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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 February 2003

1 February: British don't love culture ? | Bring back the editors ! | New crQ
3 February: Midnight's Children - the play | Dirda on Fara | Tyler Cowen's Creative Destruction | The Winter's Tale in Iran | The Nibbies | Murakami story
4 February: The Godoff-saga | The New Criterion: Bernhard and Huxley
5 February: Preparing America for the Coast | C.C.Park on Kipling | Pro-war poetry ?
6 February: More Rushdie / Midnight's Children - the play | Celebrity fiction
7 February: Blue Remembered Hills in Rotterdam | Simic on Sebald (and Weiss) | Samantha Power / Random House
8 February: Yasmina Reza plays
10 February: Augusto Monterroso (1921-2003) | Poetry matters ! | New reviews

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10 February 2003 - Monday

Augusto Monterroso (1921-2003) | Poetry matters ! | New reviews

       Augusto Monterroso (1921-2003)

       We knew what to expect when we saw the figures: suddenly, Saturday, there was ten times the usual traffic to two of our less popular reviews -- Augusto Monterroso's Complete Works and Other Stories and The Black Sheep. It's happened twice before with obscurer authors we have under review (Gellu Naum and Juan José Arreola). We hoped: perhaps he's won another of the big literary prizes, as he certainly deserved to. But we knew what had happened.
       Augusto Monterroso is dead.
       He died Friday; see the AP report at the Austin-American Statesman, or the brief Reuters report.
       As far as we can tell, only two of his books have been translated into English (well, they were published as more than two volumes in Spanish, but in English they were collected as the two books we have under review). The highly regarded autobiographical writings remain unavailable.
       We've only read the two volumes available in English, so we're a bit wary of making too grand pronouncements, but even merely on the basis of these we suggest that here is -- here was -- one of the greatest Latin American writers of the last fifty years. Borges, García Márquez -- and Monterroso: if it were up to us, those would be the three Latin American authors whose works we'd read (just ahead of Octavio Paz and Alejo Carpentier, far ahead of, for example, Fuentes or Vargas Llosa).
       Few works by authors we'd never heard of impressed us as much as Complete Works and Other Stories. It was a marvelous discovery, the kind readers dream of. (Of course, we're ashamed that we had never even heard of the man -- a shame shared with most of the English-speaking world, where he hasn't gotten much mention.)
       To know there's so much of his work still unknown to us -- but only in Spanish, not readily accessible -- pleases and frustrates us. But at least we can dream, one day, one day to read it all. Perhaps his death can serve to at least bring him to the attention of some American or English publisher: we're pretty sure it would be worth their while.

       A great loss, a sad day. Do yourself a favour (and honour the man) by hunting down (and reading) one (or all) of his books.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Poetry matters !

