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26 July 2014 - Saturday

Paul-Celan-Preis | Etisalat Prize judges
The Madmen of Benghazi review


       They've announced that Gerhard Meier will receive (on 9 October) this year's Paul-Celan-Preis, a leading -- and €15,000 -- literary prize for translation-into-German.
       He translates from the French and Turkish, notably the work of Orhan Pamuk, as well as authors including Amin Maalouf, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar, and Yaşar Kema.

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

       Etisalat Prize judges

       They've announced the panel of judges for the next Etisalat Prize for Literature -- awarded to a first work of fiction, first published in (and hence presumably written in ...) English (sigh) by an African author (with African citizenship). (The official site has it as the 2014 prize; press reports suggest 2015, presumably since that's when they'll be handing out the prize .....)
       Worth a mention, because it's a pretty impressive panel that includes: Jamal Mahjoub, Alain Mabanckou, and Tsitsi Dangarembga.

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

       The Madmen of Benghazi review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gérard de Villiers' 191st SAS/Malko Linge novel -- and the first to appear in English (next week) in about three decades, his timely 2011 novel, The Madmen of Benghazi.
       De Villiers got a nice publicity-boost from the 2013 The New York Times Magazine profile by Robert F. Worth, The Spy Novelist Who Knows Too Much; he passed away later last year, but still, publishing The Madmen of Benghazi in the US was a no-brainer -- this time under imprint Vintage Crime/Black Lizard (of Penguin Random House), rather than, as most of the dozen-plus previous Malko Linge-works to make it into English (mainly in the mid-1970s), from Pinnacle Books.
       Surely the title alone should make for decent sales -- despite the lack of any Hillary Clinton-conspiracy connection ... -- but it's a decent (if on the trashy side) piece of well-informed pulp spy fiction. You can see why the guy was so successful in France (and also why his books might not be quite to American tastes).

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

25 July 2014 - Friday

Hannah-Arendt-Prize | Spring issue of list


       They've announced that the €10,000 2014 Hannah-Arendt-Prize for Political Thought, awarded by the City of Bremen and the Heinrich Böll Foundation, will be shared by Pussy Riot-ers Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, and -- as they spell it -- Jury Andruchowytsch (Юрій Андрухович, usually -- so also elsewhere in this press release ... transliterated in English as 'Yuri Andrukhovych'), five of whose works are under review at the complete review, see e.g. Perverzion).
       "The Prize is awarded to people who in their thought and deeds courageously accept the challenge of public intervention" ... well, you get the idea, right ?
       And, this being a German prize (i.e. winners announced way in advance), the prize ceremony will only be held on 5 December.

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

       Spring issue of list

       The Spring, 2014 issue of list - Books from Korea is finally out online, with a special section on 'Children's Picture Books' as well as the usual reviews and information-pieces.
       Also of interest: Suh Heewon has a Q & A with The Man Who Loved Moebius Novelist Choi Jae-hoon.

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

24 July 2014 - Thursday

Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist | Translation from the ... Japanese
NZ Post Book Awards finalists | Lost for Words review

       Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist

       They've announced the thirteen-title strong longlist for the 2014 Man Booker Prize -- open to UK-published novels by writers from anywhere (previously: only from the UK, Commonwealth, plus Zimbabwe and the Republic of Ireland) -- i.e. for the first time also by American writers.
       The longlisted titles are:
  • The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
  • The Dog by Joseph O'Neill
  • History of the Rain by Niall Williams
  • How to be Both by Ali Smith
  • J by Howard Jacobson
  • The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
  • Orfeo by Richard Powers
  • To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
  • Us by David Nicholls
  • The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
       Several of these haven't even been published in the UK yet, much less in the US; I haven't seen a one of these, save the Ferris, which happened to be available at the library yesterday, so I picked it up. I expect to read/cover several of these when/if I do get copies: the Mitchell, Smith, Jacobson, and -- if it gets a US publisher -- the Mukherjee.
       Notable titles that didn't make the cut: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (suggesting the judging panel has at least a modicum of sense/taste), as well as works by Ian McEwan, Philip Hensher, Nicola Barker, Martin Amis, and Will Self. As usual, however, the Man Booker folks don't even reveal what titles were in the running -- some of these may not even have been submitted by their publishers (though quite a few get automatic byes due to their author's books' past performance) [Judge Sarah Churchwell even tweeted that we should: "bear in mind that what we longlist is defined by what publishers submit to us" -- a valid point, which however does nothing to explain why the Man Booker folk won't let on what books were actually in the running .....]
       Apparently 154 titles were submitted/considered [as I suspected, judge Sarah Churchwell's claim of considering/reading 160 submissions was incorrect and inflated] -- not a terrible increase from last year's 151 -- with entries from the Commonwealth (excluding the UK) down to 31 (versus 43 last year), while: "44 titles were by authors who are now eligible under the new rule changes" (presumably all of whom are US authors). So, yes, as feared US authors 'took' some places from UK and Commonwealth authors -- and quite a few places on the longlist -- but things didn't turn out quite as bad as some feared. Books LIVE has a useful look at the country-of-origin of longlisted authors (debatable though some of these are) since 2001, suggesting the inclusion of American authors has indeed come at the cost of Commonwealth and African authors.
       Among the other observations/criticisms: the gender disparity -- as noted, for example, by Tina Jordan at Entertainment Weekly's Shelf Life weblog, in Really, Man Booker Prize ? 10 male authors, 3 female ? (Again -- and as she also notes --: part of the problem may be what the publishers are submitting. Which is kept secret, for no good reason .....)
       In the UK they're taking bets, of course -- Ladbrokes have Mukherjee as 3/1 favorite, ahead of Mitchell and Smith (6/1) -- and offer 2/1 that an American author wil take the prize. (But remember to compare odds at various betting shops before placing your bets !)

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

       Translation from the ... Japanese

       In The Japan Times Reiji Yoshida reports that ¥80 million earmarked to translate Japanese books into English to aid PR drive.
       Having learnt nothing from the catastrophe that was the Japanese Literature Publishing Project -- an incredible amount of money that did help get a lot of books translated (see those under review at the complete review) but to stunningly little effect (it still seems to me the ultimate case-study in how not to foster your literature abroad) -- they have decided:
A panel of seven Japanese intellectuals, including university professors and former government officials, will select candidate books over the next month. The government will then subsidize the translation work and publication costs, the officials said.
       I.e. they'll do exactly what the JLPP did (except they'll apparently only be translating into English -- another big mistake). No doubt these will be worthy 'intellectuals' (hey, "university professors and former government officials" -- what could go wrong ?), but sorry, this is just not the way to go about it. As is already clear from the observation: "Books will be selected to call attention to positive aspects of Japan" -- pretty much a death-knell for them choosing anything that might really work abroad.
       It's real money, however -- almost US$800,000. That's a lot of subsidy. May it not go entirely to waste .....

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

       NZ Post Book Awards finalists

       Not fearing competition from that Man Booker Prize, they also announced the finalists for the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards.
       Okay, they take things at their own pace down there -- last year's Man Booker winner is a fiction finalist -- but what really struck me is that five of the eight fiction and poetry finalists are published by Victoria University Press. Sounds like a pretty interesting/unusual book market there if that's possible ..... (VUP describes itself as: "New Zealand's leading publisher of new fiction and poetry" -- but also notes that it publishes (only): "on average 25 new titles every year" (which is ... not that much).

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

       Lost for Words review

       Appropriately timed with the announcement of the Man Booker Prize longlist (see above), the most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Edward St. Aubyn's Lost for Words -- about which Stuart Kelly wrote (in his review in the Times Literary Supplement, 21 May):
To call this a thinly veiled attack on the Man Booker Prize [...] would be a disservice to veils and how diaphanous they might be.
       This has already/soon will appear in French and German translation, but turns out to be a rather disappointing prize-satire; among the few who really, really seemed to enjoy it was the Kakutani.

