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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 31 December

11 December: First books | Marginalia | FT best books lists
12 December: Jeddah IBF | More on Nemirovsky | Posner blog
13 December: Naguib Mahfouz medal for literature | Another NYTBR, another rant | Freudenberger reading | 'I remember ...' variation | Iain Sinclair reviews
14 December: McEwan excerpt | Dalkey Archive Press job openings | Tanenhaus talking | German book prize | (Not) reading in Kashmir
15 December: Ozick interview | Best book meta-list
16 December: Murakami's Kafka on the Shore | Swedish Academy job switches
17 December: The World Republic of Letters | Vertical success | Sodom sold | Aksyonov profile | Arab poet interviews | UK winners and losers | Diagram Oddest Title of the Year shortlist
18 December: Friederike Mayröcker turning 80 | Japanese success | Brecht's Stalin Prize | Updike dumps books | Dr. Glas variation | Atwood non-projects | Art and politics
19 December: NYTBR does Liquidation | Google dance | Bad (and best) books lists | Awards: Korean - Scottish ? | Literary webloggers on TV
20 December: Double dose of Bartlebys | New Cortázar | New RainTaxi
21 December: Russian Debut awards | Oprah’s Impact | Wolfe explains irony | Biographie de la faim review | Christmas break
31 December: The year that was | The year ahead | Arab world in Frankfurt | Book tax axed in Brazil | President visits literary museum

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31 December 2004 - Friday

The year that was | The year ahead | Arab world in Frankfurt
Book tax axed in Brazil | President visits literary museum

       The year that was

       Any number of articles look back at the year in books in 2004. Some more or less interesting ones include: (Some of these, we see, have been cited elsewhere; it'll probably take us a day or two before we're back on top of things; please excuse the redundancies of links you found a week ago elsewhere -- at more industrious weblogs.)
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The year ahead

       Stuart Jeffries offers something of a preview of the year to come in books. Hey, at least he mentions some of the books we can look forward to.

       (Updated - 1 January 2005): Today The Guardian offers a bit more in A grand view, as they consider the "literary highlights of the next six months".

       (Updated - 2 January): And now in The Observer Stephanie Merritt previews "this year's essential reads", while in the Independent on Sunday Suzi Feay looks ahead to Books to keep you up all night.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arab world in Frankfurt

       Hey, better late than never, right ? The Christian Science Monitor offers an article on the Frankfurt Book Fair (yes, that was months ago) and the guests of honour, Isabelle de Pommereau finding Arabic literature finds an audience in Europe.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Book tax axed in Brazil

       Brazzil Magazine reports that Brazil Eliminates Taxes on Books:
Through this measure the government hopes to reduce the price of literary works by 10% over the next four years
       Lower book prices always sound good to us, and it's even nicer when the cuts don't come at the cost of the authors.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       President visits literary museum

       Okay, it only happened in Azerbaijan; still, it's nice to see something like this is considered news: AzerTAj reports that President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev visits Azerbaijan Literature Museum named after Nizami Ganjavi
On 30 December, President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev visited the Azerbaijan Literature Museum named after great Azerbaijani poet and philosopher Nizami Ganjavi.
       This is apparently: "the only literature museum in the Eastern world" ('East' being a relative term). As to the appropriation of Nizami (see our reviews of his Haft Paykar and Sikandar Nama, e bara) as an Azeri author ... well, literary nationalism is always a peculiar thing -- and it is true that he was born in what is now Azerbaijan .....
       Impressively -- if somewhat worryingly:
President Ilham Aliyev, for his part, gave his concrete instructions and recommendation on both reconstruction of the building and improvements of surrounding area.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

21 December 2004 - Tuesday

Russian Debut awards | Oprah’s Impact | Wolfe explains irony
Biographie de la faim review | Christmas break

       Russian Debut awards

       We constantly hear the Man Booker and American National Book Award judges (among many others) yammer about how many books they have to read, but consider what the judges awarding the five Debut fellowships in Russia had to deal with: RIA Novosti reports that: "43,000 works were submitted ".

