In considering: 'How to preserve the humanities' in Harvard Magazine, Helen Vendler argues Reading is Elemental.
Among other things:
In a utopian world, I would propose, for the ultimate maintenance of the humanities and all other higher learning, an elementary-school curriculum that would make every ordinary child a proficient reader by the end of the fourth grade -- not to pass a test, but rather to ensure progressive expansion of awareness.
Other than mathematics, the curriculum of my ideal elementary school would be wholly occupied, all day, every day, with "reading" in its very fullest sense.
Sounds like a plan (and, as she notes, given the less than resounding success of current curricula, maybe it's not even all that utopian ...).
The concept is simple: Take a book for free, and leave one you've already read, rather than let it gather dust on the bookshelf at home.
Surprisingly enough, the idea works.
The shelves are not only always full, they're also kept clean and tidy.
This can be attributed to a few reliable volunteers, says Michael Aubermann from the Cologne civic association,
Bürgerstiftung Köln, which oversees the public bookshelf.
In the Financial Times Martin Amis explores The Larkin puzzle.
(I presume this is his Introduction to the forthcoming Faber volume of Philip Larkin Poems he selected; see also the Faber publicity page, or pre-order your copy from Amazon.co.uk.)
Among Amis' observations:
Larkin is not a poet's poet.
He is of course a people's poet, which is what he would have wanted.
But he is also, definingly, a novelist's poet.
It is the novelists who revere him.
American president Obama is on vacation and, as widely reported, has visited a bookstore; exactly what he bought isn't entirely clear but Maeve Reston reports in On vacation, Obama drops by Vineyard bookstore at The Los Angeles Times' Politics Now weblog that:
In a stack of at least four books, Obama had Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Room by Emma Donoghue, and The Bayou Trilogy by Daniel Woodrell, the author of Winter's Bone.
Sasha had a book called Frost.
I suppose it's too much to hope that Obama has turned Sasha on to Thomas Bernhard .....
Meanwhile Tevi Troy wonders What books are the GOP 2012 contenders reading ? (or claiming to read -- I think we all find it a bit hard to believe Michelle Bachmann when she says: "When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring Von Mises" (as in Ludwig von Mises) -- though admittedly Bachmann only claims to bring him (well, presumably his books) along on vacation, not that she's actually ever cracked one open).
Always a fun exercise, in any case.
East of Center points me to the Prague Municipal Library's new interactive map of literary Prague, Praha město literatury.
Yes, it's in Czech, but still quite interesting and useful (but especially if you know Czech -- the links to the online texts of some of the works, for example !).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Juan Pablo Villalobos' Down the Rabbit Hole.
This is the first volume put out by promising-looking And Other Stories -- and this one, with an Introduction by Adam Thirlwell and featuring the Liberian pygmy hippopotamus ... well, you can't really ask for much more, can you ?
They've announced the longlist for the German Book Prize (Deutscher Buchpreis), the most significant German book- (as opposed to author-) prize.
Among the interesting points: a whopping 198 titles were considered -- 50 (!) more than last year, when only 148 titles were in the running (from 135 submissions and thirteen 'called-in' titles).
Compare that also to the Man Booker Prize, which only managed to consider 131 titles this year .....
Where the huge increase came from is unclear (as is the number of 'called in' titles this year), as the submissions policy remains unchanged and, like the Man Booker's, outrageously only allows for "up to two German-language novels from their current or planned list" from any German, Austrian, or Swiss publisher (and surely there hasn't been such an explosion in the number of publishers in those countries in the past year ...).
That the two-book limit is inappropriate should be clear enough from the fact that two publishers placed three titles on the longlist -- Hanser and Rowohlt -- i.e. at least one of the selections for each must have been 'called in'.
(Never mind that having publishers be the only ones allowed to submit titles for a prize that's meant to honor the best book is simply insane .....)
Outrageously and pathetically -- and again like the Man Booker -- the German Book Prize also refuses to make public the list of submitted titles: "Die Gesamtliste der eingereichten Titel wird nicht veröffentlicht".
(Given that some titles that I would have expected to see on the longlist aren't on it, the question will always remain: were they judged not quite good enough, or did their publishers simply not bother submitting them; the German Book Prize is already somewhat notorious for having missed some worthy titles this way over the years.)
The one title from the longlist I'm really looking forward to (and fortunately I already have a copy) is Sibylle Lewitscharoff's Blumenberg; see the (German) Suhrkamp publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.de.
Hans Blumenberg !
A lion !
How can this not be good ?
