The heart of the matter is the efficacy of the institute's funding of about $5,000 for foreign publishing houses that put out the translated titles in their local markets.
Some critics questioned the effectiveness of such subsidies since some titles were poorly received in the target markets -- notably the United States -- due to the lack of interest in such translated works.
But Chin has a theory:
Chin argued the main reason for foreign readers' lack of interest in Korean literature is not the quality of literature or poor translation, but the "sheer strangeness."
Back in November we reviewed David Albahari's Götz and Meyer -- and noted at the time that it was the probably most universally praised title among all the ones we've covered.
We're a bit slow in discovering in it, but this turns out not to be true: in Entertainment Weekly Gilbert Cruz graded it a mere "C" -- and complained:
(I)s it too much to ask that such books be more readable ? (...)
(S)ince it's composed of one continuous, often repititious [sic] paragraph that runs over 167 pages, the novel is ultimately an exercise in exhaustion.
Another publisher, another weblog: Elephant Walk offers: "What's New from The Overlook Press".
Despite their ignominious role in the current 'sudoku'-craze, they actually put out some very fine books -- and the weblog looks pretty good so far.
So, the latest Litblog Co-op 'Read This !'-selection has been made, and will be revealed next Monday, the 16th.
Quite a lot of good content has already been lined up and will be posted there in the coming weeks, making the weblog worth putting higher up on your to-visit list again.
In Lost for words in the Sydney Morning Herald Malcolm Knox writes about: "Second-novel syndrome (SNS), the so-called performance anxiety writers undergo after a first-up success".
We were a bit surprised to learn that anyone could believe that:
This year, the highest-profile second novel anywhere in the world will be DBC Pierre's Ludmila's Broken English.
Pierre published his debut, Vernon God Little, at the age of 42 and won the Booker Prize.
But at least:
Two years ago, when he was visiting Sydney, I asked him if Vernon God Little had taught him how to write.
He was working on Ludmila's Broken English at the time.
"I've discovered that it didn't teach me how to write this book," he said.
Alas, readers also discovered it didn't teach him to write any book -- it was a pretty poor piece of work.
Indeed, we figure the only hope we have is if he learned from his mistakes.
But given how many there were, it's a tall order .....
(And again: there are really people with the least bit of interest in this follow-up ?)
The Observer is launching what they call: "a remarkable new event in newspaper publishing".
It's actually a pretty old idea: a serial novel.
But at least Ronan Bennett is a pretty decent author to rope into doing it.
The novel is -- Zugzwang !
(Not exactly a catchy title, especially if mispronounced English-phonetically (the correct pronunciation is something like: tsoog-tsvahng) .....)
Bennett also deserves better than the off-putting 'About the author'-description that comes with instalment one:
Using a compelling blend of lyrical yet robust prose, sympathetic characterisation and strong narrative, his novels are notable for what they say about our place in a confusing and divided world.
In Strong language (link likely only short-lived !) in the Financial Times Harry Bingham writes about UNESCO's Index Translationum, the major "systematic record of translations" currently out there.
We've found it of some but relatively limited use over the years -- though Bingham claims:
Since there is no systematic data on global book sales, the Index has come to be the best available proxy.
If you want to ask the question "Who are the most popular authors in the world ?" then the Index is the only way to get an answer.
Actually, there are any numbers of ways to get an answer, many of which are about as use-ful/less.
Still, we do occasionally have fun checking out the statistics.
(As to the most-translated author debate: recall the Scientologist-cultists claiming a few months ago that their Führer-guru, L. Ron Hubbard, was recognised by the Guinnes Book of World Records as the world's most translated author (see our previous mention).
Interestingly (?) enough, the Guinness folk still list Sidney Sheldon as the Most Translated Author -- and Sidney at least makes the UNESCO top 50 (as number 33 -- right behind Alastair MacLean (!) and Oscar Wilde ...).
It's actually been out for a few months, but the NZZ only now reviews (link likely only short-lived !) the admirable West-östlicher Seiltanz (get your copy at Amazon.de), a collection of pieces on a cross-cultural exchange between Germany and the Arabic countries (with a heavy Cairo-focus).
At the official site they offer extensive excerpts and other information -- in both German and Arabic.
('West-östlicher Seiltanz' translates as 'West-East tightrope-walk', but the German 'Seiltanz' -- the word-parts literally translating as 'rope-dance' is, of course, far more evocative.)
Not only do the British dailies generally offer better literary coverage than their American counterparts, but one of the features we most appreciate is their willingness to revisit books when they appear in paperback.
Usually they only do so in round-up form (though at The New York Times Book Review that's the best coverage many titles -- especially fiction titles -- can look forward to ...), but occasionally they offer more, such as Douglas Kennedy's look at Ian McEwan's Saturday in today's issue, Almost a perfect day ? (see also our review).
