A couple of months back, Yigal Schleifer reported on Metal Fırtına ('Metal Storm') by Burak Turna and Orkun Uçar in the Christian Science Monitor, describing the book and its appeal to Turkish readers.
A month later The Australianreported that: "the book has sold more than 150,000 copies".
Now Esmahan Aykol offers a useful look at the cheap-book market in Turkey in Die Freiheitsstatue trägt Schnurrbart in Die Welt, noting that that title has now passed 400,000 in sales.
It's part of a phenomenon of very low-priced books that have incredible sales-numbers (as opposed to the usual bookstore-books, where 1000 copies sold is considered a success -- though there are exceptions (Dan Brown sells tons, even at (relatively) high prices)).
Aykol notes it includes titles like Melissa P.'s terrible international bestseller, Yatmadan Önce 100 Fırça Darbesi, but the most interesting title mentioned is Erdogan Ekmekçi and Adem Özyol's Amerika Bizimdir !, taking near-future fantasy even further than Metal Fırtına: it imagines Turkey conquering the US (with a little extraterrestrial help), the White House painted (like the Turkish flag) red and white and (presumably in a humorous touch) the Statue of Liberty getting a moustache (see the cover).
We're looking forward to the translations .....
What Macmillan is doing is something akin to Gucci offering downloadable, printable labels you'd then stick onto whatever ratty sweatshirt wasn't in the wash, like a four-star restaurant advertising the best gourmet burgers in town cooking on a McDonalds recipe.
We never really thought the Macmillan label was such an impressive thing (yeah, lots of fine stuff, but, like any commercial publisher, tons of dreck as well) .....
A reader also alerts us to Michele Magwood's piece in the (South African) Sunday Times -- which includes the interesting information that:
Well, the carping hasn’t stopped more than 1000 "impressionable" authors hurling their manuscripts at Macmillan since the announcement.
Only one or two a month will make it into print and the new list is not likely to be profitable.
It's an issue all across the world, and in The Korea Times Kim Ki-tae reports that Online, Offline Booksellers Lock Horns.
They're considering new laws that would limit discounting possibilities in South Korea (as the article points out, apart from the US most countries limit book-discounting).
Interesting also the incredible decline in the number of booksellers there:
According to Korea Federation of Bookseller's Association, the number, stood at 5,407 in 1997 and kept sliding to 3,357 in 2000 and 2,205 last year without any sign of an upturn.
Every Monday at The Litblog Co-op we're posting about the other books that were nominated for the first Read This ! selection: first up is my nomination, Christa Wolf's In the Flesh -- see my post on that selection (and see also the complete reviewreview).
Last week (issue of 22 May): 30 books reviewed (one way or another) in The New York Times Book Review and not a single one originally written in a foreign language.
This week (29 May): 16 books reviewed, not a single title .....
We've pretty much given up on the foreign-phobic Tanenhaus administration ever offering more than token foreign-language literature coverage, just shaking our heads in disbelief, but we like reminding you of what a limited picture you're getting in those book-pages.
Many readers perhaps don't notice (and, possibly, don't care about) this lack of coverage.
Possibly of greater concern to more of you: Tanenhaus' complete lack of interest in (and respect for) fiction.
This week he manages to offer not a single full-length fiction review.
One poetry title and ten (10 !) non-fiction titles get the full-review treatment, but the entire fiction coverage is limited to a less than one page 'chronicle' bunching together five fiction titles.
Surely this is just ridiculous.
(The Return of the Reluctant will no doubt weigh in on this as well (we suspect: no brownie !), though we think he's much too generous in lumping all non-non-fiction under 'fiction' (i.e. including poetry, etc.).)
China's arbiters of taste are fighting a losing battle.
Their prudish attempts to purge sexually explicit and politically sensitive works from bookshops in the mainland have backfired -- by transforming banned writings into underground hits.
Penguin (India) have come out with a new anthology, First Proof: The Penguin Book of New Writing from India 1 (see their publicity page -- or, maybe, eventually get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Ira Pande gives a brief overview at Outlook India -- and it doesn't sound pretty:
This anthology gives translations a complete go-by.
Political verse, actually all poetry, is also passé. So is drama.
The new, hot genre of non-fiction is political reportage
It's particularly that focus on English-language-only writing that's disturbing -- though that seems to be the popular trend in India.
James Callan's article from the Daily Telegraph on literary weblogs and their (possible) significance, The influence of the litblog, is finally available online.
