There's been considerable coverage of some previously unknown Joyce letters that went up for auction on Thursday.
Rob Tomlinson reports that Joyce's steamy letter to lover fetches £240,000 in literary auction sale in The Scotsman.
Several of the Joyce items exceeded the estimates (£240,000 for a single letter ain't bad, and others fetched £84,000 and £33,600) -- too bad the contents can't/won't be made public (they're still copyright-protected, you see, -- regardless of who actually physically possesses them -- and the Joyce estate is very protective of these things).
But the Sotheby's site offers decent additional information.
See their pages on (in order of size of winning bid):
It's almost comforting to know that this newspaper-page-filler stand-by -- ask prominent people what they'll be reading over the summer -- appears to be universal.
Learn, for example, at The Don-A Ilbo about the Books that Notables Want To Read On Vacation -- the Korean version.
(For a brief summary, choose Hillel Italie's AP report (here at The Guardian) instead.)
A few surprises buried among the dreadful findings -- including that 12.1 per cent of those surveyed read poetry (which can be extrapolated to a total of 25 million people) -- far behind novel or short story readers (45.1 per cent, or 93 million people), but still .....
Also noteworthy: the US rates compare favourably to European ones, where the closest similar survey gave an EU-15-wide rate of 45 per cent a couple of years back (way below the US rate of 57), ranging from a high of 72 per cent in Sweden to a low of an astonishing 15 per cent in Portugal.
(It's not quite clear that exactly the same thing was asked -- but still .....)
No need to get all defensive: bloggers can and should do whatever they like, and provide whatever sort of links they want.
We can't understand why so many blogs so often link just to the first story they come across about topic X, especially when there are obvious better sources to refer to.
The NEA-survey story (above) is an obvious example.
Sure, the AP or The New York Times' story on the report is of interest, and a link welcome -- but why not a link at least to the NEA site or, more obviously, the NEA press release ?
And, above all: why not a link to the actual report ?
(Okay, it's in the horrible pdf format -- but readers can be warned.)
Amazingly, none of the many mentions of this story we came across bothered -- though it requires almost no effort or long hunting to find these pages (though perhaps some bloggers think readers should do that work themselves).
(Surely somebody else out there did link to the report, but generally the press report was enough for most bloggers.
((Updated - 10 July): We've now actually come across quite a few weblogs that have linked to the actual report -- well done !))
We can't imagine that anyone is lazier than we are (well, a few people obviously are, but we're certainly not particularly thorough, ambitious, or diligent), but even we generally manage to find and offer an extra link (not often enough -- and not enough of them, probably, but at least something).
We think it's worthwhile mainly because it allows readers to judge for themselves -- and it's obviously the superior material to rely on when discussing the issue at hand.
One of the problems with media reports (the AP or The New York Times' story, etc.) is that they're yet more filters -- why support that, when you can turn straight to the facts ?
(We suspect: a lot of people don't care about the facts.)
(We're similarly baffled that, despite several mentions of the Penguin books sell-off (see below) no one else seems to have bothered to link to the informative and obvious Half Price Books Penguin page.
And so on.)
The great thing about the Internet (and one aspect in which it is clearly superior to print media) is that you can readily connect to actual source material so much of the time -- so why not take advantage of that ?
We mentioned that the American index is a pared- and toned-down version of the British one -- and, after reading the reviews are even more surprised the American publishers did this.
In his review in The Spectator (31 January 2004), Philip Hensher already voiced his approval for the original index, saying it is: "worth the cover price on its own".
And in his review in the New Scientist (27 March 2004) Martin Ince praises it as "the index of the year".
As we mentioned, the American index isn't just boring -- it's also inaccurate (and, given the many omissions, not particularly useful).
Sounds like a pretty bad call on the part of the publisher, though perhaps typical: spend more money while at the same time lessening the quality of the work.
In The Independent Boyd Tonkin reports that Missing out on the Greeks is a tragedy.
The opening was apparently badly timed (there was a football game on, the greatest Greek athletic triumph in recent memory), but it sounds like a worthy institution: a House of Literature in the former Xenia Hotel in Lefkes, Paros.
