We received our copy of the 27 September issue of The New York Review of Books -- the 'Fall Books Issue' -- over the weekend, and what a joy that is.
106 pages of (more or less) book coverage !
Yes, they start numbering with the front cover, and an awful lot of space is given to advertising, but still .....
But we couldn't help but notice that the fiction coverage is ... limited.
Three titles -- one of which is a New York Review Books title (Sorokin's Ice), and another of which is ... the latest Harry Potter.
Meanwhile, four films are discussed (including a Harry Potter ...).
On the cover, eight reviews are mentioned -- presumably the highlights meant to tempt newsstand-buyers --; only one of these --
the Harry Potter film/novel review -- refers to any of the fiction reviews.
What gives ?
If it were just the NYRoB it might be disappointing but wouldn't be that striking, but consider the now James Wood-less New Republic.
The last fiction review we saw in its pages was five issues ago.
Since then we've had:
In the current issue: four reviews, with the review of two Loeb Classics volume of Hesiod about as close to fiction as it gets
The 27 August issue, which admirably reviews the recent complete Zbigniew Herbert collection, as well as ... Tina Brown's The Diana Chronicles, but no fiction
They can make room for coverage of ... The Diana Chronicles (well, yes, they call it: "a summer spellbinder for serious people" (which makes us glad that we don't qualify as 'serious people' ...)), but can't find a novel or story-collection that's worth reviewing ?
All of a sudden The New York Times Book Review -- which has actually been devoting a decent amount of space to fiction over the past couple of weeks (please, please, don't let it just be a seasonal aberration, snuck in while Sam Tanenhaus was on vacation or something of that sort ...) -- is starting to look good.
Looking at comparable (to the NYRoB and TNR) UK publications -- say the current London Review of Books or The Spectator -- and one sees that they don't seem to have any trouble finding fiction to review.
So what is going on ?
And what does it mean ?
We don't get it.
Non-fiction is, admittedly, unavoidable: even we can't entirely get around it, despite our best efforts -- but our current ratio is about 5:1, reviews of fiction to reviews of non, and even that feels like we're wasting too much time and space on non.
Yes, it may be easier to wrtite about non-fiction, but fiction is what matters.
Or don't these editors see that any longer ?
With all the talk about the decline of reviewing, this worrisome trend (and it does appear to be something of a trend -- or is it a cyclical shift ?) should also be noted.
So last week A.N.Wilson got the call that his novel, Winnie and Wolf, had been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Alas, all he has to show for it is a column, My 15 minutes of shortlisted fame.
Who told him ?
"Colman Getty, the PR firm that manages the Man Booker prize
PR firms 'managing' literary prizes.
Of course, it's long come to that -- they've been at this game for a while (and at least did a decent job with the official website this year) -- but why doesn't it surprise us that this is the sort of mess that results ?
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Christian Jungersen's The Exception.
It's decent enough, but we are beginning to get wary of all these 'international bestsellers' (The International Bestseller, the US edition has emblazoned on the front cover, as if there were no other ...).
In Two-tongued dragon in the Business Standard Rebecca Catching and Anurag Viswanath look at the difficulties Chinese authors have in making it abroad, focussing on several Chinese authors who have turned to writing in English, and specifically Guo Xiaolu, whose A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers has already done very well in the UK and is just out in the US (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; we particularly like that it is listed as the nr. 1 bestseller in the Amazon.com category Books > Reference > Dictionaries & Thesauruses > Foreign Language > Chinese ...).
Her approach ?:
Rather then trying to rid her language of any Chinglish-sounding phrases, she’s made Chinglish part of her style.
At first she went a bit too far:
"They said it was wonderful but they couldn’t publish it.
At the time, I thought I should make it difficult for Westerners to read my Chinese English, but then I realised that no one could follow because I deliberately inserted so many errors; each sentence was upside down.
My ambitions to play with the language were too grand and it killed the story."
But, as they point out:
But the fun truly begins when the book is translated into other languages.
Says Guo, "The Italian version just came out and they say it’s a cool, really funky translation and I said 'Are there any mistakes ?'
And they said 'No, almost no mistakes.'
I just laughed because the grammar and the structure is wrong in the English original.
My German translator is working on the novel and she says that there are loads of mistakes in the German version and I think it's wonderful."
You don't hear authors say that about translations too often .....
In Snubbed by Grass, saved by Mailer in The Telegraph
Andrew O'Hagan gives his side of the New York Public Library-event a couple of months ago where he interviewed both Günter Grass and Norman Mailer.
