In A dissident spirit in The Jerusalem Post Ben Naparstek profiles recent Man Booker Internmational Prize winner Ismail Kadare.
Nice bonus: a (too brief) Q & A between Kadare-translator David Bellos and Kadare -- including:
Some charge you with having been an 'official dissident' during the Hoxha years. How do you respond to that view ?
I have never claimed to be a 'dissident' in the proper meaning of the term.
Open opposition to Hoxha's regime, like open opposition to Stalin during Stalin's reign in Russia, was simply impossible.
Dissidence was a position no one could occupy, even for a few days, without facing the firing squad.
On the other hand, my books themselves constitute a very obvious form of resistance to the regime.
Yeah, they ask for the Koran too, but what the detainees at Guantanamo Bay really want is their Harry Potter -- which has overtaken Agatha Christie as the most in-demand titles among those suspected (but mostly un-charged) terrorists.
(Did they stand on line at midnight a couple of weeks back, waiting for the newest instalment to be unwrapped ?)
Is it worthwhile protesting against the Quills' commercialization of prizes, which even at their best are a very blunt instrument for judging literary merit ?
I think it is, if only because awards, like reviews, occupy a fragile niche in the literary ecosystem. Ideally, they break the standard circuit of commerce by reminding us that, while the book business is a business, books themselves are not.
Among others, Mark Sanderson reports (second item) that humble-quest guy A.J.Jacobs has moved on from trying to become The Know-It-All (see the publicity pages at Simon and Schuster amd Random House.co.uk) to a new project: The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Obey the Bible as Literally as Possible.
There's no book yet, but Plan B Entertainment (Brad Pitt's outfit) has optioned the project -- and, admittedly, it does have slapstick-comedy potential.
Last we checked, the Man Booker Prize longlist hadn't been announced yet ... but it should be available by the time you read this.
We'll (probably) be discussing it tomorrow, but no doubt you'll find commentary about who made it (and who didn't) all over the place.
This year's Zimbabwe International Book Fair came to an end over the weekend -- not that many people even seemed to notice it had started.
They claim that: "ZIBF has grown over the years to become Africa’s premier book and publishing trade fair", but now it's on the fast track to oblivion.
As The Herald reports, ZIBF 2005 a flop.
They make excuses:
The fair, which used to be a grand occasion, was held simultaneously with another international book fair that was held in Cape Town, South Africa where a number of exhibitors converged.
"Besides other adverse situations, this year’s book fair was overtaken by the Cape Town book fair.
Exhibitors were deterred by the fuel problems among others, thus, they opted for South Africa," an exhibitor who requested anonymity said at the close of the fair.
Overtaken by the CTBF ?
Possibly -- the only problem (and the really sad part) being that the first Cape Town Book Fair will only be held in 2006 .....
The Zimbabwe International Book Fair, which ended in Harare yesterday, needs an urgent and serious rethink if it is to remain relevant.
Events this past week demonstrated how it has effectively helped to undermine its stature.
The main problem -- spelled M-u-g-a-b-e -- is an obvious one, and fortunately African writers have shown more backbone than Africa's so-called leaders in this regard:
But the majority of the visiting guiding lights of African writing have decried Zimbabwe's human rights record.
They are now staying away in protest.
It's the least they can do.
Meanwhile -- and presumably for as long as the current regime remains in power --:
An event that over the years has captured the world's attention and imagination for one of the 52 weeks of the year was this year reduced to a provincial activity.
As widely reported (see comments at Beatrice, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, and Crime Fiction Dossier, for example), The Washington Post has apologised to readers for letting Marianne Wiggins review John Irving's new novel, Until I Find You.
Apparently, the fact that Wiggins was once married to Salman Rushdie -- who is apparently a buddy of Irving's -- and they "had socialized with each other" (information Irving provided to the newspaper) make for an unacceptable conflict of interest .....
