A proliferation of mass-market fiction, or Metro Reads, which deal mostly with love, college life and murder mysteries.
And jumping on the bandwagon are both small and big publishing houses.
Kanishka Gupta, author of History of Hate, wrote about an unemployed man and a middle-aged housewife who go on a murderous spree through Delhi.
Despite the book being in the longlist for the Man Asian Literary Prize, bookstores were returning copies of it just two months after publication.
"Many publishers are becoming too commercial," she says.
"They are concerned with market considerations and even brilliant novels are rejected."
History of Hate -- despite Man Asian Literary Prize-longlisting -- doesn't quite sound brilliant (and doesn't seem to have been rejected by the publisher but rather by the market), but may be worth a look; get your copy at Flipkart.
Literature Wales has announced the 2011 Wales Books of Year, with Cloud Road by John Harrison taking the English-language prize (see the official site), and Bydoedd by Ned Thomas taking the Welsh-language prize (see the Y Lolfa publicity page).
In Le Monde Alain Beuve-Méry offers La rentrée littéraire sera resserrée mais ouverte, which offers a pretty good overview of what to expect (i.e. the most anticipated titles) at the fall 'rentrée littéraire', when publishers flood the French market with their top titles.
With 'only' 654 romans scheduled to come out they're down some six per cent from last year -- and there have also been significant declines in French works (435, compared to 497 last year) and debuts (74, down from 85).
In The Guardian Amit Chaudhuri writes about Rereading Rabindranath Tagore -- which he suggests might be a worthwhile exercise, though Tagore's own translations of his own work do no one any favors (agreed):
Tagore's English version of the Gitanjali, for which he was awarded the Nobel prize in 1913, is what Mother Teresa once was to Calcutta, the royal family to England, and Kingsley to Gandhi: a tantalising mirage that obstructs the view of what's behind it.
(I think Tagore is defensible based on his prose alone, but translation issues certainly complicate matters.)
In China Daily Yang Guang profiles 2010 Lu Xun Literature Prize-winning author Tsering Norbu, in Demystifying Tibet.
I'm curious, but of course it's hard not to consider any Chinese-approved (by Lu Xun prize and China Daily profiling, etc.) take on Tibet as being, at the very least, suspect.
A depressing report by Sonia Malik in The Express Tribune on a Treasure trove: Awesome collection in awful condition at the Lahore Museum.
Lots of old books in the collection, and preservation is proving to be difficult (though at least they're digitizing the collection):
Forty percent of the 35,000 books in the museumís reference library are 50 years old or more, says Bhatti.
The Great Historical Geographical Genealogical and Poetical Dictionary, published in 1688, is the oldest.
The only steps taken to preserve them are fumigation, every five years, and the taping and lamination of some old books.
The Economist writes about 'The mad, bad fiction of Congo's Alain Mabanckou', in Prince of the absurd:
Rebelling against the rules of the Académie Française (the official authority on the French language -- and one that has no equivalent in English), Mr Mabanckouís freewheeling prose marries classical French elegance with Paris slang and a Congolese beat. It weds the oral culture of his unlettered mother (the dedicatee of all his books) to an omnivorous bibliophilia encouraged by his stepfather
It's time for the 'Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur' -- the Festival of German-Language Literature --, and the centerpiece, as always, is the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize.
As Katy Derbyshire describes it at her love german books weblog -- where she is also offering running commentary on the goings-on (highly recommended !) --:
It's not unlike a Eurovision Song Contest for literary types, only obviously much more glamorous.
There's good coverage at the official site as well -- with English translations of all the pieces in the competition.
The most successful Croatian book of 2008 Naš čovjek na terenu (Our Man in the Field) by Robert Perišić, sold exactly 1,904 copies.
Three Percent mentioned these horrific numbers way back when (and note that with a population of 4,434,000 in 2008 this is poor even by per capita standards, not just absolute ones .....), but signandsight.com now offer a more extensive look at 'The paradoxes of the Ex-Yugoslavian bookmarket', in Potential market, no buyers, a translation of Norbert Mappes-Niediek's article from the Frankfurter Rundschau.
Mappes-Niediek notes that:
When culture becomes commodity, exchange in former Yugoslavia remains limited, even twelve years after the last shots were fired.
Not only among the successor states, but also on the new national markets there is nothing but dead air.
"Before we used to measure the success of a book by the number of copies sold," says Popovic, who made scores of authors famous through his publishing house Durieux.
Today success is measured by the number of times the book is borrowed from the library.
