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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 October 2005

1 October: Literary acoustics ? | A slush story | More on Stothard weblog | Stoppard in Belarus | Alan Bennett profile | Literay festival mania
2 October: Ekwensi interview | The New Criterion on the NYTBR | Sandor Marai Blog | Branded Woman review
3 October: Nobel odds ? | Keeping books out of Nepal | October Words without Borders
4 October: Orange 'best of best' | Quills: populist but not popular ? | The Aesthetics of Resistance | Rushdie interviews | GalleyCats | Banville on Slow Man | The Twelve Chairs review
5 October: Nobel delay | The Third Policeman on Lost | More on The Aesthetics of Resistance | Michael Hofmann interview | Yoruba Proverbs review
6 October: Greer on Sappho | French literary prize shortlists | A Dictionary of Maqiao in paperback | Poverty lit ?
7 October: Grass in Aix | TLS troubles ? | Rossica Translation Prize | Gamal al-Ghitany | Porzellan review
8 October: Moroccan impressions | Kenzaburo Oe literary award | Granta sale
9 October: WELT-Literaturpreis for Reza | Boldtype blog | Cooking with Fernet Branca review
10 October: Review statistics update | Nobel gossip | Atwood on Pamuk | (Man) Booker gossip ? | Cannon and Kidder non-memoirs | Bookforum benefit


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10 October 2005 - Monday

Review statistics update | Nobel gossip | Atwood on Pamuk | (Man) Booker gossip ?
Cannon and Kidder non-memoirs | Bookforum benefit

       Review statistics update

       Another 100 reviews (there are now 1500 titles under review at the complete review), which means it's time for another look at the statistical breakdown of what we cover.

       First, what we appear to be doing right: not surprisingly, that would be: covering foreign language literature. It might be the Sam Tanenhaus effect, in reaction to what now can only be called his very active refusal to cover books originally written in foreign languages -- the 9 October issue of The New York Times Book Review offers full-length reviews of 4 fiction and 8 non-fiction titles, a 5-book 'Fiction Chronicle', and a 4-book crime round-up -- reviews of 21 titles -- and not a single one was written in a foreign language .....
       So, where Tanenhaus refuses to tread, we very actively stomp around: a mere 31 of the past 100 reviews were of titles originally written in English, an all-time low. Eighteen other languages were represented, led by French (18 titles) and with an impressive at-least-two-titles-reviewed in each of fifteen of those languages. There were also four new languages, bringing the total covered to 41. (See the complete breakdown here.)
       One can argue whether readers really need a review of Хороший Сталин (hey, five years from now it should be available in English) or even of many of the translated titles we cover, but we assure you we'll continue down this too little beaten path.

       Now to the ugly statistic -- and it is really, really ugly: only 13 of the last 100 titles reviewed were written (or edited) by women -- below even our dismal average. Years ago we wondered How Sexist are We ? and while we didn't even like the answer back then, what really surprises us is how obstinately and consistently sexist we have proven to be.
       Anyway, this has simply gotten to be too embarrassing to tolerate any longer, and so the new plan is to institute an aggressive affirmative action plan. We don't see any other option. So, from now on, titles by women will receive more careful consideration, and a push (or at least nudge) to the top of the piles of to-be-reviewed books surrounding us. The day-to-day target is for roughly one out of three titles to be by women, with a goal of at least a quarter of the next hundred to be by women. (Given the low levels achieved previously it seems unrealistic to shoot for anything more for a start.)
       We admit we're uneasy about this. As we've mentioned previously, we don't really know how we manage to cover so few titles written by women -- it's not like we have a separate pile in a dark, forgotten corner which we relegate them to (as we suspect Sam Tanenhaus does with any book originally written in a foreign language ...) -- and so we're not sure how (much) we can improve the situation. Our starting-position looks promising enough: the new Dubravka Ugresic is due up in a day or two, we're finally getting to Michela Wrong's Eritrea-book, and the forthcoming Magdalena Tulli and some Yoshimoto Banana titles are all near the top of our to-do list. But the last batch of 100 titles started out really well too -- six out of the first ten titles were by women -- but do the math: only seven of the next ninety were (ouch !).
       Well, we're going to give it a try -- and we're going to try and keep an eye on the situation. We'll see how things turn out.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Nobel gossip

       So the gossip -- as reported by Alex Duval Smith in Nobel split delays book prize in The Observer -- is that the candidate causing the Nobel literary award announcement delay is Snow-author Orhan Pamuk. Word (though we have no idea whose) is that the Swedish Academy is split over him.
       We have our doubts: he's very young to be considered, and the fact that he's picking up the Friedenspreises des Deutschen Buchhandels (Peace Prize of the German Book Trade) on the 23rd and has been in the news so much all year (not just for literary reasons) suggests he's gotten enough attention this year.
       Smith finds a variety of explanations and opinions, including:
'If the Pamuk row is real, the academy's reluctance is not based on a fear of being political, or controversial,' said Svante Weyler of Nordstedts publishers, 'but on concern that literature must not be overshadowed by politics.'

