The admittedly worthy Hesperus Press continues to get an incredible amount of press coverage, as David Sexton reports Small is beautiful in yesterday's issue of the Evening Standard.
It is a good story, showing that publishing literary works -- many originally written in a foreign language -- can be a successful business model.
As Sexton notes:
It reveals much about the state of publishing in Britain now that there should be so much scope for the initiative Hesperus has shown.
"Penguin and Oxford have left a gap, definitely," Gallenzi observes.
"They have reduced the commissioning, they're living on their backlists.
The focus has switched for them to making the most of what they have.
There are absolutely loads of things going out of print for no reason."
Yet another disturbing cover story: as reported by Karen Springen and Susannah Meadows in this week's issue of Newsweek:
In 1774, when Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther was published, the cover probably wasn't a close-up of a man nibbling on a woman's bare midriff.
It is now, thanks to a new Modern Library translation out this week.
The book's about passion, says publishing director David Ebershoff.
Why not play to that and—crazy idea!—sell a few copies.
(Bookstore orders have been better than expected.)
The online version of the article doesn't show the cover-picture, but you can see it in all its very dubious glory here.
Should it make a difference ?
Well, we suppose that if you're reading this version on the subway it's much more likely to be a conversation-starter (though Werther as pick-up book just sounds too unlikely).
Werther is, of course, a fabulous book, so maybe the theory: whatever it takes (to get people to read it) is the right one (but we wonder if this particular image really has that much appeal).
The new translation is by Burton Pike; we've heard nothing about it so far -- but perhaps there will be some reviews.
A Napoleonic favourite -- and allegedly a book that drove masses of misguided Romantic-era youths to commit suicide -- it also makes for good copy.
And if serious American fiction struggles to attract American readers, woe to those gifted novelists who write in foreign languages.
The market here for translated literature is so grim that Congress should encourage quotas by country to counter the literary xenophobia that creates insuperable barriers for all but those on a Nobel level.
I can name fewer than 10 editors who actively seek to acquire literature in translation
He also notes that many 'big' books do not earn back their advances (hardly good business) -- but that: "editors quickly learn that the only way that their books will command attention is through large advances".
He suggests the obvious -- "executives must realize that they cannot divine a book's success through money tendered at contract time" -- but it doesn't appear to be a lesson many are willing to learn: (over-)spending a lot, and making up for general failure with the occasional success seems the preferred business model.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of David Markson's new novel, Vanishing Point.
It's much like his two previous assemblage-works, Reader's Block and This is Not a Novel, not so much a continuation as more of the same (which ain't bad).
Interestingly, each of the three works was published by a different publisher: Dalkey Archive Press (who also brought out a number of Markson's earlier titles), Counterpoint, and now Shoemaker & Hoard.
The second jump isn't that surprising: Counterpoint-founder Jack Shoemaker moved on to start up yet another publishing house last year, and apparently took Markson with him.
Still, the lack of (publishing) continuity is a bit disorienting.
But, as long as the books are available, it shouldn't matter that much.
(Shoemaker & Hoard, which just started publishing last year, already has a pretty impressive group of authors.
Part of the diverse Avalon group, we hope they're very successful.
And we hope Counterpoint also manages to keep up the impressive record it's had in recent years.)
At the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal site yesterday Ray Bradbury considers Remembrance of Books Past (if you come to a page asking "everyone who reads Today's Featured Article to register for access to the article", feel free to invent the requested information -- giving a fake e-mail address is surely preferable to giving a real one (and works just as well)).
(Updated: As first seen at Maud Newton, a slightly different version of this piece is also available at The Scotsman.)
Bernard Berenson apparently suggested a Fahrenheit 451-sequel to Bradbury, in which: "all the great books are remembered by the Wilderness People and are finally reprinted from memory" -- anticipating that most would, of course, be largely misremembered.
Bradbury couldn't write the sequel, but is still intrigued by the idea, and suggests the parlour-game version:
List your 10 favorite novels, and, in great detail, outline their plots, then renew your acquaintance with these to find out how you have scarred, beautified or mutilated those incredible books.
What a pastime for all of us in the near future.
As we've mentioned previously (here and elsewhere), the Bernardo Bertolucci film-adaptation of Gilbert Adair's novel, The Holy Innocent (see our review), The Dreamers is now out (in limited release in the US -- in NY and LA -- as well as in the UK).
