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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 January

21 January: Man Booker fun | New Bookforum | Phaswane Mpe | Saturday and Kafka on the Shore reactions
22 January: More Man Booker fun | Biographies v. books | Translating Murakami | Raine poems in Saturday
23 January: Ian McEwan publicity | Hutch Crossword Book Award | Other prize fun | Elkins review
24 January: NBCC awards nominations | Poets in residence | Mantrapped review
25 January: Beatrix debut | MacArthur Fellows follow-up | Rock star Nothomb | Minor Angels review
26 January: No Jelinek stamps ! | Whitbread Book of the Year | Roberto Bolaño
27 January: The Quills | Kolkata Book Fair | Wilson on Szirtes | Literary Oregon ?
28 January: IFFP longlist | Cairo International Book Fair | Kertesz interview | French book pulping
29 January: Durs Grünbein | Verse approach | What Eliot Weinberger heard
30 January: Indo-Swedish Translation Project | Pornmaster Pushkin | Japanese fiction | Three Generations review
31 January: Naim Attallah | Court rejects literary awards

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31 January 2005 - Monday

Naim Attallah | Court rejects literary awards

       Naim Attallah

       Jennie Erdal's Ghosting doesn't refer to him by name (at least in the text itself), but everyone knows that the 'Tiger' she ghosted for was Naim Attallah. John Walsh "hears his side of the story" in Giving up the ghost in The Independent today.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Court rejects literary awards

       Finally: somebody takes the rules for literary prizes seriously: India News reports Orissa high court rejects three literary awards:
The Orissa High court has rejected three of the eight literary awards announced by the state in 2002 on a lawsuit that said the authors had not adhered to the award guidelines. The court has rejected the Orissa Sahitya Akademy awards for 2000, announced in 2002, for three books (.....) Mu Rigo Beta Menchu was not a translation of any Indian author, Sarthak Sarathi was not the autobiography of former chief minister J.B. Patnaik and Sramana Ra Pruthibi was not a high literary creation.
       We figured this would happen in the litigious US first, but perhaps literary awards simply aren't taken seriously enough there. But we expect the first legal challenge to the ManBooker -- or The Quills Awards ! -- any year now.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

30 January 2005 - Sunday

Indo-Swedish Translation Project | Pornmaster Pushkin
Japanese fiction | Three Generations review

       Indo-Swedish Translation Project

       The Times of India reports on an Indo-Swedish literary meet from Feb. 2:
The participants will discuss Indian and Swedish literature and the translation of books between distant cultures and languages at the conference which is being organised by the Indo-Swedish Translation Project.
       Good additional information can be found at the Embassy of Sweden site and the Indian library site.
       We're impressed -- and jealous.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pornmaster Pushkin

       The Russian government moves ever-backward: books by pornmasters Pushkin and Lermontov have been seized, the booksellers threatened with up to two years in jail. That's what Murdo Macleod reports in Scotland on Sunday, in Russian literary giant Pushkin labelled as a peddler of porn.
       Next they'll finally get around to cracking down on that damn evolution-"theory" .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Japanese fiction

       In The Observer Kate Kellaway finds Eastern promise, impressed by several new Japanese titles -- including several we have under review (Yamada Taichi's Strangers, Murakami Ryu's In the Miso Soup, and Kirino Natsuo's Out).
       She mentions:
Much of the best new Japanese fiction about to be published here can be traced to a tiny New York company, Vertical Inc, dedicated to translating Japanese novels into English.
       But also adds:
Christopher MacLehose warns, 'Publishers are sheep. They think: something is going on in Japan. They're right. But there has always been something going on in Japan.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Three Generations review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Yom Sang-seop's Three Generations.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 January 2005 - Saturday

