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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 September 2002

21 September: Buying Myers | New in paperback: Embers and Wittgenstein's Poker | Paul Auster double bill | Roger Scruton-y | Geoffrey Hill in his own words | Nicholass review Iain Sinclair
22 September: Truthful Infidelities
23 September: P.O.Enquist's birthday | Goytisolo conference | October Harper's
24 September: Gjertrud Schnackenberg | Man Booker shortlist | Franzen's difficulties
25 September: Franzen sighting opportunities | Man Booker surprises | MacArthur Fellows
26 September: Murakami Haruki | More Zadie reactions | Friday events
27 September: Copenhagen on TV | Franzen NEA grant
28 September: Author resource | Rushdie on Houellebecq | Translation (and Murakami)
30 September: Baburnama | Will Self goes Wilde | Evening ... Standard

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30 September 2002 - Monday

Baburnama | Will Self goes Wilde | Evening ... Standard


       We're impressed.
       Oxford University Press brought out Wheeler M. Thackston's translation of the fascinating Baburnama a few years ago -- see our review of this autobiography of the founder of the Mughal dynasty. Now Random House has brought out a paperback edition, in their Modern Library Classic series. To make it a bit sexier they also added an introduction by Salman Rushdie (which we haven't seen yet).
       It's not Nizami's Sikandar Nama, e bara (the brilliant biography of Alexander the Great, a true classic), but it certainly is of interest. Check it out !

(Posted by: complete review)

       Will Self goes Wilde

       The latest additions to the complete review are three reviews of works by Will Self -- two collections of non-fiction (Feeding Frenzy, just out in paperback, and Junk Mail) and his new novel, Dorian.
       Longlisted for the Man Booker (but not making the shortlist-cut), Dorian is a very Self-ish imitation of Wilde's novel. It's gotten decent reviews; see ours for links and additional information.
       Perhaps as penance for not making the shortlist Self is taking a turn as a writer-in-unusual-residence .....

(Posted by: complete review)

       That was London

       The Evening Standard and Daily Mail and affiliated papers share a website -- This is London.
       They once had a "Book" section there, where their often interesting book-coverage was found. A while back they consolidated their coverage, providing it on a "Books & Video" page. Still, at least one found some (still often interesting) literary coverage.
       Now the site has been revamped again. The news isn't all bad: they aren't forcing users to register or to pay. But apparently they decided literary coverage wasn't worth their while.
       Maybe they're still figuring out where to put everything, but for now there is nary a book review or other literary coverage to be found, much less a page devoted solely to them (or even in the company of video coverage).
       All we found was an Arts & Entertainment page. And, at least over the weekend, that did not include any book coverage. Not a good sign.
       The site proudly proclaims that it is "London's No.1 website ..." and says of their re-designed site:
With a new logo, a new look and brand new sections you've been asking us for, This is London is bigger and better than ever before !
       Reducing book-coverage makes the site both bigger and better ? Could have fooled us. Maybe they're still looking for a place to put it, but for now ..... But at least you can admire their new logo !
       As for the A & E section:
Our Arts & entertainment section is better than ever too with the latest film news and reviews from some of London's best loved critics. Plus all the latest theatre, music, comedy and club news from around the capital.
       But no books. No book coverage. Nothing literary.
       Which is a refrain that is getting old fast.

(Posted by: complete review)

28 September 2002 - Saturday

Author resource | Rushdie on Houellebecq | Translation (and Murakami)

       Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing

       Maybe not quite everyone -- but Gerard Jones' Everyone Who's Anyone in Adult Trade Publishing is an impressive resource for authors in search of publishers and agents. It identifies 731 literary agents and 516 editors and publishers (and 309 websites) -- and offers both normal addresses and e-mail addresses. It's the e-mail addresses -- usually hard to obtain -- that are of particular value, though editors and agents will no doubt be far from thrilled by authors who pester them via e-mails.
       Jones' site also offers considerable entertainment value, as he posts many of the responses he received from editors and agents in submitting his own work (and soliciting information and addresses for this directory).
       See also his page about the site for additional information.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Rushdie weighs in on the Houellebecq-trial

