The demise of the stand-alone Sunday book review section at The Los Angeles Times
has led to the expected state-of-the-book-review-discussion -- and, specifically (well, on the literary weblogs), that all too familiar print v. blogs discussion.
Among the recent pieces of interest, in chronological order:
So much more to say, but what certainly needs to be remarked upon is how limited a view (and hence presumably experience) Wasserman and Warren have of literary weblogs.
Ed addresses this in part, but it's worth pointing out again.
So, for example, Warren writes:
But I'll tell you what does make my jaw drop: the seemingly widely-held notion that these book sections are being adequately replaced by blogs.
To be sure, there are some excellent book blogs out there: Mark Sarvas's The Elegant Variation. The National Book Critics Circle's Critical Mass. MediaBistro's Galley Cat. Jessa Crispin's Bookslut.
The Boston Globe's Off the Shelf.
And, of course, the New York Times' Paper Cuts.
They're all bookmarked on my computer. I read them often for news on new titles (and older ones I missed) and Q&As with authors.
Many of them are also good for stories on publishing trends, which as a book publicist and editor I appreciate a great deal.
But, for the most part, these blogs don't actually review books.
(Aside: is it really that hard, at a site like
The Huffington Post, to add the goddamn hyperlinks ?
She says she has them bookmarked on her computer .....)
'these blogs don't actually review books', for the most part -- but that's not what these weblogs are here for.
The newspaper-affiliated blogs ... are attached to review sections.
And sure, Bookslut doesn't review books at the weblog part of the site ... but they have a monthly issue which always offers quite a few reviews.
It's similar elsewhere: Conversational Reading offers the occasional review, but the real review-action (and fine review action it is) is at the affiliated site, The Quarterly Conversation.
And while Warren would presumably have been disappointed by the lack of reviews at our very own Literary Saloon if she'd ever come across it, the way she should see it is a small part of the larger site, the complete review, where there are now over 2100 reviews on offer.
One of the great things about literary coverage on the Internet is the variety you can find -- in content as well as presentation.
'Blogs' are just part of it -- but a many-varied part at that.
Sticking just to reviews -- which are only a part of the greater discussions going on (think Ed's podcasts, etc.) -- many blogs do offer some: Three Percent literally has them on the side, Open Letters offers 'microreviews' on their OLM Blog, to go with their monthly issue and the longer reviews found there.
And then there are the dozens -- or possibly already hundreds-- of weblogs which consist solely of reviews.
Warren has good fun suggesting how litbloggers should present their material but her recommendations read like those of someone criticising what they think can be found on literary weblogs, rather than
someone who has actually taken a look at a fair number (and the same goes for Wasserman).
Of course, there are a lot of very amateurish review-blogs and sites -- but there are also a lot that are very good.
In certain areas Internet coverage has long superseded newspaper coverage: review-coverage of genre books (mystery, science fiction, romance)
is far superior in range and, for the most part, quality than what can be found in newspapers.
And, sadly, we don't think we're tooting our own horn too loudly when we claim that, as far as coverage of fiction in translation goes, you're better served by us -- little more than a two-bit, one-man operation -- than if you rely on The New York Times Book Review (even with the daily book section tossed in for good measure).
We'd suggest Warren -- and Wasserman, and anyone else who wants to remind us how superior edited print publications are -- take their time working their way through our list of literary weblogs -- which, despite being far from complete, includes quite a few that consist solely of book reviews.
They might be surprised by what they find.
It's always fun to see how poorly the titles longlisted for the Man Booker Prize have sold, and this year is no exception: The Bookseller reports Rushdie leads Booker sales, but:
Total sales of the 11 titles available in shops from the recently-announced 13-strong Man Booker Prize longlist stand at 42,451 copies to date, some 20,000 fewer copies collectively than Katie Price's Angel Uncovered.
They give all the numbers, and some of these are pretty shocking -- and it will be interesting to see what kind of a sales-boost getting longlisted provides.
One of the lesser known links in the publishing industry food chain is the book distributors.
They are the middlemen between publishers and stores, who promote sales and get a sense of what is happening in the field.
It is an interesting part of the business -- and apparently as messy in Israel as pretty much everywhere else.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of C.-F.Ramuz's The Young Man from Savoy.
Host Publications has brought this out; they have an interesting selection of international fiction, but we're surprised that a place like Pushkin Press didn't discover this first (it would have been a perfect fit for them).
It's a real find, and marks Ramuz -- a Swiss writer who lived 1878 to 1947 -- as a writer for us to seek out.
