In 2012, American publishers purchased translation rights for just 453 foreign titles, about 3 percent of the total books published in the U.S.
That sounds nice and authoritative; it is, of course, nonsense.
(Is there anyone resembling a fact-checker who looks at these articles ?)
As longtime readers know, I loathe the 'three percent'-figure -- and its mystery appearance here is one of the reasons.
But at least here the red flag should be obvious to one and all: if 453 is three per cent of: "the total books published in the U.S." -- well, a quick calculation leads to the inescapable conclusion that all of 15,100 books were published in the US in 2012.
And no matter what you reckon is a 'book', that's way too few.
But that's hardly the only problem, even with just that sentence/claim.
Where did the 453 title-number come from ?
Chad Post's invaluable Translation Database at Three Percent; see here, for example, for a discussion of some of these numbers -- which includes the observation that, for the database, Chad did indeed find 453 titles in translation (384 fiction, 69 poetry) published in 2012.
What's the problem ?
Well, for one Larson babbles about how: "American publishers purchased translation rights" for these titles.
Did they ?
Surely not all of them -- some of these works are out of copyright, and no rights had to be purchased.
More importantly, the database only covers some translated titles -- fiction and poetry.
No non-fiction (guess what ? -- that's a significant part of the market; see below), no children's books, no drama, etc.
(In addition, the database only covers newly-translated works: if it's been available in a previous translation it isn't eligible.)
Yes, a lot of this has little to do with Larson's basic, simple point: little Chinese fiction gets translated into English.
But why does she have to throw around these other numbers (which she does not seem to have a good handle on) ?
Larson also notes:
Books translated from English continue to flood into China.
According to the China Book Business Report, a trade paper owned by the China Publishing Group, Chinese publishers bought 14,708 foreign book copyrights in 2011.
First off, again: is there an editor in the house ?
"Chinese publishers bought 14,708 foreign book copyrights" -- emphasis added.
No word (or number) as to how many of those were "translated from English", so we only have her anecdotal evidence that these are the foreign ones flooding in (rather than translations from other languages).
Not good reporting (even though the point is, in fact, basically true).
[A quick lazy search finds some 2010 numbers in a Frankfurt Book Fair report (warning ! dreaded pdf format !): in 2010 China acquired 13,724 foreign titles, with 5,284 from the US, 2,429 from the UK, 1,766 from Japan, 1,027 from South Korea, 739 from Germany, and 737 from France.
Particularly worth noting here: of all the German translation rights sold into the Chinese-speaking territories (including the separately counted Hong Kong and Taiwan), a mere 6.6 per cent were the fiction/literature titles of the sort counted in the Three Percent Translation Database.
A whopping 59 per cent were children's/YA titles, and 21.8 per cent were non-fiction, and 12 per cent were technical books.
Even if the English translations bought by the Chinese were not quite in the same proportions, clearly her comparison of the 16 and 453 numbers (of translations-into-English, from the Translation Database) with translations into the Chinese generally is in the apples-and-oranges category, and not just misleading but close to irrelevant.]
There's also obviously no copy editor in the house, as the article 'sums up':
The bottom line: Chinese publishers bought the China rights to more than 1,400 foreign titles in 2011.
The reverse flow is much smaller.
Okay, technically this might be true -- but obviously they didn't mean to write "1,400 foreign titles" but rather are referring to the "14,708 foreign book copyrights" (i.e. meant to write: "14,000 foreign titles").
Whether the reverse flow is much smaller isn't clear from the data Larson provides.
Yes, very few Chinese novels, in first translation, are published in English; other than that she's (inexplicably) provided no hard numbers of the 'reverse flow' whatsoever.
Of course, the reverse flow is smaller -- though not as much as implied here.
The same source she relies on for the 14,708 foreign book copyrights bought by Chinese publishers number also reveals the number sold by Chinese publishers (find it here (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), for example) in 2011 -- and that's: 5,922.
(Okay, that's why she didn't mention it: that gives a rather different impression than the 16 Chinese titles (translated into English) she found on the Translation Database .....)
The interesting aside here: the same data also gives a number for total titles published in China in 2011 -- 369,500.
And 14,708 foreign book copyrights presumably translated into Chinese accounts for ... 3.98% of all titles.
And suddenly it appears the Chinese aren't that much more enthusiastic translators than the Americans (if you believe/orient yourself on the infamous 'three percent'-number).
Take that with a huge grain of salt, of course -- these numbers (all of them) aren't anywhere so clear cut (there are a host of definitional issues, beginning and ending with what constitutes a 'book') -- but rest assured, this is one really badly put-together piece on non-journalism.
