Polish Writing has an interesting graph of the "number of new titles translated into English from Polish (fiction, essays and poetry) in each year" -- going back quite a ways.
We have no idea how sure they are about their data, but it certainly suggests that, even if things aren't as good as they once were, at least as far as translations from Polish go they're not all that bad (seen historically).
We'd love to see similar graphs from other languages !
Today, The Daily Telegraph publishes the top 25 after a vote by thousands of readers.
Waterstone's own staff initially voted for a top 100 -- to mark the chain's 25th birthday -- and the public have now cast their votes to whittle it down to 25.
Translations of Urdu and Sanskrit literature are filling the bookshelves.
More are waiting to be released.
Says Deepthi Talwar, chief editor, Rupa: "There is a revival of sorts as far as the translation of Sanskrit and Urdu literature is concerned.
There is a huge market as many do not understand the languages but want to enjoy the literature.
For them English comes handy."
As John Ezard reports in The Guardian, Bookshop lists its 25 writing stars.
Yes, Waterstone's has selected the 25 authors they expect to be future literary stars -- though quite a few have already achieved notable successes (among those we have under review: Jasper Fforde, Susanna Clarke, Marina Lewycka, and Robert Macfarlane).
Yesterday John Howells, the panel's chairman, said: "This is a list for the ordinary reader who goes into our shops, not for those who follow literary trends."
Though we're not really sure who these literary-trend-followers are.
See also the full list at The Independent.
Much discussed in the UK: the Department for Education and Skills' announcement that: "every maintained secondary school in England to choose 20 free books" from a list of some 160 of books that are meant to appeal to the lads.
See, for example, the BBC report that Scheme aims to get boys reading
At The Guardian weblog Nicholas Lezard doesn't think too highly of the scheme, arguing that Bad books won't get boys reading.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Iraqi author Mohammed Khudayyir's Portrait of a City, Basrayatha.
It's a 1996 portrait of Basra; maybe he'll update it once things settle down there again.
Interesting observations in Louis Menand's piece on American college education in The New Yorker, The Graduates:
fewer than four per cent of college graduates major in English, and only two per cent major in history.
There are more bachelorís degrees awarded every year in Parks, Recreation, Leisure, and Fitness Studies than in all foreign languages and literatures combined.
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which classifies institutions of higher education, no longer uses the concept "liberal arts" in making its distinctions.
This makes the obsession of some critics of American higher education with things like whether Shakespeare is being required of English majors beside the point.
The question isnít what the English majors arenít taking; the question is what everyone else isnít taking.
In The New York Sun David Blum looks at what he perceives to be the surprising lack of success of Joshua Ferris' Then we Came to the End in How Not To Write a Best Seller
-- though he admits:
It's hardly fair to label Then We Came to the End a failure.
The book's publisher, Little Brown, says it has shipped 50,000 copies.
It's in its fourth printing, and still selling well.
And he thinks:
its mid-range sales figures seem especially odd in light of the industry's recent hand-wringing over the elimination of book-review sections in newspapers, where Mr. Ferris's book did dominate.
Raising the interesting question:
I'll concede the point that book review sections don't deserve to be whacked.
But why doesn't discourse result in sales ?
If Mr. Ford is right, then shouldn't smart, alert readers have been lining up to buy the Ferris novel ?
Something doesn't compute.
We're not sure Blum chose the best example -- how many works of fiction have achieved such sales totals over the same period ? certainly not thousands, maybe not even hundreds -- but we would suggest one partial explanation: consumers use reviews to get information about whether or not a book may be of interest to them; a reviewer may love a book, but that may not be sufficient (or even factor in) to whether or not a consumer then wants to purchase/read the book.
For example, the reviews for Ferris' book didn't make the slightest impression on us; it's just not something that sounded like it was worth our while having a look at.
Similarly, some of the most-bought titles via the Amazon-links at this site are for books that we have panned -- i.e. where our bad review (which is from where users went to Amazon to then get the book) couldn't convince readers to avoid it.
I.e. the reviewer's opinion is only part of the value of a review.
