While the word "trash" was open to debate 10 years ago, now it is quite common among Chinese literary critics who deny the value of Chinese literature between 1949 and 1979 and have their doubts about literature of the 1980s and 1990s in China.
I now have a hard time defending some writers or their works.
Some of his complaints are, however, a bit peculiar:
Sometimes they seem to lack the willingness to suffer for their art and to go on producing without ever winning recognition.
Too many writers gave up their profession for xiahai, for making big money.
It seems that even for some big names, literature was just a kind of fooling around.
Many writers whose works were blockbusters in the 1980s stopped writing in the 1990s.
One gets the impression that those who left the field of the arts only regarded literature as a pastime.
(This is bad ?
Isn't the much-made argument in America, for example, that there are too many people who are churning out books ?
Don't we want people to stop writing ?)
When you are talking to a Chinese writer you can make the following astonishing discovery: He (in most cases it is a man) will keep on criticizing contemporary Chinese writers, until only one is left who is not to be criticized.
That is himself.
The reason why Chinese writers think so highly of themselves might have to do with the fact that in most cases they do not master a foreign language.
What's interesting is the focus on authors -- they should suffer for their art, they treat literature as a pastime, they're so full of themselves, etc. etc.
Surely the only thing that counts (or should) are the books they produce.
But, alas, the cult of (and focus on) personality seems to matter more to authors and critics alike .....
Shanghai Daily also prints Wang Yong's response, arguing Junk reading and solid literature can coexist.
Gabriel García Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa have apparently been feuding for thirty years, ever since they brawled at the movies in 1976.
Our first reaction was: who knew ? -- and then, of course: who cares ?
But apparently people do, and presumably will be happy to hear that, as Giles Tremlett reports in The Guardian, there are now Signs of a thaw in writers' 30-year feud.
A special edition of García Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, to mark this year's 40th anniversary of its publication, is to include a prologue by Vargas Llosa.
"Both men are in agreement over this," a spokesman for Spain's Royal Academy, which is publishing the edition, told the Guardian yesterday.
The agreement comes despite the fact the two have not spoken since they came to blows in a Mexican cinema in 1976.
The book is to be published in March, when it will be presented to a meeting of national Spanish language academies from around the world at Medellín in Colombia.
Surely everybody would be more interested in an explanation of what brought them to blows ... or film-footage of the actual fight ... or at least a mention of what film was showing .....
The category-winners of the Whitbread Costa Book Awards have been announced -- possibly even at the official site by the time you read this (though not last time we checked).
First media reports include:
I won a Whitbread Award for my first novel The Last King of Scotland.
It was an honour at the time, and has been since; but if it happened to me now, I'm not sure I'd want the award to be mentioned on my book jackets.
Easy to say now, but it's still a fun knock on the awards:
I still wouldn't want Costa on my book.
Costa just doesn't cut it for me as a signifier.
I know it's Costa as in Costa Rica but it sounds a little low-rent.
Frankly, even Starbucks would have more of a ring to it, being closer to an idea of literary value than Costa is.
It's hard to put one's finger on why Whitbread was semiotically successful and Costa isn't.
It seems a bit of a stretch to include it in the New York Review Classics-line, but we can't complain -- indeed, Vladimir Sorokin's Ice sounds like a book we'd like to get our hands on.
(See the NYRB publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
The only troubling thing: the author comparisons.
The publisher publicity page goes for Philip K. Dick and Michel Houellebecq, and both Jon Fasman's review (link likely only short-lived) at The Los Angeles Times and James H. Johnson's review at Paste invoke the names Houellebecq and Murakami .....
Is this really the best way to try to convey what a book is like ?
Karl Kraus died in 1936, and so as of this year his work is in the public domain in Austria -- which also means they've now been able to open the doors to the Austrian Academy Corpus digital edition of his journal Die Fackel ('The Torch'):
The AAC digital edition of the journal Die Fackel, edited by Karl Kraus from 1899 to 1936, offers free online access to the 37 volumes, 415 issues, 922 numbers, comprising more than 22.500 pages and 6 million wordforms.
The AAC-FACKEL contains a fully searchable database of the entire journal with various indexes, search tools and navigation aids in an innovative and highly functional graphic design interface, in which all pages of the original are available as digital texts and as facsimile images.
See also Karl Kraus' gesamte Fackel jetzt im Internet in Die Presse.
This is exactly the great sort of thing one can do on the Internet, and it's a fabulous site -- the only very disappointing part being the registration-requirement.
