In a campaign bound to inflame passions in France, where penseurs are accorded the kind of respect most countries reserve for their rock stars, the signatories denounced a "coherent policy" to "pauperise and fragilise every field considered ... unproductive, useless or dissident".
Curtis White's The Middle Mind (see our review) has now been published in the UK as well (not by HarperCollins, as it was in the US).
The first major review we've come across is George Walden's, in the New Statesman.
HarperCollins has destroyed its Flamingo imprint (...)
Then, last week, Random House decided to amalgamate the Harvill Press -- Britain's leading publisher of modern fiction in translation -- with Secker & Warburg.
The concern ?
The death of Flamingo and the merger of Harvill may strike a double blow against diversity.
Not inevitably -- it all depends on the ability of dedicated editors to nurture distinctive books, albeit under fresh flags.
The general tide in corporate houses, however, flows unstoppably in one direction: against adventure, breadth and singularity; towards the fast sell, the hype-vehicle and the sure-fire performer.
We're not thrilled either; we like it when publishers have recognisable identities, so that readers have a vague idea of what they might be in for when they pick up a title put out by X or Y or Z.
It's impossible for the huge houses -- who try to sell every- and any-thing (looking for breadth, but in all the wrong places) -- but Harvill managed to hold onto something of its own identity (though admittedly, since we're suckers for foreign literature, we were especially well disposed to their offerings).
Once again (and: as usual) we don't understand the brilliant business moves made by the big publishers.
The savings afforded by consolidation really outweigh what's lost here ?
We're not convinced.
We never really paid attention before he was awarded the Nobel prize, but once he had we constantly read what a reclusive kind of guy J.M.Coetzee was.
Some even wondered whether he would bother going to Stockholm to pick up his cash and medal.
We don't know where he got that reputation, but he went to Stockholm, and now he keeps popping up all over the place.
Not very impressively reclusive.
His most recent very public appearance is described by Samela Harris in The Advertiser as: At last, our great literary recluse is feted in public (see also coverage at ABC).
Professor Coetzee, who moved to Adelaide from South Africa in 2002, was presented with the Keys of the City last night by Lord Mayor Michael Harbison.
Professor Coetzee is famous for speaking few if no words in public, but he waxed lyrical in response to the City's gesture, saying that he accepted it with "profound gratitude".
We're pretty convinced now he's only: "famous for speaking few if no words in public" among journalists desperate for an angle on the guy.
We hope the PR folk he or his publishers hired to spread that image were well remunerated -- they did a great job.
Note that Coetzee will also be appearing at the Adelaide Writers' Week (29 February - 5 March).
Nice touch: they've adopted him to such an extent (hey, he's been there since 2002 !) that he's listed under "Australian Writers".
(Apparently there wasn't a category: "Reclusive Writers" -- or all the ones on that list decided not to show up after all.)
In yesterday's issue of The New York Times Julie Salamon profiles Words Without Borders, "The Online Magazine for International Literature" (see also mentions at Maud Newton and Moorish Girl, where you'll also find the link to the piece at the registration-requiring site).
Words without Borders is an impressive undertaking, and certainly deserving of great success.
We're also impressed that they got: "two grants totaling $65,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts", which certainly seems taxpayer money well-spent (though we're a bit in awe of the amount -- our annual budget is in the range of a single percent of that).
In fact, they seem to have good foundational and other support all around, including a very impressive board of advisers; see their information page.
Also interesting in the article: the director of the French Publishers' Agency, "which represents French publishers in the United States":
said that in the last 20 years sales to American publishers had steadily declined, from about 80 a year in 1983 when the office was founded, to a low of 40 in 2002.
(Note, however, that the FPA does not represent all French publishers; some handle their own foreign rights, and so this isn't the total number of French titles sold to American publishers.)
And W.W.Norton executive editor Robert Weil, who recently wrote about the state of US publishing and especially how closed it was to foreign literature (see our comments), here comes off looking a bit less open-minded re. foreign literature:
"The only thing I find that really works are the great writers of almost a Nobel level if not a Nobel," said Robert Weil
In this week's issue (of 19-26 February) of Time Out NY Maureen Shelly offers a literary weblog overview (the article is apparently not available online.)