Let's see more of this sort of thing !
Murakami Haruki's Kafka on the Shore is coming out in French translation in a week or two, and he's getting good pre-publication coverage.
Philippe Coste interviews him at L'Express -- proudly announcing: "Pour L'Express, Murakami, timide et attentionné, a surmonté sa phobie des interviews."
Which goes to show that that grand canard of media-shy authors is popular the world over -- and apparently a big selling point.
As far as we can tell, Murakami, like almost every other author, talks to pretty much any- and everyone, surmounting his alleged phobia of interviews more times than we can keep track of.
Indeed, he also surmounted for Libération, where Eric Loret interviewed him.
Meanwhile Clémence Boulouque profiles him for Le Figaro.
Here's an interesting attempt to make some inroads abroad: as Huong Lan reports at Thanh Nien, Vietnamese bookstore has Swiss plans.
The (state owned) Vietnam Book Company wants to open bookstores abroad, starting in Switzerland.
It's certainly one way of trying to get one's literature to a foreign (as well as expatriate) audience -- though it doesn't sound like the initial selection would exactly wow the Swiss:
Tran Tan Ngo, its general director, told Thanh Nien he selected Switzerland for opening the store early this year because he was acquainted with the Vietnamese ambassador there and got support from the embassy.
It would follow the model of many large bookstores in Vietnam, he said.
Priority would be given to books on popular sciences, youth lifestyle and education, and normal diseases, currently the most popular among readers of Vietnamese abroad.
As to the general lack of success of Vietnamese writing abroad:
The general director blamed the lack of a national level policy for the ineffective promotion of Vietnamese publishing trademarks abroad.
He wanted the government to soon issue a policy for translating, compiling, and printing bilingual books to make Vietnamese literature popular abroad.
As we mentioned yesterday, The Harmony Silk Factory by Anglo-Malaysian author Tash Aw took one of the Whitbread awards -- and so Joan Lau comments on Our very own literary star in the New Straits Times.
Interesting also for the survey of how well it did in local bookstores (scroll down to end of piece) -- very.
Lists of the bestselling books in the US and UK are now available: The Book Standard covers the 200 Bestselling Books of the Year in the US, while The Guardian offers the Top 100 in the UK (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
(Note that both lists refer to book-editions -- i.e. some titles appear on the lists more than once because they were available in different editions (paperback and hardcover).)
We find the lists useful because they give us some idea of how out of touch we are.
Despite the Dan Brown-dominance on the UK list, we actually do worse with the (twice as long) American list: we only have three of the top 200 American titles under review:
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of An Incomplete History of all the Great Books You'll Never Read by Stuart Kelly, The Book of Lost Books (available in the UK, due out in the US in April).
This was a book we were very much looking forward to, but it proved to be quite a disappointment -- heavy on the "incomplete" and "history", and far too light on lost books.
The first round winners of the soon-no-longer-to-be-'Whitbread' Awards (see our previous mention) have been announced.
The Accidental, by Ali Smith (just out in the US) took best novel, and The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw took the first novel award.
All five category winners now square off for the best book title, to be announced 24 January.
The official site still didn't have any information last we checked, but there are numerous media reports; see:
Korean households spend just a little more than 10,000 won on books a month on average.
The amount of money they spend on enhancing their appearance and eating out is 5.7 times and 23.6 times their expenditures on books, respectively.
The money spent by Koreans on reading materials is a quarter of what Japanese people spend on books, about 4,576 yen (39,200 won), and about half of what Canadian people spend on books, 23.3 Canadian dollars (about 20,200 won) on average a month.
One American household spends 10.58 dollars (about 10,600 won) on books on average, similar to the amount Korean households spend.
Though more is being spent on cigarettes than on books, South Koreans still buy more books than Americans.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average U.S. household spending on reading materials was $127.20 for the whole of 2004, or about $10.50 (10,700 won) per month.
The amount is similar to that of Korea, but considering book prices are higher in the United States than in South Korea, Koreans are considered to be buying more books than Americans in general.
We'd still prefer a better break-down of 'reading material' -- newspapers and books being very different things -- before reaching all these conclusions.
Still: so much more is spent on hair care ?
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ruben Gallego's White on Black, a book which has made quite a splash abroad -- it won the Open Russia Booker Prize for 2003, and was published to critical acclaim in numerous other markets.
There was an article about it in The New York Times (Boris Fishman, 4 September 2004) -- in which he mentioned it was "making the rounds of United States publishers".
Harcourt picked it up in the US (and John Murray got the UK rights); it's due out both in the US and UK around this time and the publicity circus has already begun -- see, for example, this article from Sunday's issue of The Observer
It'll be interesting to see how the book does -- and how it is received.