BugMeNot is one way around that -- and at least they don't require cookies to be enabled -- but we have no idea why they even bother.
Users have to register before they may use the AAC-Fackel.
What kind of legal protection this affords them (and why they feel they need it) is unclear, and one hopes they'll do away with it.
Anyway, the site is still worth visiting despite such hassles and hurdles: Die Fackel is an incredible accomplishment -- with almost all those six million words Kraus' own -- and it's fascinating reading (and the great search capability means it's easy to look up any reference).
It is, of course, in German: no complete translation yet (and lots of Kraus doesn't really translate readily -- he was a master of the German language, but part of that involved doing things with the language that don't really translate well).
For more information on Kraus, see the books and writers page.
Penguin apparently plan a 'selected writings' collection for 2008, but for now you're probably best served by Dicta and Contradicta (see the University of Illinois Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
To get a feel for what Kraus and Die Fackel meant in their time, the vivid account in The Torch in My Ear, the second volume of Nobel laureate Elias Canetti's memoirs, is the book to turn to (see the Granta publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk; the US edition is apparently out of print but the one-volume edition is still listed at Amazon.com).
(See also reviews by John Leonard (The New York Times Book Review, 17/9/1982) and Robert Taylor (Boston Globe, 22/9/1982).)
Hungarian Literatuire Online continue to offer interesting material, including now Háy János' interview with the grand old lady of Hungarian literature, Szabó Magda, "I don’t like bearing grudges".
Not much Szabó has been translated into English, but Len Rix's translation of The Door (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk) was widely hailed and won the 2006 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize.
See also Ali Smith's speech (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) from the Oxford-Weidenfeld prize ceremony, where she says:
Its translation by Rix lets it read as if it has no writer -- as if it exists in air, like heard voice does, the moment before it disappears.
It is all rhythm, atonement, wisdom.
It is a timely and quite brilliantly echoing achievement, one which, when we read it, makes us larger than, more than ourselves.
At cafebabel.com Giulio Zucchini talks to Claudio Magris.
Too little to be very convincing, but a different perspective, at least:
With a slightly troubled look, Magris reflects on Eastern Europe’s apparent reinvention of its identity, free from all their traditions and from communism, yet risking becoming ‘a fifty-first American state.'
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Gregary Racz's new translation of Pedro Calderón de la Barca's classic 17th century-drama, Life is a Dream, just out as a Penguin Classic.
Great stuff, and a surprising lot of fun.
What's life ? A frenzied, blurry haze.
What's life ? Not anything it seems.
A shadow. Fiction filling reams.
All we possess on earth means nil,
For life's a dream, think what you will,
And even all our dreams are dreams.
The January issue of Words without Borders is finally up, "saluting the winners of the various 2006 translation prizes by presenting exciting new work by the winning author/translator pairs".
Also up: the January edition of The Hindu's monthly Literary Review.
The Korean obsession with nabbing the Nobel prize for literature continues even outside Nobel-season: see yet another article in The Korea Times, Nobel Prize for Literature by Choe Chong-dae:
Although many Korean literary works have been translated and published in English and in other foreign languages, only a small group of Korean authors are currently represented in and recognized by international literary circles.
According to local media reports, the names of some Korean writers have been circulated as possible candidates for Nobel Prize in literature.
However, Korea has not yet produced a winner.
The usual suspects (i.e. Ko Un) and the usual reasons ("One of the reasons a Korean author has yet to receive this award is the lack of worthy translations") are trotted out -- and validation is found in at least small signs of foreign recognition:
I was delighted to learn recently that Ko Un, a well-known Korean poet, was awarded the 2006 Swedish Cicada Prize.
(Given that the Cikada Priset goes to: "an East Asian poet, who in his/her poems defends the inviolability of life" it shouldn't really be that much of a surprise that a Korean poet picked it up one year .....)
But you have to admire their relentless (if slightly misguided) ambition:
More Korean literature should enter the global stage to appeal to more universal sensibilities.
Prominent literary works should be translated into every major foreign language, including English and even Swedish.
It then will be enjoyed by many readers throughout the world, and it will shed light on such works in the international literary community.
If this is done, a Korean author to be awarded a Nobel Prize in literature in the near future.
Always good to see a newspaper offering more literary coverage, and so we're pleased to see the Yemen Times start up a Literary Corner:
The Yemen Times is pleased this week to introduce a new area for our readers to benefit from.
It is really a corner which no important national newspaper with wide international outreach could really afford to be without.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Faïza Guène's Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow.
