We recently mentioned the new 'International Prize for Arabic Fiction' that the Emirates Foundation is setting up; see now also their official press release (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
Now Rania Khallaf considers The prize puzzle in Al-Ahram Weekly.
She isn't so sure that this is the best way of improving the local situation:
It is also doubtful what prizes can actually do for the book market, or how a greater presence in the West might actually expand the readership base back home.
Perhaps such money should be spent on developing writing programmes, or patronizing the work of the hundreds of Arab writers forced to undertake other jobs in order to make a living.
Salman Rushdie continues to lecture at university after university: see Dan Craft's Rushdie Shares Views at The Morning News for a report from this week's stop.
A lot of topics on which he gave his opinion -- including:
"The Internet is a fantastic creative tool that we don't yet fully understand." he said.
"Most of the creative content of the Internet is rubbish, but you can say the same for much of the content in any bookstore."
Most European nations financially support translation into (and from) other languages, and these subsidies certainly facilitate the appearance of more translations into, for example, English.
Now, shockingly, one nation has undermined what seemed to be a very successful system -- possibly fatally so: as a reader alerts us, the Swedish Institute has radically changed how money is doled out for translations of Swedish works of fiction.
As the SI page now has it, describing -- very laconically (and misleadingly) -- : Support for translation of Swedish ficton.
Maybe not so much any longer:
Literary projects are from now on integrated with presentations of Swedish culture and support for instruction of Swedish language and literature at universities abroad.
What this means in practice is, essentially, that individual works of fiction will no longer receive a subsidy to help pay for the translation (as used to be provided, and still is by government agencies all across the rest of Europe, as well as in places like South Korea and Japan, etc.)
The Swedish version of the Svenska institutet site has more information on Litteraturstödet upphör -- and fortunately it seems that this has caused quite an uproar in Sweden: Svenska Dagbladet reports on the strong reactions in Starka reaktioner på indraget stöd, for example.
See also the reaction at ALTAlk Blog, Swedish Government Commits Literary Suicide.
Unfortunately, support for Swedish fiction seems to have been diminishing for a while: the admirable online-version of the Swedish Book Review has been dormant for quite a while now .....
Given how little contemporary Swedish fiction is made available in English in the first place -- even if you count the current crime-wave -- this is very disappointing news indeed.
The New Republic recently changed its look and feel, going glossy and bi-weekly (though, confusingly, the span between the dates of issue 4810 (2 April) and 4811, which we just received (23 April) is three weeks ... maybe they're on their way to going monthly ...).)
With three issues of the 'new' version in the books (or at least in our hands) it's a good opportunity to take a look at what this has meant for their book coverage.
The bigger (if less frequent) issues mean there's room for more reviews, and we can't really complain about their number: 3,4, and 5 reviews, respectively -- generally of standard (i.e. loooong) TNR size.
But what is remarkable and disturbing is that coverage is predominantly -- indeed, overwhelmingly -- non-fiction focussed.
The closest we get to fiction-coverage is now a review of Dave Eggers' new book -- subtitled an 'Autobiography', and even more obviously based on facts than most fiction.
Is it Sam Tanenhaus' influence on Wieseltier, rubbing off in all the wrong ways ?
Or a misguided attempt to be taken more seriously ?
Or just a brief bad streak ?
It's admirable that they devote this amount of space to book-coverage -- but we wish they'd cover more fiction !
The Name of the Rose is known to have been released in Tunisia in an Arabic pirate translation as "Sex in the Monastery".
But is that still an Eco book ?
"Yes", he says.
"Whether it is still the same book in Japanese or Chinese ... is a problem for the author.
I can help with the problems, that is the most I can do not knowing the language in question.
Italian is a small language, not like English, and the author must get involved with his translators and translations."
But "it is not my job to tell people how to interpret my novels."
Last week the Atlanta Journal Consitutition did a staff reorganization, eliminating its book editor position, which is demoralizing beyond speech.
The AJC's section was run by long-time NBCC member and former board member Teresa Weaver
Börsenblatt reports that 112 novels were submitted for the imitation-Man Booker, the Deutscher Buchpreis (German Book Prize) this year (down from 120 last year).
Like the Man Booker, it has absurd restrictions on the number of titles that any publisher can enter (two get a free pass, and they can suggest a few more that can then be called in)
That does get a lot of publishers involved -- entries came from 56 German publishers, 8 Austrian ones, and 8 Swiss ones -- but inevitably must mean that some worthy novels were left by the wayside.
