The waning interest in the golden habit of reading in today’s Internet age can be gauged from the fact that "not even a quarter" of its near-12,000 members set foot inside Qatar National Library (QNL), the country’s oldest standing library.
The situation sounds pretty depressing -- but at least they have money to throw at the problem:
"In fact, the number of people visiting the library," the official says, "is steadily declining."
He adds: "However, we’ll continue trying to do whatever we can to make people develop a reading habit."
Even if it means building a state-of-the-art 13-storey building on the Corniche to house the library, which is due to open in 2008.
The project, being done by famous Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, who has designed the Louvre Musem in France, is worth about $125mn.
Chief Minister M Karunanidhi today ordered the nationalisation of Tamil scholar and rationalist thinker Kulandhay's literary works, coinciding with the commencement of the birth centenary celebrations of the late scholar.
There's a new bi-annual 'Große Preis für Osteuropäische Literatur' ('Big Prize for East European Literature' -- no word whether they'll also have a 'Little' (or 'Medium-sized') prize to go along with it ...), covering ten countries.
The first prize-winner has been announced and it's Bulgarian author Theodora Dimova's Maitike.
The top three will be introduced at the Frankfurt Book Fair (though Dimova isn't entirely unknown abroad).
Given the success of the brand-new Cape Town Book Fair (which is a joint venture of between the Publisher’s Association of South Africa and the Frankfurt Book Fair; see the press release) we've been wondering how the Zimbabwe International Book Fair would respond.
In fact, we've been wondering whether it still existed at all: last year apparently didn't go well at all, and the ZIBF-site that claims to be "the home page of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, the largest and most important book fair in Africa" is solidly stuck in 2003 -- and, after all, everything in Zimbabwe seems to be going downhill very, very fast.
It turns out the fair does still exist -- and "the home page of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair" is now found here.
Apparently the Zimbabwe International Book Fair Association is planning a fair 30 July to 5 August, with the theme: "Africa – The Cradle of Conversation".
We do like the banner (obviously in response to CTBF) reading: "The real ... African Book Fair".
But we wonder how many people will show up.
Dag Solstad is pretty big in Norway, but hasn't been that widely translated, even in continental Europe.
Shyness and Dignity is the first of his novels to be translated into English, and our review is now available.
Very impressive -- and good work by Graywolf bringing it out (in the US; in the UK it's published by Harvill Secker).
We hope this gets the ball rolling on a whole series of translations of his other work .....
An intriguing-sounding title that we'll probably seek out: Tom McCarthy's Tintin and the Secret of Literature (see the Granta publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk; no US listing yet).
The first (and only) review we've seen so far is the one at The Economist, of all places - where they write about: "McCarthy's delicious new book" and describe it:
The book blends genuine detective-work with the most absurd non-sequiturs and red herrings of literary criticism.
They also write:
The book is sprinkled with enough pretentious jargon, factual error and illogicality to infuriate and baffle the unwary.
But the result is a satire of which Hergé, himself the creator of a cast of immortal parodies, would indeed have been proud.
(For additional Tintin information, check out Tintintinologist.org, and see also the interview with McCarthy (though not about this book) at ReadySteadyBook.com.)
(Updated - 30 June): See now also Alex Gibbons' review in the New Statesman.
He writes: "You may be unconvinced, but the passion with which the case is presented will affect all but the most cynical reader."
We usually don't bother with Harry Potter-news, but there are lots of articles now about J.K.Rowling apparently killing off several of the characters at the conclusion of the series, and the resulting feverish speculation about which ones she might be offing -- and in Chronicle of a death foretold ... Harry Potter author's grim hints in The Guardian by Owen Gibson there's a quote from her that seems worth a mention:
"I can completely understand, however, the mentality of an author who thinks 'Well, I'm going to kill them off because that means there can be no non-author-written sequels ... so it will end with me, and after I'm dead and gone they won't be able to bring back the character'."
What naïveté !
She surely should know better: once the annoying authors are dead and out of the way literary estates have done far worse than resurrect characters authors have killed off, all for the sake of a few bucks (in 'authorised sequels' written by hacks, and the like), and once the books are out of copyright (admittedly probably only centuries from now, at the rate copyright protection is being expanded ...) all bets are off, and you can be sure Harry and friends will reappear in guises and situations Ms. Rowling would certainly disapprove of.
(Extra-legal fan-fiction will, in fact, probably get there before that ... where it hasn't already.)
The last thing she should worry about is controlling what happens to her characters: write the books and let them go, lady !
