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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review


The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 December 2017

1 December: Branded literature | JQ Wingate Prize longlist | Bad Sex in Fiction Award
2 December: Open Letters no longer monthly | Aspen Words Literary Prize longlist | Litprom 'best'-list | Zoran Živković reviews
3 December: Banipal Prize shortlist | Bestselling in ... South Korea | Favorite Asian titles
4 December: Urdu-writing Frenchman | City Folk and Country Folk review
5 December: Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize shortlist | Prix du Zorba | Writing in ... Egypt | The Underground Man review
6 December: Jean d’Ormesson (1925-2017) | Suzanne Jill Levine profile | Lars Kepler redux
7 December: Nobel Lecture today | Hindi pulp fiction | Albertine Prize finalists | La nostalgie heureuse review
8 December: William H. Gass (1924-2017) | Nobel lecture | Doris Lessing's Nobel medal for sale
9 December: Algorithm-assisted writing | Mekong Review profile | Military Literature Festival | Dandelions review
10 December: Literary prizes: Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding - Prix Victor Rossel - Taiwan Literature Awards

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10 December 2017 - Sunday

Literary prizes: Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding
Prix Victor Rossel - Taiwan Literature Awards

       Literary prize: Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding

       They've announced that One of Us-author Åsne Seierstad will receive the 2018 Leipziger Buchpreis zur Europäischen Verständigung.
       This prize has a fine list of previous honorees -- with Compass-author Mathias Énard taking the prize last year.

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



       Literary prize: Prix Victor Rossel

       The prix Victor Rossel is, sadly, known as the 'Belgian Goncourt', having also had the added misfortune of being founded in 1938, only to soon be interrupted by the inconvenience of the war.
       They've announced this year's winner, and it is Robinson, by Laurent Demoulin; see the Le Soir report, and the Gallimard publicity page for the book.

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



       Literary prize: Taiwan Literature Awards

       They've announced the winners of this year's Taiwan Literature Awards, with 青蚨子, by Lien Ming-wei, winning for best novel; see, for example, the Taiwan News report by Teng Pei-ju.

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



9 December 2017 - Saturday

Algorithm-assisted writing | Mekong Review profile
Military Literature Festival | Dandelions review

       Algorithm-assisted writing

       Interesting story and presentation at Wired, where Stephen Marche 'enlisted software to tell him how to optimize his tale', and shows and explains: What Happens When an Algorithm Helps Write Science Fiction.
       Nice to see that Wired had two unsuspecting publishing professionals -- Random House editor in chief Andy Ward and The New Yorker's Deborah Treisman -- assess the resulting piece (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

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



       Mekong Review profile

       The Mekong Review -- "a quarterly literary journal publishing fiction, essays, reviews and poetry from Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia" -- gets a nice write-up in The New York Times from Mike Ives, Eluding Censors, a Magazine Covers Southeast Asia's Literary Scene.
       As I've often complained, this part of the (literary) world is woefully under-represented/appreciated abroad, so it's good to see a publication like this spread the word(s) (and The New York Times, in turn, spread the word about it).

       See also the far-too-few Southeast Asian titles under review at the complete review.

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



       Military Literature Festival

       While generally welcoming the proliferation of literary festivals in India, I'm not too sure about the latest one, the on-going inaugural Military Literature Festival.
       The programme does seem rather ... militarized, rather than literature-focused, but maybe the panels and discussions were/are more bookish .....

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



       Dandelions review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nobel laureate Kawabata Yasunari's unfinished-at-his-death novel, Dandelions, just (about) out in English, from New Directions.

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



8 December 2017 - Friday

William H. Gass (1924-2017) | Nobel lecture
Doris Lessing's Nobel medal for sale

       William H. Gass (1924-2017)

       The great American author, William H. Gass, has passed away; see, for example, the obituary by Dee Wedemeyer in The New York Times.
       The site for the 2013 exhibition, William H. Gass: The Soul Inside the Sentence, offers a good amount of information, and see also this lengthy Q & A by Stephen Schenkenberg.
       Several of his books are under review at the complete review:        And, yes, The Tunnel is one of the towering works of post-war American fiction.

