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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 August

11 August: Booknotes coming to an end | Danilo Kiš reviews | Two years at the Saloon
12 August: Pound plaqued | Subsidy publishing goes academic ? | Arthur Phillips' The Egyptologist | Turkish literature
13 August: Books in newspapers | Words without Borders | Zero Over Berlin review | Nawal El-Saadawi | Ngugi attacked
14 August: Orlean and Adaptation | By Bjørneboe !
15 August: Czeslaw Milosz | Literary Edinburgh | Ponder and apply | Brownies for Tanenhaus ?
16 August: Preserving anonymity | Interview rejoinder | Whither reviewing ?
17 August: Olympics | Tulli review | More Satrapi
18 August: Thea Astley | Nationalist textbooks | Cheney's Sisters
19 August: In bookstores now | More Rankin reviews | UK Checkpoint reaction | de Maistre's Voyage
20 August: in China | Olesha's Envy | New Iain Banks | Launch dates | Tibor Fischer on the Man Booker

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20 August 2004 - Friday in China | Olesha's Envy | New Iain Banks | Launch dates
Tibor Fischer on the Man Booker in China announced that they are acquiring the largest Chinese "online retailers of books, music and videos", (wisely based in the British Virgin Islands). Pretty cheap (around $ 75 million), this looks like a good deal for Amazon.
       See also news reports at, for example,

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Olesha's Envy

       It's nice to see that Yuri Olesha's Envy is getting some attention. We've been meaning to review the old Ardis edition (translated by T.S.Berczynski) we have for ages. But now there's a new NYRB edition, translated by Marian Schwartz (and with an introduction by Ken Kalfus).
       There's a new review in The Stranger, and a few weeks back Nicholas Jahr discussed it at The Nation site.
       Get your own copy at or

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       New Iain Banks

       A new Iain Banks novel is coming out, at least in the UK. At The Bookseller the work, The Algebraist, and author are discussed.
       It's due out in October; pre-order your copy from, and see the Orbit publicity page.

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       Launch dates

       So British publishers wanted to get together and make Mondays launch day for all new books. But The Bookseller reports: Launch dates struggle to get off the ground:
The logistics of distribution and instore roll-out have also been trickier than anticipated. But the main snag has been co-ordinating Monday releases with newspaper serialisation deals: if a serial ends mid-week, it is counter-intuitive to hold back publication until the following week.

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       Tibor Fischer on the Man Booker

       Tibor Fischer is one of this year's Man Booker Prize judges, and now he offers a behind-the-scenes look at the Daily Telegraph, Here's how to get on my longlist (already widely linked to and commented on).
       Seems like a reasonable take on the ridiculous thing that is the Man Booker (including the secrecy around which books were submitted -- what the hell is that good for ?).
       Only one more week (26 August) until the longlist is announced. What excitement. For additional information, visit the official site -- or see this list of 2004 Booker Prize Shortlist Possibles (note that the list is weak on fall releases -- look also for Jonathan Coe, for example, to be a contender).

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19 August 2004 - Thursday

In bookstores now | More Rankin reviews | UK Checkpoint reaction | de Maistre's Voyage

       In bookstores now

       Two mid-size fall titles that we (p)reviewed a while back are now available in (US) bookstores: Cynthia Ozick's Heir to the Glimmering World and Ronan Bennett's Havoc, In Its Third Year.

       And a couple of titles which we reviewed and which attracted some attention over the past year are just out in paperback:        The stand-out title among all of these ? Ozick's, hands down.
       We're still not sure why Knopf let her go (or she ditched them) -- Houghton Mifflin is her new publisher -- but perhaps she wasn't bringing in the big (enough) bucks. There appears to be a little sales-pressure, as even she is forced to adapt to bookselling in the 21st century: among the publicity material we received was also the information that: "this fall she is going on her first actual national author tour". (Of course, we don't entirely understand why she's not a bestselling author whose books can be found at every supermarket, but our market-expectations aren't always entirely realistic.) In any case, we'll keep you informed of the readings etc. when they start up (none due for a couple of weeks yet, as best we can tell). Links to other reviews will, of course, be found on our review page -- once they start appearing.

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       More Rankin reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two more Ian Rankin books, the early Rebus-volumes:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       UK Checkpoint reaction

       Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint continues to garner considerable attention. We'll have to wait a few more weeks for the British reviews (yes, the book is out in Germany, but only makes it to the UK in early September), but Sam Leith "investigates the controversy" at the Daily Telegraph. He says of the book: "It is forcefully engagé, however ironised."
       Meanwhile, if you prefer to listen to a review, check out Alan Cheuse's at NPR.

