At The Washington Post Karl Vick reports on how Azar Nafisi's surprise bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran (see our review) is regarded in contemporary Iran, in Sorry, Wrong Chador (link first seen at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind).
Not available in translation, and thus reaching only a limited audience, it nevertheless hasn't gotten quite the reception one might have expected.
Apparently in this time of rapid change (? -- presumably you have to be there to notice) it's already quaintly outdated:
"The intermingling of literary criticism and politics is brilliant.
The style of writing is brilliant.
I mean, it's a brilliant book.
But it has nothing to do with Iran."
Ronan Bennett's new novel, Havoc, In Its Third Year, will be available (in both the UK and US) in September, but our review is already available.
Yet another novel set in the 1600s (we seem to have seen quite a few of these in the past year) .....
We've also now reviewed his short book on The Retrial of the Guildford Four, Double Jeopardy.
We picked up our copy of Double Jeopardy at a used-book store for $2.00.
It's not in great condition, but it is doubly inscribed by Bennett, Ronan thanking a Deanna "for a great night out in New York City", dated 7.xii.93, and then, overleaf and in a different ink adding: "fondly & with many thanks for the tour", dated 13.ii.95.
Apparently, Deanna couldn't wait any longer for Ronan to re-inscribe the book, and she finally got rid of it.
Several weblogs have mentioned a new online literary publication called Zembla -- and have reported the same frustration at trying to navigate the site.
The LNR Books Diary offers the most thorough examination of the horror trip of visiting that site, in 'Zembla, or the Lord knows where': They Made Me Hate them:
Readers, are you tired of navigable literary magazines?
Are you disappointed that you can quickly find and read new articles at 3am and Spike?
Would you like to spend more of life lost in a dark flash forest, unable to find the right path?
Well, you're in luck: Zembla Magazine International Literary Magazine is just the ticket!
At This Day Toba Suleiman reports on General Yakubu Gowon's explanation for jailing Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka back in 1967.
Forgiving and forgetting is nice, sort of -- but we're not so sure we'd be quite so forgiving.
But then Gowon doesn't seem to think it was such a big deal anyway:
However, Gowon explained that despite the situation his (Soyinka) life was never in danger.
"My government at that time did not tolerate any situation like that.
So, he had a nice time, about 2 years, four months.
He had a nice time so much that while in detention, he thought of writing books."
Do we detect a note of wistful regret in his words ?
At the Weekly Standard Stephen Schwartz tries to counter the general Pablo Neruda enthusiasm found all over the place the past couple of weeks (in celebration of his centenary):
There is probably no more chance of halting this current binge of Neruda worship than there is of banishing the cicadas, but, still, the truth does need to be said: Pablo Neruda was a bad writer and a bad man.
The roll-out of the new film version of The Manchurian Candidate has begun.
Coverage includes a preview article at Newsweek, and reviews at Newsweek (by David Ansen) and Reuters (by Michael Rechtshaffen).
And, of course, there's a (flash-requiring) official site.
(We have the Richard Condon novel under review -- as well as Greil Marcus' study of the first film version.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Dan Rhodes' (writing as 'Danuta de Rhodes') new novel, The Little White Car.
We still don't get the need for the transparent disguise, but the book has very little else going for it so perhaps it was the only way of attracting much attention for it.
I dwell on Coren's review because it typifies the kind of smirking philistinism that makes this country far more of a cultural desert than it needs to be, and may well have been one of the factors that drove Johnson to slit his wrists in a hot bath at the age of 40.
Also worth emphasising -- hallelujah ! we thought, that someone states the obvious -- Lezard's conclusion:
So don't think that because Johnson took stylistic risks he must be unapproachable or elitist.
(Meanwhile, we're still eager to cover Jonathan Coe's B.S.Johnson-biography, Like a Fiery Elephant (see our previous mention), but it doesn't look like we'll get our hands on a copy any time soon.)
At Worlds without Borders Lawrence Venuti suggests How to Read a Translation.
Always fun to note such facts (and come to such conclusions) as:
(I)n Italy and Germany, more than thirty titles by Charles Bukowski are available in translation (eighteen in France, fifteen in Spain).
Rare is the contemporary foreign novelist whose body of work enjoys such representation and availability in English.
In these circumstances, even to read a translation purely for its literary qualities can be seen as a political gesture, an act of resistance against long-standing publishing practices that have severely restricted our access to foreign literatures.
But he's correct in his careful advocacy:
Read translations, although with an eye out for the translatorís work, with the awareness that the most a translation can give you is an insightful and eloquent interpretation of a foreign text, at once limited and enabled by the need to address the receiving culture.
Publishers will catch on sooner or later.
After all, itís in their interest.
(Yeah, we're not entirely sure about that conclusion.
Publishers will catch on ?
They seem, to us, to do so little that's in their interest, so why should this be any different .....)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Howard Jacobson's Who's Sorry Now ?.
Alex Clark, in her review in The Guardian has it right:
Jacobson is among the most exhilaratingly intelligent of contemporary novelists, and probably the least likely to worry about crowd-pleasing.