       At least there's continuing literary ambition in Russia, though we can't say we're pleased to learn -- as reported by Anna Isakova in Ha'aretz -- that: " 'Oligarchic literature' has become a literary genre in Russia." (This almost makes chick lit sound good. Hell, it almost makes lad lit sound good.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Oprah’s Impact

       Apparently this is news: a BYU news release proudly proclaims that a faculty member has determined that: Oprah’s Impact on Book Sales Even Bigger than Expected:
A study being released Dec. 23 by Brigham Young University economists is the first to use quantitative methods to discern just how much a difference her taste in books, some of them many years old, made to readers. The results confirm the conventional wisdom that her endorsement dramatically increased individual book sales, but also suggest that her impact lasted longer than previously thought.
       See also the report in The Salt Lake Tribune , or check out Richard Butler's faculty page, where you can download the report.
       We're not sure that people (especially in the publishing industry) can get any more impressed by Oprah's Book Club, but we do know we'd be more impressed if someone finally changed the entry for banished Oprah selection The Corrections so that it wouldn't read (as it still does, after all these years):
Comic and tragic, The Corrections is modern tale of a family breaking down.
       Come on, people, it can't cost that much to hire someone to add an "a" (as in "a modern tale") !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Wolfe explains irony

       We lost all patience for Tom Wolfe quite a while ago: we like the outfit, but for well over a decade everything that has come out of his mouth and pen has been too preposterous (and OVER-EMPHATICALLY !!!! expressed) to bother with. With his new book (he is Charlotte Simmons) he's been getting lots of press and been pretty hard to ignore -- spouting impressive nonsense left and right (but particularly towards the left (or what passes as such in the US)). Showing how completely out of touch he is, Reuters (and others) now report that Wolfe defends ironic sex scenes.
       Pretending to almost be a good sport, he comments on the Literary Review recently honouring him with their Bad Sex Award -- describing "the judges as out of touch". Apparently, you see: "his sex scenes were meant to be more ironic than erotic". And the fault is obviously not in the writing but in the judging:
"There's an old saying -- 'You can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her sing.' In this case, you can lead an English literary wannabe to irony but you can't make him get it," Wolfe said in an interview on Monday.
       Subtlety has, of course, never been Wolfe's strong point (he's the man of a million exclamation points, after all), but it's always easier to blame the reader than the author if something doesn't come across as the author intended. (For what it's worth: every excerpt of this novel that we've seen -- and that's not just the so-called sex scenes -- is simply godawful.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Biographie de la faim review

       We finally got our hands on a copy of Amélie Nothomb's most recent novel (god forbid the publisher or the French Publishers' Agency or anybody with an interest in seeing that there's some English-language coverage of the book would provide us with a copy; it's not like we offer the most extensive (and effusive) English-language Nothomb coverage on the Internet ... oh, wait, we do .....) -- and have now also reviewed Biographie de la faim.
       Not yet available in English (and probably won't be for a couple of years), but definitely something to look forward to.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Christmas break

       Heads bowed in shame, even we have to admit we can't keep it up. For most of the year we offer coverage seven days a week, but once again the Christmas season defeats us, and so until on or about 31 December there will be nothing new at the site -- no reviews, no weblog entries, nothing.
       We know there's no excuse, and feel deeply ashamed, but that's the way it is. We're sorry. (If we may be so bold as to suggest: read a book instead ! But come back on the 31st .....)

       Meanwhile, we wish all our readers a merry Christmas season, and hope you all find time to read many fine and entertaining books in these days (and in the coming year).
       Thanks so much for your patronage and interest !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

20 December 2004 - Monday

Double dose of Bartlebys | New Cortázar | New RainTaxi

       Double dose of Bartlebys

       Two new reviews: Enrique Vila-Matas' entertaining Bartleby & Co., and the classic that inspired it, Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener .

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Cortázar

       Lots of forthcoming titles of considerable interest from Archipelago Books, but one stands out: Julio Cortázar's Diary of Andrés Fava (no separate publicity page yet -- but see the Spanish one at Alfaguara).
       It's ... well, the diary of Andrés Fava, who readers might remember from Cortázar's Final Exam. Originally part of that book, it was eventually only published separately; we're very much looking forward to it.
       (It's only due out in May; pre-order your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New RainTaxi

       The winter issue of RainTaxi is now available online -- well, part of it, anyway.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 December 2004 - Sunday

NYTBR does Liquidation | Google dance | Bad (and best) books lists
Awards: Korean - Scottish ? | Literary webloggers on TV

       NYTBR does Liquidation

       And here we were, beginning to believe we'd never see the day -- but today's issue of the NYTBR actually offers a review of Imre Kertész's Liquidation (by Ruth Franklin). Presumably the fact that it is by a Nobel laureate outweighed the fact that it was a book in translation, meaning that ultimately (try though they might) it couldn't be ignored.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Google dance

       Evey now and then super-search-engine Google changes the way they rank results. For quite a while now the system they had in place has worked in our favour: type in a book title and the author's name and, if we have the book under review, chances were very, very good our review-page would be one of the top few results. But last week things changed, and that is no longer the case.
       For example: the search checkpoint "nicholson baker" now finds our Checkpoint-review as the 23rd result, while the search for middlesex "jeffrey eugenides" only puts our Middlesex-review barely in the top 100. (Previously both had been among the top results.)
       We like to think the Google-folk know what they are doing, but we're pretty sure that if you're looking for a book-review or -information page you're not going to find many that are more useful than ours -- not so much because of our reviews, but because of the additional information (and especially the links) we offer. (Compare the pages that are ranked higher than ours and judge for yourself, if you like.) So while it's also pure self interest that we like a high ranking, we also think searchers benefit. But the Google system doesn't value what we offer as highly any more.
       Google is far and away the dominant search engine, and it's fascinating (and a bit scary) to see how this impacts on traffic: there were almost 50 per cent fewer visitors to the site on Friday than there were the week before, a decline that can almost entirely be attributed to the fact that our results were no longer as highly ranked on Google. But we do maintain that an effective search engine would rank us (or at least our review-pages) fairly high -- and we wonder whether the fact that Google doesn't seem to provide the best results (at least this week) will lead users to look elsewhere. We certainly have to in order to hunt down the links to other reviews that we provide -- but will the casual user ?
       Other search engines now offer what we consider (admittedly from a limited, book-information (as well as self-serving) point of view) far superior results. Search for 'checkpoint "nicholson baker"' at (the much-improved) MSN Search or AlltheWeb and our review is number one. Meanwhile 'middlesex "jeffrey eugenides"' is ranked 6th at MSN Search and 7th at AlltheWeb. But MSN Search isn't very popular, and practically no one seems to use AlltheWeb, and it's unclear what it would take to get users to try them instead of Google. (We wonder whether casual users even noticed the change in Google-results over the last week.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bad (and best) books lists

       Someone -- Outlook India -- finally gets at least a few people to name the books they loathed this year, in a Bad Books List. Most (wimps !) declined to name any, but Naipaul's Magic Seeds got two nods. (Shows what we know: we thought it was one of the most impressive books of the year.) We find this general unwillingness to admit that there's a lot of crap out there mystifying. (Our top contenders this year ? 'Danuta de Rhodes'' The Little White Car and 'Melissa P.''s One Hundred Strokes of the Brush before Bed -- two books where it doesn't surprise us that the authors didn't want to use their actual names.)
       Outlook India also asks lots of celebrities for their reads of the years, from the Indian President and PM on down.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Korean award

       In the JoongAng Daily Paik Nak-chung reports on the Manhae Literary Award, awarded to North Korean writer Hong Seok-jung for Hwangjini in a still too rare meeting and mixing of North and South Korean culture.
       We are, however, not too sure about this aspect of it:
The award was decided after having read the works written in North Korea and screening them according to South Korea's literary criteria.
       It's not clear quite what those criteria were/are (and how they might differ from other literary criteria), but in the spirit of cross/same-cultural exchange, what the hell.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Scottish award ?

