Entering the offices of Book World, you step past the doorway of a storeroom holding thousands of books to a cluster of desks where editors discuss what is between the covers with a veneration for good work mixed with an irreverence about pomposity.
About 50,000 to 80,000 books are sent to The Post yearly; about 150 books a day go into that storeroom.
The Post reviews or mentions about 2,000 a year.
How are those choices made ?
Book World Editor Marie Arana and her staff look at every book for significance, literary worth, variety and just a good read.
But they also look for a little bit of magic.
150 cast-offs a day ?
At the complete review we've received a total of 272 titles in all of 2006 (just a bit over one a day -- though considerably ahead of last year's pace, when we got 299 for the entire year).
We do actively try to limit what comes in -- we don't know what we'd do with that kind of flood.
Rosenbloom says September 11 intensified public interest in nonfiction, and hastened the decline of literary and escapist fiction: "I think literary fiction is struggling because of the new reality that September 11 ushered in.
The public realises that we are engaged in a protracted struggle with fanatics who will probably cause massive damage at home.
I think the reading public has lost patience with, and is irritated by, old-fashioned escapist fiction.
It has lost patience with literary fiction.
It has lost patience with fiction that doesn't engage with the world."
Which explains the success of something like The Da Vinci Code how ?
Come to think of it, all the fiction on last weeks' The New York Times Bestseller looks pretty damn escapist (the nr.1 title is described as: "An aspiring actress and an F.B.I. agent join forces against a powerful mobster") -- and even a good deal of the non-fiction list is escapist (the nr.1 title is described as: "A newspaper columnist and his wife learn some life lessons from their neurotic dog").
We missed the let's-get-serious memo whenever it first came out -- but it looks like a lot of other readers did too.
At the Financial Times Angel Gurria-Quintana lunches with Sacred Games-author Vikram Chandra in Passages from India.
It's hard to concentrate on the literary talk as Chandra reveals his shockingly unrefined palate, ordering his steak medium and washing it down with a ... diet Coke: "Iím a slave to Coca-Cola. They got me when I was young."
So we've reached 1700 reviews here at the complete review, and whenever we get another hundred titles in the books (well, on the site) we look over what we've been doing recently and what the trends are, etc.
So, for example, we find that only 18 of the last 100 titles we've reviewed were authored by women, keeping up our disappointing sexist slant (more on that soon).
But there are also other surprising observations -- including that we've been in a real foreign-literature frenzy.
Perhaps it's an anti-Sam Tanenhaus reaction (the 3 September issue of the NYTBR: 20 titles reviewed, all of them originally written in English ...), but a mere 17 of the past 100 titles we reviewed were originally written in English.
(The previous 100-review low was 31, and of all 1700 reviews 981 -- 57.71 per cent -- of the reviewed books were originally written in English.)
In fact, of the last 100, we reviewed more books that have not yet been translated into English (18) than books originally written in English.
So 83 per cent of the titles reviewed were written in a foreign language -- with 22 languages represented.
Amazingly, more books written in French (19) than English were reviewed -- and we reviewed more than one title in each of fifteen other languages (Spanish (11), Italian and Japanese (6 each) and German and Russian (5 each) were the most popular).
All the numbers can be found here; see also our updated overview article.
It is something of a statistical aberration, and there should be considerably more titles originally written in English in the next batch of a hundred.
We have quite a pile of such books-written-in-English we expect to get to soon -- but what's interesting is that most of them are non-fiction titles, and the vast majority of the last hundred titles were fiction.
Indeed, it's remarkable how little English-language fiction we've gotten to recently, and how little we expect to get to in the near future.
(There are a few titles on the horizon, but the pile of non-fiction is considerably larger -- and we're not even that big fans of non-fiction.)
We're not quite sure what it all means, but it's something for us to mull over.
GalleyCat already mentioned it, and we're sure many other publisher- and literary blogs have and will point and have lots of fun with this little horror story, Slush-pile skivvy, at The Bookseller, where Alex Peake-Tomkinson describes her "three years as a work-experience girl and editorial assistant, mainly at the conglomerates".
In the current (7 September) issue of the London Review of Books John Sturrock reviews (unfortunately not available online) the recent Mark Polizzotti translation of Flaubert's Bouvard and Pécuchet (see also our review).
Not very much specifically about this version, but a good general overview.
The flood of Günter Grass-discussion continues.
No doubt we've missed (or at least not bothered with) most of the important links, but perhaps of interest (and in English): Der Spiegel has an interview where Günter Grass Discusses His SS Past
The September issue of Words without Borders is up, and it's devoted to Literature from the "Axis of Evil" -- which also happens to be the title of a collection they've edited and which The New Press is bringing out: see their publicity page, and get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Interesting stuff -- particularly the interviews with the advisory editors (see, for example, the interviews with Zara Houshmand (Iran) and Hayun Jung (North Korea)).
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation.
The first printing was announced at 150,000; we're curious what kind of an impact it makes.
At the very least there should be some interesting reviews.
the most extravagantly praised novel of the traditional French publishing season this month is a 900-page blockbuster on the Holocaust, which was written in French by an American who lives in Spain.
Usually English is the language writers choose if they're not going to write in their own, but Jonathan Littell (yes, Robert's son) is an American writer who chose French.
Apparently it paid off: the book is Les Bienveillantes ('The Well-Meaning Ones'), and they apparently love it.
(See the Gallimard publicity page -- or get your copy at Amazon.fr (where it was the top seller when we checked).)
For French reaction see coverage at Le Figaro ("Passionnant, provoquant, ce livre est une révélation littéraire"), Le Nouvel Observateur, and Lire, as well as an interview in Le Monde.
Lichfield also writes:
The book, Littell's first novel in any language, is already strongly tipped to win the most coveted French literary prize, the Goncourt, this autumn.
We don't know about the literary prizes, but as far as this being Littell's first book ... someone seems to be forgetting Bad Voltage.
The description at Amazon.co.uk makes us really want to get our hands on this one:
In the Paris of the future, a group of punk outlaws run riot. One of the gang rebels against the punks' newest fetish of cannibalism and becomes involved in an adventure with a computer network situated inside a stolen necklace.
One observation about some of the reviews: not many mention precisely how many stories are included in the collection, but almost all those that do get it precisely wrong.
What the hell is going on here ?
There are 24 stories in the collection (at least in the US edition; we haven't seen the UK edition).
Not only that, but the American edition actually states on the cover: "24 stories".
And on the title page: "Twenty-four stories".
And on the front flap mentions: "a feat performed anew twenty-four times in this career-spanning book".
Get it ?
There are 24 stories in the collection.
So why do Jennifer Reese in Entertainment Weekly, Heller McAlpin in the Christian Science Monitor, and Tobias Hill in The Guardian say there are twenty five ?
And what about Tom Deveson, writing in The Sunday Times that these: "Twenty-six stories are drawn from a quarter century of work".
Sure, it's trivial (if a bit confusing).
But how does a mistake like this happen ?
Likely the reviewers relied upon ARCs, which may not have featured the count as prominently as the finished book.
But it's not that hard to count the titles listed in the index, is it ?
Apparently it is .....
(And (copy-)editorial oversight ... yes, that's too much to expect in this day and age any longer.)
Lee Siegel had a weblog at The New Republic site, but it's been axed and Siegel, a 'Senior Editor' at TNR, has "been suspended from writing" -- as is explained in Franklin Foer's An Apology to Our Readers.
comments in our Talkback section defending Lee Siegel's articles and blog under the username "sprezzatura" were produced with Siegel's participation.
It's a pretty bizarre story -- though we don't see why the TNR-folk didn't leave the blog up, with prominent warnings about what Siegel was doing.
As to why Siegel felt the need to 'defend' (or praise) himself in this way, we're completely baffled; surely confronting critics head-on (and in one's own name) is the way to go about this.
(But now we have another excuse for why we don't make room for user-comments: we'd probably just sing our own praises under all sorts of pseudonyms.)
We just wonder how/if it will impact sales of his new book (which we're actually considering reviewing) .....
Several of Yu Hua's novels have been translated into English, and Penguin Books and Random House are apparently negotiating to bring out his recent Brothers -- his first novel in about a decade.
In the International Herald Tribune David Barboza wonders about China's hit novel: tremendous or trash ? -- "The most talked about novel in China this year":
The novel, which was published in two volumes in 2005 and 2006, has sold nearly a million copies here, a remarkable achievement in a country where book piracy is widespread and novels are easily downloaded for free over the Internet.
In the fall issue of The Threepenny Review Rachel Cohen writes about Lessons with Nathalie Sarraute.
We expect to cover some Sarraute titles sometime in the nearer future; meanwhile, see the Dalkey Archive Press' offerings.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Pierre Boulle's Desperate Games.
We often complain about how books go out of print and become essentially unobtainable, but here's a 1971 (US: 1973) work that, as far as we can tell, hasn't been re-issued for two decades, and where it would be no great loss if it never was.
It's not entirely unworthy, but it is pretty damn bad.
In 'What took you so long ?' Diana Evans writes about going back to Nigeria -- and introduces us to what sounds like a very worthy publishing endeavour:
I went back last month to promote my novel 26a, published there for the first time by Cassava Republic, a bold initiative set up by the young academics Bibi Bakare-Yusuf and Jeremy Weate.
The couple moved to Nigeria three years ago, eventually settling in Abuja, the new capital, after spending time in Lagos.
They were dismayed by the reading culture in Nigeria.
Hardly anyone was reading quality literary fiction and non-fiction, partly because these texts were overpriced, but also because of a national inclination towards books on business management and self-development -- and, of course, the Bible and the Qur'an.
Their solution was to set up Cassava Republic.
Its aims are to nurture local talent and to make contemporary literature available to Nigerians and the West African market at an affordable price, either by publishing Nigerian and diasporic writers from scratch or by buying the rights to already published books cheaply from larger publishing houses abroad.
Cassava Republic Press -- "A social enterprise focused on offering quality literature to a West African readership" -- only has a small web presence, but certainly looks worth keeping an eye on.
"We import a small number of books from America and Britain every year, and even fewer from China.
The Chinese language is too hard for us to translate," he said.
China had imported and translated 2,530 Russian books since 1999, most of them literary works, said Ai Limin, president of the Information of GAPP.
The number of books on science, medicine, agriculture and the environment, however, amounted to less than 20.
Ancient philosopher Confucius, Sun Zi and Lao Zi remained high in the top 10 most popular Chinese writers among Russian readers over the past six years
In his The bookseller-column today Joel Rickett notes:
If you're in Manchester today, you've got a chance to catch a farmers' market with a difference.
More than 40 publishers have taken over the central St Ann's Square, which usually hosts stalls of locally produced cheeses and meats.
The publishers -- an eclectic bunch including Tindal Street Press, Mslexia, Maia, Brownskin Books, Route and Carcanet -- are selling their wares direct to the public under the banner of the Manchester Book Market.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Rodrigo Fresán's Kensington Gardens.
The Peter Pan (well, J.M.Barrie) subject matter helps explain why this was translated into English, but he's apparently written nine others -- and from the looks of this one there's probably more that's well worth translating.
Mark Z. Danielewski's Only Revolutions is out in the UK and due out soon in the US, and the first reviews are trickling in.
In the New Statesman David Vascott writes:
Like its predecessor, Only Revolutions is purpose-built for literature students.
It is a feat of typographical engineering, with dazzling prose crafted around multiple characters.
And he concludes that it is: "Postgraduate manna."
Less -- or perhaps more ? -- usefully Kate Saunders admitted (scroll down):
Oh corks. Confession time. This reviewer doesnít really do experimental fiction, and could not cope with this loony enterprise at all.
Apparently, it is about a couple of teenagers on some sort of journey, but I had to get this information from the cover.
In Writers From the Other Asia in The Nation John Feffer writes about four recent translations of Korean titles, including two we have under review, Hwang Sok-Yong's The Guest and Yom Sang-seop's Three Generations (as well as at least mentioning a few other titles, including: "the brilliance of Yi Munyol's meditation on authoritarian psychology in Our Twisted Hero").
In A Daughter's Debt in The Moscow Times Victor Sonkin writes about Sergei Dovlatov and his daughter's foundation devoted to preserving his memory:
Last year, she set up an NGO in her father's honor.
Called the Dovlatov Foundation, it has a twofold goal: to promote new Russian writers and to preserve the memory of Sergei Dovlatov's life and works.
Katya's plans include an annual literary prize for the best unpublished work, an annual literature conference of Slavic experts from Russia and the West, and various one-off projects, such as a Dovlatov documentary.
(The foundation has an official site, but there's not much there yet.)