The new Yasmina Reza play, Une pièce espagnole, has just had its premiere at the Théâtre de la Madeleine in a production directed by Luc Bondy.
Christopher Hampton will presumably eventually translate it (he seems to have done all her previous plays) and we'll review it whenever we can get a copy of it (in French or English).
Meanwhile, get your copy of the French edition at Amazon.fr, and see also information (in English) at FranceEdition.org
The first reviews are out -- including quite a few in the German press (which we were first made aware of at the invaluable Perlentaucher).
We're curious whether any of the English papers will cover it (though we're fairly certain the American ones, at least, will ignore it).
Reviews can be found at:
It's the first we've heard of this book, but it sounds like fun: Francis Wheen's How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk; not yet available in the US).
Philip Hensher reviews it in this week's issue of The Spectator, describing the book:
Mr Wheenís argument is that, over the last 25 years, the Enlightenment aspiration to rational thought and truth has been replaced by delusion, error and obscurantism.
But in today's issue of The Independent John Gray isn't nearly as enthusiastic (though he admits: "Still, even at his silliest he is never dull"):
Wheen's version of the history of ideas has a tabloid quality, and so does his account of late 20th-century politics.
Despite his scorn for the culture of feeling that has emerged in Britain of late, this is an intensely emotional book: a personal confession rather than a coherent argument.
In this week's issue of The Spectator, Lloyd Evans envies the over-productive Will Self, whose career, he believes: "looks more and more like a piece of performance art."
There's some fun Self assessment ("Self writes like a prevaricating fiancé, always doing just enough to keep you engaged") and some sensible observations:
Some of his choices are just the spasms of a professional maverick; irrupt, introject, assay and ascription rather than erupt, interject, essay and description.
But words like hispid, moue, stria, perineum, frass, chancre, fungile and sateen throw obstacles in the way of understanding.
Itís true that an arcane word has a dictionary meaning, but this is purely hypothetical.
In practice, it has no meaning at all.
Itís like putting tlfdtjdtx in the middle of this sentence.
Rachel Donadio's article on The New York Times Book Review-succession question in this week's issue of The New York Observer has been much linked to already (note that link will only last until through next Tuesday).
The shortlist of possible editors is apparently relatively small now; beside Donadio's useful introduction the field has been handicapped at Return of the Reluctant and Old Hag.
(We have no opinion: none strike us as particularly inspired (based on what track records are readily accessible), but whoever is willing to do the most for fiction has our support.)
Of related interest: Bookslut recently posted excerpts from an e-mail sent by Daniel Okrent ("Public Editor" at The New York Times) in response to concerns voiced by readers (or at least one reader) about the infamous BookBabes piece and the comments by editors Bill Keller and Steven Erlanger found therein (see also our previous mention).
It wasn't a very helpful excerpt -- signed by Okrent, it quoted comments by someone else, without it being clear who was making them (Erlanger or Keller).
Fortunately, Cup of Chicha has now posted the entire e-mail (scroll down).
(We have also voiced our concerns, sending an e-mail directly to the Book Review; we'll let you know if they respond (no one has yet).)
One of the books that we've liked least over the past few years is the lazily and hastily written Jennifer Government by Max Barry.
Nevertheless, it's been fairly widely -- and often fairly well -- reviewed.
Among the many publications that devoted space to it was the Oxford Student.
In the issue of 12 June 2003 Gareth Coleman opined:
Unfortunately, Barry's latest book suffers from some mediocre writing and some pacing problems.
The dialogue is crisp and natural-sounding in most areas, but seems forcibly casual in others.
Still, these are only minor complaints. This is Barry's second published book, and as he improves as a writer, he could easily gain more widespread acceptance.
Well, it's a student newspaper, and this is probably a title that might be of some interest to university-age readers.
Still, we were surprised that they'd bother to review it again -- as they now have.
In today's issue, Sam Philips offers a considerably less enthusiastic (if more entertaining) review:
(W)hilst this isn't a book of a film, it might as well be.
Jennifer Government's prose makes Home Alone 2 look like Tolstoy.
For all his original ideas, Barry has the writing style of a 13-year-old boy on a caffeine high.
We approve of the close to wholesale dismissal -- but we're wondering why, with so many books that deserve reviewing (and don't get covered) they would chose this, of all titles, to review twice.
The second (and final) round of the Whitbread awards is done with, as the category winners competed to be named Whitbread Book of the Year (and to collect an additional £ 25,000 in prize money).
