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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 November

21 November: National Book Awards | New Rev. of Contemp. Fiction ! | Cowley recommends books for Bush | The Spectator list, part 2
22 November: NBA ceremony online ! | Presidential reading | Manoly Lascaris | Hofmann on Eco
23 November: Updated links list | UK take on Peckish criticism | The Globe 100
24 November: Stavans on García Márquez's memoir | P.D.James review | The inescapable Dale Peck
25 November: Dubravka Ugresic | Nothomb's Antéchrista | CSMonitor books of the year
26 November: Punctuation book | More Big Read commentary
27 November: New H.C.Andersen translation | Fleur Jaeggy review | Updated statistics
28 November: Declining honours | Monsieur Ibrahim review
29 November: Australian successes in Germany | Literary tennis | Mulisch profile
30 November: Jiří Gruša to head PEN | Books in Japan | Philip Pullman profile | Giordano Bruno | Lire best book list

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30 November 2003 - Sunday

Jiří Gruša to head PEN | Books in Japan | Philip Pullman profile
Giordano Bruno | Lire best book list

       Jiří Gruša to head PEN

       Czech writer (and current Czech ambassador to Austria) Jiří Gruša (also often spelled Jiri Grusa) has been elected the new president of International P.E.N. at the 69th PEN-Congress in Mexico City. He succeeds Homero Aridjis, in what was apparently a fractious election. (Grusa ran unopposed, a fact about which there was apparently much controversy; the final vote was only 54 for, 7 against, with 12 abstaining.)
       Last we checked (22:00 GMT, 29.11) we found no English-language coverage (hey, it's just an authors' organisation -- i.e. silly and meaningless). Elsewhere the situation is better, and informative reports can be found, for example, in Ceske Noviny (in Czech), as well as Der Standard and Die Presse (German, both). Gruša has also scheduled a press conference for 5 December, 10:00, at the Presseclub Concordia in Vienna, where he is expected to elaborate on his plans and intentions.
       Gruša's best-known work (that's been translated into English) is The Questionnaire; see the Dalkey Archive Press (who else ?) publicity page. For a biographical and bibliographical overview, see Gruša's member-page at PEN-Austria.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Books in Japan

       In Japan to promote the translation of his book, The Business of Books (see our review), former New Press head André Schiffrin is impressed what by what he sees. In a good survey-article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he finds In Japan, Books Are Windows to the World (link first seen at Bookslut).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Philip Pullman profile

       Yet another Philip Pullman profile: Nicholas Tucker writes about Philip Pullman: The Daemon King in today's issue of the Independent on Sunday.
       Conveniently, Tucker has just published a Pullman-study, Darkness Visible. Inside the World of Philip Pullman, published by Wizard Books. See their publicity page, or get your own copy of the book at (and see also our review of Pullman's His Dark Materials).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Giordano Bruno

       There's an interesting article in yesterday's issue of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (sorry, German) about Giordano Bruno and the publication of his collected works. Due to his ... differences with the powers that were, many of his writings only came to light in the past century or so. The first scholarly collected edition was apparently a nine-volume bilingual edition published in France between 1993 and 2000, edited by Nuccio Ordine. (Get volume 1 from and go on from there .....) And Meiner-Verlag is bringing out a German-language collected edition starting next year. No word on any English-language editions .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Lire best book list

       Well, at least it's ... international ? cosmopolitan ? There are a couple of books that were originally written in English that make the Lire list of Les 20 meilleurs livres de l'année (the twenty best books of the year) -- though they're not the ones we would have chosen. Still, it's interesting to see what made an impression overseas.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 September 2003 - Saturday

Australian successes in Germany | Literary tennis | Mulisch profile

       Australian successes in Germany

       Today's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald has a brief article by Susan Wyndham looking at the (somewhat surprising) success of some Australian writers in Germany -- first and foremost among them Lily Brett. Her novel Just Like That has apparently sold 100,000 copies in Germany -- a remarkable amount.
       Other success-stories: Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish apparently sold 30,000 copies -- but: "A beautiful, well-translated edition of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang sold fewer than 6000." (Sounds about right to us .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literary tennis

       In today's issue of The Age, Alan Attwood writes about Great game, lousy story, finding that tennis hasn't done too well in fiction. A decent look at sports and writing.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mulisch profile

