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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 October

1 October: More on the Arab world in Frankfurt | Cheltenham preview | Warrior Lovers review
2 October: Nobel betting | Saudi book fair
3 October: NYTBR mention | The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon review | German Big Read | Arabic books in Germany | Greene biography controversy
4 October: NYTBR redesign | Frankfurt preview and pre-preview | Nobel buzz | Mario Vargas Llosa profile
5 October: Book Babes do Tanenhaus | Literary leaders | Book tech news | Stuff Happens in Hartford | Profiles: Marjane Satrapi and David Mitchell
6 October: Nobel bz | NYTBR circulation questions | Tanenhaus interview | Frankfurt opens | NZZ supplement
7 October: Jelinek Nobel notes | Other prizes | Pogo review
8 October: Frankfurt news | Grass illustrates H.C.Andersen | On-sale v. publication dates | The end of The Baroque Cycle
9 October: Jelinek follow-up | Newton exhibit | Shivaji review | Rushdie's Ellmann Lectures | Frankfurt news
10 October: International Man Booker Prize | In Frankfurt | Arabic canon

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10 September 2004 - Sunday

International Man Booker Prize | In Frankfurt | Arabic canon

       International Man Booker Prize

       Not quite the money of the Nobel prize (a mere £ 60,000), but the Man Booker folk are trying to set up a bit of competition, the Man Booker International Prize. As Anthony Barnes reports in the Independent on Sunday today preparations for the inaugural prize are moving along and Roth and Updike tipped for the 'super Booker':
The IoS understands that the reading list for the inaugural international prize - compiled at a recent secret meeting in Rome -- already includes V S Naipaul, the 2001 Nobel prize-winner from Trinidad; Margaret Atwood, the Canadian who won the Booker in 2000; John Updike, the Pulitzer prize-winner; Gabriel García Márquez, the master of magic realism; and Philip Roth, whose collected works are soon to appear in a Library of America edition.
       Apparently the two other judges (beside John Carey) will be announced later this week. Only a trio -- not quite the Swedish Academy (who decide on the Nobel). And it looks like they're sticking to well-known names. No doubt parts of the deliberations -- shortlists ! judges comments ! -- will appear in the papers over the coming months: the Man Booker folk (and their PR firm) know spin much better than those Swedes.
       There's not much at the official site, except the oft-repeated (also in bold -- i.e. fairly desperate) reminder:
Please note that submissions for the prize are not invited -- the judges will be compiling their own longlists.
       We suggest you be helpful anyway -- maybe there are some names they didn't think of .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       In Frankfurt

       John Harris offers a look at what it's like to be at the Frankfurt Book Fair in The Observer today in You read it here first.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arabic canon

       At IslamOnline Assia Moutahhir wonders about The "Canon" of Modern Arabic Literature ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 October 2004 - Saturday

Jelinek follow-up | Newton exhibit | Shivaji review
Rushdie's Ellmann Lectures | Frankfurt news

       Jelinek follow-up

       We offered a bunch of initial reactions to the awarding of the Nobel prize for literature to Elfriede Jelinek; here, now, additional links (and a bit of commentary).

       First: some of the more interesting titbits sifted out of these articles:
        - Jelinek's books have not fared well (until now) in the UK: one report notes: "The Piano Teacher sold only 270 copies in the UK last year, while three other novels sold barely 50 copies between them." (Wow !) But: elsewhere we learn that her books: "regularly make the bestseller lists in Germany where each new novel sells more than 100,000 copies." (Of course, thanks to the prize, her books are now in great demand everywhere.)
        - Reactions to Jelinek receiving the prize include Peter Handke's: "Na so was ! Super ! Unglaublich ! Gewaltig ! Da muß ich mich erst einmal setzen." (Very roughly: "What do you know ! Super ! Unbelievable ! Immense ! I have to sit down.")
        - Jelinek's previous German publisher (she moved to Berlin Verlag a couple of years ago), Rowohlt were at least aware that Jelinek had already been nominated for the prize last year (i.e. this wasn't the first time she was up for the prize) -- so said Helmut Dähne, their managing director.

       Here the links. First, the English-language coverage:
  • Oops . . . They Did It Again: Stephen Schwartz expresses his not unexpected displeasure with the selection at the Weekly Standard site, believing: "This time they got a two-fer shot at destroying literary standards, since Jelinek's writings mainly verge on gross pornography." Not entirely fair, but some fun.

  • Anger, rage and disgust at a world which cannot be made better by Bob Corbett in The Guardian. At least he's read her books, though we're surprised by the statement: "In discussion with Austrian friends I discovered she was little known inside Austria as well, and not much liked." Jelinek may not be the most popular of authors, but practically everybody in Austria knew about her even before she got this prize -- mainly because of her strong political stand, her very controversial dramas, and some very public actions (such as her refusal to allow her works to be performed in Austria for a while). That she's not well-liked is certainly true, but then her writing isn't meant to be agreeable.

