In the Financial Express Sudipta Datta talks (via e-mail) to long-time Gabriel García Márquez biographer (he's been working on the biography for sixteen years) Gerald Martin, in "Heís a literary brand, intensely human"
A few odds and ends of interest -- though the real question is, of course, as Datta does ask: "Why has your biography taken so long ?"
Itís taken so long because I had no idea what a vast and onerous task a biography is when taken seriously, because opportunities opened up for me which I had never imagined when I started my work; and because occasionally I take a little time out to lead my own life.
It is due out sometime fairly soon (this year, next year ...) -- though with García Márquez churning out his memoirs he faces stiff competition.
But, perhaps covering his bases, the University of Pittsburgh, in flogging Martin's services as GGM-commentator claim that there's more than just the biography -- apparently he: "is working on several books about García Márquez".
The 1963 state constitution says libraries "shall be available" to all Michigan residents but also gives libraries the authority to create rules.
Librarians agree that a Marquette resident can visit the Detroit Public Library and read magazines, search the Internet and do research.
The sticking point is letting a nonresident borrow books or other materials, even if they pay for a card.
We're impressed that they wrote library-rights into the constitution in the first place .....
They've announced the "results of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundationís eighty-third annual United States and Canadian competition", awarding fellowships worth $7,600,000 to 189 people (an average of just over $40,000 per fellow), including, as usual, quite a few writers; see the complete list of fellows.
We don't have many of the winners under review: a few Steve Erickson-novels, some translations by Lawrence Venuti.
Only limited descriptions, unfortunately, of the projects many are getting their money for.
Jo summed up the crux of the problem: "Today's young writers do not practice a third-person perspective."
Ah, yes !
Korean writers and the publishing industry need to develop an objective third-person perspective because a slew of ominous signs threaten to undercut their already vulnerable foothold amid the growing public interest toward multimedia and the internet rather than text-based storytelling.
The Korean Publishers Association said in a report that the domestic publishing industry produced a total of 45,221 titles in 2006, up 4.4 percent from a year earlier.
But the market size shrank by as much as 12 percent to 2.69 trillion won, reflecting the severe downturn that plagues the industry at large.
Well, at least they offer some hard numbers -- including also:
Japanese novels are rapidly increasing their share of the domestic market, threatening Korean titles and writers.
The KPA estimates that about 4,300 titles, or 42 percent of all the translated books in 2006, were translations from Japanese to Korean.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Enrique Vila-Matas's París no se acaba nunca.
Only two of his novels are available in English so far (well, one in the US, but the next is coming out next month), and we're very jealous of how much is available in French
Its aim is to reward excellence in contemporary Arabic creative writing and to encourage wider readership of quality Arabic literature in the region and internationally.
The prize is also designed to encourage translation and publication of Arabic language literature into other major languages.
A number of European and US publishers have shown positive interest in publishing the translated winning works.
There is, of course, already a well-established (if not quite so well-endowed) Arabic fiction prize, the estimable Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, awarded since 1996 by the AUC Press -- who then also publish the winning work in English translation.
There's certainly room for a second big prize in the region, but the Mahfouz Prize has that edge of guaranteeing at least some international notice.
Of course, a lot of vital information isn't available yet -- in particular eligibility requirements and who will do the judging.
Incidentally: the proliferation of cash-rich prizes for a variety of national literatures begins to beg the question: is there any pressure for the American prizes to raise their rewards ?
The most prestigious -- Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle, etc. -- are all decidedly low-rent as far as the payout (if not necessarily payoff) goes.
By now probably half the European nations have 'best book' awards richer than the top American prizes put together, not to mention some of these transnational awards (from the IMPAC to this new Arabic prize).
It'll still be a while before our coverage of Clive James' Cultural Amnesia is ready, but Slate continues to post adapted excerpts from the book, and yesterday they had one we were very pleased to find in the book: James on Dubravka Ugresic.
(See also our Dubravka Ugresic page.)
In the New Statesman Caroline Wyatt profiles French author Florian Zeller, in Gilded youth.
We have two of his titles under review: Lovers or Something like It and The Fascination of Evil -- and the latter, in particular, strikes us as worthy of more attention.
Certainly among the more interesting and discussion-worthy (and -provoking) books we've read recently.
The case of Zeller does suggest one of the few positive side-effects of literature in translation being so widely ignored in the US and UK: the guy is apparently a "lit idol" in France, but you'd never know that in the US or UK, where he seems almost entirely unknown.
