As has been widely noted, 3AM Magazine has set up a "niche-blog" devoted to everybody's favourite literary prize, the Man Booker.
Yes, Man Booker 2004 offers: "Information on the Man Booker Prize for 2004, blog-style".
Unfortunately, there really is so much press and publicity surrounding this beast that it can easily sustain such a weblog.
But, given all the coverage, it's nice to have a convenient catch-all weblog to refer to -- and it's nice to see these brave souls have taken on the thankless task of dealing with all this crap.
The Daesan Foundation signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Random House Joongang, Random House's joint venture in Korea, to publish 'Random House Daesan Korean Literature Series'.
The relatively new Random House joint venture will apparently lead to:
Accordingly, based on the Daesan Foundation's translation of Korean literature program, Korean poems, novels, dramas and traditional literary pieces will be translated into English and at least one work is to be published annually through Random House from 2005.
A book a year ain't much ... but it's a start.
Meanwhile, the September edition of literaturkritik.de offers: Schwerpunkt: Korea ('Focus: Korea'), consisting of quite a few in-depth articles on Korean literature.
Yeah, sorry: all in German -- but worthwhile.
Yes, there are limits to what George Bush haters will read.
Checkpoint, the controversial Nicholson Baker novel about a man who wants to kill the president, has sold fewer than 6,500 copies since coming out two weeks ago, the book's publisher said Friday.
Not very impressive, given that the first printing was almost ten times that -- and that it got an incredible amount of press.
The fact that it was grossly misrepresented in the press probably didn't help (though the many negative reviews -- a handful of which actually dealt with the book -- presumably also kept many from purchasing the book).
As of Friday, the novel ranked just 1,250 on Amazon.com, and only nine reader reviews had been posted, indicating that readers were far less interested in the book than the media was.
Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore based in Washington, D.C., said Friday it had sold just four copies of Checkpoint.
It's hard to argue that Checkpoint deserves a lot more readers -- it's of some interest, but it's not that good (like most books) -- but the lack of buyer-interest is striking when compared to, for example, the baffling success of a book like Unfit for Command (see our recent mention).
"Only an enlightened and committed people can build a viable nation," says Abdullah Abu Sayeed of Bangladesh.
And, he adds, only a nation of avid readers can hope to gain the enlightenment and commitment that builds a nation.
Okay, we shouldn't be surprised: porn sells -- or, at least, arouses interest on the Internet.
Still, we've been quite disappointed to find the masses flocking to our review of Melissa "Melissa P." Panarello's 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed.
The author's name is the hottest search-request leading users to the site since Nell Freudenberger.
And the book won't even be out in the US until October.
Between this book and Jenna Jameson's How to Make Love Like a Porn Star (see the HarperCollins publicity page; we certainly won't be reviewing it) this sort of stuff is getting a lot of press, from The New York Times (here at The Arizona Republic) to the Wall Street Journal.
What a waste.
Nevertheless, in order to help those many visitors who come to this site looking only for reviews of sex-related titles, we have now added an index of our (limited) coverage of Erotic, Pornographic, and Sex-related books.
Knock yourselves out.
Or whatever it is you do with this stuff.
In The Observer Kate Kellaway writes about Theatre of war in the UK, as many prominent playwrights have been inspired by the political events of the past two years.
Foremost among them is David Hare, whose new play, Stuff Happens, opens at the National Theatre tomorrow.
The title is taken from: "American Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld's famous response to the looting of Baghdad".
See the National Theatre publicity page, get your own copy of the playscript at Amazon.co.uk, and see the Faber publicity page.
In The Observer Philip Hensher argues that fiction is no longer first choice for publishers:
Things have greatly changed.
Although fiction still sells in great quantities and continues to produce stars, the attention of publishers and booksellers has moved elsewhere.
Everyone in publishing agrees it is getting harder to sell a new novel, even by a distinguished name, in this country; book buyers seem interested only in non-fiction.
A sad state of affairs, but non-fiction is obviously easier to publicize -- which, in this book-tour-age, might also have something to do with it.
The great Ahmadou Kourouma's last novel, the unfinished Quand on refuse on dit non (which is a sequel of sorts to Allah n'est pas obligé) has just been published by Seuil (get your copy at Amazon.fr).
The Economistreviews it this week (link will only be freely accessible on or after 3 September) -- and remind readers:
With his death, African literature lost one of its best writers and most ferocious satirists
We complain about how ridiculous the publishing industry is, but, of course, it can't compare to Hollywood -- and what fun when the two meet !
