It's that time of year again, when the Japanese Akutagawa and Naoki awards are announced, and, as reported, for example, in The Japan Times:
Novelists Shinya Tanaka [田中慎弥] and To Enjo [円城塔] are sharing the semiannual Akutagawa Award, while the Naoki Prize for popular literature has gone to Rin Hamuro [葉室麟] for his "Higurashi no Ki" [蜩ノ記] ("Chronicle of Cicada"), the selection committees for the two prestigious awards for Japanese literature said.
A Jakarta-based translation organization wants bookworms worldwide to tap into Indonesia's rich literary reserves, and is turning to cyber technology to spread the word.
That would be the launch of I-Lit: Indonesia Literature in Translation -- with issue one devoted to 'Not Chick-Lit! Writing by Younger Indonesian Women Writers'.
(Indonesian pop fiction is notoriously dominated by 'chick-lit' (of a particular, local sort) -- personally I wouldn't mind seeing more of that in translation as well .....)
Shadwell also reports that:
The journal's launch comes ahead of the Lontar Foundation's February launch of its online digital library.
I'm a big fan of what the Lontar Foundation does -- but worryingly a Google search currently warns away from the site (hence no link; URL is: http://www.lontar.org) with the warning 'This site may harm your computer'.
I hope they get any and all security concerns (real or Google-imagined) fixed soon.
Time again for one my favorite annual features: Le Figaro presents Les dix romanciers français qui vendent le plus -- i.e. the ten French-writing novelists whose books (entire output, not a specific title) sold the most copies in 2011.
(See and compare to my mention last year.)
Guillaume Musso surprisingly -- if barely -- displaced perennial best-selling-man Marc Levy (though he didn't quite reach Levy's sales-total from last year), while the biggest surprise is perennial top-tenner -- and last year's fourth-bestselling author -- Anna Gavalda having fallen completely out of the ranks.
(I'd say it's not surprising, given what she writes -- see, for example, my review of her French Leave (UK title: Breaking Away) --, but given some of the others who do make the list ... well, she at least can actually pass as a writer.)
In 2011, the top five were:
Guillaume Musso, 1,567,500 copies sold (a nice increase from his third-place, 1,116,000-copy finish last year)
Marc Levy, 1,509,000 copies sold
Katherine Pancol, 1,213,000 copies sold (down slightly from her 1,357,000-copy second place finish last year -- not that her continuing success seems to have helped get her a translation deal yet)
[Updated: A reader kindly alerts me that Pancol reported on her own weblog that her The Yellow Eyes of the Crocodiles will be published by Penguin in 2012; while good to know, this is perhaps the single least interesting piece of literary news you'll find at this site all month .....
(I'm also amused to note that the most extensive official English-language information about this title on the Internet seems to be ... at her Bulgarian publisher's site.)]
David Foenkinos -- coming out of nowhere (well, that film version of Delicacy is what did the trick), with an astonishing 967,000 copies sold
Fred Vargas, 790,500 copies sold
Amélie Nothomb scraped in at number nine -- one position better than in 2010, but with only 429,500 copies of her books sold in 2011, compared to 492,000 in 2010.
Le Figaro note the inexorable downward trend -- despite the additional title added to her stock every year, which should help pad her total -- suggesting that: "Le public montre des signes de lassitude".
Also somewhat of a surprise: Delphine de Vigan came in seventh, with 519,500 copies sold.
Her Underground Time appeared in English last year, but I couldn't stomach it.
The other half of the writing team of Fruttero and Lucentini has now also passed away; see, for example, the note at AGI.
(Ridiculously, the only US/UK mass media mention I find so far is in The Guardian, in a letter to the editor (!).)
Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini remain very popular in most of Europe, but have fared very poorly in English translation, with only three titles published, and despite some critical and popular success -- The Sunday Woman (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) went through several editions, including a mass-market paperback one -- never really broke through.
They are probably best known for their The D. Case, in which they complete Charles Dickens' The Mystery Of Edwin Drood (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk); there was also a UK edition of An Enigma by the Sea; get your copy at Amazon.co.uk.
See also, for example, Glenn Harper's brief discussion of their work from a couple of years ago, as well as some more of Fruttero's (Italian) titles at Mondadori.
(While I do think Fruttero and Lucentini worthy of more/revived translation attention, I'll also take this opportunity to plug my favorite criminally under-translated Italian crime-writer, Giorgio Scerbanenco -- specifically his Duca Lamberti novels.)
(Updated): Howard Curtis alerts me to the exciting news that his translation of Scerbanenco's A Private Venus is due out (in the UK) from Hersilia Press in July -- pre-order your copy from Amazon.co.uk !
With more translations likely to follow !
Sayoni Basu, publisher at ACK Media -- which brings out the Amar Chitra Katha titles - says: "The e-book market in India is in the nascent stages.
