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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 July 2010

21 July: Interviews: David Mitchell - Chad Post | Book fair and literary festival in ... Somaliland | La sexta lámpara review
22 July: Profiles: Tezuka Osamu - P.D.James | Amazon 'Kindle' v. hardcover sales
23 July: Odyssey Editions | German children's books abroad | Dylan Thomas Prize longlist | The Story of the Stone performance | Stella review
24 July: Interviews: Salwa al-Neimi - Sayed Kashua | Mohamed Choukri's legacy | Another Nabokov controversy ?
25 July: Saraba | E-editions | TV book clubs
26 July: High Low In-between takes Sunday Times Literary Award | Dick Davis Q & A | Yrsa Sigurðardóttir profile | Hector and the Search for Happiness review
27 July: Per Olov Enquist gets Austrian State Prize for European Literature | David Markson's library | Ibn-e- Safi | Piyaporn Sakkasem profile | At The Bookstore in Lenox
28 July: Man Booker Prize longlist | Hong Kong Book Fair | Gamal al-Ghitani turns down prize nomination | Venclova on Vilnius | Goli Taraghi
29 July: Dismissive Josipovici | Cape Town Book Fair | More Amazon, Wylie
30 July: Reviving classics | Athens Prize for Literature shortlists | French take on e-books
31 July: Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011 launch | Burmese issue | Ballard's archive | Dutch non-fiction | Joe Speedboat review

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31 July 2010 - Saturday

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011 launch | Burmese issue | Ballard's archive
Dutch non-fiction | Joe Speedboat review

       Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011 launch

       Booktrust announce the launch of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011 (i.e. you can start submitting) -- as well as the fact that:
Booktrust have taken over the administration of the Prize and are well placed to celebrate and broaden readers' awareness of foreign fiction having launched the Translated Fiction website in 2007.
       Sounds like a good deal all around -- less hassle for The Independent (while they retain the naming rights ...), and in capable hands at Booktrust. It certainly remains the leading English-language translation prize (though there is, of course, also that Best Translated Book Award .....)
       They'll consider any "fiction by a living author, which has been translated into English from any other language and published in the United Kingdom during 2010", so you're strongly encouraged to submit, if eligible.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Burmese issue

       A new issue of Sampsonia Way -- "an online magazine sponsored by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh celebrating literary free expression and supporting persecuted poets and novelists worldwide" -- is now available, with the theme: 'Burma: Shouts for Freedom'. Of particular interest: a Q&A with Wendy Law-Yone.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Ballard's archive

       In The Telegraph Tim Martin gets an exclusive look Inside JG Ballard's archive -- including the Crash-manuscript.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Dutch non-fiction

       I'm just finishing up a piece on Dutch fiction -- and just finished yet another Dutch novel (see below) -- so it's nice to see some attention paid to Dutch non-fiction, too, as Susan Swan does in Dutch treats in the Globe and Mail.
       She explains:
I was writer-in-residence in Amsterdam for the Dutch Foundation of Literature and gorging on the incredible feast of Dutch non-fiction about the contemporary world.
       She notes:
Many readers know Ian Buruma (author of Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance). But I am also discovering Joris Luyendijk, author of People Like Us: Misrepresenting the Middle East, which has provocative things to say about how Western journalists reinforce Arab stereotypes.

Then there's the extraordinary Geert Mak
       I still can't believe how little attention the Luyendijk-book has gotten.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Joe Speedboat review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tommy Wieringa's Joe Speedboat.
       Here's a book that really fell through the cracks, despite very impressive sales in the Netherlands. Published as a paperback original this spring by Grove-imprint Black Cat, this book seems to have suffered in particular from the difficulty of categorizing it: Amazon lists it as 'Young Adult', for example, but Black Cat definitely has a more risqué reputation, which surely confused booksellers. A starred review in Publishers Weekly (scroll down for review) -- "(A) brilliant coming-of-age story with an outlandish twist (.....) There are more coming-of-age novels than dikes in Holland, but this wonderfully weird novel is not one to miss" -- didn't seem to help either; mainstream media gave a wide berth to this book, with practically no newspapers reviewing it, and currently it languishes with an sales rank of around 1,000,000 (i.e. no one is buying it).
       It's by no means a stand-out, but it has quite a bit of appeal; it certainly deserved better than it got, at least from the American media.
       (I can't help but rub in: no one seems at any point to have thought to send a copy my way (I bought mine -- used, of course, for $2.00) -- since, I guess, there are so many other outlets that cover so much Dutch fiction .....)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