       Our Checkpoint-review remains much-accessed, but we find it reassuring and pleasing that over the past two weeks or so (since it has been up) twice as many users have purchased Cynthia Ozick's Heir to the Glimmering World via our links to than Checkpoint. Okay, we're not talking massive sales-volume here, and people checking out our Baker-review presumably are mainly looking for a fifth or fiftieth opinion and probably already bought it elsewhere (whereas our Ozick review remains pretty much the only game in town as far as that book goes), but it's still neat to see a real work of literature do better (at least locally) than the much-hyped flavour of the month. (It makes us think that maybe we really do have a discerning readership. But that notion always begs the question how they put up with us .....)

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       de Maistre's Voyage continues to expand nicely, offering all sorts of neat content. A recent addition: Alain de Botton's introduction to Xavier de Maistre's Journey Around my Bedroom, which Hesperus is bringing out in a new translation by Andrew Brown next month.
       We have a previous translation -- titled Voyage around my Room -- under review. The new edition is certainly something to look forward to.

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18 August 2004 - Wednesday

Thea Astley | Nationalist textbooks | Cheney's Sisters

       Thea Astley

       Australian author Thea Astley, who won the Miles Franklin Award a stunning four times, has passed away. See obituaries in The Australian and the Herald Sun. (The Age and Sydney Morning Herald no doubt also have extensive coverage, but their ridiculous (pre-)registration requirements make them too annoying for us to bother with.) See also general information at Penguin Australia.

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       Nationalist textbooks

       National pride, no matter how misplaced (as it invariably is), remains terribly popular. In an AP report Maria Danilova writes about Books Skewing History (here at The Moscow Times). She describes new Russian textbooks, such as Nikita Zagladin's History of Russia and the World in the 20th Century, noting:
The textbook for Russian high school seniors touts the Soviet system's achievements -- but treads lightly, if at all, on its failures and abuses.
       Meanwhile, textbooks not in the Soviet mould (i.e. that get students to think about the systems, both the one now in place and previous ones) don't stand much of a chance. Not when influential folk like Putin suggest to historians:
Textbooks should provide historical facts, and they must cultivate a sense of pride among youth in their history and country.
       (Note what rates a should and what a must. We would have thought if there was any must it would be that textbooks provide historical facts.)
       We would have thought that learning from previous regimes' mistakes would be more useful to youths than blind pride in history (usually shameful, no matter what nation you're talking about) and country. But rallying people around a flag is apparently much easier (and more useful) than allowing them to deal with the truth.

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       Cheney's Sisters

       The Elegant Variation pointed us to Patt Morrison's article in The Cincinnati Post on American vice-president Dick Cheney's wife Lynne's book Sisters. Penguin imprint New American Library had planned to re-issue it in the spring, but pressure from Cheney led to the cancellation of the sure-fire money-making publication. We were furious at the time, especially by Cheney attorney Robert Barnett's ridiculous claim that:
If there is a serious demand for this 25-year-old book, I am confident that America's used bookstores will be able to satisfy it
       We expressed our doubts about that back in April, and Morrison shows the situation is much worse than expected: the book is practically impossible to find:
I could find only 11 copies in all of the nation's public libraries, mostly in red states: four in Wyoming, Cheney's home state, and one each in North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia and Kern County, Calif.

On the Internet, the original 1981 $2.50 Signet paperback has an asking price of $2,999.95 to $25,000, the latter more than the cost of a first edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
       Still, the whole episode seems representative for the Bush administration: actions that are completely self-serving and just the opposite of the public interest are taken (the only one who benefits from the non-re-issue is Lynne, while there is keen popular interest in easy access to the book -- and NAL (which apparently still holds the rights to the book) could have made good money by publishing it (helping the economy as a whole !)), and then ridiculous and alien-to-the-real-world explanations are offered for why the actions supposedly don't harm the public interest (America's used bookstores will be able to satisfy any possible demand).
       Unfortunately, you're apparently about as likely to find a copy of Sisters in a used bookstore as you are to find WMDs in Iraq. Hoodwinked again.

