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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 29 February 2004

21 February: Arabic literature | Library fire | Ooka review
22 February: More on Canetti on Murdoch | Synopsis culture | Links overhaul
23 February: Coetzee does Dutch poetry | Lars Gustafsson review
24 February: Translating American and Arabic works | Korea looks ahead | Kundera in China | Weblog link borrowing/pilfering dispute
25 February: Kiriyama shortlist | Malaysian Tamil literature
26 February: Bigger Read | NYTBR update | Another David Mitchell profile | Italian book marketing ploy
27 February: Gödel reviews | Jewish Book Week | UK TV book club
28 February: Authorial notes | Jeanette Winterson down under
29 February: Kari Hotakainen | Walser's move | Alain de Botton interview | ManBooker judges | Ayckbourn trilogy

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29 February 2004 - Sunday

Kari Hotakainen | Walser's move | Alain de Botton interview
ManBooker judges | Ayckbourn trilogy

       Kari Hotakainen

       Recent winners of the Nordic Literature Prize include Kerstin Ekman (1994), Jan Kjśrstad (2001), and Lars Saabye Christensen (2002) -- whose work has since been greeted very enthusiastically abroad (including in the UK -- though, except for Ekman, not yet (surprise !) in the US).
       Anna Paterson reviewed Jan Kjśrstad's The Seducer in The Independent on Friday (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk; no US publication planned yet, as far as we can tell), and it sounds impressive. Meanwhile, Lars Saabye Christensen's The Half Brother has received rave reviews (including Alastair Sooke's in The Independent (11/1/2004)) -- and is among the books we're most eagre to get our hand on (US publication expected 1 April; get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
       Given this track record, the Nordic Literature Prize looks like one to keep an eye on -- and this year's winner has just been announced: it's Finnish author Kari Hotakainen, for his novel Juoksuhaudantie ("The Trench Road"). (See also the list of all the nominated books.) Juoksuhaudantie also won the 2002 Finlandia Prize for Literature, and it was reportedly the eighth most popular book in Finland last year (respectably selling over 100,000 copies -- a total that would be impressive in the US but is surely incredible considering Finland only has a population of 5,300,000).
       For additional (English-language) information, see also the Kari Hotakainen page at FILI

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Walser's move

       We've mentioned some of the turmoil at leading German literary publisher Suhrkamp since Ulla Berkéwicz took over for her recently deceased husband (and publishing legend) Siegfried Unseld, but the newest revelations dwarf most of what has happened to date.
       It's been known for a while that leading Suhrkamp author Martin Walser was leaving, but his move (to Rowohlt) is a much bigger deal than originally thought. Walser is sort of in the John Updike-category of authors -- ultra-established, prolific, getting on in age. If the move to Rowohlt just meant that future Walser titles would no longer be published at Suhrkamp, well, that's disappointing but not such a big deal. But it turns out that Walser was thinking ahead (and sensed what was coming) and reached an agreement with Unseld back in 1997: incredibly, once Unseld no longer runs Suhrkamp (as is now the case) Walser can demand the rights to his entire backlist back.
       It's an amazing backlist, as almost all his many books are still in print. If he really does transfer them all to Rowohlt (and it looks like that's what's going to happen) it's a heavy blow for Suhrkamp.
       German newspaper reports can be found in: the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (where Joachim Güntner reports that Der Spiegel will publish an open letter from Walser to those at Suhrkamp in their next edition), and in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, here and here. (Note that we first came across these at the invaluable Perlentaucher.)

