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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 December 2007

11 December: NBCC 'Ethics in Book Reviewing' survey | Lessing Nobel lecture note | Story Moja | Now You're One of Us review
12 December: British Library buys Pinter archive | Romanian Literature Museum | The Radiance of the King-discussion | Dumbing down readers in Israel ? | Losing a literature ? | Bloggers' books | Taslima Nasreen interest | Iranian satire awards ? | Secret review
13 December: Orange Broadband judges | Sami Rohr Prize finalists | Translations of 2007 | Tanenhaus update | Girl Meets Boy review
14 December: Another sign of French decline ? | Moacyr Scliar reviews
15 December: Publishing in Iran | Andrew Wylie interview | Rupert Thomson interview | Australian year-end round-up | Shimmer Chinodya reviews
16 December: Australian library lending | Naipaul profile | Writer recommendations | Vocabulary building | The Smiles of the Saints review
17 December: Bad book year ? | Shame in the Blood review
18 December: Banipal profile | Man Booker judges | Desperate publicity stunt | 'Creative writing' courses overview | Handke sells papers | Return of the Reluctant retires ?
19 December: '100 Books for Understanding Contemporary Japan' ? | Another literary estate sold ... | Eifel-Literaturpreis | Paper price warning ? | The Emergence of Memory review
20 December: 'Best Translations of 2007' longlist | Where's the Central Asian writing ? | End-of-year lists from abroad | Over/Underrated culture 2007 | Missing Soluch recommendation | Farewell, Shanghai review | Holiday schedule at the Literary Saloon (?)

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20 December 2007 - Thursday

'Best Translations of 2007' longlist | Where's the Central Asian writing ?
End-of-year lists from abroad | Over/Underrated culture 2007
Missing Soluch recommendation | Farewell, Shanghai review
Holiday schedule at the Literary Saloon (?)

       'Best Translations of 2007' longlist

       At Three Percent they've now collected the Final Long-list for Best Translations of 2007, 50 books worth. There's also an analysis of the undertaking -- and Chad Post's resolutions for 2008. For a first go-round -- and especially for what might become of future incarnations -- it certainly sounds like a big success.
       Yes, there are books missing -- Günter Grass' Peeling the Onion somehow slipped through (and we didn't think to suggest it either) -- and determining the ten best won't be easy, but it looks like a worthwhile exercise.
       Most heartening is that Chad reports:
Minutes after putting this first seeds of this list online, I started getting enthusiastic e-mails about books that should be included, along with a number of great comments. (This thread has been the most visited and most commented upon of all Three Percent undertakings.)
       So we look forward to the top 10 -- which should be up shortly -- but also especially to the future long and shortlists !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Where's the Central Asian writing ?

       At The Guardian-weblog Daniel Kalder (see our review of his Observations of an Anti-Tourist, Lost Cosmonaut) asks: When did you last read a central Asian writer ?
       As he notes, almost nothing is available in translation -- and, as we mentioned in the comments to that post, the so-called Man 'Asian' Literary Prize (which is supposed to help get more Asian literature translated and made accessible to English-speaking readers) is of no help: they specifically exclude all of Central Asia from consideration, their rules (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) actually stating:
"Asian" means written by an author of 18 years of age or older who is both a citizen and resident of an Asian country or territory, which is defined as one of Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Mongolia, The People’s Republic of China, The Hong Kong or Macau Special Administrative Regions, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan
       (Yes, Iran and all the Arabic speaking countries are missing as well. So is Turkey.)
       And yet here is one area that could certainly use all the help it could get (more than, say, China, Japan, or India need at this point).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       End-of-year lists from abroad

       More of these should be popping up, but here is a first selection of best-of-the-year/notable book lists from abroad:

       From France: both Le Point and Lire offer 20-book lists -- Les vingt meilleurs livres de l'année and Les 20 meilleurs livres de l'année, respectively -- but Lire does the best in each of 20 different categories.

       From Germany: Welt am Sonntag offers Die 35 besten Bücher des Jahres

       From Argentina: Revista ñ offers a list of what they explain they consider "los títulos más destacados" of 2007 (found via Moleskine Literario). Among the categories considered: best-sellers.

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       Over/Underrated culture 2007

       Prospect has fifty of its writers consider The cultural year 2007 by naming the most over- and under-rated cultural events of the year.
       Some interesting answers -- and note that Adam Thirlwell’s Miss Herbert (which we're slowly working on ...) gets two under-rated nods.

