At midnight Against the Day finally goes on sale (and, as we've mentioned, some bookstores are staying open so you don't have to wait until Tuesday morning).
There's been a surprising amount of pre-publication review coverage -- a dozen reviews or so, to date (links are updated as we find them on our review-page).
Recall that at The Guardian book blog Richard Lea complained that Time waits for no Pynchon embargo; as we've noted, there was no explicit US embargo -- but maybe there was a (successful) British one: all the reviews are in US publications, with only Ian Rankin's article in The Guardian to whet British appetites.
(or is it that the British -- with the exception of Rankin -- don't care so much ?)
(With only 77 proofs produced, maybe critics also had a harder time getting their hands on copies .....)
Except, of course, that in the Internet-age UK readers have access to practically all the American coverage, rendering any embargo fairly pointless.
(We're just impressed that both the US and UK publishers are releasing the book on the same day -- unusual enough, even for a high-profile title.)
Another review-observation: so far all the reviews seem to have been authored by men -- are any women going to have (or take) a shot at it ?
Donna Lequori does write that It's worth breaking out of author comfort zone in the Albany Times Union, noting:
It's a departure from my usual fare, and I've been thinking a lot about why I never read Thomas Pynchon.
It is, I'm afraid, a girl thing.
And she finds:
As for Pynchon, whose prose is lush and often difficult to navigate, I'm glad I've left my comfort zone.
But it won't be for long. I can't help but feel the gravitational pull of the new Alice Munro book.
(Updated): The Kakutani does review it in The New York Times this morning, so at least there's one.
(The Monday fiction spot is usually Maslin's; wonder why they didn't give her the book to review .....)
There's already been a steady flow of Against the Day- reviews -- see our review-page for up-to-date linkage.
Other odds and ends include:
UK publisher Jonathan Cape has set up a mini-site of sorts -- and they're offering the opportunity to Win Against the Day proof -- "one of only 77 produced".
(No word whether it will be personalised, as the US proofs were .....)
Meanwhile, at Critical Mass you can also Win a Free Copy of the Pynchon.
As Critical Mass also noted, St. Mark's Bookshop will remain open past midnight on Monday:
Why wait until Tuesday ?
Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon's first novel since 1997's Mason & Dixon, will go on sale Tuesday, November 21st.
St. Mark's Bookshop will stay open past midnight on Monday, November 20th to begin selling Against the Day to diehard fans, conspiracy theorists and other assorted paranoids who happen to drop by.
It is widely believed that Koreans do not think highly of translators.
Those who can (or pretend to) speak English could translate a book overnight.
At least that's the dominant myth among the public here, as demonstrated by the recent ghost-translating scandal.
Not a ghost-writing scandal, but an actual ghost-translating scandal !
Haven't we read variations on this article half a dozen time in the past year ?
Still, Karen Ma's Slowly, Chinese authors entice the West in the International Herald Tribune does offer a decent overview of Western reception/publishing of Chinese fiction.
Reacting to criticism that the Nazi officer narrating his book is neither realistic nor credible, and that the book contains historical errors, he replied: "I was looking for the truth, not plausibility.
You can't possibly write any novel if the only thing you're concerned about is being plausible."
"I was looking for the truth, not plausibility" ?
Is someone getting a bit full of himself ?
Also interesting: early reports had him translating the work into English himself, but all of a sudden:
Littell said his publishers were now looking for a translator to help produce Les Bienveillantes in English.
'Produce' the book into English ?
Was the interview conducted in French and (mis)translated by a producer-applicant ?
Opening Iran's national book week festival this week, Mr Saffar Harandi said a tougher line was needed to stop publishers from serving a "poisoned dish to the young generation".
He said some books deliberately gave Iranians a sense of inferiority and encouraged them to be lackeys of the west.
We'd love to know which books he's talking about -- powerful stuff, apparently.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Yuri Andrukhovych's Московіада.
What are the odds ?
That's two books in a row by authors who attended the Gorki Institute (The Soviet answer to the Iowa Writing programme ...) -- yes, Mohammad Abdul-Wali (They Die Strangers) also spent some time there.
But Andrukhovych actually writes about his time there (and does not paint a pretty picture).
(How guilty should we feel about reviewing a Ukrainian novel that hasn't been translated into English ?
Well, it is the fourth Andrukhovych-title we have under review (and two are available in English), and we do figure over the longer term he will gain international recognition.)
In Representative Fictions in The Nation William Deresiewicz tackles the English-language version of Franco Moretti's The Novel (pared down to two volumes, from the original Italian five).
(We've mentioned the book(s) before, but haven't quite worked ourselves up to asking to see a copy yet.)
