Peruvian writer Santiago Roncagliolo took the Premio Alfaguara de Novela for his novel Abril rojo.
Not that the money on offer somehow validates the prize, but it should be noted that at $ 175,000 for the winner (plus a statue) this book prize puts pretty much every other single-title literary award to shame -- none that we know of come close.
See the AP report, as well as Spanish-language reports in El mundo and El Pais.
None of Roncagliolo's works appear to be available in English yet; it's unclear whether the Alfaguara has the clout to propel him to English-language publication (especially since his agent probably now wants a lot more money for the English rights for the book ...).
He does have a (Spanish language) weblog at El Boomeran(g) -- but hasn't mentioned winning the prize yet.
Bibliobibuli points us to an interesting article by Dzireena Mahadzir in The Star, Telling tales in Malay.
Apparently: "Malay popular fiction is flourishing" (the sort of local success we're always glad to hear about).
Yes, Dan Brown is a hit there too -- but even he is an also-ran compared to some of the local talent.
When it comes to Malay titles, however ?
Sharifah Abu Salem sold 70,000 copies of her novel, Pesona Rindu (Enchantment of Longing), last year.
And she had company: Sepi Tanpa Cinta (Lonely Without Love) by Damya Hanna also sold 70,000.
In fact, in little more than half a decade, just one publisher of Malay novels, Alaf 21, has sold more than half a million copies of seven titles, including Sharifah and Damya’s books
What's so fascinating is that this is apparently a relatively new phenomenon -- and that there's one major reason for it:
This is due to an industry-changing decision made about a decade ago.
Alaf 21, one of the biggest and most influential Malay novel publishers in the business (the other big player is Creative Media), decided to begin using everyday language in their books.
"In 1997, we decided to use bahasa suratkhabar (casual newspaper language) rather than bahasa sastera (the more formal language of literature), which had, until then, been the standard in novels," says Norden.
This isn't a unique problem/issue with Malay -- and it's almost surprising that it took so long to experiment in this way.
P.S. One of the great things about the Internet is the exposure to literary information from all across the globe.
Weblogs such as Bibliobibuli offer fascinating stuff: learn about the Malay chain bookshop scene, for example .....
So they're suing James Frey for selling made up crap as non-fiction and Dan Brown for allegedly basing his best-selling pile of crap on a previously published book.
More interesting is the case of Chen Dingxiang, who is suing the Shanghai Book Mall for selling the most popular Chinese dictionary.
Xinhuanet reported on this a couple of weeks ago, and now that he made it past the preliminary hearing they report again, in Book distributor sued for "errors" in dictionary (with the number of errors at issue having jumped from 3000 to 4000 from the one article to the next):
The 56-year-old is asking the mall to stop selling Xinhua Dictionary, alleging it is riddled with errors, refund him twice the amount he spent on the book, make an apology in national media and pay him compensation of 20,000 yuan (US$2,470).
According to his indictment, the 10th edition of Xinhua Dictionary he bought in July last year has more than 4,000 definitions or usages either wrong or inaccurate.
"The book, of poor quality, not only violates consumer rights and interests, but also causes damage to their knowledge," said Chen's lawyer Ye Han.
The choice of the Swedish author Göran Sonnevi as winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize 2006, attracted huge media interest at the weekend.
The search engine that monitors interest in the Nordic news registered a marked increase in the number of hits.
We're glad to see they're so enthusiastic, but if that was 'huge media interest' .....
Whether or not one believes that the Times is inherently biased towards nonfiction, it’s certainly true that books by smaller presses or unknown authors are unlikely to get major coverage.
That is where literary blogs have stepped in to fill this perceived gap.
And he finds:
With the rise of blogs and their increasingly legitimate place in book criticism, Michiko is no longer the most famous unknown variable for publishers to try to predict.
Since he (kindly) singles us (along with similarly dual-purpose weblog/review site Bookslut) out we can hardly be counted on to be objective, but it's a pretty decent overview of the currently (if still slowly) shifting literary establishment situation.
Overlook continues to bring out the recent work of the great Per Olov Enquist in a relatively timely fashion, and next up is his 2004 Marie Curie (and Blanche Wittmann) novel, The Book about Blanche and Marie, due out in a couple of weeks -- but our review is now available.
We're suckers for those 'best books'-lists, and 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, edited by Peter Boxall, is more ambitious in scope than most (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com).
The Cassell publicity page explains:
1001 Books offers concise critical insights into the books and the writers that have excited the imagination of the world.
It offers reviews, author biographies, plot and character assessments and historical information on those books considered the most important, compelling, or simply the best fiction ever written.
Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like they did a brilliant job of it.
Alex Clark is still relatively forgiving in her review in The Observer today -- though she notes that a Paulo Coelho book made the cut (The Devil and Miss Prym), which pretty much says it all .....
