International book fairs everywhere !
Here some of the variety you can enjoy in the coming weeks:
The Feria Internacional del Libro de La Habana -- the Havana International Book Fair, running 3 to 13 February (after which it will tour 34 other cities in Cuba).
Not much news coverage about the events here available yet .....
The Jerusalem International Book Fair -- the 22nd biennial instalment, running 13 through 18 February, with 500 publishers from 30 countries expected.
Highlight to look forward to: awarding of the 2005 Jerusalem Prize to Antonio Lobo Antunes (on 16 February).
First we've heard about it, but perhaps some of the participants -- Ali Smith, Sebastian Barry, Ciaran Carson, Fred d'Aguiar, Jackie Kay, Toby Litt, Elke Schmitter -- will offer newspaper or other reports: 27 - 30 January they held the annual Walberberg Seminar in Germany, the topic: Contemporary Writing in Britain 'Whose English ?'.
See also this year's programme.
For additional information about the seminar, see this page from the British Council.
Held annually in the Dominican monastery of Walberberg it is: "designed to introduce British authors to German academics, publishers, translators and journalists interested in contemporary British literature."
Pick your poison: the most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two books with very different takes on the state of faith today.
On the one hand, Sam Harris writes about Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason in calling for The End of Faith.
Meanwhile, Alister McGrath chronicles The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World in diagnosing The Twilight of Atheism.
That should do it for us for a while in this area: we plan and hope to steer clear of books on religion as long as we can.
In the online edition of The New Republic -- but not freely accessibly (at this time) -- Keelin McDonell writes about the Novel Concept that is B.S.Johnson's novel, Albert Angelo.
Always nice to see some attention paid to Johnson's work -- even in this out-of-the way manner (we hope they free up the article in the next couple of days, as they occasionally do).
Meanwhile: when is Jonathan Coe's Johnson-biography, Like a Fiery Elephant going to come out in the US ?
(Updated): Hurrah !
Like a Fiery Elephant is being published by Continuum in the US and due mid or end of May; pre-order your copy at Amazon.com (or wherever you pre-order your books) now !
(We are a bit surprised that Coe's usual publisher, Knopf, didn't pick this up -- given the great British reviews it seems worth the risk.)
Taking a page out of the incredibly successful Richard & Judy Book Club, the BBC are preparing Page Turners -- and have now announced the shortlist.
Predictably (and depressingly), the BBC's own piece covering the announcement, Lawson featured in BBC book club, focusses on the inclusion of Nigella Lawson's fifth book of recipes .....
(It does make us curious: what the hell kind of book club can this possibly be ?)
Interesting, too, some of the potential match-ups: Kazuo Ishiguro pleading Never Let Me Go v. Helga Schneider begging Let Me Go, for example.
We have little doubt that in the 'how to' category Julie Orringer's How To Breathe Underwater will impress more than Simon Barnes's How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher (though given that the show is aimed at a sedentary TV-watching population, you never know).
And while some might like to go Inside Hitler's Bunker with Joachim Fest, we suspect that they'll rather Feast with Nigella Lawson (an episode that will no doubt include a cooking demonstration).
The Page Turners website will be online from March providing a comprehensive back-up to the series with tips on how to run your own book club.
(No sign of the website yet, but we'll probably let you know when we find it; we know you'll be wanting that back-up and those tips.)
The only one of the titles we have under review is Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, though we expect eventually to review one or two others (the Ishiguro, for one, when it come out -- but, sorry, not the Lawson).
Not very literary, but worth a mention: one of the real bad guys, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, is dead.
Africa's longest ruling leader, running tiny Togo since 1967, his only claim to lasting fame will hopefully be as the inspiration for one of the characters in Ahmadou Kourouma's Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals.
See obituaries in:
Depressingly, the local constitutional requirement for elections within 60 days has been rescinded and -- surprise, surprise -- Faure Gnassingbé (yes, one of the scumball's offspring) has been installed as president until June 2008.
But, hey, at least Many diplomats boycott swearing-in of leader.
We know the jr. Bush administration is all talk and very little action regarding this whole democracy concept -- and Togo is in Africa, which hardly counts at all for them -- but, come on ! a little more outrage and action, please !
(We'd commend Kourouma's books to president Bush, but since he apparently prefers Tom Wolfe's campus hi-jinx that's obviously a lost cause.)
One book came with a mis-spelt, handwritten letter from the author including the statement that "Murakami Haruki" is his favourite author.
