Remember everyone's favourite non-voting Nobel judge, Knut Ahnlund, the man who -- a year after the fact -- denounced the choice of Elfried Jelinek ?
(See our previous mention for the whole ridiculous story.)
Well, he continues milking his new-found notoriety for all it's worth, giving an interview in Die Welt to continue with his Jelinek complaints -- as well as weigh in on this year's winner (link first seen at Perlentaucher, who also provide a few other German Pinter-commentary-links here).
(Remember: even though the guy claims to have resigned they won't let him, and he still could have been involved in the deliberations for this year's prize, much as he will be able to influence next year's outcome, if he wants to (short of his getting himself killed).)
So anyway, in the interview he admits he hadn't read a bit of Jelinek's work before she got the prize, and that it took him the whole year to work through about thirty of her works.
To him, the Swedish Academy's decision remains an 'opportunistic' one.
As to Pinter, he thinks it's a poor decision as well, calling his dramatic work: 'second-hand versions of Beckett or Ionesco', and his recent work 'dreadful' ("grauenhaft").
Unfortunately, he does not reveal which authors he thinks are deserving -- but he believes the Nobel interpretation of the original guidelines went off track with the awarding of the prize to Sartre (1964) and then Beckett (1969).
Probably not the last we've heard from this guy.
There's a new batch of book reviews from the latest Review of Contemporary Fiction (issue devoted to Flann O'Brien / Guy Davenport / Aldous Huxley) available online.
Quite a few books we have under review are reviewed:
We're thrilled to hear that a translation (by James Buchan) of The Prince by Hushang Golshiri is now available (at least in the UK).
Shusha Guppy reviews it in The Times today.
See also the Harvill publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.co.uk (and Amazon.com ?)
We're thrilled to see that CESLIT, the weblog of Central European and Slavic Literature in Translation, is back !
They lost their .org URL, but as long as it's back we don't really care where it's found.
It was much missed.
Helsingin Sanomat reports that Bo Carpelan first to win Finlandia Literature Prize twice.
The well-endowed (26,000) award is the top Finnish literary prize -- and Carpelan taking the prize (again) is especially noteworthy because ... he writes in Swedish (yes, he's part of Finland's Swedish-speaking minority).
He's actually fairly well-known abroad -- Caracanet has three of his titles in print (see their author page).
See also the FILI Carpelan-page.
The best-known (for now) Russian literary prize, the Open Russia Booker Prize, announced this year's winning title (Denis Gutsko's Без пути-следа ('Without a Trace')) a week ago, but even we didn't notice (or hear).
Now Victor Sonkin provides the lowdown in The Moscow Times, noting:
It seemed that the reputation of Russia's main literary award, the Open Russia Booker Prize, couldn't possibly get any worse.
But the jury managed to do the impossible last week, turning the Dec. 1 award ceremony into a series of embarrassing events.
Jury chairman Vasily Aksyonov apparently favoured a book by a buddy of his, and couldn't take getting outvoted and:
was so angry that he refused to announce the winner at the ceremony, embarrassing Gutsko.
As to the winning title, Sonkin writes:
It's not a bad book, but given the diversity of today's Russian literary landscape, the jury's choice seems strange indeed.
Dozens of autobiographical novels of this kind have come out in Russia in the past decade, and Gutsko's is hardly an innovative turn of the trend.
Yes, it is a moving personal story, but definitely not the novel of the year
(See also a (Russian) report at the BBC.)
Adding to the fun, the Open Russia Booker Prize -- which hasn't been a 'Booker'-prize for years (they lost the sponsor but kept the name) -- has now also cut its ties with the other sponsor in its name, Open Russia; see the Kommersant-report, Home Booker Prize Dumps Khodorkovsky.
It looks like the stage is being set for the new Большая книга award (see our previous mention) to claim the top spot in the Russian literary award hierarchy -- though since they haven't actually handed this one out yet they still have ample opportunity to screw things up.
(Updated - 10 December): See now also George Walden's report, Throwing the Booker, in today's issue of The Guardian.
Today, it's a thriving organisation of more than 1,000 members.
The upper echelons still bulge with literary luminaries including Umberto Eco.
Nonsensical bureaucracy is its hallmark and with a remit to conduct useless research, the college seems more of a joke than a serious enterprise.
Harold Pinter's Nobel lecture, Art, Truth & Politics, was broadcast yesterday; you can watch it here.
