José Saramago's introduced his new book on Monday -- another of his biblical re-tellings, this time the story of Cain, Caim -- and he certainly knows how to get attention.
As the AFP report has it: Nobel winner slams Bible as 'handbook of bad morals'.
One has to hand it to him: he really knows how to pack as much offense into just a few sentences as one could wish for:
Saramago attacked "a cruel, jealous and unbearable God (who) exists only in our heads" and said he did not think his book would cause problems for the Catholic Church "because Catholics do not read the Bible.
"It might offend Jews, but that doesn't really matter to me," he added.
No doubt that it's already flying off the bookstore shelves; no word as to when the English translation will be available.
They held the ceremony where Claudio Magris got to pick up the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade he's been awarded yesterday.
The German papers have lots of coverage, and DeutscheWelle reports Italian Claudio Magris receives Peace Prize of German Book Trade, but I haven't seen the speech (or the laudatio) printed anywhere yet; the (German) excerpts at the Schwäbische Zeitung appear to be the most extensive on offer.
(Updated - 20 October): A reader points me to the Italian text at Corriere della Sera.
It's hard not to see Liesl Schillinger as Sam Tanenhaus' teacher's pet -- and front (wo)man -- this week: he oversees two sections of the Sunday issue of The New York Times -- the 'Week in Review' and The New York Times Book Review -- and she has both the cover review in the NYTBR and a front-page piece in the 'Week in Review'.
In the 'Week in Review' Schillinger makes the case that American Literature: Words Without Borders, and it's hard not to see that as a not very veiled defense of the NYTBR practice of neglecting writing (fiction in this case, though the exclusionary principle applies to non as well) in translation -- i.e. of Tanenhaus' policy of dealing with as little of it as possible.
I have no idea whether or not he put her up to it, but it certainly proves very self-serving (and since he's the man in charge ...).
Impressed by the admittedly impressive international scope of this year's (American) National Book Awards finalists, Schillinger wonders:
To refine the question: how can our literary tastes be "isolated" and "insular" when they can be assimilated and imitated so successfully?
And what does it mean to write an "American" book, if you don't need an American address to do it?
The judges of the National Book Awards tacitly suggest a heartening response: the American idea not only translates, it disregards national boundaries.
To qualify for the award, a writer must have American citizenship but can carry other passports, too.
Fair enough -- and a good and fun point to make.
But disregard only goes so far -- and doesn't extend to translation, as Schillinger makes clear.
It's true that the work of some writers does not thrive when it's plucked from its surrounding soil.
Any open-minded critic who regularly receives offerings of new books or translations from Europe, the Middle East or Asia knows the bitter experience of opening a book by an unknown foreign author with anticipation, only to cast it away in irritation or boredom, finding it impossible to engage with a novel that was esteemed in a distant land.
Apparently the 'open-minded critics' (and editors) at the NYTBR -- wait ! let me catch my breath from laughing so hard at the very thought ! -- suffer this bitter experience with particular and almost alarming frequency.
And hence, in this week's issue, not a single work in translation is reviewed.
Last week's issue ?
No works in translation.
The issue from the week before ?
The issue from the week before ?
No -- no, wait ! wait ! look there ! in Marilyn Stasio's Crime round-up, almost 150 words are devoted to a book by Arnaldur Indridason (translated from the Icelandic -- maybe we should give bonus points for coverage of a book from such a not widely spoken language ?).
One month worth of coverage, and one book in translation discussed (in all of 150 words ...).
Yes, America's 'words without borders' -- at least according to Tanenhaus' NYTBR (and now his 'Week in Review' ...) -- may be global in reach yet still don't have much room for anything so foreign that it needs translating .....
[I do note that things (briefly ?) look up a bit next week (though that may very well be it for the rest of the fall, at Tanenhaus' rate ...): three works in translation are scheduled for review, including Jan Kjærstad's The Discoverer and Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's (yes, Tanenhaus does prefer the translated writers reviewed in the NYTBR to be dead if at all possible; apparently death makes them more palatable)
Memories of the Future, just out from New York Review Books Classics (see their publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- a volume that I haven't seen but bears a bit too much resemblance to the already available Seven Stories for my taste (not that any additional Krzhizhanovsky is ever unwelcome -- "Here a natural storyteller, striking intellect, and deeply creative soul are found all in one -- a rare combination" as I wrote about him (and am quoted at the NYRB site) -- but it just appears that there's not enough additional (i.e. not already found in the Seven Stories collection) Krzhizhanovsky in this volume ...)).]
(Updated - 21 October): See also Scott Esposito's post at Conversational Reading.
And what is the dividend of a literary prize (NLNG's petty cash, really) dispensed by an energy company hard at work in the Niger Delta?
It is that you buy the silence of the class of society most likely to criticise you.
Let us come out and say it: the NLNG's Literature prize is hush money. Let the NLNG acknowledge it and let the writers acknowledge it -- and let's move on.
As for the prize, it is a shambolic endeavour that has lost all credibility and should be dismantled.
Meanwhile Amatoritsero Ede denounces it as A Prize for Dunces?
It will be interesting to see whether anything comes of all this criticism -- but the discussions certainly can't hurt.
In The Times Erica Wagner has a long profile of Philip Roth.
The occasion is the publication of his new novel, The Humbling (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- which I hope to review as soon as I can get my hands on a copy .....
On Monday, the Kindle 2 will become the first e-reader available globally.
The only other events as important to the history of the book are the birth of print and the shift from the scroll to bound pages.
The e-reader, now widely available, will likely change our thinking and our being as profoundly as the two previous pre-digital manifestations of text.
The question is how. And the answer can be found in the history of earlier book forms.
I don't think the Kindle (2 or whatever) is available globally yet, and even when it is I have my doubts that it will be the standard-bearer of e-readers (unless they make a lot of improvements to it by then), but Marche is probably right that the e-reader marks a whole new (and inevitable) stage.
Wal-Mart is taking on Amazon with deep, deep discounting of bestselling books and, as for example Motoko Rich reports in The New York Times, Price War Over Books Worries Industry (though of course this is such a jittery industry that everything worries it):
A tit-for-tat price war between Wal-Mart and Amazon accelerated late on Friday afternoon when Wal-Mart shaved another cent off its already rock-bottom prices for hardcover editions of some of the coming holiday season's biggest potential best sellers, offering them online for $8.99 apiece.
Where will it end ?
On Friday a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said in an e-mail message that the company would "continue to adjust our pricing so that Walmart.com offers the lowest prices on these top pre-sellers in books."
Contra el viento (by Angeles Caso) has taken then immensely lucrative Premio Planeta; see, for example, the AP report.
La bailarina y el ingles (by Emilio Calderon) was the runner-up -- still worth a nice sum.
I've mentioned The National's excellent Review-section previously, and they continue to provide some of the most interesting book coverage you'll find -- recently taking on books such as Andrey Kurkov's The Good Angel of Death (see Rachel Sugar's review).
I certainly recommend checking in regularly (and not just for my own small contribution).
As I mentioned in my review of Azuchi Satoshi's Supermarket, this 1981 title has now appeared in English translation (from St.Martin's Press) in no small part because it was: "specially selected for the Japanese Literature Publishing Project (JLPP)".
[The Japanese (and English) sites won't open in my browser; the French and German ones do.]
I like the idea behind the JLPP, providing subsidies and translation support for Japanese books to be made available in major languages, but their selection process leaves a lot to be desired.
This 1981 business novel -- set in the late 1960s and early 1970s -- is terribly outdated, and while of some historical interest certainly not worthy on literary merit alone.
Japan, and the Japanese business world and economy have undergone major changes since the time when the book was set, as well as the time when it was written -- and I, for one, would be far more interested in more contemporary works that gave some insight into current or recent conditions.
It's not like these old-fashioned types of 'business novels' are unknown in the US -- but everyone sensibly stopped translating them a while back (presumably in part because they weren't selling ...).
Indeed, one of Azuchi's other novels was previously translated: in 1991, the University of California Press brought out 'A Tale of Corporate Japan' by Azuchi (writing under his real name, Arai Shinya), Shoshaman (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- a point in time when it still made considerably more sense to publish something like this in English.
Now, eighteen years later, who still needs a book like Supermarket ?
Mind you, I'm glad it's available -- glad even that I read it (so you don't have to...) -- but given how little is translated from the Japanese I would have hoped that something more relevant would have been made available.
A fair number of books published with JLPP help are under review at the complete review, and it really is ... not a great selection.
Many of these titles -- even older ones -- are worthwhile, but priorities are definitely very confused here.
Note that not everyone agrees: in her review of Supermarket at Words without Borders (one of the few English-language reviews of this book ...) Juliet Grames also mentions the JLPP-role, and thinks:
Supermarket was a well-chosen candidate for this initiative, since it is a novel that will be of certain entertainment to a fairly wide readership: anyone with retail experience as well as enthusiasts of Japanese literature and culture.
I don't quite see it that way -- though admittedly literary enthusiasts may be amused by one of the few examples of this 'business novel' genre available in English (they certainly won't be impressed by the writing), and culture enthusiasts will also find enough to have fun with.
(Note, however, that Grames also incorrectly claims: "Supermarket seems to be a one-hit wonder for Azuchi, whose only other writing has been nonfiction on corporate management"; as I noted, one of his other novels has even been translated into English .....)
Around Frankfurt Book Fair time many of the German-language publications offer special book supplements and additional literary coverage; as usual one of the most impressive is the one at the Austrian newsprint weekly, the Falter.
Over a hundred (!) titles under review, including several not-yet-translated into German as well as everything from the new Herta Müller to the new German Book Prize winning novel, and Richard Powers' Generosity (yes, available in German translation months before the UK edition comes out ...).
Lots of Chinese and China-related titles, too, of course -- all in all also offering a good overview of the fall season offerings from German publishers.
(Among the odd trends that become apparent: a lot of books retain their (or use an) English title even in translation, such as Alex Ross' The Rest is Noise.)
Pretty awesome for a small-circulation weekly -- where are the equivalent US and UK publications that offer something like this ?
(They actually do this semi-annually -- and the weekly book review section is nothing to sneeze at either.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lester Dent's Honey in his Mouth.
'Doc Savage'-author Dent wrote this back in the 1950s, but it's never been previously published -- a neat little find for Hard Case Crime, who have now brought it out.
Hoffmann said he isn't necessarily expecting a boom in Chinese literature as a result of the fair.
"I recently spoke to a publisher who has published China-related books over the past 10 to 15 years; he complained that in the past 20 years no-one had been interested in them," said Hoffmann.
"Neither the press nor anyone else had noticed them.
But now all of a sudden everyone is talking about it and interested.
"I am afraid that when the book fair is over the interest in Chinese literature will also be over."
Her aspiration to purity, moral included, is like an inner sword, it's as if she had a a sword instead of a spine, as in one of Kafka's dreams.
The writings of Herta Müller are indeed the product of an intense obsession, a unique, paranoid terror of being followed, held in suspicion, persecuted, of having to fight a pervasive and incomprehensible enemy, which is bent on defacing and and misrepresenting her. Her writing is Kafkaesque.
Publishing Perspectives translate (second item) the Boersenblattreport
Edward M. Alford, the US Consul General in Germany, has personally apologized to Stroemfeld Verlag, publisher of author KD Wolff, who was refused entry into the US earlier this month.
The incident made headlines when US authorities turned Wolff away upon his arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City
I mentioned how Wolff was denied entry to the US when it happened.
While it received some attention -- the obligatory PEN American Center letter of protest and the like -- as best I can tell no American daily newspaper made even a mention of the incident.
Am I missing something here ?
Shouldn't such cases of ideological exclusion be ... news ?
Or have Americans just come to accept that it's better just to keep anyone who might be considered suspect (of whatever ...) out of the country, few questions asked ?
I don't know what I find more shocking: that the Americans authorities sent Wolff packing, or that nobody seems to care.
Interlink has a new imprint, Clockroot Books, and what they're doing looks pretty promising.
Okay, I wasn't a huge fan of one of the titles they're reprinting (the only one under review at the complete review), Margarita Karapanou's Kassandra and the Wolf, but I still think they're on the right track.
They've announced that Du stirbst nicht, by Kathrin Schmidt, has been awarded this year's German Book Prize -- a small upset since newly minted Nobel laureate Herta Müller was also in the running, with her Atemschaukel.
(Get your copy of Du stirbst nicht at Amazon.de.)