On Friday I received two review copies I had requested from Princeton University Press: the first English translation of some of Thomas Bernhard's poetry, In Hora Mortis/Under the Iron of the Moon (see their publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), and Kirsten Shepherd-Barr's study of Science on Stage
(see their publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)
Amusingly enough, I find myself cited in both: translator James Reidel quotes from my 'appreciation of Ave Vergil' (another, still untranslated Bernhard-collection), Fragments Shoring Ruin, while my survey-article on The scientist on the stage (published in Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, Fall, 2002) rates a footnote and bibliography entry in the Shepherd-Barr.
Neither came entirely as a surprise -- Steve had mentioned the Bernhard-mention at This Space, and I would have been surprised if any comprehensive book about the depiction of science in drama hadn't at least noted my essay -- but it's an odd coincidence that both books appear (from the same publisher, no less) at almost the same time.
(Not so much a surprise that I requested them, since they're obviously titles of interest to me.)
Anyway, I'll bask in feeling authoritative for a few days -- it's not like I get cited in books every day .....
(Reviews of both titles should be up within a couple of weeks.)
When German chancellor Angela Merkel visited the US at the beginning of the year she had the thoughtful idea of inviting the US to be 'Guest of Honour' at the 2008 Frankfurt Book Fair (India is up this year, Catalonia next).
Given that she extended the invitation to the American president -- with all due respect (i.e. very little), a man who, despite being married to someone who supposedly is vaguely bookish, has never shown much literary (or other cultural) interest or awareness, and certainly has failed to see and take advantage at absolutely every turn of anything that might resemble (inter-)cultural exchange -- we considered it nothing more than a PR gimmick obviously doomed to failure.
Others were more optimistic: Publishers Weekly reported that Germans Push U.S. as '08 Frankfurt Guest of Honor, and Frankfurt Book Fair director Juergen Boos tried his hardest:
Boos is so far undeterred by the cool American reception.
He is scheduled to meet with the U.S. ambassador to Germany, William R. Timken, in early February.
"It would be nice if the Americans were as excited about the project as the Germans," Boos said.
No surprise that the Americans weren't excited (and no doubt that the president did absolutely nothing to further this) -- and given the necessary cash-outlay, and the fact that American publishers already do very, very well on the international market, thank you very much, they have a good enough excuse to tell the FBF folk where they can stuff their 'guest of honour' honour.
But what Merkel was offering was also an opportunity for the Americans to put themselves on display, to show they can be part of an international community, in a forum where there is an exchange not just of commerce but of ideas.
Regrettably, the current American head of state and his administration are completely oblivious to any idea of 'international community' -- preferring the simpler my-way-or-the-highway approach that is currently serving them so well in Iraq and elsewhere.
So it's no surprise that the FBF finally gave up on them, and that, as Turkish Daily News reports: Frankfurt Book Fair to host Turkey as guest country in 2008.
(No official confirmation yet at the FBF site, but it looks like a done deal.)
Turkey, you may recall, has had some cultural-freedom PR problems recently (the Orhan Pamuk (non-)trial being just the tip of the iceberg), but were quick to grab the opportunity, understanding that here is a forum where they can strut their stuff -- and maybe even advertise themselves as EU-ready.
Yes, it costs a bucket-load of money, and there's probably no immediate (cash) pay-off (Korean literature has not exactly taken off internationally since last year, when they were guest of honour), but it does allow a country to present itself -- and particularly its culture -- to the world.
Was the jr. Bush and his administration afraid of doing that ?
Certainly, it's about as close to a slap in the face that the jr. Bush could give Merkel .....
(See also the dpa report at the FAZ: Türkei soll Gastland der Buchmesse werden.)
We can hardly be bothered to complain about The New York Times Book Review any more, as it's almost invariably the same story: essentially no coverage of anything originally written in a foreign language, far more coverage of non-fiction that fiction.
It's the case once again this week (issue of 25 June): the one book originally written in a foreign language gets a brief mention in Marilyn Stasio's 'Crime' column (an Ake Edwardson mystery that she finds dull (we're not big fans either)).
And four full-length fiction reviews are easily outnumbered by eleven full-length reviews of non-fiction titles (plus one two-for-one review) -- pretty much the usual ridiculous Tanenhaus-ratio.
But what's striking and even more disturbing is the perverse sex-divide again on display: all four full-length fiction review (all of novels written by women) are by women, while a single one of the twelve non-fiction reviews is by a woman -- and, get this, it's of a book called: My Mother's Wedding Dress.
The not-so-subtle message is, of course, that fiction is girlie-stuff which real men don't bother with (Sam Tanenhaus certainly seems to have very little respect for it), while non-fiction is strictly man-stuff -- except, of course, those limited titles that you can't pay a man enough to touch (like books titled: My Mother's Wedding Dress ...).
