At Qantara.de Amida Sholan has a Q & A with Yemeni author Ali al-Muqri.
He explains why his recent novels have been published by Beirut-based publishers, rather than any in Yemen:
The main reason is that none of the publishing houses in Yemen have a modern distribution structure.
In Beirut you can publish everything freely and they have the most modern publishing industry in the Arab world.
It's frustrating that infra-structural issues are still such a major publishing hurdle -- not just in Yemen .....
His Hurma recently came out from Darf; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Zoran Živković's Time Gifts -- which came out in English in the wonderful (but, alas, retired) Northwestern University Press Writings from an Unbound Europe-series.
The annual Finnegan's List from the European Society of Authors is a neat idea, striving: "to create a literary community encompassing all languages spoken and written in Europe and beyond" as a jury of notable authors each selects three under-translated or forgotten titles to recommend.
The 2016 list (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) is now out, and among the jurors were: I'jaam-author Sinan Antoon, Birth of a Bridge-author Maylis de Kerangal, and Because She Never Asked-author Enrique Vila-Matas
Among Vila-Matas' recommendations: Perpetual Motion, by the great Augusto Monterroso -- which is actually available in English, in the collection Complete Works and Other Stories (translated by Edith Grossman, if you really need more convincing).
They've announced the winner of the 2015 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, and it goes to Paul Starkey for his translation of the novel The Book of the Sultan's Seal, by Youssef Rakha; see also the Interlink publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
(I have a copy and should be getting to it ... at some point.)
Admirably (though really this should be expected from every literary prize), they list all 29 titles that were considered (scroll down for list on the official announcement page) -- which also makes for a useful overview of the most notable translations from the Arabic published last year.
It's been a while since I reviewed any Mahfouz, but he is the most-reviewed author at the complete review (this is the twenty-fourth title under review -- though I still have quite a few to get to), and he rarely disappoints -- always worth returning to.
To be published in the French La Pléiade-series is about the literary equivalent of being canonized -- and it's a rare honor for a living author to make the cut: there have only been sixteen so far.
Discounting Milan Kundera -- who has taken to writing in French, after all -- Mario Vargas Llosa will soon be the first foreign author to manage this feat: in March they're brining out two volumes of his Œuvres romanesques (see, for example).
See also Pierre Georges on Mario Vargas Llosa premier écrivain étranger "pléiadisé" de son vivant at Livres Hebdo.
At The Missing Slate Casey Harding has a Q & A with Michal Hvorecký -- yet another Central European author not yet really known in the English-speaking world.
One hopes that will change with Danube in America -- the translation of which is discussed here.
At boersenblatt.net they offer an overview of the bestselling titles in Germany in 2015 -- scroll down for a list of the top 25 (without actual sales figures, alas -- though they give some of those in the article itself).
A Jeff Kinney topped the list (with over 550,000 sold), followed by a Jojo Moyes, and the Girl on the Train -- but, look, Houellebecq's Submission was the fourth best-selling book of the year.
Thirteen of the top 25 were translations.
In the Daily Observer Nvasekie N. Konneh complains:
Is there any such thing as contemporary Liberian literature ?
Of course !
The answer is a resounding, 'Yes !'
Unfortunately though, when it comes to African literature, all the buzz is about Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe and others.
Fifty years after the fact they open up the Swedish Academy archives, and so this year we get insight into what is widely considered their worst post-World War II choice for the Nobel Prize, the 1965 award to Mikhail Sholokhov.
(The 1974 prize -- the insider job -- is the only one that gets anywhere near as much flak (with the occasional honorable mentions for Dario Fo and Elfriede Jelinek ...).)
As I mentioned yesterday, the Swedish Academy released the list of candidates (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), and now we have the first more detailed report about the deliberations themselves, as Kaj Schueler reports at Svenska DagbladetSanningen om den mest omstridda Nobelpristagaren.
Perhaps the most surprising takeaway: Sholokhov wasn't a controversial -- or even much-debated -- choice.
