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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 November

11 November: Against bad novels | Murakami story | Freedom to Write conference | Peter Weiss find | Victorian Premier's Literary Awards | New Context !
12 November: More García Márquez reviews | New Byatt | Turow and capital punishment | Pilger article
13 November: Thirlwell on Sebald ? | Whitbread shortlists | Amis interviews
14 November: NYT Book Review succession | Next Hornby novel | Christmas books lists | New George Steiner book | Manguel unimpressed by Garcia Marquez memoir
15 November: Author photos | New Republic reviewers | Giles Gordon | Mario Vargas Llosa
16 November: Die Welt renders itself useless | Thomas Bernhard | Wittgenstein
17 November: Selecting books for review | Fox on The NYTBR | PW's Year in Books
18 November: IMPAC longlist | Vargas Llosa covers | Murakami book
19 November: Coetzee in NY | NYTBR non-news
20 November: More on adults reading juvenile lit. | Ricard on Kundera

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20 November 2003 - Thursday

More on adults reading juvenile lit. | Ricard on Kundera | sjfjoidfs

       More on adults reading juvenile literature

       It's been a popular subject recently: the phenomenon of adults reading books generally classified as being for kids. Jasper Rees "investigates" in the Telegraph, in We're all reading children's books.
       He suggests, for example:
Meanwhile, books written for young adults have never been more grown-up. The result is that the line between children's fiction and adult fiction has blurred. In the case of Pullman's trio of Miltonic fables, it has blurred almost to invisibility.
       We must be missing something: while we enjoyed Pullman's His Dark Materials it did not really impress as adult fiction. (Of course, neither does the newest James Patterson.) Hell, Little Women strikes us as more adult than Pullman's trilogy. His Dark Materials is very much a trilogy for the teen (or 'tween) years, and we're surprised that adults can find it a fully satisfying read (though many apparently have).
       Rees considers why adults turn to kiddie-lit, suggesting also:
There is another theory: that some adults are rejecting the arid pastures of clever-clever, look-at-me contemporary adult fiction embodied by the Kundera-lite of Adam Thirlwell's Politics. To the authors themselves this is a more persuasive argument. "More and more adults are realising that some children's writers are maybe providing something that adult authors aren't," says David Almond, who has created a genre all of his own: you could call it mystical realism. (...) "A successful book for children must have a strong narrative, otherwise the kid is not going to read it. The kid is not going to be impressed by trendy, pretentious, hifalutin stuff which some adults will be enraptured by. That must contribute to the attraction of young fiction."
       Ah, yes, kiddie-lit is basic, down-to-earth good storytelling. It's not "trendy, pretentious, hifalutin stuff" -- i.e. the stuff that's taken to be serious fiction or literature nowadays .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Ricard on Kundera

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of François Ricard's Essay on the Work of Milan Kundera, Agnès's Final Afternoon.
       (Two author-studies in a row ! What we should be doing, of course, is reviewing more of Kundera's fiction ... and at least the Ricard makes us eager to do that.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



19 November 2003 - Wednesday

Coetzee in NY | NYTBR non-news

       Coetzee in NY

       Nobel laureate J.M.Coetzee -- perhaps warming up for his Nobel lecture next month -- will be appearing in New York tomorrow. He's giving the Robert B. Silvers Lecture at the New York Public Library, As a Woman Grows Older.
       20 November at 18:30, at the Celeste Bartos Forum. We're wondering how big a turnout there will be.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       NYTBR non-news

       Publishers Weekly reports that the NYTBR Search Just Starting. The New York Times Book Review's editor Chip McGrath apparently is only stepping down in a few months (we just pray it's before he can commission yet another baseball-issue (see our most recent complaint)) and so the search for a successor is still in the early stages.
       Cynthia Cotts also discusses the succession-question in her Press Clips this week (scroll down). But she suggests:
After becoming editor of the Times Magazine in 1998, [Times culture czar Adam Moss] transformed the section into a smart and stylish read that doesn't take itself too seriously. Will he try a similar move with the Book Review ? Says Schwarz, "If you put writers with stronger voices in there, it will be more sparkling, but by definition, less authoritative."
       We must still be getting the old version of the Magazine-section with our Sunday Times, because we certainly would not describe it as "a smart and stylish read" -- and now we're starting to get worried about what the Book Review might turn into (not that we're all that thrilled with what it is ...).