The weblogs she features are: the Literary Saloon, Bookslut ("a favorite among young writers"), Maud Newton ("covers a stunningly broad range of literary news"), About Last Night ("offers a more sophisticated take on the book biz"), Beatrice ("Hogan maintains a civil tone in his critiques, thereby upping his credibility factor"), and the registration-requiring Publishers Lunch.
She also mentions our piece Literary Weblogs: An Overview.
There -- and at Maud Newton's mention of this story -- you'll find links to many additional weblogs of (literary) interest.
We reviewed Michel Foucault's first book, his study of Raymond Roussel, Death and the Labyrinth, ages ago, but the book was out of print at the time.
Now the Continuum publicity page promises a new edition is: "Available in the US and Canada after February 2004".
Not typical Foucault, it's a fairly good introduction to the fascinating Roussel -- though we'd also strongly recommend Mark Ford's impressive Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams -- as well as suggesting you have a look at some of Roussel's own work, as in the very accessible How I Wrote Certain of My Books.
Among the many ambitions we have at the complete review is to cover more classical literature.
We've set a target of six Greek and Latin works for 2004 (one every two months sounds realistic).
Typically, the first work we chose isn't among the best-known of such texts: we reviewed Chariton's Callirhoe -- perhaps the first novel ever written.
Interviewer Robert Birnbaum is not only prolific, but also ultra-efficient: we expressed some disappointment yesterday that in his recent Tibor Fischer-interview we did not learn the answer to that question that has long confounded us: why the book published in the UK as Don't Read This Book if You're Stupid, was published as I Like Being Killed in hardcover in the US, but then reverted to Don't Read This Book if You're Stupid in its American paperback incarnation.
No sooner do we complain than Birnbaum kindly follows up -- no stone unturned indeed !
The original, British title for the short story collection was Don't Read This Book if You're Stupid.
The American publishers thought this wouldn't work (although every American I've ever discussed it with found the title funny).
Normally I believe in telling publishers to fuck off, but I felt indulgent, so I let them change the title to I like Being Killed (the title of one of the stories).
After the hardback flopped, I restored the original title for the paperback.
That's the last time I ever listen to a publisher.
(For the record, the publisher that was indulged was Metropolitan Books, a Henry Holt imprint.
The paperback edition was then published by Picador USA.)
At least Fischer learned his lesson (that publishers' instincts are almost invariably wrong), and we're very glad to hear he won't ever make the mistake of paying them any heed again.
(But, recall that at least one critic thought the US hardcover title, I like Being Killed, was apropos:
Relevant, too, is the book's title, a last echo of the false, fragile bravado by which he had heretofore signified what he could not otherwise say.
Yes, that's William Deresiewicz's devastating ("So devoid are these pieces of any literary merit, it's a tribute to Fischer's lingering reputation that they got published at all") review from The New York Times Book Review (29/10/2000).)
The article from the March issue of The Atlantic Monthly has already been mentioned here and there, and Would Shakespeare Get Into Swarthmore ?, wondering: "How several well-known writers (and the Unabomber) would fare on the new SAT", is now available online.
A fairly amusing idea:
To illustrate how the essays on the "new" SAT will be scored, The Princeton Review has composed some typical essay questions, provided answers from several well-known authors, and applied the College Board's grading criteria to their writing.
Additional March-The Atlantic Monthly notes: Benjamin Schwarz, supposedly a contender to take over running The New York Times Book Review, certainly makes himself more appealing to the NYT powers-that-be by finding only non-fiction titles to be New & Noteworthy (see also this mention) -- though admittedly there is some fiction coverage in the full-length reviews.
(But even here he isn't exactly impressing us with his choices.)
The February/March issue of the Boston Review is now available online.
Of particular interest: Roger Boylan's The Lost Ones, in which he considers: "John Banville's existentialist novels", and Carol Bere on A Knot of Obsessions, reviewing Ted Hughes' Collected Poems.