He won easily.
Among the other interesting titbits: they apparently at least considered splitting the prize, between Sholokhov and Anna Akhmatova -- and at least gave a thought to some other splits as well: Miguel Angel Asturias and Jorge Luis Borges, or Samuel Joseph Agnon and Nelly Sachs (of which three of the latter -- all save Borges -- would eventually get the prize).
This limited information almost raises more questions than it answers -- notably, still: what were they thinking ? -- and it'll be interesting to see whether further examination of the archives yields more insight.
(I'm honestly surprised how little attention and coverage this has attracted so far.)
The Nobel Prize in Literature remains the great seal-of-cultural approval -- see, for example, Julia Lovell's The Politics of Cultural Capital (sub-titled: China's Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature) -- and many nations still measure their literature by how (they feel) its chances for a Nobel rate.
This week's example at least doesn't set the Nobel as a short-term goal: Malaysia wants Nobel Prize winner by 2057 Tasnim Lokman reports in the New Straits Times.
Yes: "Local publishers needs to set a target of winning the Nobel Prize by 2057" says Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi -- and he has:
challenged authors and fiction writers alike to produce and publish award-winning materials to be recognised internationally.
He urged Malaysian writers to set a goal of clinching the Nobel Prize by 2057
No doubt, inspired Malaysian authors everywhere are now working towards this goal -- and that four-decade timeframe at least doesn't put too much immediate pressure on them .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Han Kang's The Vegetarian.
This came out a year ago in the UK (where another of her novels, Human Acts, just appeared in translation; get your copy at Amazon.co.uk), but the US edition is only arriving ... next month.
It got lots of coverage -- and excellent reviews -- in the UK, and it'll be interesting to see how it does here.
Quite a few publications have now posted lists of books to look forward to in 2016, or the early part of 2016, and these can be pretty useful, so here a collection of links:
Most Anticipated: The Great 2016 Book Preview at The Millions: the ever-useful annual overview, and covering a lot of goods (93 titles, in 8,600 words) -- I hope it's not: "the only 2016 book preview you'll need" (because, honestly, there's a lot of other worthwhile stuff out there too, some of which you can find on other lists ...), but it's certainly a great starting point.
(Note, however, that the focus is very much on big-press titles, and while a few independent translations, for example, slip in -- an Open Letter Volodine, for example -- they really miss the boat here.)
Interesting New Books - 2016, collected by Scott Esposito at his Conversational Reading -- I've mentioned this one before, but it's certainly worth pointing too again, especially as complement/corrective to The Million's list, as Scott's is much more independent-press oriented
Books in 2016: a literary calendar at The Guardian is a handy overview of notable UK publications, fiction and non (with monthly 'events and anniversaries' thrown in for good measure) -- but note (and this applies for all these lists) US and UK publication dates only occasionally overlap (and sometimes they're separated by years ...)
The 20 novels we can’t wait to read in 2016 at The Washington Post -- "And this list only gets us to June", they note.
But, yeah, if not exactly All-American, this is a big-publisher, ultra-mainstream list -- without a single translation, for example.
The Swedish Academy opens up the Nobel archives after fifty years, so this year we get to learn the story behind the (highly controversial) 1965 award to Mikhail Sholokhov.
The archives were opened yesterday, and as of when I write this no articles detailing the deliberations has appeared yet -- give it another day or two.
All we have so far is the list of candidates (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) -- which is a fun start.
There were 90 nominated authors; it is noteworthy that Sholokhov seems to have been one of the most-nominated among them (and not just in a concerted Soviet affair: his nominators include two professors of French, one from France and one from the UK); the only other author getting this much nomination-support was André Malraux (who surely would have also been a problematic choice).
First-time nominees that year include: Anna Akhmatova, Theodor W. Adorno, Alejo Carpentier, Alan Sillitoe (his first name misspelled on the nomination-sheet -- that can't be a good sign ...), Henri Troyat, and Marguerite Yourcenar.
