Taher expressed some caution over experimentation.
He has read Yalo twice and discovered that it has "a form of its own; you cannot categorize it".
He warned that this kind of development "in the hands of a novelist less experienced than Elias Khoury or others of his generation is very dangerous, because a writer would not know where to stop."
It's nice to see a not-much-noticed-elsewhere book like Marco Girolamo Vida's Christiad (see the Harvard University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- probably not something I'd cover, much as I admire the I Tatti Renaissance Library -- get a little write-up at the (always worthwhile)
OLM Blog, by Ignazio de Vega.
Giller Prize organizers have reluctantly scratched a much-anticipated contest between Canada's two reigning literary heavyweights after one of the expected contenders, short story writer Alice Munro, withdrew her latest collection, Too Much Happiness (out this week), from consideration for the 2009 award.
"Her reason is that she has won twice and would like to leave the field to younger writers," Munro's publisher, Douglas Gibson, confirmed this week.
I can't believe they allowed her to do this: she's welcome to go tell them to stuff their prize if her book wins it, but prizes such as this are supposed to be about the books, and authors (and publishers -- who generally submit (far too few and often the wrong) books for consideration) should have no say in which books are in contention.
They hint at that, but don't follow through:
Giller Prize administrator Elana Rabinovitch echoed the disappointment.
"I appreciate the reason she's doing it, but I also think it's a bit of a shame," she said.
"Ultimately the prize is for the best work of fiction in Canada, period, and this takes a likely contender out of the mix."
(Updated - 2 September): Good for The Globe & Mail, who run an editorial with the suggestion that:
Ms. Munro's gesture should be appreciated for what it is, but the prize rules should be revised so that books are automatically entered for the Scotiabank Giller Prize by virtue of their publication, irrespective of the preference of authors.
As you can imagine, I say: Amen to that !
(And let all literary prizes embrace that policy !)
Penguin Classics is bringing out a new translation -- by Frank Wynne -- of one of Jules Verne's most enjoyable books, Journey to the Centre of the Earth (order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), and Anita Sethi offers a review (of sorts) in the Independent on Sunday.
But flick through any copy of New Scientist and you'll find at least one project that seems to have originated in sci-fi and, usually, in sci-fi that tells you what an awful idea it would be to build it.
In The Observer Robert McCrum reminds readers that even well-known writers suffered rejection, in Dear Mr Orwell, we regret to say ...
A too-familiar newspaper-filler piece, of course -- but almost worth it for the rejection of the Lord of the Flies:
Absurd & uninteresting fantasy about the explosion of an atom bomb on the Colonies.
A group of children who land in jungle country near New Guinea. Rubbish & dull. Pointless.
In the Wall Street Journal
Lev Grossman (who recently published The Magicians) argues Good Books Don't Have to Be Hard (as, apparently, it's popular (somewhere -- I'm not quite sure where) to think that 'good' books have to be 'hard'; dear god, who comes up with this stuff .....).
If there's a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot.
I hadn't really noticed the plot going missing, but what do I know ?
(Or rather: what do I read ?)
This is the future of fiction.
The novel is finally waking up from its 100-year carbonite nap.
Old hierarchies of taste are collapsing.
Genres are hybridizing.
The balance of power is swinging from the writer back to the reader, and compromises with the public taste are being struck all over the place.
Lyricism is on the wane, and suspense and humor and pacing are shedding their stigmas and taking their place as the core literary technologies of the 21st century.
I'm not so sure -- yes, I've come across a lot more of these genre-hybridized texts recently -- but you know what ? a lot of them are crap, too.
It's easy to get carried away by 'plot', or to think that 'plot' suffices -- and it doesn't.
(Updated - 30 August): See this reaction at Conversational Reading for a more extensive critique.
that Faber is following in the Grove-footsteps in bringing Samuel Beckett's collected prose and plays -- and my doubts about how much that will help his case (not that his reputation has much to worry about) -- but Tim Martin is gung-ho about Faber's efforts, as he writes about Samuel Beckett in The Telegraph.
In the Wall Street Journal Jamie James notes that 'Western culture owes a debt to 'The Arabian Nights'', in Old Tales That Still Seduce.
The saddest bit:
To restore this classic page-turner to the world's reading list, last year Penguin in London published a captivating new translation by Malcolm Lyons in a magnificent three-volume set.
Penguin USA is planning to bring out a one-volume paperback abridgment of the Lyons-translation.
Yes, American's can make do (or can be expected to handle no more than ...) an abridged edition .....