Others believe a split in the academy over Pamuk could be based on a long-entrenched principle of avoiding fashions and fads. Pamuk is widely acclaimed but, at the age of 53, is considered on the young side. 'The Nobel Prize must never go to the book of the season. It exists to reward a life's work,' said poet and literary critic Eva StrŲm.
       Meanwhile, others find a different sort of hope in the delay: The Korea Times reports that Hopes Grow for First Korean Nobel Literature Laureate:
Such uncertainty surrounding the Nobel Committee is raising hopes in South Korea that lesser-known writers could win. They might be new to the international audience but have solid support from locals and some foreign writers through their lifetime efforts for democracy and resistance to military rule. Major attention is focused on Ko Un, the Buddhist-turned-poet who has led reunification efforts with North Korea, and Hwang Suk-young, a novelist and leading democracy activist.
       We're hoping for another week's delay to really get the wild speculation rolling.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Atwood on Pamuk

       At a literary festival in Iceland Margaret Atwood addressed Orhan Pamuk's recent legal troubles, and The Globe and Mail now reprint her remarks, On flogging poets and catching fish (link likely only relatively short-lived).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       (Man) Booker gossip ?

       They're handing out that Man Booker prize today, but the good gossip will have to wait a while -- but maybe not too long. In The Observer David Smith reports that long-time prize administrator Martyn Goff has signed a book contract to spill the beans in The Booker secrets that can finally be told.
       It's not clear how tell-all it will be, but it might be fun:
'There will be a number of stories that have not appeared ever before, including stories about judges. Yes, there will be sexual shenanigans, but that's quite minor compared to other things.'
       (We're wondering what kind of sexual shenanigans there could be in judging a book prize -- though we suppose if it involves the authors performing sexual favours in exchange for votes that would be pretty good gossip.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Cannon and Kidder non-memoirs

       The story originally ran in The New York Post (Philip Recchia and David Hafetz report Gals break 'binding' contract at the ridiculous registration-requiring site), but UPI have picked it up -- see, for example, Actresses sued for not delivering books (here at The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review):
Hollywood actresses Dyan Cannon and Margot Kidder are being sued by their New York publishers for failing to deliver promised autobiographies.

Cannon, 68, is being sued by HarperCollins for $21,000 while Simon & Schuster's suit seeks $48,000 from Kidder, 56, the New York Post reported Sunday.
       This is among the best book news we've heard in months. We're tempted to take up a collection to pay them off, so grateful are we that we will never have to hear about these books ! Anything to keep amateurs (and professionals, come to think of it) and especially celebrities from penning memoirs !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Bookforum benefit

       New York area readers: remember that tonight is the Bookforum benefit, A Night for New Orleans.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



9 October 2005 - Sunday

WELT-Literaturpreis for Reza | Boldtype blog | Cooking with Fernet Branca review

       WELT-Literaturpreis for Reza

       Yasmina Reza, best known for her plays, has won the WELT-Literaturpreis 2005.
       Another internationally oriented, author- (rather than work-) focussed prize, with a pretty decent list of winners (Amos Oz took it last year).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Boldtype blog

       This month's issue of Boldtype, The Self-Made Issue, has gotten considerable attention, mainly because it was guest-edited by Maud 'Maud Newton' Newton and Mark 'The Elegant Variation' Sarvas.
       Usefully, the issue comes with a blog (a feature the Boldtype-folk might want to fine-tune and keep around). Not much action there yet, but at least some attempts to get some discussion going -- so for example in posing the question: Whither Book Reviews ?
       It's amusing timing, for Mark to ask:
Do we remotely need yet another review of anything by Stephen King, John Grisham or any other more or less review-proof authors ?
       Amusing because with The Colorado Kid King has just produced a title that seems, at least on some level, very review-worthy -- since it probably isn't what his readers (or those of Hard Case Crime's other titles) expect.
       Recent high-profile (if far more 'literary' (at least so the popular opinion)) titles like the new books by Coetzee and Rushdie seem to us to be a more interesting approach to the question: both have been widely reviewed, and it's here one might wonder whether or not review-space might not be put to better use. Both titles are probably worthy of more discussion (as the very different reactions to them also suggests) -- but how much of that discussion really takes place in the reviews ?
       As always, a fun (if complicated) question -- but there's comment room at the Boldtype-blog, so have your say .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Cooking with Fernet Branca review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of James Hamilton-Paterson's Cooking with Fernet Branca.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



