Amélie Nothomb's new novel, Acide sulfurique, just out, is a sales hit (ranked third at Amazon.fr last we checked; get your copy there), but not everyone is thrilled: as Shirli Sitbon reports at European Jewish Press, Novelist posits Shoah as reality show (link first seen at Bookslut) and that's seen as going a bit too far.
See early reviews in:
In Le Point Marc Lambron accuses her of "dredging for an audience", and he's not impressed by her (and her publisher's) approach:
Paragraphes de cinq lignes, typographie pour myopes, psychologie de bande dessinée: ce roman de dénonciation se place au niveau de la grammaire télévisuelle qu'il réprouve.
A too-simplistic attack on reality TV ?
(Even the print-size -- "typography for myopics" -- apparently calls it into question !)
It certainly doesn't sound very subtle, but we'll review it as soon as we can get our hands on a copy (don't hold your breath; it'll probably be a while).
People's Daily report that A Chinese spends 4 US dollars on books on average in 2004 -- which at least one publishing professional considers: "shows a large potential publishing market".
It's unclear how much literature that actually translates into (books are cheap in China, especially the illegally published ones) -- though they do offer paper-consumption statistics by weight, too.
But enthusiasm for published products no longer seems to be increasing quite as fast as previously:
The Chinese publishing output value maintained a 10-20 percent growth in the 1980s, a rather big rate in the world at that time. In the late 1990s, the speed fluctuated between 8-10 percent, which kept its space with the Chinese GDP growth by and large.
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two Volker Braun books, Das unbesetzte Gebiet and Auf die schönen Possen.
Amazingly, Volker Braun remains -- except for the occasional poem in the TLS and the like -- untranslated.
Well, we reviewed eight Durs Grünbein titles before a full collection appeared in English (Ashes for Breakfast), and we're only up to seven Braun titles -- maybe after we tackle a few more .....
In best imitation of the Man Booker Prize, the Deutscher Buchpreis 2005 ("dbp05", as they apparently want to style themselves -- yeah, that helps) has announced its longlist.
Impressively (sort of), they're very good about making the information available in English: check out the German Book Prize 2005 pages, and now the announcement of the longlist.
(Is there anyone in the English-speaking world that cares ?)
From 150 titles, they've narrowed it down to a 20-title strong longlist.
Interestingly, like the Man Booker (of all the stupid things to copy, this is easily the stupidest !), there are strict (i.e. ridiculous) limits as to what can get nominated: the rules allow each publisher to submit no more than two titles.
By the 9 April deadline publishers had submitted 124 novels ("from 63 publishing companies in Germany, eight in Austria and five in Switzerland").
As with the Man Booker, the judges were allowed to call in titles -- and they apparently called in a whopping 26.
Unfortunately, we don't learn which titles were submitted (and which were called in), only the ones that made the semi-final cut .....
The Fourth Circle comes with an amusing-depressing Afterword, parts of which are also reproduced at the beginning of this interview.
ivković notes, for example, that publishing success in his native Serbia truly is a modest matter:
The initial print-run of The Fourth Circle was only 500 copies, with an additional 500 printed after it won the "Milos Crnjanski."
And that was it.
Far more depressing are his attempts to break into the English-language market (though that does at least have a happy end -- he seems to be enjoying considerable success and attention).
Aside from paying to get the book translated himself, and then shopping it around for close to a decade, he had heart-warming experiences such as his desperate agent suggesting:
I should change my name.
What do you mean, I asked incredulously.
He meant I should choose a pen name, preferably something that would sound American.
Like what ?
Well, we could try to find an analogous version of your original name.
What would that be ? After a brief etymological consideration, he boldly suggested: Donald Livingston.
The Fourth Circle is far from perfect, but it is definitely worthwhile, and it's a sad sign that it took so long to find a publisher (not that we expect anything better from American publishers ...).
Fortunately, he seems to have made the breakthrough, with several titles in print, and more on the way.
Sounds like it was fun: John Plunkett and Tom Service report in The Guardian that Rushdie dismisses Galloway's claims as the author and the MP "clashed (...) in a debate about TV and religion and a hypothetical small-screen adaptation of the novelist's controversial book The Satanic Verses".
Meanwhile, Rushdie-related material (to coincide with publication of his new novel, Shalimar the Clown) continues to pour forth: see now this profile at The Scotsman.
