The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Y. B. Mangunwijaya's novel, Durga/Umayi.
Other than the works of Pramoedya Ananta Toer, very little Indonesian-language(s) literature is readily available in English translation, and so we were thrilled to chance upon this University of Washington Press/Singapore University Press co-production.
Not the most accessible of texts, considerable care was put into the presentation -- including an introduction, extensive notes, and afterword -- and it's certainly nice to see that even a text like this can get published in the US.
A sign that works in translation can make it ?
Maybe -- but we're not entirely thrilled: the book, available only in paperback -- and a fairly slim volume at 212 pages -- costs a staggering $ 20.00
That's hardback pricing territory, and makes it unlikely that a casual reader would risk buying it (we know we wouldn't).
The pricing was presumably set at this level with an eye on the university-course audience, i.e. readers who will have to buy the book because it is assigned reading.
This is possibly a wise profit-maximization policy, but certainly limits its appeal for the general book-buying public -- i.e. pretty much ensures that it won't reach the largest possible audience.
Books in translation -- especially difficult ones from less widely known languages -- have a hard time making it into English, but translation costs were not much of an issue in this case: translator Ward Keeler got a $ 30,000 NEH grant (as well as a grant for an unspecified amount from the University of Texas at Austin), so that presumably didn't cost the publishers much.
But far from passing on any savings to consumers, they jacked up the price to this staggering level.
(Also: for all the care they put into it: on the back cover they write: "Y. B. Mangunwijaya (1929-2001)" -- but in his Afterword Keeler writes: "Mangunwijaya died of a stroke shortly before his seventieth birthday, in 1999.")
Kim did not hesitate to admit that the initial goals of translating 100 books to take to Frankfurt (46 into English, 22 into German, 10 into French, eight into both Spanish and Japanese and six into Chinese) by the end of January were far too ambitious and said that the work is being reduced.
And they had seemed to be so well-organised and everything.
We're very disappointed.
Spectrum Books Limited has announced the list of winning books that made its list of the 25 books of the last 25 years.
Okay, there's a bit more to it than that.
Apparently it's the 25 best Nigerian titles from the past 25 years (selected from "about 488 nominations ") -- or, as it's also put here: "in celebration of excellence recorded in the Nigerian literary firmament in the last 25 years".
The piece includes a few odds and ends about the literary situation in Nigeria.
Xinhuanet offers 10 essential reads, "a run-down of what we consider to have been the most interesting books of last year".
Okay, Wolf Totem -- "the most sensational novel of 2004" -- is a book we hadn't been aware of (though we're a bit concerned about "its animalistic concerns") -- but is the situation in China really so sad that others in the top ten can include A cook's tour by Anthony Bourdain and No Excuse Leadership: Lessons from the US Army's Elite Rangers ?
(Also in the top ten: the Collected Works of Susan Sontag.)
"Amazon.com book reviews are not based on literary theory," he says.
"They are written by everyday readers, not scholars, who bring a new perspective to the topic of taste.
Since online reviews are voluntary, they offer honest opinions that aren't prompted by specific questions."
Hasn't Professor Mikhail Gronas wondered what motivates many of these 'voluntary' opinion-givers ?
But at least:
"I am introducing a palpable, probabilistic approach to literary criticism.
That's what makes it fun."
Palpable and probabilistic !
That does make it fun, doesn't it ?
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ian McEwan's Saturday, which should be available in the UK and Canada in a week or two (though US readers will have to wait a couple of months).
Eager though we are to see more fiction translated into English, here's a novel we can really do without: Milorad Ulemek's Iron Trench.
As Nicholas Wood reports in the International Herald Tribune, it has been a grand local success: in just two weeks since publication it has sold almost 70,000 copies -- "a record in Serbia".
Even the publisher admits: "the novel's success may have less do with its content than with its author's notoriety" -- always one of our favourite reasons for literary success.
This bum was apparently "Serbia's most infamous paramilitary soldier" -- but hey, everybody's a writer, right ?
In Britain, 58% of people have a library card.
In China, only less than half a percent of the population has library cards.
Every 2,000 Americans share a library.
In China, the figure is 800,000.