       (Updated): The most in-depth coverage of what's going on can now be found in Rachel Donadio's McGrath Decamping From Intransigent Times Book Review in this week's issue of The New York Observer.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



18 November 2003 - Tuesday

IMPAC longlist | Vargas Llosa covers | Murakami book

       IMPAC longlist

       The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (the IIMPACDLA ?) has narrowed down the list of contenders to a 125-book strong longlist. Still a ways to go until they hand out a prize.
       This library-nominated prize is, at least, nicely international (titles in translation - 35 ! languages other than English - 16 !) and they've done a decent job of honouring worthy titles over the years -- though a lot of the nominated titles always seem a bit out of date (especially by the time the winner is announced).
       See also the judging panel

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Vargas Llosa covers

       In his review (The Guardian, 15 November) of Mario Vargas Llosa's new Gaugin-novel, The Way to Paradise (see also our review) Alfred Hickling writes:
Might it be possible, for once, to judge Mario Vargas Llosa's novel by its cover ? Exotically curled around the spine of the book is a striking reproduction of Paul Gauguin's masterpiece, Manao Tupapau, a disturbingly voyeuristic vision of the painter's adolescent Maori lover, tormented in her sleep by ancient Tahitian demons.
       This led us to compare the covers of the American and British editions -- which turn out to be similar but not identical. The American edition (FSG) shows considerably less -- and decorously veils the lower half --, while the British edition (Faber) is considerably more explicit. (Note that both wrap-around -- i.e. are continued on the back cover -- and the FSG-cover ends before her buttocks begin.)
       Compare also the original -- and read into the differing covers what you will.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Murakami book

       Our Murakami Haruki-page has been the most popular of our author pages for several months now, by quite a wide margin -- in large part, no doubt, a reflection of the fact that there is relatively little Murakami-information available online. A source of additional Murakami information, Jay Rubin's Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, is a book we 've been meaning to tackle for a while, and we finally got our hands on a copy; our review is now available.
       Not quite enough to satisfy all our Murakami-curiosity -- but then to do that they'd actually have to translate all his works (and re-publish a lot of what is already available without the abridgements inconsiderately foisted on English-speaking readers).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



17 November 2003 - Monday

Selecting books for review | Fox on The NYTBR | PW's Year in Books

       Selecting books for review

       Selecting what books to review is a difficult process for almost every review-publication if for no other reason than because there are far more books being churned out than pretty much anyone could cover (though niche-review publications (devoted only to a specific genre or segment of the market) and the industry mini-reviewers (Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, etc.) do manage to cover an impressive percentage of what's out there).
       In yesterday's issue of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Bob Hoover tries to explain why Reviewers mostly draw the line at self-published submissions. He offers something he calls: "The PG book editor's policy on self-publishing". The policy is actually easily summarised -- as: "No!" -- but some of the justifications he offers are absolutely hilarious.
       Hoover explains why he believes books published by commercial publishing houses are to be taken more seriously:
To ensure the book's quality, publishers subject it to professional editing and fact-checking, which includes plagiarism and legal issues. (...) By the time a trade book is ready for publication, it is a finished product backed by publishers who have staked their reputation on that book. (...) Without that initial work and backing, self-published books hold the possibility of exposing the newspaper to libel and plagiarism charges.
       We're not familiar with any publisher that has staked it's reputation on a book -- or rather, that has been held accountable for the books they've published. As we seem to recall, there have been numerous cases of renowned, big publishers who have published books that have clearly contained plagiarised materials, and yet no one takes their products less seriously (though surely one should). And, as far as we can recall, far more books published by commercial publishers are subject to libel suits than self-published works --- so what kind of argument is that ?
       More significantly, we constantly come across books by reputable publishers (some of our favourite among them) who produce shoddy work, rife with mistakes, where there clearly has been no editorial involvement whatsoever (unless the eleven year-old kid of the editor was given a crayon and assigned the task ...). Commercial publication is, unfortunately, in no way a guarantee of quality, and it's astounding the amount of crap -- not just bad books, but badly edited books -- publishers continue to be able put on the market without suffering any consequences. (Well, maybe they are: maybe that's why book-sales are lower than they should be, because people have been so frequently disappointed by the products they've purchased.)
       We agree that the filtering process that leads to publication by commercial publishers does tend to guarantee that at least a reasonable percentage of books put out by them will be of some quality (readable, in other words) -- while self-published books probably includes a far larger percentage of pure crap. But surely Hoover must also be aware that commercial publishers, who almost all no longer accept unsolicited submissions, are deaf and blind to much of the talent out there (especially regarding works of fiction). That's why we're opposed to a complete ban on self-published books: they can not be so easily ignored and dismissed.
       As it happens, we're constantly offered self-published books, and so far we haven't reviewed any. But we do consider every book that's pitched to us, and we do request the occasional review-copy -- there's always a chance that it's something that might be of interest. In the case of a local paper like The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette we imagine there might be local talent that might turn to self-publishing and that might be worth at least local review-coverage -- but Hoover prefers not to even consider the possibility.
       Hoover is right that: "With so many titles around, there's bound to be enough good ones to keep me and you interested in the year ahead." Sure. In fact, he could probably fill The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's book review section simply with coverage of books by one large publisher. But isn't part of the point to be more adventurous and to cover some books that aren't getting coverage elsewhere (and god knows there are a lot of those out there) ?
       We understand that Hoover wants to dissuade all these wannabe authors from sending their unreviewable works (we strongly discourage unsolicited book-submissions here at the complete review too -- though our policy applies to commercial and print-on-demand books alike). But his strictly exclusionary policy goes a step too far (though it's right in line with what pretty much everyone else does, and Hoover should at least be credited with admitting to his small-minded policy).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Fox on The NYTBR

