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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 9 August

1 August: Freud translations | Moby hiatus
2 August: Paul Theroux interviews | Reading by men (and women) | Fake first chapter
4 August: More French-Chinese fiction | Used used bookstore article | Harry Potter criticism
5 August: Killer-driver "confession" | More used bookstore news | Literary possibilities
6 August: Yakuza-novel review | Prison reading for Mr. Waksal | Tibor Fischer isn't impressed by the new Amis
7 August: Edinburgh Int'l Book Festival | Chicago Style | Miscellaneous Schott | Guardian praise
8 August: Romanian Celan | Bulwer-Lytton defence | Dyer on Platform
9 August: Parochial publishing | More and less book reviews | 'Study' guides | Book piracy ? | Age shortlist

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9 August 2003 - Saturday

Parochial publishing | More and less book reviews | 'Study' guides
Book piracy ? | Age shortlist

       Parochial publishing

       It's hardly news, but we still like it when people make a fuss about it: "Publishing in this country is incredibly parochial" says Edinburgh International Book Festival director Catherine Lockerbie -- at least that's what Paul Kelbie reports in today's issue of The Independent. (She's talking about the UK; one wonders how she'd react to the far sadder state of affairs in the US.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More and less book reviews

       As Bookslut noted, the book reviews at The Los Angeles Times are now no longer freely accessible to any and all comers. One more good source of reviews that we no longer have access to -- and can't send you to. We're very disappointed. (The Times also appears to have now walled off its book review coverage from commoners like us .....)

       At least others are trying to fill the voids (and more): a new site of possible interest is the Book Review Forum. It's another one of those sites that invites outside reviews and reviewers. Their goal is: "to build the largest collection of book reviews on the internet", which is certainly a worthy ambition (though we hope there's some quality-control somewhere in the system too).
       It's too early to tell whether this will work (or last), but we always like it when there are more reviews available across the Internet (and we do hope some of the reviews posted there will be new ones, and not merely reviews already found elsewhere).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       'Study' guides

       At OpinionJournal Cliff Bowman looks at what are apparently the new CliffsNotes-competition, in Murder Most Foul.
       These book-substitutes are basically crib-notes for people (mainly students) who are too lazy to actually read a real book (and, presumably, don't have access to the comic book or movie version). The old standards -- CliffsNotes -- are apparently now being challenged by the Barnes & Nobles-owned SparkNotes (which are apparently "Smarter Better Faster" -- huh ? 'faster' ?).
       Bowman notes:
SparkNotes is also hoping to gain an advantage over its older rival by a frank appeal to intellectual snobbery. Instead of being written by second-rank academic specialists, the "smarter better faster" SparkNotes are "created by Harvard students." "This is not by some guy who got an M.A. from the University of Nebraska," says Harvard alumnus Justin Kestler
       (Pseudo-)intellectual snobbery -- gotta love that !
       The piece is worth reading for the SparkNotes version of the famous Hamlet-soliloquy alone.

       We have no respect for anyone who has anything to do with any of these study-guides or book-substitutes or crib-notes or whatever you want to call this trash. Steer clear !
       (Barnes & Noble's part in this should be noted: they continue to strive to undermine the sale of real books wherever possible -- focussing as they do on publishing out-of-copyright classics (no payouts to those pesky authors) and now this junk.)

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       Book piracy ?

       It will obviously become an issue in the coming years, but as Joy Press notes in Steal This Book (at Slate) book-piracy isn't a major concern yet.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Age shortlist

       The shortlist for the 30th The Age Book of the Year awards is now available.
       (Interesting, in part, from an American and even British perspective: how distant the antipodes remain: almost none of these titles have washed up on either side of the Atlantic yet.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 August 2003 - Friday

Romanian Celan | Bulwer-Lytton defence | Dyer on Platform

       Romanian Celan

       We recently requested a copy of the newly published translation of Arno Schmidt's Radio Dialogs II from Green Integer. They were kind enough to send us a copy (review forthcoming) and even tossed in a few additional new titles of theirs -- including Paul Celan's Romanian Poems. We were, of course, thrilled -- and now have that volume under review.
       Celan is certainly among the greatest 20th century German-language poets (along with Rilke and Brecht, in our opinion) but he also went through a Romanian phase which few people take note of. This volume fills an important gap in his oeuvre -- and might also help interest more readers in the oft-overlooked and very underestimated other mid-century Romanian literary doings (not to everyone's taste, admittedly, but if you're willing to consider something avant garde, there's probably a Romanian author or two who'd interest you).