Presumably Irving took Rushdie's side in the divorce and he takes Wiggins' slam ("He's too good a journeyman to have written anything this bad on purpose") to be payback, but we figure he would have been better off editing the review for a blurb (say: "Irving's latest tale purports to be about Jack Burns (...) but really it's about Jack's penis") for the next edition and leaving it at that.
Nils Minkmar reports trying to get an interview with Philip Roth time and again, but never really expecting to land one.
Then, on Saturday, the phone rings and it's Roth on the line: see the (German) interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
Roth confirms that he still talks to his (dead) parents (a fact he revealed in a Guardian-interview with Al Alvarez), and that he doesn't 'google' his name -- indeed, that he doesn't use the Internet at all, and that he has "eine Steinzeit-Software" ("stone-age software").
Verfolgen Sie die deutsche Literatur ? Nein, gar nicht. Früher mal, als Böll und Grass im Mittelpunkt standen. Es gab noch andere. Aber ich habe ihre Namen vergessen. Ich kenne Herrn Enzensberger. Wir sind uns in den Sechzigern begegnet, und vor einigen Monaten habe ich ihn wiedergetroffen. Es war sehr schön. Ich fürchte, ich könnte Ihnen nicht einen einzigen deutschen Schriftsteller nennen. Das ist zwar nicht schön, aber ich könnte es wirklich nicht.
Elfriede Jelinek ? Den Namen hab' ich gehört, aber nichts von ihr gelesen.
(Are you familiar with contemporary German literature ? No, not at all.
A while back, when Böll and Grass were the central figures.
There were others too.
But I've forgotten their names.
I know Mr Enzensberger.
We met in the 60s, and a couple of months back we met again.
It was very nice.
I'm afraid I couldn't name you a single German author.
That's not nice, but I really couldn't.
Elfriede Jelinek ? I've heard the name, but haven't read anything by her.)
As to the triple-J threat (Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Jonathan Safran Foer) he says that he hasn't read them either.
Every Sunday evening starting this month, English-language cable channel Arirang will air "2005 Star-lit Promenade," a documentary series that takes viewers on a journey into the world of local literary greats.
Sounds pretty cool -- and ambitious:
Chinese, Spanish and Arabic translations have also been done so that the documentary can be appreciated by a diverse viewership and will air in 185 countries.
(185 countries ?
185 viewers, outside Korea, sounds more likely .....)
Han Eun-jung claims they: "can also be viewed online at www.korealit.net", though we couldn't figure that out.
There is, however, additional information available at Arirang ... and maybe it will come to an obscure cable channel near you .....
Amélie Nothomb's relatively recent Antéchrista is now available in English, as Antichrista -- at least in the UK (get your copy from Amazon.co.uk).
(Amazon.co.uk actually still has a cover image where it's called 'Antechrista', but the Faber publicity page shows the revised version.)
Nice to see some reader-interest, too: despite limited review coverage (a brief (scroll down) review in the Independent on Sunday is pretty much all we've been able to find so far) it has a solid sales-rank of 383 last we checked.
Meanwhile, the film version of her Fear and Trembling seems finally to have made it to the American West Coast: there's a favourable review in the San Francisco Chronicle.
As the Evening Newsreports, a publisher is letting readers do the copyediting.
Yes, Fledgling Press is running a Spot the Misprint contest:
Fledgling Press is running a misprint hunt on the four books in the trilogy of Malcolm Archibald about a young Border Scot in the Boer War.
Hey, if they can get four books in a trilogy, god knows what else they're capable of !
Presumably sending out free copies is cheaper than hiring a copy-editor -- though they must have spent a lot of money on the fancy graphic .....
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two books by Ukrainian author Yuri Andrukhovych, Recreations and Дванадцять обручів.
The first books written in Ukrainian we've ever covered (Andrey Kurkov, of Death and the Penguin-fame, is Ukrainian too, but writes in Russian) -- and Recreations (actually available in English !) is published by a publisher we were previously unfamiliar with: the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press.
