The current (5 December) issue of The Nation is the 'Fall Books' issue, and looks like it's worth picking up.
Only a few pieces freely accessible online at this time -- such as John Banville's review of Elias Canetti's Party in the Blitz (see also our review) -- and lots of promising sounding stuff that isn't, including: Michael Wood on Gabriel García Márquez's newest (see also our review), Lee Siegel on Jerome Charyn's Savage Shorthand (which we hope to cover soon), and Lila Azam Zanganeh on fifty years of Lolita.
The December/January issue of Bookforum isn't available online yet, but we got our copy in the mail, and it once again looks very promising.
Here it's Marjorie Perloff tackling the Canetti, James Gibbons at considerable length on Georges Perec, an essay ("a consideration of the sentence") by William H. Gass, Joy Connolly on the new bilingual Catullus (which we also plan to cover sooner or later), and Eric Banks' interview with NYU press director Steve Maikowski about the sensational Clay Sanskrit Library (the first volumes of which we are working our way through and will be covering extensively -- though it's taking us much longer than hoped for).
Some of this stuff should be available online soon -- though they usually only offer a few pieces from each issue.
(But you can get the whole print copy for a mere $3.95 .....)
Carl Shuker -- whose debut, The Method Actors, came out a few months back -- does a lot of book reviewing, and today he reviews Haitani Kenjiro's A Rabbit's Eyes (see also our review) in The Japan Times -- where he has to try and explain why a book in which "most of the writing is terrible" still has its charms (and sold millions in Japan).
It's been out for a couple of months and doesn't seem to have attracted much attention, review or otherwise, in the US yet.
English PEN launched The OFFENCE Campaign: Free Expression Is No OFFENCE at the beginning of the year, "to stop the British Government introducing legislation that could make it illegal to express provocative views on people’s religion".
They've now come out with a book, edited by Lisa Appignanesi, Free Expression is No Offence; see the Penguin publicity page and get your own copy from Amazon.co.uk (no US edition appears to be planned) -- as well as the PEN page on book events promoting it.
Today The Guardian offers extracts from the book, from the contributions of Philip Pullman, Monica Ali, Philip Hensher, and Salman Rushdie.
Check it out -- and the whole book seems worth checking out, too.
The Literary Review of Canada has come up with a list of what they consider the 100 most important Canadian books ever written (story first seen at Bookslut).
Too much non-fiction for our tastes -- and the chronological listing reveals some interesting gaps.
No worthy title whatsoever between 1863 (Geological Survey of Canada (!)) and 1891 (Goldwin Smith 's Canada and the Canadian Question) ?
And nothing between 1914 and 1927 (which were pretty decent literary years practically everywhere else in the world) ?
No doubt the list will be much-discussed in the Canadian press (and widely ignored everywhere else).
We've mentioned this year's NLNG Nigerian Prize for Literature.
Now Dagga Tolar takes it on in Vanguard, in Liquefying or liquidating literature in Nigeria ? -- see parts one and two.
Tolar does not think it's working out well:
the NLNG award instead of helping to mitigate the problems that have made literature like every other thing in Nigeria, an endangered species, has only ended up joining the league with the very undertakers of literature to do the discipline more damages.
the NLNG goal of liquefying literature with a new lease of life has transmuted into liquidating literature, thereby undertaking to aid and abet the grave diggers of literature
We're not entirely convinced, but it's an argument worth making.
And at least someone is taking these things seriously.
Flush with oil cash, or just over-compensating for more than a decade of neglect (during which the biggest Russian literary prize had the borrowed-from-the-British 'Booker' label attached to it), the Russians have established a multi-million-ruble award, the Большая книга -- 'Big Book' -- national literary prize.
Three million for the winner (that's over $100,000 -- making for yet another foreign language prize that makes the Man Booker look almost puny -- much less any American single-book prize), 1.5 for the runner-up, and still a tidy million for the third placed book.
Suddenly Russian authors have a phenomenal get-rich-quick opportunity.
Victor Sonkin reports on The Mother of All Prizes in The Moscow Times.