       In addition, we just have to say again what a thrill it is to hold a Green Integer book. Yeah, there are a few too many typographical slips, but otherwise this, like all their volumes (except the oversized EL-E-PHANT series -- but they have other things going for them), is a pleasure to hold and behold. Properly sized paperbacks -- little handfuls -- with an elegant, uniform design, they're marvelous.
       Add to that that where necessary -- such as here -- the editions are bilingual -- well, what more could you ask for ? (And how can one not like a publishing house that describes itself as offering "Pataphysics and Pedantry" and whose motto promises: "(...) all such ephemera as may appear necessary to bring society into a slight tremolo of confusion and fright at least" ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bulwer-Lytton defence

       We've previously acknowledged some weakness for the works of Edward Bulwer-Lytton here. He is now most famous for having a bad-writing contest named after him, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest ("a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels").
       In his 25 July NB column in the TLS "J.C." notes that the winner of this year's award: "is self-consciously parodying bad writing (and going over the top) but why bother, when there is so much of the real thing around ?" He offers some (convincing) examples, and concludes:
The organizers of the Bulwer-Lytton contest ought to realize the game is up, and drop the parody lark.
       In a letter printed in the 1 August TLS Michael Faber then suggests:
Yet there is another aspect of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest that warrants challenging: its derision of poor old Bulwer-Lytton himself, in particular the opening of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford (.....) By the standards of nineteenth-century prose, it is vigorous and direct.
       Faber goes on to note that part of the problem is the sentence has "so frequently been parodied that it can scarcely be taken seriously anymore" -- but does maintain that it certainly compares favourably to, say, the opening sentence of the prelude to Middlemarch.
       Hear, hear !
       (To read all of Paul Clifford, check out an online copy at Project Gutenberg.)

       (As mentioned above, we've just gotten our hands on the newly published translation of Arno Schmidt's Radio Dialogs II. Among the highlights: his dialogue on ... Edward Bulwer-Lytton ! (Arno Schmidt on Edward Bulwer-Lytton -- my god, could you even ask for anything better than that ?)
       Don't worry; we will review the Schmidt soon !
       And now we've received a copy of Leslie Mitchell's new Bulwer-Lytton-review in today's mail -- could life get any better ? It's like Christmas !)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Dyer on Platform

       The reviews keep coming in for beloved-hated Michel Houellebecq's Platform (see our review for all the summaries and links we've come across).
       One new addition worth mentioning: Geoff Dyer (whose writing is always of some interest) weighs in, in this week's issue of the LA Weekly.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 August 2003 - Thursday

Edinburgh Int'l Book Festival | Chicago Style
Miscellaneous Schott | Guardian praise

       Edinburgh International Book Festival

       The Edinburgh International Book Festival -- not to be confused with the Edinburgh International Festival (10 - 30 August) -- runs 9 to 25 August, and offers an impressive programme of events (see their official site).
       They certainly don't undersell themselves:
The friendliest and the funniest, the brightest and the best, the most relaxing and the most exhilarating, the Book Festival is a vibrant meeting place where people of all ages come face to face with some of the greatest writers and thinkers on the planet.
       And on the programme page director Catherine Lockerbie assures:
If you like to talk, think, laugh and explore, then the Edinburgh International Book Festival is for you. If you have ideas, opinions, things you want to say; or if you like listening, relaxing, letting words work their magic on your mind -- then the Edinburgh International Book Festival is for you.
       Interestingly, no mention is made of people who might like to read (which we like to think -- mistakenly, it often turns out -- is something people might occasionally like to do with books).
       But it is a very impressive programme, with hundreds of authors whose names even we recognise. (See, for example, Michelle Pauli's round-up of the "literary highlights" in All points North (The Guardian, 4 August).)