(See also my previous mention of the Lyons/Lyons edition, or get your (unabridged) copy from Amazon.co.uk.)
"We can count the number of good fiction writers, most of them are old and some of the writers have passed away already but we are still republishing their popular works because there are few people who want to step into the field of fiction writing.
Although some young people have tried to write works of fiction, they have not been accepted like the older writers," he said.
Is there any other place in the world where they have to deal with this problem ?
(See also the index of reviews of books from and about Burma (Myanmar)
at the complete review.
Yes, few new writers (but not many old ones, either ...).)
Turkish literature has been translated into 39 languages and has reached 50 foreign countries thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism's Translation Subvention Project (TEDA), which decided during its first meeting of the year to provide state funding for the translation of an additional 83 books.
James Kelman, the Scottish Booker Prize-winning author, has launched a furious attack on the way literary fiction is regarded in his homeland -- criticising the praise lavished on "mediocre" detective writers and apparently even JK Rowling.
Kelman, appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said that if the Nobel prize for literature was awarded from Scotland, instead of Sweden, it would be given to "a writer of f****** detective fiction" or work about "some upper middle-class young magician" instead of literary fiction
(Gotta love the way the British -- be they Scottish or English, etc. -- manage to make things class issues: Harry Potter (and surely that's who he means) is upper middle-class ?)
Still, Kelman makes some interesting points:
The criticism that I find most marked and interesting is the kind that goes on with Scotland, and how contemporary literature has been derided and sneered at by the Scottish literary establishment.
For me it's always been an indication of that Anglocentric nature of what's at the heart of the Scottish literary establishment, that they will not see the tremendous art of a writer like Tom Leonard for example, and how they will praise the mediocre -- how so much praise and position is given to writers of genre fiction in Scotland.
Alan Taylor also reports on the Kelman-event in The Herald, in 'Chilled-out' Kelman raises the temperature.
Between Kelman and Ian Rankin (certainly one of his targets) there sure is a lot of complaining about writing not being taken seriously enough.
I do rather wish they'd not worry (or rather: care) about that so much.
They've announced that Ian Hacking has been awarded the big-money Holberg International Memorial Prize.
Recent winners are: Fredric Jameson, Ronald Dworkin, and Shmuel Eisenstadt.
See also the complete review review of Hacking's The Social Construction of What ?
In The National Ed Lake profiles prolific translator-from-the-Arabic Denys Johnson-Davies, in Open to interpretation.
Most of the talk is about the new anthology of 'Modern Writing from the United Arab Emirates', In a Fertile Desert (see the American University in Cairo Press publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), but there are also some revealing opinions:
All the same, he takes a bleak view of the modern Arabic scene.
"I find that most of the recent stuff isn't all that great," he tells me.
The editor told me that in his opinion the secret of this new translation was that an unusually large number of paragraph breaks had been added to the novel.
Manga readers can read the novel by passing from paragraph to paragraph as if from one manga image to the next.
They are no less intelligent than their grandparents, but they have a different organ of vision, or a different cable connecting their retinas to their brains.
A Japanese translator I spoke with several weeks later confirmed the editor's theory.
She was just translating a book for the world literature series in which the new Brothers Karamazov had also appeared, and her editor kept repeating the same sentence: Give me more paragraphs!
So Sebastian Faulks has a new book coming out -- A Week in December (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- and he's getting the obligatory coverage all over the place, and in a profile in the Sunday Times by Cathy Galvin -- titled nothing less than Sebastian Faulks on the state of the nation -- he has his say on all sorts of things and relates that:
Faulks turned to the Koran for his research, and was appalled:
"Itís a depressing book.
It really is.
It's just the rantings of a schizophrenic.
It's very one-dimensional, and people talk about the beauty of the Arabic and so on, but the English translation I read was, from a literary point of view, very disappointing.
His publishers and PR-handlers obviously immediately tried to get on top of this, and the next day already Alison Flood reported in The Guardian how Sebastian Faulks moves to head off Islam row.
Those "rantings of a schizophrenic" ?
Oh, no, no:
"While I believe the voice-hearing of many Old Testament prophets and of John the Baptist in the New might well raise psychiatric eyebrows today, it is absurd to suggest that the Prophet, who achieved so much in military and political -- quite apart from religious -- terms, can have suffered from any acute illness.
Only a fully cogent and healthy person could have done what he did," Faulks told the Guardian today.
