The recent assassination of Hrant Dink by some nutty Turkish pseudo-nationalists (they're obviously not real nationalists, since they've done nothing but brought great shame to their country) understandably has Turkish authors more on edge.
Recently, The New York Timesreported (fourth item) that: "Elif Shafak has sharply curtailed her book tour in the United States because of fears for her safety".
(No one else seems to have paid much attention to the story -- and, not to be unkind, The Bastard of Istanbul hasn't exactly been getting raves (i.e. the publisher may be cutting their (financial) losses).
Better safe than story is probably the wise policy, but even the NYT notes: "Paul Slovak, the publisher of Viking, said that while Ms. Shafak had received no specific threats in the United States, she had been attacked as an "enemy of the state" on ultra-nationalist Web sites. "It’s a situation where you want to be as careful as you can and not take any chances," he said.")
Meanwhile, Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk has unfortunately been getting actual threats, and has now cancelled a Germany-tour, on which he was set to pick up an honorary doctorate in Berlin; see, for example, Nach Morddrohung: Nobelpreisträger Pamuk sagt Deutschlandreise ab in the Berliner Morgenpost ((Updated) see now also, for example, Pamuk cancels Germany visit amid safety fears in The Guardian).
Note that just a few days ago Seyfettin Koçak reported Pamuk returns home, optimistic about future at Zaman:
Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk said "I don't think of these things any more" in response to reporters' questions over threats as he arrived at the airport in Istanbul.
(The report also offers this touching yet bizarre titbit: "Customs officers at the border offered chocolate to Pamuk on the occasion of International Customs Day."
No word whether or not he accepted and ate it .....)
The case set French copyright laws, which put a literary work in the public domain 70 years after the author's death, against the concept of an author's "moral rights".
The latter are considered timeless and passed on to descendants.
That 'moral rights' idea really doesn't sit well with us -- especially when coupled with the 'timeless' aspect of it and (almost as significantly) the role of the 'descendants'.
(Are there any heirs worse than literary heirs ?
The shocking conduct of so many of them would leave little doubt .....)
Somewhat similar questions also arise in Cathy Young's look at The Fan Fiction Phenomena at Reason (link first seen at Books, Inq.).
A lot to be said about that too, but what particularly struck us is:
Despite such griping, fan fiction is clearly here to stay.
Their work’s legal status may be a bit precarious, but fan writers are generally left alone.
J. K. Rowling’s decision to welcome Harry Potter fanfic undoubtedly has helped boost the genre’s legitimacy, and recently even some anti-fanfic writers have softened their stance.
McCaffrey, who once threatened legal action against fanfic sites, now permits them with the same stipulations as Rowling: They must be noncommercial and nonpornographic.
Okay, the porno-ban is a way of looking out for (young) readers, but why is it important that it be 'noncommercial' ?
Aren't the fundamental issues the same, regardless of whether or not the rip-off is commercial or not ?
Yes, a noncommercial fanfic writer isn't making money off the work, but is that really the only thing that's at stake or important ?
In fact, shouldn't the money be the least important thing ?
Also interesting: Young writes:
For the more sophisticated fanfic lovers, the high crap-to-quality ratio can mean a frustrating search for readable stories.
The real problem, though, is that less experienced readers may develop seriously skewed standards of what constitutes a readable story.
The Swiss book production numbers for 2006 are in, and it was the best year (as measured by total titles) since 1999: Swiss publishers put out 11,875 titles (up 17 per cent from 2005 (10,128 titles)).
Among the major languages books were published in in multi-lingual Switzerland, the numbers were up for all except English:
German titles: 6,797 (up 16 per cent)
French titles: 2,374 (up 20 per cent)
Italian titles: 367 (up 6 per cent)
Romansh titles: 40 (up 18 per cent)
English titles: 1,367 (down 0.2 per cent)
There was an increase of 6 per cent in the number of translated titles that were published (1,023) -- with the biggest jump in translation from English (36 per cent, to 468 titles), while there was a decline of translations from both German and French.
And translations were from only 28 languages, down from 32 last year.
For local coverage, see: 2006, année haute pour l'édition suisse (Le Temps), Schweiz erlebte 2006 Bücher-Boom (Basler Zeitung), and Buchproduktion Schweiz boomt (Webjournal.ch).