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

23 July 2014 - Wednesday

'International' Dylan Thomas Prize longlist | Twenty in 20 in South Africa
Ottilie Mulzet Q & A | Elias review

       'International' Dylan Thomas Prize longlist

       They'll be announcing the longlist for the 2014 Man Booker Prize today and, presumably hoping to cash in on a general longlist excitement, they announced the longlist for the 'International' Dylan Thomas Prize just ahead of that.
       The 'International' Dylan Thomas Prize is a £30,000 prize:
awarded to the best published or produced literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under
       That 'published or produced literary work in the English language' might suggest translations are eligible -- hey, they call themselves 'International', right ? -- but, alas, Rule 3.4 makes clear:
For the avoidance of doubt a translation of a Literary or Performance work originally written in a language or languages other than English is not eligible for entry.
       Since all works not originally written in English -- even for an 'International' award --, are, of course, by their very nature dubious, I guess .....
       (Also: while a prize for young authors -- "aged 39 or under" -- authors are not permitted to be too young either: Rule 3.1 notes that entry is only open to authors: "aged 18 or over". Because ... well, who knows.)
       Still, it's an impressive list of books by English-writing authors -- including last year's Man Booker winner, The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. None of the fifteen titles are under review at the complete review yet (you know how it is here with that 'international' stuff ...).
       The shortlist will be announced 4 September.

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

       Twenty in 20 in South Africa

       At Books LIVE they've unveiled The Twenty in 20 Final List: the Best Short Stories of South Africa's Democracy, "the best South African short fiction published in English during the past two decades of democracy" ('In English' ... sigh .....)

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

       Ottilie Mulzet Q & A

       At The Paris Review's weblog Valerie Stivers has Recalcitrant Language: An Interview with Ottilie Mulzet, a Q & A with the Best Translated Book Award-winning Krasznahorkai-translator.

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

       Elias review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Flemish author Maurice Gilliams' Elias, or The Struggle with the Nightingales.
       This translation came out from Sun & Moon in 1995, and while the back cover promises: "In upcoming seasons, Sun & Moon Press will publish the other two volumes of Gilliams' great trilogy" they never quite got around to it -- nor did S & M successor Green Integer (who, however, at least published his complete poems; see their publicity page). Perhaps someday .....

       Elias also comes with a great epigraph (by the pretty obscure Francis Jammes):
La poésie que j'ai rêvée gâta toute ma vie.
Ah ! Qui donc m'aimera ?
       Which they translate as:
The poetry I dreamed spoiled my whole life.
Oh ! Who will love me then ?
       Not a bad start (and, yes, quite fitting).

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

22 July 2014 - Tuesday

The New Yorker opens up | Uwe-Johnson-Preis | Chowringhee review

       The New Yorker opens up

       In A Note to Our Readers The New Yorker's editors announce all sorts of changes -- most notably: "a summer-long free-for-all" online of all content in the print editions (previously they had kept some of this stuff behind a non-subscriber-paywall), as well as that:
Beginning this week, every story we've published since 2007 will be available on, in the same easy-to-read format as the new work we're publishing.
       Which is pretty cool -- not quite The Spectator's grand archive (which you regularly peruse, no ?), but still offering a hell of a lot of good content, which is why I mention it: something to check out on these lazy summer days.
       Less welcome, of course is that starting:
This week, has a new look. On a desktop, on a tablet, on a phone, the site has become, we believe, much easier to navigate and read, much richer in its offerings, and a great deal more attractive.
       With the usual caveat that I, with the most rudimentary site still running (well, okay, there's always the Handke Scriptmania Portal, whose continued existence always makes me feel a bit better about not getting around to updating the site-look hereabouts ...), surely shouldn't talk/complain ... when I see this shit I just throw up my arms in despair. I realize every site now has to have what is apparently meant to be a tablet-friendly look/functionality, but come on ..... (I do own what can pass for a tablet, but have hard enough a time using it to read 'e-books'; I use the internet on my laptop -- and this new trend is driving me absolutely nuts.)
       Back to The New Yorker-site: apparently:
in the fall, we move to a second phase, implementing an easier-to-use, logical, metered paywall. Subscribers will continue to have access to everything; non-subscribers will be able to read a limited number of pieces -- and then it's up to them to subscribe. You've likely seen this system elsewhere—at the Times, for instance -- and we will do all we can to make it work seamlessly.
       I'd certainly welcome the implementation of a soft paywall of this sort (if they have to bother with any sort of paywall ...): The New York Times' is cookie-dependent, and as someone who flushes his cookies repeatedly throughout the day (as I hope you sensibly do too) I've never come up against paywall-page-limitations .....