Is it that Chinese people do not have a habit of reading in libraries ?
Pan Yueyong says no.
He thinks the main reason is that current public libraries cannot cater for the needs of readers.
Who knew ?
Pan Yueyong has an ambitious plan to open 1,000 community libraries in China, not to make money, he says, but to help raise the cultural understanding, and intellect of Chinese people.
"The library sector needs the support of all sectors of society.
Libraries are the best ways to raise people's knowledge level and to develop society," said Pan.
Altitude Book Club (ABC) is not only another outlet for emerging Nigerian writers to showcase their exploding creativity per se but rather, it is one opportunity for book lovers and collectors who are showing commitment towards reviving the dying culture of reading in Nigeria
ABC reading club exposes its members to the works of great writers of the time as a way of promoting creativity and democratizing the book reading habit among the people.
The group say they: "read, discuss and review great books that have had an enduring influence on mankind" -- which sounds great.
But we'd be a bit more impressed if they hadn't tackled both (!) Tuesday with Morrie and The Five People you meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.
(Sadly, they may not be wrong when they say these have had "an enduring influence on mankind".
In the past year, it seems books with appealing titles sell better than others.
"What many bookmakers proposed selling during the past couple of years were concepts rather than contents," said the Guangzhou-based New Weekly in its retrospective of last year.
Yes, even under Communist Party auspices, the book-buying public resolutely goes its own way -- and publishers try to jump on the trend of the day:
In 2004, Guiyeoni, a 19-year-old girl from the Republic of Korea, beat all her young Chinese rivals except for Guo in grabbing market share with her work of fiction The Guy was Cool.
The sales of up to 1 million copies of the book quickly resulted in the landing of a succession of Korean books in Chinese bookstores.
Adolescent writers and Korean books were the two things prevailing in 2004
With a title like: The Guy was Cool how could it not be a success ?
And surely an American edition is already in the works.
(Oh, no, that's right: translation ? Korean ? forget it.)
In an Indo-Asian News Service interview (here at New Kerala) poet/movie-man Gulzar laments: We have failed to protect our literary legacy.
Apparently literary neglect in India is even worse than we suspected -- but as Gulzar concludes:
"But what can you expect in a country where sometimes toilets are built on the houses of great poets ?"
Hey, it's certainly one way of making clear what you think of your literary heritage.
The 16 January issue of The New York Times Book Review (a pathetic seven total reviews of books for adults -- i.e. barely a review section at all any more) devotes considerable space to a so-called "symposium", asking "fiction writers, age 40 or younger, to name the writers that had most influenced their work and to explain how."
(Considerable space, but apparently nowhere near an adequate amount: "I'm running out of space here", Zadie Smith complains.)
They also did this 20 years ago, and somebody apparently thought it would be fun to do it again (anything to avoid actually publishing reviews is our theory ...) -- though in 1984 they got sixteen authors to participate, and this time round they could only find/get nine.
Of some interest -- and we grudgingly admire Jonathan Safran Foer's defence of literature in translation (which surely is meant as a slap in the face of Sam "Foreign-fiction-?-I-don't-do-foreign-fiction" Tanenhaus) -- but what we found (from our pathetically self-centred perspective) of particular interest is that we have only a single one of these authors under review at the complete review.
And that's Nell Freudenberger, whose book, Lucky Girls, we reviewed more out of a sense of obligation than out of actual interest.
Even more amazingly, we don't have a single book by any of the sixteen symposiasts from 1984 under review (they include: Ann Beattie, Alice Walker, Alice Hoffman, Mark Helprin, Frederick Barthelme, and Jay Cantor).
All of which makes us wonder how out of touch we are.
We can offer the excuse that enough other sites (and other media outlets) will and do cover these authors ad nauseam, while we're among the few who would bother with, say, Sigurd Hoel (see below), but honestly, we're much more eager to get our hands on another Hoel title (The Troll Circle !) than, say, Foer's forthcoming Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (admittedly a bad example: the title alone is enough to put us off that one).
And that probably isn't entirely healthy either.
On the occasion of the publication of Vikas Swarup's Q and A in India, British editor Jane Lawson offered her thoughts on Indian writing in a widely published India News piece -- see: Avoid Arundhati Roy trap, for example, at New Kerala.