In conjunction with the European Center for the Translation of Literature and the Human Sciences (EKEMEL), it should help raise awareness (and foster translations) of modern Greek writing; Tonkin obviously got them off to a good start publicity-wise.
There were apparently other journalists there -- see the report at Paros Life -- and maybe they'll offer additional coverage in the next week or two.
Vladimir Voinovich, the chairman of the 2004 judges, prose writer and researcher of the Russian history said:
"The Jury had read 36 kilogramms of compositions of different kind and level.
And as a result of discussion we have found, that sixteen kgs among them are interesting for us.
The pood [sic] of good novelistic prose for a year is not bad, I think, for any literature."
The Telegraph offers all sorts of summer reading recommendations this week.
There's the standard Regular contributors' choice list -- and then there are Toby Clements' offerings.
Clements gets to suggest 30 best novels and 30 best non-fiction -- in paperback, that is.
And they let him write a little paean to the paperback as well.
He waxes eloquently:
A paperback is a beautiful thing: the most perfect union of form and function, the literary equivalent of the Kalashnikov rifle.
Inexpensive, ephemeral and ubiquitous it may be, but a paperback does everything it is supposed to do: it conveys information.
We're paperback fans too (we've been reading some Ian Rankin, and one of the thrills is to be able read books that are available in the mass-market paperback format -- i.e. books that can easily be carried and read anywhere, which isn't the case for most of the unwieldy junk-formats we usually have to deal with).
But aside from the near-useless trade paperback format now widely substituting for real (mass market sized) paperbacks other things have changed as well.
The first 10 Penguin paperbacks came out in the summer of 1935.
Each cost sixpence, which meant that you could buy all 10 titles for the price of one hardback and still have enough money left over for 50 cigarettes.
Now paperback prices often approach those for hardbacks (never mind cigarette prices ...).
A bargain they ain't any longer.
The piles of books we're looking forward to are, as always, enormous (and could should keep us busy well through fall and winter and beyond ...), but a couple of books rise to the top and will get attention soonest.
The forthcoming Cynthia Ozick, for one -- and Iain Sinclair's Dining on Stones, which came in the post yesterday, thrilling us no end (it's a mere three months since we requested it -- but, hey, as long as we get it we're happy).
They apparently couldn't be bothered to move some of their books when they made their recent (apparently less than resoundingly successful) warehouse move, so Penguin simply sold them off -- to Half Price Books, who sound just thrilled by what's fallen into their lap.
A report in The Times (5 July, available here, at The Statesman) says this occurred: "to the astonishment of booksellers and collectors".
Mr Luan Harrison, a spokesman for the store, which is selling the books for between $3 and $50, said:
"Penguin contacted our buyer and offered us the books.
They were moving warehouse and didnít want to move the 1,00,000 books."
She said the Penguin Society was "baffled and upset" by the books being sent to America.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jagdish Bhagwati's In Defense of Globalization.
As die-hard free-trade supporters we don't need much convincing -- yet Bhagwati's book (the presentation more than the arguments) left an odd aftertaste.
Literary-minded readers might also wonder about some of Bhagwati's claims, such as:
But the anti-capitalist sentiments are particularly virulent among the young who arrive at their social awakening on campuses in fields other than economics.
English, comparative literature, and sociology are fertile breeding grounds.
We must have missed that literary-economic connexion (and Bhagwati's explanation -- blame deconstructionism ! -- isn't fully convincing either).
Another couple of weeks until the Zimbabwe International Book Fair starts up.
They have a spiffy new site, but given the catastrophic situation in Zimbabwe under Mugabe's ever-more outrageous (and grievously under-reported on) misrule (land-nationalization -- there's an idea that can please ... absolutely no one) we're wondering how successful it will be.
The Zim Observer now reports that Zimbabwe book fair returns bigger and better, noting that:
Over the years, the culture of reading books has become a luxury or past time few Zimbabweans actively indulge in.
With the wealth of literary works in this country, one should be excused for wondering why this event has not captured the imagination of the nation.
Our writers, it seems are appreciated more in foreign climes than they are in their own country.
It must be true then; a prophet commands no respect in his/her hometown.
