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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 9 March

1 March: Pinter retires | Beautiful books | The Newtonian Moment review
2 March: Kiriyama finalists | signandsight | Mitchell reads Nooteboom | Armah sightings
3 March: Premio Alfaguara | Book poll | Martial art fiction textbook worthy ?
4 March: French and World Voices | Proust and Sonny Bono | Publish or perish at Yale | Arab Novel Conference | The Plot Against America review | Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist
5 March: Strangers reactions | Best 'Scottish' Books | Jewish Book Week | Israeli literary supplements
6 March: Indo-Swedish Translation Project | Indo-French translation projects | Orange Prize | My Life in CIA review
7 March: Homage to Catalonia -- in Frankfurt | Random House profile | 4 x Kjærstad
8 March: Paulos on Oulipo | Grass opera | Schiller mania
9 March: Shortlists: IMPAC - British Book Awards

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9 March 2005 - Wednesday

Shortlists: IMPAC - British Book Awards

       IMPAC shortlist

       The shortlist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has been announced. Or, as the BBC puts it: Rich book award names shortlist.
       We have three of the titles under review:
       (Updated): There's a brief mention of the shortlist by Brian Lavery in today's issue of The New York Times. He claims: "The Impac Award [...] still retains its status as the richest prize for a single work of fiction, with a 100,000-euro ($133,000) purse". Didn't we just go through this ? The Premio Alfaguara de Novela is worth $175,000, and is awarded for a single work of fiction (though this year it happened to go to two (co-)authors).
       Other press reports get it right: the IMPAC is the richest prize for a single work of fiction in English (available in English, that is; it doesn't have to be written in English).
       It's a trifling detail, but come on, it's The New York Times, they should have the resources to get this sort of stuff right. (Yeah, we know, in recent weeks they've even managed to bungle the titles of books they've reviewed and discussed in The New York Times Book Review (how is that possible ?) .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       British Book Awards shortlist

       The shortlists for the British Book Awards have been announced (see also the more convenient list at The Times).
       Hard to take very seriously, but you've got to admire a prize -- in this case the Reader's Digest Author of the Year competition -- that pits Dan Brown v. Alan Hollinghurst v. Alexander McCall Smith
       See also Dalya Alberge's report in The Times that multiple prize-winning author Andrea Levy managed to make two of the shortlists .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 March 2005 - Tuesday

Paulos on Oulipo | Grass opera | Schiller mania

       Paulos on Oulipo

       In his Who's Counting column at ABCNews John Allen Paulos (see our review of his Innumeracy) writes about the Oulipo in Google Made Surreal: From Combinatorial Literature to a Surreal Week-in-Review
       Always good to see some mainstream press attention; interested readers can, of course, check out our Index of Oulipo Books under review if they want to explore further .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Grass opera

       Nobel laureate and Man Booker International Prize finalist Günter Grass' novel The Meeting at Telgte -- an enjoyably literary book set in the 17th century -- is now available in opera-form: the long-delayed premiere was finally held at the Theater Dortmund.
       Eckehard Mayer composed the music, Wolfgang Willaschek wrote the libretto. See some German articles in the Berliner Morgenpost and Welt am Sonntag -- as well as a brief English-language preview by Anton Rovner ("The music, written in an atonal, moderately avant-garde idiom with occasional incursions into tonality (including some quotations from Protestant chorales and German lieder) featured highly qualitative blend of emotional expressivity with rational discursiveness, sounding perfectly adequate in its piano-vocal version")

       Depressing side-note: get your copy of The Meeting at Telgte at -- where the book languishes with a sales-rank of 872,749 (i.e. nobody has bought a copy of this in a very, very long time): you can choose from 82 used & new copies there, from $0.01 on up.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Schiller mania

       So, to kick off the Schiller-year they held a 24 hour-Schiller reading marathon at the Berlin Akademie der Künste -- see the full programme.
       5000 people apparently enjoyed it. In Die Welt Eckhard Fuhr and Holger Kreitling offer a report on the event.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 March 2005 - Monday

Homage to Catalonia -- in Frankfurt | Random House profile | 4 x Kjærstad

       Homage to Catalonia -- in Frankfurt

       Korea this year, India in 2006, and now the Frankfurt Book Fair folk have settled on Catalonia (or, more specifically: 'la cultura catalana') to be the guest of honour at the fair in 2007; see the official (English) press release.
       No complaints here.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Random House profile

