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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 December 2012

1 December: Herta Müller profile | Financial Times 'Best books of 2012' | Mashinka and Velik | Nordic Council Literature Prize finalists
2 December: James Kelman's (paucity of) royalties | Knut Ahnlund's resignation from Swedish Academy now official | An Australian view of the Penguin-Random House merger | Science writing | December issues
3 December: Beirut International Arab Book Fair preview | Quarterly Conversation - Winter issue | Choose Books gift guide | Truth or Beauty review
4 December: Burmese National Literary Awards | Q&A-author Q&A | Used bookstores | Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World review
5 December: Foreign writers in ... China | 'Bad Sex' award | Man Asian Literary Prize longlist
6 December: 'Russian Booker' | Festivalul Internaţional de Literatură Bucureşti | The Guard review
7 December: IPAF longlist | Best of the James Tait Black Prizes | The Invisible City review
8 December: Mo Yan's Nobel lecture | More favorite reads | Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore review
9 December: International translation controversy ! | Australian 2012 favorites | Life on Hold review
10 December: Reading in ... Pakistan | 'British Literature in the Hungarian Cultural Memory' | Sense review

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10 December 2012 - Monday

Reading in ... Pakistan | 'British Literature in the Hungarian Cultural Memory'
Sense review

       Reading in ... Pakistan

       The Karachi International Book Fair runs through today, and in The Express Tribune they take that as a starting point for an incredibly depressing look at Reading books in Pakistan, even as:
The book fair in Karachi has held on for eight years, which is a signal of hope in a city slowly being swallowed up by the barbarism of those who hate culture and want to destroy it.
       But they argue:
Pakistan is introverted on the basis of a sense of victimhood based on state-invented fiction. Cities such as Rawalpindi, Quetta and Peshawar that boasted some great bookshops are now selling only religious books and most shops have been closed down. Lahore's conservatism, too, has damaged the essentially pluralist pastime of book-reading.
       Here's hoping things improve again ! (Fiction, people -- read fiction !)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       'British Literature in the Hungarian Cultural Memory'

       I recently mentioned Zsolt Czigányik's piece on censorship in the Kádár era, and now you can read that and much more at this British Literature in the Hungarian Cultural Memory site.
       Of particular note: the collection that essay is taken from, as the entire volume of Confrontations and Interactions: Essays on Cultural Memory is fully accessible here (albeit only in the dreaded pdf format). As you can see from the contents-list: quite a bit that's of interest here.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Sense review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Arslan Khasavov's Sense, a volume of Glas' 'New Russian Writing'.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



9 December 2012 - Sunday

International translation controversy ! | Australian 2012 favorites | Life on Hold review

       International translation controversy !

       Is 'caramel' an adequate or acceptable substitute for 'chanterelle' (as in the mushroom) ? And, if not, is that reason enough to start an international controversy ?
       Yes, the good folks at the (Nobel-awarding-)Swedish Academy can't seem to keep out of the limelight, even as these days should be all about Mo Yan. As for example The Local reports, Mushroom mix-up taints Swedish Academy. -- featuring everyone's favorite institutional old man (now that Knut Ahnlund has been resigned; see my previous mention), Göran Malmqvist. Already disturbed by Chinese poet Li Li's translation of a Tomas Tranströmer poem in which the uppity translator substituted 'caramel' for 'chanterelle', the eighty-eight-year-old Malmqvist apparently went ballistic when he thought Li Li also took a shot at the fact that the stud Göran has a wife barely half his age:
"He is an evil person. I will annihilate him, like you crush a louse with your thumbnail," he wrote to his academy colleague Per Wästberg, 76.
       See the original Swedish report in Aftonbladet for more of the details of this truly bizarre case.
       Even Swedish Academy secretary (and proud new dad -- the reason he wasn't the one to introduce Mo's Nobel lecture) Peter Englund felt compelled to weigh in -- and out, distancing the institution from the cat fight ("Detta är alltså inte något som Svenska Akademien är inblandad i, ställer sig bakom, sysslar med, ursäktar eller försvara")