30 July 2010 - Friday

Reviving classics | Athens Prize for Literature shortlists | French take on e-books

       Reviving classics

       In The Independent Boyd Tonkin looks at Classics lost and found: Authors pick the modern classic they would like to revive, as he looks at the phenomenon of old books (re)discovered -- like Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin (published in the US as Every Man Dies Alone) -- and gets a few authors to suggest some titles that deserve a (second) look.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Athens Prize for Literature shortlists

       As Theodoros Grigoriadis reminds me, the Athens Prize for Literature shortlists are out; the Serres Central Public Library conveniently has an English-language summary.
       This prize is awarded in two categories: Greek and foreign fiction, and it's always interesting to see what foreign fiction is attracting notice elsewhere -- and how quickly (or slowly) it's gotten there. Among the shortlisted titles is, for example, Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely loud and incredibly close, as well as a novel by Santiago Roncagliolo not yet translated into English. The only title under review at the complete review is Rawi Hage's De Niro's Game.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       French take on e-books

       Eurozine publishes a translation of an Esprit-interview with Pascal Fouché, giving something of a French perspective on the digital changes in publishing, Will the book enter the digital age ?

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

29 July 2010 - Thursday

Dismissive Josipovici | Cape Town Book Fair | More Amazon, Wylie

       Dismissive Josipovici

       In The Guardian Dalya Alberge reports that Feted British authors are limited, arrogant and self-satisfied, says leading academic, as:
In an outspoken attack, Gabriel Josipovici, the former Weidenfeld professor of comparative literature at Oxford University, condemned the work of the giants of the modern English novel as hollow.
       It's not clear what prompted the outspoken attack (well, presumably Alberge, looking for a story ...), but, hey, who can complain about some good master-bashing ?
       Milking this for what it's worth, The Guardian also offers Park Honan's thoughts -- that 'Perhaps Josipovici's condemnation is not of the novels, but of us and the electronic age', in 'We are becoming superficial'.
       Oh, yes, we are ......

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Cape Town Book Fair

       The Cape Town Book Fair runs 30 July to 2 August; admirably the Goethe-Institut is helping to bring twelve publishers from ten sub-Saharan countries to the event; see the information on their Publishers Invitation Programme.
       The Zimbabwean also reports on this, noting:
'amaBooks is one of the 12 independent publishing houses from across Africa that will be represented at this year's Cape Town Book Fair (CTBF) due to grants extended by the Goethe Institute.
       Ulla Wester, head of library and information services for the Goethe Institut, explains:
Publishers from South Africa's neighbouring states have fantastic ideas, books and products, but they don't always have the means to travel to show their wares. The CTBF is the single most important book fair in sub-Saharan African, and yet not enough African publishers can come here, and we felt we wanted to help them and give them a chance also to show their products and to network.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       More Amazon, Wylie

       As announces the release of a Wi-Fi Kindle at the very competitive price of $139.00 (to be released 27 August; pre-order here), the discussions about Andrew Wylie's new publisher-circumventing, Amazon-exlusive Odyssey Editions (see my previous mention) -- and all-powerful Amazon in general -- continue.
       At The New Republic Ruth Franklin speaks up In Defense of Amazon, pointing out that 'The corporate behemoth isn't to blame for the book industry's failures', and at Three Percent Chad Post finds that's A Rational Discussion about Amazon. Meanwhile, at Inside Higher Ed Scott McLemee looks into how the university publishing world feels about The Amazonian Gorilla, while at his Literary Kicks Levi Asher is Appreciating Andrew Wylie, Evil Bohemian Jackal. And at his Bait 'n' Beer Don Linn offers Field Notes on the Silly Season.

