A few international round-ups of regional (or regional-related) literature (in English translation) of note from 2006:
Words worth reading by Kaelen Wilson-Goldie at the Daily Star, noting this: "subjective list of the best books published in 2006 emphasizes novels and poetry from in and around the region" (the region being the Mid-East)
The Year in Books by Rebecca Reich at The Moscow Times, on some of "this year's crop of Russia-related books"
A New Year's Resolution at The Japan Times, where a variety of contributors suggest "some of the best books about Asia"
Also of some interest, the far-reaching overview by Murray Waldren at The AustralianNext edition, which looks at the Australian publishing scene, the year in publishing there and abroad, and what to look forward to (down under) in 2007.
The Guardian offers a list (alas, in the dreaded pdf format) of the 100 best-selling titles in the UK in 2006 -- usefully with the actual number of copies sold.
A big surprise (despite talk-show attention): Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian was the third-best-selling title.
The Guardian has been doing this for a while now, and it's always pretty interesting: in If only ... "Kate Figes talks to publishers about near misses, and the ones they wish they'd nabbed".
Of particular note: Canongate-publisher Jamie Byng whinging about the failure of Albert Sanchez Pinol's Cold Skin to 'break out', despite the fact that:
we had wonderful blurbs from David Mitchell and Yann Martel and the translation by Cheryl Leah Morgan was superb.
What he fails to mention is that, superb though the translation may be, it was not -- as several reviews (The Independent, TLS) have noted -- a complete translation: a chunk explaining the background of the protagonist (hey ! maybe of some significance !) was expunged.
As Matthew Tree wondered in his TLS review (8 December 2006): "It is hard to understand, however, why the British publisher decided to omit the information".
(He also pointed out that the Canongate edition apparently makes no mention whatsoever of the language the book was originally written in (Catalan -- apparently something too off-puttingly exotic to reveal to British readers ...).)
If a publisher is going to treat a translation like this, he shouldn't be surprised that it's a flop -- and he hardly deserves to have success with it.
Jonathan Coe's review of Stefano Benni's Margherita Dolce Vita in The Guardian is worth a look, as Coe wonders specifically about the reception of foreign authors in translation -- noting:
As loyal readers of Stefano Benni might expect, his new novel is a lively, whimsical and furiously contemporary satire, which can and should be enjoyed on its own merits.
However, like his other books, it also raises interesting questions about international reputations and today's lamentably one-way traffic between Italian and British literature.
To put it rather more bluntly -- are there any loyal readers of Stefano Benni in this country at all ?
(Maybe not just a British issue: note also our recent mention of German 'worstsellers' -- a list that Benni also cracked.)
- Transcript - issue 25 is the Winter Shorts issue, with a variety of shorts (in a variety of languages -- see some of the options in the editorial), as well as an interview with Dylan Thomas Prize-winner Rachel Trezise.
In the new London Review of Books Daniel Soar takes on Martin Amis' House of Meetings in Bile, Blood, Bilge, Mulch.
The Amis is already out in the UK (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk), and will be out next month in the US (pre-order at Amazon.com, and see the Knopf publicity page).
Soar addresses some of the confusion we've had about the book, including the fact that:
House of Meetings was initially advertised by its publisher as also containing two stories -- "In the Palace of the End" and "The Last Days of Muhammad Atta" -– that appeared in the New Yorker and dealt, biliously, with Iraq and Islamism respectively.
Both were quietly ditched.
Recall that, for example, at the beginning of the year, in The Guardian's look ahead to the best of 2006 (scroll down to end), they described the book:
Also from Cape, Martin Amis's The Last Days of Muhammad Atta contains two short stories, one about the final movements of the 9/11 bomber and the other concerning a tyrant's double; a novella about a love triangle in a ghetto and labour camp; and an essay on Islam.
Certainly very different from what the book turned out to be ......
It’s clear why the two New Yorker stories were left out of House of Meetings.
What is less clear is why the forced labour camp novel was left in.
It also fails as fiction, and is distorted by all the hatreds that have possessed Amis over recent years.
The continuities with the other stories are everywhere, beginning with the shit.
And then there’s the boredom.
Ballard is one of a number of writers Amis has been troubled by: he wasn’t able to live up to Ballard’s brand of perversity, or to Nabokov’s nymphet, or to Bellow’s vast inclusiveness.
