So Margaret Atwood's ridiculous 'remote book-signing device', LongPen, is set to be unveiled at the upcoming London Book Fair.
The name of the company she founded to market this thing -- Unotchit (which we kept pronouncing: 'ooh-not-shit' until we saw the helpful pronunciation guide at the website ('You-No-Touch-It')) -- might be what really put us off it, but it seems just too ridiculous for words.
(Of course we don't really get (and aren't big fans) of the live-author book signing concept, either .....)
But the grand unveiling is apparently going to be an 'event' -- and presumably there will be tons of press coverage.
Anthony Barnes gets things off to a ... start with Booker winner's robot brainwave may spell the end of the book tour in the Independent on Sunday -- and we certainly are amused by this prediction:
Signed copies of books can be highly sought after and collectable -- but a new generation of remotely produced signatures may have the reverse effect.
Roddy Newlands, expert in modern first editions at London's Bloomsbury Book Auctions, said: "I think if it were to be signed this way, it might actually take something off the value.
I would say it could probably cause a depreciation of the price."
More interesting than Ms.Atwood's stupid device (see above) are quite a few seminars at the London Book Fair:
- Sunday, 5 March: Internet Coverage of Books, where:
A panel of industry professionals will discuss the impact the internet has had on the reviewing and other coverage of books.
Do online reviews, blogs, listserves effect book sales ?
What about online ads for specific titles ?
- Sunday, 5 March: The Joys and Sorrows of Book Reviewing, one of The New York Review of Books panels, with Robert Silver, T.G.Ash, James Fenton, and Alan Ryan
- Monday, 6 March: Translation: Possibilities, Problems, Paradoxes, another of the NYRB panels, with John Sturrock, George Szirtes, and Julia Lovell
We hope some of those fine Britsh literary webloggers will be able to give full reports !
Holocaust-denier David Irving's trial is scheduled for tomorrow -- and the to-do around it will be much more exciting than the trial itself, since Irving is pleading guilty and essentially throwing himself on the mercy of the court (with a limited chance of success, based on the fact that the charge he's up on is an ancient one).
As Ruth Elkins reports in Holocaust denier: 'I'm no Nazi' in the Independent on Sunday:
"He'll most likely be found guilty, and he knows it," Elmar Kresbach, Mr Irving's counsel, told The Independent on Sunday.
"It's almost impossible for him to win -- the case is a clear breach of the law on Holocaust denial."
Rather than contest the charges -- Mr Kresbach is not expected to call any defence witnesses -- the strategy is to seek a suspended sentence
As readers may recall, Irving was denied bail and has been in various Austrian jails since mid-November.
Unfortuantely, he has not been rotting in jail -- as Clare Chapman reports in Neo-Nazi alert at Irving hearing in the Sunday Times:
Irving has been held in custody after bail was refused.
He says he has used his time behind bars to write his memoirs, 20 pages a day.
20 pages a day !
Hasn't the memoir-genre suffered enough blows this year ?
But if there's anyone deserving of a James Frey blurb, it's Irving !
Chapman also reports:
Irving, 67, who has said he will plead guilty to charges of Holocaust denial, has been receiving as many as 200 letters a week from admirers since his arrest last November.
The authorities are worried that many will turn up to support him
Indeed, there's far too much to-do surrounding the trial -- cameras ! media ! fans !
Security has even been taken over by a relatively new state security agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung (an agency that ambitiously combines constitutional protection ('Verfassungsschutz') with anti-terrorist-protection ('Terrorismusbekämpfung').
Additional coverage can be found in the Sunday Herald (Melanie Haape writes Irving trial snared in debate over freedom of speech) and in the New Statesman -- where Roger Boyes has no problem arguing: Send this man straight to jail,. concluding:
We are not making Irving into a martyr by jailing him.
We (or the Austrians on our behalf) are making the world a little bit safer -- and defining the limits of tolerance.
Given all the loud cries in support of free speech regarding the irreverent (to some) cartoons first published in Denmark last fall, this is, of course, a very interesting case .....
(The Austrians have been wise (or lucky) to keep out of the recent cartoon-fun, but the spectre of a double-standard still hangs over this case.)
We've reviewed all three of Max Barry's books, and remain puzzled by their enthusiastic reception.
His newest is Company, which we didn't find particularly funny -- though, as usual, he does have a couple of decent ideas (and, as usual, still no characters that are anything approaching life-like).
