Associate Professor of English at Victoria University, Jane Stafford says the collection of nineteenth century 'Maoriland' literature represents an important part of our cultural history.
"Although the term 'Maoriland' can evoke a world of saccharine fantasy in which heroic Maori warriors and seductive Maori maidens inhabit outmoded Victorian literary forms, this colonial literature is lively, complex and significant, and marks the beginnings of a self-consciously New Zealand literature," she says.
The American NEA has announced a new study (which actually sounds like a study of a whole lot of other studies ...) which finds -- big surprise ! -- a decline in reading (and lots of undesirable consequences thereof).
The study is also available online in its entirety -- if only in the dreaded pdf format -- To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence.
All sorts of depressing facts, including: "Nearly half of all Americans ages 18 to 24 read no books for pleasure."
In The Jakarta Post Ati Nurbaiti reports on the recent publication of a translation (by Max Lane) of yet another Pramoedya Ananta Toer novel in 'Arok of Java': A coup d'etat and a snotty heroine.
It's published by Horizon Books (Singapore) -- scroll down for their book-information -- and doesn't appear to be available at the Amazons yet.
See also more information and links to articles collected at
Max Lanes's weblog.
The book is certainly of interest -- but the article in The Jakarta Post also offers interesting information, including:
Translator Max Lane raised the alarming fact that literature is not part of the national curricula.
How could anyone expect more Indonesians to be aware of Pramoedya's works -- most of which are still officially banned today, even though they can be bought easily -- or those of any major author ?
"I'm surprised that writers and students are not angry, they should be marching on the streets to demand literature on the curricula," he said.
So today is apparently the day when Amazon.com will unveil their variation on the e-book/reader, called 'Kindle'.
Newsweek runs a huge preview-article on it, Steven Levy's The Future of Reading.
Given what flops the previous variations on the theme have been we're not expecting too much, but until we know more it's of course too early to really say.
But no doubt you'll be hearing a lot more about this thing -- at the very least for a day or two .....
(Updated - 20 November): Yes, they unveiled it; get your own at Amazon.com.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Witold Gombrowicz's A Kind of Testament, just out in a new edition from Dalkey Archive Press.
Along with the steady flow of Gombrowicz-titles from Yale University Press (and some odds and ends elsewhere, such as Archipelago's edition of
Bacacay) there's really a pretty good selection of his titles relatively accessible now.
Fusae, the protagonist, is a 30-year-old woman who believes she suffers from, if not gender identity disorder, then "species identity disorder."
She feels she has the mind of a dog, not a human being.
Through a contract with a dubious bartender reminiscent of Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust, Fusae turns into a puppy.
In 1993, Matsuura upset notions of conventional sex with her novel Oyayubi P no Shugyo-jidai (Training period of the big toe P), which depicted a woman who wakes up to find that one of her big toes has turned into a penis. In Kenshin, the writer has stepped into a world that transcends not just sex but even species.
The older novels sounds reminiscent of Will Self's Cock and Bull, the new novel such works as Jean Dutourd's A Dog's Head and Marie Darrieussecq's Pig Tales.
Still, we'd love to see more.
Two of Matsuura's novels have been translated into French; into English -- not so much.
Nigerian publishers are not helping matters, too.
For most of them, their work stops at the point when the books are rolled out from the press.
They do little or none of promoting and marketing their authors.
A few of them who attempt doing this only rely on book reviews on newspaper arts pages instead of advertising their books as is the norm in the western world.
How much royalties are Nigerian writers paid ?
Except the Lagos-based poet, Adolphus Amasiatu II, author of Diary of a Poet, it is rare to see a Nigerian writer who will admit receiving a dime from his publisher(s).
At the 2007 Nigeria Book Trust Foundation Book Fair in Lagos, in May, the Ibadan-based writer, Tony Marinho, complained bitterly of being reaped off by his publishers.
Niyi Osundare told Sunday Sun in 2005 that, despite his many award-winning books and bestsellers, he was yet to reap from the fruit of his labour.
These are not isolated complaints.
But there are few hard numbers on offer -- except for when the monies involved are zero.
Still, a lot of names get thrown out, making for a decent overview of the past few decades of African literature .....
