Bernard Werber, a writer of fantasy and science fiction novels says that people are always spying on each other.
"Everybody tries to do conventional things," he says.
"People don’t dare to write new things any more.
I wrote a book on a world with only women.
Another book where there’s no petrol."
"You cannot always write books which are set in the 1950s and 1960s," he continues.
"It’s a pity that everybody is now competing for that literary prize, that piece of chocolate that they hand out in November."
(Werber is best (only ?) known in English for his ant-world books, and we're not exactly sure what his point is.
Surely writing a book about a world with only women (or about ant-civilisations ...) is hardly cutting edge -- indeed, it's a pretty tired premise and about as conventional as anything, isn't it ?)
We have a few of Taban Lo Liyong's books under review -- see, for example, our review of Another Last Word -- and apparently he has a new work out -- though it's hard to tell exactly what it is from Egara Kabaji's piece on it in The Standard, Taban’s new play lacks depth and offers little textual richness.
Kabaji certainly seems to be ... ambivalent about Taban, beginning his piece: "Taban Lo Liyong is one of the most interesting characters on the East African literary scene", but then immediately adding: "Since the time he burst into the limelight in 1968, he has developed his career on nothing but brewing controversy".
And he writes about the new work:
His latest work is Showhat and Sowhat.
My expectations were great as I embarked on reading it.
This time, he chose to write a play !
But a close examination of the book shows it is not a play as such.
It may not even qualify to be a dialogue.
Perhaps, it may be prudent to say it defies classification, and at the same time lacks any edifying stylistic innovation.
As a play, I would be so happy to know of a producer who is capable of staging it, in its present form, without annoying himself and his audience.
In The Telegraph John Coldstream writes about the early days of the Booker (now Man Booker) Prize for Fiction (which was almost the Bucklersbury Prize for Fiction ...), in The Booker Prize for friction.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Peter Adolphsen's Machine.
Despite its flaws, this is among the more interesting works of fiction we've read recently -- and we're surprised at how little attention it has gotten stateside.
(Of course, even we just managed to get our hands on a copy recently (though we'd been on the lookout for it), but it's been out there for quite a few months by now.)
"When I was 16, I loved James Bond and Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsyth.
I was attracted to espionage novels, and then I decided to become a literary writer, whatever that meant.
I spent a lot of years writing very bad imitations of Kafka, and it took a long time for me to realise that the actual storytelling techniques that I had learned from genre writing were vital to this thing we call literary fiction.
"I guess it takes a while to realise that the genres are equal.
It's not about the perception or prestige of a genre but rather the way in which an individual writer's consciousness can handle the different genres.
I am still very drawn to the underbelly of things, the things that no one will talk about, and to give those things a voice."
As we've mentioned on occasion, every month 29 of the leading German literary critics vote for the new publications they'd most recommend (they can vote for four titles, awarding 15, 10, 6, and 3 points, and books are only eligible for three months, after which they have to vote for newer titles).
The resulting SWR-Bestenliste is always of some interest; so also the September list, which includes Nabokov's Pale Fire and a Cesare Pavese in 4th.
Note also the low point totals, which mean a lot of titles are getting votes, and that it only takes a few jurors agreeing on a title to get into the top 10.
In Mmegi Gasebalwe Seretse reports that Local authors cry foul, as 'Local writers have expressed concern that government is not doing enough to promote the literary arts in the country':
"The reason why government overlooks the literary arts is because of the limited definition of culture," says Lecheng-based author, Lauri Kubuetsile, who also happens to be the Vice Chairperson of the Writers Association of Botswana (WABO).
His previous novel, The Oprichnik Day (oprichniks were the henchmen of Ivan the Terrible), portrayed Russia in 2028, with an emperor in the Kremlin, the Russian language peppered with Chinese words and a huge wall separating Russia from wicked neighbors.
This dystopian image was, curiously enough, taken by many to be rather desirable.
In the new work:
As always, Sorokin shows his unique stylistic dexterity, easily creating new types of language.
The Russian of 2028, apart from the addition of Chinese words, is purged of Westernisms, heavily archaic and dense.