P. D. James and Ruth Rendell took an instant dislike to the actors who played their fictional detectives on television because they did not resemble their vision of the characters.
The crime authors also admitted to an audience at The Times Cheltenham Festival of Literature yesterday that they did not care for the television adaptations of their books because producers took liberties with their source material
In additional mystery-mood, The Times also offers a leader maintaining: 'The detective novel is the most paradoxical yet enduringly popular literary form', Murder Most Mystifying.
The annual NLNG Literature Prize -- the Nigerian Prize for Literature -- is rotated among four genres: fiction, poetry, drama, and children's literature.
This year it was the poets' turn, and although they named nine finalists from the 161 entries, and had a big gala awards night, as Akintayo Abodunrin reports in NextThere is no winner for premier literary prize:
The judges' verdict was that none of the works, despite the fact that three of them had previously won poetry prizes, was good enough to be awarded the prize.
The winner of the German Book Prize will be announced today (18:00 local time, 16:00 GMT, 12:00 EST) -- and everyone is wondering whether Herta Müller will win that too (for Atemschaukel).
[Updated: No, Du stirbst nicht by Kathrin Schmidt has taken the prize.]
Two previous winners of the prize are under review at the complete review: Arno Geiger's Es geht uns gut (2005) and Uwe Tellkamp's Der Turm (2008).
(Neither is available in English translation yet.)
At Deutschlandfunk Detlef Grumbach has a fascinating (German) discussion on the prize, Spagat zwischen Literatur und Kommerz, noting that Germany is overflowing with literary prizes -- some 2000 of them, though most are author- (rather than book-) prizes.
Among the points of interest: the prize helped push sales of Der Turm to an impressive 450,000.
There are also the Man Booker-type complaints, such as that the big publishers dominate the award: of the 100 shortlisted titles so far over the years Hanser and its subsidiaries have accounted for 20 alone, for example.
And there is also the observation that German books need all the publicity help they can get, as Gottfried Honnefelder notes that some 2000 literary titles are translated into German from English (and 'American') annually, while only 40 are translated from German into English .....
There are one or two recurring tensions.
I expected that the audience would be grateful that the New York Times had maintained its book section against the odds.
Instead, the excellent Sam Tanenhaus had to defend himself strongly for allowing Dan Brown in to his pages and not reviewing enough foreign books.
I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who is disappointed in the NYTBR's (lack of) foreign coverage -- and, of course, this probably wasn't the best week for Tanenhaus to defend what he does (or doesn't ?) at the NYTBR, what with a review of the new (well, no longer so new ...) Dan Brown as the cover-review in today's issue -- and not a single translated title covered in its pages.
Of course, when would be a good week ?
Last week's issue (4 October): not a single translated work under review.
Next week's issue ?
Unless they slip something in one of their brief-review round-ups: not a single work in translation will be under review.
Anyone see a pattern ?
Of course: we've all seen and long decried the same damn pattern.
It's kind of Mr. Stothard to defend his colleague -- though I have to wonder whether he is aware of just how much the NYTBR has ignored works in translation under Tanenhaus' tenure (i.e.: essentially completely) -- after years in which works by even such obscure foreigners as the person now known in the US as 'Herta who?' were regularly reviewed (see my previous mention) .....
Admirably, the TLS does cover works originally written in foreign languages (even those not yet translated into English ...) consistently, and has a much broader foreign reach, as the impressive numbers Stothard offers up show:
But the same TLS statisticians had shown me that 229 of our 394 fiction reviews were of books by non-British authors, 65 of them American, 29 French, 14 Spanish, 12 German, 10 Russian and a decent sprinking from Angola, Bosnia, Brazil, Ghan, Tunisia and Vietnam.
Almost 40 per cent of our poetry reviews were of books by writers outside Britain
This is a very conscious editorial policy at the TLS.
I was pleased but not surprised by the numbers.
The Princeton audience were both pleased and surprised.
(I am not surprised: that policy is one reason I shell out the obscene $169.00 annual subscription fee for the TLS, while Sam Tanenhaus' editorial (mis)direction is a major reason why I no longer purchase a copy of the Sunday issue of The New York Times (the recent rate hike being the other major reason I do without).)
I look forward to other reports, from panelists and audience members.