This day isn't doing much to restore my faith in literature.
We shudder to think what she might think of our site (co-slut Michael Schaub seems to drop by on occasion, but we can't blame her for not bothering -- after all, we didn't even make the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs list), where (as regular visitors know) we constantly refer to the Japanese author as Murakami Haruki.
But she's far from the only one to think that word-order is a sign of gross literary ignorance: indeed, a couple of years we even felt the need to explain: It is 'Murakami Haruki': Or at least: why we write it that way.
(Amazingly, that seemed to work: almost no e-mails on the subject after that.)
Always nice to see people focus on the important things, though: getting the names right.
In this personality-focussed age, that's what literature is about, after all.
As we've mentioned, a new collection by Geoffrey Hill, Scenes from Comus, is now available (at least in the UK) and it (and he) have been getting some pretty good media attention (at least in the UK).
The latest addition: Nicholas Lezard talks to him in the Independent on Sunday, in A growl in his voice, a twinkle in his eye.
More Lezard 'discussing' Hill's poetry, but at least a few fun glimpses of the master:
Hill is prickly, protective of his reputation, remarking that the respect he is accorded -- best poet in the language etc, handsome audiences for his readings -- does not seem to square with his royalty figures.
Charlie Wright plans to publish poetry.
See, for example, the AP report (here at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer), Wealthy scion plans publishing venture.
He/they are a bit vague about the specifics, but still:
He hasn't yet decided on a name for the press, which is expected to bring out 10 books a year.
But he's hired an editor, poet and literary editor Joshua Beckman, and bought Verse, an East Coast poetry press that will be folded into the new operation.
Upcoming titles and authors are to be announced later this year.
"We'll be focused on mid-career American poets," Wright said.
"There will be some exposure to emerging poets, also reprints and translations -- sort of a mixed bag."
Particularly pleasing, impressive, and admirable (though we figure the 'wealthy scion'-background sort of makes this a lot easier):
And, as he says, "It's not a not-for-profit."
"You come to it with a different mentality if you aren't asking for grants and donations," he said.
Indonesian literary great Pramoedya Ananta Toer celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday.
Evi Mariani reports on the actual celebrations in Pramoedya still going strong at 80 in The Jakarta Post (link apparently only very short-lasting).
Ever-protective of her billion dollar baby, Harry Potter, J.K.Rowling is even taking on the US army.
It seems respect for intellectual property in military circles is limited -- the army ain't no Mickey Mouse club (even they know better than to mess with copyright juggernaut Disney), but Hogwarts must have seemed an easier target -- and now Toby McDonald and Karin Goodwin report in The Sunday Times that Rowling fights US army over Harry Potter.
The army is using a training manual, P*S Magazine: The Preventive Maintenance Monthly (coincidentally Will Eisner's old gig -- though he would never have stooped to this), which, for example:
includes a cartoon character called Topper, a boy wizard, who attends Mogmarts school of magic.
Since the only widely accepted defence of this sort of flattery (i.e. imitation) in American law is satire -- which this hardly qualifies as -- it looks like the army has a problem.
Deep pockets, too: Rowling and Warner Brothers (and the lawyers) must be thrilled .....
So there's this AP report on Arabic literature in translation making the rounds.
Okay, not many rounds yet, but it's made the Hindustan Times (as Arabic literature in translation: A bridge between estranged worlds) and CTV (as Boom in Arabic translation post-Sept. 11).
It's not uncommon for different outlets to edit AP pieces to fit their needs and space, but comparing these two shows how very different the results can be.
The Hindustan Times article begins: "It's a novel of sex, romance, power and religion."
The CTV version begins:
Increasingly, writers, readers and publishers are turning to literature as a bridge between cultures, particularly Western and Arab societies estranged since Arab extremists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
This in turn is driving a boom in translation.
Compare also the different focus and examples .....
In Vanguard Obi Nwakanma ("frontline journalist, university teacher and writer with abundant energy") wonders: What is Nigerian literature ?
The question is raised specifically because the relatively new (and fairly well-endowed) LNG literary prize for Nigerian literature has an exclusionary clause that disqualifies expatriate Nigerians (from Chinua Achebe on down).
We continue to be impressed by Bookslut's print-media presence -- now even across the pond, as The Guardian prints her diary.
(Our feelings are, however, of course, deeply hurt that we didn't make the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs.
