So, in Bangladesh they apparently think: "The future of literature is getting bleaker" -- or at least Rashid Askari does, as he writes about the 'Future of literature' in The Daily Star, where he considers Global art-malady and its consequences.
It's always good to see that this sort of griping can be found anywhere on earth -- though one has to hand it to Askari for really getting into the spirit of things:
What we now call commercial literature is mushrooming double quick across the globe.
This is an art-malady caused by an explosion of junk called literature.
The whole spectrum of recent global literary scenario is laden with this junk.
There are telltale signs of decadence of literature.
This sort of literature is intended for profit only, without regard to quality.
Although it may taste sweet, it is not worthy of being served at the same table with quality literature.
It may be called 'disposable literature' for, it is to be read once, and then is tossed away.
We may use it a second time, but sure, with a gun put to our heads.
The world literature today is more or less damaged by this spectre of commercialization.
To fulfill the limitless demands of the open market, these writers are tirelessly producing tons of trashy stuff, and the general readers are being made to swallow this with lip-smacking relish.
This is a kind of literary exploitation, very crafty and cunning tricks of the trade.
The tools of this exploitation are the commercial authors and their unprincipled publishers.
As a result, the possibility of an ensuing plague is looming large.
A deep sense of foreboding is lurking.
The future of literature is getting bleaker.
Unfortunately, he doesn't see a good, easy way out of this situation.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sigurd Hoel's 1935 novel, A Fortnight before the Frost -- which he apparently wrote while (and is apparently also in reaction to) being in analysis with Wilhelm Reich.
At Het Parool they have a slide-show of the great Harry Mulisch's home and workspace -- which, as they report at the Hague-based Letterkundig Museum will become their "Amsterdamse dependance" -- Harry Mulisch Huis !
I'm already planning my pilgrimage.
In China Daily Yang Guang reports that China gives its judgment on foreign literature, as they recently handed out the 21st Century Best Foreign Novel of the Year Award (21世纪年度最佳外国小说 微山湖奖).
Only one of the winning titles is available in English, too -- Richard Francis' The Old Spring; see the Tindal Street publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The other two winners were Katiba by Jean-Christophe Rufin, and Легкая голова by Olga Slavnikova (see also the Academica Rossica information page).
This year's Nobel laureate in literature, Tomas Tranströmer, gave his Nobel lecture yesterday -- except he didn't deliver a lecture, but rather they apparently put on a show with a number of his texts set to music; see A Programme of Texts by Tomas Tranströmer for the full run-down/overview.
"A video of the program will be available here soon" -- but wasn't yet, last I checked.
(The 'lecture' was also to have been transmitted via live feed, but when I checked in the system wasn't working.)
In The Local Charlotte West offers a recap of the event, in Poetry and performance infuse Tranströmer's Nobel lecture.
They announced the shortlist for the Poetry Book Society's T.S.Eliot Prize for Poetry on 20 October -- and on the same day introduced Aurum - the new supporter of the T.S.Eliot Prize.
It took a while to sink in, but now the shortlisted authors are dropping (out) like flies: first Alice Oswald withdrew her collection from consideration, and now John Kinsella doesn't want to be part of it any more either; see, for example, Benedicte Page's report in The BooksellerKinsella joins Oswald in withdrawing from T S Eliot Award.
[As always, I must here interject my usual prize objection: authors should have no say whatsoever whether or not their books are considered for a prize, and they certainly shouldn't be allowed to withdraw them from consideration (or ask their publishers not to submit them in the first place).
Book prizes are about the books, not the authors, and prizes should try to honor the best book, regardless of whether the author wants them to or not; if an author chooses to decline the prize once it's been awarded, that's fine -- they don't have to take the dirty money or trophy or diploma or whatever goes with the award -- but that's as far as their involvement should go.
(That goes for author prizes, too, of course -- Sartre's Nobel is the perfect example.)]