The longlist will be announced 15 August, the shortlist 12 September, the winner 8 October.
What gets read should not be determined solely by the size of publishers' promotion budgets or the muscle of bookshop chains.
Literary awards are a vital, and equalising, means of alerting readers to rewarding books.
But how good are prizes at finding those books that don't get attention ?
The irony is that most of the major prizes only consider titles submitted to them -- and that titles must be submitted by ... you guessed it: publishers.
Changing that part of the selection process would certainly make the prizes much more useful !
Interesting however to learn how much shortlisting can mean:
It was gratifying for the jury to find that small presses were well represented on our longlist -- from Quercus and Solidus to Tindal Street.
Some 4,000 copies of each of the longlisted books are instantly bought by libraries.
In Turning the page Jonathan Heawood looks at the role of the gatekeepers -- publishers, retailers, and 'literary' agents -- in the changing world of publishing.
People used to worry about the death of the author.
Now they worry about the demise of the publishers, agents, booksellers and other middlemen who convey books from writers to their readers.
These middlemen -- poor souls -- are being placed under considerable pressure in the newly globalised literary economy.
Some hilarious stuff, especially:
One by one, representatives of the chain that transmits books from authors to readers got up to defend their link in the chain.
Clare Alexander stated that agents were only in it for their clients' wellbeing.
Stephen Page affirmed his belief that publishers can steer readers through the bewildering glut of today's literary marketplace, and that the brand value of a great publisher is the key to their gatekeeping facility.
Publishers with brand value ... !
The very idea !
Sure, there are some -- but only on the small end of the spectrum.
All the conglomerate-players blew their brand name credibility ages ago.
A big part of the problem in this whole 'discussion', as Heawood points out: "Readers were strangely absent from the debate".
In America every presidential candidate seems to have written (or at least published under their name) a book, and there are other countries where this is also popular.
Among recent articles looking at the phenomenon, see The Economist's round-up of books by and about the French presidential candidates, The fire in their veins, and David Vaughan's From the Bulldozer to fiery Utopias: the literary forays of Czech politicians.
We are particularly impressed by former Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek's four-kilo (!) tome, consisting entirely of photographs of ... him.
Two thousand six hundred of them.
Yeah, that must be flying off the shelves .....
The International Cities of Refuge Network is an association of cities and regions around the world dedicated to the value of Freedom of Expression.
Writers have consistently been targets of politically-motivated threats and persecution, and the network believes it is necessary for the international community to formulate and implement an appropriate response.
ICORN aims to meet this challenge.
Sounds good -- and their website is pretty impressive too.
Well worth checking out (and supporting).
They've announced the winners of the 2007 Pulitzer prizes.
The criticism prize went to someone for their: "zestful, wide ranging restaurant reviews" (and the two other finalists also weren't book critics).
The fiction prize went to The Road, by Cormac McCarthy; the other finalists were After This by Alice McDermott, and The Echo Maker by Richard Powers.
They've announced the California Book Awards.
They give them out in a variety of categories -- and among the nice touches is how they award 'Gold' and 'Silver' prizes in some categories -- and just 'Silver' in others.
It must be rough to 'win' in a certain category but be deemed worthy only of 'Silver' .....
Anyway, Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o took the fiction prize; see also the press release at Today@UCI.
The New York Times Book Review -- distinctly unwelcoming of fiction (and non) written in foreign languages under Sam Tanenhaus' leadership -- makes good in catching up with much of what they've missed in devoting almost its entire 15 April edition to 'Fiction in Translation' (non-fiction is given a miss, but that's easier to stomach: fiction generally plays second fiddle to the coverage of non under Tanenhaus ...).
Even the Science Fiction round-up focusses on books in translation (though the kiddie-coverage doesn't).
As far as the book selection and coverage goes: we could definitely live with this, should they choose to repeat the exercise say every other week .....
Of some interest too: the Data: Comparative Literature (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) back page, with a variety of translation-statistics and facts.
(In our print edition they did misspell Measuring the World-author Daniel Kehlmann's name, but they got it right in this version (and apparently it was the second bestselling "international fiction" title of 2006 (sandwiched by two Dan Browns ....))).
The only additional feature that might have considered offering; a translated-fiction-bestseller list (using the data for their usual list it shouldn't be that hard to put together).
See also LitKicks weekly Reviewing the Review for their overview.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Chetan Bhagat's One night @ the call center.
