SaharaReporters has a Q & A with Wole Soyinka -- mainly about Chinua Achebe.
Interesting stuff, including his early doubts about the Heinemann African Writers Series (whereby Sri Lanka might not be the best example -- given how little-known Sri Lankan literature remains abroad, a series might have been damn helpful ...).
Of course the Nobel comes up, too -- which Soyinka won and Achebe didn't.
As I noted a few days ago, the Swedish Academy has just settled on the five finalists for this year's prize.
As a laureate, Soyinka can submit a name each year -- not that he gives much away here:
As a 'club member,' however, I can nominate, and it is no business of literary ignoramuses whom, if any, I do nominate.
My literary tastes are eclectic, sustainable, and unapologetic.
Telegram Books have been publishing Icelandic author Sjón's books in the UK for a while now, and now he finally gets the proper treatment in the US as well, as Farrar, Straus and Giroux brought out a trio of his novels last week; two of them are the most recent additions to the complete review:
In The Australian they have an adapted version of Helen Garner's keynote speech last month at the inaugural Stella Prize, the new Australian literary prize that only considers works by women -- though in speaking about The losing game of writing books to win Garner's focus isn't on the women-only aspect as instead she talks more generally:
about the bizarre effects of prizes on people's idea of their own worth, and about the undeniable fact that every girl who writes needs a bucket of cash to be thrown over her at least once in her life, so she can soldier on, and even feel for a while that it's been worth the torture.
I missed this last week, but they've announced the longlist for the (South African) Sunday Times Fiction Prize -- where, unusually for a literary prize, once again: "A large number of books on the longlist this year are crime novels".
Among the authors of note with books on the 31-title-strong longlist are: Michiel Heyns, Nadine Gordimer, Imraan Coovadia (with the wonderfully titled The Institute for Taxi Poetry -- which I'd love to see), and Andre Brink.
(Updated): This is one fast-paced literary prize: even as I originally posted this, they'd already announced the shortlist.
5 candidates have been selected for 2013 #NobelPrize in #Literature according to Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy.
The permanent secretary, Peter Englund, goes into a bit more detail at his weblog, Att vara ständig -- and apparently the five names have only been submitted; it's not entirely final until the last session before the summer at the end of the month.
A couple of observations here:
- No, they don't reveal the names.
Not until fifty (and a half) years from now.
In fact, they try very hard to keep them secret.
When the Nobel Prizes launched in 1901, possible choices for the award in literature, bestowed upon a living writer to honor their entire life's work, included such historical titans as Leo Tolstoy, Edith Wharton, and Henry James.
The thing is, as a search for the 1901 nominees shows, Tolstoy, Wharton, and James were not among the names submitted to the Swedish Academy for consideration -- while eventual laureate Sully Prudhomme was nominated by three individuals (including a University of Uppsala professor), as well as a whole gang of French academicians -- i.e. he had a lot of support.
This is relevant, because easy as it is for outsiders to say authors X,Y, and Z are obviously the most deserving, someone still has to nominate them for them to (possibly) make the final cut.
So, for example, the information that this year the Swedish Academy tried to reach out to more African academics in the nominating procedure might suggest that there's a higher-than-usual chance of African names appearing in the pool the finalists were selected from.
On the other hand, less well-known writers from less widely translated languages -- especially authors not in official favor (in a lot of these countries official writers' bodies do the nominating) -- are disadvantaged.
- The only author whose nomination has widely (and controversially) been acknowledged is Paul Goma, his name submitted by the Writers' Union of Moldavia; see, for example, the Mediafax report -- and e.g. the Times of Israel report, Author accused of anti-Semitism nominated for Nobel.
(His nomination can't just be dismissed out of hand as (noxious) political posturing, either: he doesn't stand much of a chance of winning -- after Herta Müller, it's unlikely another Romanian dissident would get the prize so soon -- but he's not just some two-bit hack (and he had very good dissident cred back in the day); among his books available in English is My Childhood at the Gate of Unrest (published by Readers International); (try to) get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
In any case, now that the list is down to a manageable five, things get more interesting.
