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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review


The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 January

1 January: Kafka on the Shore hits UK | Fateless film | Fastsellers ? Fiction ! | Pamuk story | Masters of Theory review
2 January: Year of Science Books ? | Erdal's Ghosting
3 January: 2005 literary anniversaries | Porn exhibit | Trust review
4 January: Perrotta's goldfish | Literary weblog article | The Book Against God review
5 January: Guy Davenport (1927-2005) | Will Eisner (1917-2005) | Year-in-Review panel | Pre-read books ? | Mountains of the Mind review
6 January: More Murakami | Literary anniversaries | More of the year ahead | Humphrey Carpenter (1946-2005) | Miyabe Miyuki reviews
7 January: Book prices | Egyptian literary salon
8 January: Scenes from Comus ! | More KotS reviews | The Book Standard ? | Malay literature
9 January: Bibliotheca exhibit
10 January: Metacritic Books | New YRB

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10 January 2005 - Monday

Metacritic Books | New YRB

       Metacritic Books

       New to us, though they've apparently been at it for about half a year now, is Metacritic Books, offering review summaries and quotes, and links to reviews of recently published books, sleekly packaged. More of a focus on new (and popular) books than what you get at the complete review, so they might be of some interest. And if you thought our grading system was mystifying, check out what they do .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       New YRB

       A new issue of The Yale Review of Books is finally available, with a decent selection of books under review (including several we've covered, such as Marlene van Niekerk's Triomf and Camille Laurens' In His Arms).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



9 January 2005 - Sunday

Bibliotheca exhibit

       Bibliotheca exhibit

       The Globe & Mail reviews a couple of art exhibits (and we like how the first thing they mention -- before even the gallery address -- is the price range of the available art). The first one -- Bibliotheca, at the Stephen Bulger Gallery -- is book-centred, and sounds like it might be of interest.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



8 January 2005 - Saturday

Scenes from Comus ! | More KotS reviews | The Book Standard ? | Malay literature

       Scenes from Comus !

       We do have quite a variety of poetry under review, but there's a kind of 'difficult' poetry we're suckers for -- Durs Grünbein's, for one (soon to be available in English !), and Geoffrey Hill's, for example.
       We've been waiting for the newest Hill for a while now, and now it's appeared -- well, almost (and only in the UK, apparently). Derwent May reviews it in The Times -- the first we've heard that it's finally available. "Scenes from Comus throws the reader from the first line into a dense poetic gorse bush", he writes, and how envious we are that he's had a chance to read it.
       So Penguin is publishing it in a few weeks in the UK (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk). But what about American readers ? The Amazon.co.uk site lists a Counterpoint edition -- but the American Amazon.com doesn't (it would be found here). More disturbingly, Counterpoint does have a publicity page (of sorts) for it -- but lists the publication date as: "Nov 11, 2011".
       2011 !
       How can we wait that long ?
       (Note that the publicity page probably isn't meant for public consumption yet -- it's not listed in their catalogue, and we only got to it by pasting in the ISBN number. Still .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       More KotS reviews

       Murakami Haruki's new novel, Kafka on the Shore, is getting excellent UK review coverage. In the past two days Matt Thorne (The Independent) and David Mitchell (The Guardian) tackle it -- and continue the enthusiastic-but-with-reservations reaction trend.
       Mitchell also gives more of the book away than we would have thought appropriate, but it's hard not to peek at his review (as Murakami is almost invariably cited as the strongest influence on his own work).

       (Updated - 9 January): And today Hugo Barnacle reviews it in the Sunday Times.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       The Book Standard ?

       In the NY Daily News Paul Colford writes that Book biz website takes on industry mainstay (link first seen at Arts Journal):
VNU Business Media -- publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard and other trade titles -- is developing a wide-ranging Web site to cover the book business and offer sales data gathered by company-owned Nielsen BookScan. Called The Book Standard, the site will launch on Jan. 27.
       Not much information at The Book Standard site yet, but how can one resist their promise to provide -- in this order, apparently --: "Charts Metrics News Reviews Databases Analysis".