       With the recent publication of the English translation of his novel Siegfried (see our review), the great Dutch author Harry Mulisch has been getting some much-deserved attention. David Horspool's profile, Mining the past, in today's issue of The Guardian, offers good background material and a decent overview of most of the work available in English (and some that's not) -- recommended.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 November 2003 - Friday

Declining honours | Monsieur Ibrahim review

       Declining honours

       A while back it was Amitav Ghosh pulling out of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, last week it was Hari Kunzru rejecting the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (because of its Mail on Sunday-affiliation -- see his explanation and this article from The Guardian). Now it's Benjamin Zephaniah who has (very publicly) turned down an OBE.
       His explanation -- 'Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought' -- can be found in yesterday's issue of The Guardian.
       Coverage can also be found in:        (Another author -- one of this year's most successful -- did show up at Buckingham Palace to accept an OBE: David Beckham.)
       For additional information about what the Order of the British Empire is, see information here. And see also this BBC report which notes that the whole enterprise isn't on the soundest footing:
That was certainly the conclusion of Sir Richard Wilson, who was asked by Tony Blair to look into the way honours are distributed in the UK. In a confidential report handed to ministers before the 2001 general election, the then Cabinet Secretary condemned the whole structure as deeply out of touch.
       We're all for authors (and others) being principled and whatnot (and find most awards and honours far too arbitrary and silly to take very seriously anyway), but we note that these actions have worked out extremely well for these authors, publicity-wise. Each got some space in The Guardian to have their say. (Would The Guardian have printed their comments if they hadn't walked away from the honours ?) And OBE-coverage has focussed almost entirely on Beckham and Zephaniah (though surely a few more were handed out), and while few likely recall last year's John Llewellyn Rhys Prize-winner (or the winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize Ghosh was up for) Kunzru's (and Ghosh's) actions likely will stick in more minds.
       Well, it's mainly for good causes -- down with inflammatory anti-immigration press coverage ! down with empire ! -- so it can't be all bad .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Monsieur Ibrahim review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran -- just in time for the release of the movie in the US (next week, as we understand it). The film has been getting positive notices, and Omar Sharif as Monsieur Ibrahim does sound like good casting.
       An English translation of the piece should be available in a few months (from Other Press, who seem to be specialising in contemporary French translations, especially of movie tie-ins).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 November 2003 - Thursday

New H.C.Andersen translation | Fleur Jaeggy review | Updated statistics

       New H.C.Andersen translation

       Adam Kirsch reviewed a new translation (by Jeffrey and Diana Crone Frank) of The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen in Slate yesterday. Seems the tales have been considerably twisted and mutilated previously (as happens with fairy tale translations and renditions), and this one is more firmly based on the originals.
       Kirsch notes:
They translate Andersen's Danish into idiomatic contemporary English, capturing his deliberate colloquialism. More strikingly, they provide each of the 22 stories with footnotes, demonstrating their roots in Andersen's own life. In many ways the book itself strains against their scholarship -- it is a luxurious, oversized volume, featuring 19th-century illustrations, obviously meant to be read to children at bedtime. In this setting, the Franks' introduction -- which by Page 4 is analyzing Andersen's masturbation habits -- seems oddly adult.
       Probably not something we'll get around to reviewing, but perhaps worth a look. See also the Houghton Mifflin publicity page, or get your own copy at (no UK edition yet, as far as we can tell).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Fleur Jaeggy review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Fleur Jaeggy's S. S. Proleterka, now available in English.

       (See also our previous mention, regarding the publisher's effort to sex up the idea of translation .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Updated statistics

       We've updated a few of our statistics-pages, taking into account the most recent batch of reviews, 1001 through 1100 (yeah, we're a bit late in doing so).
       Our grade-spread has narrowed even further -- not a single book graded A (much less A+) in the last hundred (and a whopping 45 graded B+).
       And we continue to wonder How sexist are we ? Not much of an improvement, but the nineteen books by women-authors raised the overall percentage from 13.15 to 13.68.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 November 2003 - Wednesday