       We previously mentioned that French author Michel Houellebecq was on trial for some things he said about Islam. In The Guardian today Salman Rushdie weighs in on the matter.
       There is practically no justification for the free-speech crushing prosecution of Houellebecq, however unpleasant a man (and author) he may be and however outrageous his statements. Unfortunately, Rushdie's defense is a relatively poor and muddled one which doesn't help the cause (free speech !) as much as one might have hoped for, as he confuses what is at issue (and fudges some of the evidence, leaving himself open to criticism).
       Rushdie writes that Houellebecq is "accused of 'making a racial insult' and of 'inciting religious hatred'." He then opines:
The accusations against him turn out to be ridiculously slight. Last year, in an interview published in Lire magazine, Houellebecq called Islam "the dumbest religion" and compared the Koran unfavourably to the Bible which "at least is beautifully written because the Jews have a heck of a literary talent".
       There's a bit more to it than that. The Bible-comparison is part of it, but there's more than Rushdie acknowledges to Houellebecq's remarks. In fact, there are more remarks. In the interview (Lire, September 2001) Houellebecq denigrated all monotheistic religions, just pointing out that in his opinion Islam was the most ridiculous of the lot:
Dans ce paysage très minéral, très inspirant, je me suis dit que le fait de croire à un seul Dieu était le fait d'un crétin, je ne trouvais pas d'autre mot. Et la religion la plus con, c'est quand même l'islam. Quand on lit le Coran, on est effondré... effondré !
       The language is a bit stronger than Rushdie acknowledges (to translate "plus con" as "dumbest" is generous, to say the least), the criticism a bit more forceful.
       Significantly (and unaccountably), Rushdie also ignores the fact that Houellebecq did speak about hate in the interview -- not something one should overlook when the person one is writing about is "accused of (...) 'inciting religious hatred'."
Lire: Pour l'Islam, ce n'est plus du mépris que vous exprimez, mais de la haine ?
M.H.: Oui, oui, on peut parler de haine.
       I.e.: Houellebecq admits that it's not just contempt he expresses for Islam, it's actual hatred. There's no ambiguity here.
       Focussing on the Bible-Koran comparison, Rushdie defends the French author:
But if an individual in a free society no longer has the right to say openly that he prefers one book to another, then that society no longer has the right to call itself free.
       True enough -- but the issue isn't book-preferences. Houellebecq isn't claiming that when one reads the Koran one is "effondré... effondré !" because of the literary style. Rushdie focusses on the book-preference issue because that is clear-cut -- but Houellebecq said considerably more, and Rushdie fails to address most of it.
       Rushdie also writes:
But, and again but. Anyone who cares about literature should, when such ah-has are heard, at once defend the autonomy of the literary text, its right to be considered on its own terms, as if the author were as anonymous as, well, the authors of the sacred texts. And within a literary text, it must be possible to create characters of every sort.
       Here he goes completely wrong. Of course the literary text is autonomous (okay, most people don't think it is, not completely, but that is the ideal we wish for) and should be treated as such. But the issue isn't Houellebecq's writing -- he isn't on trial for his fiction, or for anything he wrote in his novels (not this time, anyway). There is no text, autonomous or otherwise, on trial. Houellebecq is on trial for the comments he made in the Lire interview -- public statements by a public figure which are completely independent of his art. His art is not under attack (okay, it is, but that's going on elsewhere) -- he is.
       Rushdie confuses his arguments, defending creative freedom in a case which has nothing to do with creative freedom. He lazily seems to have gathered a bit of information from English-language press coverage of the trial and pieced together this muddled defense. He mentions personal attacks on Houellebecq (for these and other reasons), none of which have anything to do with the issues at trial -- diverting information, but irrelevant. And he does not seem to have even looked at the interview where the statements at issue were made.
       The Houellebecq trial is about very specific public statements. We find the prosecution of the author worrisome -- not because he is an "author", but because of the free-speech limitations that the prosecutors appear to be trying to impose. Rushdie's impassioned defense of the "author" and the "text" are nice, in a way, but off-point.
       We think it's unfortunate that Rushdie did not offer a clearer and logically (and legally) sound defense. The mish-mash he offers instead is entertaining and somewhat informative (providing some Houellebecq-background material), but barely defensible. We agree with Rushdie and yet can poke any number of holes in his confused argument; actual critics could rip all of it to shreds.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Translation (and Murakami Haruki)

