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 !)
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")
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.)
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.
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).
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 TimesCultural 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 .....
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.
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').
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.
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.
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.
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  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.
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.
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'.
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 aboutEarthly Powers (which I'll be getting to, too).
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.)
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.
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.