It's Demon Theory week at The Litblog Co-op -- check it out.
Stephen Graham Jones' novel is totally different from Seven Loves (discussed last week) -- and of particular interest for those who like their fiction cinematic and annotated.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love.
First translated in 1951 (by Angus Davidson), Other Press has just brought this out in a new translation by Marina Harss.
It's nice to see the renewed interest (Moravia is a class-writer) -- and especially good to see there's been some solid review coverage, too (brief takes in The New Yorker and The LA Times, and the full Dirda-treatment in The Washington Post.)
No doubt, Other Press would have sent us a copy had we asked (they're very good about that kind of thing), but for that to happen we would actually have had to notice they had published a new translation .....
Yeah, we're not always on top of things.
As it happens, we had a Penguin paperback (pub. date 1964) of the earlier translation, picked up for a dollar or so a couple of years back (the old proper-sized (i.e. pocket-sized) paperbacks of classic moderns are always hard to pass up), and since we'd vaguely registered the title being discussed the past month or so we decided to have a look.
Can't say whether the Harss-translation is much of an improvement, but it's pretty damn fine in the Davidson version.
And we've now noted that NYRB has done a couple of Moravia-reprints (we already have a copy of Boredom) and we can guarantee you'll be seeing more Moravia coverage over the next few months.
Our interest has definitely been piqued.
Our survey sampled the cultural perspectives of our closest European neighbours, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, by speaking to a series of cultural commentators and 30 'arts consumers', who visit galleries, libraries, concerts in major cities in each country.
The findings confirm that national prejudice is a powerful influence in our creative preferences.
Shakespeare still gets a name check across most of Europe, but in France Victor Hugo is talked of as a figure of equal international significance.
In Germany, Johann Wolfgang Goethe is revered and it is mistakenly believed that the titles of his works (Faust and Theory of Colours) would be recognised in an average English classroom.
Compare also Adam Kirsch's recent review in The New York Sun of John Armstrong's Love, Life, Goethe (see the FSG publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com) -- a book that actually seems to have helped bolster Goethe's reputation (and popularity ?) in the UK (or at least got lots of review coverage there).
Not all of The Observer-survey reactions were entirely nationalist -- but there still seem to be divides, as evidenced by:
In the field of the written word, Italians saw the Nobel prize-winning contemporary Portuguese writer Jose Saramago as a sure-fire international literary icon.
'The all-time favourites are those who really made an impact -- who thought out of the box, but their innovations came here to stay,' said one Italian.
'Take Saramago, he is so unique his influence is going to last for centuries.'
No one asked in Britain had heard of him.
It's been a while since anything of hers has gotten translated into English.
Has she fallen out of favour ?
(A long-time The New York Times Book Review favourite -- they seemed to review every book of hers that came out -- it is, of course, unlikely that Tanenhaus would bother with her, even if something new did come out.)
It is difficult to find books in the Somali capital these days, but one place with a dozen shelves of them is the Mogadishu Public Library, which amounts to a single room behind a solid steel gate in a neighborhood of goats, mosques and electronics shops.
It's not writing that should be encouraged but reading, widely and voraciously, reading the classics, reading the modern masters.
That, if my university lecturers are right, is what will bring out the real writers among us.
I was there during the Summer of Love, 1967, when Allen Ginsberg arrived in London.
Now the film I made all those years ago is being re-released on DVD.
The film became the prompt for my first prose book, self-published in Hackney, The Kodak Mantra Diaries, the background story of the film and the people involved in its making.
This document is also being re-launched by Beat Scene Press of Coventry.
And at Beat Scene we learn:
Incidentally this is a busy time for Iain Sinclair, with his THE FIREWALL: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS 1979-2006 being recently published by Etruscan Books.
Padma Shri is one of the big Indian state honours, an award recognising distinguished contributions in fields including literature.
Among this year's honorees are Amitav Ghosh and Vikram Seth (see all the honorees at Wikipedia) -- but as the Hindustan Times reports, Kerala literary critic turns down Padma Shri.
