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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 December

1 December: Byatt on Balzac | Updike as anti-Semite ? | Kertész review
2 December: Punctuation success | Author habits | Vignali's prick book | Bulwer-Lytton mention | John Le Carré interview
3 December: NYTBR golden age | Perec coverage
4 December: Books for Blair | More Dale Peck
5 December: Suhrkamp turmoil | Too little log-rolling | One more punctuation book review | Disappointed searchers
6 December: Best books etc. | Nelly Sachs prize | Vizenor review | Australian classics
7 December: Coetzee speaks -- but doesn't hand over his words ?
8 December: Coetzee's Nobel lecture | Vernon God Little review | Phoebe 2002
9 December: Coetzee coverage, and Amis on posterity | Manoly Lascaris obituaries | All Maslin, all the time ?
10 December: More end of year books lists | Winter Bookforum | Mimesis praise

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10 December 2003 - Wednesday

More end of year books lists | Winter Bookforum | Mimesis praise

       More end of year books lists

       At least there's some variety to the endless run of best books lists and the like now filling newspaper and magazine pages:

       The Sydney Morning Herald list offers quite a few categories, many meant to ensure that local literature will be duly represented (but also leading to separate categories for a variety of American, European, and other books). In addition, they also have some more specific categories than usual, including: "Best Ancient Rome", "Best War and Terrorism Books", and "Best Chick Fiction".

       At Christianity Today's Books & Culture they only begin their annual roundup -- in the properly enthusiastically headlined: Books, Books, Books !

       On a different part of the spectrum The Village Voice's otherwise near-moribund VLS this week offers their 25 Favorite Books of 2003.

       Meanwhile, Slate offers a best-books list overview of sorts in Cream of the Book Shop. It's far from comprehensive, but they do note that:
Summary Judgment's exceedingly scientific survey of nine lists reveals that the runaway best Best Book of 2003, selected significantly more often than any other, is Edward P. Jones' The Known World
       Among the more interesting lists every year is the TLS' -- it's in the 5 December issue, but wasn't made available (even briefly) online. Thirty-six writers selected "the books that have impressed them most in 2003" (including titles in foreign languages). Too many to repeat here, so we only offer the choices that we have under review:        But right now we are, of course, more interested in the titles we don't yet have under review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Winter Bookforum

       The Winter issue of Bookforum is out, and a tiny, tiny bit of it is available online. Most of the most interesting sounding pieces -- Paul Maliszewski on Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake and the art of the hoax, Rick Moody on J.M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello (yeah, okay, we have our doubts about that one), Geoff Nicholson on Jim Crace's Genesis -- are, of course, not available online.
       Small consolation: Yve-Alain Bois' lengthy Malevich-piece.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mimesis praise

       Jim Lewis praises Erich Auerbach's classic Mimesis in Slate, in How To Write. He thinks:
It deserves a wider audience—the widest possible, I would say, because it offers not just an eminent reading of the Western canon, but a mighty lesson in how to write.
       We don't have it under review; you can get your copy at or -- and see also the Princeton University Press publicity page.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 December 2003 - Tuesday

Coetzee coverage, and Amis on posterity | Manoly Lascaris obituaries
All Maslin, all the time ?

       Coetzee coverage, and Amis on posterity

       All this Nobel business is perhaps overrated; still, we're amazed at the lack of coverage of J.M.Coetzee's Nobel lecture, He and his man, both in the print media and in the so-called blogosphere. We were joking, pretty much, yesterday when we suggested there was possibly some doubt that today's papers wouldn't be full of Coetzee-coverage -- but they weren't. What gives ? (Updated - 10 December): The Guardian did publish Coetzee's Nobel lecture (yesterday) -- the only major English-language newspaper to do so, as best we can tell. More extensive coverage can be found at Golden Rule Jones, where some Coetzee information not available online is also usefully transcribed.

