We mentionedThe Australian's recent 'experiment', where they submitted an excerpt from a work by Patrick White under a different name, only to find it rejected by one and all.
Whatever the merits (or not) of this little game, at least it's made for lots of discussion -- including some about Patrick White's work, such as now in Peter Craven's opinion piece, How could our literary world be so stupid ?
But the failure to notice the quality of White's writing (quite apart from the lack of culture indicated by no one spotting it) is objectively dispiriting and the exercise in arse-covering that followed was a disgraceful performance on the part of the Australian literary world.
The Hong Kong Book Fair started yesterday.
Today they announce the "10 Best Titles in 20 Years"; we're not sure exactly what 'best ' they mean -- Chinese ? Hong Kong ? all ? actual books or just book-titles ? -- but are still curious to see what titles they select.
Novelist, poet and playwright Ġuże’ Chetcuti died on Tuesday, aged 91. Guze’ Chetcuti will be remembered for his significant contribution to the Maltese literature scene, as well as for the love for his country’s language and his involvement in the Akkademja tal-Malti (Maltese Language Academy).
Since it was published last September, the novel has sold more than 600,000 copies in Germany, knocking JK Rowling and Dan Brown off the top of the best-seller list.
Last week it was still at number two, 10 months after publication.
And although its subject could hardly be more German, Measuring the World does not feel like a "German" novel -- more like the kind of thing that Gabriel García Márquez might have written had he been born in Stuttgart.
There's nothing like pieces on book reviewing to elicit commentary from ... book reviewers (and literary webloggers ...), so expect Ruth Franklin's review of David Mitchell's Black Swan Green in The New Republic -- titled 'The Trouble with Book Reviewing' ... -- to be much discussed.
(The piece is available at the ultra-annoying registration and cookie-enabled requiring TNR-site here -- occasionally these things free up and are readily accessible, so give it a try.
And see also our review of Black Swan Green.)
She begins by discussing book reviewing in general, noting:
The writer seeking fresh language with which to express her enthusiasm soon discovers that this particular vocabulary has been colonized by p.r. flacks whipping up empty, fluffy blurbs.
The result is that all praise now feels like exaggerated praise.
Sixty years ago, Orwell famously complained of the book reviewer's clichés, the "stale old phrases" that get trotted out in the desperation of deadlines: "a book that no one should miss," "something memorable on every page."
Nothing has changed, not even the syntax.
In this blurbing age, we are still deluged by dizzy claims
We're certainly on board with her when she argues:
Surely the health of book reviewing is endangered not by someone like Dale Peck -- whose wildly negative piece on Rick Moody, which appeared four years ago, still comes up whenever the public conversation turns to the climate of literary judgment -- but by those critics who, for a variety of reasons, reject straight talk about bad books.
That's aimed directly at The Believer-gang -- and she notes:
Of course critics should review books rather than personalities -- but that point seems to have gotten lost in the pages of Julavits's own magazine, which actually thrives on literary personalities (what other justification could there be for Nick Hornby's asinine column?), and where the desire for "nice reviewing" has thoroughly enervated the discussion.
She does eventually get around to Mitchell and his book(s) -- which she is impressed by.
Indeed, she writes:
Of all the books that I have read as an adult, the novels of David Mitchell have come closest to resurrecting my own childhood reading utopia.
We mentioned the first British reactions to Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll; now John Lahr reviews it in The New Yorker.
And see also Tara Pepper's Stop-Rocks in the international edition of Newsweek.
See also the Faber publicity page for Rock 'n' Roll, or get your copy from Amazon.co.uk; we haven't been able to elicit a copy from Faber, so you'll have to wait a while longer for our review.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men.
This is apparently one of the big débuts of the year -- something that is even mentioned in some of the reviews, as in Celia Brayfield
's in The Times:
It is no surprise to learn that before its publication, In the Company of Men has been hailed internationally as one of the most brilliant literary debuts of recent years.
We're curious as to who has been doing the hailing -- especially since we were kind of disappointed.
Well, more than kind of.
We're even more disappointed, now that we learn he would have had better (or worse, depending on how you want to see it) material to work with .....
Perhaps taking a page from what The Da Vinci Code did for the Louvre, the Stiftung museum kunst palast in Düsseldorf actually went so far as to commission a book to go with their upcoming Caravaggio-exhibit (opening 9 September).