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


       It's still a couple of weeks until the German Book Prize fun kicks in -- the longlist will be announced 13 August -- and while they (sigh) don't announce the names of the 167 submitted titles (why not ? why the hell not ?), it's pretty safe to assume a lot of the entries were also among the 70+ (also unrevealed, sigh) submissions for the 2014 Uwe-Johnson-Preis (back in 2008 Uwe Tellkamp's Der Turm doubled up, winning both (see here and here)).
       They have now announced the winner of this year's Uwe-Johnson-Preis -- and it's: Kruso by Lutz Seiler. (This being a German prize -- i.e. the winner announced way in advance -- Seiler only gets to pick up his €15,000 prize on 19 September.)
       This one looks fairly likely to also be in the German Book Prize-running; see also the Suhrkamp foreign rights page (and note that rights have already been sold in: France, Italy, Holland, and Denmark -- the US/UK ... not so much (because god forbid they'd jump on the bandwagon before they're sure everyone else is on board -- but I figure their hesitation has already cost them a couple of thousand dollars (the amount the price has presumably gone up with this prize-win, with another step up if/when it is German Book Prize longlisted) ... oh, who am I kidding, they probably can't unload this in the English-language market even under the best of circumstances ...).

       (And I don't have to remind you who Uwe Johnson was, do I ? Author -- among much else that's great -- of Jahrestage (Anniversaries), one of the great German post-war novels (and one of the great New York novels of recent decades), the novel Susan Bernofsky named when asked about: "a Holy Grail book to translate", which New York Review Books is bringing out in Damion Searls' (first complete) translation ... in 2017 or so. One of the US publishing highlights of that year -- absolutely guaranteed.)

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

       Chowringhee review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sankar's 1962 novel, Chowringhee.
       Translated from the Bengali (only !) in 2007, this seems to have been one of Penguin Books India's big in-translation successes -- as I mentioned recently it apparently: "continues to be one of Penguin Book India's most successful crossover hits, selling around 50,000 copies". Atlantic Books brought out a UK edition, which got some review coverage, while in the US ... no one stepped up.
       Sure, you can get the Penguin (or Atlantic) edition (though I only chanced upon my copy at a used-book sale), but seriously, not even this can get a US edition ? What the hell is wrong in the US, where basically no fiction translated from the sub-continental languages (excepting Uday Prakash ...) -- or indeed practically any of the South/East Asian languages -- is getting published ?

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

21 July 2014 - Monday

Mood Indigo - the film | Victor Hugo exhibit

       Mood Indigo - the film

       The film version of Boris Vian's Froth on the Daydream -- recently re-published as Mood Indigo in a movie-tie-in edition --, directed by Michel Gondry (see the distributor's page) has now also opened in the US -- on all of two screens this past weekend. (Still, with a take of US $12,550 per screen, it did very well.)
       The version screened in the US clocks in at 94 minutes -- despite the fact that the French original was 131 minutes in length ..... Man, I guess maybe I should give American publishers/editors who do horrible things with books-in-translation a break -- not even Knopf would rip that much out of a Murakami .....
       The reviews have been ... interesting. But at least Vian is getting some attention (usually at least -- some reviews fail to mention the source (e.g. The Village Voice)).

