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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 September 2005

21 September: Tom Wolfe covers | Kantian thriller | Australian book sales
22 September: The role of the novelist | Holberg Prize | FT Goldman Sachs Business Book Award | Critical of critical literacy down under | Ulin interview
23 September: A look at Bookforum | The Dictionary of the Worker's Paradise | The Story of a Life review
24 September: Another 100 public intellectuals | Oprah's Book Club goes contemporary again | New Dubravka Ugresic book | Ruminator folding | Japanese literature in Korea
25 September: Daniel Kehlmann's international breakthrough ? | Russian literary crisis ? | In Praise of Lies review
26 September: Beyond Borders | Where's the Nobel buzz ? | European Day of Languages | The week ahead at the LBC
27 September: Moorish Girl meets Rushdie | Lolita at Fifty | New Slow Man low ? | Austrokoffer/Landvermessung | New index
28 September: Galley excesses ? | Yet another Rushdie interview | New reviews
29 September: TLS weblog ? | Used book sales | Testy mail | Playing for Thrills review
30 September: Translation Prizes | Nobel buzz | The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

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30 September 2005 - Friday

Translation Prizes | Nobel buzz | The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

       Translation Prizes

       It's translation prize season in the UK again, and on 3 October a batch (half a dozen) will be handed out. In the TLS Elizabeth Winter runs them down (link likely only short-lived).
       In addition -- or rather, as the main feature -- Germaine Greer will be also delivering the 2005 NESTA Sebald Lecture, On Not Knowing (Aeolian) Greek: the metamorphoses of Sappho. The events will be held at the UCL Bloomsbury (and includes the "Free pre-show event: Readings from the prize-winning translations at 6.00pm").

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Nobel buzz

       A few days ago we wondered: Where's the Nobel buzz ?, since we hadn't come across any of the usual seasonal buzz yet. Apparently the span of interest in the literature prize -- before the fact -- is now limited to a week, as some of the major wire services have now begun their speculative countdown-coverage.
       Moorish Girl alerted us to Nina Larson's report, Nobel Literature Prize: could a new twist win over tradition ?, while at Reuters Stephen Brown suggests: "At last !": literary Nobel to confound critics again

       (Updated - 1 October): Errata offers Årets Nobelpris -- which comes with 115 comments (last we checked). Yeah, all in Swedish, but you get the gist of the debate -- the names that are being mentioned (though Harry Mulisch, for example, -- surely a contender -- isn't among them). See also an English summary at Errata 2.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Stephen King's The Colorado Kid.
       Yes, that Stephen King -- and, yes, we've enjoyed some of his earlier work, though this is the first we have under review. Published by Hard Case Crime, it's a manageable size, too -- less than 200 pages !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 September 2005 - Thursday

TLS weblog ? | Used book sales | Testy mail | Playing for Thrills review

       TLS weblog ?

       Biuzzwords alerts us to a new weblog -- authored by none other than Times Literary Supplement editor Peter Stothard.
       Very little material so far -- and not even a link to the TLS-site -- so there's obviously still a ways to go here. But we like the idea, and we'll keep an eye on it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Used book sales

       As widely reported -- see specifically Hillel Italie's AP report, Study: Used books are $2 billion industry (here at the Boston Globe) -- there's a new study out that finally offers some hard numbers on used book sales in the US. (The study was by the Book Industry Study Group -- not that we can find any information about it at their site).
       Some impressive numbers:
But a landmark study released Wednesday confirms what publishers, authors and booksellers have believed -- and feared -- since the rise of the Internet: Used books have become a modern powerhouse, driven by high prices for new works and by the convenience of finding any title, new or old, without leaving your home.

According to the Book Industry Study Group, used book sales topped $2.2 billion in 2004, an 11 percent increase over 2003. Much of that growth can be credited to the Internet. While used sales at traditional stores rose a modest 4.6 percent, they jumped 33 percent online, to just over $600 million.
       The key words -- to my mind (and wallet) --: "driven by high prices". I am a terrible book-buyer, completely unsupportive of the industry. My position here at the complete review (dibs on the all the books that come our way) gets me maybe a third of my reading material, but I still buy a lot -- and essentially none of it retail (at least in the US; in Europe the used market isn't that well-developed, and in desperation I've paid retail for a few titles there). I've purchased about 150 books this year in the US, and paid more than $10 only once (for a 50 per cent off copy of Emmanuel Carrère's I am Alive and You are Dead (I couldn't resist Carrère and Dick, and Holt won't give us the time of day, much less a review copy). (Total last year: four books -- out of about 250 -- bought at retail (more or less) prices.) Admittedly, I'm particularly frugal (invest a lot of time and very little cash in book-hunting) -- but no question: I'm a heavy reader that publishers and authors earn practically nothing off of directly (but I don't feel all that bad: as far as penance goes, the complete review ain't bad).
       As to:
"My sense is, excluding textbooks, that at least half of used books sales come at the expense of books still in print," Hayes says.