  • Reclusive Austrian writer is awarded Nobel Prize by Alan Riding, the good overview from The New York Times (here at the IHT)

  • 'Porn' author wins Nobel by Tim Cornwell in The Scotsman
  • Controversial feminist writer wins Nobel Prize by Nigel Reynolds in the Daily Telegraph

  • Ostracised critic of Austria's Nazi past wins Nobel Prize by Tony Paterson in The Independent
       Of course, German-language coverage has been far more extensive (and comprehensive -- despite what people say, Jelinek is a very well-known author in Germany and Austria, surely among the dozen best-known (and best-selling) 'literary' authors there). Particularly useful are:        Articles of additional or specific interest include (some linked to in the above sections):        Finally, also note that the virtual Nobel Prize stock market failed miserably. In the literature market: "Elfriede Jelinek was suggested at the Nobel Prize Market, but didn't make her IPO." And that was better than several of the categories, where the eventual winners were not even suggested. The high listing entry-barrier, and the trading limits (you could only sell six hours after you purchased 'shares' -- ostensibly to prevent day-trading -- and there was no possibility of short-selling) made for a market that was far too restrictive for it to have much predictive value. (The market was probably also not liquid enough; just not enough participants -- and certainly not enough candidates one could speculate in.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Newton exhibit

       We just reviewed Neal Stephenson's The System of the World, so we should probably now head over to the New York Public Library, where an exhibit just opened up on The Newtonian Moment: Science and the Making of Modern Culture, which looks pretty cool.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Shivaji review

       We offered a couple of pieces on James Laine's controversial book, Shivaji, a while back (see, for example, our overview), and now there's another review of the book: Piyush Mathur's Exposing a Maharashtra legend in Asia Times..

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rushdie's Ellmann Lectures

       Salman Rushdie gave the Ellmann Lectures at Emory University last week; Rachel Zelkowitz reports on them in Rushdie gives lectures about literary study, nature of life in The Emory Wheel.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Frankfurt news

       Peripheral news from the Frankfurt Book Fair: Deborah Cole reports that Iraq's new literary life riddled with fresh dangers, occasioned by a panel discussion on Iraq: The New Beginning. Among the interesting points:
Khalid al-Maaly, an Iraqi poet and publisher with offices in both the western German city of Cologne and Baghdad, said he was disappointed that wealthy Arab publishing groups had not stepped in to help rebuild the industry in Iraq when such subsidies were common throughout the region.

"I sent out several requests but did not even receive a rejection letter," he said.
       Meanwhile, at Expatica there's a report that Arabist slams German tastes in Arabic literature:
Stefan Weidner said German book-lovers evidently had little interest in "authentic" Arab literature. They preferred "worn-out oriental cliches". "Rafik Schami and 'A Thousand and One Nights' fulfil 95 percent of the demand for anything Arabic," said the author and scholar
       On the other hand, Americans don't even know who Rafik Schami is .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 October 2004 - Friday

Frankfurt news | Grass illustrates H.C.Andersen
On-sale v. publication dates | The end of The Baroque Cycle

       Frankfurt news

       Odds and ends from the Frankfurt Book Fair:

        - At Al-Ahram Weekly Rania Gaafar offers a decent status report in Facts and figures.

        - In the FAZ Heidi Sylvester notes that, despite what looks to be a promising book fair, the German publishing industry remains in the doldrums, in No happy tale for publishing sector (though at least in 2004 sales look to be up at least a bit -- if only over a dismal 2003).

        - In Stars and Stripes Jessica Inigo reminds readers that Frankfurt's world-class book fair beckons the public this weekend.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Grass illustrates H.C.Andersen

       Among the odder book presentations at this year's Frankfurt book fair is Günter Grass' new book. Not some fat novel, or even a collection of essays; no, Grass, who takes some pride in his illustrating-abilities, has turned his hand to the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. As Hubert Spiegel reports in Dentures, buttons and combs in the FAZ, Grass keeps pen in hand, but they're drawings not words he offers in Der Schatten.
       Some of the illustrations can be found at this press release site. See also the Steidl publicity page, or get your own copy at

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       On-sale v. publication dates

       The Bookseller writes again about the continuing confusion over publication dates.
       Sensible industry that publishing is, they actually have two things which are often -- but not always -- one thing: an on-sale date for a book, and a publication date. The need for these two terms for what surely should be one date is not clear. Thank god:
The Publishers Association/ Booksellers Association Liaison Group launch dates initiative will remove this ambiguity, by attempting to impose an embargoed, on-sale date that is also the publication date of the relevant title.
       They need a 'launch dates initiative' to get this all figured out ?
       We hate embargos -- and launch dates, and anything that smacks of publicity mill. Booksellers should just be able to sell the damn things when they get them, end of story. And we think publishers and booksellers should be more concerned not with how many copies they can shift on day one, but rather how many they can shift a year after the book has come out -- surely a better test of whether it's worth their (and the reader's) while.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The end of The Baroque Cycle