       Choice review quotes include:

       In The New York Times, Manohla Dargis is underwhelmed:
Even at its abbreviated length, Mood Indigo soon feels almost desperately interminable, a wearying experience that resembles being locked in a very small room with an exceptionally bright, pathologically self-absorbed child who will not shut up or calm down.
       In The Los Angeles Times Kenneth Turan finds:
Wacky, surreal, insanely playful, Mood Indigo is a film that believes that too much is not enough.
       In the Wall Street Journal Joe Morgenstern suggests:
No one has ever made a movie quite like it. Mr. Gondry's French-language screen version of Boris Vian's widely celebrated, one-of-a-kind novel is feverishly cinematic and wondrously dense; it's also a touching, even haunting, tale of love and loss. Yet there's so much of so many flavors of cleverness -- a surfeit of surfeits -- that sensory overload causes aesthetic suffocation.
       And in New York Bilge Ebiri concludes simply:
Mood Indigo is somehow both unmissable and whisper-thin.
       Among those issuing grades, The Onion's A.A. Dowd gives it a "C"; at Entertainment Weekly Keith Staskiewicz says: "C+".

       I'll probably wait for the DVD version -- hoping for the uncut French version.

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

       Victor Hugo exhibit

       The State Library of Victoria (Australia) looks to have a good-looking (if somewhat pricey) exhibit, Victor Hugo: Les Miserables -- From Page to Stage through 9 November.
       In The Age Tim Young reports on the exhibit -- and: How the State Library landed Victor Hugo's 'mythical' Les Miserables manuscript.

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

20 July 2014 - Sunday

Critical and/vs. sales success | Pentecost in New York
Global Crisis review-overview

       Critical and/vs. sales success

       In Raise Your Hand If You've Read Knausgaard at The New York Review of Books' weblog Tim Parks wonders, among other things:
Is there any consistent relationship between a book's quality and its sales ? Or again between the press and critics' response to a work and its sales ? Are these relationships stable over time or do they change ?
       Basically, he seems surprised by what seem to him -- given the press-raptures and (relatively) wall-to-wall coverage -- the rather middling sales figures for the US/UK editions of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle (see reviews of volumes one and two). UK sales have (according to Bookscan, which doesn't capture the whole picture) "barely topped 22,000 copies", while US sales: "stood at about 32,000". (Those seem like solid numbers for 'literary' stuff of this sort to me, but, hey, I know nothing of this industry and what might count for success, sales or otherwise.)
       Unfortunately, Parks begins his argument with a rather big mistake, claiming, re. Knausgaard:
A search on The Guardian website has ten pages of hits for articles on Knausgaard despite the fact that his work wasn't published in the UK until 2012.
       Obviously, Parks didn't bother looking too closely at those results, or he might have scratched his head why, in that case, Salley Vickers was reviewing a translation of a Knausgaard novel -- A Time To Every Purpose Under Heaven -- on 7 November 2008. Oh, that's right -- because Portobello Books published that in ... 2008.
       [Updated - 22 July: this -- and the misspellings mentioned below -- have now been (quietly, and without admission of previous error) corrected; e.g. the passage now reads: "despite the fact that the first volume of My Struggle wasn’t published in the UK until 2012". Which is at least an improvement (though it still seems worth mentioning that, for example, Knausgaard was hardly an unknown entity in the UK even in 2008).]
       [I know this was a summer weekend post, and presumably the whole NYRB fact-checking crew is out in the Hamptons or something, but come on guys, that's something you catch by checking ... well, anywhere, even just on Amazon ..... Worse yet, in the next paragraph two author-names are misspelled -- it's not 'Jostein Gaardner' (Jostein Gaarder, maybe ?), nor is it 'Stieg Larssen' (Stieg Larsson). Look, I know I probably average at least one typo/slip per post, but I do this by myself, late at night -- and I'm considerably more underpaid for my troubles than even the interns at the NYRB; surely such sloppy copyediting is unacceptable for such a site, and reaching an audience of this size.]
       So, yeah, credibility quickly shot there .....
       Still, Parks does raise some interesting questions -- and does offer some interesting Bookscan-number-reveals (I wouldn't have thought Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton -- better than any fiction he's published in ages -- would have shifted: "just 7,521 in hardback and only 1,896 in paperback" in the UK).
       I guess what surprises me is Parks': "impression of huge and inevitable success" re. Knausgaard. Despite closely following the often breathless coverage, I have never had this impression. Knausgaard seems to me a specific kind of small-scale but intense success -- see, for example, the video of the line of people waiting for his recent McNally Jackson appearance. Impressive, certainly, but also relatively clearly circumscribed. Surely it's always been hard to see Knausgaard as any sort of potential mainstream-US/UK success -- something that the coverage actually seems to reinforce, as it focuses (near-relentlessly) on a relatively narrow reading-demographic.
       Surely, also, Parks is going overboard with claims such as:
Meantime, since most newspapers have gone online and many have their own online bookshops, a certain confusion seems to be developing between reviewing and sales promotion. Bestseller lists sit beside reviews on every webpage, as if commercial success were an index of quality, while one can often click on a link at the end of a review to buy the book.
       I understand his concern that: "bestsellerdom is rapidly becoming the only measure of achievement that is undeniable" -- consider just The New York Times Book Review's pages and pages of (supposed-)bestseller lists. Still, while I would love to see actual, hard sales numbers (i.e.: copies sold), any sort of reliance on bestseller lists would serve rather little purpose: knowing that the NYTBR list this week has a book by someone named Brad Thor ahead of one by Catherine Coulter, with the ubiquitous co-written James Patterson at number four ... yeah, that doesn't have anything to do with my reading (or, might I suggest, with literary discussion of any sort -- other than of the turnover/sales-figure sort).
       I have to admit to not really caring: there are books I review that I wish would reach more readers, but I think it's pretty clear from what's reviewed at this site (see, for example, the most recent reviews) that sales-success -- potential or actual -- doesn't really figure in what I cover.
       (Updated - 21 July): See now also Scott Esposito's take(-down) of Parks' piece at his Conversational Reading weblog, Yes, Virginia, My Struggle Is a Bestseller.