Set in the middle of Tokyo, the district of fusty old shops and narrow alleys is to bibliophiles what nearby Akihabara is to otaku -- a holy land.
Business -- as measured by the number of businesses operating there -- isn't bad, even if many are Internet-dealers.
In fact, sales are at a low, since Japanese do more talking and texting these days than they do reading.
A generation ago they spent their extra cash on novels; now it goes to pay the phone bills.
Among the complaints:
"Young people prefer visual things that are easier to understand," says Yasushi Ishizaka, who opened his shop Amulet, a bookstore-gallery that also sells accessories, in the area seven years ago.
"They see a book as more of a decorative element than reading material."
Author complains about the cover her publishers foist on her book -- hardly a new problem.
But in the case of Norwegian author Ragnhild Moe (a.k.a. Edy Poppy) more fun than usual.
Die Welt has the article and the pictures here.
The first picture is of her; click on 'weiter' for the next two: the second shows the original Norwegian cover (and, yes, that's the author herself in that position on the stairs -- that's apparently the cover she approved of).
The third is the German cover which ... well, would you read that on the bus ?
(She also disapproves of the prominently displayed label describing the book as an: 'Erotic novel' -- though we'd imagine both that and the cover would probably help sales .....)
In Lost: translation in The Guardian 'Richard Lea goes in search of the literary world disappearing from the map because of English publishers' resistance to books from other countries' -- a nice overview of the sad situation.
Among the many interesting titbits:
One measure of the lack of interest in translated literature from both government and the industry is that Britain is the only country in Europe that doesn't produce any statistics on translation.
See also the comments at Quillblog -- but note that in our opinion anyone who thinks anywhere near an adequate number of books make it into English translation (much less most of the best offerings out there) simply hasn't the slightest idea of what is actually out there (which, unfortunately, appears to be the case with most publishers ...).
Continuing their admirable (this week) coverage of translation issues Maya Jaggi writes about what's Lost and found in translation in The Guardian today.
She notes how the Kalima-project we recently mentioned (only four more days !)
will bring a welcome influx of variety to the Middle East -- aiming: "to translate 100 books a year, ranging from literature to science -- most of them contemporary titles" into Arabic.
But what about the flow of books written in Arabic getting translated in English ?
We were shocked to read:
I was a judge this year of the Saif Ghobash-Banipal prize for Arabic literary translation, awarded on November 8 to Farouk Abdel Wahab for his English translation of Khairy Shalaby's novel The Lodging House.
The public prize giving, with the annual Sebald lecture, honours translators from several languages.
Named after the London-based Banipal magazine of modern Arab literature, the prize has two Arabic-speaking judges and two non-Arabic speakers, reflecting the need both for accuracy and flair in translation, and for books to work as literature and not just for the initiated.
Fiction, poetry and other prose of literary merit are eligible if written within the past 35 years, published in English translation in the previous year and available to buy in the UK, including online.
Yet, in contrast, say, to the Orange prize earlier this year, with its 140-odd contenders, submissions for the Saif Ghobash-Banipal prize have so far numbered no more than a dozen each year, few of which were published in the UK.
We regularly receive the new fiction titles from American University of Cairo Press (which we much appreciate) -- the publishers of The Lodging House -- and so we're sometimes lulled into thinking that there might be a reasonable number of translations out there, since we have quite a few on our bookshelves -- forgetting that most of those books aren't stocked at your local Barnes & Noble/Waterstones and that there really aren't that many other publishers who bring out more than the occasional Arabic translation.
We're starting to build up a decent collection of reviews of Arabic literature, but it still feels like there's a whole lot out there that remains inaccessible (because untranslated).
The winners of the Sacred Defense Book of the Year awards were announced during a ceremony held in Tehran on Thursday evening.
The awards were presented for books focusing on the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war in various fields.
"The eight years of Sacred Defense is not a finished story," the awards secretary Mohammadreza Sangari said before the presentation ceremony.
It's easy to make fun of this sort of thing, but is also well worth taking a bit more seriously, especially in light of current US-Iranian (and Western-Iranian) relations.
And while it's not our favourite literary theme, there seems no question that there's some value to the literary treatment of this subject matter and the consequences it has had for the country.
Indeed, the CIA could probably do worse than translate some of these works to get a sense of the nation .....
