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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 October 2005

11 October: Competing Helms reviews | The Sea takes Man Booker | New Humanities | The Ministry of Pain review
12 October: Nobel fun: Announcement announcement - Causa Ahnlund - Nobelbloggen - Adonis interview | Bad precedent for Pamuk ? | Hungarian Literature Online
13 October: * Nobel Prize for Literature goes to Harold Pinter - first reactions * | NBA finalists | The Quills | The Sea's US publication date pushed up | New Oxonian Review | A Rabbit's Eyes review
14 October: Harold Pinter: the first wave of reactions | Stoppard Rock 'n' Rolls ? | Iain Sinclair profile
15 October: Rushdie (and Rehn) on Pamuk | American writers and the Man Booker | Down with author photographs !
16 October: Nobel disappointment: Pamuk | Nobel disappointment: Ko Un | NLNG Literature Prize | Mahfouz reviews
17 October: Time's 100 top (English-language) works of fiction | Literature abroad | Bair's Jung-biography in Germany | NYTBR note
18 October: Beyond Borders Festival | Noma Award to CTBF | More on Orhan Pamuk | German Book Prize to Es geht uns gut | Ba Jin (1904-2005) | Mayor Fo ? | Memories of My Melancholy Whores review
19 October: Frankfurt Book Fair | Soft Skull News | Kidd covers | Young readers, old writers
20 October: Errata -- or on purpose ? | Brother Anthony of Taize | Kirsch on García Márquez | One more bet on Adonis ? | Another Ugresic review

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20 October 2005 - Thursday

Errata -- or on purpose ? | Brother Anthony of Taize | Kirsch on García Márquez
One more bet on Adonis ? | Another Ugresic review

       Errata -- or on purpose ?

       In his Marginalia-column in The Telegraph this week, Smartypants, Nicholas Blincoe considers mistakes in works of fiction, beginning:
In his novel Ghostwritten, David Mitchell attributes the song Jolene to Tammy Wynette, not Dolly Parton. Though the book is excellent, that one mistake jarred. Soon I was questioning the veracity of everything. Yet I knew I was being unfair. It is easy to make mistakes, and far harder to spot them, which is why we have proof-readers.
       With Zadie Smith he then has to wonder whether she is doing it on purpose -- which, of course, also happens.
       We bring this up because we recently also encountered a confounding mistake: as we mention in our review of Stephen King's new novel, The Colorado Kid, he puts a Starbucks where there can't have been one. Now comes word, at the official Stephen King site, of a Continuity Clarification from Stephen (scroll down to 7 October entry):
The review of The Colorado Kid in today’s issue of today's USA Today mentions that there was no Starbucks in Denver in 1980. Don’t assume that’s a mistake on my part. The constant readers of the Dark Tower series may realize that that is not necessarily a continuity error, but a clue.
       (No doubt the double-mention of: "today’s issue of today's USA Today " is also some sort of chronological clue.) In any case, we had treated it as if it might be a clue in our review (which, by the way, appeared ten days before the one at USA Today), but still couldn't make heads or tails of it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Brother Anthony of Taize

       With Korean literature in a (distant) spotlight (as guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair) there's a profile of pioneering Korean-to-English translator Brother Anthony of Taize by Reuben Staines in The Korea Times (link first seen at The Elegant Variation).
       Some interesting titbits, including about his early efforts:
Not only did the task test his still limited comprehension of the Korean language but also, when the translations were polished and complete, he found that most international publishers turned up their noses at the obscure literary works.
       Sadly, that situation does not seem to have changed dramatically .....
       As to translating-approaches:
His advice for would-be translators is to work in a partnership -- one native Korean speaker and one English -- to ensure that works are represented with both accuracy and style.
       We've mentioned his homepage (note: new URL) before, and recommend it again for anyone interested in Korean literature -- a great place to get an overview. (See also our review of his translation of Yi Mun-yol's The Poet.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kirsch on García Márquez

       In yesterday's issue of The New York Sun Adam Kirsch reviews (warning ! link likely only very short-lived) Gabriel García Márquez's new book, Memories of My Melancholy Whores (see also our review). He's not a big fan (of García Márquez in general, apparently -- a political thing, one suspects -- and of this work in particular), but it's worth a look.
       We mention it also because we've gotten into the habit of shelling out 25 cents on Wednesdays for The New York Sun. Its politics prevent us from making this a daily habit, but Wednesdays -- when they appear to have most of their book coverage -- it's worth putting up with. Consider yesterday's issue, for example: Kirsch's review begins on the first page, and even though he doesn't think much of the book it's at least an acknowledgement of its significance.
       The other titles reviewed yesterday are: Jerome Charyn's Savage Shorthand (an Isaac Babel biography that we will be covering in the next few weeks), A.N.Wilson's After the Victorians, Czeslaw Milosz's Legends of Modernity, and a two-for-one review of Rachel Cusk's In the Fold and Rafi Zabor's I, Wabenezi. In addition one finds mystery-man Otto Penzler's weekly column and Eric Ormsby writing on Johann Peter Hebel.
       It's just a bit more than two (admittedly broadsheet) pages, but they manage to review two more titles originally written in a foreign language than found in the past two entire issues of The New York Times Book Review (who reviewed zero; see our previous mention). And that doesn't even count the Hebel-piece (bonus-points for that).
       Sure, even Sam Tanenhaus will feel compelled to cover the García Márquez, probably even in the next couple of weeks, but this is getting pretty ridiculous.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       One more bet on Adonis ?

