At Deutsche Welle Jochen Kürten has a Q & A with Günter Grass biographer and publisher Volker Neuhaus, What drives Günter Grass ? (a question surely better put to Grass himself).
Still, lots of fun discussion of the recent Grass-poems ......
(Updated - 12 June): For a very different take, see Corinne Sauer's Enjoy your books while you can afford it ! in The Jerusalem Post, arguing that: 'Increasing the price of books through legislation is probably one of the worst ideas of the year from our politicians' (though note that that is, at best, a misleading formulation: it's discounting that is being prevented, rather than book prices actually being raised (though, of course, the average price paid for books will likely increase, since (almost) only full-price books will be available).
(In my opinion, the cases for and against price fixing aren't nearly as clear-cut as she makes them out to be here, by the way.)
Martin Amis' Lionel Asbo is out in the UK -- get your copy at Amazon.co.uk, or, in the US, where it's due out in August, pre-order your copy at Amazon.com -- and the first reviews are coming in:
In the Daily Express Christopher Bray finds: "Like Lionel himself, itís not that bad but itís just not that good either."
In the Evening Standard David Sexton thinks: "Itís a hoot."
In the Financial Times Lionel Shriver writes: "I hate to say this, because my hopes were high, but this novel becomes well and truly dull. Amis simply doesnít do much with the premise beyond what most readers could concoct for themselves."
In The Guardian Theo Tait finds: "The stranger Lionel Asbo gets, the less it seems like a convincing indictment of England today -- and the more it seems that Amis should have a nice lie down in a darkened room. But there are plenty of consolations".
(I haven't seen a copy yet, but hope to eventually get to it).
(Updated - 10 June): See now also reviews:
In the Independent on Sunday, where Amanda Craig finds: "The trouble with Lionel Asbo is that this underworld, with its tawdry dreams and supposed absence of morals, is so easy to send up that reading it feels like Amis is shooting fish in a barrel."
In Scotland on Sunday, where Aidan Smith reviews it
(Updated - 14 June): See now also reviews:
In the London Review of Books, where Adam Mars-Jones reviews it
They've announced that Chinaman -- now also available in the US, as the Legend of Pradeep Mathew -- by Shehan Karunatilaka has been awarded the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize.
This prize is awarded for a best first book by a writer holding Commonwealth country citizenship -- meaning writers from the Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe are not eligible (unlike the Man Booker Prize, for which they are eligible), while writers from Mozambique (that's right, Mozambique) are .....
Humayun Ahmed is, now, easily the most popular writer in Bangladesha superstar author with a prolific following of fans.
Most of the younger generation are Humayun-mad.
They are passionate devotees of his writing.
Not only do they read him voraciously, they also get influenced by it.
Perhaps no other writer in Bangladesh has exerted such a powerful influence on readers as Humayun has.
If popularity is the yardstick of a writer's quality, Humayun Ahmed could be the greatest writer in Bangladesh, and one of the greatest writers of Bengali literature.
But connoisseurs of literature won't surely agree. They are used to taking popularity mostly in negative connotations.
(He's also had some recent legal-political troubles with his latest book.)
Nothing of his is readily available in English (because, you know, he comes from a country of only some 150,000,000 people, and writes in a language with a long, impressive literary history that's only the sixth-most widely-spoken in the world ...).
Booker-winning author Barry Unsworth has passed away; see, for example, The New York Timesobituary.
None of his books are under review at the complete review; I've read a couple, but never really took to his kind of historical writing; also -- despite Helen Mirren playing in it -- I really hated the film adaptation of Pascali's Island.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Florence Noiville's short novel, The Gift, now coming out in English from Northwestern University Press.
(It was amusing reading this after coming across so many recent French-mothering discussions recently -- e.g. Jennifer Szalai on Mother Natures: On Elisabeth Badinter in The Nation.
As if Irène Némirovsky hadn't offered enough examples, here is yet another book suggesting French moms -- three generations' worth, here -- are far from having it all together .....)
They've announced that the 2012 Prince of Asturias Award for Literature has gone to Philip Roth -- selected from 24 nominations from 19 different countries.
(Tantalizingly, they don't reveal the actual nominations, but do reveal what countries they are from: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, China, France, Guatemala, Holland, Ireland, Japan, Macedonia, Portugal, Rumania, Senegal, South Africa, Turkey, United States and Spain .....)
There are a variety of 'Prince of Asturias Awards': the one for International Cooperation will be announced next week, the ones for 'Sport' and 'Concord' only in September.
And don't forget that last year the literature-winner was ... Leonard Cohen.
As widely reported, Ray Bradbury has passed away; see, for example, his official site -- though there are no end of tributes and reports to be found pretty much everywhere.
None of his books are under review at the complete review, but I expect I met eventually get to some at some point.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Erri De Luca's The Day before Happiness.
This is an odd title -- aspects of it really impress, but others ... well, let me just point out that this book contains what is the worst sentence I've come across in a novel in a very, very long time:
The original English translation by Geoffrey Dunlop has been revised and expanded by translator James Reidel and scholar Violet Lutz.