       Poetry matters, one might be led to believe by the cover article in this week's (issue of 17 February) Weekly Standard (The Poets vs. The First Lady by J. Bottum). Or at least by the cover.
       As it turns out, the message of Bottum's article isn't: poetry matters, but rather: poets don't matter -- not much, anyway. But that's been evident in the reactions to the whole to-do around the 12 February non-event at the White House pretty much all along.
       Bottum's article offers a good summary of the events surrounding Laura Bush's planned symposium on "Poetry and the American Voice" (an unfortunate title for an event meant to be about Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes -- in particular since Ms. Bush's actions then allowed that to be twisted into appearing to be a silencing of the American Voice), as well as a look back at older poets-and-politics clashes.
       Bottum's focus isn't so much on the subject, but on "the tone of the attack on the Bush administration, and now on Mrs. Bush" He has something of a point, of course -- a lot of what's been said, and how it's been said hasn't been pretty.
       Among his observations:
The wonder is that something similar didn't blow up months ago. The White House book parties have been a tempest waiting to happen, and Mrs. Bush got away with her apolitical literary events for an astonishingly long time, given the art community's disdain for her husband.
       Note that in that statement also lies one of our big disagreements with Bottum: "apolitical" is a word and a concept that can't be used for anything (anything) that happens in the White House (or involves the First Lady). (And in this case the event was even more political than usual: as Bottum mentions: "a second purpose of the occasion was, an administration official confirms, to have Vice President Cheney swear in the poet Dana Gioia as the new chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts".) We're also not exactly thrilled by his simplistic conflation -- under the umbrella-term of "anti-Americanism" -- of all the opposition to everything from specific policies (the administrations approach to Iraq), to specific personalities (Bush, etc.) to the administration as a whole to actual, comprehensive anti-Americanism. (In his defence: most everybody else likes to lump all this (and more) together as "anti-Americanism" too .....)
       The reactions to both the Laura Bush invitation (and then disinvitation) as well as to US policy re. Iraq are also a bit more complicated than he allows for. Still, he's right that some of what has been spewed in this regard is shocking -- so, for example, W.S.Merwin's statement:
I think that someone who was maneuvered into office against the will of the electorate, as Mr. Bush was, should be allowed to make no governmental decisions (including judicial appointments) that might outlast his questionable term
       Talk about dangerous roads to go down .....

       Some of the recent attempts of poets to make themselves relevant are admirable, others troublesome. Overall we're pleased by any effort by the citizenry to get involved in the political process (though preferably not if they involve whacky (and un- -- or rather: anti-democratic) notions like Mr. Merwin's), but we do wish there'd be a greater willingness on both (or rather: all) sides to actually debate the actual issues. Neither Mrs.Bush (with her refusal to allow her little get-togethers to get political in a way she disapproves of) nor the petition-happy protesters seem to care much for an open dialogue -- or even hearing what others have to say.

       A few other links of possible interest:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New reviews

       We recently added reviews of:

       - Paul Muldoon's Frank Lloyd Wright libretto, Shining Brow.

       - Marjane Satrapi's childhood memoir of revolutionary Iran, Persepolis -- which appears to be the first comic book we've reviewed.

       - Clara Pinto-Correia's dodo-book, Return of the Crazy Bird -- which mainly reminded us that we'd be doing readers a greater service if we reviewed David Quammen's far more impressive The Song of the Dodo (we haven't yet, but you can get your copy at or Pinto-Correia's has the making of a good book -- or at least: it's an interesting subject -- but she doesn't quite pull it off. (It also reminded us of a similar recent failure, W.J.T Mitchell's The Last Dinosaur Book.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 February 2003 - Saturday

Yasmina Reza plays

       Yasmina Reza plays

       The New York Times reported yesterday that the first Broadway production of Yasmina Reza's Life x 3 (see our review) is finally set to open 27 March at Circle in the Square. A not quite full page advert a few pages later also announces the fact: previews start 11 March, and the run is set "for 16 weeks only". Matthew Warchus directs, Helen Hunt, John Turturro, Linda Emond, and David Lansbury star.
       It's taken surprisingly long to make it to New York -- maybe it took that long to convince even semi-famous names like Hunt and Turturro to play along for a few weeks.
       (Note that Circle in the Square doesn't appear to have their own website -- but maybe there'll be some play-information up somewhere when it's closer to showtime.)

       Meanwhile, catch a more out of the way production of 'Art' through 16 February (read a review at Seacoast Online), or take in The Unexpected Man in Chicago through 2 March (read a review in the Chicago Sun-Times)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 February 2003 - Friday

Blue Remembered Hills in Rotterdam | Simic on Sebald (and Weiss)
Samantha Power / Random House

       Blue Remembered Hills in Rotterdam

       A few weeks ago we mentioned that a new film version of Dennis Potter's classic, The Singing Detective (see our review) was shown at this year's Sundance Film Festival. It didn't seem to go over particularly well, but it's still nice to see that Dennis Potter's work is being tackled anew again and again -- so also now in Rotterdam, where on 13 February the Theater Lantaren/Venster offers a production of Blue Remembered Hills (see also our review)