He does write: "for all its flaws, The Novel is an impressive achievement" -- but there's certainly enough to give you (or at least us) pause:
While some of these essays make useful points, and a couple of them interesting ones, they are distinguished, in general, by numbing banality and the use of methodologies that would make a statistician weep.
(As one writer admits, "My data stop at precisely the point where one wants to know more.")
Some of the charts aren't even properly proofread, though that problem is hardly unique to this section.
The two volumes together contain well over a hundred typos and inconsistencies -- which, given the collection's price and publisher and prestigious editorial board (which includes Fredric Jameson and Mario Vargas Llosa), is nothing short of disgraceful.
Also disgraceful is the quality of the translations.
Many of these essays are from Italian and other originals, and if the editors were going to bother having them translated, they might as well have taken the trouble to have them translated into English.
For additional information about the English volumes, see also:
In "Il faudra du temps pour expliquer ce succès" in Le Monde Samuel Blumenfeld interviews the author of this year's French sensation, Les Bienveillantes, Jonathan Littell.
As we noted early on, Les Bienveillantes was not, in fact, Littell's first book.
No, the fun-sounding Bad Voltage (written in English) was his first effort, quite a few years back.
But from the beginning he's been trying to sweep it under the rug -- and he really does so here again (despite the lame protestations to the contrary):
J'ai regretté que Bad Voltage soit publié, mais j'étais prisonnier d'un contrat et je n'avais pas l'argent pour le rompre.
J'avais 21 ans, c'est une bétise de jeunesse.
Je n'ai jamais voulu cacher ce roman, mais je ne le revendique pas non plus.
Prisoner of a contract !
The poor young writer !
Richard Millet, mon éditeur chez Gallimard, voulait mettre "premier roman" sur Les Bienveillantes, j'ai dit non.
Nous avons choisi la formule "première oeuvre littéraire" pour la quatrième de couverture.
(Richard Millet, my editor at Gallimard, wanted to put "first novel" on Les Bienveillantes, but I said no.
We chose the formula "first literary work" for the cover.)
Funny how the genre writers so often complain about not being taken seriously, but when one has the chance to clearly make the jump and break he doesn't have a problem stamping literary on the front cover.
(Okay, okay, Littell was never really a genre-writer, and Bad Voltage presumably wasn't very 'literary' even by genre-standards ... but it's still amusing.)
(Also amusing: the thought that stamping something 'debut fiction' in huge letters (a quarter of the cover, apparently) on a book is a selling point.
Who could possibly care if it's an author's first or fiftieth work, 'literary' or otherwise ?
(Yes, yes -- the promise of a new voice, blah, blah, blah.
Give us a break !))
The first few reviews of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day are out -- including ours (where we also try to keep track of the others) -- and more major-media coverage is due soon: as the useful Bookselling this Week media guide notes, among those due shortly are:
The Los Angeles Times Book Review
The Washington Post Book World
The New York Times Book Review
(No mention of who the reviewers will be.)
And Scott McLemee promises his review "runs as the lead article in the books section of Newsday" on 19 November as well.
We'll have representative quotes and, where freely accessible, links on our review-page when they become available.
The (American) National Book Award-winners have been announced -- and for once an official website has the winners posted in a timely fashion.
(And, no, we don't have any of the winning titles under review.)
Yes, the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Thomas Pynchon's much-anticipated Against the Day.
Possibly more useful (or tantalizing ? ) than the Time-review -- but a steady flow of reviews should be starting up now anyway (and ultimately our page will probably be more useful for the links that we'll add as they become available than for our reading of the book).
It will be interesting to see how quickly reviews do come: a toaster of a book (as Time-reviewer Lacayo has it), it's quite a commitment to take on.
But, since it's Pynchon, it will inevitably and eventually be covered by pretty much everyone who is anyone.
(Of course the real action won't come in the 750-word reviews (or the 2850-word ones, like ours) but in the fan-site dissections and annotations.)
At The Guardian book blog Richard Lea writes that Time waits for no Pynchon embargo, noting that PW and Time published reviews before the official publication date (21 November) -- but (as Sarah also notes at Galleycat) there was no official embargo (at least not in the US).
The Penguin Press' sending out personalized ARCs might have given the impression of keeping careful tabs on how the whole media-campaign was to unfold, but that was about the extent of it.
We actually inquired how much they minded early reviews (since we tend to have a twitchy trigger finger once we get something in our hands), and while they were far from enthusiastic about the idea there was no question of any prohibition.
Their concern -- that readers might be disappointed reading about books they can't actually buy yet -- seems somewhat misplaced in an Internet age (and especially for online fora), as the pre-order possibilities -- just a click away -- seem to be good enough for many a reader.