The book -- Maler Mörder Mythos ('Painter Murderer Myth') -- offers stories by a fairly impressive selection of authors, with an emphasis on the mystery-contingent -- Henning Mankell, Andrea Camilleri, and Ingrid Noll among them.
Sounds like a decent idea; get your copy at Amazon.de or see the Hatje Cantz Verlag publicity page.
Bangsa Membaca Bangsa Berjaya -- we like the sound of that.
It's the motto for Malaysian reading campaign, and apparently means: 'a nation that reads is a nation that succeeds'
In Now, read this ! in The Star Daphne Lee interviews Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim about the campaign and provides an overview of the reading-situation in Malaysia.
So how does The Swarm stack up against the rest of its genre ?
In particular, is Schatzing Germany's answer to the techno-thriller king, Michael Crichton ?
I say yes -- partly because Crichton needs an answer and Schatzing is there to supply it.
Crichton is familiar with science, but he's never much liked it; in a Crichton book, science is a malevolent genie and scientists are fools who pull the cork from the bottle.
Schatzing also brings a European sensibility to the genre -- most notably, hostility toward American triumphalism; this starts off subdued, but eventually gets heavy-handed (both the hostility and the triumphalism).
Because of this, The Swarm will never become a bestseller in the United States.
Perhaps this explains why the translation by Sally-Ann Spencer leans toward British English rather than the American variety.
Already widely linked to, Jennifer Sexton reports in The AustralianWhy bother with Patrick White.
They tried that popular trick of retyping part of a famous novel -- in this case The Eye of the Storm by the great (and Nobel-approved) Patrick White -- and submitting it under a different name to "to 12 publishers and agents".
You can guess the rest .....
Yes, yes, there are all the usual excuses (sorry, we don't buy them ...), as well as observations such as:
As to whether readers are missing out, Salusinszky doubts it.
"Australian readers are only missing out if there are lots of Patrick Whites out there submitting manuscripts that are rejected.
But I don't think (there) are.
They (publishers) are sent a lot of crap," he says.
Fair enough -- though still not an excuse we have much patience for.
Nevertheless, this is an interesting example -- but for quite a different reason.
There's no mention of the sad fact that -- at least in the US -- publishers aren't interested in publishing White's work, even when they do know he is the author.
Yes, as we've mentioned and complained about repeatedly, only a single (!) White fiction title is currently in print in the US (the NYRB re-issue of Riders in the Chariot).
American publishers have decided White definitely isn't worth publishing -- which we find even more depressing than the fact that these dozen publishers and agents reacted as they did.
It's almost enough to get us to dance in the streets (and briefly ignore how American publishers ignore Patrick White (see above ...)): Harvill has brought out (in the UK) a book by the great Dutch author Willem Frederik Hermans, Beyond Sleep -- and are planning a new translation of The Dark Room of Damokles.
We reviewed both last year, and were very impressed (two more Hermans reviews should follow later this summer) -- and hadn't realised that The Dark Room of Damokles actually already had been translated into English (in 1962, by Roy Edwards).
But Hermans certainly hasn't made much of an impression in the English-language world -- a major, major oversight.
In A pioneer from the domain of fish in The Guardian Michel Faber reviews Beyond Sleep and introduces the author, noting:
Beyond Sleep (Nooit Meer Slapen) has been Hermans's most popular book in Holland, which may explain Harvill's decision to publish it first, ahead of greater achievements such as The Darkroom of Damocles (a fresh translation of which is queued for publication in 2007) and Het Behouden Huis (not on the agenda).
Those two books, suffused by Hermans's experiences in the second world war, are as disturbing and powerful as anything by Joseph Heller or Kurt Vonnegut.
Beyond Sleep is a much gentler, even amiable affair, a deadpan comedy set in 1960s Norway.
In the final analysis, it is the relative slightness of this novel, rather than anything lost in translation, that may cause the uninitiated reader to wonder why Hermans has been hailed as one of the greatest postwar European writers.
Beyond Sleep is an engaging yarn once it hits its stride, intermittently thought-provoking, frequently funny, well worth investigating. But there are darker, stronger Hermans works still waiting for their chance to cross the Channel.
Lets hope they get there (and elsewhere) soon -- and where are those American publishers for Hermans' work ... ?
We're fairly sure that a lot of our readers are Archipelago Books fans (as we are) -- and maybe some of you would like to take advantage of this opportunity:
Archipelago Books Needs Liaisons !