       Apparently it's not all going to be literary fun (so the hope, apparently), as Liam McDougall reports in the 3 August Sunday Herald:
The Edinburgh International Book Festival is to be used as a platform to accuse the US of double standards over its failure to deal with the increasingly desperate situation in Liberia.
       Apparently Aidan Hartley promises to "launch a bitter attack on President George W Bush’s administration". Compare, however, how this is presented at the EIBF-site, where it's featured in a Stop Press: New in Programme press release (curiously dated 30 August 2003), where readers are informed:
Brilliant young war reporter AIDAN HARTLEY writes passionately of love, family history and death in Africa in his hugely acclaimed memoir The Zanzibar Chest. He will give a special event on Saturday 9 August at 4pm. An unmissable chance for startling insight into the frontline of war and emotion.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Chicago Style

       One of the frustrations of operating a website on a shoestring-budget (as we do) is that we can't afford much editorial oversight -- everyone functions as copy-editor (as opposed to having someone competent dedicated solely to that task), with predictable results. The fact that grammatical and stylistic standards are woefully low across much of the Internet doesn't make us feel much better about our own lapses -- though, of course, any serious editor wouldn't stand for our constant parenthetical asides, so perhaps it is better there's no one watching over us.
       Still, we probably should get our hands on the new, fifteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (if only to have something to fling at each other when we disagree about proper usage). It's been getting a fair amount of attention: see Fatal Agreement by Gary Lutz at Slate and Manual Labors by Jorge Morales in this week's issue of The Village Voice. "J.C." also mentions it in his NB-column in the 1 August TLS (and looks back on the first edition, where the helpful hints apparently included: "pages should be numbered consecutively"). (There's also a big piece on it in today's issue of The New York Times (by Dinitia Smith).)
       See also the official Chicago Manual of Style-site -- or buy your own copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Miscellaneous Schott

       Ben Schott's Original Miscellany was all the rage in the UK when it came out last winter, and now it's available in the US. (We keep meaning to ask Bloomsbury USA for a copy, and keep forgetting -- but we will eventually review it, we imagine.)
       Reactions in the US seem to be of the same "I can't get enough of it"-sort (Richard Nilsen in The Arizona Republic).

       For additional information, see:
  • Schott's Miscellanies -- the official miscellanea site (since Schott has done more than merely be original)
  • Uncommon Knowledge -- Jessica Winter talks with Schott (about this and that) in this week's issue of The Village Voice
  • The bare facts -- Stuart Jeffries' look at the phenomenon and success of the book in the UK (The Guardian, 6 December 2002)
       If you want your own copy, get it at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Guardian praise

       We're honoured to have been mentioned on The Guardian's Weblog-page -- where we're the 6 August Blog pick: "A mighty fine literary weblog for bookish bloggers" they say about us.
       We hope the few new users who found their way to the site via that link find something of interest at our Literary Saloon; we're pleased to have you here.

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6 August 2003 - Wednesday

Yakuza-novel review | Prison reading for Mr. Waksal
Tibor Fischer isn't impressed by the new Amis

       Yakuza-novel review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Kitakata Kenzo's Ashes.
       It's another recent publication from Vertical, the new publishing house devoted to making more contemporary Japanese writing accessible to English-reading audiences. It's the third book of theirs we've reviewed -- and we can't help but notice that all three were first published in 1990 and 1991. At least one of their fall titles is of more recent vintage (Taguchi Randy's Outlet, which we expect to review fairly soon), but overall the focus seems slightly behind the times. Still, one can hardly complain, given how little one finds being translated from the Japanese otherwise.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Prison reading for Mr. Waksal

       Rebecca Mead offers an amusing Talk of the Town piece in this week's issue of The New Yorker, Throw the Books at Him. She discusses the Wish List of disgraced and now imprisoned ImClone founder (and inside trader and Martha Stuart buddy) Sam Waksal -- sent away for seven plus years (albeit only to the cushy Schuylkill resort-prison).
       It's an amusing piece. For those who want to see what items have been purchased for him, see this list. As to the few items that haven't been bought for him (presumably only because they're unavailable), see this list.
       We admit we are a bit confused why Mr. Waksal, even in his disgrace, needs a Wish List -- surely he can still afford to buy whatever books he needs or wants, and then some. Even more amazing to us is that he has friends who will spend their money to please him in this way (though we suppose it's a nice token in exchange for, say, some insider information).

