There was considerable uproar two years ago about the possibility of allowing American-authored books to be eligible for the Commonwealth (or Irish) citizenship requiring Man Booker Prize (see, for example, Angelique Chrisafis' US authors' entry to Booker prize seen as betrayal (The Guardian, 22 May, 2002)).
As it turns out, the issue is even more convoluted (and foolish) than we'd originally thought.
John Updike was awarded the PEN/Faulkner prize earlier this week (see our mention), but what caught our eye was that one of the other finalists was Caryl Phillips (for A Distant Shore).
One of the (few) requirements for eligibility of the PEN/Faulkner is that author is an American citizen.
Given that A Distant Shore is also a regional winner of the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize Best Book Award -- a prize that requires that: "The work must have been written by a citizen of the Commonwealth" -- and that Phillips has previously been a finalist for the Commonwealth-citizenship-requiring Booker Prize (for Crossing the River, 1993), we were a bit surprised.
The PEN/Faulkner folk told us that both author and publisher had confirmed that Phillips is an American citizen, and the author himself kindly explained further that he has "citizenship of more than one country", including the US.
He also pointed out that he's not the first to be in this position: Carol Shields has won the US-citizenship-requiring Pulitzer Prize, and twice been up for the Booker (1993 (for The Stone Diaries) and 2002 (for Unless, which was also in the running for the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2003)).
So does this give an unfair edge to the dual- (or multiple-) national authors ?
Or does it just make clear how ridiculous it is to have a citizenship requirement in this day and age ?
Surely the ability of Phillips and Shields to compete in both American and Commonwealth-prizes isn't quite fair (hey, competing under two flags wouldn't fly at the Olympics) -- but the question, surely, is why anybody still has these citizenship requirements.
Does it make any sense that, for example, a long-term green-card holding tax-paying resident is ineligible for most major US prizes, while an author (as long as s/he writes in English) from Lusophone Mozambique or Francophone Cameroon is eligible for most of the major British awards (yes, despite not being British colonies, both Mozambique and Cameroon are now Commonwealth-states).
What does citizenship have to do with literary quality anyway ?
And, while smaller countries/cultures have an incentive to protect/foster domestic production through xenophobic national literary prizes, surely both the American and British markets are big and solid enough to be able to handle a bit of outside English-language competition.
The fact that Phillips and Shields have successfully been playing both sides without anyone noticing suggests this isn't really a matter of that much concern: one of the articles about the Man Booker debate, John Mullan's 23 May 2002 piece in The Guardian, Prize fighters, even imagines: "Setting previous Booker champs against winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction", and suggests the case of "Carol Shields vs Pat Barker", apparently ignorant of the fact that Shields was Booker-eligible in any case.
Down with citizenship requirements !
Literary quality is what counts !
If awards want to be taken seriously (admittedly a debatable question) they should focus on that.
The Arab League summit didn't come about over the weekend.
Neil MacFarquhar's report in The New York Times' (available here, for example) explains:
The very reluctance to take the first step toward reform was evident during the two days of preparatory talks about the agenda, which bogged down in trivial details like how to present Arab culture at the Frankfurt, Germany, book fair next fall, said several foreign ministers who participated.
While we're all for democratic (and other) reform in the region -- and wish the Bush jr. administration would have a more even-handed approach to imposing democracy on Middle Eastern states (i.e. insist, for example, that the Saudi Arabians get their act together (or at least take a tiny step towards democracy)) -- we think that worrying about how to present Arab culture in Frankfurt is far from trivial detail.
Indeed, it's a pretty good place to start with reform.
Promoting artistic freedom and considering how to deal with / present oneself to the rest of the world sounds like they would do the area a world of good.
(Of course, those probably aren't things they -- or at least some of the members (Saudi Arabia ?) -- are much interested in.)
The February issue of the complete review Quarterly is devoted to the debate surrounding James Laine’s book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India and some of the outrageous occurrences surrounding the debate.
Not a very popular series of articles when they first appeared, there's been a run on them for the past ten days or so, as things have again heated up.
We have now updated our survey-article (and specifically the chronology of events, bringing it up to date), but here is a run-down of what we consider the main new points of interest:
With elections approaching Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee switched from sensible pronouncements ("If you do not like anything in a particular book, then sit and discuss it. Banning a book is not a solution, we have to tackle it ideologically") to the mass-appeal lynch mentality: "We are prepared to take action against the foreign author".
There was talk of "inviting" Laine to India to discuss the charges against him (and talk of getting Interpol involved and starting extradition proceedings if he did not come willingly), but these have been tabled until the 5 April court session at which point it will be seen what (if any charges) can be brought, etc.