"There is a fatigue about Indian novels post-Arundhati Roy, specially of the exotic and lyrical kind symbolised by Roy's Booker Prize-wining novel -- The God of Small Things," Lawson told IANS in an interview.
"Quasi-poetic flourishes of Arundhati Roy variety have become a shade too cloying.
There is more interest in novels with multi-cultural settings," adds Lawson, who scans at least 1,000 manuscripts every week as part of her job.
(Brief aside: 1,000 manuscripts every week ?
(Indeed: "at least 1,000 manuscripts every week" ?)
That's not that many a day, assuming a seven day workweek (as we hope and imagine all editors keep) -- just over 140.
We're not sure what's involved in scanning, but presumably she doesn't waste more than a minute a book (except for those which catch her eye, on which she might spend two or three), but what about the logistics ?
Surely, one can't pile more than twenty manuscripts at a time on a desk.
Between 100 and 200 a day makes for a lot of shifting about, etc., and even if assistants do most of that work, it slows progress down.
And what does she do on trips ?
Did she take her daily quota with her to India, for example ?
Or is that 1000 manuscripts a week figure -- over 50,000 a year that adds up to ! -- maybe a slight exaggeration ?
We're not exactly reassured by the Q and A story, either, -- not the book itself (which we haven't seen, but which summaries suggest really ain't our cup of tea), but rather how it became the latest Indian publishing sensation.
The Bibliofile column in Outlook Indiareports there was a six-digit advance (though it doesn't specify the currency; if it's rupees there's not that much need to be impressed).
Bibliofile also reports:
The agent Swarup picked for his debut was as clueless as him on how these things work.
He mailed Swarup's manuscript to the Random House chairman, who passed it on to the publisher and who, from a cursory read, decided it was good enough to pass on to senior editor Jane Lawson.
The book is being launched in Delhi ahead of its international debut in London in April and is billed as a "commercial literary novel" -- lingo for a potential bestseller-cum-prizewinner.
Cluelessness and cursory reading have, of course, rarely held anyone back in publishing, an industry that really is perhaps beyond help -- though it is nice to see that the slush pile now is located at the top (what better way to occupy the chairman than have him spend his days figuring out what to do with submissions ?), and that manuscripts move down the corporate ladder, rather than up it.
Though: apparently having managed to fob off this thing (which, admittedly, might be wonderfully written) on foreign publishers in at least fifteen foreign countries the ones who originally secured the rights have probably already made money off of it.
As to the launch, well, read about that in: Q AND A Book on gripping story of jackpot winner launched.
Hey: "External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh [...] described it as 'unputdownable' and 'very exciting'."
Yeah, we know, now you just can't resist.
Pre-order, if you must, at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk (who offer a brief description of the work which actually sent shivers up our spines).
Here's another book which we can barely believe anyone published -- save for the fact that they possibly might make some money off of it.
But the reviews are so savage that even that possibility seems less and less likely.
We mentioned Rachel Cooke's review in the New Statesman a few days ago, and now several others have also had a look at blogger 'Belle de Jour''s The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl.
In The Observer Stephanie Merritt suggests:
But here is a book which proves that, for anyone who believes that some things simply are qualitatively better than others, it really is time to go and live in France, or any other country where publishers take pride in what they produce, rather than lifting badly-executed soft porn off the internet and cynically slapping it between hard covers.
(Publishers cynical ?
Come on, they apparently go through 1000 manuscripts a week (see above), and this sort of thing is obviously the pick of the litter.)
Merritt also finds:
It's not the content, however, but the style, or lack of it, that offends. (...)
The overall effect is neither titillating nor shocking but merely mind-numbingly dull.
In The Times India Knight actually thinks: "Belle writes with panache", but also that her stories: "soon become yawnsome".
She sums up:
There is an interesting first-hand book to be written about prostitution.
Sadly, this ainít it.
And the sex is unsexy.
Thatís if you believe a word of it
Not all the news about publishing in Britain and elsewhere is bad: in The Bookseller-column in The Guardian Joel Rickett reports that: Philip Gwyn Jones is launching "Portobello Books for translated and world English-language work."