"But there may be an upside, because a consumer might buy a used book by a certain author, and like it enough to buy the author's next book. So at this point, the impact is hard to quantify."
       That's the big question and issue, of course. Speaking from personal experience, the "half of used books sales come at the expense of books still in print"-notion is way off base: in my case it would be closer to one out of twenty (i.e. it's a rare book that I'd shell out list price for, even if I didn't think/know I could pick it up cheaper sometime in the future). But I'm not a typical book-consumer -- indeed I'm shocked at the statistic that: "used books purchased in 2004 averaged $8.12 -- except for text books, which averaged $42.31" Eight dollars for a used book ?!?

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Testy mail

       We're almost jealous: almost all we get is spam (and offers of books), but RALPH seems to manage to get lots of Testy mail about their reviews.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Playing for Thrills review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Wang Shuo's Playing for Thrills.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 September 2005 - Wednesday

Galley excesses ? | Yet another Rushdie interview | New reviews

       Galley excesses ?

       At the Words Without Borders blog Dalkey Archive Press' Chad Post takes on a (not freely accessible online) Publishers Weekly article by Lynne W. Scanlon in All Books (and Jeans) Are Not Created Equal.
       Scanlon was apparently particularly upset to find galleys of new publications on sale at -- cheap substitutes book-buyers might opt for, thus denying publishers revenue they'd otherwise get (if the book buyer had no choice but to pay the higher retail price (though the nuyer always has the option of simply not buying)).
       We've heard of galleys being up for sale at E-bay, but unless they're autographed or similarly value-enhanced there's really not much reason to buy these things once the book is available in any other form (galleys and ARCs are not attractive volumes anyone would want to collect -- except, of course, for a handful of nuts who specialise in collecting just that -- and are often missing useful parts (index, table of contents, pictures)). Of course, some readers like to get their hands on books pre-publication -- but Amazon doesn't appear to allow marketplace sellers to offer books for sale pre-publication date in any form. More to the point, Amazon specifically prohibits (scroll down) the sale of:
Promotional media. Movies, CDs, software, books (including advance reading copies and uncorrected proofs), etc., that are produced and distributed for promotional use only are prohibited for sale through
       Stuff obviously slips through, leaving policing responsibilities to publishers -- but we're fairly certain Amazon would be quick to act if made aware of any such prohibited offerings.
       Post quotes Scanlon as writing that publishers must: "pressure the big chains and Amazon not to allow resale of galleys and review copies on their Web sites until the books are out of print". In the case of galleys all the publishers probably have to do is make the booksellers aware of where it's happening. Review copies, on the other hand, -- indistinguishable from books someone bought and now offers for sale used -- can't be kept out of the system -- unless all used book sales are stopped (and given what a significant part of the online market they already make up, that's simply not going to happen).
       Scanlon does have one valid point: that sending out an enormous number of galleys and review copies is basically just reckless (and wasteful) -- though the few copies that wind up exchanging hands for money the publisher will never see seems almost the least of it. One solution Scanlon proposes is (in Post's description):
rather than sending out galleys, publishers should send an e-mail to potential reviewers with a "catchy subject line, a brief description of the book and a jacket photo"
       Like him we can barely contain our laughter -- and are stunned that such a level of naïveté about using the Internet still exists. Aside from the priorities -- the jacket photo might be important to booksellers they're trying to reach, but if you approach us with that we'd find it pretty hard to take you seriously (not that it'll ever get to that point: e-mails which come with attachments (such as a photo) simply aren't opened here at all, and would be trashed unread) -- this has proven among the least likely ways to get our attention. Like Post, we get our fair share of e-mail queries of this sort: most are wildly inappropriate for our site, rarely do we request a copy. (Still, it is better than if people just sent us their books, so Scanlon isn't completely off with her idea.)
       But Post has it right:
But it's true that sending out a slew of galleys isn't the most ingenious method of promoting literature. Not that publishers should quit altogether, but it's up to publicists and marketing gurus to get to know reviewers and find out what they like and which books they would be interested in. The system's not flawed, but the publicist may be.
       There's an idea ! (Of course, he probably has had better experiences than most (helped by the fact that he's touting a fine product): we (and many other Internet book sites as well as many print publications) are particularly receptive to what Dalkey Archive Press is doing.)
       A careful selection of whom to send galleys to of course requires more work than just printing up a ton and mailing them off to everyone in the database but seems the better way to go about it. That said, we're still surprised by the fact that quite a few publishers whose books are an obvious fit for the complete review (and whom we often have a number of books by already under review) refuse to hear or acknowledge our entreaties and won't send us anything, even when we can almost guarantee them review coverage (there are no guarantees -- except, perhaps, the latest Amélie Nothomb or Harry Mulisch).) Almost as baffling: the publishers we beg for a book who then proceed to heap volumes on us -- everything but the requested title.