(This is the first English translation of this title, but several of his other works have been translated -- though they appear to be way out of print.)
So they've announced the thirteen-title-strong longlist for the Man Booker prize and so, as John Sutherland writes at The Guardian-weblog, The Booker longlist -- let the arguments commence.
He also asks: "So what's the point of the longlist ?" -- surely rhetorically, as he also provides the very obvious answer
In short, the longlist is good for business. It boils the kettle.
Indeed, most of the literary weblogs, not to mention the print media make mention of it.
Sutherland also wonders:
So why isn't, say, Adam Mars-Jones's novel Pilcrow there ?
Because, I hypothesise, if you do the math -- or, to be more precise, the geography -- there is only room for, at best, two echt "English" male novelists.
Invisibly, slots have been created. And very narrow slots they are.
Are there really such slots ?
Our main gripe with the Man Booker is its ridiculous submission-limitations -- each imprint limited to two submissions, with only a few other ways to slip a book in, which complicates matters for a publisher like Mars-Jones' Faber, which has several books they no doubt wanted to push.
It seems distinctly possible that Pilcrow was not submitted -- and then not called in --; alas, the Man Booker folk unfortunately (and outrageously) do not reveal what the 100-odd titles that were in the running from the start are (and we still don't understand why nobody else seems to be outraged by that fact).
Meanwhile at The Guardian Michelle Pauli finds a Booker longlist boost for first-time novelists, as:
Five first novels are in the running for this year's Man Booker prize, making it onto a longlist that has passed over many big names in favour of an eclectic selection encompassing small presses, humour and thrillers.
With his Stalin-era investigator in Child 44, Tom Rob Smith achieves what has so far eluded the Rankins and Jameses: a penultimate-round Booker run for an upscale detective novel.
No doubt there will be a lot of fuss about this, but the only thing that is (vaguely) surprising here is that Simon & Schuster submitted the title (as we're fairly certain Rankin's publishers never thought to enter any of his books).
As to our opinion: we only finished one of the books that made the list, Aravind Adiga's very overrated The White Tiger, and didn't take to
Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes at all.
Of course, we don't know what the by-passed titles were (again: it all depends on what the publishers submitted), but overall we're decidedly underwhelmed by this selection.
Still, as several people have pointed out, a John Berger win might be fun.
They announced Austrian State Prize for European Literature to A.L. Kennedy at last year's Frankfurt Book Fair, but they only finally got around to handing over the 2007 (!) prize to her over the weekend, in Salzburg.
No English-language coverage -- and nothing yet on her Obsessive Compulsive-weblog ("The peripatetic life of Scotland's foremost writer") or her official site --, but the Austrian papers covered it pretty well, and Die Presse has a (German) interview with her.
Disappointing, however, to learn there:
Gibt es österreichische Autoren, die Sie lesen ? Kennedy: Ich fürchte, ich weiß nicht einmal, ob ich österreichische Schriftsteller kenne.
Mein Deutsch ist nicht gut genug, und es gibt wenige übersetzungen.
(Are there any Austrian authors you read ? Kennedy: I'm afraid I don't even know if I'm familiar with any Austrian writers.
My German isn't good enough, and there are few translations.)
We mentioned how intrigued we were by the recent hlo piece profiling Szentkuthy Miklós -- 'the Proteus of Hungarian literature' --, Outprousting Proust, and now they usefully follow up with Tim Wilkinson translation of extracts from his Az egyetlen metafora felé, Towards the One and Only Metaphor I.
Last we checked all they had at the official site was the notice that:
The longlist for the 2008 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be announcement on Tuesday 29 July 2008.
(Those P.R. folk really earn their keep, don't they ?)
But sometime during the day you should be able to learn who made the first cut; we'll try to sort the coverage out tomorrow.
Meanwhile, we continue to keep our fingers crossed that Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence falls short, so that John Sutherland can, as promised, curry his proof copy and eat it.
(Updated): the list is up, and people keep coming by to check, so here for your convenience the 13 longlisted titles (and, alas, the Rushdie has made it this far).
(Links to our reviews or review-overiews, where available)
Notably, apart from poet, Gabriel Okra, Aluko adorns the space of the oldest surviving and most untiring of Nigerian writers living today.
Yet, it is believed within the literary circle, that this engineer turned writer is the worse marginalized writer of this generation given the neglect he has suffered in the hands of society and government to which he has given much.
The Quarterly Conversation has undergone a very impressive site-redesign -- worth checking out (though, of course, it's the excellent content that's always worth checking out).
