They've whittled down their '100 notable books' of 2006 to The 10 Best Books of 2006 at The New York Times.
We only have one of the titles under review, Marisha Pessl's disappointing Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
That beat out ... say, Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française ?
(No surprise: no books originally written in a foreign language among the top ten.)
(Of the top ten, we do expect to get to Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children before the year is out.)
About ten days ago we mentioned the on-going crack-down on books in Iran -- and wondered which books were being banned because they "deliberately gave Iranians a sense of inferiority and encouraged them to be lackeys of the west."
One possible answer: as AFP reports (here at the Daily Star): Tehran bans bestselling book -- the book in question being Zoya Pirzad's 'I Will Turn out the Lights', which we just happen to already have under review.
Strictly speaking, they didn't ban it -- they merely refused to renew the publication permit for the book (yes, in Iran you need a publication permit to publish a book ...).
Kind of late, however: it's "sold more than 200,000 copies in 23 editions since 2001."
And this probably improves its chances of getting translated into English and published in the US or UK ten-fold .....
Raul Guerra Garrido was awarded the Premio Nacional de las Letras Españolas -- not, as a few weblogs have it, the Premio Miguel de Cervantes (the mistake presumably arising from a too-quick glance at the AP report (here at The Washington Post), where they note: "The National Prize for Spanish Letters [...] considered the most important national literary accolade after the Cervantes Prize").
A pretty decent list of previous winners -- and see also Guerra Garrido's official site.
Columbia University Press has a new "study and translation" by Anthony H. Chambers of Ueda Akinari's Ugetsu monogatari out, Tales of Moonlight and Rain -- and our review is the most recent addition to the complete review.
Well worth a look, even (or especially) for those familiar with previous translations.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Marta Petreu's study of E.M.Cioran and the Rise of Fascism in Romania, An Infamous Past -- fascinating stuff.
We're eager to revisit Cioran's work now, and see how this affects our readings.
The 20 November issue of The New Republic has what's billed as Joseph Frank's review of this title.
It's a mammoth review, covering seven full pages -- but, in fact, Frank is more concerned with Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine's (still not translated) study, Cioran, Eliade, Ionesco: L'oubli du fascisme.
It sounds very interesting too -- and we should be used to those TNR reviews that are more concerned with the the subject-matter of books under review than the actual books themselves -- but a bit more about Petreu's book might have been called for.
This has been much-discussed, but now that the original Sutherland-piece is finally available online (and Rachel Cooke has offered a silly print-defense) we also weigh in.
It began with John Sutherland's piece in The Telegraph -- dramatically presented in the online version as: john sutherland IS SHOCKED BY THE STATE OF book-Reviewing on the web.
His complaint is mainly with the reviews that appear on Amazon.com (and Amazon.co.uk) -- but, without apparently looking much further, he sees fit to condemn all online reviewing.
The example he uses is certainly a pretty feeble thing:
Early in August there appeared, some three weeks before the book's publication, a 'review' (so called) of Victoria Glendinning's biography of Leonard Woolf, posted by 'Geena', on amazon.co.uk.
This was well before the book was available to the public, or any above-ground reviews had appeared.
Sutherland is correct in pointing out that it is hardly a review -- but he seems convinced that all Amazon-reviews are truly influential, i.e. that consumers will take even such uninformative and cursory commentary as the 'review' he cites and make their purchase-decisions based on that.
He apparently also believes:
Why do the web-reviewers allow themselves to be recruited as unpaid hacks ?
Partly for freebies.
But more because they enjoy shooting off their mouths. And they enjoy the power.
Is he serious ?
Maybe he really believes that; he certainly hasn't given it much thought -- or the online reviewing community much consideration.
After all, he readily makes the jump and tars all online-book coverage, suggesting he made up his mind without ever really looking around at what some -- indeed, many -- of us do:
There are those who see web-reviewing (whether independent bloggery, or commercially hosted) as a 'power to the reader' trend -- the democratisation of something traditionally monopolised by literary mandarins.
And there are those who see it as the degradation of literary taste.
Myself, I'm of the Victor Frankenstein party.
Susan Hill posted her response at her weblog -- and shortly after that shared the now much-discussed e-mail she received (without revealing who she received it from), which stated:
I would like you to know that no book either published or written by you will in future be reviewed on our Literary Pages.
Beside the many literary-weblog comments, there have also been some print reactions to the whole to-do -- including, now, Rachel Cooke's in today's issue of The Observer, Deliver us from these latter-day Pooters.
Cooke appears to go at it with an open mind.
Well -- semi-open, at least:
so much of the stuff you read in the so-called blogosphere is so awful: untrustworthy, banal and, worst of all, badly written.