       A number of blogs did link to the speech (or at least mentioned that it was delivered), but among the weblogs we generally peruse Robert Birnbaum's talk with Martin Amis appeared to be attracting considerably more attention.
       The conversation -- Birnbaum's fourth with Amis -- is certainly also worthy of attention; unlike most author-interviews, Birnbaum's aren't merely brief Q & As, but rather actual exchanges, going on at some length. Still, Amis has been on the current publicity tour for quite a while, and he manages to repeat some of the same nonsense far too frequently (and Birnbaum unfortunately doesn't challenge him on it).
       Particularly irritating is the ridiculous notion that he can't let go of, that:
They think that subliminally I was born in 1922, when my father was born. I nevertheless wrote Lucky Jim when I was seven and I am now in my eighties and yet I am only 54. So I am going to be around for another twenty years at least. And it's unbearable in some subconscious way. I do occupy an odd place because of my father.
       Compare that to, for example, his Off the Page (The Washington Post, 7 November) response to a reader-question:
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.
       (See also our previous discussion of the current set of Amis-interviews.)
       Who are these people who supposedly confuse Kingsley and Martin, conflating father and son into a single writing entity ? We've yet to hear of anyone making that mistake, and we've never gotten any sense of anyone subliminally or subconsciously thinking that Martin was born in 1922 (or is that what lies behind Tibor Fischer's Amis-comments ?). In fact, it sounds like the one person with the identity problem is Martin himself.
       Far more annoying, however, is Amis' misplaced belief in posterity. As he told John Preston in an interview in the Sunday Telegraph, Posterity counts, critics don't, months ago, he believes: "the real action starts with your obituary". (See our previous discussion.)
       Amis offers the same spiel to Birnbaum, dreaming of a literary idyll:
MA: Well no, but the readers of the future will be determining this.
RB: And living readers?
MA: Oh yes, passionately. But it's their chance to make the judgment. No longer will it be the pundits, the opinion formers. They will sink into the shadows. The eternal, universal reader will decide.
RB: It's a noble thought that writing will not be mediated and that cultural arbiters, though they must a make a living…
       Poor, deluded Martin. Would that the world functioned like that, that there were was a "eternal, universal reader" -- or that readers actually had a chance or were in any position to decide (by being able to actually get their hands on the titles in question, among other things). Reality is that survival depends far more on the vagaries of that obscenity that is the publishing industry. In the US readers are no longer able to judge the merits of, say, Kingsley Amis if they rely on their local bookstore; with a stray exception here and there his work is essentially out of print. Same with our favourite depressing example, Patrick White. Their future fates rest almost entirely with pundits, opinion formers, and cultural arbiters -- and especially publishing executives who decide (or can be convinced) that their works can be packaged to appeal to a contemporary audience and milked for a few more dollars.
       In fact, it seems to us that it is a far more limited set of pundits and opinion formers (mainly based in academia) that decide who among yesteryear's authors are still worth reading, and which books belong in various canons, etc. Your average reader has little chance of coming across anything by a writer who is no longer among the living that's not officially approved of .....
       Amis is, of course, free to place his hopes in posterity (or anywhere else he damn well pleases), but he seems more the fool for it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Manoly Lascaris obituaries

       We reported, a few weeks back, on the death of Patrick White's longtime companion, Manoly Lascaris.
       People keep turning up here in search for more information, so here some additional obituary-coverage by:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       All Maslin, all the time ?

       We're almost used to the fact that there will be, at best, four reviews of books of possible interest every week in the weekday editions of The New York Times, rather than five (as it used to be): the Monday slot is almost always filled with a Janet Maslin review -- and it's generally a trash-lit review. So we just sighed and turned the page yesterday (she reviewed the latest Jonathan Kellerman). But to find another Maslin review today -- of another author on our we-wouldn't-review-this-crap-if-you-paid-us list, Dean Koontz -- well, that's a pretty grim beginning to the day.
       There are real books out there, deserving of attention ..... Etc. etc.; you know how we feel.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 December 2003 - Monday

Coetzee's Nobel lecture | Vernon God Little review | Phoebe 2002

       Coetzee's Nobel lecture

       So all the issues surrounding the copyright regarding J.M.Coetzee's Nobel lecture (see our previous mention) seem to have been resolved: the lecture is now freely available at the Nobel site: He and his man.