(Question: how many of these other weblogs are providing you with fresh content today ? Okay, probably all of them, revelling in making the list .....
But most Saturdays, where can you turn ... ?)
Of course, these things are highly subjective, and the choices are worthy ones, and bigger names than ours (see our blogroll) are also ignored, so at least we're in good company.)
The most misleadingly named literary award, the EU Literary Prize (awarded for EU fiction ? no: South African fiction, of course !) has been awarded.
Ishtiyaq Shukri's The Silent Minaret came out tops, garnering R25,000 and a publishing contract with Jacana.
See reports at the British Council and Jacana, as well as a short Q & A with Shukri at the Mail & Guardian.
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two Giorgio Manganelli story-collections brought out by McPherson & Company, the just-released Centuria as well as All the Errors.
Centuria -- described as "One Hundred Ouroboric Novels" (please don't be put off by that) -- just blew us away, an early contender for most significant publication of the year.
Manganelli is well-known and widely hailed in Europe, but even we were pleasantly (and incredibly) surprised by this book.
McPherson is a pretty small outfit, so this title might not be that easy to find -- but Centuria is worth seeking out.
A couple of conservatively-oriented publications (The NY Sun, The Washington Times, etc.) like to have what they think is fun and award the J. Gordon Coogler Award for the Worst Book of the Year.
R. Emmett Tyrrell jr. reveals this year's winner -- if you care -- in One book fewer given to literature at The Washington Times.
(See also his announcement (elsewhere) of last year's winner.)
The fancy literary magazine Zembla is apparently having trouble making ends meet.
The Timesreports that they'd like a small cash-infusion, say "anything from £250,000 to £500,000"
Of course we -- who probably didn't spend £500 on the site for the entire past year -- didn't even make the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs list -- maybe we really should think much, much bigger .....
Adding irritating, pointless Flash-capability to the site might also help drive us to bankruptcy and collapse more quickly, so we'll certainly consider that.
Almost two months ago we complained that Google's re-jigging of their algorithm had led to a precipitous drop in visitors to the site (the review-part, mainly; the Literary Saloon did not appear to be affected much).
Well, they changed things again, and ... we're back, top dog again (i.e. search for the title/author of any book we have under review, and chances are good our review will be one of the top results).
How much of an impact does that have ?
This Thursday there were 60 per cent more unique visitors than last Thursday (non-holiday week-to-week shifts are almost never more than 10 per cent).
That almost makes up for our not being named one of Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs.
(Actually, visitor-wise it way more than makes up for it -- the big weekend or week-long boost would have been nice, but Google is the machine that brings far and away the most traffic to the site.)
With fairly little fanfare the regional winners for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize (another kooky geographically-based award (and what better criteria to take into account, first and foremost, in honouring literary achievement than geography -- especially that fun ol' time concept 'the Commonwealth' ...)) have all been announced by now (click on region-links here for the full shortlists and winners).
The regional winners (and thus awards-finalists) are:
Best book: Boy (Lindsey Collen)
Best first book: Purple Hibiscus (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
Caribbean and Canada Region:
Best book: Runaway (Alice Munro)
Best first book: Natasha and Other Stories (David Bezmozgis)
Best book: Small Island (Andrea Levy)
Best first book: The Sari Shop (Rupa Bajwa)
South East Asia and South Pacific Region:
Best book: White Earth (Andrew McGahan)
Best first book: Home (Larissa Behrendt)
The big question (well, no one seems to have asked, but we're curious) is whether anyone tried to convince Amitav Ghosh (and what an annoying, hard to link to, slow to load author site that is ...) -- who famously withdrew The Glass Palace from consideration a couple of years ago because of the English-language restrictions of the prize -- to allow his The Hungry Tide to be submitted.
(The Hungry Tide -- which has now won the Hutch Crossword Book Award 2004 Best Work in English Fiction (not that the official site reveals/admits that fact yet, despite the fact that the prize was handed out almost a week ago ...) -- seems to have been a likely regional-shortlist contender, and its non-nomination begs the question: what's the value of a prize if they aren't even allowed to consider some works (especially ones that might well be considered to be among the best) ?)
In The laureates' colloquy in this week's issue of Al-Ahram Weekly Mohamed Salmawy describes the first meeting between two of Africa's Nobel laureates in literature, Nadine Gordimer and Naguib Mahfouz.
In Obscured by domestic clouds in this week's issue of Al-Ahram Weekly Injy El-Kashef offers an overview of the Cairo International Book Fair.