       (Humbled, we take this opportunity to apologize to our users for not providing you with metrics at the complete review; if we had any idea what they are we might (who knows ? maybe we have been, inadvertently) -- but we hope The Book Standard can meet all your metric needs.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Malay literature

       In the New Straits Times Johan Jaafar writes about Ebbs and flows in Malay literary fortune. Apparently the high/low literary debate has reached even those shores: "The entire literary establishment was at war -- fashion war, actually."
       As elsewhere:
Today's literature has little time for the masses. (...) But the masses are reacting. "Serious novels" as we know it are becoming unfashionable. An average print run of such novels is 2,000 copies and will probably take five years to clear.

"Popular" novels by Akhdiat Akasah, Liena Afiera Malik, Shamsiah Daud and gang sell like hot cakes. These novels -- novel picisan (literally "trash novels") -- have an average print run of 20,000 copies. Many breach the 100,000 mark.
       'Novel picisan'. A far too familiar concept -- but at least a new term for it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



7 January 2005 - Friday

Book prices | Egyptian literary salon

       Book prices

       Discounting, especially over the Christmas season, is all the rage in the UK, but in an opinion piece The Bookseller argues that it's time UK publishers and retailers settled on something more sensible. Or something, anyway.
       Yes: "The half-price promotions worked in the short term: lifting sales and attracting some new readers" -- but overall: "Pricing as a business weapon has finally arrived in the book trade, but the business is still in the Dark Ages compared to much of retail."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Egyptian literary salon

       In Al-Ahram Weekly Amira El-Noshokaty writes about a weekly literary salon, 'A place for writing', in Egypt, in The salon's shadow.
       Can we look forward to a literary saloon there next ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



6 January 2005 - Thursday

More Murakami | Literary anniversaries | More of the year ahead
Humphrey Carpenter (1946-2005) | Miyabe Miyuki reviews

       More Murakami

       With Murakami Haruki's Kafka on the Shore available in the UK now, widespread coverage continues -- from a profile by Stephen Phelan in the Sunday Herald to a review at ... Bloomberg (?!??).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Literary anniversaries

       We made fun of literary anniversary-fever a few days ago, but if you're into this sort of thing, Mark Sanderson provides a decent overview of upcoming literary centenaries and anniversaries in The Telegraph.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       More of the year ahead

       In The Telegraph David Robson surveys the year ahead in Tortoises and hares of 2005, noting some of the more interesting publications we can look forward to. James Francken also looks forward to 2005 (but much less comprehensively), in Coming attractions.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Humphrey Carpenter (1946-2005)

       Biographer Humphrey Carpenter -- whose Dennis Potter we have under review -- has passed away.
       See the obituaries in:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Miyabe Miyuki reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two of Miyabe Miyuki's mysteries, her forthcoming Shadow Family as well as All She was Worth.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



5 January 2005 - Wednesday

Guy Davenport (1927-2005) | Will Eisner (1917-2005) | Year-in-Review panel
Pre-read books ? | Mountains of the Mind review

       Guy Davenport (1927-2005)

       We don't have any of his books under review, but a pile of them sits on our shelves; they deserve more attention than we've had time for so far. Sadly there won't be any more: Guy Davenport died yesterday. No doubt, there'll be lots of obituaries. Early reports include:        For additional information, see also Charles A. Ralston's Guy Davenport page

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Will Eisner (1917-2005)

       As has been widely reported, Will Eisner passed away on Monday.
       We're not big comic book fans, but even we have a couple of Eisner books.

       (Updated - 6 January): See also obituaries in the Daily Telegraph and The Independent.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Year-in-Review panel

       Like last year, Alex Good organised a Year-in-Review panel, the results of which are now available. Along with Identity Theory's Robert Birnbaum, Bookslut's Jessa Crispin, goodreports.net's Alex Good, and Maud Newton, our managing editor was one of the contributors

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Pre-read books ?