Durs Grünbein | Verse approach | What Eliot Weinberger heard

       Durs Grünbein

       In The burning issue in The Guardian today James Fenton writes:
For a rather long time now -- approximately, since the Berlin Wall came down -- the name Durs Grünbein (b. 1962) has been the answer to the question: who's the leading young poet in Germany ?
       Intrepid readers of the complete review will, of course, know that -- we've been touting him for years (and have eight of his books under review). Now FSG is bringing out the first English collection of his poems, as Ashes for Breakfast (see their publicity page, or get your copy from or (though note that a Faber edition is coming out ... eventually)) -- which is what Fenton discusses in his piece.
       (Aside: given our extensive (and generally very favourable) coverage of the author you might figure the PR folk handling this (if there are any) would see to it that we got a copy of this book -- or at least remind us of its existence. You'd be wrong. But, hey, translated modern German poetry -- that'll just fly off the shelves, no need to try to get some two-bit literary site that actually has shown some interest in this author to cover it, right ? ((Updated - 30 January): Moaning pays off -- and some of the powers that be actually read this weblog: someone associated with FSG has promised to rectify this situation.)
       The volume is translated by Michael Hofmann -- and we too were surprised to learn that this is the first time he's translated German poetry (it's been all prose, so far). That Grünbein proves challenging is no surprise, but Fenton is disappointed with the results.
       We look forward to -- eventually -- having a look for ourselves.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Verse approach

       Looking for mentions of Grünbein's Ashes for Breakfast (see above), we stumbled across Verse magazine's webspace, an interesting approach to presenting oneself on the Internet.
       A bit unwieldy -- but fairly impressive content, and we sort of like how they're doing this. Definitely bookmark-worthy.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       What Eliot Weinberger heard

       As splinters noted, Eliot Weinberger's What I Heard about Iraq is now available at the London Review of Books.
       So simple, so effective -- vintage Weinberger.

       (We don't understand why he isn't better known and his pieces aren't more widely published in the US. At least the books are available here -- we've reviewed all of them (see, for example, 9/12 or Karmic Traces).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 January 2005 - Friday

IFFP longlist | Cairo International Book Fair | Kertesz interview | French book pulping

       IFFP longlist

       The longlist for one of our favourite award-concepts -- the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize -- has been announced, and Boyd Tonkin introduces the 16-strong list in his A Week in Books column today.
       The shortlist will be announced 4 March, the winner in April.
       We only have two of the contenders under review (though a surprising number of others are on our to-do pile(s)), Orhan Pamuk's Snow and Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Cairo International Book Fair

       Another day, another international book fair. From 26 January to 8 February it's the 37th Cairo International Book Fair.
       In Al-Ahram Weekly Nevine El-Aref writes about it as Frankfurt's progeny. Among the bizarre choices:
In an attempt to keep limit the scale of the event, thereby reducing the possibility of chaos, Abdel-Meguid added, publishers who are not members of the Arab Publishers Union are excluded this years, resulting in a decrease in the general statistics: 516 publishers from 25 countries as opposed to 578 from 85 last year. Of the 516 publishers who will present, 433 are Egyptian, 58 Arab and 25 foreign. Any reduction in size, however minimal, can only be seen in a positive light.
       Yeah, not having those annoying publishers who aren't members of the Arab Publishers Union certainly helps reduce the possibility of "chaos". Also, maybe, the possibility of a nice true exchange of ideas, etc. ?
       But at least they're introducing the universally popular guest of honour idea !
Among the reforms to be introduced as of next year, following the example of Frankfurt, Hosni has announced the decision to select a country as guest of honour each year -- starting, not surprisingly, with Germany, which will contribute over 10,000 titles, with numerous writers, publishers and literary figures attending.
       We'll believe it (that the Egyptians actually allow it) when we see it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kertesz interview

       Peter von Becker has an interview with Imre Kertesz in Der Tagesspiegel.
       Among the information: he's working on his autobiography, he never dreams about the concentration camps, and the film of his novel Fatelessness (see our previous mention) was considered for the Berlinale-competition, but didn't make the cut (much to his disappointment -- though he has hopes for Cannes and Venice).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       French book pulping

       In L'Express Marianne Payot considers the fate of the 100,000,000 books that don't sell annually in France (out of 500,000,000 published), in Voyage au bout du pilon.
       Some fun stories, including the ultra-flop Retour à Casablanca by Michael Walsh (originally: As Time Goes by: A Novel of Casablanca, see the Warner Books publicity page). L'Archipel printed 53,000 copies -- but only 3,500 were sold, After that they promised themselves never to publish a book with "retour" (return) in the title. (It wasn't in the English original -- which is perhaps why the book didn't do quite as badly in the US.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 January 2005 - Thursday

The Quills | Kolkata Book Fair | Wilson on Szirtes | Literary Oregon ?

