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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 March 2007

21 March: Classics they can't even give away ... | Leipzig Book Fair | April/May Bookforum | Borges' 'Library of Babel' | Fuir review
22 March: Writers in Doha | Rushdie at Hofstra | Any future for Australian literature ?
23 March: Hensher on McEwan | Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse | Sami Rohr Prize | The Abzats | God's Spy review
24 March: McDonald on Handke | Translated Arab Literature event | Dear Mr Kawabata review
25 March: Naipaul news | Stewart Brown on African writing
26 March: PEN World Voices - 2007 | Ern Malley set to music | Reading porn in the 18th century | Profiles: Paul Muldoon - Nuruddin Farah
27 March: The decline of reading ... in Russia | Review reaction | Review summaries | Leipzig Book Fair overview
28 March: Nigerian writers | LATBR | Torday goes to Yemen
29 March: Best recent Spanish fiction ? | Without Title in the US | Kiriyama Prizes | 'Nibbies'
30 March: French littérature-monde ? | PBS does The American Novel | Other literary saloons
31 March: Time of the Writer report | Barbara Jefferis Award established | Grotesque review

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31 March 2007 - Saturday

Time of the Writer report | Barbara Jefferis Award established | Grotesque review

       Time of the Writer report

       In Capturing rhythm, meaning and narrativity Niren Tolsi reports on the recent Time of the Writer Festival and talks with Wizard of the Crow-author Ngugi wa Thiong'o.
       Ngugi talks about writing in (and translating books into) African languages, including:
He clarifies his position that writers have a moral obligation to their mother tongue and their sociopolitical milieu: "It’s not that it is easier to write in Gikuyu, but rather it is a position which I have taken as an African writer, as an African intellectual -- how to develop a certain relationship with my language, to work in my language, because I believe I have a certain responsibility to my language."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Barbara Jefferis Award established

       At ABC Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop reports that New book award to rival Miles Franklin:
The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) says it will give the Barbara Jefferis Award to the best Australian novel that empowers the status of females or depicts them in a positive light.

The annual prize will be worth at least $35,000 but ASA executive director Jeremy Fisher says the society's trustees are likely to lift that figure to around $42,000 to match the Miles Franklin Award.
       At the Brisbane Times Susan Wyndham is a bit more specific about this Rich new award for the female unique:
Offering prizemoney of "at least $35,000", the award will be given annually from next year to "the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society. The novel may be in any genre and it is not necessary for it to be set in Australia."
       We have no idea what books might qualify, and are curious how this will turn out.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Grotesque review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Kirino Natsuo's Grotesque.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

30 March 2007 - Friday

French littérature-monde ? | PBS does The American Novel | Other literary saloons

       French littérature-monde ?

       The Elegant Variation points us to Alan Riding's article in the IHT wondering What and who are 'French writers' ? about a manifesto signed by 44 French-writing authors and first published in Le Monde, Pour une 'littérature-monde' en français.
       Their call ? To, as Riding puts it, "Uncouple the language from France and turn French literature into 'world literature' written in French". Certainly good for considerable debate .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       PBS does The American Novel

       PBS has a programme promising Novel Reflections on the American Dream which will air on 4 April, and there's a nifty (if, in part, annoyingly Flash-requiring) site to go with it, The American Novel, offering:
a comprehensive exploration of 200 years of the American novel, including in-depth information on more than 50 American novels and authors, along with the literary movements they inspired.
       Not bad -- though a first quick look leaves us wondering: where's Pynchon ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Other literary saloons

       Billing ourselves as a 'literary saloon' we're presumably expected to make you aware of articles such as Lauren Sherman's round-up of "Favorite watering holes of famous (and infamous) novelists", 10 famous literary bars .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 March 2007 - Thursday

Best recent Spanish fiction ? | Without Title in the US | Kiriyama Prizes | 'Nibbies'

       Best recent Spanish fiction ?