As with the last book, we figured people would see this, but no -- reception has been almost universally positive.
We don't expect better of Janet Maslin (who reviewed it for The New York Times), but that practically all the reviewers would be so taken -- and, more bafflingly, so amused -- by it is simply inexplicable to us.
It is neither a good nor a funny book, and it's a pretty feeble satire.
But not only does it get good reviews, it gets lots of reviews.
Sam Tanenhaus can't be bothered to assign many foreign titles for review for The New York Times Book Review, but he did bother with this (despite it already getting coverage in The New York Times daily edition ...) -- and Douglas Coupland gives a favourable opinion (review reluctantly linked to here), calling it: "smart and fast paced" (fast paced ? definitely ! smart ? you have got to be kidding !).
And in The Washington Post Book World Stanley Bing calls it: "extremely funny, superbly observed" (sorry, it's neither).
What's so amazing is that this is really an utterly mediocre book, and there are so many others that would be more worth your while -- and that don't get anywhere near this kind of review attention.
And we'll plug it here again: if you want to read a real (and funny) management/corporate satire, Lydie Salvayre's The Award is the book you should get.
Carlos Fuentes' The Eagle’s Throne is now available in the UK (see the Bloomsbury publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.u; it's only due out in the US in May -- see the (not yet informative) Random House publicity page or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com).
Angel Gurria-Quintana reviews it in the Financial Times (link likely only short-lived), describing some of the plot:
In retaliation for Mexican opposition to armed intervention in Colombia by the US, the US president (one Condoleezza Rice) has cut off Mexico from all forms of electronic communication -- "the globalised world’s equivalent of a desert".
Forced to overcome a distrust of putting thoughts on paper, the Mexican ruling class is reduced to writing letters.
The model is Choderlos de Laclos’s epistolary novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
A lot of Fuentes' recent stuff has been pretty hard to take, but we are intrigued -- though Gurria-Quintana warns:
Fuentes the political analyst gets in the way of Fuentes the novelist.
Meanwhile, Fuentes just delivered the second Nadine Gordimer Lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Literature and Language Studies; see the official press release.
Darryl Accone reports on Fuentes' visit in Transatlantic dialogue.
And see (and hear) also Isabel Hilton's interview with Fuentes at Open Democracy.
The school's core activity is the translation of texts from Arabic into Spanish though it also offers courses and seminars on Hebrew-Spanish translation and introductions to Arabic language.
Meanwhile, it functions as a base for research into the inextricably linked cultures of the Mediterranean region and often plays host to international symposia on all things cultural.
But the focus of the centre is language -- that cultural barrier par excellence. Only in Toledo the barrier is broken down and transformed.
We recently reviewed Yasmina Khadra's forthcoming suicide-bomber novel, The Attack, and, as widely reported, Random House/Focus Features are planning to make a film based on it -- one of their first joint projects.
See the official press release (warning ! dreaded pdf format !)
As they note:
THE ATTACK, first published in France by Editions Julliard, has notched impressive sales of over 100,000 copies and has been short-listed for every major French literary prize.
The novel tells the story of an Arab surgeon living in Tel Aviv who learns a shattering secret about his wife in the aftermath of a suicide bombing.
The 'has been short-listed' suggests it's still in the running, which of course it isn't (it didn't actually win any of these major prizes, either).
But we do like the "shattering secret"-line -- almost as good as the one in the book itself, where a police captain confronts the husband and tells him:
Your wife didn't go into that restaurant to have a snack, she went there to have a blast ...
(We're not giving away too much here -- it's not exactly a secret twist.)
Peter Gethers (president of Random House Films) is also quoted as saying:
THE ATTACK is an illuminating and affecting story that is at once powerfully personal and compellingly political.
It could make a decent movie, we suppose -- but we're sort of disappointed that it wasn't the Inspector Brahim Llob-trilogy (see our reviews of Double Blank and Autumn of the Phantoms) that got optioned: much more interesting stuff (but Algerian issues can't compete with the Israeli ones, at least among American audiences ...).
We're always interested in seeing what (and how much) gets published in various countries, and Al Bayanesums up the situation in Morocco in the three-year period 2002 to 2004.
A mere 2,791 works (over three years !) put out by the publishing houses in Morocco.
Almost a third -- mainly the 'literary' stuff -- was apparently published basically at the authors' expense (i.e. vanity or essentially self-published).
