is now available online -- well, a few articles from the fall issue, anyway.
Not much (online) of interest, but Gary Indiana writes about Caroline Blackwood's books, and Jordan Stump discusses two Raymond Queneau titles.
(Curious coincidence (?): the main titles discussed in these reviews are all NYRB titles .....)
In yesterday's issue of The Guardian Michelle Pauli discusses Click lit:
Pop videos for books ?
It might sound like an uncomfortable marriage of media but short online promotional films for novels are being seen as the latest marketing tool by an increasingly web-savvy book trade.
(Links to a few examples can be found at the bottom of the article.)
Pauli does note:
Old browsers and slow connections limit the impact of the promos at best, or make then impossible to view at worst.
We don't like show over substance (especially regarding books), but obviously there's some potential in this area.
Still, most of this promotional crap is still just crap.
It's almost time: the winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced "Thursday, October 2, 1:00 p.m. at the earliest (local time)" (so the Nobel site).
We're almost grateful for the absence of more advance warning, as it keeps the guessing to a minimum.
Nevertheless, one can already find reports such as Reuters', claiming: "Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said, better known as Adonis, is the front-runner for this year's Nobel literature prize".
Other guesses (and hopes) can be found in the AP report.
We'll let you know what we think once we hear who got it.