       At Fresh Eyes Robert Gray also discusses the Scanlon article, "the industry's reluctance to sharpen its aim when distributing galleys" being a favourite topic over there.

       (Updated - 29 September): See now also comments at Conversational Reading.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Yet another Rushdie interview

       We're looking forward to Moorish Girl's interview with the man (see our mention yesterday), certain that for once he'll have a worthy conversation-partner, but the Rushdie-interviewing field is getting very crowded: is there anyone he won't talk to ?
       We hope someone is collecting all this stuff, because -- despite Rushdie gamely playing along -- these are some terrible exchanges. The latest entry: Mark Shanahan's piece in the Boston Globe, A man of letters savors the high life. Among the "questions" Shanahan poses:
  • "What's with Bono ? Isn't there a bit of a cult of personality with that guy ?"
  • "Say, do you have an iPod ?"
  • "You know your wife is very beautiful."
       We admire the fact that Rushdie hasn't slugged any of his interlocutors yet. He certainly seems to be in a very calm place (and it is good of him to plug PEN so often -- as are, of course, his efforts on behalf of the organisation).

       We're glad to see that some interview subjects aren't quite so easy-going: Emma Brockes begins her interview/profile with Stephen Hawking in The Guardian:
Stephen Hawking and I get off to a bad start when the questions I send him ahead of the interview are returned the next day with a note: "I want shorter, better focused, numbered questions, not a stream of consciousness."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two Prickly Paradigm Press pamphlets:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 September 2005 - Tuesday

Moorish Girl meets Rushdie | Lolita at Fifty | New Slow Man low ?
Austrokoffer/Landvermessung | New index

       Moorish Girl meets Rushdie

       Moorish Girl Laila Lalami got to interview Salman Rushdie for The Oregonian. The interview will only be available towards the end of the week, but she reports on the experience -- worth a look !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Lolita at Fifty

       Sadia Latifi reports on the Lolita at Fifty-event (with Azar Nafisi, Alfred Appel, and Stacy Schiff) in All for Love of Lolita in the Columbia Daily Spectator.

       (In semi-related news: a high ranking on a Google-search for "lolitas" has propelled our review of Michael Maar's The Two Lolitas to most-accessed review status the past few days (though presumably this isn't exactly what most of those searchers were looking for).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Slow Man low ?

       J.M.Coetzee's Slow Man has gotten very mixed reviews but Yvonne Zipp's in the Christian Science Monitor takes the prize -- for the moment -- for most disappointed so far.
       In his review of Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello Jonathan Yardley wrote:
Good writers are entitled to bad books (.....) In the present instance it can only be said that Coetzee took his entitlement and ran with it.
       Zipp seems to think this one falls in the same category:
Slow Man has the distinction of being the worst novel I've read by a Nobel winner.
       (Of course, how many Nobelist's novels does anyone read anyway ? (See, for example, our limited list).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       We've previously mentioned this half-hearted effort at surveying all of Austrian 20th century literature, variously called the Austrokoffer and now 'Landvermessung'. The stunted (but still 8000-page) result is now available: see the official site or get your own copy (a mere €50 for all 21 volumes !) at
       A few surprises (Handke is included, though he had originally declined) but, despite some greats (Broch, Doderer), the list of those who didn't want to be included still sounds more impressive (from Jelinek down to Kehlmann).
       More interesting (and troubling) is the financing of this project: government (federal and state) and other subsidies total a staggering €500,000 -- €100 per suitcase (that's how it's packaged) and help explain why it is priced so generously. (The original print run was planned at 7000, but they apparently figured they could only unload 5000 -- though early orders are, supposedly, promising.) We're all for supporting literature, but this doesn't exactly sound like the greatest project to spend taxpayers' money so heavily on.
       For German reports, see:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New index

       We've added yet another index -- of books under review from selected Imprints and Publishers.
       We're not exactly sure about this one -- few American publishers offer a list of predictable quality and type. Still, it might be a useful reference.
       As to who to include -- the old Harvill and Serpent's Tail were the sort of publishers we were thinking of, but their fate and transformation (like Ecco in the States) render them unsuitable. A few American independents are obvious choices -- New Directions is one we'll probably add, though their size and variety already make them more problematic. And then there are the discontinued ones -- Penguin's Writers from the Other Europe, for example.
       Well, if nothing else, a few publishers will now find a handy reference page where they can check how many of their titles we have under review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 September 2005 - Monday

Beyond Borders | Where's the Nobel buzz ?
European Day of Languages | The week ahead at the LBC

       Beyond Borders

       The Frankfurt Book Fair runs 19 to 23 October, and much of the publishing world (and most of the media attention) will be focussed on that. There is, however, another event that starts on 19 October that's also worth keeping an eye on -- and might well be more interesting (though fewer big book deals will take place there): Beyond Borders: A festival of contemporary African writing, to be held in Kampala, Uganda.
       Bringing together 45 writers from 18 Sub-Saharan African countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) and the UK:
They will take part in a range of themed panel discussions, public readings, question and answer sessions; and wider reaching community events such as creative writing workshops for local schools
       A press release quotes the Director of British Council Uganda, Richard Weyers:
The literature festival will be one of the largest gatherings of African writers in Africa to take place for several decades. It is a unique creative networking event that will broadcast to the world the richness of African and UK writing.
       (The Frankfurt-timing unfortunately means that literary attention may be focussed elsewhere -- dollars (as in book deals) are generally considered better press than actual literary news -- but we do hope there will be some coverage (and we'll do our best to keep you informed).)
       At least a (very) few editors are skipping Frankfurt in favour of this: Faber and Faber editor Hannah Griffiths and Ayebia Clarke Publishing-founder Becky Ayebia Clarke. But the festival is about the authors, and it's a pretty impressive list of contemporary African writers.
       Authors who will be there who we have books under review by include: Taban Lo Liyong and Moses Isegawa.
       Other authors include: Anthony Kwamiah Johnson, Helon Habila, Osman Pius Conteh, Bernardine Evaristo, and Shimmer Chinodya
       But most interesting, of course, are the authors we haven't heard of or at least read anything by -- and this festival seems to offer a great opportunity to help a new generation along.
       Worth a look also: Crossing Borders, which offers 'New Writing from Africa' (and features some of these authors) -- a promising forum for new African writing.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Where's the Nobel buzz ?

       The announcement of the first Nobel laureate for 2005 -- in Physiology/Medicine -- is expected a week from today, on 3 October, and the literature announcement should follow within days or a week or two (last year it came on 7 October -- the first Thursday of the month is the traditional but not set-in-stone announcement date). So where is all the Nobel buzz ?
       Articles suggesting front-runners almost always crop up around this time of year, but it's been eerily quiet so far in 2005. Is everyone still in shock and denial at Jelinek's win in 2004 ? Did the Man Booker International Prize garner all the international literary prize attention the public could handle ? Is there too much other literary prize news at the same time -- the Man Booker, the inaugural German Book Prize, Orhan Pamuk picking up the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade at the Frankfurt Book Fair (while under threat of prosecution and persecution back home in Turkey), the Quills ?
       Not a good sign for the Nobel. Its big cash prize guarantees lots of coverage (for a day or two) when they announce it, but the build-up has been a yawn. Maybe they really have to look at the idea of making public the shortlist of contenders, to get some good betting action going, and some media attention.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       European Day of Languages

       It's the official European Day of Languages, "Celebrating linguistic diversity, plurilingualism, lifelong language learning".
       A widely cited Eurobarometer survey found that half the European (i.e. EU -- including the Swiss would have pushed the percentage up) population speak a second language, ranging from almost all (Luxembourg) to a mere 29 per cent in Hungary and 30 per cent in the UK.
       See press coverage in, for example, the Daily Telegraph (Britain trails in languages by David Rennie) and the AP report (here at The Times: So we're not worst at languages) -- while the BBC reports a different survey suggests: UK 'loves languages after all' (which claims: "nine out of 10 people want their children to learn foreign languages at primary school"). (Also of interest: a Daily Telegraph article by Liz Lightfoot noting that: Migrant pupils' linguistic skills 'wasted' in class.)
       It is, of course, a European Day of Languages -- this sort of thing wouldn't fly in the United States (where, despite the many immigrants bringing their foreign languages over, the bilingual rate is apparently far lower than anywhere in Europe).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The week ahead at the LBC

       The Litblog Co-op looks worth visiting over the course of the week: beginning with discussions of the fall selection, Steve Stern's The Angel of Forgetfulness, there will also be appearances by Viking publicist Ami Greko and double-duty man (the book's publicist and editor) Paul Slovak, which should be pretty interesting.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 September 2005 - Sunday

Daniel Kehlmann's international breakthrough ? | Russian literary crisis ?
In Praise of Lies review

       Daniel Kehlmann's international breakthrough ?