The Swedish Academy members, who will be reading up on the finalists, will try to be careful, but it's probably pretty hard for all of them to cover their reading-tracks convincingly: it seems pretty clear, for example, that Mo Yan's name cropped up more last summer than they would have liked (which is why he found himself a betting favorite right from the start of last year's Nobel betting-season).
The fact that a finalist or two or all five are identified only gets us so much closer to the actual winner -- who they only decide on in late September/early October, after all, but it's nice to be able to narrow the list down .....
I wonder whether Swedish bookshops (or the various European Amazons -- surely some of the finalists' books will have to be ordered from abroad, as it's unlikely they have all been translated into Swedish) are tracking bigger orders to the Academy or the members .....
And a closer translation-watch is probably also called for: the Academy is apparently willing to commission translations of untranslated works, so if a translator from some obscure language suddenly has a big hush-hush project going .....
At this point, the fact that they're down to five names doesn't get us (immediately) any closer to figuring out who the likely winner is (or, indeed, who is left in the running).
Will Chinua Achebe's passing and the nominations from more African academics nudge them towards some continental names -- perennials like Nuruddin Farah or Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (or, dare I hope, someone like Ayi Kwei Armah) ?
Did someone remember to nominate The Colonel-author Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, whose work-available-in-translation may have finally hit the critical level where he can't readily be overlooked any longer ?
Will they toss it at Philip Roth, now that the old man has promised not to write any more books ?
Here's hoping Swedes everywhere (and anyone in places where these academicians vacation) are keeping a close eye on the reading material the Swedish Academicians are lugging around .....
Sightings and gossip are always welcome here, too, if you have any to offer .....
is now translating Murakami's latest best-seller, Shikisai o Motanai Tazaki Tsukuru to, Kare no Junrei no Toshi [色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年] (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage).
He plans to complete the translation by the year-end, with publication expected in 2014.
"It is a very realistic book, like Norwegian Wood," Gabriel said in an e-mail interview.
"To me, it seems more serious, even somber, compared to some of his other novels, but one ultimately that is hopeful."
Don't worry, Murakami's other translator, Jay Rubin hasn't been forgotten, and he:
is currently translating Murakami's Ozawa Seiji-san to, Ongaku ni Tsuite Hanashi o Suru [小澤征爾さんと, 音楽について話をする] (Talking with Seiji Ozawa about music), which was published in 2011.
Publishers do avoid taking a risk with anything that is considered 'non-commercial'
As I noted yesterday, one of the just-announced Commonwealth Prize regional winners also self-published; I find it hard not to see the increasing success many self-published writers are finding a sign that publishers are falling down on the job.
At the Words without Borders Dispatches weblog Alison Anderson wonders Where Are the Women in Translation ? noting that for translated works women authors are under-represented even more than the abysmal VIDA count has for reviews (and bylines, etc.) in general:
Twenty-six percent, however, is just an average I have chosen from my informal and hardly exhaustive or scientific survey into the percentage of women authors published in translation in a given year.
(If anyone would like a more precise breakdown of the numbers, please contact me.)
As I've noted many times previously, female authors are grossly under-represented among authors reviewed at the complete review -- historically (and pretty consistently) barely over 15 per cent of all reviewed titles are by female authors.
(Yes, the most recently added review is of a book by a woman; yes, two of the past three added reviews are by women -- but look at say the last thirty or so titles and you're right back at that historic average .....)
As Ruth Franklin noted on the subject in A Literary Glass Ceiling ? at The New Republic two years ago, one of the reasons for less reviews of books authored by women is simply because there are less of them to review -- maybe not across the board, but among the books considered by them (and me).
So, for example, she found independents clearly under-publish women:
Graywolf, with 25 percent female authors, was our highest-scoring independent.
The cutting-edge Brooklyn publisher Melville House came in at 20 percent.
The doggedly leftist house Verso was second-to-last at 11 percent.
