If anyone can claim to be writer, craftsman and artist at the same time, it is surely Alasdair Gray, warmly received as he read from his first major novel for more than a decade.
Old Men in Love -- a working title -- is scheduled for publication in October by Bloomsbury.
Tousle-headed and professorial, Gray read with vim and vigour from the novel which is subtitled The Posthumous Papers of John Tunnock.
A book of stories within stories, interlaced with the diaries of a retired Glasgow schoolmaster with writerly pretensions, it will surely be one of the most intriguing Scottish publications of the year.
"One of the most intriguing Scottish publications of the year" ?
Surely it's one of the most anticipated English-language publications of the year !
(At least it should be.)
Mansfield also writes:
It has been a long time since Gray read in a context like this, and his new work is clever, fluent and political, nothing less than we would expect from an elder statesman of Scottish literature, who has lost none of his verve.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Massimo Carlotto's forthcoming The Fugitive -- the book describing his decades-long legal odyssey, and the beginning of his successful career as a thriller-author.
Leap In The Dark offers an interview with Yasmina Khadra (see, for example, our review of his The Attack) -- noteworthy in particular because:
This was a bit of an awkward interview to conduct, because Med Kahdra only reads and writes in French and Arabic, while I can only handle those duties in English.
I must say that Google translation performed admirably well with only one question causing confusion.
I utilized three separate translation programs, to bring his answers back into to English to try and capture the word and the spirit of his answer.
It didn't turn out half bad for all that -- though we'd have figured that the one thing that wouldn't get mixed up is the spelling of the author's name (should be: 'Khadra') .....
Caught in the chaos of a book fair facilitated by West Bengal Sports Minister Subhas Chakraborty, the teams participating in the National Football League -- have been forced to swing like a pendulum between two stadiums 25 km apart.
The NFL is being played at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan --, better known as Salt Lake Stadium, where a book fair is also under way.
This put the authorities in a dilemma for Saturday's tournament opener between Mohammedan Sporting and Mahindra United and the match was shifted to the Barasat Stadium in North 24 Parganas.
In an opinion piece in The Los Angeles Times Jane Smiley writes on 'Using intricately described sex as a literary tool' in Between book covers, under the sheets and among her explanations for so much sex in her new book is that:
The truth is that I did it so I wouldn't have to write about the Bush administration for 450 pages.
"Not by chance is Jerusalem a city of wisdom, with a highly intelligent population showing themselves to truly be people of the book," Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said in response to the survey's findings.
In The Times William Rees-Mogg weighs in on the recent UK-debate about what kids should be reading at school, arguing 'The love of literature starts with a rattling good yarn' in The taleís the thing, for every generation.
As we (and everyone else) have mentioned, Martin Amis is going to teach 'creative writing' at Manchester University.
In Martin goes Lucky Jim in the Sunday Times today Peter Millar talks to him about it.
Good to know Amis is really committed to being part of the university-community:
"I wonít actually be moving to Manchester," he emphasises with polite but ill-concealed disdain, "Iíll just be going up once a fortnight."
In 'This stuff matters' in The Guardian Nicholas Wroe profiles Justin Cartwright.
(His new novel, The Song Before it is Sung, isn't out in the US yet, but see, for example, our review of his The Promise of Happiness.)
Like Fay Weldon and Salman Rushdie Cartwright started out in advertising, and among the other interesting titbits:
Cartwright also had an attempt at writing popular fiction, starting with a novelisation of an Avengers story
But we're a bit concerned to see among his 'Inspirations': "Hertzog by Saul Bellow".
why, despite having written the odd screenplay, I would never wish to adapt any of my own fiction.
Quite apart from the awfulness of being told what to do by producers, again and again, I couldn't stomach being in a parasitical relationship to myself.
It would be like being a tongue-louse on your own tongue.
Our country and our culture badly need a new weekly review of books.
Currently, most of our major book reviews are failing to inform a non-specialist but sophisticated audience about American scholarship.
He's particularly concerned about the lack of attention paid to university-press offerings.
See, also the many additional posts in response to the suggestion at Open University.
Irène Némirovsky's David Golder was first translated in 1930, and is being revived because of the Suite Française-success: Sandra Smith's new translation is now available, at least in the UK (with an introduction by Patrick Marnham; get your copy at Amazon.co.uk).