Lots of overlooked greats among the other nominees too -- it'll be interesting to learn who the finalists were.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the first in Bernhard Aichner's undertaker-/serial killer-trilogy, Woman of the Dead.
Hey, Anthea Bell did the translation .....
(But, yeah, I feel confident in predicting: this ain't going to win this year's Best Translated Book Award.)
In 2015, 216 books were reviewed at the complete review, up considerably (10.2 %) from the 196 reviewed in 2014, and well ahead of the soft target of 200.
I received 511 review copies -- down quite a bit (5.37 %) from the 540 received in 2014.
Books originally written in 36 languages (same as in 2014) were reviewed, with books written in French even more prevalent than in the past two years.
The top ten languages were:
1. French 62 (28.70% of all books) (2014: 43/21.94%)
2. English 35 (16.20%) (2014: 32/16.33%)
3. Japanese 14
-. Spanish 14
5. German 10
6. Russian 8
7. Indonesian 6
-. Swedish 6
9. Arabic 5
-. Chinese 5
Books by authors from 58 countries were reviewed (2014: 49), the top five being:
1. France 51
2. Japan 14
3. US 13
4. Spain 9
-. UK 9
As always, fiction completely dominated, with 175 of the 216 reviewed titles novels, plus 14 story collections.
There were reviews of four poetry titles, but only one drama.
Male authors still outnumber women by a ridiculous amount, but for the first year (just) over one in five authors was female, with 171.5 titles (79.40 %) by men and 44.5 (20.60 %) by women.
Three titles were graded 'A', while the lowest grade was a 'C' (given to only one title).
The average length of all books reviewed was 249.60 pages (2014: 242.31).
There were no thousand-pagers, but 17 had more than 500 pages (2014: 7)
The average review-length was 930.45 words -- up considerably from the 888-word average of the past two years.
In all, I published 200,978 review-words -- a decent-sized book's worth of reviews.
Overall, traffic at the site was up 1.38%, while page-views were down -0.95% -- disappointing, given how much material (216 reviews !) was added.
There were visitors from 226 countries and territories in 2015, down slightly from the 228 in 2014.
Most notably, the site had its first visitor from North Korea (but only a single visit), while countries showing visitors in 2014 but not in 2015 included: the Cook Islands, the Falkland Islands, Kiribati, and Palau.
The countries from which the most traffic came were:
United States (40.31%)
United Kingdom (9.95%)
Traffic was up in the top six nations -- ranging from +16.27% (India) to +0.84% (UK), but the biggest jump came in traffic from Kenya (+293.06%).
Continentally, traffic was down from Europe (-7.05%) and especially South America (-23.61%), but up significantly from Africa (+33.44%).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay's Pather Panchali -- yes, the basis for Satyajit Ray's (much more famous) film.
Great to see this -- but my HarperCollins India was kindly provided by a reader; a US edition was apparently last published in the mid-1970s, and appears to be long out of print.
How about trying what the French -- Gallimard ! no less -- did: their (reasonably priced) edition comes packaged with a DVD of the film.
(This is something I'm surprised publishers don't ty to do more often.)
In Publishers Weekly they list the Bestselling Books of 2015 in various categories -- with actual Nielsen BookScan sales figures !
Four fiction titles topped a million in sales (only one each non and juvenile did), and two titles in translation made the fiction top 20 (The Girl in the Spider's Web, and Paulo Coelho's apparently unkillable The Alchemist).
Predictably enough (but somewhat to my regret), none of these bestselling titles are under review at the complete review.
The New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul apparently finds herself: "frequently besieged with questions", and so she goes about Answering the Most Frequent Questions About the Book Review at the Times Insider.
Pretty basic stuff, but perhaps of some interest -- and a few titbits of interest, such as the claim: "Sometimes we have to disqualify four or five reviewers before we find one that works".
(I kind of like the idea of them having a big red-ink "DQ"-stamp that they stamp on photographs of the reviewers deemed ineligible, but they're probably more casual about it.)
(N)o extraordinary fiction novel was published in 2015.