While it's good to see that some local bestsellers from India (written also initially or primarily for the domestic market -- unlike most of the (semi-)expat writing that makes it to (or originates in) the West) are making it abroad -- like Vikas Swarup's Q & A -- this thing is in a league of its own.
It starts out merely not being very good, and winds up being truly and even dangerously offensive.
Apparently it sold 100,000 copies in India the year after it was published (an enormous number), and we're very curious how it will do when it gets to the US (and UK).
Given the fuss about outsourcing and complaints about help-line calls being answered in India there might well be some interest in a behind-the-scenes fiction from the other side.
But what could be a moderately interesting look at how life is -- and is changing -- in India (at least for the (relatively) small educated, English-speaking part of the population), turns into a ridiculous workplace farce.
This makes Max Barry look like a writer of great finesse .....
They've unveiled the new book section at The Los Angeles Times -- and there's an Editor's Note explaining what we can expect -- and that this is the: "first step in an effort to rethink our approach to books and book news at The Times".
Nothing too remarkable for now -- and this weekend it's certainly eclipsed by the all-foreign-fiction issue of the NYTBR --, but certainly something to keep an eye on.
We mentioned that they've announced the Judges’ List of Contenders for the Man Booker International Prize, and in Dayla Alberge's article in The Times, Lessing is listed for international Booker, she gives the Ladbrokes odds just out.
(We handicapped the 2005 race, but were completely off, not believing they could give it to the doubly-translated Kadare .....)
The 'head-to-head' at the bottom of the article is of some interest, but who the hell would describe Harry Mulisch this way:
Harry Mulisch. Lives in Holland. Fiction includes The Jump of Horses and the Sweet Sea (16/1)
Of all the titles to choose, why that one ?
It's not available in English (and unlikely to be anytime soon) -- and a Google search for it turns up all of two results ....
SPEC: What would you say are the differences between the literary scene in Japan compared to America ?
NK: I would say that something that is fairly distinct to the Japanese literary scene is what they call the "I" novel-the very, very personal novel about little things that happen to the author.
There are people who like that in Japan, there's a strong fan base for that, but maybe that's why I'm popular, because I tend to write outside of myself and tell a more ambitious story.
They've announced the "Judges’ List of Contenders" (hey, sounds better than "shortlist") for the second Man Booker International Prize.
Fifteen authors (shockingly only four of whom don't write in English -- yeah, real international) -- and, yes, we have quite a few of their works under review:
(Asterisk (*) indicates the author was also on the contenders-list in 2005, number in brackets indicates number of title we have under review by the author)
A very mixed list, to say the least, but anything which has the potential for Mulisch-recognition can't be dismissed out of hand.
But the big surprise is probably Tournier: last time round they said there were a lot of authors they couldn't nominate because not enough of their works were still available (i.e. in print) in translation (Handke !) -- apparently not an issue this time around, as we can't remember the last time we saw a copy of a Tournier book in a US (new-)bookstore.
Yet another top-100 list, as Waterstone's: "asked its 5,000 employees to name their favourite five books written since 1982, when Waterstone's opened its first store.".
These were the favourites of bookselling professionals ?
Oh, dear .....
See the top 100 books for yourself.
See also Nigel Reynolds writing about the list in the Daily Telegraph and finding that Men dominate Waterstone's favourite 100 (as: "male authors outnumber female writers by a staggering 66 to 27").
But also interesting:
The list is dominated by fiction, 89 of the titles are novels, with little biography and no collections of poetry or short stories.
(Not the non/fiction ratio Sam Tanenhaus believes in .....)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Zhang Guixing's Tale of Memory and Longing, My South Seas Sleeping Beauty.
Zhang is a Malaysian-Chinese author (born in Malaysia (Sarawak/Borneo), writes in Chinese, moved to and lives in Taiwan), and while the novel certainly has imperfections it is yet another of those books we've recently come across that despite their flaws made quite an impression (other recent examples: Tom McCarthy's Remainder, Florian Zeller's The Fascination of Evil, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Vangelis Hatziyannidis' Four Walls).
And we wouldn't mind seeing more of Zhang's works in translation (Columbia University Press just brought this one out).
Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World got some decent US reviews but didn't seem to attract particularly much attention.
Now out in the UK as well it'll be interesting to see how it does there.
