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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 January 2003

21 January: Alasdair Gray | Another literary weblog ?
22 January: Byatt's Whistling Woman | Anglo-mania ? | New Nicholson Baker | "Salman Rushdie is dead" | Tom Paulin/Harvard
23 January: Salon's new "deal" | Ahistoric fiction | Pinter poem
24 January: Selling Jennifer Government | Flick's Missing Masterpieces
25 January: Jonathan Coe on B.S.Johnson
27 January: Boyd's Any Human Heart | Freeman Dyson on Prey
28 January: Kerrigan on Muldoon | Weekly Standard on Pinter poem
29 January: New Bookforum | Forthcoming from the Dalkey Archive Press | Whitbread Award
30 January: Byatt sightings (NY) | White House poetry symposium

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30 January 2003 - Thursday

Byatt sightings (NY) | White House poetry symposium

       Byatt sightings in New York

       A.S.Byatt will soon be in New York (and a few other US spots) promoting A Whistling Woman (see our our review) See her schedule here.
       Aside from the usual bookstore appearances those of most interest are:
        - at Symphony Space, 3 February at 19:00. Byatt appears in conversation with "filmmaker Philip Haas" (responsible for the interesting Byatt-adaptation Angels and Insects), and Claire Bloom reads selections ....
       - at the New York Public Library, 5 February at 18:30. Something a bit different, as Byatt offers: "Imaginary Snakes: The Invention of the World of the Ancient Mariner".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       White House poetry symposium

       The American President's wife, Laura Bush, apparently invited some poets over to the White House for a "symposium" about poetry on 12 February. Now it's been cancelled/postponed because some poets have been stirring up something of an anti-war fuss: see the AP story (being reprinted all over the place) or one in the Globe & Mail.
       Priceless quote:
"While Mrs. Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum," Noelia Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the first lady, said Wednesday.
       It's nice to see it spelled out so clearly: former librarian Laura Bush may pretend to like and respect literature but in reality won't take it seriously (and won't allow it to be taken seriously -- at least not in her house; no wonder George Jr. doesn't read much). She wants her get-togethers to be Kaffeeklatches, rather than allowing poetry (and poets) to engage meaningfully with the issues of the day.
       Maybe she should stick to inviting apolitical flower-arrangers if she wants to have people over to the White House, though we think she (and the country) would be much better served if contrariant voices were more frequently welcomed and heard there.

       By the way: where are those pro-war poets ? There must be some out there, surely. (We'd have thought they'd be the first ones Laura invited to the 12 February bash.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 January 2003 - Wednesday

New Bookforum | Forthcoming from the Dalkey Archive Press | Whitbread Award

       New Bookforum

       The Winter issue of Bookforum is finally available online -- or at least a few pieces of/from it are.
       It looks like promising stuff, especially:        Okay, Rick Moody on Gaddis (or pretty much anything else) is probably something no one needs. The review (?) seems to serve no other purpose than to let us know that Moody met the master (and that the master liked some of Moody's writings). We suppose we're supposed to be impressed; strangely, we find we aren't.
       What is it about poor dead William Gaddis and the forty-something generation of American writers ? Recall Jonathan Franzen's article in the 30 September 2002 issue of The New Yorker, "Mr. Difficult" (see also our previous comments) .....
       (For other Agape Agape reviews and comments, see our review.)

       Then Gerald Howard on Harry Mathews. Well, it's nice to see Mathews getting some attention (see also our Harry Mathews page) -- though he's actually been getting considerable attention since the publication of The Human Country (see also our review). Howard does offer some insight -- but we don't need (or want) him telling us things like that Mathews' Oulipo-affiliation is "très cool". Mathews-as-Oulipo-member is a significant aspect of Mathews-as-writer but worrying about, mentioning, or even considering the coolness-factor ... ? (And while Howard assures us this is "très cool" he never answers the truly important question: is it chic too ?)