"Writers are not working hard in their respective fields," [Sahar Ansari] said, "They need to read international literature to broaden their vision."
That's probably good advice for writers elsewhere, too .....
And here are the 50 most popular reviews.
As the top ten already suggests, there was little change from 2014: only nine titles dropped out of the top 50, meaning 41 were the same.
Even more astonishingly not a single new (i.e. 2015) review made the top 50.
(The 'freshest' review in the top 50 was Ian McEwan's The Children Act -- posted August, 2014 -- at 21.)
Obviously new reviews are handicapped by not being available for as much of the year as older reviews -- but unless it's really late in the year the added attention new reviews get used to be enough to push newer reviews up the list.
This year, however, the top-performing new reviews were far, far down:
The Helios Disaster benefitted from being posted relatively early in the year, but even so these titles had a hard time competing against the backlist: the Houellebecq -- posted in July -- wouldn't have cracked the top 50 even if the page-view totals were doubled.
Also somewhat surprising -- and showing just how popular the most popular other titles are -- : Voices from Chernobyl has always been a solid backlist review, but even with the additional attention and interest that came with the early-October announcement of Svetlana Alexievich's Nobel Prize win, the review only ranked 149th for the year.
Here's an interesting approach to helping local authors and literature out: the Pune Mirrorreports:
A government resolution (GR) on Friday instructed all local bodies such as municipal corporations, municipal councils and zilla parishads to earmark 500 to 1000 sq-ft facilities at minimal rates, where Marathi authors and publishers can sell their books.
The move is to promote Marathi literature and encourage writers and publishers.
(A 'zilla parishad' is a sort of district council.)
See also the actual government resolution (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) (which doesn't look to be much more helpful/specific than the article ...).
It remains to be seen how (or whether ?) this resolution will be implemented, but one hopes authors and publishers are able to creatively take advantage of what could be a great opportunity; I look forward to hearing about what they manage to do (and whether it all winds up actually boosting local-literature sales).
Arts prizes are notoriously subjective, and it's difficult to come up with any 'best' -- novel, painting, etc. -- and it continues to be fun to watch the Chinese stuggle with that.
Xinhua now reports on some of the ideas authorities have, as:
The Ministry of Culture (MOC) in April vowed to streamline the chaotic art and literature awards, blaming too many redundant awards ceremonies and appraisals for having caused irregularities and power-for-money deals.
Chaotic awards !
Power-for-money deals !
But good to see they're really tackling problems like: "too many redundant awards ceremonies and appraisals" -- as they've now: "said the existing 20 national art and literature awards will be reduced to 19".
That should do it.
Artists or writers with notorious records or reputations will be barred from competing for awards, the circular said.
Aren't they the ones who are the most fun ?
(Also: who gets to decide if a record or reputation is 'notorious' ?)
Peirene Press brought this out in the UK in 2012 -- but only a few months ago did a North American edition come out.
'North American' but not from a US publisher -- Canadian house Coach House Books admirably picked it up.
No doubt, many of you have already moved on, and 2015 is so last year, but this -- when it's finally over -- is the point where I look back at the year that was.
Various site-statistics will follow in a day or two or three, but for now: a look back at the year that was, reading- and review-wise, at the complete review.
Quite a few books were reviewed at the site -- 216 in all -- but perhaps the first thing that stands out, at least for me, is how few of the most-discussed titles I managed to get to.
There were the latest Ferrante and Knausgaard -- which I at least was able to peruse, but couldn't bring myself to cover (yet, I tell myself ...) -- and then even more English-language titles that I didn't even get my hands on, notably:
Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James
City on Fire, by Garth Risk Hallberg
A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
Purity, by Jonathan Franzen
Some of these I will probably get around to at some point, others ... not so much.
There are any number of regrets, too, of didn't-get-to(-yet) books, from several César Airas (which I'm not too worried about -- I'll catch up with those sooner or later) to the big story-collections by Clarice Lispector and Silvina Ocampo (which I feel more guilty/concerned about, as my short-story antipathy swelled considerably over the course of the year, and shows no signs of abating).
