At Qantara.de Susanne Schanda has an 'Interview with the Libyan Writer Ibrahim al-Koni', The Destructive Nature of Tyranny.
I have quite a few of his books, but none are under review at the complete review; as mentioned in the interview, his most recently translated work is The Puppet; see the University of Texas Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
At the RTE's Books Blog Donal O'Donoghue reports on The Borrowers, as:
Last year, Dublin was designated a UNESCO City of Literature and according to Dublin City Libraries' records, their borrower is a more literary soul than his British counterpart.
Top of the list of Most Borrowed Books in 2010 (with a whopping 2,320 borrows) is the IMPAC winner, The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker while second place goes to Oscar Wilde's gothic classic and One City, One Book title, The Picture of Dorian Gray (with 1,975 borrows).
And. like the UK most-borrowed list: "it's a list utterly dominated by fiction"
Witz-author Joshua Cohen "has failed at failure and assembled an unparalleled group of contributors" for the upcoming specially themed issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction on failure
(pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Contributors include Helen DeWitt, Keith Gessen, Gary Indiana, and Eileen Myles -- though it's William Gaddis 'Syllabus, English 241, Literature of Failure' that sounds most tempting (along with that excerpt from Michael Brodsky's Invidicum).
You'll have to get the print copy to see most of the contents, but, as always, the reviews are available online (just scroll down) -- always an interesting selection of titles, beginning with Warren Motte's review of Pierre Bayard's Et si les oeuvres changeaient d'auteur ? -- about which Motte notes:
Anyone willing to take him seriously -- and why should one not, after all ? -- will be treated to exhilarating new panoramas of interpretive possibility, and a most bracing reconsideration of the role we readers play in the production of literary meaning.
In The Hindu Sravasti Datta 'wonders if the line between literary and popular fiction is blurring' in India, in A fact in fiction.
Among those weighing in:
Bala, manager, marketing at Crossword, opines that genre fiction sells much more than literary books do.
"For one, fiction is priced lower than literary books.
It's an easy read as it contains a couple of hundred pages.
Also, readers relate more to popular fiction."
Readers relate to escapist junk like Jeffrey Archer's ?
Well, maybe in India .....
(And this all hardly seems a new thing: consider James Hadley Chase's immense popularity there, for decades now.)
The University of NSW is throwing away thousands of books and scholarly journals as part of a policy that critics say is turning its library into a Starbucks.
As a university spokeswoman explains:
"The library has an ongoing program to remove print journals where online archival access is provided.
Our academic community prefers to use the online versions and they use them very heavily," she said
Anyway, the letters in reaction to the piece, are also worth a look -- beginning with the one that notes:
The UNSW library is such a depressing place these days -- there are entire floors where it is hard to find a book at all.
In The Telegraph Nigel Farndale speaks at length with Ian McEwan (the occasion being that his Solar just came out in paperback in the UK).
Among McEwan's responses: he tries to explain, at some length, about whether/how he 'slums it':
I occasionally watch a football match on television, but I cannot bear the commercials.
I watch The Wire but I suppose that is considered high culture.
I can never knuckle down to reading all the way through The Sun, as Martin can.
That for me would be such an effort.
I hope The Sun use that quote in an advertising campaign (though I suppose their readers would have no idea who this fella might be).
In the New Zealand Herald Karyn Scherer has an in-depth article on The bookshop that lost the plot, about the demise of 'New Zealand's best-known bookseller'.
One noteworthy statistic, to start off with:
According to the Nielsen data, New Zealanders bought 9.6 million books last year, worth $244 million.
The volume of sales was up 1.2 per cent on the previous year, although their total value was much the same.
That is just a tiny market.
But in that tiny market the Whitcoulls and Borders chain is apparently a major player -- and one that apparently managed to do everything wrong:
Instead, they claim, the company's current predicament is an all-too-familiar tale of mismanagement: of shiny new executives rubbishing the opinions of experienced staff; of a bizarre attitude to discounting which saw popular books slashed in price and less popular ones quietly hiked; of cash being bled from the business in the form of management fees and interest payments on debt; of relentless cost-cutting that left many of its staff and suppliers utterly demoralised; and of short-term business decisions which proved a huge millstone around the owners' necks.
