Small consolation, but at least he gets the last word -- or at least the last prize: the French literary prize-giving season is finally, mercifully, over, and the last award they tossed out was the prix Interallié 2005 for Michel Houellebecq's La possibilité d'une île.
(It got seven votes, to four for La malédiction d'Edgar by Marc Dugain and one for La mauvaise vie by Frédéric Mitterrand in the final round.)
The Interallié is nothing to sneeze at -- it's been handed out 70 times, the first time way back in 1930 (they skipped a couple of war years) -- but we don't see the American publishers rushing the book into print on the heels of this win .....
For additional coverage, see Michel Houellebecq se console avec le prix Interallié in Le Figaro and this entry at la république des livres.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Yi Ch'ongjun's Your Paradise, a popular (South) Korean novel first published there in 1976.
(Published by Green Integer (bonus points for the unbeatable handy size !) -- in its Masterworks of Fiction series -- last year, it's apparently gotten practically no review coverage.
Too bad -- it really is worth your while checking out what they (Green Integer) are up to.)
Forbes tackles the literary world again, in Leah Hoffmann's Lifestyle Feature, Tastemakers: Literature.
What's it about ?
Well, they explain:
Forbes.com set out to identify the ten literary (as opposed to purely popular) writers whose work is having the greatest impact on our culture.
These authors help determine the future of literature
And how did they figure out who these tastemakers are ?
To come up with our list of tastemakers, Forbes.com surveyed literary critics and industry insiders, polled our readers, tracked print media coverage over the last year through Factiva, tallied up the awards each author had won, and assessed their recent projects. Finally, we threw in a dash of our own expertise and took a long, hard look at the numbers (through figures collected by Nielsen's Bookscan) to determine each author's commercial success.
Check out all ten they came up with (in the slide show-presentation, if you prefer).
We do like the media-mention tallies -- and the year to date sales estimates -- but do have some doubts about the results.
For one thing, despite their protestations to the contrary, popularity seems to have been a very decisive factor in who made the list.
For another ... well: Jonathan Safran Foer is helping to "determine the future of literature".
Stephen King ?
Elmore Leonard ?
But perhaps some interesting debates will follow.
(We'd just like to toss in: no foreign-language authors make the cut .....)
Scientology Founder, L. Ron Hubbard named as world’s most translated author by Guinness World Records, topping other best-selling author’s works.
This new world record was formally confirmed as 65 languages, exceeding the earlier record of 51 languages set by American author Sidney Sheldon in 1997.
It even topped the unofficial count of 63 by Harry Potter novelist J.K.Rowling and for the The Dairy of a Young Girl by Dutch teenager Anne Frank, which was translated into 64 languages.
(Ah, yes, Anne Frank's much-loved cow-milking book .....)
The Guinness folk have not, as of yet, actually updated their entry -- they still list Sheldon -- but presumably the Scientnutology folk aren't making this certification deal up.
But we have our serious doubts about the accuracy of the claim.
Just a couple of days ago there was a widely reprinted AP report (here at CJAD) that: "Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen is by far Denmark's most translated author, the Royal Library said Thursday, adding that his writings had been translated into 91 languages."
And that's just the most widely translated Danish author.
Hard numbers are surprisingly hard to come by (the otherwise useful UNESCO resources just look at total works translated, not number of languages), but the obvious candidates are widely cited as having considerably more.
Marx and Lenin likely top the list, but Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, and Jules Verne are all widely cited as having been translated into more than a hundred languages -- and it's hard to imagine that they haven't topped Hubbard's total.
(The idea that Sidney Sheldon -- Sidney Sheldon, for christsakes ! -- was the old record holder is even more absurd .....)
A new issue of the (now only bi-annual ?) Voice Literary Supplement is now available online.
Among the reviews: Ben Ehrenreich tackles Ismail Kadare's new novel (The Successor), with a look at many of the recent debates surrounding him.
Also: several books we've covered, such as Stephen King's The Colorado Kid (reviewed by Jenny Davidson) and Zoran Zivkovic's Hidden Camera (reviewed by Joshua Cohen).