After I heard about the spat between Hill and Sutherland I devoted an entire day to book blogs, trying to give them a fair chance.
This was not an edifying -- or even a very interesting -- experience, and I really, really love books.
An entire day !
I read and I read; I dutifully followed every link.
And come supper time all I could think was that not a sentence I'd read was a millionth as good as anything in The Polysyllabic Spree, Nick Hornby's recently published diary of 'an exasperated but ever hopeful reader'.
Because his words are measured, rather than spewed, out; because he is a good critic, and an experienced one; and because he can write.
The trouble is, these qualities are exceptional -- which is why they must be paid for.
Sure, there's a lot of boring crap -- or at least material that's of limited interest -- on most weblogs (including, no doubt, this one) -- but not a single sentence that was "a millionth as good" as even the worst in The Polysyllabic Spree ?
'A millionth' ? Isn't that hyperbole of the sort that even a third-rate weblogger would be embarrassed to use ?
But since she's being hyperbolic, we wonder if that 'entire day' she spent reading book blogs wasn't closer to ... maybe twenty minutes ?
She does mention some of the places she visited:
Hill's blog, I've already dealt with.
From there I went to a site all bloggers recommend, Dove Grey Reader, which is written by a 'sock-knitting quilter' from Devon.
I was pleased that she was 'truly hooked from the first line onwards' by Arnaldur Indridason's thriller Silence of the Grave, and it does sound good -- but I have friends to recommend thrillers to me.
Grumpy Old Book Man is, according to the Guardian, one of the top 10 book blogs.
Eh ? Even its author admits it's an 'acquired taste' (here he is on Jeffrey Archer: 'Good old Jeffrey. He's always good for a laugh, isn't he?')
Finally, to Reading Matters by 'kimbofo', an Australian in London.
Do we really need to know that Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go has been on her TBR (To Be Read) pile for a year, or that she bought it as part of a discounted set of Booker novels ?
(As far as we can tell the names of two of these weblogs are 'dovegreyreader scribbles' and 'Grumpy Old Bookman', not 'Dove Grey Reader' and 'Grumpy Old Book Man', but maybe we're just being pedantic.
And while we enjoy dovegreyreader scribbles, we have not, in fact seen "all bloggers recommend" it.)
Maybe this is a representative sampling -- but we find it a bit hard to believe that among just, for example, the over 250 English-language active literary weblogs we link to (a far from comprehensive list) there isn't material (and the odd well-formed sentence) that might be to Cooke's liking.
Finally: it's easy to tar all bloggers with one broad brush, but on the whole we find that the literary weblogs do a pretty impressive job.
Cooke goes into it believing: "so much of the stuff you read in the so-called blogosphere is so awful: untrustworthy, banal and, worst of all, badly written", but especially in the book-blog world there's quite a bit of fine and thoughtful writing (and those weblogs -- like this one -- that are more information-providers surely don't do that much worse of a job than many wire and newspaper reports ...).
And as far as book-coverage being untrustworthy ... it would hardly seem to apply.
(Indeed, readers surely can determine how much they can/should trust a weblogger based on a quick scroll through the weblog, no ?)
And, to return to John Sutherland, as far as online reviewing goes ... well, we'll be so bold as to defend at least what we do, and suggest that our review-coverage is actually of considerable use.
Yes, we're atypical (and, by linking to and quoting from print-reviews, in a sense also partly dependent on old media) but then one of the wonders of the Internet is that it allows for all sorts of new (and often useful) approaches, and there are all sorts of sites tackling book coverage in new and innovative -- and useful -- ways.
And we think if you're looking for information (critical and otherwise) about, say, Thomas Pynchon's new novel, Against the Day, or Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (or what about English-language coverage of Kertész Imre's recent autobiography, K. dosszié ? we haven't seen the TLS get to that yet ...), the complete review is a pretty darn good place to start.
Not every literary weblog is a goldmine of information or an always-stylish read, but most of the ones we regularly visit (dozens) certainly do offer us at least something that is ... at least a thousandth as good as "as anything in The Polysyllabic Spree" -- and often much more.
Online coverage won't soon replace print coverage of books, but the defensive (and close to blind) hysteria Sutherland and Cooke display suggests a lot of people are still having trouble seeing the value of what is already on offer online -- a lot of which is very impressive indeed.
Sheela Reddy takes an extended look at the blurb-phenomenon in India in The Blurb Bubble in Outlook India.
Apparently it's gotten out of hand there too:
But in India, where a culture of name-dropping and string-pulling is rampant, it's a different ball game.