8 October 2005 - Saturday

Moroccan impressions | Kenzaburo Oe literary award | Granta sale

       Moroccan impressions

       Last week they had a festival in Marrakesh -- AiM, 'Arts in Morocco - Arts in Marrakesh' (something like that anyway); see information at the venue-site.
       Impressively, both The Independent and the Daily Telegraph report on it (yeah, those junkets have to be justified somehow ...). In The Independent Boyd Tonkin writes about it in his weekly column, in Crossing more thresholds than most in Marrakesh.
       Considerably more interesting is Sam Leith's piece, In Morocco, a novelist's readers are often friends to whom he has given copies, who might be overdoing it with the naïveté but manages to make some good points that way:
We were all competing to be more self-righteous than the other, when a voice broke in.

It was that of a Moroccan writer called Yassin Adnan, and the expression on his face was one of astonishment. His theme: you people sound as if you've come from a different planet. What a luxury to be able to complain that you are getting publicity for your hairstyle rather than your nifty way with a caesura.
       And he gets it right with the three tiers of 'Arab' literature:
There are books by Western writers present in Arab culture, like Bowles and Burroughs; what Edward Said identified as "orientalist".

Then there are books by writers of Arab birth or descent who write in English -- people like Ahdaf Soueif, Leila Aboulela or, indeed, Edward Said. And then there are actual Arabic texts in translation. In order, these get 1) lots of attention 2) a reasonable amount of attention 3) barely any attention at all.
       The point most worth emphasising, however, is:
Above all, though, there is a problem of idiom. Books proceed from other books; the sea in which they swim is, largely, the literature of their own language. (...) To read an Arabic writer in isolation is to read him out of context.
       Damn right -- and that's why it's so vital to make more of this stuff accessible.

       (No doubt category-two writer Laila Lalami will have something to say about this at her weblog, Moorish Girl.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Kenzaburo Oe literary award

       The Japan Times reports that Kodansha creates Kenzaburo Oe literary award:
Publishing house Kodansha Ltd. has created a literary award named after Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe to promote Japanese novels worldwide.

Oe will choose the works to receive the award. They will be translated into English and possibly other languages, and will be published worldwide, the Tokyo publisher said.
       Okay, it's pretty a weird idea -- but not the worst we've heard (though admittedly we're not very objective on the subject: practically anything that will get a foreign piece of fiction translated into English can pretty much count on our ringing endorsement). Leaving it all in Oe's hands seems kind of limiting -- but his name presumably guarantees that it will be taken vaguely seriously (or at least taken note of) abroad.
       And it's sort of a relief to hear that: "The award carries no cash prize" (though that might just mean: Kodansha reaps the rewards, and the author should be grateful for this opportunity .....)
       First title due to be announced May 2007.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Granta sale

       Granta -- both magazine and book publisher -- has been sold, to Tetra-Pak gazillion-heir ("arguably one of the world's wealthiest women", this Guardian interview/profile said last year) Sigrid Rausing (of, among much else, the Sigrid Rausing Trust). See Jeffrey Goldfarb's Reuters report, Philanthropist buys literary journal Granta and Chris Tryhorn's Granta sold to Swedish philanthropist in The Guardian.
       She's been eyeing the literary world for a while now, having just recently founded Portobello Books (which will be kept separate from Granta -- so they say for now).

       P.S. We're always happy to entertain take-over offers from billionaires, too. E-mail or blank check suffices.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



7 October 2005 - Friday

Grass in Aix | TLS troubles ? | Rossica Translation Prize
Gamal al-Ghitany | Porzellan review

       Grass in Aix

       Starting today, Günter Grass wil be the centre of attention in (at least part of) Aix-en-Provence. Ecritures croisées have organised a nice three-day event in that self-styled Cité du livre -- check out the programme.
       (Semi-)promising also: they hope to have a weblog for the event -- though it remains to be seen how that will work out.
       Meanwhile, Le Monde offer a brief profile/interview with Grass.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       TLS troubles ?

       As widely noted, John Sutherland worries that the sale of the TES and THES might mean the Final chapter for the TLS ?. in The Guardian.
       Depressing reading -- though it's also a lot of pure speculation. We're curious whether there will be any TLS (or other) responses.

