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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 December 2010

1 December: Amazon analysis | Todo está perdonado takes Premio Tusquets Editores de Novela | Warwick Prize longlist | German critics' picks for December | Malaysia Premier Literary 2008/2009 Awards | A Life in Pictures praise | The Light Club review
2 December: Publication grants: Words without Borders - Chinese Literature Today | University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize | TLS Books of the Year 2010 | Adonis profile | December issues
3 December: Idris Ali (1940-2010) | Lire's top twenty | Prizes: Finlandia Prize - MLA translation prize | Translation conferences | Profiles: Padgett Powell | Irena Karpa
4 December: Русский Букер | Canadian literature (not) in Canadian schools | Five years of the Asia Literary Review | Analyzing 1,681,161 titles | More best of year lists | Dance of the Photons review
5 December: Publishing in ... Nigeria | Bella Akhmadulina (1937-2010) | The Hindu Literary Review | The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi review
6 December: Gao Xingjian Q & A | Nobel lecture | Krise und Kritik and Revue Internationale | African writers too timid -- or not ? | The Quarterly Conversation 22 | Another 2010 top-ten | ACF Translation Prize
7 December: Angelus prize | Dedalus profile | Translating Stephen King | Google eBookstore | The Accident review
8 December: Mario Vargas Llosa's Nobel lecture | Translation efforts | Jan Michalski Prize | Nobel Peace Prize ceremony preview
9 December: World Oral Literature Project | Robert Chandler Q & A | More 'best of the year' lists ... | Dezember | Tolstoy's end | Zettel's Traum review-overview
10 December: IPAF shortlist | Madame Bovary | Publishing in ... Europe | Charts: Publication date of books read in 2010 - Expensive books | Publishing in ... Estonia | Neutrino review

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10 December 2010 - Friday

IPAF shortlist | Madame Bovary | Publishing in ... Europe
Charts: Publication date of books read in 2010 - Expensive books
Publishing in ... Estonia | Neutrino review

       IPAF shortlist

       The International Prize for Arabic Fiction has a snazzy re-designed site, and they've now announced their shortlist, which includes titles by Miral al-Tahawy and Bensalem Himmich (other books by both of whom are under review at the complete review: Blue Aubergine (al-Tahawy), as well as The Polymath and The Theocrat (Himmich)) -- though I have to say I'm most intrigued by Raja Alem's The Doves' Necklace (in which, apparently: "The sordid underbelly of the holy city of Mecca is revealed") and Amir Taj al-Sir's The Hunter of the Chrysalises (which is: "the story of a former secret service agent who, having been forced to retire due to an accident, decides to write a novel about his experiences").
       Arabic Literature (in English) (which has been the place to follow coverage of this prize since announcement of the longlist) offers both an overview and a post on The Coverage, the Controversy, the Predictions (with links, and more no doubt to come).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Madame Bovary

       Lydia Davis' new translation of Madame Bovary (get your copy at or continues to get a lot of attention and review-coverage (see also the complete review review of the title, pre-Davis), with some interesting points being made.
       In the New Statesman Michael Sayeau finds:
Davis's Madame Bovary, as solid as it is, fails in the end to deliver us much that is truly new.
       More interesting is Philip Hensher's take in The Spectator -- beginning with his observation:
Astonishingly, this is the 20th time Madame Bovary has been translated into English. I say 'astonishing' because, as everyone knows, great novels in foreign languages tend to get done once, if at all. Most of Theodore Fontane has never been translated, or Jean-Paul, or Stifter; only in the last few years have the antique H. T. Lowe-Porter translations of Thomas Mann been superseded, and if you want to read most of Balzac's immense work you will have to resort to 19th-century collected editions. Couldn't one of those translators or publishers have turned their attention instead to Balzac's Louis Lambert, a novel Flaubert himself loved ?
       (Balzac could certainly use the attention and love, and not just his Louis Lambert -- but that's just the tip of the not/too-long-ago translated iceberg.)
       Hensher also concludes:
Madame Bovary is an extraordinary technical feat; but it is also marks the moment when it becomes possible to speak of a novel as an extraordinary technical feat.

