The Storymoja Hay Festival runs 15 to 18 September in Nairobi, and looks quite promising -- leading also Ellah Allfrey to (rather over-enthusiastically) celebrate 'the recent explosion in the continent's populist novels, from chick-lit to science fiction', in All Hail the African Renaissance.
I do think there's a lot of impressive activity going on in Africa (much too little of which is still being seen outside that continent), but I still wish the examples journalists choose to make their cases were ... more judiciously chosen; surely Allfrey could have done better than note that:
There is some science fiction being written (in the Gambian author Biram Mboob's Harabella, for example, the whole of Africa is colonised by China) and even some chick-lit, with Lola Shoneyin's The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives.
Surely there is more science fiction on offer than what turns out to be just a(n admittedly intriguing sounding) novel-still-in-progress titled The Stampede (part of which was published as Harabella in ... well, will you look at that ? the magazine Allfrey is an editor at) -- while there is certainly a lot more chick lit being produced and published than "even some" would imply (though admittedly the Shoneyin is the rare example that's found a UK publisher).
But at least continent's authors are being mentioned, here and there, and there seems little doubt that the local scene is increasingly vibrant (with great variations, depending on the locale).
And maybe some journalists going to Storymoja will be able to provide more of an inside scoop and lets us know what's really going on.
A best-selling novelist will be writing her next book in a shop window during this year's SW11 Literary Festival which starts on September 17.
International bestseller Isabel Losada will be sitting in the window display Waterstones in St John's Road all day, every day, for the first week of the festival.
As Losada describes it on the events page (scroll down) of her site:
I am spending a week working on a new book in the window of Watersones Bookshop in Clapham Junction -- between interruptions.
Please come and visit - wave -- laugh and mock -- and then come into Waterstones and buy a book. Or three :-)
Presumably there will be a tip jar.
And maybe this will catch on, and authors will be found sitting in bookstore windows all over the place.
It certainly sounds more entertaining that almost any author-reading, right ?
There's a "Facebook page" for this too.
A week ago, I mentioned that the Harud Literature Festival, the first of its kind to be held in Kashmir, had been postponed -- the debate, however, continues (though thankfully not about whether or not Salman Rushdie had been invited).
In The Hindu Basharat Peer has an op-ed in which he argues A writer is not a jukebox, and that:
In essence, by choosing the kind of sponsors they have, the organisers of the Harud festival forced me and fellow writer, Waheed Mirza, author of the novel, The Collaborator, to stay away.
The countdown to the English-language publication of Murakami Haruki's 1Q84 continues, and in the Wall Street Journal Alexandra Alter reports on The Race to Bring Over a Japanese Best Seller (though much of 1Q84 has long been available in many, many other languages -- see my review for reactions to it in quite a few of them -- , as publishers in other countries were much quicker off the mark).
Among the interesting titbits:
This week, Knopf ordered a second printing to meet high bookseller demand, bringing the number of copies to 90,000, up from a first printing of 75,000.
I'm surprised the first printings are so low -- later in her round-up (scroll down) Alter reports that: "Farrar, Straus, and Giroux is planning a major first print run of 400,000 copies" of The Virgin Suicides-author Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
But, astonishingly, Murakami apparently is not all that big in the US:
His U.S. publisher, Knopf, hopes the international hype surrounding 1Q84, and the book's ambitious scope will broaden his American audience.
"He's been under the radar for a lot of Americans," says Knopf publicity director Paul Bogaards.
Under what possible radar (or is it: rock ?) could these people be ?
Additional information from the piece:
Lexy Bloom, who edited the novel, played referee when discrepancies arose over word choices.
No word whether the two translators engaged in fisticuffs.
(And, no, I haven't gotten my copy yet, and so have not yet been able to add coverage of volume three to my review.
But I remain hopeful.)
(Updated - 10 September): See now also the Knopf 1Q84 "book trailer" (sigh).