This year one of the big projects in conjunction with the fair is the Zimbabwe's 75 Best Books Project, where: "25 best titles in each of the three language categories of Shona, Ndebele and English and the top five titles will be identified in each language".
To our embarrassment, we not only have no works originally written in Shona or Ndebele under review but couldn't even name a single one.
So we're interested in what works make the list.
(For some background, see W. Krog's 1979 article on The Progress of Shona and Ndebele Literature (from the Southern Rhodesia Native Affairs Department Annual -- possibly not politically correct any longer) and an overview of Zimbabwean literature at The Postcolonial and Postimperial Web.)
Philip Hensher enthuses over indices in The Independent today, in Dishonourable mentions.
We love a good index, but find most we come across to be wanting, to say the least; Hensher seems to have better luck.
It may be an English thing, too.
We're covering Francis Wheen's new book (our review is now available here), and, as it happens, it's one of the ones which has an index to Hensher's liking:
Francis Wheen is an expert perpetrator of the preposterous index; his recent How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World has an index of delightful lunacy, including this entry for God: "accepted by Newton; angered by feminists and gays; appoints American coal-owners; approves of laissez-faire economics; arrives in America; asked by Khomeini to cut off foreigners' hands; believed to have created humans 10,000 years ago; could have made intelligent sponges; doesn't foresee Princess Diana's death; helps vacuum-cleaner saleswoman; interested in diets; offers investment advice; praised by Enron chairman; produces first self-help manual."
Sounds fun, though we couldn't recall the index being this entertaining when we read the book.
No wonder: we have the American edition: it bears a new title (Idiot Proof) -- and a new index.
As Hensher mentions:
Incidentally, I was told by Wheen himself that his American publishers commissioned a professional, more sober index.
Some people just can't see a joke.
PublicAffairs™, the American publisher, did indeed re-index the book, and they apparently really can't see a joke -- or understand what the purpose of an index is (to refer to the text maybe ?).
There's not any entry for "God" at all, for one.
So they save some paper ... we would have preferred the original index.
It sounds far more useful.
Not only that: "his American publishers commissioned a professional, more sober index": ?
A quick leaf-through yields such gems as: the spelling "Realpolitick" (it's correctly spelled in the text proper), suggests that references can be found for: "CNBC, 243, 245" (sorry, no CNBC mentions on page 243 -- they're on pages 244 and 245) or "Yahoo!, 243" and "Yang, Jerry, 243" (Yahoo! is mentioned on 243 -- but on 244 too; Yang only surfaces on 244 (apparently someone had a hard time keeping track of the pages at this point: "Bezos, Jeff, 243" is the claim as well -- but he also only shows up on 244).
Never mind all the names mentioned in the text that, like god, are completely ignored .....
If this is professional (someone actually got paid to perpetrate this !), give us amateur every time.
(We hope that for the paperback edition of the book they restore the British index.)
Like bad reality TV shows even the BBC's The Big Read is being copied abroad: German broadcaster ZDF is launching Das große Lesen.
(Not quite the same ring, eh ?)
They have a list of 200 suggestions to choose from (which we haven't been able to access yet) -- though viewers and readers are allowed to make their own suggestions.
But there are some restrictions: no books that incite violence or Fremdenhaß (literally: hatred of foreigners), and none that are on the 'index of writings deemed harmful to young persons' ("Index jugendgefährdender Schriften").
(For more information on the Index, see the page About the BPjM (Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons).)
(For additional (German) information see also this article at the FAZ.)
This Dayreports that Chimanda Ngozi Adichie is now back in her native Nigeria, promoting her novel, Purple Hibiscus:
According to Farafina, the organisers of the reading, it is intended to promote the title as well as encourage a reading culture in the country.
The statement issued by Ms Ebun Olatoye, the Farafina project co-ordinator, hopes that the event will sensitise Nigerians to the existence of exceptional home-grown literature in the country.
The event, she says, will draw more people into the Nigerian literary community.
What is it about re-writing Ramayana that makes it so appealing to mystery writers ?
We reported last year on Ramayana-fever, about contemporary efforts at re-presenting the Indian classic.