(There's also an RSS feed.)
All apologies to Wuthering Heights, but Brideshead Revisited has a claim as literature's finest schlock.
And he writes about the original epic TV-version (get your copy of the DVD-set at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk):
The miniseries is 13 hours long: Though the density of Waugh's dialogue requires close attention, it's not difficult to read the book faster than that.
The series goes heavy on voice-over narration -- with Jeremy Irons, nicely haunted and hunted as Ryder, reading well-chosen slips of the book -- and nearly follows the novel scene-for-scene.
It's no insult to the craft of John Mortimer's script to say that the miniseries is not so much an adaptation of the novel as a straight-up televisualization of it, sensitive and servile.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ammon Shea's account of Reading the OED (meaning, of course, the Oxford English Dictionary).
One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages ?
Sounds like a gimmick -- but it's pretty well done.
With the Man Booker Prize longlist due to be announced on Tuesday there's been some (though not a whole lot) of speculation as to who will make the cut.
In Scotland On Sunday Stuart Kelly suggests:
Tim Winton, Zoë Heller, Peter Carey and Damon Galgut seem to be doing well.
Alexis Wright, below, winner of the Miles Franklin Award, looks a good bet.
Of the Scots, Andrew Crumey just pips John Burnside.
Couple of outsiders: Kenneth Harvey's Blackstrap Hawco and Steve Toltz's A Fraction Of The Whole could sneak through.
There's also some discussion in The week in books-column in The Guardian
("Second-guessing the Man Booker judges' longlist choices ahead of Tuesday's announcement has taken off this year"), and there's been some discussion at the official prize site, too.
We're just hoping that Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence already misses the cut here, so that John Sutherland can, as promised, curry his proof copy and eat it.
We reviewed Thomas Glavinic's Night Work when it first came out in German, and it's now available in English (in the UK; it'll take a few more month until it gets to the US) and has been getting some very good reviews -- with Stuart Kelly finding:
on the evidence of Night Work, Glavinic is a truly great author, not just a truly great Austrian author.
(We also have all of Glavinic's other books under review.)
We missed the announcement last week but allAfrica.com reprint the disappointing if hardly unexpected news as reported by Richmore Tera in the (for us unreachable) The Herald that Zimbabwe: International Book Fair Called Off.
This year's edition of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair has been called off amid revelations that the traditional sponsors of the annual book event had withdrawn their financial support for the hosting of the fete.
ZIBF's acting director Greenfield Chilongo is quoted:
"We reached a general consensus to call off this year's book fair after realising that the economic environment was not favourable for the hosting of the event.
(Talk about an understatement .....)
He also said:
"We think our customers are also facing a lot of challenges in society, we are not blaming anybody."
But here's one case where it's easy to pin the blame exactly where it belongs: squarely on that stinking piece of barely human excrement that is Robert Mugabe.
Sure, he only ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack of any list of Africa's ten worst dictators 'leaders' you might want to draw up, but most of the others have managed to keep a lower profile -- and haven't thrown their whole nation off a cliff as comprehensively as this buffoon has over the past few years.
And while proclamations like the jr. Bush's yesterday on Sanctions Against Illegitimate Government of Zimbabwe are certainly welcome this supposed defender of democracy would do better applying pressure where it would do some good -- like on Mugabe-front-man Thabo Mbeki.
(What on earth does Mugabe have on this guy that Mbeki keeps acting like a well-trained lap-dog (and makes him willing to ruin his reputation with this ineradicable black mark -- almost single-handedly propping up the abomination that is the Mugabe-regime -- that will always be held against him ?))
See also the post at Moments in Literature, ZIBF cancellation real blow on Zimbabwean book industry.
For anyone trying to follow the debate going on in Australia about the "government decision to remove the rule allowing local publishers 30 days in which to supply books published overseas before other editions are allowed into the country", Rosemary Sorensen offers an overview in Book wars in The Australian.
(Actually, this is a fairly interesting business/law case study .....)
I began to develop my own list of novelists' readers: the imaginary ones, belonging to Flaubert, or Cervantes; and the theoretical ones, coaxed into being by Marcel Proust, or Stendhal.
It was, to say the least, unsettling.
Think about it.
Just take the most famous novelistic characters: Don Quixote and Madame Bovary.
Both of them misread to the border of insanity.
Or Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey. Or Anna Karenina.
It's sad, but it's obviously true: novelists seem to hate readers.