However much time you spend with this great novel, it remains as cold as ice, and the outbreaks of humanity strangely incidental. Flaubert was not as interested in felt life, to use an old- fashioned critical term, as he was in the music of sentences, which he said, during the composition of this novel, he could hear pages ahead, before he knew what words he was going to write.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Publishing in ... Europe

       The Bookseller reports that European publishing flat in 2009 - FEP, as:
The total annual sales of publishers from the European Union and the European Economic Area Members States were slightly down from the FEP's 2008 estimate of EU23.75bn.
       Helpfully, they also offer title-numbers:
The largest market for publisher turnover in 2009 was Germany, followed by the UK, France, Spain and Italy. A total of 515,000 new titles were issued, up 1% from the previous year. The countries reporting the largest new titles output were the UK (133,224), Germany (81,793), Spain (41,917), France (38,445) and Italy (37,845).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Chart: Publication date of books read in 2010

       At the goodreads weblog they look at the publication dates of books read in 2010 by ... goodreaders (?), in Almost 2011?! We're Still Working on 2009, with a nice graph of "the number of reviews posted on Goodreads in 2010 sorted by the publication date of the book being reviewed" (via).
       The fact that more of the books were published in 2009 should come as no surprise: in January 2010, for example, there were almost no 2010 titles available to readers yet, but all of 2009's, and only slowly over the course of the year does the number of 2010 titles approach that of 2009.
       More interesting, in fact, is the long tail chart (scroll down), going back even further.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Chart: Expensive books

       In Book value The Economist online offers its 'Daily Chart' -- this time of 'The most expensive books'.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Publishing in ... Estonia

       EER reports that Paradigm Shift Divides Estonian Literature, but I wish they'd offer more information. As is:
Speaking on ERR radio, University of Tartu researcher Tiit Hennoste said that we can speak of a transition to a completely new literary paradigm. "I think there is a fundamental shift going on bringing to an end the roughly two-hundred-year-old [Estonian] literary model that began with romantic literature in the early 19th century [...] and continued through modernism. We are now in a transition to a totally different literature and different ways of producing it," he said.
       One interesting point: apparently: "few works nowadays grab the attention of the entire public and critics alike."

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Neutrino review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Frank Close's history of the Neutrino.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

9 December 2010 - Thursday

World Oral Literature Project | Robert Chandler Q & A
More 'best of the year' lists ... | Dezember
Tolstoy's end | Zettel's Traum review-overview

       World Oral Literature Project

       An article in the Belfast Telegraph, noting that Manx and Cornish on endangered list, makes me aware of the interesting-sounding World Oral Literature Project.
       The article points out:
A database compiled by researchers at the University of Cambridge said 21 spoken traditions are at risk of becoming extinct in the United Kingdom, including Old Kentish Sign Language.

Of the 3,524 languages named in the database, around 150 are in an extremely critical condition with some retaining only a handful of known speakers.
       Google searches for "Old Kentish Sign Language" return lots of results which use the terms: 'defunct' and extinct' and 'number of speakers: 0', so they might be a bit late with that one; still, sounds like an important and worthwhile effort.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Robert Chandler Q & A

       At Tablet Blake Eskin has a Q & A with Vasily Grossman-translator Robert Chandler about Grossman and especially the new volume of assorted works, The Road (see the NYRB Classics publicity page, or get your copy at or
       They cover a lot of different aspects of Grossman's writing, and many of the books (including what Chandler hopes to translate next).
       Among the observations:
By the time your English translation of Life and Fate first appeared, it had become a best-seller in France. Why ? Do they have a greater taste for 800-page novels ?

I imagine that this was because the question of the possible equivalence of Nazism and Stalinism was more of a live issue in a country that still-- in the early 1980s -- had a strong Communist Party. Now, however, I think Grossman is at least as well known in the English-speaking world as he is in France.
       (I have to admit, I'm still not ready to jump on the Grossman bandwagon .....)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       More 'best of the year' lists ...