To an unusual degree, Marías manages to inhabit not only the popular but also the literary sphere, counting J. M. Coetzee, Salman Rushdie, and the late W. G. Sebald among his admirers.
Although Marías’s following in the United States is still small -- his newly published novel, Your Face Tomorrow: Volume I, Fever and Spear (...), is only the seventh of his twenty-eight books to have appeared in translation here -- his name is regularly mentioned during the annual run-up to the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
So it’s not surprising that his prose demonstrates an unusual blend of sophistication and accessibility.
Nice to see him getting the attention -- and Mason offers some interesting observations, including:
On the most basic level, Marías has made all his narrators in some sense translators; whether they happen to teach translation theory or work as interpreters, ghostwriters, or opera singers, each is giving voice to other people’s stories.
These are professions that fit well with the narrators’ tendency never to reveal their identities entirely.
As we mentioned a few days ago, the French literary prize season culminated with the awarding of the Goncourt and Renaudot -- but it certainly didn't end there.
Yesterday saw two more prize-groups handed out: the Médicis and the Feminas.
Both of these have foreign novel categories, with Orhan Pamuk's Neige picking up the prix Médicis du roman étranger (beating out, among others, Cynthia Ozick's Un monde vacillant), getting seven of the eight submitted votes (one juror was absent for this vote).
Interestingly, Pamuk's book didn't even make the first of the three (!) prix Femina du roman étranger cuts -- and that prize went to ... Joyce Carol Oates' Les chutes.
The main prix Médicis went to Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Fuir, which got seven out of the nine votes cast, one each going to Olivier Adam's Falaises and Hédi Kaddour's Waltenberg
As always, Prix-Litteraires.net is the site to check for all the longlists and information: see their pages on the Médicis and on the Femina.
Achebe said that he was looking forward to a time when the African languages would start to re-assert themselves in literary creativity
Also of interest: in another Vanguard piece McPhilips Nwachukwu and Benjamin Njoku have A lunch chat with Kudo Eresia Eke -- who believes: "There has to be oral literature":
You see, the closer we can make our literature oral, the more effective and audience, or the larger the audience writers might have in Africa.
In fact, African writers enjoy talking, listening to their own voices. We, writers are all walking talking poets.
And, asked about his favourite writers, he says:
Of courses, Chinua Achebe. Because of the fact that he also thinks about this problem of communication .He uses Igbo language in an Englishified form to get through the message to his audience.
Eight of the top 20 books borrowed from Seoul National University library are Japanese novels.
In 2000, it was five. At Korea University, eight of the top 20 library rentals were Japanese novels.
The same goes for Sogang University library.
Ekuni is at the core of the wave.
Since she first burst onto the scene in 2001, she has published seven novels in four years, including Between Calm and Passion, Twinkle Twinkle and Hotel Cactus.
Each of them sold more than 20,000 copies, and the first more than 700,000.
Why Japanese novels ?
Yonsei University students Cho Hye-won, Choe Shin-yeong and Byeon Sang-won offer their reasons.
"You can read them easily without having to think too deeply."
"Korean novels are too serious and heavy," says Chung Jeong-nan, the president of Hwangmae, which publishes many Japanese novels.
Some trade regulations and import bans can, on some level, be justified, but many are simply ridiculous -- or bizarre.
At Outlook India this week's Bibliofile-column reminds us of one of the really stupid ones:
While there is a growing number of Pakistani novelists who are looking for publishers across the border in India, it's not so easy to smuggle the books back home to Pakistani bookstores.
This is thanks to a curious ban that Pakistan's imposed on books imported from India: no fiction, whether by Indian or Pakistani writers, is permitted to cross the border.
Strangely enough, there are no such restrictions on non-fiction books.
Indeed, Appendix B of the Import Trade and Procedures Order, 2000 (which seems to basically cover the items still allowed and prohibited) list the items that are "Importable from India" -- and it's a lot of items, including 'Fish refuse'.