       Wendy Lesser considers The Mysteries of Translation in a fairly interesting piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education (27 September).
       Of particular interest: her discussion of her experiences with the works of Murakami Haruki (see also our Murakami page), as she compares the shift that came with a switch in translators.
       For more on the subject, see also this roundtable on "Translating Murakami", which includes two of his translators, Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin, -- but not the mysterious missing Alfred Birnbaum.

(Posted by: complete review)

27 September 2002 - Friday

Copenhagen on TV | Franzen NEA grant

       Copenhagen on TV

       Michael Frayn's Heisenberg-Bohr drama, Copenhagen, has been made into a TV-film, airing both on BBC Four (in the UK) and PBS (in the US). Directed by Howard Davies, it stars Stephen Rea, Daniel Craig, and Francesca Annis.
       We missed the first showing on BBC Four -- it was last night -- but it's being repeated tonight 20:30-22:00 and Sunday 29 September 22:40-22:20. Note that they are also airing some introductory and post-play programmes to do with Copenhagen, so check your TV schedules.
       In the US it is being shown on Sunday 29 September at 21:00 (but check your local listings -- not all PBS stations run the shows at the same time !)
       For more information check out the good information pages on the production at PBS Hollywood and BBC Four. And for additional relevant links and more information about the play itself, turn to our review of Frayn's Copenhagen.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Franzen NEA grant

       All we know is what we read in the column at MobyLives: apparently Jonathan Franzen feels the need to keep his starving-artist mystique intact, despite the fact that he is now raking in the big, big bucks. Yes, he's made millions off of The Corrections, but he still applied for a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.
       No doubt deserving, given his talents, he was awarded one of the 45 Literature Fellowships for 2002. Cash prize: 20,000 dollars.
       It's a nice credit to put on the back of his books, and a bit of spare change is also always welcome. Still, one wonders: was this a good use of taxpayer money ? The NEA fellowships aren't exactly needs-based, but the idea (unlike with say a Guggenheim) is to help struggling artists. And we don't think Franzen's struggles (real, but not financial) are exactly the kind they had in mind. And while we aren't too impressed by most young, struggling authors (Franzen towers above most in talent), surely there were some who might have been semi-worthy and benefited a great deal more from such a fellowship than Franzen.
       We look forward to seeing how this little PR-fiasco plays out .....

(Posted by: complete review)

26 September 2002 - Thursday

Murakami Haruki | More Zadie reactions | Friday events

       Murakami Haruki

       The Village Voice (issue of 25 September) has a little Murakami profile that's of some interest. He's on his way to New York (and appearing at The New Yorker festival over the weekend).
       There's a bit about his recent collection, After the Quake (see our review, with links to additional reviews), and news of his new novel, Kafka on the Shore -- just out in Japan, and presumably available in English by ... 2005 ? The intrepid can check out the information at the official Kafka on the Shore site -- but note: it's mainly a Japanese-language site.