But we're curious what the bookselling-webloggers have to say about Blum's point that:
Part of the problem may be that bookstores don't pay close enough attention to reviews.
And we do kind of like the suggestion:
What if bookstores created sections devoted to that week's best-reviewed books ?
Or posted positive reviews alongside the books themselves ?
That way, book reviews (even those that appeared only online) would be easily accessible to those most likely to buy books -- people already browsing in the bookstore.
Right now, bookstores place all their marketing muscle behind bestseller lists, meaning that prize positions get awarded to those who've already won the horse race.
Even movie theaters operate according to more democratic principles than that. Shouldn't good bookstore placement go to good books? Just a thought.
In a study far more than mere ivory-tower research, Eric J. Sundquist argues that English-language books -- original, in translation or as film scripts -- are largely responsible for "Americanizing" and universalizing the Holocaust in the world's consciousness.
Sundquist believes that the very act of translation has helped to transform the Holocaust from a specific Jewish tragedy into a more "Christianized," and therefore universal, experience.
This just came to our attention.
The literary connexion is only a small part of it, but Konrad Kellen, who passed away age 93 last month, seems worth a mention; see his obituary.
The literary connexion is that he was Thomas Mann's research assistant from 1939 to 1943, but he also went on to work with Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute (okay, certainly nothing to brag about ...) and then at RAND, where he did some pretty interesting stuff; see for example his accessible papers at the Rand site.
Signandsight offer a useful overview of "the most talked about books of the 2007 spring season" in Germany (both domestic and foreign books).
We'd like to see more of these sorts of round-ups -- from different countries.
The AP asked the US presidential candidates: "What is the last work of fiction you've read ?", and Ann Sanner writes up the results in Presidential candidates' fictional taste.
A lot of them sound pretty honest, admitting to reading Grisham or even -- in the case of Rudy Giuliani -- sinking so low as to a James Patterson, but Barack Obama actually claims to have read something a bit more serious, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.
Among the bizarre answers: Hillary Clinton named Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Either she never reads any fiction (which would be very disappointing) and thus couldn't come up with a fiction-title -- or she either can't tell fact from fiction (which would also be very disappointing) or has a strange opinion about what Ms. Goodwin wrought .....
We're not quite sure that anyone will be won over, but we certainly don't mind A.N.Wilson touting Robert Musil's great The Man Without Qualities in the Telegraph, in Reading the mind of pre-war Vienna.
Tout it he does:
How do I begin to describe this multifaceted and extraordinary book ?
The "action", if action does not seem too paradoxical a term for a book in which next to nothing happens, is played out in Viennese high society in 1913-14.
Musil's humour (and he is a very, very funny writer) is based upon restraint, on things not being mentioned or expressed; and the biggest thing of all which is never mentioned once in the book is the outbreak of the First World War.
Get your own copy of this mammoth work (or at least volume 1, in the case of the US edition) at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Every other time we consider an all-time top-ten -- or slightly more often if considering desert island reads -- we include this heavyweight tome, which we do love dearly -- but for a more approachable (and nicely complete) classic of the times, Broch's The Sleepwalkers remains our favourite (always in the top ten !).
The Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize is another UK prize bringing attention to literature in translation (and credit to the translators), and you certainly can't go wrong with the titles they've selected for their shortlist.
We have half the list under review (and hope to get to the Menasse -- which made the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize finals as well -- eventually):
This has gotten some mentions, but is worth another, as Lee Rourke wonders Who cares about Ann Quin ? at The Guardian weblog -- and it's good to see so many reactions to the post.
We have all of Quin's titles under review; see also our Ann Quin page.
We've mentioned Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate
several times, and the enthusiasm for it continues unabated: in the Wall Street Journal Joseph Epstein writes about it in Tolstoy's Heir, writing that: "Life and Fate is one of the great novels of the 20th century" and calling it: "A great book, a masterpiece".
Meanwhile, Victor Sonkin also writes about it in his Salon-column in The Moscow Times this week.