Among the interesting aspects of this prize:
The jury of the prize is to consist of 100 professional "readers" -- people from all culture-related walks of life -- each of whom will give the shortlisted "fiction or non-fiction prose works" a score from one to 10.
If conducted properly, such a procedure might reduce the subjectivism and secrecy that have seriously undermined the reputation of Russia's major literary prizes during the last few years.
Not that much information we could find in the Russian press yet, but see also this brief report at Russian News.
In his Salon-column in The Moscow Times this week Victor Sonkin writes about Viktor (Victor) Pelevin's contribution to the multi-national 'The Myths'-series organised by Canongate, The Helmet Of Horror -- described on their publicity page as a: "cyber-age retelling of the Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur"
Sonkin has his concerns about Pelevin's popularity and success abroad:
For two reasons, it is disturbing to think that Western readers may regard Pelevin as Russia's most representative writer.
First, Pelevin does not readily distinguish between things as they are and his arcane elaborations.
A naive reader may confuse his phantasmagoric ravings for true descriptions of Russian reality; this reader will never talk to any Russian again without a burning desire to run for his life.
Second, Pelevin might actually be Russia's most representative writer.
But something was lost when the English department relinquished its status as the all-purpose intellectual nerve center on the American college campus.
In its weakness lay its great strength: For not knowing exactly what an English professor does, the English department, though vulnerable to charlatanism and dupery, was also the last great repository for the nonutilitarian hopes of the university.
Götz and Meyer will (finally) be out in the US at the beginning of December; it is perhaps the title that has gotten the best reviews of any book we've ever covered.
It'll be interesting to see how the Americans take to it; with its Nazi subject matter it at least seems likely to attract review attention (though we figure the odds are no better than 50-50 that Sam Tanenhaus will bother with it in The New York Times Book Review).
Albahari -- who has lived in Canada for over a decade -- isn't unknown to English-reading audiences (despite what some British critics thought): quite a few of his works are available.
Given how well translated he is -- we count at least four other works available in English -- it's a bit surprising that it took so long for Götz and Meyer (first published in 1998) to make it into English -- but unlike the earlier titles, published by Northwestern University Press and Canadian publishers, Harcourt picked this one up.
There wasn't nearly as prominent coverage for Bait, which came out in English in 2001, and what there was in the US -- in the Review of Contemporary Fiction and The Village Voice, for example -- seemed unsure about it.
But, while it doesn't have the horrible hook that Götz and Meyer does, it is stylistically similar (both are presented as one long, unbroken paragraph, and move back and forth in time) and seems to us the equal of that book -- indeed, in its resolution, it is arguably more satisfactory (though that is, admittedly arguable: lots of people like the Götz and Meyer-type conclusion, we tend not to).
So is it the Nazi subject matter that makes Götz and Meyer so much more ... can one say: appealing -- and what it takes for him to make his breakthrough ?
If so, it's a shame; Albahari is a real talent, regardless of subject matter.
But on the other hand, if it finally draws attention to him, maybe it's okay.
We just hope readers don't stop at that one book.
(We're going to try and get our hands on his other titles as well -- though we don't have high hopes of eliciting any from NWU Press .....)
We're not the only ones easily confused by book-titles that get changed when they cross the Atlantic.
That it can come at at least some cost to publisher and author too is now demonstrated by the case of one of this year's Whitbread-nominated novels.
Christopher Wilson's novel was published in the UK as The Ballad of Lee Cotton (see also our review), and it's under that title that it is one of the books nominated in the Novel category.
Copying the British information The New York Times and the other American publications that mentioned that it was shortlisted also listed it as: The Ballad of Lee Cotton.
The problem is: in the US it was published (very recently, by Harcourt) simply as Cotton.
A minor issue, one might think -- surely even your average bookstore employee would be able to find the US edition if any customer cared to ask for this title.
Or maybe not: not only did none of the US publications note there was a US edition with a different title, but neither did any of the literary weblogs (which are usually more aware of these issues) which mentioned it (at least not that we saw).
Indeed, one of the most popular of them all considerately linked to the (US) Amazon.com pages for the various nominated titles -- and in the case of Wilson's book, linked to the British edition (also listed at Amazon.com) rather than the US edition.