Punctuation book | More Big Read commentary

       Punctuation book

       We'd skipped over previous mentions of this because of the odd title, but Oliver Pritchett's review in the Telegraph finally caught our attention. Eats, Shoots and Leaves is the title of Lynne Truss' book, but the sub-title -- The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation -- is what makes it sound tempting.
       Pritchett enthuses over this "celebration of punctuation", and believes:
Most of all, it makes you love punctuation; you want to conserve what is still left and perhaps even call for more of it.
       Nigel Williams previously reviewed it in The Observer (9 November) and was similarly impressed:
But this is more than a witty, elegant and passionate book that should be on every writer's shelf.
       Book-buyers (and apparently not just writers) seem convinced: when we last checked, it was the fourth most popular title at (get your own copy there). There's only limited information about the book available at publisher Profile Books, and there doesn't seem to be a US edition planned (yet), but we hope to eventually get our hands on a copy and offer our own review (and we could use the help: parentheses-obsessed, we definitely need to brush up on our punctuation).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More Big Read commentary

       Armando Ianucci's piece on the BBC's Big Read, You shouldn't judge people by the covers of the books they read is now finally available at the Telegraph site.
       A few good points, including:
The flaw in The Big Read is that it is scared of content. But the blame for this doesn't lie with television; it lies with those cultural guardians of ours who are hostile to television and who complain and yearn for a return to a golden age when worthiness was marked by dullness.
       Also his observation:
But then I suddenly realised how judgmental I'd become about what I chose to read in public. Was it not the snob in me that had recoiled at the thought of reading tat ? I wondered whether what we choose to read is to a large extent determined by how we anticipate others will respond to hearing that we've read it.
       Anyways: a fun thing to consider -- think of the Harry Potter-covers for the adult-editions, etc. etc. (Recall, also, Tibor Fischer's recent tat-reading nightmare -- "I was reading my copy on the Tube and I was terrified someone would look over my shoulder ...").

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 November 2003 - Tuesday

Dubravka Ugresic | Nothomb's Antéchrista | CSMonitor books of the year

       Dubravka Ugresic

       A great many weblogs have already linked to Joshua Glenn's brief interview with Literary grumbler Dubravka Ugresic in the Sunday issue of the Boston Globe. It seems to be the most attention she's gotten in a while, but she certainly deserves it.
       We're fans, of course, (see our Ugresic-page), and like her take on things -- and we certainly think more people should have a look at her new book, Thank You for Not Reading (see our review). And her other books, too.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Nothomb's Antéchrista

       We're finally caught up with our Amélie Nothomb coverage: the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of her new novel, Antéchrista.
       No English translation appears to be forthcoming at this time -- though note that reports that foreign rights have been sold for translations into Dutch, German, Greek, Korean, Polish, and Russian, among other languages.
       We understand publishing is a weird industry etc. etc. but somebody has to explain to us why Nothomb has an easier time selling the Greek or Korean rights to her novel than the English ones. It certainly doesn't make any sense to us.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Christian Science Monitor books of the year

       In today's issue of the Christian Science Monitor they list what they consider the five best works of fiction and of non-fiction of 2003.
       We only have one of the books under review, Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 November 2003 - Monday

Stavans on García Márquez's memoir | P.D.James review | The inescapable Dale Peck

       Stavans on García Márquez's memoir

       Ilan Stavans reviews Gabriel García Márquez's memoir, Living to Tell the Tale (see also our review ), in yesterday's Boston Globe.
       The most depressing quote from it:
I'm yet to meet a reader south of the border flabbergasted by this book. People bought it, but did they read it ? Unacquainted with universes beyond the one under their own nose, Americans, I fear, will find the book all the more tedious, thinking that what's left out of it is ... well, life itself. Gabo's catalog of relatives and associates will sound endless and foreign. A first printing of 400,000 copies by the US publisher might nevertheless pay off, as it did across the border: after all, Gabo is by now less a writer than an industry.
       Also noteworthy: the effusive praise for translator Edith Grossman:
Edith Grossman's translation only adds to the treat: Soft and intuitive, her version is so accomplished, so deliberately anti-ostentatious, it might actually read better than the original. (Grossman just published a new translation of Don Quixote that makes the Iberian classic feel almost Marquezian.)
       (Also, one more time: we find it completely inappropriate (and extremely annoying) that reviewers continue to refer to Señor García Márquez as "Gabo". For all we know, Stavans ("Ily" ?) may be bosom buddies with the author, and if he calls him that in private it's fine, but in writing for Boston Globe readers surely something slightly more respectful is called for (though he has a better excuse than most, since the Boston Globe site (at least in our browser) only manages to reproduce the author's last name as "Mrquez").)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       P.D.James review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of P.D.James' The Murder Room, just out in the US.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The inescapable Dale Peck

