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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 March 2007

11 March: Duncan McLean interview | Mutanabbi Street fallout | George Szirtes profile | Piercing review
12 March: Half-read | Hofmann on Brecht's poetry | Francine Prose to head American PEN ?
13 March: Man (Asian ?) Literary Prize | Welsh-Italian connexion | Poetry awards with age restrictions
14 March: Het beste boek ! | Critical confusion | García Márquez v. Vargas Llosa, cont'd. | Varamo review
15 March: Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2007 | Boekenweekgeschenk | The Rebels review
16 March: Miles Franklin longlist | Publishing in India | Franzen interview | Defeating censorship online ? | The Lamp of Umm Hashim review
17 March: Susan Sontag essay | Ian Rankin influences | Commonwealth Writers' Prize Regional Winners
18 March: More John Calder | Chinese book-pirating | Macfarlane on plagiarism | Footballers' recommendations | I Love Dollars review
19 March: Chaudhuri does(n't do) fusion | Australian literature in China | Involuntary Witness review
20 March: Antunes gets Prémio Camões | Orange Broadband longlist | Unnecessary longlists ? | Pulp fiction festival


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20 March 2007 - Tuesday

Antunes gets Prémio Camões | Orange Broadband longlist
Unnecessary longlists ? | Pulp fiction festival

       Antunes gets Prémio Camões

       António Lobo Antunes has been awarded the richest Portuguese-language literary prize, the Prémio Camões -- worth a decent € 100,000.
       (Recall also that last tear's winner, José Luandino Vieira, turned down the prize.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Orange Broadband longlist

       As widely reported, the longlist for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction was announced yesterday.
       Twenty titles made the list -- and, predictably, we only have a single one under review: Nell Freudenberger's The Dissident.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Unnecessary longlists ?

       Apropos the announcement of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction longlist, Sarah Crown complains there's Too much information: spare me book prize longlists at The Guardian weblog:
Longlists are undoubtedly a very necessary part of the judging process; I just wonder whether we need to know what's on them.
       We certainly wouldn't object to the abolition of prize-longlists -- but what we would argue is necessary is for all these book prizes to reveal what books are in contention for the prize in the first place. How are we supposed to judge whether a prize is worth anything when we aren't even told whether or not they consider the best titles (as, quite possibly, many don't) ? (Indeed, the only argument for longlists is that that gives a small peek at the titles actually under consideration.)
       Among the rare exemplary book prizes in this regard is the Kiriyama Prize: see their lists of Fiction titles submitted for the 2007 Kiriyama Prize and Nonfiction titles submitted for the 2007 Kiriyama Prize. Let's see the Man Booker folk (and the Orange Broadbands, Whitbread Costas, Pulitzers, etc. etc.) follow suit !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Pulp fiction festival

       Sorry we didn't see this earlier: at Brown University they had a pulp fiction festival, Pulp Uncovered, last weekend. See also Pulp fiction festival weekend blows away attendees by Robin Steele at the Brown Daily Herald.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



19 March 2007 - Monday

Chaudhuri does(n't do) fusion | Australian literature in China | Involuntary Witness review

       Chaudhuri does(n't do) fusion

       Author Amit Chaudhuri is now also musician Amit Chaudhuri: he's been touring with/as This Is Not Fusion, and in Outlook (India) Sheela Reddy asks him 10 questions.
       We're not sure he chooses the best way to describe his music:
Itís like Marcel Duchamp taking a urinal, turning it upside down and naming it a fountain -- it takes things that are already there and puts them in a new context.
       See also Ananda Lal's If fusion be the food of music, play on in The Telegraph.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Australian literature in China

       Shanghai Daily reports that Aussie novels to be translated. We haven't been able to find the full list but the ten novels are apparently by living writers and "include eight that won the Miles Franklin Award.".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Involuntary Witness review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Gianrico Carofiglio's Involuntary Witness.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



18 March 2007 - Sunday

More John Calder | Chinese book-pirating | Macfarlane on plagiarism
Footballers' recommendations | I Love Dollars review

       More John Calder

       We recently mentioned the reports about John Calder calling it quits, and now Kurt Bayer has the story of the Scots literary lion who didn't wait for Beckett in Scotland on Sunday:
John Calder, Scotland's greatest publisher and an enfant terrible of the Swinging Sixties, is retiring and cashing in copyrights that could earn him millions
       At least Calder also gets in some good (if predictable) blows:
He also speaks of modern publishing with some contempt: "When I was young, publishing companies were run by people with editorial knowledge and experience, who could read things and make up their minds on what was good or otherwise.