So much of his writing is literally stunning -- like getting whacked on the head -- but it's often not pleasant.
Humour helps counter the unsympathetic characters (and, often, lack of much action), but it can still be hard to pick up one of his books, knowing what one is in for.
Light entertainment it ain't.
Hard entertainment, maybe -- not difficult, but unforgivingly hard.
But he is the rare author who has truly impressed us.
We'll pick up anything he's written we come across, without hesitation.
We expect to post our review of the recently published (in the UK) novel, The Little White Car, soon (updated - 18 July - our review is now available).
This is the book that is, inexplicably, attributed to someone named Danuta de Rhodes.
Perhaps the lamest literary gag of the year (though it does seem to have drummed up a bit of attention, so it wasn't entirely ineffective), it is obvious that the person behind the work and the pseudonym is none other than occasionally acclaimed author Dan Rhodes.
There's been some playful banter about is-he-or-isn't-he in the British press, in both interviews and reviews -- apparently people don't have anything better to do.
Apparently, however, the "joke" only works in English: his German publishers, KiWi, aren't putting up with this idiocy, and are selling the book as Lady Di oder Das kleine weiße Auto by Dan Rhodes; see the cover.
(Additional note: the publishing business continues to mystify and confuse us.
Can someone explain why the German translation (!) of this book will be available in August, a month before it's scheduled to appear in the US ?
(Note that Canongate is publishing it in both the UK and US; other than changing the ISBN number there doesn't seem anything they have to do to re-present the volume that came out a few weeks ago in the UK.))
The Checkpoint-bandwagon rolls on: Nicholson Baker's forthcoming book (see our previous mention) is already delivering controversy galore.
Mark W. Davis -- a former speechwriter for the original president Bush -- now weighs in, with the opinion piece Shoot to Sell at the National Review.
Among his points:
A powerful enough emotion, validated and popularized by a prominent book by a seemingly respectable publisher, can be taken as an incitement.
Checkpoint, whatever its literary conceits, will be an act of linguistic terrorism.
Knopf (that "seemingly respectable publisher") must be loving this.
We just wish people would actually wait until they've read the book before they condemn (or praise) it.
The mere fact that something as outrageous as murder is being discussed (as we understand it, the book does not lead to an actual assassination attempt) isn't sufficient to put it beyond the pale; there are probably dozens of titles published every week in which characters consider murder and other unspeakable acts (though admittedly relatively few which consider well-known real people as their targets).
For now -- not knowing any better -- we have to give Baker (and Knopf) the benefit of the doubt -- i.e. that there are valid reasons for incorporating this outrageous idea into his novel.
Another couple of weeks and everyone can read and judge for themselves.
Judging before reading, on the other hand, continues to seem highly ill-advised.
Ah, yes, there's little that's more elegant than fighting about money you did nothing to earn.
Disgruntled heirs are always fun, and now it's the Steinbeck clan that's resorted to the courts.
As Hillel Italie writes in an AP report (here at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) suit was filed yesterday:
John Steinbeck's surviving blood heirs are suing the estate of his third wife, Elaine Steinbeck, alleging a "30-year hidden conspiracy" to cheat them of royalties and copyright control and detailing a bitter family feud worthy of a Steinbeck novel.
We hope they all blow all their money on lawyers' fees.
An online-only Lost & Found item by Harold Braswell at The New Republic site, Continental Shadow, offers a welcome discussion of Yambo Ouologuem and his famous (and somewhat controversial) novel, Bound to Violence (see, of course, also our review).
Bound to Violence apparently remains out of print (check out the ridiculous prices for a used copy at Amazon.com); indeed, it was only recently re-issued in French.
Braswell also calls the useful anthology Yambo Ouologuem: Postcolonial Writer, Islamic Militant, edited by Christopher Wise, "a necessary companion work to the novel"; we, of course, also have it under review.
That's only about a third of the total -- the first, and then a pack of four recent ones -- and we're still not entirely won over.
His reputation leads one to expect a lot, and he doesn't really disappoint, but not one of the books we read is an unqualified success.
Some death-defying climaxes (which we generally found anti-climactic and often unbelievable) or too cartoonish villains, crimes, or occasional colleagues always mucked things up.
(The exaggerations -- that's usually what the faults boil down to -- particularly disappoint because he does the everyday so well.)
But we'll probably have a look at some more from the series somewhere down the line.
We can't imagine it'll help shift many copies, but it's nice to see a newspaper devote some space to such an edition of a poet's work, as The Independent does with Duncan Wu's report, Ode to a forgotten Laureate.
The article is occasioned by a new edition of Robert Southey's poetry, Wu writing:
This fine new edition tells us that it is folly for a politically correct age to go on holding that against him.
Its editors have painstakingly retrieved the best of Southey's poetry and given it the scholarly treatment that it has long deserved, so that he can finally step out from beneath the apostate's mantle and be acknowledged as the great verse storyteller he always was.
The edition, Robert Southey: Poetical Works 1793-1810, is fine indeed.