In The Guardian today D.M.Thomas tells the story of his novel The White Hotel's tortuous path not to the silver screen in Celluloid dreams.
An impressive array of talent has come close to being involved in the making of the film version -- the interested directors alone include Pedro Almodóvar, Bertolucci, Cronenberg, and David Lynch -- but things haven't quite worked out.
So, the Man Booker Prize longlist of 22 books has been announced; see the official press release (or reports at The Guardian and Daily Telegraph).
Not too much we can say about the selected books.
We only have two under review: Havoc, in its Third Year by Ronan Bennett and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
(Both very good books, but not as good as we'd hope for in a 'best of the year'-competition -- though compared to last year's winner either would be an incredible leap up in quality.)
Beside Cloud Atlas, The Great Fire (Shirley Hazzard) and The Master (Colm Tóibín) sound like early favourites, though we imagine Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (which is getting phenomenal pre-publication buzz and early reviews) might be the odds-on favourite.
The Hazzard nomination is of some interest, as that book already won the American National Book Award.
Otherwise: the usual mix of unknowns and well-knowns.
One other point of interest: three publishers (Faber & Faber, Picador, and Scribner) all managed to place three titles on the longlist -- no mean feat, considering the ridiculous Man Booker rules only allow two guaranteed submissions for each publisher (additional titles have to be called in).
See more on that below.
Man Booker judge Tibor Fischer weighed in on the process in the Daily Telegraph last week, and now fellow judge Rowan Pelling offers a brief peek behind the scenes.
We'd be more reassured if Pelling didn't claim the longlist was "culled from 127 submissions" -- since the official press release states it was "was chosen from 132 entries".
Did poor Rowan not get some of the books ?
As we've mentioned on many occasions, we hate the Man Booker rules, and think they're absolutely ridiculous (and not particularly well-suited to determining the best book by an author meeting the citizenship requirements published in the UK).
(See also our mention above of the call-in discrepancy.)
Man Booker judge Tibor Fischer wasn't very enthusiastic about them in his piece in the Daily Telegraph either, but in their response to that piece, Breaking the silence, The Bookseller argues: "The current rules are the least bad ones available."
The main issue discussed in The Bookseller piece is the submission requirements -- and the ridiculous shroud of secrecy around the books: the public is kept in the dark about which books were submitted (and thus eligible) for the prize.
If your favourite novel wasn't put up by its publisher (or miraculously pulled in under the not very helpful call-in system) then it can't contend for the prize.
Given there were only 115 submissions, and a further 17 titles called in, it's distinctly possible that many worthy titles were never even up for discussion.
(The call-in list is weighted heavily to a limited number of suggestions each publisher can make, in addition to its automatic qualifiers; especially in a big publishing house there's a good chance worthy titles didn't even make that list of to-be-considered titles.)
Some of The Bookseller arguments are rather odd:
Mr Fischer does not recognise, or acknowledge, that authors and agents are complicit in the secrecy surrounding Booker entries.
They are determined that their own books be submitted, sometimes trying to insist on the point contractually.
The likes of Cape and Faber will certainly publish more than two authors with Booker hopes each year.
Given the secrecy surrounding the nominations it's hard to imagine that agents and authors can usefully bully publishers into submitting their books -- they'll never be able to prove the books weren't submitted.
Surely, all agents and authors would like the full list of submitted books to be made public, so that they know for a fact whether or not their books have been submitted (and can yell at their publishers when they weren't).
No, the only ones who like the current system are publishers.
Even worse, however, are some of the suggestions for change -- especially (not surprisingly) the ones publishers come up with:
Does the prize need a change of rules ?
Some publishers -- particularly those from the likes of Cape and Faber -- argue that it does: they should be allowed to submit more titles, while publishers with less distinguished literary heritages should be confined to fewer.
Such a change would be extremely difficult to frame.
Should Cape and Faber, with their outstanding Booker records, be allowed more entries than, say, Fourth Estate ?
If the number of entries allowed were to be decided on criteria other than past Booker results, what would those criteria be ?
The solution to many of these problems is obvious: the publishers themselves should have absolutely nothing to do with the submission or nomination procedure (other than supplying free copies to the judges).
Publishers have peculiar vested interests, and the main problem with the Man Booker is that there is an incredible incentive to submit exactly those books that seem Man Booker-friendly, rather than truly worthy.
