The 50th Anniversary Issue of The New York Review of Books has quite a few worthwhile pieces, with several of the reviews ones of titles that have been available for a while, such as Diane Johnson's of Mark McGurl's The Program Era -- and J.M.Coetzee's, on Patrick White's posthumously published fragment, The Hanging Garden (neither of which is freely accessible online at this time).
The Coetzee, in particular, is interesting.
In many ways, it's a typical NYRB 'review': 724 words before the book (ostensibly) under review is even mentioned, and then way too much summary in the book-discussion itself -- but it's what comes in between that's of interest.
Coetzee notes: "in his will [White] instructed his literary executor, his agent Barbara Mobbs, to destroy whatever papers he left behind" -- and she didn't, which is why/how we now have The Hanging Garden.
Coetzee acknowledges that: "The world is a richer place now that we have The Hanging Garden" -- but wonders what White, or authors like Kakfa (who famously also insisted his unpublished works should be destroyed upon his death), would make of those they had entrusted with their legacies, who blatantly went against their express wishes.
Clearly, Coetzee has a problem with folks like Brod (Kafka's executor) and Mobbs -- and he goes into the question in some depth, going so far as to cite the American Law Institute's Restatement of Property, Wills and Other Donative Transfers (albeit the 1999 one).
ALI citation is pretty hardcore; Coetzee has clearly been considering this issue fairly seriously.
Might one infer that 73-year-old author is thinking about his own unpublished papers ?
It's hard not to when he writes:
Public opinion is, I would guess, solidly behind executors like Brod and Mobbs who refuse to carry out their testamentary instructions on the twofold grounds that they are in a better position than the deceased to see the broad significance of the work, and that considerations of the public good should trump the expressed wishes of the deceased.
What then should a writer do if he truly, finally, and absolutely wants his papers to be destroyed ?
In the reigning legal climate, the best answer would seem to be: do the job yourself.
Furthermore, do it early, before you are physically incapable. If you delay too long, you will have to instruct someone else to act on your behalf, and that person may decide that you do not truly, finally, and absolutely mean what you say.
It wouldn't surprise me to hear that Coetzee's neighbors have seen the occasional small bonfire in his backyard recently .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Michael Crichton's 1972 novel, Binary.
This is one of eight early Crichton novels, originally published under the pseudonym 'John Lange', that Hard Case Crime is now republishing.
At his weblog Swedish Academy man Peter Englund confirms what had been expected: Alice Munro isn't heading to Sweden to pick up her Nobel Prize in December, citing health reasons.
Amazingly, she's now the fourth of the last ten literature laureates who begged off picking up the prize in person -- after Jelinek, Pinter, and Lessing.
Even more amazing: the last three English-writing laureates have all not made the trip.
Before this recent batch, no-shows were an absolute rarity: most laureates seem to like to bask in the Swedish spotlight.
But then again, most have been in better health than this group.
In Javier Marías' The Infatuations Honoré de Balzac's Colonel Chabert is much-discussed; always a Balzac fan, I hadn't gotten around to this one yet, but reading the Marías gave me the push I needed, and so that novella is the most recent addition to the complete review.
(That's the nineteenth Balzac title I've read, adding up to close to 6000 pages worth, and yet I seem to have barely scraped the surface, with many of the major works still unread.)
At Qantara.de Regina Keil-Sagawe has a Q & A with Yasmina Khadra.
Among the topics is the film adaptation of his novel The Attack, which was was honored as Best International Literary Adaptation at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair.
And apparently he's a big fan of the Spanish literary establishment:
The Spanish media has always treated me well.
No journalist has ever attempted to distort my image.
The Spanish are professional critics, honourable, conscientious, unprejudiced and free from arrogance.
Suggesting, of course, that elsewhere the situation is different .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Donna Tartt's apparently much-anticipated third novel, The Goldfinch.
I didn't board the Tartt bandwagon when it apparently started in 1992; if the rhapsodizing about the cover of The Secret History two decades after the fact is anything to go by -- see here and here -- well, that was probably enough to turn me off back in the day.