We reviewed M.Blecher's Inimi cicatrizate a few years ago, and are thrilled to see that Old Street Publishing is now bringing it out in English, as Scarred Heart (see, for example, their publicity page
Sure, we'd like to see more contemporary Romanian literature get translated, but Blecher is overdue too (we also have his Întâmplări în irealitatea imediată under review ...).
(By the way: we're not entirely sure how the ARC of this made its way to us, but apparently there are some publicists who quietly and efficiently get the job done (and the book to the appropriate outlet) -- almost amazing !)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review-overview of Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes.
(We had a go at this, but found it quite disappointing -- yet another book we recently abandoned.)
Concerned over flagging book sales, especially among younger age groups, publishers are having popular manga artists illustrate the covers of novels and are turning serious works of fiction into manga to be sold at convenience stores.
Such "combini novels" are proving popular among young people who are seemingly averse to conventional bookstores.
The situation must be pretty bad, since you find desperate publishers there saying things like:
"It is important for young people to be able to easily buy things at convenience stores," Atsushi Karaki, head of Kodansha's paperback publishing division, said. "I hope that people who stop at convenience stores will [later] head into bookstores."
Of course, they might be going down the wrong path, as:
Convenience stores are also struggling.
According to the Japan Franchise Association, year-on-year annual sales growth at convenience stores was 9.6 percent in 1999, but this figure has been falling year on year, down to 1.3 percent in 2007.
At The Guardian they're all excited about the idea of 'reader's block', with Stuart Jeffries wondering about being Lost for words ('We spend more on books than any nation in Europe, but many of us haven't read one in the past year. What's behind this' ?) and a few authors offering their views on the subject, in ... The authors' view.
An incredible number of Chinese-authored titles are coming out this year, many to coincide vaguely with the upcoming Olympics, but Gao Xingjian hasn't been getting much attention -- and part of the reason can perhaps be found in the AFP profile, For Nobel literature laureate, China is part of the past.
It opens with the amusing anecdote:
A friend of Gao Xingjian, the first and only Chinese writer to win the Nobel prize for literature, recently managed to find a pirated copy of his banned work at an underground Chinese bookstore.
Gao's works are becoming increasingly popular on China's black market, but he was amused to find that the "author" picture on the cover of the book his friend bought was of someone else.
I wish more novelists translated novels, but novelists, rightly, in a way, are selfish, and translation of long works takes up so much time.
he should note that that is the Anglo-American attitude; elsewhere, as we have mentioned frequently, prominent novelists seem happy to spend some (or quite a bit) of their valuable time translating.
(And note that at The Stranger they've now also reviewed the book.)
It's time for the (perhaps not ideally named ?) Africajarc (warning ! insanely over-elaborate and slow-loading site !).
Check out their interesting literary line-up, and a (French) preview at Afrik.com.
A recent mission to Iraq headed by top archaeologists from the U.S. and U.K. who specialize in Mesopotamia found that, contrary to received wisdom, southern Iraq's most important historic sites -- eight of them -- had neither been seriously damaged nor looted after the American invasion.
This, according to a report by staff writer Martin Bailey in the July issue of the Art Newspaper.
The article has caused confusion, not to say consternation, among archaeologists and has been largely ignored by the mainstream press.
Citing the June survey, recent reports in The Art Newspaper and The Wall Street Journal have somewhat breathlessly suggested that little or no looting in southern Iraq actually occurred.
To the contrary, the findings provide further evidence that organized plunder was both extensive and selective, bearing out earlier indications that some large sites were not affected.
For a formal report on the eight sites inspected in the survey, see www.britishmuseum.org/iraq.
Indeed, this being the Internet, why didn't they get us straight to the source from the beginning -- which even the Eakin article doesn't do: it's another click until we get to the actual report (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), An Assessment of Archaeological Sites in June 2008 -- whose concluding paragraph finds fairly inconclusively that:
Although this survey seems to indicate that there has been no looting during the last few years, it should be noted that we visited only eight sites and these are all in the southern part of Iraq.
We were not even able to visit sites in the north part of Thi Qar province (for example Umma, Zabalam, Adab and Girsu), and the situation at those sites, as well as at sites in the more northerly provinces of Qadisiyah, Wasit, and Babil might be completely different.
Lastly, we should remember that the sites visited may not even be typical for the southern region.
Talk about hedging your bets .....
Surely it's clear that these questions will only be resolved years from now.
That sites like Ur (used as an American military base) weren't looted comes as no surprise (as to the damage caused by the troops, we'll see ...); that these southern sites are less vulnerable than some in more contentious areas also seems clear.