But once the cost of devices reduce, it will be a big market.
Also, the mobile market in India is huge, and publishers look for ways to tap that."
But HarperCollins feels the devices will probably have to be remodeled and designed keeping the Indian demographics in mind.
Still, one has to wonder whether they'll be prepared for what is likely, sooner or later, to hit them:
Penguin says entry of e-books will contribute to wider availability of content, but wouldn't affect sales of standard books.
"We want the readers to be comfortable with digital content and want it to be available in every possible format.
Both physical and e-book markets will flourish. One will not cannibalise the other," Padmanabhan said.
'One will not cannibalise the other' .....
Famous last words, no ?
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of William Patry's How to Fix Copyright.
(Note that Patry offers a Disclaimer at the beginning of the book, noting that: "Although I serve as Senior Copyright Counsel to Google Inc., the views in this book are entirely mine, and should not be attributed to Google", etc. etc.)
openDemocracy prints mystery writer and translator Boris Akunin's conversation with Alexei Navalny -- in three parts: one, two, and three --, which is "arguably the fullest profile of Russia’s leading opposition politician and covers many of the more uncomfortable aspects of Navalny's politics"
As, for example, Nemanja Cabric reports at Balkan Insight, Slobodan Tisma Wins Serbia's NIN Literary Prize, as Бернардијева соба ('Bernardi's Room') by Slobodan Tisma (Слободан Тишма) has won the leading Serbian fiction prize (out of 106 entries).
The Sebald Lecture 2012 -- 'Making The Crossing: the Poet as Translator', by Sean O'Brien will be held on 6 February 2012, and that's also when they will be handing out the Society of Authors-administered 'Translation Prizes' -- six prizes for translations from various languages.
Only two of the Translation Prize winners have been revealed so far, as best as I can tell:
Salman Rushdie's decision to not attend the Jaipur Literary Festival sends out all the wrong signals.
Meanwhile, see also Nilanjana S. Roy's fine piece in the Business Standard, Listening to Rushdie, in which she notes:
The argument for welcoming Rushdie to Jaipur is a simple one.
His early works, which include Midnight's Children, Shame and The Satanic Verses, are unsettling and uncomfortable, and we need that discomfort much more in 2012 than we need the safe formulas of the new bestsellers.
As, for example, Maya Sela reports in Haaretz, Sapir literary prize for 2011 awarded to Haggai Linik.
That's one of the major Israeli literary prizes -- worth NIS 150,000 (almost US $40,000), and with the winning book to be translated into "Arabic and one other language of his choice".
The winning title was דרוש לחשן ('Prompter Needed'), the author Haggai Linik (חגי ליניק); see also the publisher's publicity page.
In this week's issue of The New Yorker, there's a nice piece by Roberto Bolaño, Labyrinth -- and an interesting Q & A at their weblog, The Book Bench, as Willing Davidson asks Bolaño's "first American publisher, Barbara Epler of New Directions" about publishing Bolaño.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tomás Eloy Martínez's last novel, Purgatory.
Martínez, who died in 2010, is woefully underappreciated (and under-translated) in the United States -- despite having taught at Rutgers for ages -- and it's great to see this available in English.
(Interestingly, while the UK edition is a hardcover, in the US they only dared to go the paperback-original route (despite Bloomsbury publishing both here and there).)
Just how much we're missing is suggested by Martínez's mention of one of his earlier works, La mano del amo, in the novel (Martínez is a narrator-character in Purgatory):
I wrote a novel twenty years ago in which cats were stealing my character's senses; by the time he died, he had none left.
Now it feels like he's come back for revenge.
How could you not want to read an author like this ?
Kolkata loves books, talks books, but doesn't buy enough.
That's the irony that most publishers and even authors have had to come to terms with today.
I'm not sure what 'enough' means ... and this also seems a problem largely limited to English-language books, which in turn means it is largely an issue of (over-)pricing:
Bengali literature sells well here.
But when it comes to leisure reading where books are priced above Rs 400, people think twice before buying.
In contrast, the easy availability of Bengali literature at much cheaper prices makes Kolkata a big patron in that sector
Obviously, English-language books are sold at premium prices -- with the general English-speaking readership in India more likely to have the available disposable income and thus willing/eager to accept these premium prices.
Good for the Bengalis for not playing along.
At the Berlin Biennale Czech artist Martin Zet has issued a call to collect a lot of books so that he can make art out of them.
The book in question is a controversial one:
With over 1.3 million copies sold Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany gets rid of itself) by Thilo Sarrazin is the most successful political non-fiction publication of a German author of the post-war period.
The Czech artist Martin Zet now starts the campaign "Deutschland schafft es ab" (Germany gets rid of it) in the framework of the 7th Berlin Biennale.
What's the plan ?
The artist calls to collect at least 60,000 copies, which is in fact less than 5 percent of the total edition.
