American-born author Irene Dische -- apparently far more popular in Germany (where she has lived for decades) than in the US -- was in New York for the Republican National Convention, and, as Michelle Goldberg reported 3 September in Salon, encountered some difficulties in reporting on the proceedings for Die Zeit.
Goldberg's account can be found here -- at the annoying Salon-site -- though the relevant sections are also available here, at Regime Change Guide.
Now Dische's own article for Die Zeit describing what happened is available -- albeit only in German translation.
(Dische still writes in English; we're curious to see if the original turns up in any English-language publication.)
Dische's account is considerably more expansive, and focusses on the poor security precautions at the convention (whereby she notes that things were similarly bad in Boston at the DNC).
She even talked her way into being accepted as a volunteer, helping out with the running of things, and only got into trouble when she was there in her official journalistic capacity and didn't enthusiastically flag-wave along with everybody else.
Lacking proper press credentials -- which she says shouldn't be expected from a freelancer -- and wearing a T-shirt which wasn't obviously complimentary to George jr. Bush, the biggest surprise is that she lasted as long as she did.
Detained and questioned at ridiculous length by a motley crew of characters it was all rather uneventful -- aside from a few fanatics, the overwhelming impression is simply one of unprofessionalism and disorganisation.
Gamal El-Ghitani is the subject-of-the-week re. Arab participation at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
(See this page at Arab World Books for more background about the editor of Akhbar el-Adab.)
In this week's Al-Ahram Weekly there's the article "No one listened" (based on interviews with and documents courtesy of Magdi Youssef), and then his profile/interview with Lina Mahmoud, Of bureaucrats and intellectuals.
Among his statements:
I would have loved to take part in the official programme, but I don't want to be involved in anything organised by the ministry.
Nor am I very happy with the way things have been done.
Ghoneim may be an excellent bureaucrat, a civil servant.
He is not an intellectual.
It is remarkable how angrily he objected to my opinion of the programme and the suggestions I was making for improving it.
I didn't know then that he was the one who put it together.
He shouldn't have. As executive director he should only have carried out the decisions of intellectuals, that is his proper role.
But he should not have been allowed to make decisions.
Not surprisingly, indeed, the official programme is disturbingly reminiscent of Cairo Book Fair programmes.
Meanwhile, there's also a good (but German) interview by Adelbert Reif with him (spelled Gamal al-Ghitani here) in the 7 September Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
Reports of Nobel lautreate Czeslaw Milosz's well-attended but not entirely controversy-free funeral can be found in the International Herald Tribune (The legacies of Poland's poet, Joan Dupont, 9 September) and at Books & Culture (The Poet Who Remembered, Agnieszka Tennant).
It took a telegram from the pope and assurances from the poet's confessor to dissuade a group of protesters from turning his funeral into a farce.
The New Yorker Festival is set for 1 to 3 October, with ticket sales opening today (and the first cancellations are in -- Ben Stiller apparently won't be talking to Susan Morrison -- oh no ! -- presumably the Dodgeball-sequel is a higher priority).
A decent line-up, especially the Friday night readings (though there's not a single double-bill that knocks us over -- too many of the authors we're interested in are paired with one's we're definitely not interested in).
The one event that most tempts us is the 'Literature and Politics'-panel, Do world events have a place in fiction ?, with Cynthia Ozick and Orhan Pamuk, moderated by The New Yorker's very own fiction editor, Deborah Treisman (though we're not too sure about that other guy on the panel).
The scope of this series is dauntingly broad, yet it has been carried off, so far, with considerable grace and panache.
On the evidence of these episodes alone, it is simultaneously succinct and impressionistic, never boring, but rarely satisfying either.
Almost as interesting as the facts this series deals in is the climate that allows it to be broadcast in the first place.
In The Globe & Mail Rebecca Caldwell wonders: Is science fiction finished ?.
Apparently it's not as popular as it once was -- especially the hard-core stuff.
(What is it with genre-fiction ?
Didn't The New York Times have an article just a short while ago about how the Harlequin-dominated romance market was being transformed too ?
On the other hand those damn Star Wars-titles -- a sheer endless stream of them -- seem to be doing well enough.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of the fourth Thursday Next novel by Jasper Fforde, Something Rotten.
Like the previous three volumes, Something Rotten is somewhat difficult to review.
The plot is convoluted and the fictional reality is very complex.
It's understandable that reviewers have some difficulty conveying exactly what Fforde is up to.
Nevertheless, we were surprised to read in Christina Hardyment's review in The Independent (5 August), that:
Kaine is, in fact, not human at all but a lesser character in a book by Kierkegaard.