       There's also a brief Reuters report on the lecture by Stephen Brown, Castaway Coetzee suffers Nobel limelight. Today's newspapers will no doubt (well, some doubt) be full of Coetzee-coverage -- though we are curious to see how many newspapers take advantage of the print-it-for-free offer regarding the lecture.
       Pre-lecture news includes a summary of an interview Coetzee gave, as The Star reports: SA Nobel winner pays tribute to his European background. The full interview was conducted by David Attwell -- in English, but it was only published in a Swedish translation in Dagens Nyheter, as En motvillig mästare. (As the interview was conducted in English, we hope somebody gets their hands on it and publishes the original.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Vernon God Little review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of DBC Pierre's Man Booker winning Vernon God Little.

       (This was a rare title we almost gave up on: we were so unimpressed by the beginning (first 50-100 pages) that, were it not for the fact that it was the Man Booker winner and is a much-discussed title (and we had already wasted quite a few man-hours on it), we would have tossed it aside. We're still arguing about whether or not we should have.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Phoebe 2002

       Our immense pile of books we'd like to get to includes the unlikely sounding "essay in verse", Phoebe 2002, by Jeffery Conway, Lynn Crosbie and David Trinidad. The first review we've seen of it appeared in yesterday's issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, Dodie Bellamy on Deconstructing 'Eve,' verse and chapter.
       Bellamy writes: "Phoebe is three times as long as any book of poetry has a right to be" -- as well as that: "Phoebe is ruthlessly imperfect, maddening, yet it's awesome."
       Bellamy also writes:
At a whopping 600-plus pages, Phoebe is as ugly and marvelous as unchecked suburban sprawl. There's something unnatural -- even uncanny -- about the way the poets' deconstruction of All About Eve spreads out further and further, colonizing all that it touches.
       And, yeah, we're still tempted by it.

       Meanwhile see:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 December 2003 - Sunday

Coetzee speaks -- but doesn't hand over his words ?

       Coetzee speaks -- but doesn't hand over his words ?

       (Note:This story has been updated and revised since it was first posted.)
       This year's literature Nobel Laureate, J.M.Coetzee, delivers his Nobel lecture today, and will then pick up his medal at the big ceremony on the 10th. However, there's apparently been some dispute about the copyright to the lecture -- traditionally handed over to the Nobel Foundation, whose policy is to put the lectures pretty much in the public domain, demanding only credit for the Nobel folk; the official policy is:
© THE NOBEL FOUNDATION 2003 General permission is granted for the publication in newspapers in any language after [time of lecture]. Publication in periodicals or books otherwise than in summary requires the consent of the Foundation. On all publications in full or in major parts the above underlined copyright notice must be applied.
       Lothar Müller reported in yesterday's issue of the Süddeutsche Zeitung that Coetzee would not give the copyright to the lecture-text over to the Nobel Foundation, something no prize-winner has previously done. This would mean that the text of his lecture -- and the video -- will not be made available at the Nobel site (as they are for all the other prize winners). (And as of this writing the Coetzee page is the only one of the current Nobel crop without a link to the prize-winner's prospective Nobel lecture.)
       Since we first posted this story a reader from Sweden has informed us that Swedish newspapers are reporting that this dispute has been resolved. Coetzee was apparently concerned that by no longer holding the copyright he would be unable to incorporate the Nobel lecture into any of his own future publications; apparently, he had difficulties with public lectures he previously gave that he wanted to incorporate into Elizabeth Costello. He has now agreed to give the Nobel Foundation the copyright, with the understanding that he will be able to use the material as he sees fit.
       We hope this is true. There certainly seems no other good reason for him to hold onto the copyright -- certainly not the added bit of cash he could make by publishing it himself, considering his 10,000,000 Swedish kronor payday today.
       We'll keep looking for it at the Nobel-Coetzee page; we don't think he has to worry about too many newspapers printing the text of the lecture (did any US newspaper take advantage of the Nobel Foundation's generous terms last year ? can any Americans even name last year's literature Nobel laureate ... ?)

       In other Coetzee news: he agreed to an actual TV interview, which he gave yesterday on Swedish publish television. A brief report by Peter Starck is available here.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 December 2003 - Saturday

Best books etc. | Nelly Sachs prize | Vizenor review | Australian classics

       Best books etc.

