Not to read in translation -- unimaginable, almost unforgivable.
A lopsided view of the world.
Nevertheless, some readers -- serious readers -- look down at their shoes and explain that a translation is a maimed result; it cannot have the intended power of the original.
Better to avoid it. Far better.
There are plenty of other things in our own language.
The latter is, of course, the Sam 'shoe-looker' Tanenhaus (of The New York Times Book Review) approach to literature (and book reviewing) .....)
In response to Melvyn Bragg's planned TV and book project, The Twelve Books that Changed the World (see our mention), The Independent got twelve people (including Will Self) to offer Chapter and verse on life-changing books .
A fun idea, but a pretty feeble effort.
As widely noted and commented upon (but with much more to follow), the Man Booker Prize shortlist was announced yesterday.
The only one of the titles we have under review is Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, so we can't judge who deserves to win.
(We do plan to cover a few of the other titles -- but probably won't get to them before the prize is handed out.)
In his comments, judge-chair John Sutherland noted:
The strength of the year’s competition can be measured by the fact that three good books by previous Man Booker winners were finally not selected.
We have those three "good" books under review: Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown certainly seems skipable, but Ian McEwan's Saturday was a solid piece of work, and Coetzee's Slow Man sure looked like a contender to us.
(As far as McEwan goes, we're actually not too surprised: the Man Booker folk have never gotten him right, giving the prize to the very poor Amsterdam and then, after shortlisting it, by-passing his best book, Atonement, in favour of a second-rate Peter Carey novel.)
One nice touch is that John Banville's The Sea beat out Saturday and did make the shortlist -- fun because Banville notoriously judged (in The New York Review of Books, 26 May):
Saturday is a dismayingly bad book. (...)
Another source of dismay, one for which, admittedly, Ian McEwan cannot wholly be held accountable, is the ecstatic reception Saturday has received from reviewers and book buyers alike.
Did that opinion help cow the judges ?
Several of the reports (see below) also note that judge-chair Sutherland seems to be a big Shalimar the Clown fan and a big Rushdie fan (going so far as to say yesterday that, if it were up to him, he'd give Rushdie the Nobel prize).
Which leads us to believe that the other judges must have really hated the Rushdie-offering -- vehemently enough to prevent Sutherland from slipping it onto the shortlist.
Here a preliminary press-reaction round-up, though much more is sure to follow (and many other literary weblogs have/will no doubt weigh in):
'Beauty' before age: Zadie Smith beats veteran authors to a place on the Man Booker shortlist by Louise Jury, in The Independent.
Bonus: Boyd Tonkin gives his verdict on the books (on what he calls a "somewhat stuffy shortlist").
Our favourite summing up: he writes about Banville's The Sea: "Precious and refined to the point of anaemia, the overwrought prose and enigmatic plots of John Banville appeal to the kind of fogeyish sensibility that clearly looms large on this year's panel."
Controversy has erupted over the 24-hour-old, inexplicable, so-called 'literary award fatwa' imposed on Salman Rushdie, whose magnificent, multi-national, much-hyped, four-day-old novel on "iron mullahs" and a Kashmiri jihadi was left off the shortlist of the world's most prestigious, financially lucrative Man Booker literary prize.
Alas, he doesn't even get the basics right -- though the problem here seems to largely be one of grammar: the Man Booker Rushdie was up for isn't even "the world's most prestigious, financially lucrative Man Booker literary prize" -- that honour goes to the Man Booker International Prize (worth £10,000 more than the plain vanilla version).
(But there are quite a few other more lucrative literary prizes too.)
Obviously, we're missing something, since Lall insists: "The Booker's culling of Rushdie, from a long list of 17, has amazed world capitals".
Ah well, that's what happens when you report from the provinces, as we do.
(See also GalleyCat's comments.)
(Updated - 11 September): Robert McCrum thinks the judges left us Short changed in The Observer.
Here we were, suggesting you set off for Berlin to hear Eliot Weinberger and others read his What I Heard about Iraq at the festival in Berlin on the 11th when it turns out Simon Levy has adapted it for the stage and it will be playing for four weeks (starting, appropriately enough, on the 11th) closer to many of your homes, at the Fountain Theatre (scroll down for information) in Hollywood.