       (Updated - 8 October): We understand that J.C. mentions the new situation in his N.B. column in this week's issue of the TLS (which we haven't received yet); only the first of what we expect to be many comments, explanations, and news-pieces.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Rossica Translation Prize

       One of the six translation prizes handed out on Monday (see our previous mention) was the one for works from the Russian, the Rossica International Prize, funded in conjunction with the Academia Rossica (irritating framed site, but some material of interest).
       In his Salon-column in The Moscow Times this week Victor Sonkin takes the prize as a starting point to discuss the importance of (good) translation.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Gamal al-Ghitany

       In Al-Ahram Weekly David Tresilian speaks with translator Khaled Osman in Virtuoso illuminations.
       Osman translated Gamal al-Ghitany's fascinating-sounding Kitab al-tajalliyat into the French, as Le Livre des illuminations (get your copy at Amazon.fr).
       Lots of interesting titbits, including:
For al-Ghitany, the question of translation was a vexed one, since "my texts are almost impossible to translate, each presenting particular problems."
       And see also the (unsurprising) concluding observations:
Finally, this situation might be contrasted with that in the English-speaking world, a recent Internet search revealing that none of al-Ghitany's works are currently available in English translation, aside from the valiant decision by the American University in Cairo Press to keep Farouk Abdel-Wahab's translation of Al-Zayni Barakat in print, first published by Penguin in 1988. This contrasts with the dozen or so titles available in French, which also outshines the meagre handful of titles apparently available in German.

While this lack of English translations might be taken as a sad reflection on the state of British publishing, it is also a comment on the resources that French publishers can bring to bear in publishing translated works of foreign fiction, together with the French reading public's apparent taste for it: al-Ghitany's Kitab al-tajalliyat was translated with support from the French Centre national du livre, for example, a public-sector body.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Porzellan review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Durs Grünbein's new collection of poems, Porzellan.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



6 October 2005 - Thursday

Greer on Sappho | French literary prize shortlists
A Dictionary of Maqiao in paperback | Poverty lit ?

       Greer on Sappho

       Last week we mentioned that on Monday Germaine Greer was to deliver the 2005 NESTA Sebald Lecture, On Not Knowing (Aeolian) Greek: the metamorphoses of Sappho (in conjunction with the handing out of various translation prizes).
       Finally, there's a brief account of what took place, as TLS-editor Peter Stothard describes Not Sapphic for Germaine on his weblog. It wasn't quite what he expected:
Professor Greer soon makes clear her dim view of male professors in ancient universities who think they know who Sappho was, what she might have written and why she might have written it.

As for the TLS poem, attributed to the 'middle aged Sappho', it is an implausible mixture of different fragments, assembled according to no logic that she can see, and wholly unworthy in any case. TLS readers have already been able to read two contemporary poet translators who seemed to disagree
       (See also the 24 June Martin West TLS-article that announced A new Sappho poem.)
       Unfortunately, there's not much detail -- but at least he holds out promise:
An article based on Professor Greer's speech will appear, I hope, in a future edition of the TLS and we can take on the argument from there.
       We look forward to it !

       Meanwhile, note also that Anne Carson writes about this same Sappho-poem in the current issue (20 October) of The New York Review of Books (article not freely accessible online).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       French literary prize shortlists

       Several of the big French literary prizes have now announced their deuxième sélections, and the big news is that the new Houellebecq didn't make the Renaudot shortlist -- though it did make the more prestigious Goncourt shortlist. Still: a slap in the face, given that works by Nina Bouraoui and Yasmina Khadra made both.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       A Dictionary of Maqiao in paperback

       Han Shaogong's A Dictionary of Maqiao came out in hardcover from Columbia University Press. Impressively, it's the rare book that's made the jump to a commercial house for its paperback release: Random House imprint Dial Press has just brought it out (get your copy at Amazon.com)
       We're pleased -- it'll probably gain a wider readership this way, and it deserves it -- but, of course, what we'd really like is for some of Han Shaogong's other works to become available in English translation (as they are in, for example, French).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Poverty lit ?

       Moorish Girl Laila Lalami considers Fiction in the Age of Poverty (at Powells.com), finding that: "Poverty has receded from the list of popular themes of the American novel":
It would not be an exaggeration to say that, in the last decade, American fiction has been fixated on the middle and upper classes.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



5 October 2005 - Wednesday

Nobel delay | The Third Policeman on Lost | More on The Aesthetics of Resistance
Michael Hofmann interview | Yoruba Proverbs review

       Nobel delay

       Just a week ago we were wondering: Where's the Nobel buzz ?, because there was so little. The Swedish Academy clearly recognised that they had a PR problem, and so they've done the obvious to build excitement (or at least get people to write and talk about the prize): delayed the announcement of a winner. As Matt Moore reports for the AP, Nobel literature prize date in limbo:
With the other Nobel Prize announcements already in full swing, many expected the Swedish Academy to confirm the date on Tuesday. Instead, it kept silent, suggesting the coveted award will be announced Oct. 13.

