V.S.Naipaul is book-touring in India, and at a recent event in Calcutta (Kolkata) offered his always entertaining opinions.
A PTI report quotes him as saying:
"Prizes like the Booker are destroying literature.
It looks for a good commercial, middle-of-the-road book.
It is supposed to rescue books from non-entity, but books that are awarded the prize die very quickly," Naipaul said during an interactive session on the occasion of the launching of his latest novel Magic Seeds at the Oxford Bookstore here.
What does this say about his own In a Free State -- Booker winner in 1971 ?
Golden Rule Jones points us to Mingyang Liu's article in The Chronicle, Muldoon ponders poetry, politics, about the poet's visit to Duke, where he "led a discussion on the role of poetry in history and politics".
(Golden Rule Jones is also led to speculate "on how, for example, the presidential debates might have been different had our boy from County Armagh been the democratic challenger.")
Michael Hofmann offers a review-introduction to German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, as the fourth edition of Michael Hamburger's 823 page translation of the Poems and Fragments appears.
As he notes: "All that doesn't really 'translate' " -- Hölderlin surely being among the most difficult to translated poets ever.
Still, he admires Hamburger's effort.
Get your copy of Poems and Fragments at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Most of the original versions can be found at this excellent Hölderlin site.
The Germans do okay with their serious literary author-prizes -- the Büchner Prize, the German booksellers' association's peace prize (the Friedenspreis des deutschen Buchhandels), etc. -- but they've had trouble developing a successful and media-friendly book prize (i.e. where something like the title of the year is selected, rather than an author honoured for a lifetime's achievement; see, for example, this leader from yesterday's issue of The Guardian (link first seen at GalleyCat)).
One fairly new attempt is the Corine Internationaler Buchpreis (they can't leave the international aspect be, worried about limiting themselves to just German-language texts, but it is definitely focussed on the German market).
They even acknowledge that they were looking for more TV-glamour (!) in setting this thing up:
Mehr TV-Glamour für internationale Autorinnen und Autoren im deutschen Fernsehen, die attraktive Präsentation ihrer Werke für das Lesepublikum und eine besondere Unterstützung des Buchhandels-Marketings –- das waren die Ideen, die hinter der im Jahr 2000 (...) ins Leben gerufenen Auszeichnung CORINE - Internationaler Buchpreis standen.
(More TV-glamour for international authors on German TV, the attractive presentation of their works for the reading public, and a special support of German book industry marketing -- those were the ideas behind the 2000 establishment of the Corine International book prize.)
TV glamour, yes, but not quite enough yet to make it worth anybody's while to air the damn thing live -- the prizes (nine categories ! god forbid they'd keep things simple) have been announced and handed over at a gala; the official site didn't have the results last time we checked, but Börsenblatt gives the whole run-down.
Imre Kertész picked up one (or rather didn't -- he chose not to come, citing illness), so we won't make too much fun, but this doesn't sound like it will ever really catch on.
Not helping matters is the award itself: a cheque just won't do, so they have to hand out 'Corines' instead.
The gag here is that while the statuette remains the same porcelain figure, each year someone else paints the damn thing.
The colouring is "von großen Modedesignern entworfen" ("designed by illustrious fashion designers"): Angela Missoni and Vivienne Westwood have done them, and this year it's Karl Lagerfeld who dyed the thing.
If they'd at least let the fashion designers dress her up -- but no, they're apparently just allowed to colour her in.
The ceremony (the 'gala' !) will only be aired over the weekend (3sat, 20 November, 21:45), but we can't recommend staying up to catch it.
Though it might be worth a few laughs.
Yes, book collecting apparently can pay, at least in the Ivy League.
At Princeton University they have an Elmer Adler Undergraduate Book Collecting Prize: Princeton undergraduates who write ten pages about their personal libraries can collect up to $1500.00 (and get published in PULC, the Princeton University Library Chronicle).
Given that even third prize is worth $500.00 dollars -- and only about ten people showed up for the informational meeting about the prize (apparently few Princeton undergraduates own any books) -- this sounds like a good way to get some financial reward for actually having a shelf of books (or a carton of them in the cellar).