       (Updated - 19 August): See also comment (and Literary Saloon managing editor M.A.Orthofer's response) at Collected Miscellany

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17 August 2004 - Tuesday

Olympics | Tulli review | More Satrapi


       The abomination that is NBC's so-called coverage of the summer Olympics spoils much of the fun of these events. (Essential to the enjoyment of sport is immediacy: that means events have to be broadcast live. We love a highlight-reel -- which is what NBC's primetime coverage amounts to -- as much as the next person, but sports coverage it ain't. They could show the Super Bowl in the same pared-down, tape-delayed manner and garner a similar audience, but if they want people to take it seriously they have to show the actual events as they unfold. We suspect a lot more people would watch, too.)
       So, since the coverage is largely unwatchable, how about some Olympic history ? Recall that for a while medals were also awarded in arts competitions -- a weird selection (city planning was an event), and limited to sports-related submissions, but still of some interest. Not many really notable winners -- and awarding Pierre de Coubertin's Ode to sport a medal in 1912 makes it a bit hard to take the competition too seriously -- but an interesting idea.
       At wordiQ they list some of the Olympic medallists in art competitions (note that not all categories are included -- music, sculpture, and painting were also events), and they also have a decent overview of the Art competitions at the Olympic Games. Another overview of Artists and the Olympic Games can be found at AskART, who note:
Following the 1948 Olympiad in London, the fine arts competitions were abolished for a number of reasons, including judging controversies, difficulty in transporting the objects, the variable standard of the amateur artists, and perhaps most symbolically, the public's general lack of interest or even knowledge of the events.
       They also mention a book on the subject, Richard Stanton's The Forgotten Olympic Art Competitions (get your copy at or; certainly something that would be of interest to us.

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       Tulli review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our first review of an Archipelago Books title, Magdalena Tulli's Dreams and Stones.
       Not that it should matter much, but it's worth a mention: it's a hell of a good looking little book. The contents definitely won't be to everyone's taste, but for those who don't demand that their fiction be action-packed and plot-driven (though there is a bit of both here) there are certainly some rewards.

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       More Satrapi

       The sequel to Marjane Satrapi's very popular Persepolis is now available in the US. We've had it under review for ages, but the first US reviews are coming out now too; see, for example, Lisa McLaughlin's in this week's issue of Time.

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16 August 2004 - Monday

Preserving anonymity | Interview rejoinder | Whither reviewing ?

       Preserving anonymity

       At Slate Jack Shafer wonders why some prominent newspapers haven't told their readers who the 'Anonymous' is who recently published the best-selling Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terrorism:
But not only have the Washington Post and the New York Times neglected to profile Anonymous, they've shied away from identifying him by name.
       A lot of curious things about this book, including why the CIA allowed him to publish it but made him publish it 'anonymously' -- yet very ineffectively anonymously (i.e. it wasn't a very good secret).

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       Interview rejoinder

       Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie doesn't think a recent printed interview accurately reflects what she said, so Vanguard prints her rejoinder.
       She thinks it's important to set the record straight:
This is about one more example of how we continue to lower the bar for ourselves in Nigeria, how we continue to accept and perpetuate mediocrity.

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       Whither reviewing ?

       Dale Peck's book-axing-book continues to attract a lot of attention, as reviewers use it to discuss the reviewing-craft. Among those weighing in this weekend: Bob Hoover wondering Where does book criticism go from here ? (The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) and Roy Hattersley finding Too much bile, so little guile (The Observer, in a review that also discusses Nicholas Mosley's The Uses of Slime Mould -- which, unlike the Peckish book, we'll be reviewing sometime soon).

       Even when there are valid points, reviewers apparently can't help but puff up the numbers -- as when Hoover (like so many others) again abuses raw statistics, writing: "The number of new titles released last year hit around 130,000, a staggering number for readers to figure out". It would be staggering, if all those titles were actually books readers could choose from. But they include tens of thousands of titles -- from textbooks to cookbooks -- that are largely literally unreadable and that no newspaper or magazine (with the occasional specialist publication exception) would consider reviewing. The number of titles that are even submitted for possible review to a publication like The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is only a fraction thereof -- we'd be surprised if they had more than 20,000 different titles to sort through a year. (All of which doesn't make his basic point much less relevant -- so why the need to try to impress with the misleading bigger number ?)

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15 August 2004 - Sunday

Czeslaw Milosz | Literary Edinburgh | Ponder and apply | Brownies for Tanenhaus ?

       Czeslaw Milosz

       1980 Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz has died. So far, pretty much only agency reports are available, rather than the full-length appreciations and obituaries that are to follow. See the BBC report, Bernard Lane's oddly timed World according to Milosz at The Australian, and Jennifer Ludden and Robert Hass' (audio) Requiem for a Poet at NPR. For a general Milozs overview, see also the page at books and writers.