By tradition, the 18-member group that makes up the 219-year-old institution, announces on a Tuesday that it will name the winner the following Thursday at 7 a.m. EDT.
       Now everybody can speculate about indecision and infighting, and the fact that they (supposedly) are vigorously debating the choices ..... Maybe an Academy member will conveniently appear with a black eye or an arm in a sling to make it look like they're really going at it .....
       We have no doubt that the decision has long been made, but we do admire these theatrics -- the one advantage the Nobel has over most of the other big literary prizes is that there is no fixed date to announce the winner, so they can draw it out as long as they deem is necessary. (Since they didn't get the proper pre-prize respect -- more than a week's worth of speculation is the least they can insist on -- they toy with the press and public now.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       The Third Policeman on Lost

       As widely reported, Flann OíBrien's The Third Policeman (see the Dalkey Archive Press publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) will be making a guest-appearance on the American prime-time soap opera, Lost, in an episode to be aired (in the US) tonight.
       At the Words without Borders blog(s) Dalkey-man Chad Post reports on what it's meant for the publisher:
Since this information was reported in a Chicago Tribune article a week ago, weíve sold about five years worth of copies of The Third Policeman (one of our annual best-selling titles), and it even cracked the Top 100 on Amazon.com. I always knew TV was a powerful sales tool, but not like this.
       We're thrilled for Dalkey, but worry about small presses now spending all their time looking for product-placement on top-ten TV shows .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       More on The Aesthetics of Resistance

       We mentioned Peter Weiss' The Aesthetics of Resistance yesterday, and learn now that Richard Byrne wrote about it in the Chronicle of Higher Education (issue of 29 July 2005; article not freely accessible online).
       A few good titbits, including from the translator:
In discussing his approach to the Weiss novel, Mr. Neugroschel notes that the author lived in Sweden during and after World War II and wrote some of his earliest literary works in Swedish. He surmises that the purity and clarity of Weiss's prose came from reacquainting himself with German and thus resulted in a style that the translator describes as "ozone German."
       Somewhat troubling, the Duke University Press executive director's warnings:
Whether the second and third volumes appear, says Mr. Smith, "will depend in some degree on whether or not people buy Volume One."

Mr. Neugroschel is even more pessimistic. Translating more popular authors such as Kafka pays the bills. "It would interest me to do the second and third volumes," he says. "But I can only do so many labors of love."
       We're keeping our fingers crossed that it is a grand (or at least sufficient) success: the English-speaking world deserves volumes two and three as well.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Michael Hofmann interview

       ReadySteadyBook has an interview with poet and translator-from-the-German Michael Hofmann. No discussion of his recent Durs Grünbein translations, Ashes for Breakfast, but quite a lot of ground is covered.
       Some interesting exchanges:
MT: We are big fans of Thomas Bernhard here at RSB and, so, we were wondering: is his poetry any use !? Do you fancy translating it ?
MH: Iíve read very little of Bernhardís poetry, just the occasional piece in anthologies. But then I donít think anyone much has. I like his evolution. Six books of poems and then something like "Sod this !" and a novel, and then many more novels and plays. Iíve only seen two of the plays, Elizabeth II and Heldenplatz, and I thought they were both wonderful. Iíd love to translate plays of his. You might be interested to learn that Iíve recently handed in a translation of Frost, that first novel.
       Cool that he tackled Frost, but we don't agree with his dismissal of Bernhard's poetry -- some of it is very good, much worthwhile. (See, for example, also our local saloon-keeper's piece on Fragments Shoring Ruin.)
       Interesting also Hofmann's opinion:
Iím rather mixed on Handke. The longer books seem not only to have, but to be longueurs. A book of journal entries that I reviewed once upon a time, The Weight of the World, My Year in No Oneís Bay or whatever it was called. I think he is very different in German, and also very differently perceived: turgid, fussy, paranoidÖ
       Those are two very different books (The Weight of the World is the journal-entry one, My Year in No Oneís Bay an admittedly longueurish (and very long) novel). Fussy, yes, but Handke otherwise isn't that easy to pin down (as Hofmann's other comments -- he does like some of the works -- also suggests).
       Amusing also to learn:
MT: Do you read any literary websites !? What are your favourites ?
MH: I have to disappoint you there. The vehemence and opinionatedness and lack of accountability of the online world worry me. I donít know who is telling me something (and usually at the top of their voices). Iím sure youíre not like that, I must look you up. Iím very new to all this.
       The lack of interest isn't a problem -- we'd rather he caught up on Bernhard's poetry (or translated a long overdue Volker Braun-selection !) -- but the "lack of accountability" does amuse us -- since the print world is, of course, so very accountable .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Yoruba Proverbs review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Oyekan Owomoyela's incredible collection of (5235 !) Yoruba Proverbs.
       For an idea of what's on offer, see the generous selection (about half the book) available online, the section on The Good Person (it takes a few clicks to get at any actual proverbs, but it's worth the trouble).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