The fall line-up for the LIVE from the NYPL series is up, and it's nice to see a lot of international offerings.
Head-man Paul Holdengräber is getting involved in a lot of the conversations: he talks with Orhan Pamuk (19 September), Nádas Péter (9 November), and Umberto Eco (15 November) -- but the event that most tempts us is the conversation with Cees Nooteboom (whose Lost Paradise is due out in the US around then).
It's always good to see some Akutagawa Ryunosuke coverage -- we have several of his titles under review, and should be getting to the recent Penguin Classics and Archipelago collection fairly soon --
but we were hoping for a little more from David Peace, who just offers Last words in The Guardian.
Yes, Bókmenntahátíð -- the Reykjavík International Literary Festival -- runs 9 to 15 September, and though a pretty small and out-there affair it's noteworthy that they did get supposedly reclusive J.M.Coetzee to come and play along -- along with the likes of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Daniel Kehlmann, and a few others.
See also this preview.
So, a day after it made the Man Booker shortlist we've now added our review of Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist
It's our longest review in quite a while (ca. 2750 words) -- and there's a lot more we could have said: it's a book that lends itself to dissection (which is also why we'd really recommend it for high school English classes and creative writing courses -- with the caveat that teachers must have a firm hand: there are a lot of bad habits here that must look sorely tempting for would-be writers to imitate but should be avoided at all costs, i.e. it's more a negative example than a positive one).
Still, for a real take-down of the novel, check out Ann Marlowe's at National Review Online (which offers some interesting takes on Hamid himself, but confuses and conflates more of the novel and its author than seems fair).
There is undeniably some appeal to the novel, but it seems too flawed to us to truly be Man Booker-worthy (of course that can be said about quite a few previous (Man) Booker-winning titles, so ...).
VietNamNet Bridge reports that Writers build bridge connecting Indochina literature, as they write about the: "1st Indochina Writers’ Conference gathering writers from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam".
Among the events: a "Mekong Literary Prize will also be held to award great works of Indochina literature."
Writers will develop plans to train young writers, and especially translators.
It is because, said Chairman Huu Thinh, the most important tool to facilitate the exchange of literature, and consequently, culture, is translated works.
"Only by translating and reading each other’s works can we understand each other’s lives and feelings and find a way to satisfy each other’s demands and tastes," said Mr. Thinh.
Bohuslava Bradbrook's Handbook of Czech Prose Writing, 1940–2005 sounds like it might be useful -- or maybe not.
Steffen Silvis reviews it in The Prague Post and is, to say the least, not impressed, finding it A clumsy critique of Czech prose.
First he goes after the publisher:
The first thing to know about Sussex Academic Press is that it isn’t very academic.
The second is that it isn’t much of a press, either, though it is located in Sussex.
If anything, it’s a vanity enterprise for authors suffering from delusions of learnedness -- a diagnosis that certainly befits Bohuslava Bradbrook.
Indeed, he writes:
Her Handbook of Czech Prose Writing, 1940–2005 is a monument to arrogance and ignorance.
Rather than a work of scholarship, Bradbrook’s effort might be more profitably compared to the minutes from a ladies’ book club in Zlín.
It’s a treasury of pedestrian observations and middlebrow assertions, decorated with weak qualifiers and redundancies
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Carlos María Domínguez's The House of Paper.
Here is another instance of why we find the publishing business absolutely incomprehensible.
Despite having the same cover, the US and UK editions have different titles.
In the US it's sold as The House of Paper, while in the UK it's sold as The Paper House.
Does it matter ?
Not much, maybe -- but certainly anyone looking for information about the book on the Internet will be a bit confused.
And it's just plain silly.
Couldn't they agree on this ?
(Of course considerable blame lies with Domínguez's agent, for not putting his/her foot down and insisting on a uniform title, but then we suppose expecting anything from an agent is expecting too much.)
Strong online sales are fuelling speculation that the bookies' favourite for The Man Booker Prize for Fiction On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan could be beaten by an outsider.
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is the best performer amongst only a handful of books that have seen their sales increase since the longlist was published.
According to the online retailer Amazon.co.uk, Mister Pip has sold the most copies week-on-week after the initial surge after the announcement was made on August 6.
Oddly enough, when we checked the Amazon.co.uk
sales rank for Jones' novel it was only 2,513 -- while the McEwan was still a top-50 selling title .....