       (The big question, of course, is: will anyone ever tackle Karaoke and Cold Lazarus again ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Charles Simic on Sebald (and Weiss)

       In the 27 February issue of The New York Review of Books Charles Simic reviews W.G. Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction (the review is not (freely) available online).
       We previously mentioned Sebald's book and early reviews of it. Meanwhile other reviews now available include: Terrible Rain (Geoff Dyer, LA Weekly, 31 January) and Author digs through rubble of war for answers (Tyler D. Johnson, Rocky Mountain News, 7 February).

       Simic offers the now usual Sebald-summary (discussing most of his work), and then some thoughts on this specific title (including Simic reminiscing about his own getting-bombed experiences in Yugoslavia during the war).
       As Simic mentions, the English-language edition of this title differs slightly from the German one in that, aside from the title-piece (which is getting most of the critical attention), it also includes three shorter essays -- on Alfred Andersch, Jean Améry, and Peter Weiss. What we found particularly nice: Simic writes -- in his only mention of him in his review -- that it is "the painter Peter Weiss". We unfortunately haven't seen a copy of the book yet, so perhaps Sebald does focus on Weiss as painter (though surely he also discusses Weiss' formative postwar trip to Germany and his early fiction based on those experiences, De besegrade ("The Vanquished", 1948, written in Swedish and only published in German decades later) -- but surely readers of The New York Review of Books are more likely to recognize the person in question if he were described as ... the dramatist Peter Weiss (remember Marat/Sade ? The Investigation ?).
       However, it's often forgotten that Weiss was a talented painter, and so maybe it's not a bad thing to present him to an audience as such. And it gives us a good excuse to make you aware of a fine site that offers a very good survey of: The Art of Peter Weiss. (And see also our Peter Weiss page.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Samantha Power / Random House

       We were pleased to see that Samantha Power got a nice big write-up in the 5 February issue of The New York Times -- the more attention for her important book, "A Problem from Hell" (see our review) the better.
       Of particular interest:
In 2001 her first publisher, Random House, dropped the book when, by her account, she refused to make it "more personal, more polemical."
       We're curious what the Random-spin on that is (it sounds like a really bad editorial decision -- it wouldn't have been nearly as effective a work if it were "more personal, more polemical").
       To us, dropping the book speaks worse of Random House than the whole Godoff-saga. Though in all fairness one has to note that Random House does also still publish some fine and important and controversial works -- like the Sebald.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 February 2003 - Thursday

More Rushdie / Midnight's Children - the play | Celebrity fiction

       More Rushdie / Midnight's Children - the play

       A couple of days ago we mentioned the stage-adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, now playing in London. Here a few more links of interest:        Also of some interest, a recent interview with Rushdie by Kip Keller in the 4 February Austin American-Statesman (link first seen at NewPages Weblog). Unfortunately, there's nothing about the play -- and very little about literature. Admittedly, Rushdie is flogging his recent non-fiction collection, but it's still disappointing when an interviewer starts the questioning by saying:
As much as I would like this interview to be about literature, we're going to have to talk politics first.
       We don't really understand why it is so imperative, but what do we know ? Maybe it's nice to see a writer's political opinions take precedence over any trivial literary matters ..... And the literature questions -- when they do finally come -- are pretty pathetic (though we did appreciate the parenthetical information about V.S.Naipaul -- "author of 25 books, Nobel laureate in literature").