We knew at the time that Ramayana re-writer Ashok Banker had previously written mysteries (see the bibliography at the About Ashok page at his site), books like Ten Dead Admen, Murder & Champagne, and The Missing Parents Mystery.
Now we learn that Ramesh Menon also wrote two thrillers, apparently before he went on to tackle the Ramayana (see the FSG publicity page about his "Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic"), and they have now been published in one volume.
Unfortunately, they don't sound like real winners: in The Hindu Latha Anantharaman writes:
Ramesh Menon has written a pair of thrillers, someone has published it, and two well-known columnists have supplied praises for the back cover, surely after having read something else entirely.
Combine Jeffrey Archer style plots with the great Indian myths -- the Ramayana and the Mahabharata -- and then localise them, and, if you are lucky, you can come up with something mouth-wateringly delicious.
Unfortunately for Ramesh Menon, he has tried, not once, but twice, with the same formula -- and both times, he has failed miserably.
But for a library that is so singularly readerless, the number of missing books is appalling.
During the 13th Lok Sabha, for example, a total of 190 members from both the houses were fined for losing books they (or their staff) had borrowed.
DMK MP S.S. Palanimanickam, for example, managed to lose an impressive 23 books.
Still, we have to wonder when it's suggested:
The ideal reader, according to the library's staff, was Manmohan Singh.
"He borrowed the maximum number of books and what is more, returned them the same day.
He even suggested so many books the library should acquire," says Bala.
Returned them the same day ?
Well, it's nice to see people so devoted to reading, but still .....
Not a particularly inspired list, but lots of different holiday books get mentioned in The Observer's round-up, where they: "asked writers, critics and celebrities what books they'll be packing for their holidays this summer"
(Note that not everybody seems to have understood this pretty simple question.)
See the responses here: part 1 and part 2
In The Guardian William Boyd offers A Chekhov lexicon.
Not the ideal way to present an author, but it makes for a few fun titbits, such as: "Chekhov had two dachshunds, which he called Quinine and Bromine".
As has been widely reported, Nicholson Baker has a new book coming out in early August, Checkpoint.
The plot (or dialogue, at least) apparently centres around the idea of assassinating current American president George junior Bush.
(See articles in (the registration-requiring) The Washington Post, The Independent, and the AP report (here at USA Today).)
As Maud Newton noted, "the book doesn't show up on Amazon yet".
That should change soon: it's appeared in the Knopf online catalogue now (see their publicity page), and it should be available soon at this page at Amazon.com, and here at Amazon.co.uk.
(Nothing yet when we last checked, but it should show up pretty soon -- Barnes & Noble has already managed to list it.)
At Slate Jack Shafer writes about The Clinton Book Blitz, wondering: "Can you really review a 957-page book in 24 hours ?"
We are, as we have mentioned previously, much opposed to the practise of reviews being penned as fast as possible (not to mention publishers embargoing a title -- as Knopf did with the Clinton memoir -- leading to the ridiculous race among reviewers to see who can cover it fastest).
Shafer offers a useful overview of many of those that tackled the Clinton -- and, not surprisingly, it turns out many didn't read it very carefully or closely.
The explanations don't do much to reassure the reading public that they should (or even: could) have any respect for reviewers (or much trust in what they write).
Robert Sam Anson's excuse: "This wasn't really a book book".
The Los Angeles Times Tim Rutten 'reviewed' it and:
Rutten defends instant reviews as "a service to readers who are engaged by the 24-hour news cycle."
But at least he admits:
Whether instant reviews are a service to letters or history, he says, is debatable.
Particularly troubling: the attitude (and approach) of Francine Prose, who 'reviewed' it for Newsday:
Prose agreed to write the instant review in part because the paper offered a premium rate -- which she won't confide.
But her main motivation was the opportunity to write something political.
"I knew that regardless of the literary merits of the book, the human being that was going to appear from those pages would be superior to the people in the current administration," Prose says.
It's always nice when reviewers approach a book with pre-conceptions of this sweeping sort .....
(But would she have bothered at a less than premium rate ?)
