The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vlatko Vedral's Decoding Reality: The universe as quantum information.
(This otherwise attractive Oxford University Press title could have used further copy-editing, both to deal with Vedral's numerous not-quite-right sentences (e.g. "Feeding hot coal into an engine which then produces steam") as well as the misspellings, which include incorrect versions of the names 'Niels Bohr' (one instance) and 'Michael Frayn' (both in the text and index).)
Varujan Vosganian -- economist, mathematician, and former Romanian finance minister -- has written a book, but, as Riri Sylvia Manor writes in Distinguished by the dead in Haaretz:
No one expected Varujan Vosganian to write the best novel in Romanian literature.
But Manor thinks that with Cartea şoaptelor ('The Book of Whispers') he has:
This is a classic, a true literary celebration. Vosganian's whispers are truly mesmerizing. Regardless of cultural status or political-literary association, readers bleed with the vanquished, are persecuted and flee with them, and become Armenians like them.
The Romanian-Armenian mix is certainly exotic; I'm curious whether
any English-language publisher picks it up.
See also the information page at Contemporary Romanian Literature, or the (Romanian) Polirom publicity page.
Time has made a list of 200 candidates from which readers can vote for who they think deserves to make the Time list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Among the candidates is Chinese author Han Han -- but at Shanghai Daily Ni Tao argues Han Han is hardly a hero of our times:
Han's literary flair, however, seemed like a flash in the pan.
After the initial success, he took to rally racing and his literary enterprise has since lain fallow.
His random appearances in headlines now have more to do with his latest rant against what he sees as China's malaises than with any literary achievements.
His blog entries at Sina.com are saturated with abhorrence for official corruption and pre-publishing censorship, often delivered in vitriolic and provocative language.
It strikes me as naive that being critical of the Chinese government should be the major, if not sole, criterion for making the Time list for someone with a tenuous hold in his own field.
A couple of weeks back I relayed Léonora Miano's displeasure at how the US edition of her novel, Dark Heart of the Night, had been presented; in particular, she objected to the foreword that was printed with the book.
Miano now tells me that the University of Nebraska Press has agreed to publish future editions of the books without the foreword.
The other two shortlisted writers are Wale Okediran, a former president of the Association of Nigerian Authors, and South African Kopano Matlwa for Tenants of the House and respectively.
I Do Not Come to You By Chance, published in the US by Hyperion, is available at Amazon.com at a 'bargain' (i.e. remaindered) price, and you can (probably) also get
Coconut at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The Māori Literature Trust, with the support of Creative New Zealand, Te Puni Kokiri and Huia Publishers, is offering an opportunity for six talented Māori writers to participate in Te Papa Tupu, a six month intensive writing programme.
Sounds good -- though they may be setting the bar a bit high in what they ultimately hope to accomplish:
Te Papa Tupu is a 6 months intensive mentoring programme which will enable the winners of the competition to develop their work with the aim to produce the next bestseller!
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mohamed El-Bisatie's Drumbeat.
This book has a great premise, but surprisingly the author doesn't run with it -- not very far, anyway.
It strikes me as typical of a lack of daring found in much contemporary (translated) Arabic fiction, as authors from the region seem to find it difficult to indulge in flights of real fantasy (beyond the use of some historical elements -- djinns ! etc.) and insist on staying terribly grounded in a realist mode.
I'd love to see some Arabic authors doing sci-fi, for example .....
And I'd settle for some Arabic fiction that has nothing to do with social realism .....
Hay-on-Wye is my idea of heaven on earth, a paradise of first-rate second-hand bookshops and good pubs set in beautiful countryside, which for 11 days or so each year becomes uninhabitable.
As he explains:
I have to admit that I have a problem with literary festivals tout court, which largely revolves around the fundamental difference between what it is writers do, and what it is they do at festivals.
When you go and see a band play live, you are watching it do on stage what it is meant to do.
When you watch an author perform live, you are, most of the time, watching a dog walk on its hind legs.
As Gulf Times reports, there was a fancy launch for Qatar's first global publishing house, Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing (BQFP), with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle (which doesn't sound very Qatari to me, but what do I know).