4 October 2005 - Tuesday

Orange 'best of best' | Quills: populist but not popular ? | The Aesthetics of Resistance
Rushdie interviews | GalleyCats | Banville on Slow Man | The Twelve Chairs review

       Orange 'best of best'

       The Orange Prize for Fiction announced their Best of the Best yesterday (Small Island by Andrea Levy) as "the ten chairs of judges from the ten years of the Orange Prize for Fiction" chose the best of the ten winners to date. (See also John Ezard's preview of the event in The Guardian, as well as reports at The Independent (Andrea Levy's 'Small Island' judged best book to win the Orange Prize) and the BBC (Author Levy wins best of the best).)
       This isn't a new idea -- though when the (Man) Booker picked a 'Booker of Bookers' (Rushdie's Midnight's Children) they waited until the twenty-fifth anniversary (but could only rope in three former chairmen of judges to make the decision). A more interesting exercise, of course, would be to choose the best overlooked book (i.e one that didn't win -- and maybe wasn't even shortlisted --, but, in hindsight, should have). The Guardian gives it a good try with their limited 'Booker that shoulda'-contest -- though that's limited to shortlisted titles from the past ten years.
       The reason for limiting it to previous winners -- both by the Orange and Man Booker folk -- is obvious: it helps reaffirm the validity of the original choices (as winners), closing the field to any superior wannabes that were (embarrassingly) overlooked, reinforcing the idea that the prizes got it right the first time. It's a ridiculous idea that this might really be the 'best of the best', but everyone repeats that description, so it actually might stick ..... (Admittedly, it's also easier logistically, but that's just a laziness-issue.)

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       Quills: populist but not popular ?

       Talk about ungrateful: here the industry creates this glamorous (and televised !) pseudo-populist literary award -- the Quills ! -- and even lets the rabble -- i.e. readers -- pretend to be involved by voting for the winners (after, of course setting the shortlists-- can't leave that in the hands of readers !), and it turns out no one gives a shit.
       Even though we and many other literary weblogs have mentioned this award repeatedly, reader interest -- and participation (by actually voting) -- have apparently not been impressive, as reported by Hillel Italie in Populist Book Awards Lacking Reader Input (AP report, here at ABC.com):
But if reader votes were book sales, the Quills would hardly rank as a blockbuster. According to comScore Networks Inc., which tracks the Internet, the Quills site has attracted so little Web traffic, fewer than the threshold of 25,000 "unique" visits per week, that it can't even offer an exact number; the Web site for the National Book Foundation, which sponsors the old guard National Book Awards, has attracted comparable traffic in recent weeks, comScore said.
       (For god's sake, even we get considerably more than 25,000 unique visitors a week ....)
       That this ill-conceived award (19 categories ! only bestsellers or starred-PW-reviewed titles (or books chosen by similarly ultra-selective and un-populist methods) qualify ! it'll be on TV (tape-delayed, but still ...) so how can you resist !) should be embraced by -- or even of the slightest interest to -- readers strikes us as hoping for way too much. Its quick demise will be (almost) nobody's loss (except the PR firm that dreamed up this thing & campaign).

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       The Aesthetics of Resistance