The sweeping scale, and the heaps of praise attracted our attention, but we have to admit that this is a book we've put aside (about 150 pages in).
It just didn't strike us as that accomplished.
Good parts, but he's juggling a lot of stories and none of it was outstanding enough to really hold our attention.
Not that it's bad, but the Tolstoy comparisons seem, at this time, a stretch.
But we'll probably go back to it eventually, and try to see what the fuss is about.
Meanwhile, see the New York Review Books publicity page, or get your own copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
In The Writing Life in The Washington Post Alberto Fuguet
-- who apparently usually writes in Spanish -- writes about writing in English.
A bit odd, but some interesting observations, including:
I love to see movies in English and read English-language books in, well, English.
I tried Philip Roth in Spanish, and no, it didn't work for me.
I also don't understand -- literally -- books that have been translated through another language into Spanish.
Orhan Pamuk en español is a bore who can't capture my imagination, but in English his adapted Turkish soars.
Same with Japanese. I can't read Murakami in Spanish.
The retranslated prose gives me the creeps.
Probably a more complex issue than he cares to consider here .....
Generally we're pretty good about announcing any lulls in activity at the site; last week we failed you miserably -- our apologies.
As a no-frills and no-budget site our set-up is hopelessly outdated and over-complicated (the weblog is not updated using Typepad or Blogger or anything like that, etc.)
-- and reliant on a single computer, which broke down last Sunday.
Because it seemed possible and plausible that things could be patched together within a 24-hour period we declined seeking out an alternative means of keeping things going -- an arduous procedure we hoped to avoid.
Unfortunately, the 24-hour window repeated itself for five days -- each time just short and plausible enough to give in yet again -- before it became clear that it would not be possible to (re)turn to our ancient machine
and methods in a reasonable time.
So now we've moved on -- which has turned out to be an even bigger and more time-consuming annoyance than expected.
But you don't have to care: we're back, and things should be running reasonably well before too long.
Don't expect too many new reviews in the coming weeks, though .....
IMPORTANT NOTE for those who tried to contact us via e-mail: the one blessing of the collapse of everything around us is that it made it too complicated and annoying to deal with our e-mail (we're talking really, really, annoying and complicated -- and not worth our while, given that less than 1% of the e-mail that makes it past our spam-filters qualifies as anything resembling actual mail): hence, if you sent us e-mail over the past week, chances are very high that we did not get it.
If you really had something to tell us -- we figure maybe three or four of you did, out of the several thousand e-mails that were lost -- please do re-send (and sorry for the inconvenience).
In Silence is golden at The Guardian weblog Robert McCrum wonders: "Why can't authors with one thing to say be happy just writing one novel ?"
Some of his examples are a bit odd (Lionel Shriver ? Sebastian Faulks ? what's that about ?) but the basic question is a valid one.
Indeed, we wish many, many more 'writers' would quit while there ahead.
Is the Forster strategy an option for these writers ?
Probably not. Unlike EMF, they don't have private means, and have families to support.
Anyway, writing is what they do.
You could as plausibly persuade a dog not to bark.
We still maintain that just because you've published a book (or more) doesn't necessarily make you a 'writer'.
Just like a professional athlete, there often comes a time when you have to get out of the game and open that car dealership (or whatever) -- but 'writers' seem to find that hard to do.
And, of course, lazy publishers are enablers, continuing to publish books by once-successful authors even if they're not very good, knowing the name-recognition is an easier sell than trying to push better books by unknown authors ....
VietNamNet Bridge continues to churn out articles about translation in Viet Nam -- as in now Young translators in the @ age.
Not particularly interesting, but it's good to see so much attention being paid to the subject.
Orhan Pamuk picked up his honorary doctorate from the Freie Universität Berlin on Friday, and they have most of the speeches -- in German -- (and some photographs) up at the official site.
Previous honorary doctors at the FU Berlin include Marcel Reich-Ranicki (2006) and Günter Grass und Kertész Imre (2005).
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Julija Šukys creative take on The Life and Work of Tahar Djaout in Silence is Death.