       Meanwhile, what I'm curious about is why no intrepid reporter has managed to get any comments from any of Wylie's other clients, especially those who are published by Random House, given that Random House has announced that they "will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved". Does Wylie control his authors so completely ? (Recall the outcry when Macmillan books briefly weren't being sold at Amazon; this surely will take longer to resolve.) Why aren't the authors more upset or concerned ? Or has Wylie really been able to convince them that this is all -- in the long term -- in their interest ? (Given that he's never seemed much of a longterm kind of guy in his business dealings -- cash in quick has always seemed to be his motto, all his protestations to the contrary -- that's a pretty hard sell.)
       And, of course, I wonder whether any other agent-vultures have been circling, and started making plays for Wylie's clients. (How could they not try to take advantage of this situation ?)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

28 July 2010 - Wednesday

Man Booker Prize longlist | Hong Kong Book Fair
Gamal al-Ghitani turns down prize nomination
Venclova on Vilnius | Goli Taraghi

       Man Booker Prize longlist

       As widely reported, the longlist for the leading British fiction prize, the Man Booker Prize, was announced yesterday, thirteen titles chosen from the 138 books which were considered (a high number for the Man Booker judges to look at) -- of which 14 were 'called in' by the judges (i.e. not directly submitted by publishers (who are, ridiculously, limited to two submissions apiece) or automatically eligible (books by previous winners and recently shortlisted authors)).
       None of the books are under review at the complete review, although there are review-overviews of Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. (I realize that quite a few of these titles have not been published in the US yet (nor the UK, in a few cases), but it does make me wonder whether (after eleven years and 2500+ reviews ...) I'm doing this whole 'lit-blogging' thing all wrong: I haven't received a copy of a single one of these titles. Not a one. And while I'm sure with some persistent pleading some of those I'd like to look at will eventually make their way my way, it still seems a bit ... surprising.)
       Not too many observations to make about the list. Some big names have been left off -- notably Ian McEwan, whose Solar didn't make the grade (which comes as no surprise to ... well, presumably most of those who read it) -- as well as Martin Amis (though it seems unlikely Cape even bothered submitting The Pregnant Widow). And one title that reportedly was submitted -- Peter Temple's Miles Franklin Prize-winning Truth, which Quercus boasted it would enter (and, given their list, seems like a likely candidate) -- was also ... overlooked.
       Which leads me to one of my (many) major complaints about this prize: why aren't we told which books are actually in the running for this prize, i.e. why isn't the list of 138 books that are considered made public ? (Obvious (albeit inexcusable) answer: publishers don't want their authors to know they didn't even bother submitting them .....)
       In Mark Brown's report in The Guardian Amis-free Booker prize longlist promises to 'entertain and provoke' he notes:
There are no first novels -- which have become a feature at longlist stage in the last few years, and there is no genre fiction. Motion said they had not consciously set out to exclude genre but stressed that the Man Booker prize was an award for literary fiction and there were plenty of prizes for crime and sci-fi.
       Yeah, that's going to go over big .....
       For other reports, see also The Booker's Dozen: judges reveal 13 works in line for literary prize by Arifa Akbar in The Independent and Peter Carey could be three-time Booker winner by Stephen Adams in The Telegraph.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Hong Kong Book Fair

       They just held the Hong Kong Book Fair, and at Xinhua they report that Literature, foreign-language books, e-books favored at HK Book Fair.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Gamal al-Ghitani turns down prize nomination

       Arabic Literature (in English) reports that:
August Egyptian author Gamal al-Ghitani (Zayni Barakat, The Zafarani Files) announced last week that he's rejected a nomination for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, or the "Arabic Booker."
       I'm always shocked that prizes allow authors to have any say in these matters: authors are welcome to turn down or spit on or do whatever else they like if they win a prize, but awards-committees shouldn't take their feelings into any account when deciding whether or not a book should be in the running for the prize. The idea (theoretically, at least; I realize that's not how these things really work -- just think of the ridiculous limiting Man Booker procedures ...)) is to honor the best book (not author, mind you), and that should be all that matters.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Venclova on Vilnius

       Eurozine has a nice piece by Tomas Venclova on Vilnius: The city as object of nostalgia.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Goli Taraghi

       The current Boston Review has two pieces by Iranian author-in-exile Goli Taraghi, The Gentleman Thief and Between Two Worlds, her acceptance speech for the Bita Prize in Persian Letters.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

27 July 2010 - Tuesday

Per Olov Enquist gets Austrian State Prize for European Literature
David Markson's library | Ibn-e- Safi
Piyaporn Sakkasem profile | At The Bookstore in Lenox

       Per Olov Enquist gets Austrian State Prize for European Literature

       Per Olov Enquist has won the fairly prestigious Austrian State Prize for European Literature (Österreichischer Staatspreis für Europäische Literatur); see, for example, the AFP report, Swedish novelist Per Olov Enquist wins Austria's State Prize for European Literature or the official (German) press release.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       David Markson's library

       As widely tweeted (and now blogged), at the LRB blog Alex Abramovich reports on what happened to David Markson's library after his death, in Oh I get it, it's a sci-fi novel ! -- it wound up at the Strand Bookstore, where you can buy the annotated volumes at very reasonable used-book prices.
       Abramovich describes the haul:
There are too many inscribed books for any one civilian to buy; most have notes, check marks, underlined passages. I’d guess that a few of them -- especially the more heavily annotated ones -- belong in a proper archive. And yet, here they are: hundreds of hardbacks (the only paperback I could find was a copy of Walter Abish’s How German is It ?, sent to Markson with the author’s compliments), some of them with price tags covering Markson’s name, as if the buyers were afraid that his signature would somehow diminish their value.
       Pretty sad -- whoever sold must have been really eager to clear out the lot for them to dump the collection at the Strand: the eBay-value (or if they had sold it themselves at Amazon or the like) surely would have brought in several times over whatever Strand paid. And those marginal notes ... someone should have recorded those .....
       Yes, sad.

       (Lots of Markson titles under review at the complete review: see, for example, Reader's Block.)

       (Updated - 30 July): See now also reports by Carolyn Kellogg at Jacket Copy (David Markson's library for sale, and going fast) and Seth Colter Walls at Newsweek (All the Sad Old Literary Artifacts of David Markson).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Ibn-e- Safi

       With the death-anniversary of Ibne Safi (also Ibn-e Safi -- i.e. ابنِ صفی) and a translation of one his books recently published in English there has been quite a bit of coverage of the author, such as Shah Waliullah's overview in The Express Tribune, All clues point to a literary mastermind:
He gained widespread prominence with his 'Imran series', considered by many fans as the hallmark of detective stories in the country.

The novels are still popular among readers and several other writers have followed in the footsteps of Safi to carry the genre forward.

"Before him no one thought or wrote like this. He put reality into words and then turned them into suspense novels," said columnist Mushtaq Qureshi.
       The House of Fear recently came out in English; see the Random House India publicity page or the review in the Daily Times; it's listed at and, but not readily obtainable.
       See also The Official Ibne Safi Web Site and Ibne Safi Portrait.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Piyaporn Sakkasem profile

       In the Bangkok Post Pinya Tantiwatana finds 'Popular novelist Piyaporn Sakkasem [ปิยะพร ศักดิ์เกษม] shares how to create a fictional world that has no end', in The Multi-Faceted World of Piyaporn
       See also the (Thai) fan site,

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       At The Bookstore in Lenox

       At The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts you can hear me speak on Monday, 2 August, at 19:00, on my favorite subjects -- mainly the state of international literature (and especially translation) in the US.
       It should be fun; hope to see you there.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

26 July 2010 - Monday

High Low In-between takes Sunday Times Literary Award | Dick Davis Q & A
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir profile | Hector and the Search for Happiness review

       High Low In-between takes Sunday Times Literary Award

       As Book SA reports, in South Africa Imraan Coovadia and Albie Sachs Win the Sunday Times Literary Awards.
       Coovadia took the fiction prize with High Low In-between; see also the Umuzi publicity page. (It doesn't appear to be available at any of the Amazons yet.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Dick Davis Q & A

       At Tamara Ebrahimpour has a Q & A with translator-from-the-Persian Dick Davis, Persian literature through a western eye.
       Among his observations:
Translations change cultures, but they change them in ways in which the culture is ready to be changed.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Yrsa Sigurðardóttir profile

       In The Scotsman David Robinson profiles Yrsa Sigurdardottir, writer -- and dam-builder.
       As she points out:
"The problem with being a crime writer in Iceland," says Yrsa Sigurdardottir, "is that there's not that much crime there to write about. Icelandic murders, as well as being rare, tend to have a depressing stupidity about them.
       (A problem throughout the Nordic countries -- though the (relatively) trigger-happy (if otherwise murderously morose) Finns at least manage to pad the statistics a bit.)
       Sigurðardóttir's new (in the UK -- American audiences will have to wait ...) book is Ashes to Dust; see the Hodder publicity page, or get your copy at

       (Updated - 28 July): See now also Jake Kerridge's profile in The Telegraph.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Hector and the Search for Happiness review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of François Lelord's Hector and the Search for Happiness.
       Yeah, I don't really know what I'm doing wasting your and my time with this sort of thing -- but I was curious about its phenomenal success (millions of copies sold !).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

25 July 2010 - Sunday

Saraba | E-editions | TV book clubs


       In Next Agbonmire Ifeh reports that Saraba online journal aims high:
       Ifeh notes their ambitions:
Saraba is a pioneer in online publication in Nigeria and its creators hope that it will become a household name in world of literature.

"In some years, we hope to be rubbing shoulders with big literary magazines like New Yorker, Callaloo, and Boston Review," Ajayi projected.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -


       In The Observer Robert McCrum wonders Might Ryu Murakami's switch to the iPad signal the beginning of the end for traditional publishers ? (see also my previous mention), as:
Earlier this month, in a manoeuvre I predict will soon be seen as a watershed, the admired contemporary Japanese writer Ryu Murakami announced that he was publishing his new book, A Singing Whale, in partnership with Apple, as an iPad download, turning his back on his regular Japanese publisher, Kodansha. The book will also include video content set to music composed by Oscar-winning Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Murakami's radical rewriting of a business plan that dates to the Enlightenment has been on the cards for a while. Until now, however, it has been confined to the fringes, and seen as overspeculative.
       I'm not quite so sure -- and doesn't the iPad still count as very much on the fringe ? (Sure, a couple of million have been sold -- but that's still a very limited audience.)
       Still, there's obviously a future in such e-tailored 'books' -- and in The National Ben East looks at how Added-value apps give popular books in e-editions a turbo boost.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       TV book clubs

       In The Observer Viv Groskop wonders: 'Could the heady days of the TV book club return ?' in TV book clubs: more powerful than the Booker prize.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

24 July 2010 - Saturday

Interviews: Salwa al-Neimi - Sayed Kashua
Mohamed Choukri's legacy | Another Nabokov controversy ?

       Interview: Salwa al-Neimi

       At Rim Najmi has a Q & A with Salwa al-Neimi, promisingly titled The Liberation of Erotic Literature; like al-Neimi's book, The Proof of the Honey, discussed at (relative) length here, it doesn't quite live up to the billing.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Interview: Sayed Kashua

       In The Jerusalem Post Adaam James Levin-Areddy has a Q & A with Sayed Kashua, 'Your true identity is your bank account, baby'.
       I have to admit that it was hard to continue reading after the first (non-)question, which reads in its entirety:
Your book is quite an intricate journey of intersecting identities, illuminating some stirring insights.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Mohamed Choukri's legacy

       At Alfred Hackensberger reports on 'The Literary Legacy of Mohamed Choukri', in A Time of Mistakes.
       Yet another reminder to authors: put your literary estate in order before you keel over -- since:
The publishing houses who commission new translations of Choukri's books or want to publish a further edition after expiration of the original contract have their hands tied because of family quarrels about the distribution of the inheritance.

On the 75th anniversary of Choukri's birth, the outcome is, therefore, a gloomy one: with the exception of a few titles in France, Britain and Morocco, his books are no longer available.
       (Bonus advice to writers: keep Andrew Wylie out of the picture -- and Max Brod-types, too. Larkin may be right, that it's your mum and dad who fuck you up, but, as the events of the past week show, they can't hold a candle to the mess your heirs cum literary executors and their hired guns representatives can create .....)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Another Nabokov controversy ?

       Ron Rosenbaum, apparently angling for another acknowledgments-acknowledgment, can't leave well enough (or at least Nabokov) alone, and so he tries to stir up 'The next big Nabokov controversy' in Slate, something to do with Freeing "Pale Fire" From Pale Fire.

       Pale Fire, in its current version, is not yet available as an 'Odyssey Edition' (see below) -- but you can get your (paper) copy at or

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

23 July 2010 - Friday

Odyssey Editions | German children's books abroad | Dylan Thomas Prize longlist
The Story of the Stone performance | Stella review

       Odyssey Editions

       In the profile of Andrew Wylie recently published in Harvard Magazine Wylie already hinted very strongly at what was to come:
We will take our 700 clients, see what rights are not allocated to publishers, and establish a company on their behalf to license those e-book rights directly to someone like Google,, or Apple. It would be another business, set up on parallel tracks to the frontlist book business.
       No sooner said than done: the new venture is called Odyssey Editions, and as they describe it at the site:
Odyssey Editions is an eBook publishing company designed to bring classic works of fiction and nonfiction to dedicated readers globally.
       Hmmm, 'dedicated' readers ? 'Globally' ? As's press release makes clear, far from being designed to bring these works of fiction to readers globally, Wylie has made a different sort of bargain -- i.e. sold out (on behalf of the authors he purports to represent ...):, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) today announced that The Wylie Agency is publishing 20 books from some of literature's most influential authors through its new Odyssey Editions imprint ( and making them available for sale exclusively in the Kindle Store (
       Exclusively -- i.e. if you don't have a 'Kindle', or don't care for the 'Kindle' platform ... well tough luck: you don't fit with Wylie's profit-maximizing plans (misguided and self-defeating though these are).
       (At this point, I would like to remind you also of another nugget from that Harvard Magazine profile: "In his personal reading, Wylie has little use for e-book devices like Kindle". Make of that what you will.)
       This is, of course, the literary/publishing news of the week, if not month. It's an interesting, if not entirely unexpected step -- with Wylie, with his fabulous estate-list, particularly well-positioned to make such a move. Too bad he blew it by going exclusive: it's bad form and bad business, and already has begun to come back to bite him (or rather: the good folk he supposedly represents).
       I have to admit the move came as a bit of a surprise to me -- mainly because of all the useless figures in publishing the 'literary' agent -- the ultimate in middle-men -- has always struck me as the most useless. Sure, everyone can now self-publish, so publishers are also hanging on by some very dubious threads, but they seem to have some advantages that, if they ever get their act together, might allow them to continue in business (distribution advantages, marketing clout, reputation (yes, I can hardly keep from laughing as I write it, but ...); but 'literary' agents ? they seem entirely pointless. (And yet they've made themselves ... well, indispensable and central -- or at least made publishers (and authors) treat them as such. I hope they enjoy their run while it lasts: I can't see that being long.) And, yes, I never figured one would do what turns out to be the obvious end-run and simply knock out that other relatively superfluous middleman, and become publishers (or at least the semblance thereof) themselves.
       It is an inspired move -- though I think the estates (and the few living clients) that signed on are absolutely nuts in this case (on the other hand, they're all earning enough that they can live with experiments like this).
       So, of course, the reactions have been pouring in. Alison Flood's Celebrated authors bypass publishing houses to sell ebooks via Amazon in The Guardian is a good introductory overview, but things have gotten better since then. John Sargent's Macmillan Response to Wylie Exclusive Publishing Deal focuses on the major flaw in Wylie pretending to be a publisher:
I am appalled, however, that Andrew has chosen to give his list exclusively to a single retailer. A basic tenet of publishing is that our function is to reach as many readers as we can.
       Actually reach readers ? There's an idea -- but it's never been Wylie's (as I have often complained). Wylie only sees dollar signs -- though often his gaze is very, very short-sighted. This time too.
       As Black Plastic Glasses already noted in a post (via) last week:
By attacking ebook royalties in this manner, a trap is set by those seeking to maximize short-term profits at the expense of all else. The object of this ploy is to dissect the intellectual property into as many different pieces as possible and negotiate them on the open market in order to maximize the "deal."

The problem with that approach is that successful and coherent publishing is not the sum of individual publishing rights, but rather the gestalt work presented coherently to a global audience. Viewing the ebook out of the context of the rest of the work gets us nowhere. We must understand how ebooks fit into the publishing ecosphere and only then can we determine what the right royalty should be.
       (Oh, how Wylie must laugh at concepts like 'publishing ecosphere' ..... Too bad his clients can't laugh with him, since his misguided notions come at their expense.)
       It's only been a bit more than a day since Wylie and unveiled this 'Odyssey Editions' and already at least one publisher has hit back where it hurts: as, for example, Rachel Deahl reports at a Publishers Weekly weblog, Don't Mess With Random House: Pub Says It Won't Do Business With Wylie Agency. Apparently Random House has let it be known:
The Wylie Agency's decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon for titles which are subject to active Random House agreements undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this Agency as our direct competitor. Therefore, regrettably, Random House on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved.
       As I've said before, I have no idea why any publisher has any dealings with any 'literary' agent in the first place (yeah, okay, it's a matter of convenience, and better than dealing with those pesky authors themselves ...), but I certainly approve of this hardball play -- and am curious who will jump aboard next. More importantly: how many of Wylie's clients will terminate their relationships with him (which are obviously not best-served by an agent whom a major publisher won't work with). Of course, Wylie has been wise in focusing on literary estates -- pliant clients who only care about the bottom line and accept Wylie's lines about profit-maximizing, hook, line, and (deep) sinker, with no annoying living writer who might actually want his or her books to reach readers having any say .....
       Stay tuned for the next chapter -- I can't wait.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       German children's books abroad