       We feel bad for not devoting more time and space to one of the most important books published this year, Peter Weiss' The Aesthetics of Resistance. Fortunately, it hasn't gone completely unnoticed -- as ReadySteady Blog points out, Noah Isenberg has now reviewed it for The Nation. Not quite as informative or informed as Mark Anderson's review in the October/November Bookforum (not freely accessible online), but -- given the lack of information and commentary elsewhere -- worth a look. Disappointing, however, his conclusion:
Perhaps this explains why in recent years, on both sides of the Atlantic, Peter Weiss has, after a brief boom around the fall of the Berlin wall, drifted further into oblivion. The recent New History of German Literature, published by Harvard last year, did not even see fit to include an entry on The Aesthetics of Resistance. In spite of the admirable effort to publish the first volume -- both translator and publisher are to be commended for taking on this formidable challenge -- one doubts whether the novel will ever find much of an audience in the twenty-first century. As Klaus Scherpe noted in the early 1980s, soon after the novel's third and final volume appeared, "It is to be feared that Peter Weiss' Aesthetics remains just as unread as the most discussed books of this century: Joyce's Ulysses, Proust's Remembrance, and Musil's Man Without Qualities."
       We'd argue: Weiss enjoys considerable popularity in the German-speaking countries (and Suhrkamp have re-issued The Aesthetics of Resistance yet again this year), while his big problem in the English-speaking countries is that almost none of his work is readily available (Marat/Sade being the major exception -- but try to find one of his novels ...).
       As to going unread -- well, if The Aesthetics of Resistance can go as 'unread' as Ulysses and Proust we'd be pretty damn thrilled.
       We understand that this is a tough sell at this point in time and place (the English-speaking world is currently not particularly receptive to the revolutionary (in all its senses), and it's a distinctly un-American (and un-British) work in both its politics and aesthetics), but we're optimists: there will be a point in the twenty-first century when its significance will again be obvious, even in the English-speaking world.

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       Rushdie interviews

       Laila Lalami's profile/interview with Salman Rushide is now available (at least for the time being) at The Oregonian. Usefully, she also provides more on Salman Rushdie in Profile at her weblog, MoorishGirl.
       Meanwhile, John Freeman's interview with Rushdie is (also presumably only for the time being) available at Nerve (link first seen at Bookslut).

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       GalleyCats

       At Beatrice Ron Hogan announces that he and Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind-Sarah Weinman are now the official GalleyCats. (They've been guest-hosting -- very capably -- for a few weeks now, and now the gig is apparently permanent.)

       Much as we enjoy GalleyCat, we'd have preferred it if Hogan's Beatrix had taken off. It's now been abandoned -- but we hope someone picks up the torch: there's definitely a need (or at least room) for a weblog review of book reviewing.

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       Banville on Slow Man

       In the current (10 October) issue of The New Republic John Banville reviews J.M.Coetzee's Slow Man (review not (yet ?) available online).
       He thinks Coetzee gets away with having Elizabeth Costello pop up -- but hopes he'll now retire "the ubiquitous, omniscient, and tedious Elizabeth Costello".

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       The Twelve Chairs review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ilf and Petrov's Soviet comic classic The Twelve Chairs.

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3 October 2005 - Monday

Nobel odds ? | Keeping books out of Nepal | October Words without Borders

       Nobel odds ?

       Without a (short or long) list of contenders it seems pretty ridiculous to bet on who might win the Nobel Prize for literature (due this or next or some Thursday soon), but Ladbrokes offers the opportunity for those foolish enough to want to try. (We couldn't find any other betting shop that was taking bets -- unlike the Man Booker (with its limited (six-title) list of contenders).) Ladbrokes only offer odds on 14 authors, which means many worthy authors aren't included (and recall how out of the blue the choice of Jelinek was last year).
       See also Johnny O'Shea's Betting Odds Preview at readaBet.com -- and note how the odds have shifted between when he wrote it and now. Last we checked Ko Un had jumped to 6/1, while he has him as "the outsider at 25/1" -- and favourite Adonis has slipped from 6/4 to 2/1 (which is still way too much -- unless someone has insider information there's no way he stands a 50 per cent chance of winning).

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       Keeping books out of Nepal

       The stalemate continues: as Shiva Rijal reports in Books, fertiliser and democracy in The Kathmandu Post:
The Book Seller's Association of Nepal has refused to free books from the customs office. For three months books published in foreign press have not come to the bookshops in town. The Association wants the government to withdraw its new policy of charging six and a half percent tax including the local tax on each book imported from abroad from this fiscal year onward. The Association is putting every effort to make the Finance Ministry change its policy.
       The way Rijal sees it:
the Finance Minister's hypocritical and unethical behaviour has reminded us of the past times when the Rana rulers treated books as their enemies. They did not allow citizens to read and write books freely. Writers and men of ideas and expressions were put behind bars. The methodology of dealing with books has changed this time but the objective has remained the same -- that is, do not let the ordinary folks get hold of books that contain important ideas.
       (For more background on the tax issue, see Deepesh Das Shrestha's editorial, Penny wise, pound foolish.)

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       October Words without Borders

       The October issue of Words without Borders is now available online, nicely pushing the envelope by focussing on: "works from the indigenous languages of the Americas".

