If there’s one place in Ha Noi guaranteed not to be crowded in the middle of university term time, it’s the library.
This reflects a general trend in Viet Nam: young people are only choosing to read when and what they have to, so classical literature is being left on the shelf.
These sorts of articles always have some wonderful quotes, and this one is no exception:
Many people also prefer the Internet and TV to books when preparing university work, Linh says.
"Finding information on the Internet is much quicker than looking through a book."
Sixteen-year-old Minh Ha, a pupil at Ha Noi’s Viet Duc high school agrees.
"When I want to learn more general knowledge I watch game shows on TV.
It’s much more fun than reading a book."
At Me and my Big Mouth Scott Pack has started a 'Best of the Rest of the Booker'-competition, with a shortlist selected from shortlisted titles that didn't win the prize; see here for links to the various posts about it (and the opportunity to vote).
With The Times' mention -- The Best of the Booker sparks alternative award for also-rans by Tom Gatti -- a decent number of voters should find their way to the site.
Letterature 2008, the 'Festival Internazionale di Roma', runs at a nice Italian pace for the next month or so, and they do have a decent programme lined up.
And how can you not like a festival where the Roman mayor (Gianni Alemanno) gets so carried away as to claim:
This is a moment of encounters in which the ordinary is abandoned, almost a creative moment, achieving a new point of arrival.
In an almost alchemic manner, by meeting in Rome, at the ‘Letterature’ Festival, these cultures give life to a totally new experience, in which origins are lost in an almost denaturalising fusion.
Ten evenings, from May 20th to June 19th, evenings in which the ‘Letterature’ Festival will present the most sensitive, creative and intelligent minds in world literature, meet, confront one another, mature and change.
Who knew that Jeffrey Deaver was one of the "the most sensitive, creative and intelligent minds in world literature" ?
(Updated - 23 May): See now also Laura Wilkinson's Writing toward a common ground in Palestine in the Daily Star, in which 'Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif discusses her work in advance of her upcoming Beirut lecture'.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review-overview of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland.
Not that many reviews out yet, but it looks to be the most critically acclaimed title of the season.
No surprise that the early reviews are in New York-based publications (with the Irish also weighing in) -- but it seems to have so far slipped onto the British market (where it came out at about the same time as in the US) pretty much (critically) unnoticed (though the Amazon.co.uk sales rank suggests that even without local reviews to rely on the public is aware of the book).
Where did the hype-machinery fail ?
British-Guyanese author Roy Heath passed away a week ago, but Margaret Busby's obituary in The Guardian is the first we heard of it.
Not a lot of his work is readily available, though for a while he was even getting reviewed regularly in The New York Times Book Review; see, for example:
James Polk's review of The Murderer (23/8/1992) -- where he wrote: "He has lived for many years in London, where his work has gained much favorable attention, but although British editions of several of his books have had limited distribution here, this American edition of his 1978 novel The Murderer is the first real attempt to introduce him to a wider audience. It deserves success, for Mr. Heath has told a hauntingly powerful story."
Suzanne Ruta's review of From the Heat of the Day (27/6/1993), where she wrote: "Roy Heath's solid devotion to character, plot and emotion, to the minutiae of daily life and its buried tragedies, is not post-modern or even modernist. It is impossible, despite his work's affinities to Dostoyevsky and Hardy and the Joyce of Dubliners, to put a date on it: the post-colonial world has its own unique time lines. To call this author old-fashioned, however, is nothing but praise."
Margo Jefferson's review of the entire The Armstrong Trilogy (22/6/1994), where she wrote: "Mr. Heath is implacable about the cruelties and vagaries of power, whether the exchange takes place between parents and children, husbands and wives, or masters, mistresses and servants. He is also subtle and very knowing about how these exchanges are modulated by affection and ambivalence."
The Murderer seems readily available in the UK (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk -- where it's nice to see the book had a sales rank of 2,640, last we checked), while in the US The Armstrong Trilogy seems the easiest to get one's hands on (get your copy at Amazon.com).
signandsight.com points us to the Reset-interview of Massimo Carlotto (by Amara Lakhous), as they discuss his variation on the ‘Mediterranean Noir’ -- this newest one, Cristiani di Allah, set in Algiers in 1542.
The interview is pretty short, but there are some interesting questions and answers:
Between the 16th and 19th centuries, 300,000 European Christians converted to Islam. Were they ‘religious’ or ‘political’ refugees ?
Some were religious, some political, certainly all were ‘social’ refugees, fleeing from an oppressive system which prohibited them from social redemption. Islam represented a genuine possibility to change the way in which they lived.
Is it possible to use the Mediterranean’s past as a key to understanding our present day ?
It’s not only possible, it’s necessary. We westerners cultivate a distorted vision of our history which leads us to perceive ‘the other’ with an unprovoked suspicion. It’s not by chance that in recent years there has been a rediscovery of the so-called rhetoric of [the Battle of] Lepanto, which is referred to as a strategic victory which saved Christian Europe from an Islamic invasion. Nothing could be more wrong, and yet numerous essays have been published in the press which have provided room for discussion.
Cristiani di Allah is just out in Italian (from edizioni e/o; see their publicity page), and since Europa editions have brought out several of his books in English (see, for example, our review of The Fugitive) we certainly hope they take this one on too.
Olson is in discussions to accept a senior faculty position at "a major American university," the company noted.
Olson himself, in a letter to Random House employees, said he welcomed the change.
He and his family will be moving to Cambridge, Mass. "This seems like the right moment for me to try something new," he said.
But just like they proved with the many the dregs of the jr. Bush administration (those who couldn't land lobbying jobs, at least -- i.e. the real dregs) American academia is apparently willing to soak up anyone who once held a prominent position, demonstrating yet again that those who can't wind up teaching.
So who the hell is this Markus Dohle ?
The press release says:
According to Ostrowski, Dohle brings to Random House a fresh strategic viewpoint on Random House’s operations.
At Arvato, he has demonstrated his great ability to create new revenue streams in mature markets.
Likewise, at Random House, he will lend new and necessary impetus to the book-publishing business by lengthening the value chain.
As CEO of Arvato Print he doesn't seem to have had much exposure to the content-side of things -- but then Olson didn't either, in his pre-RH career (so much so that they actually begin his corporate CV
with the claim that: "He’s one of those people who cannot imagine life without books, always reading several at a time, around 100 per year").
Of course, given Olson's 'success' maybe having someone who actually has some familiarity with the content side of the business before they become head-publisher wouldn't be a bad idea.
But that's not the way they decided to go.
For a German take on the new guy, see, for example, Hannes Hintermeier's Ein Außenseiter wird Spitzenreiter
in the FAZ.
They've announced the winners of the Commonwealth Writers' Prizes, with The Book of Negroes
by Lawrence Hill taking 'Overall Best Book' and A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam taking the 'Overall Best First Book'.
If The Book of Negroes
doesn't sound familiar it might be because, despite this being a 'Commonwealth' prize, no one in the motherland (i.e. the UK) has deigned to publish it.
Or it might be because when they published it in the US (where it was well-received) they felt they had to do so under the title of: Someone Knows my Name (see the W.W.Norton publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com).
As Lindesay Irvine noted in The Guardian:
The Book of Negroes is not yet published in the UK, but it has appeared in the US under the title Someone Knows My Name -- according to Hill, the title was changed "because the publishers thought 'negro' was an incendiary term".
The latest book is Mortality Is Invincible Power by Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
It’s an ironic title for a book written by a leader known as one of Central Asia’s most authoritarian.
Karimov, like other strongmen in the region, is a prolific writer, with more than 30 million copies of his books in circulation.
Last week, Uzbek state television showed the presidential book-launch ceremony, where participants praised Karimov’s new work as "the best book on philosophy and morality since the times of Socrates," the ancient Greek who was one of the founders of Western philosophy.
Mahmud Tohir, an Uzbek poet, has read Karimov’s new book.
He says it could be "a spiritual guide not only for Uzbeks but also for all the other nations of the world."
No word on any planned English translation
-- though given the praise that can be used for back-cover blurbs maybe some American publishers will be tempted.
In The New Yorker Ruth Franklin writes about 'Chinua Achebe and the great African novel' in After Empire.
It's nice to see all this attention on the fiftieth anniversary of Things Fall Apart, but it would be great to see a bit more discussion of more recent African fiction, too.
(Sure, Franklin and many of the others write a bit about it, but it's far from enough.)
And yet another literary weblog from a major publication, as The Telegraph apparently launched their book blog Paper Tiger a couple of weeks back.
(Sam Leith seemed to have a go at something like this by himself first, but couldn't keep it up for long.)
Amusingly, right after we discovered the weblog they posted a post, Translators' translators, about one of our favourite subjects (second-hand translations) that mentioned one of our pieces -- though not the obvious one, the slightly out of date Twice Removed The Baffling Phenomenon of the Translated and then Re-Translated Text that offers a few more examples of the outrageous practise (though Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke is now available in a straight-from-the-Polish edition).
In Woody Allens Enkel in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung Andrea Köhler looks at the new generation of American authors getting translated into German and doesn't find much variety:
Worum geht es in diesen jüngsten Produkten aus Übersee ?
Kurz und bündig gesagt: um die Mietpreise in New York und die Unmöglichkeit der Liebe in Zeiten von 9/11.
[What are these newest oferings from abroad about ?
To sum it up: about New York rents and the impossibility of love in the times of 9/11.]
She finds too many sound the same -- especially the forced-lively, ironic, and pseudo-infantile tone they all seem to adopt.
(The authors whose work she discusses are: Benjamin Kunkel, Marisha Pessl, Jonathan Safran Foer, Rudolph Delson, and Adam Davies.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain.
Published by newcomer Myrmidon in the UK last year, it attracted some attention by getting longlisted for the Man Booker award.
Weinstein Books got the US rights, and have now published it stateside.
Russian author Yuri Rytkheu (Юрий Сергеевич Рытхэу) has passed away; see, for example, Victor Sonkin's piece in The Moscow Times, Yury Rytkheu, an author from Chukotka, has died in St Petersburg (though if "all major news agencies reported his death" we sure missed it -- and we imagine you did, too).
Interesting to learn that:
Eventually, the German-language publications of the writer's books afforded Rytkheu a comfortable lifestyle in St.Petersburg.
Like most prizes, the Samuel Johnson allows publishers to submit a set number of books per imprint -- in this case three -- which brought in 131 titles.
But then comes the dangerous business of call-ins.
As the prize year runs to April, some excellent books hadn't even been published by the entry deadline.
Like kids at a pick-and-mix stall, my four fellow judges and I rummaged through the books pages, demanding more and more.
The result ?
In the end we called in 31 books, which increased our workload by nearly 25%.
For last year's Booker prize, 92 novels were submitted and a further 18 were called in by the judges.
Amazingly, she doesn't question the limit-per-publisher -- or note the absurdity that the Man Booker allows only two titles per publisher imprint (i.e. the Samuel Johnson prize is willing to consider 50 per cent more books from each imprint !).
Publishers of course can not be trusted to pick the best titles -- hence the obvious need for call-ins.
But that also leads to them playing with their submissions even more, risking leaving some titles off in the knowledge (well, strong hope) that they will be called in.
So is the call-in system actually worth the extra work it generates ?
On the plus side, it enables prize juries to follow the buzz around books, and take in titles which the publishers might not have thought to submit for all sorts of reasons.
(Zadie Smith's White Teeth, the highest profile book ever to win the Guardian first book prize, was technically a call-in because it was only the second year of the prize and Penguin forgot to submit.)
Forgot or 'forgot' ... ?
And she notes:
Two weeks ago, I would have begged for call-ins to be banned.
Today I'm not so sure. Without them, we wouldn't have had Patrick French's Naipaul biography on the shortlist.
They didn't submit the Naipaul biography ... ?
Of course they didn't .....
As we've endlessly argued, having publishers decide what books should be prize-contenders -- at least for the very general ones, like the Man Booker -- is ridiculous if they are only allowed so few slots (especially since the same quotas apply to the publisher who publishes 500 theoretically eligible titles, and the one who publishes five).
So we'd certainly be for a different gatekeeper/selection process.
But far more important would be a bit of accountability: there should be complete openness as to what books have been submitted for a prize (as is, almost none of these prizes reveal who is even in the running, with the Man Booker folk even being proud of their secrecy).
Australian literature is a strange market.
You can't buy new copies of some of our most revered and loved books for love or money: they are as rare as that samizdat edition.
Yet there's a small but thriving market in second-hand books, and some sell for big sums.
"Many of the novels for which the Oxford Companion to Australian Literature devotes individual entries are out of print," Thawley says.
"The list goes on and on."
There are many reasons for this.
The Australian book market is relatively small, with a huge marketing emphasis on new titles, and it is not commercially viable for publishers to keep putting out their backlists.
Demand from older readers drops off, and many younger readers are not exposed to Australian literature at school or university.
But there are a few efforts to rectify this situation:
The latest POD venture is the Classic Australian Works series, which aims to bring out-of-print novels from the University of Sydney Library's digital collection back into circulation. The library revived its old publisher, Sydney University Press, partnered with the Copyright Agency Limited and asked the Association for the Study of Australian Literature and the Australian Society of Authors to nominate the most important 20th-century novels that should always be in print.
But Sullivan has some funny ideas about the American scene:
But the economic situation has changed radically, governments are reluctant to hand out money and Australia doesn't have the same tradition as the US, where classics are kept in print by philanthropic institutions or endowment funds.
We'd love to meet those philanthropic institutions and endowment funds; they sure do seem to keep a low profile .....
In The Guardian Stuart Kelly thinks all the Scottish cheer-leading and patting-themselves-on-back is getting to be a bit much in Wha's like us ?, concluding:
Scottish novels by Scottish novelists for Scottish readers about Scottish stuff is a kind of abyss, an abyss in which many of our writers and critics willingly revel.
There would be no greater proof of Scotland's cultural maturity than if it were to stop telling us how wonderful it is and how overlooked it has been, and begin the hard work of listening to the rest of the world and entering into dialogue with it.
Wha's like us ?
Listen and we might find out.
Everybody is joining the literary weblog fun: this week alone Harper's has unveiled Wyatt Mason's Sentences
(nice start; it'll be interesting to see whether he can keep it up) and now The New Yorker leaps into the fray with the promising-looking The Book Bench.
There's been a tremendous amount of coverage concerning the fate of Vladimir Nabokov's final, unfinished work, The Original of Laura, with son Dmitri finally deciding not to burn it after all.
In Le Monde Lila Azam Zanganeh catches French readers up with all the fuss around Le dernier Nabokov -- but also offers something new (at least to us), a photograph of the manuscript (taken in the Montreux bank where it is kept under lock and key):
Matilda points us to Patrick White-biographer David Marr's piece on Patrick White: The final chapter in The Monthly, in which he discusses at length some of what was to be found in the 32 boxes of White-papers that were recovered a couple of years back.
Fascinating stuff, as he reveals:
I've now read them from beginning to end, the first person to do so, it seems, since White put them away in his desk.
I already knew a good deal about two of them. ‘Dolly Formosa and the Happy Few' is a fragment of a novella about an ageing actress.
‘The Binoculars and Helen Nell' is a great fat novel of about 160,000 words about the many remarkable lives of a cocky farmer's daughter.
Both projects were begun and abandoned in the late '60s.
Letters White wrote at the time discuss their plots, their progress and his reasons for putting them aside.
Having them to read is a wonderful experience, but they don't give any radical, fresh insight into White and his work.
The third is a different kettle of fish. When I was writing White's biography, I came across brief references to a novel begun and put aside in 1981.
I gave the project the code name "Novel Y" in my research notes and its fate rates a bare mention in my book.
But here is the manuscript, and having read it I realise ‘The Hanging Garden' was a masterpiece in the making and its abandonment after 50,000 words was a watershed in White's life and a loss, a damn shame, for Australian writing.
We'd love to see all three published .....
But, unfortunately, interest in White's fiction seems to have ebbed completely:
Mobbs is a realist. She acknowledges the slump in White's reputation.
She argues it happens to all great writers when they die.
At least for a time. She blames today's waning enthusiasm on shifting taste in language.
"Read," she says, opening a new American novel and one of White's books at random.
It's true no one writes quite like White anymore. But fans of Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx know there's an enduring taste for contemporary baroque.
Marr thinks there's more to it:
I suspect the problem runs deeper than the difficulties of his prose.
More than we care to admit, we want novels to offer at least the hope of happiness.
White's fiction campaigns against false hopes of happiness and the perils of seeking it in sex, power and possessions.
Such ascetic restraint is truly out of fashion these days, for the "march of material ugliness" he denounced almost from the moment he returned to Australia after World War II has all but overwhelmed us.
We're calling for a truce in the pleasure wars, but White is still fighting, still absolute.
For him, intense happiness is to be found in marriage, work, integrity, even purity.
For those who feel no connection with this, Patrick White seems a grumpy dinosaur, a monster of reproach.
And while it's not news, the figures are worth repeating:
That White had lived on dividends not royalties was always known, but among his papers are the figures that prove the point: in the last six months of his life he earned $7000 from royalties, but his share portfolio at the time of his death was valued at $2 million.
It is equally important to attend to the how of translation.
And she notes:
If a good translation cannot guarantee the success of a novel, a bad translation can guarantee lukewarm or negative reception.
Yet translators are more often than not ignored if not vilified in the process.
Writers and critics need to understand what we translators do and what our constraints are in an increasingly globalised, multinational, profit-seeking publishing business.
Writers and publishers alike must respect our art and our expertise if they hope truly to put Arabic literature on the global map.
She also mentions that, regarding Alsanea's book, those interested in: "the differences between my translation and that published by Penguin
may read my essay on the topic in the July 2008 issue of Translation Studies published in the UK", which is certainly something we'll be looking out for.
The Warsaw International Book Fair runs through the 18th -- and once again, the guest of honour is Israel.
As AFP report, Israeli writers feted at Warsaw book fair -- and curiously enough, after all those protests about Israel being guest of honour at the bookfairs in Turin (last week) and Paris (in March), no one seems to much care about the Israelis being the centre of attention here.
Maybe everyone can actually concentrate on the books (and authors) !
Nice to see that, hot on the heels of Paul Verhaeghen's Omega Minor taking the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the
New Statesman quickly/finally gets around to having a look for themselves, as Heather Thompson reviews it.
The prize will presumably nudge a few more bloggers to have a look and comment on the book, too, but it's good to see some print-media outlets do the same.
(Will any in the US ?)
Signandsight.com offer their useful seasonal feature, here presenting: "the most talked about books of the 2008 spring season" (in Germany -- which includes books translated into German).
Among the more interesting-sounding local novels is this one:
In his debut novel Bestattung eines Hundes (burial of a dog) Thomas Pletzinger describes one man's attempt to do just this. Ethnologist-cum-journalist Daniel Mandelkern allows himself to be dragged into a story which combines New York, Brazil, a deadly menage a trois and literary riffs on Uwe Johnson, Max Frisch, Clifford Geertz and Jacques Lacan.
(There's also more information about it at Litrix's look at this spring’s most important new books (scroll down).)
And the signandsight-overview also gives you a nice run-down of the reactions to Charlotte Roche's much-discussed (and very best-selling) Feuchtgebiete .....
(And there's also an overview of the most-talked about non-fiction .....)
Joseph V. Tirella's Portfolio story really is titled: The Suite Smell of Success, but at least they offer some hard numbers in discussing Irène Némirovsky's career-boost in the wake of the success of Suite Française:
The book was an instant hit upon its release in France in 2004, selling more than 640,000 copies, according to its publisher, Denoel.
Translated into 32 languages and published in 35 countries (with more still to come), the hardcover edition sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
In the U.S. alone, 900,000 English versions have sold, says Random House, whose imprints Alfred A. Knopf and Vintage had the domestic rights.
Both editions of Suite Française were New York Times bestsellers; the trade paperback edition alone occupied a spot on the list for over 30 consecutive weeks.
Celebrated Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk is considered to have a strong audience in the U.S.; the hardcover edition of his 2004 novel, Snow, sold 42,000 copies here, according to Nielsen BookScan.
Since then, the trade paperback edition of Snow has sold more than 342,000 copies in the U.S. -- no doubt helped along by his 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Yet he's still nowhere near Némirovsky's numbers.
At BBC News Neil Heathcote profiles One night @ the call center-author Chetan Bhagat, in From banker to best-selling writer, as his new novel (which we do hope to review), The Three Mistakes of My Life has just been released.
Bhagat differentiates himself from most of the Indian writers familiar to Western readers:
"I think I opened up the Indian market for writing in English," he says quite matter-of-factly.
We wasted 30, or 40 years trying to impress British juries, trying to win a prize.
"Today we have literature which is written for Indians, read by Indians, in English -- and it is selling big volumes."
So who are these new readers ?
If his fan mail is anything to go by, 70% of them are not from the big cities, but from small towns.
(We think Shobhaa De might have a word or two to say about having opened the Indian market for writing in English, but he has admittedly moved the bar up yet another notch.)
Certainly worth thinking about:
The second issue is the cost.
Small town readers have less money, so his books have a low cover price.
But with two literature festivals going on in the same town -- a fact largely unknown to the organizers and the top-shelf authors they attracted -- it seems that a glass barrier enforces the divide in places where the more visible walls and checkpoints do not.
To add to the fun and make sure no one gets along, ynet and other Israeli outlets (but no one else yet, as far as we can tell) report that:
Diplomatic tensions have arised between Israel and Egypt due to a harsh statement made recently by Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni.
In a conference that took place in the Egyptian Parliament last week, the minister said that he "would burn Israeli books himself if found in Egyptian libraries."
This from a minister of culture !
(Who apparently has aspirations to head UNESCO, no less .....)
Since American first lady Laura is accompanying the jr. Bush on his current trip in these parts, and since we constantly hear about her interest in bookish things, maybe she could give this guy an earful.
(But we figure that's about as likely as that her husband will push even ever so gently on the rest of that regime to allow for a bit of actual democracy in that country.)