The headline is meant to be alarming, but given that practically everyone is constantly yammering about how far too many books are being published (and written) surely it will be widely greeted with great exclamations of Hallelujah ! (and: How can we make it happen sooner !): in The Times Ben Hoyle reports that there are those warning that Internet book piracy will drive authors to stop writing.
The claim is that:
Book piracy on the internet will ultimately drive authors to stop writing unless radical methods are devised to compensate them for lost sales.
This is the bleak forecast of the Society of Authors, which represents more than 8,500 professional writers in the UK and believes that the havoc caused to the music business by illegal downloading is beginning to envelop the book trade.
Internet piracy and free downloading is a problem, of sorts -- and will only grow to be a bigger one -- but a bit of perspective is needed, and Tracy Chevalier, for example, doesn't show much:
"For a while it will be great for readers because they will pay less and less but in the long run it’s going to ruin the information.
People will stop writing.
There’s a lot of ‘wait and see what the technology brings’ but the trouble is if you wait and see too long then it’s gone.
That’s what happened to the music industry."
Oh, yes, that silence out there is deafening .....
Certainly it is correct that:
"It’s hitting hardest the writers who write books that you dip in and out of: poetry, cookbooks, travel guides, short stories -- books where you don’t have to read the whole thing.
Poets are getting 'hit' by Internet piracy ?
Sure, maybe Seamus Heaney and a few other of the handful of poets whose books sell more than ... say 100 copies a year shift a few (or quite a few) less copies than they otherwise would -- but surely the vast majority of poets have only benefitted from the opportunities for greater exposure the Internet offers (and haven't suffered too many losses due to Internet piracy ...).
As to travel guide authors -- well, surely it's obvious that it's not piracy that's the problem but the simple fact that the Internet is much better suited to providing up-to-date travel information than books are.
But surely both travel guides (of sorts) -- and cookbooks -- can be packaged in ways that will make consumers want to buy the book: yes, for individual recipes they might just print that out, but there are still ways of presenting the book-product to make consumers think it's worth paying good money for it.
Obviously, there's a lot more to all this -- and, no doubt, The Times article will lead to much online-discussion -- but we feel fairly confident in saying that it's much harder to get writers to stop writing than just by not paying them for (or stealing) their work.
See also Tom Tivnan 's report on the British Library’s Intellectual Property "Authors and Publishers in the Digital Age" round table debate in The Bookseller, where some of this was apparently discussed.
"I think it's picking up," said Douglas Kibbee, director of the School of Literatures, Cultures, and Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which has a new Center for Translation Studies.
"If you look at what's reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, more translations are showing up.
Now it's rare to go a single issue without having a translated work in it.
We thought it a dubious claim then -- more than when ? for one -- and think it a dubious claim now.
And a troubling one, too: to be satisfied that: "it's rare to go a single issue without having a translated work in it" is setting the bar abysmally low.
But the bigger problem is: it ain't that rare.
Yes, under the Tanenhaus regime the NYTBR continues to shy away from anything originally written in a foreign language.
Consider the statistics from the last three issues:
16 March: 13 full-length reviews of 13 titles, none originally written in a foreign language
13 full-length reviews of 13 titles, none originally written in a foreign language
4 titles reviewed in a 'Crime'-round-up, none originally written in a foreign language
5 titles reviewed in a 'Fiction Chronicle'-round-up, two originally written in a foreign language
22 full-length reviews of 23 titles, none originally written in a foreign language
4 titles reviewed in a 'Non-Fiction Chronicle'-round-up, none originally written in a foreign language
So two of the past three issues have been devoid of coverage, in any form, of any work of fiction or non-fiction or poetry not originally written in English (that's 'rarely' ?)
Of the 47 full-length reviews devoted to individual titles (and the one two-for-one review), none were devoted to translated books.
Of the 62 books reviewed in all a mere two -- Ogawa Yoko's The Diving Pool and Michael Krüger's The Executor --
were originally written in a foreign language (and they only received the 'books-in-brief'-treatment).
As Chad Post has been documenting at Three Percent, there aren't that many books being translated (though note that that list doesn't count non-fiction, or most genre fiction) -- but there's certainly more than the NYTBR seems to be suggesting is worthwhile.
(Meanwhile, note that the title-page review in the 30 March issue is of a John Grisham (!) book, The Appeal, -- about which reviewer Steven Brill writes: "Clichés and redundacies [...] fill the book, and at times his weakness with words is painful to watch" -- a book that in this same issue finds itself on the NYTBR-bestseller list for the seventh week, i.e. isn't exactly fresh .....
A strange sense of priorities, if you ask us.)
