The most recent British Public Lending Right statistics are out, covering who and what the most-borrowed authors and books in the UK are.
The new press release offers some fun data -- including that 23,869 authors were eligible for PLR cash (the minimum payment level is £1) -- and 262 authors hit the maximum payment of £6,600.
For press coverage, see, for example: The borrowers by Joel Rickett in The Guardian and How the library romantics turned into thrill seekers by Dalya Alberge in The Times.
What is most worrying about the disregard for our literary heritage that we see on every side is that it was, only a few decades ago, passionately cherished, and this cherishing wasn't because of a parochial sentimentality: much of what we had was marvellous.
It occurred to me that there is a useful marketing umbrella already established, although only in record shops at the moment: world music. Wouldn't it be great to see shelf space in bookshops for world books ?
We're not really big fans of putting 'world' (or any) literature on some separate 'exotic' shelves: literature is literature, isn't it ?
Though front-of-the-store attention programmes like Reading the World -- highlighting a few titles -- seems a good idea.
Having recently topped 1800 reviews we again went through the exercise of updating our statistics as to how many of the titles under review were written by men/women, as well as the languages the books under review were originally written in.
The trends continue: we remain very sexist and very international.
First the ugly numbers: of the last 100 titles reviewed (well, reviews 1701 through 1800) a mere 14 were written/edited by women -- right around our historic average of 14.25 per cent (one out of seven); see the whole ugly breakdown.
We're pretty much beyond excuses, explanations, and help.
Sure, we could 'remedy' the situation with a concerted effort to review 'books by women', but that's about as appealing as forcing ourselves to review books by any other author-attribute (age, race, nationality, etc.) -- i.e. not very.
So: we're sorry and we do hang our heads in shame, but it seems this is who/what we are.
On the other hand, we are pretty damn international (and all without trying, either): titles 1701-1800 were written in 23 different languages.
English was the most popular -- 28.5 titles (the half attributed to B.R.Myers' book, which also includes a translation of a Korean novella) -- but we doubled our coverage of Arabic titles (from 11 to 22), and added at least two titles originally written in ten additional languages, led by French (13 titles), Spanish (9), Italian (5), and Dutch, Hungarian, and Japanese (4 each).
Lots of huge gaps too -- nothing in Russian, for example -- but not too bad.
(See also our language breakdown, as well as our updated overview.)
The 1 March issue of The New York Review of Books is available online (well, parts of it) -- and in it John Banville reviews Martin Amis' House of Meetings (see also our review).
We're absolutely astonished by his enthusiasm.
"The first-person voice here possesses an authority that is new in Amis's work" ?
What are we missing ?
Even Amis' reliance of other accounts -- which many critics have suggested lends the book an air of (borrowed) authenticity -- didn't strike us as effective: unlike for Banville, the gulag descriptions, as presented, seemed far from shocking to us (yes, they are literally awful, but in Amis' fictional setting and presentation lose almost all of their force -- at least they did for us).
As to the notion that House of Meetings is "a version of the great Russian novel done in miniature" ... well, maybe there's a reason why all those 'great Russian novels' were such massive tomes .....
Meghan OíRourke's profile of John Leonard, The Enthusiast, in the Columbia Journalism Review appears to finally be accessible online.
She's pretty enthusiastic about the "literary prodigy who became editor of The New York Times Book Review at the tender age of thirty-two", suggesting:
John Leonard is our primary progressive, catholic literary critic; he is also, with the exception of Susan Sontag, the best American literary critic to come of age in the 1960s
And then there's the quote which will be making the literary weblog-rounds:
"Reviewing has all become performance art; itís all become posturing.
Itís going to have to be the lit blogs that save us.
At least they have passion."
But even a fan of literary blogs may wonder if their enthusiasm is enough; passion is a crucial aspect of literary criticism, but passion alone doesnít produce the essayists of the sort who shape our deepest thinking about our literary culture.
Cynthia Ozick's great novel The Puttermesser Papers -- still our favourite -- has now been published in French, as Les papiers de Puttermesser.
L'Express already have a review, but stunningly last we checked -- on the day of publication -- there hadn't been a single order for the book at Amazon.fr yet.
We hope the French soon realise what a fine book they too can now read !
