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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 December 2008

21 December: Engdahl stepping down as Swedish Academy Permanent Secretary | Alternative year-end awards | Jamie Byng profile | Rushdie, Suketu Mehta on the Mumbai attacks | The Angel Maker review
22 December: Amélie Nothomb Q & A | David Damrosch on world literature | Publishing in ... Uganda | Quiet year in books ? | (American) publishing mood | Quarantine in the Grand Hotel review
23 December: Indonesian literature abroad | More on the future of publishing ... | International bestsellers
24 December: Reviewing Michael Wolff's Murdoch-book | Best of the year (and better) lists | Over/underrated at Prospect | Equatoria review
25 December: Christmas quizzes | The Lost Art of Walking review
26 December: Harold Pinter (1930-2008) | The Last of the Angels review
27 December: Presidential reading | Year-in-review articles | UK (Christmas) sales
28 December: Forthcoming in 2009 | Writers/politics | More books of the year lists | Samuel Huntington (1927-2008)
29 December: New World Literature Today | Another fake memoir ... | Ghost Train to the Eastern Star review
30 December: Salman Rushdie profile | Robert Giroux profile | Pitching the first lady's memoirs | Kirsch on The Canterbury Tales | Unforgiving Years review
31 December: RSB Books of the Year 2008 symposium | The year in publishing in ... China


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31 December 2008 - Wednesday

RSB Books of the Year 2008 symposium | The year in publishing in ... China

       RSB Books of the Year 2008 symposium

       At ReadySteadyBook "friends and contributors" reveal "which books impressed and moved them most over the last twelve months", in the annual Books of the Year 2008 symposium.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       The year in publishing in ... China

       At Rednet.cn they offer a list of the Top 10 trends in publishing in China in 2008.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



30 December 2008 - Tuesday

Salman Rushdie profile | Robert Giroux profile | Pitching the first lady's memoirs
Kirsch on The Canterbury Tales | Unforgiving Years review

       Salman Rushdie profile

       In The Telegraph John Preston offers a nice long profile of Salman Rushdie: provoking people is in my DNA.
       Apparently Rushdie does keep track of his reviews (and makes up his own while bathing), as he says about The Enchantress of Florence (see our review-overview):
The book, declares Rushdie with satisfaction, has done terrifically well in France, getting 'the sort of rave reviews you find yourself making up in the bath'.

Over here, it had a more mixed reception, but then, as Rushdie says of himself, 'I'm not the sort of writer who ever gets five out of 10 reviews. I tend to get 11 out of 10, or minus one out of 10. That's all right, though; it shows that people are having strong reactions.'

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Robert Giroux profile

       Arts Journal points us to Boris Kachka's Courtly Lion in New York, in which he writes that: 'Robert Giroux's life reminds us that great publishing needs quiet rebels (and taste).'

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Pitching the first lady's memoirs

       In The New Yorker Sheelah Kolhatkar looks at Laura Bush's efforts to sell a book, in First Memoirs.
       Apparently:
The reception to Mrs. Bushís pitch has been mixed so far. "She was not forthcoming about anything that I would consider controversial," the publisher who met with her said. "We questioned her rigorously, but it was one-word answers. I considered it the worst, or the most frustrating, meeting of its sort that Iíve ever had." He added, "But she really couldnít have been nicer."
       Then there is this, courtesy of Curtis Sittenfeld (author of American Wife; see our review-overview):
Even Curtis Sittenfeld, who spent months researching Mrs. Bushís life story, is conflicted about the hypothetical memoir. "Do you remember after Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston separated, it was more interesting to wonder what Aniston thought than to find out what she thinks ?" Sittenfeld said over the phone last week. "Sometimes when people share their thoughts itís sort of disappointing."
       Huh ?
       We're afraid we do not remember that it was more interesting to wonder what Jennifer Aniston thought ... indeed, we still have no idea (or interest) in what she thinks (or her various separations or co-joinings). But Sittenfeld does prove her point: sometimes when people share their thoughts itís sort of disappointing.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Kirsch on The Canterbury Tales

       At Slate Adam Kirsch does his best in trying to present something of a review of a 'translation' of The Canterbury Tales by Burton Raffel, in The Secret of The Canterbury Tales.
       He does grant:
For those readers who are absolutely unwilling to puzzle out Middle English spelling, or spend time getting acquainted with Chaucer's versification and syntax, Raffel's edition will be a useful substitute.
       But he also notes:
But even Raffel, a poet who has translated everyone from Cervantes to Stendhal, seems a little curious why anyone would bother reading The Canterbury Tales in translation.
       See also the Modern Library publicity page, or get your own copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Unforgiving Years review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Victor Serge's Unforgiving Years.
       (This is also one of the books on the longlist for the 'Best Translated Book of 2008'-award.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



29 December 2008 - Monday

New World Literature Today | Another fake memoir ...
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star review

       New World Literature Today

       The January/February issue of World Literature Today is out -- though with a very limited amount accessible online. But you can check out the table of contents and see why the print copy is worth getting.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Another fake memoir ...