(Posted by: complete review)

       More Zadie reactions

       Despite the Man Booker snub (her new novel, The Autograph Man, made the longlist but not the shortlist) interest in Zadie Smith's second book remains great. We still don't have it under review (and don't foresee covering it for quite a while), but interested readers can find new reviews in The Atlantic Monthly (Thomas Mallon, in the October issue), The Independent (Deborah Moggach, in the 21 September issue), and the London Review of Books (James Wood, in the issue of 3 October).
       In addition, Michiko Kakutani reviewed it in The New York Times yesterday (sorry, we don't link to articles from The NY Times). She found it "a flat-footed, grudging performance", and, compared to White Teeth, "a pokey and pallid successor, and a poor testament to its author's copious talents." Oh, well.
       (Links to other reviews of The Autograph Man can be found in this previous entry.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       What to do on Friday

       Depending on where you are, there are numerous semi-literary events that might be of interest Friday night. (Semi-literary because listening to an author isn't really that literary -- if you want to do something entirely literary: read a book.)
       Those in New York can enjoy the events at The New Yorker Festival -- some pretty decent author-events are scheduled. (Of course, they are already all sold out .....)
       In San Francisco you can meet Ira Nadel at Books Inc. at 19:30. He's the author of the recent Stoppard-biography, Double Act -- the American edition of which is titled Tom Stoppard: A Life (see our review).
       The most tempting event of the night, however, can be found in London. Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit in Conversation at the Serpentine Gallery, followed by a screening of their film, London Orbital. We'd be there, if it weren't a few too many thousand miles away .....
       (The nice people at Granta have, in the meantime, sent us a copy of Sinclair's new book -- also called London Orbital. We'll be reviewing it soonest -- within the next two weeks or so.)

(Posted by: complete review)

25 September 2002 - Wednesday

Franzen sighting opportunities | Man Booker surprises | MacArthur Fellows

       Franzen sighting opportunities

       Wall-to-wall Jonathan Franzen ! Okay, not quite. But between the recently published paperback edition of The Corrections (see our review -- and don't forget our crQ-piece, A Book, an Author, and a Talk Show Host) and the soon-to-be published collection of essays, How to Be Alone (we hope to review it soon) he has become much more of a presence again. The 30 September issue of The New Yorker has an essay by him (see our commentary from yesterday) -- and there are a few Franzen sighting opportunities coming up, at least in the New York city area.
       On Friday, 27 September he'll be appearing with D.F.Wallace at 19:00 as part of The New Yorker Festival. It's sold out, but see here for more information. (Most of the very popular festival seems sold out -- it's nice to see that people are interested in seeing authors. And perhaps some members of the audience are actually also interested in the books .....)
       Also worthwhile: Franzen will appear together with Jeffrey Eugenides at the 92nd Street Y on Monday, 30 September, at 20:00; see here for more information. (We hope to actually have someone from the complete review attend this event, in which case we'll report on it next week. A review of Eugenides' Middlesex should also be available on the site sometime next week.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       Man Booker surprises

       The Man Booker shortlist came out yesterday, with more than the usual surprises. (See the official press release, and what they had to say about it at The Guardian.)
       Just consider the names that made the longlist but not the short: William Boyd, John Banville, Anita Brookner, Michael Frayn. Early favourite Howard Jacobson and late-comer Zadie Smith also didn't make the cut. (Neither did Will Self.) We haven't read any of the books that made the longlist, much less the shortlist (and Self's Dorian is the only one that will be reviewed before the prize is announced (30/9/2002: our review is now available)), so we can't say who might have been more deserving, and who wasn't. It is the books, that count, after all, not the famous author-names (though we're fans of quite a few of them, and quite surprised they didn't make it ...).
       Not that the shortlist is unimpressive. William Trevor must be the favourite, but some of the others' books have also attracted nice notices. And Rohinton Mistry's book managed to get the Kakutani-treatment at The New York Times the same day as the shortlist was announced. (Her verdict: uneven, with some aspects very good, others poor.)
       Man Booker Prize day is 22 October.

