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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 October 2014

1 October: Forward Prizes for Poetry | Samar Yazbek Q & A | Streaming Gilmore Girls
2 October: Prizes: Goldsmiths Prize shortlist - Berliner Literaturpreis | 파주 북소리 ! | Betrayal review | The last 100 reviews
3 October: Nobel notes | Lolita in Persian | Beautiful German books ?
4 October: Welt Literaturpreis | Translation from ... Hebrew | In the Beginning was the Sea review
5 October: Prix de la Page 111 | The Hindu Prize shortlist
6 October: Nobel week | Frankfurt Book Fair | Self-publishing in ... Zimbabwe
7 October: Nobel countdown: two days and counting (and betting ...) | German Book Prize | Giller Prize shortlist | Pavane for a Dead Princess review
8 October: Nobel countdown: one day and counting (and betting ...) | Siegfried Lenz (1926-2014) | Prizes: Premio Nacional de Narrativa - Prix Goncourt, round two - Governor General's Literary Awards finalists - ALTA NTA shortlist
9 October: The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Patrick Modiano | Prizes: European Union Prize for Literature - Samuel Johnson Prize shortlist | American (self-)publishing
10 October: Patrick Modiano, Nobel laureate (cont'd) | Jay Rubin Q&A | The Giraffe's Neck review

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10 October 2014 - Friday

Patrick Modiano, Nobel laureate (cont'd) | Jay Rubin Q&A
The Giraffe's Neck review

       Patrick Modiano, Nobel laureate (cont'd)

       So Patrick Modiano is the 2014 Nobel laureate -- and those official pages are a good source for much of the basic information about him and the prize.
       See also yesterday's post for early reactions, information, and links to (English) reviews of his books -- but now there's already a whole lot more to add.

       A good place to begin: at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy Sven Grundberg and Jens Hansegard have a Q & A with the Swedish Academy's Nobel point-man, Peter Englund, and try to learn from him: Why Patrick Modiano Won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
       Englund probably does himself no favors with his first 'explanation':
So no American this year, yet again. Why is that ?

[Alice] Munro is Canadian, and I believe Canada is part of the North American continent, so there.
       Still, good to get some information from the source

       For those looking for a basic introduction, there are several pieces on offer:        At the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy, Jennifer Maloney and Anna Russell report the unsurprising news that Nobel Prize Spurs Demand for Translations of Patrick Modiano's Books and take a closer look at what that means. Among the observations:
In many cases, the English-language rights to Mr. Modiano’s books have lapsed and now must be renegotiated, according to Anne-Solange Noble, the foreign-rights director for Éditions Gallimard, Mr. Modiano’s French publisher. This week, she is attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, where such rights are often negotiated.
       Recall that the first Modiano to make it into English was Night Rounds, which Alfred A. Knopf brought out in 1971 -- but they seem to have soured on him quickly, and presumably rights reverted ages ago.
       (Updated): Alexandra Alter and Dan Bilefsky's report in The New York Times, Patrick Modiano, a Modern 'Proust,' Is Awarded Nobel in Literature offers some hard numbers, too: apparently the three titles Godine has published: "have collectively sold fewer than 8,000 copies in America" (which actually isn't that bad); and they will now: "print an additional 15,000 copies of the books". Meanwhile, the forthcoming Yale University press collection, Suspended Sentences (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or, now has a first printing of 20,000, rather than the originally planned 2000.

       There's also the winner himself, briefly interviewed at the Nobel site by Hélène Hernmarck (but handle with caution: it is a: "Translation into free English (not literal) of a telephone interview in French with Patrick Modiano").

       Appreciations and (relatively) more thorough overviews include:        More general looks at the Nobel-doings in giving the prize to Modiano include:        There were also quite a few articles about betting-on-the-Nobel:
        - Worth noting that The Guardian polled readers regarding Who should win the Nobel prize in literature ? with the top ten betting favorites as options: Modiano tied for dead last with two per cent support, while Murakami polled 36% and Philip Roth 28%.
        - At the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy -- you've figured out that they had by far the best overall prize-coverage, right ? -- Brenda Cronin reports on the Nobel Prize in Literature: Bookmakers Hail A Dark Horse, with titbits such as:
On Thursday, Ms. Bridge said that during the final leadup to the Swedish Academy's decision, the number of bets on Mr. Modiano didn't increase notably. "There were a few chunky bets placed on him in the last few days," she wrote, amid all-over brisk betting on the contest, which was up 20% from last year.
       And apparently Ladbrokes already have a list for next year (though I failed to find it at their site).
        - In Svenska Dagbladet Alan Asaid takes a more in-depth look at the betting phenomenon, in Vadslagningen sätter snurr på priset -- noting:
Vadslagning och Nobelpriset i litteratur har nu bildat en medial konstellation under lite mer än ett årtionde.