Amazing what one finds out there !
The book we'd like to cover is, of course, Andrukhovych's recently translated Perverzion, but it's published by Northwestern University Press (see their publicity page) and we've never been able to elicit a review copy from them (despite covering quite a few of their titles ..).
Well, given the widespread review coverage of the title that's understandable ... oh, wait, there doesn't appear to have been any review coverage of this title (maybe nobody got a review copy ...).
At a ridiculous list price of $25.95 (for a paperback) it's way out of our price-league, so you'll probably have to wait quite a while until we come across a cheap copy some place.
(Though it is on our Amazon.com Amazon wishlist .....)
Publishers still have people called 'editors' on staff, but there's precious little editing going on nowadays.
In Black day for the blue pencil Blake Morrison laments the loss of this once integral part of the publishing process.
It sounds like a crap-book, which we figure was enough to account for its dismal sales, but Hillel Italie's AP report suggests: Book Has a Marketing Problem: No Author
The book in question is The Traveler, by some bozo who calls himself "John Twelve Hawks".
In this personality-driven bookselling age we figured that all the press attention even this fake personality got would help shift a few books, but, amazingly, consumers apparently weren't fooled.
(The fact that the buffoon behind the book comes off sounding like a complete arsehole, what with his living "off the Grid" (whatever the hell that means) probably helped quite a bit .....)
(Tellingly, the industry can't help but rally behind this shit: The Traveler was nominated for a Quill Award.
Enough said, no ?)
Anyway, we only mention it because the article has a great quote from the guy who lost his company a lot of money on this thing:
"Yes, I'm disappointed it has not sold at a stronger level," says Stephen Rubin, president and publisher of the Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group.
"But I'm thrilled we put as much effort as we did into this book."
We'd be more thrilled if they put effort into selling good and worthy books, but that might be asking a bit too much.
Wasting money on gimmicks is just so much more fun .....
In The Moscow Times Victor Sonkin reports on the success of women writers in Russia in Women's Hour, finding:
Female writers are represented just as well as, if not better than, men.
Most recent bestsellers, such as Oksana Robski's Casual and Tatyana Moskvina's Death Is All Men (Smert -- Eto Vse Muzhshiny), were written by women.
The prevalence of female authors is especially striking in mystery writing, a traditionally male field.
Moreover, the success of female writers is not just a matter of sales, but of critical acclaim as well.
In recent years, women have found their way onto the shortlists of the most prestigious Russian literary prizes; quite often, they have become winners.
It's noteworthy because, as he points out: "all this is rather unprecedented in Russian literary history".
Nasser El-Ansari was appointed chairman of the General Egyptian Book Organization a few months back, but only now has started talking to the press.
At Al-Ahram Weekly Nevine El-Aref talks to him about his plans in Improving access.
El-Ansari comes with a pretty unusual background, having a "PhD in law from Aix-en- Provence and a diploma in business administration from George Washington University" -- and he's also been director of the Cairo Opera House.
Jonathan Franzen's Strong Motion has now come out in Germany (see the Rowohlt publicity page), and it's attracting considerable interest.
Franzen has had several interviews in leading periodicals -- notably Die Welt and Die Zeit.
In the latter he says his literary models ('Vorbilder') are German: Kafka, above all, but also Karl Kraus, Goethe, and Thomas Mann.
He also describes what he brought back home with him from his German years: a cigarette addiction, increased tolerance for alcohol, scepticism about the US -- and the certainty that he'd rather live in America than Europe.
The works of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn have now long been available in Russia, but now his publisher, Vremya, is bringing out a Russian 30-volume collected works edition.
This news doesn't seem to have attracted much interest in the West, beyond at The Washington Times where they even wrote an editorial about it, Solzhenitsyn's works.
What excitement: the 95 books nominated in 19 categories for the Quill Awards have been announced (link first seen at Bookslut) !