She does note:
Part of the snobbish parlour-game appeal of compendiums such as these lies in spotting the omissions, but, in all truth, why would anyone want to read -- or read about -- no fewer than 11 books by JM Coetzee and seven by Wyndham Lewis, and yet forgo making the acquaintance of Rose Macaulay, Rosamond Lehmann, Olivia Manning, Rex Warner, Elizabeth Taylor, AL Barker or Ivy Compton-Burnett ?
Eleven Coetzee titles ?
Sure, he's great, but still ......
Far more fun is Philip Hensher's (not freely accessible) take-down in this week's issue of The Spectator (issue of 25 February), which includes observations such as:
All the same, this list could be a little less terrible.
It is so amazing a series of obvious omissions, weird inclusions and horrid middle-aged attempts at grooviness that you wonder who on earth it is intended for.
For a start, it is grotesquely weighted towards modern literature.
He points out some obvious deficiencies:
Volumes of short stories are sometimes touched on, but the compilers obviously have no feeling for them and no knowledge whatsoever of the history of the form; no Chekhov, no Kipling, no V.S.Pritchett.
And he probably has a point when he judges:
Personally, I do feel that a survey which includes a novel as dim and unreadable as David Peace’s Nineteen Seventy Seven at the expense of The Wings of the Dove or A House for Mr Biswas is not one entitled to say ‘must’ to any sentient reader.
The list is bad enough, but the quality of writing about the individual books passes all belief.
No cliché is too banal, no phrase-making too fatuous.
So, all in all:
Really, nothing at all in this appalling production can be recommended, and you wonder how on earth it was produced, and who on earth it was produced by.
Yet its Amazon.co.uk ranking suggest it's doing fairly well .....
The imperative of its title -- books you must read ! -- has some appeal (it's a nice thought, that there might be books so good that we simply must read them before we die), but that's setting the bar damn high.
We'd probably be hard-pressed to come up with even just a few dozen titles that we would unequivocally recommend to one and all.
Roberto Calasso heads Italian publisher Adelphi, and a couple of years back he came out with an interesting book: Cento lettere a uno sconosciuto (see their publicity page), a selection of the flap copy -- the book descriptions publishers try to lure readers in with -- of one hundred of the books they've put out.
It's coming out in German from Hanser (see their publicity page), and in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung they print his introduction (in German) (link likely only short-lived).
A neat selection of titles, anyway -- sounds pretty interesting.
We wonder whether it will ever appear in English.
The film version of Michel Houellebecq's The Elementary Particles (published in the UK as Atomised) -- oddly enough, a German production -- premiered yesterday (in German cinemas); see the official site or the IMDb page.
Early reviews -- see those in taz or Die Welt -- have not been very kind.
See also an interview with the director in the Stuttgarter Zeitung.
Every couple of years some publisher sets about publishing the books that Jorge Luis Borges considered a 'Library of Babel'.
The latest: Franco Maria Ricci -- popularly known as FMR --, and at L'Express Thierry Gandillot interviews him about the undertaking.
We can't believe that this is considered among the most anticipated titles of the year, but presumably D.B.C.Pierre's Man Booker winning credentials are enough to account for that (despite his having taken the prize with the piss-poor Vernon God Little).
Anyway, his new book, Ludmila's Broken English, is out -- in the UK (American readers have a repireve until May ...).
See the Faber publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk (or pre-order at Amazon.com).
Not a good sign: among the first reviews is one by someone who actually though Vernon God Little was readable (hell, she actually (and unbelievably) liked it), Liz Jensen -- but even she is forced to admit that this follow-up effort isn't much good:
Vernon God Little was an energetic celebration of language.
In Ludmila's Broken English, it feels as if there is almost a kind of devil-may-care vandalism at work.
For fans of Pierre's first novel, and I am one of them, the result cannot be anything but dismaying.
On the strength of Vernon God Little, if not of this novel, Mr Dirty But Clean is still a writer to believe in -- but a whole lot less.
Since, based on the weakness of Vernon God Little, we never believed in this guy we think we'll write him off right here and now, and certainly not bother with this one.
Last month we mentioned the Kraken Group's Opus-venture -- super-expensive (and oversized) books catering to the rich (and very devoted sports fans).
Mark Sanderson's Literary life-column this week points (last item) us to the now-available website for the Opus-publications, where they are described as:
limited-edition publications that represent the definitive works on some of the world’s greatest sporting individuals, teams, and events.
Lovingly crafted by the very best writers, photographers and designers, hand-bound in luxurious leather, weighing in at nearly 40 kg (88 lbs) and measuring half a meter square (over 20 inches along each side), Opus is an epic celebration of sport’s greatest icons.
Yeah, okay .....