[Betting and the Nobel Prize in Literature have now formed a media-constellation in little over a decade.]
       He also mentions the different sources of information and speculation, and I am of course tickled to read:
avancerade spekulationskällor på nätet, varav den kanske mest informativa och underhållande är oddsoraklet MA Orthofers blogg The Literary Saloon.
       ("Oddsoraklet" might be a good title for my next business card.)

       Finally, there is the familiar reaction: The real scandal of Patrick Modiano's Nobel win is that Philip Roth is a huge loser -- again, here by Emma Brockes in The Guardian. (I am fascinated by this obsession with Roth, above all others; surely there are quite a few other similarly deserving authors who share the same disappointment, year after year.)

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

       Jay Rubin Q&A

       At the Asymptote weblog Ryan Mihaly is In Conversation with Jay Rubin -- the author of Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, and translator of several Murakami novels.
       Interesting that he suggests:
In general, I suspect translation is seen in a more positive light in less-than-dominant cultures that have to translate to keep up with the mainstream. American complacency keeps the incoming volume of translations low.

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

       The Giraffe's Neck review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Judith Schalansky's Darwinian novel, The Giraffe's Neck -- subtitled a Bildungsroman in the German original (though not in the English, in part presumably because the play on words is lost: the protagonist is a teacher, and 'Bildung' is the German for 'education'/'learning', so it is literally both a Bildungsroman and a 'Bildungs-Roman').

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

9 October 2014 - Thursday

The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Patrick Modiano
Prizes: European Union Prize for Literature - Samuel Johnson Prize shortlist
American (self-)publishing

       The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Patrick Modiano

       They've announced that Patrick Modiano is the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Literature.
       Modiano has long been mentioned as a contender -- and some betting interest did put his odds up in contender-territory at 10/1 (as I mentioned yesterday, I figured it was likely he was among the five finalists) -- but this still comes as a bit of a surprise/shock/disappointment to me.

       French author Modiano (b.1945) has a solid international reputation -- and he's been reasonably (if not recently) translated into English: the Nobel's bio-bibliography lists ten titles (well, eleven, but Dora Bruder was published under a different title in the UK) -- and that page is also a good start for a brief overview of his life and career.
       US publisher Godine has published three of his books, but US/UK interest has definitely faded. With good timing, however, Yale University Press will be publishing a three-novella collection in February [Updated: understandably, they've moved up the publication date, to 25 November], Suspended Sentences; see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or It'll be interesting to see whether any larger American publisher now makes a grab for him -- he's prolific, but all those short books might make it hard for him to catch on easily. I've read maybe half a dozen (sorry, none under review at the complete review yet), but would be hard pressed to recommend one as his masterpiece.
       (Among his interesting credits: he co-wrote the Louis Malle film, Lacombe, Lucien (see, for example, the IMDb page -- or Pauline Kael's rave ("The picture is a knockout").

       Early reactions include:
       English-language review coverage of his books includes:        If other interesting links/news pops up during the day, I'll add it to this post; otherwise: more tomorrow.

       As to the last-minute information, links, and coverage from yesterday:

        - Aftonbladet asked its critics to answer three questions: Who do you think won the prize ? Who do you want to get the prize ? and Who don't you want to get the prize ? in Nobelpriset: Bara det inte blir Dylan.
       Yes, 'not Dylan' was a popular refrain/answer -- as was, somewhat more surprisingly: not Adonis. But at least they throw a few more names into the mix, some of whom are definitely worthy.

        - Publishers Weekly has a crib-sheet of sorts for the top betting favorites, Get to Know Your Nobel Favorites -- a perhaps useful summary-overview.

        - There were several pieces focusing on the betting and the odds-makers:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Prize: European Union Prize for Literature

       They've announced the winners of the European Union Prize for Literature -- all thirteen of them -- though they only identify authors (and nationality) in the official announcement, despite apparently also being for a specific title -- see the list of corresponding books.
       Much as I like the idea of fostering and supporting literature from everywhere, the EUPL is ... unwieldy, to put it mildly. Thirty-seven countries are involved; each gets to name a domestic EUPL winner -- but only once every three years, so that they only have to announce/hand out twelve or thirteen of these in a given year (thirty-seven would apparently be too much to handle).
       Still, some promising young authors have won these; one of this year's winners is Thrown into Nature-author Milen Ruskov, while Evie Wyld is the UK-winner.

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

       Prize: Samuel Johnson Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction -- not at the official site, as of yet, though it will presumably show up here soon, but there have been newspaper reports; see, for example, Alison Flood's report in The Guardian.

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

       American (self-)publishing

       In Publishers Weekly Jim Milliot reports that Self-Published Books Topped 450,000 in 2013 in the US, an increase of 16.5 per cent.
       What's really surprising:
The increase was due entirely to the release of new print books which rose 28.8% to 302,622 offsetting a decline in self-published e-books which fell 1.6%, to 155,942
       Interesting to see such a strong surge in print, and a decline in e-books. Of course, there's no word re. actual sales-volume numbers, so it's unclear just how much of impact these titles have on the market.