Apparently, "questioning if one was at the right fair seemed in no way redundant" -- indeed: "a good 25 per cent of the display space is occupied by PC hardware, while an even larger amount of colourful banners promoting the products of different Web sites vie for the public's attention."
One pleasing sight:
Faring better than all the rest, as one has come to expect based on previous Book Fair experiences, were the Sour Al-Ezbekiya stalls for second hand books.
This is where bookworms are still to be located, stacking novels, schoolbooks and magazines in endless piles.
But what does that say about: a) the new books publishers are bringing out ? and b) the prices they charge for those books ?
As we recently mentioned, German poet Durs Grünbein's first English collection, Ashes for Breakfast, is about to come out (our review will be available shortly).
Now we learn that he will teach at Dartmouth this spring, as the Max Kade Distinguished Visiting Professor (the 'MKDVP' ? and is there a 'Max Kade not-quite-so-Distinguished Visiting Professorship' as well ? or a 'Max Kade not-quite-so-Distinguished-but-more-permanent Professorship' ? and if it has the nice and pompous title (hell, is there an academic position -- down to janitor -- that isn't endowed any longer ?) does it at least also come with the Max Kade Distinguished Throne from which Durs can pontificate ?).
He will be teaching German 82, a seminar (in German) on "Ancient Mythology and Modern German Literature" (which is certainly right up his alley).
As the course catalogue describes it (scroll down):
Classical mythology and Greek and Roman antiquity have long been influential in European literature and art.
In this course we will study the reception and creative appropriation of classic themes, motifs, and styles in modernist and postwar German literature.
In particular, we will compare how authors before and after World War II, in East and West Germany, and from Jewish and Christian traditions have drawn on the classics to articulate their historical, political and philosophical concerns.
Authors will include Rilke, Hofmannsthal, Kafka, Brecht, Christa Wolf, Heiner Müller, and Durs Grünbein.
We hope that his presence in the US also means an extensive author-tour promoting his collection !
(But we haven't heard of any author appearances yet .....)
Some people may think that the publication of the new Harry Potter this summer is the book-event of the year, but we think a far stronger contender for that title is the long-delayed publication of the English translation of Peter Weiss' classic, The Aesthetics of Resistance.
It's only volume one (out of three) that's appearing for now, but even that is long overdue.
Joachim Neugroschel's translation has actually been ready for quite a while now, but the original commissioning publisher disappeared.
Now Duke University Press have stepped up and are offering this landmark text to the English-speaking world.
See their publicity page, and pre-order from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
(A new German paperback is also coming out in April; pre-oder that at Amazon.de if you want to read the whole work.)
Peter Weiss is best (if at all any longer) known for his plays, notably Marat/Sade and The Investigation, but also wrote a considerable amount of fiction.
The Aesthetics of Resistance is his masterpiece, and also one of the most important post-World War II German novels.
(It is also that rare beast: political fiction that is successful both in its political intent as well as aesthetically.)
Not easy going, but a must-read for anyone with a serious interest in modern literature.
We won't let you forget that this book is coming out soon, and will have fuller reports on the translation when (if ?) we get our copy from Duke UP, as well as on the reception it receives.
(We're already a bit nervous: the last time a long-overlooked contemporary German classic was translated into English -- the much more accessible The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by her Minstrel Laura by Irmtraud Morgner -- it was greeted not with the dancing in the streets (and extensive review coverage) we expected, but rather a deafening silence: pretty much no one took notice of it.
Will that happen again ?
We'll keep you posted.)
Why not add your voice to the Man Booker International debate and put forward the author you think should win the Man Booker International Prize 2005 ?
It may not necessarily influence the judges, but if you have a really good reason why someone should win, let the world know about it here.
The results are predictable: the five most nominated authors (when we last checked) were:
(See all the nominated authors here.)
The Man Booker International Prize has few rules and guidelines, but one of the few requirements is that the author's work: "is available in the English language".
Apparently that isn't necessary for the 'People's Choice' (and, in defence of those submitting names, the site does not say it is a requirement); the works by (current) top choice Eva Ras can't, as far as we can tell, be found at your local bookstore in the US or UK (or at Amazon.com).
Regardless of availability, somehow we can't envision John Carey and his cohorts (Azar Nafisi and Alberto Manguel) carefully checking out the popular nominees, meaning that poor Sean Wright (and dozens of other of these suggested authors) probably don't stand a chance in hell of making the real prize's shortlist.
