The finalists for the (American) National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced.
There are quite a few categories -- fiction, 'general nonfiction', biography, autobiography, criticism, and poetry -- but I'm afraid that none of the titles are under review at the complete review.
(I do sometimes worry about my apparent disconnect from the contemporary (US/UK) literary scene, at least as reflected by what's in the running for various English-language literary awards (at least the ones that aren't primarily or significantly translation-oriented).)
Via I'm pointed to Olivia Ho's piece in The Straits Times which finds Local books going global, as: "Singapore fiction continues to make headway on international bookshelves this year".
English-language fiction totally dominates, but at least some of it is being translated to reach other markets.
Interesting also to hear that Epigram Books is opening a London-branch:
Epigram founder Edmund Wee took out a six-figure bank loan for the venture, which he hopes could put a Singaporean novel in the running for the prestigious Man Booker Prize.
Books must be published in Britain to be eligible.
At the Princeton Alumni Weekly Carrie Compton talks to Shelley Frisch *81 on Voice in Translation; you can either listen to the 'podcast' or read the transcript.
The third and final volume of Frisch's translation of Reiner Stach's Kafka-biography came out a few months ago -- and she notes:
Many people have asked me if I've used published translations of Kafka's works, and I have not.
I've retranslated everything I see there.
The translation situation of Kafka's works is very spotty, and we're also finding out, with each passing year, new things about what Kafka intended.
The newer translations tend to be philologically correct but a little bit sort of dead in the water.
And so, I thought it's important for me to retranslate all these texts.
Also, there are copyright issues, which is a whole other kettle of fish.
If you get permissions for all off these things, it can be very cumbersome and possibly expensive.
So, I did all of them myself.
At Radio Praha David Vaughan commemorates what would have been Ewald Oser's hundredth birthday, in Ewald Osers and the chemistry of translation, talking to Ivana Bozděchová about him, and also presenting excerpts from a 2001 interview with Osers himself.
They've announced the longlist (and the judges, only revealed now) for this year's International Prize for Arabic Fiction -- sixteen novels selected from 186 entries from 19 countries.
Several of the longlisted authors have had previous books translated into English, so some of these names should be familiar.
As always, Arabic Literature (in English) has a good overview (noting also some of the big titles/authors that didn't make the cut).
The shortlist will be announced 16 February, and the winning title on 25 April.
The January issue of Asymptote is now up, and there's just an incredible variety and amount of material for you to enjoy.
Go look for yourselves -- and free up a couple of hours so you can check it all out.
American president Obama has been giving any number of exit-interviews, and now there's also an agreeably bookish one with The New York Times' book reviewer Michiko Kakutani.
They wrote this up in article form, but of course the Q & A transcript -- even in its adulterated form (yes, it's: "edited and condensed", for unfathomable reasons) -- is what you want to check out.
Obama shows again that he is a real reader (of novels, even !).
(I am sort of looking forward to the Kakutani's exit-Q & A about books with president-defect elect Trump -- presumably available within a year, after the surely inevitable impeachment/Pence-enthronement proceedings.
I suspect it will be considerably shorter, and less focused on fiction.
Or maybe not -- possibly all he'll have to talk about is his own (ghost-written) works, which might not be traditional fiction but sure as hell aren't non, either.)
This is only coming out in May, from Other Press, but, sorry, I couldn't resist.
A lot about this that I didn't like, but it's easily among the most notable of my reads of the past few months; she really is a very interesting writer, and I hope we get to see more of her work soon (私小説 from left to right, please ! (see e.g. the publisher's publicity page)).
The worldwide PEN centres admirably work: "to promote literature and defend freedom of expression around the world", and their regional centres lead the local way -- unless they don't: as widely noted, things seem to have gone south in Putin-stained Russia; as, for example, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, Russia's PEN Center Fractures Over Creeping Kremlin Control, with notable writers including Boris Akunin, Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, and Vladimir Voinovich abandoning the Русский ПЕН-Центр.
In the openDemocracy piece by Anna Kachurovskaya, Writers against Russia's PEN-center several writers explain the situation and their stands.
