More international best of the year lists, as two French ones have now appeared:
- Lire's traditional Les 20 meilleurs livres de l'année has twenty books in twenty categories -- with Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil all the Time their choice for book of the year (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
La noche de los tiempos by Antonio Muñoz Molina was named best foreign novel, and The Submission by Amy Waldman the best foreign debut.
And Oulipo-man Paul Fournel's Anquetil tout seul was their choice for best sports book.
Uwe Tellkamp is working on a continuation of his massive German Book Prize-winning (2008) novel, The Tower (Der Turm, forthcoming in English from Frisch & Co. next year), with a working title of 'Der Schlaf in den Uhren' ('Sleep in the Clocks' ?).
Andreas Platthaus talks with him in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -- reporting that Der Turm was the 'biggest sales-success at Suhrkamp in the past few years' (which kind of surprises me).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Li Rui's Trees without Wind, a 1996 novel now available in English (don't ask when the French already had this translated ...) from Columbia University Press.
Li seems to have made little impact with the translated-in-1997 (by the ubiquitous Howard Goldblatt) Silver City; it'll be interesting to see if he catches on now.
He's a significant author, but I don't think this is enough to make him stand out particularly in the (increasingly crowded) Chinese crowd.
(I'm not sure the similarities of the locale here to that in Yan Lianke's Lenin's Kisses -- both villages are populated almost entirely by cripples -- will help much, either.)
Nice to see that at the close of the year -- Patrick White's centenary -- there's another piece about him: at The Rumpus David Rice offers Flowers in the Desert: Patrick White at 100.
As longtime readers know (and as you can guess from my reviews of his books), I'm a big fan of White's work -- and so I'm also a bit disappointed that Rice too joins on this odd bandwagon that insists:
This body of work isn't just challenging; it's actively uninviting.
I'll grant that the occasional misstep in how publishers market his work can make it truly uninviting, but as to the writing itself .....
A few more international looks back at the year that was:
- El País now has their mejores libros del año 2012, which is always an interesting (and nicely presented) collection.
Great to see Zbigniew Herbert's collected poetry at number two overall, and, for example, books by Thomas Bernhard and Svetislav Basara in the top five translated-fiction category.
What I also really like is that they list each critic's top ten (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), which gives a great picture of what of significance has been published in Spain in the last year.
- There's a bit of Indian insight in What we read in 2012, as 'Mint staffers and columnists pick the best book they read in the year gone by'.
In The Age Jason Steger has Lunch with Les Murray.
About getting the Nobel Prize -- for which he's often considered a contender -- Murray says:
I'm not sure what good it would do if it did.
It would get you pursued by a whole lot of people who didn't know what they were pursuing you for.
Seamus [Heaney, the Irish poet who won the Nobel in 1995] rang me up and I said, 'What does it entail, Seamus, how long does the interference with your life go on ?'
And he said, 'About two years.' Who'd want it ?
Only two years ?
I'm surprised -- and I'm sure some authors willingly milk all that ... interference for all it's worth, and for as long as possible.
Desperate for the year-end traffic, rather than getting things right, The Guardian now offers a list of the Top 100 bestselling books of 2012.
(As you may have noticed, 2012 is not actually over, so any such list is, if not entirely so certainly partially premature; with for example titles ranked 58 through 60 separated by a mere thirteen copies sold it is not unthinkable that the actual rankings could change in the coming days.)
It's unclear exactly what kind of bestseller list this is; the best they offer by way of explanation is:
The data comes care of Nielsen Bookscan, which collects the retail sales information from point of sale systems in more than 31,500 bookshops around the world.
The big caveat is that it does not provide collated sales across e-books and physical books so this is just the print version.
'Around the world' ......
And yet the list also seems to be restricted to English-language books (or are they counting foreign sales of translations-from-the-English ?)
Personally, I'd prefer national lists -- or an exact list of where these bookshops are located.
Well, whatever is being counted here, a few of these books are -- surprisingly, I guess -- under review at the complete review:
In The Guardian Nicholas Wroe profiles Christopher MacLehose: A life in publishing.
I still stop in front of any of those old Harvill titles published in his day when I come across them in used bookstores, and will buy any I don't have in my collection; his current imprint MacLehose Press, is impressive, too, but hasn't quite reached the oldtime Harvill standards.
Today, I must turn against the Kwani? outfit because its approach now appears more poisonous than hemlock.
Its sin ?
Apparently a misguided focus that has led to: "a boundless literary swamp of tenth rate urban texts".
(Tenth rate ?
The criticism is of the sort much like that directed against US outfit n+1 - i.e. there's some validity to it, but Ndago does himself and his position no favors by stating it like this.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Manu Joseph's The Illicit Happiness of Other People, now also coming out in the US.