Worth pointing out too: despite a lot of book-bashing and censorship in Iran, there seems no question that there's still a vibrant literary culture there -- and that it's taken seriously is also suggested by the presence of president Mahmud Ahmadinejad at the ceremonies.
(Officialdom in the Islamic Republic is, however, a bit nutty: also present were the 'secretary of the Expediency Council' and the head of everyone's favourite two-for-one ministry, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance .....)
The decision to scrap the system of selling a hardback a year before releasing the paperback has created waves in the publishing world, and is seen by some as the beginning of the end of the format in literary fiction.
"It is not uncommon for a literary fiction hardback to sell under 100 copies," said Scott Pack, commercial director.
"The vast majority of literary fiction is only published in hardback because otherwise the reviewers won't review it.
It's mad. They should be reviewing on the basis of content rather than the binding."
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of A Comedy of Letters by Michael Krüger, The Executor.
We were surprised to see that quite a few of Krüger's books have been translated over the years -- though few seem to have lingered .....
This one is only due out in February; we're curious to see how it does.
(Krüger is the publisher of the excellent Hanser Verlag.)
The December/January issue of Bookforum is now available online, and it's packed with great stuff -- starting with John Banville on pulp fiction.
It'll take us the weekend to properly get through it all .....
We didn't notice that the Nádas Péter
title that recently got nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award was one we hadn't seen yet, but hlo now offer Zsófia Bán's review of Own Death, and the book -- "an account of the writer's heart attack, with a hundred and sixty photos of one single tree taken by the author" -- sounds fascinating.
(Get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
See also Davis Kovacs interview with
Nádas at Bomb.
In an AP report Hillel Italie finds Kurt Vonnegut Tops in Public's Heart -- at least as measured by sales, and compared to the recently deceased Norman Mailer and William Styron.
Too few numbers, but at least a few:
According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of industry sales, Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five has sold about 280,000 copies since 2006, more than four times the combined pace of six of the most talked about books of the past 60 years: Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, The Armies of the Night and The Executioner's Song, and Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sophie's Choice and Darkness Visible.
While Vonnegut's passing last April led to a significant jump in sales for his books, the change was far smaller for the works of Mailer and Styron, both of whom, unlike Vonnegut, won Pulitzer Prizes.
Books by all three writers are still used in classrooms, but Vonnegut's are read more both on and off campus.
Iran has banned the latest novel by celebrated Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, saying the initial publication of Memories of My Melancholy Whores was a bureaucratic error, the Fars news agency reported Wednesday.
Hurrah for bureaucratic errors !
Still, mixed news:
The official responsible for originally authorising the book's publication has been sacked, Fars said.
The first edition of around 5,000 copies, which hit bookshops three weeks ago, has already sold out.
"The publication of this book was an error," an unnamed cultural official was quoted as saying.
"This kind of thing can happen when 50,000 books are published every year in Iran."
Good to hear -- if true -- that they're still publishing that much -- and lets hope more spills through the cracks.
In The Australian Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews Jane Gleeson-White's Australian Classics, a readers' guide to '50 great writers and their celebrated works':
Australian Classics is quite an unusual book: it's not an anthology but a thorough readers' guide, a kind of photographic negative of an anthology.
In this follow-up to her 2005 Classics: Books for Life, Gleeson-White has chosen an Australian list of 50 great books (although this subheading is immediately problematic, as some of her chosen books are single poems and others are individual short stories) that she thinks will provide this overview.
Probably not the best use of our resources, but we do have several of his titles under review and certainly always welcome a bit of Blair-bashing, so: the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Robert Harris' The Ghost.
We've mentioned repeatedly that we were not going to bother renewing our subscription to The New Republic, in no small part because they appear to have almost completely forsaken review-coverage of works of fiction.
Now the last issue of our subscription has come in the mail, the 12 November issue (with the warning: 'Your subscription has expired'), but there's nothing there to change our minds.
Three reviews of four books, all non-fiction.
Not uninteresting, mind you -- we've been thinking about covering Mark Tushnet's Out of Range (about 'Why the Constitution can't end the Battle over Guns')
, which Cass Sunstein devotes almost six pages to -- but one of the reasons we originally subscribed to the TNR was because they took fiction just as seriously.
And clearly that is no longer the case.
Not even close.
We were hoping for some coverage of The Translation Market-events that took place down in Miami over the weekend, and over at Three Percent Chad Post has done a great job in providing it (posts of 12 November, if you have to scroll down).
They're almost all worth commenting on, but we'll plunge in in the area that's obviously of most interest to us: the panel on Reviewing Translations.
First the parenthetical aside which just isn't surprising:
(Although Iím sure that someone in the blogosphere will mention how strange it is that no one from the NY Times was on this . . .
In fact, to pour fuel on the fire, I want to point out that no one from the NY Times even attended the conference . . . )
(Though to give the NYTBR a break: the 11 November issue actually (and stunningly) had several reviews of works in translation -- even if one dates from 1927 and another from the 14th century, as Sam Tanenhaus' favoured foreigners (or at least foreign authors) remain those that are decidedly dead
But the most interesting point was this:
Alan Cheuse claimed that the biggest problem facing translations in the United States is that in other countries, the most famous authors are also translators, but that we donít have people like that here.
(He then quipped that Marie quit writing and editing to translate Latin American fiction for the next twenty years.)
Initially I was a bit put off by this, jumping to the conclusion that he meant that thereís a lack of talented translators here in the States (which is complete bullshit).
But what I think he was getting at was the fact that aside from a few notable exceptions, translators are ignored, whereas in other countries, thereís a cult of celebrity around the author-translator drawing a lot more attention to these titles.
It seems true that translations by "superstar translators" like Edith Grossman and Pevear and Volokhonsky do receive more attention in the press, so maybe publishers should draw more attention to their translators
And Chad also suggests:
But if translators were more celebrated, publishers may be able to create a situation in which the translator has as much marketing power and name recognition as the author.
In the US there is some awareness of these 'superstar translators', but they tend to do just translations.
So Cheuse makes a very good point: why don't American authors translate more ?
The authors abroad he's talking about are literally a dime a dozen.
Just consider these few examples of well-known authors and some of the authors they've translated:
Murakami Haruki has translated into Japanese: Raymond Carver, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Irving, J.D.Salinger's Catcher in the Rye
Kertész Imre has translated into Hungarian: Elias Canetti, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Joseph Roth
Arno Schmidt has translated into German: James Fenimore Cooper,
William Faulkner, Wilkie Collins, Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Bulwer-Lytton -- as well as the likes of Stanley Ellin and Evan Hunter
Peter Handke has translated into German: Emmanuel Bove, Walker Percy, Patrick Modiano
Sadeq Hedayat translated into Persian: Franz Kafka, Jean Paul Sartre
And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Meanwhile in the US, other than Jonathan Franzen digging his college-translation of Frank Wedekind's play, Spring Awakening, out of some drawer, as well as any number of poets, who does much translation ?
In fact, does any fiction-writer translate fiction ?
There must be more, but off the tops of our heads only Lydia Davis (translator of Marcel Proust, Maurice Blanchot, Michel Butor, Pierre Jean Jouve) comes to mind.
There are a lot of excellent prose-translators into English, but very few of them have much of a body of their own fiction-work.
What gives ?
And isn't there a lot to be said for translation as a writing exercise ?
Wouldn't young authors benefit more from trying this than from just the usual MFA-programme routine ?
In Europe, certainly, the fact that well-known author X has translated a book by Y seems to be a great help in both getting a book published and then in reaching an audience.
The famous writer is is more than just an advocate for the book, s/he's put his time and talents behind it (and s/he's available for newspaper interviews ...).
Of course, in mono-lingual America it can be hard to find authors with the necessary language skills -- though there have been quite a few foreign-born authors making a splash
recently, and maybe they'll give translating a try.
(Let's see what happens with Keith Gessen, for example, who already has some translations under his belt and whose first novel is coming out next spring.
But if the book is successful, will he abandon translating ?)
Iranís contemporary literature will be reviewed during the event, which will focus on Sacred Defense literature, which is about the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, and works written since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Vafaii added.
Unfortunately, too little contemporary Iranian literature is known and read abroad -- which might also be one of the reasons that only:
Scholars from Russia, India, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Egypt will be participating in the event.
Still, we hope there will be some reports of what went on.
More promising-sounding literary news from the Arab-speaking world: first there was this Kalima-project (see our previous mention), with the ambition of translating foreign works of literature into Arabic, and now we learn that, as Gulf News reports, New Arabic monthly to publish book reviews:
The Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation yesterday announced a partnership with Cairo-based magazine Wojhat Nazar to produce a specialised monthly publication in Arabic, featuring reviews of books published in various languages worldwide.
This publication will also provide Arab readers with access to latest works in the publishing world, raise their awareness on global literary standards and serve as a window to the world's diverse cultures and way of life."
Certainly sounds like something that would be of use and interest there.
Meanwhile, we can't help but note that the much-loved Cairo Review of Books literary supplement to Al-Ahram Weekly doesn't seem to have appeared since the issue of 30 March - 5 April 2006.
The Letter from the editor in that issue explained:
This edition of the Cairo Review of Books also marks the publication's tenth edition issued as a monthly supplement to Al-Ahram Weekly.
Changes are afoot at the Weekly itself, and as the paper prepares for its re-launch in a new, more reader-friendly format with this edition we are suspending publication of the Cairo Review of Books.
Once the Weekly 's redesign is complete the Review will re-appear as a separate publication of the Weekly.
In the meantime, book reviews and other regular features of the Review will continue to appear on the newspaper's pages.
If it's re-appered in the meantime we certainly haven't seen it -- but we keep our fingers crossed that eventually it does.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review-overview of Adam Thirlwell's Miss Herbert.
This sounds like a book (about books) that would be just up our alley; we requested a copy from Cape but haven't received one, so it looks like we might have to wait for US publication (by FSG) in April of next year before we can see for ourselves.
At first we were again annoyed that the US and UK publishers couldn't agree on the title -- it's apparently being published as The Delighted States in the US -- but given some of the early UK reviews one can see why FSG might want to distance itself from that version (even if it remains, of course, the same book).
Particularly noteworthy among the reactions: Sarah Birke's assessment in The Times:
Perhaps part of the problem -- and not Thirlwell's fault -- is the way he has been hyped since the publication of Politics in 2003.
Becoming a Granta Best British Novelist Under 40 on the basis of one book can have the Zadie Smith effect of not giving a new author the room to turn out imperfect books.
Daniel Kehlmann picked up the Welt-Literaturpreis over the weekend, so, of course, Die Welt devotes considerable coverage to that -- including printing his amusing acceptance speech, which notes how poorly some of his earlier books did, including the catastrophic showing of his second book: turns out the publishers forgot to submit it to the the VLB, the German equivalent of Books in Print, which essentially made it impossible for bookstores to order the title .....
Amusing also some of the consequences of his new-found (on the back of the mega-best-selling Measuring the World)
See also Hellmuth Karasek congratulatory piece, Der sanfte Berserker.
Among the claimed objectives for the Man 'Asian' Literary Prize is that it was created in order to: "facilitate publishing and translation of Asian literature in and into English" -- so, of course, the first time they hand out the award (yesterday; see the official press release (warning ! dreaded pdf format !)) they give it to the one title that has already gotten heaps of international press and been sold for large advances to both US and UK publishers -- indeed, that can already be pre-ordered at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong may well have been the most deserving title, but crowning this book also sends an unintentional (or is it intentional ?) message, suggesting that publishers get it right anyway -- after all, they bought the book even before they knew it would be prize-winning -- when our experience is that, especially as far as foreign (and especially as far as really foreign) literature goes, they have little idea of what they're doing (i.e. it's pretty much all hit or miss, with an emphasis on missing -- as in missing the many worthy titles they should be giving a chance).
(Another reminder: as long as it doesn't consider books by authors from so many Asian countries (all the Arab-speaking ones, Iran, all the former Soviet states, etc. etc.) we refuse to consider this a 'real' Asian prize.)
It will host extensive literary and cultural programs for seven days.
The largest-ever international literary festival in Korea involves around 70 Asian and African writers on top of more than 200 Korean literary figures
As you've heard, Norman Mailer has passed away.
We can't really help you out with much information (and we don't have any of his books under review, either) and many, many, many others already offer much more than we could ever assemble.
The summary/round-up at Critical Mass is as good as any place for you to start.