In their magazine (issue not yet available online) the Royal Society of Literature apparently tried to get a number of authors to suggest the ten books that every child should read before they finish school.
Lots of press coverage, including Nigel Reynolds writing that Dickens first, say Rowling and Pullman in the Daily Telegraph -- noting also that not everybody provided a list of titles:
Ben Okri, the Nigerian-born Booker Prize-winner, avoided nominating books but sent in a 10-point list instead.
It contained such advice as: "Read the books your parents hate; Read the books you're not supposed to read" and "Read the world. It is the most mysterious book of all."
Eva Aeppli -- whose first husband was Jean Tinguely -- finally agreed to exhibit her Life Books, all 15 volumes worth.
The exhibit is at -- where else ? -- the Musée Tinguely, in Basel, through 30 April.
See also information at Virtual Basel, or (German) reports in Basler Zeitung and Tagesschau.
For about a week now we've been mystified by the surge of interest in our review of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Television.
It turns out the book was featured on Radio 4's A Good Read; impressively, that was apparently enough to get the unlikely book to top-10 sales rank at Amazon.co.uk .....
Ten days ago we mentioned that we had received an e-mail from Random House alerting us to:
Please note the correct spelling below of the translator's name for your review of American Vertigo.
As it turned out, Random House had 'forgotten' to make mention of the translator of Bernard-Henri Lévy's book, Charlotte Mandell, anywhere on or in the book.
This e-mail presumably went to everybody who might be reviewing it; since then the book has received considerable coverage, and while some followed the Random House lead and didn't bother mentioning the existence of a translator, most did include the name, and spelled it correctly.
Yes, someone apparently didn't get the memo.
You know where this is heading, don't you ?
Yes, that's right, the now notoriously translation-unfriendly The New York Times Book Review offered a front-page review of the book by Garrison Keillor -- and claimed the translator was one 'Charlotte Mendel'.
Yes, there's a correction on page A2, as well as at the bottom of the online version of the review ("A note on Page 1 of the Book Review today, with the review of American Vertigo by Bernard-Henri Lévy, misstates the translator's name. She is Charlotte Mandell, not Mendel."), but the print edition that most New York readers pay attention to has it wrong, wrong, wrong.
Sure, it's a mistake that could happen to anyone -- though interestingly it doesn't seem to have happened to anyone else.
And maybe we should be impressed and grateful that Sam Tanenhaus' allowed a review of a title originally written in a foreign language to appear in these pages at all, since we imagine that wasn't easy for him.
But we find it hard not to see it as symptomatic.
(Other symptoms in this week's issue: 4 full-length reviews of works of fiction versus 12 full-length reviews of individual non-fiction titles (plus one review covering two non-fiction titles together).
Come on ... !
Though it's about the same ratio as last week -- 3 full-length fiction reviews versus 10 full-length reviews of individual non-fiction titles.
But at least this week there is even another review of a title originally written in a foreign language -- and it's not even a dead guy (but the review is only a mini one, in one of those ridiculous 'Chronicle's).)
Noteworthy, also, what sort of book Tanenhaus does waste precious NYTBR-space (and foreign-title allotment) on: reviewer Keillor isn't even sure American Vertigo qualifies as a book: he calls it "a sort of book", and certainly doesn't seem to like this sort (you can also find the review at the IHT, where it was already available Friday).
Which presumably helps Tanenhaus justify his opinion that all that foreign-written stuff isn't worth his or our time.
In fact, we too are surprised by the coverage American Vertigo has received -- and completely baffled by it.
Leafing through it, it certainly doesn't look very appealing -- or worth taking particularly seriously -- and while a few reviews have been enthusiastic, most bash it, more and less.
Sadly, with all this coverage we're beginning to be tempted to waste our time reading it so we can offer our two cents .....
Copyright is the other great issue.
It is an issue that extends well beyond Google and well beyond publishing.
Copyright is the basis for the remuneration of invention; indeed, the only other substantial basis for financing invention, in all areas, is government expenditure, and that is much less effective.