At issue is the new 'sponsor', "specialist asset manager" (i.e. ultra-capitalist (or rather: system-taking-advantage-of) pigs) Aurum.
What exactly their sponsorship involves is not made clear at the Poetry Book Society site (bad form) -- the press release gives no clue about how much money is involved, or even to what use it might be put -- even referring still to: "Mrs Valerie Eliot, who has generously donated the prize money since the inception of the Prize" -- though it does helpfully note (and this is presumably what set Oswald and Kinsella off):
The firm's long term investors include high net worth individuals, family offices, charities, pension funds and sovereign wealth funds.
I.e. this is an investment firm that caters to tax-dodging, not-pulling-their-weight (because living off of capital rather than labor) scum -- the one per cent of the one per cent -- and thus facilitates the demise of contemporary society as we know it.
(Well, that's my guess as to how Oswald and Kinsella interpret it.)
Certainly, the Poetry Book Society should be more forthcoming about what exactly Aurum have bought (or are paying for) with their sponsorship -- instead, there's no mention whatsoever of the supposed sponsors at the main T S Eliot Prize for Poetry page -- and there is the claim that:
The T S Eliot Prize is supported by the T S Eliot Estate.
While I understand that it sometimes takes a while to update websites and pages (boy, do I understand), some transparency in this matter is surely rather ... urgent.
In The Independent John Walsh argues in an opinion piece that Without Aurum's help the award could not go ahead -- though he doesn't really make clear why.
(Sure, more money is always better, and the loss of government funds obviously posed a problem; still, how much can running this thing cost?)
The prize is still in Mrs Eliot's gift.
It does not issue from the coffers of Aurum Funds, which underwrites the costs of managing the prize and the poetry reading that precedes it.
Without Aurum's help, the prize could not go ahead.
Are the managers of the prize paid hedge-fund-officer-like compensation that they need a large outside subsidy?
What kind of money are we talking about here anyway?
No doubt, Aurum will probably pay for a better caterer at the poetry reading than they're used to, but otherwise?
Walsh does note that while there has been some fuss over the years about the money behind the Man Group-supported prizes -- the Man Booker Prizes (the MB, The MB International) and the Man Asian Literary Prize -- these have never seen any novelists demand to be removed from a shortlist, despite the money being no less dirty, Man Group being a "world-leading alternative investment management business" (i.e. really on top of all those capitalist tricks that ensure the wealthiest of the wealthy get even wealthier while the ninety-nine-plus per cent tread water ...)
Maybe poets are just more ... empathetic? politically aware? attuned to the Zeitgeist? than novelists .....
Obviously, the T.S.Eliot Prize has a small P.R. fiasco in the making -- it's hard to be taken seriously as a poetry prize when shortlisted books keep being pulled from contention.
I'm curious how this plays out.
(My vote, of course: ignore Oswald and Kinsella, and keep their books in the running.
They don't have to show up at the Aurum-sponsored reading if they don't want to (and if the prize is really still 'furnished' by the T.S.Eliot estate they can even take the £15,000 without any qualms ... everyone's happy!).)
As far as the issue of how tainted the Aurum money is ... well, dear god, do you really think any of the money that gets laundered through such prizes or any other fellowships or awards or anything of the sort -- whether private/corporate cash or government-channeled disbursements -- isn't so through and through sordidly filthy that if you knew the half of it you wouldn't be able to bear living with yourself ?
Slate has their: 'writers and editors pick their favorites', in Best Books of 2011.
(Showing yet again how completely out of the loop and out of date I am, I have not received a review copy or otherwise obtained a one of these titles.)
Meanwhile, at Time, Lev Grossman offers his list of the Top 10 Fiction Books (annoyingly spread out over ten pages).
I've actually seen and read and reviewed one of these, and it's not a book I would have ever imagined being on anyone's top ten best list: The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler.