       (Addendum: of course, sales numbers do matter -- especially to publishers, many of whom care, to varying degrees, predominantly about the bottom line. So it is scary to see 'services' like Next Big Book, which promises to analyze: "social, sales, and marketing signals to help you make smarter, braver decisions" (shivers down my spine !); see Doireann Ní Bhriain on The next big thing in books .....)

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

       Pentecost in New York

       There's a PTP/NYC revival of David Edgar's Pentecost -- a play I saw in its original 1994 London production, and which is one of the earlier reviews on the site (now updated with new links and reviews).

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

       Global Crisis review-overview

       The most recent addition to the complete review is a review-overview of Geoffrey Parker's landmark study on War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century, Global Crisis, which Yale University Press brought out last year.
       Usually when I resort to just a review-overview (quotes; links; no personal review) it's because I don't have a copy of the book, or I gave it a shot but couldn't get through it. This one, however, is one of those books which I just couldn't figure out how to review in any way usefully -- beyond perhaps basic summary. That's presumably why I don't review much non-fiction, and particularly little history -- I (generally) lack the expertise to evaluate the history on offer. Sure, here there's sort of a broader thesis that's certainly debatable -- and one that, especially in this day and age is worth engaging with -- but I don't have a proper response/reaction (yet ?).
       Nevertheless, there's no question that this is an important book, so I do want to make you aware of it, and of some of the discussion surrounding it. (Whereby I'm surprised there hasn't been more discussion yet, both from a strictly historical perspective, as well as from a present-day climate-crisis-facing policy-considering one.)

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

19 July 2014 - Saturday

João Ubaldo Ribeiro (1941-2014) | The next Stoppard
Chinese 'National Museum of Classic Books'

       João Ubaldo Ribeiro (1941-2014)

       2008 Prémio Camões-winning Brazilian author João Ubaldo Ribeiro has passed away -- a major loss, with Vitor Abdala suggesting at BrazzilMag Brazil Loses What Many Consider Its Best Contemporary Novelist.
       Only one of his works is under review at the complete review, House of the Fortunate Buddhas -- perhaps not the place to start, but quite a few of his works are (or have been ...) available in English translation.