       (Updated - 1 March): The Walser-letter is now available in Der Spiegel (see it also at taz (a link that is more likely to be a lasting one)).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Alain de Botton interview

       Alain de Botton's publicity-offensive for his forthcoming Status Anxiety is revving up, now with something of an interview by Geraldine Bedell in today's issue of The Observer.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       ManBooker judges

       As noted at The Elegant Variation (ready to update whenever breaking news demands it !), the ManBooker judging panel for the 2004 award has been announced:
Chaired by the Rt Hon. Chris Smith MP this engaging and dynamic panel consists of novelist, Tibor Fischer ; writer and academic, Robert Macfarlane; journalist and editor of The Erotic Review, Rowan Pelling and literary editor of The Economist, Fiammetta Rocco.
       'Engaging and dynamic' ? Well, if they say so ..... (We're actually not too sure what that means in this context -- and whether either quality (?) is really desirable in this case.) It is an interesting mix -- though a bit non-fiction-heavy for our tastes.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Ayckbourn trilogy

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of Alan Ayckbourn's recent semi-trilogy, Damsels in Distress, including the individual plays: GamePlan, FlatSpin, and RolePlay.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



28 February 2004 - Saturday

Authorial notes | Jeanette Winterson down under

       Authorial notes

       Josh Lacey praises Javier Marías' The Man of Feeling quite enthusiastically in his review in today's issue of The Guardian (and we agree with his assessment: see also our review). He does, however, note (and suggest):
Right at the end, Marias makes the mistake of adding an authorial note, describing his inspiration for the story and explaining his intentions. In three irritating pages, he achieves the improbable feat of making himself sound dull; all the finesse of the fictional narrator is swept aside. When you buy the book, tear out those final pages. You will be left with a novel of unusual beauty, insight and imaginative power.
       A similar (and even more blatant) case of an author stepping forward to explicate and reveal some of the circumstances and background of a fiction can be found in the English edition of Amélie Nothomb's Loving Sabotage (see also our review of what is otherwise a small masterpiece) -- and is similarly disastrous. We're generally opposed to book mutilation, but Lacey's suggestion here also seems an appropriate measure to take. (Interestingly, the US editions of both these books were brought out by New Directions -- perhaps there's an editor there who likes (or insists on) these sorts of things .....)
       Such authorial intrusion is not that uncommon -- though more frequently found in re-issues of older books, with authors revisiting their work and appending a foreword or something of that sort. But why is there this reluctance to let fiction stand on its own ? Why should an author have to (or be allowed to) explain ? As if there weren't opportunity enough in the interviews and magazine articles that seem to surround every new publication ..... (Well, that's probably part of the answer: the Marías and Nothomb are both books in translation, and didn't come with US book tours or much press coverage; explanations had to be tied right to the book.)
       Is it yet another manifestation of how much we live in an age where the cult of the personality rules all -- where it is necessary for the author to step forward (on a publicity tour, if possible; with a few tacked-on pages in the book itself if it's not) in order for audiences to accept whatever s/he produces ?
       Would that publishers had more faith in the power of the art they're publishing. Fiction (real fiction, true literature, which is what both these books are) can stand easily on its own -- and it should be allowed to. It's a sad (and scary) sign that publishers don't seem to see that.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Jeanette Winterson down under

       Jeanette Winterson is travelling down under, and Peter Fray profiles in her in today's issue of The Age. And today's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald. Yes, it's the same article -- though one can't say there's no media competition in Australia: after all, one newspaper titles the piece: Winterson in a bright light, the other: A rebel goes to water.
       Oh, right, there's one more difference. In The Age Fray writes:
She bristles when the Age photographer, who has turned up late through no fault of his own, attempts a cinema-verite shot of her mounting a motorbike taxi
       While in the Sydney Morning Herald Fray writes:
She bristles when the Herald photographer, who's turned up late through no fault of his own, attempts a cinema-verite shot of her mounting a motorbike taxi
       Presumably, the Herald photographer was delayed by the one from The Age, and vice versa .....

       Winterson is appearing at the Adelaide Writersí Week (which starts up Sunday; see also their Winterson-page). She's apparently also dropping by in Sydney on 4 March.
       Her new book, Lighthousekeeping, is due out in the UK at the end of April (pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk); we haven't found it listed Amazon.com yet.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



27 February 2004 - Friday

Gödel reviews | Jewish Book Week | UK TV book club

       Gödel reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two Kurt Gödel-related titles, John L. Casti and Werner DePauli's short book on Gödel: A Life of Logic and Hao Wang's Reflections on Kurt Gödel.
       Both are of some interest and worth, but more than anything they tempt us to seek out books that might fill in the gaps left by them -- especially John Dawson's 1997 biography, Logical Dilemmas, and Hao Wang's second Gödel-volume, A Logical Journey .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Jewish Book Week

