There is a superb exhibition at the British Library at the moment based on the great Indian national epic, the Ramayana.
On display are illustrated manuscripts in the possession of the library, showing the wanderings and adventures of Rama, the incarnation of Vishnu, and his allies the monkeys.
It is indeed sad, as the accompanying literature suggests, that so few of us in the West know this self-defining religious myth of India.
They've announced that Tilman Rammstedt is the winner of this year's Bachmann Prize, the German literary competition where authors have to read their work aloud and get judged on the spot.
He did well, also winning the Audience Award, and in his report in the FAZ Oliver Jungen enthuses Darauf haben wir gewartet.
See here for a brief Rammstedt-biography.
What seems abundantly true to me, however, after almost 20 years in the publishing business, is that an increasing number of their books will be -- and should be -- mulched.
We are living in the age of the disposable book.
But while one has to admire his honesty, it's just a bit hard to take someone seriously who admits to signing on Manuel Noriega and that:
I acquired and edited an inspirational autobiography by the pop singer Clay Aiken, written and published in about four months.
(For the record, Noriega was a lot more pleasant to deal with than Aiken.)
Maybe it's not the books we should think about mulching .....
A new Murray Bail novel, The Pages, is out, at least in Australia.
UK publication is due in August (pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk), but no word about any US publication.
See also the Text publicity page, a review by Nigel Krauth in The Australian, and a profile of Bail in The Age by
They're announcing the winner of another 'major' literary prize in a few weeks, the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize, so one finds, of course, the obligatory judging-the-prize-piece: here it is Rosie Boycott who 'reveals how this year's judges of the Samuel Johnson Prize went about their work' in Judging the Samuel Johnson Prize 2008 in The Telegraph.
They've announced the six-title shortlist for the Bulgarian Vick Prize -- so far only in Bulgarian at the official site, but Svetlana Guineva runs it down in Fiction mirrors reality in The Sofia Echo.
"Bulgarian literature published in 2007 closely resembled Bulgaria's reality -- paranoid and suspicion-filled," Valeri Stefanov, a member of the jury appointed to select the best Bulgarian novel of 2007 for the VICK prize, told a news conference on June 23 at Sofia’s Military Club.
A couple of big names on the list, and while Alek Popov's Черната кутия sounds a bit ... peculiar, he's the one author we're really surprised hasn't been translated into English yet; see also his official site.
It sounded really good: in conjunction with the Frankfurt Book Fair the Schirn Kunsthalle was going to hold an exhibit: Orhan Pamuk. The Museum of Innocence, based on his forthcoming novel that was due to come out in German in the fall:
Pamuk’s novel presents itself as a catalogue of this imaginary museum.
In collaboration with the author, the novel The Museum of Innocence will be transferred into reality in the Schirn for the first time to be subsequently installed as a permanent presentation in a house in Istanbul in which part of the story transpires.
The city of Frankfurt's prestigious art museum, the Schirn, cancelled Friday its plans for a literary art exhibition because Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk failed to write a book on time.
The book is listed for pre-order at Amazon.de (as Das Museum der Unschuld), but not at the English-language Amazons.
We've reported on it several times; Pamuk has been working on this thing for ages .....
(In lieu of that, consider Dubravka Ulgresic's The Museum of Unconditional Surrender, which Pamuk will be hard-pressed to top.)
Strange, shockingly original, unique in Romanian literature, Mircea Horia Simionescu is being rediscovered with awe and admiration by the younger generation of readers, after his major works have been republished by the prestigious Humanitas Publishing House.
See which books of his Humanitas is bringing out (and also what a fine list generally they have).
No complete work seems to be available in English translation, but you could do worse than check out the anthology The Phantom Church and Other Stories from Romania: despite being over a decade old it's packed with bits by many of Romaina's finest (including Simionescu); get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tove Jansson's classic The Summer Book.
Sort Of Books recently brought out a UK edition, and now New York Review Books has published a US edition.
At Al-Ahram Weekly Rania Khallaf reports from a recent International Conference for Literary Criticism held in Cairo, in Whither Arab criticism ? -- though it didn't wind up being all that international:
Of the 20 or so non-Egyptian Arab critics who had been invited to attend, only ten showed up, and no non-Arab critics had managed to make the trip to Cairo.
In final comments made at the conference, Mahmoud Amin El-Alem, one of Egypt's most senior critics and an advocate of social realism in literature since the 1950s, said that today's crisis in literary criticism should be understood as a reflection of "the prevailing deterioration in value systems."
"The crisis in literary criticism is only one symptom in a more general crisis," El-Alem said, "that includes education, politics and the economy.