We kind of like the idea of a book review editor putting his or her personal imprimatur on a book review section (and there's no question that the local dictator sets the tone and everything else at the complete review), but Tanenhaus' approach is so antithetical to almost everything we believe in that we really find it hard to believe anybody could approach book reviewing in this way.
What is this guy thinking ?
In Angela Carter: Glam rock feminist in the Independent on Sunday Michèle Roberts reassesses Angela Carter (whose work we will eventually get to ...) -- though it's less a reassessment than yet another stamp of approval.
The one somewhat disappointing observation:
Virago, who have long published her, certainly go on valuing her and have just reissued six of the books, smartly re-jacketed to appeal to contemporary audiences.
It's great she's getting re-issued, but we still shudder, and sigh with relief that we have old, used copies of Carter's books, and nothing that has been "smartly re-jacketed".
How we miss the days when content was enough to appeal to audiences .....
In The Times William Rees-Mogg complains that: 'As long as ministers prefer Wayne Rooney to Isaac Newton, Britain's literary heritage will never be safe' in The sixth form fights back
He sings the praises of Nicolas Barker:
Last weekend saw the sixth form answer back.
Protest was written by the right person for the right journal.
Nicolas Barker is the hero of bookmen everywhere.
He has worked in serious publishing; he has held a senior position at the British Library; he is an expert in the conservation of books; he has written his own excellent books; he has protected and edited The Book Collector for more than a generation; and he is respected as a fine scholar.
His article appeared in Friday’s Times Literary Supplement.
The TLS is a radical publication.
It has always devoted itself simply to English literature and to maintaining the highest possible standards of literary criticism and scholarship.
It is a journal to be wondered at and admired.
What has happened to the Goodison Review and the Treasury’s "Saving Art for the Nation" initiative, now two years old ?
Few of the forty-five recommendations have been implemented.
The complex tax provisions still obstruct the transfer of heritage material from private to public ownership, export licensing procedure is unchanged, and the NHMF and HLF remain much as they were, with slightly less money and grant procedures still encumbered. Above all, none of the plans for concentrating and simplifying all the functions and regulations, grown up ad hoc since 1896, has been implemented
And the priorities Rees-Mogg points to are depressing indeed:
Between 2001 and 2006, the DCMS will have increased funding for sport by 91 per cent, the arts by 63 per cent, and museums, libraries and archives by 26 per cent.
A report by the London School of Economics says there is nothing for the last but "to prepare for an orderly management of decline".
Everyone is convinced that the Olympics craze will see yet more funds removed from what is already at the bottom of the pile.
We've mentioned that there's a new Murakami Haruki title out, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (get your copy from Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order at Amazon.com), and it has now aapparently also reached Australia, occasioning Ben Naparstek's interview/profile, here in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Among the points of interest:
"Writing fiction, you get egotistical.
You have to have confidence," he says.
"But translating, you have to respect the text, so your ego shrinks to normal size.
It's good for your mental health."
Remember that: translation is good for your mental health !
Meanwhile, David Jays reviews it in The Observer today.
This summer the National Theatre is putting on David Hare's version of Brecht's The Life of Galileo, with Simon Russell Beale in the title role (see also the Methuen publicity page).
In Universal quality in The Guardian Hare writes about the play, noting:
Science is only the ostensible subject of the play.
Through all the long history of the play's rewriting, Brecht's principal aim was to show the behaviour of a man who comes to realise that he is ethically unequipped to deal with the consequences of his own genius.
Galileo is a man who meets a test and fails.
He is also able to understand the meaning of that failure better than anyone.
Brecht's own genius is to turn the tragedy outwards and to ask how things might have been otherwise.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Marie Darrieussecq's White.
We've reviewed three of her earlier titles, and never really been won over; the only reason we bothered with this one was because Oulipo-man Ian Monk did the translation -- and at least it did impress us more than anything else of hers we've read.
The auction of the Pierre Berès collection in Paris a few days ago has received considerable attention.
The Druot press release is pretty feeble, but see for example the Reuter's report by James Mackenzie, French literary works fetch high prices at auction (here at The Washington Post).
You can click through to all the results here, but what's really worth a look (unfortunately only in the dreaded pdf format) is the catalogue -- section by section at that site (section one here, for example) or the complete catalogue here.
Well worth looking through -- lots of stunning stuff.
(French) preview articles of interest describing the collection include La vente du siècle by Jérôme Dupuis at L'Express ("Portrait du plus grand libraire du monde") and Le trésor Pierre Berès, ou le livre des prodiges by Valérie Duponchelle in Le Figaro.
Parts of the 13 July issue of The New York Review of Books are now available online (though not Gabriele Annan's review of Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française in which, like so many reviewers before her, she tiptoes uncomfortably around the context-issue (see also our previous comments)).
As they often do, they also publish -- "in slightly different form" -- the (new) introduction to a New York Review Books re-issue just out.
In this case the book is Stefan Zweig's Beware of Pity (get your copy at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk), and the introduction is Joan Acocella's.
In my opinion, no book of his deserves reissue more than his one novel, Beware of Pity (Ungeduld des Herzens, 1938).
And she notes:
To my knowledge, this book is the first sustained fictional portrait of emotional blackmail based on guilt.
No complaints about getting more Zweig into circulation -- but didn't Pushkin Press reissue this just a short while ago (see their publicity page; get your copy at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk) ?
(It's also still listed in the Northwestern University Press catalogue).
So we figured maybe NYRB had commissioned a new translation (the Pushkin Press one is the 1939 Phyllis and Trevor Blewitt translation) -- but neither the NYRB publicity page nor Acocella's introduction mention the translator(s).
Still, given that NYRB had sprung for the ... what ? eight ? eightieth ? translation of Yuri Olesha's Envy recently we figured they'd gone for the update here too.
Apparently not: the Blewitts are still responsible.
(The print ad for the book in the current issue of The New York Review of Books does acknowledge who the translators are.)
Newspaper-polls of best books tend to be quite dubious, and Корреспондент apparently only got 350 readers to weigh in, but with a few expert opinions to make the final cut, their contest to find the 'Best Ukrainian Book' (published in 2005 or 2006) at least gives some idea of what's going on there.
See their article, Корреспондент определил лучшую украинскую книгу -- or, considerably more usefully, Alexandra Matoshko's piece in the Kyiv Post: Check out Ukraine’s best books
The literature contest "The Best Ukrainian Book," conducted and sponsored by the weekly magazine Korrespondent, is finally over and its seven winners were chosen and already awarded money prizes: Hr 5,000 for first place and Hr 1,500 for those who took second and third.
Helping popularize Ukrainian books in general, "The Best Ukrainian Book" fulfilled another important task: it showed us which Ukrainian books warrant our attention -- unless of course you don’t read any of the languages the books are written or translated in.
Yes, that last part can be a problem -- not too much gets translated.
(Among the rare authors whose work is available in English, Yuri Andrukhovych (see, for example, our review of his Perverzion), is conspicuous by his absence.)
Among the prize-winning authors is Oksana Zabuzhko, some of whose work has appeared in English (see her official site), and Lyubko Deresh:
The youngest contest winner, Lyubko Deresh, is just 21 and had written his first novel Worshipping the Lizard at the age of 15.
But his official literary debut came two years later with the novel Cult.
Presently total circulation of his books in Ukraine has already exceeded 50 thousand.
Moreover Cult is also to be published in Germany and Poland, and Arkhe -- the book that brought him third place –- is also being translated into Polish.
(We actually have Культ under review, and should get to Worshipping the Lizard later this year (Suhrkamp is bringing out a German translation in November).)
From what we can tell, the Ukrainian literary scene is pretty ... vibrant right now.
We've only seen a smattering -- yeah, basically just Andrukhovych, Deresh, and Zabuzhko (Russian-writing -- and internationally acclaimed -- Andrey Kurkov is a different matter) -- but what they're doing is certainly interesting.
But how much will ever make it into English ?
(The chart accompanying John O'Brien's latest Translations-article doesn't even bother with Ukrainian translations, and Perverzion may well have been the only volume that would have qualified ...).
And, once translated, how many will find much (or any) attention (consider how much coverage Andrukhovych has gotten ...) ?
Coverage like the Kyiv Post-article is helpful, but who will do the follow-up work ?
Today is the day they hand out the Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia's most prestigious novel-prize.
There are some decent pre-prize commentary articles in The Age today:
- Jane Sullivan looks at The power of the prize, a good overview of the prize, its history, and the currents state of affairs.
- Meanwhile, Jason Steger wonders: Is it time for a new chapter ? -- noting that the Australian focus (it's awarded to a novel: "which is of the highest literary merit and which presents Australian life in any of its phases") may have turned into a handicap.
(Updated - 23 June): The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald took the prize; see, for example, the report in The Australian.
The market and the distribution chain are so exclusive, and so powerful, that they determine what is published and how it is published.
It is very risky for any publisher to produce a book that does not fall within these strict prescriptions unless one has alternative distribution arrangements.
A visitor from Europe once hinted at his disappointment when he pointed out that the material on offer in South African bookshops is more "European" than that found in many shops in Europe.
A colleague in the book retail sector, when asked about the exclusive profile of books on sale and the failure to distribute a wider range of books, answered: "We sell a boutique experience to a discerning reader and we make no apologies for that ... our readers seek that experience and are willing to pay a premium for it."