Kaine is Yorrick Kaine, longtime Thursday nemesis and Chancellor of England.
He is, as Hardyment notes, not real, but rather a fictional character that has crossed over (and done very well for himself) in the realm of the real.
One way of getting rid of him is to delete him from the work he originally appeared in, and one of Something Rotten's many storylines is the search for that book.
In fact (or at least in Something Rotten), Kaine was not "a lesser character in a book by Kierkegaard", but rather first appeared somewhere very different.
Fforde is a clever writer, and he has a clever explanation for Kaine's origins (and the reasons it's been so difficult to establish them) -- something much better than claiming Kierkegaard unleashed him.
What's odd is that this is quite a significant aspect of the novel, and it's not merely mentioned once.
Even once Kaine's origins are known the contest over them continues, and so the whole issue of his provenance is brought up several times.
There's a lot in this book one might be confused about, but this is spelled out straightforwardly and repeatedly.
So how did Hardyment get it wrong ?
Strange, too, is the fact that her review is among the most absolutely enthusiastic.
She conveys a sense of having thoroughly enjoyed the book.
Or perhaps not quite so thoroughly .....
We understand that reviewers do get names and details wrong, or misunderstand what an author has meant to describe in a book (we're sure it's happened to us) -- and then there are always the wonderful interfering hands of editors, who can make a mess of the best copy.
But this is more than a mere slip: it's not just that someone substituted or confused one name for another.
If Hardyment hadn't liked the book, and rushed through it because she found it tiresome one might understand, but she conveys a sense of having been completely enthralled -- yet she somehow managed to miss and mix-up one of the central plot-points.
(Certainly it is proof once again that readers should be highly suspicious of any and all reviews (including those found at the complete review).
Just because it's printed in a newspaper (or on a website or wherever) doesn't mean ... well, anything.
Familiarity with specific reviewers' (or publications') penchants and strengths and weaknesses certainly helps, but be careful in taking anyone's word for anything.)
Getting some attention in the British press is Carlos Fuentes' This I Believe, an awkward sounding A to Z manifesto cum memoir.
See the Bloomsbury publicity page (or the Random House one, though it's only due out in the US in February, 2005), or get your copy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
Nicholas Shakespeare reviews it in the Sunday Telegraph -- and his enthusiasm (?) about the "essay on children that made me weep as I read it" doesn't exactly make us more eager to get our hands on this thing.
And even Shakespeare is unimpressed by parts:
Fuentes's solutions to the threat posed by authoritarian capitalism tend to be clunky statements of the obvious, sounding like Martin Luther King without the blaze.
What we're considerably more interested in is another new Fuentes title: Contra Bush.
In an interview first published (in German) in Freitag -- but conveniently available in translation at Indymedia Victoria -- the interviewer says this book would be available in Spanish and English in August.
The Spanish edition is available -- get your copy at Amazon.com -- but we see no trace of any English-language edition.
Shockingly, we hadn't even heard of this book -- and there isn't much information about it outside the Spanish media (where you can find articles like this one).
Surely this is worth writing about -- why isn't anyone doing that ?
(Okay, foreign writer-slash-intellectual writes anti-jr.-Bush book isn't exactly a unique news-story, but Fuentes is pretty well-known even in the US, and his thoughts surely deserve a little bit of notice.
And maybe at some point Americans will start wondering why there is absolutely nobody abroad, outside a few well-placed government officials, who approves of practically anything this pathetic administration has done or seeks to do.)
The Christian Science Monitor continues to offer its off-beat bestseller lists -- of sorts --: this week it's "Out-of-print bestsellers".
The title is misleading: turns out these aren't the best selling out-of-print titles, but the most requested (at a site called BookFinder) -- something completely different.
The Christian Science Monitor article also only offers the most requested title in ten different categories.
Far better to turn to the source: The BookFinder.com Report offers the top ten in each category.
Some of the titles only make the list due to publisher-caused confusion: the top kids' title, for example, is Philip Pullman's Northern Lights -- unobtainable as such in the US because the publisher published it under the title The Golden Compass (under which title it can easily be found most anywhere).
In The Hindu K. Kunhikrishnan reviews a new edition of O.C. Menon's Malayalam classic, Indulekha -- and describes the unlikely way Menon came to write it: "The novelist had originally intended to translate Benjamin Disraeli`s Henrietta Temple" .....
See also this Menon-page for Menon's own explanation.
(Indulekha has also been translated as Crescent Moon.)
Different survey, same results.
Or same survey, same results.
The kids just don't like to read.
This time it's British kids (again), 7 to 14, a thousand of them, polled by the Prince of Wales Arts and Kids Foundation.