Today, we are at one of the lowest points seen in modern Arab history."
In Le Monde Alain Beuve-Méry reports on La bonne santé relative du livre in France (i.e. the relatively good health of the French book market).
Among the things that annoys us no end is when people talk about the enormous number of titles published annually in the US (or wherever) -- the latest Bowker figures being a title-output for 2007 of 276,649.
Rarely is it mentioned that many -- likely the majority -- of these titles are not 'books' that are of any review-interest -- cookbooks, textbooks, etc.
But also never mentioned is the fact that these numbers refer to: "new titles and editions" (that second part always somehow getting lost in the discussion) -- i.e. a lot of these are, in fact, previously published titles, out it a new edition (paperback editions of last season's hardbacks, etc.).
So we're impressed that the Le Monde article offers more useful numbers:
La production en titres a enregistré un bond de 7,5 % avec 75 000 titres : 37 000 nouveautés et 38 000 réimpressions.
So more than half of the 'new' titles published in France were, in fact, re-issues of old titles .....
Why can't the Americans give us that breakdown ?
Also interesting: they say (well: claim) how many books get pulped annually:
Face aux estimations fantaisistes qui circulaient sur le nombre d'exemplaires détruits, le SNE a décidé de rendre publiques ses propres estimations.
Environ 80 millions d'exemplaires sont pilonnés chaque année.
Pour 50 millions, ce sont les livres retournés par les libraires aux éditeurs.
Les 30 millions restants correspondent à l'écrêtage des stocks (les poches défraîchis, les annuels obsolètes, les manuels scolaires qui ne correspondent plus au programme...)
They handed out the Premio Grinzane Cavour a few weeks back, and we still can't make heads or tails of this thing.
It seems everyone gets one -- and this time round Michele Mari and Bernardo Atxaga weren't just winners, they were "supervincitori" (super-winners ?).
Don DeLillo picked one up too, and so did Aharon Appelfeld -- the 'Dialogo tra i continenti'-variant, apparently -- and in Italy's love affair with Aharon Appelfeld in The Jerusalem Post Lisa Palmieri-Billig makes a bit of a fuss about that -- before eventually also admitting that this is one (or rather: many) weird prize(s).
Given the way they throw them around it's also no surprise that:
Many, if not most, of the world's most famous writers have collected this prize through its 27 years of existence.
In The Nation they reprint E.L.Doctorow's keynote address from the April, 2007 joint meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society on "The Public Good: Knowledge as the Foundation for a Democratic Society", The White Whale.
What does it say about the United States today that this fellowship of the arts and sciences and philosophy is called to affirm knowledge as a public good ?
What have we come to when the self-evident has to be argued as if -- 500 years into the Enlightenment and 230-some years into the life of this Republic -- it is a proposition still to be proven ?
Two things must be said about knowledge deniers.
Their rationale is always political.
And more often than not, they hold in their hand a sacred text for certification.
And worth keeping in mind, as Americans consider whom to vote for in November:
With each elected President the nation is conformed spiritually.
He is the artificer of our malleable national soul.
He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses.
The people he appoints are cast in his image.
The trouble they get into, and get us into, is his characteristic trouble.
Finally, the media amplify his character into our moral weather report.
He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail.
At Paper Cuts Rachel Harris writes about all the goodies that arrive with review-copies at The New York Times Book Review, in We Get Mail; click through to the amusing slide show.
We've received a few odds and ends with books, too -- t-shirts, buttons, toy soldiers, etc. -- but fortunately most publishers stick to just sending us the books.
Among the many happenings at the Cape Town Book Fair, few were as auspicious as the relaunch of Heinemann's famous African Writers Series (AWS).
Okay, they're re-starting things with the re-publication of eight of the old titles, but:
the series will not only look back at the past but aims to build a new body of work.
"Manuscripts are being submitted," she says, adding that because of the overwhelming success of the original AWS, many authors it published "have become mainstream".
At the present time, there are almost 1,775 libraries housing 15 million books across the country, but based on an international standard, 14,000 more libraries with 140 million more books are needed.
The report ends up with the conclusion that high price of books is the major reason for not having the culture of book reading in the country.
(Iran is one of these ridiculous countries where they subsidize gas (petrol) so that it's dirt cheap for drivers (at taxpayer expense, however) -- how much better it would be if they spent that money on, say, education -- or publishing !)
Paul Auster got it in 2006, and Amos Oz got it last year, and this year Margaret Atwood has been awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Letters; see the official press release.
They give this thing out in all sorts of other categories too, and among this year's other winners are Google and Tzvetan Todorov; no word yet, however, who will take the Prince of Asturias Award for Sports (Michael Schumacher got it last year).