Publishers obviously will choose titles from their list which they believe are most likely to win the prize, rather than the truly best titles on offer.
(Given how poorly they judge what books the public want in their original publishing decisions, it's hard to imagine they're very good at this when they can only select two titles.)
A pool of a mere 132 novels for best novel by a Commonwealth-plus author seems far too small, in any case -- though the judges naturally complain about there being too many books to choose from (lazy bums).
An effective pre-selection process -- not involving publishers -- looking at a much larger pool of titles would seem to us to be vital.
Interestingly, this year three publishers (Faber, Picador, and Scribner) managed to slip in three titles on the longlist -- meaning that among the nominated books they each got at least one title in off their call-in list (or were additionally called in by the judges ?).
It's possible one or more of these publishers also had additional titles on the 132-nominee list, but it seems unlikely, and so authors who've had novels published by them and received assurances that they would be put up for the prize are probably nice and upset by now.
We'd be particularly curious which titles these publishers formally submitted, and which they left dangling on the call-in list (as at least one was in each case): did Picador, for example, risk leaving The Master off its list of guaranteed submissions, sure that it was strong enough to get called in ?
(It's the possibility of such game-playing that again underlines why these are incredibly stupid rules.)
The fact that there are at least three (and possibly, of course, as many as seventeen) titles that weren't even originally submitted by publishers on the longlist surely reinforces the idea that publishers have no business making the submissions.
If only these three titles made it on the longlist from the called-in list, then the percentages of how a book made it would be roughly the same, about 17 per cent (3 of the 17 called-in possibilities, and 19 of the 115 submitted possibilities).
Given, however, that it is impossible to identify which books came from where, except that at least one book (but possibly more) from each of three publishers had to come from the called-in list, it seems highly likely that several of the other longlisted titles also came from the called-in list -- making for a disproportionate number (despite starting from a much poorer position, i.e. not being an automatic qualifier).
It's time to cut publishers out of this award-loop.
At The Bookseller Horace Bent not only writes a piece based on something he saw at "the Maud Newton weblog" (scroll down), but also finds that Amazon.co.uk is so efficient that they can sell books that haven't even been written yet.
This probably isn't as unusual as it sounds -- books get announced pre-publication (or, occasionally, pre-manuscript), and the publisher submits the ISBN and some book information to Amazon which then over-eagerly posts it, etc. -- but it is impressive when the author (who hasn't written the book yet):
found through Amazon a Los Angeles bookseller offering a copy of her "book" for $191.
A friend tried to buy it, but was told that, unfortunately, it had "just been sold".
What we found interesting is that Amazon.co.uk offers the book both in hardcover and paperback -- and that the hardcover has a sales rank of 1,086,986, while the paperback is doing considerably better at 675,280.
(Proof once again that sales ranks in the six-digits (and over) likely always mean the same thing: no copies sold.)
Celebrated Kenyan novelist Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o has explained to Kenyans why he dropped his Christian name -- James.
(His first books were published as James Ngugi and written in English, but he soon began using the name Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and began to write in Gikuyu.)
Unfortunately, not much of an explanation is given to readers of this article.
But at least we learn:
Ngugi said he was appalled by the situation where parents were seemingly proud to raise children who do not know their native languages.
Ngugi also attacked the foreign Press which he said always depicted Africa as hopeless continent.
So why didn't anyone tell us about Miguel Delibes ?
Well, someone did -- or at least we read the name in a review a couple of weeks ago, where he was described as one of the leading contemporary Spanish authors.
The name stuck -- because we were entirely unfamiliar with his work.
We've rectified that a bit, and now offer reviews of two of his works: The Hedge and The Wars of our Ancestors.
A worthwhile discovery.
A considerable amount of his work (though not nearly enough, especially recently) has been translated into English, and though some of what he does is clearly lost in translation he is an impressive experimental realist.
Amazingly, he does not appear to be very widely known in the US or UK, and while he doesn't have the Nobel that helped propel Camilo José Cela to additional fame -- and while he's not quite in the same league as the greatest Spaniard of them all, Juan Goytisolo -- he certainly should be known and read.
Worth keeping an eye out for.
Louis de Bernières recent manuscript-loss has been widely reported, and now James Owen reports in the Daily TelegraphLouis is not the only one to lose the plot.