The Dunlop translation, had excised approximately 25% of the original two-volume text to accommodate the Book-of-the-Month club and to streamline the novel for film adaptation.
Hey, it only took ... 78 years until the full translation could be published .....
(The Dunlop translation first appeared in 1934.)
(But: great that Godine has managed to do it.)
Leibovitz suggests that:
Read in chronological order, Franz Werfel's work leads through all the dreams and nightmares that Europe had withstood in the first half of the 20th century.
And about The Forty Days of Musa Dagh in particular:
Werfel's narration is weighted down by his predilection for bombastic turns of phrase, but he impressively soars and dips in and out of numerous characters' consciousness, narrating the unfolding events from various points of view.
And just as some bit of symbolism begins to feel too cumbersome, he delivers stunning passages about cruelty, compassion, and the strange logic of extermination attempted on a very large scale.
Maya Sela reports in Haaretz that: 'Ten top Israeli authors tell their publishers they don't want their books sold at discount prices at the 51st Hebrew Book Week, describing low prices as 'humiliation'', in David Grossman and Amos Oz don't want to be a bargain, as:
The writers are demanding that their publishing houses not allow their books to be included in the big sales, because they say, "We can no longer participate in the humiliation of our works in particular, and Hebrew literature in general."
Those who spoke out against the sales are David Grossman, Haim Be'er, Ronit Matalon, Amos Oz, Eli Amir, Yoram Kaniuk, Orly Castel-Bloom, Judith Katzir, Meir Shalev and Zeruya Shalev.
Euro 2012 -- the European football (soccer) championships -- are being co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland this year, and start on Friday.
At the Slovakian Salon Yuri Andrukhovych -- or Jurij Andruchovyč, as they transliterate the name here -- promises: We'll treat you to a Euro to remember ! [via] -- more threat than promise:
Oh, you naive Europeans !
You still think that during talks with Ukrainian leaders you are really talking to politicians ?
Some politicians -- these are common criminals !
After tune-up losses in the last week to non-qualifier Austria (2:3) and now Turkey (0:2) the national team looks to flop out of the competition quickly, so at least the local politicians crooks likely not to be able to make much nationalist hay here; nevertheless .....
(Several Andrukhovych titles are under review at the complete review; see, for example, Recreations.)
- At Junbungaku there's The List -- "an index of all pieces of Japanese literature coming out in English for the year 2012" (which is frequently updated, as new information becomes available)
Three Percent's Translation Database remains, of course, the great American resource (the above two look more generally at everything translated into English -- which, given the remaining astonishing differences between the US and UK markets in what gets translated and published, is very useful -- but often means that, if you're in the US, you're more or less out of luck ...) for all (new) fiction and poetry translations, but, alas, there's no 2012 edition up yet .....
For the past 50 years, literature lovers in Myanmar have been able to read only the bowdlerised versions of the short stories, novels and poems published by local writers, with much of the best material left on the cutting room floor as a result of the relentless assault of the censor's red pen.
But apparently there's change in the air even here.
Meanwhile, author U Min Khite Soe San reports:
"The censors have long regarded our art with suspicion," he said.
"We honestly share what we know with our readers, but the censors have removed parts of novels unnecessarily with doubts beyond their duties, so that our artistic flesh is sliced away.
In The Telegraph "Jasper Rees talks to Laurent Binet about his playful new novel about an assasination attempt, HHhH."
Rees notes about the book:
It all sounds highly French, and in other hands the novelís squeamish contortions might easily pall.
But the book has been invaded by the playful, inquiring spirit of Kundera and incongruously contrives to be a delightful entertainment.
Many French and Czech readers have certainly found so.
The only readership which has not warmed to HHhH is in Germany.
"Maybe you can believe that they are fed up that everyone talks about the Nazis," says Binet, "but I don't believe it."
(I can imagine several other reasons why they didn't take to it, too .....)
But what really caught my eye in this piece was the parenthetical note that:
Although he includes his Slovak girlfriend, he doesnít relate why he left Slovakia early: "My girlfriend was a married woman with somebody quite powerful there so there was a little scandal and the embassy decided to recall me for security reasons."
Now that's something I would have loved to hear more about in HHhH -- a (possibly) interesting story whose details he might actually be able to offer some real insight into (as opposed to the admittedly also interesting but beaten beyond death over-familiar Heydrich story, which he offers almost nothing interesting, new, or insightful about).
(I do have to admit that this also makes me think even less of Binet's book: admittedly, it's understandable that he'd want to censor the fact that he's the kind of shit who would have an affair with a married woman (and faced the ignominy of being recalled by his embassy), but this silence on such a significant part of the story suggests the novel as a whole is shaped even more entirely to the (very subjective) image he wants to present -- of himself, of those involved in the attempt of Heydrich's life, of Heydrich himself, etc. -- than I had previously thought (and which had already bothered me a great deal).)
The most recent addition to the complete review is a review-overview of Andrés Neuman's Traveler of the Century (or, as it's called in the UK, Traveller of the Century).
Prize-winning, much-praised -- I wonder if I just had way too high expectations for this one .....