       In The New Republic Gabriel Sherman wrote about Wartime Lies, finding: 'An upcoming Holocaust memoir is contradicted by scholars, witnesses, and members of the writer's family. But its publisher is still defending it' -- but the house of cards has come down pretty fast, and as they and everyone else is now reporting: Publisher Cancels Rosenblat Memoir After TNR Exposes Hoax.
       The book was Herman Rosenblat's Angel at the Fence -- and it's noteworthy because it was pretty high-profile, and because Oprah was duped yet again.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Ghost Train to the Eastern Star review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Paul Theroux On the Tracks of The Great Railway Bazaar in Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



28 December 2008 - Sunday

Forthcoming in 2009 | Writers/politics
More books of the year lists | Samuel Huntington (1927-2008)

       Forthcoming in 2009

       There should be quite a few of these previews in the coming weeks, but among the first are:
  • In The Observer: William Skidelsky believes there will be a Return of the storytellers, as: 'After a year dominated by non-fiction, 2009 will see an abundance of eagerly awaited big-name novels'

  • In the Financial Times: Melissa McClements' survey of Fiction to look out for in 2009 -- at least in the first few months of the year
       Both focus on the UK market -- and hence include some titles already out in the US, including 2666, which, for example, the FT has already reviewed .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Writers/politics

       In the Sunday Times Minette Marrin considers Pinter and the odd literary law of geniuses with crazy politics, as:
Wondering about Pinterís dotty political positions, I began to understand an odd natural law of literature: creative writers are often silly political commentators. This is puzzling, because we tend to turn to creative writers for wisdom and understanding of the world. However, it is surprisingly often true that they have nothing sensible to say outside their fiction.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       More books of the year lists

       At least some publications have sensibly waited until closer to the actual end of the year before publishing their 'books of the year'-lists, including:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Samuel Huntington (1927-2008)

       Samuel Huntington has passed away; see, for example the Reuters report, Clash of Civilizations author Samuel Huntington dies. See also, for example, his faculty page.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



27 December 2008 - Saturday

Presidential reading | Year-in-review articles | UK (Christmas) sales

       Presidential reading

       In the Wall Street Journal Karl Rove offers a 'glimpse of what the president has been reading', claiming that Bush Is a Book Lover -- yes, the jr. Bush, the current office-holder .....
       Apparently:
There is a myth perpetuated by Bush critics that he would rather burn a book than read one. Like so many caricatures of the past eight years, this one is not only wrong, but also the opposite of the truth and evidence that bitterness can devour a small-minded critic. Mr. Bush loves books, learns from them, and is intellectually engaged by them.
       We're not sure who has been perpetuating this myth -- surely few people believe this, if only because the first lady -- who, so the widely disseminated p.r., is a big book lover -- would surely frown on her husband consigning books to the flames. Still, the notion that the jr. Bush might be "intellectually engaged" by books (or anything else) is pretty hard to believe.
       Apparently, however, he does read them -- in friendly competition with Rove. Only 40 in 2008 (to Rove's 64), but more in years past (despite the fact that he surely had considerably more leisure time this year).
       And Rove assures us:
In the 35 years I've known George W. Bush, he's always had a book nearby.
       There are some decent books among those Rove lists, but certainly far too little fiction -- though:
Each year, the president also read the Bible from cover to cover, along with a daily devotional.
       We're more curious what's going to be on the new guy's reading list; we hope one of his aides shares that with the public annually as well.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Year-in-review articles

       Among the many year-in-review articles appearing are:        (Updated - 29 December): See also James Adams' report in the Globe & Mail, finding that: 'It was a year of shocks and unease for Canadian publishing' in In publishing, the writing was on the wall.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       UK (Christmas) sales

       In The Bookseller Philip Stone reports that Rowling and French are Xmas hits (but he also reports that overall in the UK Book sales still behind 2007).
       Particularly impressive:
With life sales now totalling just over 750,000 copies, The Tales of Beedle the Bard has also become the bestselling book of the year, despite being on sale for little more than two weeks.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



26 December 2008 - Friday

Harold Pinter (1930-2008) | The Last of the Angels review

       Harold Pinter (1930-2008)

       As widely noted, 2005 Nobel laureate Harold Pinter has passed away.
       Among the obituaries and tributes:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       The Last of the Angels review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Fadhil al-Azzawi's The Last of the Angels.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



25 December 2008 - Thursday

Christmas quizzes | The Lost Art of Walking review

       Christmas quizzes

       Apparently the popular thing to do in the British newspapers at this time of the year -- rather than provide actual literary content -- is to offer 'Christmas quizzes':
  • In The Guardian John Crace tests readers on 2008 in books -- with instant gratification (i.e. they tell you how well you did)