Finally another review of Laine's Shivaji: dependable Danny Yee offers his review.
(We've been hoping to review the book for months now, but Oxford University Press has declined to send us a copy; it's on our Amazon wishlist if you want to get us a copy .....)
Oxford University Press appears to have excised all reference to Laine's Shivaji from its online catalogues (previously it had only removed it from the OUP-India catalogue).
The OUP (USA) publicity page draws a blank, while the OUP (UK) publicity page offers only the price (and no other information).
(Interestingly the sample chapter page still exists ....).
The book is still available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, and it is unclear whether or not OUP are planning on withdrawing it from the market.
(Just in case: we'd advise you to get your copy soon.)
All in all: very disturbing.
Understandably, the main concern in the Western media is the Laine-angle (the BBC reports when India seeks to arrest US scholar, but not much otherwise), but since the Indians haven't charged him with anything that makes him plausibly extraditable he's safe enough.
What's going on with/at OUP is of more interest (and should be of far greater concern).
The OUP (India) office is the one most directly threatened by the legal actions, and personnel there have been charged, not to mention that they face physical danger from the nuts who oppose publication of the book, but by pulling all references to the book from their on-line catalogues OUP appears once again to be kowtowing to Indian (in)sensibilities (once again, no doubt, to no avail).
So far, what's happened has had a terribly chilling effect on academic freedom -- reverberating, in the case of OUP's actions, well beyond India -- and OUP is setting a terrible precedent.
Meanwhile, the manipulation of these events by Indian politicians goes beyond the outrageous -- and yet their antics have proven incredibly successful.
So John Updike was awarded this year's PEN/Faulkner award for his mammoth collection of short stories, The Early Stories.
(See also, for example, the AP report (at USA Today).)
The PEN/Faulkner is fairly unpredictable -- Sabina Murray's The Caprices, anyone ? it won last year, not that we have the slightest recollection of that fact or book -- see the list of recent winners.
It's apparently: "a national prize which honors the best published works of fiction by American citizens".
Okay, maybe Updike deserves the nod.
The problem we have with this particular book winning is that its contents were all previously published -- the newest story almost three decades ago (and some half a century ago).
What signal is being sent here about the state of American fiction ?
(Not that we necessarily disagree mind you -- well, actually, even we disagree a little .....)
See also the Knopf publicity page, a transcript of Jeffrey Brown's conversation with John Updike on NewsHour, and the Kakutani's review of The Early Stories ("the 800-plus-page book is a decidedly spotty production, filled indiscriminately with classic gems (...); clumsy apprentice works with creaky, contrived endings, and later ham-handed experimental efforts to expand Updike's fictional terrain").
In today's issue of The Scotsman, Kenny MacAskill notes that Edinburgh's distinctive literary tastes are not being catered for.
Bidding to be labelled UNESCO's World City of Literature, Edinburgh has a vibrant literary culture -- at least as far as content-production goes.
The bookstore-situation isn't looking quite so good:
Yet book lovers in Edinburgh are lamenting the imminent closure of Bauermeister, the last remaining substantial independent bookseller in the city.
This follows upon the tragic demise of James Thin
Korea is finally speeding up preparations for the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2005 but concerns remain about the tight schedule, which it is feared may affect the quality of translated works presented there.
At least there's discussion and some sort of interest.
We're looking forward to those Korean works in translation, so we're keeping our fingers crossed (and hoping also that the Arab League gets its act together for this year's fair !).
As regulars at the Literary Saloon perhaps know, one of our many annoying pet peeves is the annual wasted issue of The New York Times Book Review devoted to baseball related books (see, for example, this mention).
We have nothing against a bit of baseball coverage, but McGrath's NYTBR went way overboard, year after year (we're hoping the new guy doesn't follow suit).
In yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times Henry Kisor shows how to do it: informative, to the point, and mercifully brief.
(Yeah, it's only a preview, so we do have some lingering concerns ....)
(We can't help ourselves: since we already mentioned the NYTBR: yesterday's issue had 7 full-length and 6 'Books in Brief' reviews of non-fiction titles (total non-fiction titles covered: 13), versus only 4 (full-length) fiction reviews.
Shame, shame, shame.)
In yesterday's Scotland on Sunday Gordon Darroch reports that an 'Aladdin's Cave' of rare books found in home .
The collection -- W.S.Adams' -- is being put up for sale by Bonhams on 31 March.