There is an official site -- www.bqfp.com.qa -- but it was unreachable when I tried; see some information at the parent site, the Qatar Foundation
They're certainly ambitious --- "The venture will seek to identify and publish the next generation of great Arabic authors", for example -- and it'll be interesting to see how much success they'll have.
The three most influential literary magazines in China, Foreign Literature and Art, Translations and World Literature, have all raised their prices by at least 30 percent, following facelifts earlier this year.
In the 1980s, when literary magazines were in their prime, Foreign Literature and Art had a circulation of 100,000 copies for each edition.
The figure plummeted to 10,000 in the 1990s and stands at only a few thousand at present.
Not sure those price hikes will help improve circulation, but maybe the new looks and additional pages will.
Publishers Weekly prints the US book sales Facts & Figures 2009 Revised, with actual hard numbers (for the most part) of copies sold.
Not surprisingly, few of these books are under review at the complete review -- but at least in the 'trade paperback' category a few are:
Given that Maltese authors are so prolific (a total of 400 books for children and adults were published last year, if I'm not mistaken), it's a real pity they don't get represented at the major bookfairs.
I remember telling them that whatever happens in Malta relies on work carried out on a voluntary basis.
And I remember the laughter that this provoked !
While I like what Publishing Perspectives is trying to do, and often find the topics they write about of interest, the actual articles are often ... disappointing.
And some are considerably worse than that.
I understand that editorial oversight is a lot to expect from an online publication, but some of what gets posted there .....
Anyway, I'm afraid Rüdiger Wischenbart's How to Become a Bestseller in Europe: Write in English, German, French and ... Swedish? has brought this particular kettle to boil over.
First of all, this piece recycles ancient 'news', as Philip Jones already reported on this nonsense pseudo-bestseller list in The Bookseller back in January (Larsson, Meyer and Brown were Europe's top authors in 2009).
As I complained back then, looking at a mere seven markets -- and tallying only bestseller positions rather than actual sales-figures, which allows an author/title that dominates a national bestseller list for the year to figure high on the overall list (as Herman Koch managed, counted as the seventh-bestselling author in Europe despite only appearing on the Dutch bestseller list) -- is a close to pointless exercise; certainly one can't read very much into it.
On the basis of what else he writes here, Wischenbart seems to have little understanding of the publishing/reading scene in Europe and abroad, claiming, for example:
Only one thing is certain: [Stieg] Larssonís success has opened a floodgate of Nordic crime writing, leaving writers and their translators pleased and, more than likely, a little bit perplexed that they are in such high demand.
Surely all the evidence (such as publication dates and the number of titles in this category published, across the board, and many, many countries) suggests that Stieg came in well on the crest of the Nordic wave -- which was, in its current form, started by Henning Mankell (which goes both for the US, as well as for Europe where -- depending on the country -- the wave as a whole started between five and ten years before it properly reached American shores).
And if anyone thinks Wischenbart has any credibility left, consider the claim that:
Meanwhile, Pascal Mercier, a Swiss philosopher, wrote Night Train to Lisbon in French, only to sell two million copies in Germany alone.
Just because Peter Bieri chose a French-sounding (?) pen-name -- 'Pascal Mercier' -- is no reason to think he writes in French, and it certainly comes as news to me (and presumably him) that he penned this or any of his works in French.
(You'd think, too, that in that case the German edition might not have appeared a couple of years before the French one.)
Hey, maybe Wischenbart knows something all of us don't.
But from what he writes in this piece, it sure sounds like he's ... not very well informed.
(Though some of these mistakes -- especially the last one -- are the sort that editors are supposed to protect you from.)
So there's this new iPad device that's been getting a lot of attention recently, and indirectly that's also led me to take the e-reader leap.
No, I haven't purchased an iPad: I'm ... frugal, and not a first adopter.
Hell, I don't even have an iPod .....
But Sony offered $30.00 off their basic e-reader (in what was surely a pretty futile counter-iPad-move), and that was enough for me to finally pick one up: $169.99 for the PRS-300SC Sony Digital Reader Pocket Edition was still way more than I wanted to spend, but just cheap enough for me to finally get an e-reader (get yours at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Why this device ?
First and primarily: the price: around a hundred dollars less than the 'Kindle' (get yours at Amazon.com) or 'Nook' (get yours at ... Amazon.com), not to mention more advanced Sony models or the iPad, etc.
Secondly: it meets most of my needs -- and while, for example, wireless capability sounds fun, that certainly isn't among my needs (and only gets interesting again when it involves real web-browsing capability, which Kindle, Nook, etc. don't offer).
I need flexibility, for example -- i.e. an e-reader that can readily deal with all formats (another strike against the Kindle, which can't) -- and the Sony Reader promised to cover all the ones I figure I have to deal with, from the dreaded pdf to ePub to Word documents (automatically reformatted to rtf).
Thirdly: its size.
There are considerable drawbacks to its tiny size (a three by four inch screen), but for my purposes this is a fall-back/alternative device, and for that I might as well have something ultra-portable.
My preference is for tiny print-books (true pocket size is my ideal, the 'trade paperback' an abomination whose popularity I still can't comprehend), and I was thrilled to find that the Sony Reader actually fit in my shirt pocket.
My requirements presumably differ considerably from the average e-book-consumer's.
I felt pressured to finally get an e-reader because the number of electronic galleys/ARCs that have been gathering dust on my hard drive has grown rather large -- and includes numerous titles that I'm eager to read.
Obviously, I could read them on my computer -- but, as I've discovered, I can't.
Or rather: I really, really don't like doing it.
I've finished off a couple of books in purely electronic form on my computer, and I have not enjoyed the experience; it's inconvenient, and I spend so much time at my desk and in front of the computer anyway that I'd prefer to do my book-reading elsewhere.
I have no intention of ever (well: in the foreseeable future) purchasing an 'eBook' from a store -- another reason not to bother with the store-centric Kindle or Nook.
Of greater interest: the possibility of downloading texts available at Google books or online repositories such as the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg -- especially those titles that are hard to find in print (though of course one is largely limited to those that are also out of copyright -- i.e. pretty old stuff).
So how does the device shape up after a few days of playing around with it ?
For the most part I have found it satisfactory -- but it doesn't measure up to a printed book.
A few observations:
- Among the few areas where the e-reading experience has advantages -- search capability -- isn't available directly on the Reader itself (though it is available via the 'Reader Library'-interface that one has to install on one's computer in order to manage the material on the Reader ...).
- The pages turn fairly slowly -- terribly slowly on enormous-sized files.
- It's possible to jump to a specific page by punching the page-number in, but that page-number often doesn't square exactly with the page one is seeking (pagination in books often doesn't start with the actual first page ...); presumably 'proper' eBooks that you purchase don't have this issue, but the pdf and ePub etc. ones I download do.
- Book-titles/author-names don't register correctly if not properly credited on the downloaded file, and the Sony software does not allow one to change/add information (and if they are write-protected the source file information can't be changed either).
Again, this is probably not an issue with real-life purchased e-Books but, for example, one of the ARCs I've downloaded is of the forthcoming 'Sex' issue of Granta; the download has the catchy but at least recognizable name: "GRANTA_110_for_email_lo", but on the Reader it registers (and is listed) only as "Layout 1".
And I can't change that.
- Magnifying the text (i.e. changing the font size) produces unpredictable results.
Some pdfs of new material work beautifully, but not even all of those: the Granta ARC, for example, winds up with very annoying line breaks all over the place.
Older pdfs and other downloads (i.e.those from the Internet Archive, Google books, etc.) are even more iffy; one downloaded text, in Gothic script (as most German texts pre. 1920s are wont to be), would not magnify at all.
- The ePub format does better with different font sizes, but doesn't seem to handle non-standard characters (beginning with diacritical marks) well.
- Unmagnified the text is sharp but tiny -- legible, but I'm not sure how long I can handle it.
I am, however, quite pleased with some of what the device allows for -- especially the convenience of having so much text in such a small device (though the Sony Reader doesn't even hold that much -- 400 some-odd MB).
And aside from the galleys that I can now read at my convenience I do look forward to some of the other material I will be able to peruse -- material that, sure, was always computer-accessible but that I would never find the time or patience to read on my computer screen.
What are the first things I've downloaded (all for free, of course) ?
Novels by Paul Bourget (exactly the kind of out-of-print author whose work, in this way, I can finally make my way through properly) and Alfred Döblin (testing that Gothic script ...), the first volume of C.H.Tawney's translation, The Ocean of Story, (the first of ten volumes -- at 55MB it's huge (and a very slow page-turner ...) and hence it's unfeasible to download all ten volumes at once) -- John Barth, you'll recall, is a huge fan --, the memoirs of Ludvig Holberg (a book I've long longed for), and a collection of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetry (the sort of material that I can particularly see myself using this reader for).
It's interesting seeing what material is available for free download, and despite the limitations -- almost all of it is older (out of copyright) stuff -- there's a lot I hope to get to.
It is worth noting, however, how crappy some of the scans at both the Internet Archive and Google are.
I'll report at greater length once I've properly used the device (i.e. actually finished off some books on it).
Yes, it's now been eleven years since the first reviews were posted at the complete review.
I don't really know how to celebrate these things -- the annual state-of-the-site report (most recently here) seems to be an adequate chronicle of the small changes and accomplishments, year by year.
Otherwise, of course, what's most remarkable is how little has changed, as I've stuck to the same formula -- reviews, links, quotes -- and hope to continue to for the foreseeable future.
(Yes, at some point I will get around to updating the look of the site, but that may will still take a while.)
(Updated - 6 April): Many thanks to all for the congratulatory blog mentions, tweets, etc. !
Widely linked to, and well worth a look: Edith Grossman on translating Don Quixote, in Quixotic at Guernica.
(Get your copy of her translation at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; I'm also looking forward to her Why Translation Matters (see the Yale University Press publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) but still haven't been able to get my hands on a copy ...).
In The Australian Geordie Williamson notes 'Much has been said about the social and political effects of the blogosphere, but what about its influence on literary style', and considers it in When bloggers enter the literary fray in a review of Miscellaneous Voices: Australian Blog Writing No. 1; see also the Miscellaneous Press page.
In Poster modernist in Al-Ahram Weekly they report that Egyptian writer Ahmad Nagi's (أحمد ناجي) Roger Waters(of Pink Floyd)-influenced Rogers (روجرز) is being brought out in Italian by Il Sirente (see their publicity page -- or that of Arabic publisher Malamih) -- and look at Arabic writing in Italian translation more generally -- though:
The translator of Rogers, Barbara Benini, confirmed Italian interest in young Egyptian fiction but clarified the situation:
"Big Italian publishers are more interested in scandals and stereotypes than creativity, innovation or independence. Only small editors, such as Il Sirente, Jouvence, Edizioni Lavoro, are interested in emergent Egyptian writers".
Still, not bad that at least three publishers are interested in it .....
Among the April issues of online periodicals now available is that of Word without Borders, dedicated to 'PEN World Voices' (since the festival takes place later this month) -- with lots of book excerpts --, as well as the new Open Letters Monthly.
Only some of the pieces in the April issue of The New Criterion are freely accessible, but among them
is Eric Ormsby 'On The Poetry of Rilke: Bilingual Edition, translated by Edward Snow', in Teaching a dumpling to dance.
Unsurprisingly, he finds:
Snow's translations, alas, resemble a prompt-book more than a true performance.
(Hey, I've never met a Rilke translation I liked either; for more on the subject see, for example, William Gass on Reading Rilke.)
In The Harvard Crimson Noah Rayman and Elyssa Spitzer go 'Inside Harvard University Library's Depository', in Beyond The Stacks, reporting that:
the University finished in 1986 construction of the Harvard Depository, a mysterious storage facility in a publicly undisclosed location 30 miles from campus where large tracts of land are less expensive than in Cambridge.
While the facility was originally intended to store Harvard's least-used volumes, it is now home to 45 percent of Harvard's collections.