       We mentioned that The New York Review of Books seems to have conveniently timed a piece about Nobel hopeful Ko Un in the most recent issue, on the off chance that the prize would go his way. They apparently weren't the only ones playing the Nobel odds (and being disappointed): the current (24 October) issue of The New Yorker just happens to offer three (!) poems by Nobel-touted Syrian poet Adonis (though they're not available online).
       A bit too obvious for our tastes, but at least both poets get some American exposure .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Another Ugresic review

       Good to see Dubravka Ugresic's new novel, The Ministry of Pain, get yet another good write-up (this time from Julian Evans in The Telegraph).
       Will it be enough to turn this into her break-out title ? We fear not -- but it remains to be seen how (or rather: whether) American critics treat it when it comes out in the US next spring. (If Thank you for not Reading didn't do the trick .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 October 2005 - Wednesday

Frankfurt Book Fair | Soft Skull News | Kidd covers | Young readers, old writers

       Frankfurt Book Fair

       It's Frankfurt Book Fair time, and though it's more about book deals (yawn) than books, there should be some decent literary stuff as well. Hell, we think it's worthwhile just for the fat literary supplements the German papers offer -- see, for example, those at Die Zeit and FAZ ((Updated - 20 October): See also Falter's supplement : a mere 111 books covered -- where are the US/UK supplements (on any occasion) covering this many titles ?).
       Not much useful English-language coverage yet, just general overviews such as Deutsche Welle's Frankfurt Book Fair Hits Trendy Note -- though that at least offers some discussion of guest of honour Korea's efforts:
The lack of German translations of Korean works has made for a two-year race against time to get some 100 titles ready for the book fair.

According to the festival spokeswoman Caroline Vogel, it proved to be an impossible deadline.

"It is very difficult because there are not enough translations and there are not enough translators. It is literature and not everybody can translate literature," Vogel said.

"But it is always like this. Last year it was the same problem for Arab authors, and I think the Koreans have managed almost 80 translations."
       But we'd love more details about what got translated into what languages. And what ever happened to North Korea ?
       The Korean papers offer some reports too, of course: see Korea showcases art, culture, literature at Frankfurt Book Fair in The Korea Herald and Frankfurt Book Fair Opens in The Korea Times
       And, of course, there are the other national reports: see, e.g.: Frankfurt Book Fair to Feature Fewer Slovenian Publishers, Israeli participation at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Iran to participate in Frankfurt Book Fair 2005, etc.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Soft Skull News

       As widely noted, Soft Skull Press has started a weblog, Soft Skull News, joining the ranks of such other blogging publishers as Vertical and Oxford University Press (to name two examples of what different approaches publishers can take).
       They've just started, so it remains to be seen whether it's worthwhile, but the promised posts from the Frankfurt Book Fair sure sound like a great place to start.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kidd covers

       Vertical (see, those publishers' weblogs are worth visiting) alerts us to Chip Kidd's (book tie-in) web presence, Good Is Dead. It promises that: "full website in the works", and that certainly might be interesting in the future.
       Interesting now is that Kidd has a book out, Chip Kidd: Book One, apparently collecting all his (often marvellous) book cover art, with an introduction by John Updike, etc. (See the Rizzoli publicity page or get your own copy from
       Not the sort of book we usually cover, but we'd certainly love to have look at this one. (We have covered his unfortunate (but well-designed) foray into fiction, The Cheese Monkeys .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Young readers, old writers

       It's hardly surprising to hear -- in this case in China -- that Young readers not big fans of famous author. The death of Ba Jin (see our mention yesterday) made headlines, but he's apparently little more than a name to today's (Chinese) youth:
Even young people need to relax, Wang said. They wouldn't like to read these "thick books involving time-consuming reading and necessary background knowledge."
       Ah yes, that damned time-consuming reading ... we prefer ours instantaneous as well.
       Still, it's always fun to hear the old folks complain:
Wen also criticized the young people for reading fewer books. "They are more practical and less ready to fight for their dreams," Wen said. "It's not good."
       A pox on practical youths !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 October 2005 - Tuesday

Beyond Borders Festival | Noma Award to CTBF | More on Orhan Pamuk
German Book Prize to Es geht uns gut | Ba Jin (1904-2005)
Mayor Fo ? | Memories of My Melancholy Whores review

       Beyond Borders Festival

       The Beyond Borders Festival: A Festival of Contemporary African Writers begins in Kampala, Uganda tomorrow.
       On the programme -- among much else --:
  • Politics, Conflict and Creativity - at Makerere University Main Hall from 10.00 to 12.00 on Wednesday
  • The African Writer: which role now ? - Veronique Tadjo on what she thinks, at the Sheraton Hotel, Rwenzori Ball Room from 14:00 to 16:00 on Wednesday
  • Are We Heard ? A contemporary view of the poet in Africa - a round table discussion at Kyambogo University, 14:00 to 15:30 on Thursday
  • Freeing the Tongue: Experimental writing in contemporary prose - a panel discussion at Kyambogo University, 14:00 to 15:30 on Thursday
  • Taban in Conversation - Prof. Arthur Gakwandi talks with Taban Lo Liyong at Kyambogo University, 16:00 to 17:30 on Thursday
  • Whose Language ? - a round table discussion at the Sheraton Hotel (Forest Room), 11.30am to 13:00 on Friday
  • The Publisher’s Role - a panel discussion at Kati Kati (Sun Lounge), 14:00 to 16:00 Friday
       We're looking forward to the reports (we hope there are some journalists covering this -- or that the authors themselves will eventually report on it in the European and American press). For now, see for example Pamela Otali's recent overview in The Weekly Observer, African writers to meet in Kampala.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Noma Award to CTBF