We (only now) found about this from the New Directions September newsletter (a reminder: always worth a look !).
Remember that Weinberger's What Happened Here (which includes the original text of What I Heard about Iraq) is due out at the end of the month !
Pre-order your copy today, remind your bookseller to stock (and then prominently display) it, tell all your friends.
GalleyCat (which has been flourishing under some excellent guest-editing recently, after a couple of weeks of summer slumber) makes us aware of Oxford University Press' new blog-experiment, OUPblog.
Their description of their undertaking:
The talented authors of Oxford University Press provide daily commentary on nearly every subject under the sun, from philosophy to literature to economics.
OUPblog is a source like no other on the blogosphere for learning, understanding and reflection.
(Leading us to wonder whether OUP's untalented authors -- and with the thousands of books OUP brings out annually, they have their fair share -- will also get their own blog .....)
Obviously this has a lot of potential -- though given how enormous and varied OUP's output is this could get unwieldy fast.
Nevertheless, it's an experiment we'll follow closely.
We're actually surprised there aren't more publishers giving blogging a try (the Vertical blog is an example of a different way to go about it, but a nice fit for that publisher, for example).
Presumably many prefer to leave their authors to it (which is certainly working fairly well too).
But it really wouldn't take that many tweaks to change the flood of material so many publicity departments send out and make much of that (in perhaps slightly more consumer-friendly form) accessible to all readers..
Yes, the XVIII. Moscow International Book Fair has opened.
Among the highlights: an International Special Exposition, "Books against Terrorism".
Victor Sonkin also offers a brief overview of this year's MIBF in New Titles at The Moscow Times.
The latest figures from Nielsen BookScan reveal that in the first seven months of this year 114,000 new titles appeared, almost 540 each day, while in the past year it has identified an additional 2,400 publishers.
Five years ago 94,000 new titles were published in the UK; this year the figure will be more than 200,000.
We're thrilled by this.
Yes, there are quality-issues with an enormous amount of the essentially self-published crap that makes up most of the increase, but we're so disappointed by the failure of the mainstream publishing industry that we'll take any alternative world on offer that at least gets more books out there.
The Bookseller also notes:
In an age of mass publishing, the slush pile will move from the editor to the consumer, with each book effectively market-tested among a focus group of buyers.
We find it hard to believe that any system of getting the right books to the right readers could be much worse than what the major publishers do today -- though, since we're in a tiny way gatekeepers in the new system (and, in part, the old) we're probably not entirely objective.
One thought that at first concerned us was that the lower cost of publishing doesn't benefit (at least not very much) a major category of interest to us: literature in translation.
But our thinking is that over the long term this will be one of the few niches that larger publishers (as opposed to self-publishers) will be able to succeed with: they have the resources (well, theoretically, anyway -- current practise suggest pretty widespread incompetence ...) to seek out books that were successful abroad, or might translate to the English-speaking market.
(Dear god, we are naïve, aren't we ?
We should just face the ugly truth: larger publishers will never get it.
But we continue to dream .....)
The fall book preview section in the current New York-magazine includes a Zadie Smith/On Beauty profile, Hello, Gorgeous.
It took the English a couple of days to find it, but now they've gotten in quite the huff about the newly Man Booker shortlisted Smith -- exemplified by Nigel Reynolds' Daily Telegraph article, Vulgar England disgusts me, says Zadie Smith.
Yes, Reynolds finds that: "Zadie Smith has launched an astonishing attack on her native England".
Americans have so far not reacted to her comments, which include the observation:
In America only a few weirdos read.
I mean, it seems like a lot of weirdos, but that’s because you’re a very big country.
As to England and the English, well, she does say:
"When I talk about England now I just think about the England that I loved," she says, "and it’s just gone.
It’s the way people look at each other on the train; just general stupidity, madness, vulgarity, stupid TV shows, aspirational arseholes, money everywhere.
It’s just a disgusting place.
Maybe I’m just getting old."
Okay, some of this is pretty weird -- how old is she anyway ?