       Jewish Book Week 2004, "the world's leading festival of Jewish writing" starts Saturday in London.
       Presumably of interest: translator Michael Hofmannn on The Genius of Joseph Roth, where "he reads from and talks about his passion for Rothís work, and shines a new light on one of the greatest writers of the 20th century."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       UK TV book club

       In yesterday's issue of The Guardian Stuart Jeffries reports on a British TV show that's having Oprah !-like success in getting people to buy books: Richard & Judy's book club.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



26 February 2004 - Thursday

Bigger Read | NYTBR update | Another David Mitchell profile | Italian book marketing ploy

       Bigger Read

       A nice idea at English PEN (which we were first made aware of at Open Brackets): it "decided to launch its own alternative to the Big Read, which reflects our favourite literature from all over the world." Cleverly (if predictably) called The Bigger Read, the list of books (see here) is also a more impressive one -- in fact, it's not half bad.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       NYTBR update

       As has been noted at numerous other weblogs, there's yet another update on the situation regarding The New York Times Book Review succession question in The New York Observer, where Tom McGeveran notes After Moss Departure, Times Starting Over On Book Review Boss (note: link will only last a week). Apparently:
According to sources familiar with the Book Review editor search, Ms. Abramson and Mr. Keller have circled back to the beginning, inviting at least one new candidate to interview for the job as recently as yesterday.
       And:
According to Times sources, however, Mr. Keller and Ms. Abramson are now looking for just that -- radical change, in the form of someone who is ready to overhaul the book review, streamlining and changing its editorial process and its staff. They don't have long to find that person: In the Friday the 13th meetings, Mr. Keller promised that a new editor would be named by the end of this month.
       We're not exactly sure how they plan to streamline the editorial process (hell, we're not even sure what an 'editorial process' is), but we're pretending it all might amount to more fiction coverage (hey, we can dream can't we ?). At least we'll only be kept in suspense a few more days.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Another David Mitchell profile

       A few days ago Suzi Feay profiled David Mitchell in the Independent on Sunday; now, in the Daily Telegraph, Sam Leith meets the man he calls A literary houdini.
       There's praise for the forthcoming Cloud Atlas again:
Cloud Atlas is Mitchell's best book so far: at once architecturally magnificent and -- despite, you might think, rather than in addition to, the novel's structural tricksiness -- superbly entertaining.
       And Mitchell knows to say the right things (and groan appropriately):
He groans with embarrassment when he admits that his MA was on levels of reality in the postmodern novel. "How pretentious is that ?" he asks. Nevertheless, its influence clearly, and benignly, saturates his practice; in particular his fascination with complex structure.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Italian book marketing ploy

       Börsenblatt reports on a recent Italian marketing ploy that apparently worked out quite well: publisher Sperling & Kupfer had an ad agency distribute 30,000 copies of the first chapter of forthcoming books (6 aprile '96 by Sveva Casati Modignani and Il nuovo senso della vita by Paolo Mosca) in 25 hospital waiting rooms in Bologna. When the books then came out sales were considerably higher than anticipated -- the first chapters apparently hooking quite a few readers (and the publicity surrounding the stunt presumably also helping).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