"But now, it's the accountants and marketing people who make the decisions, caring for nothing but money."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Chinese book-pirating

       Xinhua reports that in China there are 500 million pirated books, and while the attention is usually on movie pirating, here are numbers that show book-piracy is also a major problem:
Pirates and bootleggers in China produce 120 million counterfeit audio and video products and 500 million unauthorized books a year, says an official with the General Administration of Press and Publications.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Macfarlane on plagiarism

       In I could write that at a pinch in The Observer Kelly Grovier reviews Robert Macfarlane's new book, Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature, finding:
Macfarlane has an enviable way of making complex critical concepts accessible and each of his intricately argued chapters ends with a helpful recapitulation of the conclusions reached.
       Sounds interesting. See also the Oxford University Press publicity page, or get your own copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Footballers' recommendations

       Yes, it's time for the annual list of Premier League Footballers' favourite books .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       I Love Dollars review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Zhu Wen's I Love Dollars and Other Stories of China.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



17 March 2007 - Saturday

Susan Sontag essay | Ian Rankin influences
Commonwealth Writers' Prize Regional Winners

       Susan Sontag essay

       The Guardian offers "a previously unpublished essay" by Susan Sontag, Pay attention to the world.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Ian Rankin influences

       As the 20th anniversary of his Rebus-series (see, for example, our review of Knots and Crosses) approaches, Ian Rankin offers a list of "the ten books that inspired his writing career" in The Scotsman in Rebus, take a bow.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Commonwealth Writers' Prize Regional Winners

       The Commonwealth Writers' Prize Regional Winners have now all been announced.
       The only title we have under review is the winer of the Europe and South Asia - Best First Book category, Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



16 March 2007 - Friday

Miles Franklin longlist | Publishing in India | Franzen interview
Defeating censorship online ? | The Lamp of Umm Hashim review

       Miles Franklin longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the Miles Franklin Literary Award; see, for example, Susan Wyndham's Fear flavours the Miles Franklin longlist in the Sydney Morning Herald:
"It's a dark longlist," Morag Fraser said of the eight Australian novels in the running for the 2007 award.
       The only title we have under review is Theft by Peter Carey.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Publishing in India

       In the Business Standard Aabhas Sharma finds Have books, will read, offering an overview of the apparently surprisingly successful publishing situation in India:
In just the organised sector, estimates are that the publishing industry has seen tremendous growth and grew by close to 15 per cent in the year 2006. The 15,000-odd publishers were responsible for the 82,000 books released in all languages in the country.
       Interesting that also there:
"People on blogs talk about books and there is more awareness about the titles released. The media too has played its role by giving more space to the publishing industry." Literary festivals too have helped interest in books and authors grow.
       And then there's the 'unorganised sector' too:
Interestingly, there has been a spurt in book publishing in the unorganised sector as well -- a large number of books are now published by unconventional sectors such as art galleries, restaurant and hotel chains, the fashion industry and so on, without the assistance of publishing houses.
       Restaurant chains publishing books ?

       Re. publishing in India, see also Peter Gordan's recent Read between the lines in the Hindustan Times, where he notes:
I could not say whether this tipping point in domestic demand has been reached in Indian publishing, but Iíll bet it will and the day probably isnít too far off if it hasnít arrived already.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Franzen interview

       Jonathan Franzen's The Discomfort Zone is now out in Germany, and so he's making the rounds there -- including this interview with Jennifer Abramsohn at Deutschewelle, "I Try to Be an Example of an 'OK' American" .....

       He does note:
My impression is that Europeans in general are much more generous about reading American literature than Americans are about reading foreign literature.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Defeating censorship online ?