(Why didn't they have competitions like this at our universities ?)
Desiree Fowler introduces the prize -- and describes the information meeting -- in the Daily Princetonian, in Elmer Adler book collecting prize draws campus bibliophiles.
The American National Book Awards were announced Wednesday night.
We didn't really follow these too closely (hadn't read any of the books, did have anything constructive to offer to add to the fuss about various books, authors, judges, and categories), but we assume you had no trouble finding extensive and intensive coverage elsewhere.
(We were impressed by all the fuss, especially about the fiction prize, and once again literary weblogs (though not this one) proved their mettle, especially in providing coverage of the authors and books at issue.)
Linktone Ltd. thinks that the future of the book -- and fiction ! -- isn't the old paper model, or even the e-book.
No, they've come up with the m-Novel.
As their press release explains:
Linktone Ltd., a leading provider of wireless value-added services (WVAS) to mobile phone users in China, today announced that it has launched a first-of-its-kind mobile literature channel in China, called the "m-Novel" Channel.
With the ever-increasing mobile population in China, the mobile phone has become a lifestyle device, much more than a mere communication tool.
As a new form of media, mobile literature is emerging as an integral part of people's modern mobile lifestyle, due to its entertainment value and accessibility.
Through "m-Novel" Channel, Linktone will also attempt to cultivate a creative environment among its users to develop original content.
The loss of an author-archive to a foreign repository is often cause for national concern, so now also with Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert.
In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Marta Kijowska offers a summary of what's happening there (link first seen at Perlentaucher).
Apparently the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale has offered $150,000 for Herbert's papers (that's a lot of zloty, but still seems relatively little for a great poet's life-work).
He previously had sold some of his papers to them in the 1980s, and now his widow wants to unload the rest of them -- claiming that's what he wanted.
The Polish government and media aren't thrilled at the prospect of losing these papers, and are seeking a domestic alternative.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bulletin reports Culture Minister prepares project of Herber's archives (scroll down):
Culture minister Waldemar Dabrowski is working on an institutional and financial project aimed at keeping the deceased Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert's personal archives in Poland.
Herbert's widow Katarzyna wants to move them to the Beinecke Library at Yale University, claiming this was her husband's last will.
Anna Godzisz from the Culture Ministry told PAP that Dabrowski plans to create adequate conditions for the archive's storage in Poland and hopes Katarzyna Herbert will conceded to the plan.
No details of the project are known, Dabrowski promising to "forward his proposals to Herbert's heirs and public opinion soon" in a letter to the media.
The Beinecke can offer superior storage conditions, and they do have a good Polish collection (the recently acquired archive of Witold Gombrowicz, among others), but it is kind of far for Poles to travel for a look.
It's Philosophy Day, the third time UNESCO is celebrating.
Seventy nations are participating, though the only ones we found getting excited about it are the Iranians.
Still, why not be philosophical for a day ?
We have a few philosophy titles under review, if you need some suggestions.
The next time your kids open up their cereal boxes for the toy surprise inside, they could be in for an educational treat.
That's because free books will be included in boxes of Cheerios -- just in time for National Children's Book Week.
We'd never heard of him either, but he won the Miles Franklin Award in 1967 and now he's dead and that seems worth at least a mention.
As Barry Oakley notes in his obituary in The Australian, Writer with vagabond imagination:
The death of Peter Mathers has passed virtually unnoticed, though he was one of Australia's finest comic novelists. (...)
Peter was not only one of our best writers -- he was also one of our most neglected.
We're always surprised by how relatively little attention Cynthia Ozick gets.
Despite a flurry of reviews for her most recent work, Heir to the Glimmering World. most mentions in the past few weeks seem limited to passing mention of her as one of several prominent authors who didn't make the American National Book Award shortlist.
So it's nice to see a fairly extensive profile (by David Mehegan in the Boston Globe).
A decent career-overview, and some discussion of her first-ever book tour -- but no real discussion of why she left (or was dropped by) Knopf after all these years.