There's also an official site (but be warned: it's Flash (which we have no patience for, so we have no idea what the site offers)).
For those interested in the reviews, check out those at:
A few days ago we mentioned the effect (or lack thereof) of the most prestigious French literary awards on sales.
Now, Le Monde (5 February) offers a more in-depth look at book sales in France in 2003, Les ventes de fiction perdent du terrain.
Among the depressing statistics: the incredible decline of fiction out of total sales:
2001: 64.6 %
2002: 61.5 %
2003: 56.0 %
(The biggest declines being in crime fiction and foreign fiction.)
Harry Potter and some comics (bande dessinée) did very well, but no work of general fiction or non-fiction first published in 2003 sold more than 300,000 copies.
We complained recently about the consolidation in the French literary market, but independent Albin Michel was the most successful of the publishers of "littérature générale".
It's still half a year away, but the titles to be featured in the Australian Books Alive-promotion have been selected.
As explained at their site, and in Susan Wyndham's article in today's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald, Bookshops' loss leaders tempt lost readers, they're trying to entice readers by offering six selected titles for a mere A$ 5.00 each when purchased with another book between 31 July and 15 August.
When we posted our review of Elias Canetti's Party im Blitz we mentioned our surprise that there hadn't been any UK press coverage of this book (which is, after all, about Canetti's English years, and includes some intimate details about his relationship with Iris Murdoch).
Now finally there is some: Julian Preece writes about The God-monster's version in today's issue of The Guardian -- and mentions that the book will be published in English translation (by the ubiquitous Michael Hoffmann) by Harvill in 2005.
As the article states: "Nothomb has made not a ripple in the British literary world."
Indeed, longtime complete review-favourite Belgian belle, Amélie Nothomb has not come anywhere near to equalling her continental success in the US or the UK.
Faber has now signed her up, finally giving her a British publisher (previous English translations came only via the US -- New Directions and St.Martin's), and they'll be bringing out five of her books over the next eighteen months.
That means she's also getting some publicity -- starting with this profile in The Bookseller (5 February) by Benedicte Page.
The first title Faber will bring out is her recent Robert des noms propres (see our review), now to be published as The Book of Proper Names by Faber (May) and St. Martin's (June) (Faber had originally publicised it as -- and it's still listed at Amazon.co.uk as -- Dictionary of Proper Names).
But: Faber still doesn't list that (or any of her titles) in their online catalogue (not that the St.Martin's page is much to speak of).
Page writes: "it is hard to see these distinctive, attractively packaged volumes failing to attract dedicated fans", but we'd like to think that it's the contents that might appeal.
Unfortunately, Page doesn't mention (and presumably Faber isn't publishing) Nothomb's one towering masterpiece, Loving Sabotage (see our review), but some of the others will do too: The Character of Rain (see our review) and Fear and Trembling (see our review) are probably the other top choices (sorry, The Book of Proper Names isn't quite in the same class).
Just yesterday we mentioned three Nafisi-piece, and now comes the mother of all interviews, as Robert Birnbaum talks to her at identity theory.
(We don't care all that much for author-interviews, but Birnbaum's tower over what seems like 99 per cent of what's out there -- helped mainly by the fact that he takes the time and space to ask more than a few questions (and also allows something of a dialogue to develop).)
A few days ago we mentioned that we didn't think the NYTBR-discussion had really spread much beyond a limited very circle, but the number of articles and mentions keeps growing.
This week saw, among others, a Salon-piece (subscription- (or advert-watching-)requiring, and thus utterly ignorable), and now also a mention at 2Blowhards (where, beside the lengthy (though not quite on our wavelength) discussion, one gets useful reader-commentary).
Over at The Independent they admirably continue to do their part to make readers aware of the existence of foreign fiction, and they even have a prize for it: Boyd Tonkin writes about the Foreign Fiction Award Finalists in his A Week in Books column today.
So far 70-plus submissions have been "whittled down" to this longlist of sixteen.
The shortlist is due mid-March, the winner will be announced 19 April.
We actually have two of the longlist-titles under review: Dark Back of Time by Javier Marias and The Girl who Played Go by Shan Sa.
And we're very much looking forward to Lars Saabye Christensen's The Half Brother, which we're hoping to get our hands on when it comes out in the US this spring.
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two Christian Oster novels, A Cleaning Woman and My Big Apartment
Both were translated relatively recently -- and within a short time of one another.