       Semana has tried to determine Las mejores 100 novelas de la lengua española de los últimos 25 años -- the 100 best works of fiction written in Spanish over the last 25 years.
       No surprise that García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera comes out tops, a big surprise that Mario Vargas Llosa's The Feast of the Goat comes in second. Rounding out the top four are two Roberto Bolaño titles: The Savage Detectives (just out in English, and which we look forward to reviewing as soon as we get our hands on a copy) and 2666, which should be out in translation in ... a couple of years.
       The only other top-ten title we have under review is number 7, Enrique Vila-Matas' Bartleby & Co..
       See also The Santiago Times (English) report.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Without Title in the US

       Geoffrey Hill's Without Title is now finally available in the US, from Yale University Press (see their publicity page). In the UK Penguin brought it out .....
       No surprise that The New York Sun appears to be the first US newspaper to cover it; see Adam Kirsch's review. (We were fortunate enough to get our hands on the UK edition when it came out, and hence covered it over a year ago.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kiriyama Prizes

       As widely noted, the Kiriyama Prizes have been announced. The fiction winner was Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Murakami Haruki.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       Yes, the winners of the 'Galaxy® British Book Awards' (aka the 'Nibbies') have been announced.
       See also reports in The Guardian (Spoils split at 'Nibbie' awards by Michelle Pauli) and The Independent (Gervais triumphs over Pratchett in British Book Awards by Louise Jury).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 March 2007 - Wednesday

Nigerian writers | LATBR | Torday goes to Yemen

       Nigerian writers

       In the March/April 2007 issue of the Boston Review Andrée Greene writes on the new generation of Nigerian writers in Homeland. It's a fairly predictable list -- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chris Abani, Uzodinma Iweala, and Helen Oyeyemi -- but then that's who Western audiences might be familiar with.
       Greene finds:
In this climate of ruined postcolonial promise, some astonishing novels by recent Nigerian writers are questioning what it means to be Nigerian and, by extension, African.
       She can't quite get around the fact that all of the ones she discusses have mainly worked abroad -- and what little explanation she offers is too simple:
Also, because of political instability, these writers have often had to live and work in exile. Nevertheless, these new, and newly diasporic, writers cast an eye back toward their literary forefathers, and in particular Chinua Achebe
       For god's sake, Iweala's mom was a high ranking government official; whatever his reasons for being in America (like the fact that he was born there and attends university there ...) political instability in Nigeria probably isn't the main one.
       But Greene does worry that criticism about their expatriate status might be raised and used to somehow try to diminish their work, and she gets pretty defensive:
Iweala himself was a victim of similar simplistic thinking: a December 2005 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education attributed his success in attracting the attention of the American media to his privileged family background and education, his mother’s work as a high-ranking Nigerian diplomat and politician, and the fact that he was born in Washington, D.C., rather than Nigeria. The article attacked Iweala’s book for being inauthentic -- because of, among other things, Agu’s pidgin dialect (which is, in fact, accurate to his character) -- and for distracting Americans from the wider sweep of "authentic" African literature. If white American writers who came from privileged backgrounds or immigrant families were considered inauthentic, much of today’s literary fiction and the American literary canon would be discredited. Indeed, Dave Eggers has yet to raise eyebrows about his authenticity. More importantly, how many American writers are blamed because Americans don’t read or publish enough translations ?
       Among the objections to the above: surely Iweala's family background contributed significantly to media interest (much as Oyeyemi's youth did). Surely that has nothing to do with the accusations of inauthenticity. And surely Dave Eggers has been plagued by questions about his authenticity for his entire career.
       As far as "distracting Americans from the wider sweep of 'authentic' African literature" she has a point -- it's a ridiculous accusation to make, as almost any African literature of any sort is almost impossible to find anywhere in the US anyway.

       We're not particularly interested in questions of fictional authenticity, but we have to say would be interested in what is being written and published locally in Nigeria -- particularly in local languages

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       As has long been feared and now widely reported on, The Los Angeles Times is doing away with its stand-alone Sunday book review section, 'merging' it with the opinion section, beginning on 14 April; see the official press release. (Yes, the press release says 14 April, which is a Saturday, and early reports suggested it would be a Saturday-section, but they do also write that it would be: "a combined Sunday section". We'll see.)
       Among the "highlights" of the change:
The redesigned BOOK REVIEW will be more visual, featuring portraiture and enhanced photography
       Enhanced photography ! Portraiture ! Just what we've always hoped for in book review coverage ..... (Who needs actual reviews of books, right ?)
       But they do promise:
More book reviews will now appear in various sections of the paper daily
       We'll believe that when we see it .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Torday goes to Yemen

       Paul Torday's Salmon Fishing in the Yemen made ... quite the splash, but author Torday didn't visit Yemen before writing the book. Now he has: as Huda al-Kibsi reports in the Yemen Observer British author visits the setting of his novel.