More than three-quarters of the books were published in Arabic, and about a fifth in French.
Not surprisingly: the average edition was 2000 or less.
We constantly complain about how little foreign literature is translated into English (and how little of that is reviewed, especially in the NYTBR ...) and how surprisingly closed America generally is to many aspects of foreign culture (specifically if it is in a foreign language), but the dearth of Americans able to tackle Arabic (and a few other languages) has caused some hand-wringing and led to some initiatives to get more Americans learning languages.
General indifference and even outright opposition to bothering with foreign languages remains high, however -- see, for example, an Ivy League opinion, as Jason Sheltzer moans about foreign language requirements at college in the Daily Princetonian:
Thankfully, for those of us who could never master le subjonctif, English is the dominant language in nearly all fields of scientific endeavor, business and diplomacy and is generally recognized as the de facto standard for international communication.
Requiring proficiency in a foreign language as a prerequisite to graduation is an unnecessary source of aggravation to many students and is tangential to Princeton's present-day goals as an institution.
That's the proper attitude, right ?
Granted, college language courses often are -- like much that passes for academics at most American institutions of supposedly higher learning -- a not very useful joke, and making foreign language learning a requirement in high school (or, preferably, elementary school) would lead to far better results, but still .....
We're generally happy when we get review copies, especially of books we've asked for, but few packages have pleased us as much recently as the box of titles from Glas (with a few long longed-for titles from the Northwestern University Press Writings from an Unbound Europe-series tossed in (NWU Press distributes Glas in the US)).
Great stuff !
Glas is a book-series (that occasionally seems to be masquerading as a journal), offering an incredible variety of Russian writing, recent as well as older Soviet stuff.
Some volumes are devoted to a single work, others offer selections from a variety of books and authors.
Well worth your while.
Anyway, the first two titles we've now covered are two Anatoly Mariengof works from the late 1920s:
The ruling comes a month after President Vladimir Putin signed into law a restrictive bill regulating the work of NGOs, including those dedicated to promoting press freedom and supporting independent media.
In his Literary life-column in The Telegraph Mark Sanderson reports on Edward St. Aubyn's novel Mother's Milk.
Despite a launch attended by Antonia Fraser, Lucien Freud, and Alan Hollinghurst and loads of generally very good reviews (both in the UK and the US) the British bookshop-buyers don't seem to have been overly enthusiastic about stocking the title:
While works of literature do not always interest supermarkets, specialist book retailers are another matter.
However, despite widespread -- and largely favourable -- reviews, interviews and feature coverage in the national press, Britain's bookshops -- Waterstone's, Ottakars et al -- have ordered a mere 800 copies of Mother's Milk.
Sales at Amazon.co.uk suggest it's not entirely unpopular (get your copy here, sales rank last we checked was a decent 1,400) -- though at Amazon.com in the US it seems to be doing rather poorly (get your copy here, sales rank last we checked was a terrible 135,255) -- perhaps because in the US bookstores actually have copies on hand .....
(See also the Open City publicity page.)
The Orhan Pamuk trial (in)famously fizzled out a couple of weeks ago, but the 301-trials (for "insulting" the Turkish nation, as proscribed by statute 301 and similar laws) continue.
Or not, as the case may be.
The English Centre of International PEN reports that last week Hrant Dink (who has been through this before -- and is scheduled for more) was acquitted on one set of charges last week, while cases against seven other writers and publishers were either postponed or adjourned.
Maybe that's why the law is being kept on the books: it keeps the courts nice and busy.
(God forbid they'd actually bother dealing with real criminals .....)
Always good to see some local enthusiasm, and in the Daily Observer they argue for Making literature relevant in the Gambia.
Among their ideas: set up an annual Gambian literary prize !
Gambian Literature Day should be subsumed under a week-long annual literary conference !
Establish a literary quarterly ("to provide an outlet for artistic articulation in the country") !
And we're glad to hear:
Indeed, written Gambian literature is on the ascendancy.
Gambians are self-publishing their literary works in encouraging numbers.
Of course, these works come with all the pitfalls that are inherent in self-publishing, but this does not make them any less significant.
(To our embarrassment, we can't name a single Gambian author off the top of our heads, but at least they have the proper attitude.)