25 February 2004 - Wednesday

Kiriyama shortlist | Malaysian Tamil literature

       Kiriyama shortlist

       The Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize is among the more unusual literary prizes: books merely have to be published in English (originally or in translation), by anyone of any nationality, as long as the book: "relates to the nations of the Pacific Rim or South Asia in a significant way".
       They announced the shortlist yesterday (see also the AP report (at USA Today)), five titles each in the fiction and non-fiction categories. Fiction nominees include: Shirley Hazzard's National Book Award winning The Great Fire, Monica Ali's Brick Lane -- and, amazingly, two titles we actually have under review: Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake and Shan Sa's The Girl Who Played Go.
       The Kiriyama site is exemplary: no flash and a great deal of information. Particularly admirable: they reveal what all the submitted books were (remember -- and people don't, far too often -- you can't win it if you're not in it, and many notable and worthy books in fact are not submitted for prestigious prizes).
       See, for example, the Books Submitted - Fiction List -- and look what books were in the running but didn't make the cut: Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, Nobel laureates Kenzaburo Oe's Somersault and J.M.Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello, and Yu Hua's Chronicle of a Blood Merchant. (We actually have quite a few of the submitted titles under review: beside the Coetzee we reviewed Han Shaogong's A Dictionary of Maqiao, Mario Vargas Llosa's The Way to Paradise, Githa Hariharan's In Times of Siege, Jan Blensdorf's My Name is Sei Shonagon, and Yamada Taichi's Strangers.)
       We have to admit, however, that we have no idea who any of the people on the Fiction Panel (i.e. the judges) are.
       The winners will be announced 23 March.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Malaysian Tamil literature

       Perhaps the most obscure literary debate we've yet come across: in today's issue of the New Straits Times A Tamil writer talks back (note that link will only last until 2 March), in which R. Karthigesu responds to an 11 February article by Uthaya Sankar (alas, no longer readily accessible online) concerning Tamil literature in Malaysia (the debate being conducted, mind you, in English).
       Karthigesu complains about Uthaya Sankar:
He talks about Malaysian Tamil literature of the Thirties to the Fifties, digs up quotes from long-dead commentators and puts forward the notion that Malaysian Tamil literature in its current state is insipid.
       Karthigesu insists:
The second fallacy is that Tamil contemporary literature published in India, which Malaysian writers continuously read, is of the sob-story kind found in Tamil films (and you compound the idea by publishing a Tamil film poster to add colour to the article). Nothing can be further from the truth. Contemporary short stories emanating from Tamil Nadu reflect the best trends in the world ranging from post-modernism, magical realism to non-linear writing.
       We're not sure that those are necessarily the 'best trends in the world', but unfortunately can't properly judge as practically none of the writings emanating from Tamil Nadu make it to us.
       Still, the article is of some interest in offering a glimpse of other literary worlds out there (and we're glad to see there are people taking these things seriously).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



24 February 2004 - Tuesday

Translating American and Arabic works | Korea looks ahead
Kundera in China | Weblog link borrowing/pilfering dispute

       Translating American and Arabic works

       Open Brackets states the obvious but well worth considering in her comments on Juan Cole's The "Americana in Arabic" Translation Program (which seeks to make significant works of American thought accessible to Arabic-speaking audiences):
I think itís probably fair to presume that the levels of Arab and Anglo ignorance of the otherís culture are pretty much on par, and too often terrain for stereotypes. We are equally impoverished by the dearth of contemporary foreign literature on our shelves. If the goal is to promote goodwill and understanding, a bilateral approach would, it seems to me, be a basic requisite for the project.
       We certainly hope that, especially with the Arab world the "Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2004", there will be increased attention paid to Arab literature in the near future -- and maybe that a few more translations of Arabic literature appear in English. Early indications, however, would suggest that there's not exactly overwhelming enthusiasm for a bilateral (or much of any) approach. As we mentioned a few days ago, Al-Ahram Weekly is certainly doing its part to introduce English-speaking readers to Arab authors -- but how large an audience do they reach ? Meanwhile, the American and British media continue their general disinterest in all matters concerning foreign literature.
       Given that the Frankfurt Book Fair is being held in Germany the Germans have a bit more reason to show some interest -- and there have been a few interesting undertakings already. One is a project organised by the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, a West-Eastern Divan (yes, they even have an English page describing what they're doing):
a project for promoting an understanding of Middle-Eastern literatures in Germany and vice versa. During an initial period of three years, we will be bringing together authors -- German writers meeting with colleagues from Arab Countries, Iran or Turkey -- so that they may acquaint themselves not only with one other but with their respective environments. They will travel to each other's country, give joint readings, and write about literature and the world of their counterparts, each in his or her own language.
       Sounds pretty good, doesn't it ? The project also has its own website, where there is more information (this time not in English) about the authors, etc: West-östlicher Diwan.