(Posted by: complete review)

       MacArthur Fellows

       The names of the 24 MacArthur Fellows -- recipients of 500,000 dollars over the next five years, no strings attached -- were announced. Not a particularly literary group -- Colson Whitehead, Karen Hesse, and Jack Miles is about the extent of it.
       See these profiles for more about these and the other winners.

(Posted by: complete review)

24 September 2002 - Tuesday

Gjertrud Schnackenberg | Man Booker shortlist | Franzen's difficulties

       Gjertrud Schnackenberg

       The newest reviews at the complete review are of Gjertrud Schnackenberg's poetry -- four separate volumes, and one collected edition (see, for example, our review of Supernatural Love).
       The eminent American poet, born 1953, has won all sorts of prizes and received much acclaim. Consider, also, these comments:
Schnackenberg has turned her erudition, technical mastery and objectivity to extraordinary account, and has set wide new sights for poets of her generation. She has cracked open the lyric of personal anecdote and set it in the light of history.
        - Rosanna Warren (The New Republic 13/9/1993)

Looking for enlightenment and finding the word "things" -- things -- Schnackenberg has reached a point beyond which lies silence, a silence littered with the wreckage of numberless futile experiments, and her only way back to us may be to hold a flame to the things and begin naming them again. In the meantime the quiet will matter to the poet; and what comes of her quiet ought to matter to poetry.
        - Glyn Maxwell (The New Republic 12/11/2001)
       Other titbits of note: she was married to Robert Nozick (who passed away earlier this year). (They were even both Visiting Scholars at the Getty Research Institute together, May-June 2000.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       The Man Booker shortlist

       The announcement hasn't been made yet as we post this entry, but the longlist will be pared down today. The shortlist should be available -- later today -- right here.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Franzen's difficulties

       Jonathan Franzen, getting set to flog his forthcoming collection of non-fiction, How to Be Alone, makes himself heard again with a piece in the 30 September issue of The New Yorker, "Mr. Difficult - William Gaddis and the problem of hard-to-read books" (not available online). So, is Franzen following in B.R.Meyer's footsteps (see our review of Myers' A Reader's Manifesto (and numerous entries below)) ?
       We actually didn't know there was a "problem of hard-to-read books". But Franzen found one. He is referring to a certain form of difficulty -- as in books that use big words and complicated sentences and complex ideas. (We note here that we find many "simple" (and popular and bestselling) books difficult, despite short sentences etc. because often they are badly written and, on a different level, near-incomprehensible and unreadable.)
       A bit of Franzen's argument is available online in this Q & A piece, Degrees of Difficulty, from The New Yorker. Responding there to the question: "Who started the idea that great literature had to be difficult ?" he offers: "I think it's kind of a natural idea". (Our opinion on the matter, for the record: You've got to be kidding.)
       In the essay Franzen posits two models of what makes for good literature -- which he conveniently calls both "wildly different" and "opposing". (Too bad truths often lie in the middle ....) One he calls the "Status model" (or rather he writes: "We can call this the Status model" -- making the reader part of something s/he might want no part of). This is the elitist model, where widespread and popular appreciation (or even comprehension) tends to speak against the value of the piece (so Franzen likes to suggest). The other he calls the "Contract model", where reader-enjoyment is paramount. Apparently: "the two models diverge tellingly when readers find a book difficult."
       Difficulty, hard books, working at reading -- all of it isn't too clearly defined. Presumably readers are supposed to know it when they see it; honestly, we've heard so many different people complain about so many different books that we're convinced most any book can be considered difficult in some way. (In a New York Review of Books review Jonathan Raban quotes George Steiner writing (in a review in The New Yorker) that Gaddis' JR is an "unreadable book" -- though surely Steiner is someone who seems quite capable of mastering any sort of difficulty. So the Gaddis-difficulty seems of a particular sort .....)
       Franzen places himself firmly in the I-want-to-be entertained camp, even admitting to not having finished books such as Moby-Dick, Don Quixote, The Man without Qualities, and Naked Lunch (note however that, though it is implied, he doesn't actually say whether he considers these "difficult" books). It seems like an easy out: these and other books are difficult (or not) for a variety of reasons, barely any of which Franzen chooses to explore. Some -- Don Quixote, for example -- are surely merely long (though possibly the choice of translation might make it a harder slog than need be).
       So these parts of the essay are largely ... unenlightening. But Franzen does offer more: beside these muddy difficulty arguments there is also considerable discussion of William Gaddis' work -- and Franzen does a nice job of it (though Gaddis-fans are sure to take issue with some of what he says). Franzen loved The Recognitions (see also our review), and he does a nice job of presenting that novel here. He also discusses Gaddis' other works, including the two posthumous volumes to be published later this fall, and much of this is of interest too. (Despite much Recognitions-recognition he doesn't mention Jack Green's classic Fire the Bastards ! -- but you can see our review.)
       There's a lot to be said about the Franzen-piece (it is, to put it mildly, unfocussed), but we'll stop here for the moment with one final note. Franzen briefly discusses his own P.R. troubles last fall and:
Taking a page from an old literary hero of mine, William Gaddis, who had long deplored the reading public's confusion of the writer's work and and the writer's private self, I suggested that the letter writers look at my fiction rather than listen to distorted news reports about its author.
       But he also can't leave be. He does, to his credit, focus on some texts -- The Recognitions, JR -- but image and reputation and "the respectful appraisals of contemporary critics" and biography figure all over his analysis here, often a central part of the reading experience (and integral to questions of difficulty -- if it's author X, it must be difficult, etc.).