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       Missing Soluch recommendation

       In The New York Sun Benjamin Lytal does the fiction recommendations for the year -- and after some of the obvious (The Savage Detectives, Out Stealing Horses) writes:
But the book that, this year, I have most wanted to recommend is almost totally unknown. Missing Soluch is Mahmoud Dowlatabadi's first novel translated into English, and it has hardly been reviewed at all. I've found references to Mr. Dowlatabadi in articles about Iranian censorship, but that's all. Missing Soluch is an Iranian book, and I don't know how to place it in that national literature. It has stayed with me because I don't know where to leave it; it remains a question mark.
       Interesting, his need for context .....
       We will get to this -- and we do have three (well, two parts of one, and another) of his novels, as well as a bit more Persian and Iranian Literature under review.

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       Farewell, Shanghai review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Bulgarian author Angel Wagenstein's World War II saga, Farewell, Shanghai.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Holiday schedule at the Literary Saloon (?)

       Unlike in previous years, we will be trying to keep up posting (and adding new reviews) between now and New Years, but it all depends on our Internet connexions, which have not been tested yet. So it is also entirely possible that nothing will appear until 31 December .....
       Even if we do manage to stay connected, posting likely will be more irregular than usual: there may be skipped days, and posts may appear at other times than usual. We'll try our best.

       (Updated - 21 December): Looks like we're good to go connexion-wise, so you should be hearing from us regularly.

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19 December 2007 - Wednesday

'100 Books for Understanding Contemporary Japan' ? | Another literary estate sold ...
Eifel-Literaturpreis | Paper price warning ? | The Emergence of Memory review

       '100 Books for Understanding Contemporary Japan' ?

       In the Yomiuri Shimbun they report that Yomiuri book among 100 recommended works:
The Nippon Foundation said Tuesday it has chosen 100 books written in English [...] to be presented elsewhere in the world to help people abroad correctly understand Japan.

The books have been listed unanimously by a 10-member international selection committee, chaired by Takashi Shiraishi, vice president and professor of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. The panel also includes U.S. author Donald Richie and British Ambassador to Japan Graham Holbrook Fry, among others.

The "100 Books for Understanding Contemporary Japan" cover "politics, government and international relations," "economics and business," "society and culture," "literature and arts" and "history."
       We presume they mean what's known in English as the Japan Foundation is behind it, rather than the Nippon Foundation, but either way we haven't been able to find any other information about the undertaking. But it sounds like it has some potential .

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Another literary estate sold ...

       Apparently it's the season when authors sell off their papers, as yet another big estate has been dispatched: Emory University has announced that Alice Walker to Place her Archive at Emory University.

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       A.L.Kennedy takes the first Internationaler Eifel-Literaturpreis -- and the €15,000 that goes with it.
       In typical German prize-winning fashion they've only announced that she's won; she has to wait until 8 June 2008 to pick it up.

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       Paper price warning ?

       The AP report that Rising paper price ups book prices in China for now and perhaps later the world, as:
Voracious demand for books and a crackdown on small, polluting paper mills have caused a paper crunch in China, pushing up the price of paper by 10 percent so far this year and forcing printers to delay books and publishers to raise prices.

So far the problems have been largely confined to China, but experts say that if the trend is unchecked, publishers worldwide could find themselves paying higher costs -- and consumers facing higher book prices.
       That 'vorcaious demand' is, of course, in considerable part also foreign-fed, as many Western publishers get a lot of their printing done in China now:
China is deeply embedded in the international book market. It is the United States' biggest offshore supplier of print products, chiefly books. Exports of paper products from China rose by 76 percent between 2005 and 2006, according to government statistics, and are projected to rise a similar amount by the end of the decade.

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       The Emergence of Memory review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of a volume of Conversations with W.G.Sebald edited by Lynne Sharon Schwartz, The Emergence of Memory.
       It's actually not just conversations, as about half the book is devoted to essays on Sebald and his work -- some of which will be familiar to readers of The New York Review of Books and The New Republic.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 December 2007 - Tuesday

Banipal profile | Man Booker judges | Desperate publicity stunt
'Creative writing' courses overview | Handke sells papers
Return of the Reluctant retires ?

       Banipal profile

       In Nothing lost in translation in the Daily Star Olivia Snaije talks to Margaret Obank and Samuel Shimon about the impressive Banipal -- about which she says:
It's not an exaggeration to say the magazine has become a quintessential bridge between Arab writers and readers in the West, giving unrivaled insight into the region's tremendously varied cultures.
       Our only wish: more of the content accessible online .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Man Booker judges

       No word of it on the official site, last we checked, but various outlets are reporting that the Man Booker panel for 2008 has been selected. The Independent reports:
Politician turned broadcaster Michael Portillo is to chair this year's Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Comedian Hardeep Singh Kohli, Ottakar's bookshops founder James Heneage, novelist Louise Doughty and literary critic Alex Clark make up the judging panel.
       (Updated): the official announcement -- Portillo leads eclectic judging panel for 40th anniversary year -- is now up.

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       Desperate publicity stunt

       Ah, the lengths authors will go to get publicity (and, sadly, how the media -- including, pathetically, in this case, we -- go along with it): some Swiss buffoon named Tomas Alexander Hartmann -- see his official site -- got his new book, Die Aufgabe (ISBN: 978-3-00-023396-8), listed in the German equivalent of Books in Print at a cover price of €153,000,000 (the equivalent, at yesterday's exchange rate, of US $220,320,000).
       There are only thirteen copies -- but this magnum opus also only has thirteen pages .....
       It's listed -- but not with a price, and not yet available -- at
       The Bieler Tagblatt report that he will be bringing the book to, and unveiling it at, BookExpo 2008 in LA this summer. Hey, it should probably attract some attention, right ?

       We'll take him seriously just as soon as soon as he gets insurance coverage for these precious volumes (13 x €153,000,000 makes for just under 2 billion euros): if he can convince an insurance company to insure them for the full amount -- and if he's willing to pay the premiums -- then we'll believe he might be serious. (Or, of course, he could sell one, which would convince us too -- but we think even will balk at this one.)
       Inevitably this will get some press-attention -- it's too silly not mention -- but we hope the focus will be on how very silly it is.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       'Creative writing' courses overview

       In The Guardian Matthew Wright looks at UK university 'creative writing' courses (the equivalent of America's dreaded MFAs), in Novel career goals.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Handke sells papers

       As Three Percent mentioned, Peter Handke has sold off another lot of his papers (this time from the past two decades or so) to the Austrian National Library; see, for example, the AFP report, Austria pays 500,000 euros for Handke manuscripts, as well as the official ÖNB press release, Handke-Vorlass geht an die Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.
       In Die Presse Anne-Catherine Simon reports (in German) on the hand-over of the papers: apparently Handke stuffed them into two suitcases and a bag, and handed them over in Cheville on 8 July; the library isn't quite sure what to do with the empty suitcases.
       Those who understand German can also listen to a 9:35 minute segment from Kulturjournal of Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler zum Handke-Vorlass.

       Our favourite part about this is how the noun 'Vorlass' has established itself. In German the papers an author leaves behind upon his/her death (and, indeed, an estate generally) is his/her 'Nachlass' -- literally: the 'leave-behind'. And a 'Vorlass' is: the 'leave-ahead'. (The much more widely used form of the word is 'vorlassen' -- letting someone go ahead, as in a queue; the idea of a 'Vorlass' seems to be a fairly new one -- Musil still called his famous book Nachlaß zu Lebzeiten (Posthumous Papers of a Living Author, recently re-published by Archipelago, see their publicity page) --, but it certainly comes in handy with so many authors selling off their papers.)
       Not quite the same thing -- English doesn't compound words the same way, and this isn't a compound word anyway (it just looks it) --, but it's almost as if in English one started talking not just about posthumous legacies, but prehumous ones as well .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Return of the Reluctant retires ?

       With the proliferation and variety of literary weblogs you'd think it wouldn't matter that much when one or another fades away, but we're still disappointed to learn that Ed Champion has announced that he's abandoning the Return of the Reluctant.
       He does hold out some hope -- "I may be back. Old habits die hard." -- and we do wonder whether he'll really be able to go cold turkey, considering how active he was at Return of the Reluctant, but: "For now, however, I’m done with blogging. And I’m serious this time."
       Ed and the (presumably voluminous, given his industriousness and the extra time he'll now have on his hands) fruits of his other labours will, fortunately, still be around, but the daily dose of Return of the Reluctant will be sorely missed.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 December 2007 - Monday

Bad book year ? | Shame in the Blood review

       Bad book year ?

       In The Los Angeles Times Scott Timberg wonders whether it's been A dismal year for books ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Shame in the Blood review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Miura Tetsuo's Shame in the Blood.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 December 2007 - Sunday

Australian library lending | Naipaul profile | Writer recommendations
Vocabulary building | The Smiles of the Saints review

       Australian library lending

       In the Daily Telegraph (Australia) Bianca Martins reports on the Most borrowed Aussie books (and they offer a list of the Top 100 Australian books -- the most-borrowed between 1974 and 2007, dominated by ... Bryce Courtenay, Paul Jennings, and Colleen McCullough).
       All the information and more is also available at the official Lending Rights page; see, in particular the Annual Report 2006-7 (warning ! dreaded pdf format !). Topping the list of the most borrowed in the most recent period are two titles by Mem Fox.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Naipaul profile

       In The floating man in The Guardian James Campbell profiles V.S Naipaul.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Writer recommendations