As the BBC reports: "Almost half of Britain's children admit to not reading a single book outside school hours, according to research published on Monday."
A PA News report by John-Paul Ford offers a bit more detail.
The lack of reading-interest is disturbing, but there are a few heartening findings too, most notably:
The survey of 1,000 seven to 14-year-olds also revealed their two least favourite activities were writing poems and writing stories.
So there's hope that in the coming decades the incredible number of new titles published annually will be drastically reduced, since no one wants to write any more -- great news indeed.
Note, however, that this looks like one shoddy survey, methodologically speaking.
Ford's report lists: "Children’s least favourite activities in order" -- all ten options.
Many obvious children's activities are not included (going to the cinema, for one, or to any type of performance (theatre, circus), as well as playing non-electronic games, etc.).
Additionally, the age of those questioned surely factors into their answers: how many seven year olds could explain what a poem is, much less write one -- while lovelorn 14-year olds might not want to admit to versifying, but probably engage in a good deal of it (and surely also engage in a few other activities that probably would have figured among their favourites if they had been included among the options).
(The report is available at the Prince of Wales' site, but only as a doc file (even worse than pdf !).
Seek it out at your own risk; it doesn't appear to be worth the bother.)
After polishing her first novel, Trust, for years, Ozick finally published it at the age of 37.
The youth of today, she warns, should not follow her example.
"I think what people ought to do is go out into the world," says Ozick, "and don’t put all your eggs in one huge basket as I did with my first novel, thinking it was going to be the great American novel.
If you are late, later than the rest of your generation, you can never get over it.
It leaves its mark forever, and I don’t think it’s ever made up for."
We don't see what the big deal is, but she certainly sounds scarred.
But maybe there's a reason that Trust is the one Ozick-work we haven't reviewed .....
(Actually, we plan to get to it soon.)
Xinhuanet (and others) report that English-Tibetan versions of 2 Shakespeare's works hit market.
So Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet are now available in Tibetan.
Given the PRC's relentless Sinofication policy in the "Tibet Autonomous Region" it's impressive just to find that this is considered newsworthy.
In The Observer Robert McCrum has a long piece in which he describes talking to nine American novelists about the current and future situations in the US: Once upon a time in America - parts one and two.
An odd selection of writers, including Carl Hiaasen, "ZZ ('Zee Zee') Packer", Jonathan Safran Foer, Siri Hustvedt and Paul Auster, Deborah Eisenberg and Wallace Shawn, and Richard Ford.
Not too much cheerleading for the junior Bush and his policies, or, indeed, support of any sort (for what is admittedly essentially insupportable).
Still: couldn't McCrum find at least one novelist who was a fan ?
(We're not sure any are, but given the continuing broad support the current administration finds there surely must be some out there.)
Among the 'anecdotes':
Shawn described to me how, having offered an article about 9/11 to several East Coast publications, his opinions were so comprehensively rejected at home that he was obliged to publish in Britain, in The Guardian.
They may well be talking about another article, but the only we could find that fits the bill was Shawn's A letter from America -- but that one has a note at the end: "This article first appeared in The Nation."
Still, all of this does beg the question: why do American authors get more space to grouse about politics in British (and European) publications than in American ones ?
(For one: the level of political discourse seems to have sunk to such pathetic levels in the US that even this sort of stuff is considered too serious and demanding.)
There seems to have been almost as much coverage of the betting possibilities (and odds) on the Man Booker as there have been on the actual books themselves (presumably because the 22 title strong longlist just has too many books to bother with).
A pretty good overview can be found in Elizabeth Renzetti's The bookies, the books and the Booker in The Globe and Mail.
We think this is a great way to waste your money.
Note that the odds differ wildly from bookie to bookie, so shop around and get the best odds for your bet.
To facilitate this, here the Man Booker pages at:
While David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is a reasonable choice, we think the odds (around 3 to 1) are too short right now.
Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell still seems like a good choice to us, though the odds are getting pretty short too (and will probably get shorter as the great reviews continue to roll out -- if you're going to bet on that horse, jump on fast).
(We're also a bit surprised to see Ronan Bennett's Havoc, In Its Third Year being considered such a strong contender.)
But until the shortlist shakes out we'd suggest going with a real longshot.
The Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek in Weimar, founded in 1691 and with a collection holding over a million volumes, went up in flames Thursday night.
Tens of thousands of volumes were saved, but the fire and -- even worse -- water appears to have damaged and destroyed most of the collection; it probably ranks with the library-devastation in Baghdad and Sarajevo as among the worst of the past few decades
A 1534 Bible belonging to Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, as well as travel notes by the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, were salvaged along with around 50,000 other books as staff, firemen and Weimar citizens formed a human chain to carry the treasures -- books, paintings and sculptures -- to safety.
See also a wire-service based report at the International Herald TribuneFire sweeps German library.
There are far more German reports, where this is, of course, front page news.
See, for example:
Prolific and popular literary translator (from the Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese) Helen Lane died at age 83 on Sunday.
The only obituary we've seen is Wolfgang Saxon's in the (registration requiring and hence not linked to) The New York Times (issue of 3 September).
We have several books she translated under review, notably by the great Juan Goytisolo (State of Siege, for example) and Mario Vargas Llosa (A Fish in the Water, for example).
In Al-Ahram Weekly Dina Ezzat offers another round-up of the Arab League's preparations for being the guest of honour at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair (only just over a month to go!) in Last stretch to Frankfurt.
Not entirely reassuring, the focus is still on some of the very basics:
"The decision is made and we are going to go to Frankfurt."
Conceding that preparations have been beset by a range of obstacles, he nonetheless insisted that, no matter how trying the challenges, the Arab world cannot afford to miss the opportunity presented by Frankfurt.
Were they actually seriously considering not showing up ?
And then there's that familiar issue:
With just over a month to the opening of the fair, however, now that the decision has been made to go on with the project regardless, the Arab League's 22 member states are still unable to provide the estimated $3 million required for participation -- a figure already reduced to the barest minimum, from previous estimates of $4.6 million.
"We have nearly 50 per cent of the amount available," declared Talaat Hamid, Arab League Special Coordinator for Frankfurt. "But we still need the rest..."
You'd think with the cash pouring into a lot of these countries, given current high oil prices, somebody would be willing to fork over the needed cash.
But think again -- though Qatar is to be commended for covering: "Somalia, Djibouti and Comoros, three poverty-stricken states who would have been unable to participate despite their enthusiasm".
We hadn't really noticed, but in this week's column The Literator reminds readers that Penguin failed to get a single title on the Man Booker longlist: "not a single book features on the 22-strong long-list from Viking or Hamish Hamilton".
Also: "Neither can Random House flagships Cape and Secker & Warburg muster a single title, although stablemate Harvill has two"
Given that Penguin reportedly has almost 10 per cent of the British fiction market -- and some literary pretensions -- that's pretty sad and amazing.
And Random House only recently acquired Harvill (i.e. probably had no role in signing up these particular titles) -- all of which makes for something of an argument that maybe bigger isn't always better (or doesn't lead to better books being published) .....
(Though the bizarre Man Booker rules -- see our previous mention -- stacks the odds against ... any sensible selection.)
The Winter edition of World Literature Today is available online -- good stuff, but all in the dreaded pdf format.
Among the articles: a look at The Republic of Jacques Jouet, an essay on J. M. Coetzee’s Cultural Critique, and some Ngugi-coverage.
We mentioned David Hare's Stuff Happens a couple of days ago.
No real reviews yet, but James Meek does offer this in today's issue of The Guardian.
It's not very helpful, however, the insight limited to observations such as:
Whatever the critics might say about Stuff Happens, David Hare's much anticipated new play at the National Theatre about the politicking behind the invasion of Iraq, he cannot be accused of skimping on characters.
Tom Stoppard's long-forgotten Galileo, published for the first time in Areté last year, has now also had its world premiere.
The Collapsible Theatre Company's production played in Edinburgh (yeah, sorry, we're a bit late with the news ...).
See also reviews in The Independent (Lynne Walker) and The Telegraph (David Gritten -- in a review that also discusses Jeffrey Archer's Prison Diary-Hell ! what a pairing !).
In the Birmingham Post Shahid Naqvi reports that All words -- no action.
The ambitious National Academy of Writing in Birmingham apparently isn't doing too well:
The National Academy of Writing, which is backed by some of the country’s leading authors, was expected to discover and nurture tomorrow’s great literary talent.
Its backers envisaged postgraduate courses, glittering literary events and regular writers’ workshops.
But despite moving into donated new premises in January, the two-year-old venture, which has writer and broadcaster Lord Melvin Bragg as its president, is currently not running a single course.
The academy's homepage reflects the general state of affairs, announcing: "Summer Courses 2003".
But they were ambitious:
The National Academy of Writing is an exciting new departure -- a dedicated writing school set up by internationally renowned writers.
We're extremely suspicious of any sort of 'writing school' or -- even worse -- 'academy' (though at least the dreaded initials: MFA are missing), but the NAW, in its current state, is close to our ideal of a writing school: essentially nothing more than a concept.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Peter Handke's new novel, Don Juan (erzählt von ihm selbst).
Lots of German media coverage of it already, but don't expect the English translation for a couple of years.