They've announced the winners of the 2017 Schweizer Literaturpreise/Prix suisses de littérature/Premi svizzeri di letteratura/Premis svizzers da litteratura -- not to be confused with the German-only Swiss Book Prize.
They give out several awards, for works by authors writing in Switzerland's various languages (though, yeah, German and French usually come out on top); see the announcement in French and German.
It's good money -- CHF25,000 for each author -- and they get to pick up the prizes 16 February, when the 'Grand Prix'-winner (the annual big author award) will also be announced.
I have to say, I am really curious about Annette Hug's Wilhelm Tell in Manila -- a (El Filibusterismo-author) José Rizal story (!) about his time in Europe -- and his translating Schiller into Tagalog !
Please tell me Filipino publishers aren't waiting for US/UK publishers to take the lead on this and have already commissioned a translation .....
The always entertaining 'Great American Novel' debate resurfaces at the Literary Hub, where Emily Temple offers A Brief Survey of the Great American Novel(s) -- though I'd also point you to The Modern Novel's compact but extensive overview.
And, yes, my vote is still for Melville's The Confidence Man.
More than ever, I'd suggest.
In Al Jazeera Swati Sanyal Tarafdar finds: 'The second-hand book stalls at the Vijayawada Book Festival intrigue customers with a dose of nostalgia', in considering India: For the love of second-hand books.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Raduan Nassar's very short novel, A Cup of Rage
This (finally) came out in English translation (by Stefan Tobler) last year, from Penguin Modern Classics, and was longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize; now the US edition is coming out, from New Directions.
(The US 2017 publication date also means that it will also only be in the running for the Best Translated Book Award in 2018 .....)
In Le Monde diplomatique Jonathan Guyer finds: 'Much connects art and comics in Egypt and the wider Middle East, even if publishing houses keep fine art and graphic narratives on different shelves', in the well-illustrated piece, On the Arab page.
In the Southeast Asia Globe Dene Mullen examines Lost in translation: why the world is missing out on Indonesia's best writers.
Most of the usual stuff -- including a focus that is almost entirely on translation-into-English (which, as I have often noted, is not necessarily the be-all and end-all authors seem to believe) -- but also some interesting observations, such as translator Jennifer Lindsay's, that:
"The novel as a form is such a European fixation, and it's not necessarily where the best writing is.
It skews what kinds of things are translated, it skews people's view of the variety of writing in other languages," she says.
"I would say that a lot of Indonesia's best writing, really good writing, is in short forms and also in plays ... not necessarily the forms that are going to get them the big attention in the Western world.
(On the other hand: she's completely wrong about Joyce.)
Quite a few -- though far from enough -- Indonesian works are under review at the complete review; see the index of South East Asian literature under review.
They've announced the three titles left in the running for the Etisalat Prize for Literature, a: "pan-African Prize that celebrates debut African writers of published book-length fiction".
The three are:
Certainly, without [Murakami's] ascent to the pantheon of global writers, the careers in translation of every other Japanese writer (...) would be unimaginable, and the fact that Mizumura's A True Novel and her polemic against Murakami's brand of fiction gained attention outside of Japan is itself a function of publishers and readers and critics caring about the state of Japanese fiction -- a concern that would be unlikely without Murakami.
I think Japan is too large a literary market(place) that its writing would have been so much more neglected sans Murakami; indeed, I still think there's an argument to be made for Murakami being a too-dominant (would-be-)representative, overshadowing so much else.
(What other major language/nation has a similarly, single (globally) dominant figure ? The few potential examples -- Ferrante ? maybe Knausgaard (if we include decidedly minor languages) ? -- are more recent, and it's unclear (and I think unlikely) that their dominance will last anywhere near as long.)
I suspect the interest in the state of Japanese fiction has always been there -- but that Murakami's front-and-center, larger than life presence has also kept a great deal from coming to the fore (abroad).
I've pointed you to quite a few 2017-preview pieces, but The Millions' annual feature is certainly among the biggest out there, and worth a separate entry.
Their The Great First-Half 2017 Book Preview is now up, covering "80-something upcoming books".
Very much big-house, big-title oriented -- i.e. missing a lot of the really good stuff -- it does point you to the titles that you'll be seeing and hearing the most of in the coming months -- and there certainly are quite a few titles of interest here.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Federico Axat's new thriller, Kill the Next One.
I can't recall a book which has been published with such different titles in the major languages: the original Spanish one is: La última salida, the French went with: L'opossum rose, the Germans opted for: Mysterium.
In 2016, 205 books were reviewed at the complete review, down a bit from the 216 reviewed in 2015, but above the soft target of 200.