(Updated - 1 April): See now also Chad Post's response at Three Percent -- to which we expect to respond eventually, though there's too much to say for us to get to it now .....
The publisher's full-court press with Jiang Rong's Wolf Totem is certainly paying off in terms of press coverage (to the extent that even we have repeatedly been led to note ... the press coverage), and now there's a profile of the author in Time.
Simon Elegant claims the author: "still hasn't revealed his real name (Jiang is a pseudonym)", which is news to us, as it -- Lu Jiamin -- gets mentioned in most of the reviews and other profiles .....
But we still wonder whether this is really the ideal Chinese book to waste all this energy (and marketing money) on.
Like most of the others who have reviewed the book Elegant has some doubts about its appeal:
Jiang's attempts to marshal modern history to conform to his ideas result in some passages that will strike many readers as far-fetched, if not downright silly.
Ultimately, this is the kindest reading one can make of Wolf Totem -- that of a howling if confused paean to liberty, born of sublimated political frustrations that millions of Chinese can relate to.
At 500+ pages it sounds like a hard sell.
But maybe all this coverage is enough to sell a fair number of copies -- publishers don't care that much whether consumers actually wind up reading the things, after all.
(Though if they're hoping contemporary Chinese fiction is the next big thing they should.)
(We're still waiting on our copy, but probably will cover it once we do get it.)
Patrick French's 'authorized biography' of V.S.Naipaul, The World Is What It Is, has been getting a lot of pre-(UK-)publication coverage, and now John Carey reviews it in the Sunday Times -- beginning:
The biggest surprise in Patrick French's colourful biography of Sir Vidia Naipaul is that its biographee should have allowed it to be published.
For it exposes him as an egotist, a domestic tyrant and a sadist to a degree that would be farcical if it were not for the consequent distress suffered over many years by his first wife, Pat.
Naipaul's wife's distress doesn't even seem the worst of it; Naipaul clearly isn't -- to put it mildly -- a particularly pleasant fellow, and Theroux's Sir Vidia is starting to look like a kind account .....
All the more reason, as usual, to just forget and ignore the author and concentrate on the works .....
But Carey is impressed by the book:
French's book is a magnificent achievement.
He has mastered the huge Naipaul archive at the University of Tulsa, and has interviewed countless Naipaul friends and former friends worldwide.
He took on the task only on condition that no direction or restriction should be imposed by Naipaul, and throughout he keeps his estimate of the man properly separate from his estimate of the writer, which is very high.
Writers having trouble getting published (and making any money with their writing) might consider this alternative: in Dirty, sexy money in the Independent on Sunday Rupert Smith writes about: "his lucrative porn-lit sideline".
Yes, there's apparently good money in it -- though the image-problems of the genre remain:
Since then, it's regularly topped Amazon's gay and adult bestseller lists on both sides of the Atlantic, and, on the UK site at least, has consistently outsold books by respectable literary figures like Alan Hollinghurst and Sarah Waters.
But you wouldn't know -- at least not by going into bookshops or reading the literary pages of newspapers.
Erotic fiction, gay or straight, is the most reviled of all genres.
While science fiction, horror, crime and romance have their own well-stocked sections, erotica languishes in a dog-eared corner at the back, near the lavs. Some straight smut makes it into airports, to refresh the tired business traveller, but gay material remains beyond the pale.
Pornographic fiction, erotica, "one-handed reading", call it what you will, is a publishing parallel universe.
Books sell in large quantities -- The Back Passage is now in its fourth reprint -- and are gobbled up by extremely diverse audiences.
James Lear's most enthusiastic fans are straight women, who love reading about male/male sex.
There's an alternative constellation of literary stars in the world of porn -- people who will never get invited to Hay, but who enjoy bigger sales than their legit counterparts.
"Now I'm used to not seeing my books, or any others, in bookstores.
Bookstores just have flyers and greeting cards," says Charles Mungoshi
Staunton, who co-founded publishing company Baobab Books in 1987, says Weaver Press operates "almost like a small NGO rather than a publisher", with the company doing more project-based publishing, such as privately funded books for libraries.
While inflation is a major challenge, in a sense it is "irrelevant", she says, because "nobody buys books.
We have a very well-heeled elite for whom, on the whole, books aren't their priority."
Instead they spend their dollars on "tennis courts, mansions" and the like.
(Today is, of course, election day in Zimbabwe, and at least for a short while one can dream that the unlikely will happen and that the now ridiculous head of state Robert Mugabe will lose his grip on power.
But we're not holding our breaths.)