As is, the publishers probably couldn't have done much better regarding pre-publication build-up, a few early reviews surely helping the cause.
We keep meaning to mention the University of Chicago Press' new three-volume selection of works by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (five plays, some fictions, and an essay-collection, all translated by Joel Agee).
They've advertised it fairly heavily -- and now they have a nice little dedicated site.
Worth a look -- and, more importantly, worth getting: Dürrenmatt wrote a lot of great stuff, and this looks like a very nice (if still tiny) selection.
It's good to see them making an effort to publicize it (especially as there don't seem to have been any reviews yet ...).
(The only Dürrenmatt title we currently have under review is The Physicists; we don't know if we'll manage to get around to having a look at these three volumes anytime soon.)
For other Dürrenmatt information, see also the author page and the Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel (warning ! annoyingly Flash-y !).
And note that Dürrenmatt’s ‘The Visit’ comes to Vietnam !
Personally, I think it's time that book bloggers came clean.
It might sound ridiculous, but I honestly think we need a code of conduct.
We need to tell our readers when we are reviewing free books or when we are taking part in marketing exercises
Lots of comments to the post at the site -- as well as elsewhere, notably from Ed Champion in CONSPIRACY! CONSPIRACY! YOU ARE ALL TOOLS!.
Ed is completely dismissive, and while our first instinct is to agree, the many comments to the original Reading Matters post suggest there's some validity to the concerns raised therein (or at least that there are some widely-held concerns).
Since we don't actually review any books on this weblog (all the reviews are stand-alone ones in the complete review-part of the site (see the Review Index)) we're not quite sure what would be expected from us anyway.
It should be pretty clear that we obtain many of the books we review from publishers and publicists (though, surprisingly, they only account for about half the titles we review -- the other half are obtained by us from other sources (bookstores, libraries)).
Ultimately, it seems to us unrealistic to provide the background about every book we cover -- though we actually did go through the exercise a couple of years back, in Why did we review that ?
Anyway, what really caught our eye was Ed's mention that:
This is a preposterous contextomy, seeing as how any sane person is aware that it is impossible for any journalist, whether print or online, who receives fifteen to twenty books a week to review each and every one of them.
As far as reach and audience goes the complete review is a decent-sized review-site.
Bigger than most, we figure.
(We also review a fair number of titles -- Against the Day makes 199 for the year, to date).
And we do not get "fifteen to twenty books a week".
This year we're getting more than ever, and that's still only one a day (i.e. seven a week).
Last year we got 299 (six a week) in 2004 it was 179.
So what we're wondering is: should we open the floodgates ?
While we can't review more books than we do, we could certainly get publishers to send us a lot more.
(We actively try to dissuade publicists etc. from making pretty much any and all unsolicited submissions.)
The way we do it now -- well, try to -- is to only get books we might actually cover.
Obviously that means that we might well miss much that might be worth a look (or that we could at least mention at the Liteary Saloon).
Twenty books a week ?
It sounds overwhelming.
Yeah, for now we prefer to try to keep the inflow to a trickle.
Back to the original issue:
- we think it's healthy to be suspicious of any and all reviews anyway (and remind readers that they should be -- even of ours), but "free books" probably aren't where the problem is ("marketing exercises", on the other hand, are more obviously problematic)
- as to today's posts: yes, we got our copy Against the Day for free, from the publisher (unconditionally, we like to think).
As to the Dürrenmatts we mentioned: we have not received copies of these (nor have we requested them) -- hell, we haven't even ever seen them
We mentioned that no one (in the US) seems to have reported on the recent 'Literature and Citizenship'-event with Orhan Pamuk at Columbia, but at least Andrew Bast reports on another event with the new Nobel laureate in On Stage With Pamuk, Manea and Rushdie at The New York Inquirer -- noting:
It was good.
Only, when you’ve got three huge minds (with egos to match), it’s tough to tap them all in 90 minutes.
The University of Rochester and Dalkey Archive Press have mutually agreed to dissolve the contract under which Dalkey Press would have moved to the University in January 2007.
"Though we found that the logistical issues involved in relocating the Press were greater than originally expected, we appreciate the experience we have had working with the University of Rochester," said John Kulka of the Dalkey Archive Press Board of Trustees.
Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) rolled out the drums of celebration in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, between November 2 and 5 to celebrate the silver jubilee of their association
And ANA national president, Dr. Wale Okediran, is quoted, including:
He equally lamented the ascendancy of ‘commercial’ publishing attributing it to the pervasive poor reading culture in the country: "It is unfortunate that while writing, particularly at the grass-roots levels is flourishing, literature publishing is floundering.