       The Cape Town Book Fair, to be held for the first time next year (17-20 June 2006), lands another coup by getting the prestigious Noma Award to present the award there; see the official announcement.
       The CTBF already looks like it's well on its way to establishing itself as the pre-eminent African book fair.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on Orhan Pamuk

       The case against Orhan Pamuk (see our previous mention, etc.) continues to garner a good deal of attention -- and so at least, for once, the speech of the winner of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (that would be Orhan this year), to be held on Sunday, should get some decent press coverage.
       Meanwhile, Pamuk is speaking up elsewhere, too -- most recently, apparently, on 'CNN Turk'. In the Daily Star Ramsay Short reports that Defiant Turkish writer says 'genocide' taboo an obstacle to EU entry.
       Among the points of interest:
"I do not believe my case will result in a conviction, but one cannot join the EU by making one's writers suffer at the courts," Pamuk, 53, said.
"I'm still standing behind my words," a defiant Pamuk told CNN Turk. "My aim was to start a little bit of a discussion on this taboo, because this taboo is an obstacle for our entry into the EU," he said, referring to the killings of Armenians, which many countries have recognized as genocide, much to Ankara's ire. "What I say may not be true, you may not agree with me, but I have the right to say it," he said.
       Meanwhile, in the Financial Times, Vincent Boland writes that Turkish foreign minister defends judicial integrity (link likely only short-lived). The foreign minister, Abdullah Gul, addresses the Pamuk-case:
"I have confidence that the judge will dismiss this case," Mr Gul said in an interview last week with the Financial Times.
       Pretty impressive what a fuss is being kicked up, and it'll be interesting to see where this goes.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       German Book Prize to Es geht uns gut

       The first German Book Prize winner has been announced, and the prize goes to Arno Geiger's Es geht uns gut (see the Hanser publicity page, or get your copy at
       The prize -- which they no doubt hope to turn into the German Man Booker (though the winner gets only € 25,000) -- seems to have gone fairly smoothly this first time out. Previous efforts at book-of-the-year prizes haven't gone over well (practically all the big German prizes are author-prizes, given for a body of work, rather than a single one), but there seems to be some hope for this one.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ba Jin (1904-2005)

       The grand old man of modern Chinese literature, Ba Jin (a.k.a. Pa Chin), is dead. Not a major force for quite a while now, but an important figure.
       See reports:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mayor Fo ?

       Dario Fo, 1997 Nobel laureate, is apparently concerned that he no longer gets sufficient attention as the most ridiculous literature award winner ever, and so he is now apparently considering running for mayor of Milan; see Playwright Fo reveals mayoral aim at the BBC.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Memories of My Melancholy Whores review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of yet another Nobel laureate's (1982s) new book, Gabriel García Márquez's novella, Memories of My Melancholy Whores.
       Reports are that it had print run of a million in Spanish and 200,000 in German -- what is Knopf expecting for the English-language edition ? At twenty dollars for the slight (though wonderfully-sized, by the way) book, it's also a bit steep.
       García Márquez is a bit less wordy than usual, but, by and large, on form -- except for the description of the fourteen year-old whore's "toes as long and sensitive as fingers", which continue to haunt us in all the wrong ways.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 October 2005 - Monday

Time's 100 top (English-language) works of fiction | Literature abroad
Bair's Jung-biography in Germany | NYTBR note

       Time's 100 top (English-language) works of fiction

       Well, it will, no doubt be widely discussed: Time has come out with a list of the 100 top English-language works of fiction to appear since 1923 (when Time first appeared), as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo.
       See:        The list looks more like one of the 100 most notable titles, rather than strictly the best. And only titles written in English were considered .....
       Well, let the debates begin .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literature abroad

       With their guests-of-honour spot coming up at the Frankfurt Book Fair (starts Wednesday), and the disappointment over (imagined) front-runner Ko Un getting snubbed in Stockholm (see our previous mention) Korea is wondering how to sell their literature abroad. A piece in The Korea Times, Nobel Literature Prize, argues that: "Systematic Efforts Needed to Introduce Korean Works Abroad".
       Interesting the inevitable comparison to neighbouring Japan:
A Nobel prize may not necessarily be the sole yardstick of literary accomplishment. Still, it is true the Korean literary world has long aspired to get the award, particularly since rival Japan produced its second recipient a decade ago. Tokyo, however, supported overseas publications of about 20,000 Japanese literary works between 1945 and 1990, while Seoul has done so for only 800 titles since 1979. A country's literature should not be in exact proportion to its global status, but the corresponding investment is still needed.
       Among the suggestions:
Likewise, the nation should find out what foreigners want to see in Korean works instead of unilaterally presenting what it thinks appeal to them.
       So what are you looking for in Korean literature ? (Come on -- don't tell us you're not looking .....)
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bair's Jung-biography in Germany

       A couple of months back we mentioned that the German publisher of Deirdre Bair's biography of Carl Jung was bowing to demands of the Jung-heirs to include extensive annotations regarding material they objected to (because they believed it to be inaccurate or, presumably, misleading) in the German edition. We were pretty shocked that she'd agree to this -- and we're thrilled to report that she has apparently changed her mind: Doreen Carvajal reported (very briefly) in The New York Times on Saturday that the book will now be published without any Jung-heir-additions, quoting the German publisher as saying:
"Deirdre Bair simply forbid me to publish any German edition with any annotations regarding information from the Jung family"
       Good for her -- and good for German publisher Knaus for not giving in to the demands (or pulling the book altogether).
       Now, of course, we have to hope the Jung heirs take this matter to court, so that the issue can be fully resolved (by the resounding defeat of their position) and German publishers won't have to worry about interference of this sort any longer.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NYTBR note