(Don't hold your breath for a US television broadcast.)
Strong stuff; we're tempted to quote from it, but you really should read it yourself.
We're very curious about what the American reactions will be -- one can expect a 'conservative' response knocking it, but beyond that ?
And will anyone reprint it ?
(The Nobel foundation has the copyright and allows pretty much anyone to reprint it, and the literature-lecture usually makes its way into the leading European newspapers -- but the American papers generally are far less willing to give it the space.)
It looks like a good test case of how much respect the opinions of a writer are accorded in this society.
One columnist predicted, before the event, that we were due for a Pinter rant.
But this was not a rant in the sense of a bombastic declaration.
This was a man delivering an attack on American foreign policy, and Britain's subscription to it, with a controlled anger and a deadly irony.
And, paradoxically, it reminded us why Pinter is such a formidable dramatist.
He used every weapon in his theatrical technique to reinforce his message.
And, by the end, it was as if Pinter himself had been physically recharged by the moral duty to express his innermost feelings.
In New Zealand they handed out the Prime Minister's Awards for Literary Achievement, and, as is appropriate, it was the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, herself that handed out the awards.
State-subsidised and supported literary assistance and recognition of this sort is, of course, not without its dangers, but they seem to be doing an o.k. job with this there.
The Prime Minister's address is even available online -- and she also mentioned that New Zealand (well, Nouvelle-Zélande) would be the next country featured at Les Belles Etrangères in France next year.
(We recently mentioned the festival, which this year features Romanian authors.)
We enjoy the weblog/forum/whatever-it-is at Words without Borders and think it's a promising weblog, but they still have relatively few contributors (and posts).
Things appear to be looking up, however: they seem to have added two more: Taslima Nasrin and Iranian-born, Dutch-writing Kader Abdolah.
Still quite a few other geographic regions that should be represented, etc., but definitely something to keep your eye on.
We're not quite up to date with our Jeanette Winterson-coverage, so the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of last year's book, Lighthousekeeping. not this year's (which we'll probably get to ... well, next year).
Samantha Matthews, reviewing it in the TLS, noted:
Born in 1959 (like Winterson), and not quite an adult when forced out into the world, Silver arrives in an oddly contemporary Bristol, where not only has the Ends Meet tavern (scene of Dark and Molly's divisive meeting) become a Holiday Inn, but she buys an espresso in an anachronistic Starbucks.
This may be meant to suggest how out of place the unworldly Silver appears in her yellow oilskin, but it tips the scale from fable to unreality
Others also pointed out the out of place Starbucks -- noteworthy because Stephen King similarly offers an anachronistic Starbucks in his recent novel, The Colorado Kid.
What is it about those coffees ?
They call it "unendowed", but to us it simply sounds worthless.
The fact that the International Author Award is (un)endowed by Bertelsmann (their Direct Group) -- and that they've now awarded it to Paulo Coelho (!) -- doesn't exactly help convince us that this thing could possibly be taken seriously.
Nafisi is currently working with Web developers to actually try to make this idealistic dream of a global book group a reality.
Her planned website will offer her insights into books by her favourite international authors and invite conversation about literature and human rights.
She expects it will be completed in early 2006.
She already leads (led ?) a book club at The Dialogue Project, but this sounds considerably more ambitious.
We look forward to seeing what develops.
In today's issue of The New York Times Edward Wyatt reports that 'Publishers Assess the Fall Season's Winners and Losers' (reluctantly linked to here).
Beside gleefully noting Rodale Books' $2 million fiasco with Martha Stewart, he also mentions:
Some much-anticipated novels have fallen short this fall. Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown sold just 26,000 copies, according to BookScan, and Wickett's Remedy, Myla Goldberg's follow-up to her heralded 2000 novel, Bee Season, sold only 9,000.
The Rushdie-book may have been much-anticipated, but surely nobody thought this thing would sell well, did they ?
Rushdie hasn't had a sales-success in the US in ages (which probably has something to do with the fact that the past few books haven't been that great (to put it politely)); like Martin Amis he gets tons of press, but shifts (relatively) few copies.
However, given his extensive book-tour this time around (there were a couple of months in which it seemed not a day passed without a new profile or interview in yet another regional newspaper), this is a pretty poor showing.