The vivid pictures, such as the one of the empresses' dream when she sees an absolutely empty Kremlin and understands that it's all made of cocaine, are rather funny, but the humor is mixed with horror and leaves an uneasy feeling.
(Sorokin in English translation is still many books behind: the most recent was Ice.)
In Le Figaro Mohammed Aïssaoui has a first look at which titles might be contenders for this fall's French literary prizes, in Prix littéraires: premiers échos.
Meanwhile at Le Monde Alain Beuve-Méry writes Un peu moins de titres, toujours plus d'éditeurs, offering all sorts of numbers, including the sales-numbers for some of the big bestsellers of recent times.
Stieg Larsson's 'Millennium'-trilogy (yes, all three volumes are out in France, even before the first appears in the US ...) has shifted a phenomenal 1,7 million copies, while Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog (just out in English, with the first reviews starting to roll in) continues to sell incredibly well and has now shifted 1,1 million copies (as you know from our review: we don't really get it -- but think its success tells you a lot about the French).
The work of the Hague judges is to prove individual guilt in the war crimes committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia and they, the judges, will be the first, I presume, not to agree with the emotional and hazy thesis of collective guilt.
It seems, however, that the mere trial of war criminals does not have the power to carry out a real catharsis or to set in motion real social change.
For without the admission of collective responsibility there can be no successful de-nazification.
For many citizens of former Yugoslavia, regardless of the actual scale of their responsibility and guilt in the recent war, which, we emphasise, is not equal or the same, those who are to blame for everything are always -- the others: for the Croats it is the Serbs, for the Serbs the Muslims, the Kosovo Albanians, the Croats, the whole world
(That's also very much the impression we got from Wojciech Tochman's Like Eating a Stone.)
Coincidentally, we just received the very attractive finished copy of the Open Letter edition of Ugresic's Nobody's Home (meaning also that it should soon be available in bookstores ...) -- the first of their books, and what a great way to start ......
Not many reviews yet, but we'll be adding them as they come in (the NYTBR should have theirs this weekend): the most recent addition to the complete review is our review-overview of Curtis Sittenfeld's Laura Bush-novel, American Wife.
The Museum of Innocence, a new book by Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk, will be published in more than 30 languages after its release in Turkey this week, Vatan reported, without saying where it got the information.
Not even an Amazon listing for a US or UK edition yet, but Masumiyet Müzesi
is coming out in Turkish on Friday: see the İletişim Yayıncılık publicity page, or get your copy of the German translation (as we are sorely tempted to do) from Amazon.de.
(It looks to be his longest book, by the way, and should be in the 600-page range in the English translation.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Bibish's The Dancer from Khiva.
Not really the sort of thing we usually cover -- and we would have thought it over a few more times if the ARC had included the subtitle they apparently eventually went with, One Muslim Woman's Quest for Freedom -- but given how little writing of any sort comes (even by way of a Russian detour) out of Central Asia we were at least curious, and the fact that it won two of the big Russian literary prizes also made us curious.
Not that we believe the prize-wins are stamps of approval, but they do say something about the Russian literary scene (and, sadly, it's not a very good thing they're saying ...).
Like Ruben Gallego's White on Black (another recent Russian prize winner ...), this is yet another ... heartwarming tale of overcoming life's unfairness: in Bibish's case, she was gang-raped when she was eight, which pretty much gives her carte-blanche to complain about how unfair life is (and anything else she wants) -- but, like Gallego, she's full of ... almost good cheer.
Quite a change from whiney American memoirs, anyway.
But in the end the book also feels oddly pointless.
(As best we can tell, Gallego's book seems to have been a big dud on the US market; will this one fare better ?)
Signandsight.com (indirectly) make us aware of Javier Marías' article in El País, Esta absurda aventura -- by which he doesn't mean writing, but rather his publishing venture.
As part of his ... peculiar 'Kingdom of Redonda'-game there's also a Reino de Redonda-imprint.