       Meanwhile, there's also the government publication Qantara, which also features a dossier on the German-Arab Literature Exchange (and, again, this material is available in English), with a variety of interesting information.
       Of particular interest: this interview Khalid Al-Maaly, an Iraqi exile who founded Al-Kamel, an Arabic publishing house. In the interview he speaks about "the difficulties of Arabic publishers and the reception of German literature in Arabic countries". (For a list of what Al-Kamel publishes scroll down on this page at his distributor's site).
       (German-speaking readers will also want to have a look at Al-Maaly's article in the FAZ (14/10/2003), Nach der Messe, vor der Messe, in which he addresses many of the same questions.)

       It's also nice to see that the latest German efforts to interest foreigners in German books, Litrix, provides information in three languages: German, English, and Arabic. And, as they explain:
The selective promotion of translations into Arabic in 2004 and into an East Asian language in 2005 will supplement the Goethe-Institutís existing funding measures in regions where it seems particularly important to intensify intercultural dialogue.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Korea looks ahead

       After the Arab world (see above), Korea will be the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2005, and they're already making plans. In yesterday's issue of The Korea Times Kim Tae-jong reports that: Translation of Literary Works Falls Short of Standard.
       Apparently bad and second-hand translation is a big problem:
According to a report released earlier this month by the Scholars for English Studies in Korea, only one out of 10 classic English novels translated into Korean is reliable in terms of quality.
       More interesting, however, is the grand ambition they have:
Since Korea has been invited to the 2005 Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany in 2005 as a guest of honor, the Korean Publishers Association will select 100 books containing Korean literary works and translate them into English, German, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic and French with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
       Some have their doubts:
Hwang Ji-woo, head of the 24-member panel for selecting the 100 books, said, "Even if we finish selecting the required number of books from among about 2,000 proposed books, I think it will be very hard to complete the translation of 100 books in several languages within a year."
       But we hope they try their damnedest: frustratingly little Korean literature has been translated into English (we only have two Yi Mun-yol titles under review, Our Twisted Hero and The Poet), and there's a great deal that sounds worthy of being translated (more Yi Mun-Yol titles, for one).
       We'll try and let you know what the 100 books are once they've been selected.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Kundera in China

       As we first learnt at The Elegant Variation, Milan Kundera is (apparently surprisingly) popular in China -- especially Shanghai. China View reports that:
According to Shanghai Translation Publishing House, which was authorized in 2002 to translate and publish 13 of Kundera's works, it has sold more than 1 million copies of the nine books it has published so far. That makes Kundera the best selling foreign author of literary works in the city, although more than 7 million copies of the five novels of the magic Harry Potter have been sold in the city.
       Apparently the craze isn't entirely surprising: an August, 2003 report at CRI already considered the Fashion of Reading Milan Kundera. A translation of The Unbearable Lightness of Being was published in 1987 and "started an almost two-decade long popularity of Milan Kundera among Chinese readers". Success with the new translations was apparently also expected (though the China View report had it a bit differently):
The minimum amount of volumes of each book will be 100,000. It's not for sure so far whether Kundera's new translations will be a feast for the minds of Chinese readers or not, but it's for sure that the exciting financial gains are an extra bonus to their Chinese publishers.
       For sure !
       And see also a 3 September 2003 interview with Kundera at China.org. Apparently:
American culture is among the things Kundera dislikes the most. Personally, Kundera doesn't like the United States including George W. Bush and his administration, as well as all American-fashioned modern culture.
       And:
Actually, Kundera's dislike of the US has gone to extremes. "I don't like (north) American literature," he claimed.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Weblog link borrowing/pilfering dispute