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

8 October 2014 - Wednesday

Nobel countdown: one day and counting (and betting ...)
Siegfried Lenz (1926-2014)
Prizes: Premio Nacional de Narrativa - Prix Goncourt, round two
Governor General's Literary Awards finalists - ALTA NTA shortlist

       Nobel countdown: one day and counting (and betting ...)

       The nail-biting begins, as we enter the last hours before the winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature is announced, tomorrow at 13:00 local time (noon GMT).

        - Last-day (which is far from last-minute -- expect some significant movement as the clock winds down) betting odds have Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o just ahead of Murakami Haruki at both Ladbrokes (7/2 and 9/2 respectively, unchanged from the day before) and Unibet (3.75/1 and 4.5/1, with Ngũgĩ leapfrogging Murakami here), while Murakami still leads at PaddyPower.

        - Dwight Garner does the honors for The New York Times, in their obligatory Nobel-preview article, wondering The Nobel Prize Waiting Game: A Year for Long Shots ?
       A couple of points about this, beginning with the why-didn't-they-get-it whining: Garner does mention the nominations-process, noting 210 eligible writer-submissions were considered, but doesn't emphasize the fact that you have to be in it to win it, i.e. there's a hurdle to even being considered for the prize. As I have frequently pointed out already, I remind readers that Proust, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, hometown boy Strindberg (!) and many, many others were never even nominated for the prize, i.e. had no chance of ever winning it. (The Nominations database only lets us check through 1950, but already proves many greats didn't even get to the Swedish Academy-stage.) [Updated: A reader helpfully points out that the Nobel site has revised its Nomination Database (without changing/updating the old link/page, sigh ...) so that all nominations up to fifty years ago (currently: 1963) can now be checked -- still (or further) evidence that many greats didn't even get to the Swedish Academy-stage.]
       I also think Garner overstates the Swedish Academy's aversion to (sales-)successful authors. As to a possible blind spot re. wit -- well, everyone regards their having given it to funny-man Dario Fo as a joke, so maybe they feel burned .....
       Garner does suggest:
The Nobel committee might also, to wake everyone up, award the prize to a writer with only a book or two under his or her belt. This would be the rough equivalent of Barack Obama's winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Give it to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Ben Lerner or Tahmima Anam or Z.Z.Packer, and let's see what happens.
       They have had young laureates -- Camus (okay, that didn't work out for other reasons), Kipling ... -- but I remind you again: you have to be in it to win it, and I feel pretty safe in saying no one even considered nominating Lerner or Packer (Anam: possibly; Adichie, quite likely). But Garner's suggestions are revealing in another way: all the authors he names write in English. Given the worthies writing in other languages (and, again: more likely to get nominated once they have a lot of books under their belt), how could one justify giving Ben Lerner -- or even Jonathan Franzen -- the prize ?

        - Not many articles of interest elsewhere, though Smålandsposten gamely try to introduce readers to possible winners, in Och Nobelpriset 2014 går till... Péter Nádas? and a similar piece devoted to Fatima-Zohra Imalayen (i.e. Assia Djebar).

       So what do I expect ? As noted, the betting sheets offer good if very rough guidance, I think: I wouldn't be surprised if three or four of the top six names on the Ladbrokes list at this hour and stage (Ngũgĩ, Murakami, Alexievich, Adonis, Kadare, Modiano) were among the five finalists they selected the winner from. I hold out hope for a name beyond, possibly, too -- the very deserving Juan Goytisolo, who fits the bill in all respects (except he's getting kind of old, too), or new territory for them, like Persian: in Mahmoud Dowlatabadi and Shahrnush Parsipur they have two top-notch candidates (and I figure these three authors are pretty much certain to have been nominated for the prize by someone).
       Yes, Ngũgĩ has got to be the favorite, but non-fiction-writing Alexievich also would seem to hold good cards. We'll find out soon enough .....

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

       Siegfried Lenz (1926-2014)

       Popular German author Siegfried Lenz has passed away; see, for example German author Siegfried Lenz dies, aged 88 -- or longer (German) tributes such as Ein Virtuose der Nachsicht (Wolfgang Schneider, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) and Der Menschenerzähler (Beatrix Langner, Neue Zürcher Zeitung).
       A fair bit of his work has been translated into English, but he never really seemed to catch on; the only one of his titles under review at the complete review is A Minute's Silence (so the UK title -- it was then published in the US as Stella).