       In The Times Jane Macartney reports that Online rebellion forces censors to back down on banned books:
A wave of online outrage has forced Chinese censors into an unprecedented decision to allow eight banned books to remain on the shelves.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       The Lamp of Umm Hashim review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Yahya Hakki's The Lamp of Umm Hashim and Other Stories.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



15 March 2007 - Thursday

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2007 | Boekenweekgeschenk | The Rebels review

       Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2007

       They've announced the winner of "the second-largest literature prize in the world" (second only to the Nobel), the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award 2007, which they say:
is more than just a literature prize. Or rather it is a literature prize in the widest possible sense of the phrase. Not only authors are eligible. Illustrators, story-tellers and people or organisations that make valuable contributions to the promotion of reading can also be recognised.
       Previous winners include Philip Pullman (2005), and Christine Nöstlinger and Maurice Sendak (2003), and this year it goes to the Venezuelan Banco del Libro (an institution that pre-dates free-spending Hugo Chávez, and seems to do admirable work).
       See also, for example, the AP report, Venezuelan book network Banco del Libro wins Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Boekenweekgeschenk

       It's Boekenweek in the Netherlands (and, like several other 'book weeks', runs longer -- from 14 to 24 March). Every year (for decades now) they offer a 'Boekenweekgeschenk' ('book week gift') -- a short work by a renowned author, available for free.
       (We have four of the titles from previous years under review: Hugo Claus' The Swordfish (1989), Cees Nooteboom's The Following Story (1991), A.F.Th. van der Heijden's Weerborstels (1992), and Harry Mulisch's Het theater, de brief en de waarheid (2000).)
       This year the book is Geert Mak's De brug, and while that isn't available in English yet Mak's In Europe: Travels through the Twentieth Century just came out in the UK (and is due out in the US in a few months); see, for example, Michael Pye's review in The Scotsman.
       See also the NLPVF-page on Mak, or his official site.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       The Rebels review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Márai Sándor's The Rebels.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



14 March 2007 - Wednesday

Het beste boek ! | Critical confusion
García Márquez v. Vargas Llosa, cont'd. | Varamo review

       Het beste boek !

       In the Netherlands they tried to determine Wat is uw beste boek ? -- what is the best Dutch-language book ever. They got some 15,000 votes -- and came up with a decent list.
       If this were an American-top-ten we'd probably have, at best, one or two of the titles under review, but -- go figure -- we have four of the top six (!) of this top ten under review:
  1. The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch
  2. Het huis van de moskee by Kader Abdolah
  3. Max Havelaar by Multatuli
  4. Hersenschimmen by Bernlef
  5. The Dark Room of Damokles by Willem Frederik Hermans
  6. Beyond Sleep by Willem Frederik Hermans
       Somewhat disconcertingly, the two of these titles we don't have under review were overwhelmingly more popular (3:1) among women readers than men (while the votes for the others were pretty evenly divided). Yes, once again we hit that sex-divide head-on. (But note that we do have a Kader Abdolah title -- My Father's Notebook -- under review.)

       We can certainly recommend the four titles we do have under review -- and recall that Beyond Sleep just recently came out in the UK (and is due out in the US soon) -- and that a new translation of The Dark Room of Damokles should follow soon.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Critical confusion

       At The Guardian weblog Meg Rosoff wonders Who'd be a critic ?. Admittedly, she seems to focus on authors who review on the side or only occasionally, but it's still a stunningly misguided argument.
       Her central concern isn't the book that readers are meant to be informed about (through a review), but rather the feelings of the author (and concern for all the "years of hard work" they put into the book). So, for example, she offers (dis)heartening 'anecdotes' such as:
A journalist friend told me about reviewing an Elmore Leonard novel negatively, then meeting the author a few months later at a literary festival. The critic found him dignified, charming, and modest, writing and speaking with as much care and professionalism at 84 as he'd done for the past 50 years. The flaws of the novel seemed suddenly insignificant, my friend told me, and he felt ashamed.
       Is she joking ? What possible bearing could it have whether the author is an all-around good guy (or the scum of the earth) ? The flaws -- and the qualities -- of the book are the only things that matter and are significant. (After all, readers considering purchasing the book and devoting time to reading it aren't helped any by the fact that, for example, the author is "dignified, charming, and modest".)
       We understand that the cult of the personality extends dreadfully far, and that many readers are moved to purchase a book because the author (or their personal reputation -- as 'cool', 'nice', 'liberal', whatever) strikes some chord, but surely critics -- even of the most amateur sort -- can't get sucked into that game. Sure, a fellow-writer might better understand how much hard work has gone into a book -- but that doesn't necessarily make the book in the least worthwhile: a lot of work surely went into many of the worst books around, too.
       So Rosoff even writes that she's lucky (!) one dismissive review she wrote didn't run:
A year or two later I met the author, and he turned out to be shy, unable quite to believe his luck, and really not a person whose feelings you'd want to hurt even if he hadn't (in my humble opinion) written a book worthy of selling like hot cakes.
       How can you possibly worry about whether or not you're hurting an author's feelings when reviewing their book ? Sure, it likely hurts them if you say nasty things about their baby, but the reviewer's only obligation is towards the reader. And if you go soft and praise a book that doesn't deserve it you may well be hurting many, many more people than just the author (i.e. the readers who waste good money and good time they could have spent on something truly worthwhile).