In today's issue of The New York Times Jesse McKinley reports that 'Year of Magical Thinking Headed for Broadway' (reluctantly linked to here; nobody else seems to have the story yet).
Yes, Joan Didion's National Book Award-winning and much-praised (did anyone express anything less but the deepest admiration for this thing ?) The Year of Magical Thinking is apparently being turned into a one-woman show:
The memoir, which was published in October and has since sold more than 200,000 copies, is to be adapted for the stage by Ms. Didion herself, with an eye toward a spring 2007 opening on Broadway.
The play, imagined as a one-woman show, will be produced by Scott Rudin, the Hollywood and Broadway producer, and directed by David Hare, the respected British playwright.
David Hare directing ?
Well, why not ?
But we're still hoping they turn it into a musical.
(And we're curious whether publisher Knopf thought to secure the theatre rights when they bought it .....)
Looking at the collection of Best New American Voices 2006 (get your copy from Amazon.com) leads Sam Sacks to consider The Fiction Machine in New York Press, another sure-to-be much-discussed take-down of MFA-mania.
Without ignoring the occasional flashes of verve, the stories included are so monotonous that they seem to have been written by a single person of middling talent.
The explanation isn't hard to find:
It should be no surprise that every one of the writers in this anthology have one more thing in common:
They have attended writers' workshops, either in graduate programs or in similarly organized writing conferences.
Writing workshops, for their ubiquity, are currently the most significant phenomenon influencing American literature.
Indeed, the monster feeds itself, Harcourt explicitly packaging the book to sustain the beast: their publicity copy notes:
Culled from hundreds of writing programs like the Iowa Writers' Workshop and Johns Hopkins and from summer conferences like Sewanee and Bread Loaf -- and including a complete list of contact information for these programs -- this exciting collection showcases tomorrow's literary stars.
As Sacks -- himself an MFA-holder -- notes, the system isn't built for real literary success (publishing success, yes, but not literary success) -- but does promise, for obvious reasons, more (lots and lots more) of the same:
Large, impersonal, ever-shuffling workshops are led by writers of, on average, mediocre ability who throw only part of their energy into helping their students.
The result of all this is as predictable as it was inevitable: Writing is taught by rote.
Limited in time and care and needing to satisfy at once a wide range of very different would-be writers, professors must rely on the crutches of formula.
The jr. Bush administration has been reduced to paying Iraqi newspapers to run puff-pieces putting a positive spin on what they have wrought.
Apparently it didn't start there: it's not yet clear who is responsible for the inclusion of the classic poem The Leader in Pakistani textbooks, but this far subtler -- it's an acrostic (praising America's glorious leader in Saddamesque verse) -- and more literary effort has now caused quite a stir (and not just because it is one godawful piece of writing).
Maybe it was First Lady Laura's idea (they keep telling us she has a passing interest in literary matters, after all, and this looks like something she'd enjoy reciting -- though it's probably a bit too clever for her husband).
Anyway, it took the Pakistanis a while to figure this out, but now they think it might be better to cut it from future editions of this textbook.
(But look for it to appear in American readers nationwide .....)
British reports include Isambard Wilkinson reporting in the Daily Telegraph that Pakistan censors poetic salute to Bush, noting that:
America has even donated money to transform Pakistan's national curriculum into something closer to western ideals.
The result is a much-lampooned US-friendly philosophy called "enlightened moderation" which America has agreed to pay to disseminate in schools.
In The Korea Herald Shin Hae-in begins a five-part series "on the flooding of translated foreign books in the local publication market" with Translated novels rule literature market.
Yes: "foreign bestsellers translated into Korean now dominate the domestic publication market" -- to the extent that nine out of last year's ten top-selling titles were translations.
And while only just over 4,800 titles in translation were published in 1995, by 2004 this had more than doubled to 10,088.
What do they blame ?
Mainly the improvement in the quality of translations -- apparently now the stuff is readable.
Others have other explanations -- such as reader Chung Hye-in:
"The first things I think about Korean novels are dull subjects related to ideology and concepts limited only to Korea," she said.
"Although I'm a Korean, I can sympathize more with books written by foreign authors."
Call it whatever you want -- the fact is that international demand for English-language literary fiction has gone seriously south.
Although hard numbers for the fall season won't be available until January, the anecdotal evidence is not encouraging.