(Updated): See now yet another profile, this time in The Guardian, as well as John Updike's review in The New Yorker.
As the Edinburgh International Book Festival continues they're making some Audio Recordings and Transcriptions available at their website.
only a few from this year so far -- including Richard Dawkins and A.L. Kennedy --, but worth keeping an eye on.
Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant has disappointingly put the much-loved 'Brownie Watch' (in which brownies are showered on -- or, more frequently, withheld from -- Sam Tanenhaus, depending on the quality of that week's issue of The New York Times Book Review) on hiatus, but the 28 August issue (like so many NYTBR issues ...) deserves public lambasting and so we'll do at least some of the honours.
Our complaints are the oh-so-familiar ones (Tanenhaus' faults are, if nothing else, constant): the issue has:
Full-length (more and less) reviews of four (4) fiction titles and twelve (12) non-fiction titles
Brief coverage of four fiction (crime) titles and five non-fiction titles
We are overwhelmed by fiction titles we'd love to cover -- how is it that he only finds so few (week after week) that he thinks might be of interest ?
Worse yet -- though even less surprising --: out of a total of twenty-five (25) titles covered this week not a single one was originally written in a foreign language.
(Last week: twenty-seven titles covered, in one form or another, and one -- Marcel Beyer's Spies, briefly mentioned in the pathetic 'Fiction Chronicle' (six books covered in the space of less than a page) -- originally written in a foreign language.)
You've heard it all here before, but how is this even possible ?
(We almost pity the poor publicists trying to sell Tanenhaus on translated literature -- or maybe they don't even bother anymore.)
The Sunday Times Literary Awards have been handed out, and as Celean Jacobson reports, Veterans take the honours at book awards.
Justin Cartwright (somewhat controversially) took the Sunday Times Fiction Award for his novel, The Promise of Happiness.
(It's available in the UK (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk) and should be available in the US at year's end (pre-order at Amazon.com).)
"I think it's a great attempt to popularize the book business, and boy, do we need it," said Jane Friedman, president and chief executive officer of HarperCollins.
"It's a good thing, as we try to expand our readers, to put the public into this.
I think it's important to have the consumer not only buy the book, but confirm that this is the best book of the year."
We're impressed that anyone can suggest that being a Quills-winner confirms (!) that a book is best of the year.
"The difference between this award and any other is that it's a reader's choice," Byrne said.
"People holler about other awards because they are committee-selected.
This is not committee-selected.
There are purists in literary circles who have a different sense of what is going on here, but we think anything you can do to get people reading is a good thing."
Talk about twisting things around !
Sure, there are problems with committee-selected awards -- but the biggest problem throughout the literary prize-industry (beginning with the Man Booker) is the dominant role publishers play in selecting the small number of books that are submitted (and hence eligible) for most prizes.
The Quills, with its truly bizarre (though admittedly different-than-usual) qualification-standards, is worse than most -- and while it's nice to have the public vote (on the very limited number of titles outrageously pre-selected for them), we feel a bit more confident that on committee-judged prizes the judges can at least be relied on to read all the shortlisted titles (though we know longlists are already beyond many of them ...) -- something the Quills doesn't seem to be able to ensure.
Sven Birkerts notes:
"We're all in support of reading and whatever can help it," said Sven Birkerts, editor of Agni magazine, a literary journal published at Boston University, but "it's an oddly defined criteria of literary quality that's being created here.
The gating, sifting process is being taken out of the hands of the usual designated experts and redistributed to people with financial connections to the book business."
We don't mind the "usual designated experts" not playing such a prominent role (we're not really fans), but certainly that "gating, sifting process" has to be done differently for this prize to be taken in any way seriously.
Plans for a one-off, new James Bond novel, to celebrate the centenary of its creator, are being finalised by the estate of Ian Fleming.
As yet no author has been chosen for the project, but following the surprising worldwide success of Charlie Higson's young Bond novels, Ian Fleming Publications say they are keen to commission a big, established name.
We're not big fans of literary estates doing this sort of thing, but Fleming is one of the few authors who might well approve of this maltreatment of his creation.
Article bonus: they also ask Ian Rankin: "what he would do with a commission to write the next James Bond novel".
(Unfortunately, they don't ask him how he would feel about his heirs commissioning new Rebus-novels after his death.)
In Lying for a Living at OpinionJournal Daniel Akst has some fun with politicians who have tried their hand at fiction, including the man who apparently wants to have a go at being governor of every one of the United States:
Overlooked in all the commotion about Mr. Weld, however, was a serious character flaw.