But Shafer does have a point:
To begin with, publisher Knopf encouraged the day-hits of My Life by breaking with the standard procedure in which publishers provide advance review copies to publications but request that no review run until the official publishing date -- or until the book appears in bookstores.
If Knopf -- or Clinton -- desire reviews benefiting from longer deadlines, they know how to make that system work.
If they want to treat the book as a news event, there's no reason why reviewers shouldn't do the same.
But we still disagree with the last point: reviewers should focus on the book as book, and judge it accordingly.
Those that think it is breaking news that has to be conveyed now, or think it's not a "book book", are welcome to treat it that way -- but surely it shouldn't be reviewers who play along at this game.
Of course, we're baffled by the idea that Clinton's memoir is newsworthy (to this extent) in any case -- yes, it's worth noticing, but it surely doesn't deserve anywhere near this attention -- especially not when there is actual news out there, far more important stuff (the junior Bush's mishandling of everything he touches, for one).
But people seem to prefer a good wallow in jolly Arkansas nostalgia instead.
(There are, of course, also a lot better books they could wallow in, which makes the success of and interest in this book all the more confounding.)
At The Independent Boyd Tonkin also looks at the Clinton to-do, and insists that Critics still matter.
But he also writes:
My Life, by the way, contains a truly magnificent index: 38 exemplary pages, with all the major topics minutely subdivided as well.
Maybe the British edition was outfitted with a real index; the American one certainly doesn't appear to have been -- see our previous mention.
Also mentioned in the Shafer article about Clinton's My Life (see above) is the fact that Knopf didn't appreciate Slate's "Juicy Bits" condensed version of the Clinton book.
Lots of weblogs linked to this piece, originally found here.
Billed as: "The Condensed Bill Clinton - Slate reads My Life so you don't have to", it offered a nice condensed version of the book.
Clicking to that page now all you find is the message: "The page you are trying to reach has moved. Try searching our Archives at left."
Slate really has to do a better job of letting people know what happens to these things: the page didn't move, it was wiped from the site.
Scroll down on the corrections page: it's only there that readers learn:
After receiving a complaint from the publisher that a June 22 "Juicy Bits" article on My Life by Bill Clinton infringed on the book's copyright, Slate removed the piece on the advice of counsel.
Knopf may have something of a case here -- the Slate piece seems an excellent market-substitute for the actual book (though we once again have to say we're flabbergasted that anyone would buy this thing, regardless of the availability of crib-sheet-versions).
Still, it's the first time we've heard of this happening to such a book-summary.
This isn't a new feature at Slate, and we haven't heard anyone else complain.
See, for example, their summary of Richard Clarke's Against all Enemies.
That, too, gives away all the good parts -- but the publishers didn't seem to mind.
Which should make readers wonder: what does Knopf have to hide ?
Presumably (but this is just our guess) that the Clinton tome is one terrible book.
(The Guardian has a slightly different feature, The digested read, which offers: "The must-read books in just 400 words" -- and which often does so very cruelly.
We haven't heard of any publisher demanding any specific one be removed either.)
Sure, Knopf wants to protect its multi-million dollar investment, but we're still disappointed.
A quality work should easily be able to weather widespread availability of summary versions (isn't that what many of the reviews are ?), etc.
But the evidence -- from the embargo to this -- continues to suggest that even Knopf realises this book just ain't worth much.
In The Independent Jack Adrian offers an interesting obituary of prolific writer Hugh B. Cave, who died on Sunday.
We're not familiar with any of Cave's work -- but there certainly was a lot of it, and some of it sounds quite fun:
Cave went on to conquer most fields of popular fiction over the years, writing western yarns, horror and weird- menace tales, both hard- and soft-boiled detective stories, romance fiction, SF, mysteries, spy and sea stories, and a whole flock of other sub-genres.
A review at Bookmunch alerts us to the fact that Peter Dimock's A Short Rhetoric for Leaving the Family, first published by Dalkey Archive Press in 1998, has now also been published in the UK, by Methuen.
Here's hoping this worthy title finally gets some of the attention it deserves; it was woefully under-reviewed in the US when it came out (John Leonard's in The Nation appears to have been the only major review -- though ours has also been available for some five years now).