So for those who read him in English the books aren't tainted by all this cult of the personality that must make him almost impossible to read in French .....
(Though profiles like this one by Wyatt aren't helping the cause .....)
As we mentioned yesterday, they've announced the shortlist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Looking over things more closely we note that out of the 169 libraries that submitted nominations the three Norwgian ones did phenomenally well with their selections: six of their nine nominations made it to the shortlist (one title was named once each by two different libraries, so they only got five of the eight shortlisted titles).
Deichmanske Bibliotek had a clean slate, getting all three nominations through to the shortlist, while the Bergen Public Library got two out of three (and the Stavanger Bibliotek og Kulturhus one).
By comparison, England's four libraries only got two nominations through (both by the Liverpool Libraries & Information Services), and Ireland's five libraries only got three titles though.
The most disappointing showing -- in all respects -- was put in by the Dutch: all five nominating libraries nominated the exact same slate of three titles (In Lucia's Eyes, The Kreutzer Sonata, and Shadow Child) -- and, yes, they were all written in Dutch.
Apparently the only Dutch titles translated into English during the eligibility period .....
But what it is about the Norwegians that they had such a hot hand ?
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Adam Tooze's look at The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, The Wages of Destruction.
Among all the non-fiction titles we've covered, this one received perhaps the best reviews -- when it was published in the UK last fall.
Just out in the US, it has yet to attract much critical attention -- surprising, given the build-up (though admittedly it is a lot to go through and work over).
Among the few American review outlets to get to it ?
The New York Sun, which yet again (and again and again) proves to have more overlapping interests with us than any publication out there, save perhaps the Review of Contemporary Fiction.
We haven't had anything to say about the recent back-and-forth between n + 1 and various "lit-bloggers" -- for one, because we haven't had opportunity to read the 'offending' article that started the recent round; see instead, for example, The Millions' Keepers of the Flame: A Reply to n+1 for an overview
Nevertheless, we can't help but comment on further statements from the n + 1 crew in The Phoenix, in Nina MacLaughlin's Decivilization and its discontents, specifically:
On urging "lit-bloggers" to do more than exchange insults and gossip
Gessen: The bloggers feel powerless.
They think no oneís paying attention so they ratchet up the rhetoric, call us assholes, publish my e-mails . . .
Theyíre not taking it seriously.
Theyíre just doing gossip, just insulting people without any notion that they ought to be telling the truth . . .
Sorry, but we don't like being tarred by one big brush: Gessen makes it sound like every "lit-blogger" is sitting in the same room, working on one grand conspiracy.
As we've noted before, perhaps the single greatest thing about the whole literary weblog community is that so many people are doing so many different things and taking so many different approaches to writing and to blogging on literary-related subjects.
For the record, while we do occasionally ratchet up rhetoric we rarely call people assholes (or, as we'd have it, arseholes), and have not published what limited e-mail exchanges we've had with anyone from n + 1.
We very rarely insult people, and while we enjoy the odd piece of gossip we certainly aren't "just doing gossip".
We also do not feel "powerless" -- or, for that matter, powerful: power doesn't really enter our equations.
And as to taking "it seriously" -- well, we're not entirely sure what he means (literature ? 'blogging' ? writing ? life ?) but we're pretty sure we're not taking it very lightly.
(Admittedly that can be hard to judge when looking in the mirror, but the impression we get is that we have a fairly serious reputation .....)
We also don't worry much whether anyone is paying attention, though admittedly it is nice to know that at least a few readers out there do appreciate our efforts and find them of some use and/or interest.
Maybe Gessen was trying to be provocative (hey, that seems to be working -- he even got us to write about this ...), but the comments are so unfair and inaccurate that it can barely be considered part of any argument.
(Of course, the answer looks like it's been cut, too, so maybe the available text is not fully representative of his actual opinion.)
Disappointingly only one of the eight titles wasn't written in English (despite 28 of the 138 novels on the longlist having been written in foreign languages -- just over 1 in 5).
On the 2006 shortlist 3 of the 10 titles had been written in foreign languages.
Still, not the worst shortlist we've seen.
It will run only for a limited time, from April 1st to April 30th, and will focus on poetry as a spoken art form -- meant to be listened to and read aloud -- and on the processes that go into making a physical book of poetry.
Great idea -- though on our monitor the wallpaper/background renders all the writing pretty much illegible (we have to highlight the whole page to read any of it).