       Daniel Kehlmann has enjoyed some success already, both in the German-speaking countries and abroad (though none of his novels have been translated into English yet), but Die Vermessung der Welt -- shortlisted for the German Book Prize 2005 -- might be the book that finally gets him the big international breakthrough. A profile in the FAZ claims that even pre-German publication it's being translated into nine foreign languages (though a Falter-interview claims only seven) -- but the one that counts is English, and his recent Ich und Kaminski made it into ten languages (according to Suhrkamp) without finding its way into English .....
       This book, about historical figures Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss, sounds interesting -- and the early German reviews have been enthusiastic. See, for example:        For additional (German) information, see the Rowohlt publicity page (or get your own copy from (And he has a new volume of essays out too, Wo ist Carlos Montufar ? (get that at too.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Russian literary crisis ?

       In Scotland on Sunday Murdo Macleod reports Pulp fiction makes Russia a literary gulag:
Publishing experts admit Russian literature is in a state of crisis and up-and-coming authors have been reduced to asking would-be readers to pay for books in advance in order to make sure they get published.

The crisis in Russian publishing has seen the country's own authors squeezed while publishing companies rely on cheap-and-cheerful detective and war novels and translations of foreign books.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       In Praise of Lies review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Patricia Melo's In Praise of Lies.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 September 2005 - Saturday

Another 100 public intellectuals | Oprah's Book Club goes contemporary again
New Dubravka Ugresic book | Ruminator folding | Japanese literature in Korea

       Another 100 public intellectuals

       Now there's a transatlantic attempt to find "the world's top 100 public intellectuals", as UK-based Prospect and US-based Foreign Policy got together and made a list.
       David Herman introduces the list in Thinking Globally, while Foreign Policy offer a convenient alphabetical list of their top 100 -- and at Prospect you can vote for your favourites.
       It's a much more author-oriented list than Richard Posner found for his book on Public Intellectuals (though Posner does make this list too), including: Chinua Achebe, J.M.Coetzee, Umberto Eco, Gao Xingjian, Ha Jin, Václav Havel, Amos Oz, Orhan Pamuk, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Salman Rushdie, Wole Soyinka, and Mario Vargas Llosa.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Oprah's Book Club goes contemporary again

       They were probably popping champagne corks at all the major publishing houses in the US: as widely reported, Oprah Winfrey has announced that she's willing to feature books by living authors at her Book Club once again. It's big, big news -- rating a front page article in The New York Times (continued, tellingly, in the business, not arts section).
       One possible reason for the back-to-the-present move: as Edward Wyatt writes in The New York Times: recent selections of classic books "did not reach expectations, most notably this summer's selection of three novels by William Faulkner" ('expectations' sadly but unsurprisingly referring solely to sales-totals).
       Significantly (and disappointingly) Oprah has decided to move beyond the immense confines of fiction; as the AP report (here at the San Francisco Chronicle) quotes:
"I've decided I will open the door to all books as potential Oprah's Book Club selections," she said Thursday. "I feel this will give the book club a whole new range of opportunities to explore the world through words."
       Her first selection is, indeed, non-fiction -- and one of the worst kind, too, a memoir -- but it's true to previous Oprah-form (it sounds pretty anguished): James Frey's A Million Little Pieces (see also the OBC-pages preparing viewers for the book).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Dubravka Ugresic book

       Dubravka Ugresic's The Ministry of Pain is now available in the UK, from Saqi Books (see their publicity page or get your copy from; US readers will have to wait until next spring, when Ecco is bringing it out (but you can pre-order it at We'll review it as soon as we can (maybe we can convince the (hopefully) nice people at Saqi to send us a copy); James Hopkin has already gotten to it for The Times and it sounds good.
       The translation (by Michael Henry Heim) was subsidised by the English Centre of International PEN and their promising-sounding Writers in Translation programme -- and you can read an excerpt at Words without Borders.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ruminator folding

       Sadly, Ruminator (formerly the Hungry Mind Review) is folding: one more issue and that's all she wrote.
       The AP report (here at the Duluth News Tribune) notes:
Editor Susannah McNeely said subscriptions and online readership were increasing, but not enough to make economic sense to keep the quarterly magazine going.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Japanese literature in Korea

       In The Korea Herald Shin Hae-in reports that 'Japan Wave' hits local literature market:
Amid the ongoing slump in the domestic literature market, Japanese novels continue to show off their power, enjoying an overwhelming popularity especially among young readers in their 20s and 30s.
       The one-way street is about as bad as English-language crap popular fiction elsewhere:
While Korean publishing companies now fight over contracts for publication of Japanese novels, there are only a few Korean novels that succeed in gaining popularity with Japanese readers.

The number of newly published Japanese novels increases every year in Korea: 373 books in 2004, according to the Korean Publishing Marketing Research Institute. In contrast, only 19 Korean books were published in Japan last year.
       Korea is the guest of honour at the soon to start Frankfurt Book Fair. That probably won't help in Japan (or the US ?) but may at least briefly raise the profile of Korean literature in a few European countries.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 September 2005 - Friday

A look at Bookforum | The Dictionary of the Worker's Paradise
The Story of a Life review

       A look at Bookforum

       We mentioned that the October/November issue of Bookforum was available -- with a tiny smattering of articles accessible online -- and we finally got our copy in the mail, allowing us to read the many pieces not available online.
       First and foremost, of course, is Mark M. Anderson's review of Peter Weiss' The Aesthetics of Resistance, which offers a good introduction to Weiss and this work. (And we're glad to see he recommends it.) This is exactly the sort of coverage -- of a book that doesn't get enough elsewhere (pretty much no one else seems to have taken notice of it yet) and does get serious treatment here (Anderson chairs the German Department at Columbia, and knows his stuff -- and presents it nicely, given the space limitations) -- that makes Bookforum worth reading and subscribing to ....
       Quite a few other books of interest are covered as well; among the few we also already have under review is Eliot Weinberger's What Happened Here. That is a title that should get considerable coverage -- and be much discussed -- elsewhere too; we're curious exactly how much.

       Of some interest is also editor in chief Eric Banks' interview with the editor of, the useful (if still slightly underwhelming) English-language feuilleton-summary-site from Germany (a trimmed English version of the very useful Perlentaucher site). (It's a brilliant idea, and as we mentioned when they launched, we just wish other countries/languages would offer similar press-summaries focussed on domestic (or, better yet, international) literary coverage.)
       We are curious as to whether they can really succeed (especially given how little content they offer at this time, and the fact that it it is limited to what appeared in the major German-language newspapers). Recall that a few months back the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung axed its English-language weekly supplement, FAZ Weekly.
       Not mentioned in the Bookforum interview is the main source of's funding: a fat federal (German) subsidy. As reported by FAZ, they're getting about 1.4 million euros through September 2007 from the Bundeskulturstiftung. (See also the government's overview -- no worry, that link goes to an English text.)
       We figure they're getting €50,000 (about $60,000) a month. (To put that in some perspective: they're getting more per day than what we made and spent on the complete review for all of last year.) It's a good cause (and helps spread information about Germany), but that seems like an awful lot of government money to be spending. More importantly: what happens when the money runs out ? Advertising surely won't do it (not if they're expecting to burn money at this rate), leaving sponsorship -- which might not be that far-fetched: it might be in the source-newspaper's interest to keep this forum open.
       We do hope they thrive -- though more content would be welcome too.

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       The Dictionary of the Worker's Paradise

       In The Moscow Times Michele A. Berdy describes the entertaining-sounding The Dictionary of the Worker's Paradise in The Party Line .
       It's a dictionary that documents Soviet jargon and acronyms, and sounds fascinating:
If you read the dictionary the way I did, from start to finish as if it were a novel -- and with an old Bulat Okudzhava tape playing in the background -- you dissolve into the Soviet past, which visually comes to life with illustrations of posters and billboards. Anyone who wants to read Bulgakov or Ilf and Petrov in the original Russian will find this dictionary indispensable.

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       The Story of a Life review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Aharon Appelfeld's memoir, The Story of a Life.
       (We're a bit surprised this wasn't a more widely-review title.)

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22 September 2005 - Thursday

The role of the novelist | Holberg Prize | FT Goldman Sachs Business Book Award
Critical of critical literacy down under | Ulin interview