The problem isn't drugs or alcohol or greed but a compulsion much more dangerous and difficult to suppress.
The sad fact is that William Weld is a novelist, which of course calls into question his judgment if not his sanity.
(Recall, however, that even Winston Churchill suffered a youthful lapse of reason .....
Elder statesmen such as Jimmy Carter, of course, have no excuses.)
I write as one who has never been able to bring himself to get rid of a single book, old or new, read or unread. Long ago I gave up trying to order my shelves, and I now leave the books to multiply unhindered, double-stacked, or wedged in horizontally.
Of course, without proper weeding (and reading) such book-collections can easily take on a weird life of their own:
I wish I could claim to have read them all; but far from that, there are many, when I examine my shelves closely, that I have never even seen before. Who, for example, invested in that copy of the feng shui for plants ? When did I ever think I would read a biography of Barbara Cartland ? Why are there three copies of The Information by Martin Amis ? Is the little fellow magically self-replicating in there ?
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Salman Rushdie's much-anticipated and Man Booker Prize longlisted novel, Shalimar the Clown.
Certainly an improvement over recent efforts (The Ground beneath her Feet and Fury (did anyone read that ?)), but it pales beside the (admittedly near-overwhelming) peak effort, Shame.
Joy Press has it pegged pretty much right as "an honorable failure".
Amos Oz is in Germany this week, set to pick up the prestigious Goethe-Prize (and its big pay-out -- 50,000) on Sunday.
There have been a number of interview with him, including an English-language one, A Manifestation of German-Israeli Dialogue, at DeutscheWelle (scroll down to click on the audio version if you prefer to listen rather than read).
Among the most interesting is the lengthy interview by Gisela Dachs in Die Zeit, Der Moment der Wahrheit.
A few weeks back we mentioned Nepali concerns about how little local literature got translated into English, so it's no surprise to hear much the same from nearby: in Kuensel Kinley Wangmo reports A shortage of Bhutanese literature in English.
The concern here is specifically with school-appropriate texts, but we haven't come across any Bhutanese literature in translation lately either (not that there's exactly a huge amount available even in the original ...).
The South African Sunday Times Literary Awards will be handed out Saturday: see, for example, Sunday Times literary awards near.
(Information at the Sunday Times-site is more elusive -- their 'special reports' section devoted to the awards is stuck in 2002.)
Some fun, including Ivan Vladislavic's highly regarded The Exploded View being ruled ineligible for the fiction prize for not being a real novel "but rather 'a quartet of interlinked fiction' as billed by its publishers".
(Updated - 27 August): A reader kindly points out that the Sunday Times does indeed have extensive coverage -- found here.
(We had rooted around the site, but hadn't found it -- sorry !)
The Los Angeles Times has finally named a new book editor (responsible both for the Sunday book review section as well as daily coverage -- unlike at, for example, The New York Times where they are separate fiefdoms), and it's somebody named David L. Ulin.
James Rainey reports that Times names book editor in the paper itself; see also the official press release.
Ulin is "a veteran literary critic and champion of West Coast writers"
He will: "be empowered to accomplish a complete makeover of book coverage"
The 'top' editor of The Times' feature sections says: "I think that the review will remain urbane and sophisticated, but we want it to be far more accessible and far more attuned to what is really hot in the book world"
Ulin says "he plans to focus more on fiction than Book Review has in the recent past"
Their book coverage currently appears to be freely accessible, and we hope it remains so.
Otherwise: well, we'll wait and see.
Meanwhile The Elegant Variation has already noted the appointment, and will (we presume and hope) be following this story closely -- as well as, when the time comes, offering thumbnail coverage of the Ulin-edited book review section.
(TEV also links to the LA Observed mention, which offers The LA Times' staff memo announcing the appointment.)
Yes, yet another longlist for yet another award -- this time for the genre-defying Guardian First Book Award.
Poetry, fiction, non-fiction: "it is open to writing across all genres".
What counts is that it's a first book.
No details about the exact procedure, but they also say that it is "judged by both a celebrity panel and members of the public who participate through reading groups".
(We think there's definitely room for a literary award now where the winner is determined at random, a literary lottery -- hey, it would even make for decent TV.)
See also John Ezard's Ten diverse authors make longlist.