(If you've forgotten who Hans Blumenberg is, see, for example, The New York Times' obituary.)
They've announced the shortlist for the St. Francis College Literary Prize, a $50,000 prize awarded to a "mid-career author".
Among the nominees: Joshua Cohen (who, at all of thirty, is pretty damn young to be getting considered for a mid-career title ...) and his Witz, as well as Marlene van Niekerk.
The winner will be announced 17 September.
Well, at least they're not making a musical out of it -- but, yes, at Deutsche Welle Wolfram Stahl has the disturbing news that Bestseller about high-ranking Nazi takes to German stages.
Yes, Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones is being staged at the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin, in an adaptation by Armin Petras; the production premieres 24 September.
I really do not want to imagine what will be going on on that stage.
Apparently they're really into literary adaptations this season at the Maxim Gorki; a production of Jens Groß' adaptation of Hans Fallada's Every Man Dies Alone (UK title: Alone in Berlin) premieres 5 September.
Charlotte Roche's debut, Wetlands, was one of the more surprising German mega-bestsellers of recent years (without quite seeming to catch on in the US/UK), and now her new book, Schoßgebete is out -- and seems to be managing to be doing quite well in (as the publishers presumably anticipated and hoped for) gaining notoriety and attracting stinging criticism (and readers: it's number one at Amazon.de, and the first printing is reported to have been half a million ...).
Helen Pidd has a good overview of early reactions in The Guardian, in Charlotte Roche revisits mix of sex and controversy in new novel, Schossgebete, while Nadine Wojcik reports that Charlotte Roche's spicy sequel promises sex and tragedy at DeutscheWelle.
It'll be a bit before the (inevitable) English translation comes out; meanwhile, get your copy of the German original at Amazon.de.
The September/October issue of World Literature Today is now available, with much of the content freely accessible online (including a few bits from my favorite section, the reviews); well worth checking out.
In The Korea Herald Kim Seong-kon argues that K-pop is not enough on its own as he notes that Korean literature has had difficulties establishing much of a foothold abroad (well, especially in the US):
Despite the increasing popularity of K-pop and Korean TV dramas overseas, Korean literature does not seem to attract foreigners' attention much.
With the possible exception of Shin Kyung-sook's Please Look after Mom, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for a while, Korean literature in translation still seems to be left out in the cold in the international book market.
Who can resist a headline like the one at MNA, Literati meet Supreme Leader -- literati and a 'supreme leader' (one concept more ridiculous than the other ...) !
Yes, in Iran: 'A group of poets and cultural figures met with the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei'.
But one does have to sort of admire the good ol' supreme leader's enthusiasm:
He called the number of veteran and young poets in the country unprecedented and said that the Islamic Revolution has bestowed art and wisdom upon the society.
"Not in any of the previous eras, has there been these great numbers of new words and new concepts in poetry," he added.
In The Reporter Tibebeselassie Tigabu offers: 'A glimpse of the odyssey of Ethiopian writers and novelists of the 60s' in Generation of Literary Firebrands, noting that:
Many people seem to agree with the idea that writers like Daniachew Worku, Tsegaye Gebremedhin, Haddis Alemayehu, Gebrekirstos Desta, Abe Gubegna and Birhanu Zerihun were activists, who moulded and shaped societies.
Some even have dubbed the time as "The Golden Age" of Ethiopian arts.
A smattering of this generation's writing is available in English but, damn, you have to search hard for it.
The names-issue complicates matters too, of course: Abe Gubegna's novel, Defiance, was published by Oxford University Press (back in the day ...) -- but under the name 'Abbie Gubegna' -- and the books by Sahleselassie Birhanemariam published in the African Writers Series have his name more simply as 'Sahle Sellassie'.
The latter are certainly all of interest, but if I had to pick one title to recommend it would have to be Daniachew Worku's The Thirteenth Sun (Amazon.com suggests there's a relatively recent re-issue ...) -- certainly one I'd like to return to.
At CNNGo Richard S. Ehrlich reports that: 'Books about the dead are popular momentos at Thai funerals, but they also offer historical insights and even classic Thai recipes', in Necrological literature: Thailand's 'funeral books'.
The books are หนังสืออนุสรณ์งานศพ -- 'funeral memory book' -- and:
Rising in popularity, these books not only are providing insight into the lives of the dead, they are increasingly becoming important in maintaining valuable cultural traditions.
Of course, I don't know how much of a selling point (maybe a big one ...) the claim that: 'Funeral books a great source for cooking tips' is.