       The Quills

       Just what we need: The Quills Awards. Fifteen categories worth of literary awards, in a Reed Business International and NBC Universal Television Stations co-production.
       High concept, too:
The Quills Awards are a consumer-driven celebration of the written word created to inspire reading while promoting literacy
       And they plan to hand them out on TV -- a guaranteed ratings bust in the 18-to-49 demographic. (See also the report in Newsday.)

       First and foremost among the many terrible things about this idea is, certainly, the name -- and we're beginning to understand why literary prizes wind up with ridiculous designations like the Hutch Crossword Book Award or the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
       The Quills ? or rather: The Quills Awards ?
       Among the competition: The Quills ("the premier media awards in the State" of Victoria), the NYSARC Quill Awards (recognising "outstanding newsletters produced by NYSARC, Inc. Chapters."), and the Gold Quill Awards (a "mark of global distinction is the highest level of professional acknowledgement within business communication today") And there seem to be dozens of other Quills.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kolkata Book Fair

       It's time for the Kolkata Book Fair 2005 (warning ! site plays background music ! what the hell were they thinking ?).
       The "Focal Theme and Partner Country" is France, which really seems to be doing it up, while the "Guest of Honour Country" is Spain (don't ask us what the difference is).
       There's a decent foreign presence overall -- though notably absent among the foreign stands is one from the US, which doesn't seem to get this whole literature/international presence concept in any way. (It gets really embarrassing when you consider that beside national presences like Sweden and Italy, even the World Bank, WHO, and Latin America are represented .....)
       India News reported that "reputed French novelist Daniel Pennac" inaugurated the fair ..... (Hey, we can commiserate: we're often called a reputed literary website .....) Other reports include Asia's largest book fairs opens at Kolkata and French fill city culturescape.
       For the French activity, see also their press release on France, theme country in the Kolkata Book fair.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Wilson on Szirtes

       In his World of Books column, A.N.Wilson writes about George Szirtes getting the T.S.Eliot Prize for Poetry, finding him: A prize poet -- but not at Eliot's level.
       Pretty clear where he stands:
Some of the poems in this volume will strike the attentive reader as being very nearly poems; some are even very nearly good poems. It is the suggestion that these were the best poems written in our language over the past couple of years that will disconcert -- particularly since we are witnessing at the moment the year-by-year miracle of a truly great poet, Geoffrey Hill, unfolding the late flowering of his genius in a succession of magisterial books.
       Okay, religiously-focussed, conservative author Wilson championing the work of Geoffrey Hill isn't exactly a surprise -- but no complaints here.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literary Oregon ?

       Surely the literary event of the day: at the State Library in Salem, Oregon, they'll be unveiling the exhibit Literary Oregon -- 100 Books -- 1800-2000 -- and, presumably, revealing the 100 defining books about Oregon from the last 200 years. See also The Oregonian's article on Commission picks 100 defining books about Oregon.

       (Updated - 28 January): See now also The 100 Oregon Books.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 January 2005 - Wednesday

No Jelinek stamps ! | Whitbread Book of the Year | Roberto Bolaño

       No Jelinek stamps !

       What better way to honour a Nobel laureate than to put her face on a stamp ? So the thinking of the Austrian postal service, who wanted to celebrate Elfriede Jelinek's 2004 literature prize win this way.
       It's hardly a surprise, but the one person opposed to the idea was Jelinek. As reported in Die Presse, Jelinek can accept her work being lauded, but won't stand for personal honours of this sort.
       In a follow-up, she even gave an interview to the FAZ on the subject, explaining that she can't see herself as an icon, and since she's barely willing to show her actual face in public how could she face having her image spread all about like this ?