I did eventually pick up the mass-market edition Ivy Books paperback, presumably a year or two after it came out, on the cheap, used.
I enjoyed it -- it was just what I'd hope for and expect in a mass-market paperback, my kind of beach read or thriller for a long flight -- but I still didn't see what all the fuss was about.
And, of course, a few years later, the terrible The Little Friend did nothing to convince me Tartt might be an exceptional talent (indeed, it was hard not to think at that point that she was strictly one-and-done).
The Goldfinch is a return to form, I suppose -- perfectly fine, as a reasonably well-written (if imperfectly cobbled together) semi-thriller, another solid beach read.
Literature, on the other hand -- despite the nods to Dickens and the painting that gives the book its title -- it ain't.
Not that she might not have it in her, but her insistence on using thriller-elements -- rather over the top elements, in terms of both characters and events -- saps much of the seriousness of the novel.
The fact that her protagonists continue to have difficulties in becoming in any way convincingly adult is also beginning to wear rather thin.
The mixed reactions in the early reviews -- from great enthusiasm to outright disappointment -- are also fun to follow.
Certainly, there's a lot here to argue about (my review is some 2300 words long -- the third-longest review appearing on the site this year -- and even I feel I was only scratching the surface), though I am surprised by how forgiving many of the reviewers have been.
Still, one can take heart that it'll presumably be another decade before Tartt-mania sweeps the lands again (well, after we've dealt with the current wave, as the deafening gushery is still only getting louder these days and weeks ...).
Yes, Eleanor Catton cashed in nicely on Tuesday in winning the Man Booker Prize goes with The Luminaries: her £50,000 payday (and the royalties to come) isn't bad -- but at least in the short term the big winner that same day was Clara Sánchez, whose El cielo ha vuelto won the Premio Planeta -- which pays out a tidy €601,000.
No word yet at the official site, but see, for example, Spanish Writer Clara Sanchez Wins Planeta Prize at Hispanically Speaking News (the Man Booker gets press coverage around the world; this prize barely seems to rate an English-language mention ...).
In good timing, Sánchez's The Scent of Lemon Leaves is just out in the US; see the Alma publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The leading Polish book prize, the Nike, was awarded last week; sorry to be late with this, but given that they don't even have the news up at the official site yet .....
Ciemno, prawie noc, by Joanna Bator, took the prize; see, for example, the Gazeta Wyborczareport.
Outside German, she's not well-known abroad, but impressively And Other Stories already had an eye out on this one.
They've trimmed the (US) National Book Award lists to five finalists in each of the four categories.
Some interesting sounding books among them but, alas, not a one of the twenty has come across my desk.
The remarkable Georg Büchner was born two hundred years ago today.
He died age twenty-three, and few have had as great an impact despite dying so young (even Keats at least made it to twenty-five).
Archipelago brought out his Lenz a while back -- see their publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.com -- and at their site they now have translator Richard Sieburth on Georg Büchner's 200th Birthday.
They've announced that the 2013 Man Booker Prize goes to The Luminaries (by Eleanor Catton).
It just came out in the US yesterday, but has already garnered much attention and good reviews abroad; see the publicity pages for the Granta Books and Little, Brown editions, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
I haven't gotten a copy yet, but I've been looking forward to this for quite a while: I was already very impressed by Catton's previous novel, The Rehearsal.
I was surprised this fall, when Ladbrokes waited until 3 September to open odds for betting on this year's Nobel Prize in Literature -- allowing for a season of only 37 betting days, as it turned out.
Apparently they really don't want to miss out on the betting-fun (and cash-inflow) for next year, as they've already (!) set odds for the 2014 prize -- 360 days, give or take, before it is to be awarded.
Given that the nominations for next year's prize aren't even in yet, and won't be for months ("Suggestions for prize winners are to reach the Nobel Committee before 1 February", as the Swedish Academy explains), this may seem a tad ... premature.
But, as Ladbrokes note in a tweet:
It's our flagship literary betting event (along with Booker) so why not have list up all year round.
Why not indeed ?