And, of course:
Collectors are also buying and selling funeral books about interesting people, or volumes published in an elaborate format, with hard-to-find information.
Some people, however, suspect eager dealers are gate-crashing cremation ceremonies just to get a famous person's funeral book, so they can later sell it.
In China Daily Liu Xiaozhuo reports on the bookselling scene in China, in Balancing the books -- as:
The book business is still profitable, as annual retail sales for Chinese bookstores pull in more than 70 billion yuan ($10.95 billion), according to China Xinhua Bookstore Association Director Zhang Yashan.
But there are a variety of factors plaguing storefronts.
Among the statistics:
Zhang says that at present there are about 140,000 to 150,000 bookstores in China, among which there are 14,000 State-owned Xinhua Bookstores.
He says that 20 to 30 percent of independent bookstores have closed in recent years.
Without financial support from the government, they can't afford the rising cost of rent and employees' salaries.
Yeah, government-owned shops presumably make for a very uneven playing field.
But can they compete on selection -- or do they have to be too 'politically correct' in what they stock ?
IBNA report that 5000 works compete in 4th Jalal Al-e Ahmad Award.
Apparently: "so far 4720 works have been evaluated" (while last year only a total of: "2970 works were assessed") -- including 1870 books in the fiction category.
I note by way of comparison that the British Man Booker Prize this year considered a mere 138 books .....
Now, I know there's a difference between the 'evaluation' that the Jalal Al-e Ahmad folk did, and the 138 books that the Man Booker judges considered, but I certainly would have liked to have seen some more (pre-)evaluation by the Man Booker Prize, rather than their (very) blind reliance on whatever publishers -- limited to two titles apiece -- submitted.
(I do note, however, that the Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Award also does not seem to have made public the actual titles of the books in the mix -- unacceptable !)
At Radio Bulgaria Veneta Pavlova wonders What books do Bulgarians buy ?
Like any look at the best-selling titles in any country, the answer is often very depressing:
There is great demand for books by world-famous writers such as Paulo Coelho and Jorge Bucay.
Both writers have been on visits to Bulgaria and have met with their Bulgarian readers.
Documentary books and memoirs are also popular.
(Not much Bulgarian literature makes it into English, but Open Letter is bringing out Milen Ruskov's Thrown into Nature later this fall; maybe not what you're expecting from contemporary Bulgarian literature -- it's set in sixteenth-century Spain -- but, hey, I'll take what I can get; see the Open Letter publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
In his eyes, compared to the prosperity in the 1970s and 1980s, today's Chinese literature is uninspired.
"It's true not only in China but also across the world, and it's related to many factors, like materialism oriented by consumption, the nationwide trend of seeking entertainment, information dissemination brought by new technologies.
All these things are making bubbles in language and literature," he said.
In The National Jasper Rees tries to explain Why it's cruel to be Kindle, as he notes the apparent surge in popularity of e-reading but remains completely baffled by it.
The digitisation of pretty much every other area of life I'm happy to accept.
If they invented a digital dog-walker, a digital chef or a digital chauffeur, I'd probably invest.
But a digital reader ?
Imagine a future devoid of browsing contentedly in bookshops, of spines lined up regimentally on your shelves at home.
How on earth do you get an author to sign an e-book ?
I'm with him on the browsing -- I can't go more than a few days before I need to go to a bookstore or library just to browse -- but if the second of only two arguments he offers is ... How on earth do you get an author to sign an e-book ?
Well, who on earth cares ?
If that's why he thinks printed books will remain viable ... well, that tiny niche will always exist, but, come on .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Hu Fayun's Such is this World@sars.come, which created quite a stir in China a couple of years ago and is now available in English from Ragged Banner.
I have to say, I am pretty impressed by the thought of a quadricentennial (!) literary prize -- so I look forward to the Prèmio Tomas: The UST Quadricentennial Literary Prize, awarded in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the University of Santo Tomas.
And, as the Manila Bulletin now notes, the deadline has been extended to 31 August -- so submit ! your next opportunity will presumably be .... four hundred years from now !
As the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian reports, Senior lecturer makes call for National Literary Prize, as Merle Hodge thinks it's time for Trinidad and Tobago to get a National Literary Prize for the country.
His comments came at the Writers Union of Trinidad and Tobago's (WUTT) Awards for its President's Cup Fiction Contest -- and I have to say, I think there should be more 'Persident's Cup' fiction contests too .....
In the Financial Times Carl Wilkinson wonders: 'This summer we've finally embraced the e-book -- but what does this mean for writers and publishers ?', in Light reading.