Publishers have also drastically reduced their literature lists in place of textbooks and biographies of popular figures and are taking on very few new authors," Okediran said.
Signandsight.com offer the transcript of a panel-discussion from the Frankfurt Book Fair on the state of translation in the globalised world, The Non-English Patient -- well worth a look.
Among the participants is Susan Harris of Words without Borders, as well as translator Esther Allen, who offers this example:
There seems to be a problem of mentality within the US publishing industry that isn't really borne out by fact.
One experience I had demonstrates that.
For many years I was in correspondence with the Spanish writer Javier Marias.
He did not have a publisher in the United States.
This was a particularly extraordinary situation, because in 1996 he won the world's richest literary award, the Dublin Impact Award, for 100,000 Irish pounds, for the best book published in English that year, The Harvill Edition of A Heart So White.
So, he had been consecrated as the author of the best book published in the English language in 1996, and could not find a publisher in the United States for several years after that.
Finally he was picked up by New Directions publishing.
While I would not say he has achieved bestseller status, once New Directions began publishing him with commitment and enthusiasm and energy, he has found a very large number of readers in the United States, and last year was the subject of a profile in the New Yorker.
So what every publisher I took him to in the last three years said was impossible was in fact perfectly possible, with belief and energy and commitment.
And I think that the publishing industry in the US is unwilling to invest that commitment in anything but some instant bestseller.
So there is that kind of structural issue.
Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day is due out 21 November (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; our review should be up by next weekend), and Time has really jumped on the Pynchon-bandwagon: first there was Jeffrey Ressner's look at Promoting Pynchon, and now Richard Lacayo offers an early review.
In his review Richard Lacayo notes that: "At 3 lbs. 6 oz., Against the Day weighs just 3 oz. less than my toaster" and among the problems I'm having with the book is that, due to this heft, it is physically almost unbearable to read.
Unless one rests it on a table (or one reads it one one's stomach -- on the floor or a bed) -- not my preferred positions -- it gets pretty heavy pretty fast.
Indeed, every time I lift it up I can't help but think how far superior my gold-cover mass-market paperback copy of Gravity's Rainbow is -- that's a book that's comfortable to read.
I've never understood the popular American hardcover format (6.5 x 9.5 inches or so) -- and with a book with this many pages it gets really overwhelming.
(The Library of America volumes -- ca. 5 x 8.25 --, which are often also in the 1000-page range are already far preferable.)
Even worse, of course, are the super-sized paperbacks -- not trade paperbacks (which are bad enough) but the larger sized ones: I'm fairly certain I've never read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest because the copy I own is the 6 x 9.25 paperback, and trying to read that is like trying to hold a phone book.
(They just came out with an admirably-priced $ 10 ten-year anniversary edition -- but it's still that ridiculous size (get your copy at Amazon.com) -- why couldn't they bring it out in a handy mass-market paperback size ?)
(In contrast: what a pleasure to read a truly pocket-sized book like some of the Pushkin Press titles (e.g. Louis Couperus' Inevitable) !)
Anyway: unless I break my wrists in the next couple of days (a distinct possibility) or suffer a debilitating groin injury if the book falls in my lap, our review of Pynchon's Against the Day should be up by the weekend .....
((Updated): It is now available here.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of an anthology of Modern Albanian Short Stories edited by Robert Elsie, Balkan Beauty, Balkan Blood (a volume in the Northwestern University Press Writings from an Unbound Europe-series).
This is Hare's 24th play, his 10th on Broadway.
But it is not opening in London first, or off-Broadway, or in regional theatre.
It's also the Broadway debut of every one of its performers, who include such stars as Julianne Moore and Bill Nighy.
The Observer also offers an excerpt from the play.
With Toni Morrison as guest curator this month, the museum is dreaming up new ways to look at art.
The American Nobel laureate has helped the Louvre conceive a series of lectures, readings, films, concerts, debates and slam poetry that will continue through November 29.
All center around her theme "The Foreigner's Home," touching on national identity, exile and the idea of belonging.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Florian Zeller's The Fascination of Evil.
It's an interesting little novel -- and it seems to have had some success in France, where it won the Prix Interallié in 2004 -- and it's disappointing that it hasn't attracted more (review and other) attention in the UK (or US).
It's meant to be provocative (about Islam and the West), and its unusual approach alone make it discussion-worthy.
It's also considerably more substantial than it first seems.
As to the games Zeller plays -- well, as the opening 'Warning' has it:
This book is fiction: the majority of what is said in it is not true; the rest, by definition, isn't either.