It's always interesting to hear about the local publishing-issues elsewhere in the world: in the Taipei Times Lin Chia-cheng writes that Publishers now under threat from booksellers in Taiwan.
Not of all this makes sense to us -- though it's vaguely comforting to see that publishing is a nutty 'business' the world over -- but they do have some unique issues -- including (mainland) Chinese competition:
Although cross-strait exchanges have yet to be normalized, books sold in Taiwan are already three to four times more expensive than books in simplified characters sold in China.
What's more, international markets have seen a marked decline.
We're fans of The Guardian's book coverage (which actually also includes The Observer's book coverage) -- largely because it's among the most extensive and accessible on the Internet (no subscriber-only archives !).
It's pretty good, too -- but Grumpy Old Bookman alerts us to a troubling review-killing that strikes quite the blow to what esteem we held them in.
(Granted, we like to remind readers to always be suspicious of any and all reviews, including ours, but this is really pretty bad.)
It seems a columnist for The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland, has written a book under the pen-name 'Sam Bourne', The Righteous Men (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk, or see the HarperCollins publicity page), and The Guardian asked Michael Dibdin to review it.
As Grumpy Old Bookman puts it:
Unfortunately, the book team seem to have forgotten to tell Dibdin that the book was by One of Us, and when the review came in it was less than enthusiastic.
Tim Martin at The Times (gleefully) offers the rest of the details:
Seeking to limit the damage, an editor branded the review "too negative" and returned to sender.
Outraged, Dibdin passed it to The Times, where -- in the true spirit of journalistic competition -- it appears in all its glory tomorrow in our Books section
Indeed, it did -- here.
The Guardian placing the feelings of their columnist above the interests of their readers (and any ideals of objectivity) is, to put it mildly, disappointing, and we certainly hope this blows up nicely in their faces.
(So far, we haven't been able to find any other commentary on it (or, for that matter, any other reviews of the book in question), but surely there must be quite a few outraged readers out there.)
Presciently, Grumpy Old Bookman was already on the case before there even was a book, calling attention (in September 2004 !) to the fact that the whole thing smelled from the beginning:
Mr Freedand is doubtless a man of many virtues, who regularly helps old ladies to cross the road, and the editor at HarperCollins is, equally doubtless, a legend in the publishing world.
Nevertheless, I am bound to enquire whether there is anyone out there in the blogosphere who can possibly explain to me how this deal between the two of them, and Geller, can possibly be justified.
So, from beginning to end: a case study in publishing (and the literary-critical establishment) and what's wrong with it.
The Man Booker Prize has named a chair of the judges for the 2006 award: Hermione Lee.
Not at their site, of course (where the newest press release is from October) -- that would be too simple, allowing the public to get information from the source in a timely fashion.
No, we have to rely on media reports -- which, as in the case of The Guardian's own coverage (John Ezard reporting that Guardian reviewer to head Man Booker judges), often aren't very informative.
Other coverage includes reports in the Daily Telegraph (Hermione Lee will lead the Booker Prize judges) and at the BBC (Hermione Lee chairs Booker judges) -- where they at least have a picture.
The most useful report is Booker judges 'like divorcing couples' by Jack Malvern in The Times, which includes the titbits that: "She will not demand that judges must read every page of the 130-odd books submitted by publishers" and:
Professor Lee also suggested that the prize would benefit from a blind marking method, whereby judges would not know the author and title of the books they were reading.
Malvern notes that last year J.M.Coetzee was among those: "bounced off the shortlist by lesser-known writers" -- but Slow Man was a book that surely couldn't have benefited from the blind method, since Elizabeth Costello re-appeared therein.
(Come to think of it, the other author he mentions -- Salman Rushdie, whose Shalimar the Clown also didn't make the cut -- surely also would have been readily identifiable to all but the most oblivious judges.)
But it does depend on the judges: recall our mention of 1984 judges Ted Rowlands, who admitted to Julian Barnes that he'd never heard of Flaubert until he read Flaubert's Parrot .....
No word on who the other judges will be yet.
We were unaware that: "Every winter for the past five years, Montreal has been celebrating oral literature, text performance and spoken word", but apparently that's what they do at the Festival Voix d’Amériques (FVA) -- and the 2006 Edition is going on right now (10 to 17 February).
