Surprisingly, this is the first we've noticed this: at the Goethe Institut they offer a convenient page with a list of Selected Reviews, highlighting (and, where possible, linking to) American print reviews of recent translations of German titles (and they seem to do a good job of updating it).
Admittedly, they don't seem to catch all the reviews, but what is striking is how few there are.
2007 has been better, with some Robert Walser attention, as well as all the Peeling the Onion-coverage, but for 2006 they only have a total of 14 reviews (4 of those from Bookforum ...).
A lot of the sites promoting various national literatures do mention what new translations there are, as well as, sometimes, what reviews there are when they appear, but this idea -- a separate page devoted to tracking the reviews -- seems well worth imitating.
The 11 October issue of The New York Review of Books isn't available online yet, but among the interesting pieces is an exchange between Thomas Bernhard-author Gitta Honegger and Tim Parks, re. his piece on How To Read Elfriede Jelinek in the 19 July issue.
Honegger makes a case that in discussing Jelinek one can't ignore the dramas (though all the English-language coverage seems to).
She also points out that Jelinek's last novel published before she received the Nobel Prize was Die Kinder der Toten ('The Children of the Dead'), "widely acknowledged as Jelinek's magnum opus", which also keeps getting left out of (US and UK) discussions
of Jelinek (recall our complaint, way back when,
about Ruth Franklin's ridiculous (attempted) assessment of Jelinek in the 1 November 2004 issue of The New Republic)
It's news to us (and we can't find any other mention of it), so it's certainly worth noting: Honegger mentions that: "The American translation of the 666-page novel, to be published by Yale University Press, is currently in progress."
Ruth Franklin probably isn't looking forward to it, but surely this is a significant publishing event.
No YUP catalogue (or Amazon) listing yet, no word on who is entrusted with the translation, but certainly a book to stay on the lookout for.
(Unfortunately, the 11 October issue of The New York Review of Books again isn't very fiction-friendly: 12 reviews, of which two are devoted to works of fiction (and one to poetry) -- but at least this time they outnumber movie-discussions .....
And on the cover they mention seven of the reviews, but not a one of the fiction ones .....)
In The Telegraph John Sutherland 'delights in' The wit. lit. of Jasper Fforde.
The new Fforde, First Among Sequels, hasn't gotten that much review attention, but then again it hardly needs it.
But in case you need reminding: the whole pile of Fforde books (and we have them all under review) are all good and entertaining literary fun.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Paul Theroux's The Elephanta Suite, three novellas in which he takes on India.
Typical Theroux -- meaning also: well worth your while.
And probably a useful antidote to most of the books written by Indian authors you come across.
(Not that he's necessarily right -- it's also a blinkered perspective -- but if you're feeling in need of an antidote, this should do the trick.)
"I am more a sort of literary Frankenstein, creating formulas and growing my homunculi in a bell jar.
I composed Fandorin of portions of literary characters which I found attractive, and then added a bit of my own recipe."
At the end of the article there's a brief section on 'What Russia reads', with some statistics, of sorts -- including the not particularly relevant fact that: "sales of science fiction novels surged 30% in 2005 in Russia. Science fiction accounted for 8.7% of Russian book sales last year".
Meanwhile, perhaps they were able to throw more light on 'The Joys and Hazards of Working as a Writer in Russia Today' at a panel discussion they held at UNC yesterday; as Hilary White reports in The Daily Tar HeelRussian authors read from personal works.
The four authors are Dmitriy Golynko, Lev Oborin, Andrei Rodionov, and Andrei Sen-Senkov -- and they're moving on to UNC-Greensboro today; see the press release Words as a Cultural Bridge: Russian Writers Read Sept. 19.
As far as historical fiction goes, it's not just a Russian phenomenon: recall also Andrew Hussey's recent article in the New Statesman, Don't look back !, 'on the tales of medieval Moors preoccupying Spanish readers'.
Quite a bit of press coverage in the UK on yet another fictional character being sold out, as the Paddington-the-(marmalade-eating-)bear copyright-holders have pimped him out to flog Marmite.
What makes this is a bit different from your usual artist's-heirs (ab)use of copyright is that Paddington's creator is still alive (but there's a 'Paddington and Company' that holds the copyright).
At the official site they explain Paddington Stars in a New Series of Marmite Ads:
Paddington, of course, would never give up marmalade but he's always keen to test something new and so that is why he agreed to be filmed for a series of advertisements which are now being shown on television in the UK.
The Marmite folk are, if nothing else, creative -- one report on this (where you can also click through to the ad) notes:
In February, in time for St Patrick's Day, Marmite tied up with Diageo to produce a limited edition Guinness-flavoured Marmite spread, with 300,000 jars hitting supermarket shelves.
(See also the BBC's ad breakdown of the Paddington ad.)
Anyway, everyone seems to have learned the hard way that it can be dangerous to play with (and sell out) even a fictional reputation.
Author Bond, in particular. has tried to distance himself from this mess, writing in a letter (in response to the article What next, Rupert Bear in Burberry check trousers ?) that it's an "ill-founded rumour" that he was responsible for some of the ad copy (something widely reported in the articles on the ad), while Ben Hoyle writes that: "Michael Bond was not consulted about the advert" in Please look after my bear, thank you in The Times.