  • In The Telegraph they have Raymond Duck's Christmas Book Quiz 2008 (answer key available online)

  • More ambitiously -- and with cash (well, gift certificate) prizes ! (but no clue how well you did until the results are announced) -- there's The Times/Waterstone's Christmas Quiz 2008

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       The Lost Art of Walking review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Geoff Nicholson on The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism, in The Lost Art of Walking.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



24 December 2008 - Wednesday

Reviewing Michael Wolff's Murdoch-book | Best of the year (and better) lists
Over/underrated at Prospect | Equatoria review

       Reviewing Michael Wolff's Murdoch-book

       'Media Monkey' at The Guardian reports that Silent right: Sunday Telegraph refuses to publish 'unfestive' Murdoch review, as they apparently killed a review of Michael Wolff's recent Murdoch-book, The Man Who Owns the News:
Monkey hears Sunday Telegraph books editor Michael Prodger commissioned Kim Fletcher, one-time editorial director of the Telegraph Media Group, husband of one-time Sunday Telegraph editor Sarah Sands and sometimes MediaGuardian press columnist to review the book. In came the review, Prodger gave it the thumbs up, but it was killed off higher up the editorial food chain.
       Meanwhile, as Alison Flood reports in The Guardian, Conrad Black excoriates Murdoch biography, as former Telegraph-owner Conrad Black reviewed the book at The Daily Beast, in The Rupert I Know.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Best of the year (and better) lists

       Entertainment Weekly offers up its own Best Fiction of 2008 list; more usefully, they also offer a list of 5 Worst of 2008.

       Meanwhile, at Reason they also have 'staffers pick the best books of 2008', in The Year in Books.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Over/underrated at Prospect

       One hundred Prospect writers look at 'Which political and cultural events have been most overrated and underrated this year' in 'How should we rate 2008 ?' -- annoyingly stretched out over four pages (one, two, three, and four).
       Quite a few literary mentions -- with Zoe Hellerís The Believers sharing the distinction (with the film Mamma Mia! ...) of getting both an over- (Lesley Chamberlain) and an underrated (William Skidelsky) mention.
       Other literary ones include Anshuman Mondal's overrated call of:
Salman Rushdieís The Enchantress of Florence. When John Sutherland said Rushdieís novel "rocks" he must have been off his rocker. Yes, itís an improvement on his three previous disasters, insofar as itís readable, but the theme of east and west being mirrors of each other is hackneyed now.
       While in the underrated category Trevor Dolby argues:
Philip Roth's latest Indignation was inexplicably ignored. Beautifully written, tempered with calculated anger. The critics, those who could be bothered, suggest Roth is publishing too much and quality is suffering. Balderdash.
       We must have missed it getting ignored -- though that may well have been the case in the UK.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Equatoria review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tom Dreyer's Equatoria.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



23 December 2008 - Tuesday

Indonesian literature abroad | More on the future of publishing ...
International bestsellers

       Indonesian literature abroad

       In The Jakarta Globe Richard Oh considers: Why Arenít More Indonesian Literary Works Being Published Abroad ?, as he notes that:
no Indonesian writer since Pramoedya has enjoyed any real kind of international success.
       Among the problems:
Indonesian authors can be intractable when it comes to interacting with foreign interests. Some remain stalwart about not letting editors circumcise their texts.
       But, for example, the Lontar Foundation does some good work.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       More on the future of publishing ...

       The coverage of the decline of the publishing industry continues apace, with Jason Boog writing about it Read it and weep at Salon, as: 'The economic news couldn't be worse for the book industry. Now insiders are asking how literature will survive.'
       Among the observations:
At the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, Open Letter Books, a small press based at the University of Rochester, illustrated how a more nimble firm can benefit from the freeze. The publisher bid on the English translation of Mathias Enard's novel, Zone -- a single sentence that stretches for 500 pages. An influential translator had called the work the "book of the decade," and Open Letter director Chad Post expected tight competition for the rights. But no one topped his offer, and he hopes to publish the translation in 2010.