As he explains:
Me limito a recuperar maravillosos libros olvidados y a ofrecer algunos nuevos que en mi opinión deberían ser conocidos en mi lengua o en mi país
Making for an appealing New York Review Books-style list.
But, as he notes: "Aun así ponemos a los libros precios razonables, y aun así no se venden mucho" (despite reasonable pricing, they aren't selling well).
The bestselling title has shifted 5000 copies, but 1000 is more like it for most of the others.
Interesting to see the kind of titles he's selected -- including several by fellow-Redondan M.P.Shiel, including his last-man-alive story, The Purple Cloud (see the University of Nebraska Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- which includes the amusing tribute to Arthur Machen, whom the last-man-alive protagonist finds dead, apparently overcome while trying to pen one last poem.
(Machen was a friend of Shiel's, and still very much alive for decades after the book first came out.)
So last year the Swiss moved away from the protectionist policy of fixed book prices (still very popular throughout Europe, though a variety of discounting end-runs have generally somewhat weakened it), but now, as for example the NZZ reports: it's Zurück zur Buchpreisbindung
('Back to fixed book prices').
A parliamentary commission narrowly voted 13-11 yesterday for reinstating fixed prices, and apparently that's enough to pretty much guarantee that that's what they'll do.
As the vote suggests, the jury is still pretty much out on how good or bad fixed book prices are for the market and for readers/book-buyers.
An organisation set up to support fixed prices, Buchvielfalt bewahren !, has a lot of interesting supporting material (in German, and mostly in pdf format, alas).
In the Salisbury Journal they profile Aflame Books and Richard Bartlett, in Lost in translation ! (spicing up that over-used headline with some emphatic punctuation ...)
We have quite a few Aflame books under review -- but never realised:
Aflame stands for African, Latin America and Middle East
Publishing books in translation is considered to be a niche market and Richard and Gavin would love to have a big break.
But somebody's gotta schlep the meals: At the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the job falls to two dozen young writers who serve as waiters for the two-week summer summit, donning aprons and name tags to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to the 225 participants.
Bread Loaf crumbs, they're not. Most are professors, graduate students in the fine arts or prize-winning writers
"We're wearing aprons, but everybody who's here -- the agents, the editors, the faculty, the fellows, the other contributors -- knows that this person who's waiting on you is going to be a very important writer in four or five years," said Tiphanie Yanique, 29, a poet and fiction writer from New York who's the head waiter in this year's group.
"So for us, it's kind of amazing. And I think for everybody, it's kind of amazing."
Well, self-important, that seems for sure.
Presumably we hardly need mention this, since surely you've been following it all along, but what excitement ! the Indiaplaza Golden Quill Book Award shortlist has now been announced -- and: "The countdown for the close of the voting for the Indiaplaza Golden Quill 2008 Readers' Choice Award has begun".
This prize is sort of interesting because it reveals a bit more about the Indian literary scene, with books in contention that don't make it abroad.
Check out the 16-title strong longlist
(bonus: cover-pictures !), with its bevy of one-name authors ('Rajashree', 'Anand', 'Sankar') -- none of whose books, oddly enough, made the shortlist.
And it's got to be a prize with some standards if a Nobel laureate fails to crack the shortlist (Rabindranath Tagore made the long- but not the short-list).
One of the few other titles published abroad, Filming by Tabish Khair, also fell short, but at least the author with the best name made it, Loveleen Kacker (for The Sugar Baron's Daughter).
And with a jury of recognisable names it has to be taken a bit seriously.
But maybe only a bit.
They've announced the winners of the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes -- though
predictably enough, not at the official site.
As, for example, the BBC has it, there were: New winners for oldest book prize.
Rosalind Belben's Our Horses in Egypt took the fiction prize, while some other book won in the other category.
With Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo finally due in the US in a couple of weeks (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com, or get the paperback at Amazon.co.uk) we're bracing ourselves for a flood of coverage; as is we've already had more than enough from the UK and France, and Barry Forshaw's account of the "swift rise and early death of Steig [sic] Larsson", Crime writer taken too soon, in The Times is pretty typical of what we expect.