Anyway, if you have a couple of thousand dollars you want to waste on a glossy boulder of a book on, say, the most recent (American 'football') 'Super Bowl', you can order your copy here.
Still, we have to admit that as far as niche-publishing goes, they're probably onto something here.
The Peter-Weiss-Stiftung/literaturfestival berlin have published their appeal "for a worldwide reading of Eliot Weinberger's What I Heard about Iraq on 20th of March" (sorry, the English version of the appeal doesn't appear to be available at the site (yet ?)).
(Weinberger's text is also available in his What Happened Here, a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award this year.)
It's all to celebrate (well, mark and remind everyone of) the third anniversary of the 'political lie' that led to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.
There's decent (if selective) support for the appeal, which has been signed by a pretty impressive group of authors (a list of names that no doubt now also serves as a handy reference list for war-supporters to denounce ...).
American (and US-based) signatories include: Chris Abani, Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt, Bei Dao, Russell Banks, Amitav Ghosh, Adrienne Rich, Anne Waldman, and, of course, Eliot Weinberger.
Surprisingly few British-based authors so far, but some notable names, including: Tariq Ali, Doris Lessing, Harold Pinter, and Jeanette Winterson.
And a decent smattering of other authors, including Orhan Pamuk, Ko Un, and David Albahari.
They note that signatures -- and suggestions for next year's event ! -- are welcome.
Literary estates can be big business -- big enough that there are publicly traded holding companies specialising in the field, such as Chorion:
an intellectual property owning brand creation and management business.
Its principal properties and brands are the literary works and character brands of Agatha Christie (Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple), Enid Blyton (Noddy, Famous Five) and Georges Simenon (Inspector Maigret).
Chorion also recently acquired all rights to Mr. Men and Little Miss, created by Roger Hargreaves.
And, among their "brands" is also Raymond Chandler.
(And, admittedly, most of the profits aren't in the print-rights, but rather the licensing of the characters for film and TV.)
As reported in, for example, the Daily Telegraph (by Harry Wallop), Alli makes a move for Noddy and the Mr Men.
Alli is actually the chairman of Chorion, and:
He has teamed up with private equity group 3i to make a £108m bid for Chorion
Apparently he's convinced there's (more) money in them there literary works, though:
City analysts were surprised at the prospective price -- a premium of 23pc on Tuesday's closing price.
Patrick Yau, at Bridgewell, said: "Chorion has good brands but the price implies a takeout of 33.7 times 2006 earnings.
That's pretty heady.
But they're doing something right:
Chorion rejected a £44m cash and shares offer from rival Entertainment Rights two years ago.
In Markovits discusses basketball, literature Jack Mirkinson reports in the Yale Daily News that: "Ben Markovits '96 returned to Pierson College for a Master's Tea".
We're not familiar with Markovits' generally well-received fiction, but enjoy his criticism -- and were unaware of his earlier athletic career, playing professional basketball in Germany.
These sort of events are a nice way to introduce an author to an audience -- if only there were an audience:
At the tea, Markovits spoke about the dramatic career shifts -- from playing basketball in Germany to reviewing books in London -- that led him to author two novels.
He read excerpts from his newest book, Either Side of Winter, to an audience of eight in the Pierson College Master's house
Even more depressingly: two of the eight were Markovits' sisters .....
(We suggest that an open bar -- rather than tea -- might help attract the proper crowds.)
But he comes across as pretty sympathetic -- and we especially like his attitude:
Today, Markovits said, he is writing a three-part historical fiction series on Lord Byron.
Asked how he approached historical material, Markovits said he does not attempt for full historical accuracy.
"I'd rather fool people than get things right," he said.
In Book tour in St. Petersburg Times Angelina Davydova offers a good overview of the Russian publishing situation, especially regarding books in translation.
Among the observations:
Non-Russian authors do not have the mass appeal they once had, but St. Petersburg publishers are seeing an increasingly sophisticated market for foreign literature.
However more recently, Gordin said, demand for new "intellectual literature" has slowed.
Publishers are sticking with authors who already have an established following, and are publishing new authors only in small print runs unless they are big names like Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code.
While on the other hand:
"The interest in more serious and more high-quality fiction is certainly rising.
Readers are interested in well-written books about people, people’s relationships, psychological aspects of human life.
So that badly-written, false crime novels don’t find readers anymore."
Also interesting (and quite troubling):
most Russian publishers buy foreign rights from the Moscow offices of the three major international literary agencies, which control up to 90 percent of all fiction in English.
Penguin (UK) very kindly and quickly was able to set us up with a copy of Geoffrey Hill's not-yet-available-in-the-US collection, Without Title, and so the most recent addition to the complete review is our review.