It's there also that Paddington and Company managing director (and Bond-daughter) Karen Jankel is quoted as saying:
From my fatherís point of view, heís the creator and wrote the books.
The Copyrights Group are doing their job, looking to do what they think is best from the commercial point of view.
I think Paddington is so strong that he will rise above all of this.
I have been published in many countries in Europe, but I have never filled out a questionnaire.
This is not to criticize my U.S. publisher or to ridicule the questionnaire.
It's just a reminder that things are done slightly differently here.
There's a certain marketing-logic to the questionnaire idea -- indeed, arguably the marketing folk are just being especially thorough.
But given the difficulties he has with it, one has to wonder how useful it will prove to be.
We are looking forward to The Jewish Messiah
(pre-order at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk); we have several of his works under review, both under this name (e.g. Phantom Pain) as well as Marek van der Jagt (e.g. The Story of My Baldness).
Note that Grunberg also has his own author site (with blog) -- though it's way too fancy for us to come to grips with.
For the good of culture and the survival of literature we need to refocus and celebrate what's between the covers and immerse ourselves in the richness on the page
But in this personality-focussed age that's a lot to ask: author-interviews seem almost as popular as actual book reviews nowadays.
And authors are expected -- or required -- to tour and push their books in public appearances, putting personality at the fore.
All this may be of some (entertainment and informational) value, but by and large it seems to us to detract and distract from the texts themselves (as well as wasting authors' time that surely could be put to much better and more productive use).
Too bad they can't organise themselves and just go on strike, refusing to make any public statements and appearances, allowing the books to stand (or fall) by themselves.
It'll never happen, but we can dream, can't we ... ?
Hard to ignore, however the (what seems to us) gratuitous swipe at literary weblogs:
If we dislike a book and express our displeasure by personally attacking the author (a common practice on many literary blogs, though not something actually stooped to in Lewis' review), we lower the level of discourse.
If we reinforce the idea that there is a correct and incorrect way for an author to act, if we refuse to acknowledge art because we disapprove of the way the artist behaves, the loss will be immense, and it will be our own.
A common practice ?
Are we reading all the wrong literary weblogs ?
(And we thought we were reading all the literary weblogs .....)
What author-attacks we've come across more often than not seem to have more to do with author-behaviour than their books, which seems to us entirely in-bounds.
Interestingly, he fails to cite as an example an obvious one where the lines got very blurred -- for a lot of print critics: Günter Grass' Peeling the Onion.
Last week we mentioned the dearth of fiction coverage in The New York Review of Books and The New Republic.
Yesterday we received the new issue of The New Republic -- 'The Environmental Issue' -- and found yet again: three in-depth reviews, none of which covered any fiction titles.
What the hell is going on there ?
(The reviews are of a volume the correspondence of Tadeusz Borowski, Ryszard Kapuscinski's Travels with Herodotus (yes, yes, you could call that ... a stretch of the imagination close to fiction), and a bunch of Jamestown-related titles (all of which, we also note, also has precious little to do with anything environmental
If this is what the loss of James Wood means for them -- Leon Wieseltier going non-fiction ga-ga -- then his bolting for The New Yorker comes at a higher cost than we ever imagined.
(Today too we received our renewal notice for our TNR subscription, and
while we have a few more weeks to mull that over we're considerably more iffy about pulling out the checkbook if this is the way it's going to be.)
But either James Wood hasn't gotten to The New Yorker yet or they've gone off the deep end too: this week's issue -- 'The Style Issue' (and yes, we swear if we get another theme-issue in our mailbox this week we will just rip it in half unread) -- weighs in at a healthy 190 pages, but while The New Republic managed to at least pack some book coverage into their (by comparison) flimsy 56-page issue, all The New Yorker can offer this week as far as book-coverage goes is a very flimsy 'Briefly Noted' page (two columns, the third taken over by advertising, only four books 'discussed').
Amazingly enough, it is once again The New York Times Book Review that keeps us from despairing completely: the 16 September issue still doesn't do much for foreign literature (some things apparently never change), but at least covers a fair amount of fiction titles.
(Yes, we have other issues too, but we have to start off by being happy with what we get .....)
In Serious Criticism The Reading Experience tackles some of these issues (and others we've raised in the past week), and suggests:
This is why I still hold out hope that blogs, or whatever subsequent online forms they might morph into, can serve as sites offering "serious criticism" of literature, both canonical and contemporary (but maybe especially the latter).
Print may or may not be the more adequate medium for the kind of long and thoughtful meditation Wasserman and Wieseltier obviously prefer, but since newspapers are only offering less and less space for such efforts, and since print magazines and journals seem to favor the meandering "think pieces" over focused literary analysis, those of us who would simply like to see both contemporary literature and literary criticism continue to flourish don't really have the luxury of waiting for print editors to see the light or for would-be literary critics to quit noodling around.
If blogs are attracting people, both writers and readers, who are enthusiastically engaged in discussions of literature, then I can't see any reason why the literary weblog or the online literary journal (or both together) can't be credible forums for "serious criticism."