       So claustrophobic is the literary weblogging 'community' that the expected big story du jour (Harold Bloom is accused of groping someone two decades ago) was easily drowned out by some intrablog infighting. It started with Terry Teachout (at About Last Night) maintaining Blogging is not a zero-sum game. He grandly pronounced that at:
About Last Night we believe that the larger interests of litblogging and arts blogging are best served by crediting the sources of our links, and we strongly recommend that our fellow bloggers do the same thing.
       He also claims:
Not all bloggers feel this way. Certain of our colleagues are bad -- a few notoriously so -- about giving credit to other bloggers. Iíll name no names, but I will say that the stingy practice of link-poaching has lately come in for quite a bit of backstage criticism.
       (Note: we're apparently totally out of the loop, having missed all the "backstage criticism". And we're disappointed to hear that there's backstage stuff going on; isn't this the sort of good dirt that we deserve to read, wasting as much time as we do reading all these weblogs ?)
       Next up was a reaction from the Bookslut, Jessa Crispin, who didn't take kindly to Teachout's comments:
I'm not sure who Terry Teachout thought appointed him schoolmaster of the blogs, but this really pisses me off.
       Bookslut seems to take things a bit too personally ("I think it's damn near ridiculous that Teachout thinks he can scold those of us who aren't his favorites" -- which immediately also led us to worry that maybe we weren't TT favourites either), but at least it elicited more reactions. See also:
  • Return of the Reluctant, who thinks: Link-Pilfering? Nah, It's Really About Courtesy.

  • beatrice, who thinks: The BookExpo Panel Should Be Interesting (and gets comments from The Elegant Variation, Sarah Weinman, and Golden Rule Jones) and says re. link-poaching: "I don't believe in its validity as a concept. Not in the slightest."

  • Moorish Girl, who comments on Blog Linkage, finding: "At any rate, I don't see blogging as a zero-sum game where people compete for links and need credits. I'm too busy reading stuff to worry about who's giving credit to my links."

  • Cup of Chicha, writing about blogging etiquette (scroll down): "Either way, my opinion is that, ethics aside, linking sources is a good idea. The more you link to other blogs, the more you show up in referral logs, and the more likely you are to gain larger recognition."

  • and Alex Good's comments (which includes the best reaction-line: "Terry Teachout (if that is his real name)"), concluding: "Blogs serve a purpose. But anyone who thinks that it's the links that are important to the growth and development of an online literary culture is spending way too much time studying their traffic reports and not enough time reading books" -- and who sensibly points out: "There is no such thing as a 'blogosphere', understood as a 'community' with 'members' and rules. And it's a damn good thing too."
       (Updated - 25 February): See now also additional comments at: The Elegant Variation, Golden Rules Jones, and The Reading Experience and (Updated - 26 February) Terry Teachout's response
       So do we have to add our two cents ? Well, here are a couple of cents anyway: we don't much like being lectured to either, or to be told how go about doing what we do. (Admittedly, we are at some advantage here, in decidedly not being a new kid on the block -- and having what is apparently taken to be a rather forbidding identity --, all of which means few people give us much shit about how we go about our business.) Still, one of the great things about the Internet is the free-for-all quality, and we're all for everyone making their own rules and standards. (A couple of things we'd have problems with -- wholesale copying of content, for example -- but that's about it.)
       The biggest problem we have with 'pilfered' links is not that they've been 'taken' from someone without due (?) credit, but simply the sheer monotony of finding yet the same story on yet another weblog. But if there are new perspectives on offer (as re. this pseudo-story -- see above links) then who cares who saw what where first ?
       We try to give credit when we've found a link elsewhere -- mainly because it allows us to point interested readers to a site that might have more to say about a subject of interest to them. And we certainly like to be linked to (though it's a rare referral that accounts for any appreciable traffic). But really: people should do whatever the hell they want.
       We are a bit concerned with the focus on traffic reports and referral logs and gaining recognition. Popularity may be nice (and, interestingly enough, as best we can tell, Bookslut and About Last Night are among the cultural weblogs enjoying the most of it), but we're more concerned with offering our readers (however many -- or rather: few -- there are) consistent and predictable coverage -- i.e. that they know what they're in for when they come here.
       (Also: we have other pet peeves that annoy us far more than link-credits: foremost among them the near-universal practice of linking book-titles to the corresponding Amazon.com pages without explicitly stating that that's where the link leads (thanks, but we can find the Amazon page ourselves -- how about a link to some actual information about the book ?), as well as the general laziness re. many stories, simply offering a single link (and often not the best one) without exploring the story/issue further -- or finding more appropriate links.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