Ah, yes, book-business professionals doing their professional best .....
Via I see that the Japanese Literature Publishing Project has gotten their (online) act together -- a bit -- and now actually provide (some) information.
See, for example, the latest selections -- though note that they're not quite on top of everything: French and Russian translations of Ii
's wonderfully titled Record of a Peripatetic Blue Cat Family are noted, but the fact that Dalkey Archive Press have this coming out in English (well subsidized by the JLPP, no doubt) -- under the far more boring title The Shadow of a Blue Cat -- goes unmentioned ... (see the Dalkey Dalkey publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Library Systems & Services, a Maryland-based firm, owns 13 public libraries in the US.
Its aim in Britain is to manage 15 per cent of public libraries within the next five years.
LSSI is in consultation with local authorities across the UK, proposing to transform libraries into "multifunctional spaces".
It hopes to have won contracts in at least four local authorities by the end of the year.
LSSI's entry into the UK could also mark the start of a fierce transatlantic bidding war.
Its main UK rival is John Laing, which manages libraries in Hounslow.
The two have already competed head-to-head in a number of tenders
Library wars !
The "slacks and trainers mentality" among librarians will be abolished, Mr Lynch says.
In its place will be "a rigorous service culture".
Oh, yeah, that kind of talk (and attitude) is going to go over really well .....
The March/April issue of The Critical Flame is now available, and among the pieces is Liza Katz's discussion of The Cambridge Introduction to Francophone Literature, edited by Patrick Corcoran (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
That also gives me an opportunity to mention a book I'm making my way through and which I can certainly commend, French Global: A New Approach to Literary History, edited by Christie McDonald and Susan Rubin Suleiman (see the Columbia University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), a fascinating fat (and hard-to-review ...) collection of essays.
This month marks the 75th anniversary of Perec's birth. To celebrate, Vintage has reissued several of his books
See the Vintage page.
There's one new Perec title just out, which Vintage is publishing as The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk).
Oddly, that title is being published as The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise by Verso in the US (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com); apparently American audiences can't be trusted to handle longer titles .....
I hope to get a copy soon, and will certainly review it when I do.
In The Scotsman David Robinson profiles Jo Nesbo, musician and author at some length.
Nesbø's The Leopard is just out in the UK (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk), but they're considerably behind in the US in getting those Harry Hole books to market; see also, for example, the complete review review of The Devil's Star.
They've announced the Commonwealth Writers' Prize regional winners (with the overall winners to be named 21 May).
Room by Emma Donoghue continues its awards-roll -- it's won or been a finalist for seemingly every prize it could possibly be eligible for (and that's a lot, as she's counted as both Canadian and Irish)
-- while The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell is the only finalist under review at the complete review.
So they're holding this British World Book Night tonight, apparently -- giving away a million books.
Among the many articles inspired by it: in The Guardian they 'asked writers which books they give as gifts and which they've been most pleased to receive', in The great books giveaway.
Among the responses:
John Banville said: "The most fascinating and most beautifully produced book I have come across in some years was given to me by a friend this Christmas past. Microscripts, by Robert Walser".
(A review should be up at the complete review soon; meanwhile, get your copy at Amazon.com orAmazon.co.uk.)
John Gray recommends Fernando Pessoa's brilliant The Book of Disquiet (in Richard Zenith's Penguin Modern Classics edition); get your copy at Amazon.com orAmazon.co.uk.
Mohsin Hamid said: "The book I most often give is Pereira Maintains by the Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi" (which certainly raises him in my esteem a notch or two).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Higashino Keigo's The Devotion of Suspect X.
Minotaur Books/St. Martin's Press have done a fairly impressive marketing job with this, eliciting coverage such as the Wall Street Journal/Asia Scene's Is this Guy the Next Stieg Larsson ? to the many online-reviews of this title (along with an impressive reported 75,000-copy print run for the book).
Indeed, they seem to have gotten it into the hands of an enormous number of bloggers, pre-publication -- though I note: not in mine.