The books will be shown in an installation at the 7th Berlin Biennale; after the exhibition they will be recycled for a good purpose.
In The Guardian they had several Arabic writers react to the Arab uprisings, and now, a year later, 'they return to reflect on an extraordinary year', in Revolution in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, at Qantara.de Stephan Milich considers 'Literature and the Arab Spring' -- and questions such as: 'What subversive role did literature play in the run-up to the uprisings in the Arab world ? And should prose, poetry and other literary genres devote themselves entirely to the "revolution" or maintain a critical distance ?' -- in An Uprising of Words.
No detailed lists or numbers, but boersenblatt.net have (annoyingly slow-loading) galleries of, for example, the 20 bestselling fiction titles of 2011 (scroll down for non-fiction and advice books top-20s).
Jussi Adler-Olsen takes the top spot (and the fifth spot) -- though just as on the US list, Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid-series also enjoyed great success.
(None of the top twenty titles are under review at the complete review -- and the only Adler-Olsen title under review is the first in the series, Mercy (published as The Keeper of Lost Causes in the US).)
The Economist's Prospero has a Q & A with Norwegian author Per Petterson, We cannot know each other.
Among the interesting responses, in reaction to a question about his often describing 'working-class people':
I strongly believe that weak trade unions make our societies less civilised.
There is far too little work written about in contemporary literature.
(Four of his novels are under review at the complete review; see, for example, Out Stealing Horses.)
In the winter issue of The Hungarian Quarterly Dömötör Ági speaks with Krasznahorkai László, in The Bible Got Bad PR.
Among the choice quotes:
It's a terrible cliché, but it's true: crisis is the default state of history
I'm personally involved in the apocalypse ...
And then there's:
Do you ever look up on the internet what readers have to say about your work ?
There are online reading groups where your books are discussed; other sites make comments on your interviews.
If you mean Hungarian sites, I don't know too many of those.
Recently one blogger suggested that I should be hanged.
I immediately put on my space suit, started the engine and went to the moon for a while.
You mean it's not just the authority of literature that's finished but literature as such ?
The so-called high literature will disappear.
I don't trust such partial hopes that there will always be islands where literature will be important and survive.
I would love to be able to say such pathos-filled things, but I don't think they're true.
I have another suggestion: we will return to a post-post-postmodern kind of sacrality. The spoken word will once again have a sacred force, which the written word will serve to record.
They held a contest to design the look and the logo of the eagerly anticipated Murty Classical Library of India coming out from Harvard University Press, and have now announced the winning design -- looks pretty good.
USA Today publishes its list of the 100 best-selling books of 2011, from the top down -- though it's hard to take very seriously, given that there are no real numbers here (compare it to the way things should be done, The Guardian's Bestselling books of 2011: the top 100 listed -- whose only (major !) failing is that it was published before the year had come to an end, and hence can't be correct, at least not down to those volume and value numbers).
Naturally, practically nothing from this list is under review at the complete review -- or in translation -- except, unsurprisingly, Stieg Larsson's trilogy:
They've announced the shortlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction; see also M. Lynx Qualey's report. Two Egyptians make shortlist for 'Arabic Booker'.
I haven't read anything by any of these authors, so it's nice to see some new (to me) voices.
The winner will be announced 27 March.
An odd piece of work at IberoSphere, where Nick Lyne argues that Spain's literary giants are lost in English translation [via].
He begins by reporting the exciting news that Javier Marías' Los enamoramientos is to be published by Penguin in 2013.
He also notes -- and complains -- that Penguin's catalogue includes a mere four other Spanish authors: Cervantes, Quevedo, Jacinto Benavente, and Lorca.
I think he's already mistaken there, looking only at the Penguin Classics and Modern Classics lists (and even there missing some), rather than Penguin's larger catalogue (and Los enamoramientos is, in fact, coming out under the Hamish Hamilton imprint).
And then he brings up overlooked and recently deceased Miguel Delibes, writing:
While writing his death notice I looked for his titles available in English, and to my surprise, and disappointment, discovered that only one of his more than 50 titles, many of them best-sellers throughout the Spanish-speaking world and high-school texts, had been translated -- The Heretic, his last novel.
At this point I should declare an interest.
I approached Penguin last year with a proposal to translate three of Miguel Delibes' novels for inclusion in their Modern Classics collection: his so-called rural trilogy, made up of El camino, Los santos inocentes, and Las ratas.
But the people at Penguin hadn't heard of Miguel Delibes, as I would guess that they hadn't heard of many other modern Spanish writers.
Perhaps they hadn't heard of Delibes -- it wouldn't surprise me -- but I know that if anyone came to me claiming "only one of his more than 50 titles" had been translated, and then proposing to do a first-ever translation of El camino, Los santos inocentes, and Las ratas I would laugh him out of the office, since that person couldn't be taken all too seriously (and certainly doesn't know how to do his homework).