Fairly typically, however, -- such is the fate of foreign fiction -- they were translated by different people, and published by different publishers.
But: credit where credit is due (and where we rarely give it): The New York Times Book Review did give a full-length review to My Big Apartment, devoting more space to it than any other American publication we came across (not that many gave it any space).
The days darken: we used to list four major English-language publications as offering fully, freely accessible book review coverage on our links-page; now there are only three.
A sad day: The Spectator now demands registration.
(The site has been a mess to use for a month or two, with first none and then only a few weeks' worth of material available in the archives, but we hoped they were getting the bugs out: instead, they were putting them in).
Publications are, of course, free to do as they wish, but we're always greatly disappointed when a site demands registration.
Asking for money we could almost understand, but information ?
After all, no one in their right minds would give accurate information, so demographically (and so specifically for marketing purposes) what they get is utterly worthless.
We did, of course, 'sign up' at The Spectator -- and we'll probably do so a couple of more times.
But at some point we imagine that their advertisers will question why they have so many registered users in, say, Inner Mongolia.
Other disappointing aspects of The Spectator switch: it is now apparently impossible to link directly to the book review pages (which are the only ones we care about) -- so we had to de-list The Spectator from our links page entirely.
(And, of course, we won't be able to link to individual reviews for you either.)
It's just bad web-managing, but what good does that do readers who want to get this information ?
When it rains, it pours: the Washington Post, which already had a pseudo-registration policy (you had to accept cookies, and give sex, age, and zip code (or country -- allowing us to constantly re-register as being from ... say, Mali)), now reports it will be demanding considerably more (link first seen at Romenesko).
Anitha Reddy writes in yesterday's issue that:
Over the next four or five weeks, users will be asked for a job title, a description of their primary responsibility, the size of their company and the industry in which they work.
So we get to play at being multi-millionaire CEOs and industrialists in our seventies with several professional degrees (living and working in, say, Laos).
If that's what the Washington Post wants -- and even if it isn't -- that's what they'll get.
At least the article acknowledges that registration might not lead to the hoped for results:
Sreenath Sreenivasan, a professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, agreed but added, "The problem with a lot of this information . . . is that people are loath to give out true accurate information when they sign up for these things."
He said registrations spark "outbreaks of multiple personality syndrome."
The Washington Post even plans to offer specific dis-incentives to giving accurate information, demanding more information from those living in the D.C. area than those living elsewhere, so that even those fools inclined to be truthful would have good reason to lie.
We hope all users who do feel compelled to register (for whatever reasons) do so without providing any accurate information whatsoever.
And remember that we'll never ask you to register at the complete review.
Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran (see our review) is now out in paperback (and is coming out in French in a few weeks, as Lire Lolita à Téhéran), and Nafisi continues to get good press coverage.
New articles include one by Tobias Axel, Nafisi takes on Khomeini’s Iran with Western fiction, in the Lebanese newspaper, The Daily Star, as well as interview/profiles in yesterday's issue of The Arizona Republic (by Janie Magruder) and Monday's issue of the San Francisco Chronicle (by Jonathan Curiel).
only 10 per cent of those aged 25 to 44 knew that: "Now is the winter of our discontent" was from Richard III -- but 71 per cent knew that Darth Vader said: "If only you knew the power of the dark side".
only 9 per cent of those aged 25 to 44 knew that Oscar Wilde was the one who wrote: "I can resist everything except temptation"
And, as Woolcock reports:
Those aged under 25 were more familiar with the singers Will Smith and Will Young than with Shakespeare.
Nearly 90 per cent were able to complete the lyrics: "Boom, shake shake shake the room"; none recognised the quote from Richard III.
A small comfort: a similar survey in the US would at least also find nobody has the foggiest notion who this David Brent is.
(For a literary comparison, see also Brent versus the Bard in the Daily Telegraph.)
The CBC reports: Writers' Trust announces finalists for Great Literary Awards.
"The Writers' Trust of Canada has announced the finalists for the third annual Great Literary Awards -- which will distribute more than $130,000 in prize money".
('Great Literary Awards' ?
What's that about ?
They actually paid someone to come up with that -- and then agreed that this was a good name ?)
All sorts of prizes are up for grabs, including the Journey Prize, awarded for "the best short story or excerpt from a novel-in-process by a new and developing writer", and the Matt Cohen Award, described as being: "In celebration of a writing life".