       The final volume of Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle came out rather quietly a week or two ago; our review of The System of the World is now available.
       Presumably those who had made it this far were ready to pounce (as we did) as soon as they heard the book was out; newcomers to the trilogy certainly wouldn't and shouldn't start here. Not quite the ending we expected, but at least something slightly different from the previous two volumes.
       Of interest, among much else, the extensive acknowledgements -- including the odd one:
A certain kind of debt, which might make sense only to novelists, ought to be acknowledged to the late Dorothy Dunnett and to Alexandre Dumas.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 October 2004 - Thursday

Jelinek Nobel notes | Other prizes | Pogo review

       Jelinek Nobel notes

       So they gave the Nobel to Elfriede Jelinek. If nothing else the choice was a surprise: she's not even the most deserving Austrian (the politically still untenable Peter Handke), or the one whose name was being bandied about (Friederike Mayröcker).
       No reviews of her works at the complete review -- and don't expect any: she's not bad, but she's not our cup of tea.
       Unlike pseudo-recluse J.M.Coetzee Jelinek really doesn't seem to like the attention (she likes to make a fuss, but the personal attention does seem to annoy her), and she's already promised not to show up in Stockholm for the festvities (citing illness). And we like a prize-winner who admits she's pleased but claims: "ich verspüre eigentlich mehr Verzweiflung als Freude" ("I feel more despair than happiness").
       The longer pieces about this choice will presumably appear by the weekend (once the papaers have found someone who has actually looked at her stuff, or gotten someone to read it), but here some links of possible interest:        One beneficiary: publisher Serpent's Tail, who better start ordering those re-prints.
       For those who actually want to read Jelinek's work (which we would be somewhat hesitant to recommend -- it's not exactly pleasant reading, though much of it is admittedly of interest), several titles are available in translation. Get:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Other prizes

       The announcement of the Nobel prize for literature is the one everybody is waiting for (updated: and now it's been made: Elfriede Jelinek got it), but that hasn't stopped others from handing out prizes this week. Among the big ones:

        - The Austrians for some reason believe it's a good way to attract attention when they open their stand at the Frankfurt Book Fair by announcing who gets the Österreichische Staatspreis für Literatur (Austrian state prize for literature) there. The €22,000 prize is nothing to sneeze at -- and the roster of previous winners (see recent ones here ) is among the best you'll find for any literary prize. But not too many people appear to be paying attention -- so far, press reaction has been muted, to say the least. (And with an Austrian picking up the Nobel, that's all people will want to hear about from them.)
       So who won ? Julian Barnes. See (German) reports in Die Presse or the NZZ (and even they couldn't be bothered to offer more than a sda/apa wire report). We have quite a few of his books under review; see for example our review of his most recent, The Lemon Table

        - In New Zealand the 2004 Prime Minister’s Awards for Literary Achievement have been awarded to Maurice Gee, Kevin Ireland, and Anne Salmond. They received NZ $60,000 each; see, for example, this report.

        - The Forward poetry prizes have been announced (though as of this writing only the old winners are up at the official site), and The Tree House by Kathleen Jamie won the main, £10,000 prize. See, for example, Sarah Crown's report in The Guardian.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pogo review

       Fantagraphics Books is getting lots of coverage for its enormous The Complete Peanuts project, but they've also published eleven volume worth of Walt Kelly's Pogo (see their publicity page). It's those books that John Crowley reviews in the new issue of the Boston Review.

       (Check out the October/November issue; always worthwhile.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 October 2004 - Wednesday

Nobel bz | NYTBR circulation questions | Tanenhaus interview
Frankfurt opens | NZZ supplement

       Nobel bz

       The Nobel Prize folk know how to throw a good bash (tails and kings being de rigueur at the December ceremonies) and they hand out lots of cash, but they definitely lag behind the times in creating buzz. Even the Man Booker does a better job (courtesy of a PR firm that very effectively spins and spins and doesn't let anyone forget it). Meanwhile, the Nobel literature prize deliberations are so secret that they don't even announce the day they will announce the prize until shortly beforehand (what the hell is that about ?).
       The result is, of course, no endless longlist and shortlist analysis in the papers, very limited betting possibilities, and only a few very lame articles. The most recent examples include Alan Riding's Mysteries of the Nobel Lit (apparently they couldn't even come up with a full title) in the International Herald Tribune -- a decent enough brief introduction, but probably essentially identical (give or take a few names) to whatever article they published last year. Or see Stephen Brown's unconvincing Reuters report, Nobel brings writers fame and frustration:
There are compensations. The 10 million crown prize money buys a lot of typewriter ribbons and wide translation can mean a big jump in income.
       One wonders whether in this shortlist-age the prize alone is enough to sustain interest. Globally, sure, but in the US and UK -- where people seem to be annoyed by the idea that there are (and have a hard time taking seriously) authors who write in other languages -- the excitement is not exactly palpable. Maybe it is time to hire that PR firm .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NYTBR circulation questions