Robin Fulton, who has translated some of Tomas Tranströmer's poetry, has quite a few reservations about Robin Robertson's versions collected in The Deleted World (see the Enitharmon publicity page), writing in to the TLS (scroll down to the sixth letter).
Fulton finds: "An excessively large number of Robertsonís lines are identical to mine in my Tranströmer translations", and believes:
Robertson makes arbitrary changes to the Swedish, a language he does not seem to understand.
His versions are neither dependable translations nor independent imitations: they show a cavalier disregard for Tranströmerís texts
Criticism doesn't get much harsher than that.
Note, however, that Robertson wrote about translating Tranströmer in Meeting of minds in The Guardian, noting:
He is, however, a complex poet to translate.
His exquisite compression and vividly cinematic imagery are instantly attractive, but the elemental sparseness of his language can often be rendered as colourless and bland.
The supple rhythms of the original poems are hard to replicate and, equally, the plosive musicality of Swedish words like "domkyrkoklocklang" lose all their aural resonance when they become a "peal of cathedral bells".
His empty, numinous landscape is comfortably familiar to northern poets, but his metaphysical parsing of that landscape into minimal Swedish can often prove too challenging.
In my relatively free versions of some of Tranströmer's poems I have attempted to steer a middle ground between Lowell's rangy, risk-taking rewritings and the traditional, strictly literal approach.
I have kept the shape of the poem, opened out its sense more clearly, and tried -- as Lowell rightly insists one must try -- to get the tone.
Man Booker-like, the Deutscher Buchpreis (German Book Prize) is awarded to a single book, near the end of the year; the most direct German competition is the also relatively new Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse ('Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair' -- which is actually three prizes), an early season, multi-category award.
There are three categories -- 'Belletristik' (basically: fiction), non-fiction/essay, and translation -- and the shortlists (selected from over 700 submissions) have now been announced (the awards will be handed out on 22 March at the Leipzig Book Fair).
Because it's early in the year, several of the titles have not been released yet -- and the one that really stands out is one of the fiction-finalists, Werner Bräunig's Rummelplatz.
It probably won't have as big an impact as Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française, but the Aufbau Verlag publicity page calls it: "Der berühmteste ungedruckte Roman der Nachkriegszeit" -- "the most famous unpublished novel of the after-war period".
Bräunig (who died in 1976) was an East German writer, and the controversial Rummelplatz was apparently a cause célèbre in 1965; it couldn't get published in the GDR -- and, surprisingly, never showed up in West Germany, either.
We're very curious, and hope to get our hands on a copy soon; there's sure also to be considerably more coverage when the book is published in March, and we'll try to keep you informed.
(You can pre-order your copy at Amazon.de.)
One more Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse note: we like the way they focus on the translator in listing those finalists, with the actual authors mentioned only in parentheses !
The London Review of Books hasn't reviewed Thant Myint-U's Burma- (Myanmar-) book, The River of Lost Footsteps, but they have given him a lot of room to summarise it -- and make his point that sanctions aren't the way to go there:
Itís easy to take sides, easier still to support sanctions or boycotts and be happy that national governments and the UN should continually be expressing concern.
But itís important to see that at least three different challenges currently face Burma: the need to find a just and sustainable end to the armed conflict;
the need to help the country undo decades of economic mismanagement and develop its economy;
and the need to begin a transition to democratic rule.
We do welcome the book and his op-ed appearances, since they at least help draw attention to this easily overlooked country.
Still, it's hard not to laugh through the tears when reading this stuff: as if the international community (led by the US) were in any way capable of a more nuanced, thoughtful, and history-conscious approach .....
Given the Mid-East track record of recent years, or the efforts in Sudan, one starts to think it might be for the best that Burma is so far off the radar .....
The Martin Amis-coverage -- focussed on his recently-published-in-the-US House of Meetings -- continues, most notably yesterday with Keith Gessen wondering 'Where is Martin Amis headed next ?' in The Amis Papers in Slate
Besides working on the magazine, you also translated many books by French authors into Vietnamese.
What are some of the things translators must keep in mind when doing their work ?
Iíve always believed translators are like monkeys.
When an author raises his or her hand, the monkey must mirror the action, also raising its hand.
Translators must interpret the exact meaning of what the author wrote and respect the authorís literary style.
If a translator makes a boring work interesting in his or her translation, then he or she has betrayed the author.
If the author writes incoherently, the translator must stay true to the text.
One must keep in mind that you should never translate a piece word by word, or youíll lose the writingís context.
To respect the authorís style, translators must avoid making grammatical or spelling mistakes.
Another thing people need to know is that translation is not a creative process.
If a translator uses his or her imagination, it is a mistake.
Besides having a profound understanding of the languages theyíre working with, translators should also know the author and his or her ideology. A translator should also have an excellent knowledge of the society, culture, and history pertaining to the languages.
And there's also the disappointing if unsurprising observation:
Is there a large audience in France for Vietnamese books ?
French readers are not interested in Vietnamese works for many reasons.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Lee Seung-U's The Reverse Side of Life.
Peter Owen published this in 2005 -- "with the support of the Korea Literature Translation Institute in commemoration of Korea being Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair, 2005".
A lot of good that did: not too many people seem to have become aware of the existence of the book (indeed, we only chanced upon it at a used bookstore ...).
It's disappointing: it's not a must-read, but it's good and interesting, and should have at least gotten a bit of attention so that possibly interested readers might have been made aware of it.
(It's all the more disappointing because next up hereabouts is Saskia Noort's Dutch bestseller, The Dinner Club, which strikes us as a book that need not have been translated and need not be read and yet has already garnered quite a few (admittedly brief) UK press mentions. ((Updated - 8 February): see now our review))
So much work left for us to do !
Over the next eight weeks, Slate will run adapted and abbreviated selections from Clive James' forthcoming Cultural Amnesia, and the first one they offer is on Anna Akhmatova.
You can pre-order your copy of the (big) book at Amazon.com, or see the W.W.Norton publicity page -- where they actually write about James: "Soaring to Montaigne-like heights" in these pages .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of An Essay in Seven Parts by Milan Kundera, The Curtain.
It really should/must be considered together with his two previous non-fiction books, The Art of the Novel and Testaments Betrayed, -- but even on its own it is of interest.
By Sunday, when the 39th annual fair came to a close, organizers estimated that some 2 million people had visited, dwarfing similar events in Beirut, Casablanca and Abu Dhabi -- though many complain that the crowds are just there to picnic and buy religious books.
It is the biggest project yet for the Oscar-winning director, whose previous films include Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist.
The film has a budget of $130m (£66m) and Harris is writing the script.
Given the disaster that was the filming of Enigma -- see our previous mention of the 'synergy' that contributed to (or caused) that fiasco -- we don't expect too much.
And how long will Harris last as lead scriptwriter ?
(Enigma has Stoppard .....)
It was a dark and stormy night.
The crime novelist lay dead on the ground, stabbed to death with his own Montblanc.
The detective stood over the body. "This looks like a story from one of his own novels," he told his assistant, shaking his head.
The torrid scene is an allegory of events unfolding at the Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival, an organization in which reality is starting to look increasingly like fiction.
We've alerted you to the University of Chicago Press' recent Friedrich Dürrenmatt publications (see their Dürrenmatt-page for the whole line), and it's nice to see the various titles getting some attention -- this time the two mystery-titles, The Pledge (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; see the University of Chicago Press publicity page)
and The Inspector Barlach Mysteries (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; see the University of Chicago Press publicity page).
Richard Lipez reviews them in The Washington Post today, writing:
These are slender tales.
But they have the weight and texture of classics.
Mystery readers should be grateful to the University of Chicago Press for bringing these gems back to life.
Dürrenmatt's writings -- these and practically all his titles -- are well worth your while.
Dr. Aswany, do you think literature has a role to play here ?
I do not think so.
It cannot help in the short term at least.
What is needed for achieving this end is perhaps writing political essays, historic pieces and direct engagement with the political mainstream.
Democracy should come from the people within; it cannot be imposed from the outside !
But what literature can perhaps do is affect the individual and reach him.
(We wish he'd have a bit more faith in fiction .....)
Check out also an interview from a few months ago in National Geographic, Alaa Al Aswany: Voice of Reason.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of A Cobweb Novel by Goce Smilevski, Conversation with Spinoza.
Interestingly, it's not the only novel in the Northwestern University Press Writing from an Unbound Europe series in which Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy plays a significant role; Drago Jancar uses that book in his Mocking Desire as well.
The Smilevski is well worth a look -- and, for those previously intimidated by Writing from an Unbound Europe volumes, it's among the most approachable titles in the series.
Sure, we've heard of literary translators being threatened for helping make certain supposedly objectionable works available.
Even the occasional translator of non-fiction.
But we've never heard of someone's life being threatened for translating a ... cookbook.
Apparently, however, that's what's happened in India: as Vishwajeet Singh reports in the Hindustan Times in Recipe for trouble:
A home science teacher in the Jwala Devi Vidya Mandir (JDVM) Inter College, Umesh Saxena, was forced to leave her house to save her life from persons accusing her of being author of some beef recipes though she has done mere translation of a book brought out by a Meerut publisher.
Yes, Krishna Arora's Theory of Cookery is so objectionable that:
District president of the Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha Krishna Dixit says, "Being a Hindu, the teacher should have known the consequences of including a beef dish in her book.
It was a deliberate attempt to hurt the public sentiment and her services from the college must be terminated for the offence she has committed."
It's always wonderful to see, when people have the right priorities .....
I have been disappointed in the reception of Hrabal here.
He hasn't been as well received, he hasn't been as well appreciated as I think he deserves to be.
I would say that in the English speaking world at least he is still very much a writers' writer.
Writers understand what he is trying to do perhaps because they've read more works of other Czech writers and of Central European writers.
American writers familiar with Czech and Central European writers ... ?
Okay, if he says so .....
In Tango lessons in The Guardian Maya Jaggi profiles Tomás Eloy Martinez, author of The Tango Singer.
We're still surprised how little attention the book by the NY-based author got in the US.
But no one seems to be paying much attention: Jaggi writes that The Tango Singer "was shortlisted for the inaugural Man Booker International prize" -- despite the fact that, like the Nobel Prize, the MBI is awarded to an author (specifically for his or her entire output), not an individual work.
(When someone who writes about literary matters as much as Jaggi does doesn't even remember that ... well, it's not a great sign for the kind of impact the Man Booker International has made.)
Lots of Yasmina Reza activity all around !
First: her Adam Haberberg recently came out in the US and gets panned by the Kakutani today (review reluctantly linked to here at the registration-requiring site):
While Adam Haberberg starts off promisingly as a sympathetic portrait of a writer filled with regrets about his life and art, it soon devolves into a kind of dumbed-down, user-friendly imitation of Krappís Last Tape -- Beckett Extra Lite, as it were, transported to the Paris suburbs.
Meanwhile, A Spanish Play has made it to New York; see the Classic Stage Company production page.
But most interesting slightly older news which we missed when it first broke: as Angelique Chrisafis reported in The Guardian two weeks ago in Sarkozy's inner being comes to his political aid, French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy has hooked up with Reza:
In a theatrical coup, he has allowed Yasmina Reza, France's biggest commercial playwright, to follow his every move in order to write a portrait of his "existential" inner being.
They're French, so apparently it has to be 'existential':
Reza said: "I wanted to write about the existential dimension of a politician ... Shakespeare had dealt with the question on stage.
A novel didn't interest me, so I thought about creating a portrait ... Nicolas Sarkozy, whom I had never met, was the obvious choice."
Still, one has to hand it to the French and Sarkozy, that a presidential candidate can get away with things like this:
Asked about his reading habits, he repeatedly quotes the same two books, Louis-Ferdinand Céline's Journey to the End of the Night and Albert Cohen's Belle du Seigneur.
Reza's book is due out in September; we'll be in no rush to get to it.
Meanwhile, The Guardian was immediately inspired to ask which MP British dramatists would pick for a similar undertaking; see Mark Ravenhill's Dangerous liaisons for the responses.
Hollywood lawsuits are notoriously silly, but since there's often a lot of money at stake they can be quite fun.
Case in point, or at least the case du jour is the lawsuit surrounding the mega-flop Sahara.
As Glenn Bunting reports in Anschutz blames Cussler for $105 million film flop in The Los Angeles Times:
Attorneys for Philip Anschutz allege as part of a lawsuit going to trial this week that author Clive Cussler duped the Denver industrialist into paying $10 million for film rights to the adventure novel Sahara by flagrantly inflating his book sales to more than 100 million copies.
"Cussler and his agent had gotten away with these numbers for years," said Alan Rader, Anschutz's lawyer.
"It was a lie and it doomed the movie."
Inflating book-sale claims dooms a movie ?
Yeah, the actual film-making couldn't possibly have anything to do with it .....
Cussler's publishers claim over 100 million copies sold of his 32 titles:
But a review of more than 14,000 pages of royalty reports and accounting records found that the number of Cussler novels sold is closer to about 35 million, according to Anschutz's lawyers.
But here's where the argument gets really interesting:
Anschutz stated in deposition testimony that he was a fan of Cussler's Pitt novels and saw an opportunity to create a hit franchise similar to the Indiana Jones series.
He said he agreed to pay an exorbitant asking price for the rights to Sahara based on assurances from Cussler that the author had a built-in audience of more than 100 million potential moviegoers.
Ah, Hollywood math at its best !
100 million copies of Cusslers books sold is supposed to translate into 100 million potential moviegoers ?
Anschutz seems to have failed to notice that the 100 million (or however many) copies sold covers 32 titles.
I.e. there are some (probably many) readers who buy multiple Cussler titles.
Indeed, theoretically the 100 million copies could have been bought by as few as barely over 3 million readers (if each of them bought all 32 of his titles) -- not quite the audience Anschutz might have been hoping for.
He has also accused the author of making racist comments about Jews and black people, before the film was made.
Mr Cussler has denied those accusations.
We're not really certain what this has to do with Anschutz's claim (even if true it surely has nothing to do with what's at issue), but apparently it's obligatory to make such claims in every current media lawsuit.
But I was deeply disappointed with the choice of English books available.
If you were looking for medical textbooks or engineering references, this is probably the place to go.
But besides Stephen King paperbacks and dog-eared editions of Harlequin romance novels, there was nothing approximating a rich selection in terms of English-language fiction or non-fiction.
I would have loved to see British, American or Canadian publishing houses display their wares.
Otherwise, there was nothing at the Fair you couldn't find at Zamalek's Diwan Bookshop or the AUC bookstore.
Why didn't American (and British) publishers bother ?
Aren't the US and UK trying to make a good impression in the region ?
And wouldn't this have been an easy way to reach a lot of people ?
(Though given how the US once again refuses to pressure the repressive Egyptian government, the no-effort, hands-off/write-off approach seems to be the one they've decided to pursue.)
"There's a wave of interest right now," says Jill Schoolman, publisher of Archipelago Books, a small nonprofit press in Brooklyn, N.Y., established in 2003 to publish world literature in translation exclusively.
"People are hungry for perspectives from other countries."
"We're actually, in our relative terms, being successful with translations.
They're selling better and better for us," says Dalkey publisher John O'Brien, citing a recent translation that sold roughly 6,000 copies -- a lot for a small publisher.
"Stores are recognizing that there's an audience for them."
Good to see yet another English-language review of the French hit of the past year, Jonathan Littell's best-selling Les Bienveillantes -- even if it is yet another less than enthusiastic one.
It's George Walden reviewing it in The Telegraph, and he finds:
No amount of high-toned chatter about Kant or Darwin can disguise the fact that, with its sex 'n' fascism horror comic theme, at heart this is a low, conventionally minded novel.
The only thing missing is a bit of moral equivalence between Hitler's Reich and contemporary America, but the author has recently filled the gap in an interview in Figaro magazine.
Donald Rumsfeld equals Adolf Eichmann, yeah, right.
Yes, he finds it "absurd and odious" and thinks:
This is a work of high vulgarity and great cynicism, whose only attraction is its inadvertent humour.
Why has France fallen for such stuff ?
Partly, I fear, it is envy. Compared to the American novel French fiction is at a low ebb.
There is a desperation for something plausibly imposing, and some prize judges (I am told) were thrilled to find an American writing a big fat book in French.
We can't wait to see what happens when this hits American and British shores .....