Meanwhile, today's issue of The Advocate reports: Lambda Literary Awards finalists named.
These awards -- "honoring achievements in gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender literature in 2003" -- come in an impressive number of categories, including: Lesbian Poetry, Gay Men's Poetry, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, and Spirituality.
Needless to say, in keeping with our being-entirely-out-of-the-loop tradition, we haven't reviewed any of the titles nominated by any of these august bodies.
So how much does winning literary awards help book sales ?
Alain Salles tallies up the (French) numbers, in Les prix littéraires se vendent moins in Le Monde.
For the winners of the big five French prizes the numbers were up in 2003 but, despite it being the Goncourt-centenary, nowhere near record highs.
The totals for the past four years for the combined sales of the winners of the five major prizes were:
Note that the numbers appear to be a bit rough: they apparently don't include Internet or foreign sales, for example.
Nevertheless, the huge variations in sales suggest the awards themselves only have limited ability to push a book to bestsellerdom.
Salles also notes that the Albin Michel claim: "Le Goncourt a gagné ! N°1: 235 000 exemplaires" for Jacques-Pierre Amette's Goncourt-winner, La Maîtresse de Brecht, refers to the optimistic print-run, not the sales total -- and that sales have been a somewhat disappointing 106,860 (not even tops among the award-winners).
Somewhat surprisingly, Frédéric Beigbeder's 11 September, 2001 novel, Windows on the world sold only 109,000 copies -- less than a third the total of his 99 francs (369,000 copies sold)
But beyond the sheer entertainment value of a dust-up among the literati, the uproar revealed that -- despite concern about shortened attention spans and rampant anti-intellectualism -- Americans are hungry to participate in the world of ideas.
Actually, we haven't really noticed that.
Yeah, there's been lots of ranting in the literary blogworld but that is a pretty small audience, and the few mass-media mentions don't appear to have concerned or interested the masses much -- i.e. we haven't noticed many of those ravenous Americans yet.
They've been mentioned elsewhere, but the interviews from the BBC audio archives are well worth having a look at (or rather: listening to).
Quite a few authors -- check out the interviews with writers, with playwrights, and with poets.
Ha Jin is certainly getting around -- and answering a lot of questions.
Yesterday the Elegant Variation pointed to a Jeff Baker interview at The Oregonian.
Meanwhile, there's also a Ha Jin Q & A in yesterday's issue of the Columbia Spectator ("Ha Jin Discusses 'The Best Kind of Story'" with Katherine Isokawa).
Reviews of and articles about The Dreamers (the Bernardo Bertolucci adaptation of the Gilbert Adair novella, The Holy Innocents (see our review) which we last mentioned here) keep appearing.
David Denby (a man it's currently a bit hard to respect) reviews it in this week's issue of The New Yorker -- and finds that it's: "very pretty, but it's a work built around extravagant conceits rather than dramatic ideas".
We're disappointed that Adair-interest in conjunction with the film remains so limited (he really is a very fine writer (of fiction; we don't know (or all that much care) about the non-)): the only profile we've found so far is Rainer Gansera's profile, Mount Rushmore der Gefühle in the 22 January issue of the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
See also Georg Seesslen's review of the film in this week's issue of Die Zeit.
Keller's intention to add more nonfiction would make the review fairly one-dimensional, particularly if McGrath's successor sticks to the review's steady diet of conventional titles.
He also takes a closer look at the 25 January issue, and observes:
Its fiction selection included reissues of two works by Marcel Proust, a collection of novellas by Doris Lessing, stories by Jim Shepard and a review of a first novel called The Winemaker's Daughter.
Why, I wondered with so much new fiction already out this year, would McGrath pick this one, despite its Knopf imprint ?
The review told me: the author, Timothy Egan, is a correspondent for the Times.
That'll do it very time.
As Dennis Loy Johnson so nicely pointed out a while back in his study, All the Reviews that Fit, there is something of a nepotism problem with The New York Times' book-coverage ("one plug for a staffer's book every 1.49 days", he found).
But we think there's another reason the book found favour (and a place) in the pages of the NYTBR.
As reviewer David Willis McCullough points out:
What makes the novel worth reading are its non-fiction qualities.
No surprise there: The New York Times even wants the bit of fiction it feels obliged to cover to smell like -- or rather reek of -- non-fiction.