The first major-newspaper review we've seen (of this translation) is Aamer Hussein's in The Independent
Last month we mentioned that NYRB Classics has brought out Vladimir Sorokin's Ice (see also the NYRB publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), and in Joined at the Heart in The Moscow Times Natasha Randall looks at what she calls: "a crystalline English translation by Jamey Gambrell of his unnerving novel"
SPIEGEL: You have no confidence in the current Kremlin administration?
Sorokin: This is their fault, not mine. My television teaches me that everything was wonderful in the Soviet Union. According to the programs I watch, the KGB and apparatchiks were angels, and the Stalin era was so festive that the heroes of the day must still be celebrated today.
SPIEGEL: Why is there no opposition from Russia's legendary intelligentsia?
Sorokin: It's astonishing. I can't help but gain the impression that our champions of the freedom of opinion -- writers, emigrants and civil rights activists -- had only one goal in mind: the collapse of the Soviet Union, started by Alexander Solzhenitzyn. And now they are all silent.
What the hell are we doing, you ask ?
Well, we have to admit, her incredible success in her native France made us curious (and, just to warn you: we'll probably wind up reviewing Marc Levy at some point too ...).
These two books appear to have come out as paperback originals in the US -- and didn't get much review coverage.
What did impress us greatly is that Riverhead published Someone I loved as a bilingual edition (i.e. offer both the original French and the English translation) -- and Gavalda's style is simple enough to make it appropriate for even those with fairly limited French.
It's the story collection -- I Wish Someone were Waiting for me Somewhere -- that's the more intriguing book.
We thought about suggesting that it might be an appropriate lesson-book for, say, high school literature (or writing) classes.
(It's not entirely 'chick-lit', offering enough to please the boys, too -- e.g.: "Next, I pulled the skin of the scrotum tight. With my scalpel blade I made a small incision. I pulled out the testicles. I cut. I ligated the epididymis".
Okay, maybe not please the boys; how about a story that begins: "I've fucked thousands of girls and most of them, I don't even remember their faces" .....)
We thought it might be useful for class-discussion because Gavalda is manipulative and formulaic in quite a creative and very approachable manner: the stories are worth looking at, just to take them apart and see how she does it.
It's pretty simplistic, but her touch is deft, too.
But then we figured teens might just be seduced and not even want to see how she's playing with the reader -- or, worse, that they might imitate her.
Early commentary is already in -- see reactions at GalleyCat (A Further Look Inside the NYTBR) and Return of the Reluctant (Sam Tanenhaus is the Misinformed One) -- but much, much more is sure to follow: Michael Orbach has done an impressive job at the Queens College The Knight News in interviewing four of those involved with The New York Times Book Review:
One of the reasons it will get a lot of literary weblog coverage is because Orbach asks several of them whether they read 'lit-blogs' -- and whether they find what lit-blogs have to say constructive, etc.
Yeah, I click through a handful of them once or twice a week.
I find them particularly useful as news filters -- they do a great job of finding stories, providing links to them and telling you, "Hey, this is out there."
And a few of the Lit-bloggers have found genuine voices.
Some of the criticism of the Book Review is thoughtful and interesting, and when it is, sure, you take it in. Yet a lot of the stuff that's out there is almost comically vicious; it's sort of a race to the bottom, to see who can belch out the ugliest possible thing in the grossest possible way.
That kind of gravel, to seriously mix my metaphors, bounces off the windshield.
If I have time (...) I often browse lit blogs to see what people are getting exercised about.
I think they're good for literary culture, which thrives on debate, no matter how petty.
I turn to blogs like galleycat.com or maudnewton.com to guide me to interesting stories in the world press that I might otherwise have missed.
And then there's Tanenhaus .....
The interviews do provide good background about what goes into the NYTBR, though mysteries remain.
Garner's rhetorical: "What's the way to get your novel reviewed ? Write a good one. Really." seems entirely too simplistic, for example -- especially since the NYTBR reviews so much crap-fiction (and ignores so much good and interesting fiction (especially in translation ...)).
Tanenhaus does address that with the interesting (if very worrying) explanation that:
almost every book we send out, we think is pretty good.