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



       Nobel lecture

       Kazuo Ishiguro delivered his Nobel Prize lecture yesterday, and the full 6,000-word text of his My Twentieth Century Evening -- and Other Small Breakthroughs is now available online.
       If you prefer video, you can re-view it at YouTube.

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



       Doris Lessing's Nobel medal for sale

       Doris Lessing's estate is flogging her Nobel medal, putting it up for auction at Christie's.
       Alison Flood reports in The Guardian that apparently only one literature Nobel medal has been previously sold -- André Gide's, last year, for €300,000. (Apparently they tried to unload William Faulkner's in 2013, but did not find a buyer.)

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



7 December 2017 - Thursday

Nobel Lecture today | Hindi pulp fiction
Albertine Prize finalists | La nostalgie heureuse review

       Nobel Lecture today

       Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Kazuo Ishiguro will be giving his Nobel Lecture today, at 17:30 CET -- and you can watch it live on the internet (and find the English text online there while or soon after he delivers it ...).
       For those desperate for a book-version of the text, Alfred A. Knopf and Faber are bringing out editions which are due a little over a month from now; you can pre-order yours at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

       Ishiguro gave a press conference yesterday, but there's been limited coverage of it; the AP report (here at the Asahi Shimbun, but it's the same all around) is an embarrassment -- the best/only titbit being:
Kazuo Ishiguro told reporters in Sweden on Wednesday that he is thinking of writing a comic series because he is fascinated by this way of telling stories.
       The Xinhua report is a bit more expansive -- including his observation that: "I have been interested in artificial intelligence for some time, what the breakthroughs of science and technology might do to our society in the future".

       (The Swedish Academy, where the press conference was held, still seems distracted by and caught up in their latest ridiculous scandal, offering nothing new at either their official site or Sara Danius' Ur Akademiens liv-weblog. A shame that they have an author willing to play along in the dog-and-pony show this year (after the nightmare of last (and much of this ...) year's laureate-who-doesn't-deserve-being-named) and can't enjoy it to the fullest/make the most of it.)

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



       Hindi pulp fiction

       At Publishing Perspectives Porter Anderson writes about The Rise of Surender Mohan Pathak: HarperCollins India Wins Big With Hindi Pulp Fiction.
       Surender Mohan Pathak has, of course, long been huge -- there's even a title under review at the complete review, of his The 65 Lakh Heist -- but HarperCollins India can obviously elevate him into a different stratosphere, and have seen him off to a good start (not forgetting: "merchandise including key rings, caps, note pads, coffee mugs, tote bags").
       Yes:
HarperCollins India's leap of faith succeeded, in part, because the publisher discerned that a ground-level support base for authors that could sustain 300-book careers could be parlayed into a powerful, loyal consumer base.
       Not a huge leap -- but, hey, no other major publisher made/thought of it.

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



       Albertine Prize finalists

       Last year the Albertine Prize -- recognizing: "American readers’ favorite work of contemporary Francophone fiction while encouraging the discovery of new literary voices" -- had a ten-title longlist which readers could vote on; this year they went straight to a five-title shortlist, which they announced last night.
       Two of the contenders are under review at the complete review -- Compass, by Mathias Énard and Not One Day, by Anne Garréta -- and I've looked at two of the others -- Angot's Incest and Louis' The End of Eddy -- but, yeah, too soul-bearingly autobiographical ... (really: ça suffit ...); unfortunately, I haven't seen the Mabanckou (though three of his other works are under review at the site).
       Unbelievably, Radiant Terminus, by last year's winning author, Antoine Volodine, didn't make the cut; one can understand that they want to spread the wealth/attention, but it's a shame -- it's one of this year's best (not just among from-the-French titles).
       You can vote for your favorite until 1 May; the prize will be handed out on 6 June.

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



       La nostalgie heureuse review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Amélie Nothomb's return-to-Japan novel, La nostalgie heureuse.
       This is the twenty-second Nothomb-title under review at the site -- and yet another not-yet-translated one. (Almost all of these pretty much automatically get translated into Italian, Spanish, and German, among other languages -- but it was interesting to learn/note that she is not big in Japan. Though, upon further reflection: not so surprising.)