Five volumes, and a list price of £450.00 or $695.00 -- but it may be close to worth that price; see (and drool over) the Pickering & Chatto publicity page (and, if you have the spare change, get your own copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
The closest we've gotten to reviewing Southey is Paul Muldoon's Madoc -- but we do have a copy of the 1909 two-column Oxford Edition, Poems of Robert Southey (obtained for $ 12.95, which is actually a lot for us to spend on a book, so you can guess that we're pretty darn interested in the guy).
For some samples, see the Selected Poetry of Robert Southey (1774-1843).
(And how can you not like a poem titled: "My Days among the Dead are Past" ?)
An opinion piece at The Bookseller considers Going back to the backlist.
There are some interesting (British) statistics there too:
There has been an 11% decline since 2001 in the number of active titles in Nielsen BookScan's General Retail Market, the Book Sales Yearbook records.
Frontlist sales have increased 42% in value since 1998; in 1998, they comprised 39.9% of the General Retail Market, and in 2003 that figure rose to 46.7%.
The frontlist focus is disturbing -- but it's interesting to note that, despite the constant complaints about too many new books being published ever year, fewer and fewer are readily available (i.e. in print) -- at least in the UK.
In today's issue of the Christian Science Monitor Ron Charles reviews Peter Stephan Jungk's intriguing-sounding Disney-novel, The Perfect American.
Now available in an English translation (by popular translator Michael Hofmann) from ever-more impressive Other Press (see their publicity page for the book), it was originally published in German in 2001 as Der König von Amerika (literally: The King of America; don't ask us why the English title isn't literal).
(Get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, or get the original (now out in paperback -- see the Suhrkamp publicity page) from Amazon.de.)
The original comes with a mini-cover-controversy: Klett-Cotta originally published it with this cover -- obviously suggesting a familiar pair of mouse-ears.
Asked whether Disney had reacted at all to the book Jungk said in a Tagblattinterview that the cover was the only thing they reacted to -- and that they wanted 10,000 DM as compensation.
(The pressure must have worked: the American cover uses a similar simple red-black contrast, but a very different image -- and the German paperback edition came with an entirely different cover.)
No other English-language reviews we've seen yet, but the book got good coverage in the German press -- see, for example, reviews in the NZZ, Die Welt, and Die Zeit.
We think we'd like to have a look, too.
Summer has a strange effect on the reading mind.
Gone is any concern with literary respectability.
Shed, any inhibitions about raw escapism.
You get back in touch with the tiny Philistine who lives in your lazy, pleasure-loving little heart.
Why fight it ?
We took a look at this summer's guilty pleasures and picked out the most delicious we could find.
You've been good.
Have a summer fling with an unsuitable book.
We've never really understood this reasoning.
We reach for escapist literature when we want to escape something -- when, for example, we're involved in serious things, working late and intensely, etc.
Summer, beach-time, vacations far away from home and work are in and of themselves escapes -- so what would we need an escapist read for ?
Surely when we have time and leisure on our hands is the time to devote to serious reading, the time to tackle books that we don't have the time or patience to tackle when a million other things tug at us.
Escapist schlock can be read on the subway to work or during coffee breaks, but more demanding books are much harder to digest when reading is constantly interrupted and other things have priority.
That said, we find it hard to imagine reading anything on Grossman's list, no matter how desperate we might be for escape.
It would take a mighty sun-stroke, surely, to get us to pick up any of this stuff.
In fact, about the trashiest we hoped to get this summer was a book like Codex -- but the publishers wouldn't send us a copy.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Germano Almeida's The Last Will and Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo.
New Directions has just brought out this English translation, but this 1991 novel has been widely translated -- possibly also because it was made into a film which presumably helped attract some notice for it.
It is the first novel from Cape Verde we've reviewed -- not that we expect to be able to find many more from there to cover .....
Not only was the original version of former American president Bill Clinton's memoir, My Life, rushed into bookstores, but now translations are popping up with impressive speed.
Ma vie (get your copy at Amazon.fr) has been out from Odile Jacob (see their publicity page) for over a week now, and the book has hit number one on the bestseller list (though see this -- perhaps slightly premature -- UPI report, Clinton's book makes shaky start in France (from 23 June !).)
And last week Mein Leben (get your copy at Amazon.de) came out from Econ Verlag (see their publicity page), with Clinton now on book-tour in Germany (enjoy, for example, his conversation with Johannes B. Kerner on ZDF tonight).
Interestingly, there's not much mention of who translated the book in either case -- we couldn't find the names of the guilty parties (though admittedly we didn't look that hard).
Translation by committee perhaps ?
In any case: the incredible speed with which these books have been translated surely is cause for some concern.
yes, the prose probably isn't very polished in the first place, and style hardly the main point, but still .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Michael Silverstein's look at The Substance of Style from Abe to 'W', Talking Politics -- another volume from Prickly Paradigm Press, which just doesn't get the attention it deserves.
We thought Amazon would be much more efficient in listing Nicholson Baker's much-discussed Checkpoint -- but it took them until now to manage.
But the book is now available from them: pre-order it at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.