Agents and retailers are complaining that sales for new fiction are soft, that orders for reprints and back-listed books are down, and that publishing houses from Berlin to Boston are becoming choosier about what novels they buy, when they are willing to buy them, and what they are willing to pay
We're rather partial to hard numbers, so we'd rather wait for those, but it doesn't sound that unlikely.
For one thing, English-language dominance was, for a while, at absurd levels, and it seems to have been retreating for a couple of years now.
This is something worth keeping an eye on: a Bavarian court rendered a copyright decision last week that more closely defined literary translators' rights under the revised German copyright law.
A summary of the decision can be found here, at the official site (scroll down to the 1 December entry, case number 7 O 24552/04.)
The suing translators were denied an increase in the standard remuneration (of 16,87 per page; they were asking for 27,00).
But -- and this is what is so significant -- the court judged they were due royalties, of 1% on the retail price for the first 50,000 and 2% after that (for hardcovers), and 0.5% for the first 20,000 up to 2% for anything over 100,000 for paperbacks.
The press that has weighed in has widely condemned the ruling.
In Die Welt Uwe Wittstock's opinion-piece is titled Gesetz gegen Kultur ('Law against culture'), arguing that the main beneficiaries will be translators of bestselling books, while translators of important literary books will hardly benefit (sales being too small for royalties to make much of a difference) -- and will, indeed, suffer, because publishers will take fewer risks (i.e. publish fewer translated works), since there wil be less cost-certainty for them.
(The argument strikes us as absurd -- the additional costs to publishers are small -- 1% for hardcovers, 0.5% for paperbacks -- for (relatively) small print runs, and once they sell more than 50,00 (or 20,000) copies they should be sitting pretty anyway -- unless they overpaid for the rights in the first place.
Their per-page costs for the translation -- the only upfront costs -- remain the same.)
A dpa report (here in the Berliner Morgenpost) sees the same drawback as a potential benefit, titling the article: Richter unterstützen deutsche Literatur ('Judges support German literature') -- though noting that publishers have condemned the judgement as catastrophic.
The most prestigious (and, at about 90,000, offering decent prize-money, too) Spanish literary prize, the Premio Cervantes, has been awarded to Mexican author Sergio Pitol.
He's in good company: check out the list of previous winners.
But, as so often, English-reading audiences are pretty much out of luck -- the closest approximation of an English translation of any of his works we could find listed at Amazon.com is a (possibly) bi-lingual edition of El Viaje/The Trip.
For reports see, for example, Writer Pitol wins top prize (The Herald/El Universal) -- but the good stuff is in the Spanish papers, which are, of course, full of reports.
Exemplary: the extensive coverage at El Pais, which includes comments from Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, Enrique Vila-Matas' piece on Viajar y escribir, José Andrés Rojo on La rareza creativa de Pitol gana el Cervantes, and an overview of his work as Autor y traductor (yes, he's a major translator).
In The Shorts List at Slate Brendan I. Koerner looks at the success of the Amazon Shorts-programme.
Success appears limited, so far (and dependant on how much effort the authors are willing to put into it), but maybe they're onto something .....
There are many translated books available on the market, but many, particularly best-selling books, are translated extremely badly.
The recently translating scandal of The Da Vinci Code received a lot of attention in the local press, causing authorities and readers to review the quality many other translated books.
See, and we would have thought there was no possible way to make The Da Vinci Code any worse than it is, not even mistranslating it.
The most serious problem is the vapidity of numerous readily available translated books, which readers find very difficult to discern.
Khoi said that many are the result of a bad translating background, with almost all cases the product of amateur translators.
But the final paragraph show some problems truly are universal:
Another problem is that almost all literature editors at publishing houses have insufficient English, meaning the translationís quality is trusted completely on the translatorís singular ability.
To solve the problem, Xuyen believes publishing houses should employ a number of good translators, and treat them appropriately.
In addition, publishers should upgrade the foreign language level of their editors.
Ironically, one of the books receiving the highest price cuts is Alan Bennett's memoir, Untold Stories.
A month ago Bennett urged people to buy copies of his book from independent booksellers, saying that the steep discounts offered by Waterstone's and Amazon would "drive independents out of business".
But few of his readers have heeded the call.
Untold Stories, which has a recommended retail price of £20, was discounted so heavily last week that it sold at the tills for an average of just over £11.
Now Waterstone's has decided to offer the bestseller at half-price until Christmas Eve.