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

       The next Stoppard

       It's hard to believe that the last Tom Stoppard play premiered almost a decade ago -- Rock 'n' Roll -- but he's delivered the next one to the National Theatre, and, after some delays, it's apparently scheduled to be Nicholas Hytner's parting production, in early 2015. The Daily Mail (of all places ...) has the scoop, revealing (scroll down; third item) the play is apparently called:
'The Hard Problem,' he said, poker faced. 'It's a bit premature to say much about it, to be honest', he said pausing. 'But it's not about erectile dysfunction, anyway.'
       I am not encouraged by Stoppard being reduced to making Viagra®-jokes.

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

       Chinese 'National Museum of Classic Books'

       Looks pretty good and fancy: as CCTV reports, China opens first museum of literary classics -- the 'National Museum of Classic Books' (国家典籍博物馆).
       See also, for example, Chinese coverage -- here at, where they note that this is sort of a test run for the real thing, which will open in September.

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

18 July 2014 - Friday

Japanese literary prizes
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya review

       Japanese literary prizes

       They've announced the winners of the latest round of two of the leading Japanese literary awards and, as reported at Mainichi, Shibasaki wins Akutagawa award, Kurokawa wins Naoki Prize.
       Shibasaki Tomoka is fairly well-established -- indeed, this was the fourth time she had been up for the prize; see more about her and some of her books at Books from Japan

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       The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tanigawa Nagaru's The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya -- the first in a series, which then also spawned a manga version, as well as a popular TV-anime adaptation. (Works fine in prose; not so sure about the cartoon versions in print and on screen (definite personal bias, but ...).)

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17 July 2014 - Thursday

Hong Kong Book Fair | Zia Haider Rahman Q & A
The Foundling Boy review

       Hong Kong Book Fair

       The Hong Kong Book Fair runs through 22 July -- and who doesn't love a book fair that comes with its own instruction pages regarding Arrangements for Tropical Cyclone & Black Rainstorm Warning (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) ?
       A lot of enthusiasts are apparently converging on the fair: in the South China Morning Post Brian Yap even reports that Literature lovers camp out overnight as Hong Kong Book Fair begins

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       Zia Haider Rahman Q & A

       At Guernica Jonathan Lee has a lengthy Q & A with In The Light Of What We Know-author Zia Haider Rahman -- worth a look.

       (Updated - 21 July): See also a Q & A in The Hindu.

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       The Foundling Boy review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Michel Déon's 1975 novel, The Foundling Boy, finally available in English, from Gallic Books.
       I've mentioned that the lack of Déon-translations-into-English (there's only been one before this) is ... odd; he's well known (an 'immortel', even, member of the Académie française since 1978 (fauteuil 8)), been around forever (he was born in 1919) -- and he's a fine writer, as this volume certainly demonstrates. Good for Gallic Books (and us) that they're bringing this and the sequel out.
       Maybe Jean Dutourd next ?

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16 July 2014 - Wednesday

New Asympotote | Writing (courses) in ... Germany

       New Asympotote

       The July 2014 issue of Asympotote is now available online, and that should keep you busy for a while -- lots of great material.
       Pretty much all of it is of interest, so work your way through -- but good to see Mui Poopoksakul on Contemporary Thai Fiction -- a neglected-abroad literature (though it's disappointing Poopoksakul focuses pretty much only on contemporary Thai short stories, rather than full-length fiction ...) and Prithvi Varatharajan has An interview with Amit Chaudhuri on Rabindranath Tagore, who also doesn't get the attention he should.

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       Writing (courses) in ... Germany

       At Deutsche Welle Krisha Kops looks at the insidious spread of 'MFA'-type writing programmes in Germany, reporting that misguided Young German authors ditch muse for school.
       Kops (whose Twitter-handle is, unreassuringly, @harekrisha) admits to jumping on the bandwagon -- he's enrolled at the Bavarian Academy of Writing -- but does note that they have largely been able to keep the plague at bay:
Here, in the country of poets and thinkers, the idea that top-class writing can be developed is slow to catch on.
       He compares the situation to the US and UK ("Universities in Anglo-Saxon countries tend to be more progressive than their German counterparts when it comes to integrating non-traditional fields of study") -- and tries to sell readers on why this sort of nonsense might be a good thing. (Yeah, okay, I'll grant that MFA-trained US/UK: "writers are 'more polished' because of their writing training" -- but rarely is it the kind of polish I'm looking for or drawn to (or, indeed, even find bearable). This is, of course, also a personal/style bias -- I can't stand the approach of the vast majority of journalism-school trained 'news'-writing (which seems to me to be anything but) that currently prevails in the US either.)
       At least there's also a good quote re. writing in translation in the UK, director of the creative writing programme at UEA, Andrew Cowan, acknowledging:
"British publishing is extremely parochial and nervous of the public's receptiveness to writing in translation," he points out.
       I'm not sure the polished prose of German MFA-graduates is going to do anything to change that.