If there were no copyright, there would be no money to finance newspapers (a quickly muted hoorah from the Liberal Democrats), books, films, recorded music, new drugs or the development of the internet itself.
Copyright is the mother of invention.
No copyright -- no revenue -- no innovation.
He sees the doomsday scenario:
The danger -- put simply -- is that people will not buy books; they will wait to download them free from Google.
And sums up:
No copyright, no publishing revenue.
No revenue, no new books.
As we have often mentioned, the economics and explanations of publishers completely baffle us, so there are obviously a lot of things we don't understand.
And that's the situation we find ourselves in here as well.
Rees-Mogg's logic sounds ... logical.
At least at first glance.
But then we consider our bookshelves, and the bookshelves at our local and every other bookstore and we realise: a hell of a lot of books there are not protected by copyright.
Dickens, Austen, Melville, ... well, you get the idea.
And not only do commercial publishers keep publishing these, different publishers publish the same titles.
And, more significantly, many of these titles are now also available for free and can be downloaded from sites like Gutenberg.
Yet despite the fact that these titles are readily available for free, publishers keep publishing them -- apparently with some sales-success, too.
So it seems pretty obvious that his equation -- "No copyright, no publishing revenue" -- simply isn't true.
Sure, there's the occasional value-added copyrighted part -- that scholarly introduction, or, in the case of foreign works, a new translation -- but the basics are available for free, and that doesn't seem to have impacted sales.
(Has anyone done a study ?)
It's not that Rees-Mogg doesn't have valid concerns, but by framing them too simply -- deceptively simply -- he undermines his whole argument.
By not acknowledging that the online availability of Dickens doesn't seem to have harmed publisher greatly (if at all) he's ignoring a significant part of the debate.
And there are valid arguments he could make, such as that once online (or downloadable) reading becomes more appealing, it might actually cut into print book sales.
It's too bad: the many issues raised by Google's potential (as well as America's absurd near-eternal copyright protection, among many other copyright-related issues) are worth serious discussion.
But it's got to be more serious -- or at least more well-founded -- than this.
One of the worst books we have under review is 'Melissa P.''s truly terrible 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed.
Last week, The New York Times reprinted Elisabetta Povoledo's article from the International Herald Tribune, Torrid book, blander film ? (as "Teenage Sex Film Touches an Italian Nerve"), leading to even greater than usual interest in our review.
The article is about the success of Luca Guadagnino's film-version of the book:
Despite the bad press, or perhaps because of it, Melissa P. beat out Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when it opened in November, and it's become one of the five top-grossing Italian films of last year, with more than 6 million (about $7.4 million) in ticket sales.
The director, Luca Guadagnino, believes that the film struck a chord with young Italians because his rewrite of Panarello's novel skirted the sexual to isolate more universal issues.
The book, he said, had done little more than stimulate the reader's morbid curiosity "to know how far she'd go with her body count."
Agreed, the book did do little more -- but surely that's the only possible appeal of a movie based on it.
Take out all the sex and the vacuous story offers ... nothing.
Then the original Melissa P., the author Melissa Panarello, dismissed the film as being superficial and clichéd.
"It's opinionated and full of prejudices that inevitably deteriorate into dime store psychology," she wrote in a letter published by Italian news agencies.
Having penned the original pile of crap, Miss Panarello shouldn't be one to talk.
But it does make for a kind of fun debate .....
To date, the City of Literature’s only achievements have been securing the Man Booker Prize ceremony for Edinburgh last August and sending out an e-bulletin from its website.
But there's going to be a change at the top -- eventually:
The project’s new manager, Alison Bowden -- currently a rights manager at the Edinburgh University Press -- takes up her post in March.
She will be responsible for taking forward the 2006 programme, which includes putting new content on the website -- which has not been updated for several months -- a city-wide reading campaign based around Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, and a writers-in-residence programme in the capital.