Increasingly, authors are taking control of the blurb-hunt into their own hands, relying on networking skills for celeb endorsements.
A recent example, says Chopra, was Kiran Nagarkar, who insisted on a list of blurbs from celebs including Salman Rushdie for his God's Little Soldier.
But Rushdie, perhaps without a Sonny Mehta to goad him, did not oblige.
Nicely demonstrating how ridiculous blurbs are: the quote from Khushwant Singh:
It’s dishonest ... you’re not judging a book by its merits but to please your friends.
I do it because I can’t say no.
In The Guardian Azar Nafisi writes about the current crackdown by the crackpot Iranian regime on what can be published in Iran in Don't ban Dan Brown:
What is obvious is that this particular "poisoned dish" is not a threat to Iranian youth but to the officials of the theocratic state.
After 27 years of the revolution, the Islamic government has failed to convince its citizens, and in fact many within the religious hierarchy, of its victory in the cultural domain.
The two groups on whose loyalty the regime had relied -- the younger generation, the children of the revolution who were to preserve its values and strengthen its ideological base, and the former ardent revolutionary youth, some of whom had given their lives to guard the revolution -- ironically are now using works of imagination and thought to challenge and resist the ideological impositions.
At The Guardian Anthony Giddens interprets the non-fiction bestseller lists to diagnose a Politically illiterate Britain.
He's even impressed by what (in comparison) Americans are reading, finding essentially no serious non-fiction titles on the British bestseller list, especially not about politics.
Part of the reason for the discrepancy between the UK and other countries might be that the British don't much esteem intellectuals.
If I am right in my analysis, there is something quite fundamental missing in British political life: what is missing is a sphere where intellectual issues and problems become fed into public debate.
There are so few bestsellers concerned with social and political questions because the public appetite for them is not there -- and the public appetite is not there because the links that connect universities with British political life are less robust than in other countries.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion.
The reviews -- often beside the (and Dawkins') point(s) -- are almost as interesting as the book.
And it's a rare bestselling title we have under review .....
In Dismissing the West in The Moscow Times Victor Sonkin writes about Maxim Kantor's massive new novel:
Kantor surprised both the artistic and literary communities by publishing a novel titled The Drawing Textbook (Учебник рисования).
And what a novel !
At 1,400 large-format pages spread over two volumes, it is one of the longest fiction books written recently, and, volume-wise, it rivals such classic epics of Russian literature as Tolstoy's War and Peace or Sholokhov's And Quiet Flows the Don.
And it wasn't just the size of the book that invited such comparisons.
Many critics said Kantor had revived the tradition of the Russian socio-philosophical novel, and others, most notably Dmitry Bykov and Grigory Revzin, heralded Textbook as a new "great Russian novel," a feat that seemed impossible after The Master and Margarita and Doctor Zhivago.
Perlentaucher is the German site that brings you -- among much else -- signandsight.com, but the German part of the site offers considerably more -- including book-review-summaries of many titles from several of the leading German newspapers (FAZ, FR, NZZ, SZ, taz, and Die Zeit).
While we only quote from reviews (and, where possible, link to them) they summarise them -- and recently the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Süddeutsche Zeitung took them to court about this.
The newspapers apparently did not so much object to the summary-treatment, as to the fact that Perlentaucher re-sells this material, arguing that they were making money off of substituting their summaries for the actual reviews.
The first judgement has now come down in favour of Perlentaucher (i.e. they can keep doing what they're doing); see good overviews in Die Welt (Perlentaucher darf FAZ- und SZ-Auszüge kommerziell verwerten by Birgit Warnhold) and Der Tagesspiegel (Perlentaucher gewinnt gegen FAZ und SZ by Alice Bota).
Meanwhile, FAZ offers only a laconic Urheber ohne Rechte.
So the UK publishers of Against the Day apparently didn't want any review-coverage before Tuesday -- and they managed not to get any.
Perhaps, however, they were too successful: the only review we've seen in any British paper to date is Sam Leith's in The Spectator (one of the better reviews, by the way -- well worth reading, though only cumbersomely accessible at that frustratingly registration-requiring site).
No doubt (or little doubt, anyway), there will be a couple of reviews in the papers over the weekend, but wouldn't it have been better to get more coverage out there earlier (and not just those inane Pynchon-as-mystery-man articles) ?
A few months back Dmitry Bykov won the (Russian) National Bestseller Award for his biography of Boris Pasternak.
As Galina Stolyarova reported in Bykov wins national literary prize in The St. Petersburg Times, he only got $ 4,000 in prize-money -- but he's done a whole lot better, now that he's also picked up the Большая книга ('Big Book') award.
