The usual steady flood of 'Best of the Year' and the 'Year in Books' lists etc. continues.
Among the recent ones of possible interest:
In The Telegraph Mark Sanderson looks back at the Literary Life 2010 (though note for example that the story about the 'Most distasteful book of the year' ("a pint of Sachin Tendulkar's blood was mixed with the pulp paper to make the signature pages of all 10 copies of Kraken Opus's $75,000 limited-edition book on the Indian cricketer") was discredited quite a while ago).
Also in The Telegraph, David Robson looks back at The Literary Year 2010.
Recent 'Book of the Year'-lists include the California Literary Review's Critics' Picks: Best Books of 2010, The Daily Beast's Favorite Books of 2010 (which doesn't get off to a great start when Tina Brown picks a Daily Beast-contributor Peter Beinart book ...), and the San Francisco Chronicle's Top 10 books of 2010.
For a bit of foreign flavor -- hard to come by; they just don't like or do these year-end lists near as much -- check out NRC Boeken's De beste boeken van 2010 (Dutch) or Der große literarische Jahresrückblick 2010 at Liisas Litblog (German).
And then there are those on-going lists, the year in reading at both The Millions and The New Yorker's The Book Bench
Out of my Head, which has now been made into a film starring Liam Neeson and will be out shortly, under the title Unknown (which is what the novel is being republished as, too ...)
Good for Sophie Harrison for writing in her 23 January 2005 The New York Times Book Reviewreview of the latter that: "This is a novel that really, really wants to be a movie."
Sort of the reverse of Donald E. Westlake's Memory, I hope it works better as a movie than book .....
(By the way: here's another instance of my ... taking my time before getting around to reviewing these books: I received the review copies in July, 2004 and now, a mere 2342 days later the reviews are up .....)
Online sellers such as Amazon and Book Depository can consistently undercut local retail prices by half or more, even when the cost of overseas postage is factored in.
But what they're really worried about are those e-books:
"The tsunami is coming," says Michael Heyward, managing director and publisher at Text Publishing.
"This year, 2010, is the year ebook sales became significant in the US for authors like Stieg Larsson and John Grisham; it's only a matter of time before it's here."
Yeah, they just don't do best-of-the-year lists that much abroad, but at least in The Japan Times they get a couple of their reviewers to offer a 'Final word on the year's best reading' (English-language, that is).
Start with Steve Finbow's list, and scroll down there to click over to the others.
The Oulipo was founded in 1960, and arte.tv seem to be doing things up in celebration -- that Jean-Claude Guidicelli and Frédéric Forte documentary, L'oulipo, mode d'emploi certainly looks interesting.
See also Pierre Assouline on Les cinquante ans de l'Oulipo at Le Monde.
See, of course, also the official Oulipo site, the index of Oulipo titles under review at the complete review -- and for the best introduction/overview (and a great Christmas present ...) there's always the wonderful Oulipo Compendium.
So with the likelihood of a bit of extra reading time to be found in the next two weeks or so (as there's, among other things, sure to be less literary news to link to and bother with) I'm trying to put together my holiday reading-list.
It is, of course, already overly ambitious, but I'm having trouble settling on one larger book -- or a number of titles by one author -- that I'd like to devote particular attention to -- so I'm asking your opinion: What should I read and review over the holidays ?
Here are eight possibilities, and below is a poll (open until Monday) where you can register your preference .....
(I have no idea whether this polling-thing will work, but I am curious what readers would like me to focus on so I hope it does -- and maybe I'll do this more frequently in the future.)
Mind you, I imagine I'll get to pretty much all of these works eventually, but here's your chance to get something to the top of the heap.
The selection is of a variety of books and authors that I figure demand closer attention, and one selection is probably all I can manage (along with my usual reading) over the holidays; whatever readers vote for in the largest number will be the book I'll choose.
The choices are:
The Horrors of Love by Jean Dutourd; see, for example The Neglected Books Page - big, fat, out of print French fiction -- in dialogue !
Four by Euripides; Oxford University Press' Volume V: Medea and Other Plays, see their publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk - Alcestis, Medea, Helen, and Cyclops -- time to start tackling the Greek classics ?
Six by Penelope Fitzgerald; the two Everyman's Library volumes, see their publicity page - finally focus on this author ?