       'Best of the year'-lists, in all their variations (including the slightly preferable 'favorite read'-variations), continue to appear left and right -- as, for example, Slate now have their "writers and editors share their favorite books of the year", in the provocatively titled Better Than Freedom (which seems to me to be setting the bar ... well, not too high; see my review).
       Meanwhile, The Millions continues with their enjoyable (and widely linked to) Year in Reading-series (I prefer to wait until they're done before going through that one, but if you like checking in daily, there's always something new) -- and, of course, if you really can't get your fill, largehearted boy aggregates an enormous number of Online "Best of 2010" Book Lists.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -


       I haven't seen this, but a collaboration by Alexander Kluge and Gerhard Richter -- 39 stories, 39 pictures -- certainly sounds like it would be worth a look: Suhrkamp have brought out their Dezember; see their publicity page, or get your copy from (At Kluge's site there is also the (German) interview he gave the Rheinische Post about the project.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Tolstoy's end

       A few weeks ago I mentioned that Pavel Basinsky won the Russian Большая книга -- 'Big Book' -- award with his Tolstoy-book, and now the Telegraph prints a Rossiyskaya Gazeta piece, Leo Tolstoy: the last 10 days: Pavel Basinsky's abridged article based on his book.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Zettel's Traum review-overview

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review-overview of Arno Schmidt's very magnum opus, Zettel's Traum.
       Now out in a properly typeset edition -- previously all the prints were typoscripts (i.e. basically photocopies of the manuscript pages (which I have to say I think I prefer)) -- it's been getting good attention again. Meanwhile, John E. Woods apparently continues to labor over the English translation (quite the undertaking: this thing apparently clocks in at over two million words -- and we're talking Schmidtian word-play/invention and presentation (i.e. the next step beyond Joyce's Finnegans Wake)), and I wonder who is going to publish that .....
       Somewhat to everyone's surprise, it's always been a decent seller -- the fact that the 1970 first limited edition of two thousand were all signed probably got things off to a good start --, but I'm not sure it's commercially very feasible in translation. Still, Woods did a hell of a job with The School for Atheists -- a similar, if slightly less outsized work -- and anyone looking for a Christmas gift for someone who likes a bit of very serious literary fun (say, an Oulipo fan -- though those aren't Schmidt's games) might seriously want to consider it. With Dalkey reissuing their four Schmidt volumes, maybe that will help pave the way for Woods' 'Bottom's Dream' (apparently the working title).
       I have a copy -- of the older Fischer edition (the apostrophe-less Zettels Traum), weighing in at close to twenty pounds, but I'm still a ways off of feeling I could do it justice. But then Schmidt himself said:
Ich würde empfehlen: Der kluge Rezensent sagt ein Jahr lang gar nichts. Er sagt nur, daß es so etwas gibt.

[I'd recommend: the wise reviewer doesn't say a thing for a year. He just says that there is such a thing.]
       I.e. he should take his time in reading and reacting to the work. Hardly wise, I nevertheless think my silence is guaranteed -- for a year or longer.

       (Coincidentally, there's a recent "new, critically emended edition of Finnegans Wake" out from Houyhnhnm Press (see their publicity page) -- which: "incorporates some 9000 minor yet crucial corrections and amendments". See also Michael Wood's useful and fascinating review/discussion in the new London Review of Books.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

8 December 2010 - Wednesday

Mario Vargas Llosa's Nobel lecture | Translation efforts
Jan Michalski Prize | Nobel Peace Prize ceremony preview

       Mario Vargas Llosa's Nobel lecture

       Mario Vargas Llosa gave his Nobel lecture yesterday, and it is now available online, as In Praise of Reading and Fiction, in Edith Grossman's translation. (It is also available in the original Spanish [actually, as I write this, they mistakenly have the Spanish translation of Herta Müller's Nobel lecture at this URL (though I figure they'll soon correct it); Vargas Llosa's original Spanish version can, however, already be accessed in (the dreaded) pdf format].)
       The usual stuff, but some interesting titbits -- and the requisite:
Literature is a false representation of life that nevertheless helps us to understand life better, to orient ourselves in the labyrinth where we are born, pass by, and die. It compensates for the reverses and frustrations real life inflicts on us, and because of it we can decipher, at least partially, the hieroglyphic that existence tends to be for the great majority of human beings, principally those of us who generate more doubts than certainties and confess our perplexity before subjects like transcendence, individual and collective destiny, the soul, the sense or senselessness of history, the to and fro of rational knowledge.
       Also of some interest: at Granta (Online Only) 'Carlos Yushimito and Santiago Roncagliolo discuss fellow Peruvian writer Vargas Llosa and his prize with Ollie Brock', in Conversation: Vargas Llosa.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Translation efforts