(Posted by: complete review)

23 September 2002 - Monday

P.O.Enquist's birthday | Goytisolo conference | October Harper's

       Per Olov Enquist's birthday

       Today is Per Olov Enquist's birthday. We hadn't realized the British edition of his recent novel, The Royal Physician's Visit (see our review), just came out a few weeks ago (beaten out by the Americans by almost a year -- for shame !) or we would have mentioned that earlier, but his birthday makes for a good excuse too. So: consider checking out The Royal Physician's Visit.
       At least a few reviewers are turning their attention to Enquist and this work -- such as Caroline Moore (Sunday Telegraph, 15 September, no link):
Per Olov Enquist is not a name that will arouse much recognition in this country (...) I must confess that I have never read anything else by him; but The Visit of the Royal Physician bowled me over.
       Unfortunately, relatively little by Enquist is available in English (and, yes, his name is little-recognised in either England or the US). It's a shame -- The Visit of the Royal Physician is not an exception, but rather just one display of his talents, and he surely must be counted in the first tier of contemporary European authors.
       We can offer you reviews of a few other works to whet your appetite: Captain Nemo's Library, Downfall, and The Night of the Tribades.
       For more informations about Enquist, see also the brief biography at books and writers.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Goytisolo conference

       Another leading contemporary author, Juan Goytisolo (see our Goytisolo page), is the subject of a two-day conference at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, 4-5 October. Organized by the British Centre for Literary Translation, the conference is titled: "Territories of Life and Writing: Fiction and Autobiography in the work of Juan Goytisolo". Sounds interesting.
       It's also part of Goytisolo's UK tour, "A cock-up of a canonisation !" (2-8 October), marking the launch of the translation of his novel, A Cock-eyed Comedy. We haven't reviewed it yet, but hope to soon. Meanwhile, you can purchase a copy from And for a review, check out the one at bookmunch (they didn't like it).