(I realize it's 'just' about publishing, and everyone spouts nonsense in this pseudo-business, but come on, folks !)
One piece of advice I would offer readers who do look at these sorts of articles: if 'three percent' is mentioned to -- as the approximate percentage of books (or works of fiction or whatever) in translation in English -- take great care.
Me, when I see that, I'm starting just to see red .....
At Qantara.de Susanne Schanda has an Egyptian Literature-in(-mainly-German)-translation)-overview, New Departures, New Visions.
Too much space, yet again, for The Yacoubian Building -- though nice to hear Taxi did so well -- but what I was most amused by was the transliteration failure in translating this written-in-German article into English: they figured out the English for 'Der Jakubijân-Bau' -- but didn't realize the Nobel laureate isn't called Nagib Machfus in English ?
In The Telegraph Matthew Stadlen profiles Martin Amis at some length.
All sorts of stuff, of course, as usual -- though amusing to hear that he'd like to win the Man Booker because: "It would make life simpler".
Winners of two of the prestigious Japanese literary awards, the Akutagawa and the Naoki, have been announced; see, for example, The Japan Times report, Fujino wins Akutagawa award; Sakuragi gets Naoki prize.
Fujino Kaori [藤野可織] won the Akutagawa for 爪と目 ('Fingers and Eyes'); Sakuragi Shino [桜木紫乃] took the Naoki for ホテルローヤル ('Hotel Royal').
BookExpo America has announced a 'Global Market Forum: Books in Translation' for next year's BEA.
With "prestigious partners" such as Literary Translation at Columbia, the PEN World Voices Festival, publisher Open Letter Books, the American Literary Translators Association, and (what I assume is) the Center for the Art of Translation this sounds like it has a whole lot of potential, and I look forward to what they come up with.
(Aside: prestigious these partners might be, but none seem in much of a rush to get on the PR bandwagon: not a one of them even mention this anywhere on their sites.
Sure, it's almost a year from now, and these are the slow summer months, but come on, this is news, of sorts, and it's ridiculous that, for example, I'm reporting it before the participants are.)
In Al-Ahram Weekly David Tresilian reviews the promising-sounding anthology, Classical Arabic Literature, that kicks off the even more promising-sounding Library of Arabic Literature (from NYU Press).
I'm not that big on anthologies, but I do look forward to seeing later volumes in this series (and I am kind of tempted by this one ...); see also the LAL publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
As I noted at the start of the year, likely the biggest title of 2013 -- at least in terms of sheer heft -- is the first complete English edition of Giacomo Leopardi's Zibaldone (a seven-translator job of over 2500 pages; see the Farrar, Straus & Giroux publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
The US edition just came out, and it'll be interesting to see how it gets covered and is received (with an "Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,645" as I wrote this -- hey, not too bad).
So far coverage has been ... limited (no Publishers Weekly review ...), and the Italians seem more excited than y'all (In arrivo lo Zibaldone in inglese Prima edizione negli Usa reports the Cronache Maceratesi).
At his ABC of Reading weblog Thomas McGonigle explains: "how it came to be that the editor of the Los Angeles Times book section did not reply to my asking to review the Zibaldone by Giacomo Leopardi".
As McGonigle (eventually) wrote to 'Books and Culture Editor' Joy Press:
I think I can find some words so as to make the notebooks accessible to your readers and I would stick to whatever word count you wished and would be thinking of my unknown reader living in an un-remodeled house in Hermosa Beach some Sunday morning in July.
I know this is an unusual sort of possibility but given the rather dreary reality it is also important to remind ourselves of such books being published etc etc… this is really good news.
As he notes, he had (under a previous editor ...) "written long reviews of writers such as Thomas Bernhard, E. M. Cioran, Peter Esterhazy, William Vollmann, Herta Muller" for The Los Angeles Times; as someone who goes through endless reviews daily I can attest that ones by McGonigle always catch my eye since he tends to review interesting titles -- and his interest in Zibaldone suggests it, too, should be of interest (and certainly might be worth covering).
He apparently received no reply from Press -- so, presumably no The Los Angeles Times review -- and I'm curious where it will be covered.
(Guaranteed: the TLS; likely: Bookforum, The New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the Review of Contemporary Fiction.
Beyond that ? I don't know.)
[Updated 19 July: The Quarterly Conversation reports they will be running a review.])
[Aside: I haven't received (or requested) a copy of Zibaldone; yes, I'm very tempted -- but also terrified.
Still, if FSG decides to send me a copy ... I'd probably get around to it.]
At The New York Times' India Ink weblog Sonal Shah has A Conversation With: Literary Critic and Novelist Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, reporting that: "India’s literary establishment is abuzz about the recently published novel The Mirror of Beauty".