Whatever the case, I really didn't take to it; I'll probably have another look eventually.
At The Oxonian Review Alexander Barker and Alex Niven have An Interview with Terry Eagleton -- who notes, among other things: "It's not a good time to be in the universities."
He also mentions:
I've got a book coming out called something banal like How To Study Literature because I fear that literary criticism, at least as I knew it and was taught it, is almost as dead on its feet as clog dancing.
The Lionel Asbo-publicity machine gathers steam with the next looooong profile of Martin Amis, as Tom Lamont reports on Martin Amis: a new chapter in America in The Observer.
(I am looking forward to Lionel Asbo -- though I worry that I will quickly tire of looking forward to it if I continue to come across many more such profiles (especially once the Americans jump on the American angle ... though I suppose that there's some hope that American publications won't think him worth their while, much less so much space; I keep my fingers crossed); get your copy at Amazon.co.uk, or, in the US, where it's due out in August, pre-order your copy at Amazon.com).)
ABC.az reports that Azerbaijan's head allocated AZN 5 million for construction of Museum of Literature in Gazakh.
Seems kind of an out-of-the-way place for a museum, but better than nothing; on the other hand 5,000,000 AZN (or New Manats, as the currency is apparently called) is a decent sum: while the currency is so obscure the currency symbol doesn't even have its own unicode, it is worth more per unit than the US dollar, and so that adds up to more than $6,350,000.
The Order is motivated by the importance of identifying the potential of young creative generation, preservation and promotion of national directions of literature and literary and cultural heritage of the people, and relevant request made on the occasion by writers and poets of the region.
Sounds admirable enough (though of course what becomes of all this remains to be seen ...).
In Germany, approximately 90,000 new books are published each year, which per capita is about four times as many as in the United States.
Among the new books of 2010 were 11,349 translations, including 6,993 English-language titles.
Additionally, average book prices in Germany are the lowest in Europe, with the possible exception of Iceland and Finland.
This ignominious "cartel" seems to be working to the advantage of readers, publishers, bookstores and authors, especially those who cannot expect total sales of more than 3,000 copies.
It's interesting to learn that, however:
One outcome of the fixed-price law has been the growth of a new online market for used books: approximately 100,000 titles are now available.
The flourishing of this market is a clear indication that the backlist business of German publishing has declined dramatically since the passage of the fixed-price law.
Whereas in the 1980s the backlist accounted for nearly 30 percent of the sales for hardcover books, today that share has fallen to 5 percent.
• Steve Wasserman on The Amazon Effect, a fine overview of how Amazon has changed over the years and some of the dangers it might pose.
Lots of good stuff here -- though I'm not sure I'd go as far as he does in claiming:
But as Amazonís six other publishing imprints (Montlake Romance, AmazonCrossing, Thomas & Mercer, 47North, Amazon Encore, The Domino Project) have discovered, in certain genres (romance, science fiction and fantasy) formerly relegated to the moribund mass-market paperback, readers care not a whit about cover design or even good writing, and have no attachment at all to the book as object.
Like addicts, they just want their fix at the lowest possible price, and Amazon is happy to be their online dealer.
Not sure he put this the best way either:
More worrisome, at least over the long term, is the success of Amazonís Kindle Single program, an effort to encourage writers to make an end run around publishers, not only of books but of magazines as well.
Royalties are direct-deposited monthly, and authors can check their sales anytime -- a level of efficiency and transparency almost unknown at traditional publishers and magazines.
I, for one, think 'traditional' publishers could do with a good (indeed, massive -- or, indeed, any) dose of efficiency and transparency, and at least in these areas surely the Amazon-nudge is only to be welcomed (except, of course, by the publishers, who prefer to do things the old, old, old-fashioned way).
• Anthony Grafton complains that Search Gets Lost -- a modestly interesting case study.
The Russians are trying hard to make a case for their fiction in the US, and Read Russia 2012, which runs 2 to 7 June in New York (overlapping with BookExpo America, but also including many events separate from it), certainly looks like a great way to learn about it.
With only 18 (not previously translated) titles of fiction and poetry published in the US in 2011 (according to the Translation Database at Three Percent) there's certainly room for a lot more to be made available -- and Read Russia offers many promising-sounding events, covering many facets of contemporary Russian literature, so maybe this will help get some more translations commissioned.
(Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done: I've reviewed three originally-written-in-Russian titles at the complete review so far in 2012 -- but none really qualifies as a very new work: yes, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's The Letter Killers Club is new-in-English but dates from the 1920s; Andrey Kurkov's The Case of the General's Thumb is new-to-the-US, but this translation was published in the UK in 2003; and the Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic is a 2012 translation -- but of a 1972 work previously translated into and published in English in 1977.
Not exactly cutting edge stuff.)
I'm reminded by Arabic Literature (in English)'s mention that they've announced the finalists for the 2012 Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards -- and two of the 'long form' finalists are under review at the complete review: Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik and Zero and Other Fictions by Huang Fan.
(I haven't seen the others, sigh.)
The winners will be announced 21 or 22 July.