(Grossman also has a list of the Top 10 Nonfiction Books; I actually have one of those under review too -- The Information by James Gleick -- but, yes, those are the only two titles out of twenty I've seen and reviewed (and I bought the (ARC of the) Gleick myself, so only one out of the twenty titles came to me review-copy-wise.))
At his Literary Commentary weblog D.G.Myers comments on Grossman's list, in The Death of the Middlebrow Novel, noting that:
Time magazine, the press secretary for middlebrow thought in America, has now officially abandoned its readers.
A fantasy, an unfinished philosophical jawbreaker, two mysteries, a collection of cartoons, a far-fetched debut, and a graphic novel -- these are the "best books" it can recommend to readers with limited time for reading and a non-specialist interest in new fiction ?
But, yeah: not my choices either.
(Which also leads me to wonder: am I the last book-commentator left who hasn't published 'best of the year'-choices somewhere yet ?)
They've announced the winner of the 2011 Austrian Cultural Forum Translation Prize -- and it is Damion Searls, for her not all her (on/with Robert Walser), his translation of Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek's er nicht als er (zu, mit Robert Walser).
The award will be presented 9 January 2012 at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York, where Searls will receive his Swarovski crystal trophy; in addition, a "grant of €3,000 will be disbursed upon the formal acceptance of the manuscript by a publisher".
I was one of the judges for this award, and among several very impressive entries this unusual was one was nevertheless a standout.
Homage, drama, personal essay, re-interpretation, it's a fascinating little piece; American audiences (and Tim Parks), who seem to have had their difficulties with Jelinek, will probably be particularly surprised.
See also Damion Searls' official site (and his impressive translation credits), as well as the (not too informative) Rowohlt Theaterverlag foreign rights page for er nicht als er (zu, mit Robert Walser).
In the Malaysian New Straits Times Umapagan Ampikaipakan does offer Eleven for 2011, his 'best books of 2011'.
Unfortunately, it's not a very (or at all) local list, and could just as well have been found in any American periodical.
A sign of these global times, and a global book market ?
Still, quite disappointing.
He does offer some explanation in After words -- but not about the absence of any local works in the top eleven.
They've announced that Ложится мгла на старые ступени ('Haze Sets Upon the Old Steps'), by Alexander Chudakov, has taken the 'Русский Букер десятилетия' -- the Russian (imitation-)Booker of the Decade award.
At The Voice of Russia Olga Bugrova reports that Late Russian author wins Russian Booker Prize (as the author of the winning work is, indeed, dead); see also the mention at Lizok's Bookshelf -- and note that this will apparently be available in English eventually.
"I have read over 25 novels of Pakistani writers and found them to be very captivating.
They are up to the mark as far as content and language is concerned," he said.
Comparing Pakistani and Indian English novels, Waterman said that there are no big differences as far as the standard of their content and language is concerned.
However, he said, Indian writers are more vocal about the taboos in their society -- something Pakistani writers have not written about in too much detail.
At Yonhap News Agency Charles Montgomery profiles Please Look After Mom-translator Kim Chi-young, in Translator tries not to take everything literally.
I still haven't seen the Shin Kyung-sook novel [updated - 6 December: now I do -- a copy arrived yesterday !], but several other translated by Kim are under review at the complete review:
The Financial Times now has 'writers and guests pick their favourite fiction of 2011', in Tales for under the tree, while The Scotsman annoyingly spreads its 'Recommendations from writers' out over three pages -- one, two, and three -- but make up for it a bit by getting an interesting selection of (Scottish) writers to have their say.
China Newsweek has published its popular annual 作家富豪榜 -- 'Rich List of Chinese Writers' --, determining which writers made the most money from Chinese book-sales in the past year.
China Daily sums things up in English, in Guo Jingming tops rich writers' list.
郭敬明 -- or rather: Guo who ? you say ?
Yes, popular Chinese writing still doesn't make it into English quickly -- or at all .....
(Sure, his work sounds pretty dubious; nevertheless .....)