       In Scotland on Sunday Andrew Crumey suggests Scots might want to Start a new chapter -- with a new Scottish literary prize.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literary webloggers on TV

       As has been reported by all the other participants (Dennis Loy 'MobyLives' Johnson, Maud 'Maud Newton' Newton, Ron 'Beatrice' Hogan, George 'Bookninja' Murray, Laila 'Moorish Girl' Lalami), the literary weblogging panel filmed in New York a week or two ago, which also included our very own M.A.Orthofer, will be broadcast at midnight on BookTV tonight, and then on Christmas Eve. We know you're all going to drop everything to catch it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 December 2004 - Saturday

Friederike Mayröcker turning 80 | Japanese success | Brecht's Stalin Prize
Updike dumps books | Dr. Glas variation | Atwood non-projects | Art and politics

       Friederike Mayröcker turning 80

       Everyone figured that if an Austrian woman was going to get the Nobel Prize for literature this year, it would be poet Friederike Mayröcker, but it didn't work out that way. Still, she's been getting a fair bit of attention, more so now that her 80th birthday is approaching (celebrate on Monday !).
       In Die Zeit Iris Radisch offers a long (German) interview, while Suhrkamp is bringing out her collected poems (Gesammelte Gedichte, see their publicity page or get your copy at -- and see Ulrich Weinzierl's review in Die Welt). Impressively, quite a group will gather on Monday, when she will be fêted at the Akademietheater in Vienna: the Festabend will see everyone from Suhrkamp head Ulla Unseld-Berkéwicz to Durs Grünbein on stage, reading and congratulating.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Japanese success

       Janet Ashby reports in The Japan Times that in Japan the Book Trade Booms in 2004 (link first seen at Elegant Variation). Apparently:
2004 was a prosperous year for the Japanese book trade with revenues exceeding the previous year's figures for the first time in seven years.
       That was a pretty prolonged slump (or rather downright downward spiral), but it's always nice to see books (of sorts) make a comeback.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Brecht's Stalin Prize

       In the Berliner Zeitung there's an interesting report on Die andere Seite der Medaille (link first seen at Perlentaucher). Bertolt Brecht was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in 1955 (shortly before his death), and this article provides some interesting additional background. For one: they wanted to give it to Thomas Mann, but he turned them down, figuring his readership wouldn't stand for it (but lamenting the loss of yet another cash-windfall -- 100,000 Rubels apparently was worth something in those days).
       Brecht was the back-up (not that that's what he was told), and he accepted. Points of interest: he drew up a will before he went to Moscow (just in case ?), demanded half the prize money be deposited -- in Swiss francs -- in a newly opened Swiss bank account before he showed up (the man who was living in East Germany on an Austrian passport knew how to play it safe), and managed not to let the name 'Stalin' fall in his acceptance speech. Apparently, he also wasn't even very well known in the Soviet Union at the time.
       There were quite a few illustrious winners of the Stalin Peace Prize (which eventually became the Lenin Peace Prize -- as if that was much help), including Paul Robeson, Howard Fast, Pablo Neruda, Halldór Laxness, and Pablo Picasso, but it did always retain a whiff of the not-quite-palatable.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Updike dumps books

       Kay Lazar reports With little fanfare, Updike bids books adieu in the Boston Globe. Apparently he had enough of them:
Makeshift shelves in John Updike's barn and the cellar of his house overflowed with books, but the effect was somewhat less than literary.

"They were just collecting dust and mouse droppings," he said.
       So he cashed in -- and you can now buy the books he disposed of, at Manchester by the Book, 27 Union Street Manchester, Massachusetts.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Dr. Glas variation

       Jan Söderqvist's Stockholm diary in The Guardian doesn't offer much about Elfriede Jelinek's refusal to come to pick up her prize beyond:
Elfriede Jelinek's non-attendance at the Nobel prizegiving ceremony last week was seen by some as a sign of disrespect for The Big Prize (and for Sweden and the Royal Academy).
       (Meanwhile, Horace Engdahl has now handed over the prize in Vienna; see the AFP report, or (German) coverage from the ORF.)

       More interestingly, Söderqvist reports on the Augusts, apparently a top Swedish literary prize:
The award for best novel went to Gregorius by Bengt Ohlsson. It retells one of Sweden's most beloved classics, Doktor Glas by Hjalmar Söderberg (1905), from the perspective of Söderberg's villain, the old priest Gregorius. This poor cuckold, who is poisoned by the eponymous narrator, is here treated with sympathy and respect. Gregorius has been well liked by the reviewers, but it can hardly be seen as a sign of strength that the novel considered the best of the year leans so heavily on a 100 year old classic.
       And so here's another novel we can't wait to get our hands on. Söderberg's novel continues to inspire: recall that just a short while ago Dannie Abse's The Strange Case of Dr Simmonds and Dr Glas offered yet another take on it.
       It will presumably be a while before this is available in translation. For now Swedish information about the book and the prize can be found here:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Atwood non-projects