       The trickle of best books and books of the year lists is turning into the expected flood.
       The Independent has their lists out now; the only one we're interested in is the fiction list -- compiled, in this case, by DJ Taylor (you can find links to the other category-pages there). It's also of additional interest as Taylor was one of the Man Booker judges this year -- and, as he notes, of the ten best books he selects: "Ominously, only two appeared on the shortlist, which is a sad comment either on my critical faculties or on those of the other judges". (The eventual Man Booker winner, DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little is pointedly missing from his top ten).

       Also in The Independent: Boyd Tonkin does his part and argues Foreign fiction saves the day .....

       Over at The Economist this week they also offer their Books of the year 2003, dividing them up in a variety of categories -- most of which are straightforward enough ("Politics and current affairs", "Science and technology"). But what is one to make of the conflation of "Fiction and memoirs" ? Well, their literary coverage has been ill-defined (if not downright peculiar) for quite a few years now. (We only have one of the titles they recommend under review -- Marjane Satrapi's cartoon memoir, Persepolis.)

       In today's issue of The Guardian there are loads of picks from many notables, as "critics and guest writers reveal their favourite books of 2003", in Pages of pleasure.

       More interesting: in the Financial Times Jan Dalley looks at Small fry that made it big, a reminder of who won what and a look at prize-giving trends.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Nelly Sachs prize

       The very deserving Per Olov Enquist will be receiving the prestigious "Nelly-Sachs-Literaturpreis der Stadt Dortmund" tomorrow.
       Previous winners include: Elias Canetti, Erich Fromm, Nadine Gordimer, Milan Kundera, Michael Ondaatje, and Christa Wolf.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Vizenor review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Gerald Vizenor's Hiroshima Bugi.
       A rare unsolicited book that we actually decided to cover, it was a more than pleasant surprise.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Australian classics

       Angela Bennie reports that Classics return with a click of the mouse in today's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald:
On Monday night 25 out-of-print Australian literary classics will become available to readers through the click of a mouse. The titles, most of them novels, are part of an initiative by the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL), the Sydney University Press (SUP) and the Australian Literature Gateway organisation (AustLit) to provide print-on-demand books through the internet.
       The material will be available at Classic Australian Works; we look forward to checking it out.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 December 2003 - Friday

Suhrkamp turmoil | Too little log-rolling
One more punctuation book review | Disappointed searchers

       Suhrkamp turmoil

       Suhrkamp Verlag, the leading German literary publisher (and the best-endowed, thanks to their being the longtime publishers of two of the biggest German cash-cows, Hermann Hesse and Bertolt Brecht) has fallen into even greater disarray. Publishing legend Siegfried Unseld recently died, and while he handed over controlling interest to his widow, Ulla Berkéwicz he also appointed a board of most illustrious trustees to guide the foundation that owns the majority of the publishing house: Jürgen Habermas, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Alexander Kluge, Adolf Muschg, and Wolf Singer. In a shocking but not unexpected move, the five old men have now all stepped down, essentially pushed out less than ten days after publisher Günter Berg was ousted.
       So much for Unseld's wishes: appointing five old guys (the resigners are all over seventy) perhaps wasn't the ideal way of moving forward, but there's no doubt that they represented the best of the Suhrkamp tradition and certainly might have helped in making the post-Unseld transition. But that's not the way things are going to work now. Whatever happens next, there's been about as radical a break with tradition as is possible (and the Suhrkamp tradition was practically mythical, for better and worse).
       The German media is, of course, full of discussions of these events. The invaluable Perlentaucher offers a good overview of much of yesterday's press coverage, including brief descriptions of those articles not or not yet available online. Among them: Lothar Müller on Das Ichweißnichtwas (Süddeutsche Zeitung) and Ina Hartwig on Der subjektive Faktor (Frankfurter Rundschau), as well as an earlier article on what might happen by Ijoma Mangold, Auf Tauchstation (Süddeutsche Zeitung).
       Elsewhere, see a report in today's Der Standard, excerpts from an interview with Ulla Unseld-Berkéwicz as well as articles on Wieviel Heimat kann Suhrkamp noch bieten ? and Auszug der Geistesgrößen (all Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung).
       For a brief English description of Ulla Berkéwicz (before all this happened), see here.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Too little log-rolling

       In this week's issue of The Bookseller, Horace Bent scours the best-books lists and finds A disappointing decline in log-rolling. "It used to be blatant; now, we must make do with mere kindly back-scratching", he notes.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       One more punctuation book review

       We've repeatedly mentioned Lynne Truss' book about punctuation, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, which is enjoying much success. Here one more review of note: Philip Hensher's Points under discussion in this week's issue of The Spectator -- a good discussion of the issues (including his observation: "More good writers can punctuate expressively, I suspect, than can spell correctly").