A couple of notable mentions of titles I haven't gotten to yet but which really stood out and which I do hope to get to sooner rather than later:
So what about my favorites ?
It's been a fairly good reading year, and the list of books I liked a lot seems longer than past years -- and as far as the top ten goes, it's almost unfair to make a list of favorites: I'd probably change the ranking (and some of the titles) every time I had a go at this.
But here's the way I feel right now: my favorite titles of the last year (limited to the 216 under review at the complete review (reviewed, but not necessarily first published, in 2015)):
Because She Never Asked, by Enrique Vila-Matas.
This title seems to have gotten a bit lost, since two other works by him also appeared in 2015 before this one did, and they seem to have sucked up most of the attention.
I didn't quite share the enthusiasm for The Illogic of Kassel and A Brief History of Portable Literature -- but Because She Never Asked seems to me near-perfect Vila-Matas (and a whole lot of fun)
After the Circus, by Patrick Modiano.
A whole lot of Modianos have come out this year (with many, many more to follow in 2016), and there have been several good ones -- with the excellent Pedigree perhaps the most essential -- but this one was the one that made the strongest impression on me.
The one caveat here: I don't know how much of that is due to cumulative effect: Modianos works (and biography) all fit together, and I might have come to this one with just the right amount of familiarity with the rest.
Captivity, by Spiró György.
I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction, but I enjoyed this immensely.
(It was probably also the longest book I read all year (word-count wise) -- but certainly didn't feel that way.)
Christ's Entry into Brussels, by Dimitri Verhulst.
A real nice surprise -- as I had profoundly disliked his The Misfortunates -- and good, sharp fun.
Arcadia, by Iain Pears.
This is lite reading -- The Guardianreview that situates it: "at the lucrative crossover point between the grownup and YA markets" has it pegged right -- but it's splendidly done, and in the simple-entertainment category this was easily the best of the year.
Death by Water, by Ōe Kenzaburō.
My kind of reflective, meandering author-novel -- and I'd love to see more of the Kogito Choko-saga in English.
Adam Buenosayres, by Leopoldo Marechal.
A long overdue translation of a seminal text, and one of these epic-scale Latin American novels -- and a very impressive translation (by Norman Cheadle and Sheila Ethier), too.
Sanshirō, by Natsume Sōseki.
One of the classics, by a master -- and a rare re-read for me (in a (somewhat) new/revised translation, by Jay Rubin).
The Mahé Circle, by Georges Simenon.
Penguin is doing a wonderful job putting out new translations of all the Maigrets, and I'm enjoying following those -- but this, one of Simenon's romans durs (and never previously available in English), is the most impressive Simenon-translation of recent years.
Very dark, but a very fine novel.
Against Nature, by Tomas Espedal.
I had my doubts that he could pull anything close to Against Art off again, but I was pleased to be proved wrong -- a wonderful introspective novel, packing a full Knausgaardian punch but in a fraction of the space.
(Given the translation-heavy focus of the site, it's not too surprising that only one out of the top ten is a book written in English.)
As noted, there were many, many other books that I enjoyed and was impressed by; here an (also incomplete) list of 'notable mentions', in alphabetical order (these also: books reviewed but not necessarily first published in 2015):
A new year starts, and while the complete review is all continuity, and I barely notice (other than the fact that I have to change the date on so many pages), I guess it's as good a point as any to briefly look up and around .....
Yeah, nothing doing there .....
But, as always: glad to have you here, glad you keep coming back, and I hope to continue to be able to provide you with information and review-coverage of at least occasional interest.
As to big plans for the year ahead ... no big plans -- the only resolution is, of course, as it always is, to read more (though maybe I finally will get around to tidying up the site a bit as well).
Oh, right, and there's also this, which is pretty exciting (and which you'll be hearing a lot more about, at least hereabouts ...); publication date is 19 April, and you can pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.