But as far as printed matter goes, there are strict limitations.
376. Books (Technical, professional and religious only)
While we understand that there's a greater fear of fiction, it still strikes us as pretty outrageous.
And, given how well established Indian publishers are especially in the English-language field, also self-defeating -- though presumably the Pakistani authorities don't mind the fact that their fiction-writers don't reach a wider public as easily.
For more on some of the issues and consequences, see also this older entry at Duck of Destiny.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Hans Magnus Enzensberger's look at Mathematics - A Cultural Anathema in Drawbridge Up / Zugbrücke außer Betrieb, a neat little bilingual pamphlet.
It seems almost unbelievable in the world of 9/11, Bin Laden and the Clash of Civilisations, but the bestselling poet in the US in the 1990s was not any of the giants of American letters -- Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, Wallace Stevens or Sylvia Plath; nor was it Shakespeare or Homer or Dante or any European poet.
Instead, remarkably, it was a classically trained Muslim cleric who taught sharia law in a madrasa in what is now Turkey.
So here's the rare foreign author that's more popular in the US than the area where he came from:
There is an additional layer of paradox and absurdity here: although Rumi lived and wrote in central Turkey, he is almost unread in his homeland and there is no accessible modern edition of his work in contemporary Turkish.
As he notes:
It all adds up to an archetypal -- if unusually poignant -- case of east-west misunderstanding: a west earnestly looking eastwards for an ancient spiritual wisdom, which it receives through the filter of sexed-up translations that most Persian scholars regard as seriously flawed, and which recreate a Rumi wholly divorced from his Islamic context; while in the east, a Republican Turkish government anxious to integrate Turkey with Europe bans Rumi's Sufi brotherhood as part of its attempt to embrace a west it perceives as rational, industrial, intolerant of superstition and somehow post-mystical.
Juan Goytisolo's recent novel, Telón de boca, is now available in English -- at least in the UK -- as The Blind Rider (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk).
The first reviews are pretty good, too: Kate Saunders writes (The Times, 29 October):
This is a dense, intensely thoughtful book by a writer of extraordinary tenderness, who rails at the inhumanity of God.
While Adam Feinstein concludes (The Guardian, 5 November):
Goytisolo told one interviewer: "In my opinion, the most significant works of the 20th century are those that rise beyond the conceptual tyranny of genre: they are, at one and the same time, poetry, criticism, narrative and drama."
In an excellent translation, Goytisolo's haunting book meets this definition supremely.
We hope that we'll be able to get a copy from Serpent's Tail sometime soon.
All is not entirely lost (or at least interminably delayed) for American readers: City Lights is finally bringing out A Cock-Eyed Comedy in the next week or two (get your copy at Amazon.com) -- and we hope to review it soon too.
The Peter-Weiss-Stiftung für Kunst und Politik -- who organised the International Literature Festival Berlin -- informs us that it is organising a worldwide reading of Eliot Weinberger's What I Heard about Iraq (available in What Happened Here) on 20 March 2006 (the anniversary of the start of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq).
As we've mentioned repeatedly: the text is worth a look -- and the reading-idea sounds pretty good too.
Contact them at email@example.com if you want to get involved
The French literary prize season has culminated with the awarding of the prix Goncourt for Trois jours chez ma mère by François Weyergans (get your copy at Amazon.fr) and the prix Renaudot to Mes mauvaises pensées by Nina Bouraoui (get your copy at Amazon.fr).
The Weyergans narrowly beat out Michel Houellebecq's new novel, six votes to four in the second round of voting.
The Bouraoui-win was even closer, her book taking six votes to Alain Mabanckou's Verre cassé's five.
(How, you ask, does a ten person jury wind up casting eleven votes ?
The French explain it by saying that the chair's vote counts for double in case of a tie vote -- in other, simpler, words: if there's a tie, the chair casts the deciding vote.)
Prix-Lotteraires.net remains your best one-stop shop for practically all French literary prize information.