There should be a flood of these in the next week, but the only reviews of Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence -- due out in the UK in the coming days (but only in June in the US) -- we've seen so far are those in The Economist and Shirley Dent's in the New Humanist.
The Economist isn't particularly impressed:
Mr Rushdie's mediocre writing exceeds most novelists' best.
But Mr Rushdie ought to bear in mind that a novelist is at heart a storyteller, not a serial creator of self-delighting sentences.
And from the brief description it does sound like yet another Rushdie-dud:
Promising as this premise seems, the book contains far too many phrases like this:
"Akbar the Great, the great great one, great in his greatness, doubly great, so great that the repetition in his title was not only appropriate but necessary in order to express the gloriousness of his glory", which accounts for about the first fifth of a sentence.
But Dent does sound more enthusiastic:
Two things struck me as I read The Enchantress of Florence: humanism is a journey that we haven’t come to the end of yet and Salman Rushdie is one hell of a storyteller to have on that journey.
We'll probably have a look (and cover it) when it appears stateside, but it's certainly not high on the priority-list.
You can get your copy from Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order it from Amazon.com.
And see also the Jonathan Cape publicity page.
(Updated - 29 March): As expected, the flood begins -- and some are very taken by the book.
Today's reviews include:
Ursula K. Le Guin's in The Guardian: she considers it a: "brilliant, fascinating, generous novel", and concludes: "We English-speakers have our own Ariosto now, our Tasso, stolen out of India. Aren't we the lucky ones ?"
Stephen Abell's in The Telegraph, who writes: "While 1990's Haroun and the Sea of Stories was Rushdie's first novel for children, The Enchantress of Florence is, in the best sense of the word, childish fiction for adults: a welcome splash of bright colour; Rushdie, a virtuoso in poster-paint."
(Updated - 30 March): And the opinion-pendulum swings back again, as Peter Kemp warns that it is: "by a long chalk, the worst thing he has ever written" in the Sunday Times.
(We're not sure he remembers Grimus .....).
See also Stella Clarke's review in The Australian.
(Updated - 1 April): And from now on see our review-overview of The Enchantress of Florence, where we'll be updating our coverage as it comes in.
Obituary-coverage of Hugo Claus' passing (which happened more than a week ago; see our previous mention) has been pretty slow in coming, but now there are a few decent ones up -- and The Independent is certainly excused, having gotten Paul Vincent to write theirs.
Others worth a look include those at The Telegraph and The Times.
Oh, yeah, and there's one at The New York Times too.
So will this make for a clamour for more Claus translations ?
Somehow we doubt it -- even as we longingly read of the: "1,400-page Gedichten 1948-2004 ("Poems 1948-2004")" (see also our review of that sliver of a selection, Greetings).
They're holding the Graduate Student Translation Conference today through Sunday at Columbia University in New York, and all of it looks of interest.
We'll certainly try to catch the round table on 'Translation and Publishing' -- and Charles Simic in conversation with Michael Scammell is surely also worth attending.
It's not brand-new stuff, but anything of Cynthia Ozick's is worth grabbing; so also her about-to-be-published story-collection, our review of which is the most recent addition to the complete review, Dictation.
It wasn't a big surprise that the much-lauded film adaptation of Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis wasn't going to make it to the cineplexes in Iran, but it's a bit more surprising that, as the Daily Star now reports, It's official: 'Persepolis' won't screen in Lebanon either.
Of course, it was the Iranian connexion that presumably led to the decision:
"It is clear," the source told AFP, "that ... General Wafiq Jizzini is close to Hizbullah and he doesn't want to allow such a movie, which he believes gives an image of Iran as being worse off than it was before the shah."
Of course, such censorship in this day and age is pretty much an exercise in futility, and pretty hard to take seriously:
"The decision is even more ridiculous when you consider that you can buy for $2 pirated copies of the film in Hizbullah's stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut," Eid told AFP.
"I purchased two copies of the film from the suburbs and from the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camp and handed one over to Culture Minister Tarek Mitri."
Lebanese authorities on Thursday went back on their decision to ban the prize-winning animated film Persepolis, following an outcry and accusations that the censorship was aimed at pleasing Iran and Shiite clerics.
Can a talk with Naipaul be complete without reference to the disparaging remarks he made when Wole Soyinka was named winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986 ?
"What has he written ?" Naipaul is said to have asked then.
But at Makerere, asked whether he still held the same notion, Naipaul bordered on humility.
"I was misunderstood," he says. "I said Soyinka had nothing to be modest about."
At this rate maybe he and Paul Theroux
will soon kiss and make up too .....
But at least a few sharp words:
He had no kind words for people who ‘celebrate’ in writing. The writers of comedy of manners.