And it's for a pretty original reason:
Noted Kerala literary critic and political commentator Sukumar Azhikode has turned down the Padma Shri, terming the awards are unconstitutional.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Martin Amis' House of Meetings -- a book that deserves a much closer dissection than we could offer in this first go-round.
There's certainly a lot more to be said about it and maybe we'll take another stab at it -- though we also found it terribly aggravating.
(The majority of the reviews also tend to focus largely on the gulag-story, but it seems to us the bigger themes are sex and Russia .....)
We got our review-copy just after publication day in the US -- and it's already from the second printing.
Is it possible ?
An Amis book that's actually selling well ?
Or is it just that Knopf has such low expectations (i.e. realistic ones, after disappointments like Yellow Dog and Night Train) that they were caught by surprise ?
Some of the reviews are also worth a mention, though what we're curious about is what kind of a slap on the wrist lit-blogger favourite Liesl Schillinger got for writing that the narrator was writing to his daughter Venus, when in fact Venus is his step-daughter (see her review in The New York Times Book Review).
The mistake isn't insignificant -- especially since Schillinger embellishes things and describes her as: "Venus, whom he sired peacefully, and late in life, in the United States.".
Not only did he not sire her, he never even slept with her mother; he married her, but their relationship remained "chaste".
(As we said, sex (and its dissatisfactions ...) are a big, big part of the novel .....)
ReadySteadyBook has the story and the links: as we mentioned last year, translator Charlotte Mandell's name was not mentioned anywhere in or on the American edition of Bernard-Henri Lévy's American Vertigo.
Now there's a UK edition out -- and they apparently decided that was the way to present that edition too.
Shame, shame, shame.
Even though 77 authors walked off with the 2006 Arts and Literature Prize yesterday in the capital, the absence of any top prize earners spoke much louder, marking a disappointing year for original works.
They're not too creative with the naming of the honours -- and they do hand out a lot of these things:
Out of 408 entries, the National Committee found that none were deserving of Prize A (the top prize), and only awarded four Prize B in the field of literature, fine arts, music, cinema, photography and dance.
Thirteen picked up prize C and 33 took consolation prizes.
Age categories saw 13 newcomers below the age of 35 picking up prizes.
Veteran artists (women aged 65 or above; men aged 70 or above) nabbed 14.
The Museums, Libraries and Archive Council polled 4000 readers (or non-readers ?) and now offer the resulting look at Book snobbery in Britain:
A cunning 33 per cent of adults have confessed to reading challenging literature to appear well-read, when in fact they haven’t a clue what the book is about.
But 40 per cent of people said they lied about reading certain books just so they could join in with conversation.
The top three titles are The Lord of the Rings, War and Peace, and Wuthering Heights -- but number four is ... Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.
And The Da Vinci Code also made the top ten.
The younger generation is out to impress the most -- with more than half of 19–21 year olds expanding the truth about the books they read.
Of course, that might have to do with the fact that they've read the least .....
Sure to be much discussed -- we look forward to hearing what books literary webloggers will own up to not having read after claiming they had .....
There aren't many less-known national literatures than that of Papua New Guinea, so any news about it is welcome, and Malum Nalu's interview with Russell Soaba, In a class of his own, in The National gives a nice small glimpse -- though Nalu (unfortunately) overestimates Soaba's international reputation:
His works, particularly novels Maiba and Wanpis, are studied in universities all over the world by students of literature and philosophy.
Followers of the existentialism philosophy the world over dote on the writings of Russell Soaba.
Edgy Chinese author Han Han is fighting a court order to repay an advance for a rejected book, newspapers said Wednesday, in a case that questions whether writings posted on a personal Web log can legitimately be regarded as literature.
Publishing house Hantu claimed that Han's text for Poison 3 fell short of the agreed length and mainly contained freely downloadable writings from his blog that had no commercial value.
He certainly was (or was supposed to be) well-paid:
"These scraps don't constitute a text worth almost US$115,000," Hantu's lawyer Huang Xiao was quoted as saying by the Shanghai newspaper Youth Daily, referring to the total amount Han was due to receive for the book.
And there's finally a literary-generation name even more ridiculous than the Korean '386 Generation' (people people in their 30s, educated in the 80s and born in the 60s -- which is actually often applied to the entire generation, not just the writers; see, for example, Korea's Young Lions):
Han, 24, is among the stars of a loosely defined group of young authors labeled the "post-80s" generation, known as much for his irreverent novels as his outspoken personality.
Burmese poet Tin Moe has also passed away; see Kyaw Zwa Moe's obituary in The Irrawaddy, where he writes:
To call Tin Moe a poet does not capture the full stature of the man or what he has accomplished for his people.
His literary career began in his teenage years, and through the decades fueled Burma’s many freedom movements.
He died in California, but does not seem to have made much of an impression hereabouts (i.e. no English-language publications of his work are readily available).
He did also pick up a Prince Claus Award in 2004.
The Korean publishing industry is struggling to embrace and at the same time counter the "Japan Wave," powered by a growing number of translated Japanese novels, demonstrating a shortcoming of Korea's pop culture boom in the Asian region.
An interesting phenomenon -- usually it's English-language titles that are seen as the problem.
But the numbers are pretty impressive:
The Korea Federation of Booksellers Association announced that three Japanese novels occupied the coveted top 10 slots in the national bestselling books ranking last week.
For the whole of 2006, only six Korean novels made it into the top 20 fiction list, staging an uphill battle against Japanese novels, five of which were included in the ranking list.
How to explain it ?
Mainstream Korea writers are said to lag behind postmodern Korean readers with diverse interests and open-minded approach to world literature.
Today's readers also do not care about traditional topics such as the Korean War, reunification with North Korea and ideological conflicts, but many Korean writers are still churning out books on such outdated topics, or tend to fall back on not-so-innovative personal family history -- a theme that has lost its appeal among local readers.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Nonami Asa's The Hunter.
This 1996 novel won the fairly prestigious Naoki Prize, and apparently sold over a million copies in Japan, but looks also to soon be an example of why books that are enormously popular in their country of origin don't necessarily translate well.
Still, if US sales are even one per cent of Japanese sales the publisher would probably be thrilled .....
Always good to hear: Love of books still alive.
At least so they claim in the Pakistani Daily Times, as reported by Imran Naeem Ahmad:
The notion that people’s romance for reading is fast dying seems off the mark considering the number of people frequenting bookshops seeking a good read.
One of the problems they have is that local book-prices tend to be (relatively) high -- especially compared with India -- but some booksellers seem to manage :
Indeed the market is loaded with books published in India, but the question remains: from where do these titles and others end up on shelves of the old books shops ?
One of the main source are diplomats, who live in Islamabad for a specified period and then sell their belongings before being transferred.
No wonder most of the titles are in mint condition.
Meanwhile, in Ha'aretz Zvi Bar'el reports that the Cairo International Book Fair is starting and finds: High interest, no readers:
The large number of publishers does not mean that many books are sold in Egypt.
Though there is no precise data, an estimated 9,000-12,000 titles are published each year.
Sales figures range from a few dozen to a few thousand copies per title.
Publisher Issa Amaru is quoted:
"We do not have great hopes for sales in Egypt.
People here have stopped reading.
They watch television and listen to ringtones.
Perhaps there will be interest in other Arab countries."
Somehow we doubt that things have gotten quite so dire that listening to ringtones is competing with reading (not quite comparable, are they ? -- how many hours a day can you listen to ringtones, after all ... ?).
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Peter Adolphsen's Brummstein.
It hasn't been translated into English yet, but beyond the Scandinavian languages it has made it, at least, into Dutch, French, and German.
This one is a very small little book, but it's hard to imagine that Adolphsen won't eventually see something published in English.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tom McCarthy's Remainder, which will be coming out in the US in a couple of weeks.
The book has received considerable attention due to its unusual (?) publication history: after no UK publisher would take it on, McCarthy's book was finally published (in a 750-copy print run) by Paris-based Metronome Press in 2005, and then picked up by UK publisher Alma Books in 2006 -- garnering very good reviews (as well as lots of Internet-attention; see our review for links); see Patrick Ness' review in The Guardian for a good run-down of the story.
It's an interesting case-study because, as several of the reviewers point out, it's exactly the sort of fiction that should be getting published.
Sure, it's not entirely 'safe' (i.e. the same old predictable stuff), but McCarthy takes the risks authors should be taking -- and he writes pretty damn well too.
Our enthusiasm isn't quite as great as many of the other commentators', but there's no doubt that this is a worthwhile book.
If we had to name, say, ten recent British novels one should read, it would be pretty hard to ignore this one, because there is so much to it (and it's so well done).
Indeed, David Mitchell might well wind up being the more significant novelist, but McCarthy gives him a run for the money as far individual titles go with this one (pit any Mitchell against it and it is, at worst, a toss up).
So what happened with the 2006 Man Booker ?
All the reviews of the title were very good, and in their press release Alma boasted of planning: "an immediate release, just in time for the 2006 Man Booker Prize submission".
But the book didn't even make the longlist.
We figured it might have fallen foul of some eligibility requirement, given that it was originally published in Paris in 2005, but the ridiculously restrictive Man Booker rules actually show some flexibility here: "All entries must be published in the United Kingdom between the required dates (Rule 4a) but previous publication of a book outside the UK does not disqualify it."
So how could the judges possibly have overlooked it ?
We still don't know.
Now we look forward to the US reactions.
And there are still some prizes it can garner -- if, for example, the NBCC opts for some less safe choices than this year.
The Ian McEwan-has-a-long-lost-brother-story has attracted lots of attention, and A.N.Wilson picks it up for his World of books column -- to let everyone know what he thinks of McEwan and his writing.
Which is: not much:
I am hardly qualified to write about McEwan, not one of whose works have I ever been able to get through.
The prose seems like "creative writing" and the plots are sometimes said to be somewhat derivative.
Let others decide.
This story of the brother, however, was genuinely interesting.
It's surprising he couldn't be bothered to make his way through at least one of the books, but at least he admits to the envy:
I admit, I am envious.
It was a sad day at the Evening Standard, where I then worked, when our beautiful Arts editor went off and married him; she could have done so much better for herself.
Sounds a bit more personal than anything having to do with McEwan's literary talents (or even lack thereof) .....
In Man liest Deutsch in the taz Irene Grüter notes that the success of a new generation of German authors has had an effect on how much gets translated into German -- much less.
In the 'Belletristik'-genre (basically fiction and literary non-fiction) about a third of publications in 1999 were translations, while in 2005 they only accounted for one-eighth (!): 2,760 translations in 1999, and only 1,540 in 2005.
Of the 1,540 translated titles in 2005, about 890 were translated from the English, about 160 from the French (a decline of about a third), 60 from Spanish and 44 from the Italian (both down by 50 per cent).
The only languages to show increases were the Scandinavian ones -- and (presumably due to Korea being guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair that year) 23 translations from the Korean.
The numbers are pretty staggering -- is Germany really becoming this much more provincial ?
In Le Monde A B.-M. reports that La vente de livres en ligne a explosé en 2006: online books sales in France are up 30 to 40 per cent, while overall sales remain practically unchanged.
It's still a tiny part of the total market -- 4.5 per cent in 2006, up from 3.7 per cent in 2005 -- but that is, indeed, pretty explosive growth.
An impressive turnout yesterday at the bash where they announced the finalists for the 33rd National Book Critics Circle Awards.
Also impressive: they announced the finalists with great efficiency at the NBCC weblog, Critical Mass.
Only vaguely surprising: we only have a single title out of all the finalists under review -- and it's not even in the fiction category.
No, the only book we've covered is Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell.
(and other than the Adichie we don't really see ourselves getting to too many of the other finalists before the March prize-ceremony .....)
For more NBCC Awards background, see also The Elegant Variation's informative interview with NBCC President John Freeman.
They're holding the Jaipur Literature Festival this weekend, with an impressive guest-list -- though as Bibliofile notes in Outlook India (last item) some are less than thrilled by mega-star Salman Rushdie's presence:
The fatwa-ridden litstar is a security nightmare, and police plan to seal him up in an undisclosed hotel room until it's his turn to sing for his supper at the litfest.
The Government is targeting to have Malaysians read at least 10 books yearly from 2010.
Apparently five -- the current average -- is not enough.
Too paternalistic or a good idea ?
Of course, given recent government book-banning efforts there, the government is sending very mixed messages .....