       Another issue of The New York Times Book Review, another issue (the second in a row) in which not a single of the titles under review was originally written in a foreign language. Since there aren't any brief reviews ('Chronicle' or 'Crime' etc. round-ups) -- only 17 more or less full-length reviews -- not much of a surprise: rare is the book originally written in a foreign language that Sam Tanenhaus would waste much space on .....
       With the Time top-100 list (see above) restricted to books written in English, more proof again how utterly marginal foreign language literature is considered stateside.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 October 2005 - Sunday

Nobel disappointment: Pamuk | Nobel disappointment: Ko Un
NLNG Literature Prize | Mahfouz reviews

       Nobel disappointment: Pamuk

       So there are tons of reactions to Pinter winning the Nobel Prize for literature (see also our coverage over the past couple of days).
       Lots of the commentary moaning about Pinter's politics seems to us particularly misguided, but worth noting also is Robert McCrum's 'The World of Books'-column in The Observer this week, Nobel adversaries. He notes there have been some unusual; choices recenetly:
For instance, in the last decade, the Nobel has gone to Dario Fo (near universal dismay), Gao Xingjian (bafflement) and, in 2004, the reclusive Elfriede Jelinek.
       But while he acknowledges that Pinter is:
a great writer of international stature whose work has resonance around the world, we cannot overlook the missed opportunity inherent in this decision.

As Pinter himself will be only too well aware, Turkey's most distinguished living writer is Orhan Pamuk, author of The White Castle, My Name Is Red and Snow. Pamuk currently faces trial for making public reference to the genocidal Armenian massacres. His case goes to court on 16 December; and, if convicted, he faces a three-year prison sentence.

It's wonderful news that Pinter is our latest Nobel laureate, but the Swedes have missed a golden opportunity to take a stand against a shameful and trumped-up assault on a writer's freedom. Pinter would be the first to recognise this.
       As we've mentioned, there was a rumour -- a ridiculous runour, to our minds -- that the Swedish Academy was split over awarding the prize to Pamuk. Aside from the fact that he's very young to get it (he would have been one of the youngest literature laureates ever), the more obvious reason not to give it to him is the very one McCrum mentions: it would look too much like the Academy was taking a stand (against something as ridiculous as some pathetic local prosecutor's rogue (though admittedly very popular, in certain circles) actions, no less).
       It's a literary prize, not a platform for sending political messages (though many objecting to choices such as Jelinek, Pinter, Saramago, and Neruda (and Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak, etc. etc.) would argue that it is very political). Just as they declined to seize the moment and even simply make a statement regarding Salman Rushdie when he was fatwa-threatened, the Swedish Academy has wisely stayed away from the too-obviously overtly political in making their selection; yes, Pinter is (loudly) opposed to the Anglo-American involvement in Iraq, but so are hundreds of other prominent writers -- indeed, it would have been hard to find one to give the prize to who supports it.
       Pamuk's legal problems are disturbing, but he's actually getting pretty good outraged coverage (just yesterday we mentioned another Rushdie opinion-piece in support of him) -- and there are actually considerably more serious issues that could be addressed by the Nobel, if that's the route they want to choose (which fortunately it doesn't appear to be).
       So: whatever one thinks of the choice, bravo to the Academy for 'missing' this opportunity !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Nobel disappointment: Ko Un

       Of course, the take on the Pinter win in local papers such as The Korea Times is: Nobel Prize Eludes S. Korean Poet (hey, it eluded us as well !).
       The New York Review of Books is probably disappointed too: an adapted version of Robert Hass' introduction to the forthcoming Green Integer publication, Ten Thousand Lives (get your copy at or, appeared in the current (3 November) edition (complete with David Levine caricature), and a win for the under-covered poet would have presumably thrown considerable attention their way.
       (It's too bad for Green Integer, too -- who, at least according to the bookies, had pretty good cash-in potential this year, considering they also publish perennial favourite Adonis (If Only the Sea Could Sleep, see their publicity page).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NLNG Literature Prize

       In 2004 it was something of a scandal (in Nigeria, at least) that the NLNG Literature Prize was not awarded (because no one was good enough) -- so what do they do this year ? Have two winners, of course. There were three finalists -- Gabriel Okara, Promise Okekwe, and Ezenwa Ohaeto -- and Okara and Ohaeto shared the prize.
       See reports in Vanguard (NLNG instituted the annual prizes for science and literature), the Daily Sun (For me, this prize is greater than Commonwealth crown), and The Guardian (Nigeria) (NLNG Prize: The highs, the lows; link likely only short-lived).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mahfouz reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of three works by 1988 Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 October 2005 - Saturday

Rushdie (and Rehn) on Pamuk | American writers and the Man Booker
Down with author photographs !

       Rushdie (and Rehn) on Pamuk

       With all the Nobel fuss it seems to have gone largely unnoticed, but Salman Rushdie published another editorial in The Times yesterday, wondering: How can a country that victimises its greatest living writer also join the EU ?, arguing:
But the Turkish application is indeed a test case for the EU, a test of whether the Union has any principles at all. If it has, its leaders will insist on charges against Orhan Pamuk being dropped at once -- there is no need to keep him waiting for justice until December -- and on further, rapid revisions to Turkey’s repressive penal code.
       (Our most recent mention of the Pamuk-case was on Wednesday.)
       In other Pamuk news: EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, in charge of the talks with Turkey, had lunch with the author last week; see, for example, Rehn Meets Orhan Pamuk at
       He also addressed it briefly in an interview in The New Anatolian, saying:
On the Pamuk issue, I have to tell you that we are very concerned about the freedom of expression in Turkey. We will come back to that during my mission and in the forthcoming report on Turkey.
       The report isn't available yet, but see also his speech on "Accession negotiations with Turkey: the journey is as important as the final destination" (28 September), in which he also brings up the matter.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       American writers and the Man Booker

       David Baddiel chooses the occasion of the awarding of the Man Booker prize to The Sea by John Banville to again bring up the idea of including American writers in the mix, in 'If the Booker was open to America, they would win it every time'.
       He thinks American literature is obviously superior:
If you want genuinely great writing, read Updike; read Roth; read Franzen; read Delillo.
       Anything strike you about that list ? How about the fact that only one of these authors produced a title that would have slipped in -- just -- as published (in the US, at least) in the eligible period -- John Updike's Villages (published October, 2004). And surely even Baddiel would find it hard to argue that that deserved a place anywhere near the shortlist, much less in the winner's circle.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Down with author photographs !