Our lowest scorer ? It pains me to say it, because Dalkey Archive Press publishes some great books that are ignored by the mainstream houses.
But it would be nice if more than 10 percent of them were by women.
(I note that Dalkey Archive is one of the publishers who have put out the most books under review at the complete review -- well over 100 (and, yes, there's probably something sexist about my reviewing so many of their books ...).)
Interestingly, this seems a particular issue with works in translation -- leading back to Anderson's question.
Indeed, as I mentioned when I first mentioned Franklin's piece, some independents do even worse than the ones she looked at -- including, shockingly, translation-specialist Archipelago: a quick count suggests that out of 88 titles in their catalog only seven are authored by women (and four of those are by the same author, Magdalena Tulli).
Another newer translation-focused publisher is Open Letter, and while at 12 out of 50 it scores considerably better, that (women still come in as authors of less than a quarter of all titles) still doesn't really impress.
This seems to be a really deep-rooted problem/issue, and publishers really might want to look into this: I note, for example, that of the sixteen just announced 2013 English PEN grants for translation (see also below) two are anthologies, thirteen of the to-be-translated books are by men, and one is by a woman (Julia Franck).
Seriously folks ?
(Note that female translators, on the other hand, are very nicely represented.)
English PEN has announced its 2013 awards for promotion (of five translated titles) and for translation (sixteen titles).
Some promising-looking stuff here -- and, of course, I'm thrilled to see another book by The Colonel-author Mahmoud Dowlatabadi forthcoming in translation.
They've announced the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize regional winners.
Disappointingly, the book prize has become solely a first book prize; impressively, one of the regional winners is a self-published work (good for them for being open to them).
The stories will apparently be published online by Granta starting 27 May.
The overall winners, selected from these finalists, will be announced 31 May.
The shortlist for the Caine Prize for African Writing -- another short story prize -- has been announced; all the finalist-stories can be read on the site (albeit only in the dreaded pdf format).
While the shortlist was selected from 96 entries from 16 African countries (far too few !), an amazing four of the five finalists are Nigerian authors.
Certainly, the Nigerian scene is a particularly vibrant one -- still, that's a shocking imbalance.
But I must say I was impressed that one of the stories was originally published in the Journal of Progressive Human Services (print subscription pricing (for three issues a year): $140.00).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean-Pierre Ohl's The Lairds of Cromarty -- apparently now out in the US, too.
This is yet another Dedalus title that seems to have gotten practically no review attention -- I'm mystified why the UK print media is ignoring so many of their titles.
They'll be announcing the "largest undergraduate literary prize in the nation" (the US, that is -- though in fact it seems to be the biggest in the world) -- worth a cool $61,192 this year (up from $58,274 last year) -- today, Washington College's Sophie Kerr Prize.
They announced the five finalists earlier this month.
They're all English majors, and the portfolio of one includes: "an excerpt from a screenplay about a man who accidentally discovers photographs of Sigmund Freud dressed in women's clothing".
[Updated - 15 May]: And now they've announced that Tim Marcin took the prize.
(No, he wasn't the guy with the Freud screenplay.)
At $61,192 the Sophie Kerr is, of course, not to be outdone -- but the University of Texas at Austin tried, or at least tried to steal some of the thunder, by annoucing yesterday that English Senior Wins $50,000 Keene Prize for Literature.
Okay, the Keene is only: "one of the world's largest student literary prizes" -- but it's still good money (and the runners-up do better, since: "An additional $50,000 will be divided among three finalists").
I have no idea about the winner's actual talents, but, man, has she racked up the honors.
Leaving aside the Keene:
She is also a recent recipient of the George H. Mitchell Undergraduate Award for Academic Achievement, sharing the $25,000 top prize.
Last year, she received the Roy Crane Award for Outstanding Creative Achievement in the Literary Arts, the Ellen Engler Burks Memorial Scholarship, the Bailey Prize in Poetry, and the James F. Parker Prize from the English Department.
