All sorts of rumors and reports are trickling out about the Tehran International Book Fair -- most of them summed up in this report at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, noting there are reports of the "banning of some books and pressure on independent publishers", among other things.
(Hmmm, I wonder how many people are surprised by that .....)
The Egyptian pavilion was reportedly shut down on Thursday -- for displaying an Arabian Gulf Encyclopedia (a major geo-political no-no in the very touchy land of the Persian Gulf -- though apparently a problem that crops up practically every year) -- but it's hard to get the facts straight: the Tehran Times even reports that TIBF official oblivious to closure of Egyptian pavilion.
The Tehran Times article also notes:
It has been rumored that an Italian pavilion has also been closed down at the TIBF.
"No Italian publishing companies whatsoever are participating in this year’s book fair so as to be shut down," Vasfi noted.
Yes, it's all very confusing.
Still, what is clear is that the TIBF folk have little idea how to win friends and influence people, as the Tehran Times article also contains this gem:
"Due to their indiscipline, Italian publishing companies are not interesting enough to be invited to international book fairs, including the TIBF," Vasfi said to explain why TIBF did not invite Italian publishing companies.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Michal Ajvaz's The Golden Age.
(His The Other City attracted a decent amount of attention and praise last year, but, though in the same vein, I found The Golden Age
far more successful.)
Along with R K Narayan and Mulk Raj Anand, Raja Rao forms the early trio of Indian authors whose writings in English won international attention.
The only Rao title under review at the complete review is one of his lesser works, Comrade Kirillov, but I've read most of his fiction and admire his work -- and consider him an important (and underappreciated) writer.
So I was shocked to learn that:
And yet today, Rao's archive is of no interest to any public library.
For their diminishing value, his papers have been severely punished.
After the author's death in July 2006, the Perry-Castañeda Library at the University of Texas in Austin suddenly found no profitable interest in preserving the manuscripts of Rao's latest and a few unpublished novels in a previous arduously allocated 3x3m partitioned space.
Hence Susan had to move the manuscripts back home.
At the end of April 2010, when unaware buyers will inhabit the former uncommemorated residence of one of the most authentic voices of Indian writing in English, Rao's papers will move out again.
And there's no proper repository for them -- shocking, considering that, for example, the 'preliminary inventory
' of Raja Rao's unpublished manuscripts at the Raja Rao Publication Project includes volumes two (The Daughter of the Mountain) and three (A Myrobalan in the Palm of Your Hand) of his The Chessmaster and His Moves-trilogy, not to mention valuable correspondence, etc.
In Rao's case, both the publishing industry and the academic world contributed to Rao's literary, and material , demise.
While Raja Rao's profound spirituality has certainly hindered his active engagement in securing highprofile and profitable publishing deals, as a Rao critic and editor-in-chief of the Raja Rao Publication Project, I am always struggling to campaign for the literary recognition he deserves as one of the leading anti-colonial literary voices coming from India, way ahead of Salman Rushdie or Arundhati Roy.
Rao's writing remains a conveniently unacknowledged, yet almost palpable presence in some of their works.
I'm not sure bringing up the fact that Rao's writing is a palpable presence in Rushdie and Roy's work is a selling point (if I didn't know better it would certainly turn me off ...), but I guess it is a selling point in this name-recognition age.
Anyway, one hopes the Sacred Wordsmith Raja Rao Memorial Literary Endowment can do him justice .....
Meanwhile check out the first volume of The Chessmaster and His Moves (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- and note that the publisher of that volume, Vision Books (see their publicity page), describe themselves as: "a medium-sized specialist publisher of books on Business and Management, Investment, Stock Market, Personal Finance and Tax Saving".
Oh, yes, Rao really deserves better.
(Don't get me wrong, it's great that they published some of his books -- but he should obviously be published by a 'literary' publisher .....)
Penguin has launched a Central European Classics series (not to be confused with, say, Central European University Press' Central European Classics-series, or Northwestern University Press' Writings from an Unbound Europe-series (or, for that matter, Penguin's own 'Writers from the Other Europe'-series, with Philip Roth as general editor)), and in the Independent on Sunday C.J.Schuler writes (somewhat misleadingly -- Bernhard ? von Rezzori ? Karel Čapek ? Cioran ?) 'How the tedium of life under Communism gave rise to a literature alive with surrealism and comedy', in In praise of writers' bloc.
Meanwhile, at the penguin blog editor Simon Winder explains the inspiration for the series.
It's an odd but interesting collection -- definitely worth seeking out.
But novels, by a convention that nobody in the publishing industry seems fully able to explain, must be re-jacketed from territory to territory.
It inspires all kinds of illustrative madness, and makes browsing foreign bookshelves a fascinating -- often bewildering -- experience.
I'm not quite so fascinated (give me plain covers with the title, author, and publisher on them -- or, hell, forget the packaging altogether and just give me the damn content of the book -- and I'm perfectly satisfied), but this comparative exercise seems to be a very popular one.
David Mitchell doesn't just have a new novel coming out -- The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet -- but next week also sees the premiere of an opera for which he wrote the libretto, Wake, with music by Klaas de Vries (and with electronic music by René Uijlenhoe); see the information page.
In The Guardian Mitchell offers an interesting account of his Adventures in opera.
(It sounds ... intriguing.
But I don't know about this material .....)
The Toby Press, a leading Israeli English language publishing house, is significantly scaling down its publication of new titles, Anglo File has learned.
Local publishing professionals described the layoff of Toby's lead editor and plans to cut about half of its upcoming list of new offerings as a great loss to English speaking literati.
Toby Press canceled three planned works from its autumn calendar, which originally consisted of six or seven books
And it's particularly sad to hear that:
While he refused to name the crossed-out titles he said that some of the books had been partially edited already when he decided to drop them.
(While described as "a leading Israeli English language publishing house", Toby is, of course, very present in the US; I'm stunned this news wasn't broken by an American publishing-industry publication .....)
Supporters of Southern Methodist University Press are scrambling to reverse the university's decision to suspend the press's operations, effective June 1.
The decision, announced to the press's staff and advisory board last week, became public this week.
It has set off a rapidly escalating campaign, inside and outside the university, to save the press at a time when many university presses are hard-pressed by budget cuts and disruptions to the traditional system of scholarly publishing.
It's pretty amazing that there was so little warning given -- a peculiar way to conduct business (and one which suggests the powers that be really, really don't take the press-operation seriously).
It would be a loss:
Founded in 1937, SMU Press is Texas' oldest academic publisher, a small but well-regarded endeavor that releases eight to 10 books a year.
Best known for literary fiction. it also publishes in the fields of medical humanities, sports, and the Southwest.
The number of review copies reaching me -- not too much more than a book a day on average at the best of times -- is, mysteriously, down a whopping 30% from this time last year (and this time 2008).
Still, if I beg and plead, desired volumes usually (well, sometimes) come -- as do the occasional pleasant surprises.
Indeed, there's still always more that reaches me that I'd like to get to but can't (and/or can't in a very timely manner).
Over the past few months I've also accumulated quite a few bigger books and (semi-)series that take their time to get to and through -- so here an overview of some of the books I've recently been pleased to get and am slowly working my way through:
Steven Moore's The Novel: An Alternative History. Only goes through 1600 (he's working on volume two ...), but it's an enjoyable survey-work with a very entertaining introduction.
(See the Continuum publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
Euclides da Cunha's Backlands, in a new translation by Elizabeth Lowe, from Penguin (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
The problem with tackling this Brazilian classic is that I have no excuse for then not also tackling Mario Vargas Llosa's The War of the End of the World, recently reprinted by Picador (see their publicity page (or Faber's), or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)
Some book(lets) in the wonderful Cahiers Series ("published in association with The Center for Writers & Translators at the American University of Paris. The goal of this series is to make available new explorations in writing, in translating, and in the areas linking these two activities".)
The five volumes of Jorge Luis Borges Penguin is bringing out -- two volumes of poetry, three of largely non-fiction.
Yes, some of it is familiar material, but each volume also has some previously untranslated stuff .....
In the absence of a true collected Borges, it will have to do.
(Why the piecemeal (and repeated) presentation ?
Presumably Borges-widow Kodama and her 'literary' agent (one can hardly consider the agent to be working in Borges' (or his readers') best (or other) interests ...) believe this is the best way to wring the most money out of book-buyers .....
(Who is the estate's Kodama's agent ? Oh, come on, as if there were any doubt .....
Who else could come up with such a nonsensical, reader-unfriendly approach ?
(Yes, it's him)).)
The new (to-the-US) three-volume translation of The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights by Malcolm and Ursula Lyons (see the publicity page for volume one, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)
, finally becoming available from Penguin in the US this summer.
The new anthology of 'Winners of the Debut Prize for Fiction' brought out by Glas, Squaring the Circle (see their publicity page; it does not appear to be available via the Amazons yet), which looks like a great look at new Russian fiction by (very) young writers.
Of course, that's only the top of very many piles surrounding me .....
In London the Festival of Asian Literature runs for almost the entire month, from 5 to 27 May (and beyond: there are also 'Pre-Festival Events' and 'Post Festival Events' ...).
A solid programme -- worth checking out if you're in the neighborhood.
At 19:00 at the Goethe-Institut London they have an "Election Day Special" (anything to get your mind off ?), Critic meets Critic: Two countries | Two literary traditions | Two leading critics (the latter being Erica Wagner and Christoph Bartmann).
Could be interesting.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Abdul Halim Sharar's 1899 Urdu novel, Paradise of the Assassins.
This Oxford University Press title -- part of their 'Classics from South Asia and the Near East'-series -- was a nice surprise.
Nothing special, really, except that it's hardly what one (or at least I) would have expected -- but then it's hard to find much Indian-language fiction from the nineteenth century in translation (despite the fact that there's actually a decent amount of fiction from that time -- albeit not (yet) in translation).
And for popular fiction it's quite well-done -- and comes with a beautiful (and, again, not-what-one-would-have-expected) twist.
One slight issue I take: the US list price on this -- a 120-page paperback printed in Pakistan -- is an obscene and downright silly $29.99 (at the OUP site as well as at Amazon.com).
In the UK -- at least at Amazon.co.uk -- the list price is £6.99 (i.e. it's still cheaper to buy at the UK Amazon and ship it to the US ...) -- but the actual list price printed on the book is Rs 150.
Depending on whether we're talking Indian or Pakistani rupees (it's unclear, but the book was published in Pakistan) that's a whole lot less again: the equivalent of $3.32 or $1.78 respectively.
The copy I purchased was a remaindered one (and I still paid more than the Indian and Pakistani list prices, combined ...); who on earth decided on this insanely unrealistic US pricing ?
(The only explanation I can think of: they figured there would be no 'casual' buyers of a title such as this, only institutional buyers, whom they feel it's perfectly okay to screw over.
Too bad: this title stood a decent chance of at least attracting a bit of general-book-buyer-interest.)
A few weeks ago Levi Asher considered what might be The Web's Global Problem at his Literary Kicks site, as he noted that, according to the Google Analytics data from his site, visitors predominantly came from the developed and English-speaking countries:
I'm quite happy with my US numbers -- 21,000+ uniques, not too shabby for a quirky literary site that publishes four posts a week.
I also do just fine in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia and several Western European countries. And then it comes: the big dropoff.
I'm intrigued and a little mystified by the fact that I'm not fully blocked in China, and that I have more readers in Saudi Arabia (or, for that matter, Iran) than in all of Central Africa combined.
But, overall, let's be honest: these numbers are awful.
And he also observes:
It's not just me. As a professional web developer, I've had the opportunity to study the metrics of countless USA-based websites.
Their international graphs all look like mine.
We're widely read in English-speaking countries, but we barely manage to show up anywhere else.
So I was wondering how the complete review stacked up: given the international focus hereabouts, I've always figured the site's audience was considerably more international than most (and, to the extent I monitor it, it's always seemed to be) -- but it is an English-language site, which obviously limits interest elsewhere.
The Google Analytics map for the site suggests the complete review does seem to reach all corners of the world: over the past one-month span there were:
Visitors from 201 countries/territories
an average of at least one visit per day (i.e. 30 for the one-month period) by visitors from 107 countries
an average of at least ten visits per day (i.e. 300 for the one-month period) by visitors from 52 countries
[Most (but, significantly, not quite all ...) of the complete review is also covered by Google Analytics (probably some ninety-five per cent of the reviews -- which is where most of the traffic is -- as well as the last few years of the Literary Saloon), and while there is some undercounting here at least in percentage terms the country-of-origin statistics should be about right.]
It's hard to tell from the Google-map -- and I'm probably missing some island statelets -- but the only nations I could determine which sent no visitors over the past month were: North Korea, Turkmenistan, Somalia, Guinea, the Central African Republic, and the Western Sahara.
(Yes, there were visitors from Greenland, Afghanistan, Laos, São Tomé and Príncipe, Bhutan, Vanuatu, and Eritrea, among all the other places.)
[Interestingly, while the general trend is for landlocked nations to send fewer visitors (Bolivia and Paraguay are at the bottom of the South American barrel, Belarus the European outcast, the Central African republics in Africa and the Central Asian 'Stans in Asia), four of the six no-shows are coastal nations.]
The top four countries-of-origin -- and their order -- come as no surprise, and the top ten as a whole seems fairly predictable too:
% of visitors
In five of the top ten countries, English is the dominant national language (the top four, plus Ireland), and in one more -- India -- it is safe to assume it is (for the moment) a leading language among those using the Internet.
English-speaking countries -- or at least pre-dominantly English-speaking countries -- obviously dominate: the top four make up more than two-thirds of all traffic to the site, and while I haven't done the math, presumably close to four-fifths of all site-visitors live in English-speaking areas.
[The math gets complicated: presumably a small proportion of Canadian visitors come from French-speaking parts, countries from Malaysia to Cameroon can also be divided into linguistic groups, etc. etc.]
Nevertheless, this seems a more international spread than most sites (though spread out over a lot of countries ...); Levi doesn't say what percentage of his visitors are from the US, for example, but presumably it's considerable more than forty-five.
The ranking of other countries in terms of the number of visitors they sent to the complete review over the past month includes:
14. South Africa: the highest-ranked African country
22. Philippines: the highest-ranked Asian country (if you don't count Turkey ...)
25. Brazil: the highest-ranked Latin American country
36. Argentina: the highest-ranked Spanish-speaking Latin American country
39. Egypt: the highest-ranked Arabic-speaking country
54. Saudi Arabia
60. Ghana: the highest-ranked sub-Saharan African country (just ahead of 62. Nigeria)
91. Senegal: the highest-ranked Francophone sub-Saharan African country (not counting 88. Mauritius, where English is so widely spoken)
English being a dominant national language seems an important factor, but others, including how well-wired a country is, obviously also play roles.
Nevertheless, some countries obviously punch considerably above their weight: aside from many European nations (notably, but hardly limited to, the Nordic nations) for example Turkey and Brazil -- and while, for example, the Arabic-speaking world only enters the list at 39 (with Egypt), the region is well-represented as a whole (especially for an area considered so under-wired).
On the other hand, China and Japan seem to under-perform (yes, there are those different writing systems; still ...).
Africa -- or at least sub-Saharan Africa -- is, not surprisingly, particularly poorly represented.
While the continent's rim states -- South Africa, and the Arabic-speaking north -- bring a steady and relatively large flow, and a few dependable countries on the side (Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya) come in a tier below that, much of the continent
does bring very little traffic.
But for any useful comparisons to be made one would have to know how much Internet traffic (of any sort) comes from these very under-wired countries.
(The other largely lost area is that of the former Soviet states of Central Asia.)
Traffic to the complete review is overwhelmingly search-engine driven (regularly over eighty per cent of traffic), and the site presumably benefits from the inclusion of some foreign language material (quotes, links to foreign-language sites, and especially the use of foreign language titles (including in foreign scripts)), which makes it more likely that foreign-language visitors will be directed to pages at the complete review.
Nevertheless, the audience remains very American, and very English-speaking; I'd be curious to hear how it compares to other/similar sites.
Political pressures, technological problems of incompatibility and a tenuous grip on old-paper loving habits are impeding a swift move from hardcopy books to digital books in the Middle East.
Jalal Abdallah, managing director of Arabic E-Book, has some explanations:
"First, I'm sorry to say that in the Arab world they don't read a lot," he said.
"Second, the economic situation for people in the Arab world is not so good.
They don't have the facilities for credit cards to buy books online, or other books in general."
The third reason touches on the difficulty of Arab publishing houses to conform with technological changes in the industry.
"The publishers don't support this kind of digital publishing," he admitted.
"They're old people who prefer traditional paper than the e-book.
The culture here in the Arab world is still paper-based, so most of our sales come from Arab people from outside Arab countries."
The monthly SWR-Bestenliste, where thirty German literary critics vote for their books-of-the-month, is out for May.
Noteworthy: for once it's German-language dominated, with the top six places going to books written in German -- and the top two are far ahead of the field as far as the number of votes (points) they got.
Many weblogs and sites -- including this one -- are 'Amazon Associates', earning referral fees for most products bought by users who click through the links to Amazon.com.
When Amazon introduced the Kindle, however, they offered no referral fees for any Kindle-content they sold; they have now changed this policy, announcing Changes to Amazon Kindle Advertising Fees -- the big change being that they will now pay referral fees as they do for everything else.