But at least he mentions the one good underlying story behind all this 'succss' -- the fight for the cash:
MacLehose is referring to the one sour note in the author's success -- the messy situation regarding his royalties, with claims and counterclaims involving various family members.
Matters are complicated by Swedish laws regarding intestate deaths, in which the State takes 50 per cent of the deceased's earnings before relatives can make a claim.
(Yet another reminder to all you authors out there: put your literary estates in order, just in case .....
And don't die intestate in Sweden (though dying intestate anywhere is inadvisable (yes, yes, we know you think dying anywhere or at all is inadvisable, but it is going to happen, even to you -- so prepare !)).)
How did we miss this ?
(Well, for one reason it appeared in the International Herald Tribune, rather than in a truly US-based paper, despite the subject matter .....)
In Italian job: Thriller coming to U.S. Elisabetta Povoledo describes how Giorgio Faletti's mega-bestselling I Kill wound up getting published in the US, as:
Until June, however, it was unavailable in English.
And the English translation appeared only because the Italian publisher, unable to find a partner in New York or London, decided to put up the money itself and to come out with its own edition of the book, by Giorgio Faletti.
"We tried to sell the rights to an American publisher but they were reluctant to risk launching an unknown foreign author, even one that had sold millions of copies," said Alessandro Dalai, publisher of Baldini Castoldi Dalai editore, which is based in Milan.
Dalai's plight was typical of foreign publishers trying to sell their books into English-speaking markets, where translated fiction, whether it is Italian, Finnish or Japanese, does not have much of a shelf life.
In desperation, foreign publishers resort to self-publishing:
So I Kill became the first fiction project of the American imprint of Baldini Castoldi Dalai.
And it was a substantial investment: Adding up translation and editing costs and setting up marketing and distribution channels, the publisher spent about €500,000, or $780,000.
We've actually been meaning to have a look at this title, but haven't found a way of obtaining a copy (sorry, paying anywhere close to list price is not in the cards); despite some nice notices (it was a Sarah Weinman-Picks of the Week) it doesn't seem to have garnered much attention -- or made for a decent return on the investment yet, with a current Amazon.com Sales Rank of 292,443 (and UK rank of 125,487); get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Among the other mind-boggling points made in the piece:
Susanna Tamaro's Follow Your Heart, the biggest selling Italian postwar novel, with more than 14 million copies sold, according to its publisher, Baldini Castoldi, as it was known then, sold barely 25,000 copies in the United States.
(Get your copy at Amazon.com (sales rank 385,427 -- ouch) or Amazon.co.uk.)
So this leads to the bizarre situation that an author like Tamaro winds up getting published by the likes of Autumn Hill Books (see their publicity page for Anima Mundi, or get your copy at Amazon.com (sales rank 975,622 ...) or Amazon.co.uk) -- exactly the type of publisher that deserves way more sales and credit than it gets, but a surprising fit for an author who, in Europe, is published by the biggest houses.
Europa Editions also gets some well-deserved love in the article, but it's all terribly undermined by one incredibly silly quote:
"In Italy, most writers write for themselves, their friends and the critics and don't really care if a book sells or doesn't," Dalai said.
"Writers don't write for the public, for millions of potential readers, because the European taste is to say I am a great writer, but the public doesn't understand me."
That, presumably, is exactly the attitude American publishers sense in Italian authors and publishers (completely off-base though it is -- though certainly an attitude they like to affect), and exactly the reason (or at least a good excuse) the books are so hard to place stateside .....
Yes, the French rentrée littéraire can no longer be avoided, and the flood of articles has begun (to be followed by the flood of books).
In L'Hebdo Isabelle Falconnier has a good summary, La rentrée littéraire en bref.
There will be: "676 romans, 466 français, 210 traductions, 91 premiers romans" (676 novels, 466 of them French, 210 translations, 91 debuts).
Amélie Nothomb's Le fait du prince leads the pack with a print-run of 200,000, while books by Ken Follett, Catherine Millet, and Alice Ferney will have print runs in the 100,000-range.
And the fattest book of the season is Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day, finally available in translation as Contre-jour.