       As to Juan Goytisolo-translator Peter Bush interviewing Goytisolo: that we could have endured more of.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Forthcoming from the Dalkey Archive Press

       Speaking of Harry Mathews (see above): we recently received the Dalkey Archive Press spring catalogue: among the promised thrills is The Case of the Persevering Maltese: Collected Essays by Harry Mathews. Publication date: March or April 2003. We're very much looking forward to it ! Promising that it "collects all of Harry Mathews's nonfiction" ... well, we get goosebumps just thinking about it.
       Other highlights from the catalogue include: The Celebration by Ivan Ângelo, La Batârde by Violette Leduc, and Carlos Fuente's Terra Nostra. The most significant publication is certainly Nicholas Mosley's Inventing God -- recently released in the UK (get your copy from, but making its first American appearance (apparently only in August) as a "paperback original" from DAP.
       Much as we're thrilled by what the Dalkey Archive Press always has to offer -- and particularly pleased to find these books revived, or newly brought to the American shores, there's something depressing about some of these publications too. Dalkey Archive Press is an esteemed house, with a distinguished, literary list, but they are a small, non-commercial player. The fact that one of the greatest books (surely on most readers' lists of top-20 Latin American works of fiction ever) by an author of such renown as Carlos Fuentes (whose newest books are still being published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux) isn't kept in print by a commercial house is stunning (Terra Nostra has been out of print for years: the last Noonday (FSG's then paperback imprint) edition dates from 1984 !).
       Dalkey Archive Press also note this sad situation:
The fate of Carlos Fuentes’s work in the commercial marketplace reflects a growing trend in American publishing over the past twenty years. Translations -- once the prestigious staple of any serious publishing house -- have become increasingly rare.
       Similarly, it's not exactly the publishing world we dream of when Nicholas Mosley's books first appear stateside like this, without even a hardcover run before they go to paperback. (In the UK Inventing God is published by Secker & Warburg.) But Mosley is perhaps a special case -- DAP does offer most of his works (a dozen or so), so it's only right they bring this out too.
       We don't have Inventing God under review yet, by the way; reviews in the UK have been very mixed -- for example:
Inventing God is a fascinating and moving essay in theology, though it does not really succeed as a work of fiction. The characters are wooden and seem little more than ciphers in Mosley's play of ideas. -- Karen Armstrong, The Independent (21/12/2002)
       But also:
Inventing God is an astonishing piece of work with the potential to shift the very way we view the world: surely a contender for the first great novel of the twenty-first century. -- Martin Bright, The Observer (12/1/2003)
       And see also The Guardian.

       Also: the usual uncomprehending complaint: our edition of Ivan Ângelo's The Celebration is a (slightly too colourful) Bard/Avon paperback, ca. 1982 (suggested retail price: 2.95) -- nice, thin, pocket-sized (4.125 x 6.75 inches). The Dalkey Archive Press edition is their usual trade paperback size (5.5 x 8.5) and hefty price (13.50) -- two aspects of the book that seem to us rather user-unfriendly. Don't get us wrong: we appreciate all DAP does to help preserve a literary culture, and as far as the horror that is the trade paperback they put out a nice product -- but it strikes us that especially a publisher that is a non-profit and could afford to put consumer-friendliness and accessibility (rather than profit-maximization) first might want to make books available at a reasonable price (which anything over ten dollars most definitely is not) and in a convenient size (which the unwieldy 5.5 x 8.5 trade size also most definitely is not). Just a thought.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Whitbread Award

       Claire Tomalin did beat out husband Michael Frayn (and a few other finalists) to take home the 2002 Whitbread Book of the Year Award. See reports in The Guardian, The Independent, and the Daily Telegraph

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 January 2003 - Tuesday

Kerrigan on Muldoon | Weekly Standard on Pinter poem

       John Kerrigan on Paul Muldoon

       The December issue of the always impressive Jacket has a new (and very long (10,000 word)) piece about Paul Muldoon: John Kerrigan's Paul Muldoon’s Transits: Muddling through after Madoc

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Weekly Standard on Pinter poem

       The Weekly Standard's takes on British poets are coming fast and furious -- almost daily, it seems. A few days ago J. Bottum wrote about "Apauling" Tom Paulin; now he tackles the latest Guardian-poet in Harold Pinter's 'God Bless America'. Hint: he's not a fan.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 January 2003 - Monday