But good to hear that:
Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez is Guo's foreign counterpart to have earned the most in the mainland's book market, totting up 11 million yuan
Britain's J.K. Rowling and Austrian Thomas Brezina finish second and third on the foreign writers' list.
Always fascinating to see how differently foreign authors are taken up abroad -- after all, Brezina seems to have been a complete dud in the US/UK kids' market.
Of course, not everyone is convinced by the figures thrown around here:
"Wu's lists may not be accurate in terms of figures.
But the top 15 foreign writers are indeed the 15 most-loved by Chinese readers," Li said.
"And it shows reading classics has become trendy in 2011."
Empty, profit-oriented works from Chinese authors have indeed contributed to the literary superficiality that exists in the mainland today.
Even with relentless promotion of their works, authors who lack strong personal convictions can only write bestsellers; they can never be literary giants.
If culture is downgraded to merely a consumer good, it is doomed to vanish through time.
In The Pioneeer, in yet another piece titled Found in translation (arghhh) 'Eram Agha talks to a number of well-known writers and comes out convinced that things are finally improving for translators'.
In Outlook India Neha Bhatt has 10 Questions for Hari Kunzru -- mainly about his new novel, Gods Without Men (coming to the US only in March -- pre-order your copy at Amazon.com, or get your copy from Amazon.co.uk).
A bit disappointing: his cop-out answer to:
Thoughts on contemporary Indian novels ?
There's an explosion of Indian fiction of all kinds, from military thrillers to chicklit.
I think that's exciting.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lauren Beukes' Zoo City.
By the way, I think this is the first book that I've bought and paid list or near-list price for all year; I buy lots of the books I review, but all used (though oddly four of the past five under review were borrowed from the library).
While I'm a fan of independent bookstores, I'm afraid I practically never buy from them (but note I never buy from Amazon, and generally only buy a handful of books from Barnes & Noble (physical store) for gift giving purposes -- none so far this year).
Why did I buy this book, paying the full $7.99 list price ?
Option one failed: I requested a copy from the publisher, but they didn't send me one
Option two failed: The New York Public Library does not have a copy of this (or Beukes' other book) in circulation (that despite having hosted an event with Beukes this summer ..... Outrageous)
Feeling guilty about never 'supporting' (i.e. patronizing) independent bookstores -- and eager to read this -- I was glad to find a copy at recently beleaguered St. Mark's Bookshop
Most importantly, however, St.Marks had a mass market paperback copy of the book in stock -- which, ever since it won the Arthur C.Clarke, seems practically only available in the ridiculous trade paperback size (as, for eample, was the case at my local Barnes & Noble, which I easily resisted picking up). Oh, the pleasures of the mass market size ! So few American books I get my hands on are available in it ..... I'd be willing to pay a premium for books produced in this properly handy size !
They've announced the judging panel for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize -- "awarded for an achievement in fiction on the world stage. It is presented every two years to a living author for a body of work published either originally in English or widely available in translation in the English language".
Christopher Ricks is chairing, and the judges are Elif Batuman, Aminatta Forna, Yiyun Li, and Tim Parks -- who boast an impressively multi-national background, for what that's worth (and I imagine it's worth something, given the kind of prize this is (or is meant to be)).
Forna alone: "was born in Scotland, raised in Sierra Leone and spent periods of her childhood in Zambia, Iran and Thailand" -- though Ricks looks like the odd (but very representative ...) British man out (with them going so far as to note that, well, at least he: "has reviewed fiction from France, Germany, Italy, Israel, Canada and South Africa").
The wide-ranging backgrounds give some reason for hope -- at least presumably they'll be considering authors from many countries, cultures, and languages.
(But if Parks just tosses in an Italian name or two, Forna feels obliged to push an African, Batuman goes Turkish and/or Russian, and Li suggests a Chinese author, I'll be very disappointed.)
One more observation: there is a disturbing trend to be noted in this biennial prize since it began in 2005 -- the number of finalists considered.
