Women in India (or at least the upper class, swish set women) have never had it so good before in terms of individual liberty and the freedom to express and achieve and to live life on their own terms.
And yet, what we have to show for it in literary terms is a rash of mostly avoidable chick-lit titles.
Much of the chick-lit being churned out of late is so formulaic that one wonders if it has its origins in a common plot generating software
The truth is women protagonists in Indian fiction were far more interesting in the World BC -- Before Chick-lit, that is.
In Next Titilayo Olurin profiles the Debonair bookstore and the man behind it, Debola Omololu, in The business of selling books.
Looks promising -- though:
While admitting that book selling has improved over the years, he doesn't believe that it is an industry yet.
"Lots of people have laid the foundation but we don't really have that industry. We only have small traders here and there," he says.
But it's amusing and encouraging to hear:
At the end of our conversation, I went round the bookstore again and couldn't but ask why there seemed to be more foreign books than Nigerian books.
His reply was simple, "The quality of Nigerian books have improved, so you don't actually recognise them as Nigerian books."
The book business, which dwindled to nothing at the height of Iraq's sectarian violence from 2006-07, is now booming like never before, he says.
"There has been a jump forward in demand for buying books, from students, intellectuals, the youth.
Young people are looking for youthful books. Intellectuals are buying cultural books. Professionals and students are buying reference books."
British enthusiasts of the country that gave the world Tolstoy and Chekhov must be excited, despite the sad fact that only a small proportion of the Russian books presented at the fair have been translated into English.
(Compare that to the recent Leipzig Book Fair, and the forthcoming Frankfurt one, where dozens and dozens of titles from the respective guest-nations (relative minnows Serbia and Iceland) were/will be translated into German .....)
In The Telegraph's bizarre ongoing sponsored Russian online supplement Pavel Basinsky also offers an overview of the current Russian scene, arguing Russians return to serious literature.
Among the few newly translated titles available is Ludmila Ulitskaya's Daniel Stein, Interpreter, which I am very curious about and look forward to seeing; see the Overlook publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
And in The Independent today Boyd Tonkin reviews Vladimir Sorokin's Ice-trilogy, just out from New York Review Books -- suggesting:
Think William S Burroughs, and Michel Houellebecq, and Will Self, all whizzed into this delirious post-Soviet SF mash-up.
I found some sections absolutely exquisite, some unexpectedly moving, some intellectually exhilarating -- and plenty just grotesque and absurd, as Sorokin no doubt planned.
Only the Ice-part
is under review at the complete review so far, but I hope to get my hands on the entire trilogy eventually .....
Meanwhile, see the NYRB publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
What distinguishes Miłosz as a poet is the abundance and spontaneity of the work, his at-homeness in so many different genres and landscapes, his desire for belief and his equally acute scepticism.
Chiefly, however, what irradiates the poetry and compels the reader is a quality of wisdom.
In Slate Ron Rosenbaum wonders Is Ulysses Overrated ? (and immediately let's you know: 'All but one chapter -- and not the one you think') -- but at least he does so somewhat creatively (and appropriately).
And: looking for a copy of Ulysses to link to at Amazon I see that quite a few 'publishers' have taken advantage of the fact that the James Joyce classic is now in the (American) public domain to put out their own cheapo reprints.
But are they competing in some sort of contest to adorn it with the most hideous cover imaginable ?
Because there are several contenders ...:
Surely it can't be that difficult (or expensive) to come up with something better ?
Or are these the looks that guarantee the books go flying off the shelves ?
(The Amazon sales-rank data would suggest that anyone who is going to have a go at Ulysses goes for an edition from a 'real' publisher -- from Vintage, Penguin Classics, or OUP.
But I do see how it would probably be fun to ride in the subway/tube reading one of these cartoon-cover editions -- presumably nobody would believe that it's really Ulysses you're reading .....)
They've announced the 2011 Guggenheim fellows for the US and Canada -- 180 of them, selected from almost 3000 applicants.
Only one of the
recipients has a book under review at the complete review --
Religion Explained, by Pascal Boyer (whose project this time around is: 'The dark matter of human culture'), but among the writers who get this very nice bit of cash support are: Bonnie Jo Campbell, Jonathan R. Dee, Clancy Martin, Seth Shulman, Lara Vapnyar, and Patricia Volk.
At Eurozine Tom Van Imschoot writes 'On the self-invention of Flemish literature', in Reality-check.
A few of the titles mentioned are under review at the complete review -- The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs, for example, as well as a number of Hugo Claus titles, including The Sorrow of Belgium.
In the Literary Review Patrick Marnham has An Interview with VS Naipaul -- about 'his interest in Africa, his latest book, The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief, and his long writing career'.
(Se also, for example, the complete review review of Naipaul's Half a Life.)
There are two events at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York of note next week:
On Tuesday, 12 April, at 18:30, they're (re-)opening the ACFNY Library, with Rick Moody and Dale Peck in discussion about Thomas Bernhard's My Prizes and Daniel Kehlmann reading excerpts from the book; Susan Bernofsky will moderate.
On Wednesday, 13 April, at 19:00 Ruth Franklin will be in conversation with Peter Filkins about his translation of H.G.Adler's Panorama (which Franklin reviewed in the 31 January issue of The New Yorker).
(Get your copy of Panorama at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
Serbia was recently the guest of honor at the Leipzig Book Fair, and signandsight.com now offer a translation a translation of Jörg Plath's Neue Zürcher Zeitung piece on the literary scene in A country on the edge of time (German original).