Yes, the 2005 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award is beginning to rear its head: they've announced the 147-book strong longlist.
It is admirable that they do this -- most prizes are very secretive about what books are in the running until the list is pared down to a much smaller number -- but there are also obvious dangers.
Indeed, the prize has dealt itself devastating blows with two of the nominated books: Dan Brown's ridiculously popular The Da Vinci Code might just pass, but Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven is a choice that puts the credibility of the entire enterprise into question.
(The (ir)responsible offenders who nominated the Albom: the Consorci de Biblioteques de Barcelona, Spain, and the Pikes Peak Library District, Colorado Springs, USA; we assume picket lines are forming around both as we write.)
As usual, it's a very peculiar longlist, but with its nominally international orientation (only 29 of the titles are books in translation -- a far smaller percentage than the books you find under review at the complete review --, so it isn't very impressively international) we are more favourably inclined to the IMPAC than most literary prizes.
Also: it's the rare prize where we actually usually have some of the nominated titles under review -- this year a bumper crop:
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Alain de Botton's Status Anxiety.
As we've mentioned, once we have some books by an author under review we are more likely to review other books by that author, both for the sake of completeness as well as because readers who come here for information about one book by an author might well want to know about the rest of the author's output.
We enjoyed de Botton's early work: his novels were flawed, but, written when he was only in his twenties, tantalized with their promise, and How Proust can change your Life was a nicely realised concept.
So we've reviewed all his works, and even have an author page devoted to him.
Alas, he's not lived up to his early promise, and Status Anxiety, while not a really bad book is certainly one that doesn't need to be read: it was a waste of our time to bother with it.
And even before we dealt with it we felt that of the 45 authors we have dedicated pages for, he's the only one we regret putting one up for -- because we now feel obligated to continue following his career and reading his books, and it doesn't look like that will lead anywhere.
Where did he go wrong ?
In turning away from fiction, is our guess.
The Proust-success seems to have gotten to him, and instead of offering his semi-serious philosophising in fictional guise (where it might much more easily pass) he insists on trying to be taken seriously by trying a non-fictional presentation.
Unfortunately, there just enough depth there for him to achieve popularity, but nothing more.
Too bad: his light touch could work just fine in fiction.
(As some reviewers of this book have noted, it's too bad de Botton doesn't deal explicitly with his own status anxieties: he is, after all, the rare individual who could write entirely what he pleased (and self-publish in grand style if need be) but instead has opted for cheap, widespread (and surely not lasting) acclaim by writing unnecessary books like this.)
The film version of Amélie Nothomb's Fear and Trembling (see the official film site) is now -- sort of -- also hitting the US.
This is about the most limited release we've ever heard of -- see the playdates -- but if you're in New York (Manhattan or Huntington) you can catch it starting Friday, and if you live in Portland, Seattle, Miami, Houston, Dallas, or D.C. it will eventually come your way.
We'll try and catch it and report back.
This Witold Gombrowicz centenary year has seen the first publication in English translation of three of his books, which we now have under review.
The most significant is surely the Archipelago Book's volume, Bacacay, which includes his earliest fiction.
The other two volumes are from Yale University Press: his Polish Memories and A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes.
Here's a rare case of books by one author written in two different, foreign languages (the guide was written in French, the other two in Polish).
(The only other author we appear to have books originally written in two different foreign languages under review by is Peter Weiss (German, Swedish -- though none of his Swedish work is available in English); English plus a foreign language doesn't appear to be quite as rare (though the only such authors we can think of that we have under review are Paul Feyerabend (who wrote and re-wrote his works in both English and German) and Borges (whose lectures This Craft of Verse were delivered in English, while the rest of his works is in Spanish).)
In the past few years, Israel has begun to disappear from the travelogues and guidebooks sections of bookstores around the world.
In response to the security situation that has prevailed in Israel since 2001 and the accompanying decline in tourism, publishers in numerous countries decided there was no longer any need to update their guidebooks to Israel.
