French magazine Lire present what they think are Les vingt meilleurs livres de l'année (i.e. top twenty books of the year), in a variety of categories.
Yasmina Khadra's Ce que le jour doit à la nuit tops their list, but they also find Zone by Mathias Enard (which, you'll recall, Open Letter recently won the US rights for) the Révélation française 2008 -- and Christoph Ransmayr's novel in verse, La montagne volante, (which we'll be reviewing sooner or later) one of the best foreign novels.
Murakami Haruki's story, 'All God's Children Can Dance' (which you can find in the collection After the Quake), has been made into a movie by Robert Logevall (see the IMDb page) and, as we learn from De Papieren Man, has premiered in the Netherlands.
No word as to any US theatrical release we could find.
"The band of idiots who were holding literature hostage had made readers desert and only heroes like (Spanish novelists) Juan Marse and Eduardo Mendoza maintained those subtle but still firm ties with literature that told you things," the writer said.
The Sunday Times offer their Christmas Books Special 2008, where they list their 'best books' in various categories.
Most of these are worthless (wine books ?), but at least they do do the only thing that should count, fiction -- claiming it was A year of fantastic fiction.
They name A Mercy by Toni Morrison 'the Sunday Times novel of the year' -- but then they also consider Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger commendable, so this is definitely a list that can't be taken all too seriously .....
More interestingly, Ginny Hooker compiles 'Season's readings' at The Guardian, as "writers and politicians pick the best of 2008": see pages one, two, three, and four.
(We know that sites are desperate to artificially inflate their page-view totals by spreading their articles out as thinly as possible, but come on, you have to have a view-on-one-page-option ... !)
(Updated - 30 November): See now also Here are the ones they just couldn't put down, as The Observer "asked a mix of public figures, Observer critics and people on the street to tell us which books thrilled them most this year".
The December SWR-Bestenliste, where 30 German literary critics select the books they most highly recommend, is out.
Denis Johnson tops the list -- but note that his feeble 51-point total means that, according to the points-system they use, possibly as few as 4 of the 30 critics thought he rated a mention .....
Juan Goytisolo only got the Premio Nacional de las Letras Españolas (see our previous mention), and it's Juan Marsé who takes the biggest of the Spanish-language author prizes this year, the Premio Miguel de Cervantes -- "el máximo reconocimiento a la labor creadora de escritores españoles e hispanoamericanos cuya obra haya contribuido a enriquecer de forma notable el patrimonio literario en lengua española"; see, for example, the AP report by Daniel Woolls, Spanish novelist Juan Marse wins Cervantes Prize.
None of his books appear to have been published in the US in the past quarter of a century, but at least in the UK a couple of Nick Caistor translations have come out in the past few years, most recently Shanghai Nights (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk) and also Lizard Tails (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk).
The TLS publish a selection from this year's choices of the TLS Books of the Year recommendations.
With a good mix of selectors and brief explanations, it's usually one of the better lists; we'll probably have more to say once we see the full list (in the print edition).
As Lizok's Bookshelf reports, Vladimir Makanin's Асан ('Asan') has won the Russian Большая книга ('Big Book') prize.
There's tons of Russian-language coverage, but so far nothing in English; quite a few of Makanin's books have been translated (and see, for example, Harvey Pekar's MetroActivereview of the volume containing Escape Hatch and The Long Road Ahead), so it's quite possible that this will make it into English ... eventually.
As widely reported, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (the recently consolidated Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt) have figured out a new way of being publishers: they're not acquiring any new manuscripts/books.
As Rachel Deahl reports at Publishers Weekly, HMH Places "Temporary" Halt on Acquisitions.
She quotes Josef Blumenfeld, "v-p of communications"
"In this case, it’s a symbol of doing things smarter; it’s not an indicator of the end of literature," he said.
"We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline."
Come on !
If you've stopped acquiring you might as well close shop right there and then.
(As for symbols of doing things that definitely don't sound smarter, having a "v-p of communications" would be pretty high on our list of those.)
As Alison Flood reports in The Guardian, there was a Rare victory for non-fiction book in John Llewellyn Rhys prize, as The Secret Life of Words by Henry Hitchings became the first non-fiction work to take the prize (which: "rewards the best work of literature (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama) by a UK or Commonwealth writer aged 35 or under") in six years.
No word yet at the official site, last we checked .....
The Germans are all abuzz about recent Man Booker winner Aravind 'The White Tiger' Adiga cancelling his tour of the German-speaking countries.