       In The Times Margaret Atwood describes Three novels I won’t write soon.
       We're not quite sure why .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Art and politics

       At ZNet Tony Christini offers A Few Notes on the Literary Establishment and "the urgent conjunction of art and politics", which will presumably elicit a few weblog-reactions.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 December 2004 - Friday

The World Republic of Letters | Vertical success | Sodom sold | Aksyonov profile
Arab poet interviews | UK winners and losers | Diagram Oddest Title of the Year shortlist

       The World Republic of Letters

       Here's a book we're getting real eager to read: Pascale Casanova's La République mondiale des lettres, coming out next month from Harvard University Press as The World Republic of Letters (see their publicity page, or pre-order your own copy from or
       Perry Anderson reviewed it in the 23 September London Review of Books (calling it: "the other outstanding example of an imaginative synthesis with strong critical intent in recent years"), and now William Deresiewicz enthusiastically reviews it in the 3 January issue of The Nation. Apparently: "the mechanisms of legitimation -- the global economy of prestige that ushers some authors into the international literary sphere while keeping others shut out -- is exactly what Pascale Casanova's brilliant, groundbreaking book is all about" And: "Casanova's work amounts to a radical remapping of global literary space". And Deresiewicz writes:
But the most important question her book raises, for me at least, is simply this: Why are we so lame ? Why is American culture, and the American intelligentsia in particular, so closed off from what's happening in the rest of the world ? Why do we still need Paris to tell us what's going on (if we still even listen to it) ?
       Sounds like this could set off some good literary-weblog discussions; we hope The Reading Experience and others are already looking to getting their hands on copies.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Vertical success

       Vertical has been doing a nice job of bringing recent Japanese literature to an American audience for the past two years or so. We've reviewed quite a few of their titles, and at the very least they're always interesting.
       Last year, one of the books they brought out -- Suzuki Koji's Ring -- also found a British publisher, HarperCollins. Given the success of the Ring films, this wasn't a really great surprise, but still a nice foreign-rights success for them. Now, more impressively, we see that Faber is bringing out another title discovered (and first published) by Vertical, Yamada Taichi's Strangers (see their publicity page).
       Maybe David Mitchell's recommendation helped; in any case it sounds like a good move by Faber (who have some fun stuff coming out).
       But it's particularly nice to see that Vertical really seems to have gotten something started here. Maybe there'll be more new Japanese fiction to be found (and not just by them) ... and maybe even translations from other languages .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Sodom sold

       We previously mentioned that Sotheby's was auctioning off a unique copy of Sodom, or The Gentleman Instructed, attributed to the Earl of Rochester. Well, it went under the hammer -- and did better than expected: as The Sun puts it: £45k for ye olde porn.
       Yes, an anonymous buyer (hey, big surprise) shelled out £45,600 for it; see also the AP report.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Aksyonov profile

       We've mentioned that Vassily Aksyonov won the Booker-Open Russia 2004 literary prize. Now Victor Sonkin offers a profile of him in The Moscow Times.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arab poet interviews

       In Al-Ahram Weekly Rania Khallaf talks with poet Girgis Shoukri.
       Meanwhile Le Figaro has a (French) interview with highly acclaimed Syrian poet Adonis.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       UK winners and losers

       In The Bookseller there's an overview of some of the (publishing) Winners and losers of 2004. (Literary weblogs don't seem to have made enough of an impression in the UK yet, so they don't make the list -- but if they keep it up they might be something to consider next year.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Diagram Oddest Title of the Year

       Also in The Bookseller: Horace Bent reveals the shortlist for the 2004 Diagram Oddest Title of the Year. Always a fun competition -- and you can vote for the winner.
       Bent notes:
It may not be Richard & Judy's Book Club, but the Diagram prize is now so popular that three of the shortlist were submitted by their own publishers. There were also too many self-consciously titled entries, presumably in a bid to emulate the 2003 champion Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories.
       Tough competition -- The Anger of Aubergines didn't even make the shortlist.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 December 2004 - Thursday