So far in 2011 I've actually been doing much better getting review copies than in 2010 (and by and large have little reason to complain) but, despite (because of ?) the fact that the complete review was pretty much the only one in town to review the previous Higashino title, Naoko, I apparently wasn't on the send-to list.
Once I heard about the title's availability I did also put in a request for it, but failed to get a copy; fortunately a library copy was readily obtainable.
Maybe they knew I wouldn't endorse him as the next Stieg Larsson .....
In The Independent John Walsh points to the new Bonhams magazine where, on pp.33-4 (sorry, really annoying to navigate), you can find a spread on Tom Stoppard -- and the amusing titbit that:
He doesn't own a computer -- though his long-serving secretary Jackie is permanently logged into one -- and constructs his plays on loose sheets of paper with a fountain pen as his instrument.
"I have a selection -- caran d'Ache, Montblanc, Faber-Castell. I love them all, but like a king with a stock of royal mistresses, I always have one which is the particular favourite of the moment."
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Volker Braun's Arbeitsbuch 1977-1989, Werktage.
It's also good to see that a book of his is finally available in English, Tom Cheesman's translation of What's Really Wanted.
In the few hours since I originally wrote the post below, Google results for all complete review pages have improved dramatically -- generally to pre-algorithm-shift levels.
Whether this is temporary -- I just happened to have hit the servers with the old algorithm -- or is a result of some fine-tuning (i.e. might actually be permanent) is unclear at this point, but I'll take it as a good sign for now (that Google recognizes that some adjustments needed to be made (or the whole thing tossed out ...), and that they have been able to implement those).
But I'll be keeping an eye on how things develop.
Another check some twelve hours later and I get search results even worse than before ... (The Gleick review mentioned below ranking as the ninety-ninth result, and only that high because of all the bookshop-results that I have blocked ...).
No, they haven't figured this out yet (and forget about anything even remotely resembling consistency regarding the quality of search results for the time being).
Note also that Google used to account for some 92 per cent of all searches leading users to the site; yesterday that was down to 73 per cent (and that's with all the foreign Google sites not yet having adopted the new algorithm).
So last week I mentioned how Google's new algorithm (which they claim allows for: Finding more high-quality sites in search) has had an effect on the complete review, with review-pages now appearing much further down on targeted (title, author) searches for information about specific books.
With the algroithm only implemented for US-Google searches, the damage has been limited (we have a far more international audience than most sites), but the site has taken about a ten per cent hit in visitors -- and considerably more from both US visitors and Google-referrals.
I think some patience is still called for, to see exactly how the Google-algorithm will settle in, but the early indications aren't good.
Obviously, as a person running a website I am annoyed that many users no longer find their way here because of this, but I suggest that everyone who relies on Google (i.e. everyone) should realize that this doesn't only affect me but also you -- or rather the usefulness of the searches you conduct on Google.
Again: it will take a while to see exactly how the algorithm works out, and I'm not ready yet to write it off completely, but I did come across one example which you might be interested in:
James Gleick's The Information came out on Tuesday; I had posted a review of it a few days earlier, on 23 February.
The review-page is still of relatively limited use/interest -- it'll be more useful once more reviews are available to link to and quote from -- but it does link to the most relevant pages about the book, and there is a review of the book on the page.
A search on Google for "the information" james gleick conducted yesterday had my review as about the 90th result.
I'm not the person to judge whether all ninety or so higher results are more useful (I have my doubts), and there sure seem a lot which just point to shops selling the book online, but maybe that's the appropriate ranking for my review.
[Updated: note also that Google results vary (often greatly) over time -- and that a search conducted a few hours later (after this was originally posted) finds the review much higher positioned -- and that the issues below were only temporary.
Let's hope it stays that way. Additional update: And now, another twelve hours later, the results are even worse (it comes up as the ninety-ninth result).
So the situation has definitely neither stabilized nor been rectified.]
Still, I couldn't help notice that there was one slightly better-placed result (about 80th) that seemed a bit out of place: James Gleick Isaac Newton.