The Economist takes a closer look at book-selling and publishing this week, in Great digital expectations ('Digitisation may have came late to book publishing, but it is transforming the business in short order') and Spine chilling ('Mass-market retailing changed publishing before the e-book').
As Man Booker excitement builds up (?), the French just start to get going with their fall season of prizes.
(I remind you that, as always, the essential site to bookmark -- and now check every couple of days -- is Prix-Litteraires: Le blog, which does a tremendous job of tracking all the French prizes, big, small, and ridiculous.)
The Goncourt and Renaudot -- the big one-two punch of French literary prizes -- go through quite a few rounds, but their première sélection-lists are now out (here and here at the estimable Prix-Litteraires: Le blog).
Among the titles that made both are, not surprisingly, Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère, as well as Simon Liberati's Jayne Mansfield 1967 (which I'd take a look at on the basis of its title alone); somewhat more surprisingly, Delphine de Vigan got a nod on both with Rien ne s'oppose à la nuit (I took a look at the most recent de Vigan to be translated, Underground Time; I did not take to it).
Among the other titles of interest: Stéphane Audeguy's Rom@ (which made the Goncourt long-longlist, but not the Renaudot): see the Gallimard publicity page (two of his novels that have been translated into English are under review at the complete review).
At paidContent.org Laura Hazard Owen Reports: Amazon Launching In Spain Next Week; Kindle On The Way, as apparently Amazon will be opening shop in Spain on 15 September.
A pretty big market, and I'll certainly sign the complete review up as an affiliate -- though the market I'm surprised Amazon hasn't gone after more aggressively yet is India.
With no Amazon alternative available there, I link to local market-leader Flipkart -- and must say I've been pleasantly surprised by the amount of through-traffic, especially considering the still limited number of links on the site.
As widely reported, they've announced the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize.
(I still haven't seen a one of the shortlisted (or, indeed, longlisted) titles, so I can't really weigh in; certainly the Barnes sounds the most promising.)
Among the first reports are:
And I'm pleased to see that Cummins notes -- even if only parenthetically:
it must be said that the prize’s complex submission policy makes it hard to know which titles are actually considered
It must be said that the prize's ridiculous submission policy makes it practically impossible to know which titles are actually considered -- and they really should change that.
(Updated - 8 September): Good also for Boyd Tonkin, who argues in These awards are in desperate need of reform in The Independent, that, among other things, an essential reform would be to have-- as you've often read on this site -- : "selection by judges rather than submission by publishers" (though too bad he doesn't also join the supporters of greater transparency in insisting on the submitted titles being revealed to the public at large -- the most essential and basic change that would immediately reveal to readers just how seriously (or not) to take this thing)).
It seems sensationalism has become the mantra of the publishing in general, and the old adage that sex sells is as true today as ever.
Oh, dear .....
"Domestic literature has become completely commercialised.
It aims to meet the mass-appeal of easily digestible entertainment.
Therefore, stories must be short and easy to understand.
They aim to be witty and light-hearted for the feel-good factor," Hung says.
Well, sounds like it's pretty much over there, doesn't it ?
(For a review of one of the titles Minh Chau looks back upon fondly, see the complete review review of Vu Trong Phung's Dumb Luck.)
With yet another prominent article in The New York Times -- sensationally and misleadingly headlined In California, Amazon Pushes Hard to Kill a Tax, by David Streitfeld -- I can only shake my head in continued disbelief at how this issue has been framed and reported by the media (and on the Internet).
The question at hand is not one of imposing (or killing) a tax, or increasing a tax burden (beyond in terms of bookkeeping), or of tax fairness (with brick-and-mortar vendors paying, but which online vendors are or should be exempt from); it is entirely a tax collection-logistics issue.
Let's be clear about this: purchases made on Amazon.com by Californians (or citizens of other states that collect sales tax on the items in question) are not (and never were) exempt from local state sales tax (called a use tax in California, but it's the same thing, essentially) -- and Amazon doesn't argue that they should be.