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Disappointed searchers

       Stray visitors do occasionally make their way to the Literary Saloon via the inevitable misleading results from search engines (since so many topics are addressed on a single page, there's considerable room for confusion). While many do find (at least approximately) what they are looking for (Nell Freudenberger news has again been much in demand) there are a few poor souls who likely go away disappointed -- and there were considerably more than usual yesterday.
       We apologise to all those who couldn't find what they were after here, especially whoever it was who was looking for a "Literary spanking".

       Other curious queries from yesterday:
  • What does local politics from an explanation of america by robert Pinsky mean

  • explain what a beauty saloon is

  • cazzaria pictures (see this entry for what that's about ...)
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 December 2003 - Thursday

Books for Blair | More Dale Peck

       Books for Blair

       Two weeks ago we mentioned that Jason Cowley had suggested (in the New Statesman) a reading list for American President George jr. Bush. Now, it appears Brits are trying to figure out what books might be appropriate for their leader, Tony Blair, after he said that he'd like some "improving literature" for Christmas. Brian Wheeler reports on Tony Blair's Big Read for BBC News Online Magazine; readers are also invited to make suggestions -- and remarkably some actually put a bit of thought into this. (We were first made aware of this story at Quinn Skylark's Bookwatch, where he also proposes a list of books for the junior Bush (a far, far too ambitious list, we suspect).)
       There's more to this story, however, than first meets the eye. Blair apparently made the remarks at his monthly press conference, on 2 December. Wheeler reports on the remarks, as does Simon Hoggart in his report on the press conference in The Guardian, Tony gets in touch with his inner Hugh. What's curious is that the remarks (and the question) can't be found in what is supposedly the official and complete transcript of the press conference.
       "Read the press conference in full below", it says, and yet if you do you won't find Blair's Christmas wishes anywhere. There's no question that it's the same press conference, as most of what Hoggart mentions in his discussion can be found -- though note that the question about "Ken Livingstone's possible return to the Labour party" is also missing.
       Was the question a mere aside ? Or is Blair, after further reflection (or on advice of his aides) embarrassed to admit he'd like to read a book ? (Or did the junior Bush people get in touch with 10 Downing Street and pressure Blair not to show up the patenetly aliterate American President by admitting literary interests ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More Dale Peck

       The barrage continues: now it's Birnbaum v. Dale Peck, as Robert Birnbaum interviews Peck at The Morning News. (Once again Peck is referred to as "the most hated man in literature" (and once again we wonder: by whom -- other than maybe Rick Moody ? and: what are we missing ?).)
       We're baffled that there's so much interest in this person -- but quite impressed by the coverage he manages to generate (even if most of it is of this chit-chat variety). And at least he's honest, saying about the James Atlas profile that appeared in The New York Times Magazine (26 October):
Obviously in the vast scheme of publicity, one needs five pages in the magazine more than one needs the op-ed page. The op-ed page was my opportunity to say something substantive.
       And here we thought it was about literature. Instead, even onetime critic Peck is more concerned with "the vast scheme of publicity" -- empty superficiality over content. He apparently wrote a book which just came out or is coming out sometime soon, and apparently common wisdom is that publicity helps sell something like that (though we can't imagine that anyone reading any of these profiles and interviews could be moved to say: 'Now that's something I gotta get'). But it makes it a bit more difficult to take him seriously as a critic (or, indeed, as a person interested in conveying anything to an audience).
       So he says:
Nevertheless, five pages in the Times magazine were very important. The picture with the hatchet I kind of stand behind forever. I have reached a place of complete and utter dismissiveness when it comes to contemporary fiction. My only goal is to either ignore it or destroy it.
       All we can say is: good luck with that.