The novel does sound pretty impressive -- but (even despite the praise from Orhan Pamuk) perhaps Shah is a bit premature in asking: "What’s it been like to step into the global literary spotlight ?"
American -- and British -- readers are perhaps correctly considered to be at the periphery of everything 'global literary'; still, one would hope that significant books that might belong in that spotlight are at least vaguely readily available there; alas, the Penguin India edition -- the only English-language one, it seems; see their publicity page -- is, even at the Amazons, only: "Usually dispatched within 1 to 3 months" (try to get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; your best -- and cheapest -- bet is still getting it from Flipkart in India).
Yes, it's the height of summer -- but the announcement of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature is less than a hundred days away (10 October seems the likely announcement date -- unless the deliberations stretch out, in which case it'll be the 17th).
The betting action only really gets going once Ladbrokes opens their book, but two other shops have already set some odds: betsson and betsafe.
Predictably, the odds -- and the writers they offer odds on -- largely reflect the closing odds for the 2012 prize (minus winner Mo Yan -- but still including the ineligible (because deceased) Chinua Achebe) and so, for example, both have Murakami Haruki as their favorite (paying 3.00 and 4.60).
They also agree on Nádas Péter as second or third favorite -- but there are lots of big spreads, so if you have an early favorite it's worth comparing and placing your money carefully: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o pays out five times as much at current odds at betsson as he does at betsafe, Ko Un pays almost ten times as much at betsafe as at betsson.
Both lists have many of the usual suspects, with a few of the surprise-recent-year additions to these betting lists -- Vijaydan Detha and Eduardo Mendoza Garriga, for example.
Betsson has more of the don't-waste-your-money selections: Leif GW Persson and Jan Guillou, as well as the inevitable (and ignorable) Bob Dylan -- but betsafe does think there are people willing to bet on Andrea Camilleri.
Early punt suggestions at these odds: Javier Marías (100/1), Ngũgĩ and Kadare (50/1) at betsson; Ko Un (100/1) and Marías (75/1) at betsafe -- and maybe Amos Oz (27/1 at both).
But the real betting and speculation fun begins when Ladbrokes weighs in -- though that shouldn't stop you from starting to guess and argue.
The Nobel Prize in Literature is the undisputed top international author prize, but the Neustadt International Prize for Literature has a good track record too, and with its unusual nomination procedure (the members of the jury -- of well-known writers -- each get to select one nominee) generally produces an interesting list of finalists -- as they have again for the 2014 prize, as yesterday The 23rd Biennial Neustadt International Prize for Literature Nominees Announced: César Aira, Mia Couto, Duong Thu Huong, Edward P. Jones, Ilya Kaminsky, Chang-rae Lee, Edouard Maunick, Murakami Haruki, and Ghassan Zaqta.
I have a pile of Duong Thu Huong books I've been meaning to review, but aside from the Murakamis and one Couto (The Tuner of Silences) the only titles by any of the nominees under review at the complete review are those by Aira:
Aside from some Duong books, as well as the just-published re-issue of Aira's The Hare I don't see myself getting to many other titles by the other authors before the announcement of the prize next year .....
In The Budapest Times Bénédicte Williams has a Q & A with translator-from-the Hungarian George Szirtes, Giving voice to foreign literature.
Apparently: "In English Krasznahorkai may be slightly funnier" -- and he suggests Satantango appealed to the American judges for the Best Translated Book Award more than the British Independent Foreign Fiction Prize because:
I think it appealed particularly to Americans because there's something quite mega and apocalyptic about Krasznahorkai's vision.
It's very sweeping, which appealed very much to the American imagination.
The book was also longlisted for an English book prize, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, which was not just for the translation but for the whole book, but didn't make the shortlist.
I think the English preference is on the whole for the intimate, the smaller scale, which is less of an advantage for Krasznahorkai.
In America there's a tradition of great universalist works, of the great American novel.
This kind of vision in which everything is subsumed under some kind of apocalyptic omen appeals more to the American imagination.
He also notes that: "The Bánffy books, for instance, struck a nerve" in England -- and it'll be interesting to see how they do in the US, now that they've (just) come out in an Everyman's edition (see the publicity page for volume one, or get your copy at Amazon.com (or the older Arcadia edition from Amazon.co.uk)).
Yes, now officially: Judges Announced for Inaugural Folio Prize 2014, a new literary prize: "open to all works of fiction written in English and published in the UK" (i.e. a prize that considers US works, too (if they've made it across the Atlantic and found a UK publisher), unlike (infamously) the Man Booker) -- and they are: Lavinia Greenlaw, Michael Chabon, Sarah Hall, Nam Le, and Pankaj Mishra.