Most PEN centres seem to be on considerably more secure footing -- for now.
Whether that lasts ... well, we can hope.
"The sales spree of Please Look after Mom in the U.S. did not spill over to other works," he said, adding that "Korean literature remains unappealing and peripheral at best to American readers."
I had felt miserable about the situation Korean literature faced before The Vegetarian's winning of the Man Booker Prize because despite the efforts made to export Korean literature overseas, its reputation did not increase.
But with The Vegetarian winning the award, I felt hopeful for the future of Korean literature.
It was an opportunity to introduce the value of Korean literature overseas
He also adds some interesting (disturbing ?) comments about the translation of the Han Kang novel:
Deborah Smith's translation boldly reduced, simplified or exaggerated meanings, hence creating or adding different feelings to the text.
"Smith added emotional adverbs in descriptions and amplified the emotional context by making something ordinary more special," he said.
It will be interesting to see whether or not there is The Vegetarian-trickle-down effect; as is, much of the other Korean fiction recently published in translation (and there has been quite a bit) hasn't gotten that much attention (or found that many readers, I fear).
See also the Korean literature under review at the complete review.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Miguel Anxo Fernández's A Niche for Marilyn, recently published by estimable Small Stations Press.
Anxo Fernández writes in Galician, and this 2002 novel was the first in his private detective series featuring Frank Soutelo; interestingly, he chose not to take advantage of local color/exoticism, and instead has Frank work in Raymond Chandler-territory, as the book is set in Los Angeles.
In The Guardian Richard Lea tackles the always interesting phenomenon of writers who catch on more abroad than in domestic markets, in Found in translation: the English-language writers who succeed abroad -- while admirably avoiding two of the most often-cited examples of this phenomenon, Jonathan Coe and Paul Auster.
Some interesting explanations on offer, including the effect of: "the different structures of the publishing industry in the UK and the US" -- which are dominated by a very few conglomerates -- compared to a more diverse publishing culture in continental Europe.
And then there's how Donna Leon sees it:
"I think Europeans read less crap," Leon says, "and most of [the crap] they read, they get from the US.
Since this is true about food and entertainment, why should it not be true about books ?
Europeans, especially Germans, read serious fiction, read it in great numbers, and it is common to hear people speak in social situations seriously and at length about literature."
They've announced the shortlist for the 2017 Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize, a prize: "awarded to the best book, fiction or non-fiction, to translate the idea of Jewishness to the general reader".
Impressively, three of the five finalists are works in (actual) translation -- though none are under review at the complete review.
The winning title will be announced on 23 February.
They've announced the winner of the 2016 Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, and it's Jonathan Wright, for his translation of The Bamboo Stalk, by Saud Alsanousi; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Admirably, this prize lists all: "The books that were entered for the 2016 Prize" -- something that every literary prize should do (otherwise you have no idea what is actually being considered).
There were "19 eligible entries" -- two poetry titles, the rest fiction.
Several of the books are under review at the complete review -- though not nearly as many as I'd like; I hope to get, and get to, a few more.
The titles under review are
I mentioned the initial fuss about Pablo Katchadjian's 2009 remix of a Jorge Luis Borges story when The Guardian first wrote about it, and now they have a follow-up, as Uki Goñi reports that the Case of 'fattened' Jorge Luis Borges story heads to court in Argentina.
The Borges-widow, María Kodama, is apparently intent on seeing this through (and don't forget that in the background lurks the estate agent, Andrew Wylie), and it will be interesting to see how the courts see this intellectual property case.
Meanwhile, Dalkey Archive Press just recently came out with a different Pablo Katchadjian title in translation, the not quite as fun What to Do; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Not many details available yet, but publisher Shinchosha has announced that a new, two-volume novel by Murakami Haruki, 騎士団長殺し, is due out on 24 February.
In the English-language press the title is variously presented as, among other things, 'Murder of the Knight Commander' (The Asahi Shimbun) and 'Killing Commendatore' (Kyodo); no word yet on a US/UK publication date (or title).
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 one made the grade this year -- Gerard Reve's The Evenings -- 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.