In The New York Times Jennifer Schuessler reports on prolific (and Tirza-) author Arnon Grunberg's The Quantified Writer-project, in Wired: Putting a Writer and Readers to a Test: 'Arnon Grunberg Is Writing While Connected to Electrodes'.
It's an ... interesting undertaking -- and I'm sure we'll see a lot more of this sort of the thing in the future.
I'll have a bit more faith in any results when there aren't asides such as: "a technician from a Dutch software company carefully poured water over some of the electrodes to improve their conductivity" ("it can get a bit drippy", Grunberg notes).
Personally, the most interesting/astonishing fact I gleaned from the piece was that Grunberg apparently writes in his (admittedly almost spacious, by New York city apartment standards) ... kitchen, as suggested by the accompanying photograph:
Sure, in New York one makes use of every inch of living-space one can afford, but setting up computers (and bookshelves) in a kitchen seems pretty desperate -- or a sure sign that not much cooking (especially involving frying) is done there.
(Or has he only temporarily re-located his work-space because, you know, "it can get a bit drippy" ... ?)
Typographical Era is running a best-translation-of-the-year competition, where visitors vote for the winner -- from a now-finalized shortlist, which was also determined by popular vote.
An interesting eight titles are now left in the running -- with Frisch & Co. the only publisher to place two titles in the finals --, and you have until 19 December to vote.
Only three of the titles are under review at the complete review -- Tirza (by Arnon Grunberg), The President's Hat (by Antoine Laurain), and The Devil's Workshop (by Jachym Topol), but I have dipped into all eight -- and they're all also eligible for the Best Translated Book Award, for which I am a judge; it will be interesting to see how much overlap there is (several of these -- you can guess which -- seem very likely to make the BTBA longlist).
Sixty-two votes registered as I write this -- add your voice !
I assume that the data about the demographics of visitors to this site is not of quite as much interest to most readers as it is to me; still, maybe it is of interest to note that the American share of my audience reaches its nadir on Thanksgiving Thursday.
For the year, to date, 40.37% of site-visitors come from the US; on 4 July that dipped to 28.19% -- the previous low for the year, which has now been topped by Thanksgiving day, where a mere 24.86% of visitors were from the US.
On the other hand, the site did manage the elusive double of getting visitors from both Sudan and South Sudan on Thursday.
(I'm still waiting on anyone from North Korea to drop in, however.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Belarusian author Victor Martinovich's (written-in-Russian) novel, Paranoia.
Very reminiscent of the good old bad old days of the Soviet Union, the book was banned in Belarus shortly after publication -- but things are a bit different in the bizarro-world that is Lukashenko's fiefdom, and it is good to see that this hasn't stopped another of Martinovich's novels from being featured in Books from Belarus; he's a hot (export-)commodity, after all.
They've announced the shortlist for the 2014 Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize -- though apparently not yet at the official Jewish Quarterly site, last I checked .....
But Booktrade has the press release, and among the titles in the running are books by Edith Pearlman and Ben Marcus.
The winner will be announced 26 February 2014.
A couple of months ago they aired Tom Stoppard's Pink Floyd/Darkside of the Moon tribute/inspired radio-play, Darkside, on BBC2 radio.
(I actually got to hear it, and it's an interesting if odd philosophical-games-filled work.)
They've now released a fancy CD + bound insert + 'bonus disc' ("with text translations in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin and Russian") set; see the official site, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
(Looks like a pretty neat Christmas gift idea .....)
And in The New York Times a few days ago Larry Rohter had a Q & A with Stoppard about the project, An Author Dives Into Pink Floyd.
At Books from Finland Teemu Manninen consider Decisions, decisions: the fate of virtual literature, noting that after the initial excitement -- "When the internet was young, I too believed that it would usher in a new age of world literature, a truly global literary culture" -- the over-abundance of information available online has proven near-paralyzing:
when there are so many opinions to be had and so many new writings to get excited about, it's not just decision fatigue which sets in, but a kind of valuation fatigue: how do I know what to concentrate on ?
How do I know what's good anymore ?
And, more importan[t]ly, how do I know that what's online is actually representative of literary culture on the whole ?
Because of decision and valuation fatigue, only the most prohibitively schematic and the most violently caricaturish gets through to us -- and when that happens, we are likely to stop reflecting and start reacting, exposing ourselves and our readers to meaningless rhetorical debate rather than offering them the carefully considered, distilled ideas that used to be called print-worthy.