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Celebrity fiction - Sophie Dahl

       The British (and Australian) press have been writing quite a bit about Sophie Dahl's book (or is it booklet ? ("barely a short story" Rachel Cooke describes it)), The Man With the Dancing Eyes (get your copy from -- or even (yes, it's been published in the US too, not that anyone seems to have really noticed) -- or see the Allen & Unwin publicity page).
       There have been profiles in The Guardian (Matt Simpson (5 February) -- informing readers that "unlike other models who have tried writing, Sophie Dahl has a literary pedigree and collects first editions" (hey, she must be a real author !)) and The Sun-Herald (George Epaminondas, 4 February).
       There have been some reviews that make it almost sound tempting ("Sensual and satin-soft, reading it is like dropping milk chocolates into your mouth while reclining (naked, naturally) on a goosefeather eiderdown.", Hadley Freeman writes in The Guardian (1 February)) and some less so ("Dahl's doodle, however charming, feels like it was dashed off on a cigarette packet between lychee martinis", Rachel Cooke observes in The Observer (2 February).
       But all the attention is best summed up by Erica Wagner in her 5 February review in The Times, Dahl M for misguided: "Why am I reviewing this book ? Because Sophie Dahl is Famous."
       Ah yes, always the best reason for reviewing a book. Unfortunately (but predictably) the 'literary' aspect of it's first-edition-collecting author seems the very least of it, as Wagner also writes:
The trouble is, crabbed into this kind of thinking, the resulting story can offer satisfaction neither to adults nor to children. Which is a shame, for the book is certainly presented in a pleasing package, and the winsome drawings of Annie Morris add some substance to the mix.
       (Updated - 7 February): Dahl's book also makes it as a Book of the week review in the Evening Standard (Katie Campbell, 7 February). Never mind the book chosen for the honour -- this is the kind of coverage a "book of the week" selection gets ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 February 2003 - Wednesday

Preparing America for the Coast | C.C.Park on Kipling | Pro-war poetry ?

       Preparing America for Stoppard's Coast of Utopia

       We haven't heard that Tom Stoppard's recent mammoth-trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, will actually make it to the US, but it's nice to see some people are already getting prepared, just in case: 26 March through 30 April you can study up at an ILEAD course (at Dartmouth). As they explain:
Since many avid theatergoers may be a little weak in this part of Russian history, this course is designed to alternate historical background with discussion of each of the three plays. It should make for a richer theatrical experience when the plays, premiered in London (fall, 2002), get to New York.
       See also, of course, our review (or reviews, actually -- one for each individual piece too), for review summaries and other information. Among the newest reviews we've come across: Richard Hornby on The Stoppard Trilogy in the Winter 2003 issue of The Hudson Review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       C.C.Park on Kipling

       The Winter 2003 issue of The Hudson Review also offers an interesting piece by Clara Claiborne Park, as she considers the Artist of Empire: Kipling and Kim.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pro-war poetry ?

       A few days ago we wondered -- only a bit tongue in cheek -- "where are those pro-war poets ?" Well, thank god for the Wall Street Journal -- or at least their online OpinionJournal, where they're looking for them. An entry from the 31 January best of the web today weblog considers: From Bad to Verse (scroll about halfway down the page).
       We do hope they're playing it for laughs there when they write things like:
We've never heard of Adrienne Rich, but how can she claim to be a poet ? This stuff doesn't even rhyme !
       (Just in case there are readers out there who take this seriously, basic information can be found, for example, at this Adrienne Rich site.)
       But they do offer poetically-inclined (and, presumably, politically appropriately aligned) readers an opportunity to show their stuff:
Does the muse inspire you ? If you have some good original pro-war verse, e-mail it to us at, and if we get enough good submissions, we'll publish them in time for Feb. 12 -- "a day of poetry for the war."
       We're not sure whether we're rooting for them to get enough submissions ..... But for anybody who does have appropriate verses, maybe you'd like to submit them. (Hint: they appear to expect stuff that rhymes .....)

