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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review


The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 July 2009

11 July: Susan Bernofsky interview | First Desert reactions | Internet cults: writers
12 July: Profiles: Peter Ackroyd - Mansoura Ezzeddin | Changing publication dates to avoid Dan Brown | It's Our Turn to Eat review
13 July: 60 years of National Book Awards | UK author advances | Granta issues
14 July: Interviews: A.S.Byatt - Terry Eagleton | Wole Soyinka @ 75 | Wanting review
15 July: Australian Parallel Importation of Books-report | No The Original of Laura galleys
16 July: Translation in ... India | Iranian Da to be translated into English | Shelf Discovery review
17 July: Prizes: Akutagawa and Naoki Prize winners - European Union Prize for Literature winners | 'Golden age of Indian writing' ? | Aravind Adiga's early reading | Writing in ... China
18 July: Esmail Fassih (1934-2009) | Fordlandia x 2 | Book lists
19 July: Leszek Kolakowski (1927-2009) | Helon Habila Q & A | George Weidenfeld profile | Op Oloop and The Halfway House | Economic reasons to read translated fiction ? | Interactive international reading ? | German indie publishers | In the United States of Africa review
20 July: Chinese solitude ? | East African reaction to It's Our Turn to Eat | Flaubert correspondence | Frank McCourt (1930-2009)


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20 July 2009 - Monday

Chinese solitude ? | East African reaction to It's Our Turn to Eat
Flaubert correspondence | Frank McCourt (1930-2009)

       Chinese solitude ?

       At Xinhua they introduce Liu Zhenyun's new work, in One man's declassification of solitude -- claiming it is:
the first novel in Chinese literary history to probe into the loneliness that some regard has haunted Chinese people for ages.
       As:
Published by Changjiang Literature & Art Press in April, Liu's One Word Matches Ten Thousand is an in-depth analysis of the alienation and estrangement that is considered common among many Chinese.
       Very little of Liu Zhenyun's work has been translated, but he's a popular author and his work does sound fairly interesting.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       East African reaction to It's Our Turn to Eat

       Michela Wrong's It's Our Turn to Eat deals with corruption in Kenya, so it's interesting to see what East African reactions to the book are like. In The Standard Tom Odhiambo is underwhelmed, finding: Much-hyped book falls short of expectations.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Flaubert correspondence

       At Prospect (online only) David Waller reports how he: 'unearthed an unexpected -- and previously unknown -- trove of letters between' Gertrude Tennant and Flaubert, in Flaubert's flame.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Frank McCourt (1930-2009)

       As widely noted, Irish-American author Frank McCourt has passed away; see, for example, obituaries in The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.
       He was a long-time high school writing teacher, and it sounds like he was a good one; he also wrote widely hailed memoirs, notably Angela's Ashes (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk). Having limited patience with memoirs in general, and none whatsoever with memoirs dealing with growing up poor in Ireland you can't get me anywhere near this stuff, but for what it is, it is apparently very good.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



19 July 2009 - Sunday

Leszek Kolakowski (1927-2009) | Helon Habila Q & A | George Weidenfeld profile
Op Oloop and The Halfway House | Economic reasons to read translated fiction ?
Interactive international reading ? | German indie publishers
In the United States of Africa review

       Leszek Kolakowski (1927-2009)

       Leszek Kolakowski has passed away -- or, as Adam Easton puts it at the BBC: Polish anti-Marxist thinker dies.
       W.W.Norton have a convenient one-volume paperback of his Main Currents of Marxism -- 1280 pages worth --; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Helon Habila Q & A

       At the Daily Sun they have a Q & A with Helon Habila, Govt should support literary institutions.
       Among his responses:
What writers, or what works, are in your opinion in need of more translation and attention? What literary neighborhood excites you at the present moment?

Definitely Latin-American and Francophone-African fiction. There's a lot of new work coming out rendered inaccessible because of the language barrier. One has to wait ages for a translation, and hope that it will be good when it does come out. I mention the Latin Americans in particular because they inhabit a very similar socio-cultural space with Africans that reading their fiction enlarges my conception if what is possible. From the magical realist work of the Marquez generation to the present post-nationalist books of Bolano -- they grapple with basically the same things we are grappling with in our writing.
       See also his official site -- self-designed, as he notes.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       George Weidenfeld profile

       In The Telegraph Ion Trewin writes about How George Weidenfeld defied the sceptics, in yet another profile of the nonagenarian publisher.
       The UK publisher of Lolita -- "the firm's first bestseller, selling more than 200,000 copies in hardback" -- as well as Booker winners G by John Berger and The Siege of Krishnapur by J G Farrell: not bad at all.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Op Oloop and The Halfway House

       At The Rumpus Jed Lipinski finds that: 'Two Latin American novels, published in English for the first time, stake out radically different artistic territory', in Love Is a Plane Crash of the Soul, as he writes about Juan Filloy's Op Oloop (see the complete review review) and Guillermo Rosales' The Halfway House (just got my copy, review forthcoming; meanwhile, see the New Directions publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Economic reasons to read translated fiction ?