((Updated - 6 April): Seems to be working fine now.)
We recently mentioned the current debate in France about what constitutes French writing.
Now, in the Mail & Guardian, Veronique Tadjo looks at Writing Africa in French.
Among the observations: Aminata Sow Fall explains:
When asked why she wrote in French rather than in Wolof, her mother tongue, she replied that when she began her literary career back in 1963, Wolof, the most widely spoken language in Senegal, had not yet been properly codified in the Roman alphabet.
So she had no choice, she said.
But she was quick to add that if she had not felt at ease in French, she would not have written a book.
Suite Française-author Irène Némirovsky's David Golder was recently re-issued in a new translation in the UK and Canada but for some reason hasn't made it to the US yet, but in The New York Times Alan Riding reports on yet another New Work From a Writer Who Died in the Holocaust (reluctantly linked to at that registration-requiring site here) -- Chaleur du Sang (get your copy from Amazon.fr, though it's apparently due out in translation pretty soon too).
At the heart of the current controversy over the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize is just how "Asian" its judging panel should be.
We agree, the panel make-up is ... odd, but critics earn little sympathy when they say things -- as Hong Kong writer Nury Vittachi does -- like:
"They are Western Asians, not Asian authors in Asia.
Some of them look Asian, but thatís not the point.
To have a truly international panel, you need Asians as well as Westerners."
Some of them look Asian ?
You have got to be kidding .....
In any case, we take issue with an entirely different aspect of the prize.
They write on their Background and discussion-page that:
Asia, from Japan to China and Southeast Asia, is now becoming a significant source of authors, and as such, has been recognised by major mainstream publishers.
'Asia, from Japan to China and Southeast Asia' -- doesn't Asia extend a bit farther ? we wonder .....
The Prize should be explicitly Asian, rooted in the region and awarded to writers originating and writing from the region, rather than authors of Asian background writing from other regions.
Okay, 'explicitly Asian' -- but what exactly do they mean by that, beyond that they be writers: "originating and writing from the region" ?
Let's have a look at the rules (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), shall we ?
"Asian" means written by an author of 18 years of age or older who is both a citizen and resident of an Asian country or territory, which in is defined as one of Japan, South Korea, North Korea, The Peopleís Republic of China, The Hong Kong or Macau Special Administrative Regions, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan
Our geography teachers would have given us a big red "F" if that's how we defined 'Asian country or territory'.
We can understand Russia not counting (despite reaching farther east than many of these countries), and we'll throw in Turkey, with its European tip.
But where are all the Mid-East countries ?
No Arab speakers need apply ?
What about Iran ?
The former Soviet states, from Armenia to Tajikistan ?
All too close to the 'West' ?
What about Mongolia ?
Sorry, this is in no way a representative Asian prize and shouldn't be allowed to call itself such.
The 'Man South/East Asian Literary Prize', but that's about as close to the mark as it gets.
Even if some of the judges do "look Asian" .....
A nice little feature in the FAZ where they look at Wie die Welt auf den Bestseller reagiert, looking at the foreign reactions to the big German bestseller of recent times, Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World.
They note it has now sold a million copies in German (a staggering total), with rights sold in some thirty countries.
They mainly look at the critical reactions in a couple of countries, but do note how it's fared in some so far as well.
Among the interesting notes: in Holland it's sold some 50,000 copies (a lot for this sort of book, apparently), while in France it didn't get much attention from the mainstream press at first (and Le Monde has apparently still not bothered with it).
As for the US, they pretty much only discuss the (limited) critical reactions -- though if not quite D.O.A., it certainly seems to have underperformed (and probably hasn't sold a tenth as many copies as it did in Holland ...).
Attention solipsistic young scribes: all the bad boyfriends, clueless parents and junior years abroad are no match for the child soldier.
Better go back to whatever you were doing before you started writing about yourself.
Just don't go to Starbucks, because Beah's book is being sold there, and you'll just feel worse.
The problem here, and with this whole example, is the assumption that writers -- especially young ones -- should be writing about themselves in the first place.
We've always held the worst piece of advice writers get is to "write what you know": sure, it works for those (like, possibly, Beah) with some compelling experiences under their belts, but we're for fiction and for actual flights of the imagination.
Spare us the true-life-dressed-up-as-fiction-writing (and, for that matter, all those (supposedly ?) true-to-life 'memoirs') !