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

       Prize: Premio Nacional de Narrativa

       The Spanish Premio Nacional de Narrativa is a leading novel-prize awarded by the Spanish government, worth a decent €20,000, and it's probably no surprise that they've announced that En la orilla, by Rafael Chirbes, has taken this prize too -- as I mentioned at the end of last year, this was pretty much the unanimous book of the year in Spain, more so than any in recent memory; see also the Anagrama foreign rights page (where they suggest the English title, On the Shore).
       New Directions (US) and Harvill Secker (UK) are bringing this out in English, but it'll still be a while, apparently; meanwhile, see, for example, the review at The Modern Novel.

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

       Prize: Prix Goncourt, round two

       The most prestigious French literary prize, the prix Goncourt, is the rare four-round prize -- squeezing in a short-longlist between the usual longlist/shortlist/winner way of proceeding -- and round two was announced yesterday, the contenders cut down to eight.
       Kamel Daoud's Meursault, contre-enquête remains, unsurprisingly, in the running (have any US/UK publishers picked it up yet ?), and it's also good to see The Award-author Lydie Salvayre still have a title in the running. (Other finalists include Customer Service-author Benoît Duteurtre and Delicacy-author David Foenkinos; granted, I haven't seen their works that are in the running, but .....)

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

       Prizes: Governor General's Literary Awards finalists

       They've announced th finalists for the Canadian Governor General's Literary Awards -- many, many awards, in both English and French.
       The GGs are to be lauded -- praised to the skies ! -- for making readily available the information about what Titles Submitted to the Governor General's Literary Awards -- i.e. which titles were in the running, something every literary prize should do.

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

       Prize: ALTA NTA shortlist

       They've announced the five finalists for the American Literary Translators Association's 2014 National Translation Award -- "the only national award for translated fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction that includes a rigorous examination of the source text and its relation to the finished English work".
       I've read all of these except the Vvedensky (but even that one I've leafed through at some length), but the only one under review at the complete review is Mutlu Konuk Blasing's translation of Nâzım Hikmet's Life’s Good, Brother.
       (It's an interesting contrast to the Best Translated Book Award (which I was a judge for last year, when most of these titles came up), and I have to admit being a bit surprised by some of the choices, even considering the slightly different criteria.)

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

7 October 2014 - Tuesday

Nobel countdown: two days and counting (and betting ...) | German Book Prize
Giller Prize shortlist | Pavane for a Dead Princess review

       Nobel countdown: two days and counting (and betting ...)

       Yes, they've announced that the winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced on Thursday, 9 October, at 13:00 local time (noon GMT). So they've decided on a winner .....

        - I remind you that the betting-odds hardly represent any sort of real odds: this isn't like betting on the ponies, where you at least know who is on the track; they're close to all guesswork, some educated, much (Bob Dylan (and at 25/1 !) ...) not. But they do tend to give fairly good guidance as to who has a shot at this thing: I figure there's about an 80 per cent chance the winner is one of the five betting favorites. And with the clock ticking, the betting action seems to be heating up, too.
       At Ladbrokes Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (7/2) has edged past Murakami Haruki (9/2) again. Unibet and PaddyPower will aslo take your money -- and are worth keeping an eye on over the next two days.

        - There have been relatively few articles speculating on possible winners -- or rather: almost none that didn't just regurgitate the latest Ladbrokes odds. Among the few I've sen so far:
  • Svenska Yle asked a few people Vem får Nobelpriset i litteratur ? and among the less frequently mentioned names to date were: Peter Stamm and Anne Carson

  • There's a dpa piece in a number of German papers, Literatur-Promis tippen Nobelpreisträger, and among the 'promis' ('prominent' literary types) is The Tower-author Uwe Tellkamp, who, aside from ridiculously suggesting J.K.Rowling is a possibility names Mircea Cărtărescu, Nádas Péter, and Les Murray; while publisher and The Executor-author Michael Krüger suggests (alphabetically): Yves Bonnefoy, Geoffrey Hill, Peter Handke, Philippe Jaccottet, Claudio Magris, Botho Strauss, and Adam Zagajewski -- and would love to see them honored all together
        - Sabine Audrerie snagged a Q & A with Horace Engdahl, who used to be the Swedish Academy point man re. the Nobel (the job Peter Englund now has -- and Englund isn't talking), in La Croix. Lots of interesting observations, including his complaint of pseudo-transgressive fiction -- fiction that presents itself as transgressive, but where what's meant to pass for transgression is: "fictive, stratégique" -- which he complains is often formed at European or American universitites (MFA programs ...) -- and contrasts with the authentically transgressive writing of much-complained-about Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek.
       Also interesting: his repeated concern about literature-as-consumer-good: "je suis inquiet pour le futur de la littérature à cause de cette omniprésence du marché".
       Not any real clues as to the possible winner -- though it surely suggests they're very open to someone like Ngũgĩ (as well as, one would imagine, local favorite Juan Goytisolo -- or the likes of Krasznahorkai László and Mikhail Shishkin). Definitely worth reading, in any case.
       [Updated - 8 October]: See now also Alison Flood's piece about the interview, Creative writing courses are killing western literature, claims Nobel judge, in The Guardian (which includes some choice reactions).