You can find the 50 most popular reviews, 2016 here.
Only eight of these weren't on the 2015 list -- the highest-ranking newcomer the movie-tie-in propelled Indignation by Philip Roth.
Yes, readers focus on the backlist at the complete review.
The top-ranked 2016 review only placed 97th for the year -- the unlikely Dear Reader, by Paul Fournel -- with the Man Booker International Prize winning The Vegetarian by Han Kang close behind, at 102nd.
(Both of these reviews were posted in the first two weeks of the year, showing just how hard it is to accumulate page-views to be competitive against the old standards who can continue to count on steady daily traffic, day in and day out -- anything posted a few months into the year doesn't stand a chance.)
I received 480 review copies, down 6.07 % from the 511 received in 2015 -- continuing the trend of recent years.
The 480 books received marks the fewest since 2010.
(I'm not certain what this can be attributed to -- am I making fewer review-copy-requests ?
Picking up more large house publications at the library rather than bothering to request them ?
And did the literature-in-translation-focused independents who usually send me everything just have less to send last year ?
(As is, I suspect that close to 10 % of all the review copies I received came from Dalkey Archive Press alone; add in Archipelago, Europa, New Directions, NYRB, Open Letter, and Other Press and that probably covers half the books I get; include Harvard and Oxford University Press and we're already talking a vast majority .....))
As of 1 January 2017 I had reviewed 111 (23.13%) of the titles acquired this way (i.e. not including library or bought books, etc.); at the end of 2015 I had reviewed 118/511 (23.09%) -- though 16 more 2015 review copies have been reviewed since then.
Books originally written in 39 languages (up from 36 in 2015 (and 2014)) were reviewed.
Spanish was the big gainer, with almost double the number of titles as in 2015, while far fewer French titles were reviewed (though still more than from any other language).
The top twelve languages were:
1. French 36 (17.56% of all books) (2015: 62/28.70%)
2. Spanish 27 (2015: 14)
3. English 24 (35)
4. Japanese 18 (14)
5. German 12 (10)
6. Italian 11
7. Arabic 8
8. Czech 7
-. Korean 7
10. Dutch 5
-. Russian 5
-. Serbian 5
Books by authors from 52 countries were reviewed (2015: 58 ), the top ten being:
1. France 30 (2015: 51)
2. Japan 19
3. US 14
4. Spain 12
5. Italy 10
6. Czech Republic 7
-. India 7
-. South Korea 7
-. UK 7
10. Austria 6
(Interestingly, there were only 2 books by German writers, compared to the six from Austria.)
Fiction was, as always, dominant: 171 of the reviews were of novels, along with reviews of one novella (usually a distinction I don't make, but if they plaster it on the book ...) and five story collections.
Six biographies and two autobiographies doubled up the total of biographical works reviewed from 2015, and I did manage reviews of four poetry collections again (same as in 2015).
For the second year running, however, no plays were reviewed -- though one screenplay was.
Contemporary titles did dominate -- 87 reviews were of works originally published (in the language they were written in, not the English translation) between 2011 and 2016 -- but there was a good spread of twentieth-century work:
Beyond that, there were reviews of seven nineteenth-century works (though five of these were from the 1890s), and 6 pre-1800 works.
The ratio of male-to-female authors was around the historically abysmal averages; only 16.83% of reviewed books were by women, down considerably from 2015's 20.60%.
(Aside from an obviously deeply ingrained sexist bias, I suspect this year's poor results were also helped (so to speak) by reading that tended towards translations of older works (the sex ratio of what got published, especially in translation, gets worse, the further back you go) and the fact that I read even less contemporary American fiction than usual (as that seems to be one of the few areas where I'm as likely to pick up work by a female author as by a male author).)
After three titles graded 'A' last year, only two made the grade this year -- Gerard Reve's The Evenings and Eliot Weinberger's 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei -- while the lowest grade was a 'C-' (given once, while there were two instances of a 'C'-grading).
The average length of all books reviewed was almost exactly 250 pages -- just a hair above last year's 249.60 average
The average review-length increased slightly in 2016, to 948.06 words (2015: 930.45 words).
Four reviews exceeded 2000 words; 71 were between 1000-1999 -- and nine were under five hundred words.
Rather disappointingly -- and somewhat surprisingly -- , traffic was relatively poor for much of the year -- down 10.16% compared to 2015.
(The decline was a holdover from late 2015, and continued well into the fall; only in the last months of the year did it revive some.)
Pageviews held more or less steady (down 0.86%) -- but at least interest seemed more sustained: the average 'session duration' was up 14.97%.