Boyd's Any Human Heart | Freeman Dyson on Prey

       William Boyd's Any Human Heart

       The newest addition to the complete review is our review of William Boyd's Any Human Heart, finally appearing (next week) in the US. (Question: why did the French translation of this book appear before the American edition ? Ah, the wonderful, and oh so sensible world of book publishing .....)
       An odd, invented diary, it met with very mixed reactions (in the UK). Notable among them, Nicholas Blincoe writing in the New Statesman (1 April 2002 -- perhaps an April Fool's review ? (recall: Boyd's previous work (on Nat Tate) was mockingly published on 1 April)):
I greatly respect Boyd, so my hand hovered over the keypad before I began this review: should I be charitable or should I be decisive ? Because this novel strikes me as an extremely poor piece of work.
       Others, however, were much impressed -- though quite a few wondered (as did we) what it was all for (and in particular what the choice of this presentation -- the fake-diary form -- was for). So, for example, Toby Clements, writing in the Daily Telegraph (20 April 2002):
But in the end, that is it. You are left wondering what the point of writing a biography of this particular man would have been even if he had existed. The footnotes seem haphazardly compiled and peter out towards the end, as if Boyd were not convinced of this literary joke any more.

       By the way: a clever touch to the American edition: the jacket features a "Nat Tate" illustration.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Freeman Dyson on Prey

       Freeman Dyson reviews Michael Crichton's Prey in the current (13 February) issue of The New York Review of Books (see also our review).
       Dyson calls it "well constructed and fun to read", but notes several serious technical flaws. We wish he would have offered more examples, both because it's quite interesting and also because it makes clear how fundamentally flawed this aspect of Crichton's book is, but he doesn't bother:
It is a credible human story, and in the end the technical details do not matter.
       (We disagree -- on both points.)
       Dyson suggests there are two ways to look at "this fairy story" -- ignoring a third: that the bad science undermines what warnings it might offer. Dyson uses his review to consider some of the implications of scientific advancement that Crichton seems to warn of -- fair enough, perhaps. But Crichton's seems a bad book to use as a springboard, because it is such very bad science.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 January 2003 - Saturday

Jonathan Coe on B.S.Johnson

       Jonathan Coe on B.S.Johnson

       Among the books most eagerly awaited at the complete review is Jonathan Coe's biography of B.S.Johnson. It's been a long wait, and apparently it won't be over anytime soon -- but to tide us over Coe again offers a Johnson-article, this time in the February issue of Prospect: Death by naturalism.
       Coe notes: "I know quite a lot about BS Johnson because I have almost finished writing a book about him", which disappoints us a bit -- he hasn't even finished writing the book ? Still, even just this brief glimpse at some of his thoughts is at least something.
       So also Coe's general attitude -- as when he bring in "reality television":
Watching something like this for too long is like taking the first step on the road towards death. It is anti-life, just as BS Johnson's perverse desire to reduce the novel to the status of real life was also something that drove him towards death. Art is not like that. Art is on the side of life. And a reader feels this most strongly when a novel is being most untruthful, least lifelike.
       (Hey, there's something for Kate Taylor to think about ....)
       Which reminds us: we're also really looking forward to Jonathan Coe's next novel.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 January 2003 - Friday