[(Updated): And now we see that the Powell's Books (well-staffed by knowledgeable bookish people !) blog brings news of the Whitbread and writes that the nominated title is: "The Ballad of Lee Cotton by Christopher Wilson (not published in the U.S.)."]
Harcourt must be thrilled.
The situation is all the more striking because the book just came out in the US a few weeks back and seems to have gone practically entirely unnoticed (though Entertainment Weekly did review it ...).
Which is a shame, because it's pretty good.
Anyway: maybe this will be a lesson to publishers not to change titles (though Wilson could have helped his cause by not changing from Chris to Christopher for this book (though he did that for both editions) -- maybe someone would have remembered him from his previous books ...).
"We see the APEC meeting as an occasion to publicize Korean literature.
Maybe not the APEC leaders, but officials and journalists may pick a copy of them, and we expect that could have an impact in their countries," said Kwon Se-hoon of the Korea Literature Translation Institute, which organized the event.
Yeah, somehow we can't see the jr. Bush dropping by either -- though he could do worse than pick up the latest Ko Un translation.
Yeah, it's pretty hard to get too excited about the National Book Council Literary Prizes in Malta -- but they are worth a mention for one commendable reason: as reported at di-ve.com:
For this year, this Council has opted for a different way of doing things.
For the first time, a complete list of the competing books is available.
The council intends to make available the judges' reports after the prize giving ceremony.
The reports will not be available to the press, but to all those authors and book publishers who might be interested in seeing what the judges said about their own books.
Almost all literary prizes are terribly secretive about what books are actually under consideration (with many, as we have often complained, placing absurd limits on the number of titles any one publisher can submit, for example) and only open up the process at the shortlist stage.
The Maltans admittedly have it easier -- 77 books spread out across this many categories makes for little more than what would be shortlists elsewhere (except the packed academic-category).
For all the titles being considered, see: 77 books for National Book Council Literary Prize by Alexia Conti at MaltaMedia
And the idea of letting authors and publishers know what the judges thought about their books is also pretty cool.
But why not let the public in on that as well ?
The two-stage Whitbread Book Awards -- first they vote on the best book in each of various categories, then they pit those winners against each other -- has announced the first round shortlists; see the newspaper reports for the nominees (the official site didn't have them yet when we last checked):
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind reports on the (British) Crime Writers' Association decision to restrict their Dagger Awards to books originally written in English (the top award having gone to a foreign-language author with apparently irritating frequency the past couple of years).
The Bookseller article she quotes (it's not freely accessible at their site) says they claim this is "in line with demands by a new sponsor to be announced later this year".
Philip Gooden, a spokesman for the association, said it was bringing the award in line with the Man Booker and Orange prizes, which only accept submissions by English-language authors for their main awards.
"As the British Crime Writers Association, we also have a duty to promote British writing," he added.
(Never mind that the English-language requirement does not restrict the award to British writers (there are some Americans who write in English too -- and Australians, Indians, etc. etc.), which won't do much to 'promote British writing' -- or that the Booker and the Orange also have other much-criticised exclusionary criteria (the Man Booker won't touch Americans, the Orange wants nothing to do with books penned by men).)
No doubt Sam Tanenhaus approves -- out of sight, out of mind, maybe if we ignore them enough all these annoying foreigners will just shut up and learn to write in English .....
The subject has actually been on our minds the past week, because of the recent spate of French literary awards.
Orhan Pamuk got a fair amount of attention, for example, for winning the best foreign novel Médici -- Pamuk picks up French prize Michelle Pauli reported yesterday in The Guardian (though we told you a week earlier).
(Most of the coverage in the English-language press (and the weblogs) focussed on Pamuk winning "the" Médici, though what he won was "a" Médici (and the one the French really care about is the one for best French novel, which Jean-Philippe Toussaint took for Fuir).)
But at least the Médici -- and the Femina -- have foreign language categories.
Most English-language prizes -- including the Man Booker, Orange, Whitbread, John Llewellyn Rhys, and Pulitzer -- don't.