       In the Daily Telegraph Andrew Marr describes sorting out and junking 400 books from "the Marr collection" -- and comes up with a niche bookselling idea that might be worth a try:
Oh yes, and that copy of Finnegans Wake that, aged 18, I cleverly bought pre-read by someone else, with multiple fissures down its spine, pages turned over and small tears. (Bookshops note: there could be a market in pre-read, a special section for busy people, where someone had done the job for you.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Mountains of the Mind review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Robert Macfarlane's many-awards-winning (and variously subtitled) Mountains of the Mind.

       The subtitles ?
  • UK: A History of a Fascination
  • US hardcover: How Desolate and Forbidding Heights Were Transformed into Experiences of Indomitable Spirit
  • US paperback: Adventures in Reaching the Summit

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



4 January 2005 - Tuesday

Perrotta's goldfish | Literary weblog article | The Book Against God review

       Perrotta's goldfish

       A while back we mentioned how the publishers of Tom Perrotta's Little Children had to change the image on the cover because the Goldfish® cracker folk (Pepperidge Farm) didn't approve. They were replaced by some homemade chocolate chip cookies; see the two covers side by side here, for example.
       Now Little Children is out in paperback -- and the goldfish are back. Not the crackers, but in fish-form at least -- see the cover here.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Literary weblog article

       As everyone seems to have already mentioned, in the Denver Post David Milofsky offers a decent overview of literary weblogs.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       The Book Against God review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of James Wood's novel, The Book Against God.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



3 January 2005 - Monday

2005 literary anniversaries | Porn exhibit | Trust review

       2005 literary anniversaries

       Literary anniversaries make for good literary weblog filler material -- and occasionally give rise to interesting (re-)publications, exhibits, etc. (though we have already had our fill of 2005 as Schiller-year (200 years since he died), for example).
       The truly desperate can refer to this overview of some of Britainís 2005 literary anniversaries. Our favourite:
In the Lake District it is 100 years since author and artist Beatrix Potter purchased her farmhouse Hill Top, near Windermere
       No literary(-related) event is too small !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Porn exhibit

       Part of one of the world's great collections of erotic literature, Gérard Nordmann's, is being exhibited as Eros invaincu at the Fondation Martin Bodmer in Geneva through 27 March.
       Over 130 items, the most notable of which is de Sade's manuscript of The 120 Days of Sodom, written on a 12 metre scroll (and saved from the Bastille, where de Sade wrote the infamous book, and where he was still incarcerated when it was stormed). (The Bodmer apparently gets to keep it, on permanent loan, even after the exhibit is over.)
       There's a catalogue to go with the exhibit (get your copy at Amazon.fr), and see also the Le Monde review of the catalogue, as well as Sabine Haupt's article on the exhibit in the NZZ (sorry, German).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Trust review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Cynthia Ozick's first novel, Trust.

       (Ozick also has a very odd piece in yesterday's issue of The New York Times Book Review, about her first-ever booktour. We're huge fans -- we even read Trust ! -- but here again are two pages in the NYTBR that would have been put to better use with almost anything else. Even -- here's a wild idea -- actual book reviews.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



2 January 2005 - Sunday

Year of Science Books ? | Erdal's Ghosting

       Year of Science Books ?

       We don't know how it worked out for them in "Literature Year 2002", "Library Year 2003", and "Child Literature Year 2004", but in Bangladesh they apparently like to foster some sort of literary interest in this way, and The New Nation reports that Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has now declared 2005 as the "year of science books"
       If true that the announcement was only made yesterday then the: "call for writers and publishers to bring out books on science and technology to cater the needs of the new age" might be expecting a bit much (only 364 days left !) -- unless writers and publishers in Bangladesh are more efficient and able to churn out books much more quickly than elsewhere in the world. Still, a nice enough idea.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Erdal's Ghosting

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jennie Erdal's memoir, Ghosting.
       It's been out for a few months in the UK, and will appear in the US in April. British attention (see the reviews) has been fairly entertaining, everyone there apparently familiar with the man at the centre of the book (for whom Erdal apparently acted as ghostwriter for nearly two decades), Quartet Books publisher (among much else) Naim Attallah. (Mr. Attallah has not been too enthusiastic about the work, and this has made for an entertaining literary semi-feud, which many of the reviews refer to; it will be interesting to see what the American take is, since while he was/is well-known in British literary and publishing circles, he is largely unknown in the US.)
       Fun stuff -- though, alas, Erdal offers barely a glimpse of how Quartet actually functioned -- and how they put out such a fine list (especially the Encounters-line: Cioran, Bernhard, Gadda, Broch, Witkiewicz, Appelfeld, etc. etc.). We must have two dozen of their titles, all bought in the US at used bookstores, where they were often piled high at bargain basement prices (and we never saw one available retail) -- leading to the other big Quartet mystery: did they ever make any money (other than on the Attallah-titles) ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



1 January 2005 - Saturday

Kafka on the Shore hits UK | Fateless film | Fastsellers ? Fiction !
Pamuk story | Masters of Theory review

       Kafka on the Shore hits UK

       Our review of Murakami Haruki's Kafka on the Shore has been up a couple of weeks now, but it'll be a few more weeks until it comes out in the US. It has, however, now appeared in the UK, and the first British reviews are in: Philip Hensher reviews it in this week's issue of The Spectator (registration required to access), and Tobias Hill reviews it in today's issue of The Times.
       Both are (somewhat) enthusiastic -- but do have some reservations.

       (Updated - 2 January): And now James Urquhart enthuses over it in the Independent on Sunday.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Fateless film

       Imre Kertesz' novel Fateless (or, as the new (reviewed by us) translation has it: Fatelessness) was made into a film (directed by Lajos Koltai, apparently in a -- by Hungarian standards -- lavish production) and will get its first screening at the Hungarian National Film Festival early next month.
       See the report from Canadian Press, the IMDb page, or some information at M+R Productions.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Fastsellers ? Fiction !

       Alex Hamilton's attempt to offer Fastsellers of 2004 decoded seems like quite a muddle to us, but some information does come across.
       'Fastsellers' are defined as "books published in paperback for the first time in the calendar year" (in the UK), and he looks at the top 100 (cut-off point: 184,000 units) -- as well as (a bit) at those that also sold over 100,000 copies.
       The most interesting fact (to us): "There are 12 non-fiction." Which means -- unless we completely misunderstand what he's talking about -- that 88 of the top 100 best-selling paperbacks first published in the UK in 2004 were works of fiction.
       People (an astonishing number of them) keep telling us that non-fiction is more popular than fiction -- relying, it seems, on anecdotal evidence (and maybe Sam Tanenhaus' non-fiction heavy coverage at the NYTBR), but here, it would appear, is yet more proof that it's simply not true (at least as far as the sales-totals -- i.e. reader-interest-- go). Yes, paperbacks first published in 2004 are only part of the market, but as far as units sold go they made an impressive dent. And fiction -- as always -- dominates.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Pamuk story

       At the Royal Academy of Arts an exhibit, Turks: Journey of a Thousand Years, 600-1600, is opening in a couple of weeks. In conjunction with that Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk -- who dealt with Turkish artists in My Name is Red -- wonders what the characters in the drawings of Muhammad of the Black Pen might say if they could speak for themselves, in a story first published in the Royal Academy Magazine and now re-printed in The Guardian.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Masters of Theory review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Andrew Warwick's study of Cambridge and the Rise of Mathematical Physics, Masters of Theory.

       I like to think that I'm generally not susceptible to any individual reviewer's enthusiasm about a particular book; working on this site I read so many reviews and know how off the mark (at least my mark) they often are that it usually takes quite a bit of information (or a few different opinions) to really tempt me to pick up a book by an author I am not familiar with. This is one of the rare cases where a single review was enough to make me desperate to get my hands on a book: Kathryn M. Olesko's review in the American Scientist.
       True, I was susceptible to anything on the subject -- Tripos ! -- having recently read David Lindley's biography of one-time senior wrangler William Thomson, Degrees Kelvin, which discusses the Cambridge system, but even so, usually I would have looked for additional information about the book before requesting such a 500-page tome. But Olesko's review admirably conveys what can be found there, and I was hooked. (And I'm glad to say: I wasn't disappointed -- though a bit overwhelmed.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



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