       Pro tip: yes, Ladbrokes et al. list her as 'Svetlana Aleksijevitj' -- that's how they transliterate the name (Святлана Алексіевіч) in Swedish. But the Voices from Chernobyl-author is known (and published) in English as 'Svetlana Alexievich', and you might want to use that spelling if she emerges as the winner (or even if she doesn't ...).
       [cc Wall Street Journal; The Los Angeles Times.]

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

       German Book Prize

       They've announced the winner of the German Book Prize, and it goes to Kruso, by Lutz Seiler -- the clear favorite coming in (for two months in a row it's topped the German critics' 'best' list, the SWR Bestenliste).
       See also the Suhrkamp foreign rights page, the New Books in German information page, or get your copy at (Foreign rights have been sold to: France, Italy, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Hungary; English language rights ... not so much (though I figure that will get taken care of in the coming days in Frankfurt -- but god forbid anyone would have bought it before it got that prize-stamp-of-approval ....).)
       Note also that not all reactions were enthusiastic -- the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung coming right out and headlining their coverage Eine zweifelhafte Entscheidung ('A Questionable Decision').

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

       Giller Prize shortlist

       They've announced the six finalists for the Canadian Scotiabank Giller Prize, selected from a longlist of twelve (and 161 submissions overall).
       I'm afraid I haven't seen any of these.

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

       Pavane for a Dead Princess review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Park Min-gyu's Pavane for a Dead Princess, another volume in Dalkey Archive Press' Library of Korean Literature.

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

6 October 2014 - Monday

Nobel week | Frankfurt Book Fair | Self-publishing in ... Zimbabwe

       Nobel week

       Nobel Prize announcement week kicks off today with the announcement of the winner(s) of the "Physiology or Medicine" award. More importantly, the Swedish Academy announces today whether or not they'll be naming the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature this week -- on Thursday, to be exact. [Updated: Thursday, 9 October, it is, the Swedish Academy has announced; 13:00 local time.] (If not, then the winner will be named, at the earliest, next Thursday, the 16th.)
       Betting shops Unibet and PaddyPower have already closed their books on Nobel Prize in Literature-betting, leaving the field to Ladbrokes (who gamely generally keep betting open until right before the doors open at announcement time). [Updated: No, they're up again, still at Unibet and Paddy Power]
       The only really significant movement at either Unibet or PaddyPower I saw before they took down their lists was Svetlana Alexievich, whose odds moved from 16/1 to 6/1 at PaddyPower; she has also moved to 7/1 at Unibet, from 10/1. The only other mover-into-the-top-five at Ladbrokes has been Patrick Modiano -- now down to 10/1, and listed on Sunday as their 'most popular bet' in this category; he is certainly a plausible finalist (and seems likely to have at least been nominated several times previously). New/recently added names include Nawal El Saadawi at a decent 20/1 -- she fits the profile of a plausible winner, except for her age (another octogenarian, yet again, so soon ?) -- and Adam Zagajewski, also at 20/1 (I have to think it would take a bit more for the award to go to yet another Polish poet).
       (I'm still hoping for someone not on the betting sheets -- Shahrnush Parsipur, anyone ? etc. -- but another week of waiting would also be fun, allowing us to speculate about academy infighting and the like.)

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

       Frankfurt Book Fair

       A busy literary week, with the possible/likely announcement of the Nobel Prize on Thursday, as well as the weeklong mega-convention that is the Frankfurt Book Fair.
       This usually gets lots of coverage -- see, for example, Publishers Weekly already extensive coverage -- and at least the industry press (and many publisher-twitter-timelines) will no doubt have much to report.

       Guest of honour this year is Finland, which is cool (even if their tagline -- 'Finnland. Cool.' -- isn't), and I'm looking forward to the coverage of the Finnish titles and authors; see also their official site (which at this point doesn't quite measure up to the standard of recent years, Iceland's official page of 2011 [archived]).
       See also this brief overview at Books in Finland.

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

       Self-publishing in ... Zimbabwe

       In The Herald Stanely Mushava considers The self-publishing, mediocrity debate.
       Admittedly, this could be written/said about pretty much anywhere (and often is):
Self-publishing, as it is happening in Zimbabwe, is by and large a spiral of mediocrity whereby more and more is being produced without commitment to quality.
       And one can certainly agree:
Writers must stop recycling clichés in technically bankrupt paraphrases, as they short supply the self-replicating creative potential of great ideas.
       As well as:
(W)ith lax commitment to quality, so many writing today are causing the retardation, even the regression of local writing.
       As he notes, however, there's also great opportunity here -- especially in a country/economy in which the established publishing industry faces tremendous limitations.

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

5 October 2014 - Sunday

Prix de la Page 111 | The Hindu Prize shortlist

       Prix de la Page 111

       A major award for Writers-author Antoine Volodine !
       The prize ? The Prix de la Page 111, now in its third year, the winner selected after 111 minutes of deliberation from eight finalists that included Patrick Deville's Viva and Fiston Mwanza Mujila's Tram 83 (which will be available in English from Deep Vellum).
       As the headline for that last link suggests -- "Le prix littéraire le plus absurde revient !" -- this isn't quite your usual literary prize. Indeed, the name kind of explains it too -- 'Page 111' isn't a corporate sponsor but rather refers to what gets judged: this is a prize for the best page 111 in a book -- which, of course, cruelly excludes books that don't make it that far .....
       The podcast/page honoring the winning title, Terminus radieux, can be found here; see also the Seuil publicity page

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

       The Hindu Prize shortlist

       They've announced the six-title shortlist for this year's The Hindu Prize, which includes several debuts, as well as a book by Shashi Deshpande. (A pretty impressive judging panel, too.)

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

4 October 2014 - Saturday

Welt Literaturpreis | Translation from ... Hebrew
In the Beginning was the Sea review

       Welt Literaturpreis

       They've announced the winner of this year's Welt Literaturpreis and it's going to ... Murakami Haruki, who gets to pick up the €10,000 prize on 7 November (laudatio to be delivered by Clemens J. Setz).
       Murakami's odds at Ladbrokes for winning the Nobel Prize in Literature have gone up again -- at 4/1 he's co-favorite with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o -- but my thinking is that this is the nail in his Nobel coffin, this year and maybe even next. Yes, Kertész Imre won the Welt-prize in 2000 and went on to take the 2002 Nobel, but he really was plucked from obscurity (both times ...)); several of their other winners have been Nobel-caliber (Amos Oz, Philip Roth) but this prize -- which Jonathan Franzen got last year -- is still too lightweight for the Swedish Academy to want to follow suit (especially right on its heels like this) in their selection. Recall that they're probably deliberating right now (though they might already have made their choice ...), and I imagine this would sway far more against Murakami than it would sway towards (especially when they could make a much stronger statement by giving it to someone like Ngũgĩ (or Dowlatabadi ...)).
       It's a nice career-honor for Murakami -- but it ain't no Nobel, and I fear it means he won't be considered Nobel-worthy until the double-dose of attention (now, and then in a month, when he picks up the prize) has worn off -- 2016, maybe ?

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       Translation from ... Hebrew

       An interesting, wide-ranging piece from Jeffrey M. Green at Tablet, as 'A veteran practitioner of the art of translation considers the challenges -- and successes -- of Hebrew literature' in What Happens When Agnon and Appelfeld Speak Like Faulkner and Hemingway ?

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       In the Beginning was the Sea review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tomás González's In the Beginning was the Sea, just out in the UK from Pushkin Press, and due in the US early next year.
       This is González's first novel -- published in 1983 ! -- but despite his impressive reputation (he's mentioned as a Nobel-worthy, and this volume comes with an Elfriede Jelinek-blurb on the back cover) he's practically unknown in English -- presumably because he hasn't neatly fit in the idea(l)s of Latin American fiction that have long dominated US/UK publishing (magical realism; 'Boom'ish bombast, etc.). (Ironically, González lived in the US for many years -- but then he's hardly the only Spanish-writing author who hasn't benefitted much from proximity to local American publishers .....)

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3 October 2014 - Friday

Nobel notes | Lolita in Persian | Beautiful German books ?

       Nobel notes

       So, at the earliest, we'll learn who this year's Nobel Prize in Literature laureate is next Thursday (we'll learn on Monday whether they'll be announcing it on the 9th; if they remain silent, then we wait another week, the announcement then likely to come on the 16th) -- but we learn already that the winner-announcement has become such a circus that Swedish Academy point-man Peter Englund has announced (at his weblog) that, unlike in previous years, the announcement-ceremony will not be come one, come all, as he is barring the general public (and "skolklasser, föreningar etc" ('school classes, clubs, etc')). The bus-groups that apparently joined in have proved too much for the Swedish Academy, so only: "media och branschfolk" (journalists and those in the trade ("branschfolk" -- what a great word !)) will be welcome for the spectacle.
       You can, of course, watch the spectacle live on their excellent webcast, as I will be doing -- but it seems a shame that they don't try to accommodate the eager crowds. Why not take advantage of the interest and play to the crowds ? Yes, Englund opening the doors to the Börssalen and then making his little speech makes for a good show -- but why not gather the crowd out front and have Englund stride to a window (or balcony, if they have it) and reveal the winner to the cheering (jeering ?) masses that way ?