Given recent attention of how commonplace sexual harassment and assault is in India, and how indifferently it is treated -- brought to a head by these recent tragic cases -- the book seems more timely than ever (even though he sets it around 1990).
At Sampsonia Way Olivia Stransky has An Interview with Bernard Comment -- mainly about his recently translated novel, The Shadow of Memory (and regrettably not about his work as head of Fiction & Cie).
(One of the question also refers to/quotes from my review of The Shadow of Memory, and while I should be disappointed that I was unable to express myself clearly enough I sort of like being misconstrued: what I meant ('of course', I'd add ... but apparently not) is that the book is a) philosophical, and b) a book-lover's book -- not that it's necessarily for "philosophical readers" (indeed, rather that it's for book-lovers).)
The SWR-Bestenliste, where thirty leading German literary critics weigh in on the new publications every month, is out for January 2013, with the Handke-Unseld correspondence taking first place (with a respectable vote-total too, not like in some months); see the Suhrkamp foreign rights page.
(The current to-do around Suhrkamp (see my previous mention) may well have something to do with the favorable light in which this (admittedly significant) collection is being judged.)
Noteworthy also: several re-translations of classics and/or older Russian novels make it into the top ten, as well as a collection of ballads.
(Not exactly a ringing endorsement of contemporary German fiction on display here .....)
Well, this doesn't sound good: 'The number of high street bookshops in Britain has more than halved in just seven years due to the rise of e-books and the consumer downturn, research for The Daily Telegraph has found', as reported by James Hall.
According to data from Experian there are only 1,878 high street bookshops left in Britain.
As recently as 2005 there were 4,000 bookshops on our high streets -- twice as many as there are now.
Almost 400 bookshops have closed over the course of 2012 alone, a seven-fold increase in the number that shut in 2011.
About one-fifth of all 'high street bookshops' closed in the past year ?
That can't be good .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of a new translation of Natsume Sōseki's The Gate, just out from NYRB Classics.
(By the way, in Japanese the title is written 門 -- an example of a logographic writing-system at its best.)
The Flood begins with the release of Bokatidindi, a catalog of new publications from the Iceland Publishers Association distributed free to every Icelandic home.
"It's like the firing of the guns at the opening of the race," Bjarnason says.
"It's not like this is a catalog that gets put in everybody's mailbox and everybody ignores it.
Books get attention here."
Books get attention here .....
(The Bókatíðindi is of course also available online, in various formats; check out this and previous years' catalogs to get a sense of the titles published.)
Oh, for the days when the French jólabókaflóðið -- the annual rentrée littéraire -- came only once a year, in August.
But for a while now they've added a second, winter rentrée, and Culturebook is one of the places with a preview of the one about to be unleashed, Ce que la rentrée littéraire de janvier 2013 nous promet.
At least there's "un accent mis sur la fiction" -- with 525 new novels set to flood the market (up 9% over last year).
(Say what you will about the screwed up state of US and UK publishing, but at least publishing seasons are nowhere this pronounced, with book releases spread out more evenly over the year (despite a bit of a cluster in the UK just before Man Booker time ....).)
Leaving aside the translations, January highlights include Yasmina Reza's Heureux les heureux, described as: "Un roman choral en forme de galerie de portraits", which sounds like something she might be able to pull off, and Alain Manbanckou's Lumières de Pointe Noire.
It is a great opportunity to put Yangon on the international literature map, though I hope that in the future there will be equal attention given to Myanmar-language works and works in Myanmar minority languages
At the NYRblog Perry Link continues the argument, in Why We Should Criticize Mo Yan (see also the full-length version of the piece at ChinaFile, from which this is taken).
What I found most interesting here are his concluding sentences, explaining who his top choices for the Nobel would have been among Chinese writers:
Mo Yan would not have been at the top of my own list, which would include writers who work both "inside the system" in China and outside it.
For authenticity and control of language, I would rate Zhong Acheng, Jia Pingwa, Wang Anyi, Liao Yiwu and Wang Shuo more highly; for mastery of the craft of fiction, Pai Hsien-yung and Ha Jin are clearly superior to Mo Yan; for breadth of spiritual vision, Zheng Yi is one of my favorites. I would also have put Yu Hua or Jin Yong (the Hong Kong writer of popular historical martial-arts fiction) above Mo Yan. But these are only my views. Please help yourself to your own.
An interesting list, though it seems to me one that makes a point of needling the Chinese authorities (and the Swedish Academy) with the inclusion of the Taiwanese and English-writing authors, not mention Louis Cha -- though of course all this is harder for those of us with no Chinese to judge (though we can all agree: Ha Jin ? seriously ?).
Most of these authors have only a limited amount of their work available in English; Wang Anyi and Yu Hua (and Louis Cha) probably the most.