But now -- in Islamism, and in Stalinism, and in the hatred he finds there -– he has a subject large enough for his needs.
We're tempted to blog on at our usual rate -- day in, day out -- over Christmas, but the technical difficulties involved make it quite arduous for us, and, leaping on that cheap excuse, we've decided to take a bit of time off.
Yes, no new reviews or weblog-entries until on or about 31 December.
We sort of feel bad about leaving you without new material -- especially since so many other weblogs go dormant at the same time -- but user-interest drops sharply over these (holi)days anyway and there tends not to be too much literary news, so we figure we won't be quite as sorely missed as at other times of the year.
And since we've already offered up 225 reviews for the year, we figure a bit of time off might do us (and possibly you) some good.
Meanwhile, we thank you for your interest and wish you all the best for the season -- Happy Christmas, Merry New Year, and all the rest !
At least the hiatus should give us some time to catch up on our reading, and we hope you find (or get as gifts !) and enjoy some good reads too.
P.S. Thanks for the thoughts, but e-mailing us through the new year is pretty pointless -- chances are good we wouldn't receive your e-mail, or it would be lost during the mass-deletions we have to make on the few occasions we will venture to look in our sure-to-be-spam-clogged e-mail folders !
The Nordic countries do a nice literary annual, and this year's issue is now available online: Nordic Literature 2006.
The book reviews aren't much help -- but there are a ton of articles.
Among the highlights:
In The New Yorker Masha Lipman offers a Moscow Postcard, profiling Tom Stoppard:
A couple of weeks ago, the Czech-born, Britain-residing, world-conquering playwright Tom Stoppard left behind a stack of largely rave reviews for the New York production of Voyage, the first part of a trilogy called The Coast of Utopia, about the pioneering Russian intellectuals of the nineteenth century, and set out for Moscow to look in on rehearsals for the play there.
It looks like it will still be a while until the play opens there.
For example, Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America was read by only 3 percent of freshmen surveyed, Tolstoy's War and Peace by just 4 percent and Aristotle's Politics by 5 percent.
The Bible dropped from 80 percent to 56 percent between 1985 and 2006 among surveyed faculty who recommended that freshmen should have read the Scriptures in high school.
Among novels read by freshmen, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and George Orwell's 1984 dropped the most, with double-digit declines from 1985.
The Albany Times-Union also has its very own book-blog (good for them !), and the full list of the 30 titles can be found in the entry on the survey.
(The full surevy itself does not appear to be available online yet.)
A bit over a week a go we mentioned that, in looking back over the year that was, The New York Times Book Review seems to have realised that fiction can't be completely overlooked, as they noted (apropos of selecting the '100 notable books' of 2006):
One last point: This year’s selections divide evenly between fiction and nonfiction (last year’s list favored nonfiction by three to two).
This indicates, most obviously, that the past 12 months have been an especially strong period for fiction.
But it also suggests, perhaps, that novelists and short-story writers have begun to rediscover the uses of narrative and to find new ways of making their imagined creations more relevant to our complicated moment.
But, as we noted, this certainly wasn't reflected in their fiction-coverage of that issue and the previous two (or, indeed, the entire year ...).
So how have things gone since then ?
Amazingly: even worse.
The 10 December issue had: 3 full-length reviews devoted to individual fiction titles (plus one two-for-one review, the Crime round-up, and a 'Poetry Chronicle') versus 10 full-length reviews devoted to individual non-fiction titles.
The 17 December issue had: 1 full-length review devoted to an individual fiction title versus 8 full-length reviews devoted to individual non-fiction titles (plus one two-for-one review, a non-fiction 'Chronicle', and a review of yet another translation of The Aeneid)
The 17 December issue was yet another 'theme' issue, with a focus on 'Books on War' (though even outside that ambit, non-fiction coverage beat out fiction coverage 2 to 1 ...) -- but it's typical that the current administration couldn't fit in a single work of fiction to go with the theme (though they at least got The Aeneid in .....).
Have they never heard of war fiction ?
Amusingly enough, they: "asked a range of writers to recommend titles they find particularly illuminating" for the end-paper 'War: A Reader's Guide' and -- surprise, surprise -- quite a few fiction titles were suggested: over a third of the books named.
So why do the editors at the NYTBR have such a hard time coming up with any fiction to include ?