Updating our complaint, we note that in the five issues of the NYTBR that have appeared so far this year there were:
32 full-length reviews of 44 works of non-fiction
18 full-length reviews of 20 works of fiction
(And they're contemplating devoting an even greater percentage of coverage to non-fiction ?)
Even more disturbingly, out of 53 full-length reviews of 67 books (there were also three poetry collections that each received a full-length review), only one review -- of two Proust books (oooh, cutting edge coverage !) -- is of works originally written in a language other than English.
Oh, right, there is also the review of Ezra Pound's Poems and Translations.
Even if one didn't believe that here it was the translator, not the originals, that was of interest, the reviewer (David Gates) sums things up nicely (and inadvertently re-states what appears to be The New York Times' general position on works of translation):
Nearly half of this collection is translations, some surely untrustworthy, most surely skippable.
Generally untrustworthy and mostly skippable -- that seems to be the company line on foreign literature and foreign thought (The New York Times shows just as great a lack of interest in works of non-fiction originally published in languages other than English as it does for fiction).
And one more thing: we don't care as much about coverage of debut-artists as some readers appear to, but we'd like to point out that of the twenty works of fiction receiving full-length reviews so far this year only two were debuts.
One was Timothy Egan's book, and the other should come with some sort of asterisk: it's not The New York Times's fault that Edward St. Aubyn's trilogy, Some Hope, has only now appeared in the US, but it was published ages ago in the UK -- and the guy has even published several additional books in the meantime (i.e. he's far from being a really fresh face, and has a well-established reputation, at least outside the US) -- making him about as unrisky a 'debut' author to review as is humanly possible.
For crying out loud (and let us tell you, we are howling in frustration here), the first volume of the French (!) translation of Some Hope was published back in 1994 .....
We've mentioned the Cairo International Book Fair.
The Guardian offers a glimpse of what went on, in Cairo dreams, noting:
Frankfurt Book Fair director Volker Neumann was also at the Cairo fair to discuss the Arab world's guest-of-honour status at Frankfurt in October.
The 150 publishers who will exhibit in the Arab pavilion are very excited.
Not since Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988 has there been such interest from the west in translating Arabic literature.
"We hope to initiate a dialogue of cultures," said one Arab publisher.
Publishers in the US and UK are especially sought after.
Sought after they might be -- but we wonder how many will show any interest.
In this week's Al-Ahram Weekly Youssef Rakha writes about Hardly commerce, Mohamed Madbouli talking "about Cairo's most successful bookshop" and what CIBF means to it.
The February issue of the complete review Quarterly is now available.
As usual, to begin the year, there's our look at the State of the Site.
Most of the issue, however is devoted to James Laine’s controversial book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India and the attack on the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in early January, events that have received far too little attention outside India.
We hope our overview and the accompanying texts give readers some sense of what has happened and what is at issue.
In yesterday's issue of The Independent Terry Kirby writes that Literary elite in turmoil over peer's appointment.
Apparently, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster's appointment as president "of one of London's most elite literary bodies", the Literary Society, hasn't gone over too well.
Given that his biggest literary accomplishment is that he banned a book, he does seem a less than ideal choice .....
A book we hadn't heard anything about but, now that we have, are very much looking forward to is the always fascinating Walter Abish's "Self-Portrait", Double Vision (see the Knopf publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com).
Somebody has to explain to us why the only 'mass'-media mention of this book we've found comes in what appears to be the wine column in the Bangkok Post.
(We didn't even know the Bangkok Post had a wine column -- but they were also one of the first newspapers to ever take note of the complete review, doing so many years ago, so they really do seem to be on top of things.
Or at least some things.)
(Updated - 2 February): We're pleased to see that this book was reviewed yesterday, by John Freeman in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
What's truly impressive about Double Vision is that it can portray the assembling of this facility -- for what else can it be called ? -- without dissembling a cohesive narrative.
Books of this sort occasionally feel archly conceived, difficult to follow, but Double Vision is as warm and hospitable as a Viennese cafe.
Liz Hoggard takes over 'The world of books'-column at The Observer this week, and writes about The recluse club, noting that another prominent author who used to do most anything in the name of publicity has "refused to do any press for her new novel" -- something that thrills us no end.
(In keeping with the author's desire to stay un-talked-about we will not, of course, give her name.)
Hoggard looks at others from the pantheon, too, but points out how unfair such silence is to members of the press.
(Yeah, like anyone should (or could) have any sympathy with journalists .....)