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



6 December 2017 - Wednesday

Jean d’Ormesson (1925-2017) | Suzanne Jill Levine profile
Lars Kepler redux

       Jean d’Ormesson (1925-2017)

       French author Jean d’Ormesson has passed away; see, for example, the AP report.
       He was the grand old man of the Académie française -- elected to his fauteuil in 1973; the next-ranking immortel, Jean-Denis Bredin, has only been seated since 1989 .....
       Quite a few of his books were translated into English, and New York Review Books re-issued his creative The Glory of the Empire last year; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. I've been meaning to get to it .....

       (Updated - 8 December): See now also the obituary by Alan Cowell in The New York Times.

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



       Suzanne Jill Levine profile

       At The UC Santa Barbara Current Jim Logan profiles Suzanne Jill Levine, and her translation of Eduardo Lalo's Uselessness -- which certainly deserves more attention than it's gotten so far --, in (the unfortunately ? predictably ? titled) Found in Translation.

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



       Lars Kepler redux

       In Publishers Weekly Jim Milliot reports that Knopf Bets on Another Scandinavian Author -- who is actually two authors, as 'Lars Kepler' is a husband-and-wife-writing-team creation, and who has been bet on before.
       Farrar, Straus and Giroux have published a trio of Kepler titles, but now Knopf has nabbed him/them away, and hopes to do better, as apparently the FSG titles did not do well, or certainly not as well as hoped for.
       I'm surprised Knopf is trying this -- revitalizing an author isn't easy, and fiction in translation is an even harder sell -- but I guess rthe Nordic crime cachet still has publishers seeing dollar signs, and there just isn't enough new talent to waste the money on .....
       I've actually reviewed two of the Kepler titles (because ... of course ...), The Hypnotist and The Nightmare, and, yeah, no, I wouldn't be hitching my wagon to this.

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



5 December 2017 - Tuesday

Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize shortlist | Prix du Zorba
Writing in ... Egypt | The Underground Man review

       Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the 2017 Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature, six titles -- three poetry, three fiction -- selected from 30 manuscripts. (There will be one fiction winner and one poetry winner, each receiving US$5,000, with the second and third prizes awarded irrespective of genre.)
       This prize:
has the express goal of recognizing writing in African languages and encouraging translation from, between and into African languages
       Which is certainly something that deserves a lot more support, so it's great to see them doing this. And hopefully more of these works will also eventually be available in English translation. (The poetry winner will be translated regardless, and published by the African Poetry Book Fund; the fiction winner is only guaranteed publication in Kiswahili.)

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



       Prix du Zorba

       The prix du Zorba isn't one of the more prominent French literary prizes, but this prize, awarded for a book that's "excessif, hypnotique et excitant, pareil à une nuit sans dormir" ('excessive, hypnotic, and exciting, like a night spent without sleep') at least goes the extra mile in trying to live up to its prize-standards: it's awarded at 5:00 in the morning, on the dance floor of the Paris nightclub, La Java.
       Their tumblr page isn't quite up to date, but the URL is in keeping with the spirit of the thing .....
       (This year's prize went to L'Avancée de la nuit, by Jakuta Alikavazovic; see the Livres Hebdo report.)

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



       Writing in ... Egypt

       In The Atlantic Farid Y. Farid offers a dispiriting look at Egypt's War on Books.
       Soheir Almasadfa, chairwoman of cultural and publishing projects at the General Egyptian Book Organization:
denied that censorship was rife in Egypt, instead trumpeting Egypt’s glorious literary heritage in comparison to today’s younger, more experimental writers. “I am also against publishing books that are responsible for the decaying civilizational moment that we are living in Egypt. These books belong on the curb,” she added.
       Sounds like the curb is the place to be.

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



       The Underground Man review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ross Macdonald's 1971 Lew Archer novel, The Underground Man.
       That's the fourth and last in the Library of America collection of Four Later Novels, all of which are now under review at the complete review.
       Recall that this is a novel that got a front-page review -- by Eudora Welty ! -- in The New York Times Book Review.