Two interesting articles in this week's issue of Al-Ahram Weekly:
In Word and deed Rania Khallaf reports on a three-day conference held by the Egyptian Writers' Union, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary.
The planning doesn't seem to have been ideal:
the conference's actual sessions met in a much smaller venue -- the hall of the EWU's Zamalek premises which, even in the most optimistic of estimates could accommodate no more than a third of conference invitees.
Many leading Egyptian novelists were as a result absent, while prominent guests of the conference, including Palestinian poet Samih Al-Kassem and Lebanese critic Abdu Wazen did not participate in the sessions.
Still, some discussion of important issues -- including translation, both into and from Arabic:
Is there a translation movement from Arabic to another language that parallels the reverse movement of translations from other languages into Arabic ?
It is a question to which the conference dedicated two sessions, with a majority of speakers underlining the need to form an umbrella organisation that could oversee translation efforts across individual Arab states so as to prevent the duplication and overlapping of effort.
Many speakers also agreed that it was important to expand the list of languages from which translations are currently made, moving beyond Europe to include the literature of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
And Hamed Abu Ahmed, professor of translation at Al-Azhar University, noted:
the number of books translated from Arabic into other languages remains tiny, a situation he attributed to the fact that such translations need -- and rarely get -- a foreign editor who excels in the target language.
Abu Ahmed also discussed "The problematic relationship between writers and the mass media":
"The state-controlled press and the opposition newspapers accord minimum space to cultural issues," he said.
"The result is this policy is to effectively marginalise writers and intellectuals."
Meanwhile, in Resisting the dictates of power, Hala Sami "reviews contributions to last week's Cairo University Symposium on Comparative Literature, held under the title 'Power and the Role of the Intellectual'".
Itís not Oprah, but Carroll thinks heís got a winning strategy: Good writing, eye-catching cover art and an eclectic list that includes new fiction from Europe and the fringes of the Middle East, along with reissues of neglected or out-of-print classics.
Günter Grass has invited several young German authors to Lübeck next week, and the German newspapers are full of stories about how he's trying to form a new version of the Gruppe 47 that was so influential in postwar (West-)Germany; see stories such as Grass will neue "Gruppe 47" gründen in Der Standard and Autorenzirkel im Geist der Gruppe 47 in Der Spiegel.
He says that's not exactly what he's hoping for in an interview with Christof Siemes in Die Zeit, but it's good to see he's still so active and involved.
We mentioned the contenders for the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction award a few days ago, so we feel obligated to let you know who won: as reported by the BBC (and many others), Giles Coren's novel Winkler takes the prize.
See the passage (and all the others) here, in The Guardian.
It's certainly hard to argue that Coren's "Like Zorro"-passage wasn't worthy.
Last week we mentioned that this year's Nobel laureate in literature, Harold Pinter, was just going to Stockholm to lecture (them), and would be skipping the awards-ceremony and dinner.
Now the Nobel Foundation has announced that he:
will unfortunately not attend any of the events during the Nobel Week for reasons of health.
His doctors have forbidden him to travel at this time.
So, for the second year in a row (Elfriede Jelinek also refused to show up), the Nobel lecture will be a televised event:
Harold Pinter's pre-recorded Nobel Lecture is therefore planned to be presented on a big screen at the Swedish Academy on 7 December at 5:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, Pinter is celebrating his 75th birthday -- and others are celebrating it for him.
The Daily Telegraph reports on A birthday party for Harold Pinter, and specifically on a star-studded staged reading of Celebration.
In need of some casual reading over Christmas ?
How about a nice French Baroque novel of ... 13,095 pages in its original edition.
Yes, Madeleine de Scudéry's Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus is now available online in its entirety.
(Pretty decent presentation, as far as online texts go, too.)
The ARTFL Project site has some information about it in English, too.
See also the French press release (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
There's also a radically cut book version -- a mere 628 pages --; get your copy at Amazon.fr.
A couple of years ago a "self-contained section" was published in English translation by the University of Chicago Press, as The Story of Sapho.
See their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com.
The 2005 Lannan Literary Awards have been announced -- a hell of a lot of money (for a good cause).
Beside the writers, The New York Times also cashed in nicely: the Lannan Foundation took out a full-page ad in the A-section announcing the winners, and there were six separate ads in the Arts-section from various publishers congratulating their authors.
(We don't know if the ads appeared in other newspapers as well.)