Selling Jennifer Government | Flick's Missing Masterpieces

       Selling Jennifer Government

       Max Barry's Jennifer Government, the worst book we've reviewed on this site in years, finally hit bookstores. It actually seems to be doing very well -- the sales rank was a very impressive 194 when we checked yesterday.
       We just now heard about the game tie-in with the book: Jennifer Government: NationStates. It's pretty nicely and elaborately done (though there were a few kinks in the system when we tried it out) -- and it appears to also be a grand success: the Washington Post reported a few weeks ago (5 January): "More than 30,000 nations have been created so far, and the site was getting more than 1.5 million page views a day last week." And it seems to continue to grow in popularity.
       Fairly clever, nicely done, offering some distraction -- all well and good. But we note it has nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to do with the book. Which sort of seems to defeat the purpose (though in this day of anything-goes marketing, maybe there's a lot of room for the truly irrelevant).
       What's disturbing about all this too is that Barry really does have some clever and good ideas. The game (irrelevant though it is) suggests it, the outlines of both his books suggest it. Even the extra "x" appended to his name for his first book (and unfortunately now dropped) suggests it.
       But he is one godawful writer. Or at least tries his damnedest to present himself as such. Jennifer Government is as lazily written as any book we've come across; there's no effort made there to fashion anything resembling a proper book. He stuffs some good ideas in, invents some cartoon characters (apparently expending more energy in thinking up names for them than trying to make them believable characters), scrawls a few stories around them (relying largely on what barely passes for dialogue to pad the book) and packages it as a novel. It's not.
       The thing is: with a bit of effort, and maybe a guiding editorial hand, Barry might be on to something. He has all the material for a novel. He has something of a sense of humour. A bit of restraint, a little focus on actual writing, and he might come up with something publishable.
       Sadly, he apparently doesn't need to make the effort. sales rank: 194. Sounds like a success. Which it is, on some level. But as a book it remains a failure. Only: publishers don't care -- the brief sales success, the fact that they do make a couple of bucks off of it is enough for them. Any money spent on polishing the product (like having an editor tidy things up) would have been considered wasted: leave it the piece of crap it is and it still sells, so why bother ?
       But over the long term this ain't a good thing. Readers might get a chuckle out of this book, but it has no redeeming qualities (really: none). Any chuckles are likely to be forced ones -- consumers out fifteen or twenty bucks thinking: well, it looks good and sounded like it might be fun and the ideas aren't bad so I better guffaw here and there. But if this is the literary experience they opt for they're pretty sure to find it a hollow one -- and it might keep them from picking up another book, expecting that this is the norm (which -- so the trend in the current aliterary climate -- may eventually be the case).

       Jennifer Government did give us a brief laugh, however: checking out the sales rank at, we discovered there is also an Audio-CD version available. And it is -- get this -- : abridged !
       Jennifer Government is the most insubstantial piece of fluff we've come across in ages: there is literally (as well as literarily) nothing to it. To abridge this text ... it doesn't even sound possible.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Flick's Missing Masterpieces

       Any review by Philip Hensher that begins like this one (from the 25 January issue of The Spectator) certainly whets our appetite:
This is a strange, tantalising book of unintentional poetry; it is rather like a book plucked from the shelves of one of Jorge Luis Borges’ impossible libraries.
       The book is Gert-Rudolf Flick's Missing Masterpieces, and it certainly does sound intriguing. We don't have it under review (but now we're sorely tempted); you can obtain a copy from (in the US) or (in the UK).

       (Updated - 28 January) See now also Richard Cork's review in The Times (27 January).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 January 2003 - Thursday

Salon's new "deal" | Ahistoric fiction | Pinter poem

       Salon's new "deal"

       Long-troubled online periodical Salon has come up with yet another desperate ploy to stay afloat: editor Dave Talbott explains in a "letter from the editor" released yesterday:
OK, here's the deal: Starting today, you can gain access to Salon in either of two ways: You can pay our low subscription price (as little as 5 cents a day) or you can click through a multiple-screen advertisement.
       As we've mentioned before, we've enjoyed their literary coverage -- it's not top-of-the-line, but it's been decent and relatively extensive. We've gladly linked to dozens of their reviews, and a few other odds and ends. With this step -- this "deal" -- , however, linking looks like it will no longer be feasible: just as we don't send users to the registration-requiring The New York Times-site, we won't send you here. For the time being old reviews appear to be fully and freely accessible (and we'll keep our links to those for as long as this is the case), but new ones definitely aren't and so we will not provide links to these. (As Salony Scott Rosenberg acknowledges on his blog: "Certainly the Web is built on linking, and linking isn't easy when sites throw up subscription gates" -- but apparently they decided that they aren't willing to do their part anymore, moving away from being community-minded and choosing a me-first attitude instead (where -- with their (ridiculously overpriced) blog set-up etc. -- they pretend to foster a sense of community; of course, if you don't pay (or watch their pathetic ads) you're not in the least welcome).)
       Like any site Salon is welcome to make users jump through whatever hoops they want. If they believe this is a viable business model (we titter and giggle at the mere thought !) then ... well, that's what they should do.
       They should be aware of some of the consequences, however. And, while we are an insignificant blip on the world wide web scene, two tiny, tiny consequences will be:
  • The complete review won't link to new Salon content any more
  • We (the individual complete reviewers) won't visit the site any more
       And while that alone may not have much of an impact, we suspect we won't be the only ones.
       We also suggest to any users who are willing to either pay or subject themselves to the ads to gain access to Salon content that in doing so they are not only supporting Salon (which may be a worthy thing to do) but are also supporting a pay-per-view/suffer-through-ads-per-view model that thus takes another small step from being the Internet-exception to being the Internet-norm. That, we strongly believe, would be a very bad thing. So we would suggest you don't do it.