"They are sycophantic. They should be rejected," he counsels.
Quite a bit gets written about the alcoholic excesses of writers, but few have concerned themselves with what readers enjoy (or require ?) while reading.
At Stuff Lesley Reidy has a go at Matching books to wine, but we'd suggest there are quite a few books where a stiffer drink is strongly recommended.
We enjoyed Gabriel Zaid's clever little So Many Books, and so we were eager to see the forthcoming follow-up -- and so the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of his collection, The Secret of Fame.
The predatory literary agent who aggressively bagged major English writers from Martin Amis to Salman Rushdie has snatched Evelyn Waugh’s literary estate from the agency that has handled it for the past 80 years.
The loss of Waugh from its stable is the cruellest of many recent blows inflicted on PFD.
Although it had lost Ruth Rendell, the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and the children’s novelist Anthony Horowitz, the company had at least retained a sturdy backlist of departed writers, including the estates of authors such as V.S. Pritchett and Roy Jenkins.
But Waugh was the jewel in their crown.
The Waughs’ loss of faith in PDF is more devastating since the relationship dates back so far.
Under a longstanding arrangement, PFD still owns 20 per cent of the estate.
All the existing contracts it has negotiated will remain.
Impressively, the estate is already listed on the Wylie Agency's client list -- but PFD is having trouble letting go .....
And no word whether or not it was a package deal along with the Auberon Waugh estate .....
In Writing the nation in the April issue of Prospect Philip Hensher looks at the British 'state of the nation'-novel, apparently all the rage:
The novel of national origins has now been relegated to mass-market fiction, such as Edward Rutherfurd's Sarum (1992).
But what has occupied more elevated practitioners and critics of the art is the novel of national life in a contemporary, or near-contemporary, setting.
It has come to be called the "state-of-the-nation" novel, and it is currently all around us.
A decent overview, and some good observations, such as:
Popular culture crashes into these novels most noisily, however, in the form of popular music.
Almost all of them have an obsessive interest in pop music -- perhaps only my own, in fact, has none -- and it becomes a lazy, easily researched way to evoke a particular moment, summoning up idle readers who want, mostly, nostalgia from a book of this sort.
According to her publishers, Price, one of the most commercially successful writers in the country, is a "brand" and it is impossible to quantify how much of the book she wrote.
The Society of Authors has been inundated with complaints from concerned members.
Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, who chairs the organisation, said: "I’m shocked.
I’m amazed the publishers even put the book up.
If it’s ghost-written then it’s inappropriate that it should be shortlisted.
I am disappointed by the judges."
And then there's Erica Wagner's commentary, asking:
So is it fair -- especially in a category that is so influential in the forming of future readers -- to pit books that have actually been written by their authors (yes, it does happen) against books that have been, as the saying goes, ghosted ?
It doesn't seem so to me.
It's hard for us to take the 'Nibbies' very seriously, but most of this to-do seems to us entirely misplaced -- and proof yet again that the publishing industry (and too many reviewers ...) focus on the wrong thing, the author rather than the book.
The award in question is the 'WH Smith Children's Book of the Year'.
The operative word is book.
But just as with the Man Booker and almost every other book-prize, the media focus tends to be on the author.
But surely all that matters is the book, regardless of who wrote it.
Admittedly, the situation is not entirely straightforward here, since the 'Katie Price'-association is apparently a major part of the book's identity (indeed, its title ...).
Nevertheless, it seems clear to us that as far as book prizes go -- even silly ones like this one --, authors simply don't (well: shouldn't) count (except, of course, to the extent they're part of the selection-criteria, insofar as the prize is restricted -- as most usually are -- by nationality, age, sex, or whatnot).
Surprisingly, even those 'defending' the choice don't do so in the most straightforward manner:
Michael Rosen said that Roald Dahl was a rarity among children’s writers in producing books that were purely his own work.
"We get too hung up about authorship.
None of us writes a book entirely on our own. We get help from editors, or ideas might come from conversations with our families, or children.
The issue is whether the book’s good, not who has written it.
If Jordan or any of her helpers have written a very good book then absolutely good luck to them."
He's right about everyone having gotten too hung up about authorship, but in entirely the wrong way.
Authorship shouldn't matter even if the work is entirely the product of a single mind.
If we're concerned with honouring authors, well, that's what author prizes are for, from the Nobel and Man Booker International Prize on up and down.
As we've noted frequently, in, for example, the German-speaking countries, there's a far longer tradition of author prizes than book prizes (the two biggest German book prizes are, in fact, both only a few years old) -- which may well be a better way of fostering careers.