       Looking for more information about the trip we stumbled across the site of The British-Yemeni Society and their very impressive book review section -- no coverage of the Torday yet, but in-depth reviews of a hell of a lot of Yemen-themed books.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 March 2007 - Tuesday

The decline of reading ... in Russia | Review reaction
Review summaries | Leipzig Book Fair overview

       The decline of reading ... in Russia

       The same story, the similar anecdotes and comments: you've heard it all before, from all corners of the globe. This week's example is Russia, where Nabi Abdullaev reports in The Moscow Times that Reading Is Going the Way of the Soviet Union there.
       Even the fun opening is just a variation of something we've heard too often already:
Yulia Ageyeva, a 14-year-old ninth-grader, grasped for words when asked to name any book that she had read aside from those assigned in school last year.

"Well, I kinda don't remember," she said pensively. "Does Cosmopolitan count as a book ?"
       But there are some nice local touches:
"This is a crying shame for a nation that once boasted being the best-read in the world," said their blushing literature teacher, who asked not to be identified. She said she was among the few teachers actually encouraging schoolchildren to read more.
       Blushing anonymous literature teachers who encourage students to read !
       A few depressing statistics, too:
Only 63 percent of Russians read at least one book a year, compared to 79 percent in 1991, according to a survey by the Federal Press and Mass Media Agency. Among young people, the figure has dropped to just 28 percent from 48 percent.
Western Europe has about 60 bookstores per 100,000 people, he said, but Moscow has eight per 100,000 people and the national average is less than four.
       And also a few odd observations:
Literature has long been closely associated with spirituality and morality in this country, but no longer. Only 1 percent of 1,600 people surveyed in January said reading books would increase morality.

Higher salaries and media censorship fared much better, according to the pollster, the Public Opinion Foundation.
       We were never big believers in the idea that reading makes you a better person, but when they start thinking that media censorship is morality-instilling you know a country is headed dangerously down the wrong tracks.
       Meanwhile, what about this sad (in so many ways) observation:
Fiction no longer prepares young people to live in the very pragmatic modern Russia, so there is no popular demand for it

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Review reaction

       It's always fun when authors and publishers feel compelled to react to a bad review, and here's an entertaining example: in the Willamette Week Paige Richmond describes how a Publisher throws down the literary gauntlet, as:
Astoria-based Times Eagle Press placed an ad in this week’s Portland Mercury asking the paper's readers to voice their opinions on two contrasting reviews of V.O. Blum’s Split Creek.
       One of those reviews was Paige Richmond's unflattering one -- which found:
Weirdness only succeeds when good writing makes it believable -- like a Pynchonian conspiracy that initially seems impossible but eventually feels all too real. Blum can't pull this off, and this is what makes Split Creek so bad.
       (Richmond also notes that the novel contains: "avant-garde, moral and hypersexual writing", which probably scared off more potential readers than just calling it bad did .....)
       Anyway, the publisher makes this hard-to-resist offer:
Merc readers -- decide ! Win $25 by submitting most elegant 300-word resolution of this literary dispute.
       $25 ! And you can take part in a bona fide literary dispute !
       (But hand it to them: they got the attention they were looking for.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Review summaries

       Online sources like our very own complete review and Metacritic offer summaries of reviews of specific books, but in the UK this is apparently also a fairly popular newspaper feature. So, for example, The Guardian sums up reactions to a few titles every week in a Critical eye-column, while The Telegraph looks at Who said what.
       But as far as the online-editions of newspapers go, Times Online is clearly the most impressive. 'What they're saying about:' looks at reactions to a single title (this week: Milan Kundera's The Curtain (see also our review)) -- and does the obvious (for a page on the Internet): provides actual links to the mentioned reviews. Not only that, but they don't restrict their coverage to the biggest names in the mainstream print media. Well done (though we still have quite a few reservations about the latest redesign of their online book section ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Leipzig Book Fair overview

       Not too much English-language coverage of the recent Leipzig Book Fair, but Deutsche Welle offers a decent overview in 2007 Leipzig Book Fair Closes Doors, where a happy organizer Wolfgang Marzin thinks:
"We had the nicest book fair," Marzin said. "It's the most peaceful and reader-friendly book fair."
       Meanwhile, SPA/STA also report that Slovenia Makes Splash at Leipzig Book Fair.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 March 2007 - Monday

PEN World Voices - 2007
Ern Malley set to music | Reading porn in the 18th century
Profiles: Paul Muldoon - Nuruddin Farah

       PEN World Voices - 2007

       The PEN World Voices programme for this year's festival, Home & Away, has been announced, and it certainly looks like there will be quite a bit that is of interest. (It's going to take us a while to work our way through what's on offer.)
       It runs from 24 to 29 April in New York, and we hope to attend and report from some of the events.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ern Malley set to music