       We also note the "market" hasn't been too impressed by this announcement either: last we checked yesterday, Salon's stock price was down over ten percent, to a nickel, in extremely light trading. If anybody thought the new model was a viable one, you'd imagine the bargain-basement price would have tempted them to place at least a small bet; instead Salon stock still practically can't give itself away. (Admittedly, the "market" isn't much of a barometer for a low-volume OTC-traded company like Salon; indeed, it looks like it's become too insignificant for almost anyone to bother with.)

       Also of some interest: Dave Talbott brags in his letter: "Nearly 60,000 of you have signed up to become Salon Premium subscribers" -- but Rosenberg is a bit clearer in his blog: "We already have close to 50,000 current subscribers (with close to 60,000 who have ever signed up)."
       (And for more background on the current Salon-situation, check out Salon clings to dot-com swagger by Michael J. Ybarra in the 21 January issue of The Los Angeles Times (link first seen at Arts Journal).)

       We'll miss checking in on Salon. We wish them good luck -- and good riddance.

       (Updated - 24 January) See also Jessa Crispin's reaction at Bookslut to our comments above.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ahistoric fiction

       We saw the link at Arts Journal and Bookslut but only now got around to reading Kate Taylor's unbelievable thoughts on producing historically incorrect fiction. Our jaws remain firmly in the dropped position, and we're reminded again why fiction doesn't get the respect it deserves. (Why ? Because with practitioners like this how much respect could anyone possibly give it ?)
       Ms. Taylor has written a novel, Mme. Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, just out from Random House Canada (and soon to be published in England -- get Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen from (sorry, we couldn't find it at the American
       In her article Taylor discusses some of the issues that arose in the writing and editing of the novel, in particular her decision to not strictly adhere to certain historical facts. Most of this is apparently minor stuff -- "Debussy unveiled his opera Pelléas et Mélisande in 1902, but Madame Proust attends a performance in 1901" -- but ... well, we found it pretty shocking. (Readers should take into account that we're admittedly pretty finicky about this sort of stuff, and thus perhaps more easily shocked than most.)
       Ms. Taylor's "reasoning" ? "Marie is a fictional character, I eventually replied. In her world, these things are not wrong."
       We understand the idea of fictional characters and fictional worlds, but don't think in this case (where a historical person is used, and specific and actual events referred to) that this passes muster.
       Shocking too this explanation:
I had often asked my editor, Martha Kanya-Forstner at Doubleday, whether it was permissible to bury famous bodies in Paris's Père Lachaise cemetery if they actually lay elsewhere or whether it mattered what excavation technique was used to build the Toronto subway system, and her reassuring reply had always been the same. What matters is that you create a believable fiction for your reader -- if something is so obviously false it jolts them out of that world, you need to adjust it; otherwise, don't worry. I had come to operate on that principle, and figured you could probably move the date of Ruskin's death but not that of Queen Victoria's.
       Don't worry ? And believability as a criteria ? (Like we said: we're still sitting here with jaws dropped .....)
       Hilarious, then, the Random House Canada publicity page, describing the (purposely) error-filled diary in the novel as a "precise retelling of her family’s daily life."

       So: we remain shocked and baffled.
       We'll stick with a firm belief in the primacy of the text (though we mean that quite differently than Ms. Taylor might) -- and a healthy respect for facts. Ms. Taylor clearly has a very different conception of art and fiction (and truth) than we do; possibly, of course, hers is the far superior one (not that you'll ever convince us).
       Tellingly -- and, to us, amazingly -- she closes her piece with a tale hinted at but left untold ("I won't repeat it here, for it doesn't belong to me") -- yet another manipulation of both fact and fiction (not to mention cheap emotion), evidence again of an unwillingness to trust in art, of according story-tellers (and audiences) a significance they don't deserve.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pinter poem

       The Guardian continues with its literary take on the Iraq-situation, combining war and poetry. Last up was Andrew Motion (see this mention), now (in the 22 January edition) readers are treated to Harold Pinter's God bless America.