       The Book Babes' piece we mentioned yesterday has been widely commented upon, but one more thing struck us: the statement that:
The NYTBR is not content with its modest circulation. Each Monday, 380,000 copies of the review are deposited in bookstores across the land, this in addition to the number inserted into the following weekend's editions of The Sunday New York Times. It's a million or nothin', from The Times' point of view.
       Beatrice noted this -- pointing out that the question is not so much how many issues are thrown out there, but how many are bought and read. Right he is -- though it turns out how many copies are put out there is also a question.
       First off: what modest circulation ? The Sunday Times already has a million-plus circulation, so that's a given for the NYTBR.
       As to the NYTBR by itself -- well, conveniently enough, the 'new' 3 October issue of the NYTBR contains the required annual "Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation". The totals here claim a net press run of 34,448 for the 'single issue published nearest to filing date'. That issue also had a 'paid and/or requested circulation' (i.e. subscriber total) of 30,771, and sold 1,985 'through dealers and carriers, street vendors, counter sales' etc.
       Our understanding is that the supposed 380,000 copies "deposited in bookstores across the land" should (if they exist) be included somewhere on this form -- and they aren't. But then this total also doesn't count those ca. 1,000,000 copies that wind up in the Sunday Times, so maybe there is some sort of exception or alternative we're unaware of. Or maybe the 380,000 copies are a just-instituted Tanenhaus innovation, to spread the word. (Though note that even a magazine as well-known as The New Yorker apparently manages less than 50,000 vendor sales (newsstands, etc.) a week -- so unless the NYTBR is being given away the number is completely off the wall.)

       Our guess: the Book Babes were off by a factor of 10 (38,000, not 380,000), and meant the total (approximate) free-standing issues of the NYTBR that are circulated (the vast majority to subscribers).
       The printed statistics are, however, revealing, especially when compared with last year's numbers (available in the issue of 12 October 2003) -- and may explain some of the NYTBR desperation.
       The statistics below refer to the average number of copies for each issue for the previous 12 months (through September, not the calendar year), and the number of copies for the single issue published nearest to the filing date -- 1 September, 2003 and 5 September, 2004. Total distribution includes free copies -- 725 per issue in 2003, 700 in 2004.

Type avg. 2003 1/9/03 avg. 2004 5/9/04
Subscriptions 32,008 30,822 28,784 28,093
Vendor sales 6,807 5,276 2,499 1,985
Total distrib. 39,710 36,986 32,729 31,471

       Can anyone spot the trends ? That's right: as a stand-alone publication, the NYTBR has been losing an alarming number of its readers. Possibly there are other explanations for the collapse of vendor-sales (such as a choice to limit sales via such outlets), but there's no excuse for losing ten per cent of your subscribers in a year (Admittedly, subscribers may have moved up to a full Times subscription, which still gets them the NYTBR.)
       Unfortunately, we couldn't dig up older data, to see how long and steep this decline has been going on -- but we note that the 2004 circulation numbers do include almost six months' worth of Tanenhaus-edited issues and they suggest he hasn't been able to stem the flow. Sure, his big re-design only comes now, and maybe things will turn around ..... The numbers certainly suggest that radical action was called for. (Of course, we think he's being radical in many of the wrong ways if he wants to rectify the situation ....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Tanenhaus interview

       We don't know how we missed this, but at Here and New there was an actual interview with NYTBR-editor Sam Tanenhaus (unlike the Book Babes pseudo-interview) about Sunday's re-designed issue -- some eight minutes worth. Not much that's new or helpful, but of some interest.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Frankfurt opens

       The Frankfurt Book Fair has now opened; see, for example the DeutscheWelle report, Frankfurt Book Fair Opens.
       New to us, the dedicated Website of the Arab World, Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2004. Not much material, but, for example, 'Nagib Machfus' (i.e. Naguib Mahfouz)'s Address by the Nobel Laureate on the occasion of the Opening of the Arab Pavilion. (Note, however, that Mahfouz apparently couldn't make it to Frankfurt.)

       Also, at IslamOnline: Arab Publisher Speaks Out on the Frankfurt Book Fair, where Tarek Ghanem and Rahma Bavelaar speak with publisher Mohammed Rashad, who offers gems about publishing in the Arab countries like:
I can tell you that the main problem facing publishing as an industry is the lack of rules and regulations.
       Yeah, that must be it. More bureaucracy is clearly the answer ....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NZZ supplement

       Sorry, entirely in German, but worth a mention: the Neue Zürcher Zeitung's packed Bücherherbst 2004 (fall 2004 book) supplement.
       (It would be hard to argue that any newspaper currently offers either better or more extensive literary coverage than the exemplary NZZ -- today, for example, they're already on top of the new Philip Roth. The only comparable English-language coverage comes from the TLS -- who manage a bit of foreign literature coverage, including (in the 1 October issue) finally, Christoph Hein's recent Landnahme, which Andrew Williams calls: "by far Christoph Hein's best work and undoubtedly one of the most important German novels of recent years.")