       (Updated) In today's Wall Street Journal Roger Kimball moans about Vexing Verse (link first seen at MobyLives). Apparently he too was invited to the Laura Bush poetry bash at the White House, and he's all upset that it got cancelled "(b)ecause one of the invitees had decided to replay his adolescence rather than go to the White House".
       Kimball (editor of The New Criterion) rants against those that led Ms. Bush to cancel the event, summing up:
Possibly the stupidest thing [Shelley] wrote was that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." (...) But Shelley's fantasy continues to fire the imaginations of people who mistake adolescence for adulthood, self-infatuation for idealism. For them, too, the distinction between a "literary event" and a "political forum" is moot, to the detriment of both literature and politics.
       There is a difference between a "literary event" and a "political forum" -- but Kimball conveniently fails to make much of the locale of the so-called "literary event" -- and the auspices under which it was to be held. Any event held at the White House -- and any event involving Ms. Bush -- is, first and foremost, a political event. It's outrageous to even suggest otherwise.
       If you want a symposium that focusses on the American voice (or anything else) in poetry, you have to hold it elsewhere. And to suggest that anyone who is invited to the White House should decorously avoid political topics is ridiculous. If invited there, of all places, one has an obligation to try to get one's civil concerns heard. (And, as Kimball correctly points out, there would surely also have been a number of people invited to the poetry event -- him included -- who would actually voice support for the administration's position re. Iraq.)
       (The supposedly apolitical event planned by Ms.Bush was also meant to make a political point (and a nice photo opportunity) -- but Kimball doesn't care to point that out.)
       Kimball suggests there is a group of "Poets for Responsible U.S. Foreign Policy" (where, by "responsible" he of course means only his and the administration's position; apparently "anti-war" isn't a position that could be thought of as responsible), and believes: "it's a bigger group than you might think". Good ! So where was the problem ? Why not get everybody together and have them (decorously and poetically) slug it out ? But instead Kimball suggests only that: "Mrs. Bush reconsiders her guest list and reconvenes the event" -- which we take to mean that he wants only those who qualify under his idea of "Poets for Responsible U.S. Foreign Policy" to be invited. Poetic discussion apparently just should not be democratic and all-embracing -- indeed, his solution sounds much the same as those who wanted to turn the event into a protest: allowing only for one position. (And it's hilarious that his vetting procedure -- who should be invited and who should be told to stay home -- also focusses solely on the political, rather than on the poetic -- so much for his airy apolitical idealism (re. poetic events at the White House).)
       (For more on some of this, see also Alex Good's Poetry and Propaganda.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 February 2003 - Tuesday

The Godoff-saga | The New Criterion: Bernhard and Huxley

       The Godoff-saga

       So far we haven't mentioned the Ann Godoff story (Random House fires her, Penguin hires her) -- mainly because everyone else has been covering it so extensively (it was front page news in The New York Times). However, we can't resist taking note of two recent pieces on these events: Michael Wolff's column from the 10 February issue of New York, Book Review, and André Schiffrin's comment on "Random" Destruction in the 17 February issue of The Nation (not available online).
       Wolff's provocative piece takes a welcome different look at contemporary publishing. He's not reverential about the good ol' biz -- no, he writes things like:
I mean, books suck. Most books are dopier than television or movies or even advertising (.....) Even if there are precious exceptions, the overwhelming number of big-money, industry-sustaining books are incontrovertibly dum-dum things. More cynical, more pandering than any other entertainment product. Calling them books may be a substantial part of the problem with the book business -- it provides undeserved and unfair dignity (perhaps there should be a way to certify something as an actual book).
       And he might not be far off track when he notes:
Indeed, among the people in book publishing today, there may be a telling and important disconnect that has occurred between writing and books. That is, writing is not the point -- books are.
       Wolff also makes an interesting point about the background of many publishing executives (Godoff and replacement Gina Centrello in particular), suggesting that literary passion isn't what got them into publishing (or into the positions they now hold). (It's fun to look back on Robert Kolker's Godoff-profile (New York, 26 March 2001) from happier Random days, where we learn that she "supported herself as a writer for Dr. Joyce Brothers's TV show, as a producer of TV commercials, and as a saleswoman, hawking Oldsmobiles at a West Side dealership" before breaking into the publishing biz.)
       (Wolff also mentions the contrasting images of Godoff and Centrello, both in how they are described in the press, as well as the pictures of them that were used in press stories. Indeed, in the widely circulated AP photograph of Centrello she looks just like what one would expect a corporate executive to look like, while the three different Librado Romero snaps of Godoff (in the 17, 18, and 20 January issues of The New York Times) ... well, there are just no nice words one could possibly have about them. Not that it should matter (only the books should matter) -- but somehow we're guessing it does.)
       So Wolff asks:
What if, by its very nature, book publishing is self-selecting exactly the wrong people -- like the priesthood or certain police departments ? What if the book business reinforces its own failings by hiring failures ?
       Sounds like a viable theory. Obviously, there are many people in publishing who are doing the right thing(s), and publishing and promoting worthy books. But overall, the industry looks swamped by those who flog books-as-blockbusters, or books-as-must-have-accessory, something to be seen with rather that something to be read.