Consider how many there were -- and how few there are slated for the 2013 prize (they haven't announced the names yet, of course, but that's the number they're aiming for):
2005: 17 finalists
Presumably judges from previous years have (repeatedly) complained about how much they had to (or were supposed to ...) read, and the Man Booker folk decided to make things easier from now on.
Personally, I think a longer longlist -- and then a shorter shortlist (of five or six names) -- would be more interesting, especially if they're considering some less well-known authors.
At Publishing Perspectives Benjamin Moser writes about how Brazil's Clarice Lispector Gets a Second Chance in English, with new editions and in most cases new translations forthcoming from New Directions and Penguin (with a great set of covers for the 2012 titles).
Moser -- who wrote the Lispector-biography, Why this World (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- did the new translation of the first title to be released, The Hour of the Star (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), and from what he writes in this piece it sounds like this is a very promising undertaking, and that Lispector might well be the 2012 rediscovery of the year (like Albert Cossery arguably was last year).
I look forward to these titles, and I'll certainly be covering them.
Great to hear that Witold Gombrowicz's Diary, in Lillian Vallee's translation, is finally being re-issued -- finally in a single-volume edition, too !
Yale University Press is publishing it -- in an edition which includes "ten previously unpublished pages" --, as part of their Margellos World Republic of Letters series, though you'll have to wait until April .....
(Look, they're also bringing out an impressive pile of Norman Manea titles next year !)
See also the Yale University Press publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
They've announced that poet Nicanor Parra has won the leading Spanish-language author prize, the Premio Cervantes (apparently they were unwilling to wait another three years, when Parra would have reached an even 100).
Roberto Bolaño -- among many others -- was a huge fan and would surely be pleased.
Only one Parra title is under review at the complete review: Antipoems: How to Look Better & Feel Great.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Monique Lange's A Little Girl under a Mosquito Net.
Lange was, of course, Juan Goytisolo's wife; I recently reviewed his The Blind Rider, in which he deals with her death, and was also intrigued by James Kirkup's 1996 obituary, which led me to pick this up.
Her books aren't easy to find (in English) any longer -- but back in the day (the early 1970s) this one was published in the US (as a Richard Seaver book at Viking) within a year of appearing in France; it also got a mention in The New York Times Book Review.
In The Korea Herald Claire Lee reports that American to publish Korean literature series in U.S., as Dalkey Archive Press has teamed up with the Korea Literature Translation Institute to publish: "25 works by Korean authors and poets".
The article includes a Q & A with Dalkey-man John O’Brien about the project.
This could be a good match (though the selection process always ... worries me when national book organizations get involved; few have a track record that is much above shameful) -- and with twenty-five titles there have to be a few solid ones in the lot.
Given how very little is translated from Korean -- there's a decent case to be made for it being the most underrepresented-in-English-translation major literary language -- there's certainly enough to choose from; I'm certainly looking forward to seeing these.
(A handful of Korean titles are under review at the complete review.)
They've announced the winner of the Russian 'Большой книги' prize -- the 'Big Book' prize, a name that strikes me alternately as the most brilliant of book prize names, and as the most inane -- with Письмовник, by Mikhail Shishkin beating out a book by Vladimir Sorokin; see also the Okno Literary Agency information page about it.
(Shishkin also won this prize in 2006, for a book that Open Letter will be bringing out in English.)
For all your Большой книги and other Russian literary news, check out, of course, the invaluable Lizok's Bookshelf.
In the hundreds of interviews I have conducted with writers in Israel and around the world, I have realized each time anew that a novel is a covert report in which the author has embedded the significant keys to his life.
The piece is occasioned by Nitza Ben-Dov's new book, 'Written Lives: On Israeli Literary Autobiographies', and apparently:
Nitza Ben-Dov sees the trend of autobiographical novels as a symptom of the culture of self-exposure in which we live.