A decent overview, with some good plugs for many prominent literary weblogs, though some of the examples are a bit off-beat (so also the one for the Literary Saloon).
As happens a lot with these sorts of articles, one suspects the writer is not an aficionado, but rather trying to gather a lot of material about a subject he doesn't know that much about; Callan does an admirable job of that, but that's all this is.
Still, he's right when he notes:
At their best, the litblogs provide commentary, humour and recommendations for book lovers of all tastes, and many of the sites feature a hoard of bibliophilic gems, erudite opinion and sparkling anecdotal blather.
John Carey's new book, What Good are the Arts ?, has been getting an awful lot of attention (see also the still nearly pointless Faber publicity page or get your copy from Amazon.co.uk).
Some good discussions, including, now, Jeanette Winterson's reaction in The Times, No John, no John, no.
She acknowledges readers should know where she's coming from -- after all:
readers of this review should know that I am not neutral; not simply because I am cited in his book as "superior", "elitist", and "barely sane"
Labels to proudly wear (and they do make us more curious about the book ...) !
Anyway: read it -- and note her concerns, including:
The real worry of this odd book is that it is a bible for all those who would like to cut arts funding on the grounds that art is a bit of a trick and you can do as well watching television or downloading internet porn.
It will play into the hands of those who love to use words such as "pretentious", "elitist", "irrelevant", to justify their own indifference to art.
And we can certainly agree:
I am all for art across the nation, everywhere, at all times; but I believe, too, that we should recognise and protect art as something special, something real, something beyond the ordinary.
We pointed to Eliot Weinberger's stunning What I Heard About Iraq when it first appeared in the London Review of Books, and now Verso have brought it out in book-form (no information at the Verso site, but get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Nicholas Lezard reviews it in The Guardian today, and writes:
But this is a very necessary book, for it presents an almost irrefutable case against the war.
We're very much looking forward to the fall release of Weinberger's What Happened Here: Bush Chronicles (New Directions, pre-order at Amazon.com); meanwhile don't forget his powerful little book on 9/12.
The British Council's Literary Translation site was finally re-launched a couple of weeks ago.
Much of the material is familiar from the British Council sites, but it's nicely collected here, and this looks like it will be a useful resource.
Especially interesting: the workshops, which include a discussion of A Tale of 'Two' Smillas, Peter Bush on translating Juan Goytisolo, and Martin Bowman and Wajdi Mouawad trying to deal with Translation of Swearing.
The writings of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho aren't really our thing, but we do grudgingly have to admit we admire his cross-cultural success.
Al-Ahram Weekly offers two articles about his recent visit to Egypt, with Gamal Nkrumah noting:
He travels the world to market his books.
But "I only receive symbolic royalities," he explains.
"I 'm in Cairo to make sure that my books are sold at a reasonable price, not more than $2 for a paperback, that they are readily available and widely read."
You have to be successful enough to be able to afford to do that, but we still think it's pretty good of him (at least to make sure the prices are kept down).
Of course, there are also some more questionable utterances, notably:
"Writing is a very feminine process," Coelho muses.
Meanwhile, Rania Khallaf also describes his career and visit.
Disappointing, however: neither piece mentions or discusses his recent Iranian troubles, where The Zahir was (belatedly) banned (see our previous mention).
The summer issue of Bookforum is now available online (well, as usual, an extremely limited sampling thereof is).
Everyone seems all excited about the Pynchon coverage, but there's other good stuff as well.
(Alas, much -- like a rare review (by Harvey Pekar) of Giorgio Manganelli’s Centuria, one of the best books we've read all year -- isn't available online.)
We complain about review coverage in The New York Times Book Review and elsewhere, but pity the poor reader of a local paper, reduced to hoping for a single page of Sunday book-coverage: see, for example, this reader-letter in The Arizona Republic:
You devote many column inches to such niche hobbies as hiking, and I would ask that perhaps you could give us readers a whole page, at least, in your Sunday edition ?
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two Emmanuel Carrère titles, his story of The Strange Life and Times of Philip K. Dick, I am Alive and You are Dead, as well as his True Story of Monstrous Deception, The Adversary.
Finally, some hard numbers !
Bowker reports: U.S. Book Production Reaches New High -- though note that the figures have to be handled with extreme care (which they usually aren't)
The first thing we have to point to is:
4,040 books were translated into English from another language, a decrease of 8.1% from 2003.
People like to throw out numbers -- especially regarding how few translated works are published in English.
Far too few are (and this decline is a shocking number) but people tend to quote the total book-production number (now 195,000) and then only count, say, fiction titles translated into English -- it happened Monday night at the translator-panel local barkeep Michael participated in; see James Marcus' report, that naturally includes the eye-popping but completely misleading numbers.
The actual numbers are shocking enough: 4040 is barely 2 per cent of all books (though the fiction percentage is probably considerably higher -- many of the other categories are much less likely to see translations published), and even worse is the incredible decline in the number published (though again we'd love to know in what category the decline came).
Other noteworthy figures: a huge jump in total fiction titles (up a staggering 43.1 %, from 17,599 in 2003 to 25,184 in 2004).
Again: handle the numbers with care.
Trade fiction production barely increased -- from 4,952 to 5,125.
We couldn't find what they defined as trade fiction, but certainly much of the increase is in books you'll have a hard time finding: as Rachel Deahl reports at The Book Standard:
Grabois says that, while vanity presses and POD companies make up for approximately 50,000 of the total number of titles released, the other 145,000 are coming from a combination of minor and major industry players.
We suspect a huge part of the fiction-increase comes from that vanity/POD sector.
Meanwhile, among trade publishers juvenile literature continues to leap ahead of adult fiction, up 25.8 %, from 5,294 to 6,660.
For some of the trends and breakdowns see the charts of U.S. Book Production as well as the more specific U.S. Trade Book Production.
Generally we're all for lower book prices, but D.J.Taylor is right when he complains Cheapened by the checkout, about supermarket-discounting.
He's none too happy about how things are going:
Moving on to the wider implications of our supposedly democratised culture, as a general rule whenever a participant is offered more "choices", whether in the number of book outlets, TV channels or radio stations, the end result will be to depress the overall quality of the available material.
Seventy years on from Lane and his mission to bring literature to the masses at sixpence a time, "democracy", alas, is not much more than a synonym for cheap rubbish.
Umberto Eco has a new book out, so it's time to get profiled again: Nigel Farndale does the honours in the Telegraph.
We'd like to hear more about the: "labyrinthine library containing 30,000 books" -- and the "further 20,000 at his 17th-century palazzo near Urbino".
And, yes, we're also kind of curious about why anyone would have "a jar containing a pair of dog's testicles" .....
While it might make for an interesting case study in semiotics, as a novel it is a dud.
Various narrative possibilities are dangled before the plot-starved reader, but all prove red herrings.
The book is set, for no obvious reason, in 1991.
I suspect the manuscript has lain in Umberto Eco's drawer for over a decade, and has been coaxed out by his publisher.
It should have stayed where it belonged.
In The Washington Post Valerie Strauss writes that Odds Stacked Against Pleasure Reading -- at least for school-kids (different excuses, of course, apply to over-worked adults):
With high-stakes standardized testing driving curriculum and teachers increasingly required to use scripted lesson plans, what is getting lost for many teachers is the freedom to allow students to explore books of their choosing -- and the time to explore the meaning, the educators say.
And many students, especially in high school, simply have no time to read what they want.
In high-poverty areas, federal and state mandates constrain the use of literature,
Korea is preparing for the Frankfurt Book Fair (where they're the guest of honour) by translating 100 titles into a variety of languages -- 46 of them into English.
The Korea Times now promises to preview them -- one by one, apparently.
Not very exciting so far, but presumably worth checking back.
To celebrate the birthday, Penguin is issuing 70 new short titles, or Pocket Penguins, drawn from its back catalogue or new work.
Now, unexpectedly, the titles have provoked outrage and surprise because they include work by only two authors who are not white.
That is a pretty pathetic (and surprising) percentage.
Among the authors who didn't make the cut: James Baldwin and Chinua Achebe:
Marketing director Joanna Prior said Penguin had 'not wanted to look at quotas' when drawing up the list.
'Both Baldwin and Achebe, who I concede some people might feel were left out, in fact sell very little in this country.
We were looking at our foremost writers and with 5,000 authors in print it was always going to be difficult,' she said.
'We had to make some hard decisions, but I have to say Baldwin and Achebe were not hard decisions because they were not anywhere near our top 1,000 sellers.'
It's not the fact that they didn't make the cut that disappoints us so much -- it's those sales totals.
China has decided to launch a long-term program beginning this year to introduce 100 outstanding modern Chinese literary works to overseas readers, sources with the Chinese Writers Association said here Sunday.
A I work my way through the content-packed issue 17 of Context I come across yet another complete review-mention.