Darroch calls it a "priceless collection of first editions and lavishly illustrated volumes"; Bonhams seems to have no trouble putting an estimate of £ 100,000 on the 400 lots making up the collection.
(Is a mere £ 100,000 the equivalent of 'priceless' nowadays ?)
The catalogue for Sale 10903 isn't detailed enough to determine what's worthwhile, but if you want to get us something feel free .....
Ten years after it came out in South Africa (in the original Afrikaans), and five years after it appeared in English translation in the UK, Marlene van Niekerk's Triomf has finally made it to the US -- and our review is now available.
The Overlook Press brought it out (one of numerous interesting titles on their current list; we like what they're up to) -- and daringly kept the original title, even going so far as to print it un-capitalized (triomf), in crooked orange letters on the cover.
We're wishing them good luck with that .....
But it has gotten good reviews, and it certainly is an interesting work.
Not the sort of thing we usually cover, but it's been a slow literary-news day, and one can laugh through the tears:
Alicia Keys, a fairly successful young singer, is apparently ready to take the literary world by storm.
Just what it needs .....
There are all sorts of reports: at Teenmusic.com there's a World Entertainment News Network report, Alicia Takes On Literary Mysteries (27 March).
She's apparently "keen to write a series of young-adult mystery novels, in which she'll appear as detective" -- but not so keen as to do much of the work: "The series will be co-written by the husband-and-wife writing team of Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld".
(Bennett and Gottesfeld are responsible for countless works, including Anne Frank and Me (get your copy at Amazon.com), about which Publishers Weekly opined: "this time-travel view of the Holocaust is long on gimmickry and short on history (...) The time-travel mechanism is inconsistent and incompletely developed, and the writing is flimsy."
Appropriately enough, one of their other works is titled Trash (get your copy at Amazon.com); predictably, it seems to have become a successful series .....)
According to a written proposal, Keys now plans to release a volume of poetry and a series of young-adult mystery novels in which she will be a teen detective character, in addition to a book based on her diaries.
But the great take-over of the literary world is not going completely smoothly:
One glitch keeping Keys from shopping her various book ideas as smoothly as she might like is the remaining question of who, exactly, has the rights to the deal: Two separate literary agents, Noah Lukeman and David Vigliano, are each claiming to represent Keys, a situation that may or may not be clarified by the new proposal.
Lukeman initially sold the diary to Bantam for a reported $1.15 million on the basis of a verbal proposal; Vigliano has been shopping the multiple-book deal with the new, written proposal.
$1.15 sounds about right; $1,150,000 definitely does not (especially for that verbal proposal).
Publishers, agents: how can you not love them ?
(If there are no updates Monday or Tuesday, at least you'll know the reason: we're still drinking ourselves silly; the delirium tremens are already shaking us and we haven't had a drop yet.)
Malcolm Pasley was the doyen of Kafka editors, whose stewardship of the great critical edition of Kafka's works earned him an international reputation.
In a distinguished career he laid a new, secure foundation for Kafka studies, explained the writer's practice, and helped to preserve his work for posterity.
Meanwhile, in the Telegraph-obituary readers are reminded:
With the re-emergence of the manuscripts, it became clear how unreliable the various editions produced by Brod were.
The whole Kafka-manuscript debates (and there are a lot of them) always get us in a tizzy.
From Max Brod's outrageous betrayal (tempered, vaguely, by the fact that his was an understandable refusal to do as he had been instructed) to Brod's (ab)use of his position as controller of the manuscripts all the way to the current state of affairs poor Franz K. can't be pleased by how things turned out.
We weren't quite as impressed by David Edmonds and John Eidinow's Wittgenstein's Poker as most people appeared to be, but we've now reviewed their latest tag-team effort, Bobby Fischer Goes to War, and found it a considerably more impressive work.
In fact, it accomplishes what it sets out to do admirably well, and is very entertaining -- despite the most obnoxious anti-hero one can imagine (at least of the non-murderous sort), the reprehensible Bobby Fischer, and a feeble foe (not in chess terms -- but then this match wasn't much about chess), the sap Boris Spassky.
Part of the problem with Wittgenstein's Poker was the half-baked attempt to tie in the philosophy with the story, which they just couldn't do well enough.
In Bobby Fischer Goes to War the authors don't worry too much about the chess, allowing it to remain -- as it was -- largely incidental.
Some critics complained about that, but -- despite the fact that there were a few decent games played in Reykjavik -- as the book again makes abundantly clear: chess was close to the least of it.