Speaking only from very limited and already pretty distant personal experience -- I'm one of the few Western tourists to have travelled through Iraq over the past three decades, having spent two weeks there in 1989, during that brief window when the country was vaguely accessible between the Iran-Iraq war and the invasion of Kuwait (and, yes, I was the only tourist in every last town there ...) -- the conditions on the ground even back then were such that it is unimaginable that even the most peripheral side-effects of war would not have meant losses on an incredible scale.
In Warka (Uruk) you could have just scooped up what was lying on the ground in plain sight (or crunched underfoot ...) and stocked a museum .....
Whether outright 'looted' (and surely there was some of that, readily accomplished without digging up very much) or wantonly and indifferently destroyed, I have no doubt that a whole lot of history and art has been lost in the past few years.
Saddam Hussein wasn't doing a great job preserving things (and his re-built Babylon -- incredible, in a way, but also pure perversion -- was one of the great disappointments of my trip) but there's no question in my mind that what the Anglo-American invasion has wrought is a tragic large-scale and permanent loss of a completely different order.
They've announced the 21-titles strong longlist for the so-called Man 'Asian' Literary Prize, selected from 143 submissions.
(See the official press release (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) for all 21 titles and additional information; they unaccountably (and amateurishly) missed three of the titles on the
It's a prize for an: "Asian novel unpublished in English" -- though, as the fine print has it (and as we've repeatedly complained), they have a very limited notion of 'Asian':
"Asian" means written by an author of 18 years of age or older who is both a citizen and resident an Asian country or territory, which is defined as one of Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Mongolia, The Peopleís Republic of China, The Hong Kong or Macau Special Administrative Regions, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan
I.e. forget about any of the Arabic-speaking nations, forget about Turkey and Iran, forget about all those Central Asian former Soviet states.
And while the general idea is still a decent one, the rules still make for an uneven playing field: last year's ringer (and -- surprise, surprise -- winner) was Wolf Totem, this year it's Yu Hua's Brothers which already has a convenient US publication date of 27 January 2009 (after the prize is announced on 13 November) -- pre-order your copy at Amazon.com.
This is a book which, for example, came out in April (!) in French translation (Frères ? Hardly -- it's Brothers in the French edition too; see the Actes Sud publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.fr)
-- and seems to be doing pretty nicely there, with an Amazon-sales rank of 1034, last we checked.
I.e. this book is in a different category from almost all the others in the field (and has to be the prohibitive betting-favourite at this point).
In The keys to the kingdom of fiction in The Guardian
they note that: 'The Villa Gillet has been asking writers who attend the International Forum on the Novel to select a word which underpins their work. Jonathan Lethem, Adam Thirlwell, Nuruddin Farah and James Meek explain how the words they've chosen are key to their writing'.
They also point out that:
The keywords selected by visiting authors have been compiled into a dictionary, the Lexique Nomade, published by Christian Bourgois.
Check out the impressive list of all the contributing authors at the
Christian Bourgois publicity page -- or get your own copy from Amazon.fr
Lee Rourke's Scarecrow Comment points us to Kit Maude's guest article at Vulpes Libris on translating and editing 'Banquet of Lies' (i.e. the Marion Boyars' edition of Amin Zaoui's Banquet of Lies; see our review).
As we've noted, they admirably brought this out in a bilingual edition, and Maude notes some of the difficulties of doing that.
Frank Wynne was responsible for the English translation, and:
Frank took one look at the text and decided that it wasnít going to stand a literal translation.
So 'game on' as they say in The West Wing and elsewhere.
The text, when it arrived, was certainly not literal.
Interesting choices had been made, colloquialisms translated, dialect explained.
All the juicy issues that get people exercised about translations, both good and bad, are there. Which is exactly what we wanted.
And since the French original is always there for comparison we don't mind all that at all (whereas it would (or could) be more problematic if all there was was the translation.)
Is Uwe Tellkamp's East German saga
Der Turm ('The Tower') the big book of the German fall season ?
The nearly 1000-page novel, due out in September, has to be considered an early contender for the German Book Prize, now that they've announced that it's picked up the biennial Uwe-Johnson-Preis.
See also the (German) Suhrkamp publicity page, or pre-order your copy from Amazon.de.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Nancy Huston's Fault Lines.
Despite first being published in French in 2006, Huston -- who writes in both French and English -- apparently wrote it in English (or maybe that's just what she's now telling English-speaking audiences, so they won't be scared off by the thought of having to deal with translated literature ...).
It came out in Australia last year, recently in the UK, and is finally due out in October in the US.