       In The New York Times Larry Rohter looks at the phenomenon of Translation as Literary Ambassador, as:
But now, hoping to increase their minuscule share of the American book market -- about 3 percent -- foreign governments and foundations, especially those on the margins of Europe, are taking matters into their own hands and plunging into the publishing fray in the United States.
       Last week I mentioned Rachel Deahl's Publishers Weekly piece on how Dalkey Archives Tests the Series Model, and they expand on that here, as:
"I can see the day coming soon when the only books we are going to be able to do are books that are parts of series," said John O'Brien, Dalkey's publisher, acknowledging the growth of the trend. "You're not just doing it as a book publisher, you are doing it in conjunction with consulates, embassies and book institutes of other countries. That creates a considerable level of interest and a feeling that something much bigger is going on than 'here is a book by someone I've never heard of before.'"
       (I hope that's just him doing his hard sell here -- there's good (and very helpful) money to be found via this route --, and that other avenues will remain open for books in translation as well.)
       AmazonCrossing also gets a mention, with the first title in that series, The King of Kahel by Tierno Monénembo, recently published (and, I note, not getting a lot of reviews -- certainly not in the print media -- and, last I checked, with a pretty low Amazon sales rank of 331,378).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Jan Michalski Prize

       The Jan Michalski Prize for Literature -- "attributed each year by the Foundation to crown a work of world literature" -- was actually presented 16 November but I completely missed any mention of it (and only point to it now thanks to a helpful reader-reminder).
       The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon took the CHF 50,000 prize (though even he hasn't mentioned it at his official website); get your copy at or
       The prize has some promise -- but they definitely need a bit of getting-the-word out help.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Nobel Peace Prize ceremony preview

       Good for the Nobel Peace Prize for making public the Embassies represented at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony on December 10 -- and listing those who have officially ("for various reasons") declined the invitation.
       Forty-four have said they'll be there, two have not replied, and nineteen plan to be no-shows.
       Also helpful: they note that:
For the sake of comparison, in 2008 when Martti Ahtisaari received the Nobel Peace Prize 10 embassies were for various reasons not represented at the Ceremony.
       (Interesting that they selected 2008 as the comparison year -- how many no-shows were there for Obama (2009) and Gore (2007) ?

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

7 December 2010 - Tuesday

Angelus prize | Dedalus profile | Translating Stephen King
Google eBookstore | The Accident review

       Angelus prize

       The Angelus Literacka Nagroda Europy Środkowej -- the 'Angelus Central European Literary Award', awarded to a Central European work translated into Polish -- has been handed out, and as reports, Spiró György's Messiások took the prize this year.
       As they note:
The ANGELUS 2010 Central European Literary Award is the most important prize for prose translated into Polish and a direct reference to Wrocław's centuries-old tradition of being both the space to meet and the space for dialogue.
       While the long- and especially shortlist was a bit Polish-heavy, they still seem to do a pretty good job of translating much of the regional fiction into Polish, so this looks like a pretty decent competition. Quite a few of the longlisted authors have been translated into English (and several of their other works are under review at the complete review), but Spiró doesn't appear to have been able to make the leap yet -- surprising, since he seems to have quite a good reputation. See also, for example, Erika Csontos' interview with him (about another book) at Eurozine, A witness of the first century.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Dedalus profile

       Daniel Kalder profiles small and very internationally-oriented UK publisher Dedalus at Publishing Perspectives, reporting that Dedalus Saved by Fairy Godmothers: How the UK's Esoteric Literary Publisher Survives Trying Times.
       One (sort of) has to admire a publisher that can say -- as publisher Eric Lane does --:
"We have just bought the twelfth novel by Sylvie Germain despite each novel we publish from her selling less than the one before. We have also bought a 270,000 (word) French novel Where Tigers are at Home by Jean-Marie Blas de Robies . . . Some European classics have done well, while others have failed to find their market. Living European authors and our European Literary Fantasy Series have been challenging but we remain committed to them. These are not sensible commercial decisions but they are culturally the correct decisions."
       (Only one Germain title is under review at the complete review -- The Weeping Woman on the Streets of Prague -- but, yeah, I have to admit I didn't really take to it.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Translating Stephen King

       At Words without Borders' Dispatches Susan Harris has a Q & A with Wu Ming on King: On Translating Stephen King into Italian .
       Among the observations:
     King's style looks simple, but it is actually very difficult to translate. As an author, he's very fond of puns, neologisms, idioms, local slang and so on. He plays with all the singularities of the English language, precisely the stuff that can't be translated in any way ! This is typical of, er, "monoglot" writers, by which I mean those writers who don't care about what happens to their works when they're translated into other languages.