       It's all very disappointing, that his axe-wielding stunts get much discussed, that he thinks getting five pages in The New York Times Magazine is something "important". (well, if it boosts his sales enough maybe it is ... for him; readers, one imagines, are interested in something different.) But, as we mentioned last week, Peck has actually recently made some comments which are at least worth reading and debating -- in Hatchet Jobs, in last week's issue of The New Republic (1 December). Not freely available on the Internet -- or simply not of any interest, because it is a semi-serious discussion of actual literary matters ? -- we've heard nary a peep about it.

       (Updated - 5 December): Yesterday, Arts & Letters Daily and Collected Miscellany did link to Hatchet Jobs in last week's issue of The New Republic (so it is freely accessible (though we're not sure it's meant to be)), and maybe there will be a shift in focus in the Peckish discussions. Collected Miscellany also offers the other Requisite Dale Peck Links, for those who care.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 December 2003 - Wednesday

NYTBR golden age | Perec coverage

       NYTBR golden age

       Meghan O'Rourke writes about The Wonder Years at The New York Times Book Review in yesterday's Slate, as the Book Review gets ready for a changing of the guard. She suggests:
In looking forward, the Times might want to look back -- to what was widely agreed to be the Book Review's golden age, from 1971 to 1975, under the editorship of John Leonard.
       Her take on his formula for success:
Leonard's achievement lay in recognizing that the majority of books published any given year are most interesting as an expression of their culture -- not as things to be assessed in and of themselves. And so he selected books accordingly, turning the reviews into a probing dialogue about that culture, finding reviewers who were eager to plunge into controversy and urging them on.
       We're not all that sure we want a book review section that's a reflection of the current culture, but, hey, probing dialogue and plunges into controversy might be fun .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Perec coverage

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Georges Perec's Je me souviens, and we have now also added a Georges Perec page.
       We do still have a ways to go in our Perec coverage -- in particular, La disparition, and Gilbert Adair's English rendering, A Void, have long been high on our to-do list (which shows how useful having a to-do list is hereabouts ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

2 December 2003 - Tuesday

Punctuation success | Author habits | Vignali's prick book
Bulwer-Lytton mention | John Le Carré interview

       Punctuation success

       We mentioned Lynne Truss' book about punctuation, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, last week, and clearly we weren't the only ones intrigued by it. It's already being hailed as "this year's Christmas publishing sensation", as David Smith reports in The Observer (30 November) that it:
raced to the top of the bestseller charts by selling 50,000 copies in its first 10 days and is now close to 100,000.
       A short piece in the Evening Standard (1 December) also notes the staggering success of the title:
It is currently number one on the bestseller chart -- and the initial print run of just 15,000 has been extended to 140,000.
       An opinion piece in today's isue of the Daily Telegraph updates the sales-success:
The publishers have printed 140,000 copies of the book (...) and yesterday bookshops put in an order for 75,000 more.
       David Smith also reveals: "Now the rights to US publication have been bought by Penguin for £ 70,000" -- though until they bring it out next summer you'll have to rely on the British edition; get your copy at

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Author habits

       Richard Davenport-Hines discusses authors and narcotics at some length in the Independent on Sunday (30 November).
       Among his observations:
Jean-Paul Sartre, who used amphetamines while writing a 50-page essay on Jean Genet, and ended up with an 800-page book, and whose 3,000-page study of Flaubert is definitively unreadable, demonstrated the dangers of writing on speed.
       Among his conclusions:
Although authors who took drugs for pure pleasure were the most criticised, they usually did the least harm to themselves. Druggy authors trying to turn themselves into transcendental voyagers virtually always made fools of themselves.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Vignali's prick book

       In this week's issue of The New Yorker, Judith Thurman reviews Antonio Vignali's recently translated 16th century book, La cazzaria: The Book of the Prick.
       We reviewed this oddity months ago. It hardly seems worth the attention, and yet it's still nice to see a fairly obscure text by a fairly serious publisher get it. Though maybe the folks at The New Yorker commissioned the review because they thought this might be a book their readers might want to consider as a stocking stuffer .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bulwer-Lytton mention