       Immortalising Nobel winners on stamps is, of course, incredibly popular: there's even a whole section of the Nobel site devoted to Nobel stamps, the Swedish postal service cashing in on the prize too. Looking at the latest batch of literary-winner-stamps -- a set from 2004 -- one can understand Jelinek's reluctance. But we're pretty sure they'll sneak her on a stamp one of these days. Maybe only after she's dead and can no longer put a stop to it, but they will.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Whitbread Book of the Year

       The Whitbread Book of the Year was announced yesterday -- Orange Prize for Fiction winner Small Island won.
       Predictably, all the major news outlets reported it before they've posted anything at the official site (nothing last time we checked). Reports include:        Fortunately, there is also already the obligatory judging-tell-all (well, tell-some), as Paul Majendie offers a Reuters scoop: Hugh Grant on Trials of Being Literary Judge.
       And we were certainly glad to learn that:
For actor Hugh Grant, picking the winner of one of Britain's leading literary awards was as difficult as choosing who should land a top dog show prize.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Roberto Bolaño

       New Directions has recently brought out two Roberto Bolaño titles, Distant Star (see their publicity page) and By Night in Chile
       Marcelo Ballvé now offers a good introduction to the author with The face in the mirror in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 January 2005 - Tuesday

Beatrix debut | MacArthur Fellows follow-up | Rock star Nothomb | Minor Angels review

       Beatrix debut

       Beatrice-man Ron Hogan is now doing double duty, having opened up a new weblog (at the ArtsJournal site), Beatrix.
       We're always thrilled to see a new literary weblog, and, as long-time Beatrice-fans, know that this will be a dependable, informative must-read. And the promise of the focus -- it's "a book review review" -- is especially pleasing. It's about time someone did this !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       MacArthur Fellows follow-up

       In a fascinating piece in Crain's Chicago Business Mark Scheffler finds Genius grants don't pay off in literature (link first seen at Golden Rule Jones). Apparently the cash windfall of being made a MacArthur Fellow has generally not helped the honorees reach new artistic heights:
An examination of the program, however, reveals that most of the 31 writers chosen since 1981 as MacArthur Fellows had already hit their artistic peak.
       Which seems to defeat the purpose of giving them all that money. (As we understand it, the MacArthur isn't like a prize, rewarding achievement, but rather meant to facilitate future achievement.)
       Scheffler notes:
It would reinforce romantic notions that great art requires personal sacrifice to suggest that, half-a-million dollars in hand, writers get lazy. But something else appears to account for the failure of the MacArthur program to fulfill its promise: Writers are mostly chosen too late in their careers, average age 48, and well after the literary establishment has recognized them for excellence.
       Looking over the list of authors (or, in some cases, people who once wrote a book) does suggest a lot of playing it safe with the choices -- more reward for past achievement than actual potential. Understandable, in some ways: it's a lot of money to risk on someone who appears to have potential, but hasn't yet gotten the prizes and other official stamps of approval confirming that they're any good.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rock star Nothomb

       At his weblog, la république des livres, Pierre Assouline describes appearing on stage with mega-bestselling author (in continental Europe) Amélie Nothomb. He says it was a phenomenon he'd never encountered before: the author as rock star.
       Nothomb -- who can be difficult to separate from her fiction (see her most recent work, Biographie de la faim) -- has long been a popular phenomenon in France (and Belgium, and elsewhere in Europe). In the English speaking world she doesn't seem to have caught on (yet ?) -- perhaps her publishers should try to recreate the cult of the personality that's worked so well for her back home. But that seems to translate even worse than her books. (Still: seems worth a try.)
       (We also wonder whether we would be quite so enthusiastic about her work if we had first encountered it in its natural hysterical context, rather than safely distant from French teenage girls, aware only of the words and not the super-persona and lit-idol behind them.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Minor Angels review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Antoine Volodine's Minor Angels.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 January 2005 - Monday

NBCC awards nominations | Poets in residence | Mantrapped review

       NBCC awards nominations

       The National Book Critics Circle awards shortlists have been announced. No information on the official site yet, last we checked, but the AP report -- focussing on Bob Dylan getting nominated -- has been published all over the place.
       The only shortlisted title we have under review is David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas; the NBCCAs apparently not having any residency requirements that can dash award hopes (see previous mention).

       (Updated - 25 January): See also GalleyCat's reports.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Poets in residence

       Apparently it's the new fad: for every residence a poet in residence. In The Independent today Christina Patterson offers an overview -- with selected examples.
       So now we're considering getting our own poet in residence for the saloon ......