David Lamberth, chair of the Library Implementation Work Group, calls it a "precise warehouse" for which the term "library" would prove inaccurate.
As someone who loves wandering the stacks it kills me to read about these off-site repositories, regardless of how efficient they are.
It might be a sign that the recession really is over, or else that more people have given up and are striking out on their own, but an astounding number of readers -- 380 -- purchased Rework, a book about starting your own company by a pair of Web entrepreneurs, after Farhad Manjoo reviewed it in his column.
(Another 71 downloaded it for their Kindle.)
The second-most-popular book among Slate readers was Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, which racked up 53 purchases.
Readers of the complete review also purchase books (and other goods) via the on-site Amazon links (much appreciated !) but few titles have racked up anywhere near such Rework-numbers over the whole lifetime of the site, much less a single month.
Certainly the fiction focus apparently doesn't help: even Slate fared less well among such titles:
Fiction editors rejoice: A few people still read novels.
The Ask sold 15 copies, and The Lost Books of the Odyssey sold 13.
Given the limited number of sales per month via Amazon, I don't find it worthwhile (or meaningful) to provide a monthly list, though I do tally up the most popular reviews (i.e. the reviews with the most page-views) month after month; interestingly there's very little correlation between review-popularity and number of purchases (or, for that matter, the number of click-throughs to the relevant Amazon page and the number who actually make a purchase).
In March A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz sold the most copies via Amazon.com -- ten -- but it was only the 38th most popular review; the most-sold titles via Amazon.co.uk in March were Ryszard Kapuscinski's The Shadow of the Sun (ten copies sold, while the review was only the 126th most popular of the month; interestingly this was the bestselling title via Amazon.com in February ...) and The Giant, O'Brien by Hilary Mantel (seven copies sold, in what must have been a book-club acquisition; the review didn't even break the top 250 for the month).
At The Millions they also engage in this Amazon.com-exercise, offering The Millions Top 10 -- though I admit I'm more than surprised that they rack up enough sales to create a meaningful ranking.
The title they shifted the most copies of in March was The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen; hereabouts it's a perennially popular review (39th most popular in March), but it hasn't sold well in years.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Fathy Ghanem's The Man Who Lost His Shadow.
This 1962 novel was published by two of my favorite regional imprints, appearing in the African Writers Series and more recently published by the American University in Cairo Press -- but now appears to be pretty much out of print.
Too bad -- it's a very solid work.
In Time Out (NY) Anna King has a brief Q & A with Salman Rushdie in which: 'The author talks about the PEN World Voices Festival and what he's working on now.'
Among the exchanges:
The paucity of English translations of world literature seems to be one of the key focuses of the PEN WV Festival. Why do you make this a focus, and why would it benefit Americans to read more outside their culture?
It's actually a great moment in world literature -- with so many extraordinary writers doing wonderful work -- and it would immensely enrich the reading experience of Americans if these works were made more easily available.
A couple of pieces have recently appeared on publishing imprints and branding:
at The Guardian book blog Stuart Evers writes on How imprints left a lasting impression, while at The New Sleekness Sarah Russo explains 'Why Publishers Shouldn't Brand the Brand', in Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic -- to which Erin L. Cox repsonds at Publishing Perspectives with [INSERT PUBLISHER HERE]: Why Branding to Readers Should Matter to Publishers.
I've always been a firm believer in publishing-brands, and see it as one of the few things publishers have -- or rather: could have -- going for themselves -- and many small publishers with specific niches have managed to work that brand-image pretty well.
(As far as the big authors and biggest publishers go, brands are, of course, completely irrelevant -- but to discover new work and authors it's still (or rather: could be) one of the best things to rely on.)
The SWR-Bestenliste for April, in which 30 German literary critics recommend the top newly published books, is now out.
A Patrick Modiano work tops the list, but what is truly remarkable is how spread the votes were -- i.e. the critics went very divergent ways.
The Modiano tops the list with a feeble 49 points -- out of a maximum of 450 ! -- and is separated from the number five title by a mere four points (it got 45).