But the bookies are paying attention -- or have been getting some unusual action: when we checked William Hill had stopped taking bets on the Man Booker entirely, while Ladbrokes had suspended taking bets on Mister Pip (while still accepting bets on all the other titles).
(Updated - 14:30 GMT): Betting is on again at William Hill, with Mister Pip now at 5 to 1, and the title has been de-suspended at Ladbrokes (but the odds are still 10 to 1 -- so you know where you should place your money if you're backing this title to win ...).
Among the online publications with new material out: the fall issue of The Quarterly Conversation is now available, while Words without Borders promises 'Our Sonnets from the Portuguese' (i.e. a focus on Portuguese-language literature) -- though
they haven't gotten very far with it yet.
The Booksellerpoints us to a new literary prize, the biennial Desmond Elliott Prize, awarded for a first novel.
'The Prize for Sparkling New Fiction' is the tagline they're apparently going with for now -- we wonder how long that will last .....
It's worth £10,000, and we are amused by the contortions they're going through in trying to explain what they're hoping for: they want "a novel which is a page-turner but which makes you pause for thought", and "an intelligent book with broad appeal".
It'll be a few months before we find out how serious they are, as the first longlist is only due out next spring.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of A Novel of Uganda at War by Goretti Kyomuhendo, Waiting.
Good to see this getting published in the US (by the
Feminist Press at CUNY, who are doing a nice job of bringing fiction written by women from abroad to American readers), though it's disappointing that it (like many similar titles) hasn't gotten much review attention beyond the trades.
Still, we can't help but think that it would be nice if we were able to get our hands on some Ugandan fiction that didn't focus on the Amin-era.
Surely there must be some fiction about, say, the Museveni years (which should offer enough material, too).
(Actually, Kyomuhendo has published several novels in Uganda which don't sound like they're Amin-centred -- but as M.J.Daymond notes in her afterword: "unfortunately, because of the difficulties of book distribution in Africa, they are not readily available outside her country.")
Kyomuhendo has also long been associated with Femrite, who seem to be doing an admirable job on the Ugandan literary scene.
So the Sunday Times apparently have a correspondent in Guangzhou, and he and they apparently think he's stumbled onto a hot story, as Michael Sheridan writes that Hot plot beats great firewall of China.
He's found that Yan Lianke's Serve the People has apparently confounded Chinese censorship authorities:
However, a text of the story was placed on the internet and in the past few months it has been downloaded and circulated among thousands of readers.
The so-called "great firewall" of state cyber-policing has not stopped it.
Selections were obtained and translated for The Sunday Times last week.
Or maybe not: if this all sounds somewhat familiar it may be because this was news back in the spring of 2005, when even we mentioned the book had been banned -- and was available on the Internet .....
Okay, you might say, so maybe they're just a bit late with the story -- but they did go that extra mile, didn't they ?
"Selections were obtained and translated for The Sunday Times last week", after all -- that's a scoop, isn't it ?
Maybe not: it would have been easier just to buy a copy of the English translation at Amazon.co.uk -- except that Sheridan and his editors seem unaware that it's been out in the UK (and Australia) for a couple of weeks now; see also reviews in The Independent (scroll down) -- "A very funny, and sexy, satire, only slightly marred by the self-consciousness of the narrative and its frequent direct addresses to the reader." -- and the Sydney Morning Herald ("It's a wonderful satirical confection that maintains its comic tension to the very end."), just for example .....
We've topped 1900 reviews, and so it's time to update our look at How international are we ?, as we do after every 100 reviews.
No surprise: we remain as international as ever.
English was the top language books we reviewed were originally written in -- 27.5 out of the last 100 -- but we also reviewed books originally written in 17 other languages, including French (17.5), Spanish (11), and Arabic (8).
(See the complete (updated) list and rankings.)
And, of course, you can expect more of the same over the next 100, too.
Ed points us to Steve Wasserman's long article finding 'The decline of the coverage of books isn’t new, benign, or necessary' at the Columbia Journalism Review, Goodbye to All That.
Wasserman was editor of The Los Angeles Times Book Review from 1996 to 2005
, and has a lot to offer from his own experiences.
(Among much else of interest we're particularly struck by the fact that: "During the years I edited the Los Angeles Times Book Review, it lost about a million dollars annually."
We're not quite sure how they reckon that, but anything in that ballpark is staggering -- and we can't help but think what we'd be able to offer if we had that much money to blow annually .....
But we suspect the 'losses' are not as clear-cut as that: cut the book review completely and there'd surely be some lost profit (readers who abandon the paper) too ... wouldn't there ?)
We have all of Thomas Glavinic's books under review (only one of which has appeared in translation so far), and that now includes his newest, the German Book Prize-longlisted novel Das bin doch ich.
Good fun -- not least because of the prominent role his buddy Daniel Kehlmann (and the success of his mega-bestselling novel Measuring the World) play .....
As far as late-summer filler material goes, The Observer's look at 'How did we miss these ?' -- asking "50 celebrated writers to nominate"
what they consider "brilliant but underrated novels that deserve a second chance to shine" -- is among the more useful and entertaining exercises.
It's the to-be-expected variety, from the not very overlooked in the first place to the truly obscure; see all the selections in parts one and two.
We only have three of the titles under review: Any Human Heart by William Boyd, Labyrinths by Christopher Okigbo, and Pereira Declares by Antonio Tabucchi.
In the new issue of The New Criterion Joseph Epstein repeats an exercise from a quarter of a century ago, as he writes about The "literary life" at 25:
Twenty-five years ago, for the inaugural issue of The New Criterion, I wrote an essay describing what I thought was the literary situation of that day.
Here I am, twenty-five years later, writing an essay on the same subject, setting out to describe how things have changed between then and now.
One sort of admires the effort and (attempted) reach, but he seems to have over-extended himself.
Still, one could do worse as far as broadly sweeping overviews go -- and it is worth a few good chuckles, as in his foray onto the world stage:
Meanwhile, fiction, like much else, appears over the past twenty-five years to have gone global.
The only non-western writers that received attention in the United States twenty-five years ago were V.S.Naipaul, R.K.Narayan, and Yokio Mishima, with Salman Rushdie coming up fast on the outside.
Now lots of new Indian and Chinese and African novelists have come forth; the Japanese novelist Haruki Murikami is printed regularly in The New Yorker; the Afghan writer Khaled Hosseini is a bestseller in America. In Latin America, Roberto Bolaño is hailed as the new García Márquez.
With the exception of Bolaño, I have not read most of the fiction now being written by these writers, and I mention them here only to emphasize that globalization -- that buzz word and shibboleth -- has taken on a reality in literature over the past quarter century.
Leaving aside the question of what the hell kind of Japanese-transliteration-system they use down at The New Criterion (it's Yukio, not Yokio, and Murakami, not
Murikami) ... we don't remember 1982 too well, but can't recall Narayan or Mishima receiving particularly much attention at the time (no more than half a dozen other Indian and Japanese writers, certainly) -- and while it's true that: "lots of new Indian and Chinese and African novelists have come forth" since there were already a fair number around -- and being read and discussed -- at that time too.
True, in 1982, the 'global' focus was a different one: it was still the time of the Latin American boom, and there were dozens of Eastern European writers getting loads of attention, while now those two regions aren't nearly as well-represented in translation in the US, but the global reality surely was already (t)here back then.
With the movie-version of his novel Atonement due out shortly (see the official movie site) Ian McEwan is profiled at some length by John Mullan at the BBC, in Atoning for past sins.
A surprising amount of space is devoted to his ... punctiliousness, allowing for 'praise' of the sort Alex Clark offers (while managing to get in a good bashing of one of his books at the same time):
"His books come with great regularity and with consistency.
I think that Amsterdam was a terrible novel but, by and large, McEwan has amazing consistency.
That is something that publishers and booksellers prize above anything else."
At China.org Wu Jin writes that China Must Expand in Literary Markets.
Among the interesting facts: "China publishes 1,000 works of literary fiction every year".
Depending on what you consider 'literary fiction' that still is a pretty low number -- the US and UK probably each hit at least 10,000 that would qualify.
The problem for the promotion of Chinese literature lies in the communication between different languages, and western readers won’t read bad translations, according to Eady.
But Pan said translation is not a problem that can simply be solved by languages.
"Translation is not only a change of languages but also the change of culture and logic.
China is badly in need of professional literary translators who are expert in both Chinese and foreign cultures."
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review-overview of Vasily Grossman's classic Life and Fate.
We probably should work our way through it, but all those Tolstoy-comparisons are a lot for it to live up to, and, honestly, for the time being (i.e. in our current moods): if we're going to read yet another near-1000 page World War II novel there's got to be more to it than this.