The grand prize winner, announced last night, is: Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Daily Telegraphreports Man Booker winner Vernon God Little (the only one of the finalists we have under review):
was dumped early and The Curious Incident had to slug it out with a collection of poetry, Landing Light, by the Scottish poet Don Paterson, before it was declared the winner.
In the Telegraph Julian Evans reviews the new Edith Grossman translation of Don Quixote -- and is, like everybody else, enthusiastic.
He even finds it: "impossible to imagine that a better novel will be published this year."
He also comments on previous translations:
Tobias Smollett's translation, most famous of the English translations, is a great novelist's version but now a little archaic; the most recent translation, by JM Cohen (1950), is mellifluous but respectful.
As we mentioned just a few days ago, when we discussed Robert McCrum's claim that the: "there has been no serious new translation since JM Cohen's Penguin Classic in 1950", John Rutherford's translation appeared just a few years ago -- and won the 2002 Premio Valle Inclán Prize for Spanish Translations.
We know nobody notices translations (except, apparently Grossman's), but this is getting kind of ridiculous.
Somebody give this poor guy some credit -- or at least acknowledge the existence of his translation !
In his Literary Lifecolumn (last item) this week, Mark Sanderson notes that: "Publishers may have declared that they will be producing fewer titles in 2004 yet books we could all do without keep on coming."
Among the books we'll be passing on: Be Your Own Psychic and Baby's First Tattoo.
As we first learned at The Elegant Variation, Arab writer Abdelrahman Munif passed away on Saturday.
We don't have any of his titles under review, but several have been translated into English (some by yet another member of the Theroux clan, Peter).
Natasha Tynes writes about him at Al-Jazeera, while Hartmut Fähndrich writes about Ein Wanderer der arabischen Welt in yesterday's issue of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
There's also a more general appraisal by Najla Al Rostamani at Gulf News, Munif's characters have real-life following, while general biographical information can be found at books and writers and Arab Gateway (the latter offers links to some writings by and about Munif).
(Transliteration continues to be a problem: merely in the linked-to articles above Munif's first name is variously spelled as: Abdelrahman, Abd al-Rahman, and Abdalrachman.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Christopher Hampton's Carl Jung/Sigmund Freud drama, The Talking Cure.
It will have its American premiere in just over two months time, playing 4 April - 23 May at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles; see their publicity page.
We don't think we'll be reviewing Hitler's Second Book: The Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf, but you probably don't need much more information than what Omer Bartov offers in his lengthy discussion in this week's issue of The New Republic (in an article that is admirably if somewhat surprisingly freely accessible on the Internet, unlike most TNR content), Did Hitlerism die with Hitler ?
For additional information, see also Richard Overy's 1 July 2003 article from The Guardian, Mein Kampf: the sequel, or the Enigma Books publicity page.
And, if you really feel you have to, get your own copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
(Question: shouldn't the title be something like Hitler's Second Book: The Previously Unpublished Sequel to Mein Kampf or Hitler's Second Book: The Only Now Published Sequel to Mein Kampf ?
Okay, that doesn't have the same ring to it, but surely calling a book an "unpublished sequel" is simply nonsensical.)
Scratch an exile and you usually find a cultural élitist.
Ugresic is no exception, and not everyone will warm to her analysis.
What saves her from being just a grumpy Croat is her sense of humour and epigrammatic style.
We'd be a bit more impressed, however, if he hadn't written that her: "publisher is the Dalkey Archive Press from upstate New York".
As it clearly states in their books, the Dalkey Archive Press is a Midwestern institution (and always has been), headquartered in the utterly Normal, Illinois (with a campus address at Illinois State University).
One slip we could understand, but McCrum also reviews the new Grossman translation of Don Quixote in today's issue of The Observer -- and writes:
For reasons such as these -- and because there has been no serious new translation since JM Cohen's Penguin Classic in 1950 -- Edith Grossman's work is extremely welcome.
At nearly a thousand pages, her rendering is indisputably definitive.
The fact that there has been "no serious new translation" for over half a century might surprise some people -- especially at Penguin Classics.
Their new edition, a translation by John Rutherford, just came out a few years ago -- and somebody must have taken it seriously, because it won the 2002 Premio Valle Inclán Prize for Spanish Translations.
(Get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
A few days ago we noted that the Cairo International Book Fair has started -- but that there's been little press coverage (or other accessible information).
Fortunately, Al Ahram Weekly has now done its part to rectify that situation.
Interested readers can learn that Youssef Rakha expects nothing special (in A bookish affair ?), while Sonali Pahwa looks at CIBF's role in preparing for this year's Arabic-literature-themed Frankfurt fair, in From Frankfurt to Cairo.