       In the Financial Times David Honigmann writes about The fragile ecology of the festival circuit, and notes that:
Tyler Cowen, the economist, advises readers to "snap up foreign fiction translated into English, if only because the selection pressures are so severe": in order for a publisher to think a work of fiction worth the risk of translating and promoting to a foreign audience, its quality has on average to be higher than the average for homegrown work.
       This has always struck me as a solid (and obvious) argument -- yet readers (i.e. consumers) don't seem to act upon it. Where is the disconnect ?
       Cowen points to the Honigmann piece at his own well-worthwhile weblog, Marginal Revolution -- and very kindly suggests:
The best place to follow new releases of such fiction is the blog Literary Saloon.
       Much appreciated -- though I note that other venues, including (but not limited to !) Three Percent and Word without Borders are also very helpful in this regard.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Interactive international reading ?

       At The National Richard Whitehead chooses and reviews a few titles that: "vividly portray destinations all around the globe" in their Interactive: Summer reading from around the world.
       A nice idea -- I wouldn't mind seeing more of this kind of thing.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       German indie publishers

       Die Welt has an interesting (German) overview of how German indie publishers are dealing with the tough economic times -- noteworthy, sadly, for the devastating news that one of them, the very impressive Urs Engeler, is closing shop after this fall's releases. A major loss.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       In the United States of Africa review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Abdourahman A. Waberi's In the United States of Africa, which I finally got a copy of.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



18 July 2009 - Saturday

Esmail Fassih (1934-2009) | Fordlandia x 2 | Book lists

       Esmail Fassih (1934-2009)

       Sad to hear that, as MNA report, Iranian Author Esmaeil Fasih passes away. (Lots of transliterations of that name ... اسماعیل فصیح seems the easiest way to go .....)
       Very little of his work is available in English, but Zed Books did bring out his very fine novel Sorraya in a Coma some twenty-five years ago; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
       See also, for example, Behzad Sadeghi's review of Fassih's not-yet-translated 'A Letter to the World' in The Iranian.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Fordlandia x 2

       Greg Grandin's new book about (and titled) Fordlandia is getting some attention -- see, for example, Ben Macintyre's review in this Sunday's issue of The New York Times Book Review, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- and I wonder whether that will bring with it renewed interest (well, there wasn't much interest the first time around ...) in Eduardo Sguiglia's 1997 novel (English translation 2000) also titled (and about) Fordlandia (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
       I have a copy but haven't managed to get to it. Not much notice was taken of it back in the day, as best I can recall -- yet in those pre-Tanenhaus days, The New York Times Book Review did cover even this work in translation: see David L. Ulin's review.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Book lists

       As widely noted, at Jacket Copy Carolyn Kellogg offers an appealingly annotated list of 61 essential postmodern reads.
       Not sure about the 'postmodern' qualification, but quite a few of these are under review at the complete review:        Meanwhile at Three Percent Chad Post offers: Summer Recommendations from the BTB Panelists -- not the longlist for the 2010 Best Translated Book Award, but a lot of the books that have already struck us as we begin to sift through all the eligible titles. Many, many, many of these are already under review at the complete review.
       Both lists offer quite a bit of good summer (or any other season) reading fun.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



17 July 2009 - Friday

Prizes: Akutagawa and Naoki Prize winners - European Union Prize for Literature winners
'Golden age of Indian writing' ? | Aravind Adiga's early reading | Writing in ... China

       Prize: Akutagawa and Naoki Prize winners

       As The Mainichi Daily News reports:
Kenichiro Isozaki has won the 141st Akutagawa Prize for his novel 終の住処 (The Last Home), while Kaoru Kitamura has taken the Naoki Prize for his work 鷺と雪 (Heron and Snow), it was announced Wednesday.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Prize: European Union Prize for Literature winners

       They've announced that Twelve European authors will receive the European Union Prize for Literature (scroll down for list of winners).
       Each EU country gets a winner -- twelve in this, the first batch, from Austria, Croatia, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, and Sweden -- and they'll get to pick up the prize (and money -- 5000 Euros) on the 28th of September. Newly-appointed Ambassador of the European Union Prize for Literature Henning Mankell will be there, too.
       Not many familiar names, but Paulus Hochgatterer's The Sweetness of Life is already available in English; get your copy at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       'Golden age of Indian writing' ?