       The Fox-'news' site offers a piece on All Books Not Fit to Review (link first seen at Quinn Skylark's BookWatch). Apparently:
The New York Times Book Review is considered the industry bible of whatís hot and whatís not in books. But the publication is coming under increasing fire for what some authors are calling a liberal bias.
       Increasing fire ? Well, anyway, it's the usual cast of characters making the usual complaints, and since these are almost all books (both the ones embraced by The New York Times Book Review and those ignored by it) that we couldn't care less about we find this much ado about pretty much nothing. (Our question is why any of these books are or should be reviewed when the space could be devoted to coverage of fiction .....)
       But the piece is noteworthy because of the not-so-subtle timing. As we recently noted, NYTBR-editor McGrath is stepping down. A successor is expected to be named shortly, and so surely Fox is making sure that this issue is on the mind of the new hire (and those choosing McGrath's successor).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Publishers Weekly's Year in Books

       Publishers Weekly offers its Year in Books-roundup. Lots of titles in lots of areas, with brief book summaries; see, for example, the fiction list (the links to the other pages can be found at the bottom of the article).

       These pages are still freely accessible, but they might not be for long. As the ominous pop-up countdown constantly reminds visitors to the PW-site, there's little time remaining before they do something to the site (we're not exactly sure what, but it apparently involves closing off pretty much everything to everyone except subscribers). As the site is such an unwieldy, hard-to-use mess in it's current state it's hard to imagine them making things any worse -- and since there's not all that much readily accessible now we're not too concerned about the coming loss-of-access (there's not that much left to lose). Still, we'd certainly prefer it if they made it both more user-friendly and freely accessible .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



16 November 2003 - Sunday

Die Welt renders itself useless | Thomas Bernhard | Wittgenstein

       Die Welt renders itself useless

       The book pages at the German daily, Die Welt, are among the most impressive on the Internet. Correction: were.
       The huge, easily accessible archive contained many book reviews, as well as a great deal of other literary coverage. (Yeah, only in German -- but still .....)
       But now they've decided to require registration (and for cookies to be enabled). Apparently, they're not requiring payment for their services (yet) -- which makes the whole registration-procedure fairly pointless (since no sane person would ever put down accurate personal information -- we're always that 87 year-old woman from Burkina Faso (or something equally absurd)).
       We link to dozens of their pages -- and now we have to get rid of all those links. And now this wonderful site is no longer accessible or useful to us, nor will we be able to point out users in that direction.
       Bastards ! bastards ! bastards ! May they rot in Internet hell for their short-sighted stupidity (along with The Times and The New York Times and The Washington Post and all those other stupid sites that have gone down this same limiting path before them).
       Yet another sad day, as the world wide web gets smaller and more provincial once again.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Thomas Bernhard

