They've announced the finalists (in ten categories) for the 34th annual L.A.Times Book Prizes.
The only title under review at the complete review is Mystery/Thriller finalist The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Chart Korbjitti's Time.
I'm somewhat embarrassed that this is the first book translated from the Thai under review at the complete review -- pretty sad, considering there are already books written in sixty-two other languages under review ... but it also tells you something about how dreadful the situation is in making Thai fiction available in English in the US/UK.
He said the book is about to be published in Iran presently.
(Of course since the article isn't entirely accurate -- Haus published it, but in English, and in 2011; it first appeared, in German, from Unionsverlag, in 2009 -- nothing should be taken as certain; still .....)
They've been discussing it for a while, and I've mentioned it several times at the Literary Saloon, but Israel has now finally passed a 'Book Law' (the Law for the Protection of Literature and Authors in Israel (Temporary Provision), 5773-2013), aimed at preventing (ostensibly) anti-competitive discounting and guaranteeing a certain level of author-royalties (for the first eighteen months after a book's publication -- now considered a 'Protection Period' -- in both cases), Lexology has a summary of the law.
Seen as necessary in a literary marketplace dominated by two retailers the early reactions haven't been very enthusiastic or optimistic.
In Haaretz Adi Dovrat-Meseritz found Israel's new Book Law bans discounts (except it doesn't), and already finds complaints such as:
The money intended for writers and for literature was stolen by the chains.
The consumer will pay more, the writer will sell fewer copies, publishers will receive less in commissions, and fewer books will be sold.
There is just one beneficiary: the Steimatzky - Tzomet Sfarim oligopoly.
An editorial in The Jerusalem Post argued: 'Sometimes legislation is born out of the best of intentions, but legislative good intentions can often leave no winners', in Throwing the book, arguing: "Odds are that this new law will leave the monopolies laughing on the way to the bank".
And now in the Times of Israel Michael Jaffe ridicules the idea that this law is Protecting "The People's" literature ? offering also a fascinating graphic, considering:
What of other countries which have legislated book price-setting laws ?
A comparison of 14 European Union countries reveals that those with price-setting laws release significantly fewer book titles per 1000 citizens than do countries with either completely unregulated literary markets or those with non-legislated sector-wide agreements.
Finland abolished its book law in 1971 and Great Britain did so in 1996.
In both cases, the result was substantial growth in both countries' bookselling sectors.
Both history and common sense indicate that this law will make books more expensive in Israel and damage the literary market.
Fewer new titles will be published, fewer books will be sold, and fewer new authors will be published.
Also an interesting observation: "The law passed with 45 ayes, 3 nays, and 72 abstentions".
(What the hell ?)
Jaffe makes an interesting point in noting that:
Why does the government of Israel, which ranks among the top 5 countries in the world for titles published per capita, need to "fix" a literary situation that is ... pretty good as it is ?
I'd suggest that while it may currently be very good indeed, the market-situation (or rather: configuration) suggested future problems which it's best to deal with now; of course, whether or not this was/is the best approach is a different question.
I'm surprised there hasn't been more foreign notice of this yet, and look forward to further analysis and commentary.
Since I last rounded up reactions to Penguin India's shocking decision to settle out of court and agree to recall and pulp Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History there has been a lot more coverage and commentary.
Penguin India finally issued an official statement on the whole mess -- unfortunately a pretty muddled one.
On the one hand they blame the law -- "the Indian Penal Code, and in particular section 295A of that code" -- but instead of challenging the law in actual court proceedings they elected to settle out of court -- not exactly a way of taking any sort of stand or sending any sort of message.
(And if it's a bad law which they believe: "will make it increasingly difficult for any Indian publisher to uphold international standards of free expression without deliberately placing itself outside the law" ('increasingly' ? why 'increasingly' ?) why haven't they been lobbying/supporting efforts to get it changed ?)
On the other hand Penguin also claim that they have: "a moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can".
(As to their moral responsibility regarding their authors and freedom of speech -- surely the basic civic duty that all publishers have -- those apparently don't count for much any more.)
That the responsibility for protecting their employees against threats and harassment is something that should be a matter for the law, too -- and the state -- also goes unmentioned -- and while it's perhaps understandable that Penguin India has little faith in the Indian authorities they should still certainly point this out.
At dna Aarti Sethi and Shuddhabrata Sengupta wonder Is big publishing abandoning the fight for free expression ? noting that:
Chiki Sarkar, publisher at Penguin India has gone on record (in October 2012, on Nilanjana Roy's blog) saying -- "I am increasingly thinking that perhaps we should take the next injunction we are faced with and really fight it out".
What happened between October 2012 and February 2014, that made this admirable determination to fight for freedom of expression turn into an abject surrender before its adversaries, is a mystery to us.
Arundhati Roy, a Penguin author, wrote an open letter to Penguin, demanding an explanation -- and other Penguin authors have already gone one step further, with Jyotirmaya Sharma and Siddharth Varadarajan impressively going so far as to demand Penguin withdraw and pulp their books.
As quoted in the Times of India report, Two Penguin authors want their books withdrawn, pulped, Sharma also wrote them:
If my request is overlooked or dismissed citing arguments from the contract I have signed with Penguin, I will, then, resort to legal recourse, especially since I believe that my books published by you are grave threats to Indian law as interpreted by you and to the safety of your colleagues and employee
Well done !
(And I hope that every Penguin Random House author -- not just in India -- has contacted their editor(s) to inquire just how far the publisher will support them and their books should these be challenged somewhere.
(Sure, this happened in India -- but don't believe a variation on this can't happen here (wherever your 'here' is).))
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the second volume of Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq's Leg Over Leg (II).
You should start with volume one, and there are two more to go (coming out soon in NYU Press' wonderful new Library of Arabic Literature series), but, yes, you should get this one too.
Open Letter published Arnon Grunberg's Tirza last year, and was interested in bringing out two more of his novels in translation, De man zonder ziekte (see the Dutch Foundation for Literature information page) and De asielzoeker, but, as publisher Chad Post now reports in the tellingly-titled Reason #387 Why Publishing Is a Thankless, Frustrating Business at Three Percent, they apparently won't be.
Basically, Grunberg's 'literary' agent(s) think Open Letter doesn't have quite the necessary: "power and marketing force in order to get Arnon the breakthrough he deserves" and are looking for bigger and better opportunities.
Chad offers some interesting details and background -- both noting that Tirza got some pretty damned good media coverage, including in the (still-)notoriously-translated-fiction-phobic The New York Times Book Review and that it had only sold (presumably just) "over 2000 copies".
(I admit I'm stunned that it didn't do better -- as you've heard me say for years, from long before it came out in English, this is one hell of a good book, and it's one of my favorites-of-the-year; how and why it didn't fare better than Herman Koch's somewhat similar but nowhere near as good The Dinner remains a mystery to me (and, no, it can't just be the marketing/distribution weight they were able to throw around: Tirza got pretty decent support, too).)
Chad has a brief mention of who he was dealing with, but this Arnon Grunberg Agency -- "Nijgh & Van Ditmar and Lebowski Publishers join forces to promote foreign sales of Arnon Grunberg's oeuvre" -- founded two years ago, seems an interesting approach to foreign rights marketing ("In addition to international rights sales, the publishers will also see to the promotion and positioning of Arnon Grunberg's work abroad").
Interesting -- but one wonders how well though-through their plans and ambitions are.
As Chad notes:
In case you're not aware of Arnon's publishing history in the U.S., in 1997, Farrar, Straus & Giroux brought out his debut novel, Blue Mondays.
A few years later, 2001 to be exact, St. Martin's brought out Silent Extras.
Three years later, Other Press brought out two of Arnon's books, Phantom Pain and The Story of My Baldness.
Then, in 2008, Penguin brought out The Jewish Messiah.
And finally, in 2013, Open Letter publishes Tirza.
As Chad notes, that sort of publication history, while impressive on one level, also raises some red flags -- i.e. why didn't any publisher stick with him for more than two books ?
More to the point, now: who is going to jump on board now ?
Open Letter had open arms; Penguin, who I suspect did not do well with The Jewish Messiah (not Grunberg's best), surely feels once-burned -- and as far as fiction in translation of this sort goes, how many US options are there anyway ?
Presumably, his agency sees a set-up like he has with German-Swiss publisher Diogenes, who publish him regularly in their nice uniform editions, and they want that sort of cozy arrangement with a US major too.
Good luck with that.
(Note that Grunberg has been even more poorly-served in the UK market -- with Comma Press (another not-juggernaut) the only locals to publish anything by him (Amuse-Bouche).)
Grunberg is one of the major European writers of our day -- one reason eleven of his books are under review at the complete review -- and he obviously deserves a larger audience in the English-language market, with more of his titles translated.
Open Letter seems like a great fit to make that possible -- even if the immediate cash-rewards aren't as great as they would be if a major can be convinced to take him on.
But are the majors seriously considering his work ?
(Sure, they should be -- but they tend to have funny other ideas .....)
They've announced the winners of the National Arts Merits Awards (NAMAs) in Zimbabwe, and as Stanely Mushava reports in The Herald, Mungoshi, Mabasa share award, as:
Charles Mungoshi's Branching Streams Flow in the Dark and Ignatius Mabasa's Imbwa Yemunhu jointly landed the NAMA Best Fiction accolade on Saturday.
Mushava suggests these are both: "highly experimental offerings from two men regarded master and disciple"
See also the full list of the NAMA nominees in all the categories in NewsDay's NAMA nominees out.
The Literature Translation Institute of Korea has been pretty pro-active in trying to get the word out re. Korean literature, and among their recent efforts is an online library of short Korean works that can be accessed for free -- here (but note that all the texts are in the dreaded pdf format).
In The Korea Times Charles Montgomery offers an overview of the project and titles, in Korean literature meets digital world, noting:
These twenty works are the equivalent of a free collection of modern colonial fiction of Korea that can give an overseas reader a snapshot of the first "modern" Korean literature and its styles, themes and discontents.
They're all fairly short, and certainly worth a look.
Thomas Bernhard died twenty-five years ago (on 12 February) -- or not, as Alexander Schimmelbusch has some fun suggesting in his just-published Die Murau Identität, and in Die Zeit he now also offers a reasonably amusing 'comparative analysis' (in German) of modern Austrian greats Bernhard and Peter Handke, in Thomas Bernhard gegen Peter Handke.
The deadline for nominations for the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature -- see who can submit nominations here -- was 31 January, and the Swedish Academy's Nobel point man Peter Englund spills some of the beans at his weblog, in Långa listan 2014, as they finalized the long longlist on Thursday.
No names, of course, but there were 271 suggestions, from which a list of 210 eligible names resulted -- 36 of them first-time nominees.
(2013: 195 longlisted, 48 first-timers; 2012: 210 longlisted, 46 first-timers.)
No other clues in Englund's post, beyond mention that: "Akademien fortsätter för övrigt med försöken att bredda och förbättra nomineringsprocessen".
Maybe they're seeing too many of the same old suggestions, year in and year out (the decline in first-timers this year suggests as much) and are looking for ways to learn about other authors ?
While the Swedish Academy won't name names, some of the nominating bodies will -- though so far the only ones I've heard of are the Romanian Writers' Union's nominations: they reportedly nominated four authors: Nicolae Breban, Mircea Cărtărescu, Norman Manea, and Varujan Vosganian.
Two of those are certainly authors-to-be-considered.
Meanwhile, the Ladbrokes-odds remain unchanged since they were posted some three months ago; it'll be interesting to see whether there's any movement now, now that there's at least a list of possible winners (maybe with some early favorites emerging) -- remember, you have to be in it to win it: if you're not nominated (and authors such as Proust and Kafka never were) you're out of luck.
Meanwhile, at Foreign Policy Catherine A. Traywick finds Geroge Orwell is making a comeback in Burma, and looks at: 'Why the country George Orwell once skewered is finally embracing its non-native son', in Big Brother's Burmese Comeback.
Some of this isn't exactly fresh news -- see my mention of thew new embrace of Burmese Days from last November -- but it's good to see more coverage.
I mentioned the Translation Prizes a few days ago, before the actual ceremony; now that they've held it the Society of Authors has a useful overview of who won what which includes, where applicable, the runners-up.
Meanwhile, at the TLS weblog Adrian Tahourdin reports on the ceremonies and prizes, in 'Translation as Art'.
Via Phys Org I'm pointed to Balázs Kovács and Amanda Sharkey's forthcoming paper in the March issue of Administrative Science Quarterly examining: The Paradox of Publicity: How Awards Can Negatively Affect the Evaluation of Quality (see the abstract, or the full text (warning ! dreaded pdf format !)).
As they summarize:
Comparing thousands of reader reviews on Goodreads.com of 64 English language books that either won or were short-listed for prestigious book awards between 2007 and 2011, we find that prizewinning books tend to attract more readers following the announcement of an award and that readers' ratings of award-winning books tend to decline more precipitously following the announcement of an award relative to books that were named finalists but did not win.
Yes, it relies on ... 'Goodreads' reviews ... still, an interesting phenomenon -- especially, as they note:
We found the contrast between the positive effect of status at the stage of adoption versus the negative effect at the stage of evaluation striking and think it would be beneficial for future work in other domains to parse out the distinct effects of status at different stages of evaluation.
So maybe, longterm (and/or legacy-wise), being shortlisted is preferable to actually winning .....
I mentioned Penguin India's shocking decision to recall and pulp Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History yesterday, and it's good to see that there's been a decent amount of media coverage (albeit mainly Indian).
Penguin -- the Indian branch, especially, but the global juggernaut as a whole too -- has so far gotten off incredibly lightly.
(I know it's cold in New York, but there's really no one picketing the local offices ?)
Among new noteworthy coverage and reactions:
The Times of India prints Arundhati Roy' open letter to (her publisher) Penguin, Wendy Doniger's book: 'You must tell us what terrified you'.
She notes: "You owe us, your writers an explanation at the very least" -- and I hope a lot of other Penguin authors agree.
(Among the many disappointing aspects of this case is the silence Penguin has maintained regarding their actions.)
As she notes: "What you have done affects us all".
In Time Nilanjana Bhowmick has a Q & A with the 'aggrieved' party, Shiksha Bachao Andolan president Dinanath Batra, Sex, Lies and Hinduism: Why A Hindu Activist Targeted Wendy Doniger's Book.
Arguments such as: "When I read the book, I felt hurt. It hurt my sentiments" don't exactly help convince me (indeed, I feel hurt by them, and this act of censorship; my sentiments are hurt by them -- can/should I sue ?).
Chandrahas Choudhury sums up things nicely at Bloomberg, in A Book Publisher Embraces Self-Censorship in India -- pointing out that: "If anything, the real offense to Hinduism consists in one of the best recent books on Hindu myth, memory, narrative and practice being made unavailable in the very country where it would have the most power to affect the tradition it describes and interprets."
At The Daily Beast Tunku Varadaraja forcefully denounces Indiaís Shameful Failure to Defend Historian of Hinduism -- noting: "Penguin India buckled. Penguin India wilted. Penguin India wet itself, and entered into an agreement with this semi-literate goon. Penguin India capitulated to blackmail, to the threats of a cultural mobster. Penguin India turned chicken". (Maybe they'll change the logo to reflect that ?)
'English PEN is concerned by reports that Wendy Donigerís The Hindus: An Alternative History is to be withdrawn and pulped by publisher Penguin Books India', in: India: writers defend best-selling book
[Updated] In The Hindu Kenan Malik takes a look at the Changing landscape of free speech in India (as we conveniently are only days away from the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie
Penguin Random House -- as the monstrosity is now known as -- has a lot to answer for, and their silence on this matter is disappointing (and should be considered unacceptable); I hope that there will be more US, UK, and other media scrutiny into this (and Penguin Random House authors should certainly have a few questions for them too ...).
Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History isn't a brand new book, but it is back in the news as, shamefully, Penguin India have given up the fight and given in to some locals who claim to be offended by the book (to the extent that they believe no one should be able to read it) and so, as for example Krista Mahr puts it in Time, Indian Publisher to Recall and Destroy Copies of American's Book on Hinduism.
This is hardly the first time there have been issues in India with books touching on religion -- recall the mess surrounding James Laine's Shivaji -- but this kind of intolerance is a bad, bad sign for India.
Disappointing, too, is that Penguin India has not even issued any public statements, much less released a press release (come on, guys, this is: "the latest news from Penguin Books India" and we want to hear your feeble excuses and explanations for your cowardly kowtowing).
(Interestingly, while they've already withdrawn the book from local online sellers, the publicity page for it is still up.)
Local prohibitions of this sort are of course pretty useless, fortunately (though they send one hell of a bad message), and you can readily get a copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
It'll be interesting to see what happens now with Doniger's forthcoming volume On Hinduism -- where touchy opportunists will no doubt readily find some sort of offense as well (see already the 'reviews' at Amazon.com), but for now that volume is available at, for example, Indian outlet Flipkart (or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk).
Fortunately, this has gotten a lot of attention in India, and maybe it will eventually do some good, with the laws changed so this kind of nonsense won't happen any longer.
Until then: for shame, all around.
(I've never understood laws against blasphemy and the like: if you believe in that sort of nonsense, how can you take offense when someone belittles/denounces/insults those beliefs ?
Surely your deity, whatever it may be, is all-mighty enough to be entirely beyond petty mortal doubt/censure/insult.
(Oh, of course it isn't -- because the foundations of your belief-system are built on a web of feeble fantasies that can't withstand the slightest scrutiny; the only way to defend it is to silence any voice that casts even the slightest doubt on any part of, or else, you fear (probably correctly -- just look at that graveyard of belief-systems from the past no one takes seriously any longer), the whole house of cards will come a'tumbling down ....))
Tomorrow they're handing out the Translation Prizes -- six this year (it varies, as some of the prizes are only biennial or triennial)), in an event organized by the Society of Authors and supported by, among others, the Times Literary Supplement.
I'm always disappointed that they don't really market or publicize this event better, but it's something to look forward to each year, and the ceremony, which to date has always included a prominent author giving the 'Sebald Lecture' sounds like a nice way to celebrate translation.
The TLS offers a little round-up of the prizes every year too, and in recent years have also reported on the event itself at The TLS Blog; see, for example, Thea Lenarduzzi's report from last year (when Boris Akunin gave the Sebald Lecture).
Since I am aware of how terribly they publicize this event I keep an eye out for it at this time of the year -- only to be surprised to find that this year's event is already tomorrow, at Europe House.
Why the surprise ?
Because this year's Sebald Lecture -- (Margaret) 'Atwood in Translationland' -- is scheduled for 18 February.
Yes, this year's Translation Prize-ceremony is separate from the Sebald Lecture.
You can sort of understand that the British Centre for Literary Translation wants to do it up for their 25th anniversary -- and Atwood is obviously a big draw ("This event is sold out but we will be filming it for our YouTube channel", they already note).
But it's a shame that the Translation Prizes have been relegated beyond the sidelines, and won't be basking in any of that attention or glory.
Yes, they get "Ian Patterson in conversation with Adam Mars-Jones"; still, quite a let-down after recent years.
(Also disappointing: that I haven't read anything about this anywhere.)
No doubt, there will still be a TLS write-up -- but it would have been nice if the translators could have enjoyed some of that Atwood-drawn attention, too.
As to the prizes themselves, I believe the winners of only three of the six have been announced so far:
The new-fangled Folio Prize have announced their shortlist.
Limited to English-written fiction published in the UK in the past year (hence the inclusion of originally-(self-)published(-in-the-US)-in-2008 title A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava), the eight finalists leans heavily towards the American (and the list is notable for its complete avoidance of anything ... off-color ? nothing from India (or anywhere in Asia), nothing from Africa, nothing from the Caribbean ...).
Following in the Man Booker footsteps, the Folio folk have decided against any sort of transparency, and won't reveal what the 80 books the judges considered were (60 selected by 'Folio Academy' vote, 20 more taken from suggestions made by publishers).
As Gaby Wood notes in her report on the shortlist in The Telegraph:
I would have thought that this method would prevent more obscure titles from being included: how can enough members vote for them if they don't know these books exist ?
And how, as a result, can they rank highly enough to make the top 60 ?
Amen to that -- and that the system 'works' would be more believable if they revealed what titles were actually among those final 80 (though admittedly the eight finalists are a pretty interesting lot).
The only title under review at the complete review is Jane Gardam's Last Friends.
We (I'm one of the BTBA judges) nevertheless consider all eligible Melville House titles -- and, indeed, one made last year's shortlist (The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi).
While it's helpful if publishers 'compete' (i.e. make an effort to get their eligible titles into the judges' hands), we try very hard to consider all eligible titles every year.
Two of the books about Amazon mentioned by Packer are under review at the complete review: Brad Stone's The Everything Store and James Marcus' Amazonia.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Juan Pablo Villalobos' Quesadillas, published in the UK last year by And Other Stories, and now available in the US from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.