       André Schiffrin's article is of particular interest, because he was at Random House some fourteen years ago, when there was a somewhat similar shake-up there (Robert Bernstein was fired and replaced by Alberto Vitale (which eventually also led to Schiffrin -- then head of Pantheon -- and Random parting ways)). (He also wrote a book, about The Business of Books (see our review).) Schiffrin offers a decent summary of the Godoff-events and the reactions to them (noting the irony of Alberto Vitale ("who began this process") being quoted as saying he was "shocked and horrified" by Godoff's ouster).
       Schiffrin's main beef is of course with the consequences of commercialization (as he sees it) in publishing. As he likes to note:
Faced with the new commercial pressures (...) a new policy of spending ever-larger amounts for advances was instigated. But by 1999 it was clear that this policy had been a dismal failure; Random House had an operating profit of one-tenth of 1 percent that year. The firm was then sold to Bertelsmann
       The mega-advance policy does, indeed, look to clearly have been (and to be) a "dismal failure" -- but if that was known to be the root of RH's woes then it's unclear why it continued (and continues). Indeed, Schiffrin even argues that once Bertelsmann took over there were yet more financial pressures -- which:
explains why Godoff and her colleagues were pressed to gamble on increasingly high advances in the hopes the necessary bestsellers could be delivered.
       We don't understand why a policy that clearly was a dismal failure under one regime should suddenly be successful under another -- unless it really is simply that gambling instinct (rather than any business sense).
       Godoff clearly did play along in this bidding game. Her Random House Trade Group is widely reported to have placed more bestsellers (12) on the hardcover list than any other house in the company -- and also came in four million dollars short of her group's target of six million dollars profit. Among the places where the money went: Charles Frazier picked up about eight million dollars (for an as yet unfinished book) and Peter Straub and Stephen King took an advance of ten million for Black House, a huge money-loser. (The exact numbers aren't available, but one imagines that if the Straub/King book were wiped from the slate Random House Trade Group would have had a really good year.)

       In almost all the coverage, Godoff is portrayed as the more literary type, concerned about quality rather than high-volume schlock. Many of the books she's responsible for suggests that's not entirely accurate. Interestingly, her failure at Random House apparently wasn't considered that by Penguin, which promptly hired her. It'll be interesting to see whether she will continue to have to play along in the buy-bestsellers-at-all-costs game she got involved in at Random House (something she apparently wasn't all that good at), or whether she'll be allowed to concentrate on higher quality stuff (books which are less likely to be the break-out blockbusters that bring in the really big books).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The New Criterion: Thomas Bernhard and Aldous Huxley

       The February issue of The New Criterion has a review of Gitta Honegger's Thomas Bernhard-book (see also our review), Eric Ormsby writing about The scabrous lyricism of Thomas Bernhard