23 February 2004 - Monday

Coetzee does Dutch poetry | Lars Gustafsson review

       Coetzee does Dutch poetry

       We've mentioned this book before (way back in October), but now it's finally available, as are the first reviews. Landscape With Rowers offers "Poetry from the Netherlands" -- translated and introduced by recent Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee. Not all that much poetry, apparently -- as Cynthia Haven notes in her review in yesterday's issue of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Although the book may serve the function of drawing our attention to these notable poets, it also, of course, draws our attention to Coetzee. In fact, without his name as a draw, this very short (42 pages, once you subtract the facing pages in the original Dutch and illustrations) university press book would be very unlikely to get much notice.
       Unfortunately also:
Selections, in all but Faverey's case, are limited to one per author -- too little to give one an idea of the scope of their voice, interests, range.
       Too bad: we'd especially be interested in additional Cees Nooteboom and Hugo Claus examples. But at least it's a bi-lingual edition.
       See also Robert Lokey's review from The Anniston Star (25 January), an excerpt from Coetzee's introduction, his translation of Claus' Ten Ways of Looking at PB Shelley, and the Princeton University Press publicity page.
       We'll probably try to review this title; meanwhile, you can get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Lars Gustafsson review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Lars Gustafsson's 1999 novel, Windy berättar. Despite being set -- once again -- in Austin, Texas, it hasn't yet been translated into English.
       New Directions has brought out a lot of Gustafsson's books (and many remain in print), but it's been a couple of years since they bothered with anything new. Admittedly, it's probably hard keeping up with the prolific author, but he's almost always worthwhile -- and, having taught in Austin for so long (and setting many of his books, including this one, in the US), is a rare foreign author at least vaguely attuned to American sensibilities (albeit from something of an ivory tower -- or, in the Austin case, also clock-tower -- perspective). Odd that his particular kind of popular-literary approach never really caught on in the US (though it may be a Nordic-Germanic thing; he doesn't seem to have made that much of an impression outside that limited area).

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22 February 2004 - Sunday

More on Canetti on Murdoch | Synopsis culture | Links overhaul

       More on Canetti on Murdoch

       Whe we first posted our review of Nobel laureate Elias Canetti's posthumously published reminiscences, Party im Blitz, we were surprised that the English papers hadn't picked up on the book, even before it came out in translation, since there's a fair amount of salacious Iris Murdoch detail (as he paints a not-very-nice picture of their intimate relationship). Finally, two weeks ago, there was a piece on the book in The Guardian, The God-monster's version. And in today's Independent on Sunday David Brierley offers a double-dose of coverage with the articles Iris Murdoch attacked from beyond the grave and Iris's lover takes his posthumous revenge.
       As Brierley nicely summarises: Murdoch "has been cast as a lightweight intellectual who was lousy in bed in memoirs by her dead ex-lover", as Canetti: "rubbishes her writing, her intellect and even her love-making".

       Also of interest: on 11 March there will be a discussion about the book, with Jeremy Adler, who wrote the afterword to Party im Blitz, and Daniel Johnson, literary editor of the Daily Telegraph, at the Austrian Cultural Forum in London (28 Rutland Gate).

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       Synopsis culture

       In his column this week in The Observer, Robert McCrum writes about The curse of the synopsis. Apparently:
In the Grub Street of the twenty-first century, books are traded on less and less material, and almost never on complete manuscripts. First novels are sold on sample chapters; translations snapped up on hearsay (...) The synopsis has become the curse of the business in so many other ways. You don't have to be Roland Barthes to see that such puffery has little, or nothing, to do with real writing.
       As we often mention, we do not comprehend how publishers go about their business -- and are surprised that they have any success whatsoever if this is the way they do it. Surely, except in a few non-fiction cases -- and when dealing with paint-by-the-number novelists such as John Grisham or James Patterson -- it is beyond irresponsible to purchase a book based on anything less than the entire manuscript.
       As to the "talented, unpublished young writer" of McCrum's acquaintance with "synopsis block" -- we somehow doubt s/he'll ever amount to much.
       (Updated - 23 February): See also more extensive commentary at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind and (Updated - 24 February) commentary at The Reading Experience.

       One note: McCrum (again) complains about the "industry-wide problem of overproduction". We -- also again -- have to point out that: a) we don't understand why overproduction is a problem -- at least for consumers (too many books ? that'll be the day !), and b) the numbers he quotes ("Five years ago, the British output of new titles per annum was nudging 100,000. Today, it approaches 120,000.") are somewhat misleading, as an overwhelming majority of these titles are not trade fiction and non-fiction, i.e. not books that make up everyday reading matter (or are discussed in the book pages of The Observer, etc.). From cookbooks to travel guides, the vast majority of titles that are published are in no way (not even the John Grisham way) literary works. (We just updated our page of links to publisher sites and it's amazing what some of these academic presses, for example, bring out (Springer puts out 4000 titles per annum, Kluwer 1200, Peter Lang 2000) -- but they're all books for a tiny audience, and you've probably never heard of, much less read, practically any of them.)

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       Links overhaul

       It's been long overdue, but we've finally overhauled our general links pages. So big has literary weblogging become that we have added a separate links-page just for them, as well as adding many new sites.
       We now have links pages devoted to:        Organising and categorising the sites often presents many problems, but we hope the way we did it makes the links-list fairly practical.
       (We can't believe we went so long without linking to everything from Bookninja to Identity Theory -- but we're sure we're still missing many a vital link. Feel free to point out what else we've unfairly overlooked.)

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21 February 2004 - Saturday

Arabic literature | Library fire | Ooka review

       Arabic literature

       With the Arab world the "Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2004" preparations are already underway. A good start comes with Al-Ahram Weekly's announcement:
In this issue of the Books Supplement, Al-Ahram Weekly announces the first instalment in a series of biographical and bibliographical information files dedicated to contemporary Arab authors. Compiled by Weekly staff, the series will provide the non Arabic-speaking reader with essential information on some of the Arab world's principal literary figures of the last century, bringing the picture up to date with profiles of new voices emerging on the Arab literary scene and reviews of their work.
       Among the articles: Mona Anis' profile of an Arab citizen par excellence, the recently deceased Abdel Rahman Munif, as well as excerpts from Munif's 1998 acceptance address for the prize of the Cairo first International Conference on the Arab Novel, The novel: a homeland and a passion.
       Munif was optimistic:
Today, the Arab novel is better than it was yesterday, and tomorrow it should be even better than it is today. However, this process of betterment necessitates that we should tolerate each other, should accept a variety of techniques, and should make room for experimentation.
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       Library fire

       It's unclear how bad the damage was, but a major St. Petersburg library, housing the Alexander Blok Library and an excellent music collection, clearly suffered significant fire damage. The picture isn't a pretty one -- but the St. Petersburg Times article on the fire headlined what was obviously most significant: Fire Closes Traffic on Nevsky. Yeah, those poor drivers, inconvenienced because a few books go up in flames .....
       The St. Petersburg Times article doesn't sound too convincing:
However, Vice Governor Andrei Chernenko who witnessed the blaze, said neither the library's storeroom, nor the library itself caught fire, Interfax reported. A team had been gathered to remove the books, but there was no danger to them, the report said. No mention was made of damage caused by water used to put out the fire.
       Reuters offers a different story: Fire Wrecks St. Petersburg Music Collection:
A Russian collection of rare sheet music was badly damaged on Thursday as firefighters fought a blaze in the historic St. Petersburg library that houses it.
       The Herald-Sun is somewhere in between: Fire hits St. Petersburg library:
The library's collection of literature and musical scores escaped damage from the flames, but much of it was soaked with water, the fire service said. Some 200 fire cadets were removing the collection late yesterday.
       (Note: we're surprised that there's been so little coverage of this story.)

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       Ooka review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ooka Shohei's The Shade of Blossoms.

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