       It's a noble cause, but a vain effort: in Facing the facts "Frances Wilson calls for the abolition of author photographs".
       Hey, we're all for it (their abolition, that is), but given how much the industry depends on image over content we can't imagine it'll ever happen.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 October 2005 - Friday

Harold Pinter: the first wave of reactions | Stoppard Rock 'n' Rolls ? | Iain Sinclair profile

       Harold Pinter: the first wave of reactions

       We mentioned Harold Pinter winning the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature and the first reactions to that yesterday, but of course it's just the beginning of a huge flood of coverage and commentary -- helped by the fact that many British and American readers and theatre-goers (and movie-goers, though they might not realise it) are familiar with at least some of his work and so a lot more people will chime in (unlike with Jelinek last year). And while his political statements (and poetry) have had almost no resonance in the US, it has certainly made him a prominent controversial figure in the UK. (a playwright dabbling in poetry, allowing the discussion to move beyond the merely literary to the political (not that that aspect of it thrills us all that much).
       So, here links to additional coverage (note we are not aiming at listing every damn story that mentions the same facts -- you can find those through Google easily enough), but rather as much variety of coverage as possible):        And we have to imagine that the event scheduled for 20 October, Harold Pinter in Conversation has suddenly become a very hot ticket.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Stoppard Rock 'n' Rolls ?

       As part of the impressive line-up celebrating the Royal Court Theatre's 50th anniversary there will be a new play by Tom Stoppard (and one by David Hare too). It's scheduled for next summer, Trevor Nunn directing, and the RCT page describes it (scroll down):
Tom Stoppard's first play for the Royal Court spans the recent history of Czechoslovakia between the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution but from the double perspective of Prague, where a rock 'n' roll band came to symbolise resistance to the regime, and the British left, represented by a Communist philosopher at Cambridge.
       Any question with whom Sir Tom's sympathies lie ?

       See also Charlotte Higgins' New plays by Stoppard and Hare to mark 50 years of the Royal Court, where she reports:
His new play, Rock 'n' Roll, "is so appropriate as to be almost bespoke", according to the Court's artistic director, Ian Rickson, since it takes as its starting point 1956, the year of the Court's foundation, taking in "a history of the left, censorship, identity, belonging and rock music".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Iain Sinclair profile

       Yet another profile/interview of Edge of the Orison-author Iain Sinclair, this time by/with Sinclair McKay in The Telegraph.
       We really do have to get our hands on that book .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

13 October 2005 - Thursday

* Nobel Prize for Literature goes to Harold Pinter - first reactions *
NBA finalists | The Quills | The Sea's US publication date pushed up
New Oxonian Review | A Rabbit's Eyes review

       Nobel Prize for Literature goes to Harold Pinter - first reactions

       Well, we can lean back and relax a bit: the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature has been announced, and it goes to Harold Pinter -- familiar and readily accessible to the English-speaking world. There will be commentary -- English and possibly even vaguely informed (unlike last year's articles about Jelinek) -- galore, and you hardly need our help in sifting through it (but don't worry, we'll keep you updated in the coming days).
       Early reports tend to be press agency boilerplate, so there's almost nothing worthwhile floating around yet -- but tomorrow's British papers should be packed.
       Among the few articles currently available: Sarah Crown's Nobel prize goes to Pinter in The Guardian -- though she ridiculously begins it:
This has been quite a week for literary coups. In an almost entirely unexpected move, the Swedish Academy have this lunchtime announced their decision to award this year's Nobel prize for Literature to the British playwright, author and recent poet, Harold Pinter and not, as was widely anticipated, to Turkish author Orhan Pamuk or the Syrian poet Adonis.
       Who on earth was widely anticipating Adonis or Pamuk ? The one spreading the Pamuk-rumour was Alex Duval Smith in The Observer but that never sounded even remotely credible -- and poor Adonis is one of those names that people latch onto year after year but who probably isn't even seriously in the running. But when was the last time the Swedish Academy made a 'predictable' choice anyway ? (Note, however, that Pinter was on the Ladbrokes betting-sheet, so it didn't come anywhere near as far out of the blue as the choice of Jelinek last year -- and some punters may have actually made a tidy sum (though overall Ladbrokes obviously cleaned up on this).)
       It will, again, be a controversial choice, in particular because of Pinter's recent anti-war writings. Indeed, it's hard not to see this also as yet another Nobel signal that they really disapprove of the Anglo-American handling of all things Iraq (as the IAEA getting the Peace Prize obviously was). But Pinter is a globally acknowledged significant playwright, and there will be fewer is-he-worthy-debates than there were with Jelinek. Interesting, too, that it's two years running now that an author primarily known as a playwright has taken the prize. (And Pinter's win does probably mean that Stoppard won't ever get it.)

       You can discuss the choice at The Guardian's culture vulture weblog.