       In The Independent Andrew Buncombe writes about a Golden age of Indian writing: How a new generation of writers is making waves in South Asia.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Aravind Adiga's early reading

       In The Independent Aravind Adiga writes about How English literature shaped me.
       He writes of Mangalore's central municipal library:
But it was full of books, and you didn't have to pay to borrow them, and I did so, liberally. Even the names of the novelists who defined the 1980s in England -- Amis, Ishiguro, Byatt -- had not arrived in Mangalore. The 1980s were for me the decade of those exciting young British writers named G K Chesteron, G B Shaw, J B Priestley, and Somerset Maugham.
       (See also the complete review review of Adiga's The White Tiger and the review-overview of Between the Assassinations.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Writing in ... China

       Dan Martin writes that Young authors tap adolescent angst in China for AFP, noting:
Chinese writers are categorised according to the decades in which they were born or came of age, and the "post-1980" and even "post-1990" authors are increasingly dominating best-seller lists.
       And:
One author, Guo Jingming [郭敬明], who just turned 26, is considered China's highest-selling writer through his often dark tales of teen suicide, violence and degraded modern-day values.

His works accounted for 20 percent of literary book sales in 2008, according to a survey by Chinese book market research firm OpenBook, a level of success that has helped inspire ever-younger writers.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



16 July 2009 - Thursday

Translation in ... India | Iranian Da to be translated into English | Shelf Discovery review

       Translation in ... India

       Madhusree Chatterjee writes that Indians pay scant attention to translated literary works for IANS, as:
Writer-editor-translator Ira Pande, a familiar face in the capitalís literary circuit, feels Indian readers do not pay much attention to "translated literary works".
       Still, it ends on a hopeful note:
But things are changing. "Publishers Penguin, HarperCollins and Random House are gradually waking up to the wealth of regional writing and its great potential".

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Iranian Da to be translated into English

       I've mentioned Seyyedeh Azam Hosseini's award-winning Iranian novel, Da, before, and now MNA report that U.S. translator working on bestselling Iranian novel Da, as Paul Sprachman has signed to render it into English.
       I still have my doubts about the novel -- and am even more worried about the translation, as they warn:
Some parts of the book will be shortened in consideration of the destination language and the cultural climate of that country, he mentioned.
       Not what I like to hear. Not at all.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Shelf Discovery review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Old Hag Lizzie Skurnick on The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading in Shelf Discovery.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



15 July 2009 - Wednesday

Australian Parallel Importation of Books-report | No The Original of Laura galleys

       Australian Parallel Importation of Books-report

       The Australian Productivity Commission has issued its Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books research report. Quite a lot to go through.
       Predictably, authors are not pleased: in The Australian Matthew Clayfield reports that Findings raise ire of authors, as: "The Australian Society of Authors has rejected the findings of a report that recommends Australia's restrictions on parallel book importation be abolished in three years", while in the Sydney Morning Herald David Marr finds this Book report a jumble of garble.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       No The Original of Laura galleys

       In The New York Observer Leon Neyfakh reports that If You Want to Read Nabokov's Laura Early, You'll Have to Make a House Call to Knopf, as: "no galleys have been produced or distributed".
       I guess we'll have to wait until The Original of Laura is published in final form, later in the fall; pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



14 July 2009 - Tuesday

Interviews: A.S.Byatt - Terry Eagleton
Wole Soyinka @ 75 | Wanting review

       Interview: A.S.Byatt

       dovegreyreader has a nice interview with A.S.Byatt -- including an interesting "list of great novels of the world and then a list of moderns".

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Interview: Terry Eagleton

       Arts & Letters Daily points me to Laurie Taylor's interview with Terry Eagleton in The New Humanist -- mainly about his recent work on Reason, Faith and Revolution.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Wole Soyinka @ 75

       Wole Soyinka turned seventy-five yesterday, and among the pieces about him published for the occasion are Dapo Akinrefon's Soyinka, best Nigerian writer ever -- Dare in Vanguard, and Anote Ajeluorou's Soyinka... the laureate at 75 in The Guardian (Nigeria).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Wanting review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Richard Flanagan's Wanting.
       It came out in Australia last year, and while it came out in the US a few months ago is only due out in the UK in September -- embarrassingly, that's after the German translation comes out .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



13 July 2009 - Monday

60 years of National Book Awards | UK author advances | Granta issues

       60 years of National Book Awards

       As widely noted, the National Book Foundation is celebrating The National Book Awards: 60 Years of Honoring Great American Books.
       Through 21 September, they're featuring a Book a Day Blog, with entries about the winners from 1950 to 2008; see also the page where they show the covers of all of them, and where you can click through to the blog-entries (as they appear).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       UK author advances

       In The Times Jack Malvern reports that Authors feel the pinch as recession-hit publishers cut advances, as -- shockingly ! (?) --:
Some academics have turned from serious history to historical fiction to earn more money.
       On the other hand, Lisa Jardine admits:
Professor Jardine, who has written biographies of Robert Hooke and Christopher Wren, said that the royalties from her book sales had never exceeded the advance fees paid by the publisher.
       Hmmmm. More mysteries of the book 'business' .....
       Meanwhile, Malvern 'explains':
Only the most successful authors ever earn more than their advance.