       Der Standard offers a (German) discussion of Thomas Bernhard's work -- in light of the new-found possibility of referring to the original manuscripts. It's becoming clear what an exacting author he was; this wonderful page illustrating how much textual revision he did.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Wittgenstein

       Die Presse (German, again -- it's been that kind of day) offers a review of a must-have book: Ludwig Wittgenstein's The Big Typescript, supposedly now available from Zweitausendeins for a mere € 9,95 !
       (Note, however, that the Zweitausendeins-site was closed for maintenance when we wanted to check up on it, and that the only edition listed as available at Amazon.de was still the € 100+ scholarly edition .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



15 November 2003 - Saturday

Author photos | New Republic reviewers | Giles Gordon | Mario Vargas Llosa

       Author photos

       We've never understood the need to provide a headshot of the author alongside a review of his or her book, but it's a popular practise -- including in the daily edition of The New York Times. Irrelevant, distracting, and unhelpful when looking for the book in a bookstore (pictures of the cover at least help in recognising what the book looks like), as well as often highly misleading (since they're not candid photos but rather publicity stills provided by the publisher), there's no good reason to waste space with such things in a print publication. Nevertheless, that's what many newspapers do.
       In yesterday's issue of The New York Times Richard Eder reviews the new translation of Don Quixote just published by Ecco. Amazingly, there's no picture of Cervantes accompanying the piece (his PR guy was apparently not paying attention). Instead there's a picture of translator Edith Grossman.
       It's sort of nice to see a translator acknowledged in this way (it's the first time we can recall seeing this) -- and a considerable amount of the review-space is devoted to the translation-issues. Still: we wish they'd forgo the picture-thing entirely. (Note that publisher Ecco does not offer an author- or translator-photograph on the back flap (or anywhere else) of the actual book. See also their publicity page.)

       One other note about Eder's review: he writes: "Nine hundred and seventy-three pages (in Spanish)". But surely Don Quixote has appeared in hundreds of Spanish editions, in small print and large, and the page-totals have probably been from anywhere from 500 to 1500 pages (or an even broader range). What's the point of this particular number ?

       (Note: Ecco kindly sent us a copy of this Don Quixote earlier this week, and we look forward to reviewing it -- but it will be a while before we get to it (or rather: finish it).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       New Republic reviewers

       With James Wood and Dale Peck The New Republic has had some reviewers who have managed to get a lot of press attention over the past few years. Recently, The New Republic-website has become essentially closed-off to non-subscribers, and that might explain why a couple of recent reviews haven't gotten as much attention as one might have expected.
       In the current (17 November) issue Lorraine Adams takes on A.S.Byatt's A Whistling Woman (see our review) -- and the rest of Byatt's quartet. Just to give you an idea of her opinion (and tone), choice quotes include:
Byatt is credited with being a novelist of ideas, but really she is a melodramatic pedant.

Byatt prefers wiggly surfaces to sure depths.

Byatt turns out to be precisely what she dreads most: a lady novelist writing silly novels.
       But because it is not freely available on the Internet practically nobody seems to have noticed, much less commented on the piece. (Or maybe it's just that no one cares about Byatt at the moment.)
       Ms. Adams apparently also writes for The Washington Post; her appearance in The New Republic surely has nothing to do with her finding (in her April 2002 review of 'nobody' memoirs in The Washington Monthly) that:
My favorite nobody memoir is Leon Wieseltier's Kaddish. (...) For me, it is a mind in search of itself, told in words, bettering the revelations of music or art because it can be intimately understood, not just felt. It breaks a cardinal rule of narrative, writing workshops, and contemporary non-fiction editing: Show, Don't Tell. Wieseltier shows little and reveals so much more.
       (Leon Wieseltier is, of course, the literary editor at The New Republic, and we can't help but think he was flattered -- and recognised in Adams a like-minded critic.)