And one has to hand it to Faulks -- he really does his best to explain it all away:
"If such an overstatement is taken out of its heavily nuanced context, then pulled out of the printed article and highlighted, it can have a badly distorting effect," he said.
"I blame myself more than the reporter -- or whichever subeditor thought it was good idea to pull out the more undigested bits and try to make a silly season scandal ... I unreservedly apologise to anyone who does feel offended by comments offered in another context."
I'm disappointed he didn't stick to his guns (well, to his opinion), but at least he managed to get it out in the first place, which is already something.
Among the reactions to this brouhaha, Sam Leith's in the Evening Standard seems the most appropriate, suggesting as it does that what everyone does first with these kinds of remarks is take them personally.
Hence Leith barely notes the Mohammed-was-a-schizo comment and focusses on the important part:
Mr Faulks has just given an interview in which -- alongside some mildly astringent remarks about the stylistic shortcomings of the Koran -- he makes clear that he thinks book reviewers aren't necessarily the best thing about the literary world. Look out!
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Dutch journalist Joris Luyendijk's look at Misrepresenting the Middle East (or, as they have it in the UK: The Truth About Reporting the Middle East), People Like Us.
At Foreign Policy Liesl Schillinger argues 'Global escapism is flourishing in the Great Recession' as she takes a look at this Summer Reading of Our Discontent, as:
This year, as Italians, French, and Spaniards drove to the mountains or to the Mediterranean; as Russians with rubles headed to Sochi and Cyprus; as Germans flocked to Baltic Sea cottages; as the Japanese jetted to America or Europe or trained to Tokyo's Shonan beach; and as Britons went anywhere with a forecast for sun, they packed engrossing reads they hoped would plunge them into imagined worlds more satisfying than the reality outside the printed page.
A rather limited number of examples, but certainly of some interest.
Raymond Stock is a translator from the Arabic (of Naguib Mahfouz, among others), and he should know better, but in Foreign Policy they let him try to explain: 'How the Egyptian literary czar who wants to lead the world's top cultural body got caught up in his own country's rabid anti-Semitism', in Very, Very Lost in Translation.
I've mentioned Farouk Hosni's bid to head UNESCO a number of times, and it certainly is an ugly story -- but Stock's take isn't very helpful.
Addressing Hosni's infamous Israeli-book-burning comments, Stock notes:
What's shocking is not just that Hosni has said these things, but that he is Egypt's culture minister -- and even more scandalous, that he is the likely next head of UNESCO, the arm of the United Nations sworn to defend cultural diversity and international artistic cooperation.
All well and good, but Stock argues that:
Hosni's opinions about Israeli culture are par for the course among Egypt's intelligentsia
So he says, anyway.
And that's the problem I have with this piece.
What intelligentsia ?
Stock names one name -- a bureaucrat, "Gaber Asfour, the head of Egypt's National Translation Center" -- and, obligatorily (but to little end) Naguib Mahfouz (he dead, you may recall).
Instead of introducing examples of this intelligentsia, Stock is happy to instead toss out generalizations such as:
This whole imbroglio only serves to highlight the Egyptian literati's generally hateful and hidebound views of Israel, which are often more virulent than those of the Egyptian public at large.
One example, please ?
I don't doubt that examples galore could be dug up (after all, examples of every opinion under the sun are readily found) -- but, hey, how about digging up at least one to appease me ?
(And surely it's telling that he doesn't: is there any name he could come up with that any of us would recognize -- Gamal al-Ghitani ? Sonallah Ibrahim ? (the writers I'd consider among the cream of Egyptian literati and intelligentsia) even Alaa al-Aswany ?
Somehow I suspect these guys haven't been spouting "hateful and hidebound views" -- so who has ?
By which I mean: who has who can in any way be taken seriously, as al-Ghitani and Ibrahim and even al-Aswany can.)
But Stock is happy to trade in stock phrases: "Egypt's cultural elite", "Egyptian intellectuals, the self-styled conscience of the country", etc.
But come on, if you're going
Few Egyptian intellectuals (unlike many ordinary Egyptians) acknowledge Israel's right to exist
then surely you at least have to toss out one name (and preferably more) in support of what you're contending.
But Stock merely continues along the lines of:
Should Hosni's bid to be head of UNESCO succeed, as is likely, it could obscure the truly virulent prejudice that passes for cultural understanding among the Egyptian intelligentsia.
How wonderful to be able to blame it all on an anonymous, amorphous mass .....
"The Egyptian intelligentsia" ......
(And is Hosni's bid really likely ?