       The role of the novelist

       In The Guardian yesterday Giles Fraser argued that Rushdie should swap his crusading for novel writing, taking issue with Salman Rushdie's recent prominent pronouncements in the op-ed pages (see, for example, our previous mention). In this case, it's not so much that Fraser believes Rushdie doesn't have valid points to make, but rather that:
what's apparently not so obvious to Rushdie is that the most effective answer to bad religion is under his very nose: the novel itself.
       Fraser wholeheartedly endorses the novelist-as-world-changer idea -- as long as it's done through fiction:
But these dangerous times require the moral imagination of the novel as much as ever. And this in two specific respects: first, in the capacity of the novel to be more humble than the pamphleteer with regard to ideology; and second, in its capacity to listen to and be affected by moral worlds very different from one's own.
       All well and good, but Fraser overlooks the obvious: Rushdie is no longer a very good novelist (two real clunkers followed by the current very middling effort), and whatever the qualities of his most recent offering, Shalimar the Clown, its message about (and presentation of) terrorism is a disastrous muddle.
       Fraser argues:
The tragedy is that Rushdie the novelist has increasingly been overtaken by his public crusading. The vocation of the novelist is to pluralism. That's why the novel is sacred. Unfortunately, it's a sanctity in which Rushdie now seems to have lost his faith.
       Far from a tragedy, we'd argue that Rushdie (and certainly his prospective readers) might be better off if he just forgot about this fiction-writing stuff and focussed on the public crusading. He's a relatively well-known and popular figure of some moral authority, and people do pay attention. His most recent fiction, on the other hand, makes for decent pass-time reading, but the world can certainly do without it.
       Lots of writers only have a single book in them, but feel that if they've been published or had success they must continue being "writers". They don't, and we'd all be better off if many didn't feel compelled to churn out more books. Rushdie has actually produced several books that should endure; there would be no shame in his hanging it up now and pursuing his other interests.
       Sure, we're with Fraser: novelists should focus on their fiction, and novels are sacred (well, a very few of them) -- but most of the voluminous output pouring forth nowadays is just a waste of everybody's time.
       We don't think Rushdie has lost faith, but rather that he recognises that he's no longer up to it -- that's a great first step. And so we look forward to reading more opinion pieces by him (and, possibly, less novels -- though if he feels inspired, what the hell, he should have another go at it).

       (Updated - 23 September): See also Pierre Assouline's reaction, at La république des livres.

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       Holberg Prize

       Not entirely literary -- last year's winner was Julia Kristeva, this year it's Jürgen Habermas, and it's "for outstanding scholarly work in the field of arts and humanities, social sciences, law or theology" -- but the eye-popping cash award that goes with the honour makes us sit up and take note: Habermas picks up a cool (very cool) 4,5 million Norwegian kroner ("about 520,000 Euro" they helpfully note, pre currency appreciation: at current exchange rates it's over $700,000). It's the Holberg Prize (actually, the Holberg International Memorial Prize; there's also a less well-endowed Nils Klim Prize, limited to "younger Nordic researchers").
       Actually, it wasn't the money which first attracted our attention, but the name: it's nice to see Ludvig Holberg memorialised this way.
       Anyway: they seem to have spent all the money on the cash prizes and forgotten to contact any journalists, etc.: there's been almost no press coverage (and here we thought lots of cash made for instant credibility -- apparently not).

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       FT Goldman Sachs Business Book Award

       They don't even seem sure what unwieldy name they've picked for it -- the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award ? the FT Goldman Sachs Business Book Award ? (our vote, of course, goes for the catchy abbreviation: the FTGSBBA) -- but they've come up with a shortlist, and in the Financial Times Andrew Hill describes How the judges brought the contenders to book (link likely only very short-lived).
       Business book award judging apparently don't involve quite the same rigours that normal book judging does -- though Hill makes it sound like an heroic undertaking:
Getting them to read 17 heavyweight books over a busy summer and then to agree on the best six in a single meeting seemed at best optimistic when the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs launched their business book award in April.
       Seventeen whole books ! 'Heavyweight' ones, too (could have fooled us -- the list is made up of the popular stuff that has been widely covered in the mainstream media).
       But there is a decent wad of cash at stake -- £30,000.
       The winner will be selected 21 November (it's unclear what the long delay between shortlist and finals is good for).

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       Critical of critical literacy down under

       The debate continues in Australia, and now the local cardinal has weighed in: as Jill Rowbotham reports, Pell's text message: English syllabus has no morals:
Debate has raged in recent months about the educational value of the critical literacy program, which encourages students to approach all texts -- from books through to television commercials -- from the point of view of the possible suspect motives behind it.
       And this cardinal has now added his two cents -- having presumably taken until now to master the jargon:
"Generally accepted understandings of family, sexuality, maleness, femaleness, parenthood and culture are treated as 'dominant discourses' that impose and legitimise injustice and intolerance. These dominant discourses are then undermined by a disproportionate focus on 'texts' which normalise moral and social disorder."

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       Ulin interview

       Someone named David Ulin is set to take over the literary editing duties at The Los Angeles Times, and LA-based weblog The Elegant Variation offers a three minute interview to help get to know the guy. Not much help (Ulin is careful with his answers), but better than nothing, and the proof will, of course, be in the pudding -- i.e. this Times' literary coverage. We're not exactly thrilled to learn about his Tanenhausesque hope "to see more non-review material -- essays, overviews, think pieces", but he doesn't make any outrageous suggestions, so maybe there's some hope. (As to Trocchi as the best writer we've never heard of -- well, a) we had (heard of him -- read some of his stuff, even) and b) while he's an interesting writer, surely quality isn't among his most prominent qualities. It sounds like a too-forced 'edgy' choice, but at least Ulin shows a bit of imagination (or humour).)