       Enough with worrying about authors, already ! Just forget they're even there. (Oh, how we wish we could .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       García Márquez v. Vargas Llosa, cont'd.

       So La Jornada published a picture of Gabriel García Márquez's "mulberry" (i.e. black) eye, courtesy of Mario Vargas Llosa, 14 February 1976, and the story behind it in La terrŪfica historia de un ojo morado, and now everybody else is picking up the latest retread of this long-lasting feud -- notably (so far) in:        Both articles are pretty thorough -- though we're fascinated that anyone could possibly care about whether these two old geezers love or hate each other (unless, of course, someone can get then together to duke it out ...).
       So we beg again: enough with the authors ! Let's concentrate on the books ! (Though admirably both articles do provide some book-information, including the ... let's say: tantalising news that Vargas Llosa is: "is said to be working on a pornographic novel".)

       For those too lazy to read the articles (or wait for the "new biography of Garcia Marquez, The Journey to the Seed by Dasso Saldivar"): apparently the decades-old dispute centres around Vargas Llosa's wife:
Patricia went to see her husband's best friend, Gabriel. After discussing the matter with his wife, Mercedes, he advised Patricia to divorce Mario. And then he consoled her. No one else quite knows what form this consolation took.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Varamo review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of César Aira's Varamo -- not available in English yet, but due out from New Directions ... eventually.
       (Meanwhile, you could do worse than turn to his How I became a Nun, which just came out in English.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



13 March 2007 - Tuesday

Man (Asian ?) Literary Prize | Welsh-Italian connexion
Poetry awards with age restrictions

       Man (Asian ?) Literary Prize

       In the Business Standard Nilanjana S. Roy wonders Whose Asian prize is it, anyway ?, considering some of the controversy around the new Man Asian Literary Prize -- notably:
why no Asian writers have been asked to judge what identifies itself as an Asian prize.
       Roy concludes:
If the Man Asian Literary Prize really believes in the shining, undiscovered potential of Asian writing, it needs to work harder to involve Asian writers in the process, rather than ask them to line up for largesse and get out of the way of the real work.
       But the whole 'Asian' concept does raise some interesting questions, as:
How far do Asians identify themselves as Asian, though ? I cannot answer this question in historical or economic terms, but when it comes to literature, we have our barriers up. Even well-read Indians would find it difficult to name Koreaís greatest authors, Sri Lanka is not necessarily interested in the literature of Malaysia, Japan isnít reading the best of Pakistani writing. And when we do read each other, we stick with authors who have been identified for us chiefly by curious Western readers in the media or in publishing.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Welsh-Italian connexion

       In the Western Mail Rhodri Clark finds: Italy a lucrative market for Welsh writing.
       Yes, apparently:
Italian readers looking for something different have struck a gold mine with their discovery of Wales' back catalogue.

The venture is proving so successful that the main translators involved have even created a brand name, Parole dal Galles, for Welsh books.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Poetry awards with age restrictions

       The Poetry Foundation offers numerous awards for a variety of poetic endeavours -- and some of these have age restrictions.
       The Emily Dickinson First Book Award makes sense, as it:
recognizes an American poet who is 50 years of age or over and has yet to publish a first collection of poetry.
       But what about the Verse Drama Prize, which:
honors a living poet over the age of 18 who has written an outstanding original verse drama in English. The work must be unpublished and must not yet have been produced for an audience.
       Sounds good too -- but why is it restricted to over-18s ? Did they try this once before and get inundated by entries from high-school-students ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



12 March 2007 - Monday

Half-read | Hofmann on Brecht's poetry | Francine Prose to head American PEN ?