Seems an over-simplification to me -- but what do I know, exposing you to all that: "meaningless rhetorical debate" like I constantly am .....
The New York Times Book Review has announced its 100 Notable Books of 2013
A couple of things are notable about the list itself -- including the fact that all of three titles are works in translation (oh dear, folks are going to take that as confirmation of the infamous 'three per cent' pseudo-statistic ...).
This has the making of a disturbing trend -- the 2012 list had four, the 2011 list had five (plus David Bellos' Is That a Fish in Your Ear ?): things are definitely moving in the wrong direction.
The three titles in translation are:
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
The fact that they picked The Dinner over Arnon Grunberg's considerably superior Tirza (they reviewed both books) pretty much says it all, for me.
Or actually, what says it all is that they list a hundred books and don't include the fabulous FSG doorstop, Zibaldone (see the Farrar, Straus & Giroux publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)
Look, I can get them ignoring a book like Leg over Leg -- as big a deal as that is, it's going to take a while for word to spread and that one to sink into wider consciousness.
But the publication of Zibaldone, that's about as notable a publishing event as we've had this year.
Meanwhile, other than two of the translations, the only other 'notable' book I've read, and reviewed at the complete review, seems to be Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch .....
So, yeah, I appear to be rather out of the reading-mainstream -- at least as far as defined by The New York Times Book Review .....
Okay -- I can live that .....
A bit more fun: the Times Literary Supplement collects lots of writers' picks in their 'Books of the Year' issue, and a selection is now available online.
In case you missed it: the Man Booker Prize 2014 opened for submissions last Monday, 18 November.
They have a fancy Rules & Entry Form booklet -- online only in the dreaded pdf format -- with all the information and forms.
As you'll recall, they've changed the eligibility requirements -- anything written in English and published in the UK goes ! -- as well as the number of books publishers can enter.
Publishers are now limited to one entry each -- except that publishers get bonus submission slots (up to a total of four), depending on how many titles they had longlisted over the past five years.
(Previously longlisted authors also get byes, and the judges must call in an additional eight to twelve titles (but can only choose titles suggested by publishers (each of whom can suggest up to five ...)).
I remind you again that this is an awful way to select a pool of books to judge (way too much decision-making power rests with the publishers) -- and that the Man Booker folk know that, which is why they keep secret the pool of titles that wind up in the running for the prize, an outrageous lack of transparency (which I can't believe more folk don't complain about ...).
What I'd like to point out, though, is that while they've instituted this new bonus-submission-possibility, for publishers who have had titles longlisted in the past five years, they were too damn lazy to draw up a list to let everyone know exactly what that translated into (although they do list all the longlisted titles, with their publishers).
I did the math when they first announced it -- no guarantees that that's right, but it should be pretty close (though note that several articles published around that time came to very different results -- maths, even of the simple adding-up variety, is apparently not something many in the literary fields feel comfortable with ...).
I thinks it's the height of chutzpah for the Man Booker folk not to simply list, publisher by publisher, who gets how many bonus-submission-slots.
Surely, that's the least they could do.
(Of course, as noted, they won't reveal what titles are submitted either -- which I would have thought was also the least they could -- or should, if they wanted any credibility -- do, so .....)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ferdinand von Schirach's legal thriller, The Collini Case.
Interesting to see how a grand-son of a notorious Nazi (yes, Baldur was his grandpa) tries to work some familial Vergangenheitsbewältigung into a novel -- as well as his legal expertise (he is a prominent German attorney).
They've announced the various category-shortlists for the Whitbread Costa Book Awards -- though, bafflingly, at the official site, only in the dreaded pdf format.
[Posting anything in pdf format at your site -- except massive documents that you think it isn't worth anyone's while to re-format because you're pretty sure no one is going to read that shit anyway -- is a giant 'fuck you' to your readers, and I can't believe that a reasonably well-endowed prize like this one couldn't be bothered to put up a more readily accessible 'normal' web page; no doubt they'll get around to it fairly soon, but still .....]
Meanwhile, the news is in the (UK) dailies, so see, for example, Mark Brown's Costa book awards 2013: late author on all-female fiction shortlist in The Guardian; scroll down for the finalists in all the various categories.
Regrettably, I haven't seen a one of these -- though I've leafed through Atkinson's Life after Life at the library a couple of times, considering whether or not to take it out.
They've announced (and, hey ! not even just in pdf format ...) the winners of the 2013 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.