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 October 2004 - Tuesday

Book Babes do Tanenhaus | Literary leaders | Book tech news
Stuff Happens in Hartford | Profiles: Marjane Satrapi and David Mitchell

       Book Babes do Tanenhaus

       At they title this: Books as 'News About the Culture': An Interview with Sam Tanenhaus but ... well, let's say it's not how Birnbaum would do it. Supposedly, "Poynter's Book Babes talk with the editor of The New York Times Book Review about the shift in strategy", but there's more Book Babe-commentary than Tanenhaus talking.
       Maybe others can glean more from this piece than we could. But at least Tanenhaus gets to explain himself a bit -- not that that's very comforting (though that may be due to the BB-gloss):
"We're going to treat books not as literary artifacts but as news about the culture," he said. To me, that means that the selection of what is reviewed by the NYTBR will depend not on whether a book will stand the test of time in a literary universe, but whether it has currency in the here and now.
       (Just a guess, but it doesn't look like he'll be getting many brownies from reluctant returner Ed in the future, either.)

       Sadly, Ellen Heltzel may be right:
Publishers and authors may squeal, but The Times, which has aggressively built its brand as the country's national yuppie newspaper, is simply extending this branding to the book section.
       We'll stay tuned a few more weeks, but it's beginning to look like the unimaginable has happened: the NYTBR can be completely written off, reduced to -- at best -- water cooler relevancy. Damn.

       (Updated): See also comments at Beatrice and Booksquare, as well as the comments at

       (Updated - 6 October): See also comments at The Reading Experience.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literary leaders

       In this week's issue of Newsweek Eric Pape writes about Literary Leaders, noting the phenomenon of French politicians who publish books:
Mixed in with nearly 700 new autumn releases are more than a half-dozen books by France's most popular or powerful politicians, known as presidentiables.
       Apparently: "The real goal is to garner attention for fresh ideas and an incisive intellect."
       Of course, American politicians often publish (often ghostwritten) books on subjects they want to be taken seriously about -- and the phenomenon of politician-turned-novelist (Gary Hart, Newt Gingrich, Jimmy Carter, to name just a few who have held prominent office) is more common than in most other nations. But whereas in the US novel-writing by politicians is treated as a quaint hobby (generally reserved for those who have destroyed their political careers -- Hart, Gingrich, Carter) the French take this very seriously:
"We are in a country that glorifies novels, and that invented the stature of the intellectual," says Socialist politician and journalist Olivier Duhamel. "Our politicians believe that we still love writing, and that the French want leaders who are able to write."
       Still, one has to admire (warily, admittedly) any place where it's possible that:
Villepin has also published a flowery 800-plus-page dirge on poetry, which surprised the book world by breaking the 10,000 sales mark -- remarkable for poetic critique
       Meanwhile, former American president Clinton's memoirs continue to do well everywhere: Indo-Asian News Service reports that Clinton book sales go ballistic in Bangla:
Mr Bill Clinton’s autobiography My Life is doing roaring business in Dhaka with street vendors hawking the cheap pirated versions at busy crossings and a Bengali translation becoming a huge hit.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Book tech news

       A variety of book tech news:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Stuff Happens in Hartford

       We've previously mentioned David Hare's new play Stuff Happens. Variety has now reported: Hare's 'Stuff' to hit Hartford Stage later this month. Only a reading, not a full staging, but still.
       The Hartford Stage hasn't exactly been trumpeting the news. The announcement for Red, White & New - Brand:NEW 2004, the series which it is part of, doesn't even mention it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Profiles - Marjane Satrapi

       Marjane Satrapi (of Persepolis and now Persepolis 2: The story of a return fame) sure is getting a lot of attention. Two more profiles this week: Vanessa E. Jones writes about A life in graphic detail in the Boston Globe, while Edward Guthmann writes that Weed, sex, paranoia -- Iranian graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi lets it all out in 'Persepolis' sequel in the San Francisco Chronicle (second link first seen at Bookslut).
       And now we see the October Bookslut offers Annie Tully's interview with Satrapi and the extremely slow-loading (but pretty cool) comic strip, Marjane Satrapi at Women and Children First.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Profile - David Mitchell

       In today's issue of The Independent David Mitchell -- whose Cloud Atlas has made the Man Booker shortlist -- is profiled by John Walsh

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 October 2004 - Monday

NYTBR redesign | Frankfurt preview and pre-preview
Nobel buzz | Mario Vargas Llosa profile

       NYTBR redesign

       We mentioned getting mentioned in the newly redesigned The New York Times Book Review yesterday; now we've also had a chance to look at the whole issue. So have some others: in the New York Post Sara Nelson writes that Book Review Facelift has Publishers Nervous, while at Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant brownies are not awarded.
       Nelson lets someone have the most obvious say:
"The ratio of fiction to nonficton is still distressingly low," says agent Susan Golomb
       One can't jump to conclusions from a single issue, but it must be said that this is what Tanenhaus has been doing all along. This week: four full-length reviews of fiction titles versus eight of non-fiction titles (plus a three-book crime (fiction) round-up and a seven-title non-fiction 'Chronicle'). Granted, the title review, of Philip Roth's new book, is ... wordy, but that's not quite enough compensation (see Return of the Reluctant for the word-count details and comparisons).