Among the questions: will it be marketed as a memoir (apparently) or novel (which is how it seems to have originally been presented) ?
A major selling point appears to be the story behind the book and man (cerebral palsy victim Gallego was taken from his mom by his wicked grand-father (a Spanish communist functionary) -- who tells her he died ! -- and dumped in an orphanage in the Soviet Union), so it's understandable that the publishers are pushing that part of the story (rather than the actual writing, etc.).
One of the quotes Harcourt uses as a blurb -- and features prominently on the publicity material for the book -- is from Fishman's article (in fact, it consists entirely of the words of a Naum Nim, quoted in the article): "This book is today's Gulag Archipelago" -- which was almost enough for us to fling the book aside right there and then, and still strikes us as a pretty outrageous statement to make.
Still, it should get a good deal of attention.
We're thrilled to learn about another publisher specialising in translated fiction, Autumn Hill Books:
committed to publishing high quality literary works in English translations that do justice to their originals and match the standards of the very best contemporary fiction and creative non fiction worldwide.
Only three titles listed so far, but it looks very promising.
We learned about them through Matt Kelley's Radio Iowa piece, Publisher seeks to translate more foreign books to English.
Certainly, no publicity is bad publicity (and it did grab our attention), but the site manages to refer to the house as both 'Autumn Hill Press' and the (correct) 'Autumn Hill Books', and goes no further than saying that the first title:
A Castle in Romagna was written by a Croatian man and translated by a U-of-I graduate student.
As Nhan Dan reports, in Viet Nam the Writers Association presents literary prizes, honouring the "best works of literature published in 2005".
It catches our eye because translators did particularly well -- Trinh Lu was one of two writers getting "top honours", for translating Yann Martel's Life of Pi ... -- and because the prize money sounds impressive: the top prizes were good for 15,000,000 Vietnamese dong, while five 10,000,000 dong prizes were also awarded.
Okay, so top prize is worth less than a thousand dollars US, but still .....
The first we hear of the recent Paul Muldoon haiku collection, Sixty Instant Messages to Tom Moore, from Modern Haiku Press (see their publicity page for the book) comes from a review in The Japan Times.
The reviewer, David Burleigh, also offers a longer review at Modern Haiku itself.)
Nice to see Muldoon still playing with the form; we've enjoyed his previous efforts and hope to cover this collection at some point.
Slightly before the actual end of the year the Swiss reported their publishing statistics for 2005; see, for example, reports in the Basler Zeitung (German) or at Swissinfo (French).
10,128 titles were published in 2005, down a surprising eight per cent from 2004 (and way off the 1999 record of 13,700).
(Note that their definition of 'titles' includes musical scores -- which made up more than ten per cent of the total .....).
Interesting the break-down of languages in which titles were written:
It's been done before, with similar results, and the outcome comes as no surprise whatsoever: it's long been clear that the selection criteria of publishers -- and the new industry powers, 'literary' agents -- is basically hit or miss (with an emphasis on the latter), with quality far down the list of attributes they're looking for in fiction .....
So the Sunday Times submitted opening chapters of two Booker-winning titles to almost two dozen publishers and agents and found, of course: Publishers toss Booker winners into the reject pile
The books were 1971 winnerIn a Free State by Nobel laureate V.S.Naipaul (aside: check out that judges panel that year, which included Saul Bellow, John Fowles, Antonia Fraser, and Philip Toynbee ...) and 1974 co-winnerHoliday by Stanley Middleton.
Out of 21 replies no one recognised the books in question (god forbid publishers or agents should have any familiarity with any literature ...), and:
Only Barbara Levy, a London literary agent, expressed an interest, and that was for Middleton’s novel.
As Jonathan Calvert and Will Iredale conclude:
The exercise by The Sunday Times draws attention to concerns that the industry has become incapable of spotting genuine literary talent.
It's been some twenty years since someone pulled this trick with Jerzy Kosinski's National Book Award-winning (in 1969) novel, Steps, but the Naipaul is a considerably stronger work, and it is stunning that no one recognised it (much less liked it).
This is sure to be the talk of the literary weblog world (and quite a bit of the print media) in the coming week; we look forward to the fall-out.
Of course, the real question is whether the publishers and agents will take any steps to address their failures.
Sure, editors can always explain that 'it wasn't right' for their lists, but we'd think some serious reprimands were in order.
A major embarrassment for the big players in the field.
One of the big (very, very big -- at least page-wise) books of the coming year will be Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games.
First there was lots of press about the huge advance he got, and now -- at least in India -- the publicity machine is rolling, with interviews and profiles in what seems like every paper.
See, for example, interviews and profiles in: