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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 January 2014

1 January: Year in reading lists | Limited reading | Writing in ... Armenia | Literary tourism | 2014
2 January: January issues | The decline of reading ? | The literary year ahead | The Maya Pill review | The year in reviews at the complete review
3 January: Nobel Prize in Literature 1963 - behind the scenes | 1914 review
4 January: Tolstoy's Resurrection | C.T.Hsia (1921-2013) | The Master of Knots review
5 January: NBCC awards - member critics vote | First Indian Bible | 2014 books in ... Australia
6 January: Korean literature abroad | Charun Homthienthong Q & A | Literary weblog site recommendations | Life's Good, Brother review
7 January: Another 2014 preview | Arnon Grunberg and his translators | Whither the NYRB ? | The White Review | Whitbread Costa Book Award category winners | Coup de Grâce review
8 January: IPAF longlist | Korean literature abroad roundtable | Knausgaard covers | adibas review
9 January: 18th Street Barnes & Noble shuttered | Maurice Collis profile | Comics in translation
10 January: Bestselling books 2013 in ... the Netherlands | 2014 translation preview | The True Actor review

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10 January 2014 - Friday

Bestselling books 2013 in ... the Netherlands
2014 translation preview | The True Actor review

       Bestselling books 2013 in ... the Netherlands

       Yes, CPNB have released De honderd bestverkochte boeken van het jaar -- the hundred bestselling books of the year (in the Netherlands) 2013 -- see the pdf CPNB Top 100 2013 for the full list and break-downs by categories.
       The top three -- with sales numbers:
  • Inferno by Dan Brown (376,775 copies sold)
  • En uit de bergen kwam de echo by Khaled Hosseini (234,422)
  • Stoner by John Williams (183,501)
       (And note that Williams' Butcher's Crossing came in a solid 64th, with 30-40,000 sold.)
       Donna Tartt's Het puttertje -- which, you'll recall, came out in Dutch before it came out in the original English ... -- was a respectable 21st (50-60,000 sold), given that it was a late-season publication.
       Tommy Wieringa topped the Dutch fiction category, while Laurent Binet's HHhH slipped onto the list for the third year in a row -- though only in 90th place (and is categorized as as 'narrative non-fiction' ... among which it still ranks ninth ...).

       For more on the Dutch scene in 2013, see Arjen Fortuin's Jaaroverzicht NRC Boeken: Lof van de antiporno.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       2014 translation preview

       I've already pointed to some 2014 publishing previews -- The Millions' 'most anticipated' and a bunch more here -- but PEN Atlas now has a nice (albeit UK-focused) look at Publishers' Highlights 2014 of upcoming books in translation (with another batch to follow next week (because conveniently publishing them all together would be too ... convenient ?)).
       A lot of books here I'd love to see -- well, almost all of them. I hardly know where to start -- though the Diego Marani would be an obvious place. Great to see Oneworld publishing some Persian stuff (other titles by both authors, Zoya Pirzad and Amir Cheheltan, are already under review at the complete review) -- and even the reissues (Portobello going all-Sciascia !) sound great.
       (Two titles here are already under review at the complete review: Mission London by Alek Popov and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Hwang Sun-mi.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The True Actor review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jacinto Lucas Pires' The True Actor, the first volume in Dzanc's new translation imprint, Disquiet.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

9 January 2014 - Thursday

18th Street Barnes & Noble shuttered | Maurice Collis profile
Comics in translation

       18th Street Barnes & Noble shuttered

       Barnes & Noble has been shutting stores left and right for a while now, including quite a few Manhattan locations, but it's still sad to see the 18th Street flagship store close -- as it now has (see, for example, the Gothamist report -- or the official store page).
       I lived nearby much of the 1970s through 2001 and though the store had its ups and downs (it went through some horrible phases too), much of the time it was a pretty damn good bookstore -- a first stop to check out any and all new publications when I was a teen, with deep fiction, philosophy, and science sections (at least up to about 1990 -- after that things fluctuated wildly), among others.
       Of course, it was the B & N Sale Annex across Fifth Avenue that was my favored destination (and that was the bigger loss, closed down quite a few years back already)-- a decent selection of used books, remainders galore, half-price review copies, and the first cheap ARCs I ever bought.
       So except for Strand (which also isn't quite the dusty wonder it once was) none of my teen and youthful book-haunts in the neighborhood are left any longer (the Union Square Barnes & Noble is a relatively recent invention).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Maurice Collis profile

       Author Maurice Collis is profiled by Amaury Lorin in The Myanmar Times, in Blood and Spirit: Reading beyond Orwell for a glimpse of British Burma.
       I've enjoyed several of his works -- including She Was a Queen; see the New Directions publicity page or get your copy at or

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Comics in translation

       At Publishers Weekly Calvin Reid looks at Graphic Novels In Translation From the Nicolas Grivel Agency -- as:
While acknowledging the difficulty in selling foreign language graphic novels to American publishers, Grivel emphasized that "I have a lot of hope,"
       Some interesting-sounding projects, anyway, and one hopes some of this stuff catches on.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

8 January 2014 - Wednesday

IPAF longlist | Korean literature abroad roundtable
Knausgaard covers | adibas review

       IPAF longlist

       They've announced the 16-title-strong longlist for this year's International Prize for Arabic Fiction, selected from 156 (otherwise unidentified ...) entries from 18 countries.
       The leading Arabic-language novel prize, the winner gets $60,000 (each shortlisted author gets $10,000, and the winner gets another $50,000) and: "the Prize has guaranteed English translations for all of its winners". Several of the longlisted authors have already had books translated into English -- though Waciny Laredj, longlisted for the third time in four years, apparently has not.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Korean literature abroad roundtable

       Yet more discussion of Korean literature abroad, in The Korea Times (hey, I'm not complaining -- I just wish other countries (and their media outlets, even if only the English-language ones) were similarly obsessed), as Kim Young-jin hosts a roundtable with Korean literature: in translation-man Charles Montgomery, noted translator-from-the-Korean Brother Anthony of Taize, and translator and teacher Jung Ha-yun, Korean literature sees opening for growth.
       I worry a bit about the focus on success-in-English -- an international break-through will take success elsewhere too (though for example the French already seem to be ahead of the US/UK, at least as far as popular reach goes -- see e.g. the Philippe Picquier offerings) -- and don't see, for example, the Japanese break-through dating to the 1970s (as with most foreign literatures, it's a matter of waves, and there had been considerable Japanese success long before then, too) -- and of course I'm horrified by the idea (Brother Anthony's) that Park Kyung-ni's The Land "would have to be totally rewritten" to make it abroad. And, of course, the Nobel obsession is just plain silly (as they seem to realize -- and yet still have to address).
       Nevertheless, quite a few interesting things do crop up.
       (One thing I'm curious about: what's the deal with Korean mysteries/thrillers ? That's been a route for many foreign literatures -- not least Japanese -- to establish a firm, low-level foothold in translation, but seems to be completely off the radar regarding Korean works.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Knausgaard covers

       Via I'm pointed to Jonathan Gibbs' Friday Book Design Blog piece in The Independent on My Struggle… the evolution of a proof cover, looking into the designing of the UK covers for the first three volumes of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle (see my reviews of volumes one and two) -- recall also that there are three more volumes to come..
       Pretty interesting -- though too bad it doesn't take an even more comprehensive look, at the US (and even other) covers .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       adibas review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Zaza Burchuladze's adibas, another of the batch of Georgian books Dalkey Archive Press has just brought out.
       And come on, who doesn't want to be seen reading a book by someone named 'Zaza Burchuladze' ?

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

7 January 2014 - Tuesday

Another 2014 preview | Arnon Grunberg and his translators
Whither the NYRB ? | The White Review
Whitbread Costa Book Award category winners | Coup de Grâce review

       Another 2014 preview

       The Millions' Most Anticipated: The Great 2014 Book Preview is up -- 9,100 words strong, covering 89 titles, and (so their claim, not mine): "this is the only 2014 book preview you will ever need".
       A decent overview -- but not nearly far-reaching enough. Still, in conjunction with the 2014 previews I've previously mentioned you should be off to a decent start -- though I think you'll find a lot that's of interest that's (so far) gone unnoticed in these lists, too.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Arnon Grunberg and his translators

       Okay, it's in Dutch ... but the dossier at Dutch translation-focused magazine Filter, Arnon Grunberg en zijn vertalers, is pretty impressive. It includes (click on links under table of contents ('Inhoudsopgave')) pieces by translator-into-English Sam Garrett, as well as, for example, Philippe Noble on the French reception of Grunberg's work.

       (Lots of Grunberg under review at the complete review, of course: check out, for example, Tirza or Onze oom.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Whither the NYRB ?

       With the (50th) anniversary being celebrated last year there's been lots of coverage of The New York Review of Books, and it's carrying over into 2014 -- including abroad (see Patrick Bahners' (German) Q & A with Robert Silvers in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, for example (and note the picture they use to go along with the piece ...)). In The Chronicle Review Russell Jacoby now offers an overview of The Graying of 'The New York Review of Books' -- giving the periodical/institution: "a mixed report card".
       While Jacoby doesn't address the NYRB's much-maligned out-of-whack sex ratio (very few of the reviews are by women) nor what irritates me most about it -- the relative lack of coverage of works of fiction (non- outnumber fiction reviews by a ridiculous amount) -- he does have a few issues with it, summing up:
Apart from its prolix and cautious reviews, what troubles about the NYRB is its insularity, Anglophilism, devotion to New York-based writers, and love affair with Ivy League-chaired professors. But most troubling of all is the absence of a younger generation.
       (I'd suggest that one rare exception of an outsider whose career was basically made (at least outside his native India) at the NYRB is Pankaj Mishra, who debuted in 1998 with 'Edmund Wilson in Benares' (reworked, in a fashion, in his novel, The Romantics); however, looking through the archives I note with some surprise how he must have already been on their radar: his Butter Chicken in Ludhiana, published at that time only in an Indian edition, was mentioned in not one but two earlier NYRB pieces, by Ian Buruma and Roderick MacFarquhar).)
       The concern over what happens next ("Silvers is 83", Jacoby notes) -- especially given how little effort has been put into rejuvenation -- is of course ever more pressing.
       (Worth noting also, however, -- and Jacoby devotes good space to it -- : "Except for a year or two in the mid-60s, the NYRB has always turned a profit". That is damn impressive, regardless of how it is accomplished.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The White Review

       There's a new issue of The White Review out -- and while the material in the issue itself is only partially available online (cruelly, only a (decent-sized) extract of Enrique Vila-Matas' Leaving Theories Behind ("Do I need a theory to write my next novel ?" he wonders ...)), there are quite few nice online-only pieces for you to enjoy.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Whitbread Costa Book Award category winners

       They've announced (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) the category winners for the Whitbread Costa Book Award (from which one grand prize winner will now be selected, to be announced on 28 January).
       The official press release helpfully give the total number of books considered from which the shortlists and winners were selected in each category (163 for 'Novel', 108 for 'First Novel", etc.); unhelpfully (and inexplicably) they don't actually reveal what those other titles were .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Coup de Grâce review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Marguerite Yourcenar's 1939 novel, Coup de Grâce.
       I note with some amusement that the Farrar, Straus and Giroux publicity page offers as the book description a slightly pared-down version of the back-cover copy:
Set in the Baltic provinces in the aftermath of World War I, Coup de Grace tells the story of an intimacy that grows between three young people hemmed in by civil war: Erick, a Prussian fighting with the White Russians against the Bolsheviks; Conrad, his best friend from childhood; and Sophie, whose unrequited love for Conrad becomes an unbearable burden.
       This sounds like an even more fun version of the book -- since Conrad is Sophie's brother (and, yes, the one thing the book is missing is a good dose of incest ...). (They copied it wrong from the back cover: it is of course Erick that Sophie pines for.)
       Note that in his review of a biography of Yourcenar in The New York Times Book Review Edmund White suggests it is: "perhaps her strongest piece of fiction" -- and that: "The title also alludes to her meeting Grace Frick" (who translated the book into English -- and was Yourcenar's longtime partner).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

6 January 2014 - Monday

Korean literature abroad | Charun Homthienthong Q & A
Literary weblog site recommendations | Life's Good, Brother review

       Korean literature abroad

       In The Korea Times Chung Ah-young profiles Joseph Lee, "arguably the nation's [South Korea's] top literary agent", in Searching for literary bonanzas, noting that:
Before Lee, a small number of Korean literary works have been translated in other countries but commercial publications were rarely done. He has pioneered the export of Korean literature, promoting Korean authors unknown overseas.
       Reassuringly (?):
It is not easy to discover Korea's brilliant books being sold in foreign countries as he is a slow reader who carefully reads word by word. Thus, he set up several standards in choosing works palatable to the foreign audience.
       Most of the bigger-name titles to have made it to the US/UK recently -- including I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, Please Look After Mom, Tongue, and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly -- have gone through his hands, and the article also helpfully lists some of the titles that will also be making their way into English.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Charun Homthienthong Q & A

       The Bangkok Post has a Q & A with Charun Homthienthong, the newly-elected president of the Publishers and Booksellers Association of Thailand, in Publisher's publisher.
       Kind of disappointing that he only manages to read 40 books a year; interesting that he says: "I don't read books about writers or publishers".
       His 'all-time favourite book' is แลไปข้างหน้า by Siburapha; that book unfortunately is not (yet) available in English translation -- but his Behind the Painting is (one of the few Thai books I've read; get your copy at or

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Literary weblog site recommendations

       At PolicyMic Daniel Lefferts collects 10 Literary Blogs Every 20-Something Should Read.
       I'm not really sure what the deal with the age-focus is (though presumably youth equals hipness, so it's likely to attract more page-views than, say, recommendations for 'all readers' would, much less those for any older set ...), and many of these aren't really what anyone would consider a 'blog', and many have a focus that extends considerably beyond the literary ... but still, certainly sites you should be familiar with, whether you're twenty-something or not, so .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Life's Good, Brother review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nâzım Hikmet's novel, Life's Good, Brother, now also available in English, from Persea.
       It's interesting to read this so soon after The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar -- both were written at almost the same time (in the early 1960s), and focus (very differently) on early twentieth-century Turkey (successive periods, rather than the same one).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

5 January 2014 - Sunday

NBCC awards - member critics vote
First Indian Bible | 2014 books in ... Australia

       NBCC awards - member critics vote

       The National Book Critics Circle Awards not only don't rely simply on publisher submissions and suggestions (as do awards such as the Man Booker and the (American) National Book Awards), but make an extra effort to ensure the worthiest titles are considered in the various categories -- as, as they now note again at the organization's Critical Mass weblog, Deadline January 8: NBCC Membership Awards Voting (an apparently recycled post in which not all the relevant dates were updated ...), where they point out that:
Any book that receives votes from 20% of the NBCC voting membership is automatically included among the finalists that we announce during the week of January 14, 2013 [sic: obviously: 2014].
       A couple of weeks ago I tried to drum up interest in this by suggesting NBCC members (such as myself) share some titles we'd like to see considered -- perhaps inspiring others to jump on board, making it more likely that some might clear the admittedly rather high 20 per cent hurdle; I even suggested a Twitter hashtag -- #NBCC20pct -- but aside from some retweets the idea didn't seem to get much traction (at an admittedly difficult time of the year) -- I've come across nary a title-suggestion so far .....
       Anyway, with the deadline looming, I put out the call once again: any and all suggestions welcome -- share them, and maybe others will also vote for them.
       For now, all I've got is my original list, but I'm sure I could be convinced to support (i.e. vote for) other worthy titles if someone makes a good case for them .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       First Indian Bible

       In The Hindu Graham Shaw has an interesting piece on the first Indian Bible (well, the first biblical translation -- Four Gospels and Acts of the Apostles -- in Tamil), and argues that it was An initiative that backfired -- concluding:
The printing press, revered by the missionaries as the great engine of conversion, had become an effective tool of subversion, not only of Christianity but of the colonial power itself.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       2014 books in ... Australia

       The 2014 previews continue (see also my previous round-up), and there are now two more with a down-under focus: The next chapter: books to watch for in 2014 by Stephen Romei in The Australian, and Next chapter: must-read books for 2014 by Jane Sullivan in The Age.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

4 January 2014 - Saturday

Tolstoy's Resurrection | C.T.Hsia (1921-2013) | The Master of Knots review

       Tolstoy's Resurrection

       Brian Aldiss does not mince words in The Independent, writing:
The greatest of all novels is Leo Tolstoy's final novel, Resurrection. Its effect upon a reader is immense and immediate. Even after eight readings of various translations, I continue to feel its spell and admire its complexity.
       I'm not sure about all-time greatest, but I've always held it in high regard -- remembering still how I reluctantly picked it up after working my way through pretty much all of Tolstoy's other major work, including the autobiographical trilogy, dubious about the story and the message, and then being floored by the work itself.
       The current Penguin Classics edition is Anthony Briggs' translation -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at or -- though the one I read was still the Rosemary Edmonds one.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       C.T.Hsia (1921-2013)

       Enormously influential Chinese literary critic C.T.Hsia passed away 29 December.
       Via Paper Republic I'm pointed to Didi Kirsten Tatlow's Q & A at The New York Times' weblog, Sinosphere, David Der-wei Wang on C.T.Hsia, Chinese Literary Critic, which offers some interesting insight into Hsia's unusual career.

       (Updated - 10 January): See now also The New York Times' obituary by William Yardley.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Master of Knots review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Massimo Carlotto's The Master of Knots, just out from Europa Editions in a US edition.

       As I often note, many aspects of the publishing industry mystify me -- so also now the copyright page of this book, which includes the following 'information':
Copyright © 2014 by Edizioni E/O
First Publication 2014 by Europa Editions

Translation by Christopher Woodall
Original title: Il maestro di nodi
Translation copyright © 2014 by Europa Editions
       Usually, with a translated work the original publisher's (here: Edizioni E/O) copyright date would be when they first published it -- not so here (it was in 2002).
       Maybe this edition differs from the previous English publication -- but surely the original edition, published by Orion in 2004 deserves some acknowledgement.
       And, of course, it's always horrifying to see a translation copyright not in the name of the translator (though at least he's given some credit here) but rather of the publisher -- though, again: why is there a 2014 copyright date on a 2004 translation ? Has it been that radically revised ?
       While possibly not dishonest the dates here surely are, at the very least, misleading -- bad metadata, and confusing to anyone who looks at or uses this sort of information. Is there so much to be gained by being able to fool people into thinking a book is entirely new ?

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

3 January 2014 - Friday

Nobel Prize in Literature 1963 - behind the scenes | 1914 review

       Nobel Prize in Literature 1963 - behind the scenes

       The Nobel Prize archives are kept sealed for fifty years -- but that still means that every year another year's worth of deliberations are opened to public view. The Nobel Prize in Literature 1963 went to Giorgos (George) Seferis -- and now we finally learn who he beat out.
       Admirably, the Nobel folk are milking public interest nicely: until recently they let journalists do all the dirty work, but now they package their own press release regarding Candidates for the 1963 Nobel Prize in Literature (well done, guys -- now get that nomination database up to date (i.e. up to 1963 ...)).
       So who was Seferis up against ? Apparently 80 individuals were suggested, of whom 22 were new candidates (pretty much out of the running). Among new candidates: future winner Nelly Sachs -- and ... Charles de Gaulle ? (Don't laugh too hard: just a decade earlier they'd ridiculously awarded the prize to ... Winston Churchill (and not for his fiction ... (Savrola, in case you're interested, and no, there's no Penguin/Oxford/etc. classics edition of that)).)
       Apparently the six finalists in 1963 were:
  • Giorgos Seferis
  • W.H.Auden
  • Pablo Neruda (1971 winner)
  • Samuel Beckett (1969 winner)
  • Mishima Yukio
  • Aksel Sandemose
       And when push came to shove it was a contest between the poets: "the Nobel Committee in the end suggested three candidates": Seferis, Auden, and Neruda.
       Apparently it was a slam dunk for Seferis ("All Nobel Committee members proposed unanimously Giorgos Seferis with one committee member's reservation for a more positive valuing of Beckett's authorship").
       Interesting that three of the six finalists didn't ever get the prize: Auden, Mishima, and the largely forgotten Sandemose (though he only had one more shot at it: he died in 1965). Mishima was also a first-time nominee, which put the odds against him -- and with three other Japanese nominees in the mix (surely Kawabata, Tanizaki, and ... ?) "it was decided that his authorship was not yet to be given preference"
       In Svenska Dagbladet Kaj Schueler reports Svenska Akademien ratade både Beckett och Nabokov, digging a bit deeper and reporting that Nabokov, too, was nominated for the prize that year (for the first time) -- but apparently his "immoraliska succéroman Lolita" was (really, really) held against him. (With not only Lolita under his belt, but also Pnin and -- just -- Pale Fire, Nabokov was certainly ripe for nomination (good for whoever did) if perhaps not yet quite the win (though, yes, he should have picked it up somewhere along the line over the next decade and a half ...).
       Leaving aside Mishima -- a first-time nominee still in full working-mode (see also his biography, Persona) -- it obviously looks like the Academy missed the boat a bit: okay, they finally got to Beckett, but clearly Auden has aged best of the other four (though it has to be said: with five of the six finalists still recognizable names -- sorry, Aksel -- and even if Seferis remains best-known because of the Nobel, well, they didn't do half bad a job).
       Seferis isn't exactly a household name any longer, but you can still find collections; check out Princeton University Press' Collected Poems (see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

       The next two years will be even more interesting ones: some say Auden was promised the prize but turned it down -- but in 1964 Sartre, who did get the prize, really did turn it down, while in 1965 Mikhail Sholokhov got it -- another 1963 nominee, but then one of the Swedish Academy's most controversial (and criticized) selections.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       1914 review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean Echenoz's 1914.

       Note also that The New Press is bringing out a nice Echenoz-starter volume -- Three By Echenoz (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or, consisting of Running, Piano, and Big Blondes. On the one hand it's kind of an odd mix -- but it sort of shows everything he does. And I can't recommend Piano too highly -- it's one of my favorite novels of the new century.

       Meanwhile, New York (and vicinity) residents can look forward to an Echenoz appearance stateside -- the 92nd St Y is hosting Lydia Davis and Jean Echenoz on 17 April, which is about as hot a ticket as I can imagine.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

2 January 2014 - Thursday

January issues | The decline of reading ? | The literary year ahead
The Maya Pill review | The year in reviews at the complete review

       January issues

       Among the January issue of online periodicals now available are:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The decline of reading ?

       In The Telegraph 'Social Affairs Editor' John Bingham reports that Reading becoming a minority activity, warns Ruth Rendell.
       Chiming in too:
The Man Booker-nominated novelist Philip Hensher agreed, adding that unlike even 20 years ago, most people no longer feel "ashamed" to say that they never read fiction.
       I have to admit, I haven't noticed the decline -- my entire life (and I'm ever so slightly older than Hensher) few of the people I've encountered have expressed any shame about reading little or no fiction (and a hell of a lot -- a consistent lot -- haven't minded letting me know that they didn't and don't). On the other hand, online I've found more passionate readers than I could have ever hoped to meet in 'real' life -- a minority of the total population, perhaps, but still ..... (In other words: I'm not too worried and concerned: reading has always seemed like a 'minority activity' to me -- but it seems to have a solid fan base which should keep it going. Though of course I wish there were more enthusiasts out there, and I can't quite understand why everybody isn't .....)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The literary year ahead

       The Guardian's 2014 in books: turn over a new leaf is entirely Anglo-(meaning UK-)centric, but I like the calendar presentation, and it does point to a lot of the major literary publications and anniversaries coming up.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Maya Pill review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of German Sadulaev's The Maya Pill, a wild little ride just out from Dalkey Archive Press.

       (A transliteration observation: yes, in Russian his first name begins with a "Г" -- but as 'German' everyone is going to read that hard g softly (as in ... the German language ...), instead of properly hard (as in girl). Wouldn't it have made sense to re-write the name as what the obvious 'Western' counterpart is -- Herman ?)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The year in reviews at the complete review

       A closer look at the year that was will follow, eventually, but for now here an overview of 2013 at the complete review.
  • 205 books were reviewed at the complete review -- well down (13%) from 2012, but pretty much exactly the (soft) target (200) set every year

  • The reviews totaled 182,009 words -- the 888 words-per-review average an increase of almost 6% over the 2012 average

  • Reviewed books were originally written in 35 different languages; stunningly (and it wasn't even close) English was not the most popular language.

  • The top languages were:
    1. French 43 books
    2. English 35
    3. Japanese 19
    4. Spanish 16
    5. German 13
    6. Italian 10
    7. Russian 8
    8. Arabic 7

  • Reviewed books were written by authors from 51 different nations; the leading ones were
    1. France 39 books
    2. Japan 20
    3. US 17
    4. Italy 10
    5. Spain 8

  • The ridiculous sex-divide remains as steady as always: a stunning 85.37% of the reviewed titles (175) were authored by men

  • As always, fiction dominates: 171 of the 205 reviewed titles were novels (161) or stories

  • Two titles were awarded the grade "A" (Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq's Leg over Leg (I) and Pitigrilli's Cocaine), and for the first time ever a book was graded "F" (Pierre Michon's Rimbaud the Son)
       As far as the site itself goes:
  • Traffic (both page-views and visitors) was disappointingly down 21.5% from 2012, the decline in the top markets ranging from -8.28% (India) to -18.49% (US) to -26.13% (UK) and -32.81% (Germany). Among top-50 markets the only country with an increase in traffic was from Nigeria (+1.28%)

  • There were visits from 219 countries to the site in 2013; among the countries that had registered no visitors in 2012 but which did provide visitors in 2013 were: Kosovo, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Chad, San Marino, Palau, South Sudan, Saint Helena, Norfolk Island

  • Outside the top 50 markets the biggest decline was in visitors from Mali (-71.76%), the biggest increase was in Niger (274.07%) (and, yes, there's presumably a correlation). Other sites with big changes in traffic include Côte d'Ivoire (+152.47%) and Palestine (+110.00%), as well as, predictably, Syria (-67.88%), and less predictably Aruba (-60.22%) and Paraguay (-58.44%)

  • The top countries as far as visitors go were (percentage of all visitors):
    1. United States 40.45%
    2. United Kingdom 10.28%
    3. India 6.68%
    4. Canada 4.70%
    5. Australia 2.98%
    6. Germany 2.60%
    7. France 1.73%
    8. Philippines 1.69%
    9. Netherlands 1.69%
    10. Italy 1.30%

  • The 490 (hard copy) review copies received in 2013 are a decline of over 15% compared to 2012. I did receive more 'e-book' review-copies than ever before, but I don't bother counting those; 8 of the 205 reviews in 2013 were based on e-book editions -- more than ever before -- but I still hate them hate them hate them.
       The decline in traffic to the complete review suggests things are not going particularly well; I'm a bit mystified by what is now looking like an inexorable decline, despite the addition of considerable material to the site, but since it's not really about the traffic I'm not all too bothered.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

1 January 2014 - Wednesday

Year in reading lists | Limited reading | Writing in ... Armenia
Literary tourism | 2014

       Year in reading lists

       With the year now officially over, presumably we've seen the last of the big year-in-reading-round-ups (my mind still has a bit of trouble wrapping itself around the idea: I don't really understand how best-of-year and year-in-reading lists can be compiled before the year is actually over, but ... whatever).
       Two of the more interesting and extensive ones -- annoyingly presented drip by drip through December -- are now available in their entirety:
  • The Millions has its A Year in Reading: 2013 -- an annual feature which, this time around, featured "68 participants [...] sharing 350 different books".