Business Week offers a fairly extensive interview with editor Jonathan Karp about his new imprint, Warner Twelve.
If nothing else, one has to admire the strict limit on the number of titles that they expect to publish annually, as well as Karp's ambition to edit each book himself (hey, we're impressed when we hear that any editing at all is planned ...).
Amazon does a decent job with the millions of products they list at their site, but occasionally bizarre misspellings and misattributions occur.
A recent favourite: Christopher Hampton's drama, Tales from Hollywood, is listed as being part of the "Nato Advanced Science Institutes Series-Series C : Mathematical & Physical Sciences" at Amazon.co.uk.
Publisher Faber & Faber would no doubt be surprised to hear that .....
These are actually the first (modern) Greek works we've reviewed; as with so many countries and languages, not a great deal of Greek fiction is readily accessible in English.
It's not like the Greeks don't try (a bit, anyway): the Abatzoglou and quite a decent selection of other titles are available in Kedros Publishers' Modern Greek Writers-series, for example -- but your local Barnes & Noble unfortunately does not carry them.
Still, it's depressing to compare how many Markaris-titles are available in German, for example -- though there's some hope Harvill and Grove will offer more Inspector Costas Haritos-titles eventually.
(As a translator-from-the-German -- of Brecht, no less ! -- his success there isn't that surprising, but he's done well all over Europe.)
In the 18 August London Review of Books Robert Irwin reviews (review not freely accessible) Modern Arabic Fiction, edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi; see the Columbia University Press publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Sounds fairly interesting, if somewhat limited ("Modern Arabic Fiction (...) is overwhelmingly concerned with political and economic themes") -- but at least it offers a thousand pages worth of material, only some of which is otherwise accessible in English.
Interesting, however, that Irwin buys into the idea that consumers are entirely to blame for the scarcity of this particular product (modern Arabic fiction):
I don't think it is fair to berate British publishers; it's we readers who are at fault.
The publishers would publish more Arab literature if only we would buy and read the stuff.
It's hard to guess why we are so unreceptive.
Is it post-colonial guilt ?
Do we think fiction an inappropriate vehicle for political campaigning ?
Or are we just too hedonistic and frivolous in our fiction reading ?
For whatever reason, we prefer to remain spectacularly ignorant about what goes on in the Middle East.
This dearth of demand is an obvious problem (though widespread with regard to nearly all translated fiction, if to varying degrees), but British and American publishers have done a spectacularly poor job of making Arabic literature even reasonably accessible.
(Given that Hebrew literature in translation has been able to establish itself in much of Western Europe, as well as the English-speaking countries, it surely isn't just a regional thing.)
A few days ago we mentioned the new British National Short Story Prize ('Nssp') that was recently semi-unveiled, and Paul Kelbie writes more about it in The Independent.
The award will also form the centrepiece of a UK-wide campaign by Booktrust and the Scottish Book Trust, the national agency for readers and writers, to expand opportunities for British writers, readers, magazines and publishers of the short story.
Booktrust have set up a site for their short story campaign which will presumably have more information, but last we checked it just promised to launch 23 August .....
A different way of selling books: Joyce Chen reports for the Shanghai Daily that:
An ongoing promotional activity at the Hymart-Hymall supermarket chain that allows locals to buy books according to weight has failed to spark a buying frenzy though it has raised some eyebrows.
All books at the promotion are priced at 9.90 yuan (US$ 1.22) for 500 grams.
What's really depressing is that the book-rate is cheaper than that for 'costumes' (presumably clothes) -- 29.90 yuan per 500 grams -- and towels (!) -- 19.90 yuan per 500 grams.
And there's the question about the quality of the books: as one person pointed out:
most of the books at the promotion are not written by famous authors and seem to be lacking intellectual property rights.
Michel Houellebecq's new novel, La possibilité d'une île, is coming out at the end of the month in France, and there's been considerable to-do about it.
The publisher had an embargo of sorts -- only a select few critics got advance copies -- but that plan backfired (or was cleverly subverted) by the (in)convenient 'discovery' of a copy by one of the critics who didn't (officially) get a copy, Le Figaro's Angelo Rinaldi.
Unfortunately -- at least for the publisher, if they were the ones who orchestrated the 'discovery' -- he didn't really like it, and so the first prominent coverage by someone who had actually read the book -- Rinaldi's Un Houellebecq tombé du camion -- wasn't very positive.