For specific Goncourt reactions, see also:
Pierre Assouline's comments at his weblog, la République des livres
Also of interest: in the Nouvel Observateur Jérôme Garcin reveals: "L'opposition à Houellebecq est viscérale dans ce jury", which mentions that while the Goncourt had a run of being able to make a publisher's year, adding 300,000-400,000 in sales, nowadays all it counts for is a boost of 100,000.
Murakami Haruki is spending some time at Harvard -- though the students probably aren't getting much out of it: as Liz Goodwin quotes him in Translating Murakami in The Harvard Crimson:
"Last time I belonged to Tufts University and I had a class from time to time so it was kind of busy, but this time I have no obligations at all," he says.
Among the other information in the profile:
Murakami relaxes through translation and long-distance running.
He feels that it renews his creative faculties -- a notion that might be hard for anyone who has ever attempted to translate a text or to run a marathon to grasp.
The shortlist for The Guardian First Book Award has been announced -- and disappointingly it consists of four non-fiction titles and a short story collection (i.e. there's not a novel in sight).
What happened to all the talk, apropos of the Man Booker Prize, about how much great fiction was produced this year ?
Or was it just the old-folks' fiction that was any good ?
Or is it that even literary prize judges have become too lazy to engage with fiction, taking the easy route and falling back on glorified magazine articles non-fiction ?
Admittedly, non-fiction is easier to get right than fiction the first time around.
Still: very, very disappointing.
Al-Ahram Weekly looks at the Al-Azhar decision to ban Natana J. DeLong-Bas' Wahhabi Islam -- at least the paperback edition -- in Behind the ban:
When Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad, written by Natana J. DeLong-Bas, a senior research assistant at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, was first published by Oxford University Press (OUP) in New York in 2004 it occasioned not a ripple in Egypt.
But then it was re-printed in paperback by the American University in Cairo (AUC), in an edition published in conjunction with London-based I.B. Tauris, only to be banned by Al-Azhar.
It's apparently the first time AUC Press has had a book banned -- though not that much seems to have happened yet.
Amazon is set to offer yet another twist on selling books: selling them by the piece and page.
As their press release explains:
The first program, Amazon Pages, will "un-bundle" the physical-world experience of buying and reading a book so that customers can simply and inexpensively purchase and read online just the pages they need.
For example, an entrepreneur interested in marketing his or her business could purchase the relevant chapters from several best-selling business books.
This clearly won't affect the fiction market much (which, honestly, is pretty much all we care about), but obviously has profound implications for the rip-off business that is textbook publishing.
India is the guest of honour at the next Frankfurt Book Fair -- but things are already looking pretty good for them.
As a widely reprinted (at least in the Indian press) Reuters article by Sugita Katyal reports: Indian writers open a new page in Europe.
Yeah, we're a bit embarrassed about this, but:
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Vikas Swarup's Q & A.
In a way it's comforting: not all the new Indian fiction that makes it abroad aspires to the 'literary', and as far as B-fiction goes it has something going for it -- but it's still just a Bollywood über-drama without the song and dance (and the song and dance is usually our favourite part of what Bollywood fare we consume ...).
It's been mentioned that this will make a good film, but we wonder: so much happens that it seems unlikely one could satisfactorily pack it into anything less than a mini-series.
But, yeah, that could work.
The November issue of Words Without Borders is now available, with a focus on Korean literature -- nice to see a bit of lingering interest post-Frankfurt Book Fair.
Elsewhere, Korean literature has made more of an impression -- and in one of the more interesting stories about cross-cultural influence and attraction, check out the bizarre report in The Bangkok Post on Hidden yearning, booming market.
Yes, just as the Russians have succumbed to Latin American TV soap operas, "Romance novels featuring Korean characters are the talk of the town -- and hotting up Thai youngsters in the bargain".
So much so, apparently, that some Thai authors have taken to writing their own versions:
These aspiring novelists have managed to reconstruct a seemingly Korean world, and all the characters have names that sound Korean.
"They are so brilliant," Kraingkrai remarked.