For her work on her senior thesis, a study of the poet Frank Stanford, Noble won a Rapoport-King Scholarship.
At Beijing Normal University they've officially opened an International Writing Center (国际写作中心); see the official press release (sorry, Chinese); I haven't been able to find a departmental page/listing at the BNU site yet.
Nobel laureate and Sandalwood Death-author Mo Yan is apparently the director; see, for example, the Xinhua report Mo Yan heads alma mater's writing center.
He thinks it's time to encourage undergraduates to write (creatively) as well; no word yet whether remunerative American-style undergraduate writing prizes (see above) are in the works to add encouragement .....
Goethe in translation is a radically diminished author.
And, yes, the sublime 'Über allen Gipfeln/ist Ruh' readily makes that clear.
As Sokolov notes, even Goethe's best-known works are hardly read in the English-speaking countries nowadays.
The shame of it, too, is that there's so much to Goethe, beyond just the most obvious (Werther, Faust, and some of the poems) -- huge chunks of his collected works (over forty volumes and somewhere north of 50,000 pages in the Suhrkamp collected works edition ...) are first rate.
Usually every couple of months in the US you hear of some case where a publisher or author tries to game the bestseller lists through bulk sales (and purchases) of a title, artificlally inflating sales totals.
In South Korea the game apparently works differently, as Kim Tong-hyung reports in The Korea Times in Plot turns for the worse that publishers:
stockpiled large volumes of the books and fraudulently represented them as being sold
Needless to say, such:
Allegations that publishers are inflating the sales of books are another scandal the country’s terminally ill book market can do without.
As one person suggests:
This represents the state of the Korean publishing market, which has become a black hole that sucks up everything except for books listed as bestsellers.
Industry people talk about how big bookstores and online retailers will concentrate on promoting the books they anticipate will be absorbed by the publishers themselves, rather than the works they think will appeal to readers the most.
Indeed, Kim is anything but sanguine:
Through a wave of consolidation that accompanied the bad economy in the past decade, the market is now dominated by mega retail chains like Kyobo Bookstore and a few large corporations that control the most influential publishing houses.
Diversity was hurt as small publishers were driven out or marginalized, an intellectual vacuum epitomized by the slew of self-help books that are often worse than useless.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ayesha Jalal on Manto's Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide, in The Pity of Partition, just out from Princeton University Press.
Online retailers, led by Amazon, accounted for 44% of sales in 2012, up from 39% in 2011. The gains made by online retailers came at the expense of bookstore chains, whose market share fell to 19%, from 26% in 2011.
Amazing, too, that:
E-books captured 11% of all book spending last year, up from 7% in 2011, Kulo reported, while e-books accounted for 22% of units in 2012, up from 14% the prior year.
And a perhaps unexpected side-effect -- and particularly worrisome phenomenon (which I 'd love to see some studies on):
As consumers buy more e-books they also tend to buy more print books from the same outlet -- a trend that has cemented Amazon's position as the country's largest booksellers,
The Premio Planeta de novela, awarded to a Spanish novel since 1952, doesn't have a stellar record of the prizewinner getting translated into English (see this convenient list of winners), but is a bit hard to overlook because, with a cash award of a staggering €601,000 (US$780,367 at current rates), it dwarfs pretty much every other book-prize out there.
As I mentioned back in the day, Riña de gatos, by (No Word From Gurb author) Eduardo Mendoza, took the 2010 prize -- and now MacLehose Press have brought out an English translation (at least in the UK ...).
The first reviews are in, too, and in the Irish Times Eileen Battersby reviews it -- finding the awarding of the Planeta for it: "an eccentric prize for an eccentric book".
See also Christian House's review in The Independent.
See also the MacLehose Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk (like I said: no US edition yet).
All Iranian novels will soon be supported by Iran's Foreign Ministry's new department, Center on Public Diplomacy, and introduced to the world.
Anything that wrests any control from everybody's favorite two-in-one governmental institution, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, can only be welcomed, but somehow I have my doubts about "all" Iranian novels getting support (much less being introduced to the world, sigh).