       To this we also add one more observation: in this issue a total of 22 titles are reviewed in some form or another -- and not a bloody single one was written in a foreign language. (Compare that to the issue of 26 September, with a total of 28 titles reviewed and ... oh, that's right: none originally written in a foreign language. Reviews of literature in translation ? Apparently the NYTBR policy now is not even to let such books in the door.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Frankfurt preview

       The Frankfurt Book Fair approaches, and the stories keep appearing (well, not in the US papers, but that would be expecting a bit much). The preview of the day is Hannah Wettig's article in the Daily Star, Staking a claim in the literary market.
       A lot of stuff we've seen before, in the earlier coverage, but still some good (if disheartening) quotes, such as Peter Ripken, from the German Society for the Promotion of African, Asian and Latin American Literature noting:
"The sales figures of translations from Arabic in France are especially disappointing because the literary pages ... of Le Monde and Libération often carry lengthy reviews or profiles of these authors," he adds.
       So even press coverage isn't helping.
       Strangely, this is an article that says the opposite of what we've heard (and what our general impression is):
The position of Arab authors in the English-speaking world is less bleak. More titles are available, and classics are seldom out of print.
       Could have fooled us -- but it wouldn't be the first time.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Frankfurt pre-preview

       Meanwhile the Koreans -- guests of honour in 2005 -- are looking further ahead, as Lee Yong-sung reports in The Korea Times. Some discussion about this year, but more about next -- and, unfortunately, preparations aren't going as well as hoped. For example:
At a press conference on Sept. 21, the committee announced the reduction of the numbers of events from 104 to 55.
       Money is, of course, always a problem:
"Samsung Electronics alone sponsored $200 million for the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece," Lee said during an interview with the Kookmin Ilbo newspaper on Sept. 21. "But they (the companies) don't seem to realize the importance of such an international book fair."
       Well, maybe if they convinced the Book Fair folk to televise the fair live (raising consumer demand for Samsung television sets -- who wouldn't want to catch all the exciting action in wide-screen HDTV, after all ?) -- and maybe award a few medals to spice things up -- more sponsorship money would be forthcoming.

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       Nobel buzz

       We mentioned the pre-Nobel betting (and the virtual Nobel Prize stock market), and, since the prize announcements will start coming this week, there are a few more articles discussing who the favourites might be.
       We're most interested in the literature prize, of course. A widely re-printed AP story (here at USA Today), offers an overview of who is being talked about. But when we read: "Danish poet Inger Christenssen frequently has been mentioned in recent years as commentators have called for the literature prize to go to a woman" we get worried -- not because she's not deserving (hey, we have her alphabet under review) but because it's not how you spell her name. It's a single s-ed 'Christensen'.
       The AFP report (here at Turkish Press) also mentions Christensen, and quite a few other contenders. An interesting outsider: Hans Magnus Enzensberger -- whose most recent work we plan to review later this week.

       Meanwhile, we don't have that much faith in the virtual market: the literary market actually considers Bob Dylan and Chuck Palahniuk possible contenders .....

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       Mario Vargas Llosa profile

       Mario Vargas Llosa gave his lectures on The Temptation of the Impossible: Victor Hugo's Les Misérables at Oxford over the summer, and Shelley Walia now briefly discusses them in her profile, The aesthetics of politics in The Hindu (though a briefer version appeared in The Tribune a couple of months back).
       We imagine the lectures will eventually be found in book form, either as is or re-worked, and we very much look forward to that; Vargas Llosa is very good at this sort of stuff.

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3 October 2004 - Sunday

NYTBR mention | The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon review | German Big Read
Arabic books in Germany | Greene biography controversy

       NYTBR mention

       Today's issue of The New York Times Book Review includes a survey-article by David Orr, The Widening Web of Digital Lit (note that the NYT is a registration-requiring site), covering a variety of literary websites -- including the complete review (and it's "appealingly cranky blog", the Literary Saloon, which is what you're reading right now).
       We hope that those NYTBR readers who have made their way here via or because of the article like what they find (our reviews are the main draw, but we're glad to see you visit the Literary Saloon too). But you may also be interested in other literary sites; our links-pages can direct you to may of the other rich Internet offerings: everything from other literary weblogs (a burgeoning field, with many interesting sites) to all sorts of book review sites, as well as other general and (inter)national literary sites.