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



4 December 2017 - Monday

Urdu-writing Frenchman | City Folk and Country Folk review

       Urdu-writing Frenchman

       In The News on Sunday Julien Columeau writes about his Journey between languages, as he transitioned from writing in his native French to writing in Urdu -- finding:
The advantage of writing in the language of the context is that I got immediate contact. And not only with the readers related to this context, but with my characters. I was writing in the language in which they live, feel and think. I could get into their skin.
       Meanwhile:
The experience of writing in French is refreshing (...). It has become a foreign language for me, but a foreign language that I know perfectly and speak and read and write since childhood. And while writing in French I see often myself transferring (or transposing) what I learned and acquired in Urdu (in terms of narration, rhythm, language), in the same way that while writing in Urdu I was transferring what I had learnt and acquired in French.
       See also Irfan Aslam's profile in Dawn from a couple of years ago, A French litterateur's Urdu novelettes and a lot more, and, for example, Asif Farrukhi's review of one of Columeau's Urdu titles, also in Dawn.

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



       City Folk and Country Folk review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sofia Khvoshchinskaya's 1863 novel, City Folk and Country Folk, a recent volume in Columbia University Press' Russian Library, and a nice (re)discovery of an intriguing writer (one of several writing sisters).

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


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3 December 2017 - Sunday

Banipal Prize shortlist | Bestselling in ... South Korea | Favorite Asian titles

       Banipal Prize shortlist

       They've announced the four-title-strong shortlist for the 2017 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation -- admirably listing all seventeen eligible titles, a useful overview of recently published translated-from-the-Arabic novels.
       The winner will be announced in January

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



       Bestselling in ... South Korea

       As with best of the year lists, it's a bit early to be tallying the best-selling for the year, but in The Korea Times Baek Byung-yeul reports that, in South Korea, Feminism, Moon Jae-in books top 2017 bestseller list.
       And: "Books featuring popular TV series also enjoyed strong sales" -- extending even to poetry:
Poet Kim Yong-taek's "The Stars Might Take Your Pain Away," which is also the title of his book, was listed on the bestseller list as the poem was featured in tvN's fantasy-romance drama Guardian: The Lonely and Great God.

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



       Favorite Asian titles

       At the Asian American Writers' Workshop's The Margin they 'asked some of our favorite writers, editors, and translators for their recommendations', resulting in 16 Writers on Their Favorite Translated Titles from Across Asia.
       Since the focus isn't just on the latest titles (though there are a couple of these as well), this is actually a pretty good overview -- with Eliot Weinberger (final entry) offering the most extensive recommendations (e.g.: "anything by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Yasunari Kawabata, and Junichiro Tanizaki") -- and some fun asides, including:
the old Clement Egerton translation of The Golden Lotus (which originally had the sex scenes in Latin), the second-greatest Chinese novel and the greatest novel anywhere of greed, corruption sex, food, and clothes -- perfect for the Age of Trump (the recent "accurate" translation, under the correct title The Plum in the Golden Vase is totally unreadable)
       (Of course he also recommends what he correctly identifies as "the greatest Chinese novel" of them all: The Story of The Stone.)
       Lots of other great recommendations, from: "the Sanskrit novel What Ten Young Men Did by Dandin -- a proto-Georges Perec -- wonderfully translated by Isabelle Onians" to:
A very lively recent scholarly translation from the Kannada is Vanamala Viswanatha's version of Raghavanka's The Life of Harishchandra, one of Gandhi's favorite books.
       And:
Finally, my favorite edition of anything: N.M.Penzer's 1923 edition of C.H.Tawney's 19th-century translation of Somadeva's The Ocean of Story. This is an 11th-century Kashmiri precursor to the 1001 Nights of stories within stories within stories. (The title is more accurately translated as The Ocean Made from Streams of Stories.) Penzer is a maniac: Every story reminds him of countless other stories from all of world literature, which he retells in long footnotes on almost every page and in even longer appendices. It's a ten-volume labyrinth of stories, with no escape.
       It is, indeed, one of the great books -- and editions/translations -- of all time. (You can -- and should -- read and download it at the Internet Archive, starting with volume one.)