Murakami's Kafka on the Shore | Swedish Academy job switches

       Murakami's Kafka on the Shore

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Murakami Haruki's forthcoming Kafka on the Shore.
       One of Murakami's more ambitious -- or at least longer -- efforts in a while, and we expect there will be considerable interest in this title.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Swedish Academy job switches

       As Moorish Girl notes, the Swedish Academy's Nobel committee (which decides on who gets the Nobel Prize for literature) has a new chairman, with Per Wästberg replacing Kjell Espmark. The official pressmeddelande isn't very detailed, and the AP report isn't able to add much more.
       The eighteen-member committee (click on names for English-language biographical information) is -- as these institutions tend to be -- old-heavy. Two members were born in 1918, eight more in the 1920s. In fact, only four are under 65. Experience apparently counts for a lot in those halls.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 December 2004 - Wednesday

Ozick interview | Best book meta-list

       Ozick interview

       The Morning News offers Birnbaum v. Cynthia Ozick, as Robert Birnbaum discusses, among other things, her new novel, Heir to the Glimmering World and -- finally ! -- her late-career change of publishers.
       Also on offer: yet another example of a publisher making an apparently poor business decision -- though in this case we largely approve (and we're not that convinced it will prove to be an entirely poor business decision):
CO: This same publisher, Houghton Mifflin, did a really nice thing and they are not going to make a penny on it.
RB: [laughs]
CO: They put in paperback, my first novel, which nobody has ever read. And I say, I will have struck a gold medal, for anybody who can give me evidence that they actually finished this book.
       Though we have extensive Cynthia Ozick coverage, even we haven't gotten to it yet (they're talking about Trust, by the way), but maybe it'll be a Christmas project for us ..... For those who want to give it a go: get your copy at and see the Houghton Mifflin publicity page.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Best book meta-list

       GalleyCat actually went through all these ridiculous things and now offers the interesting results: see The "Best of 2004" Meta-List. And it's only part one of two -- the commentary is still to come !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 December 2004 - Tuesday

McEwan excerpt | Dalkey Archive Press job openings | Tanenhaus talking
German book prize | (Not) reading in Kashmir

       McEwan excerpt

       We recently mentioned Ian McEwan's forthcoming novel, Saturday. In this week's issue of The New Yorker there's a fiction piece by him, The Diagnosis, which certainly looks like an excerpt from the novel.

       (You can pre-order your copy of Saturday at or See also the book-information at the Ian McEwan site, or the Random House publicity page.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Dalkey Archive Press job openings

       The Dalkey Archive Press -- or rather the Center for Book Culture, which includes DAP, Context, and the Review of Contemporary Fiction -- has some job openings which might be of interest to some of our readers. They're looking for an Assistant Editor and a Marketing Assistant.
       We have no idea what it's like working there (whereby there also means: Normal, Illinois), but if you have any interest in the international literary scene it's hard to imagine any American organisation that offers more exposure to it.
       Note that the deadline is soon -- 20 December.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Tanenhaus talking

       The New York Times Book Review's editor, Sam Tanenhaus, may be phasing out meaningful fiction coverage at the NYTBR for all but the highest profile names (see yesterday's mention), but he is certainly getting the word out about the NYTBR.
       A reader alerted us to a lengthy conversation with him in the On Point programme on 9 December, Best Reads of 2004, (the Tanenhaus segment begins at ca. the 6:40 mark). He actually displays some familiarity with some works of fiction, as he recaps the NYTBR top ten for the year !
       Meanwhile, his speech at the Small Press Center, which was broadcast by BookTV, is now also available online. (Note that it's almost 40 minutes long.) It's actually fairly interesting -- he only offers a few prepared remarks and then takes questions for about half an hour.
       Least surprising statement: "It's actually the non-fiction I'm more concerned about" -- though, in all fairness: he means the type of coverage thereof (feeling that the new NYTBR review approach to fiction (what little there is) is working out nicely). And for entertainment value there's his defence of the NYTBR's literary coverage -- to paraphrase: 'People were afraid we were going to get rid of it but look ! we've done just the opposite ! we have fiction reviews on the cover ! on the cover !' -- as if the occasional prominent placement is a substitute for comprehensive coverage ..... ("Just the opposite": those are actually his words. We could barely contain ourselves, laughing tears so hard.)
       Interesting also his explanations of the need for the NYTBR to be "journalistically viable" (literary viability is apparently not that important), and some behind-the-scenes details. Worth a look.