I am surprised by the fall in traffic, especially in light of the fact that I and the site (and the book I published) got more coverage at well-trafficked sites in 2016 than I/we have in a long time.
What it does demonstrate is that that kind of coverage is mere noise: Google remains the be-all and end-all of site traffic, and the complete review is almost entirely long-tail.
While there is devoted front-page readership (including those of you who turn to this Literary Saloon on a regular basis), it remains (relatively) small; the (vast) majority of readers come to (and are most interested in) the back pages of the site (i.e. the individual -- and often old -- reviews).
(The Google-algorithm shifts that lowered many complete review-search result rankings from some six years ago still reverberate: although the site has close to 40% more content than five years ago, traffic is down an astonishing 50% since then.)
There were visitors from 222 countries and territories in 2016 (2015: 226 ).
The countries from which the most traffic came were:
United States (39.38%)
United Kingdom (10.25%)
Italy -- the only top-10 country with a significant (10+%) increase in traffic -- replaced France in the top ten.
The other countries remained unchanged -- although the Netherlands moved past Germany in the rankings.
Traffic did increase significantly in some countries and regions, notably Africa, with gains in South Africa (+12.55%) and Nigeria (+53.15%) among top fifteen nations.
Beyond these, there were also increases in spots across the globe, from Israel (26.27%) to South Korea (5.14%).
Good year ? Bad year ?
It depends on your metric, I guess.
Outside-coverage-wise it was an excellent year.
Readership-numbers-wise -- disappointing.
Internally -- ah, well, to me it never seems like I write enough, or read enough.
I'd always like there to be books from more languages covered, more countries, more eras, more genres and forms, more books by women (and, yeah, more books by men, too).
And maybe, over the long, long run I'll manage.
I'll certainly try.
Now back to the books.
The Swedish Academy opens up the Nobel archives after fifty years, so this year we get to (begin to) learn the story behind the Nobel Prize in Literature 1966 -- shared by S.Y.Agnon and Nelly Sachs.
They usually have a nice summary of the archive-reveals at the Nobel site -- see the one for 1965 -- but apparently haven't gotten around to 1966 yet; it should be up in a couple of days (presumably here).
For now, we have to make do with the now-unsealed nomination-list (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) and some Swedish reports -- which at least give a good overview.
Names marked with x) on the list are authors who are first-time nominees, and in 1966 these included:
Carlo Emilio Gadda
Günter Grass (his name misspelled)
and ... Arnold Wesker
There were lots of other impressive names among the 72 nominees, including Akhmatova, Aragon, Auden, Beckett, Borges, Böll, Carpentier, Frisch, Gallegos, Giono, Ernst Jünger, Malraux, Montale, Moravia, Nabokov, Neruda, Katherine Anne Porter, Ezra Pound, Tarjei Vesaas, Thornton Wilder, and Edmund Wilson.
Note, however, that 72 nominees is way down from the 90 names nominated in 1965.
Kaj Schueler reports in Svenska Dagbladet that the Nobel Committee recommendations for the prize -- the finalists -- were, in order of their preference:
Agnon and Sachs
The Swedish Academy overrode the committee's recommendation -- though Kawabata did get the prize two years later.
Agnon and Auden had been the second and third recommendations the previous year, when Sholokhov got the prize.
(Damn, Auden came really, really close to the big prize without ever winning it.)
Interestingly, Mishima Yukio -- nominated three times in a row before 1966 -- did not get a nomination -- but it wasn't enough to clear the way for Kawabata (yet).
(See also the misleadingly titled The Japan News article, Kawabata first nominated for Nobel Prize in Literature in '66.
Kawabata had, of course, been nominated previously -- in each of the past five years, no less --; 1966 was simply the first year that he was a finalist.)
Among the other interesting titbits: the idea of having Sachs share the prize with (not nominated, that year) Paul Celan was floated -- but dismissed.
The grand prize winner -- selected from these -- will only be announced on 31 January, but they have announced (yes, really and bafflingly, in the dreaded pdf format !) the category winners for the Whitbread Costa awards; see also, for example, Danuta Kean's report in The Guardian, Costa book awards deliver for baby boomer winners.
None of these titles are under review at the complete review -- haven't seen a one -- but the line-up of authors is fairly impressive, including: Sebastian Barry, Alice Oswald, and Francis Spufford.
John Berger has passed away; see, for example, Michael McNay's obituary in The Guardian.
The only one of his books under review at the complete review is King -- which I didn't take to, at all -- but I read and admired much of his work, and it had quite an impact when I first came across it (and the Alain Tanner films he worked on, notably Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (watch it here)) in the 1980s.