As he notes there's an easy -- if apparently unpalatable -- fix that would certainly help matters:
Just as before, Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and Montenegrins form a single speech and thus potential reading community consisting of 15 to 16 million people.
Nothing has to be translated, and if something is to be translated, one simply runs it through a Google Translate programme in order to replace a few nationally incendiary terms.
Via De Papieren Man I learn that they've announced that Tirza by Arnon Grunberg -- one of my favorite books of recent years, and forthcoming in English from Open Letter (though it will be a while) -- has been awarded the prize of the Koninklijke Academie voor Nederlandse Taal- en Letterkunde (the Royal Dutch Academy for Language and Literature).
This is an interesting prize because it doesn't honor the best book of the year, but rather the best of the past five years, as it is awarded annually in a five-year cycle through various forms (poetry, drama, etc.); this is the second time around for prose, with The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs having won in 2006.
At Russia Profile Anna Aslanyan finds 'Contemporary Russian Literature Gets a Boost Abroad', in No More Matryoshka Dolls.
As Glas-publisher Natasha Perova notes, however:
Lamenting the small number of Russian titles appearing in translation, Perova stresses that most of these books take years to find a publisher, as was the case with Maidenhair.
According to her, it is hard enough to get publishers to read something, "and even if they like it, the first thing they look for is financial support.
Maybe not the best model-for-success (yes, I understand the 'prioritizing' of the 'bottom line'; nevertheless, especially as practiced by American publishers, that doesn't seem the ideal way to go ...).
(See also my previous mention of Mikhail Shishkin's Maidenhair, forthcoming from Open Letter in English.)
At Publishing Perspectives Olivia Snaije looks at Exile, Literature and the High Price of Freedom, as 'Authors exiled from Iran, Cuba, Afghanistan, Egypt, Algeria and the Congo discuss oppression, inspiration, and freedom'.
Quite a few of these works are under review at the complete review; see, for example, Atiq Rahimi's The Patience Stone.
In The Guardian Emma Brockes offers A life in writing: Cynthia Ozick, a profile of Cynthia Ozick (whose Foreign Bodies I really will get to soon; all her other work is under review at the complete review).
(While of some interest, the piece does show some of the dangers of the slightly too-hurried adding of filler material, as Brockes writes: "Ozick is intrepid; when she was in her 60s she made a solo flight across the US".
Presumably Brockes here relied on a quick scan of a recent piece in The Observer, Once upon a life: Cynthia Ozick, which suggests: "Twenty years ago, with only six weeks training, the author Cynthia Ozick set off on a perilous solo flight across America that led to a terrifying vision among the clouds. But the real danger came when she told her story".
If one actually reads the piece in full, the suggestion is of course that the flight was little more than one of fancy .....
But I hope Ozick enjoys her new high-flying reputation .....)
The Guardian's book blog is apparently starting a "new series celebrating small publishers", and John Self gets things started with a tribute to Peter Owen: Sixty years of innovation.
Quite a few Peter Owen titles are under review at the complete review; they do indeed have a very interesting list.
Behind the scenes at the complete review I constantly struggle to keep as much of the site as up-to-date as possible.
I try (and generally manage) to add links when new reviews become available, and I usually try overhaul links whenever a book goes from hardcover to paperback, or a new edition becomes available; obviously, also, I try to pay more attention to keeping links on popular (i.e. much-accessed) reviews current -- but with over 2700 titles under review now there's simply no way of keeping up, and so site maintenance tends to be somewhat haphazard.
Having had the chance to tidy up some pages over the weekend, I'm shocked at how much there was to do -- and why.
For those who see any sort of stability or permanence to the Internet: I'm not convinced.
Stability -- having a page remain wherever it was first posted -- has always been one of the priorities at the complete review.
Whatever URL (web address) a review had when it was first posted, that's never changed; indeed, since 1999 only two pages have been removed from the site (ill-conceived 'Amazon recommends' attempts that were rendered useless by Amazon's change in that system).
So if you linked to a review in 1999, that link is still good.
I always figured that was the close to the norm, since it seems a common-sense policy.
Sure, publishers proved (and continue to be) unreliable, constantly changing URLs, but actual content providers .....
So I was surprised when I updated the page for The World Republic of Letters by Pascale Casanova, for example.
I posted the review in March 2005, and updated it a few times since, but probably not thoroughly since 2007 or so.
Now, finally updating it, I found not a single link to any outside page (beyond to Amazon) was still the same [I also added two links, to reviews not previously linked to].