       Half-read

       As will no doubt be widely discussed, there's a new British survey out that finds:
Britain's guilty literary secret emerged in a Teletext survey of 4,000 people which suggested that, while the average person will spend more than £4,000 on books in their lifetime, nearly half go unread.
       They also determined the most unread works of fiction and non-fiction (and a very odd list that turns out to be) -- of which we have two under review: DBC Pierre's terrible Vernon God Little and David Mitchell's considerably more worthwhile (and certainly readable) Cloud Atlas.

       For the first of what should be mounds of coverage, see, for example:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Hofmann on Brecht's poetry

       This Space points us to Michael Hofmann writing on 'The Poetry of Bertolt Brecht' in Singing About the Dark Times in The Liberal.
       We're always glad to see when Brecht-the-poet gets his due; as you may recall (since we repeat it whenever possible), we're convinced that he's one of the three best 20th-century German poets (alongside Rilke and Celan, of course). Now if someone would just start reminding readers that he wrote some great prose-works as well .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Francine Prose to head American PEN ?

       Hillel Italie reports that PEN American Center naming new president:
PEN, the international organization of writers and editors, is expected to name Prose the new president of its American Center when U.S. members gather March 19 for their annual meeting. She would succeed historian Ron Chernow, who declined to seek re-election, citing personal reasons.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



11 March 2007 - Sunday

Duncan McLean interview | Mutanabbi Street fallout
George Szirtes profile | Piercing review

       Duncan McLean interview

       We don't really care that much about what writers say (we're far more interested in what they write) but Aidan Smith's interview/profile with/of Duncan McLean -- apparently his first in some ten years -- in Scotland on Sunday, A bit of new sky thinking, is worth a look.
       We enjoyed some of McLean's early work, and certainly thought he was a writer worth keeping an eye on -- all the more remarkable then that he actually did what far too few published authors dare: he didn't force the issue, laid down the pen, and became a businessman instead (indeed, apparently: "he's the reigning UK Restaurant Wine Supplier of the Year").
       Okay, so he:
is writing again. "I'm bursting with ideas and can't wait to get them down on paper," he says
       Still, the fact that he didn't feel he had to follow the usual 'writer'-trajectory (i.e. churning stuff out, no matter what, as far too many 'authors' do) impresses us greatly
       And there are a few other amusing odds and ends here:
The world sat up and took notice of McLean and his gang, despite the odd lost-in-translation moment. "I remember a promotional tour of America involving Irvine, James Kelman and myself. At every radio station we visited they'd introduce us with bagpipe music then ask us questions about golf !"
       (He apparently doesn't realise what a big deal it is for an author to even get a chance to appear on radio .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Mutanabbi Street fallout

       The pointless loss of so many lives in Iraq is essentially beyond comment, but several pieces about the recent bombing of the bookseller-street, Mutanabbi Street, have appeared: see the AFP report, Poets, booksellers try to cope with attack on Mutanabbi Street (here at the Daily Star), as well as Sudarsan Raghavan's report in The Washington Post, Anguish in the Ruins of Mutanabi Street.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       George Szirtes profile

       In To Budapest and back in The Scotsman Susan Mansfield profiles poet and translator-from-the-Hungarian George Szirtes (see also his official site).
       (We just got our copy of his translation of Marai Sandor's The Rebels (get your copy at Amazon.com), and our review should be up in a week or two.)

       (Updated - 15 March): Our review of The Rebels is now available.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Piercing review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Murakami Ryu's Piercing, just out in the UK, and scheduled for US publication shortly.
       Commendable among the review coverage: Daniel Lukes (writing in the Times Literary Supplement) that there's far more to this Murakami than English-reading readers currently have access to
Readers in France have access to the many Murakami novels that have been translated into French; others can await the forthcoming film of Ryu Murakami's sprawling apocalyptic epic, Coin Locker Babies. In the meantime, one hopes that his next novel to be translated into English will be one that shows other aspects of this well-rounded, multidimensional writer.
       And he points out that:
Murakami proposes morbid psychological motivations for the cycles of violence he describes, but this is not all there is in Murakami's forty or so books.
       Forty or so ! That means there's a long way to go before English-speaking readers get the whole picture. (How many Murakami title have been translated into English ? Five now ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



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