       In New York Business Matthew Flamm finds Random House sells out for best sellers.
       Nothing much that is new, including the usual dreary quotes and explanations:
Industry insiders say the upheaval at Random House has been driven by the dismal environment for books, pointing out that sales of backlist titles -- Joyce's Ulysses, for instance -- are in decline and the market for fiction is generally lousy. Big-name authors are selling less than in the past, and literary novels that might once have sold a modest 10,000 copies are eking out unacceptable sales of less than 5,000 copies.
       And our favourite observation:
Diet and yoga books are looking better and better to publishers desperate to keep their revenues growing.
       That's a busines plan ? Oh, how we love this industry .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       4 x Kjærstad

       We know it's just what you want -- not more coverage of readily available English-language fiction, but rather: more Norwegian coverage ! So: the most recent additions to the complete review are our review of four novels by Jan Kjærstad -- one of which is actually even available in English translation:        The Seducer got rave reviews in the UK press last year, and Ali Smith sang its praises in the TLS's annual round-up of 'International Books of the Year' (issue of 3 December 2004), calling it an: "energetic blast of a novel", and finding it to be: "an irresistibly playful romp, by turns mischievous, manipulative, intellectual and bluntly sensual".
       She also wrote:
Kjaerstad, renowned in Scandinaviam, is far too little known here. The Seducer is the first of a trilogy -- I hope Arcadia will translate the others, otherwise I will have to learn Norwegian.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 March 2005 - Sunday

Indo-Swedish Translation Project | Indo-French translation projects
Orange Prize | My Life in CIA review

       Indo-Swedish Translation Project

       We previously mentioned the Indo-Swedish Translation Project. They held a seminar last month, and in The Hindu V.S.Sreedhara talks with Harish Trivedi about it in Across cultures.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Indo-French translation projects

       We were pleased to see a while back that Malayalam author O.V.Vijayan's The Legends of Khasak had been translated into French (and German). In The Hindu K.K.Gopalakrishnan talks with translator Dominique Vitalyos about her interest and efforts in translating Indian literature in Translation as absence.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Orange Prize

       It's almost time for the all-women's Orange Prize longlist to be announced (14 March), and so in The Observer Geraldine Bedell considers the Textual politics surrounding the prize.

       Fun also for some delusional comments, such as Anita Brookner's statement that: "If a book is good, it will get published. If it is good it will get reviewed." We'd argue the publication-assurance is already questionable, but as to all worthy books getting reviewed .... ha ! Didn't we just mention yesterday how different reactions can be in the US and the UK ? And we could make quite a list of good books that haven't gotten any review coverage, starting with perennial favourite, Irmtraud Morgner's The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by her Minstrel Laura, a book that isn't just good, it is unquestionably great -- and it did not get reviewed in any newspaper or magazine (beyond the special-interest publications -- and even most of those ignored it).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       My Life in CIA review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Harry Mathews' Chronicle Of 1973, My Life in CIA.
       The book is only due out May -- though the French translation (Mathews' own) will be available in a week or two. It's quirky enough that it should do quite well (helped by the fact that the reader doesn't have to worry about the Oulipian games too much). But it will be interesting to see where it plays better, in the US or France.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 March 2005 - Saturday

Strangers reactions | Best 'Scottish' Books
Jewish Book Week | Israeli literary supplements

       Strangers reactions

       Yamada Taichi's Strangers was brought out by Vertical in the US about a year and a half ago. Now Faber has brought out a UK edition.
       The American publication was reviewed by many worthies, but they tended to be the likes of us: relatively small-circulation and Internet based: besides us there was Agony Column, Bookslut, etc. The print media ? Pretty much ignored it.
       So what happens in the UK ? So far we've dug up reviews in: The Guardian, The Observer, Scotland on Sunday, The Telegraph (here and here), and the Times Literary Supplement.
       In other words: in the UK it was reviewed almost everywhere that matters (and more reviews will presumably follow), while in the US it was reviewed nowhere that matters (or at least nowhere that matters too much, much as we'd like to think of ourselves as a leading review-site ...).
       What gives ?
       The two possible explanations are:
  • a) the cachet of the Faber imprint is enough to get a book reviewed (while the then still near-complete obscurity of the Vertical imprint was enough to get the book tossed on the 'don't bother' pile at practically every American print publication)