       I discussed the betting-situation a few days ago, and action has picked up since then, with more names being added to the various lists, and some shifts in odds (which one shouldn't read too much into, but are certainly worth paying some attention to). A reminder, again, that it's unlikely a winner has been selected yet (though one might be in the next few days), so for now we can only really guess at who the finalists might be.
       So, the betting observations:
  • At Ladbrokes the top seeds have flipped places: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (whose name they still can't spell ...) is now the 4/1 favorite, with Murakami Haruki at 5/1. Ismail Kadare is now also listed -- and, at 10/1 among the favorites. Another new name is Patrick Modiano -- last seen as a 100/1 longshot in 2013, now popping up at 16/1 Meanwhile, Peter Handke has moved up from 50/1 to 16/1 -- but he's been getting lots of coverage for his recent International Ibsen Award debacle win, which might have contributed to that.

  • PaddyPower doesn't seem to have had much movement.

  • Unibet odds have also been pretty stable, except that a few new names have popped up, such as Paul Muldoon at 18/1
       (Unibet also offers specialty bets, like what country or continent the winner will be from. 30/1 on the winner being 25 or under is not a good bet/fair odds.)

       In trying to figure out who might be in the final running -- i.e. on the Swedish Academy's shortlist -- I think several of those listed on the betting sheets can be counted out:
  • Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood: I don't see an English-writing North American woman winning two years in a row; I think the Swedish Academy wants a bit more variety than that

  • Peter Handke: the Ibsen Award to-do -- and the fact that he won it in the first place, another Scandinavian international literary prize worth mega-bucks (2.5 million Norwegian kroner, about US$390,000 at the latest exchange rate), probably put him out of the running (at least for the prize itself; he might well have made the shortlist, which they determined before all this blew up)

  • Amos Oz: the political situation (and his remarks) were probably too heated around the time they settled on the finalists (late spring) for them to have wanted to deal with all that fall-out

  • Bob Dylan: come on people -- Bob Dylan does not belong anywhere near this discussion, this year or any year (despite the annual crackpot claim to the contrary)
       I'm not sure about Adonis this year -- again, the politics might be too messy for them to want to get involved -- or Ko Un, the perennial Korean contender (since former winner Le Clézio has repeatedly gone on record as a fan of Korean literature and may well have nominated a Korean writer -- but most likely someone else, dividing whatever Korean support there might be at the Swedish Academy).

       Based on the limited buzz and the odds, I could see a shortlist that includes: Ngũgĩ, Murakami, Kadare, and Alexievich; possible other finalists: Modiano, Roth, Kundera, maybe even Handke (who, as noted, however, seems extremely unlikely to be considered prize-worthy this year). Maybe Nádas Péter ?
       Of course, several of my favorites aren't even being mentioned (or bet on) much this year: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi and Juan Goytisolo above all others (they seem the two most worthy possible winners, in my eyes), but also: Javier Marías (who at least rates odds, albeit not great ones), Krasznahorkai László, Mikhail Shishkin, Ibrahim al-Koni, or Ayi Kwei Armah.

       More thoughts soon.

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       Lolita in Persian

       At Sampsonia Way Yaghoub Yadali reports on Lolita in Kabul, as Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita has been translated into Persian but could not be published in Iran -- and instead has now been published in Kabul.
       Good to see the flow of literature between these countries (and Tajikistan too).

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       Beautiful German books ?

       The German have a prize for the most beautiful books of the year and, ridiculously, call it, in semi-English, The Beauty and the Book.
       They've now announced their ten finalists -- and I have to admit to being rather unimpressed by the selection.

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2 October 2014 - Thursday

Prizes: Goldsmiths Prize shortlist - Berliner Literaturpreis
파주 북소리 ! | Betrayal review | The last 100 reviews

       Prize: Goldsmiths Prize shortlist

       They've announced the six-title shortlist for this year's Goldsmiths Prize -- a £10,000-prize: "awarded to a book that is deemed genuinely novel and which embodies the spirit of invention that characterises the genre at its best".
       A pretty interesting-looking mix -- and one of the titles is actually already under review at the complete review (In the Light of What We Know, by Zia Haider Rahman), with another soon to follow (How to be both, by Ali Smith).
       The shortlist was selected from 119 entered novels -- a list they sadly/disappointingly/inexplicably apparently have not made public.
       And see also Leo Robson on All must have prizes ! How the Goldsmiths and Folio awards are changing the literary landscape in the New Statesman.

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       Prize: Berliner Literaturpreis

       Another day, another German author prize announcement (several, actually, but this seems like the most noteworthy one): they've announced that Olga Martynova will get next year's Berliner Literaturpreis (confusingly also known as the Berliner Preis für deutschsprachige Literatur), picking up the €30,000 prize on 18 February 2015 (yes, they do plan ahead, don't they ?).
       Martynova won the 2012 Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis, and I'm kind of surprised she hasn't been picked up in English yet -- Mörikes Schlüsselbein, in particular, sounds like a title of particular interest; see information about that and her other books at the Droschl foreign rights page.
       Meanwhile, she's in pretty good company with the Berliner Literaturpreis: winners include Herta Müller (2005), Durs Grünbein (2006), and Ilija Trojanow (2007).