       At ABC Jarrod Watt reports that Ern Malley gets musical: from literary hoax to musical journey as:
this year's Castlemaine State Festival features music composed about literature -- writings infamously created by a non-existent author, no less.
       (For more about the infamous hoax see also our review of Michael Heyward's The Ern Malley Affair.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Reading porn in the 18th century

       From the University of Leeds we learn about Sex in the 1700s, as they are publicizing Jenny Skipp’s PhD work, which finds that:
The reading of erotic literature was already a social activity 300 years ago.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Profile: Paul Muldoon

       In Invisible threads at The Guardian Nicholas Wroe profiles Paul Muldoon.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Profile: Nuruddin Farah

       In Ink in His Veins and Somalia in His Heart in The Washington Post Neely Tucker profiles Nuruddin Farah.
       Among the interesting quotes:
"There may be four or five African novelists who survive just by their writing, and he's probably the only one who doesn't do academic stints," says Charles Larson, the American University professor who has chronicled the rise of African literature for 40 years.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 March 2007 - Sunday

Naipaul news | Stewart Brown on African writing

       Naipaul news

       The Bibliofile-column at Outlook (India) has two V.S.Naipaul items this week.
       First, the official biography by Patrick French "is almost ready and should be out later this year". As Bibliofile cheekily observes: "it has the blessings not only of Sir Vidia, but more important, of his wife as well". (But it'll be hard to top Theroux's Sir Vidia's Shadow.)
       And second, a new Naipaul is apparently due out in September: A Writer's People: Ways of Seeing and Feeling, "an extended essay of 250 pages, talking of the books, people and places that have influenced him".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Stewart Brown on African writing

       At Vanguard Benjamin Njoku interviews Stewart Brown.
       "The problem with African writing is that it carries the colonial burden", he complains, though we wish he'd explain that better (how exactly does this manifest itself ?).
       More interesting:
African writing is very serious. But when I teach my students, they demonstrate some kind of resistance, mainly because African writing itself is still having a social responsibility. They don’t see themselves as entertainers in the same sense that American writers do. African writers feel it is their duty to represent their experiences in their world.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 March 2007 - Saturday

McDonald on Handke | Translated Arab Literature event | Dear Mr Kawabata review

       McDonald on Handke

       Arts & Letters Daily points us to Michael McDonald's The Apologist at The American Scholar, where he takes on Peter Handke.
       At This Space Steve had a brief go at the summary-version, but we look forward to a fiull riposte .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Translated Arab Literature event

       Gulf Daily News reports that Arab literature to be showcased at Al Riwaq Gallery.
       Of particular interest:
It will be followed by Language: Translation and Expression, a discussion on the effectiveness of translation in Arabic and English, which will be oderated by Hameed Al Qaed.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Dear Mr Kawabata review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Rashid al-Daif's Dear Mr Kawabata.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 March 2007 - Friday

Hensher on McEwan | Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse
Sami Rohr Prize | The Abzats | God's Spy review

       Hensher on McEwan

       The first review we've seen of Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach is Philip Hensher's in The Spectator. He concludes:
The novel is saved by an honest familiarity with individual psychology, and by the fact that it is, really, all about sex, which McEwan certainly does understand. The larger movements of history, however, enter into these lives in ways which are all too much like the novel that Professor Peter Hennessy might write about the period. What I find troubling about this novel, and many of McEwan’s books, is that he moves from his narrow but effective competence into areas where his authority looks very shaky indeed. But this one, at least, works well on the basis of its private exchanges alone.
       See also the excerpt at The New Yorker, the Nan A. Talese publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or

       (Updated - 25 March): See now also reviews in The Observer and Scotland on Sunday.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse

       The Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse has been announced.

       The winner in the translation category (yes, that's one of the three categories they deem prize-worthy !) was Swetlana Geier for a Dostoyevsky-translation.

       The non-fiction award went to Saul Friedländer for his Die Jahre der Vernichtung. Das Dritte Reich und die Juden 1939-1945. Sounds pretty German all around, but the book was actually written in English and will be published in the US shortly, as The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945; see also the HarperCollins publicity page. Oddly, the US edition is listed at -- but not at
       For a German-perspective review, see Dan Diner's in Die Welt -- usefully made available in English at the ever-helpful

       Finally, the fiction-winner was Handy by Ingo Schulze, which will surely be translated into English sooner rather than later. (Meanwhile, get your copy of the original at

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Sami Rohr Prize

       The Jewish Book Council has announced the first winner of the big-money ($100,000) Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish literature: The Genizah at the House of Shepher by Tamar Yellin. (See also her official site.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Abzats