Anne Burke offers: My View, and begins by Reviewing the Reviewers.
Her target this time ?
One of the reviewers’ favorite lines about Dalkey Archive titles is that -- even when the reviewer is generally praising the book -- they aren’t "for everyone."
A number of years ago, this line seemed to be a requirement for any reviewer at the New York Times Book Review or NPR.
Its latest appearance is in a review by -- of all places -- the Complete Review (perhaps the most interesting review source on the net), which recently reviewed Patrik Ourednik’s Europeana.
Since these reviewers seem to know that a book "isn’t for everyone," then should we assume that they have a list of books that are for everyone ?
Surely they must. Let us also assume that they would all agree that such authors as Homer, Shakespeare, Joyce, Proust, and Faulkner are "not for everyone."
So, since they appear to use "for everyone" as a standard to which writers should aspire, what books could possibly achieve this universal acclaim that Europeana fails to achieve ?
The only one that comes to mind is The Little Engine That Could.
I’ve never heard any complaint whatsoever about this book.
The complaint is certainly fair enough: "not for everyone" is lazy shorthand -- though in this case not quite so lazy as she contends.
In fact, what we wrote was:
Europeana probably isn't for everyone: the approach might prove very enervating to those not receptive to it
I.e. we at least gave a reason for why we believed it wouldn't appeal to all.
It's lazily put, but since we describe his approach in the review (and, to make it clear, offer an unusually long excerpt) we feel it offers some guidance to potential readers.
Burke also writes:
All reviewers, in the future, should be required to list at least five books that they see as "for everyone," a practice that might allow us to judge their tastes and intelligence rather than simply using the phrase to dismiss a book that they seem unable to dismiss in any other way, or at least any way that can stand a close inspection, though the reviewer in the Complete Review did clearly indicate a distaste for the author’s use of "etc."
Why, he doesn’t say, but this is the kind of thing that reviewers can get away with.
We like the five-book-requirement idea -- more on that in a moment -- but first more defensive counterclaims: as best we can tell, ours is positive review (we found the book "compelling" ! "delightfully subversive" ! "a convincing sum of that ugly century" ! etc.).
The only reference to the use of 'etc.' does call it a "tired" device ("the tired: 'etc.' that's frequently used to cut off what otherwise could be a catalogue of endless variations and possibilities") but surely implies that it is preferable to the endless list-alternative.
Burke then continues:
Would it not be better for such reviewers simply to say, "I don’t get this book" rather than assuming their position on Mt. Olympus from which to make their judgments ?
Rare is the reviewer who could admit that there are some books that he or she can’t get.
Better still would be that reviewers start all reviews with a statement about what kind of fiction they like: (.....)
With such statements in hand, the beleaguered reader will have at least an outside chance of judging whether to pay any attention to what follows.
It appears she's implying we didn't "get" this particular book and, truthfully, I couldn't say we did -- though mainly because I'm not sure what is involved in "getting a book".
Again: on the whole, this was a very favourable review -- but one that emphasised that Ourednik's approach is ... let's say: out of the ordinary.
As to whether we "got" it ?
I'm not sure, but one of the beauties of literature is that books can be different things to different people: there isn't always simply one reading (and some of the other reviews we've seen of the book suggest a different way of looking at it).
Our primary concern in our reviews is in conveying to the potential reader whether or not the book might appeal to him or her -- and generally we do so by describing the book (and particularly those aspects of it that might be particularly off-putting or appealing).
(I note that Burke's own summary-praise of the book -- "I should add here that Europeana is brilliant, funny, ingenious, risk-taking, etc., etc., etc., etc." --- is as lazy and unhelpful as saying it is (or isn't) "for everyone."
In what way is it funny or brilliant or ingenious or risk-taking ?
(I'm not saying it's not, but just thrown out like that these terms aren't very helpful, and can even be misleading.
Not that we aren't guilty of such over-simplification all the time .....))
Back then to the: "five books that they see as 'for everyone,'"-requirement.
I certainly wouldn't agree with her suggestion of The Little Engine That Could -- far too simplistic, weak on characterization, too short, etc.
Shakespeare, on the other hand, is a likely candidate -- yeah, some language-hurdles there (archaic word-use) and a few other potential issues, but he's about as near-universal as it gets.
I'd absolutely say ... well, not all the plays, but a fair selection definitely not only qualify but are recommended for everyone.
