John McGlynn is a man who follows his passions.
His love of Indonesian language and culture took him to Jakarta and eventually led him to establish the renowned Lontar Foundation in 1987.
Through this foundation he translates the country's literature into English.
Among the points of interest:
It also doesn't help that Indonesians themselves aren't prolific readers.
"A normal print run [of a novel in Indonesia] is 5,000 copies," McGlynn said.
"In a country with 250 million people, that's ridiculous."
"People ask me, why don't people abroad read Indonesian literature?" he said.
"And I say, 'Hey, if you don't read it, if Indonesia doesn't care for it, why do you expect us to?'"
They've announced the Commonwealth Writers' Prize regional shortlists (or what they call the 'Commonwealth Writers' Prize regional winners' shortlist' -- a "winners' shortlist" ?).
Some national dominance in several regions, notably South Africa in the Africa-region .....
Only two of the shortlisted titles are under review at the complete review: Tail of the Blue Bird by Nii Ayikwei Parkes (South Asia and Europe Best First Book) and Summertime by J.M Coetzee (South East Asia and Pacific Best Book).
It's all Chinese to me, but I'm surprised there hasn't been more coverage of this, as Shanda Interactive (NASDAQ-listed (in ADR form ...)) has bought Readnovel.com, consolidating their control over the Chinese online writing scene (they already owned Qidian.com, Hongxiu.com, Jjwxc.net, and Rongshuxia.com).
As China Economic Reviewreport (report not fully accessible online):
Since it was established in 2004, ReadNovel.com has become one of the largest online literature sites in China, receiving an average of 60 million daily visits from two million unique users.
Shanda Literature is the dominant force in Chinaís online-reading market, with a 90% share.
That's a lot of traffic, and a big market share.
Shanda is also big in online gaming; it's unclear how much money they make off of these literary sites -- but there would seem to be some potential here.
And I'm curious about all that content too .....
The papers, transferred to the BNF on Monday in 13 protective boxes, are the uncensored, uncorrected basis of what went on to become the Venetian lothario's legendary Histoire de Ma Vie (Story of My Life).
The BNF plans to digitalise them as part of its online library, and to display them in an exhibition next year.
Johns Hopkins University Press has the current edition in print, in six double-volumes (see, for example, their publicity page for volume 1/2, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- let's hope a revised, unexpurgated translation is forthcoming too !
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Léonora Miano's Dark Heart of the Night.
It certainly makes an interesting contrast to most of the contemporary African literature being taught at universities (much less widely read ...) -- but it's very bleak stuff.
But will it get much (any ?) media attention ?
In The National Ursula Lindsey thinks that Arabic is Gaining in translation.
Taking Humphrey Davies' recent talk (see my previous mention) as a starting point, she finds evidence that Arabic literature is getting a bit more attention worldwide (and in English translation, specifically).
Yet having struggled to escape the academic ghetto, Arabic literature now finds itself often defined by its anthropological value or political relevance.
The Yacoubian Building is read more often in political science classes in the United States than in literature ones.
The work of female Arab writers, meanwhile, is often marketed as offering a revelatory peek behind the veil of the mysterious Orient.
But an interesting notion is that:
Translators from under-represented languages such as Arabic wield considerable influence over what books reach a western public.
Johnson-Davies says: "Arabic translators have more power and more responsibility [than translators from other languages] because they decide what should be translated."
Perhaps I'm hard to please, but I can't help feeling a little underwhelmed by Penguin's new African Writers Series, launched last month and published by its Modern Classics imprint.
It's not that I think the series is a bad thing, far from it, but by modelling itself upon the iconic Heinemann imprint of the same name, the impulse to compare the two is irresistible.
And, to judge from the first five books published, I fear that Penguin won't come out of this looking very good.
The main issue he has is that:
All five -- including works by Véronique Tadjo, Dambudzo Marechera and Achebe himself -- have interesting things to say about their respective milieus, but none, surprisingly, is less than 15 years old.
I don't have anything against the selection itself, it's just that it's hard to see what the selection can tell the curious reader about lives lived across Africa today.
These books can't say much about the challenges of globalisation, migration, or the struggle by the citizens of Africa's 53 countries to form an authentic identity, because these books are not of the moment.
Classics, yes; contemporary, no. And in this sense at least, the new AWS disappoints.
The best place to find a wide variety of contemporary African fiction is, of course, the invaluable African Books Collective.
I'd love to know more about this proposed legislation -- a "law for the protection of literature and authors" -- that Haaretz inveighs against in their editorial, The literature-wrecking law:
The Knesset members behind this bill describe it as being of "prime social importance," saying it will change literary life in Israel by setting fair financial compensation for authors, editors and translators and ensuring publishers' and bookstores' profits, while guaranteeing the reading public a variety of books at affordable prices.
That's a lot of promises to make (even editors will get fair compensation ?), and a lot to expect -- how exactly do they propose doing this ?
Haaretz isn't convinced either:
All of this is of course impossible.
Such centralized control didn't even work in the Soviet Union.
This bill will have the opposite effect of what it is setting out to do: It will lead to a collapse of the book market and harm the bookstore chains, publishers and the writers themselves.