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       파주 북소리 !

       It's time -- from tomorrow through 12 October -- for 파주 북소리 -- Paju Booksori, the big book festival at South Korea's famous 'book city'.
       In the Korea JoongAng Ilbo Kim Hyung-Eun has an overview of what's going on, in Literature comes alive in Paju Book City.

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       Betrayal review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of a new translation of the second of Giorgio Scerbanenco's Duca Lamberti-quartet, published as Betrayal by Hersilia Press last year, and now available in the US from Melville House as Traitors to All (closer to the original Traditori di tutti ...).
       The title confusion can't have helped the book -- which was previously translated as Duca and the Milan Murders (1970) -- as, for example, the (US) Publishers Weekly review relies on the Hersilia edition and uses their title (which probably confuses booksellers and librarians who rely on PW ...).
       Too bad -- it's even better than the first in the series; indeed, it's exemplary, in some ways, and you can understand why the Italians named their big mystery-prize after Scerbanenco.

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       The last 100 reviews

       So having reached (and now passed) 3400 reviews at the complete review it's time to look at the numbers re. the past 100 reviews (3301-3400):

        - the 100 reviews were posted in 181 days (previous hundred: 187 days), and totaled 92,723 words (the highest average to date; previous hundred: 89,132 words). 28 reviews were over 1000 words, 4 were under 500 words in length. The longest review was 3610 words.

        - the 100 reviewed books had a total of 24,995 pages (a statistic I've just started tracking this year). The longest had 1003 pages, but only five were longer than 500 pages (with eight more between 400-499 pages); eight were shorter than 100 pages.

        - reviews were of books originally written in 27 different languages (previous hundred: 22) -- the best-represented languages being English (22), followed by French (18). One new language was added (Romansh, barely), bringing the total number of languages represented at the complete review to 64.
       Amazingly, at least one title in each of the 15 most popular langauges (of books already under review) was reviewed.
       See also the language list for a full breakdown of all languages.

        - reviewed books were by authors from 37 countries (previous hundred: 36), led by France (13), the UK (10), Japan and the US (8 each).

        - 81 reviewed titles were novels (previous hundred: 89), and there were six story-collections; there were two volumes each of poetry and diaries, and six volumes of (various) non-fiction

        - One title received a grade of A; 10: A-; 31: B+; 50 B

        - 17 reviewed titles were first published in 2014; 50 between 2010-2014; 21 between 2000-2009; 5 in the 1990s; 3 in the 1980s; 5 in the 1970s; 8 in the 1960s. Three were published before 1900.

        - 22.5 of the reviewed books were written by women -- a ridiculously low percentage but (by quite a margin -- over 10 per cent) the highest total ever recorded at the site for a 100-book block of reviews, upping the percentage of female-authored titles at the site from 15.08 per cent to a record 15.29 per cent; see also the full breakdown here.

       Good to see that there were (slightly ...) more female authors, as well as the usual spread of languages (though it's a bit disappointing that the dominant languages were again dominant -- the fifteen most popular languages each were represented by at least one title). I'm not sure about the trend towards lengthier reviews -- at what point do they get too long ?
       And worth keeping an eye on: it'll probably be another 150 reviews of so, but at some point in the foreseeable future the percentage of all titles under review originally written in English will drop below 40 per cent. (Recall that of the first 1000 reviews, 681 were of books written in English, and even after 2000 reviews these still constituted 53.30 per cent of all titles.)

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1 October 2014 - Wednesday

Forward Prizes for Poetry | Samar Yazbek Q & A | Streaming Gilmore Girls

       Forward Prizes for Poetry

       They've announced (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) the winners of the Forward Prizes for Poetry, with Kei Miller's The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion taking the £10,000 best collection prize; see the Carcanet publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Stephen Santus' 'In a Restaurant' -- third-place finisher in last year's Bridport Prize -- took the prize for 'best single poem'.

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       Samar Yazbek Q & A

       At Claudia Kramatschek has a Q & A with Syrian author Samar Yazbek, Divided society, divided souls.
       The book they discuss, which has just come out in German, is available in English as Cinnamon; see the RAYA information page, or get your copy at or

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       Streaming Gilmore Girls

       Apparently it's big news that Netflix will be streaming the TV show Gilmore Girls starting today. As someone who does not use/have Netflix I don't really know what this actually means, but I've been impressed/amused by the copious amounts of Gilmore Girls-coverage that has popped online up surrounding this.
       For additional background reading, note that two show-related titles (aside from many of the books Rory reads ...) are under review at the complete review:        (Yes, I enjoyed the show -- sharp writing, a great sense for dialogue, and by and large good fun --, and if I had Netflix would probably take advantage of the easy availability and dip back in.)

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