Lots were drawn by members of The Folio Prize Foundation until the panel consisted of no more than 3 members of the same gender, with 3 judges from the UK and 2 from further afield.
The judges will consider 80 books -- 60 nominated by the Academy, and then 20 called in by the judges (apparently largely on the basis of: "letters in support of additional titles" submitted by publishers) -- and then come up with an eight-title shortlist.
Unconscionably, outrageously, and ridiculously there are no plans to reveal the eighty titles under consideration.
(Why are they being kept secret ? What possible purpose can that serve, except to make us doubt that it's truly the best eighty titles of the year being considered ? Unless the titles are revealed how are we to believe all these writers aren't just nominating their best friends' books in the biggest literary logrolling-con in recent memory ?)
The shortlist will be announced in February 2014.
The July issue of Asymptote -- the: "international journal dedicated to literary translation" -- is now available online.
As usual, just a ton of great stuff -- check it out when you've got a few hours to spare.
Ah, yes, that traditional summer newspaper/magazine filler -- but The Observer's collection of Best holiday reads 2013 has a decent selection of "writers and critics" revealing what they plan to be reading.
Julian Barnes seems a bit behind the curve (and Ian McEwan) when he suggests: "John Williams's Stoner is not about drugs -- or written by the guitarist -- but by a forgotten American; first published in 1965, it is one of those purely sad, sadly pure novels that deserves to be rediscovered" (see also yesterday's mention), but good for Hari Kunzru for tackling the book that most impressed me last year, Gerald Murnane's Barley Patch (and bonus points for the selection of Tabucchi's Pereira Maintains on top of that ...).
A reasonably interesting selection, in any case.
In The Reporter (Ethiopia) Maaza Mengiste finds that 'Too often the continent's writers are quizzed about their identity rather than the world they create', in What makes a 'real African' ?
Mengiste notes the 'do you consider yourself an African writer ?' question is near-ubiquitous:
None of us spoke the same language, and none of the languages being translated from German were indigenous to the countries where we were born.
Yet the question didn't take that into consideration.
It was so broad as to be disconcertingly limiting, yet it wasn't the first time I'd heard it and it wouldn't be the last.
It seems that every new writer with any remote connection to the continent of Africa, either willingly or unwillingly, has first to wrestle with this question of identity before talking about what should matter most: their book.
There's an idea -- that it's the book that counts .....
Of course, such geographic lumping-together is not isolated to 'African' writers (by which, oddly enough, generally only sub-Saharan writers are meant -- Maghrebi writers, for example, tend instead to be lumped together under the 'Arabic' umbrella (even if they don't write in Arabic ...)).
They've announced that the Vatican will be the guest of honor at the Salone Internazionale del Libro in Torino in 2014 -- which comes as a surprise to many, since apparently Turkey and Papua New Guinea were the official candidates for the slot.
As Hürriyet report, however: Vatican, not Turkey, named as fair guest.
The Hürriyet report claims the fair: "hosted Israel this year for the event" which is, at best misleading (and at worst meant to incite ...) -- Chile was the official guest of honor; still, it's a disappointing selection.
On the other hand, the Pope apparently may show up, and he presumably (and inexplicably) is a bigger draw than anyone they could get from Turkey (or PNG) -- a sign that their priorities aren't the books but rather empty publicity and mass-pleasing.
Apparently the Vatican was in line for the 2015 fair, but they pushed it up -- religious books now all the fad, what with a new head guy at the Vatican and whatnot.
I'm not thrilled by the choice: I have no idea how much fiction emerges from Papua New Guinea annually (very little, I'm afraid -- none has come across my desk recently), but I think it's safe to guess that even if the number of titles is only in the single digits, that's still more than emerges from the single-mindedly ideological sinkhole that is the Vatican -- and let's face it: fiction is what counts (as opposed to the Vatican's mumbo-jumbo).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of popular Italian author Niccolò Ammaniti's satire, Let the Games Begin, now coming out in English (from Black Cat/Grove in the US, and Canongate in the UK).
They've announced the longlist for the Русский Букер (the 'Russian Booker'), selecting 24 out of the 87 titles that were considered (unfortunately in best worst Booker tradition, they don't reveal the full list of contenders).
In The Moscow Times they report that Russian Booker Nominees Listed -- and no doubt Lizok's Bookshelf will be on top of this soon too [updated: indeed she now looks into it, here].
The six-title shortlist will announced on 3 October.