The trick is clever marketing:
"You should not badge the books as international literature, but simply as the best books wherever they come from."
We cringe whenever anyone begins an explanation with: "The trick is clever marketing" (as trick is all that usually winds up being), but we certainly like the philosophy here.
Twenty books a year.
They can spare us the "'politically engaged' non-fiction", but we do hope they'll send over the fiction list.
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two of Sigurd Hoel's novels, Meeting at the Milestone and Sinners in Summertime.
The former is a new translation published by Green Integer, the latter a reprint of the 1930 translation by Ig Publishing -- and two other Hoel titles are also vaguely still/again available, The Road to the World's End (Sun & Moon Press) and The Troll Circle (University of Nebraska Press).
Okay, the very industrious Sverre Lyngstad is apparently behind all this -- he translated all of these except Sinners in Summertime, and to make up for not translating that one slapped on a lengthy (and useful) afterword about Hoel -- and Hoel-mania does not seem to have gripped the literary world (much as these books haven't generated much review coverage).
Still, it's nice to see a worthy writer -- significant, if not world-class -- hang around, a decent (if still inadequate) selection of his works available in English.
For months now we've been complaining about the poor coverage of the three recently released Imre Kertesz titles, but a look at the table of contents of the 31 January issue of The Nation goes far to appease us: it promises: John Banville reviews: Liquidation, Fatelessness, and Kaddish for an Unborn Child.
Alas, it's one of those articles that isn't freely available on the Internet (again: arghhhh !), but this is practically impossible to resist: we'll have to bite the bullet and go buy a copy (probably as soon as our local newsstand opens).
(Updated - 19 January): Hurrah ! The review appears now to be accessible.
At OpinionJournal James Bowman thinks Oh Yeah ? Says Who ?, arguing that Publishers Weekly should "revisit this scandalous and long-lamented policy of anonymity" -- and do away with it (PW reviews are unsigned).
(Regarding the particulars Bowman is so upset about, enjoy Beatrice's response.)
Since we practise the same scandalous policy (albeit with far fewer reviewers, and a concerted effort to provide a single voice), we're always a bit defensive about attacks on anonymity.
Sure, there's great potential for abuse -- but we like to think we're transparent enough to avoid that hereabouts.
But we also like to remind readers: be suspicious about everything you read, signed or not !
Additional point: Bowman can't resist writing about: "this annual tsunami of literature", maintaining that: "There are nearly 500 books a day published in America" (which works out to a total of about 180,000 per annum).
This is nominally correct, but, as we so frequently point out, highly misleading: that number includes all books published, in whatever form, and most of these simply aren't books consumers will ever find at their local bookstore or that any consumer publication would ever consider reviewing -- indeed, anything but "literature" (even taking 'literature' to include supermarket rack romances etc.).
Trade fiction and non-fiction is a small, small part of this total -- still in the tens of thousands, but nowhere near the heights suggested.
We were thrilled to hear about the (British) publication of Geoffrey Hill's newest book, Scenes from Comus (and hope eventually to get our hands on a copy).
Now Colin Burrow reviews it in The Guardian.
No "tsunami of literature" (see above) in Bahrain, at least: Gulf Daily News reports Publishers issue 110 new books in Bahrain.
That's almost a third more than in 2003, so it sounds like a growth-industry; still, it would be pretty easy for an individual to keep up with the entire nation's output (reading less than a book every three days).
The most depressing statistic: "Among the books published were (...) four novels, four poetry books, (...) one children's book."
Less novels than cookbooks !
But at least the competition for the Bahraini Novel of the Year award (if they ever get around to creating it) won't be too tough -- everybody can make the shortlist, and the judges have no excuse for not reading all the entries !
In a worthwhile article in this week's issue of The New Republic, Wyatt Mason (eventually) discusses the new Proust-translations, but for the most part focusses on literary translation issues more generally -- including a nice long riff on Nabokov.
He begins the piece:
Let's not kid ourselves: everyone hates translations.
The evidence is everywhere in the history of literature.
Eye-catching, sure, but we're not sure it's entirely true.