I propose a major, joint project of "Presenting Pakistan to the World", with objectives and aims, plans and sub-projects, outcomes and results.
It could be coordinated by the Ministries of Culture, Foreign Affairs, Tourism, the Academy of Letters and other bodies, with private sector and foreign embassy funding.
The writers would be given tasks and slots and some headings for what to write about.
Meanwhile, in The Friday Times Raza Rumi 'reports on the recently held literature festival in Islamabad and the way it might reshape the city's culture', in A literary landmark.
As I've repeatedly mentioned (the last time: here), The New York Times Book Review is under new leadership (Sam Tanenhaus is out, Pamela Paul is in), and I've been nervously wondering what would become of it (yes, foolishly I hold out hope that it might be salvaged, despite how it's just a shadow of its pre-Tanenhaus self (long pre-Tanenhaus, I should add: he's not solely responsible, but he sure helped sink the ship faster than I would have thought possible).
As longtime readers know, I frequently carped about Tanenhaus' extremely limited coverage of anything in translation (and his unwavering predilection for re-translations and books-by-dead-authors on the rare occasions when he did allow anything in translation to be covered in these pages).
In the first few -- surely also still transitional (i.e. with a big Tanenhaus imprimatur still very noticeable throughout) -- issues things haven't looked good (i.e. different, much less better).
Now comes the 12 May issue, which proved to be something of a roller-coaster ride from the ridiculous to the sublime for me:
Here I found:
THE BAD -- no, 'bad' or 'awful' or 'outrageous' doesn't even begin to describe it.
The first article from the issue to be made available online, several days ago (i.e. long before the bulk of the issue) was yet another installment of the relatively new 'By the Book' feature -- Q & As with authors (an idea that has some potential -- depending, of course, both on the authors selected and on the questions posed).
So far, they haven't won me over with what they've done with this -- and I thought they had scraped the bottom of the barrel a couple of weeks ago, when they already gave us what nobody possibly needed -- an Isabel Allende Q & A -- but it turned out I wasn't even close.
No, with this week's episode, a Q & A with a young woman whose only claim to fame is that she has been accused of murder (and against whom legal proceedings in that case are not yet closed), my heart sank as it seemed clear to me that it was all over: with this The New York Times Book Review had finally, definitively, irredeemably (and reprehensibly) jumped the shark.
Paul is no doubt getting many pats on the back and congratulations for it: I'm sure that it's gotten a ton of page-views -- probably more than almost any NYTBR in recent times.
But come on, this is tabloid stuff that's unworthy of the NYTBR.
But then, when they posted the complete issue, I also found:
THE GOOD: a review of a book in translation ! A review of Arnon Grunberg's Tirza, no less -- i.e. something really worthy of their (and your) attention.
By a living author !
Never previously translated !
True, the book came out almost three months ago -- but, hey, better late than never.
(I won't rub it in that my review of it was posted in 2009 ... whoops, I guess I will .....)
(I hope that the NYTBR review helps give the book an apparently sorely needed boost -- though even as I post this, when the review has been available online for a few hours, the Amazon Best Sellers Rank (as their 'sales rank' is apparently now called) of the novel is still only a dismal 444,052 (i.e. it has had zero impact so far).
Come on, people: this is similar to Herman Koch's (NYTBR bestseller !) The Dinner in how it unfolds (and both how dark and how comic it is), but it's a far superior work.
(Same translator, too.))
And, finally, there was also this:
BEYOND WORDS: Yes, I was thrilled to see the review of Tirza, and then to see that there were reviews of two more books in translation -- unbelievable !
But ... well, you know what's coming, right ?
The reviews are of a collection of Nikolai Leskov stories, and of Albert Camus' Algerian Chronicles.
That's right: two dead authors, and one of the books a collection of re-translations (and with a fair chunk of the Camus also previously translated ...).
I'm laughing through the tears.
Old (bad) habits apparently die really, really hard.