Though he was awarded a Guggenheim grant in 2002 and has participated in writers' retreats and workshops in the United States, Mr. Bellatin is little known in the English-speaking world.
Sounds like his work is worth a look, however:
In Mr. Bellatin's most recent novellas he has sought to strip down and flatten his prose while retaining his fondness for the bizarre.
Jacob the Mutant, for example, purports to be the reconstruction of a lost text by the real-life Austrian novelist Joseph Roth in which an Eastern European rabbi who flees a pogrom turns into a woman after he arrives in the United States.
A forthcoming Illustrated Biography of Mishima, about the Japanese author who committed a ritualized suicide in 1970, will tell the story of "what happened to the writer after his head was cut off," he said.
In one index of his growing international reputation, Mr. Bellatin recently signed a multibook deal with Gallimard, the prestigious French publisher, that calls for his next several works to be issued in France before they appear in Spanish in Latin America.
As usual he has seized on that opportunity to make mischief: rather than publish his original manuscript here, he intends to have someone else render the French translation back into Spanish.
(That re-translation idea sends shudders up my spine, of course, but it is an amusing gimmick.)
Far too little of Jorge Luis Borges' poetry (and non-fiction) is available in English, but Penguin is bringing out two volumes in March that promise to bring: "to light many poems that have never appeared in English, presenting them en face with their Spanish originals" (in Poems of the Night) and "many of which appear here in English for the first time, and all of which accompany their Spanish originals on facing pages" in The Sonnets.
No publicity pages up for the volumes yet, but you can pre-order both Poems of the Night (at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) and The Sonnets (at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
I look forward to both volumes, but am annoyed by the mix of previously published and previously untranslated poems: can't they just put together a 'Collected Poems' and be done with it ?
Disappointingly, the title US and UK publishers (in almost rare accord ...) selected for the first volume of Larsson's Millennium-trilogy was not a literal translation of the Swedish original -- Män som hatar kvinnor, 'Men who hated Women' -- but rather The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
At least they're continuing with 'The Girl ...'-approach -- though, in fact, The Girl who Played with Fire is the literal translation of the Swedish original, Flickan som lekte med elden.
Interestingly, both the French and Spanish publishers offer a more descriptive and considerably longer title for this installment: La fille qui rêvait d'un bidon d'essence et d'une allumette and La chica que soñaba con una cerilla y un bidon de gasolina -- roughly: 'The girl who dreamt of a can of a gas and a match'
Yeah, that might be a bit too explicit .....
On the other hand: as explained at the weblog Stieg Larsson's English translator: "Stieg's original title was The Girl Who Fantasized About a Gasoline Can and a Match" -- so good for the French and Spanish publishers for going with that !]
An interesting choice for the title-sequence for the trilogy comes from the German, where they've gone for the quick and catchy: Verblendung, Verdammnis, and Vergebung (roughly: 'Delusion', 'Damnation', and 'Forgiveness').
Usually I'm not a fan of the altered title, but this doesn't seem like the worst way to go.
Most reviewers thought more highly of The Girl who Played with Fire than I did, and I'm not convinced by their reasoning.
The reaction that I found most curious, however, came in Alan Cheuse's review in the San Francisco Chronicle.
He actually wrote:
The books are so good, in fact, that I have to keep reminding myself that they are genre novels, not mainstream fiction, so I shouldn't think about Salander as if she were a figure out of fiction with a larger vision and grander heights.
Excuse me ?
A different reading approach depending on the label the novel comes with ?
I like to think I take every novel as it comes, and couldn't care less whether it's shelved under 'genre' fiction at the local bookstore or not.
Larsson's works isn't so much genre fiction as it is B-fiction -- he knows how to tell a story, but he's no great writer (exhibit A from The Girl who Played with Fire: "His hands were big as frying pans" -- the kind of description a comic-book-writer would (or at least should) be ashamed of) -- unlike, say, Raymond Chandler, who might have had plot issues but could certainly write.
(As to Salander: she is a pure cartoon figure -- edgy, sure (and what a backstory !) but entirely unbelievable.)
Indeed, I'd argue that a lot of 'genre' fiction is: "fiction with a larger vision and grander heights" -- and there's no doubt that Larsson's is.
In fact, that's one of the biggest problems with his books: his ambition to pound his message home (that a lot of men tend to be scum and treat women really, really badly, and that the state has failed in its duty to protect its (female and dependent) citizens).
For more on the genre/mainstream 'debate' (which some people apparently think is a discussion worth having), see, for example, Sarah Weinman's recent Hey Kids, Let's Transcend Some Genre.
In the Financial Times Anna Metcalfe's 'Small Talk'-Q&A this week is with Adam Thirlwell.
Thirlwell has a new novel out, The Escape, -- in the UK (order your copy at Amazon.co.uk); the US edition is only due in March, 2010 (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com).