(We ? speak for yourself, Carl .....)
Among the observations:
Joe Dunthorne, author of Submarine, says: "When reading all 1,200 pages of Infinite Jest last year, I cut my copy into three chunks (re-binding each bit with masking tape) to make it easier to carry.
But then, each night, I had to come home and catch up on the footnotes.
Needless to say, it was annoying.
Now my girlfriend's reading it on Kindle, and it's ideal.
David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest seems like a good enough reason, on its own, to buy an e-reader."
Admittedly, I often cite as one of the reasons why I haven't read Infinite Jest the fact that my copy is the hideously supersized trade-plus paperback from Little, Brown (bought for US $ 2.00 at a library sale); if they printed the thing in the manageable mass-market paperback size (and as far as I can tell they haven't in the US) ......
But somehow I don't think size matters all that much in the US, at least to consumers -- how else to explain the popularity of the abomination that is the trade paperback book (never mind your traditional hardcover), whose only excuse for existence is that publishers can charge a premium price for it ?
(Meanwhile, I'd actually be willing to pay more for a mass-market paperback sized edition .....)
Bring back the pocket book, I say -- hard and soft-cover !
(And Infinite Jest doesn't sound like the ideal Kindle book in any case -- because of those footnotes, in particular.)
I, for one, have been avoiding e-books all summer -- and dread when I have to begin to tackle the accumulated pile of manuscripts, etc.
I can see a future for e-books -- in the distance: it'll be a while before I'm won over; these e-readers will have to get a lot better before I'm convinced.
The Economist finds: 'Writers' papers don't necessarily belong at home' in Raiders of the lost archive -- though they note that in the UK:
Rather than relying on patriotism, the government is now consulting on a proposal that would offer writers financial incentives to keep their archives in the country.
Ballard's papers were acquired as part of a scheme that allows culturally important objects of all kinds to be donated in place of inheritance tax.
The Treasury proposes to extend this perk to living owners of important works, who would get tax breaks by donating treasures while they are still alive.
(Great, another tax break .....)
But, as they note, maybe in this increasingly electronic age the allure of the literary archive will prove far more limited.
Slate offers a classic summer filler piece, as they have 'Authors, critics, and editors on "great books" that aren't all that great' in Overrated.
A lot of the usual suspects, several of which I don't agree with (certainly not Ulysses ...).
PEN American Center has announced the recipients of the 2011 PEN Literary Awards.
Not sure about that new 'PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing' -- and it probably was not the lead item on SportsCenter yesterday either -- but there are certainly lots of worthy recipients and prizes (including the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and the PEN Translation Prize (both, by the way, going to translations-from-the-Arabic)).
As Inga Kiderra reports in a University of California, San Diego press release, Spoiler Alert: Stories Are Not Spoiled by 'Spoilers'.
So, anyway, the conclusion of: "a new experimental study" from Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt of UCSD's psychology department, who find, basically, that spoilers not only don't spoil stories, but: "Contrary to popular wisdom, they actually seem to enhance enjoyment".
Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories
Seems kind of a ... slim study for such grand pronouncements, but, hey .....
And the paper is to be published in Psychological Science.
Nevertheless, as to the conclusions:
The answers go beyond the scope of the study, but one possibility is perhaps the simplest one: that plot is overrated.
(And, yes, I already dread all the theories and hypotheses that are going to get tossed around soon enough .....)
In The Telegraph 'Tom Payne considers the role of the professional critic in the age of the reader-review', in The role of the book critic -- finding that:
If the book review has been increasingly based around the critic's personal response to an author, the reader-review can take this to its extreme, so that the write-up is all about the reader, and not much about the writer.
In the craziest cases, it's as if bloggers take authors to task because the books weren't written just for them.
I'm amused that Payne complains: "that the write-up is all about the reader, and not much about the writer" -- surely, in an ideal world, the write-up should be about the damn book, not the writer, shouldn't it ?
Or is that just too wild an idea ?
The complete review has been around since the spring of 1999, but this Literary Saloon weblog was only added in 2002 -- on 11 August, 2002.
That's when the first post went up, and the posts have kept coming -- pretty much daily, with very few small breaks, all these years.
Yes, I've been at this for nine full years now.
Thanks to the many loyal readers (and all you occasional ones, too); as always, I plan to keep going ... as always (yes, the Literary Saloon remains predictably the same, year in, year out -- soon to be: decade in, decade out -- and that won't change anytime soon).
I'm glad to be able to provide something that seems to be of interest to you; I'll do my best to keep it up.