Even the British got all excited about this: see coverage in the UK press about this incident and the book:
Meanwhile, the Germans immediately jumped on the advance-review bandwagon (a problem with simultaneous translations the French publisher seems not to have considered), as Eckhart Nickel reviews it (considerably more favourably) in Welt am Sonntag.
You can get your copy of La possibilité d'une île from Amazon.fr (and Die Möglichkeit einer Insel from Amazon.de; see also the DuMont publicity page).
The UK edition -- The Possibility of an Island -- isn't due out until October (see the Weidenfeld publicity page), but you can pre-order it from Amazon.co.uk.
As to a US edition ... Knopf will presumably bring one out sometime in the next few years, but don't count on it any time soon.
Meanwhile: more French coverage to keep you covered: see: Houellebecq fait son clone by Olivier Le Naire in L'Express and Silence, on vend ! by Éric Naulleau in Le Figaro.
(Updated - 23 August): See also Volker Weidermann's Das letzte Tabu in the FAZ.
They also have a dpa report mentioning a Houellebecq-interview in Inrockuptibles in which the poor deluded author claimed the book would be published simultaneously in France, Germany, the UK, and the US.
France and Germany: yes, while the UK manages with a few months delay, and the Americans ... well, he should probably count himself lucky if it appears there at all.
Time offers 10 Questions for Salman Rushdie -- though that includes two that aren't really questions: "Don't they always" can pass, but what's the deal with: "Me too, but I'm sure your wife was magnificent" ?
(We are constantly stunned that newspapers and magazines print this kind of lazy and pointless crap.
Of course, morons like us continue to link to it, so it certainly at least qualifies as attention-grabbing.)
In The Independent today Nigel Morris reports that Mao, magic and mystery head MPs' holiday reads.
It shouldn't come as much surprise -- though it should make British voters think twice about who they've elected to represent them -- but:
The Da Vinci Code is the preferred choice holiday reading for MPs.
A survey by CommunicateResearch discovered that Conservatives opted for the critically acclaimed biography of William Pitt the Younger by their former leader, William Hague, while Labour MPs packed Jung Chang's account of Chairman Mao's life in their suitcases.
So, Antonio Tabucchi's recent novel, Tristano muore (see the Feltrinelli publicity page; we expect to cover it in the near future) -- available in most of the major (and many of the minor) European languages (save, so far, English) -- will be made available in yet another translation.
English, finally ?
Hardly: it's coming out in Persian.
Yes, as MNA report, "Tristano Dies" reborn in Persian:
A Persian translation of the novel Tristano Dies (2004) by Italian author Antonio Tabucchi will be published by Nagima Publications in the near future.
Translated from Italian into Persian for the first time by Qoli Khayat, the first edition of the 200-page book will have a print run of 3000 copies.
Even the print run is on par with what an American edition would run -- if there were one.
We know we shouldn't be surprised anymore by the dismal situation regarding literature in translation in the US and UK, but this is pretty phenomenally ridiculous.
We're talking about a previously widely-translated-into-English author, a finalist for the recent Man Booker International Prize (whom John Carey singled out, saying: "Antonio Tabucchi's Pereira Declares, we all felt, came close to being a perfect novel"), and his new novel that's been translated into god knows how many languages -- and now even the Iranians (a country recognised in the US only for being run by mullahs, toying with nuclear waste, and meddling in Iraq (which the Americans would prefer to do all by themselves)) get a look at it before English-speaking readers do ?
Overall, no doubt, the selection of translated literature is still better and broader in the US and UK than in Iran, but this is still a pretty shocking and embarrassing occurrence
The world's largest award for a short story will be unveiled at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this week.
There's good money in it -- though maybe a catchier name than the 'National Short Story Prize' (the Nssp ?) would help.
One of the judges for the first go-round, Prospect deputy editor Alex Linklater, immediately started to try to build up controversy (or at least interest) by denigrating the novel-form ("The novel is a capacious old whore") and trying to talk up the short-story form.
So far, however, it doesn't look like it could be any sort of competition for the Man Booker.
So they're getting set to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Premchand's birth (see our review of his The Gift of a Cow).
As Anuradha Raman reports in Outlook India, they're having some trouble with their plan to turn his house and some land into a proper Premchand-memorial site.
In particular the 2.5 acres of land they want to buy up is posing problems -- as "49 farmers own small tracts of it and are reluctant to give up their share".