Personally, we're much more for glorifying the work -- but in the US and UK it is, bizarrely, the work that is usually given the prize (from Man Booker to the Pulitzers, National Book Award, etc.) but it's the author who winds up getting most of the media attention.
The first issue of Triple Canopy is up, and it's worth a look.
As they explain:
Triple Canopy presents writing, art, video, and other creative projects in forms that work with and against the Internet.
We deal critically with culture and politics, and the ways people engage them, both online and in the world at large.
There have been lots of pieces and much discussion about bloggers who get published, and blogs and literature in English.
For a look at the situation in French, see Nicolas Ritoux's Littérature et blogues: le mariage difficile in La Presse.
In The Age Henry Rosenbloom writes about "an undeclared guerilla war going on for decades between British and Australian publishers" in Brits in the bad books, complaining that:
The trouble is that British publishers have almost always insisted, when they acquire domestic rights, that so-called "Commonwealth" rights -- that part of the globe that used to be coloured red -- be included.
They have even tended to refuse to consider buying rights in books that originate in Australia.
Because Australia is a highly profitable market for British publishers.
They usually do not have to pay for the Commonwealth component when they acquire the rights
An interesting problem and issue -- and one has to wonder how it has affected the rise of other local publishers elsewhere in the Commonwealth, such as India, as well as whether this has played a role in how African publishing has (or hasn't ...) evolved.
We have several Deon Meyer titles under review (see, for example, our review of his Dead at Daybreak), and look forward to his Devil's Peak -- just out in the US (get your copy at Amazon.com) and about to be released in paperback in the UK (pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk); see also the Little, Brown publicity page.
In the Wall Street Journal there's an Author Q&A with Meyer, conducted by Jeffrey Tranchtenberg (story first seen at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind).
Among the responses:
WSJ: You speak perfect English yet write in Afrikaans. Why?
Mr. Meyer: If I write in English it takes me longer.
I have to translate my thoughts.
Sometimes I have to find the right word, I have to open the dictionary.
Afrikaans is my mother tongue.
It's a small language, an endangered language.
The one thing I can do for the language is to write in it.
At 'comment is free...' at The Guardian Khaled Diab is In search of Arab authors, arguing that: "The Arab world is in desperate need of more English language novelists to bring home the realities of life in the region", finding:
In English, there is an overabundance of political and historical non-fiction about the region, but little in the way of novels or other fiction, especially written by Arabs or in which Arabs are not more than incidental characters used as exotic background colour.
He doesn't think fiction in translation is enough:
However, the drawback of translated Arab literature for a non-Arab reader is that, owing to significantly different writing conventions, many works do not make the journey across the language barrier smoothly and the reader often needs to be well-versed in Arab societies and cultures to follow the narrative.
In Thanh Nien Daily Diem Thu interviews translator Trinh Lu, who has "has so far translated over 20 world-renowned titles into Vietnamese, including books from Italy, Australia, China, Brazil and Japan", in Gained in translation.
Philip Pullman has a new His Dark Materials-prequel (of sorts) out, Once Upon a Time in the North (centred around Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison, when they first met; get your copy at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk), reason enough to profile and interview him: see, for example, Pullman gives God a break for Easter by A.S.H.Smyth in The Spectator, or Rosa Silverman's interview in The Times.
And Amanda Craig reviews it in The Times
Of course, what we're really waiting for is The Book of Dust, but that's only: "due to materialise 'hopefully in two or three years'".
They still haven't posted the list of the Wingate Literary Prize-finalists at the official page at The Jewish Quarterly, but they have named them elsewhere -- for example, in Secret of the shortlist at The Jewish Chronicle.
Last year Howard Jacobson's Kalooki Nights beat out, among others, Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française; the only one of this year's finalists we have under review is Philippe Grimbert's Secret (published as Memory in the US -- where it somehwat surprisingly hasn't gotten particularly much attention ...).
In a 'Reassessments'-column in The Los Angeles Times Scott Timberg considers Bret Easton Ellis, two decades beyond 'Zero'.
We don't have any of his titles under review -- and are unlikely to get around to them (but in part that's because our US coverage is fairly limited) -- but probably lean towards the assessment that:
To some, he's a kind of Duran Duran of the literary world: fashionable once, but now a footnote.
Or at best something that comes back for periodic rediscovery but remains a relic, like the skinny tie.
This year's PEN World Voices festival is on 'Public Lives/Private Lives' and runs 29 April to 4 May in New York.
They've posted the schedule (click through on each day for more details about the individual events), and it looks like an amazing set of events.
We expect to take in quite a few, but don't even know where to start .....