"They've read so many Korean novels and are familiar with Korean names.
They search for tourist information on the Internet -- shopping malls and so on.
Most of the places mentioned in their books actually do exist.
One has to wonder:
So what is the secret of this latest Korean craze ?
Why have a huge number of Thai youths, girls in particular, literally fallen head over heels in love with kimchi-flavoured romances ?
More importantly: will it catch on in the US ?
As one person suggests:
"The popularity of Korean love stories will sooner or later fade away, but not now.
I believe that Korean romance novels will always hold a certain place in the hearts of Thai readers.
And why not ?
These novels are sentimental; they touch people's hearts and perfectly fit the lifestyles of modern Thais.
We look forward to the first academic studies of this particular craze .....
Everybody has been giggling about Lauren Collins's piece in The New Yorker on Scooter's Sex Shocker, about newly indicted jr. Bush official 'Scooter' Libby's novel, The Apprentice (his "1996 entry in the long and distinguished annals of the right-wing dirty").
Alas, Anthony Dick doesn't include that in his look at Righting Fiction in the National Review, as he considers: "Is conservatism the stuff of fiction writing ?"
At CNN Adam Dunn writes about Girls, guns and money, profiling Hard Case Crime publishing (see our index of their books we have under review).
They're getting more attention because of the recent publication of a Stephen King novel, The Colorado Kid, but we hope it helps draw attention to their other worthy titles.
But the King is certainly in a class of its own:
"The publication of The Colorado Kid represents a big step forward for us," Ardai said.
"With a first printing of nearly one million copies, it's by far the biggest book we've ever published, quite possibly the biggest [distributor] Dorchester has ever published as well."
In this week's issue of The New Yorker David Remnick writes about The Translation Wars (unfortunately not freely accessible online), discussing translations from the Russian -- and in particular what Constance Garnett wrought.
While acknowledging her significance (she made many of the Russian greats accessible in English for the first time -- see many of the works she is responsible for at Project Gutenberg), he also enjoys describing her shortcomings (and some of the nasty things Nabokov, Brodsky, and others had to say about her renderings):
She worked with such speed, with such an eye toward the finish line, that when she came across a word or a phrase that she couldn't makes sense of she would skip it and move on.
Life is short, The Idiot is long.
Garnett is often wooden in her renderings, sometimes unequal to certain verbal motifs and particularly long and complicated sentences.
He also profiles currently hot from-the-Russian translators, the husband-and-wife team of Volokhonsky and Pevear.
They announced the Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2006 winner at the Neustadt Symposium for 2005 on Friday and 81 year old Nicaraguan/Salvadoran writer Claribel Alegría takes the honour.
It's a pretty good honour too -- not that you could tell from the press coverage -- $50,000 and a big chunk of a forthcoming issue of World Literature Today.
She beat out some good competition, too: among the other nominees were Orhan Pamuk, Alice Munro, Per Olov Enquist, and Philip Roth.
(We're not entirely sure about the somewhat unusual nominating and judging procedure: each juror apparently gets to nominate a candidate for the prize -- and two apparently nominated themselves this time around.
Disappointingly, nominations seem quite nationalistically tinged, too.)
Very little coverage so far: The Norman Transcript does report that Nicaraguan/Salvadoran writer named 2006 laureate and El Nuevo Diario reports that Claribel Alegría gana premio internacional, but come on ! this is a major international literary prize !
They have to get better press coverage than this !
For additional information about the laureate, see the Academy of American Poets' Claribel Alegría page, as well as her faculty page.
There will be more coverage when she actually gets the prize, and the special issue of WLT comes out.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Henry Hitchings' Dr.Johnson's Dictionary: The Extraordinary Story of the Book That Defined the World -- now available in the US as: Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr Johnson's Dictionary.
(Somebody still has to explain to us what the deal is with revising titles and subtitles as they cross the Atlantic.
Do they do extensive testing to see how the different titles are received by the potential book-buying public, or is it just the whims of editors (who in this way can at least say they've done something for the salaries they are getting paid) ?)