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       German book prize

       So they're trying again: the Germans have a couple of decent lifetime-achievement literary awards, but can't seem to manage a proper book-of-the year prize. Recent efforts include the confused Deutscher Bücherpreis (German Book Awards), but given that, for example, last year's winners were: Yann Martel, Michael Moore, Eoin Colfer (of Artemis Fowl fame), Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, and Yadé Kara, with only the latter writing in German, these have not proved a grand success.
       So this award has now been superseded by the Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse (Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair). Not a catchy name, but a bit more sensible: three categories (fiction, non-fiction, and translation), good money (€45,000), and a decent jury. Entries are restricted to publishers who exhibit at the Leipzig fair, but that's pretty much everyone anyway, and 146 publishers have now registered for the prize. (There will be a shortlist announcement in February, and the prize will be handed out 17 March.)
       One problem: lots of good coverage of this initial announcement -- such as here -- but all the German papers that are mentioning it call it the "Leipziger Buchpreis " -- which, we're pretty sure, will lead to confusion with the Leipziger Buchpreis zur Europäischen Verständigung, a fair favourite that's been around for a decade now (and has a hell of good prize-winner list, including: Kapuscinski, Nádas, Tisma, Kertész, Hobsbawm, Claudio Magris, Bora Cosic, and Hugo Claus)
       We're curious to see how serious a prize it turns out to be.

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       (Not) reading in Kashmir

       Exotic locale, familiar story: India News report: Dickens, Hardy and Maugham are homeless in Kashmir. Apparently: "Reading as a pure literary pursuit could already be a thing of the past in Kashmir."
       The last good bookstore closes, the libraries are empty ("most public libraries and reading rooms here bear a ghostly look these days"). And:
"Gone are the days when the air here used to be permeated with the aroma from Sherlock Holmes' pipe. All you smell now is choking fumes of hard coke and suffocating gushes from LPG heat stoves," said 54-year-old Nisar Hussain, an engineer and an ardent book lover.

The apathy is not restricted to English literature. Kashmiri and Urdu literatures are perhaps worse off.

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13 December 2004 - Monday

Naguib Mahfouz medal for literature | Another NYTBR, another rant
Freudenberger reading | 'I remember ...' variation | Iain Sinclair reviews

       Naguib Mahfouz medal for literature

       Rania al-Malky reports that Iraqi wins literary award at Al-Jazeera. They handed out the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature for the eleventh time:
Awarded by the American University in Cairo, Egypt, the prize went to Alia Mamdouh for her fifth novel, Al-Mahbubat (The Loved Ones), first published by Saqi Books in 2003.
       Several of her books have been translated into French (published by Actes Sud), and this one will apparently also be translated into English.
       See also this older interview with Mamdouh at

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       Another NYTBR, another rant

       Each week(end) we vow not to complain about The New York Times Book Review, but far too often we are so incensed we can't restrain ourselves. So -- sorry -- once again this week.
       This time it's not, as in the past few issues, the translation problem they have (i.e. reviewing so few -- see the last rant). Not that there's much this time either -- two foreign-language titles, both, bizarrely, Hebrew (but since it's among the many grossly under-represented languages, no complaints about that), one full review, one a brief one in the Crime-round-up.
       No, the 12 December issue stands out because editor Sam Tanenhaus comes oh so close here to realising what is apparently his dream, to banish all coverage of fiction from the pages of the NYTBR. Yes, this issue doesn't contain a single full-length review of any fiction title (compared to nine (9) full-length reviews of non-fiction titles). Not a one. Yes, there's a Crime round-up, and a 'Chronicle' that briefly covers five short story collections, but that's it.
       What's interesting is that this is also the issue where the NYTBR announces what it considers: "the 10 best books of 2004". Given that the NYTBR has paid considerably more attention to non-fiction all year, one would figure the only excuse they have is that non-fiction is so much more worthwhile and that it's been a poor year for fiction, etc. And so we figured the majority of the titles they would consider the best would be non-fiction. Last year only four of the ten titles were fiction, and since serious fiction coverage has declined dramatically under Tanenhaus' leadership we figured this year would see at best the same, or perhaps one less fiction title make the top ten. What a surprise then to find that there are six fiction titles in the top ten this year -- despite the fact that the pool they had to choose from (since it seems to be restricted to titles they've actually reviewed) was much larger for non-fiction titles.
       We're sort of pleased -- but also confused. The NYTBR didn't think it worth their readers' time to provide much coverage of fiction all year, and then notice at the end of the year that most of the best books were works of fiction ? Think what might have happened if they had actually covered more of the worthy fiction titles that appeared in 2004, instead of wasting all that space on non-fiction titles.
       We'd like to think that they might take the hint and start giving fiction its due, but the 12 December issue suggests the trend is entirely in the other direction.