Some ten days ago Julia Kospach interviewed him in the Frankfurter Rundschau, and he told her that he wasn't eager to go in the first place, because when he was a student in England he visited Germany and they constantly made complications for him, because they held him to be an illegal immigrant.
He split after three days, and his interest ever to return to Germany or Austria was, he said, absolutely zero -- "I think I won't for the rest of my life."
Now Oliver Jungen talks to him in the FAZ and he sort of clears things up.
For one, he has nothing against Austria .....
As to Germany ... well, already as a teenager he had wanted to travel there, and he had already read: "Goethe and Heine, Thomas Mann and Robert Musil, Benjamin and Kafka, but also Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer" ("As a teenager", Jungen cruelly reminds his readers ...)
And in 1998 he went, but he had so many problems (in Eisenach and Erfurt -- everyone's first stops ....) that he turned straight back.
Jungen also asks him about the use of the epistolary form in his novel, and how Adiga thinks Wen Jiabao would have reacted to the letter(s) -- but Adiga says they weren't "really actual letters, that Balram was more talking to himself aloud" (not, as Jungen notes, that anything like that is clear in the book itself ...).
A reminder that at the austrian cultural forum in New York tonight at 18:30 Wolf Haas will be in conversation with local barkeep M.A.Orthofer (with Dominic Cuskern and translator Stephanie Gilardi reading from two of his works).
(If you'd like to attend note that admission is free but reservations are necessary; Call (212) 319 5300 ext.222 or email firstname.lastname@example.org )
In Haaretz Noah Efron finds that: 'The English publication, nearly six decades later, of S. Yizhar's Khirbet Khizeh is an opportunity to review the different ways Israelis have related to this tale of war's moral ambiguities', in The price of return.
Now, a generation later, reading the English translation, many of the same feelings return, though they are still more complicated.
Once again, horror is followed by an awed pride that so self-immolating a story could ever have been considered canonical, much less remain so for almost 60 years. But then comes a dull, dyspeptic realization that Khirbet Khizeh, in English, in 2008, is a gift for anti-Israel propagandists.
It will enter the growing bibliography of "ethnic cleansing" literature.
From now on, it will be Exhibit A in the case against Israel: positive proof that from the very start, like today, Israel has violently, sometimes murderously, displaced innocent Palestinians.
The book invites this.
Khirbet Khizeh retains an immediacy that lends it straight-from-today's-front-page relevance.
(Updated - 25 November): Ouch !
Apparently -- so D.G.Myers at A Commonplace Blog -- the above entry constitutes: Intellectual dishonesty at the Literary Saloon
As firm believer that the author's intentions are irrelevant and all that matters is what a reader sees in any given text, we grant that Myers is obviously 'right'.
Still, given that his reading has no correlation with our intentions -- and seems, regardless of our intentions, a stretch --, we're curious as to how he arrived at it.
Apparently, we unfurled 'a political banner' here under the guise of "pretending to talk about books" (and, so Myers: "Nothing is more intellectually dishonest").
Given that our contribution to the entry consists entirely of the words: In Haaretz Noah Efron finds that, in, and He finds (as well as then suggesting: Get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) we must have been particularly devious (or subtle).
Honestly, it just seemed like the obvious pull-quote to us -- and we have enough faith in our readers that anyone curious about what Efron was talking about would follow the link and read or skim the whole (long) article.
Does it require additional commentary or context ?
That's what the link is for, we thought.
We haven't read the book, so we couldn't argue whether or not we agreed with Efron's reading; indeed, if we had had the patience to comment on the article what we would have highlighted was the question whether or not a work of fiction actually can or should be able to function as any sort of 'exhibit' in an historical-political dispute (and, as long-time visitors to this site could guess, our answer would be strongly on the 'No' side: we don't see fiction's purpose as documentary).
Maybe the quote -- as is -- is inflammatory.
Myers asks: "Why bother with the duty or necessity of respecting a writer’s intentions, or even the actual conclusions of a friendly critic" -- but, again, we're not sure of the writer's intentions: hence, again, the link, so the writer can speak all for himself .....
More disturbing, of course, is to find Mr. Myers imputing some rather unpleasant things.
There is, for example, the notion that our actions constituted: "installing him [Efron], against his will and intention, on my side of the political aisle".