Yes, the content could still be linked to (i.e. it was still available online) -- but not at the same URL.
Worse, practically all of the old links were 'dead' -- as the sites that had changed the URLs of the relevant content did not provide any automatic redirecting/forwarding.
Of the six reviews linked to for the 'Review summaries' for the complete reviewpage for The World Republic of Letters -- to reviews at The Independent, London Review of Books, The Nation, New Statesman, The New Yorker, and the Review of Contemporary Fiction -- only the LRB redirected anyone clicking the old link to the new location of the review.
[The Harvard University Press publicity page link also forwarded to their new URL.]
All the other sites 'couldn't find page' or the like (with the RCF taking the cake by leading to a site that no longer exists, their ill-fated centerforbookculture.org effort).
Finding the new URLs wasn't difficult, but it's still an annoyance.
What's also noteworthy, however, is that finding the new URLs and hence the reviews isn't difficult if you know what you're looking for (as I was); otherwise .....
I've repeatedly complained about the new Google algorithm, and here is a further indication of its weaknesses (for all of you who still think a Google search actually gets you to the most useful and relevant pages).
Mind you, the complete review review fares very well under a search for 'World Republic of Letters Pascale Casanova' or the like, so I can't complain about that -- but interested readers are unlikely to come across any of the six previously mentioned reviews: the only one I could see in the top hundred search results was the New Statesman's, with the Review of Contemporary Fiction's then popping up in about 150th spot.
(Note that I block literally hundreds of bookselling and downloading sites from my search results, so your searches would probably 'find' these reviews even further down the results-list .....)
In other words, these reviews are basically invisible, except via the complete review review (coverage which exists for this book, but doesn't for the vast majority of titles out there), or by a targeted search (which includes the periodical- or reviewer-name in the search query).
Which on the one hand suggests to me I am providing a more useful service than I realized (and that I should get around to updating a lot more of these pages ...), but also that the Internet isn't nearly as stable or useful an information-providing resource as I always liked to think (and, of course, that Google is not doing its job very well for this kind of content at the moment).
It's only been some five years since these links all worked, and suddenly only one out of the six does .....
Worse, if I only got around to reviewing The World Republic of Letters now, I might well miss some or most of these reviews, leaving them even less likely to be seen and read by others (okay, I would probably have found them all, since I'm pretty good at this and know where to look and poke (and understand that Google has become a lot less useful and reliable ...), but the average Internet user probably wouldn't have).
You might say: oh, well you're talking about old links, nowadays things are much more permanent.
Given that there are publications whose links I have had to change half a dozen times over the years I have to say: I no longer believe it.
Some asshole webmaster hired by publication X or publisher Y always has a better way of doing things and goes for a wholesale change of URLs -- and the archived material easily gets lost in the shuffle; a lot of these links were 'lost' very recently, not five years ago.
It seems to me a much bigger problem than people realize (and not just because it makes for an incredible amount of work for me).
(Among other reviews recently updated: Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex where, aside from deleting a few dozen dead links and adding some twenty links to new reviews, about 80 per cent of the existing links (of which there were a lot ...) had to be changed.
Tiresome, to say the least -- but: you're welcome !)
At CNNGo Jason Beerman finds that 'Savvy mainland tourists come to Hong Kong to spree at book stores for these censored tomes', as he lists Our favorite banned books in Hong Kong and China.
Only one of these titles is under review at the complete review -- Serve the People ! by Yan Lianke -- but I do hope to be able to cover some this other schlock eventually.
Three Percent prints an interesting piece by Ángel Gurría-Quintana (that was originally: "commissioned for a major British weekly publication but, for editorial reasons, did not make it into print"), Man Booker International vs. Translated Literature.
As you'll recall, the Man Booker International Prize -- awarded to Philip Roth (in absentia) earlier this week -- has had its fair share of problems this year (see, for example, one of my previous mentions), and Gurría-Quintana explores more.
Some astonishing stuff/guff here -- with expectations of what translations should 'be like' very ... foreign to me.
Among the jaw-dropping statements:
A more common complaint about Chinese literature in translation is that much of it is done by academic presses.
"Contemporary Chinese texts often need some editing, but it isn't always easy to do this if they're published academically," Ms Lovell says.
Ms Callil goes further: "What is wrong with translations from the Chinese is that so many of them are written by American academics, in a jarring American English. I ignored it, but it is off-putting."
Dear god, more editing ?