When did this England that she loved exist ?
(Because the recent Englands were those of Thatcher and John Major and we can't believe that's what she's referring to.
Or is it Dickens' and Austen's England she loved and misses ?)
But the New York-magazine piece is also noteworthy for her Man Booker-related comments:
She’s been nominated for a Booker for a third time this year.
Might she finally make the short list ?
"No, there’s no chance.
Have you seen the fucking list ?
Any other year, maybe.
But it’s a hell of a list, so whatever happens it’ll be ... good for fiction!"
Ah, that charming humility (with the hip raw edge) -- and that subtle buttering up of the judges (what an awesome longlist they selected !).
We do expect to read and cover On Beauty eventually, but for now we just dream of a world in which no one would think of publishing (or reading !) such author-profiles and book-promotional puff pieces.
We'd pay to be spared this stuff.
(Sadly, they occasionally become 'news', so this article, which we -- with a sigh of relief -- ignored on Monday along with the rest of the fall book preview section has now been commented upon, quoted from, and linked to -- and, frustratingly, we've played right into her and her publicist's hands, by wasting your time with this 'story.'
We hope you're at least properly offended by some of her comments, so that it's been worth your while.)
David Thomson does double duty at The New York Observer this week (issue of 12 September): first he has a nice long piece (warning ! link will only last for a few days !) on Nabokov's Lolita, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of its first publication.
(Vintage are bringing out yet another edition (the '50th Anniversary Edition'), though it's unclear (we haven't seen it yet) whether -- other than a new cover (and, we expect, a new (and not lower) cover price ...) -- it differs in any way from previous (and still available) editions.)
Thomson's is a somewhat film-centric take (what a surprise !), but worth a look.
Meanwhile, he also has a look (warning ! link will only last for a few days !) at Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown
Widely linked to already, Jennifer Howard's Unraveling the Narrative in The Chronicle of Higher Education looks to be the start of an interesting debate.
She addresses what we can expect from Vincent Carretta's forthcoming Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man, which provides evidence that suggests the Olaudah Equiano's famous 'memoir' may contain considerably more invention than previously thought.
It's yet another hit for the bafflingly popular memoir-form: just shelve it all under fiction, we're tempted to say.
We'll keep an eye out for the Carretta-book, and the reactions to it.
Meanwhile, see also the University of Georgia Press publicity page (and their Q & A with him), or pre-order your own copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Melvyn Bragg has announced the twelve titles that will be featured on his four-part TV special, scheduled to air next April on ITV, -- along with book tie-in --, The Twelve Books that Changed the World.
The list is ridiculously Anglo-centric, but at least pretty imaginative (The First Rule Book of the Football Association (1863), etc.) -- though Christopher Howse suggests ... and here are 12 better ones that did the same thing in the Daily Telegraph.
On-demand publisher Trafford has pledged $1.6 million to help preserve endangered languages.
The idea isn't a bad one: "Have them write books, urges Trafford Publishing", and:
Trafford is pledging to underwrite approximately $1,600,000 in publishing costs over the next ten years.
The programme will make available primers for school children, dictionaries and local stories -- one book will be published in each of 650 endangered languages.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of yet another Man Booker Prize longlisted title, J.M.Coetzee's Slow Man.
We're a bit surprised by the (UK) review reactions so far -- along with some enthusiasm many responses have been tepid,
We'd go so far to say: easily the best novel published in 2005 we've read to date.
(We've probably only read a few dozen, so that's not that impressive (yet) -- but we were very impressed.)
The Association of American Publishers announced "a huge gain in publishing sales for ten categories" (story first seen at The Book Standard).
Among the statistics of interest:
The adult mass market category saw a large gain of 27.9 percent in July.
The gains for the year in this category are still small, but what gives here ?
What happened to the demise of the mass market paperback ?
A few months ago everybody said this format was done for.
Publishing sales of university press hardcover books showed a 31.9 percent loss in July (sales totaled $9.0 million).
This category has lost 25.1 percent in 2005.
Sales in the university press paperback category lost 38.1 percent in July (sales totaled $17.7 million); this category has lost 18.9 percent for the year.