Striking omissions include Lenin's Kisses (etc.) author Yan Lianke and local favorite Wang Meng.
As to some of these choices -- Please Don't Call Me Human author Wang Shuo ?
I don't see it -- but then there's a lot of his work that hasn't been translated.
On the other hand, I've said repeatedly over the years that Jia Pingwa is someone to keep in mind as far as Chinese Nobel candidates go.
Among the other authors, I'm not sure that Pai Hsien-yung's Crystal Boys has been presented to the English-reading public in the ... ideal way.
Sure, Mo Yan translator Howard Goldblatt translated it, but I'm guessing most folks wouldn't be too comfortable reading this Gay Sunshine Press publication in public.
(I have to admit I was unfamiliar with Gay Sunshine Press until now -- but, hey, they publish fiction in translation !
Be adventurous and get your copy of Crystal Boys from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
And if he's going to tout Jin Yong -- worthy of a mention, but not in conjunction with the Nobel -- why not use the name under which his books are published in English, Louis Cha ?
See, for example, the Oxford University Press (yes, they're his publishers too) publicity page for The Book and the Sword.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Biography of Yukio Mishima by Inose Naoki, with Sato Hiroaki, Persona, just out in English from Stone Bridge Press.
Note that author Inose was just elected governor of Tokyo (in a landslide).
It's been a good year for getting review copies at the complete review -- well over 500, so far, the most ever -- and I've covered a lot of books -- over 230 reviews and counting, the most in a decade -- with probably a good two-thirds of those of books first published (at least in English translation, in the US) in 2012.
Yet as I see best-book-of-the-year list after list I can't help but wonder: what alternate literary world am I living, reading, and working in ?
The most recent example -- useful because it collects, together and separately, quite a few critics' top ten lists -- is the What To Read Awards: The Salon Book Critics' Poll.
Of their aggregated Top 10 Books of 2012 I've reviewed none, received none, and borrowed one from the library.
I figured with these often independent critics there would be a decent chance of some overlap, but I don't seem to have reviewed more than one of the titles any of them has chosen -- and I'm barely seeing any of the books they're talking about.
The biggest overlap seems to be with Carolyn Kellogg, of The Los Angeles Times/Jacket Copy: one book I've reviewed (HHhH by Laurent Binet), and two more that I have.
Then it's National Book Critics Circle-President Eric Banks, who also selected HHhH, and who also named another book I actually have (the Marina Warner, which I will be getting to).
Beyond that ?
There's yet another HHhH-nod (seriously, people ?), from M. Rebekah Otto of The Rumpus, and two nods for Geoff Dyer's Zona (from Matthew Specktor and Parul Sehgal), but beyond that ... zip.
(And by the way: both HHhH and Zona didn't come to me as review copies; I borrowed both from the library.)
And I'm not just talking about having read or reviewed these books: I haven't seen them; only one more -- from David Gutowski's list -- made it to me, and that required some outside prodding.
But the lists of Jason Diamond, C. Max Magee, Michael Schaub, as well as, more predictably, Lev Grossman and Laura Miller ... -- I haven't seen a one of these books.
I know the local focus is still-deeply-unpopular fiction-in-translation (is Kellogg the only one to list more than one on her list ? is the YA book HHhH really the best the rest can do or find ?), but still .....
(Also: seriously, people ?
No My Struggle ?
(Good for James Wood hailing it (elsewhere) in his Books of the Year-post; I thought he was exaggerating in writing: "I felt that the book didn’t get the attention it deserved" (it got reviewed -- by him -- in The New Yorker, for god's sake ...), but I guess it did fall through quite some cracks.)
No Satantango ?
No Maidenhair ?
No The Colonel ?
[Updated - 26 December: Well, at least somebody gets it right (and, yes, The Poet -- an older title -- is also under review at the complete review.])
Given this general critical (and book-of-the-year-list) neglect of books in translation I'll start pushing an early 2013 favorite already: Tirza, folks, that's the ticket.
I want to see that on your 2013 lists .....
(Okay, that's a bit premature; maybe there'll be ten better works -- I haven't seen much yet, so I can't truly judge -- but I assure you: one to keep in mind.)
One corrective to the American mass-media best-of-the-year book lists is something like in lieu of a field guide's list of The year's best: any list that has Peter Weiss' The Aesthetics of Resistance in the top spot (and an Abe Kōbō novel in second) is my kind of list.
But strictly speaking these aren't books of this year, so one has to look elsewhere for relief; fortunately Steve Donoghue obliges by offering his list of the Worst Books of 2012 - Fiction ! at his stevereads weblog.