We are looking for Archipelago Books devotees who want to act as
liaisons to their local literary communities. This is a great part-time
volunteer opportunity for someone excited about Archipelago and who is
already involved in the literary scene of his or her city. Liaisons
will help spread the word about Archipelago through bookstores, book
clubs, book fairs, and personal contacts. They will speak to book
critics and editors on the press’ behalf about our forthcoming titles,
help us bring people together for local events and spread the word
within the community. Although this is a volunteer position, liaisons
will receive free copies of all of our titles and an invitation to an
annual meeting of liaisons from around the country to compare notes and
We are looking for liaisons in all major cities, including: Portland,
Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Minneapolis/St. Paul,
Los Angeles, Atlanta, Austin, Washington D.C., Denver, Ann Arbor,
Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Miami, St. Louis, Anchorage, Memphis, Phoenix,
and Madison. Think you might know just the right person in your
As Mainichi reports, Japan's top literary prize winners unveiled.
The Akutagawa Prize went to Ito Takami for Hachigatsu no Rojo ni Suteru ('Throwing Stuff Away on a Road in August')
The Naoki Prizes went to Miura Shion for Mahoro Ekimae Tada Benriken and Mori Eto for Kaze ni Maiagaru Biniiru Shiito ('A Plastic Sheet Flowing in the Wind').
As Expatica reports, Flemish author Hubert Lampo died on Wednesday:
Born on 1 September 1920, Lampo is primarily remembered as one of the symbols of the magical-realism in post-World War II Flemish literature.
His most famous novel ("Some 44 reprints of the book have been published") has been translated into English, as The coming of Joachim Stiller (way, way out of print, but listed at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk).
(It was also made into a film by Harry Kümel -- whom you may also remember from Nicholas Royle's novel, Antwerp.)
See also the Hubert Lampo Genootschap, a bibliography, and the Het Paroolobituary.
It's time for augsburg brecht connected, the Bertolt Brecht Festival in Augsburg.
Among the highlights: more than 1500 of Brecht's 2,334 poems will be read by some 1000 Augsburgers today !
At the same time, they're also holding the 12th IBS Symposium -- on 'Brecht and Death'.
Austrian author Fred Wander -- probably still best known as Maxie's husband -- died on Monday.
He was among the handful of German-writing authors that moved to East Germany -- and he did so at the relatively late point of 1958 (he stuck it out until 1983, when he moved back to Vienna).
For English information about some of his books, see the Goethe-Institut description of Der siebente Brunnen and the Hanser foreign rights information for Das gute Leben ('The Good Life').
For German obituaries, see Klaus Bellin's in ND, or Oliver Pfohlmann's in the NZZ.
The Guardian continues its focus on independent booksellers in the UK, giving Nic Bottomley space to explain his Declaration of independence.
He describes opening a new independent -- and promises to blog about it at Culture Vulture.
Starting this weekend I'll be leading the next Words without Borders Book Group discussion, which will be on Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl.
Among the points of interest to me is how authors tackle such a subject-matter; non-fiction documentary approaches such as Alexievich's seem to dominate -- and it's interesting timing to find that there's now an English translation of an Arabic book about the disaster, Mohamed Makhzangi's Memories of a Meltdown (see the American University in Cairo Press publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Nada Bakri's The wrong place at the right time in the Daily Star pointed me towards it.
As a document of the twists and turns leading toward the Soviet Union's collapse, Memories of a Meltdown is most accurately described in the author's own words: "investigative literary reportage celebrating the reality of lived moments."
We mentioned Raja Rao had passsed away a few days ago, and exepcted that he would get his due -- i.e. that there would be serious obituary coverage in all the major dailies.
We're still waiting -- the best we've come across so far is Urs Schoettli's Zwischen den Welten, zwischen den Zeiten in the NZZ (link likely only short-lived).
What's going on here ?
He was both an important literary figure -- and a pretty damn good writer, too.
However, according to Shah, "Crossword is primarily an English bookstore, but here, we focus more on Gujarati books.
Today, Gujarati books contribute seven per cent to total book sales."
Not too impressive, if a store specialising in Gujarati books only has them make up seven per cent of sales .....
Interesting also the attitude:
Talking about the new fever of graphic novels, Shah said, "Graphic novel is a work in the comics book format, usually with lengthy and complex storylines, often aimed at more mature audiences.
Well, certain bookstores in the city do stock such novels, but we being a family bookstore do not encourage such novels."