With magazines and newspapers abdicating their role regarding fiction-coverage we're beginning to think the day may come sooner rather than later: there seems to be an increasing amount of 'serious criticism' -- and at the very least there's already more general discussion.
It's regrettable (and inexplicable to us) that the print media aren't holding their own, but at least there are alternative outlets willing (if not always entirely able) to take up some of the slack.
Prix-Litteraires.net -- your one-stop French literary prize information site -- have usefully tabulated the first round of the four major literary prizes, the Goncourt, Renaudot, Médicis, and Femina.
Four authors made three of the four lists, but only one was selected across the board: Alabama Song by Gilles Leroy (see the Mercure de France publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.fr).
We're not too sure about it -- a Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald story ? please ! -- but, alas, there's little information floating about.
Will it be the breakout hit of the season ?
The Amazon.fr sales rank suggests it hasn't taken hold yet, but a couple of prize wins would certainly boost sales.
Yesterday they had a day where Editor's Exchange Gathers French and German Publishing Elite in New York City, and I was able to attend one of the panels, 'Promoting Literature in Translation Online'.
(I would have enjoyed attending the rest of the events, especially 'Hot off the Press: Editors Buzz and Resources for Translations', but my god, who has the time ?)
They got together an impressive group, representing some of the most informative sites presenting, in one form or another, international literature online:
(They weren't represented on the panel, but the German Book Office is similarly active.)
While familiar with the sites, it was interesting to hear what they were doing and what they had planned, especially as several of the sites are in the process of being overhauled (or, in the case of Words without Borders, recently were).
There is a good deal -- and variety -- of information available among them, even as they have different, sometimes overlapping objectives.
Speaking for Dalkey, Martin Riker noted the difficulty of serving both a public non-profit objective (i.e. largely informational) as well as being on some level a commercial publisher (i.e. selling books) -- albeit with non-profit status -- an issue Open Letters will eventually also face.
The French organizations are there to try to promote specifically French titles, while In Translation, Ww/oB, and, to some extent, PEN
are trying to promote foreign literature and translators.
A common complaint was that of trying to reach an audience, including organizing what material was available so it would be readily accessible to those who are interested.
RSS feeds were seen as essential -- so Internet users would be made aware of any new content -- though as someone who finds very limited use for RSS feeds (and worries that it becomes too easy to rely on them, which prevents you from looking around further) I don't think they're quite that valuable (though every site obviously should have an RSS feed).
I always think the emphasis should be on actual content .....
While I appreciate that the complete review and its Literary Saloon are held in some regard, I found it somewhat disconcerting to be considered near the forefront of what's being done on the Internet re. international literary coverage.
Lazy, with no resources and far too little time (otherwise I could attend all those other panels ...) I cobble together what I find of interest, when and as I can.
The complete review should be a second- or third-tier information site; it's a sad sign of the times and the field that you can get your information here first.
The French (and Germans) do a decent job of presenting their literature abroad, and pushing it for translation, but, for example, in the middle of the French rentrée I'm desperate for information about the hot titles of the season and I can't find any of it at any of the official sites.
As mentioned above, Alabama Song by Gilles Leroy is four for four for the longlists for the French literary prizes.
It even has an American subject matter, but I'll be damned if I can find any information about it at the French Book News and French Publishers' Agency sites.
I shouldn't be the one bringing you this news -- they should.
Especially since they would be able to provide you with additional information which I don't have ready access to.
Alabama Song really did come out of nowhere, but what about the other big titles of the season ?
Do I really have to be the one to collect the Yasmina Reza coverage ?
(One of the things that continues to shock me is how often I still come across books of obvious interest that no one has made me aware of and that I haven't read about anywhere.
And I root far and wide and very deep -- what about the people who don't have the time or energy to do the same ?)
One of the real pains about posting about untranslated works is that it takes a lot more work to find information about them (and their authors, etc.).
But, annoyingly (to me), I now feel more obligated than ever to tackle them -- especially from languages which aren't as well (or mediocrely) covered elsewhere .....
We'll see how that goes.
But don't expect too much !
(And you have to appreciate the Hungarian Cultural Center site, which actually has a section on restaurants & bars, currently featuring 'The Great Schnitzel Chase' - A complete guide to wiener schnitzels in New York.
(Though you'd figure they would call 'em bécsi szelet from the get-go .....))
David Albahari's Pijavice ('Leeches') has now come out in German translation, and at the NZZ Andreas Breitenstein gushes over this 'epochal masterpiece' by this 'Kafka for our times', calling it his best yet.
Given that they're not that given to gushing at the NZZ we take note -- though the fact that it's Albahari is enough to make us take note.
Living in Canada, the Serb-writing author has been translated fairly regularly into English -- and most recently Götz and Meyer did attract a decent amount of attention.
Still, it's disappointing that Albahari hasn't joined the ranks of those foreign authors whose work is more or less immediately translated; he certainly is one whose work should be.
Not much English-language information about the book available yet (and no word whether/when it will be available in translation), but see, for example, a Croatian interview with the author at the Feral Tribune.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader.