He offers his own experiences, and some famous historic examples, including:
the sole draft of Thomas Carlyle's first volume of The French Revolution.
In the spring of 1835, Carlyle lent it to John Stuart Mill to read, only for his maid to use it, by mistake, to light the fire.
He also offers the useful reminder:
The moral of these tales of disaster for contemporary writers is, of course, that they should think how fortunate they are to live in an age where a click of the mouse can save multiple copies of their work.
The problem, as I have found, is that you can still get burnt.
Delivering oneself into the safe keeping of technology does not eliminate the writer's vulnerability to risk.
The much-discussed John Kerry-is-a-wimpy-traitor book, Unfit for Command -- the book to go with the adverts --, is apparently a smashing success.
Several sites have reported that it will be number one on a forthcoming The New York Times' bestseller list (number three in the 29 August edition, then number one in the 5 September edition; since we rely on the hardcopy version of the NYTBR the most recent list we have is that of 22 August, on which the book does not yet appear).
(Note that there is no mention whether it appears on the fiction or non-fiction list.)
Unfit for Command has apparently been number one at Amazon.com for a few days now -- and the success is so incredible that even publisher Regnery is having trouble keeping up with demand.
This has led to booksellers being accused of not stocking the book for political reasons; see reports from the AP (here at ABC) and Reuters.
We're baffled by the success of this (like so many other political) books: surely whatever issues are raised therein are more adequately addressed in the media -- where more facts and other opinions, etc. are available.
(Regnery does not exactly have a reputation for being objective, either.)
A few days back the Kerry campaign was still trying to kill this beast -- see, for example, this report -- but it has roared back with a vengeance.
No matter what one thinks of the book (it sounds pretty flaky to us, but we haven't read it), it's incredible how it has captured the imagination of a significant part of the American population: at (soon) over half a million copies in print, it's going to be one the year's biggest sellers.
(Somehow, however, we don't think overseas sales -- where they don't have the foggiest idea what a Swift boat is -- will be very impressive.)
Kerry certainly brought the subject matter into play, but we're amazed that this is what people are concerned about as they're facing an election.
See the Regnery Publishing publicity page, if you must -- but if you want to buy it, you'll have to find your own way to the Amazon-page or your local bookstore (and you'll probably have to wait a few days to get your hands on a copy).
Rosmarie Waldrop's Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Edmond Jabès was a book we liked the sound of from when we first heard about it.
We first mentioned it more than a year ago, but haven't been able to convince the publishers (Wesleyan University Press, see their publicity page) to send us a copy.
(It's also on our Amazon wishlist .....)
John Taylor reviews it in the 20 August TLS, and we're as eager as ever to have a look.
There have meanwhile also been (accessible) reviews at Jacket (Hank Lazer) and the Review of Contemporary Fiction (Brian Evenson).
We have collected a few Waldrop-poetry volumes (from New Directions), and some Jabès too, but haven't quite made the leap yet.
It all looks fascinating, though.
The 20 August TLS also has a Lucy Dallas review of two Amélie Nothomb titles recently published by Faber in the UK (and both also available from St.Martin's in the US): The Book of Proper Names (which she is really impressed by) and Fear and Trembling.
It's nice to see there's more coverage of her worthy books: as Dallas puts it:
But we should welcome her books in whatever form they arrive; such elegance and fierceness are rare.
Of course, we already look longingly forward to her newest book, Biographie de la faim (a to-the-point title of typical Nothomb-preoccupations -- biography and hunger) and wonder how long it will take us to get a hand on a copy.
Get your own copy at Amazon.fr.
The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer both report on Portland bookseller Powell's coming to town (Seattle) and setting up a book-buying branch for eleven days in September.
That's right: they're setting up shop for eleven days to buy used books -- i.e. to stock up on inventory.
The used-book business is apparently doing very, very well, if demand leads to book-buying tours of this sort.
(Presumably Amazon.com offers good competition: it's a bit more of a hassle, but people can usually do better selling their books directly to consumers via Amazon.)
As reported by Reuters and Polly Curtis in The Guardian, a Royal Bank of Scotland survey shows that students spend a mere £ 330 million on books and course material -- compared to £ 950 million on alcohol and £ 480 million on cigarettes (!).
Nice to see they have their priorities right.
The Guardian offers the full report online (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
Shockingly, among the RBS suggestions as to how students might stretch their pence is that they cut back on book spending:
Find out which books are absolutely essential, before you go and buy all of them.