While they didn't rake in any big Dylan-money this year (punters wisely avoided betting heavily on that no-hope proposition), the heavy betting on, especially, Svetlana Alexievich must have earned them a pretty penny -- with the payouts on Munro, whose odds started at 12/1 and were lower most of the time (between 4/1 and 8/1) and never higher, surely not cutting badly into profits at all.
So who are the 2014 betting favorites ?
(In parentheses: closing odds (10 October) 2013; opening odds (3 September) 2013).
Svetlana Aleksijevitj (as they still insist on Swedishly transliterating Alexievich's name) 12/1 (4/5; n.a.)
Nádas Péter 12/1 (25/1; 7/1)
Joyce Carol Oates 14/1 (7/1; 6/1)
Adonis 16/1 (14/1; 16/1)
Milan Kundera 16/1 (25/1; 25/1)
Mircea Cărtărescu 25/1 (25/1; 100/1)
Ko Un 25/1 (25/1; 10/1)
Jon Fosse 25/1 (16/1; n.a.)
Thomas Pynchon 25/1 (20/1; 20/1)
So, on the one hand, you're getting better odds (i.e. greater possible return) on practically all your favorites at this point; on the other hand ... none of these authors has even been nominated, and some may well not be (putting them out of the running).
There are also far fewer names to bet on -- at this time (they hope and plan to add more) -- but there are several, even beside the obligatory ignorable Dylan, who you really have to wonder about.
Surely no one believes William Trevor is getting the prize next year.
Or Margaret Atwood.
But it's never too early to start speculating about who is deserving .....
In other Nobel-related news: they're going to have (at least) two new members at the Swedish Academy for the next deliberations, as Sara Danius will finally fill Knut Ahnlund's old chair seven starting 20 December, and now chair eleven has become vacant with the death of Ulf Linde and will need re-filling.
The October issue of Asymptote is now available.
Tons of great stuff in translation -- just check it out yourself, there's too much to list .....
They've also now launched a weblog, the Asymptote Blog, which looks promising (well, as promising as any weblog with one entry can).
Continuing Prospect's 'series of interviews about the art of criticism', David Wolf offers Critical thinking #3: Dwight Garner.
A reviewer with The New York Times (check out his reviews), it's interesting (among other things) to hear about his career-trajectory.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Muhammad Hadi Ruswa's 1899 Urdu curiosity, The Madness of Waiting, rediscovered and now made available in English by Zubaan (whose books are now distributed in the US by the University of Chicago Press).
The story around the book is almost more interesting than the work itself; certainly a fascinating little piece of Indian literary history.
Centenaries often serve to bring some notice to authors who have perhaps begun to fade from memory and print, and can be a good excuse to revisit their work.
2014 is still a ways away, but it's never too early to plan ahead -- especially since among the notable authors celebrating their hundredth birthday is the much-admired-hereabouts Arno Schmidt (early in the year, too -- his birthday is 18 January), and a round anniversary sounds like a good reason to, say, tackle Zettel's Traum or one of the other massive typoscripts I haven't made my way through (having made my way through pretty much all the rest of his output).
Disappointingly, John E. Woods long-in-the-works translation of Zettel's Traum (working title apparently: 'Bottom’s Dream') apparently won't be ready by anniversary-time yet; I've kind of been holding off tackling the original in the hopes of having the translation to compare it with, but maybe it is time to take the plunge .....
Among the English-speaking writers born in 1914 few tempt greatly: William S. Burroughs (see also The Job) may be worth revisiting; Ralph Ellison, Howard Fast, Patrick O'Brian, Budd Schulberg, Dylan Thomas ... meh.
Internationally, things look a bit more promising: Hopscotch-author Julio Cortázar, Marguerite Duras, Hocus Bogus-man Romain Gary, Bohumil Hrabal, Octavio Paz, The True Deceiver-author Tove Jansson .....
Admittedly, however, the most impressive centenary-man is the one who is still going strong: Antipoems-ancient Nicanor Parra
(Meanwhile the other, bigger anniversaries aren't that much to get excited about: it's the two-hundredth anniversary of Lermontov and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (I've enjoyed both, but I'm not sure I can be bothered to return to them), while Ann Radcliffe celebrates 250 years.)