There's something to be said for national book awards -- though interestingly the American National Book Award used to allow, way back when, some foreign competition (Thomas Mann was a novel-finalist in 1952) and at least had a best translation category (most years) between 1967 and 1983.
Still, we think the open competitions are obviously the best way to go.
Admirably, the National Book Critics Circle Awards are open to anything ("including translations" !), while the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award also casts its net wide.
(Somewhat embarrassingly, the ridiculous Quill Awards apparently also do not discriminate -- although we're still pretty sure they were a one-time deal, and will not resurface next year.)
At Slate they offer My First Literary Crush: they "asked journalists, cable-news personalities, novelists, Hollywood types, and other great thinkers a question: What's the most influential book you read in college ? "
A pretty dubious assemblage of 'great thinkers', but an entertaining enough exercise.
In The Princeton Packet Jake Uitti reports on Books as art, about an exhibit of 'Books as Objects of Art' at the Montgomery Center for the Arts.
No photo spread at the official site, as far as we can tell; too bad.
Another report, of sorts, from the Beyond Borders event in Uganda last month: in The East African David Kaiza talks with Caine Prize-winning author Helon Habila in Writing sets you free (story first seen at allAfrica.com).
Lots of debatable points, but of some interest -- as is also:
Was it easy for you to get published ?
The publishing situation in Africa is appalling. Publishing firms are few and far between and the readership is not really as it should be.
I had to publish the book myself.
Apparently it gains nothing in translation -- even into Malayalam: in The Hindu K. Kunhikrishnan reviews this particular translation of Paulo Coelho's The Zahir, and finds:
The narrative is an example of contrived literary writing, lacking the blend of fiction.
The direct narrative lacks literary silences.
Readability of the unconvincing narrative is worsened by poor translation.
A story that should haunt has become lacklustre because of the narrative style.
We haven't gotten our hands on a copy of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman on the March yet (which, finally, just came out in the US), but he's been getting excellent coverage: former NYTBR-editor Charles McGrath offered a big profile in Friday's issue of The New York Times, and in this week's issue of The New Yorker John Updike tackles him.
(At this time we only have two in the series under review: the original Flashman, and Flashman and the Tiger.)
'Reading the World', which featured translated titles from a few publishers prominently displayed at participating US booksellers this spring was a wonderful idea to get more attention for translated literature -- and it's great to hear that five additional publishers (Ecco, Harcourt Brace, New York Review Books, Other Press, and Picador) are going to be joining in for RTW 2006.
Chad Post (from Dalkey Archive Press) reports on this and more in his latest post at the Words without Borders-weblog(s).
(Words without Borders will also be hosting the "new and improved website" for the programme.)
(Post also reports on an "unofficial survey" he took of NY bookstore displays, to see how much space was devoted to translated literature (not so little, it turns out).)
In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung Volker Weidermann reports on Die Geschichten des Erfolgs: apparently foreign rights for German titles are selling well again.
Even in the US -- where Nazi-related literature is still the biggest and most obvious German draw -- there are some success stories.
Among the oddest recent successes is Leonie Swann's Glennkill (see the Random House.de publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.de), a sheep-thriller (yes, sheep -- who investigate the murder of their shepherd ...).
A substantial pre-emptive offer (from Jane Lawson at Transworld) won world English rights, and it's due out next summer in English, as Three Bags Full (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk).
Weidermann also reports that Riky Stock, who runs the New York-German Book Office, recently figured out that of the "belletristischer Bücher" (basically all fiction) published in the US in 2004 a mere 0.2 per cent were translated from the German.
An InFocus article, U.S. Market looks promising for German authors, offers more information, including that:
German ranks third, after Spanish and French, among the most translated languages in the United States.
Each year, Germany publishes about 50,000 books -- but a meager 150 to 200 of these make it to the United States in English translation.
And we learn:
The hard-to-crack U.S. market for German books in translation is looking brighter for German authors thanks to a string of recent successes and the work of the New York-based German Book Office, the U.S. satellite office of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
(Both articles do note that especially American publishers no longer have any editorial staff who are able to read and assess books, so agents, scouts, and the GBO are now vital to help them out.