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Australian 2012 favorites

       In The Age they have 'authors and critics deliver their favourite page-turners of 2012', in an Australian version of The year in books.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Life on Hold review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Saudi author Fahd al-Atiq's Life on Hold, now out from American University in Cairo Press.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



8 December 2012 - Saturday

Mo Yan's Nobel lecture | More favorite reads
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore review

       Mo Yan's Nobel lecture

       Mo Yan's trip to Sweden to pick up his Nobel Prize did not begin well: his answers at a press conference on Thursday got him exactly the kind of coverage he (and the Chinese authorities) didn't want -- leading to headlines such as Censorship a must: Chinese Nobel Prize in Literature winner (okay, that one is kind of unfair ...); see, for example, the VOA report China's Nobel Literature Winner Defends State Censorship.
       On Friday he had the stage all to himself, as he got to deliver the Nobel lecture. Much of it was the usual autobiographical kind of stuff, but he did address some of the to-do about him winning the prize -- sort of:
The announcement of my Nobel Prize has led to controversy. At first I thought I was the target of the disputes, but over time Iíve come to realize that the real target was a person who had nothing to do with me.
       Sounds like a bad case of denial to me, but what do I know ?
       And I'm not so sure about these words:
For a writer, the best way to speak is by writing. You will find everything I need to say in my works. Speech is carried off by the wind; the written word can never be obliterated. I would like you to find the patience to read my books.
       Never mind that these words were spoken rather than written -- I think there are some censored writers who would beg to differ about the idea of the unobliterable written word .....
       (Of course, fundamentally I am in full agreement with Mo -- about the idea that it's his written work and words that count and forget everything else. But in that case he should have stayed at home and told them to mail the check and medal, and not indulged in speechifying and responding to reporters' questions; you can't have it both ways.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       More favorite reads

       Granta has some folks -- including TLS editor and Man Booker Prize chair of judges Peter Stothard -- report on the Books I Read this Year.
       Meanwhile, at Bloomberg Simon Kennedy 'asked chief executive officers, policy makers, investors, economists, academics and authors to tell us their favorites', and their responses are here.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



7 December 2012 - Friday

IPAF longlist | Best of the James Tait Black Prizes
The Invisible City review

       IPAF longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction -- sixteen titles selected from 133 entries from 15 countries.
       Disappointingly, I can't find any list of the 117 titles submitted that were not deemed longlist-worthy; interestingly, they also keep the names of the members of the judging panel secret, promising only to unveil them when the shortlist is announced (5 January 2013).
       Fully a quarter of the longlisted titles are by Lebanese authors, while the Gulf states managed a mere two (from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Best of the James Tait Black Prizes

       They've apparently announced the Best of the the James Tait Black Prizes -- "the best novel to have won the prize since it was first awarded in 1919" -- though not yet at the official site, last I checked .....
       In The Guardian Alison Flood reveals that Angela Carter named best ever winner of James Tait Black award -- though of course it wasn't Carter but rather her prize-winning novel Nights at the Circus that got the nod.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       The Invisible City review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Emili Rosales' The Invisible City, now also out in a US edition.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



6 December 2012 - Thursday

'Russian Booker' | Festivalul Internaţional de Literatură Bucureşti | The Guard review

       'Russian Booker'

       They've announced the winner of the Русский Букер -- yes, the 'Russian Booker' -- and it went to Andrey Dmitriev (Андрей Дмитриев), for Крестьянин и тинейджер; see, for example, The Voice of Russia report by Olga Bugrova, Russian Booker goes to The Villager and the Teenager.
       Lizok's Bookshelf also weighs in on the prize (and, separately, on the book); she doesn't think it was a great choice.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Festivalul Internaţional de Literatură Bucureşti