Two of these three titles have, of course, long been available (and now long been unavailable) in English: El camino was translated as The Path by Brita Haycraft in 1961 and Las ratas as Smoke on the Ground by Alfred Johnson in 1972, and while far too little of Delibes' work is available in English, several other significant works are as well -- including my favorite, the wonderful The Hedge.
In China Daily Chitralekha Basu and Song Wenwei profile Chinese author Bi Feiyu, who is apparently making the transition From absurdity to reality.
Only one of Bi's books is under review at the complete review: The Moon Opera.
Am Oved is a leading Israeli publisher, but they currently seem to be having some management issues.
As Maya Sela explained a few weeks ago in Haaretz, Am Oved chairman quits after Eini crony gets top slot, as chairman Ron Feinstein was the first to leave in a huff when Jackie Brei was appointed managing director -- as:
The chairman of the Am Oved publishing house has announced his resignation after the head of the Histadrut labor federation, Ofer Eini, helped get his candidate selected to head the company in an alleged undemocratic process.
Retired police officer Jackie Brei has been appointed managing director of Am Oved, owned by Hevrat HaOvdim, the Histadrut's holding company.
I can see why there might be some questions about whether this really is the man for the job -- after all:
Brei's last position was deputy head of the police's investigations and intelligence division. Before that he served as head of the police's national economic crime unit.
Now, mind you, I think many publishers are managed criminally (well, criminally stupidly ...), but this still isn't the solution I would have proposed.
In any case, the fallout continues -- and not in a good way: Maya Sela now reports that Am Oved senior editor, writer and translator Ilana Hammerman, has now also resigned in protest.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mariama Bâ's classic So Long a Letter.
Recently re-issued (in the UK) in Heinemann's revived (on a very small scale) African Writers Series, it's nice to see that there are so many relatively recent online reviews of this.
(But, damn, this thing could really use a new translation -- I'm not surprised that I can't find any indication that anyone ever let Modupé Bodé-Thomas ever translate anything else again; this seems to be her only credit.)
Out of the 700 Oxfam shops in Britain, 140 of them are bookshops.
Oxfam sells 11 million books a year and are its second highest-selling items after clothing.
The charity store has become the biggest second-hand bookseller in Europe, and the third largest general book retailer in Britain.
And also that:
Paterson normally receives an average of 3000 donations a week, a figure that had rocketed this month, as sacks of unwanted Christmas books are dumped at Oxfam counters throughout the nation.
As to the objections against charity shops having an unfair advantage over for-profit stores, I'm not sure this is the best way to make the argument:
Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Booksellers Association, which represents the likes of Waterstone's and Blackwells, is concerned by the new, slick image of Oxfam bookshops.
"Oxfam are really professional, and therein lies the rub, says Godfray.
"In the old days, charity shops projected an image of, dare I say it, amateurism -- books stacked on trestle tables run by well-meaning volunteers.
But now the retailing arms of many charities are run by hard-nosed professional retailers.
Oxfam has more outlets selling books than Waterstone's.
Ah, yes, as long as the non-profits were 'unprofessional' it was okay .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot, as I finally got my hands on a (library) copy.
This is the rare book that I would have under normal circumstances stopped reading and cast aside (at the midway point, at the latest) but didn't, because I already have his two other titles under review -- which remain relatively popular (i.e. much-accessed) -- and I figured readers would appreciate coverage of this as well.
(Ah, yes, the sacrifices I make !)
Though it's not like there aren't already enough reviews out there: when I posted the review yesterday I already provided links to 128 others; by the end of the day I had added another dozen for a round 140, by far the most I've ever accumulated for a review when first posting it (and I dread the day two or three years from now when I check the links and find how many I have to remove/change because the URLs have (probably needlessly) been changed or the sites gone out of business ...).
This was such a frustrating book that I was sorely tempted to give it the full critical treatment, complete with all the spoilers -- but I kept myself in check and offer only a (still critical) review which I don't think gives very much away -- though even that clocks in at over 2300 words.
Not that I think much can be spoiled about this novel .....
But in hindsight I'm amazed that this attracted so much attention (and a reported initial print run of 400,000); there's really not nearly enough to it; there are so many better books deserving of attention and readers .....
(I'm also disappointed that my rare foray into contemporary American fiction has again proven to be a disappointment.)
I am also curious to see when the first paper taking the Jamesian interpretation (reading Madeleine as Henry, Mitchell as William, and Leonard as Alice) appears; I'm sure others have already mentioned it, but I didn't come across the idea in any of the reviews along the way (and I think it's more interesting than the somewhat simplistic much-mentioned Leonard = David Foster Wallace (though of course there's something to that too, even if Eugenides didn't hang (t)his character at the end)).