       (Among the extras on offer this month: an early Romanian poem by Paul Celan, Last Night (see also our review of Green Integer's collection of Celan's Romanian Poems).)

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2 October 2005 - Sunday

Ekwensi interview | The New Criterion on the NYTBR
Sandor Marai Blog | Branded Woman review

       Ekwensi interview

       Nigerian author Cyprian Ekwensi recently celebrated his 84th birthday, and in Vanguard Ovo Adagha offers "excerpts from my discussion with him on his birthday" in Ekwensi's monologue.
       Among Ekwensi's comments, see for example his thoughts on contemporary Nigerian literature:
The main problem is that books are not given their proper place in the society. The reading habit of the average Nigerian is nothing to write home about. We are blessed with talented writers in this country, but their works are rarely read. (...) These days, I hear of some young Nigerian authors who have won awards in foreign lands yet these same people are not appreciated in their country. You cannot find their books in any book store. The situation is very bad indeed.

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       The New Criterion on the NYTBR

       We're more bothered by other aspects of The New York Times Book Review, but we can't resist quoting from The New Criterion, who bash the cultural coverage at the Times generally and the NYTBR (and new editor, Sam Tanenhaus) specifically in this month's Notes & Comments:
An entire dissertation might be written about what has happened to The New York Times Book Review. In many respects, it is Exhibit "A" in the metaphysical sweepstakes under discussion. It was already as bad as it could get when a new editor came along and (...) somehow made it worse.

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       Sandor Marai Blog

       Here's something (relatively) new: a Sandor Marai Blog, devoted to "the literary works of the great 20th century novelist".
       Blogging an author might not seem the most obvious approach to presenting an author (especially one who is already dead) and his work, but given that the work is only coming out piece by piece very slowly in the US (most recently: Casanova in Bolzano) it might work.

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       Branded Woman review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Wade Miller's Branded Woman, a 1952 pulp novel long out print, now resurrected by Hard Case Crime.

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1 October 2005 - Saturday

Literary acoustics ? | A slush story | More on Stothard weblog
Stoppard in Belarus | Alan Bennett profile | Literay festival mania

       Literary acoustics ?

       In the Financial Times John Sutherland looks at The sound of somewhere else, arguing: "The acoustics of fiction matter" (link likely only short-lived). A decent (and slightly different) look at many of the currently most-discussed books.

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       A slush story

       We mentioned Susan Hill's Long Barn Books publishing venture a few months back: she held an open call for fiction manuscripts, hoping to expand her line to include fiction. The results were mixed -- a worthy title was found (The Extra Large Medium or Unfinished Business by Helen Slavin) but it was an arduous exercise getting there, as she now reports in The Guardian in The ultimate needle in a haystack:
I knew there were a lot of aspiring novelists out there but could never have anticipated the tidal wave of prose that would engulf me. Most of the hopefuls ought to be doing anything but try to write. Most seemed to have written the same (bad) novel.
       The ratio is impressive, but doesn't sound that bad: "Out of the 3,741 submissions, I asked to read just seven in full." (Hey, some days that's the way we feel about the published fiction we come across ....)

       (There's no separate Long Barn Books site at this time, but see also the relevant page at her official website.)

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       More on Stothard weblog

       A few days ago we mentioned that Times Literary Supplement editor Peter Stothard has started up his own weblog; The Times now introduces it, promising:
Sir Peter will be writing about books, book people, Blair and Bush -- plus general observations on the way we are now.
       Irritatingly, they give the URL as http://www.timesonline.co.uk/peterstothard, which just led us to a page that eventually forwarded us to http://www.timesonline.co.uk/section/0,,24189,00.html. Far more convenient -- and without the newspaper-clutter -- is the URL Biuzzwords originally pointed us to: http://timescolumns.typepad.com/stothard/. That's the one to bookmark, we figure.

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       Stoppard in Belarus

       Tom Stoppard writes about visiting Belarus in The Guardian in Accidental tyranny.

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       Alan Bennett profile

       In The Guardian there's also a solid Alan Bennett profile by Nicholas Wroe, Sketchy beginnings.
       It begins:
Alan Bennett might have been a leading British literary figure for the last 45 years, but he still doesn't think of himself as well read. "Even at university there seemed no time to read," he says. "Or at least no time to read a book all the way through."
       It's Posh Spice all over again ! (See our previous mention.)

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       Literay festival mania

       In The Times Geordie Greig offers: "An insiderís guide to a literary phenomenon", And now, live on stage, the superstar author:
Britain has gone crazy over writers and readings at literary festivals. There are now 207 UK festivals, from 20-seater village affairs to big-tent international events.

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