See, also, for example Sarah Churchwell's review in The Guardian.
(His Politics is under review at the complete review; I look forward to getting to The Escape, too.)
Artists and writers should promote their patriotism, enhance citizen's responsibilities and create more works of great value, said To Huy Rua, Politburo member, Party Central Committee secretary, head of the Party Central Committee Commission for Propaganda and Education.
"Resolution 23 by the Politburo attaches great importance to art and literature in the country's development, considering it an essential need, an aspiration towards the truth, the good and the beautiful, and a great momentum for comprehensive development of the Vietnamese people," he said.
At The Rumpus Grant Munroe goes Searching the Library of Babel, trying to find all the pieces Borges included.
(I've mentioned Borges' Library of Babel several times before -- most recently here --, as foreign publishers have repeatedly published the whole collection; no such luck in English.)
Munroe lists all the stories at the end of the piece.
He mentions that quite a few are not yet translated (well, he didn't find translations) but note, for example, that the forthcoming The Dedalus Meyrink Reader (see their publicity page) contains the Meyrink stories in question.
Lars Saabye Christensen's Beatles is finally available in English -- though it's long been under review at the complete review (here) -- and in The Independent Tone Sutterud now reviews it, writing:
This novel, set in the Sixties, was first published in Norway in 1984.
Yet far from feeling dated, it has grown into a classic.
It will probably find as profound an intellectual and emotional resonance here as with every generation that has read it elsewhere.
James Scudamore's Heliopolis (Harvill Secker) enjoyed the strongest sales boost -- selling 100 copies last week, up from just three copies the previous week, while Ed O'Loughlin's Not Untrue & Not Unkind (Penguin) sold 107 copies, up from five copies
Perlentaucher points me to Hannes Stein's (German) conversation with Goethe Institut - NY (the German cultural institute in New York) man Stephan Wackwitz.
They've had to close the Upper East Side Goethe Institut building because it's not up to either the German or the American fire code, and, as Wackwitz notes, are moving most of their activities to hipper neighborhoods -- the library will be moved to Spring Street, and Ludlow 38 already is the locale for various cultural programs.
(As someone who lives conveniently close to the opposite-the-Metropolitan Museum current/old Goethe Institut (and who is very lazy) I am not pleased by the moves .....)
Wackwitz also thinks Americans are interested in a lot of German things -- just not all of them:
Die Amerikaner interessieren sich sehr für Deutschland: für deutsche Kunst und deutsche elektronische Clubmusik.
Vor allem interessieren sie sich brennend für Berlin.
Wahr ist, dass die Amerikaner kein Interesse an deutscher Literatur haben.
Sie übersetzen sie nicht, und sie lesen sie nicht.
Vielleicht muss man, wenn es um deutsche Kultur geht, also weniger auf den Schriftsteller und Hanser-Verleger Michael Krüger hören -- und mehr auf den Kunsthistoriker und Chefkurator am MoMA Klaus Biesenbach.
[The Americans are very interested in Germany: in German art and German electronic club-music.
And above all they're incredibly interested in Berlin.
What is true, is that Americans have no interest in German literature.
They don't translate it and they don't read it.
Maybe, then, when considering German art, one should pay less attention to author and Hanser-publisher Michael Krüger -- and more to art historian and MoMA head curator Klaus Biesenbach.]
I'm not sure the situation is entirely so dire (close, yes, but not entirely ...).
And Bookslut-Jessa Crispin did pack her bags for Berlin ... maybe she'll be able to bridge the literary divide !
See also commentary about the interview at love german books.
They are complaining that the charity sells donated stock, receives 80% business rate reductions -- as do other charities -- and largely employs volunteers.
The smaller running costs, they argue, allow it to undercut rivals.
They say it is no surprise that Oxfam, which now has 130 specialist bookshops across the country, has become the biggest retailer of secondhand books in Europe.
Chairman Peter Moore said that many bookshop owners found it impossible to compete with the charity.
The Oxfam defense ?
"For some individual shops, a high street business has become unviable.
While it is true that our shops get a reduction in rates on the high street, we pay the same as everyone else for rent, electricity, heating, which are bigger costs than rates."Of course, all the money raised goes to help our lifesaving work around the world."
Ah, yes, how can anyone argue against that "lifesaving work" ... ?
Pretty easily, I think: it's unacceptable for there not to be a level playing field when it comes to business -- and when Oxfam (or any other charity/non-profit) is selling books, then they're in the bookselling business, not doing lifesaving work.
(What they do with their revenue or profits -- just as what the private secondhand booksellers do with theirs -- should have nothing to do with the rules they should play by (and the costs they should bear) when operating a business.)
But they are allowed to enjoy a huge (and unfair) competitive advantage due to their (legal) status as a charity.
[Tax (rate) incentives (whether applied to non-profits, mortgage holders, or employer health insurance plans) are bad, bad things with perverse distorting effects and have no place in a capitalist system -- get rid of them all !
(Or get rid of the capitalist system -- in which case you'd also opt for something more sensible than tax incentives.)]
Astonishingly, in a blog-piece at The Guardian Charlotte Higgins wonders What's wrong with Oxfam selling secondhand books? without even noting that the playing field is uneven -- finding instead:
It is not clear to me why we should be invited to imagine that selling books in order to help development projects in Africa (for instance) is less worthy than selling them for individual profit, and I am extremely glad that Oxfam has, as the piece implies, simply got much better at bookselling.
That's not what you're being invited to imagine -- and not the issue.
They celebrated Knut Hamsun's 150th birthday yesterday -- well, they're celebrating the Hamsun Days in Hamarøy through the 9th -- and the highlight has been the openening of the Hamsunsenterent -- the Knut Hamsun Centre.
Lots of controversy, however, surrounding Hamsun's Nazi-sympathizing; see, for example, Rolleiv Solholm on Knut Hamsun and his past in The Norway Post.
(Updated - 8 August): See now also Jonathan Glancey's report in The Guardian on 'a new centre that is as complex and challenging as the controversial author', Norwegian wood.
Adolf Endler was one of the few authors who moved from West to East Germany (in 1955), and he has now passed away.
Together with the great Karl Mickel (a local favorite) he published the seminal anthology of GDR poetry, In diesem besseren Land, in 1966.
I think those around him -- Mickel, Heinz Czechowski, Sarah Kirsch, and, of course, Volker Braun -- were superior poets, but he was an important figure.
See (German) obituaries by Falko Hennig (in the FAZ), Berthold Seewald (in Die Welt), and Gregor Dotzauer (in Die Zeit).
Thomas Pynchon's new novel comes out today, and, yes, the most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Inherent Vice.
What amazes me is that I can already provide links to 43 (!) pre-publication reviews (including two in German) -- by far the most I can recall finding before a book is even published.
The Times offers its list of the best 60 books of the past 60 years (yeah, there's an original idea ...), and Erica Wagner introduces them in The best novels since 1949.
The only-one-a-year-criteria skews things a lot, but I have a hard time thinking some of these really were the best novels of the year.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (2005) ?
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong (1974) ?
Salem's Lot by Stephen King (1975) ?
The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith (1956) ?
But several of the novels are under review at the complete review:
In the Wall Street Journal Lee Siegel finds: 'Changes in American fiction taste beg the question: Are you a Huck, Holden or John Ames?', in The End of the Episode.
This being the 100th anniversary of the first American edition of Huckleberry Finn, it is the perfect time to ask an essential question: Are you a Narrative or an Episodic personality?
In other words, do you believe that your life tells a meaningful story?
Or do you think that you live, like Huck Finn and every other picaresque hero, from isolated minute to isolated minute -- episode to episode -- and that far from adding up to a coherent tale, your life is "a tale told by an idiot ... signifying nothing"?
And he finds:
But episodic fiction has been dealt a sorry hand of late.
Our most popular critically acclaimed novels are pure narratives.
Their straightforward storytelling style connects events together in one continuous thruline whose fundamental purpose is to reveal the Big Fated Meaning of life.
In the war between Narratives and Episodics, the former are winning hands-down.
I like my fiction ... well, that's about it: I like my fiction.
Who could care less ?
Murong Xuecun's Leave Me Alone was longlisted for the 2008 Man 'Asian' Literary Prize.
It's now been published in English translation -- not in the US or UK (and it's not available on either of those Amazons), but in Australia, by Allen & Unwin; see their publicity page.
Gilbert Wong reviews it in The New Zealand Herald.
Sadly, it's not really that much of a surprise that American and British publishers stay away from stuff like this (a book in translation ...), but somewhat reassuring to see someone else take a chance on it.
"Today we launch the Revolutionary Reading Plan," he announced live to the nation in April. "Read, read, read, read. That should be our slogan for every day."
Since the announcement, the pace of the reading plan has quickened. A key component is a series of free book distribution events, which have been held in public squares across the country.
Not the worst of everyday slogans.
But it's not entirely everything it's cracked up to be: as one critic notes:
"Venezuela has the most expensive books in the world.
It's incredible that a government which is promoting reading has the most expensive books in the world," he says.
"I think there's a great contradiction there," says Mr Garcia.
"That a government which on the one hand is promoting reading, giving out Les Miserables in a public square, but doesn't allow the free importation of literature -- not, it should be said, for any ideological reason, but because of currency controls."
Another 100 reviews -- the complete review has now passed 2300 -- and so it is time again to consider How international are we ?, and to update the list breaking down how many reviewed books were written in what languages.