Americans apparently aren't willing to give up on their hopes and dreams for Philip Roth being hailed as Nobel laureate and if the Swedish Academy isn't willing to oblige then some are willing to create an alternate reality more to their liking.
So at Tablet they announced Philip Roth Wins Nobel Prize and nicely spun the joke out in four separate pieces on Roth and his Nobel-win (including, cleverly, Batya Ungar-Sargon complaining Another Year, Another Man, arguing: 'The prize should have gone to Atwood or Lahiri -- or, better yet, Munro').
They're not the only ones to engage in wishful thinking -- at Melville House Dustin Kurtz had a (pre-Nobel announcement) post suggesting How to celebrate your author's Nobel win, presenting their reaction to a Mahmoud Dowlatabadi-win -- and it is an amusing exercise.
I'm just relieved the complaints that Bob Dylan didn't get the nod haven't been too loud (there wasn't much betting on him this year, either).
Svetlana Alexievich -- the recent betting-favorite for this year's Nobel Prize in Literature -- picked up the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade yesterday.
At ZDF you can watch the entire ceremony (in German -- though it's probably almost worth it just to see the Frankfurt mayor with his heavy-duty gold Amtskette (starting at ca. 15'20"): all pomp and circumstance), and at the official site they should have a transcript of her acceptance speech soon -- here, along with all the others.
In The Herald (Zimbabwe) Stanley Mushava writes at length on Achebe, African Renaissance, previewing also the forthcoming conference on 'Celebrating the life and works of Chinua Achebe: The Coming of Age of African Literature ?' (5 - 8 November, in Accra, Ghana; see also the official programme (warning ! dreaded pdf format !)).
Mushava goes a bit far with the claim that:
Achebe and contemporaries belonged to the golden age of African literature and his death signalled the close of that age.
African literature has, by and large, veered off-course, lapsing into trivialisation and myopic treatment of universal questions.
But perhaps he's right that: "The Accra conference is a welcome first step towards the fresh introspection of African literature" it certainly sounds like a good meeting (if not necessarily starting) point -- and one hopes discussion of the discussions will reach abroad as well .....
The South East Asian Writers Awards ceremony will be held tomorrow, and in the Bangkok Post they preview it and introduce the ten writers who will be honored, in A full house at the 35th SEA Write Award.
As they note: "All 10 Asean countries will participate in the award, a circumstance that hasn't occurred in 11 years".
These are writers from some of the most underrepresented-in-English countries -- Laos, Burma, Cambodia -- and it's good to see they at least get some local attention.
With Edna O'Brien as keynote speaker, maybe the event will get a bit of foreign notice, too .....
It's pretty much obligatory to finish out Nobel week with a Nobelist's work, and since I can't oblige with any Alice Munro ... the most recent addition to the complete review is my review of 1968 laureate Kawabata Yasunari's The Sound of the Mountain (in a 1970 translation that may have outlived its usefulness).
Tom Stoppard recently received the PEN Pinter Prize -- a prize: "shared with an international writer of courage selected by English PEN's Writers at Risk Committee in association with the winner".
This year, they decided on Belarusian journalist Irina Khalip (yes, she picked up a prize in the same week as Belarusian Svetlana Alexievich became the betting-favorite for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and gets to pick up the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade ...).
The Guardian now prints an edited extract of 'Circumspice', Stoppard's prize-lecture.
Always a favorite topic: the fun literary estates have in controlling -- with firm and unwavering hand -- use of copyrighted material.
In Executors or Executioners ? at Slate Joseph Thomas writes about writing: "a scholarly book about Shel Silverstein’s life and work" -- and his concern that he'll never be able to publish, because the Silverstein estate won't give him permission to quote anything.
As he notes, the 'fair use'-doctrine probably has him covered -- but book-publishers are extremely wary of putting it to the test and insist on permissions being obtained (and paid for ...) by authors.
He suggests: "This situation is disastrous for serious scholarship for a number of reason" -- and he's right.