Nice that they could get all that sponsorship, I guess, but there's way too much to a lot of these category-names ('The Books Are My Bag Best Irish-published Book of the Year' ? 'The International Education Services Ltd Popular Fiction Book of the Year' ?).
But, hey, they got John Banville -- recipient of something called: 'The Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award' -- to play along, so what the hell .....
(And, no, none of these titles are under review at the complete review -- and I'm afraid none are likely ever to be, not even Downturn Abbey .....)
Words without Borders are, impressively, celebrating their ten-year-anniversary of introducing readers to authors and works from an incredible variety of languages and cultures -- and they've now also put together a big, fat e-anthology, Words without Borders: The Best of the First Ten Years -- see more here, or get your Kindle copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
See also the Q & A on the anthology at their Dispatches weblog.
There's no point in managing Barnes & Noble for long-term growth at this point.
But it's not as if nobody is going to ship at a brick and mortar book store next quarter.
It's just that there's no future here.
And as a summing-up you have to appreciate the brutal honesty of:
Ideas that are lame and awful in the context of a company like Apple, make perfect sense in the context of a company where innovation and growth are clearly impossible.
Look, I support spreading the word about international literature -- and hence literature in translation -- as much as the next guy, and I realize that it's worth trying all sorts of things to help folks see the light in order to get them ... excited about it, but .....
In The Independent Simon Usborne reports in Translation slam: A war of words on the recently-held Free Word/BCLT 'competitive translation duel' Translation Slam.
Okay, I'm an old fogey who really doesn't appreciate 'slams' in any context, who is obviously in a foul mood (see above posts -- and just imagine what I'd be writing if The Independent had posted the article in the dreaded pdf format ...), but surely the accompanying picture is proof enough that this is maybe not the ideal way to go about, making a hard sell harder still insofar as suggesting anything about translation could possibly be 'cool'.
No matter how you try to spin it:
In the article, too: "[Daniel] Hahn concedes" that translation is: "a gloriously nerdy pursuit" -- which already seems to me to concede far too much.
(The 'slam' idea is, on a fundamental level, pretty intriguing ... still, I have my doubts .....)
As longtime readers know, I have long lamented how little fiction in translation is available from Central Asia -- along with parts of Southeast Asia (Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia), probably the most overlooked-in-English part of the literary world.
How great to see now Dalkey Archive Press launching their Georgian Literature Serie -- a four title-start that greatly expands what's available from Georgia (or, indeed, anywhere in Central Asia).
Garnett Press have admirably brought out some Otar Chiladze (and I have, and will be getting to, A Man Was Going Down the Road), but that's been close to it as far as the sparse pickings have gone, and these Dalkey volumes are a welcome sight indeed.
[Updated (27 November): As a reader points out, strictly speaking Georgia isn't general counted as 'Central Asian'; instead, along with Armenia and Azerbaijan (and a couple of the still-Russian regions -- Chechnya !) it should be considered part of the Caucasus.
I use 'Central Asia' as a (not entirely accurate) shorthand for all these -- and since, for example, UEFA is willing to consider definitely-Central-Asian Kazakhstan 'European' I figure that's not too unreasonable.
My point is that literature from all these former Soviet states, from the eastern shores of the Black Sea to the border of Mongolia, are under-represented in English.]
Among them is also Lasha Bugadze's (dubiously) International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award longlisted The Literature Express -- see the Dalkey publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- but really the whole batch looks worthwhile.
(I got advance copies in the mail yesterday, and should have reviews up as their publication dates approach.)
It's been up a while, but only now, via Korean Literature: in translation, have I come across Benoit Berthelier's From Pyongyang to Mars: Sci-fi, Genre, and Literary Value in North Korea at Sino NK.
North Korean literature is, of course, one of the other last great unexplored-in-English frontiers (despite Dalkey Archive Press doing their Korean part, too -- alas, their new Library of Korean Literature appears to be entirely southern), and genre fiction is even more marginalized, so it's great to hear a bit about what's going on there.
Would that we could read some of this stuff -- after all: "With action-filled narratives and a broader range of subjects and characters than regular fiction, sci-fi stories make up a particularly interesting and entertaining strand within the DPRK's literature."
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yoko Tawada's Portrait of a Tongue: An Experimental Translation by Chantal Wright.