  • b) Americans (and especially book review editors) are really so completely terrified of literature in translation that they won't touch any of it unless its written by someone they've heard of (Murakami Haruki !)
       Strangers isn't that good a book that one can say it's outrageous that it didn't get reviewed -- but it is remarkable how many British papers bothered, and how few American ones did.
       From an American perspective: very disturbing.
       From a British perspective: pretty impressive.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Best 'Scottish' Books

       We mentioned the controversy surrounding the making of a list of '100 Best Scottish Books of all time' for readers to vote on. Well, now the list is available.
       Between the many non-Scottish authors and the one-book-per-author limit, it's impossible to take very seriously.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jewish Book Week

       Jewish Book Week runs from today through next Sunday. Highlights of the programme include Cynthia Ozick In conversation with Mark Lawson (as Ozick's The Bear Boy (formerly known as: Heir to the Glimmering World) is finally available in the UK).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Israeli literary supplements

       In Ha'aretz Shiri Lev-Ari reports on changes some leading literary supplements are undergoing, in From lit crit to lit chic (link first seen at Bookninja).
       We can't say we're thrilled about all the ideas -- especially the promise of: "more items about the literary world and somewhat fewer reviews" and the idea that: "to every book review is added a box with some background on the writer" (ah yes, focus on the personality behind the book, not the book -- always our favourite approach ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 March 2005 - Friday

French and World Voices | Proust and Sonny Bono
Publish or perish at Yale | Arab Novel Conference
The Plot Against America review | Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist

       French and World Voices

       In Le Monde Lila Azam Zanganeh profiles Fabrice Rozié in Un nouveau "Monsieur Livres" à New York. Rozié fills a newly (fall, 2004) created attaché-post for the French embassy, in charge of 'books and intellectual exchanges'.
       He's going to try to see if he can't interest Americans more in French (and European) literature -- a laudable ambition (though all we can say is: good luck). He has high hopes for and looks forward to the upcoming New York Festival of International Literature organised by PEN -- and it certainly sounds promising.
       A few weblogs mentioned this when it was first announced a couple of months ago, but there's a bit more information now. The official page is still blank, but the Rushdie-press release offers the basics: from 16 to 22 April PEN World Voices: The New York Festival of International Literature will bring together quite an impressive cast of foreign and American-based writers. Among the few events about which some details are available are those at the New York Public Library: Confronting the Worst: Writing and Catastrophe and Don Quixote at 400: A Tribute, both on 16 April.
       The list of foreign participants is certainly impressive. Among authors we've mentioned in the past week or two alone there are: Durs Grünbein (whose Umlaut they have misplaced, turning him into 'Dürs Grunbein'), whose Ashes for Breakfast we recently reviewed, Cees Nooteboom, and Patrik Ouředník, whose Europeana we recently covered. And there are many more of great interest.
       We hope someone invites us to come watch, so that we can report on the events for you.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Proust and Sonny Bono

       Several weblogs have mentioned Aaron Matz's piece in Slate, In Pursuit of Proust, on "The curious fate of the last three volumes of the new edition".
       Discussing the new multi-translator edition of Proust that appeared in the UK a couple of years back, he notes that the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act means American readers only get easy access to the first two volumes and will have to wait for over a decade to read the rest:
In the United Kingdom, all volumes of the new project were published together in 2002. But readers in the United States have been left stranded midway through the novel, forced to endure two of the most Proustian of experiences: jealousy and loss.