Pretty stunning -- from how tiny sales are in the first place, to the precipitous declines.
No question: university presses face lots of hurdles, but we still think first and foremost is the (over-)pricing policy: though they're almost all non-profits, the one thing that doesn't translate into is making books affordable.
Sure, many of their titles aren't easy sells -- but, for example, the book we most recently reviewed, University of Toronto Press publication Polyglot Joyce, retails for an insane (but typical, for an academic title) $ 55.00 (and we ain't talking loonies here, but US hard currency).
Far worse, of course, is the popular pricing policy for books that might actually, occasionally, have the potential to reach a wider audience -- fiction ! --; our favourite example is the Northwestern University Press with, for example, it's incredible Writings from an Unbound Europe series, with many of the paperbacks in the unreasonable mid-twenty-dollar range.
(We'd have bought (and probably reviewed) most of the titles in that series if they weren't so prohibitively expensive; even the ones we have acquired -- bought used, paying half price, at most -- cost more than what we generally are willing to spend for a book).
Reviews for Kertész Imre's Fatelessness continue to appear in the UK; now it's Julian Evans, in awe in the Telegraph
It is humbling to think how much utterly forgettable fiction has been present on British bookshop shelves in the 30 years it has taken for Fatelessness finally to find a British publisher.
Unfortunately, he doesn't emphasise that this is the only Kertész title available in Britain; even getting the two other ones that are available in the US to market doesn't seem much of a priority, much less translating all the other stuff.
That isn't humbling, it's shameful.
Yes, Faber & Faber is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary -- though not the Britsh Faber (around since 1929), but rather German publisher Faber und Faber.
And while the UK version probably isn't too pleased about the name, the Germans at least can boast that there really are two Fabers (Elmar and Michael) behind theirs, while the Brits admit "for a name with a ring of respectability, Geoffrey hit on the name Faber and Faber, although there was only ever one Faber."
The German firm started out as Sisyphos-Presse, with Elmar a well-respected (East) German publisher before the fall of the wall (running first Edition Leipzig and then the Aufbau Verlag).
The clever name-change came about a few years later -- and seems to have worked out well for them.
Neues Deutschland has an interview with Elmar, while the Leipziger Volkszeitung writes that Faber und Faber feiert 15. Geburtstag
The German Faber deserves some credit too: they actually have a decennt list, with their series Die DDR-Bibliothek ('the GDR library') particularly impressive.
(Of course, to really impress us, a publisher specialising in East German stuff would have to start bringing out the fiction of, say, Wolfgang Kröber.)
The Japanese appear to be running out of older authors to heap prizes on, so they're focussing on the teenage debutantes.
Kanehara Hitomi's Snakes and Earrings took the Akutagawa recently, but at 19 was a grand old dame compared to an author writing under the pen-name of Natsu Minami: The Japan Times report that with Heisei Machine Guns15-year-old girl receives prestigious literary award.
Oh yeah, and:
The publisher did not disclose her real name as she is concentrating on preparing for a high school entrance examination.
Is there something called Indian Writing as a genre ?
If you go to any bookstore, it certainly would seem like that’s the case.
A thriller written by an Indian (say Shashi Warrier or Ashok Banker or Sharadindu Bandhopadhyay) won’t be sitting pretty on the thriller section which is full of the Dan Browns and Patricia Highsmiths.
Instead, it’ll be there on the shelf marked ‘Indian fiction’.
The same goes for humorous, supernatural and historical fiction.
One consequence ?
The notion of ‘Indian writing’ as an edifice has ominously become yet another project to firm up the nation.
Being tagged ‘an Indian writer’ who writes in English shifts the way the writer is going to be judged.
Not for him the yardstick of the Ian McEwans or the JK Rowlings or the Helen Fieldings, but that of other practitioners of the cottage industry called Indian Writing in English.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Patrick O'Neill's look at Fictions of Translation in Polyglot Joyce.
Fascinating stuff, right up our alley (translation issues ! James Joyce !).
If anything, it's simply not comprehensive enough for our tastes.