We send a novel or a short story [collection] out to a critic because we think it's good and yet the review will often be harsh.
It's the idea that "almost every book we send out, we think is pretty good" that concerns us; we've never really had faith in the literary tastes of Tanenhaus and his crew (tastes differ, we realise ...) but previously we'd sort of given him the benefit of the doubt, that he felt a lot of these were titles worthy of discussion (which can (and often is) something very different from titles one thinks are good ...).
But he apparently believes they really are covering the good stuff.
(Our opinion -- and maybe it's just ours --: not even close.)
Tanenhaus also goes on at some length about reviewing more non-fiction than fiction.
At least he demonstrates an awareness of the issue, which is already something; his arguments, however, don't strike us as particularly convincing.
The most obvious objection is one that isn't addressed -- the simple fact that the NYTBR does a remarkable job of ignoring what, to us, seems much of the significant fiction of the day -- and covers a lot of non-fiction that is just plain silly (i.e. negligible -- but then so is a lot of the fiction they cover).
Leaving aside the more complicated question of whether or not 'more non-fiction than fiction gets published' (short retort: but most of that is not reviewable) ... as to the arguments he makes: first there's the odd explanation that:
if you look at a publication like the New York Review of Books, or the New Republic, or the New Yorker, those are the publications that we probably look at mostly, mistakenly perhaps, you'll see most of them overwhelmingly are covering non-fiction because there's more of it published.
Aren't these very different publications from what the NYTBR can (and should) be ?
All three specialize in essay-reviews, of a length that the NYTBR can rarely and barely contain (though every couple of weeks they have a go at it -- see Siegel on Mailer a couple of weeks back).
It's also a rare week when The New Yorker runs more than one review -- leaving the 'Books in Brief' section aside -- or The New Republic runs more than two.
That leaves the NYRB, and in the selection of books it certainly looks like that is the publication Tanenhaus is trying to imitate, albeit -- insofar as it comes into play (which is fairly frequently) -- with a very different socio-political slant.
We'd argue that the NYRB-selection isn't really fitting for a newspaper-book-section, but we'll grant Tanenhaus that an argument could be made for it -- though we'd like more of an explanation.
Tanenhaus also argues:
We're also not only in the business of reviewing books, but presenting what we hope will be interesting journalism to readers.
It is easier to get a good piece of analysis and writing, a better essay, a better report, whatever you think a book review of being, on non-fiction than fiction.
Novels and short stories are very hard to write about.
There are few really strong fiction reviewers around and their standards are very high.
No comment re. the "few really strong fiction reviewers" (hey, maybe he really has tried out a lot more and they were all terrible), but the argument that he wants to present "interesting journalism" is certainly a ... valid one.
Indeed, it explains a lot, including some of the differences we have with his approach and attitude.
See, when we turn to a book review section we're looking for book reviews.
We don't want 'journalism'.
Boy, do we ever not want journalism .....
This difference in approaches/focus is why we consider the Times Literary Supplement -- with its very limited journalistic forays -- the best and most useful review-publication out there, while The New York Review of Books drives us nuts.
But if Tanenhaus wants to offer 'journalism' instead of actual book-coverage, that's his right, and maybe we should judge the NYTBR by that (to us: peculiar) standard.
Finally, the real fun stuff: Tanenhaus on 'lit-blogs'.
As GalleyCat and Ed have pointed out, for someone who protests that he doesn't even bother reading them -- "I never read blogs" (except for the occasional "quick kind of speed through") --, he sure seems up to speed (and opinionated).
We can't help ourselves from addressing some of his statements, from our very limited perspective.
I find they write about us, but I don't find they write about authors and have that many interesting things to say about literature.
Maybe I'm missing them ?
Well, he has us pegged there -- for the most part we don't "have that many interesting things to say about literature" (the weblog part of the site focusses on news coverage, not analysis), and we certainly try to avoid writing about authors.
As long-time readers know, we don't really much care for authors: what we're interested in is books.
Authors are the baggage they (and a lot of book-coverage) comes weighed down with, but if it were up to us we'd ignore them all together.
But while that applies to us, it certainly doesn't apply elsewhere in the literary weblog community: indeed, sometimes it seems all we read about is authors -- and if author coverage is what Tanenhaus is looking for then he'd be hard pressed to find better coverage anywhere else, especially in the interviews and author profiles that are found seemingly absolutely everywhere.
