They've announced Judges nominate 20 novels for the German Book Prize 2009.
The twenty longlisted titles were selected from 154 (132 submitted, apparently 22 called in -- just like the Man Booker this prize ridiculously limits what publishers can submit ...).
While none of the longlisted books are under review at the complete review, many of the other works of several authors, notably Thomas Glavinic, Wolf Haas, and Peter Stamm, are.
The National Endowment for the Arts has announced its 2010 Grant Awards: Literature Fellowships for Translation Projects.
Sixteen awards, with cash prizes totaling $ 275,000.
Somewhat (well, to me: very) shockingly, only one of the projects is a contemporary novel (Charlotte Mandell's translation of Zone by Mathias Énard)
-- even as there are two nineteenth century novels being subsidized.
(My guess is that the thinking is that contemporary fiction is considered the category most likely to pay for itself -- i.e. publishers are most likely to risk money on it themselves -- especially compared to poetry, etc.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vũ Trọng Phụng's Dumb Luck.
Somewhat surprisingly, this is the first work translated from the Vietnamese under review at the complete review.
With deft mastery, Dai seamlessly combines unexpected representations of the written word -- centuries of problematic Chinese history both "official" and "real," book passages from titles both published and imagined, legal testimonies and hidden memoirs, notebook jottings, private diary entries -- to create an intricate treatise on the power of language.
So how far did I make it into the book ?
By that time I had come across passages such as:
I made my way to the Peking Hotel in the middle of a summer afternoon so hot it vaporized everything, turning the city into a cauldron steadily stewing its population.
Creaking their last, my bicycle wheels sank into the cloying asphalt, softened by the heat and giving off little spirals of blue smoke.
As longtime readers know, there's little I have as little patience for as hyperbole.
If everything is getting vaporized ... well, then, there better be a lot of vapor in the air.
(Adding a mixed metaphor -- if everything is vaporized, surely it can't be stewing in a cauldron -- doesn't help.)
Wheels sinking, asphalt giving off blue smoke ... god, spare me.
Oh, I'll probably try to return to it at some later date -- but for now I simply don't have the patience.
So why, 30 years after the revolution that established the Islamic Republic, is Iranian diaspora fiction coming into such wonderful bloom?
Iranian fiction -- diaspora and otherwise -- seems to have been puttering along just fine all these years, as far as I can tell -- though more does seem to have become available recently, including Abbas Maroufi's Symphony of the Dead and Taghi Modarressi's (he was Anne Tyler's husband ...) The Virgin of Solitude (see the Syracuse University Press publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
But there have also been more works from Iran getting published, including Mahmoud Dowlatabadi's Missing Soluch (see the Melville House publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk) or Fariba Vafi's forthcoming My Bird (see the Syracuse University Press publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
I should be getting to the Vafi soon; see also the Persian books under review at the complete review.
One of the worldís most popular authors has entered the debate over high and low art, saying that there is no such thing as good literature, only good writing.
"To me art is about execution, not pretension," he said.
"Thereís good writing and bad writing and you can find good writing in genre fiction, in literary fiction, in mainstream fiction and you can find bad writing there as well.
You may aspire to be very deep and profound and smart and refined.
Actually that doesnít matter.
A crime novel may be much better than a lot of very pretentious and self-important literary works and the other way around.
But he undermines his argument when he says:
I'm not interested in having a snobby thought police that would tell me what is good, what is bad, that I cannot listen to a Britney Spears record if I feel like it or I cannot read Dan Brown or whatever.
No one is saying that he can't read Dan Brown, but surely everyone (probably even Dan Brown) can agree that beyond high and low
art there is also pure shit and that Dan Brown's 'writing' (if one can call it that) can hardly be considered anything else.
I mentioned that Yale University Press was going to publish Jytte Klausen's The Cartoons That Shook the World without the actual cartoons a few days ago, and have been a bit surprised by how slow outrage has been to build (what does it say when Gawker is one of the one's leading the charge ?).
Still, there has been a decent bit of coverage -- and now, at Slate, Christopher Hitchens weighs in with Yale Surrenders, finding:
The capitulation of Yale University Press to threats that hadn't even been made yet is the latest and perhaps the worst episode in the steady surrender to religious extremism -- particularly Muslim religious extremism -- that is spreading across our culture.
Disappointingly, the yale press log hasn't been keeping up with the debate -- isn't this exactly what a publisher-weblog should be dealing with ?
At least there's an official Statement by Yale University Press -- unstisfactory though their explanation is, including:
The University consulted both domestic and international experts on behalf of the Press.
Among those consulted were counterterrorism officials in the United States and in the United Kingdom, U.S. diplomats who had served as ambassadors in the Middle East, foreign ambassadors from Muslim countries, the top Muslim official at the United Nations, and senior scholars in Islamic studies.
The experts with the most insight about the threats of violence repeatedly expressed serious concerns about violence occurring following publication of either the cartoons or other images of the Prophet Muhammad in a book about the cartoons.
Did they really expect any other sorts of opinions from this kind of 'expert' ?
They even cite some of the opinions:
Ibrahim Gambari, under-secretary-general of the United Nations and senior adviser to the secretary-general, the highest ranking Muslim at the United Nations, stated, "You can count on violence if any illustration of the Prophet is published.
It will cause riots I predict from Indonesia to Nigeria."
If that's the kind of 'expert' opinion they're willing to rely on .....
In The National John O'Connell considers Martin Amis' career-trajectory in Lowered expectations, noting that: "this once-lauded writer's stock is not at its highest right now".
He also asks:
Does Amis still have commercial clout?
Experience, his memoir, sold well, subsequent books like the September 11-themed collection The Second Plane less so.
But his reputation remains intact -- comparable perhaps to that of someone such as David Bowie: he may not have made a decent record for years, but the sum of his achievements is sufficiently great for it not to matter too much.
Oxford University Press is bringing out Catherine Thankamma's English translation of Narayan's Malayalam novel, Kocharethi, next year, and in Of a people in transition in The Hindu she writes about the book and speaks with the author.
(See also the piece at Anukriti comparing it with Mavelimanrom.)
The Millions has undergone a major site-redesign; see also C. Max Magee's Welcome to the New themillions.com.
(I know I should be thinking about redesigning most of the complete review (and at the very least the look of the site ...), but I don't deal well with many kinds of change, and though the new Millions site looks nice and sleek it certainly doesn't make me any more eager to fiddle with this site.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Geoff Nicholson's Gravity's Volkswagen.
That's the seventeenth Geoff Nicholson-title under review at the complete review -- and I'm a bit surprised he doesn't get more attention than he does.
Sonallah Ibrahim writes some of the most interesting Arabic fiction -- see, for example, the complete review review of Zaat -- and now in Al-Ahram Weekly Youssef Rakha takes a creative approach in considering his two most recent novels, in Tractatus Franco-Arabicus.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Shahriar Mandanipour's Censoring an Iranian Love Story -- which can certainly be recommended for its insight into the current Iranian cultural climate.
In the UK they're bringing out yet another new edition of Bohumil Hrabal's classic I Served the King of England (get your copy from Amazon.co.uk, or the older New Directions US edition from Amazon.com), and Adam Thirlwell has written the introduction, which The Guardian prints, as Pleasure principle.
Each of Hrabal's novels describes a spiral, a constant intricate movement between pleasure and fear and guilt and delight: they describe the difficult effort to be a hedonist in a world where pleasure has disappeared, because the conditions for pleasure have disappeared -- where the only recognised truth is history, or politics.
Hrabal was not convinced by the logic of history.
In The Guardian Pankaj Mishra wonders: 'Europe is at risk of being 'colonised' by its Muslim populations, argue a number of bestselling new books, acclaimed across the political spectrum. How has such hysteria gone unchallenged ?' in A culture of fear.
What the hell is going on at the Berliner Ensemble ?
Deutsche Welle report that Berliner Ensemble bans theater co-owner in public drama -- and since that co-owner is noted dramatist Rolf Hochhuth (and he was being banned from rehearsing his own play -- by Claus Peymann) this is a pretty big deal.
I'd think even if Hochhuth had nothing to do with the theatre you'd defer to the old guy and let him do whatever the hell he wants on your stage.
Surely that's what Brecht would have wanted.
Now, a radical thinning of the ranks of long-haul professional writers looks unavoidable.
Even if an upswing comes along, the drop in incomes that digitised reading brings means that, for many, authorship will slip from a semi-rational career option to a passionate hobby.
Novelists outside the bestseller lists may have to work as poets long have, stitching together a liveable portfolio from gigs, teaching, grants, and sporadic literary jobs.
Many well-known writers of the past 30 years also tended to assume that a comfy university position lay in store when sales fell away. No longer.
The creative-writing vogue may well soon pass its peak, and British teaching posts demand hard work.
If it means the end of the "creative-writing vogue" it sounds like a good thing .....
Jytte Klausen's book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, about the Danish cartoons that upset a number of folk with their depictions of Mohammed, forthcoming from Yale University Press (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) is, shockingly, going to be published without the cartoons for illustrations -- or, indeed, apparently any Prophet-depictions.
That's what Patricia Cohen reports in The New York Times, in Yale Press Bans Images of Muhammad in New Book:
Yale University and Yale University Press consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous: The book, The Cartoons That Shook the World, should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005.
Whatís more, they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included
Who were these people ?
(They called in counterterrorism experts ?!?)
And what were they thinking ?
John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, said by telephone that the decision was difficult, but the recommendation to withdraw the images, including the historical ones of Muhammad, was "overwhelming and unanimous."
The cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words, Mr. Donatich said, so reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous.
What, their next monograph on the Mona Lisa will make do with an accurate description of the painting in words ?
Give me a break !
(And I have to wonder why an 'accurate description' would not be equally offensive -- beyond the suggestion that those who take offense are so sub-literate that they only react to crude drawings .....)
Donatich does himself no favors by getting defensive:
He noted that he had been involved in publishing other controversial books -- like The King Never Smiles by Paul M. Handley, a recent unauthorized biography of Thailandís current monarch -- and "Iíve never blinked."
But, he said, "when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question."
I'm guessing unblinking Donatich did not vacation in Thailand this summer .....
What's so disappointing about such statements is that it validates the actions of those who react not with reasoned arguments but simply lash out violently: put the fear into folk that you'll react with violence -- burn ! behead ! -- and watch them wilt.
One person who has risen in my estimation: Reza Aslan -- as:
Reza Aslan, a religion scholar and the author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, is a fan of the book but decided to withdraw his supportive blurb that was to appear in the book after Yale University Press dropped the pictures.
The book is "a definitive account of the entire controversy," he said, "but to not include the actual cartoons is to me, frankly, idiotic."
That's the right reaction ! -- as:
"Itís not just academic cowardice, it is just silly and unnecessary."
I generally admire what Yale University Press does, but this is both shocking and terribly disappointing.
In the Falter André Müller has an amusing interview with Günter Grass.
Among the titbits of interest: for the kids, he'd do a headstand on his birthday every five years -- but gave that up on his 80th.
At The National John O'Connell collects 'red-hot reads' from five literary professionals, in Their good books.
Among the lit-pros: Justin Cartwright and James Wood -- who both recommend War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
Very nice: as BookSA notes, Nobel laureate J.M.Coetzee has reviewed a book in -- of all places -- the Notices of the American Mathematical Society.
The book is the anthology Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics, and Coetzee offers a fairly detailed review (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
(I actually have a copy of the book, and must admit that this prods me to move it higher on the (overwhelming) to-be-reviewed pile .....)
See also the A K Peters publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Like any bank that seeks a presence in the marketplace of ideas, RBS should hold its nerve and ride the blows.
Part of the problem behind the hysterical frenzy of bad bets and dumb deals that preceded the crash of 2008 was the insulation of high finance from the wider cultural world.
For far too long, the bankers escaped any imaginative scrutiny by outsiders with no professional axe to grind.
The "insulation of high finance from the wider cultural world" may have been part of the problem, but I think there were quite a few more fundamental ones, too.
The three-day forum with the participation of 50 delegates from Gulf countries has been organized by the Ministry of Culture and Information and the Abha Literary Club and will discuss various factors that influenced the region's literature.
Still, it's a bit disappointing to hear that:
"The Palestinian issue is the most powerful event that fueled the creative minds in the Arab world in the 20th century," Anwar Khalil, president of the Abha Literary Club, said.