This is just out from the University of Ottawa Press, who have quietly been publishing some impressive translation-related work recently -- including a new translation of Christa Wolf's classic They Divided the Sky -- which, incidentally, gets a mention in the Tawada piece -- (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
The Tawada, or rather how Wright handles it, is also of considerable interest -- Tawada's work is endlessly fascinating for translators and those interested in language, and Wright's approach is a welcome different sort of presentation, experimentation of a sort that I'd welcome a lot more of.
So how adventurous are US/UK publishers ?
Who will take a stab at Fiston Mwanza Mujila's Tram 83 ?
Because seriously -- someone has to.
The Congolese author's Le Fleuve dans le Ventre recently came out in French/German bilingual edition (from Edition Thanhäuser) and got a very nice review in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung; see also a French review at africultures, and Tram 83 certainly sounds intriguing.
Maybe a bit of a translation challenge, but there should be a few translators with the chops and background to handle it.
At Deutsche Welle Gero Schliess reports on Ilija Trojanow's recent (successful) visit to the US, where he took part in the New Literature from Europe festival; carrying over from his recent German activities, Ilija Trojanow crusades against surveillance -- the author noting that: "Our house was bugged when I was a baby in Bulgaria", as apparently all the authorities have long been keeping an eye on the guy.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Philippe Djian's Consequences.
This just came out as a paperback original from Simon & Schuster, who seem to be trying to revive the Betty Blue-author's English-language fortunes -- having started (regrettably) with Unforgivable a couple of years back (not a great choice -- but, hey, at least it wasn't the multi-volume epic, Doggy bag ...).
Consequences comes with an orange sticker on the cover claiming: "France's #1 Bestselling Author" -- presumably meaning they claim Djian is -- but I don't know what definition of 'bestselling' they could possibly be using: he wasn't even one of the top ten bestselling French novelists in France in 2012, or 2011, etc.
Interestingly, his European reputation is of being a very 'American' author; meanwhile, Kirkus Reviews called this book: "Bold, elliptical, fashionably inconclusive and very French" .....
To judge from the (lack of) review coverage and Amazon.com sales rank, it also isn't doing particularly well (yet ?).
Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance is mulling over publication of the Persian version of Mahmud Dowlatabadi's acclaimed novel The Colonel, Deputy Culture Minister for Cultural Affairs Seyyed Abbas Salehi announced on Monday.
Indeed, it sounds like they recognize the treasure in their midsts they've been overlooking:
“I've read the book; I read all the books written by Dowlatabadi since I was a young man.
He is the pride of Iran's literature and the Khorasan region, so the publication of his book in Iran would be an honor for the country,” Salehi said.
Damn if that doesn't sound promising.
Cheshmeh -- who have published quite a few his books in Iran; see their catalogue -- submitted the book for publication-approval back in 2008, so this is long overdue -- but at least it looks like Iranian readers might finally get to see this important book, too.
(Still, always good to get an Al-e Ahmad-mention in: see the complete review reviews of his By the Pen and The School Principal, and recall that new e-publisher Restless Books promises to bring out The Israeli Republic soon.)
(Updated - 25 November): The Tehran Times now also reports on this year's (non-)prize, in Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Awards wraps up with no winner -- offering a bit more data, including that: "Over 4000 works were submitted to the secretariat, out of which 39 works were selected for the final judgment".
In Tech tinker in the Mumbai Mirror Chandrima Pal profiles Sacred Games-author Vikram Chandra -- discussing his interesting-sounding new book, Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code.
I can't find a US or UK listing yet, but see the Penguin India publicity page or get your copy from Flipkart; I'd love to see this eventually.
Slightly better than the usual newspaper best-of-the-year lists are the ones where authors, literary critics and the like offer their picks.
The Millions does a nice, big 'A Year in Reading'-round-up (see last year's) -- except that they annoyingly dole it out piece by piece rather than just offering it all in one go -- and the Times Literary Supplement's annual 'Books of the Year' collection (disappointingly only made partially accessible online; see last year's glimpse) remains the gold standard (well, maybe bronze ... the standard really isn't very high with these things).
The first of these are now out, and at least feature some big name authors and critics naming their favorites.
So, for example:
(Meanwhile, I can only think: it's only November, and there are 37 more reading days left in the year (which at a minimum translates into at least two dozen books, and possibly quite a few more).
Way too early to be thinking about best-of-the-year selections.)
The Hay Festival Dhaka ended more than a week ago, but there are still some interesting reports coming out of it -- including on the panel with Eliot Weinberger and Pankaj Mishra that debated: 'Is There a World Literature ?' -- see, for example, Upashana Salam's report, One and Equal ? in The Daily Star.