       (TEV has, of course, set the interview-standard very high, with part two of the John Banville-interview now available -- and more to come (tune in Mondays).)

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21 September 2005 - Wednesday

Tom Wolfe covers | Kantian thriller | Australian book sales

       Tom Wolfe covers

       Long over the hill but still inexplicably popular author Tom Wolfe garnered some press and weblog (see, for example, the GalleyCat mention) coverage again with the appearance of the paperback edition of his most recent novel, something called I Am Charlotte Simmons -- not that you could tell from that paperback edition. As reported by Robin Abcarian, in The Los Angeles Times, this is one book that takes the idea of Name above the title to extremes. Yes:
Oddly, the cover of the paperback, omits the name of the novel altogether. "Big publicity and marketing campaigns for big authors are to be expected, said Michael Cader, the editor of two industry publications, Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Lunch. But "a paperback cover that has the author's name in huge letters and neglects to include the book's title at all is very unexpected, and very unusual."
       Is it really ? (Check it out, if you must, at the official site, by the way.) Recall that the hardcover of Tom Wolfe's previous book, the deservedly forgotten Hooking Up desperately relied on the same trick:

       Why the Wolfe name would help sell a book baffles us (as does the fact that we wasted our and your time reviewing two of this buffoon's books), but what do we know ? Indeed, the claim is:
Darin Keesler, marketing director of Picador USA, the novel's paperback publisher, said that the decision to leave the title off the cover was partly a design issue, partly a nod to Wolfe's fame. "We were able to do it because Tom Wolfe is in many ways a brand, a star."
       We're glad we don't live in that bizarro-universe where Wolfe is a star -- but apparently they sell lots of books there .....
       As we pointed out in our review of Hooking Up, it stands in interesting contrast to John Berger's (unfortunately also third-rate) King, the British hardcover edition of which actually did not mention the author's name, just the title (something that the American publishers did not try).
       We understand that it's a personality-driven age, we're just surprised that this Wolfe guy is still a personality of interest to anyone. If you want to get a copy of the title-less edition, you can get it from (and last we checked its sales rank was 839, so there were some people -- though not all that many -- wasting their good money on it; maybe they think it will be a collector's item). We would implore you, however, not to bother with this pile of shit and suggest you read a real book -- with title on the cover and all -- instead (though if you're buying the Wolfe it may very well be not to read it but so that you can be seen in public with a 'Tom Wolfe' book -- which could only be for reasons we really, really don't want to know about.)

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       Kantian thriller

       Yes, those words grab our attention, so even though The Bookseller only offers a very brief freely accessible paragraph claiming that Kantian thriller is international hit we're hooked.
       Another article there -- scroll way down, to 'Critique of criminal reason by Michael Gregorio' -- offers a bit more information:
First in a series set in Napoleonic times: detective Hanno Steffinis applies his teacher Kant's philosophy to solve enigmatic murders in Prussia. Faber purchased UK and translation rights in the first two volumes. Rights sold in USA, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Philosopher and novelist Gregorio are an Italian-English couple based in Spoleto, Italy.
       It doesn't seem to be much of an international hit yet -- a Google search of the various keywords brings up practically nothing (and no version of these books appears to be in print yet anywhere) -- and we're not sure anything described as 'Kantian' will ever be a big draw, but, again: what do we know ?
       What we do know is that it really is hard to have even the least bit of respect for literary agents, our opinion reaffirmed when we read:
Agent Leslie Gardner at Artellus Limited comments "It is a most fascinating imagining of Kant's last, unpublished work and its applications. Great storylines capture your brain in this one. Umberto Eco has a rival !"
       Dare we open a book -- most fascinating though it may be -- that threatens to capture our brain ...?

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       Australian book sales

       New statistics out from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (find or buy them here) cover book sales in Australia 2003/4. In The Australian Murray Waldren concludes it's a: Fairytale result for bookshops:
The number of books bought in bookstores jumped by almost 25per cent between 2002-03 and 2003-04, up from 42.8million to 53.5million.

Total sales rose only slightly, to almost 80million books worth $1.4billion, suggesting the bookshop boom has come at the expense of department stores, supermarkets and newsagents.
       An interesting shift in where people buy books -- but if they're not buying a lot more (or less), what does it mean ? (See also the AAP report in The Age.)

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