Which doesn't exactly sound overly ambitious either.
But that website sure could use some updating: see, for example, the Projects-page, which promises:
With our successful bid to be a UNESCO City of Literature complete, the real work, proving that we deserve such an accolade will begin.
Our programme of activities will be marked by innovation and reach out wherever possible to parties in Scotland and across the world.
Delegations to other potential cities of literature are planned for this year, to encourage the cities to bid for UNESCO City of Literature status and to explore the development of mutually beneficial projects and partnerships
Yeah, junkets are always popular -- but some people even think this amounts to actually doing something constructive, Johnston's article noting:
A Unesco spokeswoman, Arian Hassani, said that the organisation was pleased with Edinburgh’s efforts so far, adding that it had been successful in building links with other cities who may be planning to bid for similar status.
As we've mentioned, Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown has just come out in German, and Rushdie is making the rounds, meaning there are interviews galore with him.
An entertaining one is Katharina Granzin's in taz.
John Updike's review of the book in The New Yorker comes up, with Rushdie emphatically voicing his displeasure with it:
Ich habe die Kritik gelesen und mich sehr geärgert.
John Updike sollte nicht über politische Dinge schreiben; er ist besser, wenn es um Sex in den Suburbs geht.
(I read the review and was very annoyed by it.
John Updike shouldn't write about political matters; he's better when the subject is sex in the suburbs.)
Granzin brings up the review some more, including noting that Updike was one of the critics who compared the last scene to the film The Silence of the Lambs (Rushdie saying that's nonsense, and that it was the bad reviews that claimed that), as well as bringing up Updike's statement that Rushdie was no longer a Third World author.
Ich weiß, ich weiß ... die Sache mit dieser Besprechung ist nämlich, dass es scheint, als ob er Streit anfangen will.
(I know, I know ... the thing about this review is that it seems as if he wants to provoke a fight.)
Which sounds pretty defensive to us .....
Amusing also Rushdie's bragging about all the research he did, especially on the World War II scenes in France:
Rushdie: Ich habe mich zum Beispiel regelrecht in die Recherche über das besetzte Straßburg gestürzt.
Jetzt weiß ich mindestens hundertmal mehr darüber als vorher.
Granzin: Also, mir hat der Roman wirklich sehr gefallen.
Aber genau das war wohl der Teil des Buches, bei dem ich am wenigsten verstanden habe, wie ...
Rushdie: Ach so, interessant, denn sehr viele Leute finden genau das Gegenteil, viele sagen, das Straßburg-Kapitel sei ihr Lieblingskapitel.
Auch mein englischer Lektor hat mir gesagt, dass er dieses Kapitel am liebsten mochte.
(Rushdie: For example, I threw myself into research about occupied Strasbourg.
Now I know at least a hundred times more about it than before.
Granzin: Well, I really liked the novel.
But that was exactly the part of the book that I understood least, how ...
Rushdie: Ah, interesting, because a lot of people say exactly the opposite, many say the Strasbourg chapter is their favourite.
Even my English editor told me that he liked this chapter best.)
Which is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is the (to us) surprising fact that there was an editor involved in the production of this book (or at least that an editor read the manuscript) .....
There's been some debate about the reliability of 'Wikipedia', the online-encyclopaedia.
Whatever problems the format has, it also offers numerous advantages over print encyclopaedias -- but the lure of the permanence of print is apparently too great to resist: plans have been hatched to publish (in the most traditional form) the German version of Wikipedia.
The project is called WP 1.0, and the plan is to publish 100 (!) volumes of 800 pages each over the next four years, at the rate of two volumes a month, the first volumes due in October 2006.
The subscription price (i.e. if you pre-pay) is 14.90 per volume, retail will be a few euros higher -- a hell of a lot for something that will be available (and more up-to-date) online for free .....
In The outsider in The Guardian Maya Jaggi profiles Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o -- and notes that his massive new work, Wizard of the Crow, will be available in English translation in both the US and UK in August.