No new languages were added in the past 100, but books originally written in 22 languages other than English were reviewed -- and the percentage of all reviews that are of titles originally written in English has now dipped below 50 per cent for the first time.
After English (30) the most common language was French (18), followed by Spanish (9) and Arabic (7).
Disappointingly -- and somewhat shockingly -- only one title each in Japanese and Chinese were reviewed, and none in Russian.
De Papieren Man points me to the first reviews of J.M.Coetzee's Man Booker-longlisted Summertime (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Well, more accurately: he points me to the first reviews of Zomertijd, the Dutch translation of Summertime
The reviews are Toef Jaeger's at NRC Handelsblad and Jeroen Vullings' at Vrij Nederland -- and the one-word summary suggests it's: onbarmhartig -- an absolutely merciless self-portrait.
Man, does this sound like he is rough on himself (right down to his performance with the ladies ...).
But also: well worthwhile.
I look forward to it.
Mark Medley has a Q&A with Martin Amis at the National Post.
A lot of discussion about writing programs and workshops, and Amis talks about his teaching methods in Manchester:
In Manchester, my rule is I don't look at their work
Quite the opposite of American MFA programs, where the students' work is the main focus.
It's not like that.
We don't do it that way.
We read great books and we talk about them.
And then there's general conversation about general things about writing, and I ask what they are and what they're trying to do, but I don't look at their work.
We look at Conrad, we look at Dostoyevsky.
So that's my rule there.
But, I mean, it's always detail, detail, little things, trying to work on the surface, to bring it up a level. That's what I think the job is.
Two years ago, I started a "Translation Database" at the Web site ThreePercent.com to finally quantify what's going on with literature in translation, and although data for 2009 is still coming in, it looks like there will be a bit of a drop off this year -- of as much as 10%.
I'm not sure the final numbers will be that bad, but certainly translation is not flourishing -- leading Chad to wonder:
So why, if Bolano's 2666 and Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses can hit the best-seller list, and if everyone's arguing that literature in translation is important for enriching our culture, are there fewer translations coming out this year than last?
The point isn't that this particular book was a flop, but that there is a disconnect between publishing thoughtful, long-selling literary translations and a system that thrives on the HUGE HIT and is willing to spend millions to make that hit happen IMMEDIATELY.
That is just one one of the reasons that independent, nonprofit, and university presses are publishing the vast majority of translations.
According to my Translation Database, in 2008 the main corporate publishers and their subsidiaries accounted for 21% of all the new translations (75 of the 361 titles), and so far in 2009, this percentage has slipped to 16% (50 of 309).
That is pretty shocking -- and the database is worth closer perusal, as it is shocking how few translations some of these majors and major-minors with a long translation tradition (you know who you are ...) are bringing out.
And, of course, the problem with non-profits dominating the field is:
This brings up another reason for the precipitous decline in translations: the decline in available funding. A good number of the presses that publish literature in translation (Dalkey Archive, Archipelago, Open Letter, White Pine, Feminist Press, and many university presses, such as those at Nebraska, Northwestern, and Texas) depend on subsidies to stay afloat. All of these presses are funded by the state and federal government, by private foundations, and by individuals.
One of the advantages of the nonprofit model is that it allows such presses to take more risks and to complement sales dollars with donations. Of course, one of the disadvantages is that when the economy starts to collapse, fundraising dollars on every level dry up.
Just to set the record straight, HarperCollins printed 47,000 copies of THE KINDLY ONES by Jonathan Littell -- not 150,000, as Chad Post reported.
Chad took the number from the PW article, and it is also the widely-circulated number: indeed, it was apparently the 'announced' print run way back when -- see, for example, thisPW list.
No one seems to have been bandying that number around much -- and HarperCollins certainly does not seem to have widely publicized that figure.
As usual, I have no comprehension whatsoever as to what publishers think they are doing, but the artificially inflated initial print run announcement is, apparently, an industry standard.
Fake higher numbers are apparently meant to impress -- a signal that publishers believe in a title enough to go for a big print run -- though given that apparently everyone in the business understands that the numbers are fake and inflated, it's unclear why this is supposed to work.
(Again -- and again and again: I will never understand this 'business'.)
Certainly no one seems to have any qualms about truth, honesty, ethics, etc. (and the Federal Trade Commission seems willing to let publishers get away with this bullshit (which is also a deceptive business practice) for now).
I think its great that HarperCollins is fessing up as to what they actually printed (and given the heft of the book, 47,000 is a much more realistic number), but I don't understand why they felt they couldn't be more upfront about it from the get-go; certainly Karten was not going around correcting all the many articles that appeared when the book came out (and since) touting the 150,000 number .....
Only now, when it is just too embarrassing to bear .....