(Though I have to say they sound a bit too convinced that the market has sorted everything out perfectly -- there have been too many complaints (especially about what the two major booksellers are doing) for there not to be some valid concerns about the health of all facets of the Israeli book business.)
They've announced that the 2010 Blue Metropolis Al Majidi Ibn Dhaher Arab Literary Prize (enough already with the overlong prize names ....) will go to Lebanese poet Joumana Haddad.
She gets to pick it up at the 12th Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival.
(But what's with that photograph of her ?
Was the ability (or willingness ?) to strike a pose one of the selection criteria ?)
I was one of the judges making the selections, and I think it's a very strong list -- even as the two Nobel laureates (J.M.G. Le Clézio with Desert and Orhan Pamuk with The Museum of Innocence) and Roberto Bolaño (with The Skating Rink) failed to advance off the longlist (as did one of last year's surprise translation hits, Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada).
Seven of the shortlisted titles were in my top ten, but I think all the ones that made it are worthy.
(Two of the three were in my toss-up category -- i.e. close to making my cut -- and while I did profoundly dislike (and not vote for) one these titles, I acknowledge that it, too, is a good book.)
It's also nice to see these authors and publishers get attention; some, like the Wolf Haas, basically would otherwise have passed almost completely unnoticed (maybe the attention will lead some smart UK publisher to pick up the Haas for that market ... Telegram ? Sort of Books ? Alma ? how about it ... ?).
And I hope that this is a stepping-stone for authors like Hareven and Krzhizhanovsky, who we really should be hearing a lot more from (i.e. more of their work needs to be translated into English.)
(Most of the others are at least semi-established, with everyone except Bakker with one or more titles already available in English -- but, hey, both Claus and Brandão could use a bit of a revival .....)
Anyway, this is a good-looking reading list for anyone who wants to enjoy a nice selection of literature in translation.
(Yes, nothing Asian, Arabic, or African -- or French -- but still good variety: seven languages, all kinds of styles, etc.)
See also fellow-judge Scott Esposito's report at The Millions.
"Europe ... a poem" is a major indoor exhibition of poetry in a town centre gallery called the "Bürgerhaus".
It will run from 4th July to the end of August 2010 and feature one handwritten, signed poem by a leading poet from every one of the 27 EU countries.
I guess trying to create one, big poem was too much to ask ... still, the poets they've gotten involved make for a very impressive list, as they include: Andrew Motion, Seamus Heaney, Wislawa Szymborska, Göran Sonnevi, Jaan Kaplinski, Pia Tafdrup, and Friederike Mayröcker.
(On the site they say "Only the German poet is missing", but it's been announced that it will be Barbara Köhler.)
In Egypt Today Lamia Hassan reports on 'how the censorship process really works' in Egypt, in The Censor's Scissors.
Authority varies from medium to medium, and as far as books go:
According to Mostafa Faramawy, head of procurement for El-Shorouk Bookstores, there are two forms of censorship for books.
Foreign titles go through the Department of Censorship of Publications under the Ministry of Information, but local titles are not subject to this process.
"Books in Egypt are given a deposit number from Dar El-Kotob, and then they are available at bookstores," says Faramawy.
"Books are almost never banned before being available at bookstores.
They are sold, then when controversies arise, the books get banned until [the government decides what to do about them].
Faramawy says that Egypt is somewhat flexible with books compared to the rest of the region.
Some titles are allowed here that are outlawed in some of the Gulf countries, for instance.
"We usually do not have a lot of books banned, but the government told us not to sell books by the Moroccan author Mohamed Shoukry," he says.
In A Jewish Journal of Ideas Is Born in Forward
Jordan Michael Smith introduces the new (due out this week) Jewish Review of Books (I haven't been able to find a web-presence for the publication itself yet [Updated - 28 February: see now their official website]).
A quarterly magazine devoted to Jewish literary and political affairs, the JRB boasts heavy hitters on its editorial board, such as Michael Walzer, Leon Wieseltier and Ruth Wisse.
An oversized, stapled newsprint magazine like the New York Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement, the JRB will open with an issue that features contributions from Ron Rosenbaum, Adam Kirsch and Harvey Pekar.
I'm not sure, however, that this is the ideal way for them to ... position themselves:
With Tablet, Commentary, Zeek, The New York Review of Books and the Forward filling newsstand and virtual racks, the JRB is joining a crowded field.
But Socher makes it clear that his magazine intends to fill a niche.
"The Jewish Review of Books is really Jewish," he said.
"Itís unabashedly interested in Jewish things.
Unlike The New York Review of Books, we donít take on the whole intellectual universe."
And yet, unlike, say, Tablet, the JRB will be long form and highbrow.
As if the name didnít give away anything, there will be nothing sexy about The Jewish Review of Books.
My preference is for more far-reaching ambitions (and something at least slightly sexy ...), but, hey, any 'review of books' is a welcome addition, so I look forward to seeing what they do.
A bit more ambition in other regards also might not hurt -- though I suppose they're just being realistic when they note:
Socher is under no illusions about the money-making potential of his enterprise, but he thinks he has enough support to survive:
"The commitment from Tikvah is robust -- itís for five years.
But nobody makes a profit in the world of magazines, least of all with magazines of ideas.
And least of all in this economic climate. I believe the Tikvah Fund understands that."
Nobody makes a profit ?
Surely that doesn't even hold true in the world of 'magazines of ideas' -- yes, the London Review of Books pisses away more money than we all can dream of (see my recent mention), but doesn't The New York Review of Books brag that they've always been in the black ?
In The Nation (Pakistan) Jam Sajjad Hussain reports on a recent forum held by the newspaper and the views expressed by Urdu poet Kashif Rehman there, in Focus on progressive literature need of the hour.
There was apparently all the usual useful end-of-days lamenting:
He said the current era presents downfall of literature both in English and Urdu as industrialisation and technological advancement has demolished imagination.
But, of course:
Pakistan is the land of great civilizations having original art and literature
And, of course, there's no inferiority complex re. much more successful neighbor India ...:
He said the focal point of Indian writers was visual art and their masses also like action-oriented literature.
The 25-book longlist for the 'Best Translated Book Award' (see my previous mention, with the full list and links to those titles under review at the complete review) will be reduced to a ten-title shortlist this week, with the official unveiling coming Tuesday (16 February) at Idlewild Books at 19:00.
I'll be there -- and you should come on down too !
In Al-Ahram Weekly
Mohamed Shoair reports on this year's Cairo International Book Fair, in The Hyde Park dream.
They certainly seem to have had some organizational ... delusions:
The 42nd Cairo International Book Fair boasted no stars this year.
The plan was to host the French Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, but he received the invitation to attend a few days before the opening
Way to plan ahead ... !
Seminars and symposia make up the principal activity of the book fair, and this year -- partly as a result of this, partly in the absence of any innovation or creativity -- have been as conventional and uninspiring as they get -- and, as always, nearly audience-less.
But some good news:
With a long buoyant religious book market unchanged, other popular titles have altered and so have their buyers.
This is most evident in publishing houses well known for intellectual and political books, whose clientele is now clearly turning to literature.
The biggest private-sector publisher, Dar Al-Shurouk, has turned to novels
Not sure about that buoyant religious market, but great to hear that there's a turn towards fiction and away from that non- stuff .....
If you put Nielsen's 2009 bestsellers chart and the PLR library rankings side by side, however, you'd notice a spectacular stripping away in the latter, which features no non-fiction at all.
And he wonders:
Why is fiction borrowed so much more than non-fiction?
Turnover could be a key factor: a thriller can be read in a day or less whereas history or science books and non-celeb biographies can't generally be finished so fast, and other genres are liable to be retained for extended periods while the borrower tries out recipes, swots for an exam or copes with a new baby.
This need to spend more time with non-fiction also makes it more likely that such titles will be bought than borrowed.
I'm not so surprised: after all, fiction is so obviously superior and more important than non- (though I suppose these titles aren't the strongest evidence of that).
And Dugdale seems to be flailing for explanations; I, for one, tend to read non-fiction faster than fiction .....
There's something a little bit ridiculous about continuing to use nationality as a primary label for writers now that literary culture has gone truly global.
The writers in Hemon's book work in dozens of different languages, but they share a similar sensibility -- a sensibility that might once have been called "Continental" or "European" but is now simply literary, melding international influences in a kind of cultural fusion.
But is this 'global literary culture' anything new ?
Hasn't literature always -- well, let's say for the past few centuries -- been dominated by a few styles and authors (say, the big French and Russian novelists of the 19th century, etc.) with a global reach and influence ?
Isn't what Franklin is referring to that same 'dull global novel'-trend Parks refers to ?
I still think there's a lot more out there -- and while nationality probably isn't the most useful label categorizing-label (language might be a bit more useful, though admittedly with the rise of English that, too, can't be applied across the globe) I don't think the international scene is anywhere near as uniform as she sees it.
(European authors are easier to throw in one big pot, what with their constant intermingling (literary conferences, book fairs, whatnot) and translations back and forth, but other areas have developed in quite different ways (yes, increasingly with an eye towards the English-language markets, but still ...).)
Translations of foreign novels are declining owing to a lack of reader interest say veteran writers and translators.
In previous years, fiction, best sellers, classic novels and prize-winning books by famous authors were translated into Myanmar language to satisfy public demand.
However, in recent years relatively few foreign works have been translated.
Somehow, I think there's more going on here than mere "lack of reader interest".
The Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited, sponsors of the $50,000 NLNG Prize for Literature, came off its high horse on Wednesday, February 5 to meet with writers -- after almost four months of seeming apathy to criticisms that trailed the 2009 edition of the prize.
Good to see so much discussion about a literary prize (the Nigerian papers have been having fun with this for months) -- and it'll be interesting to see what happens if the residency requirement really is dropped, since there are so many high profile but non-resident Nigerian authors nowadays .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of César Aira's forthcoming The Literary Conference.
No question that Aira has one of the most interesting bodies-of-work out there (which is constantly growing and expanding) -- and it would be great if they could pick up the pace of translations (only four works to date, including this one, and he churns them out faster than they've been translating them ...).