Definitely near the top of our summer-reads-to-look-forward-to list.
(Pre-order your copy from Amazon.comnow !)
Much as we admire the work of the great master, we're always thrilled when we hear that an author doesn't want to force it, i.e. isn't just writing because they feel they have to.
Far too many writers continue churning out books long after they've exhausted their (usually far more limited) capabilities
Sure, we hope the muse strikes Gabo again -- but we admire his restraint until it does.
And hope that other authors see him as someone to emulate in this regard as well.
We're really impressed by the coverage over at the Litblog Co-op this week.
(Local managing editor M.A.Orthofer is a member, though he's been shamefully inactive in contributing to current commentary there .....)
Check it out: this is about as good as book-coverage gets, with contributions from the author, editor, etc. -- and it's just the first book, with four more weeks of fun to follow.
As we've said: definitely worth visiting for the next few weeks.
Bookish mentioned this a couple of days ago, but this is the best information-page we've found on the new 'official' Danish canon that's apparently being much discussed there.
See the literary bits included (recognisable names, and a few works that have been translated into English, though we don't have any of them under review) or check out the whole list.
In the New Statesman Amit Chaudhuri writes on Indian writing in English in Beyond 'confident' (theoretically accessible).
He's not at all thrilled by the whole scene and attitude, noting:
The arriviste middle-class Indian, however, who's largely taken over the discourse of English writing in India, is deeply enamoured of longevity, success, and, importantly, power.
The literature, then, is described, by both critic and reporter, in terms ordinarily remote from criticism but perfectly sensible to the parvenu: "Indian writing has arrived."
Midnight's Children is indispensable to this narrative.
Ever since its appearance, "confidence" has been a buzzword in literary chatter
And so the Indian writer in English must be co-opted into this narrative of success and record growth; anything else, during this watershed, is looked upon with anxiety.
The writer mustn't cause anxiety; in our family romance, he's the son-in-law -- someone we can be proud of, can depend on, who is, above all, a safe investment. He is solvent; preferably settled abroad.
That should lead to some weblog and media commentary .....
The sixth annual Prix SNCF du polar -- the French crime-writing awards -- have been announced.
Caryl Férey's Utu won the French category, and Mo Hayder's Tokyo took the European category (which is apparently all the categories they have -- screw American, Asian, African, etc. crime writing).
See also the official site.
A nice batch of literary coverage in Al-Ahram Weekly this week.
First, there's another issue of the Cairo Review of Books.
Separately, there are also two articles discussing the recent Cairo International Book Fair.
In In place of the apex covers some of the seminar-activity.
And in The seminars unravel Rania Khallaf looks at the politics of translation, centred around the discussions with various Germans, the guest of honour at the fair.
Translator Hartmut Fahndrich addressed many of the difficulties and issues of making Arabic literature available in Germany (and, to some extent, elsewhere in Europe and America), including depressingly:
When novelist Salwa Bakr questioned Fahndrich over whether the interest of Western publishers in women's writing remained strong he replied that "publishers in Europe continue to welcome writing by women in which they talk about their depression and sufferings", though it was a trend, he hoped, that would not continue forever.
And Gamal El-Ghitany also weighed in:
El-Ghitany also lambasted German publishers for their lack of interest in concluding contracts for translation with Egyptian and Arab writers during the current round of the CIBF.
"They just came as guests of honour," he complained, "to discuss some ideas and then they will return without any initiative in place that will grant an audience to emerging Arab voices."
In the International Herald Tribune Mary Blume wonders How much tragedy in Literature Lost ? -- a not exactly original but enjoyable enough survey of lost books -- and, presumably, a plug for Stuart Kelly's The Book of Lost Books, a book that unfortunately doesn't live up to its premise, despite this and many more articles suggesting it might.
Matilda alerts us that the Commonwealth Writers' Prize have announced the regional shortlists -- and what a mixed bag that is (Nick Hornby's A Long Way Down is up for Best Book in the Eurasia region -- enough said).