As widely reported, Salman Rushdie was finally officially knighted yesterday, the British queen whacking him with her sword or whatever the hell they ceremoniously do; see, for example, Andrew Pierce's report in The TelegraphSalman Rushdie is knighted by the Queen.
Jonathan Littell's Prix Goncourt-winning Les Bienveillantes (see our review-overview) will be coming out in Charlotte Mandell's English translation next March, as The Kindly Ones, and it's now finally listed at Amazon: pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Meanwhile, Perlentaucher points us to a rare lengthy interview with Littell, conducted by André Müller, that's now available at the Frankfurter Rundschau as Mögen Sie Käse ?
(It was conducted in English, and we do hope someone picks up the original ....)
Müller has done a lot of these in-depth interviews, and he's not bad at it -- though the name-dropping of previous interview-subjects (admittedly not all his fault here) can get to be a bit much, as it just happens to come up that he's done Salman Rushdie and Thomas Bernhard, etc. etc.
Among the highlights of the interview:
Littell still hasn't received the ten euro prize-money for his Prix Goncourt-win (he didn't show up at the awards-ceremony): he's asked them to send a cheque, but they haven't so far
He claims he'd turn down the Nobel Prize (yeah, like that'll be an issue ...), saying he has enough money now
He hasn't read anything by Houellebecq -- though he does add: 'yet'
He's going to vote for Obama (and he's sure Obama will be the next American president)
Among the public figures that get discussed are Peter Handke, whom Littell condemns.
Müller notes that at least Handke hasn't killed anyone; Littell accepts that, but retorts: "Okay, but he's an asshole".
Meanwhile, he's rather put off by Claude Lanzmann's enthusiasm for him, including Lanzmann's praise of his 'truly fine Jewish head' ('mind' ?)
Ich fand es grotesk, und ich habe mich sehr deutlich dagegen gewehrt.
Ich sagte zu ihm, was er da rede, sei Scheiße.
Er hat mir auch einen Brief geschrieben, in dem stand, ich hätte wunderbar jüdische Kinder.
Ich antwortete, ich hätte wunderbare, aber keine wunderbar jüdischen Kinder.
Er ist besessen von diesem Thema.
[I found that grotesque, and I very firmly opposed that.
I told him that what he was saying was shit.
He also wrote me a letter in which he said I had wonderful Jewish children.
I responded that I had wonderful, but not wonderful Jewish children.
He's obsessed by the subject.]
But he has a good attitude towards the critics:
Haben Sie die in Deutschland größtenteils negativen Rezensionen über Ihren Roman gekränkt ?
Nein, gar nicht. Ich war von der hohen Qualität der deutschen Kritiken, auch wenn sie vernichtend waren, angenehm überrascht. Die Argumente waren meist dumm, aber man hat sich Mühe gegeben. Man hat zumindest das ganze Buch gelesen, während die französischen Kritiker es nur überflogen.
[Were you hurt by the generally negative reviews your novel got in Germany ?
No, not at all.
I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the German reviews, even if they were devastating.
The arguments were generally dumb, but they put some effort into it.
They had actually read the entire book, while the French critics only skimmed it.]
And among the most entertaining exchanges is that which they took the title of the interview ('Would you like cheese ?') from, as Müller brings up all the homosexual excess found in the book and Littell doesn't like where this is going:
Sie sollten mich nicht fragen, mit wem ich ficke. Ich frage Sie ja auch nicht, mit wem Sie ficken.
Ich ficke nicht.
Dann tun Sie mir leid. Mögen Sie Käse?
Es gibt hier eine französische Käseplatte.
[You shouldn't ask me who I fuck.
After all, I don't ask you who you fuck.
I don't fuck.
Then I'm sorry for you.
Would you like cheese ?
They have a French cheese-plate here.]
It doesn't end there, either, but Littell returns to Müller's sexual inactivity at the close of the interview -- and Müller admits: 'That was a lie'.
Littell seems pleased:
Ich wusste es !
Sie haben das nur gesagt, um mich zu provozieren.
[I knew it ! You only said that to provoke me.]
So now we can't wait until the American book tour starts, which should be a barrel of laughs.
Obviously, Littell's banter would play best with someone like Letterman, though it would be fun to see him on Charlie Rose, too, with Rose crashing and very slowly burning before our very eyes.
As to the reviews, we have no idea who will be manhandling The Kindly Ones -- though we imagine Ruth Franklin could have a lot of fun with it at The New Republic.
(And, yes, this will be the rare work of translated fiction that even Sam Tanenhaus can't avoid, but god knows who he'll assign it to at the NYTBR .....)