Publishers still make a profit, because they sell books for far more than they cost to produce. It is possible to break even at 300 copies of an academic monograph.
       Surely lots of authors who get paid minimal advances do earn out, too. As for the academic monograph success story -- that's a bit more complicated than this mention suggests, too, isn't it ?

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Granta issues

       In The Observer Robert McCrum thinks Granta denies its Anglo-American heritage at its peril.
       The Granta-site still has the previous issue up, but 107 is now out, and looks very good: Oe Kenzaburo, Javier Marías, Will Self, Mahmoud Darwish, Rupert Thomson among others.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



12 July 2009 - Sunday

Profiles: Peter Ackroyd - Mansoura Ezzeddin
Changing publication dates to avoid Dan Brown | It's Our Turn to Eat review

       Profile: Peter Ackroyd

       In the Independent on Sunday Katy Guest profiles Peter Ackroyd.
       Unfortunately, an inordinate amount of space is devoted to nonsense like:
Ackroyd frequently stresses that he doesn't like talking about himself, and doesn't think that his personal life is relevant to his work.
       God, how tired I am of all these authors who 'don't like talking about themselves', and yet who seem to do nothing else .....
       And then, of course, there are the interviewers who have to note stuff like:
Peter Ackroyd, he of the immense brain, the prodigious output and the legendary lack of patience with dumb-ass newspaper interviewers
       Thinking, of course, that their piece proves they are not 'dumb-ass newspaper interviewers' (think again, methinks ...).
       Yes, yes:
Trepidatious young men are usually dispatched to interview him, and return full of tales of waspish gossip and drunken carousing that continued for many hours after their tape recorders gave up and switched themselves off. But others are sent away with nothing more than a flea in their ear.
       Can there be a more pointless author-profile/interview than one that discusses how the author usually handles such profile/interviews ?
       Spare us, spare us, spare us.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Profile: Mansoura Ezzeddin

       In Maryam and the Minotaur in Al-Ahram Weekly Youssef Rakha profiles Mansoura Ezzeddin, whose new book is out in Arabic: "Wara' Al-Firdaws (Beyond Paradise), a sort of psychological thriller and Bildungsroman rolled into one."
       Her Maryam's Maze is available in English (review forthcoming; see also the AUC Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Changing publication dates to avoid Dan Brown

       There's been considerable talk in the US about all the big novels coming out whose publication dates have been moved to avoid the Dan Brown juggernaut coming in the fall, and in The Telegraph Roya Nikkhah reports that in the UK, too, Top authors rush novels out to beat Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code sequel.
       Yes:
Publication of new books by writers such as Nick Hornby, Sebastian Faulks and William Trevor have been brought forward to give them a chance of reaching the best-seller lists before Brown's new novel hits the shelves on September 15.
       William Trevor ? I would have thought discerning bookbuyers would sigh with relief to find the 'New this week' display that week showing not just what I can only imagine to be the festering pile of crap that is Dan Brown's new book but, for example, a book by a real writer, like William Trevor. Surely his publishers shouldn't be running scared. (And somehow I don't think he'll top the bestseller charts, no matter when they publish his book.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       It's Our Turn to Eat review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower by Michela Wrong, It's Our Turn to Eat, now also out in the US.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



11 July 2009 - Saturday

Susan Bernofsky interview | First Desert reactions | Internet cults: writers

       Susan Bernofsky interview

       Three Percent points me to Jed Lipinski's interview with translator Susan Bernofsky at The Brooklyn Rail.
       I was particularly intrigued by her comments about the book which she translated from the German:
I wish I could read The Naked Eye in Japanese to see how it differs from the German version I read, but I donít speak a word of Japanese. I hope someone translates it into English someday.
       Interesting that she takes it for granted that the two versions (German and Japanese) are different enough for it to be worth translating from the Japanese as well.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       First Desert reactions

       As the first new J.M.G. Le Clézio -- Desert -- appears in English translation since he was awarded the Nobel Prize, the first reviews are rolling in; I should be getting to it soon, too. (See also the Godine publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
       Scott Esposito reviewed it at The Critical Flame, and now Jacqueline Dutton reviews it at The Australian (opining: "Desert is worth waiting for.").

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Internet cults: writers

       In The Times 'Louis Goddard wonders what turns some writers into internet cults', in Why do Pynchon, Ballard and Wallace provoke such online loyalty ?

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



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