But, as he also understands, it's going to be tough to change the status quo.
At hlo Csaba Sz. Szabó writes about A forgotten one hit wonder -- Rodion Markovits' Siberian Garrison (published in English translation in 1929).
It's a pretty good story how it became a success -- and how its author didn't know how to handle (and foster continued) success; "he regularly referred to his novel as 'the product', with a typical dilettante manager attitude", for example .....
The book itself doesn't quite seem worth digging up again, but you can get used copies of the original edition pretty cheap at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
As noted yesterday, Canadian author Alice Munro has been named the 2013 Nobel laureate in Literature.
I had some linkage for you yesterday, but of course there's a lot more out there by now [updated]:
Of greatest interest (one hopes) is the work itself -- and you can find a bucketload at The New Yorker (not all the stories are freely accessible, but quite a few are).
John Williams writes about A Mighty Honor for Munro, a Humble Writer at The New York Times' ArtsBeat weblog -- most useful for the links at the end of the piece, including to The New York Times' reviews of Munro-works.
Quite a few authors have hailed their colleague -- nice, though I must say I'd give a lot to find one of them whingeing, I deserved it more ...:
There has been much international coverage too -- and while there has been little 'Alice who ?'-moaning the reception has been different, as Munro is apparently not so widely known (and, especially, read) elsewhere:
The betting frenzy as the announcement for the Nobel Prize in Literature approached was something to behold, with Svetlana Aleksijevitj (as even UK outift Ladbrokes preferred to write Svetlana Alexievich's name -- presumably for their Swedish punters) falling to 2/1 favorite (ahead of 3/1-man Murakami) at Unibet, last I saw, and then the Ladbrokes odds tumbling from 6/1 for Alexievich -- behind Murakami (5/2) and Munro (hey ! 4/1) -- Wednesday night to an insane 4/5 Thursday morning.
Munro's Ladbrokes-odds weakened to a close of 8/1, but rather than further proof that, as often noted, Nobel Prize in Literature Predictions Are Almost Always Wrong, I think it shows the odds-lists are actually amazingly good indicators.
The chances of the betting-favorite being the winner -- in a competition where neither the entrants nor the finalists are revealed -- are miniscule, and it's not surprising that it practically never happens that the odds-on-favorite takes the prize.
But I find it astonishing how often one of the favorites actually emerges as the winner.
And Munro was in the (betting) game all along: the worst I saw her offered at was at Betsson in mid-July, at 14½/1 (eighth-favorite), while at Ladbrokes she was consistently in the top five.
Given that the field stood at five until probably sometime last week -- when the Swedish Academy decided she deserved the prize and singled her out -- that's pretty damn good.
(So, too, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Alexievich was, indeed, one of the finalists.)
But the Swedish Academy can be pleased, too: no substantial leak of the winner (at least not big enough for anyone to dare try to make a killing with the bookies) -- though of course if Alexievich was a finalist then there was likely a leak somewhere along the way .....
Odds aside, I do find it a surprising choice -- even if, as Jefferson Chase has it at Deutsche Welle, Munro a traditional choice for Nobel committee (and, indeed, I wonder if she was a compromise-candidate between two more radical and problematic choices -- say Alexievich and Jon Fosse).
But among the lessons here: the Swedish Academy really doesn't think age is a barrier: she's the third octogenarian to get the prize in the past seven years (Lessing, Tranströmer), and even the fact that she had announced she has stopped writing (though apparently she's now reconsidering ...) didn't stop them (so there's hope for an aging Philip Roth yet).
She's also only the third author to be singled out in the Nobel-commendation for her story-writing -- the other two being Gabriel García Márquez (though in his case it's for: "his novels and short stories") and Paul Heyse -- that: "writer of world-renowned short stories".
Female, English-writing, the first Canadian (not counting Bellow, as apparently no one does): these don't seem too significant, but it seems safe to suggest that next year Canadians (all North Americans ?) and English-speaking writers are unlikely to get the nod.
Authors known for their shorts stories (William Trevor, for example), presumably, too.