Amazon's position is, however, that Amazon should not be the ones to collect that tax.
Got that ?
That tax is owed on those sales; the issue is solely: who hands over the money to the state.
Amazon doesn't want to dirty its hands as a middleman (because that inflates the price its consumers have to pay up front).
And customers ... well, customers apparently just don't want to pay it all.
Amazon even has a point -- sort of.
Consumers are supposed to pay, and states even spell out fairly clearly how they are supposed to do that: in California it was line 95 of the California Resident Income Tax Return 2010 (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), and there's a simple five-line worksheet in the instructions (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), where you enter what you paid for your out-of-state (or online) purchases for which you did not pay California sales or use tax, multiply that by the applicable sales and use tax rate, deduct what you paid in out-of-state taxes on those purchases, and there you have it.
And Californians who didn't list the tax they owe on their Amazon (and other out-of-state) purchases on line 95 ... well, basically they're tax cheats.
(And it's the same, or similar deal across the country.)
Articles like the latest one in The New York Times generally dispense with this part of the problem, reducing it to a line or two along the lines of:
Any Californian who buys a book or a DVD player from Amazon is supposed to pay a use tax when filing state taxes.
In practice, however, few do.
Technically, residents who purchase stuff from out-of-state online stores must pay a "use tax" on the merchandise on their annual tax return, but almost nobody does that.
Somehow, everybody seems to think this is okay -- and certainly not worth any discussion.
It's not seen as part of the problem.
Apparently tax evasion of this sort is pretty much fine with everybody (except state treasurers, presumably).
Sorry for the self-righteous indignation, but I have a problem with that.
Amazon's position appears to be that they want to make it easy for you to join in the tax evasion fun (and save a few bucks that way).
After all, if they collected use tax, like your local bookstore collects sales tax, well, it would be so much harder for folks to cheat the government (i.e. their fellow citizens) out of monies it's due.
God forbid anybody has a sense of civic duty or believes in obeying the law or anything like that ......
And it's just so simple to conveniently avoid paying use tax -- since tax-payers know it's not worth the state's while (nor is it even feasible) for them to audit that part of your return.
(And, hey, it's just government that's getting screwed out of the cash it's owed, right ?
They just waste it anyway, right ? -- especially in California .....)
It seems to me that if this issue were framed the right way -- what's the easiest way to collect this tax -- then Amazon wouldn't have a leg to stand on.
After all, one could just as "simply" argue that no vendor whatsoever should collect sales tax, and consumers should figure it all out for themselves when they pay their state taxes (on some line 95+ in California, no doubt).
It's just simple bookkeeping, after all .....
(Just imagine keeping track of your grocery purchases, where most of the items -- but not all ! -- are tax-free .....).
The taxes have to be collected, and it's a question of who the burden of accounting is less of a hardship for -- and there's just no question that it's easier for online vendors than for purchasers.
(Yes, it's not that easy for them, but compared to what a pain it is for individual consumers it's just no contest.)
There's also the fact that consumers can get away with cheating on their taxes if they're the ones responsible because it's just not worth the state's while going after individuals for a few hundred or thousand dollars' worth of sales tax.
While vendors can't (easily) hide even the small amounts.
I sympathize with tax-(sort-of-)payers who "missed" listing all they owe on line 95 or their local state equivalent.
It's a pain keeping track of out-of-state purchases; I make very few (and, as a New York resident, Amazon actually pays state tax on any purchases I make from them) and so I haven't had to fill out ST-140 (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) yet (if you spend under $1000 you don't have to itemize, and the amount owed is relatively easy to determine), and I'd hate to have to deal with a large number of out-of-state purchases.
But, really, there's no excuse for not paying up -- that money folks are "saving" at Amazon ... well, surely that's really no different than stealing from their fellow citizens.