Isn't the consensus that, despite the Israeli deal, it's been largely derailed ?)
Farouk Hosni's bid for the UNESCO position is a serious and discussion-worthy issue, but coverage like this has no place in the debate.
Generalizations -- especially as ridiculously broad as these -- are unacceptable (and surely Stock is familiar enough with the Middle Eastern situation to be able to differentiate between the public/state-endorsed position (which Hosni is of course part of) and the true intelligentsia and literati (and believe it or not Egypt does have both)).
There are a couple of Marie Darrieussecq titles under review at the complete review (see, for example, the review of Pig Tales), but I'm afraid that I won't be getting to Tom is Dead any time soon: yes, it's available in English translation, but not in the US or UK: it's come out only in Australia (see, for example, the Text publicity page).
See also, for example, Jacqueline Dutton's piece in The Australian, noting that 'Australia forms the unlikely backdrop to a new French novel', Loss in a far-off world.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist.
It's poetry-fixated -- but how about this for a discussion-worthy quote:
At some point you have to set aside snobbery and what you think is culture and recognize that any random episode of Friends is probably better, more uplifting for the human spirit, than ninety-nine percent of the poetry or drama or fiction or history ever published.
Think of that.
Of course yes, Tolstoy and of course yes Keats and blah blah and yes indeed of course yes.
But we're living in an age that has a tremendous richness of invention.
And some of the most inventive people get no recognition at all.
They get tons of money but no recognition as artists.
Which is probably much healthier for them and better for their art.
At the Independent on Sunday Andrew Johnson, Gemma Mcintosh and Russell Arkinstall (it took three of them !) get reactions to Martin Amis reaching sixty from a variety of authors and others, in Martin Amis: Now we are 60.
I was pleased to see that both David Lodge and Ruth Rendell mention the underrated Time's Arrow as among his best.
As Jason Steger reports in The Age, Apocalyptic novel wins book of the year, as Steven Amsterdam's Things We Didn't See Coming took both the fiction award and The Age Book of the Year award.
It's only due out in the US in February; pre-order your copy at Amazon.com.
The September/October issue of World Literature Today -- with a focus on Catalan Literature -- is now out; cruelly, only the tantalizing table of contents is available online.
[Updated: Note that some additional content is now accessible.]:
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lev Grossman's The Magicians.
Though rather disappointed by the book, I am fairly impressed by the official site (and the associated ones).
The first reviews of J.M.Coetzee's Summertime I found were the Dutch ones (see my previous mention), but meanwhile some English-language coverage of the Man Booker longlisted title has appeared -- for example, at dovegreyreader scribbles and Vulpes Libres.
Now David Grylls reviews it in the Sunday Times -- and I think he probably nails it in wondering:
Ostensibly, Coetzee projects himself as a marginal, maladroit figure, a failure in love and literature.
But is this really unsparing self-dissection or a sophisticated exercise in self-approval?
In Summertime he has in effect drafted his own obituary.
And he might not be far off in suggesting:
Perhaps his next book will come equipped with its own reviews -- all ghosted, in suitably downbeat mode, by JM Coetzee.
Israeli writer Amos Oz is in Italy working on the libretto of an opera based on his novel The Same Sea.
The opera, with music by the Italian composer Fabio Vacchi, was commissioned by the Petruzzelli Theater in the southern Italian city of Bari, where it will premiere in 2011.
The Same Sea is an impressive work, and there's certainly some operatic potential here: I'm curious to hear how this turns out.
In the New Statesman Robert Hanks looks at the success of Penguin's Great Ideas series, in Who'd have thought it.
The success of the series is quite staggering -- and, sadly, packaging seems to be part of the reason:
Simon Winder, publisher of Penguin Press, offers John Ruskin as an example of the series' success.
The standard Penguin Classics selection of his writings, with an introduction and explanatory notes, sells a steady hundred or so copies every year; Ruskin's On Art and Life, the first of two selections published in Great Ideas, stripped of apparatus and given an attractive floral design, has sold 35,000 in five years.
As an apparatus-fan (and someone who never met a floral (or much of any other) cover design he was moved-to-purchase by), I'm baffled -- content is ... well, should be: all.
But, 'tis apparently not so in the real world.
Margaret Atwood is profiled by Sinclair McKay in The Telegraph -- and it looks like just the tip of the iceberg of the publicity-effort that is to be unleashed for her forthcoming novel,
The Year of the Flood (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
There's an official site for the book, of course -- but Atwood is also Twittering ! and Atwood is blogging !