       Also of interest, in the same issue: John Derbyshire wonders: What happened to Aldous Huxley, now that the sixth volume of his collected essays has been published (by Ivan R. Dee). (Don't forget those Huxley novels too -- a number of which have been re-published by the Dalkey Archive Press.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 February 2003 - Monday

Midnight's Children - the play | Dirda on Fara | Tyler Cowen's Creative Destruction
The Winter's Tale in Iran | The Nibbies | Murakami story

       Midnight's Children - the play

       The Royal Shakespeare Company production of the stage-adaptation of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children is now playing in London (through 23 February) -- after which it will tour England, then come to the US (Michigan and New York); see this press release for the schedule.
       Reviews have been mixed, with pretty much a consensus that it sticks too closely to the book and doesn't take enough risks.
       Selected review-quotes (and links to the reviews):
It shadows the novel too closely and crams in too much: towards the end, mighty events whizz across the stage as rapidly and confusingly as pop-up ducks in a shooting gallery. More free-wheeling, more weirdness would bring the spirit of the original nearer. - Susannah Clapp, The Observer, 2 February

But you never quite forget that you are watching a book rather than a play. Novels and stage dramas have different priorities, different timescales, and on stage Rushdie's epic seems cramped and diminished. - Charles Spencer, Telegraph, 31 January

For all its energy and attack, the production is deficient in true dramatic dynamism. - Paul Taylor, The Independent, 30 January

They retain too much of the original. They also ditch too much. Theirs is a bold, lively effort, but, more than any stage adaptation I know, it leaves you hankering for the page. Benedict Nightingale, The Times, 30 January
       Other links of possible interest:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Michael Dirda on Patricia Fara's Newton

       The book is "shoddy, ill-organized, repetitive, shallow, droningly dull". There's a fill of "fuzzy triteness". In reviewing it Michael Dirda has to ask, "Where to start with the infelicities and irritants? Should it be the ungrammatical syntax ?"
       The book in question ? Patricia Fara's Newton: The Making of Genius (see also our -- considerably more generous -- review). The review ? Michael Dirda's, in yesterday's Washington Post Book World.
       We haven't come across a book-rip like this for a while. He really didn't like this book: "But there's no excuse for sounding like an idiot, or as if one were writing for idiots." And so on, and so on.
       Dirda has quite a few valid points -- especially re. the rough editing ("consider the constant repetition, as if one were reading unedited draft material"). (We didn't note anywhere near as much as he did, but did mention that Fara, for example, claimed Goethe wrote his Werther in 1744 -- which seems a bit unlikely, seeing as he was only born in 1749 .....) We thought that, despite all these faults, the book still made for a decent introduction to how Newton has been perceived across the centuries. But Dirda finds practically no redeeming features here.
       (For the record, Fara acknowledges many helpful hands but mentions only one editor (at Macmillan): Anya Serota ("who made many extremely helpful suggestions"). We have little idea who she is, beyond having learned from this report by the Literator (13 December 2002, The Independent) that she has since moved on: "Anya, daughter of Tate director Sir Nicholas, will relaunch the fiction list at the venerable John Murray, now part of Hodder Headline." It's sort of nice that an editor can move so smoothly from non-fiction (as Fara's book is) to heading a fiction list. Of course, it's also sort of disturbing -- but in the contemporary publishing world the differences between the two fields are apparently insignificant.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Tyler Cowen's Creative Destruction

       The newest addition to the complete review is our review of Creative Destruction, his look at How Globalization Is Changing the World's Cultures.
       Readers should, of course, remember where Cowen is coming from -- he is, after all, general director and chairman of the board of the Mercatus Center, "the premier university source for market-based ideas".
       Of particular interest, among the few reviews available so far, is Benjamin R. Barber's in yesterday's issue of The Los Angeles Times -- coming, as it does, from a somewhat different camp.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Winter's Tale in Iran

       Of some interest, as an example of cross-cultural exchange: the recent guest-production of The Winter's Tale in Iran. Articles of interest include Curtain up, veils down (The Guardian, 22 January) and director Dominic Hill's own account (The Guardian, 29 January).
       Interesting to compare with A.C.H.Smith's three decades-old account of Orghast at Persepolis (see our review).