Apparently a review of a previous Gleick title, and with no real information about The Information, but what do I know ? maybe it's qualitatively really superior, and that's why it came in that high.
That page offers a mess of links (not very useful ones) about Gleick's Isaac Newton, as well as review of that title (but, as I said, no information about The Information-- unlike my lower ranked review page).
The thing is: the review on that page is, in fact, taken from myreview page
of Gleick's Isaac Newton (first posted in 2003) -- stolen and cut & pasted, without attribution by this thieving site.
[I have sent them a request to remove the stolen material, so I hope it is no longer available if/when you check; if they do not remove it legal action and my eternal wrath will follow.
Updated: the offending content has now been removed (thank you !) and replaced by the Amazon.com/Publishers Weekly reviews.]
Adding insult to injury, my review page of Gleick's Isaac Newton-- superior to this one because it includes not only the review but also relevant links to other reviews and other information, as well as review quotes -- does not appear anywhere in the
Google results for "the information" james gleick.
(Not that I'd really expect it to, but if that page comes up then why wouldn't mine ?)
To reiterate: a Google search for "the information" james gleick now brings up a page with a stolen copy of my review of his Isaac Newton some ten places higher than my authentic
review of The Information .....
Anybody think something isn't wrong with the algorithm that spits out results like that ?
[Updated: To reiterate also: a few hours later the search results have changed dramatically, and this no longer applies -- for the moment ?
But we'll see whether that lasts, too .....
Additional update: As noted, twelve hours later the results are back to bad, i.e. it hasn't lasted -- for the moment.]
Oh, right, one more thing: a search on Bing for "the information" james gleick brings up my review as ... the second result (about ninety places higher than the same search on Google ...).
In The Information Gleick writes about how vital the coping strategies of "filter and search" have become in our time of information-overload.
Google seemed to have made an art of search over the past decade, providing the best results; the one example above is, I hope, an exception, but it increasing appears to me that the new algorithm is in the 'epic-fail' category -- at least for the kind of searches I do (and which lead users to the site).
I also appreciate the well-meaning advice I have gotten from many quarters over the past week.
Interestingly, the universal reaction is that I should tweak the complete review pages to make them more Google-friendly (not that anyone has that good an idea of what that means); SEO is the catchword (catch acronym ?) -- 'search engine optimization'.
Sorry, but to my mind
'search engine optimization' is something search engines should be doing and which I will leave well enough alone, letting my content speak (or be ignored ...) for itself.
If search engines can fall for content farms or SEOed headlines then they're failing, and it's for them to fix their algorithms.
My job isn't to tailor my pages and content to what search engines 'like', but to offer users useful content -- and I think I do a pretty good job of that.
(Indeed, I believe I adhere very strictly to Google's own quality guidelines -- but they don't seem to value those anywhere near as much as they'd have you believe.)
Obviously, I'll continue to follow this closely in the coming weeks; if, indeed, Google applies this crap algorithm to all their international search engines the hit to local traffic will be quite a blow (and finding the reviews to link to will become even more of a pain than it is right now).
I can't imagine that they won't rethink this: while it seems to have effectively addressed one problem -- content farms (though hardly all of them) -- the baby-with-the-bathwater approach surely just has way too much collateral damage to be sustainable.
[There have been lots of reactions from and about other affected sites; for one take, see the amusing How Google And eHow Will Save Bookstores at Self Publishing 2.0.]
[However badly Google has screwed up with their algorithm, I am a big fan of the new Chrome Personal Blocklist (by Google) extension, which allows me to improve search results slightly by blocking all the commercial/bookselling sites (and other pointless ones) from my book-search-searches.
Man, are there a lot of useless sites out there.]
It's great to see that there's good early enthusiasm for Kosztolányi Dezső's Kornél Esti, just out from New Direction.
(I do note, however, that a review of the book has been up at the complete review since 2006 .....)
I'm pleased to see that one of the most entertaining bits is now up at hlo, here -- which lets me also recommend Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov's clever counterpart to it, A Second Story (from his collection And Other Stories).