(Posted by: complete review)

       The October issue of Harper's

       Magazine websites often aren't representative of the quality of the parent magazine. A good example is Harper's Magazine and its sad little site -- among the most feeble efforts to be found on the web. Too bad, because the magazine often has content of interest. The October issue (which should be on newsstands by now) certainly does.
       There's a story by John Updike, for example, for those who like that kind of thing. But of course it's the book coverage that is of greatest interest to us.
       For a few months now Guy Davenport has been writing a "New Books" column, a two-page book round-up describing a few new titles. The well-read Davenport does usually have interesting things to say (background titbits and the like), but it's not a great forum for him -- this books-in-brief presentation seems more suited to ... well, a weblog, for example, and Davenport is more fun when he is allowed to be more expansive. The books he discusses here (Alfred Maudslay and the Maya by Ian Graham, a new Kafka translation by Michael Hofmann, and a memoir (of sorts) by painter Balthus) all sound quite interesting, but it's an odd mix and there's ultimately too little information provided in this short space to satisfy.
       Next come five pages by Pico Iyer on Raymond Chandler -- part of what will surely be a long fall of Chandler-pieces, as the (new) Everyman's Library re-issues a great deal of Chandler (practically all of which, as Iyer points out, has actually never been out of print, leading one to wonder: why another edition ?). It's not a bad overview, and makes for a decent consideration of why Chandler remains so popular. Slightly puzzling: the sub-title of the piece, wondering "Why Raymond Chandler persists while so many more respected authors are forgotten". Iyer doesn't make much of a case for these supposedly more respected authors -- in particular: what exactly makes them more respected. There's something about "Dreiser, Lewis, and Upton Sinclair are all more warmly received into the canon", but that's about as far as Iyer will go. That aside, however, it's a decent little piece.
       Of greatest interest in the October Harper's is Wyatt Mason's look at -- as the subtitle of his piece accurately explains -- "Rimbaud at the mercy of biographers". The close reading (as close as one can expect in a magazine book-review) of Graham Robb's biography, in particular, pleased us. Well done. And perhaps an American (or English) publisher will take note and commission the translation of Jean-Jacques Lefrère's biography -- Mason's endorsement certainly make us eager to read it.

(Posted by: complete review)

22 September 2002 - Sunday

Truthful Infidelities

       Truthful Infidelities

       Sorry we didn't give you an earlier heads-up, but nobody told us. Still, there's still time for Londoners to get to Royal Festival Hall, where there's a full programme of translation-related events today and tomorrow. "Truthful Infidelities: The Making of a Literary Translation" is the name of the series. Philip Hensher is up at 11:00 today, and at 17:45 there's the BCLA/BCLT Translation Competition Readings -- see this list for the winners.
       Tomorrow then they announce the winner of the European Translation Prize -- an award of, we're told, 20,000 Ecu. But we have no idea who is nominated (or even who does the nominating).
       Nobody gives translation much respect, which is why there seems to have been extremely limited coverage of these events. We have our own gripes with translation, but recognise that it is fundamental in making foreign literatures accessible to larger audiences (which we hold to be imperative). So show your support -- or at least some interest .....
       We hope some media outlet covers these events, so that we can link you up with coverage by Tuesday.

(Posted by: complete review)

21 September 2002 - Saturday

Buying Myers | New in paperback: Embers and Wittgenstein's Poker
Paul Auster double bill | Roger Scruton-y
Geoffrey Hill in his own words | Nicholass review Iain Sinclair

       Buying Myers

       As we mentioned yesterday, we just added a review of B.R.Myers' A Reader's Manifesto to our site. The recently published book looks like it might be of interest to readers -- but just because it's been published doesn't mean it's easy to get your hands on a copy, even in these days of Or rather: especially in these days of
       Publisher Melville House informs us that, although does list the book at their site -- and despite their having a whole pile of copies in their warehouse -- the book continues to be essentially unavailable from (It is apparently available through their Marketplace-sellers (i.e. outside retailers, usually of second-hand books).) We hope the problem will soon be resolved (it's apparently been dragging on for a while) -- and look forward to a long piece somewhere detailing this bizarre retailing saga.
       Meanwhile potential buyers must turn elsewhere -- your local bookseller no doubt appreciates the business and should be able to order the book for you (if they don't have it in stock), or else you can find the book via this link at Barnes &

(Posted by: complete review)

       Sandor Marai's Embers in paperback

       At least in the US (Brits will have to wait until early next year for their very own paperback edition). Remember: we're not very enthusiastic about the translation (which is a translation of the German translation of the Hungarian original) -- see our review.
       (Note: in the original Hungarian version of the above statement we actually wrote: "The translation is an unconscionable abomination and obscenity and you should have nothing to do with it", but in translating this first into German and only then into English it wound up reading: "We're not very enthusiastic about the translation".)