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       Freudenberger reading

       Tomorrow (Tuesday, 14 December) Nell Freudenberger (of Lucky Girls etc. fame) reads (along with Dika Lam) in the Cupcake series. As the Cupcake blog notes, it's been getting good pre-event press.

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       'I remember ...' variation

       Apropos of something totally different, a reader pointed us to Alex Dodd's article, Telling tales, in the (South African) Sunday Times, about the popularity of memoirs. What caught our eyes was Maggie Davey's mention:
"South Africa is a fertile ground for examining memory and testimony, both public and private. A book where this converges in an exciting and new style is I Remember King Kong (The Boxer) by Denis Hirson. Inspired by Georges Perec’s Je me Souviens, every sentence begins ‘I remember ...’ and thus a trance of sorts is induced, taking the reader into personal and public memory."
       We have Perec's Je me souviens under review -- and note that it, in turn, was inspired by Joe Brainard's I remember. And then there's also Harry Mathews' Perec-tribute, The Orchard (also available in The Way Home). And on it goes -- which we think is pretty cool.
       Very little information about the Hirson title, so far -- the publicity page at Jacana Media is all we've found so far (and it's not available at any of the Amazons yet).

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       Iain Sinclair reviews

       So we've finally gotten around to reviewing Iain Sinclair's recent novel, Dining on Stones -- as well as Kevin Jackson's conversation with Iain Sinclair, The Verbals.
       (Note also that Jackson's worthwhile Invisible Forms has just been re-issued in the UK.)

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12 December 2004 - Sunday

Jeddah IBF | More on Nemirovsky | Posner blog

       Jeddah IBF

       Another International Book Fair, this time in Jeddah. No surprise that, as K.S. Ramkumar reports at Arab News, Arabic Books Dominate Jeddah Fair.
       But what we'd like to know a little more about is:
There is a section dedicated to non-Arabic books. "It’s surprising that there are hardly any English books among the exhibits, except those on computer science," Abeer Abu Tariq, a KAAU student, remarked.
       You still have time to catch the fair; for a general overview, see also 400 Publishers to Showcase at Jeddah International Book Fair.

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       More on Nemirovsky

       In Ha'aretz Gaby Levin writes about Fresco of human nature, offering more about recent (if long-dead) prix Renaudot winner Irène Nemirovsky and her widely acclaimed posthumously (re-)discovered novel, Suite Française

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       Posner blog

       We learned from 2blowhards that Richard Posner and Nobel laureate Gary Becker have teamed up to start their own blog, The Becker-Posner Blog. Not very literary -- it "will explore current issues of economics, law, and policy in a dialogic format" -- but since we do have several books by Posner under review (and generally find him to be an intriguing thinker) it's worth a mention and maybe keeping an eye on.

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11 December 2004 - Saturday

First books | Marginalia | FT best books lists

       First books

       In The Times several authors write about My first book -- a literary adventure.
       Antony Beevor writes: "My first novel, thank God, was never published", and Margaret Atwood didn't do much better. Ian Rankin was prolific from the first; others relating their experiences are Ali Smith and David Almond.

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       Also in The Times, Ben Macintyre suggests: Scribble a message in the margin. After all:
Books have properly wide margins because you are supposed to write your thoughts in them.

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       FT best books lists

       Even the Financial Times is devoting considerable space to best books lists (rare content they're making freely accessible). They do fiction too -- and overall the lists aren't the worst we've come across.

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