Britain's libraries are to be allowed to sell books in an attempt to win back the public.
Ministers want some of the country's 4,700 libraries to rent out space to book chains including Waterstone's, Blackwell's and Dillons in the hope that people seeking to buy books will also be tempted to borrow other works.
But at least some interesting statistics: "The number of book loans fell from 500 million in 1984 to 370 million last year" -- though they claim "the number of people buying and reading books is at an all time high"
As has been noted elsewhere, Robert Birnbaum's most recent interview at identity theory is with Tibor Fischer.
The focus is, understandably, on Fischer's most recent novel, Voyage to the End of the Room (and the Amis to-do), but unfortunately there is practically nothing about Fischer's previous works (such as our favourite, The Thought Gang) -- and no explanation of, for example, why Fischer's story-collection, published in the UK as Don't Read This Book if You're Stupid, was published as I Like Being Killed in hardcover in the US, but then as Don't Read This Book if You're Stupid in paperback.
In today's issue of The Independent, Louise Jury writes How simple punctuation saved a publishing house.
The success of Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots & Leaves is a good story (helping Profile to "double its turnover to more than £5.5m this year"), and Jury also mentions some other recent small-press bonanzas.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker debuted the Spanish translation of her novel Meridian in Havana, telling her Cuban fans there is a direct correlation between the U.S. civil rights movement and the socialist revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.
The book fair, which moves on to other parts of the country after ending in Havana, is a mass phenomenon without comparison in the world, fruit of the culture and education the Revolution has bestowed on the people.
Some 30 Cuban publishers and 60 from abroad are represented at the fair this year, according to organizers.
The largest numbers of publishing houses and cultural figures are from Spain, Mexico, and Germany.
The authors featured range from U.S. writer Alice Walker and German playwright Bertolt Brecht to previously unpublished young Cuban authors, as well as literary giants from Honoré de Balzac to Henry James.
It's unclear whether Bert and Alice shared the stage .....
And, again: we don't know how we missed this .....
Recall: comments from various editors at The New York Times suggest there will be an increased focus on coverage of non-fiction titles in The New York Times Book Review once Charles McGrath's successor has taken over.
Compare: the 15 February issue of The New York Times Book Review (still edited by Chip McGrath), which offers:
15 full-length reviews of 19 non-fiction titles
6 'Books in Brief' reviews of 6 non-fiction titles
5 full-length reviews of 5 fiction titles
1 full-length review of 1 poetry title
Total non-fiction titles reviewed: 25.
Total fiction titles reviewed: 5.
And this is before the new guy (or gal) takes over, with the mission to cover more non-fiction .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Paul Fournel's explanation of the Need for the Bike.
Fournel is a prominent member of the Oulipo, but this book is, admittedly, not a prime exemplar of what the groups members do.
Still, it's an entertaining little work.
Very disappointing, however: publisher University of Nebraska Press simply axed a third of the French original.
The missing part -- an account of the 1996 Tour de France -- may not be too topical any longer, but we find it hard to imagine it wouldn't be nearly as entertaining as the rest of Fournel's book.
As we mentioned ten days ago, The Washington Post threatened to require registration (and more information) from users in order to access the site.
The dark day has now come to pass, as they now insist on knowing how large the company users work for is, etc.
We did register (twice, already, and we will again, frequently), and are pleased to note that at least one can lie with impunity when filling out the required forms.
Most importantly: one can enter a fake e-mail address.
What particularly pleased us when we first tried to register was that the fake e-mail address we generally use (a variation on the easily remembered 'four-letter expletive at four-letter expletive') is one we were told had already been registered !
As always, we recommend to users: don't provide anything resembling accurate information.
Mexican author Carlos Fuentes delivered the "Farfel Distinguished Lecture" at the University of Houston last Wednesday.
(Aside: who comes up with these names ? "Farfel Distinguished Lecture" ? As opposed to what ? the Farfel Undistinguished Lectures ? Does anyone think that adding the word "Distinguished" makes anyone take it more seriously ? Pathetic.)