       We're fans of the TLS, but we're generally loth to link to their site: the freely accessible content lasts only for the week -- and oft times articles that are freely available come with that worst of all warnings: "Full story not displayed". So also in this case -- but, for once, we can't help ourselves: an article headlined Secrets of Bulwer Lytton (by Oswyn Murray, issue of 26 November) is just too good to pass over, even if it's not complete. (As Saloon regulars will recall, some of us here have a fatal weakness for the much-maligned EBL.)
       You still have time to run out and get your own copy; we'll probably report once we get our hands on the full text (our copy of the TLS generally only arrives some ten days after the publication date ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       John Le Carré interview

       James Naughtie's interview of John Le Carré on the BBC's Today show last night has attracted considerable attention. (You should be able to listen to it here, if you want to judge for yourself (and how can you pass up listening to Le Carré denounce the "American junta under Bush", etc. ?).)
       Ian Burrell offers a fairly neutral overview (and gets some other authors' opinions), in End of the feel-good novel ? Le Carré rails against Bush's world view in today's issue of The Independent. Daniel Johnson, on the other hand, is quite dismissive in a more personal attack in an opinion piece in today's issue of the Daily Telegraph, John le Carré is Mr Angry now that Smiley's day has gone.
       Johnson thinks:
Poor old John le Carré. First he lost his theme -- the Cold War -- and now he is losing his audience.
       It won't be the last we hear from Le Carré in the coming weeks: his new book, Absolute Friends, is just out in the UK (get your copy at and will be published in the US in January (get your copy at and no doubt publicity appearances galore will follow.

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1 December 2003 - Monday

Byatt on Balzac | Updike as anti-Semite ? | Kertész review

       Byatt on Balzac

       A.S.Byatt reviews Jordan Stump's forthcoming Balzac-translation, The Wrong Side of Paris, in this week's issue of The New Statesman.
       To be issued as a Modern Library Classic (see their publicity page), with an introduction by Adam Gopnik, it certainly sounds tempting (and we find the under-appreciated and under-read Balzac almost always worth our while -- even if we haven't reviewed any of his titles here yet). Pre-order your copy at or -- or get the original (L'Envers de l'histoire contemporaine) at

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       Updike as anti-Semite ?

       There's been surprisingly little fuss about this bizarre story so far: the current issue of The New York Observer offers an editorial (scroll down; note that the link will only last until Wednesday, when the content will be replaced by a new editorial) in which they berate The New Yorker for "implicitly endorsing anti-Semitism in its pages" by allowing John Updike, in his review of Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake (see also our review) to write the apparently deeply offensive words: "rich Jew".
       The editorialists maintain -- to our considerable amazement --: "To say that the expression 'rich Jew' is loaded with historical anti-Semitism is an understatement." Apparently, to use the two words in combination is now entirely unacceptable (though they don't suggest what one is now to do in describing people of that particular religious persuasion who happen to be wealthy -- we'd sure love to know).
       Timothy Noah said pretty much all that needs be said about this insanity in Slate last week, in John Updike, Anti-Semite ? Don't be ridiculous -- though we're surprised there hasn't been more commentary re. The New York Observer's comments.

       In the 21 November TLS, in his NB column, J.C. discusses the differing reactions to similar (if more disturbing) utterances in the UK and the US, comparing John Fowles' recently published The Journal (and specifically Frederic Raphael's review thereof in the 14 November TLS -- wherein he notes that readers: "can hardly fail to notice that throughout the books Jews and 'Jewish-looking' people are picked out with (almost always) distaste") and the recent to-do about The New Republic's Gregg Easterbrook's online-remarks regarding some Hollywood-"Jewish executives" who "worship money above all else". J.C. wonders which reaction (British: "Fowles can say what he likes, but he risks getting a bloody nose", or American: which regards Easterbrook's words "as the equivalent of violent behaviour") is better. And we wonder whether The New York Observer is going to complain if anyone tries to publish Fowles' journals stateside .....

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       Kertész review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Imre Kertész's (last year's Nobel laureate -- remember him ?) first post-Nobel novel, Felszámolás.
       It's not available in English translation yet, but Alfred A. Knopf has purchased the rights and will presumably have some version ready sometime next year. The big question, of course, is whether they will pull another Embers -- i.e. translate it second-hand, via the German (or French or whatever) translation rather than the original Hungarian (as they so shockingly did with Sandor Márai's Embers (see our review)).

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