Given that we have never made clear to any of you what 'side of the political aisle' we might be on, at least with regards to any and almost all disputes in and around Israel we wonder where Myers gets this from -- beyond this quote we selected for this post.
Is that really a solid basis ?
Could the choice of the quote not also reflect surprise at Efron's reading of Yizhar's book, about a work of fiction that is about events from sixty years ago (i.e. before most our times), being used as any sort of "Exhibit A" ?
Or: did anyone else think that with this post we had: "proudly announced a new book" ?
(As long-time readers are also aware, we're not big
on shows of 'pride' either.)
Finally: is it in any way fair to say that all we: "really want is to press Israelis into the service of anti-Israeli polemic" ?
How important is context ?
If we had a long history of anti-Israeli polemic maybe Myers' gut-reaction would sound more plausible to us (for all we know it sounds plausible to you regardless of what we think).
But, as best we can tell, we've studiously avoided taking much of a position on matters in that region, and certainly never expressed anything as ridiculously general as being anti- (or, for that matter, pro-) Israeli, and we've restricted our non-literary polemics to relatively few subjects (Mugabe's misrule in Zimbabwe, the silliness of the jr. Bush administration, delusional belief in deities, and a few other odds and ends).
We like to think our readers can judge for themselves, hence many of our posts are little more than a brief mention of an article, a link, and perhaps a quote or two giving some idea what the piece in question is about.
Are we giving you too much credit ?
Do you need more hand-holding ?
Looking through the past few days' posts it strikes us that almost every one is subject to possible misinterpretation -- a voice of support for X or ideology Y or idea Z -- when most of them are merely meant to be little more than rudimentarily informative, pointing you to what is out there, so that you can judge for yourselves.
And we're sorry, but that's about the best we can offer.
Efron's take on Khirbet Khizeh struck us as worth a mention, and that pull-quote obviously the one to get your attention -- it was the one that got ours (and it seems to us the one most worth debating).
We're trying to be open-minded and perhaps this sort of thing gets us too defensive (hence our reluctance to address it at all), but Myers seems to us just to be willfully misconstruing us.
Exhibit A - to keep with the parlance -- is when he claims:
An attentive reader might ask, "What are the ‘same feelings’ to which Efron refers in the first sentence?"
The Saloonists would prefer that you didn’t ask
You think maybe if we didn't want you to know or ask that maybe we wouldn't have included that sentence in the pull-quote ?
As you can see, it really isn't necessary -- except in that it suggests that there's more to what Efron says than what is found in the rest of the quote.
I.e. our inclusion of that sentence is surely an encouragement to ask ... or at least click through the link and see for yourself.
(Our quoting-technique maybe somewhat thoughtless, but it is not entirely so; we do try to offer the most bang for your buck -- or rather: the limited space we're willing to give a quote.)
We like to learn from our mistakes, and given such a strong reaction to what appeared to us to be an entirely innocuous post it's hard for us not to feel we failed somewhere along this line.
Alright, it's obviously not an innocuous quote -- but then neither is the article it is drawn from.
So, what lesson can we take from this ?
Do we really have to spell out so much more for you ?
(Isn't that what the pieces we link to are for ?)
Do you really take our quotes at face value and not check out the whole story ?
And is Israel/Palestine such a hot-button issue that the mere mention of anything to do with it has to be treated with kid gloves ?
The inclusion of the English translation of Saudi writer Rajaa Alsanea’s debut novel The Girls of Riyadh on the longlist for the world’s most valuable literary prize is a further breakthrough for Arabic fiction in translation.
The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award is the largest annual prize for a single work of fiction, worth 100,000 Euros
(As we have often, often mentioned, the IMPAC isn't the 'largest annual prize for a single work of fiction'; several foreign-language prizes leave it in the dust.)
She also goes on at some length about David Tresilian's A Brief Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature.
"This year on average has not been particularly good but since the middle of October our sales have dropped by 20 to 30 percent.
I think that the reduced demand during October might be due to the number of festivals that take place at this time of year," he said.
However, U Kyaw Min, said that he believed other factors may be behind the slow demand.
"I think that the development of the IT sector may be one of the reasons that younger people aren’t so interested in Myanmar classical literature books anymore; young people just read for pleasure," he said.
They've announced that Hungarian-born Swiss author
Agota Kristof has taken this year's Austrian State Prize for European Literature.
It has a solid list of previous winners (see the Wikipedia page for a list).