Tanenhaus also writes:
It seems to be more of a kind of a scorecard they keep about us and I think, well, let's say they don't like us and we're doing a terrible job.
All they're doing is publicizing what we do.
I don't understand that.
Surely he doesn't mind all of us publicizing what they do ?
As to his failure to understand why people might express criticism (instead of just keeping mum ?) -- surely it's much the same as criticizing, say, the current administration in Washington D.C., or the UN, etc: it's because we believe the NYTBR is an important and potentially useful institution that could serve its readers much, much better if it was run differently .....
And then there's this:
If they think that we don't do enough fiction, well why aren't you using your blog to write about those novels and say interesting things about them ?
Why not just tell us about all those books ?
This, of course, is the point where he loses all credibility.
Maybe it's time his staff gave him an Internet-tutorial.
The Liteary Saloon, as part of the complete review, is a different beast than most literary weblogs, but, just so Mr.Tanenhaus understands: we occasionally tell readers 'all about these books' (over 1800, at last count; consult our review index to see what we cover), and while we might not say interesting things about them we do tend to say quite a lot and provide links to all the information we can find about them (other reviews, etc.) so that readers can see what all the fuss is (or isn't, or should be) about.
But never mind us: read some other literary weblogs -- consult our handy links page if you don't know where to look -- and you'll find more book coverage (and more diverse book coverage) than you can imagine.
And a surprising lot of it is pretty damned good.
(At some point Tanenhaus really is going to have to take the time and check out what's out there, since statements like this just make him look silly and very ill-informed.)
Finally, Tanenhaus also writes:
It seems very parasitical after a while and the sort of echo chamber-ish and they get so much wrong.
They're so misinformed about so many things that it seems unfruitful to pay attention.
They really don't get what we do, or how we do it, and they don't really want to know because if they do it would kind of undermine the attacks and all the rest.
Maybe he has a point -- we certainly have no idea what they are doing or how they are doing it (despite the valiant attempts in these interviews to explain how books for review are selected, etc.).
As to whether really understanding 'how they do it' would undermine the attacks ... we doubt it.
At least as far as our 'attacks' go.
Our differences with -- and complaints about -- the NYTBR are philosophical and fundamental, especially:
The fact that so much more attention is paid to non-fiction coverage
The fact that literature in translation is almost completely ignored
These failures -- and we do see them as failures -- seem well worth repeatedly hammering home.
Tanenhaus has tried to explain the fiction/non-fiction disparity, but we've never found the explanations satisfactory or convincing.
But we're certainly open to further arguments -- and admit his interview-answer that it's easier to write about non-fiction is a valid (if lazy) excuse.
(He doesn't even bother regarding the foreign-language fiction (and, for that matter, non-fiction) question -- though he is apparently planning a 'Translation'-issue -- not quite the solution we were hoping for (but better than the near-nothing now regularly on offer).)
As to criticism from other quarters: maybe we're missing all the weblogs that get good and dirty but what we come across strikes us, for the most part, as reasonably argued and presented.
LitKicks' weekly review of the Review, and the outbursts occasioned by selected reviews seem much in the same league as many of the Letters to the editor published in the NYTBR, for example (most recently in the reactions to Siegel-on-Mailer).
Well, we're looking forward to the other weblog reactions -- and wonder whether Tanenhaus will ever bother to take a good, hard look at what the 'lit-blogs' are doing .....
Yesterday we mentioned that Salman Rushdie was now teaching at Emory, and at The Guardian Alexandra Topping breaks the news that:
Today, Manchester University will announce an academic coup: Amis has agreed to take up his first teaching role as its professor of creative writing, a decision that will bring the one-time enfant terrible of British literature, author of 11 novels, including Money and London Fields, firmly into the literary establishment.
Last fall they announced that Salman Rushdie's archive was going to Emory University, and as part of the deal Rushdie also got a five-year gig occasionally teaching there -- and, as Dorie Turner reports for AP, he's now started: Salman Rushdie Teaches Lit at Emory.
An interesting aside in that article:
Rushdie said he receives a "sort of Valentine's card" from Iran each year on Feb. 14 letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to end his life.