Poetry and Truth by J.W. von Goethe; see, for example, the Princeton University Press publicity page - well, I'd be tackling the original Dichtung und Wahrheit -- Goethe's autobiographical writings
Two by Arnon Grunberg: De asielzoeker and Onze oom - Tirza was the best novel I read last year -- so should I tackle two more of Grunberg's recent fat novels ?
The Honors Class: Hilbert's Problems and Their Solvers by Ben H. Yandell; see the A.K.Peters publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk - some serious non-fiction -- maths ?
Музей покинутих секретів by Oksana Zabuzhko - AmazonCrossing is brining out her Field Work in Ukrainian Sex (pre-order at Amazon.com), so should I have a go at her massive 'Museum of Abandoned Secrets' ?
So those are the choices, ranging from English fiction to classical Greek drama to untranslated foreign fiction and some non-fiction.
What do you want me to cover ?
(Poll closes Monday, 20 December -- and don't be too disappointed if your top choice doesn't get the most votes: as I said, I expect to cover most of these eventually -- but whatever does garner the most votes will be covered first, and soon.)
(Updated - 19 December): Thanks to all those who have voted so far -- 36, some 22 hours after voting was opened.
Interesting to see that the multiple-volume choices lead the way -- with Grunberg (10 votes) a somewhat surprise front-runner and Euripides (9 votes) closing fast (and practically no one interested in the Dworkin (one lone vote)).
But after a slow start the Dutourd -- now with five votes -- has been picking up steam .....
(Updated - 21 December): The poll seems to have closed earlier than hope for, but 41 votes registered, and Grunberg (11) beat out Euripides (9), Dutourd (7), Fitzgerald (6), Zabuzhko and Yandell (3), and poor Dworkin and Goethe (1).
"The quality of Egyptian TV drama is deteriorating," said Hussein Abdel Rahim, a participating author.
Abdel Rahim attributes this to negligence on the part of the government in elevating the artistic taste and preserving its standard.
Pity the country where they expect the government to elevate artistic taste (or preserve any standards ...).
Since 'publication', my site history, The Complete Review: Eleven Years, 2500 Reviews has sold 10 print-copies and 8 e-book copies.
As an exercise in self-publishing, I was curious as to whether it would sell at all, and if so, what the sales pattern would be.
The pattern has been clear: notice in these pages of its availability, first from Lulu.com, then a few weeks later from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk made for (brief and small) bursts of interest -- but nothing else has (so its Amazon sales rank is down past a million already).
A very generous Amazon.com reader review, a very kind mention in the Times Literary Supplement (26 November, the NB-column), and Tyler Cowen's enthusiastic link-mention ("I love his stuff") at the popular Marginal Revolution all did not appear to translate into any additional sales.
So I'm curious as to whether this is it, or whether there will be a trickle of additional readers, a purchase or two every few weeks (or months ... or years ...).
(I'll continue to track sales (and reactions) at the CR book-page, for those who are interested.)
Another two weeks to go, so all is not lost, but 2010 has been a strange year in reading: more that's been entirely adequate than in a while, but almost no real stand-outs.
With 210 books under review (more thanThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has managed this year ... (which I find rather disappointing)),
and a few dozen more read I'd still be hard pressed to name a best-of-the-year title.
There were a few pleasant surprises, including Donald Westlake's Memory (one of Ed Champion's 13 Most Underrated Books of 2010), and the re-emergence of Albert Cossery (see reviews of The Jokers and A Splendid Conspiracy; I've been touting him as the 'author-re-discovery of 2010' since the summer (and am glad to see, for example, Chad Post call him: "the best dead writer Iíve discovered this year"
-- and I'm surprised he hasn't been more widely (and loudly) embraced (yet))).
Meanwhile, new books by authors that have impressed me greatly previously were, to greater and lesser extents, let-downs: the new Roth, Franzen, Tom McCarthy, and Scarlett Thomas.
(I'm still holding out hope for the new Ozick, which I've been saving up for ... soon.)
Only David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet lived up to my hopes.
There were quite a few other notable odds and ends -- ranging from Michal Ajvaz's The Golden Age to David Bellos' take on Romain Gary's Hocus Bogus, the rare not-great novel that nevertheless is well worthwhile -- but nothing that really blew me away.