New Yorkers can enjoy a 'Conversation with William Gass' as he introduces the audiobook version of his classic, The Tunnel, at the Housing Works Used Book Café tonight at 19:00 (Chekhov's Mistress' Bud Parr plans to be there and will presumably report on it; local saloon-keeper M.A.Orthofer is seriously tempted to go as well).
It should be interesting.
As to the audiobook -- well, Gass himself reads the entire thing, so it's probably worth a listen.
See also the Dalkey Archive Press publicity page.
(Our review of his new collection, A Temple of Texts, should be up in the next few days.
Meanwhile, enjoy this Q & A with Gass from the Boston Globe.)
The exhibit Livres de parole - Torah Bible Coran at the Bibliothèque nationale de France has actually been on for a while (it runs 9 November 2005 through 30 April) but only came to our attention now.
Never mind if you don't know French (or don't care about religious books) -- that's one fine online display.
Click you way through and enjoy !
From Jean Jacques Rousseau to Charles Bodelaire, from Thomas Hardy to JK Rowling, from Earnest Hemingway to Arthur Heiley, almost every Chinese who loves reading knows something about these western authors.
Ah yes, Bodelaire, Earnest, and Heiley .....
So much for reverse transliteration .....
It doesn't get better very quickly:
Yet how many non-Chinese have looked beyond Confucius, to explore the works of Cao Xueqing, Wang Shuo, or Su Tong ?
Well, we haven't gotten round to Su Tong yet, but even we offer reviews of Cao Xueqin's masterpiece, and of not one but two works by Wang Shuo .....
Still, they're convinced:
Over the years, Chinese literature has enjoyed pitiful and incompetent world coverage, while a yawning deficit continues in terms of the export and import of translation rights.
And overall they're probably right.
To reverse this situation, the Chinese government has taken a number of promotional measures, including subsidized translation fees for foreign publishers interested in Chinese cultural and literary books.
Half a year after the project's initiation, we sent out our reporter to take stock of the current situation.
Some interesting statistics along the way, too:
In 2004, the trade ratio of translation rights was 8 to 1 in favor of imports, while exported books accounted for little more than 1,300 titles.
Breaking down that figure, the East Asian market accounts for 70% of these exported titles, while only a minority of the books went to the western market.
Arguably, the consequences of this imbalance in cultural trade are far more than just economic; some would say that China's failure to promote its culture has impeded on the global understanding of this nation.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Pablo De Santis' El calígrafo de Voltaire.
He seems to be one of these authors that have made the jump to international literary success -- save in the English-speaking world.
Several of his works have been widely translated, but none into English; on the basis of this one alone we can't really say that it's a gross omission.
Still, it's appealing enough stuff -- but then again, how many American's have any idea of who this Voltaire character was ?
We're uncomfortable wasting so much time on this bum, but it is an interesting case, especially as regards the free speech question.
(Will PEN protest ? we wonder.)
It came as no surprise (see our recent mention) that Irving pleaded guilty (though Americans might wonder at the legal strategy, given that even those with blood literally dripping from their hands routinely plead 'not guilty' in US courts), but the sentence apparently took some by surprise -- or at least Irving: three years (though apparently not at hard labour).
It's a big story in the British (and Austrian) papers; here links to some of the coverage:
Irving clutches Hitler book in court by Kate Connolly in the Daily Telegraph, reporting about the trial itself, and noting that: "David Irving appeared in Vienna's criminal court yesterday clutching his notorious book, Hitler's War" -- and, amusingly, that: "Convinced the Austrian judiciary would "not be stupid enough" to lock him up, he had reportedly bought a first-class plane ticket back to London last night"
Sorry ? I doubt that, says brother by Dominic Kennedy, who reports that: "The sincerity of David Irving’s claim that he now believes millions of Jews were killed by the Nazis and that gas chambers did exist was challenged by his twin brother yesterday."
Irving has said he will appeal -- though it's unclear on what grounds.
Having pleaded guilty he surely admitted to the crime, so the only thing up for debate is the sentence -- and the judge seems to have acted within the guidelines regarding that (indeed, the sentence is (relatively) lenient).
(Updated - 22 February): No surprise -- the reports continue to pour in (though there's been stunningly little American coverage or interest).
See editorial commentary such as:
As to reports on the appeals procedure, the prosecution has taken a nicely aggressive approach:
Three years is not enough say Irving's accusers Ian Traynor, Vikram Dodd and Owen Bowcottin report in The Guardian, noting that: "Austrian state prosecutors are to lodge an appeal to try to lengthen the three-year jail term handed down to David Irving".
The twelfth Maghreb des Livres -- "Le plus grand Salon du Livre sur le Maghreb et l'intégration" -- is coming up in Paris in a few days.
Morocco is the guest of honour, and the programme sounds pretty decent.
See also information at Al Bayane and RFI.