As I've noted previously, relatively few complete review-users purchase Kindle-content -- though there has been a (very slow) increase.
In April, three per cent of all items ordered by complete review-users at Amazon.com was Kindle content.
(Note that other sites report a higher sales-rate; a year ago The Millions reported that after the introduction of the
Kindle DX sales of Kindle-content jumped to over sixteen per cent of all sales at that site.)
Given that until now no referral-fees were on offer for Kindle-content, website owners had little incentive to link directly to Kindle editions of titles under discussion; now, obviously, they (and I) do.
(I'm not sure whether or not I'll bother yet -- though I note that it has proven worthwhile to, for example, link to Spanish editions of all originally-written-in-Spanish titles .....)
It'll be interesting to see whether the links to Kindle editions will help boost Kindle book sales.
Not that Amazon ever reveals any of those .....
Certainly, however, Amazon seems to have felt it necessary to offer this incentive to their 'Associates'.
Literary awards, well managed, can actually kick off cultural revolutions, and that can be good or bad depending on their agenda.
This becomes obvious when one sees what the Caine Prize for African Writing has achieved within a decade, infecting writers and propelling the African literary world from its traditional rural idylls to a mix of contemporary rural and urban themes, becoming in the process mostly a diaspora discourse.
While the Caine Prize (see above) is a story-prize, the biennial Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa is a full-fledged-book prize (apparently it is not limited to novels: "Any excellently written book by an African in any genre may qualify for this award
They announced the winners (yes, the prize was shared this time around) a few days ago; as Aderinsola Ajao reports in Next, Joint winners emerge in Wole Soyinka Literature prize, as Coconut by Kopano Matlwa and Tenants of The House by Wale Okediran shared the prize.
There were 330 entries from 11 participating countries -- a good number of entries, a feeble number of countries .....
They have grand ambitions for this prize, too: "This is a pan African prize, viewed also as Africa’s NOBEL prize", they claim -- only to then set up rules that make it unlikely it truly can be.
Foremost among them is the requirement that entries be written in English or French -- though I'm no great fan of the only-publishers-may-submit route they've chosen either (and the limits they place on publishers -- though the three titles allowed each is an impressive fifty per cent more than the Man Booker rules permit ...).
Oddly, too: "Books that have won other awards are not eligible for this prize" -- so if, say, a Nigerian novel wins the Man Booker it won't be eligible for this prize.
While I can understand the desire to foster unrecognized talent, given the number of prizes and awards out there (which, after all, includes small-scale, no-money recognition-awards that don't attract the least bit of attention) this seems a bizarre limitation to impose.
One of the grand old Nigerian authors, T.M.Aluko, has passed away; see, for example, T.M Aluko is dead by Aderinsola Ajao in Next and Nigeria's Oldest Writer, T.M. Aluko, Dies At 91 by Gregory Austin Nwakunor, Anote Ajeluorou and Femi Alabi Onikeku in The Guardian (Nigeria).
There are three Aluko titles under review at the complete review:
A number of May issues of online publications have started to appear, notably the May issue of Open Letters Monthly.
A new issue of The Hindu's Literary Review is now also available.
Among the pieces of interests are Letter of reckoning, in which Seema Sanghi finds: "Translating Kafka into Tamil is no mean achievement", as well as Ranjita Biswas' review of a collection of classic Assamese stories, A Game of Chess, edited by Dhirendra Nath Bezboruah.
The latter sounds fascinating -- and Assamese literature is not easy to come by; there's none under review at the complete review -- but though published by Penguin India there's no publicity page available for it at their site yet (and it's also not available at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Javier Marías' novella, Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico.
It first appeared (in English translation) in Granta in 1999, but is now available as a nice slip of a book from New Directions -- part of their 'Pearl'-series.
The catalyst for the emergence of many of these writers has been Cairo's changing urban dynamic; bordered for most of its 1,400-year history by the Moqattam cliffs to the east and the Giza pyramids to the west, the city is now expanding into the surrounding desert via "satellite cities".
The flight of the upper-middle class to these gated communities, believes Mehrez, has given poorer social groups room to expand in the nation's cultural consciousness.
Apparently, porn is thriving: at MSNBC Brian Alexaner reports that 'The once-fringe genre is booming, with online book clubs, public readings', as Erotica gives book publishers surprising boost.
Yes, apparently it's still and always true: sex sells.