Some good Joyce translation stories too -- including the nice Kurt Tucholsky quote, condemning the first German translation of Ulysses:
either a murder has been committed here or a corpse has been photographed
In The Herald Robert Muponde takes part in a Q & A, arguing Land -- Basis for Zim literature.
Land reform is, to put it mildly, a contentious issue in Zimbabwe right now, while Muponde argues:
The land itself is not only a geographical entity, but the very text of the Zimbabwean history.
It drips with blood, entombs bones of both colonial settler and Mbuya Nehanda’s children.
It is suffused with memory.
He offers a few examples of different writers' takes, too.
Jiang Rong's The Wolf Totem has been a phenomenal success, topping the local bestseller lists in China for 16 months, with a million copies sold.
Now Xinhuanet report Penguin prepays $100,000 for Chinese book's right in "China's most expensive overseas book deal ever".
The incredible success of the book didn't go unnoticed even outside China (hey, even we mentioned it back in January ...), but we suspect the clincher for the deal was something much more obvious: Peter Jackson -- still one of the hottest film directors out there -- apparently optioned the film back in June (see, for example, Peter Jackson to produce The Wolf Totem).
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tash Aw's Man Booker Prize longlisted novel, The Harmony Silk Factory.
Widely touted as a 'Malaysian' novel -- author Aw spent most of his childhood in Malaysia, before moving to England -- it certainly offer a bit of Malaysian atmosphere, but not much more than, say, Anthony Burgess' Malayan trilogy.
It is a novel entirely in the modern British tradition (as are, say, Rushdie's works) -- but the ethnic (or pseudo-ethnic -- or is it simply the exotic, as long as it's conveniently written in English ?) is always a selling point
With much of the action set largely during World War II it does capture that multicultural clash that is among the most interesting aspects of the country's history, the central characters being ethnic Chinese, Japanese, and English; interestingly, the ethnically Malayan presence remains largely background.
(A few scenes, descriptions by one of the English characters, set in contemporary Malaysia, are a tantalizing hint of what might have been ... but, alas, Aw turned to the past instead.)
Cynthia Ozick hasn't made as big a mark in Europe as one might expect, but at least Heir to the Glimmering World (published as The Bear Boy in the UK, and now also available in paperback in the US) is getting some attention.
A French edition -- Un monde vacillant -- just came out, and a German edition -- Der ferne Glanz der Welt -- is set to appear soon.
Early French reviews -- see L'Express, Lire, and Le Monde -- have been very good, and even her Amazon.fr sales rank (67 when we checked yesterday) is impressive (was it ever that high at Amazon.com ?).
At Nextbook Jonathan Wilson offers The Odd-Bod, a look at Elias Canetti and his soon-to-be-available in the US (already out in the UK) Party in the Blitz.
Aside from one editorial slip (it was not first published in German in 1993, but rather posthumously, in 2003), it's fairly interesting.
Very depressing, however, his concluding observation:
Party in the Blitz, a lovely series of lively, unyielding essays, won't bring Canetti back into the public eye, even though it should.
But then again, a few weeks ago I mentioned Salman Rushdie in a class that I was teaching -- and none of the students, ages 19 to 22, had ever heard of him.
Robert Birnbaum (and a link at The Page) point us to an Eliot Weinberger piece on translation there, but readers really should check out all of the first issue of Fascicle.
Lots of poetry, and several different pieces on translation: definitely worth browsing.
It's been a bad couple of days: Katrina, a thousand dead in Baghdad (barely rating a mention in the American media ...).
Now, the Turkish government offers a reminder that even when there are important things to deal with, it's more fun to attack writers -- a guaranteed crowd-pleaser (or at least an effective pandering-show for the true believers).
In February Orhan Pamuk gave an interview in a Swiss newspaper in which he dared acknowledge that "30,000 Kurds and 1 million Armenians had been killed in Turkey" (see, for example, our mention here).
(For those who aren't aware of the official Turkish position: they strongly disagree with any suggestion that Turks were in any way responsible for any deaths that may (stress on 'may') have occurred -- a position about as tenable as Holocaust-denial.)
Pamuk's comments, not surprisingly, led to lots of posturing and complaining, generally from ultra-nationalists and the like.
Our favourite story remains (comically tragic on so many different levels): the provincial governor who ordered the removal of all Pamuk works from the public libraries -- only to be told that there were no Pamuk works among any of the library-holdings ......
Amazingly, the blowhards have managed to keep the pressure on -- and now, outrageously, the public prosecutor has decided to take up the case.
As Selcuk Gokoluk reports for Reuters, Turk novelist may face jail for genocide comments:
"A lawsuit has been filed against Orhan Pamuk that could result in a three-year prison sentence," Iletisim Publishing said in a statement faxed to Reuters.
The public prosecutor in Istanbul's Sisli district found Pamuk's remarks violated Turkey's newly revised penal code, which deems denigration of the "Turkish identity" a crime, the publisher of Iletisim, Tugrul Pasaoglu, told Reuters.
Orhan Pamuk selbst hat gegenüber dieser Zeitung erklärt, daß er sich vorerst nicht zu dem Verfahren äußern möchte, das am 16. Dezember in Istanbul gegen ihn eröffnet werden soll.
Aber im Gespräch ist ihm anzumerken, wie sehr ihn dieser Schritt der Istanbuler Staatsanwaltschaft bedrückt.
Es ist ein Schritt in die falsche Richtung.
Denn er führt die Türkei weg von Europa.
(Orhan Pamuk explained to this newspaper that for the time being he preferred not to comment on the proceedings that are slated to begin on 16 December in Istanbul.
But in conversation with him one can recognise how much this action by the public prosecutor in Istanbul weighs on him.
It is a step in the wrong direction.
Because it moves Turkey away from Europe.)
The article is coloured -- as all European press articles concerning Turkey these days are -- by the debate about whether/when Turkey should join the EU; the petty, populist, nationalist witch-hunt against Pamuk obviously has ramifications beyond that.
In The East African David Kaiza writes that African writing still not at ease.
Both a preview of the Beyond Borders-festival ('A festival of contemporary African writing' to be held 19 - 21 October in Kampala) and a look at the state of African writing (then and now) -- interesting, though certainly debatable.
He does bring up some interesting things, including some that Western readers may not be aware of:
In approaching ethnic strife in Uganda, the safe thing has been to talk of "tribes out there, the big man’s goons or they were tall and dark".
You do not call them Baganda, Langi or Ankole. In Moses Issegawa’s The Abyssinian Chronicles or even in Tropical Fish, characters are not given "ethnic" names.
Because the names Okello or Kaiza will betray ethnic affiliation, you call a character "safe" names such as Leticia or Tina.
No mention at all of how it is possible for one to lose a job or a university appointment because of coming from the wrong tribe.
These are the things you reserve for embittered private tribal talk.
In short, the things that the audience could have identified with remain too sensitive to admit in the open.
African writers are complicit in a shameful cover-up.
As we said, it's been a bad couple of days.
We jumped on this story when it cropped up, so now we feel obligated in following through and correcting what was apparently a wrong impression: Victoria 'Posh Spice Girl' Beckham apparently does read books.
Or at least leafs through parts of them.
Hilary Alexander profiles her in the Daily Telegraph, in 'I'm a jeans and no make-up kind of girl', and Vicky explains:
"Just recently, there was all this nonsense about how I've never read a book.
It was an interview I did for a Spanish magazine, and what I said was that I never seem to finish books.
I always start them, get distracted, and never seem to get the time to finish -- I'm sure all mothers with three boys know what I mean.
And as for all those cynics who have said I'm jeopardising my boys' future knowledge, don't be so ridiculous.
Of course we read books together.
Romeo and Brooklyn both love reading stories, and as they are starting to pick up basic Spanish words, they have some Spanish books as well."
AN Wilson, the historian, said: "I have every sympathy with her and of course she is not alone. (...)
I never struggle with a book because if I'm bored, I stop. I'm quite often not in the mood for a book, so I abandon them.
Somehow we don't see Posh picking up anywhere near the same number of books A.N.Wilson does -- and he's dropped considerably in our esteem by even comparing his reading habits with hers (surely he can't seriously believe they have anywhere near the same approach to the written word).