On the same note: the most disillusioning interview we came across recently is Mark Thwaite's with Nell Freudenberger at The Book Depository, apropos of her recent novel (just out in the UK, to generally good reviews) The Dissident, which begins with her recounting the inspiration for the novel:
When I was in high school, a Chinese artist visited our school for several weeks.
He was called a "Visiting Scholar;" the idea was that he would teach us traditional Chinese painting in ink.
And even the goddamn lobster-drawing-idea is taken from her experiences with this guy.
Don't get us wrong -- the school-scenes are among the most convincing in the book (no doubt in part because they are the most authentic, i.e. close to her own experience), but it also helps explain why the book feels so pieced-together, because it isn't a work of the imagination -- it really is just pieced together.
We're not sure why we thought she might actually have some imagination, but it's a disturbing (to us) discovery: if she feels she has to rely on experience so much, what can she possibly do next ?
With Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia close to all wrapped up in New York there are quite a few articles about the whole three-piece production: the April issues of Commentary and The New Criterion have longer reviews of the trilogy (by Terry Teachout and Brooke Allen, respectively -- both registration requiring (here and here)), while in the 2 April issue of The New Republic Robert Brustein also sums things up.
A more far-reaching (and, for now, readily accessible) approach is Carlin Romano's in The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he wonders: "Can we learn anything about today's Russian writers and intellectuals by examining their predecessors ?" in Russia's culturati a pale imitation of worthies of 'Utopia'.
He's not much impressed by the present-day-authors' engagement:
No, if you spend a weekend watching Stoppard's heroes battle till their last breath for individualism and freedom in Russia, today's intellectual and literary elite bear comparison only to Soviet comrades, most of whom gazed at their feet as the Kremlin silenced brave peers.
(But how much of a responsibility do writers have to speak/write about all these things ... ?)
We like to think that by now little they do at The New York Times Book Review can surprise us any more, but their fiction-neglect continues to astound us, and we can't help but point it out once again.
Non-fiction coverage always dominates, but in the 1 April issue (April Fools indeed ...) there are thirteen full-length reviews of individual non-fiction titles -- and two fiction reviews (and not even a Crime-round-up or anything like that to get a few more fiction mentions in).
A single page of fiction coverage (both reviews are stuffed onto a single page) !
(Even poetry -- with two longer reviews -- gets more space .....)
Part of the problem we have with the current book review administration is that their tastes, interests, and standards -- as reflected in their choice of books to review (never mind the reviews themselves ...) -- obviously differ greatly from ours.
We continue to be baffled that they don't find more current fiction-releases to be review-worthy.
And what they do find review-worthy ... well, consider that next week, when admittedly more fiction coverage is scheduled, we can apparently look forward to a review of Paulina Porizkova's debut-novel, A Model Summer (see the Hyperion publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com).
Now, maybe this really is a promising fiction debut, but given the stuff they're ignoring .....
Still, we are relieved to only find reviews of two baseball-titles in the 1 April issue; whatever else Tanenhaus has wrought, we are forever grateful that he abolished the abomination that was the annual 'Baseball-issue' his predecessor foisted on readers year after year.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Sunday issue of The New York Times offers other literary odds and ends, including Liesl Schillinger relegated to the 'Sunday Styles' section with a 'Books of Style'-column about books by Simon Rich and Christopher Buckley.
And for some reason both Charles McGrath (of Baseball-issue infamy) and Verlyn Klinkenborg tackle the burning issue of Jane Austen getting a (physical) image makeover in the 'Week in Review' section.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Naguib Mahfouz's Karnak Café.
The first time this 1974 novella by the Nobel laureate has been translated into English.
Short, though not really minor, it's still something of an event to have yet another work by this worthy Nobel laureate available.
(Updated): A reader alerts us that a previous translation does, in fact, exist: Saad El-Gabalawy's, in the 1979 volume of Three Contemporary Egyptian Novels he also edited.
Not an easy book to find, so it's nice to have the new AUC Press edition.
In Education Week Kathleen Kennedy Manzo looks at what books are being used in class, and finds it's Dark Themes in Books Get Students Reading.
As usual with these articles they have a fun quote from some teenager:
Chanelle Brown hasnít found much she can relate to in the classic texts assigned in her English classes at Evanston Township High School.
A top student, the junior has toiled through The Odyssey, All the Kingís Men, The Scarlet Letter, and other standards, she said, while many of her classmates at the suburban Chicago school have given up reading them altogether.
"The themes are kind of dead now," she said, "and I donít feel like any of the stories apply to me."