       We take this opportunity to remind readers that we too have a smattering of an Amazon wishlist. And to point out that no one has ever bought anything off of it for us. That's okay -- Mr. Waksal obviously has wealthier and more devoted friends (or at least ones that owe him more). Still, we do hope that when we too get sent to prison (also for insider trading, we hope -- we understand that that is where the big money is) that someone will be moved enough (or have been paid off enough with a tip from us) to purchase some reading material for us.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Tibor Fischer isn't impressed by the new Amis

       There's an amusing piece by Tibor Fischer in the Daily Telegraph, Someone needs to have a word with Amis. Fischer got a copy of Martin Amis' forthcoming novel, Yellow Dog, -- but it came with "an embargo letter that demands that no part of the book be disclosed or reproduced in any form". So he can't tell us much about it. (For some information, see the Amis-"interview" at The Bookseller we've previously linked to -- or pre-order the embargoed text at or
       Fischer is not impressed ("Yellow Dog isn't bad as in not very good or slightly disappointing."), and notes:
The way British publishing works is that you go from not being published no matter how good you are, to being published no matter how bad you are.
       Fischer's own new novel, Voyage to the End of the Room (echoing, we assume, Xavier de Maistre's Voyage around my Room) is appearing the same day (in the UK). We only learnt about Fischer's long-awaited new title a few days ago and are thrilled (really, really thrilled -- practically pissing ourselves thrilled) that Chatto & Windus is sending us a copy (it's only coming out in the US in early 2004, a wait we probably wouldn't be able to endure). We have three titles by Fischer under review and while we're fairly curious about the new Amis (five titles under review) we can barely contain ourselves re. the new Fischer. (For those who are as eager to get their hands on it as we were, you can pre-order it from or
       (Interestingly, our reviews of neither of these two authors are particularly popular -- indeed even our review of Xavier de Maistre's Voyage around my Room gets more page views than any of the reviews of their titles.)

       (Note that Splinters also picked up on this story (see their comment) -- and one can follow back a trail of blogs that have linked to it from there.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 August 2003 - Tuesday

Killer-driver "confession" | More used bookstore news | Literary possibilities

       Killer-driver "confession"

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Thomas Munch-Petersen's Confessions of an Accidental Killer, Fatal Error.
       The circumstances Munch-Petersen describes actually got a fair amount of press coverage at the time of the trial. It's not much of a confession (there's no doubt he did it, after all -- the incident was even captured on video-tape) and we found him to be using the term "accidental" pretty loosely, but it's certainly of some interest -- and Munch-Petersen's (apparently widely-shared) attitude led us to pen one of our longer reviews (4000 words). To say we're not quite on the same page as the author is putting it fairly mildly .....
       Fairly typical of the reactions to the events he describes: the warped description of a BBC Life etc programme (scroll down) on which he appeared, where the questions at issue were deemed to be: "How do you live with that sort of guilt and is jail really the answer for a second’s distraction which thousands of drivers are guilty of every day ?" (Presumably there was some mention along the way of the slaughter of three innocents, but it was clearly only a secondary consideration.) Note also that it was 1.96 seconds, that it was not distraction but rather willful preoccupation with matters other than driving (despite sitting in the driver's seat and zipping along at 70 mph), and that the jail-time served by Munch-Petersen was all of forty-five days. (Note also that we infer when they wonder: "is jail really the answer" they are not considering alternatives such as the gallows, but rather suggesting this might be the sort of thing for which one shouldn't be imprisoned at all.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More used bookstore news

       Malcolm Jones writes about Secondhand Prose in this week's Newsweek, about the used bookselling scene, both on the Internet and off.
       We're not so sure about the "spurt in the number of used-book stores" he mentions -- there has certainly be a decrease in the number found in our neighbourhoods (and, indeed, any neighbourhoods we visit), though possibly there are more Internet-based outlets.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literary possibilities

       We're written-text folk, with considerably less interest in readings, literary recordings, and the like; still, these seem to enjoy considerable popularity. At the Contemporary Poetry Review Ernest Hilbert offers a decent overview of The Sound of the Future An Introduction to the Uses of Voice Recording in New Electronic Formats.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 August 2003 - Monday

More French-Chinese fiction | Used used bookstore article | Harry Potter criticism

       More French-Chinese fiction

       Yet another title by a Chinese author writing in French: the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Shan Sa's The Girl who Played Go. (It's already available in the UK, and Knopf is bringing it out in the US in October.)
       Like the chess-novel, the go-novel is a fairly popular idea, the most famous example probably being Kawabata Yasunari's The Master of Go. Shan Sa's very popular (in France) novel doesn't fully utilize the possibilities the genre affords -- but that has the advantage that readers don't have to know anything about how the game is played. But we'd really like to read a novel that proceeded chapter by chapter like the moves in a game of go.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Used used bookstore article