As with the Pulitzers, we do, however, encourage all authors (and friends of authors) to submit their names: the more the merrier.
Authors are blaming online and charity bookshops for depriving them of their livelihoods.
Literary figures, including A. S. Byatt, have called for a change in the law to make booksellers pay royalties for second-hand copies.
Not all readers of The Times are sympathetic, as the letters to the editor in response suggest.
David Mitchell (not the author David Mitchell), for example, notes:
During 30 years of new and second-hand bookselling I have fended off the hordes of customers trying to sell back to me last year’s over-hyped, second-rate bestsellers.
Authors should refund their royalties on books so soon unloved and discarded.
Now there's an idea we could embrace !
More soberly, Simon Taylor observes:
Surely a healthy trade in books can only be good for authors as a whole.
Thousands of readers are first introduced to authors by buying a second-hand copy of one of their books.
Does A.S.Byatt want to squeeze as much money as she can out of the sale and resale of her works, or does she want people to actually read them?
(Sadly, of course, the answer is simple: authors only want money and care about having readers only insofar as not having any eventually generally -- though, given how the publishing industry works nowadays, not always -- prevents them from raking in any cash.
(No e-mails, please, we know you (whoever you are) are the shining, beneficent exception.))
Finally, literary awards with a simple, memorable name: the Great Literary Awards, the nominations for which have now been announced; see the press release (warning ! pdf format !), or click on individual prizes.
Of course, just calling them the "Great Literary Awards" would be just too simple and sensible, and so they are, in fact, the "Writers’ Trust of Canada's Great Literary Awards".
And it gets worse: the individual prizes have ridiculous designations such as: "The Rogers’ Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize" or the "The Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize".
But there's decent money on offer (Canadian dollars, but still), so nobody seems to be complaining.
The eight awards will be handed out 9 March.
See also this article at Canoe.
Several webloggers have gotten book deals by now, but Michael Allen (a.k.a. the Grumpy Old Bookman) appears to be the first literary weblogger to turn his weblog into a book.
Belle de Jour he ain't (thank god) -- and there apparently wasn't intensive bidding for the rights --, but, as he announced on his weblog, Grumpy Old Bookman the book is now available.
Indeed: get your copy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.
(Sorry, no plans for The Literary Saloon - The Book yet .....)
The shortlists for the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes -- "Scotland's most prestigious and the U.K.'s oldest literary awards" -- have been announced.
As usual: some of the funkier lists out there.
We have two of the fiction contenders under review -- David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Ronan Bennett's Havoc in its Third Year -- as well as one of the biography titles, Jonathan Coe's Like a Fiery Elephant.
Other fiction titles shortlisted include Suhayl Saadi's Psychoraag and David Peace's GB84, both of which we wouldn't mind having a look at.
Meanwhile, there's been quite a bit of reporting about how the JTBMPs want to grab more attention.
For example, Phil Miller writes how Authors join scheme to raise profile of literary award in The Herald (burying the actual contenders at the end of the article, since they can't possibly compete with the likes of Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith).
Meanwhile, Fiona McGlynn also notes Writers booked to boost award -- and manages to make it sound like AL Kennedy and Kate Atkinson were shortlisted (they weren't).
As Lorna Martin wrote in The Observer, Highbrow literary prize set for commercial makeover -- and yes, they're trying to raise the profile by getting more cash and having some big-name authors (Rankin, etc.) advise.
Given that in announcing the shortlist in The Scotsman David Robinson thinks only Five authors shortlisted for oldest literary award -- sorry, there were eleven; he completely ignores the biography prize -- they could certainly use some PR help.
We sort of like the way it works now.
First of all, they've managed quite well over the decades: see the list of previous winners.
And how can you not like the amateur approach:
Edinburgh University graduate students read the entries before presenting judges Professor Colin Nicholson and Roger Savage with the shortlist.
Hey, it's one way (possibly the only way) of getting university students to actually read some fiction.
Just think about it -- aside from African-American and Anglo-Saxon literature, how many translated foreign works did you read throughout your education ?
Aside from ?
As long as it focusses attention on the issue, right .... even if that means hearing explanations such as:
Walter Edwards, an English Department linguistics professor, suggests "the principal reason for the lack of interest in foreign literatures is the economic, political and cultural dominance of the United States ...
There are exceptions, of course, but typically the dominant culture is often ethnocentric."