       In The Age Jason Steger collects year-end book-recommendations from a variety of (mainly Australian) writers, in Searching for the holly grail.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Vocabulary building

       An interesting piece in The Guardian by James Meek, From albedo to zugunruhe.
       Among other things he notes:
For some reason that I have never fully grasped, it is easy for those in the word business to admit any degree of innumeracy ("I'm hopeless with arithmetic"), or helplessness with the daily machinery of their trade ("I don't know anything about computers"), but difficult to speak frankly about not knowing what a word means. Perhaps this is why so many obscure words get through the editing process: the editors don't want the writers to know that they had to look them up. It is striking how often a new novel or long article will contain a single word of notable exoticism, as if to provoke an editor to uneasiness and insecurity.

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       The Smiles of the Saints review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ibrahim Farghali's The Smiles of the Saints.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 December 2007 - Saturday

Publishing in Iran | Andrew Wylie interview | Rupert Thomson interview
Australian year-end round-up | Shimmer Chinodya reviews

       Publishing in Iran

       MNA report that Winners of Press Book of the Year announced -- but it's not who won that's interesting (since you're unlikely ever to see those books anyway), but rather some of the comments made at the ceremony. So, for example:
Jury member Mohammad-Hassan Shahsavari made a short speech expressing his dissatisfaction over the decrease in the number of book publications in Iran over the past few years.

"In the year 2003, 500 novels were published and 300 took part in the event. However, this year less than 50 books were submitted to the secretariat," he said.
       And also:
On receiving his prize, Hassan Bani-Ameri said, "I am happy that I am living in the land of Ferdowsi, Sadi, Hafez and Nezami and the many other masters of Persian literature. However, I am not pleased that some of my stories, along with those of many other authors, have not received publishing licenses from the ministry of culture. My success in winning a prize is actually due to the fact that many books were not permitted to be published."
       Good to see that there's widespread dissatisfaction with this state of affairs -- and that this can, at least, still be voiced.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Andrew Wylie interview

       Maud Newton points us to a lengthy interview with 'literary' agent Andrew Wylie at Portfolio.
       He makes no apologies for his big-advance demands and doesn't think the publishers feeble for giving in to them, arguing their weakness elsewhere is what's destroying the business:
Because the publishers have given in to every act of aggression that's proposed by the chains, and it's been very bad for business. Everything is deeply discounted, there are endless two-for-three deals and stuff like that, with the authors getting reduced royalty, and the publishers having an already thin margin decimated by being compelled or agreeing to higher discount arrangements with the chains. It's very shortsighted, and it's all an aspect of publishers trying to cover over the fundamental weaknesses of their respective businesses with, you know, misleading cash flow.
       Interviewer Lloyd Grove notes that Wylie represents a couple of impressive estates -- Calvino, Borges (and there are quite a few others) -- and Wylie has his sales-pitch down pat:
But there are some considerable estates that we represent. Our business, the best piece of it, is all about figuring out -- when a writer is young -- whether they will, in the course of time, write many books which will remain in print, in many languages. And then to get those writers into the right hands, internationally, country by country, so that their revenues and their presentation internationally will be maximized. In the case of older, more established writers, who come to us later in their careers, what we find is that usually agencies in this country have not a very thorough knowledge of foreign markets and don't have a lot of access to those markets directly. They operate as subagents. So they don't really understand the difference between one house and another. And furthermore, they don't really know the people involved. So, because I have traveled so much, and concentrated so much on this aspect of the business, I can pick up the phone and tell [leading French publisher] Antoine Gallimard that I think this writer is very important, and because we know each other and he knows that for 20 years, I haven't done this every few months, that there must be a reason for it, then it's probably worth paying attention to. And so we also look at getting a writer's rights renewed on a regular basis-redesigned, re-presented, so we're quite a lot more diligent at that side of the business than I think all of our competitors are. Because I think their focus is more national. So our bet, financially speaking, is that if you are going to represent quality, you must do so internationally, and it must be a long-term bet. So all our representations are representations made in the belief that the people we represent will last and will be published internationally.
       Sounds good, right ? But what do the readers get out of these long term bets and his complete control over the estates ? All we know is what we don't get: more Borges translations -- tons of the poetry and the non-fiction remains inaccessible. The three-volume Gombrowicz diary being in print. The post-humous Janet Frame. Etc. etc. etc.
       No doubt, eventually everything will appear -- with estate profits maximized along the way. But readers' interests are definitely not a high priority (and that, we think, makes his approach highly problematic as well).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rupert Thomson interview

       In Small Talk at the Financial Times Anna Metcalfe asks Rupert Thomson a few questions.
       The most unlikely response ?
Can you remember the first novel you read ?
All of the Hardy novels, starting with The Mayor of Casterbridge.

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       Australian year-end round-up

       In the Sydney Morning Herald they offer what they think was The pick of the literary crop.

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       Shimmer Chinodya reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of Shimmer Chinodya's two most recent novels:        Both are published by the Zimbabwean Weaver Press, but fortunately not that hard to get in the US thanks to the distribution work of Michigan State University Press, who handle these books -- and many more from Africa -- in their role as part of the admirable and very useful African Books Collective. Well worth checking out -- there a lot on offer !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 December 2007 - Friday

Another sign of French decline ? | Moacyr Scliar reviews

       Another sign of French decline ?

       We've mentioned Don Morrison's Time-article about the decline of France as a culturally-influential power -- here and here -- and in the New Statesman Andrew Hussey finds more signs that the French -- and especially the so-called "intelligentsia" -- are out of touch, in The European scene:
It is all the more apposite that the biggest literary event of the Parisian festive season is the publication of the memoirs of Philippe Sollers, a vain, gossipy but undoubtedly talented novelist who is the epitome of snobbish, bourgeois, mondain Paris (Sollers's Maoist youth is only further proof of this pedigree). At the age of 70, Sollers is seeking to establish himself once and for all as the greatest writer of his generation with Un vrai roman: Mémoires.
       A few months ago we mentioned how many of the old-guard French authors (including Sollers) were still around and active -- but almost all (the exception being Robbe-Grillet) no longer get much English language attention. As far as Sollers goes, Hussey writes:
If Sollers is largely unknown in the anglophone world, this is simply because French writers no longer occupy the central place they did in the days of Sartre or Camus. Nonetheless, in France, Sollers is a force to be reckoned with -- no victim to false modesty, he ranks himself beside Mozart, Voltaire or Nietzsche as one of the thinkers who have changed the very substance of their age.
       Don't hold your breath for the English translation; meanwhile, see the Editions Plon publicity page, or get your copy at (though note that for "the biggest literary event of the Parisian festive season" its sales-rank isn't particularly impressive).

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       Moacyr Scliar reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two novels by Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar:        You may recall that there was some to-do about Max and the Cats a few years ago, when Yann Martel took the Man Booker with Life of Pi, aspects of which bore an uncanny resemblance to Scliar's earlier book (with Martel not helping matters with his confused denials, claiming he hadn't read the book, just a review of it by John Updike ... but it then turning out that Updike had never reviewed the book ...; see, for example, Larry Rohter's Tiger in a Lifeboat, Panther in a Lifeboat: A Furor Over a Novel in The New York Times (6/11/2002)).
       Max and the Cats remains the easiest of Scliar's books to find, but several other Scliar-titles have also been translated, and though neither of these is a home-run, there's no question that he's a very capable writer. We'll certainly be having a look at anything else we find by him in the future.

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13 December 2007 - Thursday

Orange Broadband judges | Sami Rohr Prize finalists | Translations of 2007
Tanenhaus update | Girl Meets Boy review

       Orange Broadband judges

       They've announced the judges for the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction:
The 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction judging panel will be chaired by journalist and broadcaster Kirsty Lang. She will be joined by musician Lily Allen, Lisa Allardice who edits the Guardian Review, novelist Philippa Gregory and novelist, journalist and children’s author Bel Mooney.
       They've done well in their choices -- not necessarily with regard to selecting a group that will select the best book, but rather with regard to what's really important: getting press attention. The selection of Lily Allen -- apparently famous in her field; see also her official site -- is enough to get the commentators commentating .....
       At The Guardian site, for example, there are already several opinion-pieces on the matter. Nicholas Lezard wonders Do we really need stars to shed light on literature ?, where he finds:
We are now approaching the time when the only people allowed, or paid, to offer any supposedly meaningful aesthetic opinions on anything are those who have achieved fame in some other area. For otherwise how are the common folk to be enticed into the literary world ?
       But Maya Jaggi thinks that it's not that much cause for concern: Literature is alright, still.
       Sadly, of course, these prizes matter -- they really do appear to influence book-buyers -- and they certainly get a lot of press (and weblog ...) coverage.
       We have no ideas whether this Lily Allen -- whose name we can not recall ever having heard before -- is actually much of a reader, but just in case she isn't, with four other judges there's still some hope that the prize will go to something that is possibly worthy. And at least Ms.Allen hasn't yet published a memoir that she hasn't read (as some celebrities have ...) so maybe there's some hope for her yet.