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       The Nibbies

       Anything that gets books attention is a good thing, we repeat to ourselves. Anything that gets books attention .....
       So anyway: there's this thing called the British Book Awards. Which are popularly known as "the Nibbies" (please -- please ! -- no one tell us why). And the finalists have been announced. Read all about it ("The Biggest Event in the Book Trade Year") at the British Book Awards site -- or see the press coverage, in this article from today's issue of The Independent (or this one from The Guardian).

       No comment: we just repeat: Anything that gets books attention is a good thing.

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       Murakami Haruki story in The New Yorker

       This week's issue of The New Yorker includes a story by Murakami Haruki, available online: Ice Man. (Note that it isn't translated by one of the usual Murakami-translators -- Jay Rubin or Alfred Birnbaum -- but by a Richard L. Peterson.)

       (For additional Murakami information, see of course our Murakami Haruki page.)

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1 February 2003 - Saturday

British don't love culture ? | Bring back the editors ! | New crQ

       British don't love culture -- or show their writers proper respect

       Tessa Jowell, minister in charge of British culture, caused a bit of a fuss by raving about how much Germans care for culture, and complaining how little the British do, writing about Die Leidenschaft der Deutschen in Der Tagesspiegel (28 January). See also an English-language report in the Daily Telegraph (29 January) by Kate Connolly and David Millward: Britons lack German love of culture, says Jowell -- as well as a response by Ross Clark in the 30 January issue of The Times, pointing out: The German don't have the best tunes - they just have the best subsidies.

       Vaguely related: Fiachra Gibbons writes in the 30 January issue of The Guardian that Ben Okri has harsh words for Britain .
       Okri is worried about how little respect authors are accorded. Revered, they should be ! Apparently. Among his suggestions:
Okri, in an article for the Royal Society of Literature magazine, said rivers, roads, parks and squares should be renamed in honour of writers who have "enriched the world", and a Literature House built to house the society and the authors' group PEN.
       A Literature House ? Well, why not ? But naming "rivers, roads, parks and squares" after authors ?
       Question: How many people driving down, say, William Makepeace Thackeray Boulevard will suddenly say: "Hey, this guy has a boulevard named after him -- I gotta read his books !"
       The way to honour writers is surely to show they are still relevant -- and naming squares after them is more likely just to convince people they're anything but. The thing to do, of course, is to get people to read their books. Not quite as easy as naming a park after them, but ultimately surely better for everybody involved.
       It's sort of nice to see how serious Okri takes all this:
"There is no mystery about the decline of nations," he added. "It begins with the decline of its writers. And its first symptom is in the failure of a nation to honour and celebrate its writers."
       On the other hand it sounds like here's a guy whose publisher maybe forgot to call and congratulate him on his birthday.
       We are a bit bothered by this call for a cult of the personality and artist (honour and celebrate your writers !). It's the works that count, after all.
       But at least that whole reason for why nations decline has now been cleared up. (Someone takes themselves pretty seriously, don't they ? Or rather: someone makes it pretty hard for others to take him seriously.)

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       Bring back the editors !

       A brief item in today's issue of The Independent, the Literator reporting:
In Publishing News, Joanna Trollope posits that the coming of the author-as-celebrity has caused an unhealthy shift in power, with editors not allowed, or lacking courage, "to take a scalpel to the sacred work".
       Trollope calls for a return of some real, hands-on editing. What a concept !
       We'd be thrilled -- but we're not holding our breath.

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       New crQ

       The February 2003 issue of the complete review Quarterly is now available.
       Not much on offer this time, just two longer pieces: our annual State of the Site-survey, as well as Epistolary Fictions (about Gabe Hudson not writing to the President).

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