Still, Littell's almost careless attitude is refreshing -- come to think of it, a Littell-Houellebecq double-bill would be a riot.
In the interview Littell also notes that he's no hermit, and he has no interest in hiding away like Thomas Pynchon: "Ich will nur nicht mit diesen langweiligen Leuten reden" ('I just don't want to talk to these boring people').
Good for him.
Beginning today, June 23, 2008, Encounter Books will no longer send its books to The New York Times for review.
Of course, the editors at the Times are welcome to trot down to their local book emporium or visit Amazon.com to purchase our books, but we won’t be sending gratis advance copies to them any longer.
"But wait," you might be thinking,
"I don’t recall the Times reviewing titles from Encounter Books."
By and large, they don’t, at least in recent years.
That’s part of the calculation: why bother to send them books that they studiously ignore ?
It's an interesting question and decision.
As readers of this weblog know, we think The New York Times Book Review (an editorially separate entity from The New York Times' daily book coverage, by the way) has, under the most recent, Sam Tanenhaus-led, administration a very poor selection-record -- which makes this all the more surprising, insofar as Encounter Books is a publisher that churns out exactly the sort of stuff that we think the NYTBR wastes much too much of its space on: non-fiction -- and non-fiction of a (conservative) political bent at that -- and determinedly populist.
The NYTBR (and the Times-proper) do account for more book coverage than any other American daily, but don't come anywhere near to covering all the worthy (or best-selling) titles that appear (indeed, as far as worthy fiction titles go they are amassing a to us near stunning record of avoidance).
Submitting titles presumably enhances a publisher's chance of getting a title considered, but the NYTBR is among the few publications that presumably don't rely solely on what comes in automatically, but will also solicit titles of interest -- and The New York Times has been known to go out and purchase copies of their own (preferably pre official publication date, as in the case of the most recent Harry Potter ...)
So, aside from a brief flurry of attention, this probably won't harm (or help) Encounter's chances of getting reviewed in the
NYTBR -- but, as Kimball also points out, how much does that matter nowadays any longer ?
In The New York Sun Michael Weiss writes about the brouhaha, in Encounter Books Crosses Times Off Mailing List, and see now also Collected Miscellany's comment (and join in the comments there).
Way premature -- the book is coming out in September -- but the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Walter Veltroni's The Discovery of Dawn.
This is not your usual obscure-translated-novel: Veltroni is the mayor of Rome (and sounds like a pretty interesting guy), and this was translated by Gödel, Escher, Bach-author Douglas R. Hofstadter.
That should be good enough to get some attention for it -- though it is one weird book.
We applaud the thought, but it should tell you something about the likelihood of anything like this succeeding that the article proposing it appears in the International Herald Tribune, i.e. a publication with practically no readership in the US proper: in Literature lost James Thomas Snyder proposes:
a new prize, awarded to a foreign work published in the United States by an American translator.
To the usual literary standards I would add another: the quality of the translation.
This would require more bilingual journalists and authors appointed to awards panels who are able to make the aesthetic judgment necessary of a work spanning different cultures.
Yeah, we can barely contain our laughter, too, at the naïve idealism he expresses (much as we too would like to embrace it) -- and, of course, the "American translator"-restriction is a non-starter, since that would exclude a significant body of work (as many, many translations that appear in the US are translated by Brits, as well as other non-citizens).
Still, he makes some good points, especially that basic one -- that Americans are missing something:
because the American community of letters has no way of recognizing outstanding foreign literature that spans those cultures, and no way to confer celebrity on such risky subject matter published in the United States.
Our top literature awards, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, do not recognize works written by foreign authors or those published in translation.
It is time to change this, for the benefit of all involved: for authors, publishers, translators and, above all, a public hungry to understand a complex world we cannot ignore.
But is he right that:
A high-profile American award for books in English translation would raise the quality and quantity of translations, giving translators a great goal to aim for in taking on risky projects.
And it would raise respect for the hard work of cultural interpretation for those who often live and work obscurely as bridges between civilizations.
And: can it be done ?
In the past month we've mentioned major translation prizes including the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize (here),
the Annual Translation Prizes of the French-American Foundation and The Florence Gould Foundation (here
), and the
Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize (here) and all indications are that pretty much none of you care -- and if our readership doesn't care, imagine how your average book-buyer and reader feels.
A slightly more effective approach seems to be that of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (see our mention of this year's award), or even the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (where the translator gets a share of the prize money -- if the winning title is a translation), but rewarding translation -- and getting much media attention and public recognition for that -- has proven tremendously difficult.
Still, we applaud anyone who gives it a try -- a big prize certainly wouldn't hurt, would it ?