Djaout continues to get considerable attention -- and the University of Nebraska Press continues to bring out Algeria-related books.
No complaints here.
We don't really get Tom Wolfe's popularity (his writing style (and over-use of the exclamation mark !) drives us nuts), but he gets a dandy profile in the Financial Times courtesy of Trevor Butterworth.
We should ignore this stuff, but it's so ridiculous that it is kind of funny, as Wolfe -- a consistently silly man, with his own clown-suit and everything -- makes the argument that the American president has some qualities that most of us seem to have missed:
"Bush is portrayed as a moron. Iíve only conversed with him a couple of times -- not for very long -- but I found he was more literate on literature than the editor of the New York Review of Books, Bob Silvers.
Iíve talked to both of them, and he makes Bob Silvers look like a slug."
He laughs, possibly at the idea of New Yorkís literary-set frothing into their cappuccinos over the latest blow in a long but low-intensity conflict.
'Literate on literature', eh ?
Given Wolfe's dubious concept of what constitutes 'literature' he might be talking about something completely different than the rest of us, but still .....
We have some issues with the NYRB too, but as far as having anything to do with (or say about) literature Mr.Silvers in in such a different league than the junior Bush that it's absurd to even mention them in the same breath.
We have two novels by Ukrainian author Ljubko Deresch under review (Культ and Поклоніння ящірці), but given that his work hasn't been translated into English yet we don't expect much mention of the author in even obscurer English-language publications.
Imagine our surprise then to find him quoted in ... Business Week.
In Shedding Stereotypes in Eastern Ukraine Jack Ewing writes about the success of Bertelsmann's local book publishing operations, and Deresch is a Bertelsmann-author, but still, a good get:
"There are people who are deeply interested in literature, who read new texts, who make literature a part of their lifestyle," Deresch said over a cup of tea.
"The most persuasive reason to keep on writing is that you know there is a dialogue between your text and their inner lives."
In From the glass house in the Telegraph their: "chief fiction critic Lionel Shriver explains why, for a novelist, reviewing is a dangerous game".
Among the fun claims:
But the downside to full-time critics such as the august Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times is that they wield disproportionate power.
Reviewing is partly a matter of taste, and some writers will never have a chance with particular critics.
Moreover, if a writer has once alienated the affections of a heavy-hitting critic, subsequent publications don't have a prayer.
(The professional critic Jonathan Yardley -- a humourless man, I discovered too late -- despised my sixth novel.
After a brief email exchange that went off the rails, he dispensed with the artificial distinction between author and book and now unabashedly despises me.
If Yardley ever gets his mitts on one of my novels again, I am toast in the Washington Post.)
We're keeping our fingers crossed that Yardley responds.
(And what the hell was Shriver doing engaging in an e-mail exchange with him in the first place ?)
Why oh why can't it just be about the damn books ... ?
In Comic Legacy in The Moscow Times Vladimir Kozlov describes the efforts of Ilya Ilf's daughter to restore his (and partner Pertrov's) work "to the way he originally wrote them":
Over the last few years, Ilya Ilf's daughter has been giving Russians even more to laugh about. Alexandra Ilf has prepared new editions of Ilf and Petrov's two most famous novels, as well as many of their lesser-known works, by rediscovering passages that were cut out by editors -- sometimes for fear of offending Soviet censors.
The Competition Commission came down on this two years ago, and now the government has signed off: the net book agreement (i.e. traditional cozy price-fixing arrangement) for German-language books sold in Switzerland is history.
See Government closes chapter on book agreement at swissinfo, as well as the official government pronouncement on the matter, in French or German.
For a German reaction, see Jürgen Dunsch's Schweiz kippt Buchpreisbindung in the FAZ.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Leonardo Padura's Havana Blue.
The third book from the 'Havana Quartet' to appear in English, this is actually the first one (starting, appropriately enough, on New Years and covering winter in this seasonal series).
La république des livres alerts us to Swiss newspaper Le Temps' attempt to determine Les cinq romans suisses qu'il faut avoir lus dans sa vie ('the five Swiss novels you must read during your lifetime').