Meanwhile, it's Murakami Haruki's 1Q84
, the German translation of which I've slowly been working through, that's probably been the most enjoyable reading-experience of the year.
But like I said: two more weeks -- I still hold out hope for more .....
(Mathias Énard's Zone ?)
'RK Narayan is a favourite' reads the headline of Radhika Raj's Hindustan Times piece, as Ken Follett shows, at the very least, that he knows how to play to his audience:
Will he be writing any historical novels set in India ?
"Possibly. But I feel that I will be competing against fantastic Indian authors such as Jhumpa Lahiri and Salman Rushdie.
RK Narayan's Malgudi Days has been my all time favourite.
Such quality of work is always intimidating," he says.
"Twice a year, the GBO presents new German-language titles -- both fiction and non-fiction -- of specific interest to the North American market", and the newest ones are now up at their site -- pdfs on the left side of the page; videos (including by yours truly) on the main page).
Two articles from the JoongAng Daily by Seo Ji-eun look at Korean books abroad (and getting Korean books abroad ...).
Korean novels finally getting noticed (via) offers an interesting overview of the (South) Korean situation (the North Korean one is, obviously even more hopeless -- essentially nothing from there is translated into English).
The big success story is, of course, the not-yet-available in English bestseller Please Look After Mom by Shin Kyung-sook (which I first mentioned -- without great enthusiasm -- over a year ago) which, unfortunately apparently will soon be available in English (yes, you can already pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- big time:
For Please Look After Mom, the number of countries set to release the book began to add up after Imprima Korea, Shin's domestic literary agent, reached a deal with U.S. publisher Knopf in September last year. The deal reportedly included a hefty advance of $75,000, compared with the $20,000 or less that other Korean authors usually receive.
The U.S. publisher plans to print 100,000 copies of the first edition.
Other translated Korean literature have usually had first runs of around 10,000 copies.
(This is supposed to be the break-out book from Korea ?
Dear god .....)
Interesting also the sorry numbers;
Neighboring Japan, which has produced two Nobel laureates in literature, has seen about 20,000 literary works translated since 1945, mostly with the help of government financial assistance.
Earlier this month he published his own book, A Man Selling Novels, which details his experience and vision as a pioneer in the export of Korean literature.
That I would love to read ......
Lee also argues:
What I want to point out is that overseas publishers have one common opinion about Korean novels: They are too dark.
Of course they appreciate the quality of the works, but Korean authors aged between 40 and 70 mostly take on similar topics.
Those born before the 1950s deal with Koreans' anger and bitterness under Japanese colonial rule, those born between the 1950s and 1960s [write about] suffering during the Korean War, and authors of the 1970s and 1980s obsess with the country's democratization process.
The writers need to know that overseas readers have little knowledge of Korea.
I don't know that I like this tailor-it-to-a-foreign-audience approach (actually: I know I don't like it).
I want to see the real Korean literature -- not the universal pap that Please Look After Mom sure as hell sounds like ("At once steeped in the beauty and complexities of the East and rich with a universal tenderness, Please Look After Mom has a revelatory emotional power" the nauseating publicity copy has it).
Meanwhile, Lee also has a ... 5-15-20 scheme:
I want to see at least five full-length novels translated into 15 languages and loved by readers in respective regions [in the next] 20 years.
That's my 5-15-20 scheme.
In Al-Masry Al-Youm Heba Helmy reports on the fifth International Cairo Forum for Arab Novel Creativity -- this year's subject: "The Arab Novel, Where is it Going ?" -- in The Arab Novel: Freedom of religion, freedom of literature, where 'Freedom of Literature and Religion' was the topic of one of the forum's first symposia.
Interesting that, for example:
According to al-Shorbagi, the massive number of websites that have been established especially for e-books have created a broad spectrum of readers, particularly from the younger generation.
But the concluding observation is an all too familiar one:
Al-Shorbagy was then asked if Egypt enjoys a real freedom of expression.
"Absolutely no," she said.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of David Harvey on The Enigma of Capitaland the Crises of Capitalism.
(This is yet another of the titles -- a trend which, it seems to me, has been increasing greatly recently -- published by a 'regular' press in the UK (Profile Books) and then an 'academic press' in the US (Oxford University Press).)