"There's not much to cut at smaller presses, so they are going to stay the same -- they will have an identity coming into the recession, and they will be the same when they come out," Post says. "It will open up opportunities for the smaller, more stable presses. The bigger houses like Knopf and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are going through an identity shift. It will become very murky what kinds of books they produce."
       Meanwhile, Tom Engelhardt's much-linked-to piece at The Nation, Reading in an Age of Depression compares publishing to the auto industry and offers awful titbits such as:
Rumor has it that some academic publishers are experiencing unheard-of return rates that can go as high as 90 percent.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       International bestsellers

       Bestseller lists -- especially when limited to a few spots -- aren't necessarily very informative, but we still appreciate that Publishers Weekly's Extended International Bestsellers: December 2008 tell us the top three in China, the Netherlands, and Germany -- and we're certainly curious about those Chinese fiction titles, with titles like: Tiny Times 1.0 and A Story of LALA's Promotion. And that Shannxi Normal University Press certainly seems to be a publishing-powerhouse.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



22 December 2008 - Monday

Amélie Nothomb Q & A | David Damrosch on world literature
Publishing in ... Uganda | Quiet year in books ?
(American) publishing mood | Quarantine in the Grand Hotel review

       Amélie Nothomb Q & A

       In the Financial Times Anna Metcalfe has a Q & A with local favourite (but admittedly oddball) Amélie Nothomb.
       Typically:
What is your favourite form of procrastination ?
I'm unable to procrastinate. Iím unable to think about tomorrow.
       And it will come to no surprise to anyone who has read her work to learn that:
When were you happiest ?
Until I was about 12 years old. Becoming a teenager was not a nice experience.
       (Her Tokyo Fiancée is due out in English fairly soon.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       David Damrosch on world literature

       More at Today's Zaman on the recent 'World Literature in Between'-symposium they held in Istanbul, as they interview David Damrosch on world literature, literary theories and American literature.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Publishing in ... Uganda

       In The Standard Tom Odhiambo reports that in Uganda Publishers stuck in silly past and argues, among other things, that:
What we need is a national policy on culture, which remains as elusive as a new constitution. But in the meantime, we need the industry to invest a little more in imaginative ways of helping potential authors to improve the quality of their output.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Quiet year in books ?

       In The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Bob Hoover finds The year in books quiet one, as:
I was reacquainting myself with the sales trends in order to make some judgments about the year on my beat, one that takes in not only reviews but also life on the local literary front and news from the publishing world.
       For someone who just a few weeks ago was reporting that Publishers translating international authors into sales he manages not to mention a single foreign-language-writing author, despite the success of books including Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and, of course, 2666. But he does get in some good observations, including;
In 2008, there were books by Toni Morrison, John Updike, Philip Roth, Marilynne Robinson, Salman Rushdie, Geraldine Brooks, Jhumpa Lahiri, Louis Auchincloss, Russell Banks, Louise Erdrich, Stephen King, John Grisham, Alice Hoffman, John le Carre, Danielle Steel, Mary Higgins Clark, Andre Dubus III, James Patterson, Dean Koontz and just two by Joyce Carol Oates.

Maybe that's why I was having trouble distinguishing this year from, say, the past five or six.
       And it's hardly surprising, but it is still rather disturbing to learn that:
According to the Publisher's Marketplace Web site, newspaper space for reviews was down 6.4 percent this year.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       (American) publishing mood

       Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind points us to André Bernard's 'year-end report on the mood in the book publishing industry', Making Books, in The Washington Post

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Quarantine in the Grand Hotel review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Rejtő Jenő's 1930s mystery, Quarantine in the Grand Hotel.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



21 December 2008 - Sunday

Engdahl stepping down as Swedish Academy Permanent Secretary
Alternative year-end awards | Jamie Byng profile
Rushdie, Suketu Mehta on the Mumbai attacks | The Angel Maker review

       Engdahl stepping down as Swedish Academy Permanent Secretary

       He was always good for a good (or at least controversial) quote, but after ten years as the Swedish Academy's Permanent Secretary -- and hence the man to deliver all the literature-Nobel news to the press and public -- Horace Engdahl (Chair no. 17) is stepping down, and Peter Englund (Chair no. 10) will take over the position.
       It's unclear whether the secretarial role gives the holder more of a say in Nobel-choice matters, but it is noteworthy that Englund, born in 1957, is the youngest Academy member (Katarina Frostenson, born 1953, is the next closest). But maybe they just give it to the youngest member (or rather: make them take the job) .....
       See, for example, Dan Nilsson's Svenska Dagbladet report, Fattade beslutet i maj.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Alternative year-end awards

       In The Times they 'nominate some alternative prizes for the publishing industry' for 2008, in The Books alternative awards 2008.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Jamie Byng profile

       Helped by a celebrity-windfall -- the Obama books, in this case -- Canongate publisher Jamie Byng has had a very good year ("last year's Canongate turnover was a very respectable £8m, next year's looks set to escalate even further, to an astonishing £13m"), and Sandra Dick profiles him in Another gripping chapter in story of canongate, in the Edinburgh Evening News.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Rushdie, Suketu Mehta on the Mumbai attacks

       At the Asia Society they had a panel on the recent attacks in Mumbai, with Salman Rushide and Suketu Mehta, among others, Understanding the Mumbai Attacks -- and on that page you can now watch a video of the whole event, or listen to the audio. Meanwhile, at Outlook India they offer excerpts of the transcript.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       The Angel Maker review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Stefan Brijs' odd cloning-novel, The Angel Maker.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



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