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       Sami Rohr Prize finalists

       The Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature -- whose main claim to fame in this (only its second) year remains the enormous amount of prize-money on offer, US$100,000 to the winner -- has announced the finalists for this year's prize.
       They alternate between fiction and non-fiction, and this is a non-fiction year, i.e. of considerably less interest. Still, a lot of money at stake ..... (But Lily Allen -- see above -- will apparently not be involved in deciding who gets the cash.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Translations of 2007

        At Three Percent Chad Post posts an updated list of all the titles readers think should be considered among the Best Translations of 2007 -- but you still have until Saturday to get any overlooked picks in.
       It's already a pretty good reference list -- but it's also kind of paltry. You'd think there'd be more to choose from, wouldn't you ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Tanenhaus update

       We've mentioned that NYTBR-editor Sam Tanenhaus is to assume command over The New York Times' 'Week in Review' section as well, and among the additional coverage of that you can now find John Koblin's O Tanenhaus! As Editor Does Double Duty, Times Insists It Still Values Book Review at The New York Observer.
       We suspect that, despite all of Bill Keller's protestations, this is more on the money:
"It certainly signals the demise of newspapers, that they would have two such important sections run by one person," said one publishing executive at Random House. "It reflects how unimportant books seem to be at The Times."

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       Girl Meets Boy review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ali Smith's Girl Meets Boy, her contribution to the worthwhile The Myths-series.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

12 December 2007 - Wednesday

British Library buys Pinter archive | Romanian Literature Museum
The Radiance of the King-discussion | Dumbing down readers in Israel ?
Losing a literature ? | Bloggers' books | Taslima Nasreen interest
Iranian satire awards ? | Secret review

       British Library buys Pinter archive

       The British Library has announced that: Pinter archive saved for the nation: British Library acquires extensive collection of UK’s greatest living playwright. ('Saved for the nation' ? For that amount of money -- £1.1 million -- a lot of authors likely would be willing to have their work saved for the nation -- and given the weakness of the dollar even the big American archives would have been hard-pressed to top the amount.)
Highlights of the archive include an exceedingly perceptive and enormously affectionate run of letters from Samuel Beckett, letters and hand-written manuscripts revealing Pinter's close collaboration with director Joseph Losey; a charming and highly amusing exchange of letters with Philip Larkin; and a draft of Pinter's unpublished autobiographical memoir of his youth, 'The Queen of all the Fairies'.
       We're not sure which sounds more intriguing -- the Beckett letters or 'The Queen of all the Fairies' (which seems a bit hard to reconcile with Pinter, no matter how you read that title).
       Press coverage has taken the BL line -- see, for example, Dalya Alberge's report in Times, which proclaims: "The personal archive of Britain’s greatest living dramatist, Harold Pinter, has been saved for the nation" (but also usefully gives at least a bit of a list of 'Lost collections' at the end of the article).

       Meanwhile the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin -- who, one has to presume, were in the running/bidding for these papers -- have to make do with Tim O'Brien's; see their announcement (and, in a nice touch, Listen to Tim O'Brien discuss his archive).

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       Romanian Literature Museum

       Here they tout the Romanian Literature Museum in Bucharest as a tourist destination; see also the modestly useful official Muzeul National al Literaturii Romane-site.

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       The Radiance of the King-discussion

       At Words without Borders Laila Lalami continues her discussion of The Radiance of the King.

       Meanwhile, the December issue of Words without Borders is now up, with a lot of variations on: 'Partings'.

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       Dumbing down readers in Israel ?

       You've heard the same complaint in the US and the UK, and now in Haaretz Kobi Ben-Simhon reports that People of the Book turn into People of the Bestseller:
In the past 20 years, the rise of bookstore chains has had a massive impact on Israeli literary tastes. As chains such as Steimatzky's 150-branch colossus have grown -- much at the expense of small bookshops of which only 100 remain -- some say Israeli readers have gotten dumber.
       (People really don't have much faith in readers, do they ?)
       Also interesting:
Professor Menahem Perry of the Hebrew Literature Department at Tel Aviv University says booksellers are dictating tastes and instigating changes in literary norms.

"Bookstores have a huge influence on our reading and nowadays most book sales are done at Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim. I don't see how that will change. The problem is that these chains have interests that consumers are unaware of. They exercise tremendous power over the consumers. The phenomenon that one enters a bookstore and finds a variety of classics like in Europe and America does not exist here," he says.

"A reader entering a bookstore cannot find early books by Amos Oz, not to mention [Yosef] Brenner and [Shmuel] Agnon. Bookstores in Rome and London have a larger variety of books by Oz and A.B.Yehoshua."
       That last sentence, if true, would be a pretty devastating indictment .....

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       Losing a literature ?