       In his column in The Moscow Times Victor Sonkin writes about the 'Abzats' this week:
The Abzats antiprizes, which "honor" the worst books of the year, were given out last week in a ceremony at the Books of Russia fair.
       And it's not all bad news:
One good sign is that the prize for worst proofreading, once a very tight competition, was called off this year due to a lack of suitable entries.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       God's Spy review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Juan Gómez-Jurado's God's Spy.
       We're always open to a good cardinal-killing, conspiracy-theory romp -- even with the spectre of The Da Vinci Code that hangs over all such books -- and we were curious about a foreign (Spanish) attempt at this sort of programmed international bestseller. With dedicated websites for the Spanish and English editions someone is putting a lot behind this thing -- and with "rights sold in over thirty-nine countries" (barely a year after it came out in Spanish) they seem to be having some success.
       Which only goes to show how hype-susceptible this stupid industry is -- because this is not a good book. The Germans didn't bother with a hardcover edition and brought it out straight in mass-market paperback; the German press pretty much ignored it -- both of which sound right. We're curious to see what happens with it in the US and UK (and figure the odds are about 50-50 that Janet Maslin reviews it for The New York Times ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

22 March 2007 - Thursday

Writers in Doha | Rushdie at Hofstra | Any future for Australian literature ?

       Writers in Doha

       In The Peninsula (yes, "Qatar's leading English Daily") Mobin Pandit reports on A rendezvous for writers in exile at the Doha Festival:
what makes the festival unique is that it is a meeting ground for a number of well-known Arab poets and authors, many of whom have been living in exile for years fearing persecution in their home countries.

Among the prominent figures who will be here participating in the festival are Lebanese author and poet, Adonis and famed Iraqi poets, Saadi Yousef and Khazzal Al Majdi.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rushdie at Hofstra

       Salman Rushdie spoke on The Novel and the 21st Century at Hofstra yesterday, and at Newsday Jennifer Sinco Kelleher reports that 'Satanic Verses' author not afraid to laugh.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Any future for Australian literature ?

       Debate on Aussie literature a horror story for our greats, writes Rosemary Neill in The Australian, reporting on a Sydney forum asking 'Australian literature: does it have a future ?'
       And Sydney University professor of Australian literature Elizabeth Webby thinks:
Miles Franklin and fellow Australian writers would be horrified that a debate is needed on whether our literature has a future

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

21 March 2007 - Wednesday

Classics they can't even give away ... | Leipzig Book Fair | April/May Bookforum
Borges' 'Library of Babel' | Fuir review

       Classics they can't even give away ...

       Okay, so it's only a few schools that turned them down, but seriously, what is going on here ?
       Yes, as, for example, the Evening Standard reports, Schools refuse gifts of 'boring' classics:
Dozens of schools have rejected gifts of free classic books because today's pupils find them too 'difficult' to read, it has emerged.

Around 50 schools have refused to stock literary works by the likes of Jane Austen, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens after admitting that youngsters also find them boring.
       What kind of schools are these ?
       See also A contemporary tale by Peter Kingston in The Guardian.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Leipzig Book Fair

       The Leipziger Buchmesse (the Leipzig Book Fair) begins tomorrow and runs through the 25th.
       Among the highlights: the big German literary prize of the spring season, the Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse, is handed out. They also have a (German) weblog.
       And they've also jumped on the seemingly interminable comics bandwagon, with a dedicated site for their Comics in Leipzig-programme.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       April/May Bookforum

       The April/May issue of Bookforum is now available online -- and admirably they've made almost all the content freely available at the site (well done !).
       Among the books we'll be covering which they've already gotten to here are Mark Rudman on Zbigniew Herbert's The Collected Poems: 1956–1998 and Richard Locke on Clive James's Cultural Amnesia.
       They also have a review (by Joscelyn Jurich) of Christa Wolf's One Day a Year: 1960–2000 -- as does this week's issue of The New Yorker (here). As we've mentioned: sounds worthwhile. (See the Europa editions publicity page, or get your copy from or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Borges' 'Library of Babel'

       As we mentioned just over a year ago, every couple of years some publisher sets about publishing the books that Jorge Luis Borges considered a 'Library of Babel'.
       The latest entry: another German edition, with its own dedicated website: Bibliothek von Babel.
       There are quite a few worthwhile and otherwise hard-to-find works in the collection, so we always applaud these efforts -- though they never seem to last very long. Still, this one certainly looks like they're giving it a good try here.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Fuir review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Prix Médicis-winning Fuir.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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