Just think how Mo Yan's work has been literally butchered -- great chunks hacked away -- when he should surely be the most obvious Chinese candidate for this prize (given the body of his work and the amount translated into English); I think it's no coincidence that he's been 'overlooked' for this and similar international prizes while his books are all published by very commercial presses .....
And, in fact, most of the high-profile Chinese fiction published in the US and UK in recent years has come via the edit-happy (if not necessarily competent) major houses, not the academic presses -- and I've been underwhelmed (to put it mildly) by the results.
Anyway, an interesting (if deeply disturbing) article.
As, for example, the BBC report, Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown 'most donated' to Oxfam, as -- for the third year in a row -- Dan Brown's books were the most popular give-away to the charity.
Astonishingly, he's also the third best-selling author at their shops -- but perhaps that's because there are so many of his books on offer .....
(Apparently this was announced as part of Oxfam Bookfest, but I haven't been able to find any press release or the like with al lthe numbers at any of the official sites.)
In the Times of India Priya M. Menon writes about Growing up with fiction, surveying the YA-scene in India -- which many publishers seem to be trying get a piece of.
"Young Adult (YA) fiction is a segment that is not catered to sufficiently in India," says Sandhya Rao, editor of Chennai-based Tulika Publishers.
"We have been conscious of the lacuna and have been trying to cater to that market since we launched in 1996."
What impressed us as editors (Tsitsi Dangarembga, Madeleine Thien and I) is the presence of that "ordinary" sensibility on every page of this collection.
The writers have their finger firmly on the pulse of what goes on everyday in this country.
They paint a picture of our country as it is lived today, as it can never be captured in history or news reports or government statistics.
Or even in the novel -- for the beauty of the short story is its ability to capture that fleeting moment, that "slice-of-life" moment, in a way that extended prose fiction can never do.
Published by Fidelity Bank, I haven't been able to find information about the book itself at their site yet, but presumably at least in Nigeria it should be fairly readily obtainable.
See also a review of the anthology in the Daily Independent.
However in recent years many bookstores in the market seem to have lost this appeal.
Many people complain that the market has lost its original spirit in recent years.
Most stores in the market are now selling primarily new books, and the books that are sold are mainly schoolbooks, best sellers and books from the last few decades.
Nevertheless, there are still some bookstores that are masters of their domain.
It's only a glimpse of what the Omani situation is like, but Majed Al Sulaimany's The Business of Books ! in the Oman Daily Observer at least offers a bit of insight -- even as it begins all too familiarly and depressingly:
Last week I was very much distressed, saddened and unhappy to hear of the closures of two major bookshops in Oman -- one famous one that had been operating for a long time in Oman -- and always in support of Omani writers, authors and artists -- and the other one an International one -- an offshoot of their closing down internationally.
And there are the usual local observations and complaints (which seem to be the same in every country ...) -- though with a few minor variations:
In Oman (I guess also in GCC) few locals are actual readers of serious books -- with few exceptions of cookbooks, novels, poems, children books and picture books.
(I worry about novels being tucked in there between other unserious books like cook- and picture-books .....)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of José Rizal's classic, El Filibusterismo, now out in a new translation by Harold Augenbraum.
It's great that Penguin Classics have brought this out in this, the 150th anniversary year of Rizal's birth, and I'm stunned by how little (i.e. no) coverage of it there has been.
Sure, Noli me tangere (to which this is a sequel, of sorts) is the go-to, can't-miss Rizal (and Filipino literature generally) text -- and I'm embarrassed to have covered El Filibusterismo first (a review of Noli will follow, once I get my hands on a copy of Augenbraum's recent translation of that; meanwhile, get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Still, this is an interesting text in its own right, and deserves a bit of attention.
And while I think El Filibusterismo is ... not the greatest title for the English edition of this (or any) book (not least because of the American confusion with 'filibustering', which this has nothing to do with) I strongly encourage use of the word -- more filibusterismo is definitely called for !
It was great to recently see the TLSdevote space to the first English translation of (part of) Pak Kyung-ni's epic, Land.
As reviewer Margaret Drabble puts it: "Land's translation into English by Agnita Tennant is a landmark, and her undertaking is heroic".
It sounds promising (though that comparison: "like Constance Garnett before her with the great Russians" scares the hell out of me) -- and intriguing:
Throughout her magnum opus the theme of land and seed, of womb and semen, or sowing and growing, is deployed with a challenging intelligence and a questioning of genetic and national destiny -- the imagery is used very differently from the way it is used in the Western tradition; it manifests a different cosmic view, but is not incomprehensibly alien.
