Eliot Weinberger continues his winning if wrenching and depressing formula with What I heard about Iraq in 2005, now available in the London Review of Books.
We're surprised that his recent collection of 'Bush Chronicles', What Happened Here, (which includes the original What I heard about Iraq (which was also published separately, in the UK, by Verso)) hasn't received more critical attention.
Surely, it is among the most significant attempts to engage with the jr. Bush administration and its doings published in the past year.
We've all heard that books have a tough time making it into English translation, but This Space alerts us to the truly bizarre: we thought they were only joking, but apparently a new novel by Gabriel Josipovici -- a fairly well-known and respected author --, Only Joking, is -- though written in English -- only available in a German translation, as Nur ein Scherz (get your copy at Amazon.de, or see the Zweitausendeins publicity page).
If there's any more depressing indication of the level British publishing has sunk to, we can't imagine it.
(Gerd Haffmans is responsible for the translation -- and it's good to see him still stirring things up in German publishing: for a few -- too few ! -- years Haffmans was the shining light among German (even if Switzerland-based) publishers.
It didn't last and folded, but at least he still is doing what he can.)
No sooner have the newspapers finished with their 'best of 2005' lists than they turn to 2006 previews.
Boyd Tonkin's Rising stars of 2006 is pretty limited, but Melissa McClements offers a bit more in Novels for a new year in the Financial Times (warning ! link likely only short-lived !.
Best of the lot so far, however, is Murray Waldren's Lit list: the books of 2006 in The Weekend Australian.
(Updated - 1 January 2006): See now also Alex Clark's look at "The best books to look out for", You read it here first, in The Observer.
As widely reported, at the daily press gaggle yesterday, US administration mouthpiece Trent Duffy claimed that, among much else, the George jr. Bush was actually reading some books while on vacation:
I've got a couple of books that the President brought with him to read over the holiday.
One is, When Trumpets Call, Theodore Roosevelt After The White House, by Patricia O'Toole, recommended to him by Brian Williams.
The other is, Imperial Grunt, The American Military On The Ground, written by Robert Kaplan.
Given that this has become an administration where practically every utterance is spin without substance we have a hard time believing this -- though one has to hand it to them: they didn't pretend he could actually tackle more than two books (or anything as confounding as fiction ...)..
The Duffy certainly lost all credibility with his response here:
Q: Why Imperial Grunt ?
Kaplan is pretty critical of Iraq.
Do you have any idea why he picked that book ?
MR. DUFFY: The President is an avid reader.
He reads books of all kinds and stripe and persuasion.
And he decided to read it.
Well, we're convinced: if Trent says he's an avid reader then, depsite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, it must be true .....
We've mentioned this initiative before, but now it's arrived (stateside), and in The Scotsman Emma Cowing reports on The 20 Scottish books everyone should read -- which they hope will find a place on American college reading lists.
Some worthies (and some oddities) among the top 20 .....
Between 20 and 25 per cent of books bought in Britain each year are purchased in December.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas book sales rise to three times that of a mid-year week, according to Nielsen BookScan.
The number of books we buy has steadily increased in the past few years to more than 200 million volumes, worth £1.6 billion.
But are we actually reading more?
More pages than can be managed -- a common enough complaint, but we certainly don't mind.
An always entertaining round-up in The Guardian of The ones that got away, as "Kate Figes asks publishers about the disappointments of their year - and the books they wish they'd published".
The first one -- Chris Cleave's Incendiary -- certainly isn't one we figure deserved any better but publisher Alison Samuel disagrees:
We expected this to be a runaway bestseller, but its publication on July 7 must have made it seem just too 'prophetic' for comfort and much of the coverage reflected that.
We sold 25,000, which is fantastic for a first novel, but interestingly more than half these sales have been in our export market, which perhaps confirms that distance has enabled people to read this brilliant debut novel on its own terms.
We still think the timing could only have helped the book (on its own terms it's a pretty sorry thing --though some critics thought otherwise).
But we're still a bit surprised it only sold 12,500 copies in the UK.