       Another new face and voice at The New Republic is summer-hire (she's the magazine's "literary assistant") Deborah Friedell, who reviewed Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver (see our review) in the 27 October issue. Again: not what one would consider a positive review. Friedell notes, for example:
Time's critic has declared that Stephenson has a "once-in-a-generation gift," and that Quicksilver "will defy any category, genre, precedent or label -- except for genius." This is promotional copy disguised as literary criticism. There is nothing category-defying about this ridiculous book.
       (While we appreciate her enthusiasm we note that, as we recall, the Time piece was not, in fact, anything resembling a review, but rather a description of Stephenson and his undertaking -- i.e. promotional copy that wasn't at all dressed up to look like literary criticism.)
       This book has actually been considerably less-discussed than we expected, but again we would have thought that this particular review -- with pronouncements such as: "His book is nothing but research in search of a narrative, a gigantic collection of index cards" -- would have jump-started some discussion.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Giles Gordon

       Noted Britsh literary agent (for Fay Weldon and Peter Ackroyd, among many others) Giles Alexander Esme Gordon's tumble down the stairs a few weeks ago has now, unfortunately, proven to be fatal. There will be obituaries in all the papers over the weekend; the first full-length one we found was in the Daily Telegraph, but see also briefer notes at The Scotsman and the BBC.

       (Updated - 17 November): See also the obituary in The Independent, the obituary in The Guardian, and, from the Sunday Herald, an article and remembrances by Joanna Blythman and Trevor Royle.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Mario Vargas Llosa

       The newest additions to the complete review include a new Mario Vargas Llosa page, a review of his Three Plays -- and a review of his new novel, The Way to Paradise, which just came out in English and which is getting a lot of review-coverage (mainly in the UK so far; US coverage should start by next week).
       This Gaugin-novel is certainly of interest, but so far all the critics have liked it considerably more than we did.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



14 November 2003 - Friday

NYT Book Review succession | Next Hornby novel | Christmas books lists
New George Steiner book | Manguel unimpressed by Garcia Marquez memoir

       The New York Times Book Review succession

       In yesterday's issue of the Boston Globe Alex Beam discusses the post-Chip McGrath future for The New York Times Book Review (link first seen at Arts Journal). Editor McGrath is stepping down, and it's not clear who will take over -- or even who the candidates are (no, no one's contacted us yet).
       Beam isn't a huge fan of the NYTBR, suggesting: "Books are fun and interesting to read, but the Sunday Book Review is neither" and that "it increasingly resembles Jane's Defence Weekly; the latest Martin Amis novel, like the latest Northrop fighter plane, is reviewed not because it is good but because it is there."
       Beam also singles out only "essayists Laura Miller and Judith Shulevitz" (everybody else apparently only brings their 'B-game') and finds: "the Mark Alan Stamaty cartoon feature 'Boox' remains strong". Entertaining these all might be, but the comic, in particular, seems misplaced -- a waste of valuable space that could far better be devoted to actual reviews !
       Beam has something of a point re. the usefulness of the NYTBR's reviews -- but it seems to us he goes overboard when he claims Entertainment Weekly's or The New Yorker's briefly-noted ones are more useful.

       Not that anyone cares, but here a reminder of our wishlist for the NYTBR:
  1. More reviews
  2. More reviews of fiction
  3. More reviews of foreign fiction
       That's not quite all we hope for in the new editor, but it wouldn't be a bad start.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Next Hornby novel

       In yesterday's issue of the Harvard Crimson Ben Black reports Hornby Offers Peek at Novel-in-Progress.
       Invited over by Zadie Smith, he read from a work-in-progress "tentatively titled Kings and Queens of Shambles"

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Christmas books lists

       'Tis the season, and the flood of lists of Christmas and best-of-year books should be starting up any day now. First sighting: part one of The Spectator's list.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       New George Steiner book

       We hope to eventually review George Steiner's new book, his Charles Eliot Norton lectures now collected as Lessons of the Masters. In today's issue of The Independent Boyd Tonkin talks with the master.

       See also:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Manguel unimpressed by Garcia Marquez memoir

       Gabriel García Márquez's memoir, Living to Tell the Tale (see our review ), doesn't impress Alberto Manguel all that much: see his review in today's issue of The Independent.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



13 November 2003 - Thursday

Thirlwell on Sebald ? | Whitbread shortlists | Amis interviews

       Thirlwell on Sebald ?

       We just received the 7 November TLS, and in J.C.'s NB-column there's a mention of the new issue of the Craig Raine-run Areté. One of the articles therein is apparently "an assault on W.G.Sebald by Adam Thirlwell".
       Areté does have a website, but very little of its contents are available online (and the Thirlwell isn't). All we can glean is the title of the piece -- "Kitsch" -- and the brief description on the cover: "Adam Thirlwell stabs W.G.Sebald" (which makes it sound fairly assault-like).
       We'll probably never get our hands on a copy of this journal, but since we were less than enthusiastic about Sebald recently (see our review of his On the Natural History of Destruction) we are intrigued -- and maybe someone will comment on it elsewhere.
       (See also our review of Thirlwell's debut, Politics.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Whitbread shortlists

       The Whitbread shortlists are out. The Whitbread is the two-tiered book prize that gives out best book awards in a variety of categories, with the winners in each category then competing against each other for Best Book of the Year. As usual, we don't have a single one of the shortlisted titles under review.
       See the official site (though when we last checked (5:00 GMT, 13 November) they had not posted the shortlists yet -- though pretty much every major British news outlet had). At least they have decent information on the judges.
       For the shortlists, see The Guardian.
       For discussions of the shortlists, see articles at The Guardian (by John Ezard), The Independent (by Louise Jury), and The Scotsman (by David Robinson).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Amis interviews

       Martin Amis is on the American swing of his Yellow Dog book tour -- see his tour schedule for locations near you.
       Along the way he's been giving a fair number of interviews. See, for example (and note some of the similar answers):

        - Connie Ogle's interview in The Miami Herald (9 November).

        - Amis answering reader-questions at Off the Page (The Washington Post, 7 November). Choice quote:
I have been outflanked by the culture. I am now seen as a drawling Oxonian, and a genetic elitist, who took over the family firm. People subconsciously think that I was born in 1922, wrote Lucky Jim when I was 7, and will live for at least a century. This feels odd to me, because my father was a "angry young man" and helped democratize the British novel. I'm not a toff. I'm a yob.
        - Philip Higgs' interview at Nerve (link already all over the place, including Maud Newton and Bookslut). Choice quote:
But I donít know how to use the Internet, and there's no pornography around. So, no. [And] Iím too old for it now.
       God, he really does sound like an old fuddy-duddy, doesn't he ? No wonder people subconsciously confuse him with Kingsley. He's got young kids -- how could he not know "how to use" the Internet ?
       (Actually, this dementi sounds a lot like his claim that he doesn't read reviews of his books ....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



12 November 2003 - Wednesday

More García Márquez reviews | New Byatt | Turow and capital punishment | Pilger article

       More García Márquez reviews

       The trickle of reviews of Gabriel García Márquez's memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, continues: new ones the past few days include those in the Daily Telegraph, Time, and The Village Voice.
       (Note: we continue to be suspicious of -- and are getting more annoyed by -- reviews that familiarly refer to the author as "Gabo".)

       Of course, the most useful place (at least in our opinion) to find the greatest number of reviews of the book is on our very own review-page .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       New Byatt

       A new A.S.Byatt book is out -- at least in the UK: The Little Black Book of Stories. Samantha Matthews reviewed it in the 31 October TLS, and now Cressida Connolly's review from the Telegraph is available.
       Matthews notes that: "Translation and transformation are keynotes of this volume, which is dedicated to Byatt's German and Italian translators".
       Connolly writes: "The Little Black Book of Stories is a showcase of Byatt's talents: she can do pastiche, she can do satire, she can do spooky." She also sums up:
Little Black Book of Stories is the ideal primer for anyone who has not yet discovered AS Byatt, and a delight for those who have.
       Inexplicably, the American edition is only coming out next spring (see the Knopf publicity page). (Wouldn't it be more fun if they were spending their marketing dollars trying to bring something like this to a larger audience for the Christmas season, rather than, say, Rick Bragg's I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story (see their publicity page -- and their media blitz) ? -- a book which Reuters has already declared a first-day dud (it "appeared unlikely Tuesday to translate into big cash as the first day of sales fell short of expectations").)

       We'll certainly review the Byatt when it comes out in the US; meanwhile get your copy of Little Black Book of Stories from Amazon.co.uk -- or pre-order from Amazon.com

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       Turow and capital punishment

       The Christian Science Monitor continues to provide coverage of Scott Turow's recent book about the death penalty, Ultimate Punishment (see our review): they had a Q& A a few weeks ago, and in today's issue offer excerpts from an interview (they also talk to Mark Fuhrman)

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       Pilger article

       It's already made the rounds, but is worth pointing to again: John Pilger's piece on The Silence Of Writers (first seen at goodreports.net and (with commentary and reader comments) at In Writing).
       Pilger notes:
These are dangerous times, and surreal. Column after column is devoted to the Martin Amis cult: he who describes politics as having "withered away in this country, and that's a great tribute to its highly evolved character", and who sneers at the great anti-capitalist and anti-war demonstrations as "really [about] anti-politics; they're protesting about politics itself".

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11 November 2003 - Tuesday

Against bad novels | Murakami story | Freedom to Write conference
Peter Weiss find | Victorian Premier's Literary Awards | New Context !

       Against bad novels

       David Sexton offers a nice rant in yesterday's issue of the Evening Standard, suggesting: Can't write ? don't write. He notes:
No other book is quite so completely and utterly worthless as a mediocre novel. (...) Worse than worthless, it's positively a menace -- for any time spent in reading dim, failed novels is so much time lost, time subtracted from life.
       His main targets are the celebrities who turns to fiction-writing -- though, of course, the problem is far more widespread. And the celebrities-turned-authors unfortunately have what might pass for an excuse:
The one good argument that could be made on their behalf is that many who are no good have, evidently, nevertheless managed to make money. There's no arguing with profit.

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       Murakami story

       This week's issue of The New Yorker offers yet another Murakami Haruki story, Hunting Knife.

       (General note/tip: not meaning to be too obnoxious, but we noticed that a couple of other weblogs have linked to this story, and that when they did many linked to http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/content/. Murakami's story can, indeed, be found there -- but only until next Monday, when a new story will apear in that space (it's their general "Fiction"-page -- just like http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/ will only get you to whatever their book review of the week is).
       We understand the desire to latch onto whatever link is easiest to get to (hey, we're the laziest people we know), but in the interest of user-friendliness it is, of course, desirable to provide -- if at all possible -- a link that will not go away (so that poor slobs who troll through weblog-archives -- and surely we can't be the only ones who do that -- can still find the useful information). As it happens, The New Yorker does provide permanent links: by clicking on This Week's Contents at the In The Magazine-tab the whole week's contents are listed, and the links are for the lasting URLs -- in the case of the Murakami story, http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/content/?031117fi_fiction. (Linking using the permanent links is particularly helpful at The New Yorker site because, as users will have noticed, they don't have any archive and retrieving old articles is otherwise practically impossible.)
       Finding the permanent links at some sites can be a real pain -- The New York Observer, for example, only saves its pages after about a week (but at least they have a decent search engine, so older articles can be retrieved ...) -- but where possible (such as at The New Yorker) it would seem a good weblogging-practise.)


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       Freedom to Write conference

       The International Writers Project was launched at Brown University over the weekend, with a conference entitled Freedom to Write.
       Even with a keynote speaker of the calibre of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka press interest seems to have been limited. In fact, other than at the Brown Daily Herald, we haven't read anything about it. But at least the BDH offers a bit of information:

        - Hannah Dean described the goings-on in Int'l Writers Project supports oppressed writers.

        - Sheela Raman focussed on Soyinka and the issues he raised in his keynote address in Nobel laureate and poet discuss anti-terrorist laws and writers' safety. So, for example:
Soyinka, in his speech Saturday evening, said Americans need to drop their complacency and realize that the same fanaticism seen in Osama bin Laden is also present in the Bush administration. According to Soyinka, bin Laden's assertion that the world is made up of either "believers or non-believers" is equivalent to Bush's assertion that "you are either with us or against us." Such a belief, Soyinka said, poses the greatest threat to the creative mind. "I hope the current events in Iraq shatter the glass case of American complacence forever," he said.
       (Apparently no one in the crowd yelled out: "Not bloody likely" -- but note the reader-comments at the end of the article.)