       Among the few other initial press reports, the only obvious ones to check out ar the Swedish ones. See Litteraturpris till Harold Pinter in Svenska Dagbladet and Harold Pinter fick Nobel-priset in Expressen -- and Malte Persson seems to be keeping on top of things (albeit in Swedish) in his Nobel weblog at Expressen.

       The obvious Harold Pinter stops to make are:
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       NBA finalists

       The American National Book Award finalists (20 titles in four categories) have been announced.
       No surprise: we don't have a single one under review. Somewhat more surprising: we can barely imagine reviewing any of the finalists (maybe the Ashbery, if we tackle some of his other works as well, but that's about it).

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       The Quills

       The awards that are too ridiculous to ignore, the Quills, had their tape-delayed awards ceremony on Tuesday, where the winners were announced. (Don't peek if you're waiting to catch the show on TV !)
       It isn't clear which, if any, of the winning authors were there: reports such as Hillel Italie's AP report (here at the Boston Globe) and Richard Satran's Reuters report mention that there was a video-taped acceptance speech by J.K.Rowling, and that Bob Dylan also wasn't there. But who actually showed up ? (Of course what could be more humiliating than to be a finalist for one of these things who attends but then doesn't win ?)
       Still, it may be worthwhile catching this on TV -- we can't imagine that they'd try this again, so it'll a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a book award (of sorts) on network television in the United States.

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       The Sea's US publication date pushed up

       They acted fast: as widely reported, Knopf has pushed up the publication date of John Banville's The Sea -- now that it can be advertised as a 'Man Booker-winning novel' -- to 1 November; their publicity page already notes that -- but little else. (Pre-order it from
       One of our recent complaints about the Man Booker (though this is a part of it that isn't really their fault) is that so many of the shortlisted titles were not available in the US, and if they really want the prize to be relevant and part of the literary discussion in the English-speaking world, well, ready access to the books in the US would go a long way towards facilitating that.
       The ways of publishers never cease to astound us, and so we aren't too surprised that some titles arrive in the UK long before they show up stateside (and vice-versa) -- but it does drive us nuts. More astounding is that publishers can move so fast when the fancy strikes them -- Knopf had scheduled this book for March, and all of a sudden they'll have it ready in three weeks ? Impressive, sort of, but we'd have preferred to see it out three weeks ago .....
       GalleyCat report that a first printing of 60,000 is scheduled, which seems wildly optimistic to us -- indeed, we have considerable doubts that winning this British prize will have much of an affect on American sales (though several recent Man Booker winners have done exceptionally well in the US too).
       Sadly, Random House is only willing to do so much: two of the other shortlisted titles they're publishing -- Julian Barnes' Arthur & George (see the publicity page) and Ali Smith's The Accidental (see the publicity page) -- will only be made available 10 January 2006. Apparently somebody thought that would be a good time to launch them.

       The Sea has shot up the British charts (get your copy at, but as The Bookseller points out (here at The Book Standard), things hadn't been going so well for the book before it emerged victorious:
The latest weekly figures from Nielsen BookScan show that The Sea has so far been the weakest performer among the shortlisted titles. Its sales total on Oct. 8 was 4,622, well behind Ishiguro's 35,100 copies, Barnes' 18,788 and Zadie Smith's 16,279.
       (Updated - 14 October): See the full report from The Bookseller, Booker: winners and losers, which also notes:
But the trade was applauding Monday night's decision in a slightly half-hearted fashion, not because they had any disagreement with Banville's win on artistic grounds but because in purely commercial terms his victory was not its preferred outcome. Booksellers saw Ishiguro and Zadie Smith as the most marketable novels on the shortlist, while Julian Barnes would have been another big name to conjure with. The hope must be that Banville can be turned into an equally big brand.

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       New Oxonian Review

       A new issue (Trinity 2005) of the Oxonian Review of Books is available online.

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       A Rabbit's Eyes review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Haitani Kenjiro's A Rabbit's Eyes.

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12 October 2005 - Wednesday

Nobel fun: Announcement announcement - Causa Ahnlund - Nobelbloggen -
Adonis interview | Bad precedent for Pamuk ? | Hungarian Literature Online

       Nobel fun: Announcement announcement

       They've set a date for announcing the 2005 Nobel Prize for literature: as the press release succinctly states:
The Swedish Academy will announce the name of this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature at 1 p.m. on Thursday, October 13.
       We assume that's 12:00 or 13:00 GMT (i.e. early morning hours in the US).

       (P.S. We know y'all think coverage of this type of thing is what we do best, but we won't be the first ones on the block to announce it (check your local news -- it'll be everywhere anyway). We should have some information up by noon Eastern Standard Time -- but what we can offer all depends on the winner: if it's Harry Mulisch we can help you out, if it's Ko Un ... well, we'll also be able to help you out, but not quite as quickly. So it'll probably be Friday before we have a solid round-up on offer.)

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       Nobel fun: Causa Ahnlund

       We were looking for broken bones and black eyes, but Swedish Academy pseudo-member Knut Ahnlund's malicious posturing finally provides the necessary un-literary drama everyone has been waiting for (story first seen at Return of the Reluctant). Maybe this is what the one week delay was about -- drawing straws to determine which Academician would be this year's flame-out fall guy.
       This is a convoluted story, so bear with us (note: the quality of the coverage of this story (which admittedly has some confusing facts) has been poor to miserable).
       Knut Ahnlund is (nominally) a member of the (nominally) 18-member Swedish Academy. He occupies -- or at least was assigned -- Chair no. 7. He has now come out and tried to instigate a scandal by denouncing last year's (!) choice for the prize, Elfriede Jelinek. He did so in a lengthy article in Svenska Dagbladet (the leading Swedish daily), Knut Ahnlund: "Efter Jelinek är priset ödelagt"
       English-language reports can provide you with the gist of his comments (and some juicy quotes). Stephen Brown's Reuters report, Literature Nobel due on Thursday as scholars scuffle, for example, notes:
As the Academy gave the date on which it would announce the 2005 winner, Academician Knut Ahnlund gave notice he was quitting in disgust at the 2004 laureate, whose writing he called "whinging, unenjoyable, violent pornography".