Once again, I haven't seen nine of the ten titles (I did borrow Nell Freudenberger's The Newlyweds from the library, but was too sorely disappointed to review it); I assume he'll be getting a lot of angry mail re. his number one selection.
Entertainment Weekly apparently also does a Best and Worst selection, but only the best is up .....
(Updated - 25 December): As John Self points out, Steve Donoghue's ten-worst list consists entirely of books authored by women -- quite remarkable under the best of circumstances (recall the frequent observations of how women are under-represented as reviewers and authors of books that get reviewed, etc. etc.) and pretty odd under these -- seriously, dude, WTF ?
(I'm embarrassed to note that in perusing the list I completely failed to realize this; admittedly I tend to ignore authors (and their sex, etc.) if and where I can, but this is pretty striking.)
One publisher was trying to sell a debut novel and asked Beryl Bainbridge for a quote.
"Just say whatever you want," she replied.
Gavin James Bower, an editorial director at Quartet Books and author of Made in Britain, had a similar experience when he approached an established author to provide a quote for his first book.
He was told: "I haven't got time, and you shouldn't take the industry so seriously.
Just make it up."
And people wonder why the publishing 'business' -- with such a professional approach ! -- is doing so well .....
The January/February issue of World Literature Today, with a focus on 2012 Neustadt Prize Laureate Rohinton Mistry, is now available, with much of the material freely accessible online.
Particularly welcome: the entire review section is freely available -- hurrah.
Among the many titles of interest: a review of Amélie Nothomb's latest, Barbe Bleue -- which finds:
As always, Nothomb's learning is ostentatious yet winsome and edifying at the same time; her dialogue is quaintly old-fashioned in an irresistibly flamboyant way that suits her often monstrously aristocratic characters.
'The Japan Times invited seven of its book reviewers to pick their favorite books published or made available in Japan in 2012', and the results can be found via their 2012: The year in books-page -- though unfortunately the focus is only limitedly Japanese.
All these German not-quite-lists are so horrifically presented -- in slideshows and the like -- that I am reluctant to even link to them; but if you want to try to navigate them (I couldn't be bothered, past a quick scan of a few frames):
- the Süddeutsche Zeitung asked writers, artists, and intellectuals for their Bücher des Jahres -- their books of the year --, and by scrolling down the left column and clicking on the various figures you can get their various recommendations.
An annual favorite is where The Guardian has: 'publishers on their favourites -- and the ones they wished they had on their own lists', in looking back at The publishing year 2012.
Always interesting to see especially what they think deserved to do better (meaning also: what did (relatively) poorly).
One of the more exciting new publishing ventures is the Library of Arabic Literature, "a new series offering Arabic editions and English translations of key works of classical and premodern Arabic literature", and it has now debuted, with Rym Ghazal reporting in The National on how Arabic literary treasures given new life.
This is a series I hope to be able to devote considerable attention to in 2013.
(The only new classical series I'm more excited about is the Murty Classical Library of India.)
They've announced the finalists for the Íslensku bókmenntaverðlaunin, five titles each in fiction and non; see, for example, the Fabulous Iceland report.
Several of the authors in the fiction category have had titles published in English translation recently -- see, for example, The Greenhouse by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and Children in Reindeer Woods by Kristín Ómarsdóttir.
For previous nominees and winners, see for example the official site page.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Alain Mabanckou's Memoirs of a Porcupine.
Soft Skull brought this out in the US earlier this year, and it's too bad this didn't get much attention stateside (it got a bit more last year in the UK).
Is it something in the air or era ?
Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes is suddenly all the rage.
Or at least getting more attention than usual (i.e. any).
[Updated: As a reader points out, it's at least partially to do with the era -- or at least the times, as 2013 marks the book's centenary.]
In The Economist's year-end double-issue they devote quite a bit of space to it in The girl at the Grand Palais, while at The Rumpus Stephen Policoff writes on it in The Two Tragedies Of Life: Le Grand Meaulnes, Modernism (and Me).
The Economist wonders: "Why are many English-speaking readers unfamiliar with a book adored by some of their most respected writers ?" and finds that:
Much loved yet little read, for almost a century this strange, earnest and inconsolable novel has haunted the fringes of fiction.
Certainly a book that one should be familiar with.
They're getting set to start the Ninth Annual Morning News Tournament of Book, and they've announced the finalists that will be squaring off against one another.
I've only reviewed -- and, indeed, seen -- a single one of these -- HHhH by Laurent Binet -- which doesn't strike me as very tournament-worthy -- but then the longlist titles were selected from (scroll down) also doesn't inspire.
In the Wall Street Journal José de Córdoba profiles A Literary Ambassador, Roberto Ampuero, who has certainly led an interesting life.
One of his books was finally translated into English this year -- The Neruda Case -- and one hopes more will indeed appear in the future.