  • At Conversational Reading Scott Esposito shares his own as well as the: "favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors", in the TQC Favorite Reads of 2013
       Always interesting to see what folks read, and what they liked, and certainly a lot of interest on these two lists.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Limited reading

       Many readers plan their reading year ahead, hoping to pay particular attention to a specific author/genre/period/sex/nationality. I don't know if it's a real trend, but it is noteworthy that several specifically limited reading plans have been announced in recent days:
       At The Guardian's Comment is free Sunili Govinnage explains that In 2014, I'll only read books by writers of colour. Here's why. I can understand her wanting to seek out: "new perspectives in literature, popular culture and news" -- but I'd be a bit more impressed if the first three authors she mentions weren't Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Julie Otsuka -- who are certainly fine authors, but are also steeped in the 'West'. I.e. this doesn't look like really pushing the envelope (or coming anywhere close to that) to me.
       Meanwhile, at the Asymptote weblog Matthew Jakubowski has A Focus for 2014 too -- vowing: "to read only books by women".

       I can understand the temptation of such ... directed reading. I'm occasionally tempted to 'guide' my own reading too (especially at points such as this, when I look back on what I read and reviewed over the year -- with a ridiculous 85.37 per cent of the 205 books reviewed at the complete review in 2013 authored by men surely there are few review-fora which would seem to be in as much need of some affirmative action as this one ...), but I just think I'd miss too much. The pervasive local sexism is obviously problematic; on the other hand, surely few sites are as globally and linguistically diverse in what they consider. Obviously, I'm not finding my way into all the right corners, especially as far a female authors are concerned; on the other hand, look at the past ten or twenty books reviewed -- that's about as varied a lot as you'll find anywhere. (Or do I have blinders on, seeing only 'global'/linguistic variety, at the expense of any other kind ... ?)
       (Continuing to sound way too defensive, I can't help but note that numbers might also count (a bit) in my favor: Lilit Marcus explained a couple of weeks ago at Flavorwire Why I Only Read Books by Women in 2013 (a piece referenced by both of the above) -- but she's also speaking about: "the 40 books I read this year". So with 30 books by women reviewed at the complete review in 2013 (and, I'm fairly sure, more than 40 read by me) I don't lag too far behind -- it's only relatively speaking that my performance is woeful .....)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Writing in ... Armenia

       I often note that, along with writing from Southeast Asia, the former Soviet states of Central Asia (extending, for my purposes through the Caucasus) are the most under-represented in English translation -- but just after reviewing yet another Georgian title (Lasha Bugadze's The Literature Express) I have now received the first translated-from-the-Armenian book I've seen here at the complete review, Hagop Oshagan's Remnants: The Way of the Womb (see also the Gomidas Institute publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Now at Asbarez Greg Freeman has a Q & A with another younger Armenian author (and playwright), Elfik Zohrabyan, about Twenty-first Century Literature In Armenia: A Young Writer Speaks.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Literary tourism

       At BBC News Jenny Scott wonders: 'Why do some writers succeed on the tourism trail while others are left on the wayside ?' in comparing the success of Shakespeare's Stratford-upon-Avon with the relatively dismal showing of George Eliot's nearby ... Nuneaton (Nuneaton ? seriously ?), in Writer tourism: The literary tourist trail hits and misses.
       Some of the differences and problems are obvious:
At the moment, Nuneaton's offering seems fairly limited compared to Stratford's. The town has a George Eliot Hospital and an Eliot Business Park, neither of which are likely to appeal to tourists.
       And, as the University of Warwick's Pablo Mukherjee notes about Eliot:
It is difficult to build a cult of tourism around that spiky kind of writer, with their commitment to difficult ideas.
       Obviously, the older an author is, the more appealing his or her sites are for 'literary tourism' (and so this comparison seems rather unfair to me -- Eliot v. Dickens would seem entirely more appropriate). Anti cult-of-the-personality that I am, to the bone, I'd also suggest: stick to the works, which you can read from the comfort of your home (or on the beach, or anywhere else). Immersion in Middlemarch sounds far preferable to immersion in ... Nuneaton.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -


       Out with old, in with the new, blah blah blah. If you're still here, you know it doesn't really work that way around here: day in, day out, it's the same old same old (and same new): you know what to expect, and you know that's not going to change with a new day, or a new year.
       Still: thanks for stopping by, and I do hope you enjoy the show -- and will continue to do so in the new year.
       Wishing you all the best (and lots of good reading !), in 2014 and beyond !

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

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