       Yesterday we mentioned Kate Kellaway's encounter with the Hatchet man (from yesterday's issue of The Observer ) In this week's issue of New York, in the Intelligencer-column Let's Review, he's among those (along with similarly qualified candidates, such as Jackie Collins) asked whether they would like to take over The New York Times Book Review (offering, as always, an elegant, measured response ("No. I would send back their letter with my own excrement on it", etc.)) (link first seen at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind). Yes, inexplicably Dale Peck is suddenly everywhere, trying desperately to make himself the talk of some town. (Apparently he also has a new book out, and maybe this is his way of trying to drum up attention for it.)
       Not freely available is yet another Peck-appearance -- and the only one that seems vaguely justifiable to us: an explanation of his critical ways in Hatchet Jobs, a piece he wrote that appears in this week's issue of The New Republic (1 December).
       We're almost lulled into sympathising with the axe-wielder: he shows passion for literature (that'll get us every time) and he has high standards (which we also approve of). But he doesn't win us over entirely: while he expresses himself far more reasonably and coherently than in the Atlas and Kellaway pieces (and the piece of New York drivel), his case isn't entirely convincing. And we have a few doubts about his sincerity.
       He writes, for example:
My hatred of contemporary literature has reached such a fever pitch that I am willing to be clownish in my depiction of it -- to spew obscenities in ostensibly literary contexts or to chop books to bits with a hatchet in the pages of respectable journals. I am less and less capable of intellectual engagement with contemporary fiction because I feel like I've been had when I do so: the very process of literary analysis legitimizes a body of work that I feel is unworthy of such attention.
       Yeah, sorry -- not entirely convincing (as apology, excuse, or explanation). Not least because: the books he chops up in the infamous Henry Leutwyler photos in the James Atlas profile in The New York Times Magazine (26 October) include tomes by Don DeLillo and John Barth (fair enough) but also Charles Dickens and William Faulkner (hardly contemporary, and, while they are certainly assailable, they surely can't be brought down by the same swing of the axe).
       Sure, there are fun quotes:
it seems to me that to summarize and to evaluate yet another of these shadow fictions is to miss the point. These novels are not bad. They just are not novels. They are not art. Real fiction does not "discover" truth, let alone present it to readers: real fiction invents and dispenses with truth as it sees fit. That's why it's called fiction.
It seems to me that there are two strains of literature currently in vogue, recherché postmodernism and recidivist realism, and both of them, in my opinion, stink.
       Peck tries to explain his "affinity for the hatchet job" -- and argues that "it all went wrong with James Joyce" (A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, specifically)

       Will it be a much-discussed piece ? It's current limited accessibility on the Internet probably means it won't get much blog-attention -- which is too bad.
       We'd like to consider it a bit more closely, but we really find it hard to take a guy seriously who suggests he might be willing to go to the trouble of collecting his own shit and proposes to then send that in response to a job offer .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 November 2003 - Sunday