       Orr's article offers a decent introduction to the variety on offer, at least giving a good idea what is out there.
       As to some of the site-specific comments: for those unclear about our "passive-aggressive wooing of the comely young author Nell Freudenberger", we refer you to our piece where it all began, Whoa Nelly ! Real Life, Lucky Girls, and Advances in Non-Fiction, written when she became the (un)fortunate The New Yorker-anointed poster-child for untested authors getting big book contracts without having written (practically) anything. Reader-interest kept us on on her tracks (for two years "Nell Freudenberger" was the most popular search-query-term leading users to the Literary Saloon) and we also reviewed her book, Lucky Girls, when it finally did come out.
       And, while Orr notes that at Bookslut: "The taste here runs slightly more to Chris Ware and Chuck Palahniuk than Geoffrey Hill and W. G. Sebald" -- well, the complete review can provide you with pretty much all the Geoffrey Hill-coverage you might want. (Sebald gets some weblog mentions here, but we only have one of his books under review -- so far.)
       Right now we're wondering how long we can restrain ourselves from plastering the last nine words of Orr's description of the complete review all over the site (and our offices, stationery, foreheads ...).

       For other comments on the Orr-article, see also:
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       The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of another Prickly Paradigm Press pamphlet, Magnus Fiskesjö's The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon, the Death of Teddy's Bear, and the Sovereign Exception of Guantánamo. (Apparently they gave up on the trendy use of long sub-titles (which several other PPP titles have) and decided to go all-out with the title itself here; we think it's a bit much.)
       As we've come to expect from Prickly Paradigm Press, it's a fun little volume. What we can't understand is why there isn't more discussion and mention of this series. A couple of general articles, describing what Prickly Paradigm Press does, the occasional piece on one or another of the volumes, and the even more occasional review (none we could find for this one).
       These are short, almost mini-books, but they do offer serious (if sometimes pretty far-fetched/reaching) material, ideas, and theses, a lot of which are worthy of (at least) discussion. Actually, they seem ideally suited to web-based reaction -- weblog-discussions and the like. But so far reactions like this one (at The Pinocchio Theory, to Lindsay Waters' Enemies of Promise -- which actually got a few press reviews too) are the exception rather than commonplace.
       Maybe the approaching Thanksgiving season (and the upcoming election) will get some people interested in this particular volume. (Its sales rank at suggests it hasn't exactly been flying off the shelves so far.)

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       German Big Read

       The results of the German "Big Read" -- "das große Lesen", trying to determine the favourite books of German readers -- are in, and what an odd list that top 50 is. Tolkien came out tops (just beating out that other fiction favourite, the Bible), and while there are some serious titles there are quite a few ... questionable choices. In the top ten alone -- Thomas Mann, okay, but Ken Follett ? Donna Cross' Pope Joan ?
       More information (in German) at the official ZDF Das große Lesen site, and in Monika Ganster's article in the FAZ.

       (Updated - 5 October): See now alo English-language commentary: Troubled Germans turn to Lord of the Rings by Krysia Diver in The Guardian and Germans prefer Tolkien fantasy novels to the Bible, a dpa report at Expatica.

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       Arabic books in Germany

       The German media coverage (and hand-wringing) in preparation for hosting the Arab world at the Frankfurt Book Fair continues, as DeutscheWelle offer yet another related article, this time Stefan Weidner's Open, Sesame !. He notes:
While in the mid-'80s only a handful of contemporary Arabic authors were available in translation, today German readers can choose from some 150 works, ranging from volumes of poetry to novels, anthologies and classics. (...) But an increase in the number of Arabic books on the market does not necessarily equate with a bigger public interest.
       Indeed, it will be interesting to see what the remainder piles look like in a couple of months' time ......
       Weidner also notes:
Widely considered "fringe" literature among German mainstream publishers, the real problem facing Arabic authors in German-speaking countries is not a lack of translations, but rather a lack of vocal proponents. There are hardly any literary critics who specialize in Oriental literature. The Neue Züricher Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, leading papers in Switzerland and Germany, are the only newspapers that publish reviews of Arabic literature with some degree of regularity.

Thus, there is a danger that, although plenty of Arabic books will be available this coming fall, there will be very few critics who will be working to familiarize the public with this segment of literature. Moreover, there are no overviews available to help interested book dealers, critics or readers orient themselves in the market.
       Compare this, of course, to the situation in the US and UK, where any Arabic book is considered exotic and the idea of any major newspaper publishing "reviews of Arabic literature with some degree of regularity" is laughable.

       German publishers do seem to be trying hard: see, for example, the C.H.Beck and dtv collaboration, Arabische Buchwelt.