       At The Guardian's weblog Sarah Weinman (of Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind) takes the recent death of translator-from-the-Icelandic Bernard Scudder to consider some translation issues in Losing a literature -- notably:
With Scudder gone, now comes the difficult task of replacing him. At just over 300,000 people, Iceland's entire population is comparable to Newcastle or Cardiff, and the number of Icelandic-to-English translators is so limited that only two agencies -- Markmal and Skjal -- offer such services.
       But, of course;
Just because translators can do the job, however, does not mean the job will be a good one, as some European and Asian authors have discovered.
       (Interestingly, despite their ridiculously small population, Icelandic authors have fared relatively well in getting (decently) translated, and it's languages with a considerably larger number of speakers -- Finnish, Hungarian, Albanian, to name some European ones -- that have more often gone the last resort, translated-via-another-language route.)

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       Bloggers' books

       At amNewYork Kara Warner writes a bit about The sharp rise (and quick fall) of the bloggers' books, finding that:
"Publishing is now officially, for better or worse, about revenue," says Shelton. "The standard blogger book deals of 2003-2005 for the most part have been a bust. That doesn't, and won't fly on corporate spreadsheets."
       (There's also a list looking (sort of) at the success and failure of some of the highest profile blogger books at the end of the article.)
       Also of interest:
There are a handful of bloggers, like Elizabeth Spiers and Mark Sarvas, who have used their blogger visibility to land major book deals, says Shelton. But even they are relatively unknown beyond the limits of blogworld.

"Their particular novels (which don't come out until 2008) are said by the few who have seen them to be A-list quality fiction, possibly major publishing events. Does their sales potential have anything to do with the authors' blogger status ? No."
       (Mark's book is, of course, Harry, Revised; see his weblog, The Elegant Variation for the occasional mention of how things are progressing with it -- including this recent post on all the foreign excitement .....)

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       Taslima Nasreen interest

       They're holding the Patna Book Fair and it's good to hear that, as Abhay Singh reports in the Times of India, Taslima's books sell like hot cake:
The works of exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, living in India, have proved to be the hottest item in the Patna Book Fair. All her books were sold by the fifth day on Tuesday.

"Yes, the publishers selling her books at the fair have exhausted their stocks," said general secretary of the Patna Book Fair Committee N K Jha
       (See also her official site.)

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       Iranian satire awards ?

       So MNA report that Authors to compete in Iran’s first Satirical Book of the Year awards:
"We asked all Iranian publishers to submit their works in the realm of satire which were published during the ten years between March 1996 and March 2006 to the Satirical Book of the Year awards secretariat," Abdoljavad Musavi added.

Manuchehr Ehterami, Hushang Moradi Kermani, Masud Kimiagar, and Mohammad Torki will judge 276 submitted works, and two poets and three writers will be awarded, Musavi mentioned.
       You have to think that more than a few publishers were terrified when they first heard that summons: 'Send us all the satire you published between 1996 and 2006 ! We have a special surprise for you .....'
       Somehow, we don't think of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a place where there's a lot of cutting-edge satire getting published; still, we're impressed that there were 276 works submitted -- and that they'll be awarding prizes to poets too. Though until we learn what those 'prizes' actually involve we'll reserve judgement .....

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       Secret review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Philippe Grimbert's Secret -- available in the UK under that title, due out in the US as Memory (don't even get us started ...) in February.
       This is the rare book that literally stunned us -- like a blow to the head. But that's also part of the problem we had with the book, because Grimbert manipulates the reader (to make the blow all the more effective), and given that it's closely based on fact and a very touchy subject it's hard not to feel a bit of resentment for what he does (or rather: how he does it).
       It's been widely acclaimed -- it picked up a couple of French prizes, and has gotten good reviews wherever it's been published -- but there were surprisingly few UK reviews. This is the rare translated title that NYTBR-editor Sam Tanenhaus will very likely cover, and we do expect it to generally get more attention in the US than it did in the UK -- but we do wonder why it didn't get more coverage there .....

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11 December 2007 - Tuesday

NBCC 'Ethics in Book Reviewing' survey | Lessing Nobel lecture note
Story Moja | Now You're One of Us review

       NBCC 'Ethics in Book Reviewing' survey

       As widely noted, the results of the NBCC's 'Ethics in Book Reviewing' survey are in. Carlin Romano -- who organised the whole thing -- reports on the finding at the NBCC weblog, Critical Mass -- and the full survey results are also available online.
       As he notes: "many of the comments are hilarious, wise, or both -- don't miss them". Indeed, they are both entertaining and often illuminating (though regrettably the one person who answered "Other" to the very first question -- Are you an NBCC member? -- did not explain that response ...).
       We were, for example, surprised to read in the comments to the question: Should anyone mentioned in the acknowledgments of a book be barred from reviewing it?
Generally, yes -- but editors need to be careful. Sometimes authors put potential reviewers in the Acknowledgments to prevent editors from assigning the book for review to that writer.
       Amazingly, however, there were two more comments to the same effect:
  • Depends on their relationship. Some savvy authors acknowledge writers or editors to explicitly set them outside the parameter of potential reviewers.
  • Again, put me down as a yes -- but I have heard of authors making defensive (and unwelcome) acknowledgments to preclude a rival's anticipated hostile review.
       We'd never heard of this -- but good to know (if still hard to believe ...).