We have a few of the shortlisted titles under review:
In Vermessung eines Erfolgs in the FAZ Felicitas von Lovenberg reports how Daniel Kehlmann's Die Vermessung der Welt -- coming out from Pantheon in the US this summer -- has almost stealthily turned into one of the top selling German books in recent memory.
Overshadowed by the Harry Potter-success when it first came out, it has now held the top position on the bestseller lists the past two weeks, and has sold almost 400,000 copies (an enormous number for Germany, and more than twice as many as the book that beat it out for the first German Book Prize, Arno Geiger's Es geht uns gut).
So we're curious how the American market will greet it.
Pantheon presumably would be thrilled if it sold 4000 copies, but maybe this foreign success will lead them to put a bit more marketing effort behind it.
It's a winning title, and if it's handled right it could do well -- but we're not sure how well.
As has been widely reported -- see, for example, Suzanne Goldenberg's report in The Guardian --, self-styled real estate mogul Donald Trump has filed a $5 billion suit over the book TrumpNation by Timothy O'Brien (see the Warner Books publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.com).
Like most things associated with Mr. Trump, this is practically too ridiculous to mention -- but we do like the fact that a book could be considered so important and its effects so devastating that someone is willing to demand $2.5 billion in compensation (and $2.5 billion in punitive damages).
We don't really comprehend the maths at work here, and presumably the judge will laugh him out of court, but somehow it's still heartening.
A couple of years after it came out in the UK City Lights has finally brought Juan Goytisolo's A Cock-Eyed Comedy out in the US -- and it's the subject of our most recent review
Well, we're still looking forward to The Blind Rider -- getting good reviews in the UK, but not yet available in the US.
The Whitbread book of the year has been announced: volume two of Hilary Spurling's Matisse biography won.
The main competition was not bookie-favourite Ali Smith's The Accidental or best first novel winner The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw, but rather Christopher Logue's poetry winner, Cold Calls (fifth in a six-book sequence) and the kid's novel winner.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for contemporary fiction.
For early reports, see:
Matisse biography clinches £30,000 Whitbread prize by Louise Jury in The Independent, who reports: "Heated debate over nearly two hours saw the judges agonising between the Spurling tome, Kate Thompson's children's book, The New Policeman, and the fifth part of poetry veteran Christopher Logue's Iliad epic, also written over many years.
Secret life of Matisse wins Whitbread prize by John Ezard in The Guardian, who reports: "The chairman of the judges, the children's author Michael Morpurgo, disclosed that the children's novel The New Policeman came second followed closely by the 79 year-old poet Christopher Logue's Cold Calls."
So, there's another news story out claiming the jr. Bush has read yet another book -- the weighty Mao-biography by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday.
Elisabeth Bumiller's 22 January story in the International Herald Tribune, How biography of Mao offers insight into Bush (also published as "Sometimes a Book is Indeed just a Book. But when ?" in the 23 January issue of The New York Times), says First Lady Laura foisted the book on the American president, and the official line is that he actually read it.
Apparently it came up in his meetings with German chancellor Angela Merkel -- "Participants in the meeting say that Bush spoke glowingly of the book".
Asked why Bush liked the book, McClellan said he would find out, then reported back on Friday that Bush had told him that it "really shows how brutal a tyrant he was" and that "he was much more brutal than people assumed."
Trying to read as much as possible into this:
American scholars say that Bush was probably also drawn to the book because it is, in effect, an argument for the president's second-term agenda of spreading democracy around the world.
We're not really clear on that lesson -- surely it's just as easy to argue he's looking for tips on how to subjugate his subjects, even when what he's doing as leader of the country is completely beyond the pale.
(Recall also that the jr. Bush's daddy was America's man in Beijing in the early 70's when Nixon decided Mao was a good guy after all and embraced him and all his fun policies.)