They've announced the shortlist for something called the Romantic Novel of the Year Award ("readers score the titles on such criteria as romantic content, readability, dialogue, characters, plot, style and setting" -- gotta love those book awards that involve scoring titles (10.0 ! 10.0 ! etc.) ...) -- and the big news apparently is, as The Guardian's headline on the announcement has it: Man in contention for romantic novel prize.
Shocking, no ?
(Well ... no.)
Meanwhile, the French, who seem to have more literary prizes than anyone else (or at least keep track of them more conveniently -- follow them all at Prix-Litteraires) have announced the winner of Le Prix Saint-Valentin.
We'd make fun of that too, but among the shortlisted authors were Andreï Makine and Yann Queffélec, so maybe this can even be taken halfway seriously.
In The Moneyed Muse in The New Yorker Dana Goodyear looks at the Poetry Foundation (and Poetry-magazine) after their mega-million dollar windfall.
How much money do they have to play with ?
After all the money has been distributed, the foundationís budget will be about ten million dollars a year.
But what really awed us:
The annual budget for the foundationís Web site, which débuted a year ago, is more than a million dollars.
To put that in some sort of ... perspective ? ... the complete review has an annual budget of maybe $500 a year (though there is admittedly also a lot of slave unpaid labour involved).
(For what it's worth: the admittedly pretty rough Alexa-data suggests the complete review has a bigger audience .....)
But you have to like their web-ambitions, editor Emily Warn saying:
She would like the site to become the Billboard or the Entertainment Weekly of the poetry world, reflecting everything thatís happening without a dogmatic point of view.
Van Mieu -- the almost 1000 year-old Temple of Literature in Hanoi -- is pretty famous (see pictures and information here, for example), and in San Diego they've re-created it for this year's Tet Festival.
And, sure, they needed some big, space to put up all the models.
Still, they couldn't have found some place else ?
As Justin P. Williams reports in Qualcomm's Own Little Saigon in The Guardian (UCSD):
The actual Temple of Literature is in Hanoi, Vietnam.
The model the boy sees sits among other models of Vietnamese landmarks in the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium.
The European Union Literary Award shortlist has been announced; see Darryl Accone's run-down in Reading matters.
As the name does not suggest, this is actually a South African literary award; as the (more or less) official site explains, it's "a literary award to encourage new South African writing in EU countries" -- but it still seems a bit odd to us.
Colonial overtones and whatnot.
But they do a pretty decent job of getting attention for the winning title, so .....
(And Accone mentions another "most welcome return", the revival of the 'M-Net Award for English fiction', which is hardly much better as far as award-names go.)
But what is being done for the regional literatures (i.e. not-written-in-English books), which are surely in need of more support and attention ?
Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men is now available in the US, and so it and he are getting some attention -- see now also Anna Mundow's interview with the author in the Boston Globe.
We found the first question-and-answer particularly interesting -- addressing something we found highly problematic about Matar's approach:
Q: We see things in the novel solely from a child's point of view. Why did you choose that perspective ?
A: It's interesting you say that, because the novel is in fact told from an adult's perspective but restricted to the perceptive abilities of a child.
The 32nd Kolkata Book Fair has a fancy official site and proclaims that it's 'The Largest Book Fair in Asia', but the fair -- running 10 to 21 February -- has one big problem: as Prithvijit Mitra reported in the Times of India:
The Kolkata Book Fair has been throwing up surprises every other day, but probably the best one was saved for the opening day.
Much to the disappointment of every book-loving Kolkatan, it was revealed on Friday evening that the 32nd Kolkata Book Fair will take off without books.
Books were still missing on the second day of the 32nd Kolkata Book fair.
Out of 580 stalls only 2-3 stalls were ready with books.
Most of the publishers are still waiting beside their stalls -- waiting for decorators to complete their work and ready the racks as quickly as possible.
The Bangkok Post offers two pieces on translation in Thailand -- Sriwipa Siripunyawit's Found in translation even suggesting that it's a career that one can make decent money at .....
See also Putting it in words
Norwegian author Per Petterson has gotten considerable attention for his Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-winningOut Stealing Horses, but that hasn't made it to the US yet, so the best we've been able to do so far, with the two most recent additions to the complete review, is to cover two of his earlier titles: