For years I had wanted to create a die-cut book by erasure, a book whose meaning was exhumed from another book.
He finally found it -- Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles -- though:
The Street of Crocodiles is often my answer to the nonsensical question: what is your favourite book ?
And yet, it took me a year to recognise it as the text I'd been looking for.
Because I loved the book too much to conceive of changing it, much less subtracting from it ?
Because the historical resonances were so powerful ?
(Updated - 23 November): See now also Boris Kachka on 'Jonathan Safran Foer's object of anti-technology' in Reinventing the Book in New York.
They've announced that Amazon Acquires the Literary Fiction List of The Toby Press, another major foray into publishing -- and fiction in translation -- by Amazon.com.
I mentioned the problems at The Toby Press back in May, and things have been very quiet there since (with little attention paid by the American press ...).
On the one hand, it's great to see that this fine list will continue to be readily available.
On the other hand ... well, I'm sure Dennis Loy Johnson will explain why this is yet another sign of the (publishing/bookselling) apocalypse at MobyLives soon enough .....
The Literary Review has announced the nominees for the eighteenth annual Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award
Only one of the titles is under review at the complete review, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.
About a month ago there was a lot of press coverage claiming Tony Blair had been/would be nominated for his purported memoirs, but, as for example Richard Lea explains in The Guardian, in Alastair Campbell outlasts Tony Blair in bad sex awards:
Although one of the judges at the Literary Review, Jonathan Beckman, admitted Blair's description of himself as "an animal" devouring "the love Cherie gave" was "grim"", he said that the sexual element wasn't strong enough for judges to shortlist a work "ostensibly of non-fiction".
Philip Kerr, novelist and recipient of the Bad Sex Award in 1995 for Gridiron, is wary of conclusive theories on judging the good from bad.
The passages deemed bad are sometimes the most original because description is "off the beaten track".
For Gridiron, he employed the gentle language of metaphor, and felt he was perhaps punished for it.
"I think I won the award for one word -- gnomon -- which is the hard part of a sundial.
When you are writing about [sex] and the penis, you are looking for comparisons, and I made this one given the transient nature of both time and an erection."
And he's surprised he won the prize ?
(Much as I enjoy some of Kerr's work -- quite a few of the novels are under review at the complete review -- Gridiron (published as The Grid in the US) is a work that is, despite the employment of 'the gentle language of metaphor' ..., awe-inspiring in its sheer badness, and not just because of the gnomon.)
China Daily reports on the Promise of the Bambook, describing the Kindle of the Chinese market (closely tied to Shanda), the brilliantly named Bambook.
Not that I'm sold:
Bambook users are automatically connected to Cloud library, which has full copyright to more than three million e-books from the company's seven online literature websites, and 100,000 e-books from traditional publishers.
The library is said to be adding 100 million words a day from its contracted online writers.
What is more, 200 publishers have agreed to provide titles to it.
At present, Bambook does not support BMP, scanned PDF, and EPUB with pictures.
And if users want to read downloaded documents from the other e-resources besides Shanda, they have to go through a Shanda-developed software called "cloud ladder" which, users say, is not very handy.
Yeah, I'd suspect anything called a "cloud ladder" would not be very handy.
The (American) National Book Awards were handed out yesterday.
Among the winners was Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon, taking the fiction prize (see the McPherson & Co. publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)
Lots of coverage at various literary weblogs to come no doubt; see also, for example, Julie Bosman's report in The New York Times.
I recently mentioned the Finlandia Literature Prize 'controversy' -- with Alexandra Salmela a finalist despite not being officially eligible (because she's not a Finnish citizen) -- and now her book, 27 Eli kuolema tekee taiteilijan (see, for example, the Teos publicity page), has taken the Helsingin Sanomat literary award, awarded for the best Finnish-language literary debut of the year (a prize that apparently does not have any citizenship-eligibility requirements ...); see, for example, the YLE report, Slovak Author Wins HS Book Prize.
Last month I noted that the leading Polish literary prize, the Nike, went to a play this year -- all the more remarkable because Nasza Klasa ('Our Class'), a drama by Tadeusz Słobodzianek, had its world premiere at the (British) National Theatre (see their production page, or get your copy of the (English) text at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)
Now Sarah Grochala writes on How Polish playwriting stole the show at The Guardian's theatre blog.
(That brings the total number of Mahfouz-works under review at the complete review to twenty -- making him the most-reviewed author on the site by a decent margin -- and there's still quite a bit to go.)
The winner of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York Translation Prize has been determined, the prize going to David Dollenmayer for his translation of Michael Köhlmeier's Idyll With Drowning Dog (Idylle mit ertrinkendem Hund); the prize will be awarded at a ceremony on 6 December at 18:30; see the ACFNY page for additional information.
I was one of the jurors for this prize, and
Dollenmayer came out tops in a strong field.
There were twenty submissions, and a significant percentage were very much in the running for the prize.
Interestingly, quite a few of the submissions already have publishers -- i.e. will be appearing in English, in print soon -- but not this entry; interestingly, too, Dollenmayer was not the only one to choose this particular work (which made for easy side-by-side comparisons).
See also the Zsolnay/Deuticke foreign rights page for the book.
The Canadian Governor General's Literary Awards -- which have one of the worst prize names, but the best prize name abbreviation ('The GGs') going -- have been announced in all their many categories: see the English and French winners.
The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award longlist -- all 162 titles -- was announced yesterday.
With its €100,000 prize money and (supposedly) global reach -- which includes considering books in (English) translation -- it's probably the most prestigious (and inclusive) international book prize (as opposed to an author prize like the Nobel or Man Booker International Prize), and hence worth a bit of attention.
This year's prize is odder than usual -- and one can't help but register some disappointment, most notably because:
A book by Dan Brown made the list (nominated by two different libraries, no less -- from the Maldives and Greece
More libraries seem to have gone the nationalist route -- notably the Serbian and Montenegran libraries that -- coincidentally ? -- both nominated the same three books, all published by local house Geopoetika (i.e. not available at your local bookstore) -- and didn't even offer a token foreign nomination.
(They aren't the only ones, by the way -- the same goes for libraries from Sri Lanka, Slovenia, Malaysia, etc.)
It's bad form, and bad for the prize, and the IMPAC folk should look into stopping this -- not allowing libraries to nominate local talent would seem a great place to start.
Where on earth are the Chinese and Japanese books ? Or the Chinese and Japanese nominating libraries, for that matter ?
(There's only one book that was originally written in Arabic, too -- and libraries in Lebanon and Turkey the only ones from Middle Eastern countries (compared to three from the Caribbean).
Similarly, libraries in South Africa are the only ones from African countries that got to play along, though at least a decent number of African titles were nominated.)
Let's get truly international, folks !
But it's the inclusion of far too overlooked titles such as The Weather Fifteen Years Ago by Wolf Haas -- and that nomination not even coming from an Austrian library ! -- that make me believe there's some hope for this prize .....
This is the one prize where there usually are quite a few titles under review at the complete review, and this year is no exception, as there are reviews of
nineteen twenty of them (with more, no doubt, to follow):
Right now, India seems to be in the grip of an obsession that differs rather greatly from Ahab's -- the obsession to write books.
At the Sunday paper we receive numerous books that come in for review; a good 75 per cent of which publishers have no right to murder trees for.
Eurozine reprints Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, (anti)modernist (originally published in Russian in the New Literary Observer), in which 'Richard Tempest explores Solzhenitsyn's overt and covert (dis)engagement with Russian and European modernism, arguing that he employed modernist means to achieve anti-modernist ends'.
Despite the fact that the Australian literary industry is perhaps the most successful of our arts industries, both nationally and internationally, somehow it gets routinely forgotten by politicians, whether Labor or the Coalition.
Requests by literary industry stakeholders for the major parties to discuss literary industry policies before the election went unheard.
Hmm, yeah, I haven't heard the American political parties' positions on "literary industry policies" recently either .....
A reminder that in New York the seventh New Literature from Europe festival begins tomorrow (Tuesday the 16th), with 'Haunting the Present: A Reading with Eight European Writers' (which will actually be seven: Gerhard Roth can't make it) at McNally-Jackson Books at 19:00 (which I will be moderating).
The events later in the week are also worth checking out.
"Writers and public figures tell the Observer about their favourite books of 2010" in Best books of the year: 2010.
I found the selections distinctly underwhelming -- but then this is a list that begins with someone -- Sam Mendes -- claiming:
Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (Fourth Estate) was head and shoulders above any other book this year
Andrew Kidd, the non-fiction publisher-turned-agent, suggests writers and publishers now have to work harder to breathe life into the genre: "It may just need to be reinvented because readers are bored by the form.
There were a number of projects that publishers paid a lot for upfront, on the back of what had been a wave of successes.
Then they discovered the market had fallen away and took significant losses."
The theory was the trend might correct itself in time, said Kidd, but he wonders if readers still engage with serious projects in book form: "There has been a change in the reference culture and big serious books have not rebounded as one might have hoped."
Not a huge fan of the genre I don't really mind if, for the most part, it fades away, leaving only scholarly fringe-work and the like.
Though, of course, what I'd really like to be rid of is the useless celebrity tell-nothing (from the jr. Bush's 'memoir' to any ghostwritten entertainer-biography).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Amélie Nothomb's Hygiene and the Assassin -- her 1992 debut, finally available in English translation, from Europa editions.
I first read this a year or two after it came out, and it was fascinating to revisit it more than fifteen years later, as I now see it also through the prism of her later work -- so many aspects of which are already present here.
Yet she obviously made the correct choice in beginning her career with a book like this, rather than the kind of very autobiographical works that followed -- and though in some ways obviously a 'beginner's' work it holds up quite well.
I'm curious what American and British reactions will be -- since everywhere else (and especially in France) readers have been able to follow the evolution of her work chronologically, while the English translations have appeared in largely haphazard order.
(If, for some reason, you haven't read any Nothomb yet this would be a very good place to start.)
This year's Patrick White Literary Award goes to David Foster (whose Sons of the Rumour I actually have, and expect to get around to reviewing; see also the Picador publicity page), and the speech he gives today in accepting the prize has already been circulating -- and attracting considerable attention because, as Stephen Romei puts it in The Australian, Foster slams 'no class' Coetzee, as:
Maverick novelist David Foster has launched an extraordinary attack on the Adelaide-based Nobel Prize-winning writer J. M. Coetzee.
He has accused Coetzee of having "no class" because he continues to contest lucrative literary awards.
Apparently Foster thinks authors who have made it big shouldn't play along in the literary-prize-games any more (as, famously, Patrick White chose to do).
For Foster, literary prizes apparently aren't about honoring the best books, but finding ways of funneling cash to struggling writers.
I couldn't disagree more: literary prizes of the sort Foster is complaining about are book prizes, and all that should count is the book.
Who the author is, and how well-established s/he is should have no bearing.
Where you want to support a particular kind of struggling artist you do that by limiting who is eligible for your prize -- first-time authors (The Guardian first book award), women (the Orange), Commonwealth citizens (the Man Booker, among many others -- all, presumably, feebler sub-groups in the writerly field .....
See also Susan Wyndham's Literary postman delivers again, winning mentor's bequest in the Sydney Morning Herald.
YLE reports on a Finlandia Literature Prize Controversy, as it was discovered that one of the six recently named finalists, Alexandra Salmela, is not in fact a Finnish citizen, as the rules for this -- the leading Finnish literary prize (and worth a tidy €30,000) -- stipulate.
Most presumably think the jury did the right thing:
In a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the Finnish Book Foundation affirmed that Salmela would be allowed to compete for the prize anyway.
The Foundation does not normally check on Finlandia nominees' citizenship.
As it considers Salmela's inclusion as its own mistake, the author will not be disqualified.
A stickler for rules, I think this is patently unfair -- though what I really take issue with is, as usual, the badly written rules.
You have to admire any foreigner who is able to write well enough in Finnish to get published, much less shortlisted for the country's major literary prize -- what does it matter what country she's a citizen of ?
If it's a literary prize for some widely-spoken language -- English, French, Spanish -- a citizenship-requirement may serve a purpose -- but the Finns should be thrilled that any foreigner could play along in their language.
Change those rules !
(But meanwhile: stick to them.)
(Updated): As a reader points out to me, matters are complicated by the fact that there is a significant Swedish-speaking (and writing) minority in Finland, whose authors' books are eligble for the prize thanks to the citizenship requirement; they're frequently shortlisted and have won the prize several times: Bo Carpelan has taken the prize twice (most recently in 2005) and Kjell Westö won in 2006.
So a straightforward language-requirement isn't the solution either (since 'books written in Finnish or Swedish' would allow lots of writers who are completely Swedish to slip in ...), and presumably some sort of citizenship/residency/language requirement is the (complicated) way to go (Finnish citizens, or those who have resided in Finland for x number of years and write in either Finnish or Swedish (or Saami ...) ...).
Of course, the complications don't end there: I wonder if Hannu Rajaniemi's The Quantum Thief (written in English, but I assume he's still a Finnish citizen) was entered this year .....
The requirement that a book be published in Finland and not in translation might be the way to avoid having to deal with all the English-language books written by Finns (of which there will surely be an increasing number ...), since the English-language originals by such authors will inevitably be published abroad, but, yes, writing the rules can get complicated.
Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood got some nice attention when it appeared in the US, but now the UK edition has come out with a real splash: even The Sunmentions it, and in The Independent it even occasioned a leader, A big ask.
They've announced the longlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, sixteen titles selected from 123 entries (from 17 countries).
And: "29% of the works submitted were by female writers, compared with 16% the previous year" -- with seven making the longlist.
Arabic Literature (in English) has a good overview, and see also Miranda Smith's Arab women are region's new literary stars in Emirates 24|7.
Spare a thought for Iran's literary censors -- unloved by writers and publishers alike, they have thousands of works to read through, so much so that the piles of books have spilled out from their rooms at the culture ministry into the corridors.
Still, it's comforting to hear that:
It is true that some smaller publishers and less experienced writers are thinking twice about carrying on, but the most distinguished and experienced show no signs of throwing in the towel.
They know no other way of life, and besides, they have seen too many ups and downs over the last 30 years to give up so easily.
Still, it would be nice for this silliness to end.
In The Telegraph 'Gaby Wood, Head Of Books' writes about The Telegraph taking over sponsorship of the festival, in Hay-on-Wye: it’s about so much more than books (maybe not a great headline when announcing a new sponsorship deal -- i.e. when it's all about the money (and you don't want to admit/acknowledge that)), while the Hay Festival Kerala runs 12 to 14 November.
(I'd take any excuse to go to Kerala -- a definite all-time favorite destination -- but the festival certainly sounds like a good one.)
Web-savvy foreign literature-interested folk might be interested in this job posting, as:
World Literature Today seeks to hire a digital media specialist
Lots of potential here, including:
This talented professional will work closely with a successful editorial team but will be responsible for leading the effort to publish and promote WLT online through mass emails, social networking sites, and various innovative approaches to digital publishing.
(Tip for prospective candidates: go easy on those mass e-mails .....
There's a lot that can be done here -- the mere thought of the enormous WLT archives going back decades (the book reviews !), and the potential there has me salivating -- so this sounds like a position which an enterprising soul could do a lot of rewarding work in.