At least the IHT article also notes that there are some issues with the book, mentioning Andrew Nathan's review:
Nathan, who criticized what he called the authors' vague and inaccessible sourcing last year in The London Review of Books, said the biography presented Mao as a "comic-book monster," with little explanation of the psychological, sociological and historical forces that allowed him to rise.
Maybe the jr. Bush read the review and kept hoping for the comic-book depiction -- nice cartoon drawings and all.
The review itself notes:
There are problems, however: many of their discoveries come from sources that cannot be checked, others are openly speculative or are based on circumstantial evidence, and some are untrue.
Well, we know the jr. Bush has never had a problem with dubious sourcing, circumstantial evidence, or the patently untrue, etc. .....
Indeed, that seems to be his favourite sort of sourcing and evidence !
Hey, we're sure he's still defending James Frey too.
We would have figured this literary symposium would have attracted considerable attention.
Consider the participants: Per Olov Enquist, Henning Mankell, Javier Marías, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Péter Esterházy, Tim Parks, Franzobel, Hwang Chi-Woo, Burkhard Spinnen, Ugo Riccarelli, Thomas Hürlimann, Viktor Erofejev, and Calixthe Beyala.
So they fielded this pretty decent team -- but public interest and media coverage was limited, to say the least.
What was it about ?
Headers: International Literature Meets International Soccer, a project of the German Football Association's cultural arm (yes, they do things like that in Germany):
A world thirteen of literary players are appearing in Berlin to engage in exciting dialogue on the passion that unites us all -- football.
Lining up in different formations the international stars will debate the fascination, rituals, symbolic values and aesthetics of football, analyse the role of the game in different cultures and pass the ball around in their own way.
By developing literary moves in dialogue, argumentation, with stories, verses and anecdotes, from 19. to 21. January 2006 they will be wetting the intellectual appetite for this summer's international sporting spectacular.
Yeah, okay, the English-language presentation could have used some work -- it's appetite whetting they presumably wanted to do, not wetting -- but come on, this was a pretty good idea, and an impressive side of writers.
So how much English-language coverage do we find ?
None, beyond Deutsche Welle's From the Pen to the Pitch: World Literature Meets Soccer (which does the job, but how many people read DW ?).
We understand that the Americans -- despite qualifying for the World Cup -- don't get this 'soccer' thing, but we'd have expected more from the British.
But even the German newspapers reported that the events were sparsely attended (with journalists making up most of the audience).
But there was a fair amount of German coverage.
See, for example:
As reported practically everywhere (which was good to see), the trial against Orhan Pamuk (for the absurd charge of insulting the Turkish nation) will apparently not proceed.
We're not exactly sure what sleight of hand or law led to the charges being dropped or dismissed or whatever exactly happened to them.
Decent attempts at an explanation include Ian Traynor's in The Guardian, who notes:
A game of pass the parcel followed when the judge in the case adjourned the trial in December and ruled that the justice ministry had to decide on whether it should proceed.
Mr Cicek yesterday passed the problem back to the court which promptly said there was no case to answer, according to CNN Turk
The legal confusion over who was responsible arises from the fact that Turkey, under EU pressure, revised its penal code last year.
Mr Cicek argued that under the new code, his office has no say in who is tried.
The judge, arguing that the alleged crime predated adoption of the code, said that under the old code the justice ministry had to decide which cases to pursue.
See also Vincent Boland's Turkey drops charges against writer in the Financial Times.
As fortunately also widely noted, this only settles this one case -- and only on what amounts to a technicality.
As many people recognise, the fundamental problem remains: the Turks have one godawful law on the books and eventually -- if they don't want to get laughed out of the world community and expect to have any chance of joining the EU -- they're going to have to deal with that (i.e. get rid of it).
In Europe tells Turkey to drop all free speech cases in The Times the EU's Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn is quoted, pointing out what needs to be done:
It is clear for me that Turkey needs to fill properly the loopholes of the current Penal Code, which leave too much room for abusive and restrictive interpretations limiting freedom of expression.