With international arrivals collapsing from 2,416,800 in 2000 to 1,063,000 in 2003 there just isn't much of a market:
Publishers are profit-seeking concerns, adds Ullian, and the books on Israel cause losses.
Note that W.E.B. Du Bois Institute has a fairly impressive collection of archived video broadcasts of many previous lectures and events -- including a Soyinka-lecture from last year.
Worth checking out.
Oh yeah, everybody continues to be really on top of the new Imre Kertész publications (see our previous complaint).
Well, at least there's one (semi-)review of Liquidation today, in The Washington Post Book World: Melvin Jules Bukiet reviews it -- but only in tandem with Michael Chabon's The Final Solution.
As some sort of sop there's also a mention at the end of the review that: "Two of Imre Kertész's previous novels are appearing this season in new English translations by Tim Wilkinson".
Not that we'd really recognise the books from these very succinct summaries:
Fatelessness, Kertész's first novel, follows 14-year-old Georg Koves, an outsider among outsiders, from Budapest to Auschwitz.
In Kaddish for an Unborn Child, an aging Jewish Hungarian writer rages about "the bundle that is this life" to his never-born child.
(Note that while Fatelessness does follow the main character to Auschwitz he only spends three days there; the book then follows him on to the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Zeitz (and eventually back to Buchenwald, and then Budapest).)
Sure, some coverage is better than no coverage, but this is getting pretty ridiculous.
A couple of days ago we mentioned a new prize to honour the best Bulgarian novel.
At the time we only found information in Bulgarian about the prize at the EVS site, but we have learned that there is now also English-language information available -- at the Vick Foundation site.
Useful summaries of the shortlisted books and more: check it out.
In The Independent Christina Patterson interviews Philip Pullman (author of the His Dark Materials-trilogy).
Nothing too interesting, except this titbit:
In his precious spare time, he is writing an introduction to Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy.
He loves the "sense of this enormously powerful vortex of hideous darkness."
It's clearly an interest that's not entirely academic.
"I'm familiar with melancholia," he confesses, "familiar enough to find it utterly terrifying.
It's a curious thing that many writers seem to be affected by it.
But," continues our most popular storyteller with a rueful smile, "I dare say a lot of electricians are, too."
So is there a new edition of Burton's book in the works ?
And how will Pullman's introduction compare to William H. Gass' in the New York Review Books edition ?
In the Daily Princetonian Arielle Gorin reports how Salman Rushdie discusses impact of urban life on literature.
He gave a lecture titled "The Novel and the City," as part of the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies' Urban Reflections Lecture Series.
"I almost have an ideology of dirt," he said.
"Whenever anybody wants to 'clean things up' -- ethnic cleansing, for example -- people start dying.
What we need is a little dirt.
Cities are more dirty, and therefore more democratic and freer."
"Translation is an enterprise demanding a heart that could abide loneliness."
This is a refrain constantly heard in the Fifth Session of the Council Meeting of Translators' Association of China (TAC), held in Beijing from November 4 to 7.
Petya Bondokova from Sofia News Agency interviews Edward Vick in the boldly titled: The Quality of Bulgarian Books will Increase.
Vick established the Vick Foundation, and this year they've inaugurated a prize for the Bulgarian Novel of the Year.
The 10,000 lev prize isn't exactly a fortune, but admirably: "the winner will have an English translation of his novel as a reward".
(Yes, this is somewhat reminiscent of the way they used to do things -- when every Warsaw Pact country had its foreign publishing house that would produce translations of favoured (but often unreadable) national literature, but the starting point does look a bit more promising.
But it remains unclear how or if the translation will get published .....)
Some depressing statistics about the literary scene in Bulgaria are also offered:
The question is that many people are interested really not in Bulgarian books, they read for business. You can ask people when was the last time you read a Bulgarian book by a Bulgarian person. The answer is almost always: "I can't remember."
Twenty years ago a bestseller novel in Bulgaria would sell 100,000. Today its 3,000.
And Americans complain about a declining readership !
As to Bulgarian literature abroad:
The problem is a question of translation.