A variety of reports and interviews are available, including this edited version of a pre-lecture interview from the Houston Chronicle (13 February).
It's good to see Fuentes having some fun at the American president's expense, even in the jr. Bush's home territory:
Q: If you had to give the Bush administration one piece of advice about how to improve relations with Mexico, what would it be ?
A: Lose the election in November.
The Salon du livre, scheduled this year for 19 to 24 March, is a fairly big deal publishing to-do in France.
This year they are, as they say on their site: "Honouring Chinese Literature from around the World !"
The line-up is fairly impressive, and beside some mainlanders who have had success recently in translation (Yu Hua, Han Shaogong (see our review of his A Dictionary of Maqiao)) or authors such as Su Tong there are also authors from Taiwan (notably Li Ang) as well as a few prominent exiles (Bei Dao being the most prominent).
Missing, however, is the internationally best-known Chinese author of them all, Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian.
The oversight is all the more stunning since Gao lives in France.
This scandal has been brewing for a couple of months (the French authorities repeatedly accused of kowtowing to the People's Republic's demands, etc.).
Now things have come to a preliminary head again with the publication on Friday of this piece by Gao's French translators, Liliane et Noël Dutrait, in Le Monde, complaining about the shoddy and outrageous treament of the Nobel Prize-winner.
Compare also what else the S-d-L folk write on their site:
In hosting China this year, the Salon du Livre in Paris is paying tribute to the very principles behind an event such as this: open-mindedness and an interest in other cultures.
It even made the front page of The New York Times: a computer "glitch" at Amazon.ca (Canada) "suddenly revealed the identities of thousands of people who had anonymously posted reviews on the United States site".
Among those unmasked: John Rechy, praising his own book.
Amy Harmon's article from The New York Times can also be found here, while there are also reports from the AP and The Observer.
Anyway, the story is a good reminder of two important lessons: never trust an Internet company to do what they say they will do (and, especially, what they say they won't do) with the information you provide them with (which is why we always recommend you never provide them with any information, and certainly not any accurate information) -- and always be highly suspicious of any and all "reviews", be they from anonymous (or well-known) customers at Amazon.com, or from the Kakutani, or James Wood, or even from us.
In the Independent on Sunday today Anthony Barnes reports on Why Amis's worst book may be his best hope of winning that elusive literary prize.
Apparently, Amis has been shut out of the big British literary awards (winning only the Somerset Maugham ages ago), but now has a chance for the "prestigious WH Smith Literary Award" for which his recent debacle, Yellow Dog (see our review) has been shortlisted, apparently: "giving him his best chance yet of winning his first major literary prize".
(They mention the other shortlisted titles somewhere in the article, too, but apparently Amis is the story here.)
In a couple of weeks Authors Take Sides on Iraq and the Gulf War, edited by Jean Moorcroft Wilson and Cecil Woolf, will be published (pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk).
In it 170 authors respond to the questions:
Were you for, or against, the American-led military action against Saddam Hussein's regime in March and April 2003 ?
Do you believe that the intervention will bring about lasting peace and stability in the region ?
Today is apparently 'Valentine's Day', and in celebration The Independent got 14 "leading writers" (whereby "leading" is very liberally interpreted) to talk about about their First loves.
Well, it's an interesting contrast to The Guardian's choice of what author-opinions to publish (see above).
As we mentioned yesterday, the British library lending statistics (for the period July 2002 to June 2003) have come out.
Among the statistics of greatest interest: borrowing by category.
Everywhere we hear about the decline in interest in fiction (especially the decline in publishers' interest in publishing the stuff) -- but we note that for the period in question 50.18 per cent of all titles borrowed were adult fiction (and, excluding children's books, fiction made up almost 70 per cent of adult book borrowing).
That's down slightly as far as a percentage of total borrowing goes from the year before, but up as a percentage of non-children borrowings.
Admittedly, British library borrowers differ considerably in their borrowing habits compared to what British book buyers buy, but surely the overwhelming fiction-interest means something.