Meanwhile, in the Dhaka Tribune, Rohini Alamgir and Rumana Habib and consider all sorts of questions about matters In translation .
I have relatively little patience for and interest in the flood of best-books-of-the-year lists that has started, but they're near-unavoidable, and one can't really help coming across them.
They also offer surprises -- not of the sort: oh, I haven't even seen any of The Washington Post's top ten (that, regrettably, is a frequently repeated observation, from publication to publication) -- but few the likes of what the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, has managed to pull off with their 'Globe Books 100'.
They have a variety of categories, including Best international fiction.
Hey, I like and follow international fiction !
Nineteen titles, too ! Excellent !
Or maybe not: more than half the titles have US authors (yes, it's Canada, and technically the US is 'international' for them) and only one work in translation -- Sjón's The Whispering Muse -- makes the cut (while titles from Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch to Stephen King's Joyland do).
This from a Canadian publication -- a country where a significant minority speak another language.
(Of course their Best Canadian fiction list recognizes nary a French title, in either the original or translation .....)
First Rob Ford, now this: Canada is looking ever-more provinicial (at least in its supposed upper echelons).
Although we received many poetry translations this year, almost without exception they had clearly been submitted by Korean translators whose knowledge of English was too limited; in many cases the English grammar was poor.
As in many recent years, we soon decided that no poetry award could be given.
In general, the fiction translations were competent but there were not many we read with real pleasure.
This was in part the fault of the translator who had failed to create a convincing English style and in part the fault of the author whose work did not lend itself to translation.
Where the translation itself was reasonably accurate, often the English text failed to find a compelling rhythm and flow.
This may all seem pretty harsh, but it's probably good that they're honest about the generally lacking standards.
Korean literature seems poised to reach a larger international audience -- but translation-standards must be upheld for that to work out over anything but the short-term.
They've announced (in ... London, predictably incongruously enough) the six-title-strong shortlist for the 2014 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature
The only title under review at the complete review is How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid -- though the one I'd really love to see is one of the two titles in translation, Goat Days by Benyamin (see the Penguin India publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
The winner will be announced 18 January.
They had a literary conference in Russia yesterday, and with Vladimir Putin joining in the fun some prominent authors didn't want to play along; as D. Garrison Golubock reported in The Moscow TimesWriters Snub Putin Prior to Literary Conference.
It's all a bit nebulous -- including what the purpose to the conference was supposed to be, as:
Additionally, no agenda for the meeting was announced, leaving it unclear what the writers would actually discuss or if the whole event was simply a photo op.
Sounds wise of Boris Akunin and Dmitry Bykov, among others, to decline the honor.
Putin did show up, and promised some prizes and government support; see, for example, the (Russian) report, Владимир Путин берет литературу под опеку in Ведомости; somehow I'm inclined to think it's wise to doubt pretty much anything coming out of this guy's mouth (though no doubt there is an opportunity for some cashing-in by so-inclined literary sorts).
(Updated - 27 November): See now also Masha Gessen's report on the event at The New York Times Latitude weblog, Putin's Dead Poets Society.
An interesting piece by Jana El Hassan in the Daily Star, who found herself At home and out of place at the Sharjah International Book Fair (where Lebanon was the guest of honour this year).
Apparently, the authorities missed the boat regarding properly selling Lebanese literature to the fair-audience, as she notes:
This raises the issue of how Lebanon represented itself at the Sharjah Book Fair.
The stand representing the country featured no resources that might sate the interest of those keen to learn more about Lebanese literature.
Instead, it had the folkloric air of a Tourism Ministry kiosk
Still, at least the Lebanese literati were well-represented, so the fair seems to have worked out reasonably well in that regard.
They announced the winners of the 2013 (American) National Book Awards yesterday, with James McBride taking the fiction prize, for The Good Lord Bird (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Not a one of the longlisted fiction (or non) titles made it to my desk (not even the Pynchon, yet, sigh) -- yes, I'm completely at sea as far as the current American scene goes .....
They've announced the shortlists for the Crossword Book Award, for English-language books in India.
One of these is actually under review at the complete review -- The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph -- but, of course, the category I'm really interested in is translation (though I haven't seen any of these yet).
The 2013 prize is more extensive than usual -- covering publications from 1 January 2012 through 31 March 2013; next year they're back to an annual-cycle, April through March.