       Early-August: apparently a tough season to fill the pages of even the biggest newspapers. Yesterday's issue of The Age acknowledges that Richard Rayner's article, The old bookshop's new site, was previously published in The New York Times Magazine -- but they fail to mention that it appeared there 14 months ago (9 June 2002).
       We're glad it's available at The Age site (since we won't link to the obscenely registration-requiring The New York Times) -- it is a fairly interesting piece. But why did it take so long to print it there ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Harry Potter criticism

       Yesterday's issue of The Age also has at least one more-recently written article, as Jane Sullivan looks at Harry Potter and the ardour of the critiques, noting that:
Still, the Harry Potter backlash is gathering force -- and in its turn, it's provoking a backlash against the backlash, from staunch Rowling fans.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

2 August 2003 - Saturday

Paul Theroux interviews | Reading by men (and women) | Fake first chapter

       Paul Theroux interviews

       His Dark Star Safari is coming out in paperback in the UK (and he recently came out with another book), so Paul Theroux puts up with some newspaper questioning -- Kate Church gets him to talk about My London in yesterday's issue of the Evening Standard, while a few months back Emma Brockes got him to explain that 'Travel is nasty' (The Guardian, 9 June).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Reading by men (and women)

       Bella Bathurst notes that men tend to read books by men and avoid those by women (while women seem to be a bit more open to books by authors of the opposite sex) in One for the boys in yesterday's issue of The Guardian. She points out that: "Of the 56 books suggested by the male celebs in the Observer's most recent summer reading guide, only six were by women".
       It's a problem we have to contend with in part too (and have addressed in our crQ-piece, How Sexist are We ?) -- though our problem isn't so much with the (fairly evenly divided) readers but simply the authors, who continue to be overwhelmingly male. Though with three of our last ten reviewed titles by women (albeit one of them a sex-changed one) we're actually doing better than usual .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Fake first chapter

       We recently mentioned Peter Carey's forthcoming My Life as a Fake. The first chapter is now available at the Sydney Morning Herald

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

1 August 2003 - Friday

Freud translations | Moby hiatus

       Freud translations

       It was less than a year ago that discussion of the new Proust translation was all the rage (see our previous mention) -- funny how quickly that died down. (When was the last time anyone even mentioned it ? Other than a few intrepid critics people apparently were quickly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the volumes and couldn't be bothered.)
       The translation currently getting a lot of US-attention is the new Freud, edited by Adam Phillips, the first four volumes of which have now appeared in the Penguin Classics series. (We're always excited when there's translation discussion going on, but we can't help but wonder how long this will last. We also find it a bit curious that the most heated translation debates of recent times (Proust and Freud) revolve around re-translations.)
       Apparently the focus is now on the literary rather than the theoretical -- Freud as literature rather than science. (The German speakers among us, who never bothered with Freud in English, are, of course, baffled by the idea that there was a point when Freud wasn't literary -- but (as usual) what do we know ?)
       Recent pieces on the undertaking include Adam Kirsch's The Unreliable Superego at Slate yesterday (he finds: "Penguin Classics is treating Freud like the other great imaginative writers -- Flaubert, Tolstoy, and Melville -- in its series"), while A.C. Grayling already wondered: Scientist or storyteller ? in The Guardian a year ago (22 June 2002). Going further back there is Robert Boynton on The Other Freud (the Wild One) (The New York Times, 10 June 2000). And for those who can stomach publicity material, Lisa Appignanesi writes about Reading Freud in Penguin Modern Classics (finding: "This new Penguin Freud is a literary Freud to curl up with at night as a secret treat" -- a statement you can read any way you please).
       (Sorry -- we missed Translating Freud Again, "a day on The New Penguin Freud".)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Moby hiatus

       MobyLives warns on its site:
From 1 August until 2 September, MobyLives will be observing the book industry holiday known as August.
       We don't begrudge them a well-earned vacation, but we'll miss the useful links -- making for more work for us for these few weeks, since we won't get this stuff nicely served up to us as we are used to and will instead have to seek it out for ourselves.
       We'd like to vacation too but since we don't believe in the book industry we can't enjoy their holidays and so you'll continue to find posts here more or less daily (unless some nice person sends us off on a cruise or something). Not quite the publishing-heavy links MobyLives offers -- and probably a few too many rants about African dictators that you couldn't care less about -- but maybe a few things of semi-literary interest.

       (We of course have far less of a problem with MobyLives taking time off when and as they please than with the book industry lazing even more than usual. And, despite all that, publishers think they should be taken seriously !)

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