And that things are far from settled is obvious not only from the many others still facing 301-charges but the fact that European Union-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Commission Co-chair and Dutch parliamentarian Joost Lagendijk expects to get arrested next time he visits Turkey:
Lagendijk was concerned he would be detained during his visit to Turkey, and says this concern was not for himself, but for the damage to Turkey 's image.
"Turkey should not be worn down even further," he stressed.
As for Orhan Pamuk, he's not a very popular individual in Turkey.
He's regarded as aloof, an intellectual who prefers to spend his time with Swedish human rights campaigners rather than Turks.
So there's very little personal sympathy for him.
And that all-important reminder:
It's important to remember that although the case against Pamuk was dropped today, Article 301, the law he broke, remains on the books.
The crime of publicly denigrating Turkey, whatever that means, still exists.
Pamuk was the showpiece trial, but several other writers and academics remain charged for the same crime and there's no sign that their cases will be dismissed.
The dropping of the case of Orhan Pamuk is too small a step on the road to freedom of expression in Turkey.
Amnesty International regards the incident as further evidence of the arbitrary nature of Article 301.
It calls on the Turkish authorities to terminate all cases pending under the article, and for the article itself to be abolished in its entirety.
PEN, the international association of writers, welcomed the news today that Turkish prosecutors will not proceed with a court case against novelist Orhan Pamuk, but cautioned that more than a dozen other writers and publishers are still being prosecuted under the same insult law. PEN called for an end of those prosecutions as well and amendments to all laws that curtail freedom of expression by penalizing debate on taboo subjects in Turkey.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Benjamin Tammuz's Minotaur, resurrected by Europa editions (which comes with the impressive Graham Greene blurb on the cover: "The best book of the year").
The customer reviews at Amazon.com can be useful and informative, but the system also lends itself to all sorts of creative abuse.
At the National Review Kathryn Jean Lopez describes what can happen in The "Sacking" of O’Beirne -- subtitled: "The 'Unhinged' cyber-Left gone wild".
The book in question is Kate O'Beirne's Women Who Make the World Worse - and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports, which we're surprised anyone would have the least interest in (but they do -- this is the sort of book Sam Tanenhaus gives coverage to in The New York Times Book Review (issue of 15 January), for example, rather than devoting the space to something worthwhile, like fiction).
(Note that O'Beirne is an editor at ... the National Review.)
Apparently this book was and is much-reviewed at Amazon.com; see their page (though curiously it has received much less customer-review attention at Amazon.co.uk).
But not everyone who 'reviewed' it appears to have bothered to read it:
To give you an idea of what the comments look like, here’s what I saw when I checked Thursday morning: 124 of 143 people found the review noting Women Who Make the World Worse’s revelation that Kate "slept with Ted Kennedy" helpful.
The Ted Kennedy thing does not, as you might have guessed, appear in the book.
(Hey, finding it 'helpful' doesn't necessarily mean you believe the claims in the review -- and quite possibly this claim actually enticed more people to buy the book than otherwise would have; it certainly sounds more fun than anything that's actually in the book (as far as we can tell from the mainstream-media reviews).)
"I've never seen such a cynical attempt by liberals to torpedo a book's Amazon ratings," Kate's editor at Sentinel, Bernadette Malone, told National Review Online earlier this week.
"It's particularly galling since hardly any of the reviewers seem to have even bought or read the book."
Unfortunately, it may be a trend in the making, however.
By late Thursday, I had received book-smearing reports involving Mark Levin's Men in Black on activist judges and Fred Barnes's upcoming Rebel-in-Chief on President George W. Bush, too.
In fact, it's not a particularly original idea, though this assault seems to have been more successful than most -- but we wonder to what purpose.
Are people really swayed by such a transparent attempt to torpedo a book ?
And isn't all the attention given to the book self-defeating, making it sound more important than it is ?
In his new book titled Are Translators Traitors ? Park Sang-ik provides meticulous insights into the translation's powerful and traditional influences that are often overlooked and forgotten.