Most people don't seem to feel anywhere as strongly, barely giving a second thought to translations -- or a first thought, though that widespread avoidance of translations seems to have less to do with outright hatred than something more akin to wariness.
Weblog success with Belle de Jour (an apparently extremely popular and critically acclaimed prostitute-chronicle) led to a publishing deal, and now the book -- The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl -- is available in the UK (see the Weidenfeld & Nicolson publicity page or get your copy from Amazon.co.uk; American publication is still a ways off).
An early review comes from Rachel Cooke in the New Statesman, who begins her piece:
Sorry to be pompous so early in the new year, but this book illustrates pretty much everything that is wrong with modern publishing.
That seems somewhat of an exaggeration, but her main point is one that has been and will be often repeated:
Why, I wonder, has no one stopped to consider that what catches fire on the internet will not necessarily combust between two hard covers and a pretty dust jacket ?
Surely, lots of people -- even the publishers -- thought of that.
But, for the publishers at least, the point surely isn't whether the book is any good, but whether it sells.
When we checked yesterday its Amazon.co.uk sales rank was 152, suggesting at least some consumer interest.
In this case, a good deal of pre-publication publicity, a loyal following, and -- most importantly -- the subject matter (sex ! sex sex sex !) made this a pretty safe bet (always depending on exactly how much the publisher wagered, of course).
Still, we're not exactly surprised that Cooke isn't particularly impressed by the resulting product:
Take away the whips and paddles, the lubricants and glass marbles, and what you are left with is an account book.
It seems a bit unfair to take away the whips, etc.
And account books -- as long as what is being ac- (and re-)counted is of a sexual nature (preferably with a touch of the illicit) -- seem to be perennial favourites, no matter how poorly written.
(This thing can't be worse than the execrable international mega-hit, 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed, for example -- though, just in case, we're going to pass on it.)
The Bookseller wonders Is the industry attracting enough star performers ? in a preview of salary survey from Bookcareers.com (when we last checked that site said: "Results will be published HERE on 14 January. With the full report on sale from 1 February", so maybe the results have been posted by the time you read this).
It's a British survey, but the main complaint/observation -- low salaries, especially starting salaries -- is also popular in the US.
Strangely, then, as they point out:
And yet despite the prospect of ekeing out this modest sum in one of the world's most expensive cities, jobs in publishing are in enormous demand.
One publishing boss says he receives 100 applicants for every vacancy advertised.
On the face of it, few are put off by relatively low pay.
Certainly, capable candidates likely avoid the industry because of the low pay -- but since spots are so easily filled what effect is this having on how well the businesses are run ?
(Given how poorly practically all publishers run their businesses, the possibility that they truly only hire the dregs and dimwits can not be discounted.)
(Also: economists really might want to pay more attention to this industry, practically every aspect of which seems to defy common (economic) sense.)
Aside from the salaries, an interesting point is also:
Bookcareers.com's survey also shows publishing to be predominantly female (78% of respondents were women), chiming with last year's decibel survey figure of 70%.
For many reasons, women are more likely to accept lower paid jobs than men.
It may be that women are just a lot more likely to fill out surveys, but that seems unlikely to explain such an enormous disparity entirely.
So: where are all the men ?
And what kind of an influence does this have on what gets published ?
(Recall also that there are apparently far more women readers (i.e. book buyers) than men -- especially of fiction -- though one has to wonder whether there is any causal relationship here .....)
Some of the big Japanese literary prizes have been handed out, and Abe Kazushige has taken the Akutagawa (awarded for the 132nd time !) for his novel Grand Finale, the fourth time he had been nominated.
Meanwhile, the Naoki went to Kakuta Mitsuyo.
See reports in the Mainichi Shimbun and Japan Today.
A reader points us to buchreport's tally of the 100 bestselling hardcover and paperback books in Germany in 2004.
(Totals only reflect bookstore sales, i.e. apparently don't include online or bookclub sales.)
Not too impressively literary, but quite international.
Books originally written in English dominate, but quite a few other languages also figure prominently.
Interesting also how successful some books were there and haven't had anywhere near the impact in the US -- for example, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran: number three in hardcover (and 90 weeks on the list) and number nineteen in paperback (despite only being out in paperback a couple of months).