In the UK it was published as Just Like Tomorrow -- in two editions, with different covers, one presumably for adult readers, one meant to appeal to teens.
(We found it works for all audiences.)
We reviewed Enrique Vila-Matas' El mal de Montano a couple of years ago, and now it's out in English translation (in the UK) as Montano.
(The American edition -- Montano's Malady -- is forthcoming from New Directions in April.)
Not quite as successful as his Bartleby & Co., but still some fun (very) literary play.
The first review we've seen in the British press is Miranda France's in The Telegraph.
Cute idea: the Harrius Potter-series continues to appear (i.e. the Harry Potter-books in Latin translation), and with Harrius Potter Et Camera Secretorum now available (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), The Sunday Times has Philip Howard review it -- in Latin.
(They also offer an English translation of the -- enthusiastic and playful -- review.)
The film-version of Giles Foden's The Last King of Scotland is coming out in the UK soon, and in The king and I in The Guardian Foden writes about: "visiting the crew in Uganda, appearing as an extra and the challenge of bringing a tyrant to life".
Five finalists have been selected for the new USD 100,000 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, announced the Jewish Book Council -- the administrator of the Prize.
The winner will be announced in mid-March.
The Prize is the largest-ever Jewish literary prize given, and is one of the largest literary prizes in the nation.
Each year, a prize of USD 100,000 will be presented to an emerging writer whose work, of exceptional literary merit, stimulates an interest in themes of Jewish concern.
Bogotá, Colombia is UNESCO's World Book Capital City 2007 -- and they're hoping it'll help create some reading-enthusiasm there.
As most everywhere else, the local reading statistics are less than impressive: "Sixty-five percent of Colombia's 42 million people stay a long way away from books, according to researcher Germán Rey", Helda Martínez writes in Open Your Books, Please, Bogotá at IPS, offering a good overview of the reading situation in Colombia.
"I can type faster on my phone than on a standard keyboard," says Chaco, and:
Chaco is becoming one of the most popular mobile phone novelists in Japan.
We don't know much about her -- except that she's a twenty-something Pisces from Osaka -- but we do know that she can spit out books faster than Danielle Steel.
In the last 14 months, she wrote five novels, including her best seller, What the Angel Gave Me, which has sold more than 1 million copies to date
A mobile phone novel typically contains between 200 and 500 pages, with each page containing about 500 Japanese characters.
The novels are read on a cell phone screen page by page, the way one would surf the web, and are downloadable for around $10 each.
Much as we try to keep up with the latest trends, don't expect any reviews of any mobile phone novels ('mpns' ?) at the complete review any time soon.
A reader points us to Der Spiegel's list of the twenty top-selling German books of 2006.
(The category is 'Belletristik' -- mainly fiction, but broad enough to include other 'literary' works, explaining why Grass' memoir makes the cut (at nr. 11 -- just ahead of J.K.Rowling).)
As another article points out, the bestselling title of all was non-fiction -- Hape Kerkeling's Ich bin dann mal weg, with 1.1 million sold -- but Daniel Kehlmann topped the Speigel (fiction) list with Measuring the World.
The Kehlmann is, amazingly, still top of the weekly bestseller lists, and the publishers report an amazing 850,000 copies now sold.
Despite good reviews (and fairly prominent review-coverage) stateside, it doesn't seem to have performed very well in the US so far.
UK publication is set for a few months from now, and it'll be interesting to see whether it makes more of an impact there.
Meanwhile, the success of Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian continues to astound us: as we noted, it was the third-bestselling title in the UK last year, and it's nr. 19 on Der Spiegel list (which unfortunately doesn't provide hard sales-numbers).
Meanwhile, from Nigeria we get the Sunday Sun 2006 Top 40 bestseller -- though there's no clue as to how that list was assembled.
Still, it gives you an idea of what's on offer and what's being read in Nigeria.
She didn't publish much, but Tillie Olsen certainly (and deservedly) was an influential author and teacher, and she passed away on Monday.
See the AP obituary by Hillel Italie (here in The Mercury News), or Julie Bosman's obituary in the (registration requiring) The New York Times
There's not too much Olsen-information online, but see, for example, the Tillie Olsen pages at the Nebraska Center for Writers.
The University of Nebraska Press recently re-issued Yonnondio; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com -- but it looks like the great collection Tell Me a Riddle is out of print in the US.
It does appear to be in print in the UK, in a Virago Modern Classics-edition (which also includes Yonnondio; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk), but the only in-print US version we can find is the Rutgers University Press critical edition (see their publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.com), but it looks like that only covers the title story.