In The Telegraph J.S.Rafaeli reports on the Shakespeare & Co. Literary Festival -- though, alas, not on Amélie Nothomb's appearance.
Also worth checking out -- though they're in the dreaded pdf format -- are the issues of the festival-Gazette that you can click through to on the official site.
We missed this when it was first reported, but at The New York Observer Leon Neyfakh broke the news that Wylie Agency Adds Nabokov Estate To Its Client List (and, indeed, the Nabokov Estate is already on their client list).
We don't have high opinions of either literary estates or agents, and the combination is pretty much toxic (since there's no one left to stand up for the author's interest and at this stage it winds up being pretty much solely about the money); at least in this case here are some characters (Dmitri Nabokov and 'the Jackal') who sound like they deserve each other.
It doesn't bode well for readers, but since most of Nabokov's works remain in print (i.e. there's presumably not much Wylie can do about the running contracts) the damage should, for the time being, be limited.
In A life in fiction in The Guardian Emine Saner profiles super-popular and prolific Margit Sandemo, whom Tagman Press is apparently set to unleash on English-speaking audiences, beginning with Spellbound ("the first book in her Legend of the Ice People saga: 47 books spanning four centuries and following a strange mountain clan"; see their publicity page).
Saner writes about her:
Her books, it is fair to say -- unlike those of her grandfather, the Norwegian dramatist Bjornstjerne Bjornson -- will never win her a Nobel prize.
She could be Scandinavia's answer to Barbara Cartland, just with more magic and monsters. And sex.
At Outlook India Mukul Kesavan reviewsThe Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction (get your copy at Amazon.com).
He notes that: "One of the curious absences in the world of Anglophone reading in India is Indian popular fiction" and: "This is because all the popular fiction produced in India is published in Indian languages" -- and very little of it is translated, which is why it's so great to see a book like this get published.
And Kesavan thinks:
There are two reasons to buy this book.
One, it’s a wonderful read and, two, it’s the best-produced paperback in the history of Indian publishing.
From the luridly brilliant cover (complete with gun-toting, full-breasted Tamil rose) to the colour plates, the line drawings, the perfectly judged author introductions and the high-quality paper inside, this book is an object lesson in how publishing is done.
Sounds like just the thing for us.
It's also one of the first books out from Blaft Publications, and we certainly like what they have planned:
Blaft has much wider goals.
We are planning to eventually branch out into translations of fiction from other regional languages of South Asia, English fiction, comic books, graphic novels, children's books, non-fiction, textbooks, how-to-manuals, encyclopedias, and kitchen appliances.
Okay, we can do without the how-to-manuals -- but we do like the kitchen appliance idea.
Diversification seems a wise idea .....
The July/August issue World Literature Today is now available, with a very limited amount accessible online -- none of the reviews, but at least the interview (well, "dialogue") with Wolf Totem-author Jiang Rong
Paper Cuts points us (indirectly) to Entertainment Weekly's list of the 100 best reads from 1983 to 2008.
Nice to see the complete domination by fiction (suggesting yet again that those who believe non-fiction is the genre of the day are sadly and completely mistaken), as well as the fact that there are a decent number of titles in translation.
Perhaps all novelists dream of the close reader: perhaps every reader tries to be one.
But no reader, however perfect, reads a text as closely as the novelist would want, with the adequate amount of concentration.
And even if a reader has concentrated, so much is lost, because memory is so defective.
The art of reading, like every art, is an art of detail.
(That's why they're arts.)
But no one can retain all the details, nor the details' thematic form.
Mostly, what remains is an impression, an isolated sentence.
ArtLine.ro has a brief but enthusiastic profile of Mircea Cărtărescu -- and think that his Orbitor-trilogy: "maybe the most complex and best Romanian novel ever written".
So far only Nostalgia has been translated into English.
We will get to it (really !); meanwhile see the New Directions publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Isobel Abul Houl, publisher for Jeroboam books that publishes children's books in both English and Arabic, said: "There's a lack of good children's books in terms of illustration, quality and imagination, so the majority of children's books in Arabic are often translated or they're poor quality."
parents will happily pay Dh42 for a children's book in English, but won't pay this for the Arabic equivalent, because it's perceived as too expensive.
Why should it cost less money because it's in Arabic ?
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Bilgé Karasu's Night.
This was translated into English as the winner of the 1991 Pegasus Prize for Literature, a Mobil Oil-sponsored prize that served: "to introduce American readers to distinguished works from countries whose literature is rarely translated into English".
They actually had a decent record with this thing, but seem to have let it fade away a few years back; too bad.
But given how flush with cash Mobil currently is, maybe they might think of resurrecting it .....