For a good read you can hardly go wrong with Bennett, and this novella -- starring Queen Elizabeth -- doesn't disappoint.
It should be a (deservedly) popular stocking-stuffer this year.
The obligatory let's-keep-up-the-interest-in-the-Man-Booker article of the week is judge Giles Foden writing 'on the tussles that produced this year's shortlist' in The Guardian, in What happened to the big guns ?
At least it offers a few crumbs -- including naming a couple of titles that were in the running but didn't make the longlist (recall that the ridiculous Man Booker rules limit the number of books that can even be considered).
Among them: Foden writes that the "brightest show of future talent was by Tom McCarthy" (for Men in Space -- which still leaves open whether the very deserving Remainder was one of the titles the judges were allowed to consider last time around ...).
Among the observations of interest:
My personal view of Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year is that it's a piece of radical literary theory offered as a (no doubt well-deserved) subversion of the whole commercial and promotional mechanism whereby books are distributed.
But theory is not fiction.
(We still haven't gotten a copy -- the link is to our review-overview -- but don't know that that's enough to disqualify it from serious consideration.
But at least Foden points out that Lloyd Jones isn't some unknown quantity, but rather a well-established author with quite a reputation (if you look in the right places -- i.e. there where they've actually published his books):
Publishers Weekly's estimation of Mister Pip as "promising" (a judgment repeated on Amazon's US site) is a journalistic solecism.
The impression has been given that Jones is some kind of Frodo-like hobbit, just emerged wide-eyed out of a New Zealand mountainside.
The author of nine previous books, Jones is as much of a name in Australasia as McEwan is here.
He is also known internationally.
By the time it reached the Booker judges, Mister Pip had already won the Commonwealth Writers' prize for overall best book.
It had been sold to publishers all over the world for large advances.
At longlisting, it was noted (alongside McEwan's On Chesil Beach) by DJ Taylor in this newspaper as a potential winner.
And it had strong online sales before longlisting.
The NEA has announced that National Endowment for the Arts Embarks on Another Round of International Literary Exchanges, with the featured countries this time being Mexico, Northern Ireland, and Pakistan.
The presses that will publish titles representing these countries are Dalkey Archive Press, Eastern Washington University Press, and Wake Forest University Press; unfortunately all the titles are anthololgies -- maybe more useful as general introductions or overviews, but still .....
Details of the awards can be found here -- and we can't help but note that $75,000 to support the publication of "2,000 paperback copies of the anthology that features poems by 40 Pakistani poets" is ... a hell of a lot of money: yes, that works out to $37.50 per paperback (!)
, and since they presumably aren't going to be giving these things away (at least not all of them) there's more money in it for the publisher afterwards, too.
Not that it isn't a good cause and all, but it still strikes us as ... maybe not the best bang for the taxpayer-bucks.
(We're all for your taxpayer dollars going to bring foreign literature to American audiences -- really, there aren't many better uses for it we can think of -- but when you're subsidising each individual paperback to the tune of nearly $40.00 ... well, maybe that money could be more effectively spent.)
(Note that the other two subsidies aren't nearly as generous on a per-volume basis.)
I managed to catch one of the National Book Critics Circle events that is part of their (our ? -- I am an NBCC member) symposium, The Age of Infinite Margins: Book Critics Face the 21st Century.
The well-attended panel 'Grub Street 2.0: The Future of Book Coverage' featured book review editors Erica Wagner (The Times (UK)), Jennifer Szalai (Harper's), Dwight Garner (The NY Times Book Review -- though he's also the NYTBR's Mr.Paper Cuts), former books editor at The LA Times Steve Wasserman (whose recent Columbia Journalism Review-article, Goodbye to All That, is a currently much-discussed state-of-the-book-review piece), as well as producers Melissa Egan (The Leonard Lopate Show) and Emily Lazar (The Colbert Report), with the tireless NBCC president John Freeman moderating.
The NBCC's own Critical Mass, as well as some of the other bloggers in attendance will, no doubt, offer more thorough run-downs; I'd just like to offer a few observations regarding some of the points that were raised.
The first is something that always semi-astounds me, for a number of reasons, which is how many books these people are sent.
Emily Lazar reported getting some 60 books a day, Melissa Egan 40 to 60.
The print-editors didn't happen to mention their numbers, but presumably -- especially at the NYTBR -- they're at the same levels.
I understand that the gamble, as it were, is worthwhile for publishers -- one appearance on the Colbert show must be worth a ton of sales -- and I know that there are literary weblogs that also rake the review copies in on similar scales, but it never fails to astound me.
I got three review copies today -- all requested -- and for the year I've gotten, on behalf of the complete review, a total of 258 so far.
I.e. about what Lazar and Egan each take in in a week.
What I think is interesting is that despite the much greater variety at their disposal (skewed somewhat, I admit, by the fact that I also buy books on the side -- more today than I got review copies, for example) the books they review
or otherwise cover seem to fall in a relatively narrow spectrum: even throwing in Freeman as a joker (he seems to publish everywhere), as best as I can tell five of the last ten titles reviewed at the complete review have not been reviewed in any of the outlets any of these good folk are or have been associated with.
And though most of the
titles covered at the complete review are generally covered by at least some print-media outlets beyond the trades, it's still astonishing how little coverage there is of many worthy titles (especially fiction).
What was also interesting in the discussion was a general wariness about online book-coverage: while admitting to looking at literary weblogs, it was apparently mainly for literary news rather than critical coverage.
The possibility of looking at all the major newspaper book sections online was noted -- but oddly no one thought that dedicated book-sites might offer something else: the fact that the big newspaper (and magazine) book sections tend to have an awful lot of overlap in what titles they cover was not raised -- and the fact that the reach of the online sites is, if nothing else, much deeper seems to have gone unnoticed by all.
(I found it interesting that, in particular, literary editors turned such a blind eye to online-reviews: as has been noted here often, public interest hereabouts is heavily weighted towards our book coverage, and not the Literary Saloon; for several months now the most popular review-page (admittedly due largely to search-engine-results placement) -- one single review, out of more than 1900 now -- has attracted more users every single day than the Literary Saloon-weblog, and total traffic to the site remains review-heavy, with the Literary Saloon accounting for well under ten per cent of total local traffic.
I.e. the general readers -- unlike, apparently the literary editors -- are more interested in the reviews than in what 'literary news' we offer.)
The wariness was sometimes plain silly: Steve Wasserman lamented the good old days when you could tell you were dealing with a crank from the appearance of the letters and even the envelopes from the disgruntled readers, and he actually said that one of the things that disturbed him about the Internet is how presentation no longer separates the cranks from the serious: anyone can make a clean-looking web-page, with justified margins and everything.
Maybe Mr.Wasserman had too many dealings with cranks at The LA Times, but this seems remarkably shallow: surely appearance should count for relatively little, content for practically all -- and surely it is relatively simple to determine who is a crank from reading the first few lines of any piece.
(But for what it's worth: when we receive e-mail from the true cranks it's amazing how often it still manages to be remarkably messy-looking .....)
The tone of weblogs was also mentioned: the term 'snarky' wasn't used but that seemed to be the general complaint, and Freeman wondered whether it wasn't the disgruntled voices of those that were perhaps rejected by the print powers that be that set the tone in the weblog-discussion, an anti-establishment reaction to being left out, leading to this lashing out.
There's undeniably some animosity and a sharpness to some weblogs, but it's far from universal; more to the point, a lot of those same voices have also 'crossed over' -- i.e. been published in traditional book review sections.
And again, it seems to me unfortunate that the focus is so much on the literary weblogs, rather than the often separate book coverage: Freeman suggested that, unlike someone writing a novel or poetry and finding satisfaction in creating something like that, even if it was never published, no one writes book reviews just for their own pleasure and satisfaction, but I don't think that's correct: there are an enormous amount of readers' diaries out there, or sites where readers just seem to want to sum up (and/or share) their thoughts on their reading, whether as semi-formal 'book-reviews' or looser notes
Here as elsewhere, the level of criticism is often surprisingly high: yes, there's the issue of a lack of editors and guidance (which was also discussed), especially for younger writers, but again there seems to me much more variety (and much higher quality) than the panelists seemed to be aware of.
One interesting topic was the various add-ons that especially the literary sections are trying out: weblogs and podcasts and online-extras.
I think Wasserman was right in his concern that most of this is 'junk food', a sort of embellishment that shifts the focus away from what should be the point (the book itself) -- but I'm wary of judging, since I have little patience for author interviews and profiles even in written form (and none whatsoever in audio or video format ...).
A fairly interesting panel, if a bit far-flung (and no time for any Q & A).
(Updated - 16 September): See now additional, more detailed coverage by Richard Grayson.
More French prize longlists, as the Prix Médicis and Prix Renaudot announce theirs; as always Prix-Litteraires.net is the best place to keep track.
As was the case with the Goncourt (see our previous mention), Nothomb and Salvayre are in the running for the Renaudot -- as is Chamboula by Paul Fournel.
And Reza's L'aube le soir ou la nuit
(see our previous mention)
at least gets considered for the Renaudot essay-category.
Several titles are still vying to be this season's stand-out: three have scored at least a first-round trifecta, making the first round of the Goncourt, Renaudot, and Médicis: A l'abri de rien by Olivier Adam, Alabama Song by G.Leroy, and La chaussure sur le toit by Vincent Delecroix.
We mentioned the insane French literary dust-up of the season, between Camille Laurens and Marie Darrieussecq, some two weeks ago, and it's still going strong (just check the French newspapers, who can't seem to get enough of it).
Now some English-language coverage is in, as Elisabeth Ladenson considers it in the current London Review of Books -- noting that the phenomenon of 'autofiction' is at the root of it all.
A reminder to all NY-based literary journalists: P.O.L.-publisher Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens -- who publishes (or published) both authors -- will be in town at the beginning of next week, so here's your chance to get more background on a hell of a story.
In the Sydney Morning Herald Sherman Young argues everyone should Leave the antibooks on the shelf.
He's talking about some of the crap publishers put out which isn't even meant to be read, but which sells:
In 2006, Spotless, a collection of house-cleaning hints, sold 238,000 copies and the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Book sold 150,000.
These antibooks are not meant to be read all the way through, nor will they make any lasting contribution to book culture.
But they sell.
Antibooks may have the same physical form as books, but they don't contribute to book culture, a culture centred on ideas and a long, thoughtful conversation about life, love, politics, philosophy and what it means to be human.
Book culture demands a commitment of time from authors, publishers and readers; a commitment measured not in minutes and hours, but in longer intervals like months or years.
Antibooks make no such demands.
And he offers some truly shocking statistics:
The state of the novel is one yardstick by which the health of book culture can be measured.
In Australia in 2004, 32 Australian novels were published by mainstream publishers, down from 60 in 1996.
This is mirrored in our spending on Australian fiction, which dropped from $125 million in 2001-02 to $73 million in 2003-04.
Yes, independents are also publishing fiction, so more than 32 novels were published in all -- but still: all those complaints about too many titles being published certainly don't seem to apply down under.
And he reminds us:
But the smaller independents are not immune to financial reality.
In recent years, many have disappeared.
The ones that do survive are often supported by subsidy.
Giramondo, for instance, the publisher of both Castro and Wright, gets much support from the University of Western Sydney.
So the imitation-Man Booker German Book Prize has announced their six-book shortlist -- and we're pleased to see that Thomas Glavinic's agreeable Das bin doch ich (which takes a few swipes at the first two German Book Prizes ...) made the cut.
(We should probably get to the Mosebach title too before they announce the winner next month.)
We also like their detailed explanation:
Radio stations Deutschlandfunk and Deutschlandradio Kultur will broadcast the prize presentation live as part of documentary and debate programmes on LW 153 and 177 kHz and on MW 990 and 855 kHz, as well as on digital satellite radio DVB-S, Bouquet ZDF.vision and on livestream on the internet at www.dradio.de.
The Education Ministry Inspectorate report said le bac L was threatened with extinction after the proportion of pupils taking it fell from 50 per cent in 1968 to 18.6 per cent in 2007.
This year 49.6 per cent of pupils took le bac S and 31.8 per cent le bac ES, which has been growing over the past 15 years.
What does that mean ?
"Behind the decline of these studies lies another menace ... the disappearance of an essential swath of our tradition and culture."
Though, of course, one can't forget:
There is also resentment that intellectual literati are losing their privileged status in a Gallic society that they say is being corrupted by television, the internet and globalisation.
We recently reviewed Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read and noted that the French experience differs from the American one: in a bookish culture, where the touchstones are familiar to all, 'not reading' -- in the way Bayard means it -- is both possible and even, as he suggests, valuable
-- but it doesn't seem nearly as profitable (or plausible) to us in a culture that broadly lacks ... culture (or at least lacks book culture) such as (sorry, but you know it's true) the US.
But these findings suggest reading (and Bayard's type of not-reading) are on the way out in France too.
We only now stumbled across this: David Vaughan looks at Tom Stoppard's Rock 'N' Roll: a translator's perspective, as he interviews Jitka Sloupova, who translated Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll -- a play very much focussed on Czechoslovak history from the 1968 through 1990 -- for the Czech production.
Apparently Stoppard isn't exactly what they're used to:
The play has just been premiered here in Prague. The production has had mixed reviews, with some critics being very enthusiastic and others saying that it doesn't translate to a Czech context. How do you feel about the criticism of the Czech production ?
"We are not much used to dealing with these themes on stage, so the state of Czech playwriting is quite different from what Tom Stoppard brings on stage.
Yes, it's interesting, the fact that there has been very little Czech drama written about that period, which is in itself very dramatic.
Tom Stoppard's play is an example of someone writing something from a distance, and perhaps seeing things more in order.
The people who lived here are too much involved emotionally perhaps, or they know far more facts.
I think it could be that they still can't sort out what was important.
On the other hand, even the style of Czech playwriting is very different from Tom Stoppard's, as Stoppard is a very original writer."
This week's issue of The New Yorker came with a pull-out programme-guide for The New Yorker Festival, which runs 5 to 7 October.
There are some events that tempt -- 'Salman Rushdie and Orhan Pamuk on Homeland', 'Norman Mailer and Martin Amis on Monsters', 'Samantha Power: Darfur -- Activism Without Action' -- but we find it hard to get too excited, and probably won't make too much of an effort to try to get into any of them.
More or less our reservations are similar to those expressed by Rose Jacobs in The Village Voice:
The theme issues bring in the advertisers, and the festival draws a large audience, but this disguises a fundamental problem: An editorial vision -- or event-planning vision -- that is self-satisfied, that fails to seek out new voices and new ideas, does its fans and its subjects a disservice.
Yes, after Suite Française they've dug another book out of Irène Némirovsky's suitcase (well, two pages from it, but they eventually found the rest of the manuscript elsewhere) -- and there's actually still a story-collection to go.
So later this month we can look forward to -- and we are looking forward to -- the publication of Fire in the Blood in English translation (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
In the Sunday Times Helena Frith Powell previews things, in Fire in her blood -- though she does go a bit overboard:
The final work from Némirovskyís suitcase is a collection of short stories; these will be published, according to Epstein, though not in the immediate future.
It will mark the end of an unrivalled posthumous career for a woman who is surely one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
Recall that long before the posthumous discoveries Némirovsky had been widely published -- including in English translation, more than seventy years ago ! -- and then fallen more or less into oblivion.
Her work is good, and worthy of re-discovery (and discovery), but does it belong right near the top of the 20th century pile ?
As also noted at Three Percent, they've announced the first round of the first of the big French literary prizes, the fifteen books that made the longest of the Prix Goncourt shortlists (there are two more culls to go before they get to the winner).
As always, the (slightly new-look) Prix-Litteraires: Le blog, as well as the site to go with it, Prix-Litteraires.net, will keep you up to date on all the French literary prize news (and there's a lot of it coming your way through November or so).
The big Goncourt loser is Yasmina Reza's Sarkozy-book, L'aube le soir ou la nuit
(see our previous mention), which didn't make the cut, much to a lot of people's surprise.
Among the authors who did make the cut we have (other) books by four under review: Philippe Claudel, Marie Darrieussecq, Amélie Nothomb, and Lydie Salvayre
We have a soft spot for Nothomb, but we haven't seen this volume yet -- though it is getting good reviews and considered a serious contender (at least in comparison to her usual offerings), but we also like the looks of (or at least what we've heard of) Salvayre's Portrait de l'écrivain en animal; see, for example, the review in Le Temps.
Indeed, I can't think of a major writer who has been so poorly served by translation.
He's probably right: Verne in English (and, by the way, a lot of other languages) has been butchered beyond belief (publishers: gotta love 'em).
So this is what I propose: let's agitate for a mass-translation of the whole of Verne into English, perhaps for e-publication -- to make his whole body of work available to English speakers as it actually is.
The National Book Critics Circle is holding a symposium in New York later this week, The Age of Infinite Margins: Book Critics Face the 21st Century.
O.k., that title is a bit ... grandiose, but they've assembled some interesting-sounding panels, and we hope to cover at least one or another of them.
Check out the site for all the details (and Critical Mass will no doubt have run-downs of anything you miss), but the essentials are:
Literary Magazines Go Electronic: Now Whereís the Print Edition in the Library ? - 13 September, 19:00
Grub Street 2.0: The Future of Book Coverage - 14 September, 16:30
What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: Can Criticism and Promotion Coexist Today ? - 14 September, 17:45
Why Book Reviews Matter: How We Decide What to Read (Next) - 16 September, 13:00
So we got this e-mail yesterday, informing us that they were going to announce that a well-known author was going to receive a very big wad of cash on Wednesday.
They told us who, and how much, and what the award was.
And they also told us: "The following information is embargoed until 12:01am, Wednesday, September 12,, 2007."
We did not request this information, nor did we ever -- implicitly or explicitly -- agree not to reveal this information.
Why the hell shouldn't we shout it from the rooftops -- or at least announce it here ?
(This is, after all, where they appear to hope we'll announce it -- just after 12:01 AM tonight.)
How did we get on this hitlist ?
The e-mail-writer notes: "I know you have written about and reviewed work by" the author in question -- which came as a surprise to us.
A Google-search does reveal that we've mentioned the award-winner, but to say we've written about -- much less reviewed -- any of the author's
works is a stretch.
(The author seems to have done some admirable things, but let's just say the works have never tempted us.)
Anyway: good for the author, for being so honoured, good for the awards-folk, for their largesse.
But as far as 'embargoes' go -- leave us out of them.
Look, people, you can't unilaterally declare an embargo.
If you're a publisher you can embargo a book by forcing booksellers to sign an agreement that they will only receive the book if they agree not to sell it before a specified date.
If you want reviewers to hold off from reviewing a book you make them sign an agreement beforehand, making their getting the book before publication contingent on their agreeing not to run a review before the specified date.
When the Kakutani reviewed the most recent Harry Potter she wasn't breaking any embargo (and all talk that she was was nonsense) because The New York Times apparently doesn't sign this sort of agreement (good for them !) and they (presumably) obtained their copy fair and square (though the bookseller should be in trouble ...).
(Yes, the NYT didn't act in the spirit of things, but come on, they're in the news-business: breaking news, even of this sort, is what they're supposed to do.)
An embargo requires a contract, a mutual agreement, a quid pro quo -- there has to be, to use the technical term, consideration, as the lawyers would have it.
In the case of the e-mail we received, there was none.
Just a hell of a lot of presumption.
As far as this embargo goes, the proper way of going about it would, of course, have been to send us an e-mail saying something like: 'We have a big announcement that might be of interest to you and your readers; if you agree not to publish it before Wednesday 12:01 AM we'll tell you what it is.'
Then we could have told them yes or no, depending on how curious we were (or how great interest we thought it might be to you)
-- and quite possibly would have been happy to hold off until their say-so.
But telling us and expecting us not to share the information immediately ?
A tall order !
So why aren't we telling you the 'big' news ?
We can't help not being spoilsports (though it may well be just this once)
Every other literary weblog and print literary editor/writer (i.e. half our readership) got the same e-mail (if we were on the hitlist then they must have sent it to everyone ....) and is sitting on the same news -- i.e. it isn't news at all
Yes, it is a lot of money, but this isn't an author we've concerned ourselves with except in passing, so we don't think it'll be of that much interest to our readers. It's not as if the Swedish Academy had tipped us off Harry Mulisch had won the Nobel -- in which case we would have spilled the beans immediately
And, honestly, we probably wouldn't have reported it in the normal course of events, so why would be bother now ?
But we are surprised that, as best we can tell, everyone else has held off too: there must be a lot of people in the know, and we can't find a hint of the news anywhere.
Since we can't leave with you with nothing, how about a quote from the author's thank-you:
"Iím humbled by this great honor from [...], whose work I regard with respect and admiration."
But publicists be warned: if you expect us to keep quiet in future, make sure that we will before you tell us whatever it is you want us to keep quiet about.
(Updated - 13 September): Yes, yes: for the record, this is what/who we were referring to.
They posted the announcement before midnight, but the 'embargo' seems to have held until close to then.
And there was a lot of media coverage about it yesterday .....
(Meanwhile, we received the identical e-mail we complained about again on Tuesday, about 24 hours after the first one, different parts of the site apparently being considered more and less of a priority .....)
We recently reviewed Jonathan Franzen's translation of Frank Wedekind's Spring Awakening and were a bit surprised that this was the sort of thing he'd be spending his time working on.
Turns out it wasn't: as he reveals in an interview in New York it wasn't a fat FSG/Faber commission that got him to do it, but rather:
Fifty dollars made me do it in 1986 for the Swarthmore College theater department.
It was a memorable production.
It sat in a drawer for twenty years, and when the musical came along I remembered it.
I knew it was a good translation, better than anything else out there.
Now we actually like most of Franzen's work, but he really should think twice (or more) before talking to the media ('April Sévigné' ? how long is it going to take for him to live that down ?).
And he really shouldn't let that guy take pictures of him any longer, either.
Orhan Pamuk is getting around: Today's Zaman reports on his visit to England, in Orhan Pamuk: Iím a democrat, secularist and a westernization supporter, while AKI report on his next stop, in Turin, in Nobel Prize author: Iraq war 'major disaster' for West (where they maintain that: "He has won many national and international literary awards including America's Pulitzer Prize", which seems unlikely given that the Pulitzer prizes in the literary categories (except for history ...) can only be given to American nationals).
Meanwhile his new book, Other Colours (US Title: Other Colors) is, more or less, out; see, for example, Matthew Peters' review, where he finds:
Pamuk's essays and interviews on his own work contain his most ardent and cogent writing on the art of the novel.
His passion for great literature is often set against his sense of isolation as a novelist.
This sense of difference is doubtless due in part to his immersion in the European novelistic tradition and his relatively scant regard for the Turkish novel.
A laggard among the reviews of Günter Grass' Peeling the Onion
is Jeffrey Gedmin's in the Weekly Standard, The Grass File.
Not exactly enlightening, at least as far as the book goes -- but at least he gets in a good dose of Grass bashing.
Hey, what's a book review for, after all ?
As he sees it:
I wish I could read Peeling the Onion while separating all this out.
But why should I ?
Grass is a hectoring and sanctimonious anti-American, with dubious commitment to liberal democracy.
If he had had his way, the Nazism and totalitarianism of the right, which he so deplored, might well have been replaced by various forms of left totalitarianism. He once said that poverty in New York was akin to human rights abuses in the Soviet Union.
I figure that, if you cannot have the slightest emotional or intellectual connection to the author you are reading, why bother ?
That is, unless the book is assigned to you for review.
Which, for the huge majority of you readers, it isn't.
But, hey, at least they're 'reviewing' books in the Weekly Standard, right ?
Ever since the departure of Jared Paul Stern (the disgraced-then-undisgraced "Page Six" writer who also handled book reviews), the Post has been running light on literary coverage.
Now, we hear, the tabloid has given in completely, and editors have decided to stop running book reviews.
Their last, according to their Website, was printed in late July.
While it's always unfortunate when there are fewer book-review-venues, it's sort of telling that no one even seemed to notice .....
The Books section of The Oregonian places a priority on reviewing books of interest by local authors.
The purpose of the reviews is to give an independent and fair assessment of the value of the book.
So how can the newspaper assign and publish an independent, fair and honest review of a book by a writer it either employs or publishes through a freelance arrangement ?
What can The Oregonian do to assure readers there is no thumb on the scale favoring or promoting books by writers we employ or publish regularly ?
And do we owe any explanation to other local authors whose books might have been passed over for review ?
Would anyone who knows the connection between author and newspaper ever believe the review or article is an independent piece unbiased by the existing relationship ?
Those are thorny questions.
Last Sunday, editors of the O! section took a creative, unusual and ultimately flawed approach to this problem in publishing a piece about freelancer Chelsea Cain's new book.
Hard to believe, but The Quill Book Awards -- "the only book awards to pair a populist sensibility with Hollywood-style glitz" (they apparently think that's a good thing, and a selling point) -- are still around, and they've even announced another batch of winners.