The story isn't quite as scary as it sounds ('Vernon God Little' ... the film), reassuringly noting that any such project is: "at least a couple of years away from reaching cinemas".
Still, that probably means that we'll have to put up with articles like this one for at least a couple of years .....
Well, the Man Booker Prize winning Peter Finlay- (a.k.a. DBC Pierre-) book, Vernon God Little (see our review) has some cinematic potential.
Hell, it might even make a better movie than book (not that that's saying much).
(We were also amused to recently spot a stack of copies of the book at a local (NYC) Barnes & Noble, 50 per cent off.
Apparently it was not the big Christams-seller they had expected it to be.)
We're still working on our review of Edith Grossman's new translation of Don Quixote, but A.S.Byatt chimes in with her opinion in today's issue of The Guardian -- and dares suggest that in Grossman's translation: "There are some infelicities."
But, on the whole, she is as enthusiastic as everybody else.
We recently mentioned Tzvetan Todorov's Hope and Memory and British reactions to it.
Now Terry Eagleton reviews it in the New Statesman (issue of 26 January).
He is a bit more sharply critical, suggesting, for example:
Democracy versus totalitarianism, then. But the trouble is that liberal-capitalist democracies, when plunged into dire trouble, sometimes become totalitarian as a way of solving their problems; and if this book was not so strikingly silent about the causes of such absolutist regimes, it might be rather less confident that liberal values are one thing and a knock on the door before dawn quite another.
For liberal values include market enterprise, which can easily get out of hand; and the more economic anarchy you breed, the more you will need an authoritarian system to prop it up and suppress the discontents it creates.
(Updated - 25 January): See also Neal Ascherson's review on today's issue of The Observer.
We're still reeling, our minds spinning.
We're dazed and oh so confused, and deeply, deeply saddened.
Book Babes yesterday offered: The Plot Thickens at The New York Times Book Review, a contender for the single most depressing article about the book industry over the past year (link first seen at OGIC at About Last Night, but it's already popped up elsewhere too and will surely be much discussed over the coming days).
Reading it was the closest we've ever come to punching out our computer monitor.
As readers likely know by now, The New York Times Book Review is looking for a successor to Charles 'Chip' McGrath to run the damn thing.
The Book Babes spoke with those involved in the decision, NYT-editors Bill Keller and Steven Erlanger, and they managed to say pretty much all the things that most terrify us.
When we first heard about the impending change at the NYTBR we had a simple wish list: more reviews, more reviews of fiction, more reviews of foreign fiction.
It doesn't look like that will happen.
It seems Keller-Erlanger have a position pretty close to diametrically opposed to our own.
Here some of the choice quotes:
"The most compelling ideas tend to be in the non-fiction world," Keller says.
"Because we are a newspaper, we should be more skewed toward non-fiction."
More attention will be paid to the potboilers, we're told.
After all, says Keller, somebody's got to tell you what book to choose at the airport.
Based on our interviews with Keller, McGrath, and Erlanger, top management thinks contemporary fiction has received more column inches than it deserves.
"To be honest, there's so much shit," the new leader of the daily arts section observes.
"Most of the things we praise aren't very good."
Some of the non-fiction books he reviews for "urgency" are poorly written, [Erlanger] admits, but for him this is less important than the book's contents.
There's been too much fiction coverage at The New York Times Book Review ?
Too much ?
At the NYTBR ?
What have we been missing ?
Is there some alternate universe with a NYTBR that actually provided an adequate amount of fiction coverage that we've been missing all these years ?
We complained about this in some depth in our selective survey from over two years ago, The New York Times Book Review - Summer 2001.
We noted there that an inordinate amount of the book coverage at the NYTBR was of non-fiction titles -- and that a ridiculously small percentage of all books reviewed were originally written in a foreign language (only around five per cent).
Things certainly haven't changed.
Leaving aside the "Books in Brief" reviews and looking only at full length reviews we find that in the three issues of the NYTBR published so far in 2004 (4, 11, and 18 January) there were:
21 full-length reviews of 27 non-fiction titles
11 full length reviews of 11 fiction titles
2 full length reviews of 2 poetry titles
0 full length reviews of books originally written in a foreign language
Which pretty much says it all.
((Updated - 24 January): Sarah Weinman quotes similar statistics from Publisher's Lunch.)
So the new editor is going to have a mandate to run even less fiction reviews ?
Why bother with fiction at all ?
Why not turn it into The New York Times Non-Fiction Book Review ?