At hlo they offer a look at Nádas Péter's fascinating-sounding trilogy, Párhuzamos történetek ('Parallel Stories') -- finding:
Given the extraordinary open-endedness of the volume, its extraordinary range and sweep, and the dazzling risks it takes in a language where few serious authors have shied away from risk-taking, these modest notes must of necessity be left open-ended
See also information at Nádas' author page at Hunlit (scroll down).
Hard to imagine that this won't make it into English at some point (well, there's the daunting length ... still, Nádas has fared fairly well in getting translated).
French author Thierry Jonquet has passed away; see, for example, the short note at Pierre Assouline's La république des livres.
The only Jonquet title available in English is Mygale (published in the UK as Tarantula; don't ... get ... me ... started ...).
Oddly enough, I was leafing through some of his other works just a few days ago, thinking of having a go at them.
The fine Swiss publisher, Ammann Verlag, founded in 1981, has announced
that as of 30 June 2010 they're closing shop.
One of their strengths was literature in translation, and among the projects they'll be passing on to another publisher is a German translation of the fascinating-sounding thousand-plus-page magnum opus by Stefano d'Arrigo, Horcynus Orca.
(Anybody in the US/UK have a look at this ?)
In the FAZ there's an interview with Egon Ammann.
But then came what Murray calls a "miscommunication" with Larsson's English publisher.
Long story, but Murray was able to vet only 130 pages of all three books.
Since he couldn't be sure how the books would come out, he told the publisher, "the only solution is to take my name off it."
Thus "Reg Keeland," translator of all three books, was born.
There were changes, and Murray thinks his version of the stories would have been better -- "there are things that don't match with the way Stieg wrote it.
They're still gripping, but there are little details that I wish were different."
Fortunately, Steven T. Murray should still get the royalty checks.
Pretty shocking, I think.
The UK publisher is Quercus -- who have a great line of fiction in translation, and who have done very, very well with the Larsson books.
Too bad they didn't treat the books with more respect -- though apparently audiences don't care -- witness the new book debuting at number one on The New York Times Book Review (a position reached by a title in translation about once every decade or two ...).
As I've noted in my reviews, I've been underwhelmed by Larsson's prose; the fact that the translator was treated like this certainly might explain some of that.
One trick he has learned to stay abreast of a tide of etymological change; he picks up the latest meanings of Scandinavian slang by reading Swedish teenagers' blogs.
"Now they're starting to shorten their words" in the service of texting, he says.
"Language is changing daily."
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Hunter's Saga by D.O.Fagunwa, Forest of a Thousand Daemons -- translated from the Yoruba by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka.
Rather surprisingly and admirably, Random House brought this out in 1982 (a re-issue, but the first American publication; it was first published in 1968).
It must have been a very small print run -- copies are hard to come by, and it doesn't seem to have gotten much review-coverage at the time -- but at least they brought it out.
Voted one of Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century (and, written in 1936 and first published in 1938, an early work), it both deserves and probably requires a bit more of a critical apparatus to be properly appreciated: beyond a two-page 'Translator's Note' by Soyinka and a short glossary readers are left to their own devices -- and a bit of context and explication probably would have helped make it more accessible.
Earlier this year the complete review celebrated its 10th anniversary; today marks the seventh anniversary of the Literary Saloon, the weblog-part of the site that was added in 2002.
As usual hereabouts, all it means is more of the same: the weblog seems to be going strong as is, and I can see no reason why anything would or should change.
(I do note with some amusement, however, that just last month someone edited the Wikipedia-page on Litblogs and excised the Literary Saloon from the following list:
Since it is both old and active, I guess they felt it simply isn't well known enough .....
I'd feel a bit better about it if the next claim didn't still read: "Other notable litblogs include The Millions (US) and Grumpy Old Bookman", since the otherwise estimable Grumpy Old Bookman has been on sabbatical since 25 November 2007 .....
[Updated:] As is the way with Wikipedia of course (well, sometimes), no sooner is something mentioned than an editor incorporates the information -- i.e. this has now been rectified (for the time being).
Meanwhile, the cr's outdated literary weblog overview pages are linked to twice in the 'External links', while the far more useful and extensive literary weblogs links-list isn't linked to at all.)