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       Greene biography controversy

       Oh yeah, here's a big surprise: the family and estate of Graham Greene disapprove of what biographer Norman Sherry did (in volume three of his Greene-biography, now out). In the Independent on Sunday Anthony Barnes and Andrew Gumbel report on all the fun -- and, as always in these kinds of disputes, it is a lot of fun:
Relatives have been angered that Professor Sherry, whose third and final volume of Greene's official biography will be published this week, dwells extensively on the writer's sexual conquests at the expense of his literary career. They say they are "deeply embarrassed" by such a "poor" book and accuse Sherry of a "fixation on sex".

Moreover, they consider the book "vulgar", "extremely dull"" and a "total misrepresentation" of Greene. They even liken Sherry to the bumbling detective Inspector Clouseau, who "doesn't understand anything".
       We expect the quotes to be blurbed on the next edition of the book, and certainly the paperback -- the promise of a "fixation on sex" should help shift a couple of thousand extra copies alone. It's a great rule-of-thumb: if the subject's family hates it, it must mean that there's good dirt (or at least dirt, which is, after all, the best one can hope for in a biography) to be found there.

       See also Andrew Gumbel's interview with Sherry from 22 September (which doesn't focus on the vulgar or dull parts, or Sherry's Clouseau-like approach).

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2 October 2004 - Saturday

Nobel betting | Saudi book fair

       Nobel betting

       It's almost time for the Nobel prizes to be handed out, and so the buzz about who gets what is building (not much, admittedly, but there is a faint hum in the distance ...). And there are even opportunities to make some money with your guesses: MoorishGirl pointed to Johnny O'Shea's Nobel Prize for Literature Betting Odds Preview at (which discusses the limited Ladbrokes odds and options).
       More interesting and a somewhat broader approach (but with limited cash-making potential -- though there is a decent prize) is Frankfurt University's virtual stock market, the Nobel Prize Market (NPM) (presentation is fairly English-friendly).
       See, for example, the Literature market (though some of the strongest candidates have been retired -- i.e. were essentially de-listed because they couldn't garner sufficient interest). A fun approach, though there doesn't seem to be adequate volume here to really allow for the possibility of it being a meaningful indicator.
       (Note that some of the categories are closing soon, since the prizes will be announced any day now -- so join in the fun now !)
       See also this (German) article on this market, Virtuelle Nobelpreisbörse soll Preisträger vorhersagen.

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       Saudi book fair

       Hey, maybe everybody is already in Germany getting set for the Frankfurt Book Fair (where the Arab world is the guest of honour this year). Still, you figure someone would have showed up; instead the Riyadh International Book Fair sounds like it was both eminently missable and missed.
       At Arab News Khaled Al-Awadh reports that Copyright Seminar Canceled at Riyadh Book Fair:
The organizing committee of the Tenth Riyadh International Book Fair has canceled the copyright protection seminar scheduled among the cultural programs of the fair being held at King Saud University. There was no apparent reason for the cancellation. "It was canceled due to the apology of the participants for not attending the seminar," the committee announced.
       Well, it's a reason (?).
       If that were the only non-event it wouldn't have been so bad, but:
Ahmad Al-Saleh, a Saudi poet, and Abdulrahman Rafee, a Bahraini poet, were the only literary figures to participate in a poetry evening during the fair. "There were no reading workshops, book signing by authors, short story evenings, book reviews, specialized readings for children," said an Arabic teacher accompanying his students who came over in a field trip to the exhibition.
       Which makes you wonder what there was.
       Meanwhile, Ain-Al-Yaqeen offers a slightly different spin (scroll down), including the information that:
According to the organizers, the government has facilitated the entry of all reading material and the representatives of the publishing houses into the country.

I have no information of books seized at the entry points, Oqalah said when asked if there are books confiscated by the censorship authorities at the Ministry of Culture and Information.

All I can confirm is that the Kingdom is one, if not the best, best country in the Arab world where movement of books is not restricted
       Yeah, we're convinced. Sounds like literary culture is a really top priority there.

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1 October 2004 - Friday

More on the Arab world in Frankfurt | Cheltenham preview | Warrior Lovers review

       More on the Arab world in Frankfurt

       Another good set of articles at Al-Ahram Weekly about Arab participation at the Frankfurt Book Fair:
  • Great expectations - "Youssef Rakha wraps up the debates surrounding the Arab world's guest-of-honour contribution to the Frankfurt Book Fair"

  • Tongue in cheek - "Peter Ripken, project manager of the fair's International Centre, notes a remarkable upsurge in the popularity of Arabic literature"

  • The politics of culture "Rania Gaafar, in Frankfurt, scans the recent German press and the Internet for resonances of the event"

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       Cheltenham preview

       The Cheltenham Festival of Literature runs 8 to 17 October; in today's issue of The Independent Boyd Tonkin previews it, believing Cheltenham offers a finely engineered literary experience.

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       Warrior Lovers review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Catherine Salmon and Donald Symons' book on Erotic Fiction, Evolution and Female Sexuality, Warrior Lovers.

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