We have no idea what non-fiction Keller is reading that's filled with more "compelling ideas" than most of the fiction we come across -- but it gives us a pretty good idea of the fiction he's reading: the paint-by-the-numbers potboilers he picks up at the airport.
As to it making the slightest bit of sense for the NYTBR to "be more skewed toward non-fiction" because it's a newspaper ... well, we agree that what they print in the NYT is mainly non-fiction (though we understand there's been a bit of fabricating going on in the last year or two ...).
But that's exactly why they don't need to to cover non-fiction books: who needs to read a review of the latest book on the Enron scandal, when the NYT's own reports, found daily in the paper, are far more up-to-date ?
Fiction, on the other hand, can last much longer, and that's one of the many reasons they should focus much more on that.
Our ideal: the 8 July 1945 front-page review by Marguerite Young of Hermann Broch's The Death of Virgil.
In The Business of Books André Schiffrin reports that Pantheon printed 1500 copies of the book, and that it took over twenty years for those to all sell.
But that was a book for all times, and the NYTBR did a great service to its readers by making them aware of it and its significance, even if it knew that not many of them would buy a copy.
Under the next guard it looks like Broch's book probably wouldn't even get a mention (the recently published essay collection, the impressive Geist and Zeitgeist, has already pretty much gone unreviewed in the US).
We know we're pathetic idealists, clinging to the quaint, outdated notion that fiction is what matters.
Apparently we've been entirely eclipsed -- well, not entirely: the decent number of readers who find their way to the complete review suggest there's still some interest in this sort of thing.
And so, as the NYTBR becomes the newspaper of record as to what potboiler to choose (though we thought there were already about 150 American publications which were in the running for that title), that leaves the literary reviewing field smaller but also more open.
We're actually not that keen on contemporary fiction either (especially of the American sort -- though we do relatively well in the foreign fields), but there are a lot of Internet sites that are, and so perhaps this will give a boost to book reviewing on the Internet .....
Still, we're very disappointed.
We thought Chip McGrath was an aberration (what with his annual baseball issue and his lack of interest in fiction coverage), but it now looks like we'll soon look longingly back at the NYTBR under his watch.
The Literary Saloon will be open all weekend, as we go drown our sorrows in alcohol.
A three-day bender sounds like just the thing.
Playwright David Hare recently complained (The Guardian, 20 January) about "the Guardian's militantly philistine policy of allocating stars out of five to music, theatre and film."
He also writes:
It is noticeable, of course, that in the books pages no such vulgarity obtains.
In the English scale of snobbery, novels and biographies are regarded as proper, and so don't have to be treated like homework that has been handed in for marking.
(You gotta love that: "no such vulgarity obtains".
We don't think we've ever heard anyone say that in conversation.
As readers may have noticed, while we don't hand out stars here at the complete review we do give out grades for all the books under review.
(Worse yet, we assign grades to many of the reviews by other critics which we summarize.)
It's not something we're entirely comfortable with, but it does serve as a good -- or at least rough -- guide to what we think of a book, which is why we do it.
(We like to think we're fairly consistent in our grading -- see our explanation of it here -- and so in some sense reliable: readers familiar with our tastes shouldn't be led too far astray by our grades.)
Michael Billington -- the critic Hare focusses his attack on -- offers a defense (of sorts) of the star-system in yesterday's issue of The Guardian, while Sarah Crompton sides with Hare in today's issue of the Daily Telegraph ("star systems demean the role of reviewers, and they devalue the art forms reviewed").
Among recent popular titles that we won't review is Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
(It may be wonderful, but among the genres that really don't appeal to us is mental impairment lit.; whether congenital or alcohol- or drug-induced, it just drives us nuts (we even have trouble with King Lear, what with the annoying double-whammy of the title character and the Fool).)
But the Haddon-book has attracted lots of attention.
In today's issue of The Independent John Walsh offers a solid lengthy profile of book and author.
In yesterday's issue of The New York Times there's a David Binder article, dateline Belgrade, on a Borislav Pekic title, How to Quiet a Vampire, that Northwestern University Press is planning to publish in the next few months (sorry, no link to the registration requiring site).
It's an odd article, or at least striking, in that it's so different from what one usually find in The New York Times.
There doesn't seem much good reason to publish the piece now: practically unknown foreign (!) author, tiny university press, the book itself apparently not yet available.
But we're not complaining.
In fact, we'd be thrilled if we found something like this in The New York Times every day (even at the expense of, say, Janet Maslin's book reviews ...).
The subtitle of the article announces: "A Serbian Novel Will Be Translated", but since it's coming out pretty soon we assume it already has been translated.