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mantrapped review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Fay Weldon's Mantrapped.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 January 2005 - Sunday

Ian McEwan publicity | Hutch Crossword Book Award | Other prize fun | Elkins review

       Ian McEwan publicity

       The barrage of Ian McEwan publicity continues: now there are profiles in The Observer and the Toronto Star, and an interview in the Sunday Times.
       Apparently this all has something to do with a book of his that's just (or just about) come out (in the UK and Canada), Saturday. And, boy, are we glad we got to it before we were swamped by all this crap. Sadly, the information found here does diminish the reading pleasure, even after the fact, as the Sunday Times interview, for example, reveals that quite a bit of the book is autobiographical: like his protagonist, McEwan's mom succumbed to dementia, he's an avid squash player, and -- worst of all -- the Blair-encounter happened pretty much just like it's described in the novel.
       It shouldn't matter -- the text is what counts -- but reality intrudes, a shadow-blemish over the text we can't ignore. We'd rather have been kept ignorant of the true-life connexions, and allowed to think all this was the product of the author's imagination, as we can't help but get suspicious when an author dresses up fact as fiction in this way -- rather than presenting it as straightforward fact.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hutch Crossword Book Award

       No doubt, the Indian Hutch Crossword Book Award is the worst name for a fiction book award we've come across (and that includes the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award). But they really (and somewhat disappointingly -- and very confusingly) don't have a category for crossword books, just 'Best Work in English Fiction' and 'Best Indian Language Fiction Translation'.
       As Bibliofile reports in Outlook India, the prize is back after a three year hiatus. Dubbed the 'Indian Booker' -- even that designation presumably an improvement over 'Hutch Crossword' --, it was apparently quite successful, but for the past few years they've had other things on their minds.
       Mahasweta Devi managed to get two titles shortlisted. The winners -- getting Rs 3 lakh each -- will be announced 27 January.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Other prize fun

       What with the nice ruckus surrounding the Man Booker (see our previous mention, etc.) those responsible for the soon-to-be awarded Whitbread presumably realised they couldn't afford not to get in on the fun: Steve Bloomfield obliges in the Independent on Sunday with news of a Literary row over eligibility rules for Whitbread Prize.
       Yes, hard though it is to believe, there are more ridiculous eligibility requirements than those for the Man Booker. The Whitbread is pretty good in most submission-respects (beyond leaving it to publishers to decide what gets put up -- a bad, bad policy), but who came up with this nutty idea ?
Authors of submitted books must have been resident in the United Kingdom or Ireland for over six months of each of the previous three years (although UK or Irish nationality is not essential).
       Apparently that residency requirement policy did David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas in. (Do they have someone on staff who makes sure that an author didn't spend 189 days outside the UK/Ireland in 2002 ? What kind of proof is required ?)
       Whatever happened to the idea that a book prize honours literary merit ? Shouldn't maybe the focus be on the god damn books ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Elkins review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of James Elkins' What Happened to Art Criticism ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

22 January 2005 - Saturday

More Man Booker fun | Biographies v. books
Translating Murakami | Raine poems in Saturday

       More Man Booker fun

       We mentioned the year's first Man Booker prize fun yesterday, and the fun doesn't stop (time for a successor to the Man Booker 2004 blog to be set up !).
       In response to the reactions to 'Chair of Judges''s John Sutherland's statements, Nigel Reynolds reports in the Daily Telegraph that Booker chairman `gags himself' until winner is named. Indeed:
Martyn Goff, the prize's administrator, disclosed yesterday that Prof Sutherland had offered to resign after The Daily Telegraph reported that some of his co-judges in 1999 thought that he was an "outrageous" choice to be chairman of the world's most famous literary prize.
       (Aside: "the world's most famous literary prize" ? Surely, the Nobel still counts for a bit more.)

       On the issue of the judges actually reading the submissions, David Robinson reports in The Scotsman:
But Dr Sharon Norris, an Open University lecturer who specialises in literary prizes, said: "It might be embarrassing for the organisers, but he’s an experienced judge and he’s telling the truth.

"The only thing that surprises me is that he’s come out and said it."

Jenny Brown, a literary agent, said that if the judges had to cover as many as 120 novels, a certain amount of skip-reading was inevitable.
       Sad that those in the know are so jaded that they expect the judges not to do their jobs properly.