That's worth a somewhat more impressive $ 113,000.
(See, for example, also the AP report (here at the IHT).
There's still one-tenth of the year left to go, but there have already been quite a few 'Best of the Year' and the like lists.
Two notable additions: the New Statesman let their critics choose their Books of the Year, and The New York Times Book Review has posted their 100 Notable Books of the Year (limited to titles they've actually reviewed, it's hardly very selective -- though it is noteworthy that Against the Day made the grade (the Kakutani's slam was in The New York Times-proper, not the separate Book Review, and hence not decisive -- which also means that the forthcoming NYTBR-review will likely be fairly positive)).
In the 1990s, young writers preferred their own inner world as a key literary theme as well as a place to pursue "real" values against the hostile reality.
In the 2000s, such a trend is out of fashion; something new is emerging fast.
In a special section on the new literary trend of the 2000s, a leading literary magazine The Quarterly Changbi argues a growing list of new-generation writers are redefining the literary landscape with lively and innovative styles.
In Dead Plagiarists Society in Slate Paul Collins wonders: 'Will Google Book Search uncover long-buried literary crimes ?'
And it doesn't sound like he's going out too far on a limb in concluding:
I'd bet that in the next decade at least one major literary work gets busted.
Such thefts don't necessarily end a literary reputation: After all, what Melville did with ordinary maritime literature amounted to an act of lead-to-gold alchemy.
But it's invigorating to think that some forgotten authors, long buried and with the dirt tamped down over them by their ruthless rivals, will now get their due. Plagiarism, it seems, will out.
The biggest Against the Day news is, of course, that it's now on sale and available to one and all.
In other notes: one more mention of the (non-)embargo: in his Literary life column in The Telegraph Mark Sanderson perpetuates the embargo-confusion about the book, claiming (second item):
There has been much debate among American publishers about the dubious value of embargos on the publication of reviews.
Thomas Pynchon's new novel, Against the Day, which is published around the world on 21 November, is currently under embargo.
Editors have had to sign a letter agreeing not to break it before they can get their hands on a 1,085-page proof copy.
A pity, then, that Publishers Weekly, the bible of the American book trade, published a long, favourable, review of Against the Day three weeks ago.
By the time midnight rolled around we counted at least a dozen print reviews (see our review-page for quotes and/or links), from Bookforum through The Washington Post -- all, admittedly, US publications, and of course that's part of the point: there wasn't much embargo discussion stateside, because there doesn't seem to have been an embargo.
When we got our copy we certainly didn't receive a letter to sign (though maybe those who got proofs did ?).
Apparently, it was only British publisher Jonathan Cape that made sure word didn't leak ... which, as we've mentioned repeatedly, becomes fairly pointless in the Internet age, especially when the Americans are playing by different rules.
(We actually think the publisher should have encouraged more earlier reviews, to spread out the excitement: as is, there have been so many over the past three or four days (including a triple-whammy of really negative ones in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Salon) that it probably doesn't help the book that much.)
Last we checked, the sales rank for the book at Amazon was 26 in the US and 393 (down from 247 earlier in the day) in the UK -- maybe reviews in the UK papers would have helped early sales .....
So far very little international press interest: we couldn't find anything in the French or Spanish papers but, of course, the Germans offer some coverage: Jordan Mejias writes Einmal alles in the FAZ, while Uwe Schmitt writes about Die komplizierte Mayonnaise des Thomas Pynchon in Die Welt.
Both quote from quite a few of the US reviews that have appeared so far -- and both claim that the reviews broke the (non-existent) embargo .....
Finally: at The Elegant Variation Jim Ruland is providing content for Pynchon Week.
Alan Riding's article on the success of foreign authors this year in France (Littell taking the Renaudot, Nancy Huston the Femina, etc.) appeared in The New York Times a few days ago; now In France, literary honors are going to foreigners is also available at the IHT, so we finally link to it.
The Myanmar Writers and Journalists Association (MWJA) held a ceremony at the city hall here Sunday to pay respect to old-aged and doyen literati to mark the country's Sarsodaw Day (Poets' Day or Literati's Day).
Information Minister Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan, leading the ministry's officials and younger literati, held the respect-paying ceremony, presenting 71 doyen literati aged over 80, with donations of 100,000 Kyats in cash and gifts each on behalf of the government and individual wellwishers.
At black-market (i.e. realistic) exchange rates 100,000 Kyats isn't very much, but it's still nice of them to honour the old guys (and, presumably, gals) -- and finding 71 of them aged 80 and over is pretty impressive.
Of course, what we want to know is: where are the young Burmese writers ?