They've announced the longlist for the Man 'Asian' Literary Prize, and the press releases -- Nobel Laureate in Literature Longlisted for 2010 Prize and Man Asian Literary Prize announces Nobel winner in Longlist (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) -- show perfectly what this prize has been turned into.
Never mind my usual complaint that it shouldn't be allowed to style itself Asian (well, do mind -- more on that below), now, with only-already-published-titles-in-print-in-English eligible and publishers limited to two submissions, it's gone from a prize that might allow for the discovery of, or at least attract notice for new Asian literary talents, to reinforcing the status quo, as they brag about the longlist including a Nobel Prize laureate rather than deserving unknowns.
In 2007, the first year of the prize, they had 243 submissions; in 2009 it was admittedly only 150, but they still had a 24 title-strong longlist.
This year -- with only publishers allowed to submit books ?
A mere 54 submissions -- from all of 14 countries.
(And, to add to the complaints: what those submissions were is not revealed -- a Man Booker-typical secrecy that I continue to find baffling and outrageous: let us know who was in the running !)
Predictably, the ten-title strong list features titles from a mere four countries; predictably, India -- with its strong English-language publishing industry (remember: the books have to be already available in English) -- dominates the list, as the longlisted titles came from: Japan (2), China (1), India (6), and the Philippines (1).
And, yes, I'll repeat it again (and, yes, I've long been blue in the face, and still no one seems to care): it's outrageous that they call themselves an 'Asian' prize when so many Asian nations are explicitly excluded from even being considered.
Given how few submissions there were, and that only-published-titles requirement, this is even more indefensible than previously.
I wish they'd figure out exactly what kind of a prize they want to be -- and call themselves accordingly (i.e. drop the Asian if they're not going to include so much of Asia); currently, the way they're doing things -- from their eligibility requirements to the secrecy about which books were actually entered in the competition -- makes it hard to take them very seriously.
Of course, the money and backing they have, and the press attention they receive, and the solid list of books and authors they consider make it a hard prize to ignore.
The winner will likely be quite prize-worthy -- but I don't know about the value of the prize.
There's only one longlisted title under review at the complete review -- the only one of these books I've gotten from the publisher -- Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa, but there are other titles by authors including Upamanyu Chatterjee and Bi Feiyu under review; I also have a copy of Serious Men by Manu Joseph, which I suppose I'll get to (I leafed through it and it didn't grab me, but I'll probably have a closer look).
With these publications, the AUC Press will have completed the English translation of all 35 of the Nobel laureate's novels, in addition to 7 other volumes of short stories and autobiographical and other works, in time for the centenary of his birth in December 2011.
With 20 Mahfouz-titles under review at the complete review (see the index of AUC Press titles under review) I've gotten a decent start, but there's quite a bit more to get to, including several of the major novels).
I'd love to get in another ten before the centenary rolls around .....
Now there's a new initiative to go along with the (British) World Book Day (3 March 2011 in the UK and Ireland, while the rest of the world celebrates on 23 April ...): World Book Night, to be held 5 March 2011 -- where: "one million books will be given away by an army of passionate readers to members of the public across the UK and Ireland".
The titles selected for the giveaway are solid enough -- but Giles Coren argues that: Read all about it, the book is dead (originally in The Times; republished here in The Australian).
His complaint and concern:
The 50 titles chosen to form the initial WBN canon are different, though.
They are, in the main, great successes.
I have read all but three of them and I don't think there's a real bad 'un in the batch.
But surely books by acknowledged masters who have been handsomely rewarded are the wrong books to be giving away.
Nobody needs free copies of Alan Bennett and John le Carre to develop a taste for them.
If the industry wants to encourage the flowering of fiction then it should be giving away books by young, poor, innovative novelists who would not otherwise get read.
But the industry is not interested in encouraging writers. It just wants readers.
In the Times of India Kim Arora has a Q & A with Enrique Gallud Jardiel, who apparently compiled the first Hindi-Spanish-Hindi dictionary -- which:
got published in 1990, but was never reprinted after that.
It was the first and the last of its kind.
Most major university libraries in India and Spain stock it, but there was never a real market for it.
Spanish-speaking countries don't feel the need to learn Hindi.
He also speaks about India and Indian writers' places in Spanish literature, and about translation into Spanish:
But otherwise, there isn't enough representation of India within contemporary Spanish literature.
But yes, there are some Indian authors who are popular there -- Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy have been translated into Spanish.