You''ll be able to vote -- and we know you want to -- 15 August through 15 September at www.quillsvote.com (not yet !).
The lists are, not surprisingly, beyond bizarre, but we actually have three of the nominated titles under review:
A few weeks back we mentioned and discussed some pieces that painted recent Man Booker International Prize-winning author Ismail Kadare in an unfavourable light -- not because of his writing but for personal and political reasons.
(See also our mention of Julian Evans' pieces on Kadare.)
We've now gotten our copy of the 29 July TLS, in which Kadare-translator David Bellos (as well as James Pettifer) respond to Barry Baldwin's letter that appeared in the 15 July issue.
(Baldwin also commented at ReadySteadyBlog, including an explanation why the (printed) letter focussed on the life (not the writing), and promises a more complete forthcoming piece discussing the issues.)
Bellos makes the significant (indeed, surely central) point that:
Kadare does not consider himself to have been a dissident, has never claimed to be one, and cannot be accused of having perpetuated a myth of his own dissidence.
Any hope of shifting attention to Kadare's writing any time soon ?
(Updated): See also John Sutherland on the whole controversry (and especially the literary weblog role in it) in I'd like to thank my oppressor ... in today's issue of The Guardian.
Some British weblogs (as well as the Dumitrascu-piece at MobyLives) get mentioned, and Sutherland thinks:
Final judgment on Kadare must await the verdict of literary history.
Meanwhile, the IMB prize has got the kind of publicity money can't buy. Next year, though, they should really find some way of getting the bloggers inside the tent.
(Sutherland forgets that the MBI is a biennial prize, so they actually have two years to get their act together.)
There've been stories about books for your mobile/cell-phone before, but here's a major publisher embracing the new technology and format: as Edmund Tadros reports in the Sydney Morning Herald (here at Stuff):
HarperCollins Publishers announced yesterday it would start sending sample chapters from new books to mobile phones in Australia from August 17.
"We're going to be providing information about upcoming book releases via consumers' mobile phones," said HarperCollins Publishers' marketing director, Jim Demetriou.
The first chapters, which will be sent to registered users, will be from Dean Koontz's Velocity, Paulo Coelho's The Zahir and Janine Allis's Boost.
And they're not going to stop there:
Mr Demetriou said the company may consider commissioning stories aimed at mobile-phone readers.
"The next step, depending on the phone technology and quality of the screens, is actually getting authors to write books for mobile-phone use," he said
"They'd have to write in a truncated way, use a different style of writing.
It would be aimed at a younger age group."
We expect the first MFA-courses in mobile-phone-fiction to be on offer within a year .....
Public Lending Rights systems, where authors get a bit of money for each time someone borrows one of their books from a library, have gotten to be fairly popular, in the EU and beyond (see, for example, PLR schemes in the UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany).
The latest country to be pressured -- by the European Commission, which the government pays considerably more heed to than authors, who have presumably been lobbying for this for years -- towards instituting such a scheme is Ireland: see reports such as Authors benefit from library borrowings and Government to pay authors for library lending
In The Guardian Doreen Baingana offers a welcome piece on African literature, noting: Our stories aren't all tragedies:
The lumping together of all 'African literature' is, of course, grossly unfair -- but tends to be the popular (and, it sometimes seems, only) approach:
Even here in cosmopolitan London last July, at events for the Caine Prize for African Writing, students and others posed questions within the same framework, using the word "postcolonial" like it was going out of style.
Is there any other way we can view and talk about the multiplicities of the African experience ?
We need to, desperately.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Paul Stoller's Story about an African Past, Gallery Bundu.
The 'African Past' it describes takes place in Niger -- sadly making a rare appearance in Western news and consciousness because of the food-supply difficulties the population there currently faces.
MNA report that Mohajerani publishes sarcastic book, and even though he was a former Minister of Culture of Iran that isn't particularly interesting -- except that the article mentions that: "Mohajerani wrote the book in commemoration of Shahrokh Meskub".