       The most interesting article, however, is Boyd Tonkin's, wondering Who'd be a Booker judge ?.
       He was -- and admits:
Did I read all the books ? My judgement was that perhaps 80-90 (say two-thirds) merited serious attention from first page to last. They got it. Those titles that reached the long-and shortlist were closely re-examined. (...)

As for the makeweights: if incompetence or simple mediocrity becomes howlingly evident in the first 50 to 100 pages of a novel submitted for the most illustrious award in Anglophone fiction, should judges have to persist to the bitter end ? No one ever insisted that we should. That strikes me as fair.
       Which brings us to our favourite complaint: the ridiculous submission rules (only publishers can submit titles (with extremely limited exceptions), and are severely limited as to how many titles they can submit -- and have, year after year, proven they have a poor idea of what the best titles to submit are).
       But Tonkin understands: "The people who run the Man Booker clearly hanker after conflict." Indeed:
Call him Machiavellian, or call him Mephistophelean: the infinitely wily Goff long ago, and with the evident support of the Booker management committee, decided that virtually no publicity was bad publicity.
       Tonkin also admits:
I ran into trouble myself for daring to reveal that a particular author had not been submitted by his publisher for the prize, even though no one ever marked this as classified information. But at least the beans I spilled were the genuine article.
       We don't know whether the rules have been changed in this regard, but we note that for the past few years they have prominently -- and outrageously -- included the promise: "The list of submitted titles is strictly confidential" -- suggesting, surely, that revealing which book or author was not submitted is similarly a no-no. (See this page, as well as the official rules (3(h)).
       Finally, Tonkin also revisits some of the more entertaining 'prize fights' the (Man) Booker has occasioned.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Biographies v. books

       In The Times Lisa Jardine finds that Multi-story lives cast a long shadow. Considering some recent bestselling and prize-contending literary biographies, she notes:
One of the odd things about the period focus, and a tendency to prefer "minor" authors as subjects, is how little of the work is still current and widely read. While Orwell’s Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Road to Wigan Pier still feature in English literature syllabuses, Isherwood, Spender, Pritchett and even Greene are unrepresented and largely unread.
       She finds that in Norman Sherry's multi-volume Graham Greene biography:
The life looms so much livelier than the work that the reader is discouraged from returning to the fiction.
       And she makes the depressing (but not surprising) observation:
In any case, even if one were so inclined, serious effort is required on the reader’s part to pursue this option. When I consulted an unscientific sample of London bookshops, all of the recent biographies were on their shelves, but almost nothing written by the biographies’ subjects themselves.
       Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic.
       Fiction is where it is at, people ! Forget these life-stories and all that crap -- read the fiction ! Down with biography !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Translating Murakami

       Trying not to be overlooked in the current Kafka on the Shore-frenzy, sometime (but not this time) Murakami Haruki-translator (and author of Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words) Jay Rubin offers a bit "on the difficulties of translating particularly unpleasant passages" in Close my eyes in The Guardian.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Raine poems in Saturday

       Far sharper eyes than ours offer additional insight into Ian McEwan's Saturday: in his review in The Guardian today Mark Lawson notes:
In a novel of great sureness at the level of both action and language, McEwan makes one curious choice: the quotations from Daisy Perowne's debut volume of poetry are actually published lines by Craig Raine, giving the book an additional subplot in which, beyond the plot's call on various sections of the Metropolitan police, you expect the literary cops to arrive and arrest Daisy for plagiarism. It's a matter of debate whether it's the reader or the writer who is being too clever here.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

21 January 2005 - Friday

Man Booker fun | New Bookforum
Phaswane Mpe | Saturday and Kafka on the Shore reactions