Just as interesting as those many lists of books folks actually read over the past year are the ones of titles people wanted to read but didn't get to.
See, for example, thumb drives & oven clocks where Darby M. Dixon III offers an annotated list of the 75 Books I Failed to Read in 2006.
thousands of novels and nonfiction works have been eliminated from the Fairfax County collection after a new computer software program showed that no one had checked them out in at least 24 months.
Is this a reasonable way of doing things ?
Possibly -- though one has to wonder about the software given some of the results:
Every branch gets a printout of the data each month, including every title that hasn't circulated in the previous 24 months.
It's up to librarians to decide whether a book stays.
The librarians have discretion, but they also have targets, collection manager Julie Pringle said. "What comes in is based on what goes out," she said.
Classics such as Ernest Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls and Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird are among the titles that haven't been checked out in two years and could be eliminated.
Librarians so far have decided to keep them.
Are these really titles that haven't been checked out, or is it simply a case of individual copies of the titles (as the Hemingway and Lee surely are titles where it would not be unusual for a library to have multiple copies) ?
On the other hand, these are in-print titles, cheap editions of which can probably be found at every better bookstore in America.
Far more problematic are titles such as The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire -- which, given its heft, might well be one that people come to a library to refer to, but don't check out .....
And we have to wonder when the librarians feel the need to defensively resort to ridiculous hyperbole:
"We're being very ruthless," said Sam Clay, director of the 21-branch system since 1982.
"A book is not forever.
If you have 40 feet of shelf space taken up by books on tulips and you find that only one is checked out, that's a cost."
How many research libraries in the world devote 40 feet of shelf space to books on tulips ?
If someone has to make up an example as silly as this, surely one has to wonder ... and then shiver uncomfortably when one reads that Voltaire's Candide doesn't make the cut, or that:
An obscure Edgar Allan Poe volume called The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket might be transferred to another branch.
But apparently the library does have the space and funding for a: "Two-story garage: 199 Spaces" .....
No doubt much-discussed (and possibly defended) in library-circles, as consumers we certainly don't like to hear:
"I think the days of libraries saying, 'We must have that, because it's good for people,' are beyond us," said Leslie Burger, president of the American Library Association and director of Princeton Public Library.
"There is a sense in many public libraries that popular materials are what most of our communities desire.
Everybody's got a favorite book they're trying to promote."
That leaves some books out in the cold.
In Fairfax, as many as 10,000 titles have been pulled from the shelves and become eligible for book sales.
Once upon a time in India publishing was an act dreaded by most entrepreneurs.
Not anymore. Not after this year. The industry, today, is growing by leaps and bounds with every month seeing a new publisher in the market like a novelist adds a new chapter to his work in progress.
There are more than 15,000 publishers and more than 75,000 books in 30 languages.
By the estimation of Shakti Mallik, president of the Federation of Indian Publishers, the Indian publishing sector is currently "worth Rs 80 billion and it is growing by over 15% every year."
Of all the titles published in India 45% are in English, placing the country behind only the US and the UK as the third largest publisher of English books in the world.
Günter Grass gathers his translators together whenever there's a new book to tackle, and a few weeks ago about twenty of them gathered in Lübeck to go over his recent and much-discussed memoir, Beim Häuten der Zwiebel.
Among the articles in the German press about the get-together are Christof Siemes' Treue Arbeiter im Textberg des Herrn in Die Zeit and Liliane Jolitz's Grass-Übersetzer in Lübeck in the Lübecker Nachrichten, both with some good titbits (and the Jolitz-piece has a photo of them all at work).
Siemes notes that Grass has been doing this with each of his books since The Flounder in 1977, and that it's actually a contractual obligation for any publisher who buys the foreign rights: they have to agree to pay for the translator's trip, while German publisher Steidl pays for the stay.
(Meanwhile, translators who can't attend get a copy of the discussion-reports from all the sessions.)
Jolitz mentions that Steidl foreign rights and marketing man Jan Menkens notes that Grass' books sell well in France, Spain, England, and Italy, as well as Eastern Europe, South Korea and Japan.
No word about American popularity -- though maybe the notoriety will help with sales of this particular title.
Too bad more authors don't have the clout (and drive) to organise such translation-workshops !
Given there are so many awards, prizes, commendations, best-ofs and authorial accolades, I've set up a few of my own.
We spend so much time praising the good, it's a shame not to devote time to oblivion, obloquy and the outrageously bad.