And most of the top rated books at the complete review are also ones we recommend to all, writing, for example, about:
Cynthia Ozick's The Puttermesser Papers (a pretty feeble -- or at least not very in-depth -- review): "A masterly novel that we recommend without reservation to one and all."
(We're not sure we "got" these books either; the point is we're convinced -- often also for not well-articulated reasons -- that there's enough there to make them of interest to pretty much anybody we expect to find in our audience (which isn't quite the case for Europeana).)
So, we don't list five for-everybody titles at the beginning of each review, but part of the idea of the complete review is that there is a consistency to the reviews, so that users can readily get a sense of our likes and dislikes, and read our reviews accordingly.
(Obviously, that hasn't worked out too well .....)
As we've mentioned, Literary Saloon-keeper Michael Orthofer will be on a panel at the Housing Works Used Book Café at 19:00 tonight discussing why there's so little literature in translation published in the US and what can be done about this.
(For a taste of the sort of stuff Michael spouts, see the fourth instalment of the ongoing dialogue on translation in Context.)
Those who can't make it can (eventually) catch it on C-SPAN; we'll let you know the air-times when they're available.
(Updated - 25 May): See James Marcus' report on how things went, at his House of Mirth.
Ali Smith has a new book out, so, of course, there are profiles of and interviews with her all over the place -- see, for example, Louise France's in The Observer and Alan Taylor's in the Sunday Herald.
We mentioned Ricardo Piglia's legal troubles regarding his winning the Premio Planeta, 1997.
In her Buenos Aires diary in The Guardian Aili McConnon writes a bit about it (last item), noting that: "Piglia and his publisher Editorial Planeta have appealed the decision made by a civil appeals court earlier this year", and describing some (but far too little !) of the to-do.
Some English-language paper should give the whole story -- we want to hear all the dirt !
A new report is out -- we haven't found it online yet; the best we can come up with is the newspaper reports and the MLA press release -- about British library use.
To sum up (apparently): more people, less book-borrowing.
Less book-borrowing might have something to do with the fact that there are less books to borrow: as John Ezard reports:
The Cipfa report found that in the same period book stocks fell by 3.3%.
This means that libraries have 3.7m fewer books than three years ago, leaving them with a total of 110m.
Not the publishing event of the year, but in the top ten: Harry Mulisch's De zaak 40/61 is finally available in English translation !
(Hey, it only took a bit more than four decades .....)
The University of Pennsylvania Press is bringing it out as Criminal Case 40/61, the Trial of Adolf Eichmann; see their publicity page and order your own copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
(Additional information available at NLPVF.)
We recommend the book highly -- and our review will be available soon after the nice people at the U of P Press send us a copy.
Now if only someone will take on Mulisch's Wilhelm Reich book .....
(Actually, there are quite a few additional deserving Mulisch titles.)
One small question: why is this the first we heard of this ?
Why didn't anyone tell us ?
Or even offer us a review copy ?
(Hey, we only have eleven of his books under review -- everything available in English and a couple of books that aren't .....)
Issue 17 of Context is slowly coming online.
Available highlights include an interview with Europeana-author Patrik Ouredník and Juhana Rossi's fascinating account of the Finnish literary/publishing scene, Letter from Finland.
(By the way: we're planning reviews of two Arto Paasilinna titles -- not that they're available in English.)
Oh, right, for some bombast (just kidding !) see also the fourth instalment of the ongoing dialogue on translation (and publishing translations in the US), this time with Literary Saloon-keeper M.A.Orthofer responding to John O'Brien's previous suggestions and comments, as well as John O'Brien's reply.
(Michael adds: I will be addressing some of these issues on Monday night at the Housing Works-panel on translation.
And I reiterate that publishers need to do a better job of finding an audience (which I think is out there) -- and finding ways of finding that audience.
Just to take the example-of-the-day: at this stage I am only mildly surprised (though I think I should be flabbergasted) that no one made us aware of the new Mulisch-translation (see above), when the complete review clearly provides the most extensive (and, probably, enthusiastic) English-language Harry Mulisch coverage on the Internet, and a simple e-mail (and, eventually, a review copy) would obviously lead, at the very least, to an enthusiastic mention -- and probably considerably more coverage.
(Now that we know about it -- and if we can get our hands on a copy -- we'll certainly repeatedly bring it to our readers' attention.)
And while we're only a small Internet outfit we do reach an audience interested in this sort of thing, and we're pretty confident -- based on previous experience -- that even just the Amazon-links above, along with our endorsement (wholeheartedly given), will generate a couple of sales.)