In a signed newspaper article he said giving the prize to Jelinek -- which surprised even Austria -- "caused irreparable harm to the value of the award for the foreseeable future".

Ahnlund did not explain why he had waited a year after the prize was awarded to Jelinek to announce he was quitting, but Academy President Horace Engdahl suggested the move was timed to spoil this year's prize announcement.
       Meanwhile in the BBC's report, Nobel judge steps down in protest, they quote:
"Last year's Nobel Prize has not only done irreparable damage to all progressive forces, it has also confused the general view of literature as an art," he wrote.

"After this, I cannot even formally remain in the Swedish Academy. As of now, I consider myself an outsider."

He also questioned whether academy members had read even a fraction of Jelinek's work.
       A lot of this sounds fairly dramatic, but some of the details are worth noting. For one, hysterical headlines like Nobel judge steps down in protest are highly misleading. In fact, Knut Ahnlund is not a Nobel judge (though he could be, if he wanted to): he's been boycotting the Academy since 1996 (see mentions in Salon (16/11/2000) and Die Presse (10/9/1996) for a bit of background) and, as Engdahl mentions, has not participated in award deliberations or votes for the past decade (and his official page clearly states: "Since 1996 he has not participated in the work of the Academy").
       As to his quitting/stepping down -- well, amusingly enough, that's out of his hands. Being named a member of the Swedish Academy is a life sentence, with no opt-out clause. Remember Kerstin Ekman and Lars Gyllensten resigning back in 1989 over the Rushdie-affair (they were outraged the Academy refused to condemn the fatwa) ? No such luck: they're still members in good standing. (Like Ahnlund's, their seats remain unoccupied at meetings, but the positions are theirs until they die. Ekman's Chair no. 15 page is essentially blank ("At Kerstin Ekman’s request, there is no presentation here of the holder of Chair No. 15"), Gyllensten's Chair no. 14 page notes that he has not participated in Academy-proceedings since 1989.)
       "After this, I cannot even formally remain in the Swedish Academy", Ahnlund says, but he doesn't have a choice. He also says, closer to the mark: "As of now, I consider myself an outsider". Of course, all that would have been more convincing if he hadn't gone the outsider-route a decade ago -- everyone has considered him an outsider since then, after all.
       As commentators have pointed out, Ahnlund's timing also raises some questions. One theory why he waited this long: it took him until now to read all of Jelinek's work and feel ready to pronounce his judgement (hence also his specific mention that he questioned "whether academy members had read even a fraction of Jelinek's work").
       In truth, of course, he's just a poor sport who wants to draw attention to himself. We have no problem with him thinking that the Academy erred with their choice, but given that he could have influenced the outcome (by participating in the selection-process, as he was entitled to do) and that he waited until almost the very eve of the announcement of the next literature prize he just comes off looking like a pompous, media-hungry buffoon. Or possibly he just wanted a new excuse to stay away from Academy meetings; the old one -- an ego-clash with Sture Allén -- looks pretty lame after ten years.
       Ahnlund doesn't seem to have been real popular among his fellow Academicians in the first place: another article in Die Presse (7/10/1998) describing the Ahnlund-Allén falling out quotes Horace Engdahl as saying:
Ahnlund sei zwar ein guter Autor, aber "als Mensch erbärmlich".

(Ahnlund is a good author, but "as a human being he is wretched".)
       Per Wästberg is no less complimentary, saying -- without mentioning names, but in response to being asked about Ahnlund:
"Die besten Autoren sind nicht immer die besten Akademiemitglieder. Viele sind unberechenbare Bohemians und Trunkenbolde."

("The best authors aren't always the best Academicians. Many are unpredictable bohemians and dipsomaniacs.")
       Come on ! It sounds like the meetings would have been much more fun with him there !
       Maybe everybody else gets along, but the Swedish Academy obviously has some issues. And these are the people who are going to decide who is the next Nobel laureate.

       Additional coverage can be found in:        (Updated - 13 October): see now also two Expressen-articles: Per Svensson's commentary, Lossa slipsknuten ! and Björn Af Kleen's Ankademien

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       Nobel fun: Nobelbloggen

       Errata-man Malte Persson does some Nobel-blogging at the Expressen Kulturblogg. Get the lowdown on the favourites -- and on Knut Ahnlund's (and the Academy's) latest antics. (Yeah, it's in Swedish -- but that's where the action is.)

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       Nobel fun: Adonis interview

       Svenska Dagbladet offer an impressive interview/profile with highly Nobel-touted Syrian poet Adonis.
       Are they playing the (imaginary) odds, or have they heard something ...?

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       Bad precedent for Pamuk ?

       We've mentioned Orhan Pamuk's legal troubles -- charged with the absurd notion of denigrating his nation -- repeatedly (for example here) and we were sure it was just some local rogue prosecutor trying to win some points with the ultra-nationalists. But it looks like things might be more serious: a similar case hasn't turned out particularly well: as the BBC report, Turkey sentences Armenian writer.
       Hrant Dink was found guilty and given a (suspended) six month sentence:
A paragraph in the article calling on Armenians to symbolically reject "the adulterated part of their Turkish blood" was taken as offensive.