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



2 December 2017 - Saturday

Open Letters no longer monthly | Aspen Words Literary Prize longlist
Litprom 'best'-list | Zoran Živković reviews

       Open Letters no longer monthly

       The 'Arts and Literature Review' Open Letters Monthly -- in operation, monthly, for over a decade now, since March, 2007 -- is apparently scaling back, to be replace by an 'Open Letters Review' (no word yet on its frequency). The final, December issue closes with the annual Our Year in Reading (with a second part ...), and little else (well, a collection of recycled 'Old Favorites' ...).
       One hopes the new OLR will offer as much fine content as the monthly did, but it's still disappointing to see it will be appearing less frequently; with the closing of Numéro Cinq -- active since 2010 -- in August, the independent literary review scene on the internet doesn't exactly seem to be as thriving as it once was .....
       (Updated - 3 December): See now also contributor Rohan Maitzen's post on A New (and Final) Open Letters Monthly.

       (Another reason to support those of us who are still hanging on ? As I've mentioned, I recently set up a Patreon page for the complete review and this Literary Saloon ....)

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



       Aspen Words Literary Prize longlist

       The Aspen Words Literary Prize is a new US$35,000 "award for an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture", and they've just announced the twenty-title-strong inaugural longlist for the 2018 prize, chosen from 144 (unfortunately not revealed ...) nominations.
       Bandi's The Accusation is the only longlisted title under review at the complete review.
       The five finalists will be announced in early March 2018; the winner will be announced 'in early spring 2018'.

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



       Litprom 'best'-list

       The German Litprom-Bestenliste »Weltempfänger« recommends literature from Africa, Asia and Latin America (in German translation), and their Winter/2017 list is just out -- headed by Viet Nam-related titles at spots one and three (the first a translation from the Vietnamese, the second from the American).
       Always interesting to see what foreign literature is of interest abroad .....

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



       Zoran Živković reviews

       There are quite a few Zoran Živković titles under review at the complete review, and the most recent additions to the site are reviews of two more -- recently published together in one volume, in a nice new Cadmus Press edition:        (Michael Dirda is a fan, wondering: "Why isn't Zoran Zivkovic better known in this country ?" in The Washington Post.)

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



1 December 2017 - Friday

Branded literature | JQ Wingate Prize longlist
Bad Sex in Fiction Award

       Branded literature

       This is an idea that keeps cropping up, but never really seems to catch hold (i.e. doesn't seem to be particularly successful). Recall Fay Weldon's watch-supported The Bulgari Connection ... (see, for example: Alma A. Hromic on A Novel Way To Advertise at Swans and Calvin Reid's Weldon's Bulgari Product Placement Raises Eyebrows in Publishers Weeky; see also the Grove publicity page).
       Now Katie Deighton revives the debate, wondering Is literature the next frontier for branded content ? at The Drum -- the latest example being The Shape of Clouds -- 'Written by Gianrico Carofiglio / Made Adaptable by You' (as: 'This book uses the latest in web technology to deliver a unique experience to you'), a Mercedes-sponsored 'experience' -- as:
"Six or seven years ago the average image of a Mercedes driver was an old guy with a hat driving a C-Class," he said. "We want it to be a millennial driving an A-Class."
       I'm not really sure this will do the trick, but, hey .....
       I also have my doubts about a ... meeting of minds between advertisers and writers when the thinking is along the lines:
Symbiotically, the novelist would benefit from learning to work to deadlines
       (Half a dozen Carofiglio titles are under review at the complete review, by the way, e.g. A Walk in the Dark.)

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



       JQ Wingate Prize longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the 2018 JQ Wingate Prize -- though the Jewish Quarterly is definitely not up-to-date with their prize coverage, and The Wingate Foundation lags a bit as well. But the Jewish Chronicle has you/them covered
       Twelve titles are in the running, with the winner to be announced 15 February.

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



       Bad Sex in Fiction Award

       The winner of the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award has been announced -- though not yet at the official site, last I checked. But see, for example, Alison Flood's report in The Guardian, Bad sex award won by Christopher Bollen's phallic 'billiard rack' (from his novel The Destroyers).

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



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