       So where are the pro-war poets hiding ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

22 January 2003 - Wednesday

Byatt's Whistling Woman | Anglo-mania ? | New Nicholson Baker
"Salman Rushdie is dead" | Tom Paulin/Harvard

       A.S.Byatt's A Whistling Woman

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of A.S.Byatt's A Whistling Woman, the final volume of a quartet nearly 25 years in the making (and ending just as the 1970s begin). We don't have the first two volumes under review, just the third (the brilliant Babel Tower); some of the reviewers disagree with the publisher's claim that A Whistling Woman "stands on its own" (hedging their bets the publisher's add: "while also serving as the triumphal conclusion to A.S.Byatt's fictional quartet"). Our take: it works well enough on its own, but many of the details (especially re. some of the characters not as fully fleshed out in this volume) are lost.
       We're big fans of Byatt, and especially this quartet -- we'd love to see it available one day in an affordable, compact (mass market paperback sized) four volume-set in a nice slipcover (what unlikely (and unrealistic) visions we have ...).
       Not all are quite as enthusiastic -- so Stevie Davies (in The Independent (7/9/2002)):
Who is Byatt writing for ? Presumably, the cognoscenti. But, since most of us are common readers, the quartet condescends to us.
       (We're guessing Byatt doesn't think about writing "for" a specific target audience ... but what do we know ? In any case: we're rabble and didn't feel particularly condescended to.)
       Closer to that particular mark is Ruth Bernard Yeazell, writing in the London Review of Books (28/11/2002):
(...) the proliferation of vocabularies and allusions -- not to mention the sheer number of characters, many of them introduced in previous novels -- sometimes threatens to bury the narrative rather than illuminate it.
       The reviews of this last volume -- many of which discuss all four together -- are a mixed bunch. Certainly recommended is Philip Hensher's (in The Spectator (7/9/2002)). He writes: "With A Whistling Woman, A.S. Byatt concludes one of the grandest and most ambitious fictional projects anyone has undertaken since the war."
       Hensher also writes -- correctly -- that "it is a book which deserves criticism rather than a review."
       Also of interest: Ron Charles, writing in the Christian Science Monitor (19/12/2002), who suggests: "Fans of A.S. Byatt's fiction can be divided into two groups: Those who cannot understand her novels and those who lie."
       Note also Daphne Merkin's review in The New York Times Book Review (19 January), where she writes: "I wondered again why no one has done Byatt the service of editing her." Refer then to Byatt's acknowledgements to A Whistling Woman, where she thanks not only her translators (??!??) but also insists: "My editor Jenny Uglow is the editor all writers hope for -- clear-minded and enthusiastic, a true reader." (As opposed to perhaps a meddling know-it-all who actually demands changes in an author's text ?) (Note that Jenny was no doubt busy for much of the last year polishing her own recent book, The Lunar Men (see our review) -- where she thanks her own "shrewd, humorous and encouraging editor, Julian Loose".)

       We wonder how well these particular Byatt-volumes sell; like The Biographer's Tale (see our review), this new one seems unlikely to attract a wider audience (though it deserves one). General Byatt-interest doesn't seem -- beyond the movie tie-in works (Possession, Angels & Insects) -- to be exactly overwhelming. We're most disappointed that of the three Byatt-reviews we've had on offer so far, the best showing last year was Babel Tower -- which was only the 172nd most popular review on the site for the year (and a significant percentage of that audience was probably looking for something quite different).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Anglo-mania ?

       Statistical aberrations in what books (and authors) are covered at the complete review aren't all that unusual. Most unfortunately this manifests itself in our disturbing systemic masculine orientation (see our piece wondering How Sexist are We ?), but they pop up elsewhere too -- when, for example, we review a pile of books from some unlikely corner of the globe or the like. Recently, however, it's been a very familiar corner that has dominated our coverage, as we have (unintentionally (?)) focussed attention on a stream of British authors -- and hardly any others.
       Counting Alain de Botton as a British author (as we imagine one should), the last nine titles we've reviewed have been by British authors -- as have fourteen of the last sixteen, and eighteen of the last twenty-one. And it's not like we've been focussing on just a few authors -- the eighteen British titles are by fourteen different authors.
       For good measure, the last two author pages we added were also devoted to British authors .....
       The site has generally had a somewhat British tilt, but it's never been this pronounced, not over the course of more than a month. And we're at a loss for any explanation.
       We usually pride ourselves on the variety we offer; so much for that .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Nicholson Baker