In Die Zeit Susanne Mayer offers an interview with Swedish Academy secretary Horace Engdahl about the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Not much insider information (though he repeats the fact that the only way to resign from or leave the Academy is by dying, no matter what Knut Ahnlund tries to do ...), but it's of some interest.
(She also writes about the ceremony itself this year.)
It is tempting to believe that Israeli writers are back in fashion and that their prices are rising.
Dov Alfon, chief editor of Kinneret Zmora Dvir, has reservations: "It is still a matter of time," he says, "but still, Israeli literature is having a meteoric breakthrough.
The Goethe Prize got more deals for Amos Oz and raised his stock.
It's already hard to count the countries in which Etgar Keret is known, and when you enter a bookstore in Italy, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman star alongside Dan Brown and John Grisham.
It's difficult to think of another country with a population of six million that has this kind of box-office appeal abroad, with the exception of Ireland.
And let's not forget that the Irish write in English, which gives them a decided advantage."
Al-Ahram Weekly this week offers both a new Cairo Review of Books (including a review of a new book by Mahmoud Darwish) -- but in the Culture-section they also offer Rania Khallaf's In pursuit of the reader, where she finds: "The 24th Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) threw into relief the publishing crisis in the Arab world".
Among the observations:
Problems of translation in the Arab world were the focus of another seminar.
Said Al-Barghouti, a translator, asserted that there is an undeniable crisis in translation in the Arab world.
"For example," he said, "Israel translates annually more than what all Arab countries put together translate in a given year."
He attributes this crisis to the limited resources of publishing houses and the absence of a vision or integrated policy of translation.
The real story is not whether Turkey is fit enough to join Europe, but whether or not its deep domestic fissures can handle the weight of the EU accession process: the effort to enter the Union, while beneficial, is also exerting a serious strain on the system.
What is at stake in the case against Pamuk is certainly freedom of speech, but also the ability to confound attempts to assert state power in times of crisis.
Usually at this time of year we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming (i.e. daily posting) for about ten days but this year -- despite the fact that there are probably many of you out there who think we should give it a rest -- we're going to try to keep up appearances.
We're not actually sure we'll be able to, so possibly posting will only resume on or about 31 December.
But if we can get a grip on the logistics you can expect (irregular and lighter than usual) posting throughout the Christmas holidays.
There will not, however, be any new reviews posted for the next ten days or so.
As for e-mail: thanks, but don't bother sending any until ... say, the new year.
Chances are we won't get what accumulates in the meantime.
Meanwhile, we also take this opportunity to send all our readers season's greetings, and to thank you for your interest and support.
Under a different headline ('The New German Novel: Less Weighty, More Exportable') The New York Times yesterday re-published an IHT article by Carter Dougherty from a few days ago, Selling Germany's new light, lively novels.
Among the authors mentioned is one you've heard a lot from us about, Daniel Kehlmann, and his new novel, Die Vermessung der Welt.
(We're planning on covering the Geiger as well -- and have the Regener, too, so maybe we'll have a go at that too.)
We're not so sure about some of the articles conclusions:
But their success probably owes something to the end of German passivity in promoting cultural wares, publishers said.
Or maybe we just don't like that conclusion: when it comes to a point of which foreign nation can package its (cultural) products more appealingly -- regardless of underlying worth -- then something is deeply wrong with the publishing industry.
Oh, yeah, we forgot for a moment: everything is already wrong with the publishing industry ....
At the leading edge of success abroad lie the writers.
Once content to write for a small circle of readers at home, they have tuned their antennae toward the rest of world, testing out ideas on publishers with an eye toward eventual sales abroad.
We're not so sure about that either -- and wonder whether this new generation will take abroad.
After all, a lot of recent flashes of German success -- Robert Schneider, Christoph Ransmayr -- were just that: flashes.
Meanwhile, one author who has had some success -- and offered one of this fall's most-discussed, novels (Neue Leben -- which we're also set to cover) --, Ingo Schulze, goes unmentioned in the article (because he doesn't fit the image ?).
Still, coverage of foreign literature in The New York Times ... that can't hurt.
Now if they could only convince Sam Tanenhaus to actually review some of this stuff in the NYTBR when it appears in English ......