They asked fifty people, whose individual responses you can find at Le palmarés littéraire des Suisses.
The most-cited author (21 times) was ... Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz.
We can't recall ever seeing a Ramuz-book in an American bookstore .....
Among the five other top-cited authors Nicolas Bouvier is also far from a houshold word in the US.
Neither is Fritz Zorn, but Zorn is pretty-much a one-book man (Mars), while the others tend to have a considerably larger output.
(The other most-cited authors are a bit better known: Robert Walser, Blaise Cendrars, and Friedrich Dürrenmatt.)
Still, a fairly useful list to give some idea of what the Swiss think important Swiss literature is.
Everybody seems to have already weighed in on Motoko Rich's article in yesterday's issue of The New York Times, 'Are Book Reviewers Out of Print ?' (reluctantly linked to at that registration requiring site here), and we don't have much to add.
What we did find interesting is that Rich focusses on literary weblogs, even when talking about review-coverage, though there is a great deal of online review coverage at sites that aren't primarily weblogs.
(The one that gets a mention -- Curled up with a Good Book -- is in a publisher-quote.)
Many of these offer review-coverage on a scale far larger than any newspaper, and especially as far as genre-titles go seem to have already become the leading review-resources for interested readers.
Once again, the 'literary weblog'-form seems to attract media attention most easily.
Generally offering more than just reviews they may be easier to consider part of a larger, on-going literary dialogue (reviews tending to be boringly static).
Even hereabouts, this Literary Saloon tends to be more of an attention grabber than the rest of the complete review -- and publicists (especially when first approaching us) tend to want 'place' a book at the 'Literary Saloon'.
User-interest, however, suggests that a mere LS-mention won't have a very lasting effect -- in contrast to the review-section of the site, which is where far, far more traffic heads.
(The Literary Saloon still and consistently accounts for considerably less than 10% of all traffic to the site.)
Some -- indeed, most -- reviews don't get huge numbers of page-views, but over the long term even the small numbers add up.
And for some they really add up.
Our review of Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost has been up for almost exactly eight years, and despite being available for so long already it still racked up over 2000 page-views last month alone.
Over its lifetime so far it has easily topped 100,000 page-views (though that's still far behind the all-time most popular reviews) -- and we figure close to everyone (say 90% of the users) who accessed that page were looking exactly for what they found: a review and links to other reviews and information about this specific title.
This archival possibilities on the Internet -- the ability to collect and make permanently and easily accessible so many reviews -- is one of the obvious advantages websites have over the print media (and surprisingly few of the print media take advantage of it in their online presences, many making their archives hard (or expensive) to access).
Note also that in the NZZ am Sonntag Regula Freuler also looked at the whole phenomenon of literary coverage on the Internet, in Bücherwürmer online.
They've announced the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and The Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agualusa took it; see Boyd Tonkin's article.
See also Agualusa's official site, the Arcadia Books publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Nice to see some movement at the Amazons after the announcement: it stood at 1,325,617 in the US and about 33,000 in the UK when we checked shortly after the announcement, and by a couple of hours later was already up to 102,093 and 11,819 respectively.
Formerly one of the most significant international book fairs in Asia and the Middle East, the 20th Tehran Fairís self-stated main goal is Ďto make the latest quality books available to the educated and professional communities in the countryí.
But many of these people are regarded as political threats to the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
His efforts to separate them from the outside world are stretching the organisation of the 2-11 May fair to breaking point.
Blaming traffic congestion (!):
The plan is to separate Iranian publishers from international ones into two events at different ends of the city.
The current suggestion is to relocate the Iranian publishers to Mosala, a huge public prayer site north of the city.
The international publishers would stay at last yearís venue, Tehranís International Exhibition Centre.
"Separation of the book fair helps them to split the visitors and weakens the book fair.
Moreover, they will have more control over the books presented by domestic publishers, as the links between local and international publishers will be broken," he said.
"Most of the renowned Iranian publishers have cancelled their participation."
Which is presumably exactly what Ahmadinejad wants.