The judge ruled that Mr Dink's newspaper column implied that Turkish blood was dirty.
       Nobody appears happy with the results: Dink is appealing, and the other side ...:
The BBC's Sarah Rainsford said the judge ordered a suspended sentence as it was Mr Dink's first offence.

But the nationalist lawyers who brought the case were disappointed.

"There was an obvious humiliation and result of this case should be at least two and a half years or three years criminal charge," one said.

"But I think that Turkish courts are under big pressure due to these European Union accession talks."
       (By the way: Pamuk's 'controversial' comments were made to a foreign newspaper -- and the criminal code states that that automatically doubles the sentence, should he be found guilty .....)
       We find few things as contemptible as the absurd notion of nationalism, and any country that has laws against insulting it (or its leaders -- or defacing its symbols, such as its flag) is hard to have any respect for. Could there be any greater sign of weakness ?
       By proceeding with these proceedings, against Pamuk and Dink and who knows who else, Turks may feel 'proud' (about what we do not know), but they certainly just look ridiculous to the rest of the world. (Which is too bad, because it's a pretty cool place and none of the folks we've met there have displayed anything approaching these levels of irrationality.)

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       Hungarian Literature Online

       Another promising-looking national book site: Hungarian Literature Online -- back after "a long silence " (and we hope it will remain active full-time this time around).

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11 October 2005 - Tuesday

Competing Helms reviews | The Sea takes Man Booker
New Humanities | The Ministry of Pain review

       Competing Helms reviews

       We're stunned that anyone would want to review Jesse Helms' Here's Where I Stand (see also the Random House publicity page; we refuse to provide Amazon or other purchasing-opportunity links), but the News & Observer apparently felt that it was worthy of two reviews. As reported in From "Senator No" to Senator N&O in the Independent Weekly (link first seen at Romenesko), they did so pretty much side by side, on 11 September:
The first review was commissioned from prominent North Carolina historian Timothy B. Tyson. It was simultaneously elucidating and blistering -- doing everything a book review should do. Tyson carefully read the book. Then he critiqued the book, using the historical record to show where Helms dissembled. Lied. The other review was a reprint -- a badly written piece of far-right-wing cant from The American Spectator magazine's editor, R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr.
       The Tyson review is pretty harsh ("As a literary work, Here's Where I Stand: A Memoir never fails to disappoint"), and so it's hard to see the printing of Tyrrell jr.'s puffy piece (though even he can't praise this dreck more enthusiastically than to say, for example: "He tells a good story") as anything but an attempt to make up for the harsh review.
       As Warren points out in the Independent Weekly:
Here's the problem. Newspapers don't run competing book reviews. I can't say it's never happened, but I've never seen it.
       We, of course, do like the idea of competing book reviews (that's why we link to so many), but this was a pretty blatant effort simply to soften the blow of the one, not of providing readers with another opinion. And that really is unacceptable.

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       The Sea takes Man Booker

       As you've heard, it's been announced (scroll down at the inept official site) that The Sea, by John Banville, has taken the Man Booker Prize.
       First our rants, then the links:
  1. Why does everyone focus on the author, rather than the book ? The win is attributed to Banville in almost all the reports, but it's the god damn book that won (yes, he's responsible for it, but his existence really has nothing to do with the prize). It's okay to do this with a prize like the Nobel, which is specifically an author prize, but the Man Booker is meant to honour a book. By focussing on the author everyone is undermining the whole literary concept -- the book itself is treated as if it were almost irrelevant (which, let's be honest, it generally is).

  2. A while back there were debates about including American authors to make the prize more relevant. A more important step in making the prize relevant would be if the god damn nominated titles were available in the US sometime around the prize-ceremony -- the winning title is only due out (from Knopf, see their 'publicity page') 21 March 2006 ! Even those of us who care don't have ready access to it. (Pre-order your copy from -- or have ship it over.)
       As to the media reports: the big news is that it was apparently a 2-2 split (between the winning title and Never Let Me Go (by this Ishiguro guy)) until chair Sutherland stepped in and tossed the prize Banville's way. The first reports are, of course, largely devoid of any real content and commentary -- but bless Boyd Tonkin for blasting the choice in The wrong choice in a list packed with delights in The Independent:
Yesterday the Man Booker judges made possibly the worst, certainly the most perverse, and perhaps the most indefensible choice in the 36-year history of the contest.
       Don't get us wrong -- we like Banville's stuff, and this title actually sounds like our cup of tea, but since we don't have ready access to it (and won't for another half-year) we can't judge the damn thing ..... But what we like is a bit of debate, and Tonkin gets things going nicely.
       Meanwhile, in The Times Erica Wagner thinks it was Everyone’s elegant second favourite, and makes sure to get on the record:
To my mind it is not the best of the novels on this shortlist but then I was not party to the mysterious alchemy that is always the most significant aspect of the judging process.
       Other reports include:        (Updated - 12 October): See now also Tibor Fischer's comments in The Guardian, in Worthy but forgettable and Man Booker judge Rick Gekoski's enthusiastic defense of the choice, At last, the best Booker book won in The Times.

       (Updated - 13 October): See now also John Walsh describing What it's like to party with the Booker crowd in The Independent.

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       New Humanities

       The September/October issue of the NEH's Humanities is now out, and despite being a government publication offers quite a bit that's worth a look, notably Martha Nell Smith on Democratizing Knowledge, about putting primary materials (from writers) online and Gregory Crane on Reading in the Age of Google.

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       The Ministry of Pain review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Dubravka Ugresic's The Ministry of Pain (available in the UK, but only coming to the US next spring).

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