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15 July 2014 - Tuesday

Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014) | Caine Prize for African Writing
Return to Planet of the Apes

       Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014)

       Nadine Gordimer, the 1991 Nobel laureate has passed away.
       See her 'The Art of Fiction'-interview in The Paris Review (conducted 1979/1980), as well as obituaries in:        Lots of books to choose from, but Burger's Daughter would be my first choice; get your copy at or

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       Caine Prize for African Writing

       They awarded the Caine Prize for African Writing last night (at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, England, because ... well, of course ...), and they've announced that My Father's Head, by Okwiri Oduor, took the prize.

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       Return to Planet of the Apes

       There's apparently a new Planet of the Apes-movie out, and in The Los Angeles Times David L. Ulin takes that as occasion to look back at The transformation of 'Planet of the Apes,' from book to movie legend.
       Pierre Boulle's book, on which the films are based, is, as Ulin notes, a bit different from the cinematic versions -- but it's good to see a bit of attention paid to the source material (and Boulle -- a man of many inspired ideas and much terrible writing (and even The Bridge over the River Kwai ...)).

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14 July 2014 - Monday

Русский Букер longlist | Programmatic literature | Book-objects

       Русский Букер longlist

       They've announced the (very -- 24-title-strong) longlist for the ridiculously-named Russian 'Booker' prize, one of the leading Russian book prizes (which comes with a 1,500,000 ruble payout -- a decent $44,000 at current exchange rates (though it will presumably amount to less by the time they actually name the winner, on 5 December)).
       As always, Lizok's Bookshelf has a good overview of the longlist, which includes quite a few familiar names -- I am (as I've previously noted) particularly curious about the Vladimir Sharov.
       The six-title shortlist will be announced 8 October.

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       Programmatic literature

       Adam Bellow -- Saul's kid -- writes at the National Review Online encouraging (American) 'conservatives' to Let Your Right Brain Run Free, suggesting that the American 'right': "may have reached the limit of what facts and reasoned arguments can do", and that fiction is the next area to conquer -- and so:
We need to invest in the conservative right brain. A well-developed feeder system exists to identify and promote mainstream fiction writers, including MFA programs, residencies and fellowships, writers' colonies, grants and prizes, little magazines, small presses, and a network of established writers and critics. Nothing like that exists on the right.
       Rarely has a piece both sent such shivers up my spine and had me laughing so hard .....
       Adam Kirsch writes about what he thinks 'Adam Bellow and other conservatives get wrong about the political leanings of creators of imaginative fiction' at Tablet, in The Tea Party's New Front in the American Culture Wars: Literature (which is how I became aware of Bellow's piece), making some sensible arguments.
       I can't really bring myself to respond -- basically because Bellow's piece is simply too fundamentally misguided to even begin to address. (My own incomprehension of the simplistic, extreme, and total 'left'/'right' divide in American politics and society he posits also makes it hard for me to play along with his pseudo-arguments.)

       (Updated - 17 July): See now also Micah Mattix's response at The American Conservative, Politics and Literature.

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       In The New York Times Eve M. Kahn writes about Collecting Books That Are Just Covers -- any object: "that looks like a book but is not one".
       This sounds/looks pretty neat -- but I have to admit that learning the preferred term for such things is apparently ... 'blooks' my interest has diminished greatly.
       (Wikipedia still defines Blook as a: "printed book that contains or is based on content from a blog" -- why would you want to recycle a term that has already failed so miserably once before ?)

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