       The Festivalul Internaţional de Literatură Bucureşti runs through the 8th, with several British authors in attendance.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       The Guard review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of recent AKO Literatuurprijs-winning author Peter Terrin's The Guard.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



5 December 2012 - Wednesday

Foreign writers in ... China | 'Bad Sex' award | Man Asian Literary Prize longlist

       Foreign writers in ... China

       Along with the 'Chinese Writers Rich List' (see my previous mention) they also compile a list of the foreign authors who earned the most in China in 2012; see the Chinese list of the top 15 here, and see now also the gallery of the Top 10 most popular foreign writers in China at People's Daily.
       In the Global Times Lu Qianwen notes the success of Japanese authors in China -- but reports it's a One-way exchange no Mo.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       'Bad Sex' award

       The Literary Review announced the winner of its 'Bad Sex in Fiction Award 2012' (though not yet at the official site, last I checked ...); see, for example, Maev Kennedy's report in The Guardian, Bad sex award goes to Nancy Huston's 'babies and bedazzlements'.
       Yes, Nancy Huston's Infrared -- a book under review at the complete review ! -- took the prize (though she didn't show up for the ceremony).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Man Asian Literary Prize longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize -- with several of the titles under review at the complete review:        And I hope/expect to get to a few more as well.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



4 December 2012 - Tuesday

Burmese National Literary Awards | Q&A-author Q&A | Used bookstores
Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World review

       Burmese National Literary Awards

       The winners of the Burmese National Literary Awards (for books published in 2011) have been announced (with the actual awards ceremony to follow 14 December), but as Zon Pann Pwint notes in The Myanmar Times Cultural norms trump literary merit at state-run book awards.
       There were 16 categories, but in three no winner was named: Novel, Youth Literature and English-Language Fiction. This despite there being 827 (!) novels in contention; on the other hand there was only a single Drama entry and that got the prize ("it met the criteria we used for assessing quality, and also because it was a single excellent book published at a time when this type of drama is fading into virtual obscurity").
       But, yes, it wasn't always about quality -- especially, apparently, in the Novel category. So, for example:
One work in particular that was under consideration had the characteristics of good realistic fiction. There was a display of sentiment and fine presentation, but the story was all about a life of toil spent burning wood to make charcoal. When we evaluated it from an environmental point of view, we didn't chose it.
       Another was dismissed because:
We praise the author's knowledge and artistic merit, but the female character in the novel committed suicide in the end because of her feelings of defeat. It can give a false impression, and such actions are not encouraged in our religion and culture.
       Ah, yes, the drawbacks of prizes being decided on by a: "judging committee working under the Ministry of Information". Insisting on political correctness, Burmese style .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Q&A-author Q&A

       In the Bangkok Post Parisa Pichitmarn has a Q&A with Q&A- (now better-known as Slumdog Millionaire-)author Vikas Swarup.
       Interesting titbit: despite his literary succcess, Vikas Swarup still has a day job: he's India's Consul General in Osaka, Japan.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Used bookstores

       In The Telegraph Theodore Dalrymple explains Why second-hand bookshops are just my type.
       Unfortunately, the business model of the old-style second-hand bookstore is hard to sustain:
Booksellers tell me that 90 per cent of their overheads arise from their shops, and 90 per cent of their sales from the internet.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sabina Berman's Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World -- published in the UK as The Woman Who Dived into the Heart of the World.
       This is one of the most unusual books I've come across in a while, and it's obviously a hard sell -- autistic narrator ! industrial animal slaughter (presented in gory detail) ! -- and apparently because this book isn't already tough enough to market the American and British publishers actually decided ... to go with different titles ? I know there are 'professionals' at work here, and committee after committee undoubtedly thought this was a good idea -- in order to, for example, confuse folks looking for information about the book on the internet, presumably. Naïve ignoramus that I am, I can't fathom the reasoning -- though surely there must have been some sort of reasoning -- and instead can only scratch my head and marvel yet again about the book business at work.
       In the novel, the narrator considers what to title her account near the end, coming up with five possibilities; I suspect the French had the best idea when they opted for the succinct: Moi ('Me').