       Additional Embers news: apparently Milos Forman has signed on to direct the film version. Jean-Claude Carrière will apparently write the screenplay.
       The novel does have cinematic potential, but we're guessing that the temptation to melo-dramatize it will be too great to resist for Forman and Carrière.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Wittgenstein's Poker in paperback

       David Edmonds and John Eidinow's popular account of the Ludwig Wittgenstein-Karl Popper confrontation (or non-confrontation ?) is now out in paperback in the US. (See also our review.)
       The authors will also be interviewed by Simon Winchester at the New York Public Library on Monday, 23 September at 18:30. It might be fun, but note that they have competition at the same time farther uptown where there is a ...

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       Paul Auster double bill

       Paul Auster has a busy evening ahead of him on Monday 23 September at the 92nd Street Y. At 18:00 there's the The Paris Review Writers-at-Work Live Interview with Paul Auster. He gets interviewed by Michael Wood -- and, yes, that's Gaby "Edison's Eve" Wood's daddy.
       Then, at 20:00, there's a more conventional reading by Auster.
       Those who plan to attend might want to look at -- you guessed it -- B.R.Myers' A Reader's Manifesto (or, if you can't get hold of the book over the weekend, at least check out The Atlantic Monthly essay). Auster is one the five authors Myers holds up as an example -- and not in the good way.
       Choice Myers-quotes you can ask Mr. Auster about:
  • "What gives Auster away is his weakness for erudite facetiousness." (p.62)
  • "It is no mean feat to be precious and clumsy at the same time, but Auster pulls it off on almost every page." (p.62)
  • "(H)e writes as if he has just flipped through Malone Dies, found it dull and repetitive, and concluded that the deliberate use of dullness and repetition is a brilliant literary device." (p. 72)
  • "Whole pages can be skimmed with impunity." (p. 72)
       Oh, but this is so unfair. Read B.R.Myers, read Auster, make up your own mind.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Roger Scruton-y

       Philosopher, author, conservative, and tobacco industry spokesman Roger Scruton hasn't had a great year. His reputation has suffered a few more blows. And apparently both the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal decided they no longer required his services last winter -- all because of his tobacco planting projects (see Scruton in media plot to push the sale of cigarettes at The Guardian (24 January 2002)). But there are still some publications that'll make some space for him. So this week The Spectator, where he waxes nostalgic about 20 years of The Salisbury Review ("The quarterly magazine of conservative thought"). (A story that could unkindly again be construed as an advert posing as journalism -- but then so could most of the dreck published in every newspaper and magazine you read.)
       Still, it's a modestly entertaining account -- and for those not familiar with Scruton's career trajectory certainly of interest (though note that it's his version that's presented here; others might well describe some of the events rather differently).

(Posted by: complete review)

       Geoffrey Hill in his own words

       Poet Geoffrey Hill (see our author page) usually lets the poetry do the talking, but today's issue of The Guardian offers an extended version of a piece in the current issue of the Poetry Book Society Bulletin. Recommended.
       See, of course, also our review of Hill's The Orchards of Syon.

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       Nicholass reviews Iain Sinclair

       We previously mentioned Iain Sinclair's new book, London Orbital (see that entry for more about it, as well as related events you shouldn't miss). Now the reviews are beginning to appear: the first we've come across are by the Nics -- Lezard in today's The Guardian and Royle in today's The Independent.
       (We haven't gotten our copy of London Orbital from Granta yet, but hope they'll send us one soon.)

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