Only the first four volumes of the new translation - from Swann's Way through Sodom and Gomorrah - are available here. For this we have Sonny Bono to blame. Just before he died in 1998, the congressman sponsored a bill to extend the term of copyright by 20 years: According to the Sonny Bono Copyright Act, passed later that year, rights would expire 95, rather than 75, years after an artist's death. Since Proust died in 1922, only those four volumes first published during his lifetime had passed into the American public domain by the time the Bono Act became law. It will therefore be at least 2018 before readers in the United States can find the final three installments of the new translation (The Prisoner and The Fugitive, and Time Regained) in their local bookstores.
       Now, we hate the Copyright Extension Act as much as the next guy (it's an outrage !), but the case isn't quite as black and white as he suggests. For some reason Matz does not address the fact that the American publishers could very easily get the books into bookstores: all they have to do is compensate the copyright holders (the heirs of Proust's literary estate). That's what they do with almost all the other books they publish -- why don't they give that a try here ? (The benefit of waiting until the copyright has expired is that at that point they don't have to pay, meaning they get to keep all the money they earn, but that's the only difference.)
       Paying copyright holders for books is the common practise -- after all, relatively little of what's published is out of copyright -- so why not here ? Just because the British didn't have to the Americans won't either ?
       There may be difficulties we don't know of: the copyright holders may not approve of the new translations and thus might want to prevent them from appearing at all costs (i.e. would not agree to allow American publication at any price), or they may be making unreasonable demands. But it shouldn't be that hard to resolve these -- if the publishers were really interested in making the books accessible to readers. But since publishers generally don't really seem to care too much about serving readers, and their accountants can make a good case that they'll make a lot more money by waiting we're not holding our breaths.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Publish or perish at Yale

       In the Yale Daily News Megan Ferguson writes that: For Yale professors, it is often 'publish or perish'.
       A fairly interesting (and troubling) look, with titbits such as:
Though Yale does not make specific requirements as to the number and type of publications one must have in order to be promoted, there is an implicit understanding in all departments that you need to have published one book to be promoted to associate professor, and at least two books to be considered for tenure, Cyrus Hamlin, professor of Germanic studies and comparative literature, said.
       Recall also what Lindsay Waters wrote on Publishing, Perishing and the Eclipse of Scholarship in Enemies of Promise

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arab Novel Conference

       In Al-Ahram Weekly Rania Khallaf writes on The historical predicament, reporting on the third Arab Novel Conference (which was organised by the impressively named Supreme Council of Culture -- in the US only a single court is 'Supreme').

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Plot Against America review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America.
       Yet another review of that book ? Hey, we only found about 70 to link to .....
       Roth is probably the single author about whom readers pester us most, asking: "Why haven't you reviewed him ?', so we're at least glad to get that out of the way. (And we actually do expect to cover more of his work ... eventually.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist

       The shortlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has been announced and Boyd Tonkin introduces the titles in Spanning the literary globe.
       The only title we have under review so far is Orhan Pamuk's Snow -- though we were pleased to see another Turkish book make the shortlist, Elif Shafak's The Flea Palace, which we plan to review ... eventually.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 March 2005 - Thursday

Premio Alfaguara | Book poll | Martial art fiction textbook worthy ?

       Premio Alfaguara

       As the AP reports (here at USA Today): Argentine writers win Alfaguara prize. El Turno del Escriba ('The Scribe's Turn') by Graciela Montes and Ema Wolf has won the Premio Alfaguara de Novela.
       What's the big deal ? How about the prize money, which puts all single-work prizes we know of, including the ManBooker and the IMPAC International Dublin (not to mention low rent prizes like the Pulitzer) to shame: $ 175,000 to the winner -- and even though the co-authors have to share, that ain't bad. (Updated: Actually, at current exchange rates, the IMPAC is almost in the same league -- though depending on circumstances, the author's cut can wind up being considerably smaller (if it's a translated work -- as it has been the past couple of years -- the translator gets a quarter of the €100,000, leaving authors with a mere €75,000 (ca. $100,000)).)
       649 novels contended for the prize, 192 from Spain, 168 from Argentina, 81 from Mexico, 43 from Colombia, etc. How many of these will ever be available in English translation ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Book poll

       Today is World Book Day -- at least in the British world. The BBC couldn't think of anything better than to get readers to: Vote for your top books.
       As usual, readers don't have much of a choice: fifty titles have been pre-selected for your voting pleasure. Admittedly, they only want to: "find out what the most popular book club books are", and so they got the titles for the longlist from book clubs .....
       And they do even acknowledge their own lack of ambition:
This is not a vote on the best book ever -- it's just a longlist of some of those which people are actually reading

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Martial art fiction textbook worthy ?