Any Indian author writing in English who becomes popular in the UK finds marketability in Spain.
But sadly, these books disappear from the shelf within a month and don't make reappearance.
Also, the quality of translation of these books is really bad -- sometimes up to seven translators translate different parts of the same book and completely spoil it.
In The Japan Times Nobuko Tanaka reports that: 'Young artists break isolationist habits and reap praise from their peers abroad', in Class of 2010: Japan's playwrights head west.
(Aside from Noh and Kabuki, and a few Mishima plays, I've found disappointingly little Japanese drama is readily found abroad.)
In an op-ed in The New York Times today Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani argues that it's better for African literature that Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'odidn't win the Nobel Prize this year, in In Africa, the Laureate's Curse -- which I find a bit confusing.
The argument comes down to thinking that:
But what African writing needs now is real variety and adventurousness -- evolution, not emulation.
I don't know that a Ngũgĩ-win wouldn't have been just as helpful in prodding towards evolution.
Certainly, I think that emulation-fear is way overblown; there hasn't been a tidal wave of Austrians trying to imitate Jelinek since her win, or French authors trying to out-Le Clézio Le Clézio, and there surely won't be a surge of Latin American authors trying write like Mario Vargas Llosa.
Indeed, Naguib Mahfouz's win didn't lead to a surge of Mahfouz-like Arabic fiction (though quite a few Arabic authors could still learn a thing or two from the master).
Surely African writers, especially the newer generations, can be given a bit more credit .....
But Nwaubani argues:
I'd rather we miss out on this year's Nobel party and are able instead to celebrate the accomplishments of more literary groundbreakers in the future.
African writers will achieve more greatness when they are rewarded for standing on the shoulders of their elders to see farther ahead, instead of worshiping at their elders' feet.
Via Arabic Literature (in English) I learn that, as Sarah el Deeb reports for the AP (here at The Washington Post), Egypt denies US writer entry -- the writer being Naguib Mahfouz-(in progress)-biographer and translator Raymond Stock (see, for example, the complete review review of his translation of Khufu's Wisdom):
An Egyptian airport official says an American writer and translator has been denied entry into the country.
The official said Raymond Stock was turned back Friday upon arrival from London.
He also said Stock has been placed on a blacklist.
Disappointing to hear -- and I hope it doesn't complicate his biography-efforts.
In The Observer Edward Docx wonders Are Stieg Larsson and Dan Brown a match for literary fiction ? and takes a closer look at the whole genre v. literary fiction debate.
Finding that: "Brown and Larsson -- in their different ways -- are mesmerisingly bad", he does acknowledge better genre fiction has some things going for it, but argues it's still not the same thing as the real thing.
He does have a point when he writes:
We need to be clear-eyed here because although there is much written about this subject, there is also much theatricality to the debate.
And this serves to hide (on both sides) a fundamental dishonesty.
The proponents of genre fiction are not sincere about the limitations even of the best of what they do while being scathing and disingenuous about literary fiction (there's no story, nothing happens etc).
Meanwhile, the (equally insincere) literary proponents say either: "Oh, don't blame us, it's the publisher's fault -- they label the books and we really don't see the distinction"; or, worse, they adopt the posture and tone of bad actors delivering Shakespeare and talk of poetry and profundity without meaning a great deal or convincing anyone.
Both positions are bogus and indicative of something (also interesting) about the way we talk of literature and culture more widely.
In the Deccan Herald 'Manjul Bajaj focuses on the literary landscape of Indian writing in English and takes a close look at the delicate art of translation', in Reclaiming the roots -- finding:
Yet, all is not quite lost. A contrary trend and one which has been gaining in strength over the last few years is that of Indian fiction in translation.
Earlier, the only works in translation one could hope to find were classics by a Tagore, Premchand or Sarat Chandra, with lacklustre production values, hidden in some obscure bookshelf at the back of the store.
A new breed of intrepid translators like Arunava Sinha, Pritham Chakravarthy and Sudarshan Purohit are very rapidly rewriting that old story.
And I hope more of this makes its way to the US/UK .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Daniela Kapitáňová's Samko Tále's Cemetery Book.
A longtime bestseller in Slovakia, it's now out from the admirable Garnett Press -- two years after it was translated into (among many other languages) ... Arabic.