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
It is certainly one of the most literary places in the US, especially on a per capita basis -- and, as they note:
More than 1,200 emerging and established writers from more than 120 countries have been in residence at the University of Iowa's International Writing Program
In 2006, for a population of 63,027, there were 63,713 public library patrons; borrowers as a percentage of population reached 101 percent.
The Bookseller noted a few weeks ago that Arabian Nights entrance Penguin, as their new edition of The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights, translated by Malcom C. Lyons with Ursula Lyons
is due out (in the UK) on the 27th (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk).
Unfortunately, instead of a reasonably priced boxed set of mass-market-sized paperbacks they're only publishing it in an unaffordable three-volume hardback set -- in an edition limited to 3000, no less.
As The Bookseller has it:
Adam Freudenheim, Penguin Classics publisher, said the scale of the project, which involved translating around one million words across three volumes, merited giving it the luxury treatment.
"The sheer scale of the translation meant we couldn’t publish it in one volume," he said.
"Two volumes would have been stretching the binding capacity to the fullest extent.
Once we realised we would have to publish three volumes it automatically became something special."
(Yeah, we're just never going to understand how publishers 'think'.)
Ahdaf Soueif now reviews it -- to a very limited extent -- in The Times, and does note:
This edition tries hard to avoid charges of exoticism or "orientalism" -- you can feel the effort. It's a workable and honest translation, but not a sparkling one. And it makes me wish that the reader could access the original material.
The University of Minnesota Press announced today an ambitious program, Minnesota Archive Editions, that will establish Minnesota as the first university press to return into print virtually every book published since its founding in 1925.
"We’ve already made more than 600 of our out-of-print titles available again," stated Marketing Director Emily Hamilton, "and within the next six months we will have every title back in print except those for which we don’t have full rights or which are not suitable for digital printing."
The book coverage from The Nation's Fall Books issue
admirably largely available online.
Beside coverage of the new Toni Morrison and the recent (to the US) Naipaul biography, Marcela Valdes tackles Roberto Bolaño's 2666 and William Deresiewicz takes on James Wood's How Fiction Works.
Wood's writing is stretched taut by his command of syntax, made brilliant by his virtuosity of metaphoric coloration.
We are immensely fortunate to have him -- his talent, his erudition, his judgment -- but if American criticism were to follow his lead, it would end up only in a desert.
We haven't been able to get our hands on a copy of How Fiction Works yet (FSG kindly sent us the 2666 galley many months ago, but have denied (or at least ignored) all our requests for books since; so much for any clout we might have ...), but then, as we've mentioned before, we have never really 'gotten' Wood's critical approach.
Quite a few of his reviews are of interest, but only so far; still, when Deresiewicz finds: "reading his critique of the gaseous George Steiner, I sometimes feel like I am watching two men beat each other with balloons" we'd like to take a closer look.
We've mentioned before how the geriatric Académie française seems to have trouble filling their fauteuils; they are back up to 39 out of 40 but the most recent addition -- Simone Veil, elected with a solid 22 votes in favour -- does not exactly look like a well-thought out part of any rejuvenation efforts.
The grande dame is 81 years old, for christ's sake !
See, for example, Le Monde's report, Simone Veil élue à l'Académie française.
With Bolaño-mania really taking hold with the publication of 2666
(at least in the US; it's interesting to note that the UK papers have almost completely ignored American enthusiasm, perhaps storing up their coverage for the UK publication of the book, which is still a few months away), even The Economist writes about the 'Hymn to a dead Chilean', in Bolaño-mania.
(By the way: we're guessing someone must have used it earlier, but we've been bandying about the term 'Bolaño-mania' since August, 2007).
Yes, yes, as, for example, Alison Flood reports in The Guardian, Bad sex award exposes this year's nominees, as the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award shortlist has been announced.
You'd figure with all the attention this thing attracts that the Literary Review would take advantage of the interest and play it up real big at their site; instead the page devoted to it is all last year's news.
A wasted opportunity.
At Slate Reza Aslan finds 'A new translation captures the confusion' in How To Read the Quran, discussing Tarif Khalidi's recent translation, The Qur'an (see the Penguin Classics publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk (and we particularly like how on the Amazon.co.uk page they describe the book as being: "by None (Author)"))
Khalidi's Quran is unique in that it is divided not into individual verses, as is the case with all other Qurans, no matter their language, but rather into clusters of three, four, or five verses at a time. In other words, he bundles the individual verses into lengthy paragraphs that are rendered in both prose and poetry.