       Xinhuanet report that:
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is no longer a name for movie screens or paperback covers -- it now appears as reading material in Chinese middle-school textbooks, triggering a national debate on martial-arts fiction's literary status.
       A high level of debate, too:
"They are for leisure reading. The fictional plots and fighting scenes in martial-arts novels might have a bad effect on teenagers," said a college professor who declined to be named.
       (If the books have a bad effect, then isn't the argument that kids shouldn't be allowed near the stuff at all -- and that if they do have access to it, wouldn't reading it in a classroom setting (rather than on their own) be preferable, as it would allow teachers to guide the kids through the texts to avoid those bad effects ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

2 March 2005 - Wednesday

Kiriyama finalists | signandsight | Mitchell reads Nooteboom | Armah sightings

       Kiriyama finalists

       The finalists for the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize -- yes, yes, another of these ridiculously geographically defined literary awards -- have been announced, five fiction titles, five non (and no, we don't have any of the finalists under review).
       What we most admire about the Kiriyama, and what we can not praise highly enough, is the transparency on offer: they actually tell you what books were submitted (and therefore eligible) -- something that practically no other book prize does before the longlist-stage. See the fiction submissions, and the non-fiction submissions.
       This way everybody knows what books the publishers forgot to submit -- and which highly regarded books didn't make the cut. Among the fiction submissions that fell short: Transmission by Hari Kunzru, Magic Seeds by V.S.Naipaul, The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer, The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble, and The Zig Zag Way by Anita Desai,
       Non-fiction titles submitted that didn't find favour include: Wrong about Japan by Peter Carey and An End to Suffering by Pankaj Mishra.

       Now why can't the ManBooker folk (and the Pulitzers, National Book Awards, etc. etc.) let everybody in on which books are actually in the running for their prizes ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       As we mentioned a few days ago, the excellent Perlentaucher-site (surveying German-language newspapers, with a focus on cultural and especially literary coverage) now reaches out to an English-language audience, with signandsight, which opened for business yesterday. Except for the name it does not disappoint: summaries of what's 'In Today's Feuilletons', looks at 'Books this Season' -- good stuff. See also editor-in-chief John Lambert's introduction to the site, Four Words are Better than Two.
       Now how can we convince others -- the French, Spanish, Arabs, Japanese, etc. -- to set up similar sites ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mitchell reads Nooteboom

       Cloud Atlas-author David Mitchell describes what's "on his bedside table" in the Sunday Times -- and we're pleased to learn he just finished Cees Nooteboom's clever little The Following Story.
       A couple of Nooteboom titles are still in print in the US, but he deserves better. (Meanwhile, in Germany Suhrkamp is bring out a fancy collected-works edition .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Armah sightings

       Ayi Kwei Armah (whose The Healers we recently reviewed) has been getting some press attention in Africa as he visited South Africa and Kenya the past few weeks. (As always, AllAfrica keeps good track of these sorts of things).
       In The East African Hezron Mogambi writes about Armah's Nairobi-visit The language of African literature is not yet born (link presumably only lasts until next week), quoting:
"We are suspended while waiting for a decisive breakthrough; if an African language is adopted it will be a big solution. Africa is vast and it requires a vast language to put through all our ideals, and that language is not yet born," Armah says.

He therefore says that he will continue writing in languages that reach the largest number of Africans; that is English or French.
       We'd love to hear more about the 'African language'-idea .....
       See also L. Muthoni Wanyeki piece in The East African Armah has beauty to share.

       (Updated - 3 March): A reader alerts us to the disturbing news that not everybody is an Armah-fan: indeed, apparently: SA media blacked out continent's intellectual giant.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

1 March 2005 - Tuesday

Pinter retires | Beautiful books | The Newtonian Moment review

       Pinter retires

       This should elicit some fun commentary: on the BBC's Front Row playwright Harold Pinter announced he won't be writing any more plays (listen to the conversation here).
       See reports at the BBC, Daily Telegraph, and The Guardian -- though we expect better stuff to follow.
       No doubt the fact he promises to continue to write poetry will please all .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Beautiful books

       Stiftung Buchkunst have announced the winners of their 'most beautiful book' competition. As reported in Japan Today Book on Japan's typography named 'world's most beautiful book', Nihon no Kindai Katsuji taking the top prize, the 'Goldene Letter'.
       A Swiss book took home the gold medal, but one of the silvers went to Peter Turchi's much-praised Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer (see, for example, Beatrice's mention, or get your own copy at
       The prizes will be handed out at the Leipzig Book Fair on 18 March; we hope for illustrated examples at some site by then.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Newtonian Moment review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Mordechai Feingold's examination of Isaac Newton and the Making of Modern Culture in The Newtonian Moment.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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