       Nicholson Baker's new novel, A Box of Matches, is out -- and got nicely ripped by the Kakutani in yesterday's issue of The New York Times.
       We enjoyed Baker's Updike-homage U & I, and respect his library preservation work, but otherwise he's always seemed like a one-trick pony to us -- and not exactly the most gifted of these (and when he tries to stray a bit the results can be even worse -- cf. the particularly poor The Everlasting Story of Nory). So it comes as no surprise to us to hear that the most recent effort (so Kakutani) offers:
minutiae described in such absurd and numbing detail that the book often reads like a parody of Mr. Baker's earlier novels
       There's an "eye-glazing account" of some scratching, there are "ludicrously microscopic examinations of (...) daily life", etc. etc. I.e. the usual Baker fare.
       We weren't planning on reading this anyway, so we'll take the Kakutani's word for it. For those who are still interested, note that others have been kinder -- why, James Browning even finds it "hypnotic" (in last week's issue of The Village Voice) and over at bookmunch they call it: "a stunning return to the form of early Baker" (which we're guessing they think is a good thing).

       Other links of interest:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       "Salman Rushdie is dead"

       Salman Rushdie's non-fiction collection, Step Across This Line, has been out for a couple of months, but The Independent only got around to reviewing it yesterday. There Ziauddin Sardar begins his review:
Salman Rushdie is dead. The Rushdie that you knew and loved is no more, judging by the quality and content of this anthology of non-fiction.
       Tough words -- and a tough target. Like Holocaust-survivors, fatwa-survivor Rushdie has a built-in moral authority that's hard to discredit.
       We don't have the book under review, so here some other links (including to what are generally far more generous reviews)
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Tom Paulin/Harvard

       We've mentioned the Tom-Paulin-at-Harvard (and at Notre Dame, and so on) to-do several times. Interested readers should know that there's an article by Jeffrey Toobin discussing the Harvard events (and, of course, ignoring the Notre Dame (non-)events), Speechless: Free expression and civility clash at Harvard, in the 27 January issue of The New Yorker. It is not available online.
       (Updated) See also a longer savaging of Paulin by Ron Rosenbaum in the 27 January issue of The New York Observer: Paulin Departs: This Lousy Poet Exits, Whining Paulin won't be teaching at Columbia University this spring (as he was in the fall), and there's apparently some disagreement about why not .....
       (Updated - 24 January) See also J. Bottum's Apauling, from the 27 January issue of the Weekly Standard, which considers (in the expected light) Paulin's recent poem (and also mentions the Columbia non-hiring or whatever (in)exactly it was that went on there).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

21 January 2003 - Tuesday

Alasdair Gray | Another literary weblog ?

       Alasdair Gray

       Phil Moores not only edited Alasdair Gray: Critical Appreciations And A Bibliography (see our review), he also runs the nice Lanark 1982-Alasdair Gray site.
       Until recently the site had been worthwhile but frustrating, a Tripod site that rained pop-up windows on anyone who dared venture there. Now Moores has moved it to a much more user-friendly (and entirely pop-up free) address:

       Now the viewing experience is not only worthwhile but downright pleasant.

       Moores also informs us of a recent issue of Seattle-based Klang devoted to Gray. No information about this issue at the Klang-site yet, but we'll keep an eye out for it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Another literary weblog ?

       The Hyde Park Review of Books recently sent out an e-mail informing us of their new weblog, Unibrow.
       Billed as "Links to the best in Bookculture on the web" and promising that it was "Updated Mondays & Fridays", we dutifully visited early last week, always eager to find more literary coverage on the Internet.
       The start -- several entries for Monday 13 January -- looked promising enough, and so we returned Friday.
       And Saturday.
       And Sunday.
       And yesterday.
       Finding all the while still only entries for .... 13 January.
       Just teething pains, we hope, as they get themselves organised -- though they seem to be making a habit of promising more than they can deliver ..... But we do hope they make a go of it: the more literary coverage the better !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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