Among the titles we're most looking forward to this spring is László Krasznahorkai's War and War (pre-order at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
It's coming out in a translation by George Szirtes, and in Foreign Laughter in the current issue of The Hungarian Quarterly he writes about it, as well as the two Sandor Marai titles that have been translated into English: the twice-translated Embers, as well as the one he tackled, Casanova in Bolzano (published in the UK as Conversations in Bolzano).
For more on Krasznahorkai, see also his official site, and for a review of War and War see Miklós Györffy's, also from The Hungarian Quarterly.
It's Rupert Thomson-week at The Litblog Co-op, as his Divided Kingdom will be the centre of attention.
Thomson himself helps start things off by taking questions today -- you have until tonight (GMT) to get yours in.
In Outlook India Sheely Reddy writes about what's Gained In Translation -- which isn't always that impressive.
Guess what India is reading in its small towns and villages these days ?
Almost exactly what Washington or New York was reading a year or two ago.
But the gold rush is really in the self-help and management books.
Rakheja bagged the Hindi translation rights of Who Moved My Cheese which has crossed the 50,000 copies mark already.
Business School by Robert Kiyosaki sold 70,000 copies while Allan Pease's Questions Are the Answers sold 1,00,000 copies in Hindi alone.
"There are so many young men and women working in top companies nowadays who are not comfortable reading in English but can't afford to be ignorant of the latest management books," he explains.
If they only realised how much better off they'd be if they stuck to fiction .....
But even fiction doesn't always translated directly.
When Prabhat Prakashan picked up Hindi rights for Vikas Swarup's Q & A, for instance, they had a tough time persuading Swarup's publisher to omit a few paragraphs, including all references to homosexuality.
"We've sold translation rights in 23 languages, and this is the first time we received such a request," Piyush was told before he was reluctantly granted the rights.
John Morrison describes making the rounds of the bookshops in order to see to it that his new book was available and to help prod them to sell it in Reader, I harried them in the Financial Times (link likely only short-lived).
A fairly amusing survey-article -- and he notes:
Publishers want authors to be young and photogenic, but booksellers are democratic pragmatists; they are interested not in you but in your book, particularly the price and the cover.
Then they ask who the distributor is and whether the wholesalers have it in stock.
And he found:
Much to my surprise, I got the best reception of all in branches of Borders, where the youthful staff had clearly been given training in What To Do When An Author Comes Into Your Shop.
We reviewed Lydie Salvayre's The Company of Ghosts a couple of months ago.
It's now available in both the US and UK, and, as with far too many translated books, it's fascinating to compare the very different amount of review coverage it has attracted in the US and in the UK.
Though published by an American publisher -- Dalkey Archive Press -- it hasn't received much print attention in the US.
None of the major papers or magazines appear to have bothered with it yet.
Sure, popular sites like Bookslut and RALPH (and us) have covered it, but the print media -- not so much.
Meanwhile, in Britain print media coverage has been excellent.
Never mind that Anita Brookner discussed the original in The Spectator not long after it came out in French, almost a decade ago.
In the last month alone it's been reviewed in the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, the Independent on Sunday, and The Guardian.
Sure, some of these are fairly brief mentions, but at least the book is attracting some attention.
We know we can't expect foreign-phobic Sam Tanenhaus to cover it in the NYTBR, but how can it be that the Brits find it worth their time and space and essentially no American publications do ?
(Sadly, this is far from an isolated case.)
The British Public Lending Rights data have been announced -- with "Jacqueline Wilson: UK's Most Borrowed Author for Third year Running".
For all the (available) data, click through the various pages here.
See also newspaper reports:
Alain de Botton's Essays in Love (published in the US as On Love) -- one of the first books we ever reviewed (nr. 3) -- has been re-published (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk) -- and apparently de Botton was encouraged to revise it.
He describes the experience and results in The Times, in The revised or standard version ? -- though:
I might add, that though happy with the changes I made inside, perhaps the greatest alteration has been to the cover of the book.
This Space points us to issue one of the Green Integer Review: "Poetry & Fiction, Interviews, Essays & Reviews, Bios, Links"
Part of the now slightly redesigned Green Integer site, it looks well worth keeping an eye on.
(See also the index of our reviews of Green Integer titles.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Philippe Claudel's Prix Renaudot-winning Grey Souls -- available in the UK, but only due out in the US in June, when it will appear under the title: By a Slow River.
(Don't even get us started on the whole transatlantic re-titling crap -- and note that while Grey Souls may be a ... grey title, it is the more appropriate one.)