Part of the prize is the option of the translation of the book into English.
The idea is that not only Bulgarian people can read books.
If we have a prize for the best book in Bulgaria, and translate the book, there is a possibility that someone outside Bulgaria will read it.
As we said: admirable.
(Note that a rare instance of Bulgarian literature getting a chance in front of an English-reading audience will be available shortly: the dependable Dalkey Archive Press will be bringing out Georgi Gospodinov's Natural Novel in a couple of months (see their publicity page).
We will be reviewing it -- it looks interesting.)
As to the Bulgarian Novel of the Year: the shortlist was announced a while back (six books of the sixty six submitted made it).
There's more information about the prize at the EVS site -- but we could only find it in Bulgarian.
We have reviews of several translations of Kalidasa's classic, Sakuntala, available (see, for example, our review of Barbara Stoler Miller's); somewhat surprisingly, these have proven very popular (two of the reviews were among the 100 most popular reviews at the site last month).
Now there's also a new German translation out by Albertine Trutmann, from Ammann (see their publicity page), which has also attracted attention.
Claudia Wenner reviews it in the NZZ (link will only last through ca. 10 December), and Marica Bodrozic offers a nice write-up at hr-online.
The Witold Gombrowicz centenary has seen some impressive publications (if little coverage of these -- so far) in the US: Bacacay, Polish Memories, and A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours and Fifteen Minutes (and our reviews of all three should be available by next week) -- but it can't compare with the flood of material in France.
Le Figaro offers a good overview, with interviews with Rita Gombrowicz and Michel Polac (each about a book they're associated with), as well as a review of a volume of Gombrowicz's correspondence.
We continue to be fascinated by the limited interest in Nobel laureate Imre Kertész's new and semi-new titles.
While visits to two New York city super-bookstores over the past two days did find Liquidation still displayed among the 'new fiction' (which, we suppose, is something), the re-translation of Kaddish for an Unborn Child has not made as much of an impact: one store did not have any copies (but did, outrageously, have two of copies of the disgraced and superseded (though not in a form -- as Fatelessness -- available until early December) Northwestern University Press edition of Fateless -- in hardcover no less !), while the other had a single copy tucked away among the general fiction shelves (i.e. not even on the new-in-paperback tables or otherwise prominently displayed).
We are deeply concerned that Vintage has not managed to properly communicate to bookstore owners that their two Kertesz-books are new translations, not just new editions,
Meanwhile, among the few Kertesz-reviews two have already been three-for-one reviews, lumping all three titles together (both reviews appearing before two of the titles had actually gone on sale, possibly causing more confusion).
But, we keep telling ourselves, there will surely be some appropriate coverage, somewhere, someday.
Perhaps the NYTBR is taking its time (no Kertesz reviews in the coming weekend's issue yet either), for example, so that it can run the appropriate three separate and full-length reviews the works deserve, perhaps with a nice author profile to go with it .....
(Yeah, we don't really believe that's going to happen ... but we can dream, can't we ?)
We recently reviewed Patrick Marber's play, Closer, but now it's the film version -- due out in early December in the US -- that is getting all the attention.
Somewhat worryingly, an article in New York a couple of weeks back quoted film director Mike Nichols as saying he had: "changed the ending radically".
A profile of Natalie Portman (who plays Alice in the film) by Melanie Thernstrom in Sunday's issue of The New York Times reveals more:
The final scene of Closer shows a radiant Alice, arriving at Kennedy with a backpack, having left her nasty lovers behind.
As the guard stamps her passport, he gives her a paternal smile.
Christening her with her real (oh so nice and normal) name, he says, "Welcome back to America, Jane Smith."
As those who have read/seen the play will recall, the actual ending is very different.
(Least significantly, even her name is a different one: Jane Jones.)
Of course, it's unclear how exactly Nichols gets here (it is possible he could do it without losing all the power of the play's end) -- and certainly one can understand the temptation to close with the play's (and, with the delightful -- when not in the clutches of George Lucas -- Miss Portman playing the role, surely also the film's) most sympathetic bright young thing walking happily away.