The 17 December issue does admirably include a work of non-fiction in translation -- from the Turkish, no less (A Shameful Act by Taner Akcam) -- as well that Aeneid-review (Tanenhaus remains a sucker for those re-translated-for-the-xth-time classics) and that lone fiction review, of the translation of Lydie Salvayre's Everyday Life, so at least there's a healthy dose of foreign literature coverage (for once) -- but the way fiction continues to be ignored and excluded at the NYTBR remains shocking and confounding.
Something we'd like to see more of: in Der Gammelbuchskandal in the FAZ Hubert Spiegel writes that Diogenes-man Daniel Keel recently put together a list of the 'Diogenes Worstseller 2005' -- the worst-selling titles they put out.
A collection of Frank O'Connor stories sold 3 copies, a George Orwel book sold 8, a William Faulkner 15.
Inspired by the Diogenes-openness FAZ asked other publishers, trying to figure out what were the worst-selling titles of 2006.
Not everyone played along -- Suhrkamp (with a 9000-title (!) backlist that surely includes quite a few slow-sellers refused to say, and Droemer Knaur claimed all their titles sell well -- but FAZ did get a Worstseller 2006 list that includes many of the major German-language publishers, with some surprising results.
Two Nobel laureates figure on the list (Eugenio Montale, Claude Simon), and the worst selling of all (a mere six copies) was Muriel Spark's Loitering with Intent (an enjoyable read that surely deserves better).
Also on the list: a book by Stefano Benni -- who, as they note, has sold millions in Italy (a bad sign for the recently translated into English Margherita Dolce Vita ?)
But perhaps most surprising is the presence of a real classic on the list, Jean Améry's At the Mind's Limits, selling a mere 76 copies.
As they note, some well-known titles have sold very poorly -- 17 copies of Stendhal's On Love sold in the first eleven years after publication, and the same for the French version of Beckett's Murphy.
Anyway: we'd love to see some American and British publishers be similarly open !
At a recent symposium focusing on the writer held at Kobe University, participants discussed how his works are received in East Asian nations and how he touches on East Asia's modern history in his novels.
In China, in particular, 1.4 million copies of Norwegian Wood and 300,000 copies of Kafka on the Shore are said to have been published, exceeding the number of copies of his translated works in the European or U.S. markets.
There aren't nearly as many 'best of the year' lists internationally as there are in the US and UK, but some foreign English-language outlets do offer best-suggestions from locals.
See, for example, Zero To Infinity: Reading '06 from Outlook India, who asked "an eminent galaxy of readers to send in their choice of top reads of 2006", as well as The words that matter at The Age.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ljubko Deresch's Поклоніння ящірці.
(Yes, we know how much you appreciate it when we cover untranslated contemporary Ukrainian literature .....)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Florian Zeller's Lovers or Something Like It.
Zeller is among the more interesting authors we first came across this year, and it's good to hear that Pushkin Press will be bringing out two more translations next year.
The other Zeller-title we've covered -- The Fascination of Evil -- certainly also deserves more attention than it's received.
Some defend Judith Regan because she has been behind some decent and literary titles, but, as with massacring dictators who happen to be nice to children, we've never found that anywhere near excuse enough for her other doings.
Indeed, we have always found her so entirely unpalatable that we've never bothered mentioning her (or her recent, notorious projects) on this weblog -- and it is only with great reluctance that we do so now.
Nevertheless, the news that HarperColins has kicked her ass out deserves mention.
(Yes, it tells you something when Rupert Murdoch is the good guy in a story .....)
As the AP report has it:
"Judith Regan's employment with HarperCollins has been terminated effective immediately," HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman said in a statement Friday.
"The REGAN publishing program and staff will continue as part of the HarperCollins General Books Group."
In Humour and humanity in the New Statesman Daniel Trilling offers a very limited overview of some of the global literary highlights of 2006.
Yes: "International literature explored the world of Zinedine Zidane and brought us new works by Isabel Allende and Laura Esquivel."
Sure, that about covers it .....
Okay, the Toussaint is a good mention (see also our previous mention), the Grass-memoir was certainly a major event (if not necessarily a literary one), and Elif Shafak is worth the mention -- but Allende, Esquivel, Marjane Satrapi ... and nothing else ?
French books tend to be published in large-size paperback format, rather than hardcover, and then in 'livre de poche'-editions (pocket-sized, generally slightly smaller than American mass-market paperback formats).
In Jusqu'oú ira le livre de poche ?Le Figaro asks editors five questions about the apparently growing usccess of the format.
(No surprise: affordability is a major selling point.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Thant Myint-U's new Histories of Burma, The River of Lost Footsteps, which has already received considerable prominent review-attention.
With a few exceptions of Iraqi writers and artists, the continuous bloodshed in Iraq has failed to elicit any poetry or prose from the Arab men of letters.
While political writers expounded and analyzed, the literary writers and artists did not channel this harrowing Arab tragedy into creativity, and neither did they attempt to engage with it.
Iraqi novelist Shaker al Anbari believes that there is a substantial amount of contemporary writing in Iraq, particularly poetry and novels, which are published in the daily newspapers.
They deal with topics that range from human suffering in Iraq to emigration and the killing that takes place -- but they do not reach an Arab readership.
It remains to be pondered: What has become of the land that gave rise to the Epic of Gilgamesh ?
What of the literary legends Abu Nawwas and al Siyab ?
Iraq is going through an intense period of transformation -- where is the literature that can reflect this experience ?
We've mentioned the concerns in Australia about the "the abandonment of Oz lit", and it's good to see that there is at least some on-going debate about this: in The Australian Peter Holbrook now weighs in, arguing: Literary paradise may soon be lost.
Among his observations:
I suspect, however, that the formal study of literature generally is imperilled at most levels of the educational system.
How much classic English literature of any kind is now vigorously and creatively taught by well-trained experts anywhere in Australia ?
A translator should translate into his or her original mother tongue, and if the translator is Korean, it doesn't matter how well they think, because the result is usually almost always no good," he said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
The widespread misunderstanding is that some famous Korean novels must appeal to foreign readers as well, but in many cases, the opposite is true.
"Something marginal from a Korean point of view can be quite successful in other cultures," Brother Anthony said.
Books of the year features can seem pretty pointless, ladling hype on books that have already been fulsomely praised.
In order to elicit livelier responses, Prospect asked a range of contributors to nominate their "most overrated and underrated books of 2006."
'Under-rated' is tough, because there are so many books that simply didn't get much/any attention.
But there were quite a few titles we found over-rated -- all worthy of some attention, but not anywhere near the praise they received and gushing they elicited --, notably:
In Thomas Bernhard for life signandsight.com offer a translation of an interview from 1986 with Werner Wögerbauer that only recently appeared even in German.
Fun stuff, including:
What about translations for example ? I'm hardly interested in my own fate, and certainly not in that of my books.
What do you mean ?
What happens to your books in other countries.
Doesn't interest me at all, because a translation is a different book.
It has nothing to do with the original at all.
It's a book by the person who translated it.
I write in the German language.
You started out writing poetry. Oh please !
What does that mean to you today ? Nothing whatsoever, I don't think about it at all.
Do you believe there is anything specifically Austrian about your texts ? I don't need to believe it. I'm Austrian, so it goes without saying. Not a matter of believing.
Could a German author write the same way ? Certainly not.
The Germans are unmusical, it's something quite different.
And it's noticeable.
Before you even open the book you notice it, even in the title, a quite different ... it has a totally different stink to it.
They handed out the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature yesterday -- probably the premier Arabic literature prize (with the excellent AUC Press publishing English translations of the winning titles).
Amazingly, the only outlet we've seen carrying the news is Xinhua; as they have it in their report:
Sahar Khalifa was granted the prize for her novel Image, Icon & Old Era
Alternate spellings for the author's name include Sahar Khalifeh -- and Words without Borders even offers an excerpt from the winning title (translated by Marilyn Booth) -- though they have that as: Picture, Icon, Old Testament.
We don't bother too much with industry news (since the 'business' of books continues to mystify us), but Harry Potter-publisher Bloomsbury's catastrophic results are well worth a mention.
See, for example, Dan Sabbagh's Bloomsbury lack magic touch without Potter to the fore in The Times:
The company, in an early evening Stock Exchange statement, said that profits before tax "may be in the region of £5 million" -- well below the £20 million to £20.5 million that City analysts had been anticipating.
Falling short of consensus forecasts by such an amount is absolutely incredible -- and almost unheard of.
In the first six months of the year, Bloomsbury generated £4.2 million in pre-tax profit, implying that it generated almost no income in what should be its most lucrative half of the year.