They've announced the winners of the big-money Sheikh Zayed Book Awards, with Chung Jikon taking the 'Cultural Personality of the Year' prize (awarded for: "unique contributions to the advancement of the Arabic culture, and for works that portray tolerance and promote peaceful coexistence").
I'm also impressed that:
Meanwhile, awards for "Young Author", "Fine Arts", "Publishing and Distribution", and "Best Technology in the Field of Culture" were withheld for this session.
"This year's nominations in these categories did not meet the Award's stringent standards and the Advisory Council opted to withhold them as a result."Al Oraimi explained.
A bit sad that they couldn't find any winners -- but admirable that they choose to maintain some high standards.
They've announced the longlist for the 2011 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature: three volumes of poetry, four of fiction, and three of non, from some sixty submitted titles; the shortlist -- the winners in each of the three categories -- will be announced 28 March.
The monthly SWR-Bestenliste, where thirty German literary critics vote for the best new publications is now out for March, with Arno Geiger's Dad-has-dementia story, Der alte König in seinem Exil, the runaway top choice, with an impressive points total; I actually just got a copy of this, and will let you know how it is.
The second most highly recommended title is Philip Roth's Nemesis -- and an Updike title also figures on the list .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Two Qajar Tracts, The Education of Women and The Vices of Men, a rather entertaining look (or rather: selection of very different looks) at sex roles and expectations in late-nineteenth century Persia.
Patrick White's The Hanging Garden is to be published next year, the centenary of his birth.
Barely a dozen people have read this little masterpiece that turned up in the hoard of his papers in the National Library.
spoke at a conference titled "Putin in Russian Fiction," where he described how Putin has occupied main and secondary roles in a variety of literary genres in Russia, including novels, essays, biographies, and even fairy tales.
According to Rogatchevski, all these uses of Putin serve as "a projection of people's fears and hopes" around Putin as a political leader.
(He's apparently been flogging this horse for a while: his piece on 'Putin in Russian Fiction' appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of The Journal of Communist Studies and Transition Politics; see the abstract here.)
Depressingly amusing also:
Rogatchevski also said that contrary to the prevalent Western belief, satirical descriptions of Putin in Russia are indeed possible.
"The Russian administration doesn't care so much about paper publications; Russia's leaders only care about television," he said.
The Citibank-Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2010 in Bali (October 6-10) provided an unparalleled opportunity for Australian and European attendees to delve into the exciting -- and largely unheralded -- world of Indonesian literature.
The March/April issue of World Literature Today is now out, with the table of contents -- and a few of those contents -- available online.
Among the pieces of interest: Neustadt Laureate Duo Duo's acceptance speech, and some bits from the special section on 'Jazz Poetry'.
In День Yulia Stakhivska has a Q & A with Gabriele Zaidyte, the attaché for culture in the Lithuanian embassies in Ukraine and Georgia, offering a bit of insight into the presentation of culture among these slightly off the (culturally and otherwise) beaten track -- as well as answers to more general questions, such as: "How does Lithuania promote its literature in the world ?"
Among the interesting observations:
The number of Russian books in Ukrainian bookshops makes me worry.
It's especially noticeable when many publishers get together, for example, at the Publishers' Forum in Lviv.
This is dangerous.
I realize that Ukrainian books are not that numerous, and it's impossible to create a powerful dumping-center, but what I saw was so unexpected, I couldn't imagine a similar problem before I came to Ukraine.
Being the attache for culture, I understand that culture comprises variety and dialog, but your situation gives me food for serious thought.
They're a bit late jumping on the bandwagon, but admirably they're not just importing foreign vampire lit but rather developing a homegrown one: as IBNA report, Meet the Vampires in bookstores ! as the second in author Siamak Golshiri's YA vampire series, Meet the Vampires, is now out:
The book is a sequence of the 1st volume entitled Tehran, the alley of ghosts which is about the appearance of Dracula in Tehran.
Dracula in Tehran ... yes, the Iranian publishing scene continues to be as unfathomable and fascinating as always.
I wouldn't have thought the mullahs would go for this sort of thing ... but I guess they finished all the Stephenie Meyer books and wanted something closer to home .....