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



3 December 2012 - Monday

Beirut International Arab Book Fair preview | Quarterly Conversation - Winter issue
Choose Books gift guide | Truth or Beauty review

       Beirut International Arab Book Fair preview

       In the Daily Star Wassim Mroueh previews the Beirut International Arab Book Fair, which runs through 16 December, in Fiction, politics set to top book fair.
       It's great to hear (even if from what doesn't sound like the most objective of sources):
"Arab readers are demanding novels the most," says Rana Idriss, the director of Dar al-Adab Publishing House which specializes in fiction works.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Quarterly Conversation - Winter issue

       The Winter 2012 issue of the Quarterly Conversation is now available online, which should keep you busy for a while; there's coverage of lots of interesting titles and authors.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Choose Books gift guide

       At her Isak weblog Anna Clark introduces the third edition of her Choose Books: A Gift Guide for People Who Care About Stories -- and it's also available online, for free; it's in the abomination that is the pdf format, but exceptionally nicely done, so you should have a look.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Truth or Beauty review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of David Orrell's look at Science and the Quest for Order, Truth or Beauty.
       Sometimes a book will come out from different US and UK academic presses; this one is unusual in that Yale University Press publish the US and UK editions, but it's Oxford University Press (Canada) that brought it out up north.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



2 December 2012 - Sunday

James Kelman's (paucity of) royalties
Knut Ahnlund's resignation from Swedish Academy now official
An Australian view of the Penguin-Random House merger
Science writing | December issues

       James Kelman's (paucity of) royalties

       In The Scotsman David Robinson reveals that James Kelman 'made only £15,000 from writing in 2011', as:
James Kelman, the only Scottish writer to have won the Man Booker Prize or to have been twice nominated for the International Man Booker Prize, has revealed that all he made from his writing last year was £15,000.

In an angry speech scattered with expletives, he accepted a £5,000 cheque for winning the Saltire Society's Scottish Book of the Year for his eighth novel, Mo Said She Was Quirky. Kelman said it would be "really useful".
       Recall that that Nobel laureate Patrick White earned a mere $7000 from royalties in the last six months of his life -- and, as David Marr reported:
Nielsen BookScan, that pitiless surveyor of the trade, tells me that last year [2007] White's 13 titles in print sold only 2728 copies
       (Of course, there aren't nearly that many of his titles in print in the US -- though with the movie tie-in one imagines at least The Eye of the Storm did modestly better this year.)
       Yes, clearly being a 'literary' (and regional) author apparently does not look like the easy ticket to fortune.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Knut Ahnlund's resignation from Swedish Academy now official

       The Swedish Academy selects the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature each year, and after the 2004 award to Elfriede Jelinek one of the members of that august body, Knut Ahnlund, infamously denounced the selection and resigned -- the wind only taken out of the flapping sails of his grand gesture by the unfortunate fact that Swedish Academy appointments are for life, and they simply won't let you leave. And so, until Wednesday, Ahnlund continued to occupy -- at least officially -- Chair no. 7.
       Now, however, as for example The Local reports, Swedish author Knut Ahnlund dies, with which his resignation has now also been accepted (indeed, they wouldn't have let him stay on any longer).
       For Ahnlund's infamous tirade, see it in all its (Swedish) glory at Svenska Dagbladet, Knut Ahnlund: ”Efter Jelinek är priset ödelagt”; choice quote -- from which they also took the headline --: "Nobelpriset 2004 till Elfriede Jelinek har ödelagt utmärkelsens värde för överskådlig framtid." (For an English summary of the whole to-do, see, for example, Nobel winner's work is violent porn, says juror by Luke Harding in The Guardian.)
       Ahnlund was born in 1923 and published numerous literary works: given that he incredibly conveniently published a book on Isaac Bashevis Singer in 1978 and one on Octavio Paz in 1990 -- the years they just happened to win the Nobel Prize -- it's hard not to imagine that he was a forceful and persuasive voice pushing for them to get the prize (and one can imagine that part of his displeasure with the Jelinek award was that just the year before he had published his Spansk öppning: essäer om Spaniens och Latinamerikas litteratur and was presumably nagging everyone to give the award to some Spanish-writing authors and for once didn't get his way ...).
       His passing of course means that there's an opening to be filled in this Nobel-picking group; it'll be interesting to see who gets the nod.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       An Australian view of the Penguin-Random House merger