       At Deutsche Welle Knut Cordsen reports that German children's books prove to be bestsellers abroad (not that this is exactly news -- but at least it continues to be true).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Dylan Thomas Prize longlist

       They've announced the sixteen-book-strong longlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize -- "open to any published writer in the English language under the age of thirty".
       Only one of the titles is under review at the complete review, Family Planning by Karan Mahajan.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Story of the Stone performance

       The Story of the Stone is one of the all-time greats, and while I'd stick to the written version any adaptation is of interest: in Al-Ahram Weekly Ati Metwaly reviews a performance of it (as 'Dream of the Red Chamber'), in The truth of fiction.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Stella review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Siegfried Lenz' A Minute's Silence, now published in the US as Stella.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

22 July 2010 - Thursday

Profiles: Tezuka Osamu - P.D.James | Amazon 'Kindle' v. hardcover sales

       Profile: Tezuka Osamu

       At The Guardian's science blog Cian O'Luanaigh profiles Osamu Tezuka: Father of manga and scourge of the medical establishment.
       A few Tezuka titles are under review at the complete review; see, for example, MW.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Profile: P.D.James

       P.D.James turns 90 (!) on 3 August, and in The Telegraph Nigel Farndale profiles her at some length.
       Several James titles are under review at the complete review; see, for example, The Private Patient.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Amazon 'Kindle' v. hardcover sales

       There's been much ado about's announcement that sales of e-books for their 'Kindle' platform now exceed their sales for hardcover titles -- though since no hard numbers whatsoever (none, zero, zilch) are provided it's flabbergasting how completely this claim has been swallowed and regurgitated.
       No doubt the complete review-audience that clicks through to via links on the site is different from the average audience, but it's worth noting that our numbers do not reflect these claims: so far in July only 11 per cent of all book sales have been for 'Kindle'-platform versions; the paperback/hardback split seems to be about 60/30. (It can be hard to tell what format books are sold in -- and I'm afraid too lazy to check each one; still, hardback sales clearly outnumber 'Kindle' sales by a significant margin.)
       Lots of caveats with this data, of course, though I note 'Kindle'-platform sales include versions of book for which no hardback equivalent exists (Stephen King's The Colorado Kid), and that results may also be skewed by the fact that Amazon-links on the site lead to print-book versions but not to 'Kindle' versions. Also: many of the sales are of books actually sold by third-party vendors; looking at Amazon-only sales would yield totals closer to Amazon's claims (though hardback sales would still be at least double 'Kindle' sales).
       (Lots of other sites are, like us, Amazon associates, and I'd love to hear about their data in this regard.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

21 July 2010 - Wednesday

Interviews: David Mitchell - Chad Post
Book fair and literary festival in ... Somaliland | La sexta lámpara review

       Interview: David Mitchell

       In Vanity Fair John Lopez has a Q&A with David Mitchell, Literary Platypus.
       (Mitchell's most recent, much-discussed title is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet; I haven't seen it yet.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Interview: Chad Post

       At the NBCC weblog, Critical Mass, Mark Athitakis continues his Conversations With Literary Websites: Three Percent, speaking with Chad Post of Three Percent.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Book fair and literary festival in ... Somaliland

       Somalilandpress report that International Book Fair and Literary Festival open in Hargeisa, as the 2010 Hargeisa International Book Fair and the Mooge 2010 Literary Festival run from the 23 to 27 July in Hargeysa.
       Interestingly -- provocatively ? -- the festival will explore the theme of 'citizenship' -- interesting (provocative) since Somaliland is not internationally recognized as a sovereign state, making the issue of citizenship a rather complicated one.
The public will be encouraged to examine their own relationship with the concept of citizenship including the different literary expressions and poetic forms in Somali culture.
       Good also to hear that Nadifa Mohamed is the featured guest of the festival; her Black Mamba Boy is due out in the US shortly (see the Farrar, Straus and Giroux publicity page, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       La sexta lámpara review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pablo de Santis' La sexta lámpara.
       Perhaps more usefully, see also the much older review of his Voltaire's Calligrapher, finally due out in English this October.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

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