(The articles politely say that publishers merely lack editorial staff that are able to read German, of course .....))
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Guillermo Martínez's The Oxford Murders.
First published as Crímenes imperceptibles, it's also been published as Los crímenes de Oxford -- Oxford apparently being considered more intriguing than the imperceptible crimes of the original title.
Interesting also to note the different foci of the titles in other languages, from the exceptionally boring English one to Mathématique du crime (France) and Die Pythagoras-Morde (German).
(We can just imagine the look of terror on the American editor's face when these titles came up for discussion -- 'mathematics' and 'Pythagoras' both surely being high up on the words-to-be-avoided-at-all-costs list for any book with any popular aspirations.)
The revised edition of the essential Oulipo Compendium is now available -- at least in the UK (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk; only the old edition is listed at Amazon.com); see also the Atlas Press publicity page.
The first review we've seen of it is Ian Pindar's in The Guardian.
This revised edition also brings us up to date on the bright young things -- Valérie Beaudouin, Frédéric Forte, Anne F Garréta and Olivier Salon -- recently elected to this surprisingly long-lived movement.
Whether they can breathe new life into it remains to be seen, but this unique anthology is a must for anyone interested in the outer reaches of experimental literature.
In Tiny things, tiny minds in The Observer Peter Conrad complains about the trend towards smallness (of text (in all forms), minds, etc.).
He couldn't bring himself to join the trend:
Oxford University Press has added another adjective to the pitch by publishing a set of Very Short Books that purée such grainy topics as cosmology, medical ethics and socialism.
I was asked to contribute one myself, and demurred because I didn't think the idea proposed could be adequately treated in 30 thousand words.
'Not a problem,' said the editor. 'Write as much as you like and I'll cut it down to 30 thousand.'
The negotiation foundered a few seconds later.
In Books Bound in Human Skin; Lampshade Myth ? in The Record ('The Independent Newspaper at Harvard Law School') Dan Alban tackles the surprisingly popular subject of anthropodermic bibliopegy.
And, in a fairly thorough article, he disturbingly notes:
While such specimens are unusual, they are not as rare as you might think.
Many older libraries and rare book collectors, including several at Harvard and in the Boston area, have an almost-literal skeleton in the closet: anthropodermic bibliopegy, the technical term for books bound in human skin.
So is this a bookbinding fad that will ever come back into fashion ?
In August William Dalrymple wrote on The lost sub-continent.
It was a much-discussed article, and the discussion continues, as Tabish Khair now wonders Whose identity is it anyway ?, arguing that: "Questions about the Indian diaspora are irrelevant to literature".
University of Rhode Island professor Gary Thurston and Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Judith Swift discussed the history of the Nobel Prize and the contributions of this year's controversial winner in literature.
While we think it's pretty cool that they have such lectures -- part of a series on the Nobel Prize, no less -- normally we wouldn't trouble you with this sort of information.
But one thing did strike us as worth sharing:
A Cigar reporter and photographer were the only people in attendance.
So even talk devoted to a 'controversial' Nobel laureate -- and an English-writing one no less, not one of those damn un- or poorly translated foreigners -- couldn't attract the least bit of interest.
A sign of the literary times ?
Or has Harold Pinter's bad press made him so unpalatable stateside ?
(Our guess: the former.)
(The first lecture in the series -- sponsored by the URI chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society -- managed to attract an audience of some three dozen.
The next -- on the Nobel Prize in chemistry ! -- is scheduled for this afternoon, 16:00 to 17:00 in Quinn Hall Auditorium.
We hope they have better luck with the turnout.)
It's a hefty 743 pages and just came out in France: a Mario Vargas Llosa non-fiction retrospective collection of 50 years' worth of work, Dictionnaire amoureux de l'Amérique latine (get your copy at Amazon.fr).
In Spanish there are presumably collected essay editions covering this and more, in English ... okay, one can't expect much to appear in English.
Too bad, it sounds pretty interesting: see Daniel Rondeau's review in L'Express -- and also the interesting lengthy interview from a couple of weeks back in Le Point.