       (Updated - 16 August): See also links to coverage at Golden Rule Jones, as well as obituaries in:
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       Literary Edinburgh

       The Edinburgh International Book Festival has opened; see reports in The Scotsman and at the BBC.
       Meanwhile, see also Alan Taylor pondering Edinburgh’s Claim To Being World City Of Literature in the Sunday Herald.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ponder and apply

       At BruneiDirect.Com Zalia Zaini reports that local Writers Urged To Apply Islamic Values In Literary Works. The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports says:
Writers should be sharp thinkers who stimulate the minds of the community at large through the impartation of ideas that identify the vision and values of the nation.
that writers, as a person involved in arts, should ponder and apply Islamic values when producing their literary works.
       Yeah, these types of government-approved programmes -- remember socialist realism ? -- have always worked out real well.

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       Brownies for Tanenhaus ?

       At Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant there's a detailed Tanenhaus Watch, answering the pressing question: Does Sam Tanenhaus Get a Brownie This Week ?
       We hope it becomes a weekly feature.

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14 August 2004 - Saturday

Orlean and Adaptation | By Bjørneboe !

       Orlean and Adaptation

       In the Harvard Crimson Margaret Ho writes that Orlean Discusses Book ‘Adaptation’, reporting on Susan Orlean talking about her book, The Orchid Thief, and the film adaptation thereof, Adaptation. Some amusing stuff, including:
When she finally conceded to have her name attached to the film, Orlean said that signing a waiver form that read "I understand I’ll be portrayed as a murderer, a drug addict and a porn star" was particularly odd.

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       By Bjørneboe !

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jens Bjørneboe's trilogy, popularly (?) known as The History of Bestiality:        Heavy-duty Nordic-Teutonic stuff, so not quite a surprise that it hasn't quite caught on in the English-speaking world. Moment of Freedom made it into English in the mid-70s, but it took a quarter of a century until the rest of the trilogy was published in English. Well, better late than never. Wild and uneven, but worth a look.

       Speaking of Norwegian authors: what the hell happened to Lars Saabye Christensen's The Half Brother ? It's one of the most impressive books we've read all year, and it was well and widely reviewed in the UK last year. It came out in the US in the spring, and other than a dismissive review in the San Francisco Chronicle (and a Voice Literary Supplement review) it's received practically no American review coverage. Come on, people !

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13 August 2004 - Friday

Books in newspapers | Words without Borders | Zero Over Berlin review
Nawal El-Saadawi | Ngugi attacked

       Books in newspapers

       New York residents currently get to ... enjoy "The Great Summer Read - The New York Times Free Book Series", as The New York Times includes a section of a book with each edition, adding up to a whole novel over the span of each week. The current instalment-plan book is Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's.
       Variations of the books with/in your newspaper craze have been found all over the place in recent years; The Bookseller offers a decent overview (last item) of the European situation.
       Some of the statistics are astonishing:
In Italy, around 40 million books are distributed annually on news-stands with newspapers and periodicals -- books that never pass through the hands of booksellers.
       Even the Germans -- who are hampered by strict pricing laws for books -- are getting in the act. And:
As for Spain, the same publisher which pioneered news-stand sales all those years ago is now publishing books almost for free. One midlist English-language author has signed a contract for 200,000 copies of one of his backlist titles to be given away to regular purchasers of a leading Madrid daily.

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       Words without Borders

       The August Words without Borders is now up. The topic of the month -- "Chapters and Verse - Religious Literature, part II" -- isn't exactly our thing, but they do have off-topic pieces by Murakami Ryu and Witold Gombrowicz, so we certainly aren't complaining.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Zero Over Berlin review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of another title from Vertical, Sasaki Joh's World War II adventure-story, Zero Over Berlin.

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       Nawal El-Saadawi

       Extensive Nawal El-Saadawi coverage in this week's issue of Al-Ahram Weekly: a profile by Youssef Rakha, a brief discussion about her having won the 2004 North-South Centre of Europe Prize, and excerpts from her new novel, Al-Ruwaya ("The Novel").
       See also her official site.

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       Ngugi attacked

       Ngugi wa Thiong'o's return to Kenya after more than twenty years had been going fairly smoothly, but that came to an end on Wednesday, when Ngugi and his wife were attacked in their home. Fortunately, they do not seem to have sustained any serious physical injury, but it's still shocking.
       ((Updated - 16 August): It has now been reported that Ngugi's wife was raped in the attack.)
       The East African Standard has extensive coverage: see Evelyn Kwamboka on Ngugi’s night of terror and Dauti Kahura's piece on Writer and Mungiki unlikely bedfellows (the gunmen who attacked him asked "about his stand on the Mungiki movement").