Which is how we learned that Shahrokh Meskub (Shahrokh Meskoob, Shahrukh Miskub, etc.) passed away a couple of months ago; a bit more about that can be found here (including the fact that he had translated works including The Grapes of Wrath and Prometheus Unbound (or, rather, as they appealingly call it: Prometheus on Bound)).
Not much of Meskub's work is available in English translation, but one interesting sliver, Dialogue in the Garden (yes, we have a review ...), is -- published in and along with M.R.Ghanoonparvar's study of Translating the Garden, a useful hands-on look at the literary translation process.
Gande said: "The book is now available in several countries except Zimbabwe, I was trying to promote it through the book fair and it seems likely that it will not make it at all.
The few book sellers who had indicated their wish to sell the book withdrew their wish after reading it.
They say they fear that it may antagonize the authorities."
We just got our copy of the 15 July issue of the Times Literary Supplement, and learn there that we should look out for their new "Personal Ads Column" starting next week (i.e. last week).
Yes, like The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and many more tawdry publications the TLS is apparently trying to expand their classified section (and make the big bucks !) with personal ads.
A Sydney Morning Heraldarticle (3 January 2004) by Catherine Keenan looks at the phenomenon, noting:
The LRB is by no means the only highbrow publication to run personals.
In many ways, the form is particularly suited to writers, academics and intellectuals, who often display themselves to their best advantage on the page, where dress sense and dashing good looks don't count for as much as cleverness and an ease of expression.
The Spectator, The New Statesman and Harvard Magazine, an alumni publication, run them, and The Times Literary Supplement recently tried to start them up.
The only comparable Australian publication, Australian Book Review, does not have them, while The Adelaide Review, offers some, but they are disappointingly anaemic.
Interesting that there was apparently an aborted TLS attempt a while back .....
Maybe, if we get desperate enough for advertising revenue, we'll give it a try too .....
(Just kidding !)
Not exactly new material -- they're Peter Handke's notes from November 1987 through July 1990 -- but they're now available in book form (albeit only in German), as Gestern unterwegs.
Interestingly, the book isn't being published by Suhrkamp (who have done most of his books) but rather Jung und Jung -- see their publicity page (or get your copy at Amazon.de).
First (German) reviews are out in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and Die Presse.
We've always enjoyed his notebooks -- The Weight of the World, for example (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- though remember that John Carey acknowledged that Handke wasn't even considered for the Man Booker International Prize because he was one of those authors where: "the publisher had allowed the translations to go out of print") --, and we hope to be able to cover this title as well
The 24 July issue of The New York Times Book Review: no reviews of any books originally published in a foreign language. (18 books with full reviews, 4 titles in the Crime-round-up.)
The 31 July issue of The New York Times Book Review: no reviews of any books originally published in a foreign language. (9 books with full reviews, 10 titles in two 'Chronicles'.)
No real surprise, though there is an interesting twist to Sam Tanenhaus' foreign-language-phobia this week: the five-book 'Fiction Chronicle', where Anderson Tepper gets just a bit more than half a page to mention discuss five titles, sure has some foreign-sounding author-names and, in fact, all five authors were born outside the US/UK: Amitav Ghosh, Siddhartha Deb, Achmat Dangor, Abdulrazak Gurnah, and Moris Farhi.
So there's certainly a good dose of the foreign and exotic -- just that they safely all write in English.
We continue to be dumbfounded by this foreign-language-avoidance -- and it can't be easy to accomplish.
(Token books do slip through -- Mia Couto a few weeks back was a welcome surprise -- but they probably have to do that behind Tanenhaus' back ....)
Tanenhaus can make room (as he does this week) for four (4 !) pages (plus the full cover) for a Richard Posner article that barely discusses any books and surely belongs in the Magazine-section, but can't be bothered to give coverage to even a single book originally written in a foreign language ?