Monday's lecture on Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek by Gitta Honegger, Rechnitz: Austria's Dirty Little Secret, was a fascinating eye-opener -- noteworthy in particular for the ca. twenty-minute home-made video interview that really was exclusive -- screened at the event, but not to be made available elsewhere -- and offered useful insight and background, serving as a good introduction to the too often unfairly much-maligned author.
Honegger focused on Jelinek's play, Rechnitz, describing various productions and noting how Jelinek's works for theater leave directors with many ways of presenting it.
Offering little more than text -- no stage instructions, for example -- her plays give directors lots of room for interpretation and creative stagings.
A lot of this seems to play well in Europe, but it definitely does not sound like it's for the Broadway crowd .....
Honegger is also translating Jelinek's prose magnum opus, Die Kinder der Toten, into English for Yale University Press, and it will be interesting to see whether that leads to any re-evaluation of her work in the US.
From the sounds of it, familiarity with her plays (few of which have been translated) would also help; Honegger's talk -- and the video-interview -- suggests a much more interesting writer (and body of work) than the one so readily dismissed by American critics.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yi Mun-Yol's An Appointment with my Brother.
This is a volume in the appealing 'The Portable Library of Korean Literature'-series from Jimoondang Publishing, a pile of which I recently picked up and which I look forward to making my way through.
The truly remarkable Ulli Beier, a significant figure in both modern Nigerian literature as well as that of Papua New Guinea, has passed away; see, for example, the Tribute to Ulli Beier in Next -- as well as my mention of his turn as 'Obotunde Ijimere'.
Not meaning to make light of this -- indeed, I'm impressed by the local coverage (and shocked at how the Western press has failed to mention his passing so far) -- but I was amused to see the obituaries that claim:
They've announced the shortlist for the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize.
Two of the titles are under review at the complete review: To the End of the Land (by David Grossman) and Visitation (by Jenny Erpenbeck).
The Guardian's 'New Europe series', where they have "literary editors reflect on the literary scene in their countries" now has Pawel Gozlinski of Gazeta Wyborcza discuss What they're reading in Poland (and, hey ! he even mentions some actual bestselling titles ...).
Yes, it was twelve years ago today that the first reviews were posted at the complete review, as the site now approaches those teen years .....
What's there to say ?
Even close to a year and some 150 reviews later, the site history -- The Complete Review: Eleven Years, 2500 Reviews -- covers most of the retrospective stuff.
Everything continues more or less (and for better and worse) as usual .....
Andrei Makine, one of France's most celebrated novelists, whose books, including Dreams of My Russian Summers, have been translated into English, revealed this week that he has published four novels under the name Gabriel Osmonde, the newspaper Figaro reported.
See also that piece in Le Figaro by Astrid De Larminat, Osmonde sort de l'ombre.
I'm not sure how much of a scoop this -- after all, Le Figaro was already pointing a finger very emphatically at Makine more than two years ago -- see Mohammed Aïssaoui's On a retrouvé leurs romans cachés.
And, after all, what does it matter whose name is on a book ?
But I am curious as to whether any of 'Gabriel Osmonde''s books will now be translated into English .....
Note also that 'Gabriel Osmonde' does have an offical site; it's pretty feeble, but I must say I do like the contact page.
The April issue of The Hindu's Literary Review is now available online.
Aside from the reviews see also, for example, pieces on the Phantom power of language -- 'Mini Krishnan writes about something rarely discussed -- the radiance of translation' -- and Anupama Raju on literary festivals, in Necessary dialogues.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mahmud Doulatabadi's زوالِ کلنل -- available in French and German, but still stuck waiting for approval from the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in his native Iran.
(As to an English translation ?
Well, you know .....)
Among the April issue of online periodicals now available are those of Open Letters Monthly, and Words without Borders' Writing from Quebec issue ("On the margins of both French and North American literary cultures, Quebec literature goes beyond its national identity to take its place in the world").
Amanda DeMarco offers a useful overview of the recent decision by the Swiss to Reinstate Fixed Book Prices at Publishing Perspectives, as parliament "approved a fixed price system for books in German-speaking Switzerland, both for online and in-store sales as of next year" -- after having repealed a similar system back in 2007.
The free-for-all-pricing system did not, apparently, win everyone over.
And the economic justification sure didn't pan out either:
In Germany, where fixed book price law is strong, book prices have actually fallen in comparison with other goods over the past decade.
Swiss book prices, in contrast, have risen over the past four years.
"Economic theories say that free markets produce lower prices, but interestingly in the case of books that's not so," commented Dani Landolf, director of The Swiss Publishers Association (SBVV).
While bestsellers get deep discounts, the majority of other books become more expensive to fund the price wars.
But this is likely a debate that will continue, in Switzerland and elsewhere.
The spring issue of list - Books from Korea is now out.
Lots of reviews of current Korean books (as well as of a few older, steady sellers, such as this one of Yi Mun-yol's The Poet; see also the complete reviewreview), as well as other articles.
Doug Merwin reports that MerwinAsia Emerges on the Translation Scene (see the publisher site, as well as my review of one of the two titles, The Long Road by Kim In-suk), and there's also the always interesting look at What We're Reading (here from November 2010 to January 2011), which introduces some of the bestselling titles in Korea from that period (though unfortunately: "The books are introduced in no particular order").
The SWR-Bestenliste for April, where 30 German critics vote for their favorite new books, is now out -- though with the top title receiving a paltry 61 points (out of a maximum possible of 450 !) they seem rather underwhelmed by what's on offer this month.