Updated links list | UK take on Peckish criticism | The Globe 100

       Updated links list

       We've finally gotten around to a major overhaul of our annotated book review links page. We used to think that this would be the most popular page at the site, since it fairly conveniently provides links to a large number of book review sites (which is what we assumed people coming to the complete review were looking for), but it's never really caught on. (We're a bit surprised by this, given the deplorable condition of most book reviews links lists out there, none more embarrassing than Yahoo ! Directory Book Reviews, which continues to list -- topmost among the most popular sites, no less ! -- Neonlit, the former Time Out book review site that went belly-up about three years ago (a fact we've mentioned both on these pages and to Yahoo ! years ago, clearly to no avail). While it wouldn't surprise us to hear that Neonlit is more popular than our site is, we do humbly suggest the complete review is slightly more useful for those in search of actual book reviews -- and maybe even that our list of book review links is more useful than Yahoo's.)
       Beside adding a few more links we've also re-arranged the page: no longer are all English-language reviews indiscriminately included in one long, alphabetical list. Instead, we've divided them up (more or less) according to whether they are sites based on print media sources or entirely web-based. The print media sources are then divided into four categories, depending on how freely accessible material is (as well as, to some extent, quality and quantity). So now all the registration-requiring sites are all lumped together, and you'll know what you're getting yourself into before you click on the link. (Depressingly, there are only four stand-out, freely accessible sites (compared to the fourteen major publications that are essentially only accessible to those who register and/or pay).)
       The categories are also a bit arbitrary, and quality and quantity of reviews, as well as ease of use, varies tremendously. Still, we hope that this arrangement makes it easier for users to find reviews and review-sources. (There are some drawbacks to this arrangement, but we felt the pros outweighed the cons. Dissatisfied customers should, however, let us know.)
       Note that registration requirements vary greatly: at some sites one can register using entirely inaccurate data (including not providing a working e-mail) and they do not require cookies to be enabled. Others want extremely detailed information (and we continue to be baffled that people actually sign up with these sites -- as always, we strongly advise against it, and recommend that if you do register anywhere that you only provide wildly inaccurate information).
       It should also be noted that much of the archived material at many of the registration-requiring sites is officially only available on a pay-per-view or similar basis, but is, in fact, freely accessible if the URL is known. Google searches (and links to individual reviews found at the complete review) lead to older reviews at many of these sites .....

       The links to web-based review resources are divided into general and special interests, and cover most of the sites that would appear to be of interest to our users (and more -- we included a few romance-sites that we'd never use -- but we did draw the line at teen/YA/children's books, which are a whole separate can of worms).
       Sixty print-media sources and seventy-four web-based sources for English-language book reviews -- and that doesn't even include the complete review ..... We hope you can find the book reviews you need somewhere there.
       (Note that some excellent book review resources are not included on the links-page because these publications or sites do not provide a separate entry page for their book-coverage: we won't send people to any place that doesn't lead essentially directly to actual book-coverage.)

       We've also added a bit to the list of foreign language book reviews (there are 41 links now, the bulk of them French and German), but this is still an area of some weakness: there have to be more book review sections out there ! (We're particularly disappointed by the dearth of accessible Spanish-language coverage.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       UK take on Peckish criticism

       James Atlas profiled Dale Peck in The New York Times Magazine (26 October; see our previous mention), now Kate Kellaway has a talk with him in today's issue of The Observer. Thankfully, Hatchet man doesn't waste too much time on "the scourge of literary America" and goes on to cover reviewing a bit more generally, in particular looking at the British scene.
       Representative (of both Kellaway (she did print it) and Peck (he did say it), we fear) quote:
When I ask him to characterise the US reviewing scene, he cheers up: 'I am not sure if you can print this. But they are a bunch of pussies. They are back-scratchers, afraid for their own careers -- novelists reviewing their friends' works. It is very dishonest.'
       Oh, yeah, that Peck. What a way with words. What an astute analyst. What a masterful, cogent, obviously well-founded (look at all the examples he cites) summary dismissal. And how delightfully risqué !
       (Surely, the obvious put-down here would have been 'cocksuckers', not 'pussies', but presumably Peck's sexual orientation would have confused that point (we're just guessing here, but, if what we've read is true, it seems safe to assume that he's a fan of the former and doesn't have much interest in the latter).)

       Anyway, thankfully Kellaway also examines the UK literary scene (which is apparently not quite as easily dismissed and possibly includes several reviewers who are not 'pussies' -- though presumably that depends on who you ask).
       A few names are mentioned and discussed. Evening Standard literary editor David Sexton sensibly:
believes there is no ethical problem about such reviews. Reviews are for readers, he says. He thinks it is bordering on immoral to have the author's feelings in mind at all.
       Somewhat disturbing, however, is the conclusion, where Kellaway inquires: "Who are the critics' critics ?" Three of those questioned (Norman Lebrecht, Michael Billington, and Philip French) only name critics who are dead (i.e. don't have much to say about current goings-on).