(Probably a while back, in fact: both the NWU Press publicity page and the Amazon.com page claim it's been out for a year already, though that doesn't seem to be correct.)
It certainly sounds of interest; we'll keep an eye out for it.
(Don't expect a review too soon, however: for some reason NWU Press is among the few publishers that won't give us the time of day -- or at least won't provide us with any review copies when we ask for them (as is certainly their right).)
We couldn't find much online Pekic information -- a Serb page from the Serbian Unity Congress was pretty much the extent of it.
Meanwhile, check out another Serb classic, Mesa Selimovic's Death and the Dervish.
The finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced (see also the AP report).
As usual, we're far from being on top of things, and manage to have not a single nominated title under review.
(We are preparing a review of General Nonfiction finalist William Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down, but that is one long book (or rather, being a multi-volume work: many long books), so it'll be a while.)
As we reported just over a month ago, leading German publisher Suhrkamp is seeing a great many changes in the post-Siegfried Unseld era.
Now it's a top editor that has announced he'll be leaving.
As reported in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (link first seen at Perlentaucher), Thorsten Ahrend is resigning, effective 1 July.
Unlike much of the old guard that left earlier, Ahrend is a relatively fresh face at Suhrkamp (he's only been there for five years) -- but as editor for new German literature holds a significant position.
He edited Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Peter Handke, and Martin Walser, as well as much of the new generation -- including, strikingly, two authors who are still largely unknown in the English-speaking world but whom we have covered in considerable depth: Durs Grünbein and Daniel Kehlmann.
Ahrend's early claim to fame was the discovery of Robert Schneider's surprise bestseller, Schlafes Bruder (Brother of Sleep) while at Reclam -- a book reportedly turned down by some twenty-odd publishers, and then the success that saved Reclam.
In a brief report at Börsenblatt-Online Ahrend says he resigned for personal reasons .....
As has been noted in the literary weblogging world, yet another prominent print-media writer has taken note (and now shares with his readers) that there's a lot of literary weblogging going on: David Sexton writes about "the rise of the literary weblog" in yesterday's issue of The Scotsman.
NOTE: Flattered though we are by the attention -- the Sexton piece provides three different hyperlinks to various parts of the complete review -- we would have preferred it if those links actually led to actual pages on our site.
(Updated - 22 January): Well, a couple of hundred error messages later (or maybe our e-mail did the trick) someone at The Scotsman finally noticed and fixed the URLs that they had initially gotten wrong (adding spaces where none belonged).
Much appreciated !
Literary weblogging certainly has boomed over the past year, though the bookish readership that is reached seems to still be a fairly limited and small one.
Only a fraction of the total number of visitors to the complete review drop in at the Literary Saloon, for example, (generally in the range of five per cent), and there are still days when more people access our review of Fast Food Nation or other books of interest than stop off at the Saloon.
In part, no doubt, this is because we are (apparently) a particularly dour and forbidding site ("One of the most conscientious, if humourless", Sexton calls us, which we figure will convince about three people to risk visiting here) -- but what statistics we can see at other literary weblogs suggest at best a similar level of interest.
(The only two breakout weblogs with an entirely literary focus (i.e. which have found a larger and broader audience) appear to be the currently beached MobyLives and Sexton-favourite ("the most entertaining and useful") Bookslut, which has garnered attention everywhere from Time to its most recent Bloggie-nomination.)
We appreciate being thrice-linked to in the Sexton piece (though, as noted above, we would have preferred it if all three links actually worked, rather than just the one); we must note, however, that the attribution for bringing together five bloggers "to review the past year in books" is not correct.
We did publish the results, but the panel was organised (and the results put together) by Alex Good, of goodreports.net.
Note also: Sexton finds: "More formal and respectable reviews include Hyde Park Review".
As we have long lamented, however, the HPRoB hasn't added anything to their site since the fall of 2002, and only offers very limited material.
(We also continued to faithfully check in on their affiliated Unibrow weblog, where they promised frequent updates but only briefly delivered (another promising literary weblog biting the dust).
The logo and name remains, but it has been turned into the: "photoblog and surplus space of a scribe who takes photos" (which, we suppose, is better than nothing, but doesn't really do it for us).)
We haven't found much information about what exactly is going on there (and even the official website isn't very helpful or informative) but the Cairo International Book Fair starts today.
If the statistics are correct it's a fairly big deal: 4,350,000 visitors in 2003, they claim.
It hasn't attracted much attention outside the Northwest, but Jack Cady died last week.
Impressively, today's issue of The Independent offers an obituary of the genre-transgressing author by John Clute.
Other obituaries can be found at: