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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 September 2006

21 September: Shafak trial | Another WWB book club
22 September: Hugo Chávez
23 September: Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip | Bok & Bibliotek | MacLehose to Quercus | Freely on Turkish freedom expression
24 September: Special Topics in Calamity Physics review | Blogger books
25 September: 11-year-old slush pile success ? | Standardized Confucius | Guantanamo library
26 September: Perv. Musharraf In the Line of Fire | 'Global Cultural Initiative' ? | Sarasin's Anthrax
27 September: Nobel odds ? | Turkey signs on as Frankfurt Guest of Honour 2008 | Robert Harris reviews
28 September: Akshar - writer exchange | Bookselling in Brunei
29 September: Russian reads | The King Never Smiles -- but does support coups | Review and blog panel
30 September: Julian Barnes does Madame Bovary | Overlooked books ? | Rushdie profile

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30 September 2006 - Saturday

Julian Barnes does Madame Bovary | Overlooked books ? | Rushdie profile

       Julian Barnes does Madame Bovary

       It's the 150th anniversary of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and in The Rebuke in The Guardian Julian Barnes marks the occasion as he apparently: "reimagines the novel's ending, and allows Emma to correct her own story".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Overlooked books ?

       In Ever read ? in The Times Patrick Neate asked nineteen writers (including himself) "to nominate a book that they think has been unfairly neglected". Always a fun exercise .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rushdie profile

       In A translated man in The Guardian James Campbell profiles Salman Rushdie, who apparently needs and deserves the publicity .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 September 2006 - Friday

Russian reads | The King Never Smiles -- but does support coups
Review and blog panel

       Russian reads

       We'd love to see more of these overviews: in Casual Ironies David MacFadyen looks at ten notable Russian publications from the last year, as:
A brief overview of 10 new, popular, or important stories -- fiction, cultural history, and memoirs -- published in Russia over the last 12 months can give us an updated snapshot of the changing balance between mocking or more serious registers.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The King Never Smiles -- but does support coups

       We mentioned Paul Handley's Bhumibol Adulyadej-biography back in February, when the story was: The King Never Smiles -- but he does block websites, and were surprised and disappointed that there wasn't more of a fuss about the book-ban and political pressure in the months that followed. Now, with the King's outrageous more-than-tacit approval of the latest military coup in Thailand it's getting more play again, and the story still stinks (as does the coup -- not that the supposedly democracy-at-all-costs American administration has made much of a fuss ...).
       Andrew Lai's Coup in Thailand recalls book ban in the Yale Daily News offers a good overview. See also More Royal Maneuvering at the yale press blog.
       And at least The Economist has some good pre-coup coverage, in their review on The impenetrable face of Thai monarchy.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Review and blog panel

       At Critical Mass John Freeman offers The review and blog panel recap, about Wednesday's well-attended panel in New York.
       ((Updated - 30 September): see now also reports by panelist Frank Wilson and Jane Ciabattari.)

       One of the topics that came up was that of bad reviews -- is it worth running them ? in what situations ? -- and The Olive Reader points us to an article at Salon, where some author complains: "After four years of painstaking work my novel has gotten only two reviews, and they're both bad." (link: Kirkus shrugged -- but it's at that ridiculously subscription-or-ad-view requiring site ...).
       Two reviews -- in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus -- is still way more than most books get, and he's managed to parlay that into a piece at Salon, which is again way more than most authors can hope for. Last we checked the Sales Rank for the book was around 10,000, which sounds pretty good -- and surely sales are more important than reviews.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 September 2006 - Thursday

Akshar - writer exchange | Bookselling in Brunei

       Akshar - writer exchange

       With India the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year the Germans again arranged a writers-in-residence programme, sending seven German writers to India, and seven Indian writers to Germany. They call the whole thing 'Akshar', and they offer the results (so far) in English (as well as German). Quite a bit of material there .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bookselling in Brunei

       The Brunei Times reports on A store that doesn't want to sell just books, noting:
Bruneians don't spend as much on books as people in other developing countries.

Awg Hadi said that when Solitude opened at the Mall in July 2004, it was not intended it to be an ordinary bookstore or internet cafe.

"Unless you are an avid book reader, books are basically boring. We're trying to project an image whereby the moment someone walks into Solitude, they would see that it has a different look and feel.
       Aside from the fact that 'Solitude' doesn't sound like the greatest name for a happening place, what bookseller would tell a reporter (and thus also to any and all potential customers): "books are basically boring" ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 September 2006 - Wednesday

Nobel odds ? | Turkey signs on as Frankfurt Guest of Honour 2008
Robert Harris reviews

       Nobel odds ?

       Yes, it's silly season time again -- i.e. the countdown to the Nobel Prize in literature has begun. They should be naming the next laureate in about two weeks, and newspaper speculation is sure to begin by next week .....
       So far the only betting shop giving odds we've found is Ladbrokes: see their odds.
       A few observations:
  • Pramoedya Ananta Toer is a sucker's bet, at 20/1 (or 20,000/1): he's dead, and about the only requirement this prize has is that the writer be alive (the fact that he's listed -- and at such good (i.e. bad) odds -- suggests no one is taking this very seriously) ((Updated - 28 September): Someone is paying a bit of attention, and the author has been removed from the list.)
  • Not a good sign: they misspell Antonio Tabucchi's name (as 'Antoni Tabucchi')
  • Where the hell is Harry Mulisch on the list ?
       As to who to put your money on -- well, we'd stay away from the Europeans after the past few years. Ladbrokes features Orhan Pamuk as the favourite, but he still strikes us as being on the young side. Second favourite and perennial front-runner (for the bookies and the press) Adonis ... well, he's missed the cut so often already, what's another year ? And while Murakami Haruki did pick up the Nobel-pre-saging Kafka Prize this year (well, he'll pick it up next month, but they announced he won back in the spring; see our previous mention), we can't quite see it.
       Of the authors you can bet on, Ko Un (12/1) and Mahmoud Darwish (100/1) are the ones that would tempt us most -- but 2/1 it'll be someone who isn't even listed here.

       Ladbrokes also offers two special Nobel bets:
  • Will the winner travel to Stockholm for the award ceremony ? 3/5
  • Will Thomas Pynchon win and travel to Stockholm for the award ceremony ? 30/1
       The Pynchon is a fun idea, but 30/1 are just ridiculous odds (i.e. you're just handing your money to this outfit). Why not something realistic to tempt the punters -- 1000/1 or something around that ? As to the travel-to-Stockholm bet -- recall that neither of the two last winners (Jelinek and Pinter) made the trip

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Turkey signs on as Frankfurt Guest of Honour 2008

       We told you that it was pretty much a done deal that Turkey would be the official Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2008, but it's taken until now to make it official. But they've finally announced: Turkey will be Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2008:
The agreement was signed today in Ankara by the Republic of Turkey’s minister of culture and tourism, Attila Koç, and the director of the Frankfurt Book Fair, Juergen Boos.
       (This year's fair, with India as Guest of Honour, begins next week.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Robert Harris reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of Robert Harris' Roman-era novels:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 September 2006 - Tuesday

Perv. Musharraf In the Line of Fire | 'Global Cultural Initiative' ? | Sarasin's Anthrax

       Perv. Musharraf In the Line of Fire

       Pakistani commander-in-chief Pervez Musharraf -- not exactly an exemplar of the democratic ideals the jr. Bush administration claims to be fostering, but nevertheless a favoured American ally -- outrageously refused to answer a reporter's question at a press conference last week (nicely titled President Bush and President Musharraf of Pakistan Participate in Press Availability at the White House site ...), saying:
I would like to -- I am launching my book on the 25th, and I am honor-bound to Simon and Schuster not to comment on the book before that day. (Laughter.)
        "(Laughter.)" -- yeah, great. A peculiar sense of honour the guy has ..... The book is In the Line of Fire (see the Simon & Schuster publicity page), and the jr. Bush's comments -- "In other words, buy the book, is what he's saying. (Laughter.)" -- seem to have been taken to heart by a lot of people: last we checked the sales rank was 11, the sales rank was 16. (What are these people thinking, we have to wonder .....)
       As to the controversial statement the reporter was asking about, widely publicized in the US first in a clip from 60 Minutes and then on the show itself Sunday night (apparently giving away details from the book on 60 Minutes -- in an 'exclusive' -- was part of being honour-bound to S&S ...) -- about words vigorously denied by Dick Armitage --, are pretty much the same in Musharraf's written account as they were in the TV interview: see one of the excerpts from the book now available at The Times:
When I was back in Islamabad the next day, our director-general of Inter Services Intelligence, who happened to be in Washington, told me on the phone about his meeting with the US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage. In what has to be the most undiplomatic statement ever made, Armitage added to what Colin Powell had said to me and told the director-general not only that we had to decide whether we were with America or with the terrorists, but that if we chose the terrorists, then we should be prepared to be bombed back to the Stone Age.
       Everything about this is nauseating .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       'Global Cultural Initiative' ?

       It's apparently the (American) "President's Global Cultural Initiative", but since culture is girlie stuff it was left to first lady Laura to make the remarks at the launch of this thing.
       Sure, there's some potential here -- though with (internationally) tin-eared Karen Hughes involved you have to have your doubts that this could possibly succeed.
       There's a fact sheet at the State Department site, which mentions the NEA's part in this thing, the International Literary Exchanges-programme:
Building upon the National Endowment for the Arts’ poetry anthology project with Mexico, the NEA, working with the State Department, will establish International Literary Exchanges, a program designed to initiate literary translation projects and publications between the United States and other countries. Projects are in development with Pakistan, Russia and Mexico. The program will provide American readers with access to literary works from abroad and foreign readers access to highly talented American writers, especially poets.
       It doesn't exactly sound overly ambitious -- unlike that spreading democracy idea this administration had -- but we welcome anything that provides "American readers with access to literary works from abroad", right ? Of course, we aren't holding our breath waiting for anything to come of it either .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Sarasin's Anthrax

       Among the many titles we review that haven't yet been translated into English we wouldn't really have expected Philipp Sarasin's Anthrax (not one of our most-accessed reviews ...) to eventually make the English cut -- but now Harvard University Press is bringing it out in translation.
       Sure, the anthrax-connexion makes it of some interest -- but how many people in the US even still remember the anthrax-scare ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 September 2006 - Monday

11-year-old slush pile success ? | Standardized Confucius | Guantanamo library

       11-year-old slush pile success ?

       Okay, so this is presumably the made-for-the-media version of the story, but in The Observer Vanessa Thorpe reports on a Global deal for novel by girl, 11 (though she's actually 13 by now). Yes:
A fantasy novel about tribes of warring birds, written by a gifted 11-year-old girl who lives in the southern-most province of China, is to be published worldwide in English.
       The girl is Nancy Yi Fan, and the book is Swordbird; pre-order your copy at or, or see the HarperCollins publicity page.
       What's 'remarkable' about the story isn't that a major publisher would give an eleven-year-old a book deal (as far as we can tell, publishers are willing to throw heaps of money at all sorts of nonsense (see also yesterday's mention)), but rather:
The young author, Nancy Yi Fan, won the extraordinary opportunity by simply emailing her manuscript to the chief executive of HarperCollins, Jane Friedman, at the publisher's New York office.
       So much for that 'no unsolicited manuscripts policy', eh ? The girl presumably just looked up e-mail addresses at Everyone who's anyone in adult trade publishing (...) and was off -- if not to the races, at least to the big book deal. (Yes, it all sounds very fishy -- surely publishers frown on e-mail submissions, even from authors they know and have under contract .....)
       Apparently also:
Fan has since been hailed as a prodigy by her editors who will use her book in a new attempt to establish the firm in China .
       Well, a book written by someone not yet in her teens is presumably going to be harmless enough not to upset the notoriously fussy Chinese authorities -- and, of course, her ridiculous age will make for lots of press coverage (to which we, much to our embarrassment, are contributing a small part with this mention ...).
       As for the book, well:
Her story, Swordbird, is an epic allegory about the struggle for peace and will be printed in this country in the new year. Those who have seen it talk about it as the product of a mind as imaginative as some of the greatest names in children's writing.
       And yet we have our doubts ..... Could it be that all this exposure to the publicity-crap constantly spouted by publishers is making us cynical ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Standardized Confucius

       Yet more people recognising that image is everything, substance nothing: Xinhua report that China unveils standard portrait of Confucius:
The China Confucius Foundation (CCF) on Saturday unveiled a standard portrait of ancient philosopher and educator Confucius in order to give him a single, recognizable identity around the world.
       Yes, after 2557 years (the announcement "was part of the commemoration marking the 2,557th anniversary of his birth") his words and thoughts apparently weren't good enough any longer:
"Acting as a symbol of Chinese history and culture, Confucius is widely known around the world. A standard portrait is needed so that different countries could have the same image of him," said CCF general secretary Zhang Shuhua.
The new portrait would set the standard criteria for the image of Confucius, who had been represented in different ways when Chinese were presenting statues in foreign countries, said Zhang.
       God forbid anything but the official version -- of an image, of an idea, or a philosophy -- would be tolerated. Never mind that we have no idea what the guy really looked like -- truth is completely irrelevant .....

       We hope countries receiving statues of the new standardized version will tell the Chinese where they can stuff them.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Guantanamo library

       There's been some media-mention of the reading habits of those held by the Americans at Guantanamo Bay and the library there, and now another AP report is making the rounds, Guantanamo detainees achieve a measure of escape through library books (here at the IHT):
Men held captive at this U.S. military base are confined to small cells, but their minds can wander far and wide by reading philosophy, history, murder mysteries -- even Harry Potter.

A detainee library is housed in a trailer inside the Guantanamo Bay prison complex. Even as U.S. military commanders are tightening controls over detainees to try to prevent attacks on guards, library books are being delivered to all the detention camps, officials said.
       An almost-feel-good story, that they have access to a library that has grown to 4,200 books -- and yet we can't help but shudder when we hear:
"We want to have 20,000 books within the next five years," said Army Lt. John Brown, a librarian.
       20,000 books sounds great to us -- it's the five year time-plan and all that implies (that the outrage that is Guantanamo will still be going strong then) that concerns us.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 September 2006 - Sunday

Special Topics in Calamity Physics review | Blogger books

       Special Topics in Calamity Physics review

       We missed the whole hot-young-author-big-advance to-do surrounding Marisha Pessl and her début, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, but the book actually sounded like it would appeal to us: bookish, smart teen narrator, lots of literary references, a touch of mystery and murder. Okay, the Donna Tartt comparisons worried us (unlike everyone else on the planet, we're not big fans), but we figured it was worth a look.
       So how did we like it ? Well, our review is now available .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Blogger books

       In the Boston Herald Lauren Beckham Falcone reports -- what a surprise ! -- Publishers say few hits on blog books.
Bloggers, buoyed by site meter numbers and Internet buzz, were the darling of the publishing world about two years ago. But when books hit the shelves, sales fizzled, and now it takes a lot more than a laptop and a blogspot account to make it onto Amazon’s top 100.
       We understand publishers trying this out -- but can't fathom the sums of money they'd waste on some of these things.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 September 2006 - Saturday

Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip | Bok & Bibliotek
MacLehose to Quercus | Freely on Turkish freedom expression

       Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip

       In Pip at the outpost in The Australian Rosemary Neill writes about Lloyd Jones' forthcoming (in Australia) Mister Pip -- and especially the international interest in it, even pre-publication:
Text boss Michael Heyward says the American auction "was a thrilling spectacle that started at 10am and finished at 6pm", with Dial Press clinching US rights with an offer of $US265,000 (352,500).

British publisher John Murray signed on for pound stg. 51,000 (127,500), while Brazil and Israel also paid startling sums, Heyward says. "It'll make Lloyd one of the most hated writers in the southern hemisphere," he jokes.
       Text gives a "Publication/Embargo date: 25 September 2006". So they even do that embargo nonsense down under .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bok & Bibliotek

       Bok & Bibliotek -- i.e. the 22nd Göteborg Book Fair -- runs through Sunday, with an impressive list of authors (743 participants from 34 countries).
       See also Full house for winner of Literature Prize, a report on Göran Sonnevi's (winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize earlier this year) reading.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       MacLehose to Quercus

       We don't really follow industry moves too much, but this sounds promising even to us: Joel Rickett reports in his 'The bookseller'-column (last item) that the new (and awfully named) Quercus have hired:
Christopher MacLehose, who founded international fiction specialist Harvill and then saw it absorbed into Random House (becoming Harvill Secker). He'll run an independent editorial unit, MacLehose Press, and buy 10 books a year for joint publication with Quercus.
       Sounds like a good move !
       (Quercus will also be the British publishers of Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Freely on Turkish freedom expression

       Leading translator-from-the-Turkish Maureen Freely writes about Justice on trial in Turkey (again).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

22 September 2006 - Friday

Hugo Chávez

       Hugo Chávez

       As GalleyCat observed: Look Out, Oprah, Here Comes Chavez, as Hugo Chavez's book-recommendation to the UN General Assembly -- Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival (get your copy at or -- has led to renewed interest in the title: AP reports it's currently the fourth most popular title at (which it also was last we checked).

       Enjoy Chávez's speech/performance in full, in English or the original Spanish (the English version is worth it for the considerably more subdued tone of the translator alone).
       There's only a summary of his press conference at the UN afterwards, but in The New York Times Helene Cooper reports that Chávez has the sharper tongue at UN -- revealing that for such a big fan, Chávez isn't particularly well informed about the man:
Later, he said at a news conference that one of his greatest regrets was not getting to meet Chomsky before he died. (Chomsky, 77, is still alive.)
       Poor Noam -- though praise from this particular clown is a dubious honour at best anyway.

       See also our recent mention of Hugo's literary bent.

       (Updated - 7 October): And now The New York Times reports in an 'Editors' Note' that they got it wrong and Chavez did not mean or believe that Chomsky was dead; the correction can apparently be found here at that ridiculously registration-requiring site, but see also Book, Inq.'s coverage for the text.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

21 September 2006 - Thursday

Shafak trial | Another WWB book club

       Shafak trial

       Yes, it's time for another 301 trial in Turkey (and while this one gets the press coverage don't forget that there are dozens of others pending): as widely reported, the case against Elif Shafak is scheduled to open today. Scheduled -- but who knows what will happen; presumably a convenient 'face-saving' excuse will be found, just as happened in the Orhan Pamuk trial on similar charges a few months ago. Shafak, who gave birth on Saturday, is surely too sympathetic a defendant to really make an example of -- though of course the real problem is how completely ridiculous both the charges and the law under which she is being prosecuted are. Nevertheless, we hope for a guilty verdict and the harshest possible sentence, because that seems the only way the national and international community will finally vent its outrage enough sufficiently to get 301 stricken from the Turkish books.
       For recent pre-trial coverage, see for example: Red Alert on Shafak Case by Erol Onderoglu at BIA News Center, Novelist to go on trial for insulting Turkey by Nick Birch in The Guardian, and Turkey tries pregnant novelist in free-speech battle by Gareth Jenkins in the Sunday Times.
       Birch writes:
Few have forgotten the scenes during Pamuk's trial, when nationalists smashed the novelist's car windscreen and attacked foreign observers.
       Is that true ? Do you remember ?

       (Updated): And it now comes as no surprise that, as Richard Lea reports in The Guardian today, there will be no case against Shafak: "The charges were dropped at the prosecutor's request". Apparently:
Today, however, for the first time, the prosecutor used his power under the law to request an acquittal, saying that no crime had been committed.
       Then why go through the charade right up to the day of the trial ? As with the outcome of the Pamuk case, this is not a good result: hardly vindication, it doesn't put more than a slight dent into article 301 ("It's open to exploitation and misinterpretation, so we'll be going through the same thing again" Shafak observes), and it's article 301 that has got to go !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Another WWB book club

       The last book club at Words without Borders didn't really seem to catch on, but maybe there will be more interest in this month's, when Mickey Pearlman leads the discussion of Ma Jian's The Noodle Maker.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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