       Before this nasty turn Ngugi had been making widely noted (locally, at least) appearances in Kenya and Uganda. The New Vision reports on his call for Africa to Invest in ideas:
Ngugi wa Thiong’o has decried the diminished influence of academics in African societies. Speaking on his return to East Africa after 22 years in exile, Ngugi, who began his writing while an undergraduate at Makerere, called for greater investment in ideas as a foundation for social transformation.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

12 August 2004 - Thursday

Pound plaqued | Subsidy publishing goes academic ?
Arthur Phillips' The Egyptologist | Turkish literature

       Pound plaqued

       In The Guardian John Ezard reports that Blue plaque ends 60 years in the cold for Ezra Pound. Yes, apparently:
Ezra Pound, the "poets' poet" who has been ostracised for 60 years because of his virulent anti-semitism and support for fascism, was honoured with an official blue plaque yesterday. The plaque, from English Heritage, is a first chink of light in the cloud of infamy and disgrace which hangs over Pound's memory
       A first chink of light ! That's one damn impressive plaque.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Subsidy publishing goes academic ?

       In the Chronicle of Higher Education Peter Monaghan writes that Presses Seek Fiscal Relief in Subsidies for Authors. Since so many academic titles apparently stand no chance of selling enough copies to make publishing them financially worthwhile, one idea is to get the authors' universities to subsidise their publication. Sounds like a quality-control nightmare (books with sufficient backing given obvious preference to books of actual worth), but what do we know ?
       (See also our review of Lindsay Waters on Publishing, Perishing and the Eclipse of Scholarship in Enemies of Promise, mentioned at the end of the article.).

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       Arthur Phillips' The Egyptologist

       We just got a copy of Arthur Phillips' forthcoming novel The Egyptologist. We haven't reviewed his popular Prague yet, but this one looks like it might be some fun too.
       There's a decent official site (though the too-cutesy "interview" is a bit troubling).
       Early reviews are available from Esquire (here at and Booklist, and you can pre-order a copy at

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       Turkish literature

       Zaman Daily reports on Turkish Literature in the West. Something to look forward to:
In September, The Culture and Tourism Ministry will initiate, "Opening Turkish Literature to the West," a project to promote classical works of Turkish literature.
       We don't even have any Orhan Pamuk or Nazim Hikmet under review, something we've been meaning to get to. Perhaps this will help give us the necessary push.

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11 August 2004 - Wednesday

Booknotes coming to an end | Danilo Kiš reviews | Two years at the Saloon

       Booknotes coming to an end

       As the AP reports, C-SPAN's Brian Lamb closes the 'Book' (here at USA Today):
After talking with 800 authors, Brian Lamb will close the book on Booknotes, his weekly C-SPAN interview series. The final broadcast will be Dec. 5, the network announced Tuesday.
       The centrepiece of C-SPAN's weekend Book TV, what was billed as "Television's Longest-Running Book Program - One Author, One Book, One Hour" isn''t bad as far as book-talk and -coverage go -- but has the fatal weakness (like pretty much everything on C-SPAN's Book TV) that it's devoted solely to non-fiction. And while we're sure Sam Tanenhaus approves, we don't. Still, at least it was something book-related and serious on TV.
       Admirably, all the shows will apparently be archived and remain accessible online.

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       Danilo Kiš reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two Danilo Kiš works, Garden, Ashes and A Tomb for Boris Davidovich.
       Kiš seems to have fallen somewhat out of favour. Dalkey Archive Press has re-published these two, but a lot of the previously available work seems to have fallen out of print. A remarkable voice, certainly; we'll probably go dig out some of his other stuff eventually.

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       Two years at the Saloon

       So, today the Literary Saloon celebrates two years of linking and ranting and raving. We're glad you're still with us.
       As usual, we're not entirely satisfied -- there's so much more to link to, so much more to comment on (and comment on more fully). But for the most part, the Saloon has served its purpose: a venue for the literary news and commentary that interests us but doesn't fit either in our reviews or our more in-depth cr Quarterly coverage.
       What we are especially pleased by is that we are no longer one of only a handful of literary weblogs -- there were really only a few useful ones when we started up -- staking out this territory. So many marvellous literary weblogs, with so many different approaches and interests, have meanwhile popped up (we hope we link to most of them here) that we don't feel nearly as guilty any more about not linking to all the stories that are of interest to us, knowing that these are often covered better elsewhere.

       We look forward to serving you for many years to come; we don't think we can stop now -- the hangover would probably kill us.

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