La République des Lettres also has a good run-down, listing most of the major publications, while Le Figaro offers more in-depth information on what they consider the top 30, in 30 romans à ne pas manquer
In The Guardian Lizzy Davies previews the new Millet, in The jealous life of Catherine M, while in the Nouvel Observateur Grégoire Leménager offers a quick review of the new Nothomb and finds it to be Kafka superlight (no surprise: her every-other-year non-autobiographical fiction is decidedly more hit or miss).
We were very excited about The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction when we first heard about it, and it's good to learn that, as Sadanand Menon now writes in Canonising pulp fiction in the Business Standard, that this: "anthology of Tamil pulp fiction translated into English, has turned out to be a runaway bestseller."
So they've announced (yes ! in English, too !) the 20-title strong longlist for the German Book Prize (Deutscher Buchpreis), selected from 161 titles (considerably more, we note, than the Man Booker panel looked at ...).
Quite a few recognisable names for English-speaking audiences, with the books by Marcel Beyer, Peter Handke, Ingo Schulze, Uwe Tellkamp (see our recent mention), Uwe Timm, and Martin Walser having been decent bets to eventually make it into English anyway (as is the book by still lesser-known (in the US/UK) Feridun Zaimoglu).
The only titles we've read are the Handke (review forthcoming) and Lukas Bärfuss' interesting Rwanda-novel, Hundert Tage, though we'd like to have a look at the Tellkamp, Schulze, and Dietmar Dath; we had a go at the Beyer but couldn't see it through.
A few notes on the prize: the longlisted titles were selected from 161 books -- but publishers only submitted 145, i.e. 16 were called in.
Just as ridiculously as the Man Booker folk have it, each publisher is only allowed two entries -- so note that Hanser placed three titles on the longlist and Suhrkamp placed four.
At least two of the Suhrkamp titles must have been called in -- makes you wonder which ones they left off their official submission list.
(Our guess is they submitted the Dath and the Tellkamp as their best bets (the prize has definitely skewed towards younger, less established authors, though of course the composition of the jury is different from year to year) -- but the Tellkamp looks to have been a safe bet anyway, i.e. is a book they could have left out, feeling relatively certain it would be called in.)
With former longtime Suhrkamp-authors Norbert Gstrein and Martin Walser
(humiliatingly for Rowohlt in their anniversary year their only contender) also on the longlist, the jury would appear to tend strongly towards the Suhrkamp editorial-line -- something to keep in mind when placing your bets.
Here, too, we must complain about their ridiculous policy
(that they don't make available in English ...), that:
Die Gesamtliste der eingereichten Titel wird nicht veröffentlicht.
(The list of all the submitted titles will not be released.)
Again -- and again and again (as it goes for the Man Booker and, as we recently complained, the (American) National Book Award, and far too many other book prizes -- we have to ask: how are we supposed to take a prize seriously if we don't even know who is in the running in the first place ?
The Germans are usually pretty good at getting book-information about the contending titles up, at the latest at the shortlist stage; we'll try to keep you posted.
Active effort by the publishing sector to translate literary works from diverse national languages and foreign literature
Anyway, this designation is not to be confused with UNESCO's designation of the World Book Capital City (which would be Beirut (yes, really) in 2009, and Ljubljana in 2010).
Conveniently the Melbourne-announcement comes just as the Melbourne Writers Festival is set to start on Friday.
After shamelessly copying the Man Booker Prize for the German Book Prize, the Germans are now also imitating the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year with their own German oddest book title ('Kuriosester Buchtitel') prize; readers can now vote for what they think is the oddest among the twenty titles that made the final cut.
Unlike the Diagram Prize, this one includes a few 'literary' titles that some figured might be in the running for the German Book Prize too: Michael Köhlmeier's Idylle mit ertrinkendem Hund ('Idyll with drowning dog') and Josef Winkler's Ich reiß mir eine Wimper aus und stech dich damit tot ('I'm going to pluck one of my eyelashes out and stab you to death with it') -- a title where you really have to wonder how he convinced his publishers to go with that (or they convinced him ?).