In The Telegraph John Sutherland notes the surprising current-day success of John Williams' Stoner -- a long largely overlooked novel (that I'll get to, eventually) -- and suggests: Literature needs more Lazarus miracles like Stoner.
He also reveals:
What five would top my list of books to be brought up from the cellar ?
If I had the McEwan-Lazarus touch, I’d point to the following (of many):
(Updated - 15 July): See now also The Modern Novel's reaction to Sutherland's selections -- as well as that site's list of Neglected books/authors (which also offers links to many other neglected books pages -- scroll down).
There are several reasons for Bolaño's worldwide acclaim.
The first is obvious: his immense talent, capable of adding sex to Borges, muscle to Nicanor Parra, lyricism to Rodolfo Wilcock.
That's a about as backhanded a compliment as you can make it: sure, you can find reviews at the complete review of works by Parra (Antipoems) and Rodolfo Wilcock (The Temple of Iconoclasts) (and Borges, too, of course), but beyond the Spanish-speaking world, beyond a tiny ultra-literary audience, who the hell has ever heard of these guys ?
More interestingly, Neuman writes:
Bolaño lays bare his characters' intimate life while they are busy reflecting on literary minutiae. Nothing exists as a fact in Bolaño's texts: everything is a death rattle.
(Note that New Directions has also just published a beautiful edition of Bolaño's collected poetry as The Unknown University (my review forthcoming; see the New Directions publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.ul);
poor editing in this translation of Neuman's piece finds reference to: "The Unknown University, a compilation of his juvenile poetry", which surely just confuses readers (even the Spanish edition, La Universidad Desconocida (see the Anagrama publicity page, looks like a collected edition, so the only way to read this is that Neuman is implying that he considers all of Bolaño's poetry immature and juvenile (as opposed to this being merely a volume of Bolaño's 'early' poetry.).)
In the Saturday Sun they have a Q & A with Chika Unigwe.
Among the disappointing answers is that she takes more than just the money from the prizes she's been awarded, admitting: "Winning validates what I do as a writer".
Hey, whatever works for her, but that's a sad and dangerous place to pin your validation-hopes on .....
But maybe she has her priorities right:
Winning the $100 NLNG Prize is a fillip to any writer anywhere.
Has it made any difference in your life ?
I have bought more shoes.
(That's US$100,000, by the way, that that prize is worth.)
They've announced the shortlists for the 2013 PEN Literary Awards.
No books in most of these categories -- which include the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing and the PEN/Steven Kroll Award for Picture Book Writing -- are under review at the complete review, but one of the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation finalists is: Tales of a Severed Head by Rachida Madani -- and I've actually read all the PEN Translation Prize finalists (though only reviewed two).
Quite a contrast to the Best Translated Book Award finalists (and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize finalists) covering the same period:
The Goethe Institut has been conducting a large-scale survey "about a European culture", Europa-Liste.
With 22,235 participants, the results are now in, with respondents answering question such as: 'Who is the greatest literary figure in European literature ?' (Don Quixote beats out Shakespeare) or 'What is Europe's most significant contribution to world culture ?' (democracy).
More fun, of course, are the differing national results -- though the small samples for some countries skew results (Algerians really think the second most significant European artist (just ahead of Mozart) is ... Zac Elfron [sic] ?).
The longlist for the 2013 Man Booker Prize will be announced on 23 July -- the first we'll have any idea what novels have been entered for this prize.
As longtime readers know, my prime complaint against this prize (and many other literary prizes) is that they don't reveal what books are actually in the running for it -- i.e. the pool of books that have been entered, from which the long/shortlist and winner will be selected.
In the case of the Man Booker, with such tight rules about eligibility (each UK publisher is only allowed to submit two titles, with only a few other possibilities for titles to slip into the mix), this is especially problematic -- and baffling: there's no good reason to keep the list secret, except so that publishers can lie to their authors and claim they did submit specific titles when, in fact, they didn't.
In a cruel tease the Man Booker folk have now released two photographs displaying all the entered titles -- but, unfortunately, the pictures are not very revealing .....
I hope that UK book-detectives can identify some of the volumes .....
The German prize for the best books from independent publishers has the horrific name of Hotlist -- but it's still a pretty decent idea, and showcases an interesting selection of books: 141 titles were submitted (and they reveal them all -- hey, Man Booker folk, you could learn a thing or two (see above)) and they've now named the thirty longlisted titles (from which ten will be chosen for the, sigh, 'Hotlist').
A couple of translated-from-the English books are among the final 30 (books by Philip Hoare, Amy Hempel, Jamaica Kincaid, Chris Ware); the only book under review at the complete review is Murakami Ryu's Audition ('Das Casting').