But this happy-ending-alternative sounds a lot harder to pull off, and we are a bit concerned.
The admirable Lannan Foundation has opened its vaults again and showered a couple of lucky authors with big, big riches -- just under a million bucks total.
This year's Literary Awards and Fellowships include $200,000 for W.S.Merwin and $125,000 for Rikki Ducornet.
And people think you can't get rich by writing serious stuff .....
(Surprisingly little press coverage of this, so far -- though Lannan (and publishers Dalkey Archive Press and Copper Canyon Press) took out ads announcing the awards in The New York Times.)
Everybody seems to have reported on it, but here a brief round-up regarding the announcement of the shortlists for the Whitbread awards.
(The only contending title we have under review is Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.)
The newspaper reports focus on the Man Booker winner v. Orange Prize winner aspect:
As they explain at the official site, there are three judges for each category -- "generally an author, a bookseller and a journalist" -- and: "Their criteria is to select well-written, enjoyable books that they would strongly recommend anyone to read."
Which seems very different from selecting a 'best' book.
The radio coverage of literary weblogs this week is very impressive, most recently with The Elegant Variation's Mark and Bookslut-Jessa (or is it Jessica for radio-purposes ?) on the same stage, as it were, with the NYTBR's Sam Tanenhaus at from Day to Day (listen to it all here).
We're not so sure about blog-influence -- for example, we keep beating the Imre Kertesz-drum and seem to have sparked no interest whatsoever.
(Amazon.com sales of his books via our site are running at one-tenth the level of those for the horrible 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed -- but maybe it's only coverage, not our opinion that matters .....)
We're also not sure about the big publisher/small publisher divide (and in the case of Random House author Kertesz, they don't seem to have been able to buy much publicity anywhere else so far .....).
Jessa's example of Alasdair Gray's Lanark isn't exactly convincing either: this is a book, after all, that has been widely hailed as one of the best Scottish novels ever (and made, for example, The Observer's list of The 100 greatest novels of all time just last year), has been re-published numerous times (and is, by the way, old: first published in the UK in 1981, and in the US in 1985) -- and is not one of those books ignored by The New York Times etc.
In fact, it was well and widely reviewed -- the 5 May 1985 NYTBR review isn't freely accessible online, but the NYTBR mentioned it again when it was republished in paperback in 1996 in the New & Noteworthy Paperbacks column, noting: "this novel "is a quirky, crypto-Calvinist 'Divine Comedy' " that "should be widely read," John Crowley said in the Book Review in 1985."
Certainly, it's nice that Jessa's enthusiasm led some readers to this brilliant work, but this wasn't exactly a work that had suffered from a lack of attention.
It was nice (if not very surprising) to hear that Tanenhaus trolls the weblogs -- though we imagine his complete lack of interest in foreign-language literature means he probably isn't a frequent visitor to the Literary Saloon .....
We were pleased to see Bill Marx note in his piece on Literary Mullahs re. media coverage of this year's Nobel laureate that:
The mainstream media's total lack of interest in her writing is par-for-the-cultural-course: fiction in translation is on the margin of the margins.
Worse, many of Jelinek's books are not easily available in America.
What's disturbing is that some reputable journals are not letting ignorance stand in their way of administering Jelinek a spanking.
The need to throw a theocratic punch in the jaw trumps serious intellectual inquiry.
We've discussed this previously (most recently here), but we're now also wondering whether there isn't a general anti-Nobel sentiment in the air.
A few days ago we mentioned that 2002 laureate Imre Kertész just turned 75.
We actually held back our complaints about the lack of American coverage, sure that some papers would pick up on it (and the release of another of his books) and that we'd look stupid; unfortunately, there doesn't appear to have been a single article commemorating the event or mentioning the release of Kaddish for an Unborn Child.
True, recent laureate Saramago has been getting decent review-coverage for The Double, as has Naipaul for his Magic Seeds, but there's been very little Coetzee-coverage for quite some time.
Maybe it's distance that is required -- and they'll report on Kertész a couple of years from now.