Ways of Seeing (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) is still worth turning to -- and don't forget his Booker Prize-winning novel, G. (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
And I remind you of Geoff Dyer's first (!) book, Ways of Telling: The work of John Berger - but it appears to be very hard to come by.nowadays.
Philosopher Derek Parfit has passed away; see Cody Fenwick's obituary at ... Patch (which is the only one I've been able to find, so far -- and is actually quite thorough -- but (many) more will surely follow).
Certainly one of the leading post-war philosophers, and while none of his books are under review at the complete review it sure would be fun to have a go at writing about some of these.
Reasons and Persons (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) is the obvious place to start and essential text;
if you're feeling (much) more ambitious, go for On What Matters (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- or maybe wait until March, when Oxford University Press is bringing out volume three; see the OUP publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
There are seven César Aira titles under review at the complete review (e.g. How I became a Nun) but I'm way behind on my coverage, as New Directions have been bringing out a nice, steady flow of his work the past few years.
In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung Martina Läubli has an entertaining (German) Q & A with him.
Among his repsonses: 'A good reader must make the effort to learn languages' (rather than read in translation) -- and as far as his own, extensive translation work:
Beim Übersetzen habe ich mich auf internationale Bestseller wie Stephen King spezialisiert.
Ich merkte schnell, dass schlechte Literatur viel einfacher zu übersetzen ist als gute; doch die Verlage zahlen dasselbe.
Also habe ich schlechte Bücher übersetzt.
[When I was translating, I specialized in international bestsellers like Stephen King.
I realized quickly that bad literature is much easier to translate than good -- while the publishers pay the same regardless.
So I translated bad books.]
Meanwhile, while traveling through the German-speaking countries, he's reading Lee Child -- and doing 'sudoku'.
In The Guardian Danuta Kean writes: On eve of Whitbread Costa awards, experts warn that top books prizes are harming fiction.
There are some valid issues raised here -- and the pay-to-play monies involved are obviously problematic -- but as to 'harming fiction' ?
Sure, it's nice when deserving 'literary' fiction wins the lottery (which is, let's face it, what these things most resemble), but I'm afraid most authors toil on, regardless.
For better and worse, it seems they can't be kept down by poor sales and obscurity .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yokoyama Hideo's Six Four, which has gotten quite a bit of pre-publication publicity; it's been out in the UK for a while, and is due in the US, from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, next month.
They actually announced these more than a week ago, sorry for the reporting-delay.
The Sahitya Akademi Awards are among the leading Indian literary honors -- noteworthy in particular because prizes are handed out in many of India's many languages.
See now the 2016 Sahitya Akademi Awards announcement (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) -- with prizes given out for work in twenty-four languages !
Five awards went to novels -- including the only title under review at the complete review, Jerry Pinto's Em and the Big Hoom.
I'll have a wrap-up of the year-that-was, numbers-wise, at the complete review up in a day or two (once all the numbers are in), and I always enjoy when other sites and weblogs post overviews of their past year -- especially the variety of books they read and statistical odds and ends.
Among the variations on these on sites which cover a lot of fiction, and especially international fiction, are:
An End of year review at The Modern Novel weblog, which includes some of the numbers, as well as lists of his 2016 didn'ts and dids (literarily, internet-related, and otherwise), as well as favorites of the year
The class character of Hindi has shifted.
It is no more the language of the Brahminical order or the 'upper' caste sensibility; it is thriving as a language of Dalits, Adivasis and marginalised people.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Dennis Marks' little monograph, Wandering Jew: The Search for Joseph Roth, published as a lovely near-pocket-sized hardback by Notting Hill Editions.
Another year down: 205 reviews (more statistics and numbers coming in a day or two), 365 days of posting at this Literary Saloon (yes, it's now been a couple of years since I missed or skipped a day; I really should give you a respite more often), and 2017 likely will offer more of the same, for better and worse.
(Around 200 reviews in a calendar year seems about right, along with the several dozen other titles that, for various reasons, don't get reviewed here, but I keep telling myself I really should be reading more .....)
As always, I appreciate your continuing patronage, and I'm glad you continue to find the site of use and interest.
2016 did see some (personal) good -- notably, the publication of my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction; see also the Columbia University Press publicity page, or get your copy -- if, inexplicably, you haven't yet -- at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- and, of course, lots of (general) bad (the world at large ...).
Looking ahead to 2017 ... well, on my, and the site's, small scale I assume everything will putter on as always; on the bigger scale ... I guess we'll just have to hold on tight and hope for the best (raising our voices where (as long as ?) we can and taking what action we can -- not too futilely, one hopes).
Good luck to us all !