Try to borrow them from the library, or, if you have to buy them, try second-hand book shops or look for discounts (e.g. those provided with The Royal Bank’s Student Royalties account).
Also, don’t forget to check department notice boards, as you may be able to buy books from second- and final-year students on your course.
No suggestions that students might want to brew their own beer or set up a still in the bathroom to make their alcohol-spending stretch further.
Philipp Blom has a new book out, Encyclopédie, about that grand French undertaking.
Robin Buss reviews it in the Independent on Sunday.
(Get your copy at Amazon.co.uk.)
At the University of Chicago's ARTFL Project they're putting the whole original Encyclopédieonline -- but it's only accessible to subscribing institutions .....
Last week we mentioned that literature used to be an Olympic event until 1948.
No trace of it in Athens, of course, but they apparently tried to vaguely revive the idea at the Blankeneser Games in Hamburg this year, and a Western Michigan University professor won.
The competition involved writing an eleven-minute sports novel -- i.e. basically a short, sports-related story.
As his university proudly proclaims: WMU professor wins Literature Olympics in Germany, Peter Blickle winning with his story, Und Nicht Dahinter.
See the full list of winners here -- though you figure if they were trying to really be Olympic they would have at least awarded medals, not just cash.
About a dozen volunteers wearing face masks and brandishing flashlights sifted through rotten food, piles of trash and human waste in the dark building over the weekend. It was deserted in 2001 when the library moved to a new location, and library officials say some homeless people have since used it for shelter.
About 10,000 books and other materials were left behind after the move because there wasn't enough room for them in the new building, library officials said.
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two books on Jorge Luis Borges: Edwin Williamson's new biography, Borges: A Life and Edgardo Cozarinsky's book on Borges in/and/on Film.
Xinhuanet reports that the Chinese Publishing sector opens up further.
Among the information also the numbers: "A total of 190,391 titles were published last year, including 110,812 new titles".
We wonder whether people constantly complain about the glut of titles being published there too.
Also: the Beijing International Book Fair will run 2 to 6 September.
In the current (September/October) issue of Foreign Affairs Samuel P. Huntington responds at some length to Alan Wolfe's review of his Who Are We ? The Challenges to America's National Identity (and Wolfe responds to that, and Huntington to that).
Among the most anticipated books of the fall (in the UK) is Jonathan Coe's sequel to The Rotters' Club, The Closed Circle (pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk; the US publication date looks to be well into 2005 at the earliest).
The pre-publication fuss has begun, with profile-interviews today at The Observer (by Tim Adams) and Scotland on Sunday (by Aidan Smith).
Okay, Kim Soo-yeon's report that Korean literary works published in Europe isn't too exciting, since the books aren't being published in English (though that German edition of Yi Mun-yol's novel sure tempts us) -- but there is an interesting link buried at the bottom: it turns out that one of the books, the 17th century The Cloud Dream of the Nine, has been translated into English (back in 1922) and there's an edition available online.
And with an introduction that begins with the warning: "The reader must lay aside all Western notions of morality if he would thoroughly enjoy this book" -- well, we're won over.
Okay, we're not entirely sure convinced ("the most moving romance of polygamy ever written" ?), but it looks to be worth a look.
As does the admirable Eldritch Press, which offers this and an eclectic selection of other texts for free perusal.
Yet another NYRB book we'd like to review is Aleksander Wat's My Century (see their publicity page or get your own copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Today The Guardian offers an edited extract of Czeslaw Milosz's foreword to the book.
(See also an excerpt from the book itself.)
So, we're always on the lookout for some good porn ... no, no: stylish, literary erotica.
100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed by Italian teenager "Melissa P." didn't sound too promising, but it's been much-discussed -- and sold over 700,000 copies in her native Italy.
We chanced upon a copy and, ever hopeful, had a look: our review is now available.
To say we don't see what the fuss is about is putting it mildly.
Two additional notes: the author of this book has been widely identified as Melissa Panarello -- so why are the English-language editions still being published under this pseudo-pseudonym ?
Oh yeah, that air of mystery, of something to hide, etc. etc.
Do publishers think that readers are actually fooled by a stunt like that ?
Also: compare the covers of the British edition and the American edition.
We particularly like how the author's name is printed on the American cover: as though written in crayon by an elementary school child.
(But the cover-image ain't bad -- probably the sexiest thing about the whole book.)