       Interesting also the split on two similar questions:
  • Should an editor ever assign a book to a reviewer who is known to hold aesthetic, political or literary views contrary to those of the author? 60.1% said 'yes', 11.1% said 'no'
  • Should an editor ever assign a book to a reviewer who is known to hold aesthetic, political or literary views similar to the author's? 72.1% said 'yes', 3.0% said 'no'
       We would have figured that it's those with the contrary views that would offer the more interesting reviews .....

       Particularly interesting are the literary weblog-related questions -- showing that some NBCC members are none too impressed by the new kids on the block.
       Consider some of the responses to Should literary blogs adhere to the same rules of ethics, whatever the consensus may turn out to be on them, as newspaper book-review sections?
  • I don't know what a literary blog is.
  • Blogs seem to me nearly irrelevant, so unregulated are they.
  • kind of an irrelevant question; so far as I can tell, no ethics apply to blogs.
  • Frankly at the moment review blogs are such jokes, it doesn't really matter. It's like asking what rules apply to people's comments on Amazaon
  • No, they shouldn't. Blogs are the toilet paper of reviewing -- quality varies, but none of it is worth keeping.
       (But there was also: "A literary blogger should be free to do whatever he wants to.")
       Similarly, the reactions to Should a literary blogger review the book of another literary blogger to whose blog she or he links? included:
  • Who cares.
  • I don't know what a literary blogger is.
  • Blogs are irrelevant to me. I have only in the past few months discovered what they are.
  • Who's going to read it?
  • Who cares?
  • Does anyone except the bloggers really care?
  • it doesn't matter. bloggers don't matter.
  • I have no opinion. I don't read blogs
  • How do I know? At my age, I do not blog or read blogs.
       Our favourite were the reactions to the baffling Should freelance book critics request only those books from publishers that they're likely to review or judge for an award, or is it okay for freelancers to request a much larger number of books ? -- baffling because, as 41.1% of the respondents pointed out, this isn't a question that can be answered 'Yes' or 'No' ... yet 29.9% did answer 'Yes', and 19.0% did answer 'No' .....

       For another survey-reaction, see Ron Hogan's at GalleyCat.

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       Lessing Nobel lecture note

       As always, the Nobel folk make the Nobel lectures freely available for reprinting to newspapers, prominently noting: "General permission is granted for the publication in newspapers in any language after December 7, 2007, 5:30 p.m. (Swedish time)."
       The Guardian took advantage of that offer, posting Doris Lessing's Nobel lecture in full -- though, oddly, under a different title ('A hunger for books', rather than 'On not winning the Nobel Prize' as Lessing had it). It is this version that was also the link of choice for bloggers, and it no doubt generated considerable traffic. (Our preference, as always, is to go straight to the source -- i.e. link to the lecture at the official Nobel site, but given that they reprint the whole thing it makes little difference in this instance).
       We're surprised to see, however, how few other publications have taken advantage of the Nobel offer: there are many mentions and a few excerpted versions, but as far as printing it in full we've only found that done by Svenska Dagbladet (the Swedish version) and the Frankfurter Rundschau (in German).
       High quality free filler material and no takers ? A sign of the regard authors are currently held in ? (Of course there probably won't be many papers printing Gore's speech in full either, especially in the US .....)

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       Story Moja

       In Business Daily Atieno Amisi writes Story Moja nurtures reading and writing culture. Too little information (and no official website that we could find) to really get a better sense of the undertaking, but it certainly sounds admirable:
Story Moja has since been conducting story telling sessions in universities and schools and estates around Nairobi. Story Moja also promises to support local writers by providing editing, design and marketing services for new books. "We want to challenge the perception that East Africans do not read (outside the school system) by providing them with contemporary stories they can identify with."
Muthoni said unlike other publishers, Story Moja gives consideration to innovative marketing and distribution in order to reach a wider readership. "As writers, we are committed to helping writers improve their skills. Story Moja will host monthly writing and editing workshops next year, so we get rid of these so called "literary gangsters."
       Actually, we're kind of curious about those literary gangsters too .....

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       Now You're One of Us review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Nonami Asa's Now You're One of Us, just out from Vertical.

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