Park, who is a Western history professor at Woosuk University, critically notes the "deplorable" translation situation in Korea in contrast to Japan.
The problem is not only the "shameful" quantity but also quality of translations.
Park confessed that he was "disillusioned and shocked" to see how shoddy and cursory the translations were, even those done by "renowned" scholars, and how many translated works belong within the shameful category.
(...) It is almost customary for professors to just let or make graduate students do translations with their own credits, which have spawned bad cross-cultural texts.
And there are also the usual depressing statistics:
Another factor strangling the nation's translation is a declining book market, Park noted.
According to a survey by research firm NOP World, Koreans in 2005 read, on average, 3.1 hours a week, the lowest among the 30 nations surveyed.
The number of published books in 2003 dropped by 58.6 percent from 1997 figures.
In the case of social science books, the number shrank 91.2 percent for the corresponding period, according to the National Statistical Office.
In this situation, it is virtually impossible for intellectuals to survive as professional translators, according to Park.
The nominated titles and this quarter's Read This selection were announced last week, but now things really get rolling at The Litblog Co-op.
Ander Monson's Other Electricites is in the spotlight this week -- check it out.
Scotland's literary icons will be the centrepiece of this year's Tartan Week celebrations in New York.
Some of the biggest names in Scottish literature, including Alexander McCall Smith, Neal Ascherson and AL Kennedy, will fly to America for a mini-book festival to be held in the New York Public Library.
We've mentioned that Arundhati Roy was awarded -- and declined -- the Sahitya Akademi award, and that's still being much discussed.
The Bibliofile-column in Outlook India notes that this award doesn't exactly have a great track record of getting people to accept it:
It's not the first time that a writer has turned down a Sahitya Akademi award (it's the sixth time, in fact)
Meanwhile, Aditi Tandon and Katy Guest report in the Independent on Sunday today that Booker author's snub shakes Indian elite -- noting that the Sahitya Akademi-folk don't much care that she doesn't want it: secretary Satchidanandan is quoted:
In any case, he added, there is no provision for withdrawing the award or replacing Roy with any other writer.
Despite her protests, it looks as if Arundhati Roy will be honoured, whether she likes it or not.
(Recall also that Roy was apparently only third choice, the two picked ahead of her found to be ineligible due to their holding foreign citizenship.)
It should worry us all that the longlist for works in translation was down from about 20 books last year to a mere 10 this year.
But in a year of surprising, often exhilarating, writing, this is a depressing statistic: it’s very saddening, for a country that speaks, argues and swears in so many different tongues to have just ten works on the translation longlist of a mainstream literary prize.
We added a new sub-listing to our literary weblogs links-page, of publisher weblogs, and are surprised (and pleased) that they seem to be proliferating faster than we can keep track.
Most surprising is that a major is among those leading the way -- HarperCollins, which has a hand in no less than three relatively new weblogs:
CruelestMonth.com -- perhaps the most obviously tied-in and commercial of the lot, but it focusses on poetry !
The Olive Reader -- Harper Perennial has its own fairly independent-minded weblog
Publishing Insider -- marketing man Carl Lennertz -- "of HarperCollins" -- looks at "books, music, movies and life in general"
It's still early days, and it'll take a while for them to find their footing, but this ain't a bad start.
So where are all the other publisher weblogs -- and will this be the big literary weblog-trend of 2006 ?
So how is literary fiction faring down under ?
In Small, but perfectly formed in The Age Aviva Tuffield considers the question.
Some interesting (and troubling) stats:
According to research by Mark Davis, who teaches in the Publishing and Communications program at the University of Melbourne, Australia's multinational publishers together with Allen & Unwin published 60 literary novels in 1996 and only 32 last year.
Another indicator is that entries to Australia's leading literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award, have declined from 84 in 1997 to 43 this year.
A further cause for concern is that recent figures show that the value of sales of Australian fiction fell from $125.2 million in 2001-02 to $73.1 million in 2003-04.