There's a lot of lost revenue here, too: the so-called Board of Equalization, which oversees the California use tax (yeah, this whole bureaucracy is kind of a mess ...) has a Revenue Estimate from December (a very rough one, with lots of assumptions, but I assume at least in its broadest outlines it gives a general idea of the money at issue -- and who is not paying) that:
Based on information released by the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources in 2010, we have updated our estimates of remote sales (electronic and traditional mail order sales) revenue losses from out-of-state vendors.
We now estimate annual revenue losses of $1.145 billion in calendar year 2010 (to be remitted in fiscal year 2010-11).
Of the total, $795 million are owed by consumers and $350 million were unpaid by businesses.
Come on, Californians -- pay up !
And then get Amazon to start collecting the money up front, to make life easier for everybody involved.
And journalists (and headline writers): get it together and explain what's really at issue here.
As Sarah Crown notes at The Guardian's books blog, they've announced the shortlist for the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize, awarded 'for poetry translated from a European language into English'.
Most admirably, they also reveal all 73 submitted titles (see that, Man Booker folk ? what about you ?) -- which also makes for a handy list of recently translated volumes of poetry.
Interestingly, there were three titles translated from Estonian (compared to only one, for example, from ... "Sweedish").
I often complain about 'literary' agent Andrew Wylie, arguing in particular that he hasn't done so much for a lot of the impressive authors on his incredibly impressive client list; one of the authors I cite as an example is Yi Mun-yol (see, for example the complete review review of Our Twisted Hero) -- but look here ! Wylie got him into The New Yorker !
Yes, Yi's An Anonymous Island [only available to subscribers] is in the current issue.
Sure, it's a story from ... 1982 ... but still ......
This sort of thing -- apparently the first piece of fiction-translated-from-the-Korean to appear in The New Yorker -- attracts a lot of attention back home, and so, for example, Claire Lee reports in The Korea Herald that Yi's novella featured in The New Yorker -- complete with explanation of whose maneuverings made it possible:
"I think it was Yi's American agency that played a great part in this," Lee said.
"It is one of the greatest literary agencies in the U.S., and obviously they knew what they were doing."
Well, yeah, I guess .....
Though I hope this is just the start and that it means we'll see another book by Yi available in English soon (it's been a while).
And maybe The New Yorker might want to check out some more recent Korean fiction -- even if it's not hand-delivered by Wylie ?
(Updated - 7 September): See now also Cressida Leyshon's Q & A with the translator of the story, Heinz Insu Fenkl, at The Nerw Yorker's The Book Bench weblog.
In a front-page article in The New York Times yesterday Julie Bosman reports on The Dog-Eared Paperback, Newly Endangered in an E-Book Age, noting that mass-market paperbacks are the one book format that has suffered a (substantial) decline in sales in the US -- and that e-books are apparently hastening their demise.
As a die-hard mass-market (and smaller) paperback size fan -- I wish I could read all my books in that format ! -- I find this particularly disappointing; as usual, I also think the publishers themselves are to a great extent at fault.
Not much discussed in the article is the pricing issue, with mass-market-sized titles hardly much of a bargain anymore (well, that's been the case for quite a few years), which certainly can't help.
Selection is also an issue: if publishers don't print the damn books in the format -- and many 'literary titles' never appear in it -- then there won't be any sales .....
What I wouldn't give for properly sized (i.e. mass market paperback (or smaller !) sized) paperbacks of all my favorite authors .....
In Vanguard Caleb Ayansina reports on the continued "poor patronages of books and the slow development of a reading culture" in Nigeria, in Reading culture: illiteracy, bane of economic development
Good that they see this as an issue, but it looks like -- despite all good intentions and grand pronouncements -- it may take a while for this to sink in and take hold.
Like when Maj. Gen. Mathais Efeovbokhan:
stated that our value system is dying by the day and people now realize that through book you can get knowledge and knowledge.
Idea to him, rules the world so everything boils down to value system and that is why NICO is trying to create that awareness.
He also advised the media to start by themselves by reading widely so that they will be able to relate what they are doing with the reality on ground.
They've announced the winners of the Vodafone Crossword Book Awards -- though not yet at the official site, last I checked .....
Fortunately, IBN live lists them all for you; note that the fiction award was by jointly won by Jimmy, The Terrorist and Saraswati Park, and that the translation winner, Litanies of Dutch Battery by N.S.Madhavan was translated from the Malayalam; see also the Penguin (India) publicity page, or get your copy from Flipkart (note also that it was longlisted for the 2007 (!) Man 'Asian' Literary Prize).
Last week Syrian poet Adonis picked up the €50,000 Goethepreis, but at Qantara.de they print a piece by his German translator, Stefan Weidner, who argues: 'It's the wrong time for the Goethe Prize winner Adonis to be criticizing the protests in his homeland', in Honouring Condescending Scepticism.
As Weidner notes:
There's a flood of awards for Arab writers this year which can only be explained by the democratic awakening in the Arab world.
As well as Adonis's Goethe Prize, there's the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize in Osnabrück for Tahar Ben Jalloun in September, the Peace Prize of the German book trade for Boualem Sansal in October, and the PEN Club's Hermann Kesten Prize for the Egyptian publisher Mohammed Hashim.
The only one that's missing is the Nobel Prize, and Adonis is a hot tip for that.
As a poet and a pioneer of the modernism in the Arab world he's certainly earned it -- but is 2011 the best time for it ?
Vintage Australia has now collected the three J.M.Coetzee volumes, Boyhood, Youth and Summertime, as Scenes from a Provincial Life (see their publicity page), and in The Australian Geordie Williamson reviews the single-volume edition, in Nobler in the mind -- noting that (fortunately):
Despite an author's note announcing various revisions to the texts, the memoirs appear to have retained much of their original shape.
At most, Coetzee appears to have retro-fitted the earlier books so that they synch with Summertime's more complex structure and wider range of concerns.
What remains is highly selective extracts from an existence whose almost-unbroken aridity inspires pity, grudging admiration and dislike in equal measure.
I mentioned the very promising sounding new Murty Classical Library of India at Harvard University Press when they announced it last year, and look forward to the first titles, forthcoming in 2013.
Until now I haven't found any information about what those titles would be, but now they've announced a design contest -- for the "series logo, logotype, and jacket design", with the winner getting US $10,000 (so enter if you have any ideas/designs !) -- and there on the official rules page (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) they list what will apparently be the first five titles.
They include Abu'l-Fazl's The History of Akbar and Kalidasa's The Lineage of Ragh !
But we'll still have to wait until 2013 .....
(Updated - 4 September): See now also this Q & A with Harvard University Press executive editor-at-large Sharmila Sen in the Times of India.
In the past, I was made aware that I was writing in a language that was obsolete -- I was constantly told that I should be writing in one of the regional languages.
I felt I was handling a language that was on the way out.
Among the September issues of online publications now available are those of Words without Borders -- the Homage issue (with a good dose of contemporary Polish poetry, too) -- and of Open Letters Monthly.
Alasdair Gray's Faust-variation, Fleck, came out in print a couple of years ago -- see the Two Ravens Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk -- but only now has it had its world premiere, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, on Monday.
It was 'only' a staged reading, but when the readers include Gray himself, as well as Will Self as Fleck, A.L.Kennedy, Ian Rankin, and Janice Galloway, among others ... well, that's really, really impressive.
See also Claire Prentice's profile in The Scotsman, Alasdair Gray on leading Goethe's Faust into the 21st century.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Alex Kuo's The Man Who Dammed the Yangtze.
Billed as A Mathematical Novel, I came across this shelved in the mystery section of the library.
That, a Hong Kong Publisher, and Kou's reputation were enough to convince me to have a look.
Too bad it falls a bit short across the board.