The (near-)monthly SWR-Bestenliste, where German critics vote for the best new reads, is out for July/August -- an interesting selection, but apparently little they could all get really enthusiastic about: the top vote-getter only garnered 48 points (out of a maximum possible 450 ...).
True, there are only roughly 100 days left until they announce who gets the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature, but it's pretty early in the season for the rumor mills to be spinning -- and for the bookies to be taking bets.
[Updated: But see now also the Countdown to the Nobel Prize in Literature entry from 27 September for the latest news (and odds).]
Ladbrokes have done well with their Nobel-list the past few years -- at least publicity-wise -- and several other gaming shops have apparently caught on, so while Ladbrokes are biding their time (or were caught napping) and don't offer odds yet, at least three shops do.
NicerOdds.co.uk usefully (if not accurately ...) collect and compare the odds, but you're better off checking them individually yourself.
Not surprisingly, most of the odds resemble the closing odds for the 2010 prize, but there are big differences, so punters are advised to compare odds before placing their bets.
The places with online-odds:
- Paddy Power: They have Cormac McCarthy (9/2) just ahead of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (11/2), with Don DeLillo and Murakami Haruki at 6/1, then Assia Djebar (8/1) ahead of Philip Roth (10/1).
Despite only offering 18 authors to bet on, Bob Dylan does make the list too (at 100/1 -- but, hey, he's also a finalist for what may well be the second most prestigious international author prize, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, nominated by Andrea De Carlo ...).
- BetUS: Offers almost the same (if slightly smaller) line-up and similar odds to Paddy Power, at least near the top.
Among the differences: Philip Roth fares much worse here (so if you're money is on him, you'd prefer these odds).
- Victor Chandler offers the longest list and most interesting (and by and large best (for the punter) odds).
While Cormac McCarthy again leads the way (but you get 7/1 here), Tahar ben Jelloun and Gerald Murnane join Murakami, Ngũgĩ, and Ko Un at 8/1.
While on the whole the list is familiar (from Ladbrokes, last year) they also do throw a few new names into the mix -- notably Witi Ihimaera (yeah, okay, like with Fuentes they spell his name wrong ...), Brian Castro, and Kate Grenville (yeah, that down-under contingent seems to have been particularly influential here at VC -- though they missed C.K.Stead ...).
Obviously, punters should comparison-shop, but few of the odds are good enough to warrant the risk, in my estimation (Les Murray at 40/1 at VC is the bet I'd be most likely to put down, if forced to choose, and maybe Yves Bonnefoy at 33/1).
Note that the odds should change -- probably not much at first (though this mention should make for a brief flurry of interest) -- and that more names will be thrown into the mix along the way; I assume Ladbrokes will now jump into the game quickly, and that's where the most interesting action has been the past few years.
Let the Nobel speculation (and betting) begin !
(If you're serious about this: a weblog you might want to follow is the of the Swedish Academy man in charge, Peter Englund's Att vara ständig .....
But divination powers are called for if, indeed, there are any clues hidden there.)
See, this is the way you do it: the Scotiabank Giller Prize has published the list of all the titles eligible for the prize this year [via] -- and even go so far as to say:
If you know of a title that is not on the list and that you believe qualifies, please click here to summit it to us or tweet us @GillerPrize.
We'll double check its eligibility and post the title if it qualifies.
(Okay, they probably mean 'submit' rather than 'summit' ... but their heart is in the right place .....)
Compare that with the ridiculously closed and ultra-secretive Man Booker Prize, where not only do they restrict submissions to two per publisher/imprint (with minor exceptions), but they don't even reveal what the submitted books are.
What are they hiding ?
(Oh, so much, so much .....)
That's outrageous, and makes it hard to take the prize seriously -- and I'm surprised so many of you still do.
(Note also that there over 200 titles here for the judges to consider -- while every year the Man Booker folk complain about the ca. 100 titles they have to judge .....
I guess they're just hardier in the former colonies .....)
Another Cees Nooteboom Q & A, this time by Duncan Robinson in the New Statesman.
My favorite quote:
Between 1963 and 1980, you wrote no fiction at all. What was that like ?
I saw my friends producing one huge novel after another.
I started early and said more or less everything I knew.
Then the book is published and your name is on it, and suddenly you're a writer and people expect another book.
Would that more young authors quit -- or at least took a hiatus -- after they had said everything they knew.
Though, of course, that would immediately silence some ninety-five per cent of the MFA-bred writers in the US before they even started their second book .....