        - And there's also an editorial, Freedom to learn

       Meanwhile, if you know any worthy oppressed writers, check out the Call for Applications: Brown University International Writers Project Fellowship. (We've previously mentioned the current, first fellow, Shahrnush Parsipur.)

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       Peter Weiss find

       I know few of you care about Peter Weiss; in the English-speaking world he's considered a one-work author, and the work (his play, Marat/Sade) is far better known than he is. I, on the other hand, though generally not a great worshipper of authors, revere him. (It helps to read German, since so little of his work is in print in English translation -- though a lot has been translated.)
       Yesterday, going through a pile of used books, I found one of the old New Directions-anthologies. The first of these appeared in 1936, and I've collected a few of them; I am forever grateful for having been introduced to authors such as Manuel Bandeira and Ian Hamilton Finlay in these pages (not that I've been able to find much by them since, but that's another matter ...).
       Most of the anthologies were of your general literary journal size (6 x 9), but the one I found yesterday -- number 15 in the series, published in 1955 -- was an attempt at the smaller pocket-book size (which I generally much prefer, but for these purposes (especially as a photo-essay is included, 16 glossy pages among the plain-paper rest) is less than ideal --, despite being "Smyth Sewn for Durability") -- maybe that's why I'd never picked it up before.
       At 50 ¢ (cheaper than the hefty (for 1955) $ 1.35 list price !) there was no reason to pass it up -- and, as almost always with these ND anthologies, I was not disappointed. Contributions by Khushwant Singh, Raja Rao, Edward Dahlberg, Dazai Osamu, and Tawfiq al-Hakim would probably have been enough to convince me. But there were also drawings by Garcia Lorca, and poems by César Vallejo, René Daumal, Robert Desnos, Michel Leiris, and even O.V. de Lubicz-Milosz -- and a Brecht play, too (The Exception and the Rule).
       But what absolutely bowled me over was this: an excerpt from Document I by Peter Weiss. Nowadays people, especially in the English-speaking world, only have the vaguest idea who Peter Weiss is. But in 1955, when this was published, no one knew who he was. He only hit it really big with Marat/Sade in 1964, and the first work he published in Germany, The Shadow of the Body of the Coachman, though written in 1952, only appeared in print in 1959 (beginning his long relationship with the Suhrkamp publishing house).
       Document I was originally written in German, with the title Der Vogelfreie, in 1948, and published (privately printed) in a Swedish translation in 1949 (as Dokument I). (Weiss lived in Sweden at the time, and was still vacillating between writing in German and in Swedish.) In fact, the first German publication of the work only took place in 1980, when it was published as Der Fremde under the Hesse-inspired pseudonym Sinclair.
       So I was, to say the least, in awe that the editors of the New Directions anthology found and saw fit to include this piece, by an author still described as: "PETER WEISS, exponent of Swedish existentialism, is both painter and writer".

       A lot of contemporary literary journals offer impressive collections of familiar and foreign talent, but I don't know that many can compete with this particular line-up -- including such hidden treasures as the Weiss-excerpt. The New Directions 15 anthology is almost fifty years old now, but it still made my day that there are literary collections like this that I've never seen before waiting to be discovered.

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       Victorian Premier's Literary Awards

       The Victorian Premier's Literary Awards have been handed out: see their official site for a rundown of the prizes, as well as an article by Jason Steger in today's issue of The Age.
       The VPLAs are handed out in all sorts of categories -- fiction and non being the major ones (won by Shanghai Dancing (Brian Castro's third win) and Broken Song (Barry Hill) respectively), but also for everything from screenwriting to unpublished manuscript.

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       New Context !

       Hallelujah ! Hallelujah ! The new issue of Context (number 14) is now available online.
       We've only had a quick look -- this should keep us occupied for a couple of days. Highlights include: "Balkans, My Balkans" by Dubravka Ugresic, Empty Rhetoric: Innovative Fiction and the American Literary Magazine by Daniel Green, and Reading Pierre Klossowski by John Taylor -- not to mention the book reviews (though some of those are familiar from the Review of Contemporary Fiction).
       Enjoy. We're sure we will.

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