This isn't, as some have suggested, the definitive account of Fischer v. Spassky, 1972, -- there's not nearly enough about the chess, and some of the details are too breezily covered -- but it is a great popular account of a great (and often unbelievably bizarre) contest -- perhaps the definitive behind-the-scenes account.
And it's among the best popular (as opposed to specialist) non-fiction books we've read in ages.
Yesterday we mentioned some international literary prizes, and now there's another shortlist: Boyd Tonkin introduces the six-book strong one for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, who got to this before we did, kindly suggest we have more to say about this -- so, a few comments:
Interesting (and somewhat troubling): Tonkin notes that they:
discarded the latest books by world-class heavyweights such as Günter Grass and Mario Vargas Llosa.
British publishers may not issue nearly enough new fiction in translation; and this prize aims to prod them into doing more.
All of the books on the longlist that we have under review didn't make the cut, though Tonkin calls Shan Sa's Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize-winning The Girl Who Played Go and Javier Marias' Dark Back of Time "close contenders".
A bit surprising also: the book we're most eager to get to -- Lars Saabye Christensen's The Half Brother -- also didn't make the shortlist.
As to the six that did, well, we're not familiar with them -- which makes it all the more intriguing.
Among the lower profile contemporary English authors we're fans of is Geoff Nicholson.
With fourteen titles under review we've followed his career fairly closely (and he was the first author we devoted an author-page to).
After the enjoyable Bedlam Burning, published in 2000, things got rather quiet -- and we were worried that he'd suffered a Chris Wilson-type fate (another favourite (and about the same generation as Nicholson) who seems to have completely disappeared).
Fortunately: he's back.
Yes, for us The Hollywood Dodo counts among the half-dozen most anticipated books of the year, and though only available in May (in the UK) and June (in the US), our review is now available.
Not peak Nicholson, but not bad.
Despite decent American review coverage, he never really seems to have broken through in the US.
After a couple of years at The Overlook Press, who seem to us to have done a fairly good job with him, he's now moved on to Simon & Schuster; we'll see if they can do more with him.
Now if we could only get out hands on copies of Street Sleeper and Day Trips to the Desert .....
He didn't make it on the first ballot, but on the second one Alain Robbe-Grillet was yesterday elected to the illustrious Académie française (even then squeaking in with a not too convincing 19 out of 35 votes cast).
He takes over fauteuil 32 from Maurice Rheims (who held it 1976 to his death last year) and is now one of the 40 immortels (see the 37 currently occupied seats).
In a nice touch, his name is misspelled (as "Alain Robe-Grillet") on the official Académie page describing the election (we're pretty sure that would never happen at the German Akademie der Künste, even if it is easier to get into).
It's a nice honour for the octogenarian, though he probably won't enjoy as long a tenure as Rheims; for additional information about Robbe-Grillet see also information pages at books and writers and The Scriptorium.
The unusual but relatively far-reaching Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize for 2004 has been announced.
The fiction winner is Sino-French writer Shan Sa, for The Girl Who Played Go (see our review), while the non-fiction-half of the prize went to Inga Clendinnen (for Dancing with Strangers).
In yet another attempt to further interest and provide information about this region's literature the same (or affiliated) folk responsible for the prize have launched WaterBridge Review, offering: "Book news and Reviews from and about the Pacific Rim and South Asia".
Not much yet (just the first issue) -- but at least some Kiriyama Prize-related stuff, including a conversation with judges Patrick Lloyd Hatcher and Elisa Miller.
Meanwhile, the very international International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has announced its shortlist.
As usual, it's a fairly intriguing one.
(We even have two of the titles under review -- somewhat surprisingly, despite our general international outlook, two that were originally written in English: Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex and William Boyd's Any Human Heart.)
Oxford University Press publishes the New York Public Library Lectures in Humanities, which recently included seven authors talking about the so-called 'seven deadly sins'.
Four volumes have been published so far, and have received considerable review-coverage.
Not too surprisingly, the review at Christianity Today's 'Books & Culture' (by Abram Van Engen) isn't too enthusiastic (see also the discussion at Collected Miscellany).
Phyllis Tickle, who tackled 'greed', comes off okay ("With a good deal of sympathy, she moves beyond secular stereotypes into a nuanced understanding of Christian claims concerning vice"), but the others don't meet his sinning expectations: Francine Prose, for example, apparently: "makes a number of claims, several of which manage to get the Christian tradition entirely wrong".
The series is a modestly interesting exercise (modern perspectives on these seven sins), but we don't think we'll be getting to these booklets any time soon.
(Maybe when they collect all seven in one volume.)