       Man Booker fun

       The Man Booker prize folk have announced that John Sutherland will be 'Chair of Judges' for the 2005 prize.
       Understanding that, as always, literary merit is secondary and controversy is what fuels interest in prizes such as this one, they have obviously made a great choice. Within hours Nigel Reynolds reported in the Daily Telegraph about Protests at 'infuriating' Booker judge. No, no demonstrators in front of Man Group plc headquarters yet, but at least some anonymous outrage (or, as Reynolds put it: "Bitching over the Booker Prize has started early"). For example:
"He's not fit to be chairman. He's an outrageous choice," said one former judge who shared duties with Prof Sutherland for the 1999 prize.
"I am surprised," said another of the 1999 judges. "I can't think of anyone in the last few years who has got up the nose of his fellow judges in quite the same way."
       Just in case there wasn't enough outrage generated merely by the choice, Sutherland also offered a few choice statements to fan the fires, as Charlotte Higgins reports in Booker prize chief spices up annual controversy. Among the statements that really appeal to us (and which shows that Sutherland knows it's important to court controversy on as many fronts as possible):
The newly announced chairman of the 2005 Man Booker prize has admitted that the judges are unlikely to read all 130 books in contention (...).

John Sutherland, an emeritus professor of English at the University of London and a Guardian columnist, said: "It takes six or seven hours to read a novel, and a judge is being paid about £3,000. You don't have to read the whole thing to know it doesn't qualify."
       Six or seven hours, even for a 200 page book ? That aside: at £3,000, that works out to £ 23.08 per book (US$ 43.13 at current exchange rates). Nobody pays us that much to read books -- and we'd be hard-pressed to turn down anyone that offered. Sure, these judges have better-paying jobs that make this Man Booker judging an inconvenience (though in some cases their jobs involve ... reading pretty much these very books), and there is the other time consuming work -- the apparently not always collegial arguing amongst themselves -- but it still sounds like one of the cushiest jobs going (for anyone who is actually interested in books, which, of course, many people, even in the industry, aren't). (It does seem a bit unsporting, however, of Sutherland to essentially call his fellow judges lazy slackers, doing just as little as they can get away with, when they might actually be dutiful, conscientious readers who take their assignment seriously -- but it presumably will make the judging much more fun.)
       Well, Sutherland has certainly gotten off to a nice start as ringmaster for this circus; we hope he negotiated performance-based bonus clauses in his contract (for the Man Booker broadcast reaching certain audience-levels, for example).

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       New Bookforum

       The February-March issue of Bookforum is now -- in small part -- available online. A few things of interest, including Adam Zagajewski on Witold Gombrowicz. Also, David Bowman reviews Steve Erickson¹s new novel, Our Ecstatic Days, a book we've been mulling over for a few weeks and haven't quite come to grips with.
       Unfortunately, most of the Bookforum content is off-limits online. Most missed: Thomas McGonigle on Uwe Johnson¹s A Trip to Klagenfurt: In the Footsteps of Ingeborg Bachmann and Ha-yun Jung on Yom Sang-seop¹s Three Generations (which we look forward to reviewing).

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       Phaswane Mpe

       South African author Phaswane Mpe (Welcome to Our Hillbrow -- which we hope to review ... sometime this spring) died last month, at only 34. Liz McGregor's obituary in The Guardian was about the most notice that attracted outside South Africa.
       Now Andie Miller's interview -- Mpe's last -- is available. Among much else, it shows one of the advantages of literature not being highly regarded by one and all:
"If I’m carrying a lot of money, I’ll carry it in a book. For some reason criminals don’t like books," he laughed. "There was one day, I had just come back from Germany, where I received a stipend, so I ended up not having to use my own money. I had about €1 000. I carried it inside The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, which I was reading at the time, and walked quite safely to deposit it in the bank."
       On Miller's site you can also find Mpe's reaction to J.M.Coetzee winning the Nobel Prize, Hands Off J.M. Coetzee, while elsewhere you can find his piece on Literature and publicity in the South African Media and another interview.

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       Saturday and Kafka on the Shore reactions

       Among the most anticipated books of the year are two we happen to have gotten around to before almost anyone else, Ian McEwan's Saturday and Murakami Haruki's Kafka on the Shore.
       Saturday-fever hasn't quite broken out, but the trickle of reviews is set to begin: Sophie Harrison's in the New Statesman is the first one we can link to.
       Meanwhile, the flood of Kafka on the Shore-reviews continues -- and they're decidedly mixed. In new reviews, David Thomson was taken by it (The New York Observer, link will only last through next Tuesday or so), but reviews by Theo Tait (Sunday Telegraph) and William Skidelsky (New Statesman) profess disappointment. Skidelsky even calls it an: "extraordinarily silly novel".

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