       (By the way: Dale Peck as "the scourge of literary America" ? What are we missing ? Where are we living ? Why doesn't anyone tell us about these things ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Globe 100

       The Canadian newspaper, The Globe & Mail, offers their annual round-up, The Globe 100. Only books that were reviewed in their pages qualify, so it's sort of a best-of-the-last-twelve-months'-coverage list, in a variety of categories.
       They consider US fiction International Fiction -- which is at least good cover for the shameful fact that not a single of the nineteen books that make the best international fiction list was written in a language other than English. At least one of the Canadian fiction list was originally written in French; still: an impressive display of provincialism.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

22 November 2003 - Saturday

NBA ceremony online ! | Presidential reading | Manoly Lascaris | Hofmann on Eco

       NBA ceremony online !

       As we mentioned yesterday, the American National Book Awards' ceremony will be televised on cable, on Book TV (Sunday, 23 November, at 21:00 and Monday, 24 November, at 01:00).
       What we did not realise (and what the good folk from the Digital Reference Team at the Library of Congress made us aware of) is that this programme will be simulcast online -- and that it will then be archived at the site for two months, so you (and we !) can watch it at (y)our leisure. See here for more information.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Presidential reading

       We were complaining about American presidential a- and il-literacy yesterday -- and now President Clinton comes out with a list of 21 favourite books (see the AP story here, for example).
       Among the titles are two we have under review: Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost and Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. And there are a few other intriguing choices -- i.e. it's not as bland as one would expect from a politician. But we think he loses a lot of credibility by including his wife's Living History on the list .....

       (We were first made aware of this story by Terry Teachout's comments at About Last Night.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Manoly Lascaris

       Patrick White's longtime ... er, companion, Manoly Lascaris, recently passed away. See stories in the Sydney Morning Herald by Valerie Lawson on: Patrick White's 'mandala' dies at 91 and Patrick White's house may be a haven for writers.
       For additional information about one of the beneficiaries of White's will, the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association, see their official site.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hofmann on Eco

       Translator Michael Hofmann discusses Umberto Eco's essay on translation, Mouse or Rat ? in today's issue of The Guardian.
       Some decent translating-related commentary -- including the observation that
In the English-speaking world (ha!), there is very little empathy with translators. Most readers don't have any experience of translating, or indeed of another language at a serious level. Most authors and reviewers don't either. (...) Any European country, I think, would have dozens of equivalent figures who had offered translations.
       The result: "People don't know how to talk about it, and so they don't like to talk about it."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

21 November 2003 - Friday

National Book Awards | New Rev. of Contemp. Fiction !
Cowley recommends books for Bush | The Spectator list, part 2

       National Book Awards

       The American National Book Awards were handed out Wednesday, as has been widely reported. NBA judge Terry Teachout offers something (but not enough) of an insider account. For the prizewinners, see also the official National Book Awards site.

       Not so widely mentioned is the fact that those who missed it can catch it on cable television in the US (if you have it), on Book TV (Sunday, 23 November, at 21:00 and Monday, 24 November, at 01:00). See and record the Stephen King speech ! etc. etc.

       (We're looking forward to reading King's speech somewhere eventually. Many have, of course, already commented on the whole to-do (about him being honoured, about his speech, about Hazzard's response, etc.), but we'd like to add our two cents at some point too. As we are, however, essentially cable TV-less we won't be able to catch the Book TV presentation, and so we'll have to wait until it's black on white.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Review of Contemporary Fiction !

       More rejoicing ! Just recently the new issue of Context (number 14) was made available online, and now the marvellous Center for Book Culture also offers the new issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction -- Vol. XXIII, no. 3, devoted to Diane Williams/Aidan Higgins/Patricia Eakins.
       Okay, that's not quite the thrill of Context (which we're still working our way through), since almost none of it is available online -- but at least the most important part is: the book reviews !
       The RCF is one of the review-forums with which we tend to have the most overlap (i.e. we tend to review the same titles), so it's all the more surprising -- and pleasing -- to find that so far we've only reviewed one of the titles under review here, i.e. it's a page of wonderful possibility for us, as we learn about new books we might want to tackle (okay, we're familiar with some of the other titles too -- the Thomas Bernhard novellas, for example -- but still).
       (The one title we've both reviewed ? Arno Schmidt's Radio Dialogs II. See their review, and ours -- and get your hands on a copy of the book while you're at it.)

       And note that even if the rest of the contents of the issue are not available online, the Review of Contemporary Fiction is always worth purchasing and collecting.

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       Cowley recommends books for Bush

       The New Statesman has, unfortunately, been a relatively inaccessible site for quite a while. The headlines can be gleaned, but the articles are pay-per-view. Still, we look at what's in each week's issue, and we were intrigued a couple of days ago to see in the 17 November issue a piece titled American Fiction and billed as: "Jason Cowley suggests a reading list to help George Bush better understand his country"
       While we don't think reading necessarily makes someone a better person, or that appreciation of art makes for moral superiority, we do believe that reading can help shape the well-rounded mind. And we do find comfort in the willingness of those in power to pick up some fiction and perhaps find something of value in it. Former American president Clinton certainly did not have rarefied literary tastes, but at least he knew which way to open a book and was known to enjoy a novel every now and then; the current holder of that office -- an utterly a-literary being -- appears to have no intellectual curiosity of any sort, and apparently can't be bothered with fiction.
       We're apparently not the only ones that think that a good dose of some fiction (or just reading in general) could help the poor guy out, and so we were particularly interested in what Cowley might suggest -- and we've now actually gotten our hands on a copy of the piece.
       Cowley prefaces the list by wondering:
Does George Bush read fiction ? I doubt it, but he could do worse, when he returns home, than take a look at my personal selection of ten postwar American novels. He would then at least be on the way to better understanding his own country.
       The ten books are:
  • The Assistant, Bernard Malamud
  • Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Rabbit tetralogy, John Updike
  • The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
  • The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
  • Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow
  • White Noise, Don DeLillo
  • The Sportswriter, Richard Ford
  • The Virgin Suicides, Jeff Eugenides
  • American Pastoral, Philip Roth
       (Cowley also offers a brief description of each book.)
       The junior Bush certainly could do worse, and we'd be pleased if he picked up any of these titles -- but we think Cowley is on the wrong track here.
       We don't think the junior Bush would really benefit all that much from these particular titles. The very closed-minded president seems very secure in his worldview, and specifically his notion of what 'America' is. We're fairly sure he would have great difficulty with any text that doesn't validate the world as he sees it -- and most of these books don't. (It also seems to us that he probably can't even imagine 'understanding' America any better, and certainly feels no need to.) Part of the wonder of reading is, of course, that it can open new horizons, lead one to think -- or at least see things -- differently, and point out what one might have previously overlooked. Re. 'America' we're fairly sure Bush's mindset is so firm that these fictions couldn't help him understand it any better: he simply would not get it.
       (Cowley's choices are also interesting -- and less than ideal in any case -- because they suggest a sort of America-image that one might expect from a foreigner rather than a native.)
       We'd suggest that the president would be better off with fiction that is more daring and/or foreign. The world at large clearly baffles the man, and much of it is still a gaping void, a great (or, more likely -- to him --: an insignificant) unknown -- and so there's a possibility that his image of it can still be moulded, filled, and changed, its significance made palpable. Similarly, books that really stretch the imagination, that don't just offer a slice of America (which George jr. Bush might very likely find unpalatable (or simply incomprehensible), because it's not how he sees America) but that offer a radically different approach sound more promising in helping the president. Of course, this is a man who won't even read the newspapers any more (if he ever did), because, in best Soviet manner, he knows exactly what he wants to hear and wants to hear nothing else .....

       (Most of the articles at the New Statesman are inaccessible except to subscribers etc., but some book-coverage does slip though, and two of the freely accessible reviews from the 24 November issue are of books that are a bit closer to what we have in mind -- though not really what we'd pick for him at this time. Still, we'd think George jr. Bush could benefit quite a bit from reading, say, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's semi-fictional memoir Living to Tell the Tale (see Richard Gott's review -- and ours), presenting life lived totally differently than he likely can conceive of, and even Mario Vargas Llosa's new Gaugin-novel, The Way to Paradise (see Jonathan Heawood's review, and ours), might suggest to him the many things that move and motivate people, and what they aspire to (and what they'll go through in trying to reach it).)
       (Note that Heawood's Vargas Llosa-review is the first one we've come across that shared much of our disappointment re. Vargas Llosa's approach and handling of the material.)

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       The Spectator list, part 2

       Last week we mentioned part one of The Spectator's list of Christmas Books/books of the year, as chosen by their regular contributors. This week they print part two.

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