       In The Age Jason Steger gives a down-under perspective of the Penguin-Random House merger, in Surviving publishing's perfect storm.
       Among the bizarre reactions:
Hachette Australia's Sydney-based chief executive, Malcolm Edwards, says the merger is good for the industry because "the balance has gone the wrong way in that we have an unbelievably dominant retailer, which is threatening the very fabric of creativity.

"If you believe in monopolies and totalitarian states then you probably wouldn't think it was a bad idea, but I think when you've got in the US and UK [a situation where] Amazon would have something like 80 per cent of the e-book market, that can't be good. On a business level, a lack of competition is not in the consumer's interest.''
       Why the solution to a lack of competition at the retail level should be to diminish competition (through consolidation) at the 'manufacturing' level is something beyond my understanding -- but then so are most things to do with the publishing 'business'.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Science writing

       A decent roundtable at The Observer, led by Ian Tucker and with Steven Pinker, James Gleick, Brian Greene, Lone Frank, and Joshua Foer considers Science writing: how do you make complex issues accessible and readable ?

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       December issues

       Among the online journals with December issues now available are:

        - Open Letters Monthly, who offer 'The Burgess Issue', devoted largely to the work of Anthony Burgess; among the entertaining pieces, John Cotter and Steve Donoghue talk about Earthly Powers (which I'll be getting to, too).

        - Words without Borders' (Non-Scandinavian) Crime -- with some 'New Writing from South Korea' also on offer.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



1 December 2012 - Saturday

Herta Müller profile | Financial Times 'Best books of 2012'
Mashinka and Velik | Nordic Council Literature Prize finalists

       Herta Müller profile

       In The Guardian Maya Jaggi profiles Nobel laureate Herta Müller: a life in books.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Financial Times 'Best books of 2012'

       The Financial Times now have their: 'writers and guests pick their favourite books of 2012', in Best books of 2012 -- always worth a slight special mention because they have a separate category for 'Fiction in Translation'.
       The Times Literary Supplement 'Books of the Year 2012' selection is also out, but they only offer a small part of it online, and I haven't received my copy yet with all the recommendations -- usually this is one of the most useful lists.
       (For more 'best of the year'-lists, see also my previous mention.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Mashinka and Velik

       In the Central European Forum's Salon Viktor Erofeyev writes about A suicidal novel, as in Russia:
The most controversial and unexpected bestseller of the current publishing season is a novel entitled Mashinka and Velik [Машинка и Велик].
       The author's name is given as Natan Dubovitsky [Натан Дубовицкий], but:
Most Russian journalists and literary critics agree that this name is a nom de plume, concealing one of Russia's top officials, the ideological mastermind behind Putin's regime and currently Russia's Deputy Prime Minister, 48-year-old Vladislav Surkov.
       Erofeyev finds that in the book: "The angry unmasker, applying the techniques of the grotesque and theatre of the absurd, howls in despair."
       In any case, this piece (and the book) suggests the Russian situation is rather bleak.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Nordic Council Literature Prize finalists

       They've announced the nominations for the Nordic Council Literature Prize 2013, the major pan-Scandinavian literary prize.
       There are few familiar/big names -- Rosa Liksom, Hallgrímur Helgason, Lars Norén -- and it's always good to see the tiny (or sparsely populated) places -- the Åland Islands, Greenland -- get nominations in.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



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