(We also wonder: why the hell are so many memoirs and biographies published when the entire category of "Language, Literature and Biography" accounts for a measly 2.64 per cent of total borrowing ?)
This week's issue of Al-Ahram Weekly has a long piece by the late Edward Said on Living in Arabic (a piece with the same title by Said was previously published in Raritan (Spring, 2002); it may very well be the same one).
Said addresses many of the issue that are also discussed in a TLS (30 January) review by Geert Jan van Gelder of Niloofar Haeri's Sacred Language, Ordinary People (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), specifically the difficulties posed by fact that the written version of (Classical) Arabic differs markedly from the regional spoken languages.
Haeri's book focusses on the situation in Egypt (though it is similar across the Arab-speaking world), with van Gelder noting:
The Egyptian Government generally supports the suppression of printed Egyptian Arabic, as a concession to the Islamists.
Some people think that publishing in Egyptian dialect is not viable economically since it would diminish sales in other Arab countries.
Others argue that it might be a good idea because sales in Egypt would soar.
The information isn't yet available at the official Public Lending Right site (Updated - 14 February: now it is), but apparently the final statistics for most borrowed books and authors in the UK for the most recent period (July 2002 to June 2003) are out.
Press reports include:
So, the big story is, apparently, that Catherine Cookson has been dethroned as most-borrowed author.
Also of interest: J.K.Rowling was only the 42nd most borrowed author (her readers apparently buy her books, rather than borrowing them from the library).
Also: we're not sure what it means, but we have no books by any of the top ten authors under review.
Next up on the international book fair circuit: the World Book Fair in India, to be held in New Delhi 14 to 22 February; see the information pages at the National Book Trust site.
Yesterday's issue of the Hindustan Times also offers a preview: about 1,218 participants from all over India and 17 foreign countries are expected (not exactly global reach here ...) -- more participants than in 2002 (1,065) but fewer countries represented (23).
It's not exactly Oprah's Book Club, but the German ZDF-show Lesen !, hosted by Elke Heidenreich, seems to be an influential book-show.
(The site is fairly impressive too: watch the entire show there (or any from the archives).)
The show of the 10th apparently raised some eyebrows: among the books discussed was Donna Tartt's The Little Friend (see our review) and Heidenreich's segment on it offered quite the surprise: she tossed the book aside, telling the audience she made it past page 500 but then just gave up.
The dismissal was even deemed newsworthy -- see, for example, this article in today's issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
It's nice to see a TV host who won't put up with absolutely everything: one of the problems with all the TV (and radio) chat shows in the US, for example, (from Oprah to Charlie Rose to everybody on NPR) is that the hosts are entirely uncritical -- we can't recall the last time one challenged an author about the quality of his or her book (and we think it would be useful if they did).
Of course, most American media-interviewers probably generally don't bother to read the books being discussed in the first place .....
First we heard about this was when we saw the ad the publisher had taken out in The New York Times congratulating their authors: Nell Freudenberger (for Lucky Girls) and Richard Bausch have apparently won the 2004 PEN/Malamud Award (which honours short story excellence).
We hope nobody is expecting any huge increase in sales as a result of this so far almost unnoticed award.
Apparently the prize-givers aren't even that eager to let it be known that they awarded the prize: in the confusing world of PEN awards you won't find information about it at the PEN American Center site -- and, oddly, we didn't find information on the The PEN/Malamud Award and Memorial Reading page at the PEN/Faulkner site either.
The only place that seems to have taken notice is, admirably, collectedstories.com.
Alberto Manguel recently published a novella, Stevenson Under the Palm Trees, which has been getting good notices.
In the Telegraph Helen Brown profiles him.
Interesting admission: "I don't really want to read new books… I am content with rereading now."
We understand the sentiment, but think that if we ever get to that point we'd just hang it all up.
(Once you give up engaging with the new -- however arduous it can sometimes be (and, given the crap out there, it can be pretty damn arduous) -- why bother with anything ?)
As to the book (which sounds fairly interesting), other links of interest: