We've mentioned the promising-sounding Faber Finds-undertaking, where they think they've found a way to bring worthy titles back into print, and in The Telegraph they devote several pieces to it.
Faber & Faber chief executive Stephen Page 'explains how new technology could revive hundreds of beloved books' in Faber Finds: your own private printing press, noting that:
Traditionally, to reprint a book economically meant printing at least 2,000 or 3,000 copies -- occasionally fewer, but not easily.
Many good books have gone out of print as their audience has dwindled.
Excellent books, however small their audience, deserve an ongoing life.
Much that is published is not excellent, nor does it need to be to turn the wheel of the books industry.
However, at the heart of Faber's new imprint, Faber Finds, is the thrilling thought that the digital revolution holds the key to the resuscitation of many high-quality titles by good writers as printed books, not digital files.
The Prague Writers' Festival starts tomorrow, and the theme this year is: '1968: Laughter and Forgetting'.
A lot of information available at the official site: check out the participants and then click through to relevant texts from them.
Jack Mapanje, a Malawian poet and linguist, argued that the best way to categorize African writers is by generation.
But, not surprisingly, Nuruddin Farah has the best answer:
"There is nothing that can be referred to as 'African literature,'" Farah said, "unless what we mean to do by using the term is to justify commercialism, book sales, employment opportunities for professors, or writers selling their books."
In The Guardian Angelique Chrisafis reports that Bonjour Françoise: France in thrall to Sagan, as the French are apparently all excited about
Françoise Sagan again.
Marie-Dominique Lelièvre's Sagan à toute allure (get your copy at Amazon.fr) has apparently helped things along .....
Meanwhile, note that Harper Perennial is bringing out a 'Modern Classics' edition of Bonjour Tristesse in a few weeks (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com)
In Publishers Weekly Rachel Deahl recently reported that Knopf Touting Swedish Hit, as Stieg Larsson's trilogy -- a worldwide hit already -- is finally coming to the US this fall, and:
It’s not every day that you hear an American house talking up its hot new Swedish thriller.
But Knopf is starting to do just that for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which it will release in September with a 100,000-copy printing.
Author Stieg Larsson’s bizarre backstory -- in a John Kennedy O’Toole–ish twist, he died just before he was published -- coupled with Knopf’s decision to swap out the book’s dicey European title, Men Who Hate Women, should pique the media’s curiosity.
As far as the title goes, consider how different things look elsewhere: the more straightforward second volume, Flickan som lekte med elden, will be published in English as The Girl Who Played with Fire -- but in France they had no problem complicating things further and publishing it as: La Fille qui rêvait d'un bidon d'essence et d'une allumette (and that didn't seem to hurt sales there ...).
As far as the bizarre backstory goes, that also keeps getting more and more fun, as now they've found that he did not die (as previously believed) intestate, but rather had made out a will back in 1977.
As The Localreports:
Larsson, who died in 2004, drew up a will in 1977 before a trip to Ethiopia, which was in civil war at the time, according to Sveriges Television’s investigative news program Uppdrag Granskning.
He was 22-year-old struggling author at the time, but still took the time to spell out how his meager inheritance should be distributed.
"I am hardly a rich man, but I want that my monetary assets to go to the Communist Workers Party’s Umeå chapter," wrote Larsson.
However, the will has no witnesses.
No witnesses, no valid -- yet another reminder to budding authors to put their literary affairs in order.
Not only did the commies lose out on what is turning out to be an absolute fortune, but so did his longtime partner -- because they weren't married, the estate went to his dad and brother.
(And note that in France, where Stieg-mania continues apace (and all three volumes are already available)
the newspapers are constantly full of the latest news.)
You can already get The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the UK (get your copy from Amazon.co.uk), but in the US you still have to wait until September (pre-order your copy from Amazon.com).
'Creative' book reviewing seems to be all the rage these days (with Janet Maslin currently leading the charge), and in the Las Vegas Sun an apparently desperate Jeff Haney decided the only way to take on 'Ultimate Fighting Championship'-participant Tito Ortiz's This Is Gonna Hurt was by pitting it against ... Anna Karenina in A cage match, literary style (as they both draw: "upon the theme of triumph in the face of loss and adversity" ....).
This sounds like a poem for the anthologies, as one Nobel laureate takes on another in verse.
As Active Voice suggests:
Calabash 2008 will always be remembered for Walcott’s stunning denouement: the reading in public for the first time of his poem, The Mongoose, written specifically with V.S. Naipaul in mind.
The audience was left waiting to exhale, an inaudible gasp hovering under the tent as the Poet laureate dissed and dismissed his fellow laureate and literary giant, V.S. Naipaul in a series of the most poetically crafted insults.
Aspiring DJs might want to take note -- this is the stuff of great clashes
It apparently begins:
I have been bitten. I must avoid infection,
Or else I’ll be as dead as Naipaul's fiction.
And continues much in that vein: Open Source offers extensive quotes (as well as Walcott's whole 42-minute 'Chatterbox' conversation).
A lot of fun (though some of it is very unkind) and we look forward to seeing the poem in its entirety.
(Updated): See now also Daniel Trilling's 'Observations on a literary feud' in the New Statesman, Being nasty to Naipaul.
He also notes: "If this all sounds supremely bitchy, the poem is lifted by its final stanzas".
The French-American Foundation and The Florence Gould Foundation handed out their Annual Translation Prizes for the 21st time yesterday; no official press release yet (but see the one announcing the finalists).
We have both winners under review: in fiction Linda Coverdale took the prize for her translation of Jean Echenoz's Ravel, while in non-fiction Linda Asher won for her translation of Milan Kundera's The Curtain.
Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2007 increased slightly to 276,649 new titles and editions, up from the 274,416 that were published in 2006.
But there's a whole new ballgame going on, as:
While traditional book publishing was basically flat last year, there was a staggering rise in the reported number of "On Demand" and short-run books to 134,773, pushing the grand total for projected 2007 U.S. book output to 411,422 books.
To maintain the continuity of statistics, Bowker is excluding this output from its traditional reporting and has begun tracking the On Demand industry segment separately.
We think this is pretty sensational -- though a bit scary too, as this is just the beginning of a tidal wave that will just grow and grow .....
Also very heartening:
According to Gallagher, among the major publishing categories, the big winners last year were once again Fiction and Literature.
There were 50,071 new fiction titles introduced in the U.S. last year, up 17% from 2006, and the number of new titles in the category in 2007 was almost twice what it was as recently as 2002.
(Which again makes us wonder why fiction doesn't get the review-attention it deserves -- the 25 May issue of The New York Times Book Review reviews two fiction titles and has eleven full-length reviews devoted to a total of twelve non-fiction titles, while the new Bookforum is also way too non-fiction weighted (as was noted at Conversational Reading) -- and while some suggest (scroll down) that this is "the reflection of a reality that non-fiction titles, in fact, outnumber fiction" we want the hard numbers before we'll believe any such reality: admittedly many of the fiction titles are likely hard to take very seriously -- pulp romance and the like -- but surely far, far more non-fiction is essentially unreadable (since it includes everything from cookbooks to specialist scientific monographs).
As far as what is actually readable (i.e. a normal (non-specialist) book-buyer might be tempted to purchase it and read it -- or some review-outlet might consider reviewing it), surely the number of titles from last (or any) year is only in the tens of thousands -- and it's hard (for us) not to believe that a larger percentage of that is fiction than non.
And, if nothing else, surely if the number of new fiction titles published annually has doubled (!) in the last five years, that should be at least vaguely reflected in the percentage of reviews devoted to fiction -- or at least there should be more reviews of fiction titles than there were in 2002 (maybe not twice as many, but more).
(Sure, much of it may be crap fiction of the lowest order, but can't the same be said of the vast majority of non-fiction ?)
Certainly the raw figures (which are, admittedly, very raw) belie all the claims that this is an era where non-fiction is taking over (as supposedly knowledgeable folk like the NYTBR's Sam Tanenhaus have hoodwinked the public into believing, as they hand over the majority of their review space to non-fiction ...).
Twice as much fiction was published in 2007 as in 2002, people !
Twice as much to choose from !)
Sebastian Faulks got to play at being Ian Fleming, so The Independent 'asked five writers to do the same for their favourite novelists', in If I could bring an author back to life ....
So D.J.Taylor does Anthony Powell, Suzi Feay does H.P.Lovecraft, etc.
Not the worst exercise.
It seems like everyone is heading to BookExpo America, which runs from today through the 1st, and tempting though it is (okay, not so much ...) we're passing this year.
It'll be back in New York in 2009, and attending once every two years sounds like it's more than enough.
But we do look forward to all the reports at many of the other weblogs.
In a very competitive culture that emphasizes newness and fashion, and promotes the reading of a current blockbuster which is forgotten in a moment's time, the backlist is a vanishing phenomenon.
The volume of sales of one-year-old or older books is shrinking, while newer books capture an increasing share of the market.
Most major publishers realize that this ratio has changed.
The scope of the decrease is estimated to be 20 percent: the backlist which once accounted for 60 percent to 70 percent of the sales volume now represents 40 percent to 50 percent, depending on the size and age of the publisher.
Thus good books, which are also fairly new, vanish from cultural memory.
So, for example:
A few years ago, Yedioth Books published new translations of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita and Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.
"We used to sell 3,000 copies a year of classic books like that -- now we sell 1,500 copies a year," Eichenold reports.
"There are books on the backlist that we print all the time, but in smaller numbers.
It's apparently gotten so bad that:
One suggestion for toning down competition in the industry and shoring up the backlist is a bill that would establish a stable price law for books.
A law of that type would ban discounts of new books during the first year of their release.
Publishers are still arguing the efficacy and potential damage of such a law, but most of them would support it.
In the Independent on Sunday Stephen Knight profiles poet and translator Michael Hofmann in Metric conversion, apparently explaining 'Why poet Michael Hofmann stopped 'wreaking destruction' on his family in verse'.
The only novel by Mircea Cărtărescu currently available in English is Nostalgia (which we will get to; meanwhile, get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), but it's his recently completed Orbitor-trilogy that seems to really be making his reputation.
As Radio Romania International reported a few months ago, it's been getting a lot of recognition -- and the last volume won the 'Book of the Year 2007' award in Romania.
Now they've handed
out the national arts prizes (the Premiul Naţional pentru Arte), and in 'la secţiunea Literatură' Cărtărescu's book took the prize; see, for example, the report at Realitatea.
Iranian translator Abbas Pejman complains that most Iranian translators ignore the authors’ individual style and language when translation their works into Persian.
"(Careless translators) not only damage the original text, but also confuse the readers; because each text has its own special characteristics," he told the Mehr News Agency.
"Unfortunately, in Iran, one translates a book by Italo Calvino with the same style he had used for translating a text by Ernest Hemingway," he added.
They also mention one interesting consequence of the government not giving permission to publish newer works (at least not in a timely fashion):
"Over the past few years, there has been a new return to the translation of world classics.
This is good in nature, but the major reason is that new productions have difficulty getting publishing license, and that is why old works which were translated before are being translated again," he continued.
Over the past few years, Murakami has rendered into Japanese four full-length novels -- J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye and Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's -- as they are important novels "I really wanted to translate," he says.
Murakami worked on these now-published translations from 2003.
The novels are not just representative works of their famous authors, but also stories Murakami has read repeatedly since his high school days and, he says, "I personally like them."
"I've gradually worked out my translation style and thought it was about time I gave them a try myself," he says, outlining the first of his motives.
"And, there's a use-by date for translations and the old translations have reached that time."
Other translation-observations include:
"Japanese and English are structured differently, so if you just translated directly, it's hard to get the rhythm right.
It's up to the individual translator to work out how to get the right rhythm," he says.
Murakami likens translation to math.
"Translating from English into Japanese is like solving a math problem," he says.
"Just like there are some math problems that people can spend an entire day trying to work out, it's possible to spend a long time thinking about why particular words are used the way they are.
Some people are suited to this and others aren't. But I like that kind of thing."
"If I personally had to pick one writer who I consider the greatest of all time, I would choose Dostoevsky," Murakami says.
The highlight of the Austrian 'Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur' ('German Literature Days') is the American-/Pop-Idol-like read-aloud (and immediately get judged) Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis.
Very impressively, they've decided this year that, as they explain:
The Bachmann competition goes out online this year in seven languages.
All the texts, discussions and commentaries will be translated into English, French, Spanish, Italian, Czech and Slovenian.
All the texts will be on our internet pages to read simultaneously with the event or for later reference.
Okay, they obviously need to work on this a bit -- 'Bachmannpreis goes Europe' ? -- but the basic idea is fantastic, as is the fact that they don't just go for the big languages, but also include Slovenian and Czech.
(The competition is held in Carinthia, which has a significant Slovenian-speaking minority, and borders on Slovenia, but it's still impressive that they're making the effort.)
See the English pages for more information -- though some of it (like the list of participating authors) doesn't appear to be available in English yet.
Of course, scheduled as it is for the end of next month the Bachmann Prize will have to deal with some pretty serious nearby competition -- but we hope they can pull this off.
(Despite being limited to fairly short texts, this remains one of the foremost German-language literary prizes: consider just a partial list of previous prize-winners (though some of these only picked up some of the secondary prizes on offer), which include: Gert Jonke, Ulrich Plenzdorf, Gert Hofmann, Sten Nadolny, Wolfgang Hilbig, Norbert Gstrein, Thomas Hettche, Marcel Beyer, Ilija Trojanow, Ingo Schulze, Zoë Jenny, Terézia Mora,
Julia Franck, Jenny Erpenbeck, and Saša Stanišić.)
The first few British reviews for Joseph O'Neill's Netherland are in (see our review-overview), but it's the US reviews that are attracting notice -- mainly because of the high praise that's been sung.
They haven't reviewed it yet, but in The Observer Peter Beaumont now notes that America hails cricket fan's novel that met 9/11 challenge -- a good overview and offering some additional background information, including author O'Neill's admission:
'When I told publishers that I was writing a novel about cricket in New York people just shook their heads and walked away.
There was not so much a bidding war for it as a bidding peace. Only one publisher was interested.'
But the American critics aren't all overwhelmed: in The Los Angeles Times Laurel Maury now suggests:
There are dime-store novels and half-baked MFA theses written with one-twentieth the skill that work better because something gets loved and something gets lost.
"But festivals are a pretty big distraction from what being an author is supposed to be about, which is writing.
Hay has just become a celebrity-fest."
Writing in The Telegraph Craig Brown is inclined to agree (scroll down): looking at a list of Hay performers he asks:
What do all these people have in common, besides the fact that they are not writers ?
The answer, of course, is fame.
This suggests that an organiser with an eye on the market should inaugurate the world's first Celebrity Festival, at which celebrities can just jabber away without having to read from books.
Such a festival would release comedians and generals and aristocrats and politicians and politicians' wives from any obligation to produce books, and autograph-hunters from any obligation to read them.
De papieren man points us to the new NRC Handelsblad-site, NRC Boeken, where they finally make their reviews -- 12,000 of them -- freely accessible, as well as offering loads of other book-related content.
Looks very promising.
After ten plus years as literary editor of The Observer Robert McCrum has called it quits, and in A thriller in ten chapters looks at some of the major changes in the literary world over that time (yes, including the rise of literary weblogs ...).
(Updated - 26 May): See now also McCrum's addendum, Have blogs been good for books ?, at The Guardian's book blog -- a post that addresses the ostensible subject-matter in only the most roundabout way.
More usefully, see the reaction at Syntax of Things (one of the blogs cited in the original article).
We've mentioned this dubious German bestseller quite a few times, and now Jason Burke reports in The Observer that, as feared, Publishers battle to sign up Europe's sex sensation, Charlotte Roche's Feuchtgebiete (which, he helpfully notes: "translates as 'wetlands' or 'humid zones'").
Wetlands, which has beaten Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns and Ken Follett's latest to the top of Amazon's international sales list, has sparked a frenzy among major British publishers.
(No word yet whether or not the Americans are joining in the silliness, but it seems inevitable .....)
And don't forget Philip Oltermann's interview with Roche at Granta.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Mehmet Murat Somer's 'Hop-Çiki-Yaya'-thriller, The Prophet Murders.
A Turkish mystery in the transvestite milieu, and the prophets' names ... well, not exactly taken in vain, but .....
It certainly earns marks for the combination of exotic and risqué elements.
The June/July/August issue of Bookforum is now available online; as usual, there are so many articles of interest that you should really just go check it out for yourself.
(With the Memorial Day holidays (in the US) you can put that extra day off to good use, making your way through it.
"I'd burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt," Hosni said in parliament on May 10 in reply to questioning from an opposition MP.
The comment, which Hosni admits making but which he says must be put into perspective, sparked an official protest from Israel's ambassador in Cairo Shalom Cohen to the foreign ministry.
Try as we might, we're missing the 'perspective' here.
Admittedly we're pretty dense, but his explanations really don't help us understand his reasoning:
In his defence, Hosni told AFP that he had only used "a popular expression to prove something exists," -- to be specific, Israeli books in Egyptian libraries.
"A minister of culture cannot demand that a book be burnt, and that includes an Israeli book," he added, and pointed out he had spoken in favour of Israeli books being translated into Arabic during during a televised debate on the subject.
Ah, he only used a popular expression .....
No, sorry, we still don't get it.
In his A Week in Books-column in The Independent this week Boyd Tonkin also tackled the issue -- and also didn't get very far in trying to make sense of the facts -- but notes:
I doubt that Hosny really believes in incinerating literature because it hails from an "enemy" nation.
But he also has a record as a trimmer, blowing permissive one year and restrictive the next.
As with every pillar of Mubarak's fragile secular regime, he comes under pressure to appease the zealots of the Muslim Brotherhood -- by far the strongest popular force in Egypt.
Hence, I suspect, the atrocious statement now attributed to him.
Unfortunately, there's no comment at Hosny's very elaborate official site -- and we wonder whether word of this has gotten to Houston, where his exhibit, Farouk Hosny: The Energy of Abstraction, is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston through 1 September.
Here's a statistic you won't pick up in English 101: Of eight native-born Americans awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, five were alcoholics
"The modern American canon would not exist without all this madness and alcohol," he said, "so let's look below the surface with a clear eye and explore the relationship between alcoholic authors and their characters."
Or let's down a few first and then worry about it.
The Prix Renaudot (widely considered the number two French literary prize, right behind the Goncourt) has announced a 'spring selection'
-- apparently not a longlist or anything like that, but just books from the spring season to keep an eye on over the summer, before the publishers' lead titles are thrown on the market (and into the prize-fray) in August.
To paraphrase Le Figaro's L'été avec le Renaudot: "don't go looking for this year's prize-winner on this spring list".
Still, some interesting titles here .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom, Simon Winchester's The Man Who Loved China (which will be published in the UK in a couple of months as: Bomb, Book and Compass: Joseph Needham and the Great Secrets of China