Two close-to-raves in The Telegraph can't hurt:
Kate Chisholm writes: "If the novel as a form of literature is intended to help us see the world through a different lens, then Measuring the World is a dazzling success".
Daniel Johnson thinks: "this highly intelligent novel deserves its success."
And we feel a bit better about devoting attention to untranslated authors and books that may eventually get some recognition: we reviewed our first Kehlmanns back in 2000, and have all seven of his books under review.
(Updated - 13 April): See now also Mark M. Anderson' review in The Nation (issue of 30 April).
Perlentaucher points us to Sabine Rennefanz's interview with A.L.Kennedy in the Berliner Zeitung, Hollywood ist doch viel grausamer.
Noteworthy the provocative comments -- or is it just the obvious comparison to make for a German audience ? (we haven't found the same in UK-print) -- :
Wenn ich Großbritannien anschaue, fühle ich mich an die Nazizeit erinnert.
Blair ist ein wahnhafter Kriegsverbrecher.
Ich habe wenig Hoffnung, dass Brown besser ist.
Wieder stigmatisieren wir eine einzelne religiöse Gruppe, diesmal die Muslime.
Eine Teil der Gesellschaft wird zu Kriminellen abgestempelt.
Das ärgert mich.
Sie mögen das moderne Großbritannien nicht.
Margaret Thatcher said: "There is no such thing as society", "So etwas wie Gesellschaft gibt es nicht."
Damit fing es an.
Damit ging es bergab.
Unsere Gesellschaft ist viel barbarischer, grausamer geworden.
(When I look at Great Britain I'm reminded of the Nazi period.
Blair is a delusional war-criminal.
I have little hope that Brown will be any better.
Again we're stigmatizing a particular religious group, this time Muslims.
Part of society is written off as criminals.
That angers me.
You don't like Great Britain much.
Margaret Thatcher hat gesagt: "There is no such thing as society".
It began with that.
It's been all downhill since then.
Our society has gotten much more barbaric, much crueler.)
Yale University Press is pleased to announce that it is the recipient of a very significant gift from Cecile and Theodore Margellos for the establishment of an endowed fund to support a major new publishing series of foreign literatures in translation.
The series, to be called The Cecile and Theodore Margellos World Republic of Letters, will be dedicated to making literary works from around the globe available in English through translation.
And they certainly have grand ambitions:
The Cecile and Theodore Margellos World Republic of Letter series will identify works of cultural and artistic significance previously overlooked by translators and publishers, canonical works of literature and philosophy needing new translations, as well as important contemporary authors whose work has not yet been translated into English.
The series is designed to bring to the English-speaking world leading poets, novelists, essayists, philosophers, and playwrights from Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, to stimulate international discourse and creative exchange.
No word on how much cash is involved (i.e. how much they really can do), but they already have a couple of titles in the works and will start publishing next year.
We very much look forward to it !
"The crime novel is just part of the holidays," said Anniken Dingsoer, 50, after stocking up on good thrillers at an Oslo bookstore.
With the recent wave of Scandinavian mysteries we're reminded of the striking fact that murder is, in fact, extremely unpopular -- or at least uncommon -- there.
As Aftenposten reported, in Norway there were only 34 killed in 2006.
(That's about the same number of homicides as Omaha, Nebraska had -- but Norway's population is about 4.6 million, and Omaha's under 400,000.)
It also doesn't sound like there's much that makes a good basis for mystery-novels:
An examination of homicide statistics for 2006 reveals the most typical situation -- a man aged 30-40 kills a female acquaintance with a knife.
The killings are most often triggered by an argument or as the result of a mental disorder.
Impressive also the success rate in solving these murders: they published the article in mid-January and there were only two cases from 2006 still open, and:
Only 11 cases out of the 374 homicides in the past ten years remain unsolved, a success rate of 97 percent.
So is it because there are so few murders, and because what murders there are are so boring and straightforward that they need and write so much escapist murderous fiction ?
(Of course, mass-murdering America also churns out murder mysteries by the bucket-load .....)
GalleyCat points us to Charlotte Abbott's Publishers Weekly piece on what the Hot Books for Summer supposedly are -- leading us again to wonder how far out of the loop we are.
We're curious about Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist, but other than that look likely to read only one other book from the list -- Ian McEwan's near-obligatory On Chesil Beach.
And from the 'Also Noteworthy' (i.e. also-rans) list Michael Ondaatje's Divisadero (if we can make it past that title).
But otherwise our interest-level in these titles is somewhere between low and zero.