     There are basically two kinds of novelists: those who care about translations, like Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco, because they're used to exploring foreign languages, and those who don't care, like Elmore Leonard or Uncle Stevie, because they're perfectly happy with inhabiting their native language, with no forays in other cultures and koines.
       See the Sperling & Kupfer publicity page, or get your original version of the King at or (The only King title under review at the complete review is The Colorado Kid; see also the review of Wu Ming's Q (when they were still writing as 'Luther Blissett').)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Google eBookstore

       I have no idea what this means, but there is now a Google eBookstore, which is apparently a big deal; see, for example, the Wall Street Journal story. (I haven't yet ever bought an 'e-book', though I have downloaded some from, among other places, Google's regular books page (out of copyright editions, etc.))

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Accident review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ismail Kadare's The Accident.
       Hard to overlook some of the bad reviews this got -- notably Tibor Fischer's in the Financial Times, where he opines:
However, as a novel, it is dull and the characters have all the depth of a sheet of a paper. The Accident comes with a "recommended by [writers' organisation] PEN" rubric. They should be ashamed of themselves for giving such an endorsement, as this book could put its readers off literature for life.
The Accident, unfortunately, is a waste of paper and the time of anyone who starts reading it.
       He makes a couple of other silly remarks, too, without really bothering all too much with the book proper; I think he dismisses it a bit too easily -- there is more to it than he allows for. But it isn't exactly a resounding or convincing success.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

6 December 2010 - Monday

Gao Xingjian Q & A | Nobel lecture
Krise und Kritik and Revue Internationale | African writers too timid -- or not ?
The Quarterly Conversation 22 | Another 2010 top-ten | ACF Translation Prize

       Gao Xingjian Q & A

       In the Asahi Shimbun Akihiko Shiraishi has a good Q & A with 2000 Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian, To find truth, literature must remain independent.
       The most disappointing response:
Q: You have not written one novel since you won the Nobel Prize.

A: My health wouldn't allow it. Writing a full-length novel is really enervating. Even a short story is too much of a challenge now. So, these days I only paint, do some film-making, and write poetry and short commentaries.
       (There's only one Gao Xingjian title under review at the complete review at this time, The Case for Literature.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Nobel lecture

       It's Nobel-week, where they hand out the awards, so don't forget that tomorrow, 7 December, Mario Vargas Llosa is giving the Nobel Lecture in Literature at the Swedish Academy, at 17:30 CET (which I believe is 16:30 GMT and 11:30 EST); you can catch it live at (though it will also be available in print-form shortly thereafter).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Krise und Kritik and Revue Internationale

       Originally published in German in Wespennest 158, Eurozine now offers an English translation of Roman Schmidt on Utopian failing, as he finds:
Depression, revolution and the threat of fascism provided the impetus for Bertolt Brecht's and Walter Benjamin's magazine Krise und Kritik in the 1930s; thirty years later, in a world shaped by decolonization and bloc confrontation, Maurice Blanchot's Revue Internationale was a similar attempt at an engaged form of publishing. Yet the community of writers to which the project aspired collapsed along the same national boundaries it had set out to overcome

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       African writers too timid -- or not ?

       In The East African two weeks ago John Mwazemba complained that African writers too timid to criticise others. Now Betty Caplan responds, arguing: Mwazemba got it wrong on African writers, and out of context on Conrad.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Quarterly Conversation 22

       Issue 22 of the always interesting The Quarterly Conversation appears to be up -- or at least a lot of articles from it are.
       Certainly worth a look, although I cringed in considerable annoyance at the headline-claim of the first piece, in which Damion Searls writes about 'The greatest Japanese writer you've never heard of' -- who, of course, turns out to be a writer ... well, that quite a few people have heard of, certainly if they have the slightest interest in or familiarity with Japanese literature. I'm fine with writers who write about 'The greatest writer I never heard of (before I wrote this piece)', but I wish they'd leave me and the rest of us out of it -- unless they're really talking about a writer no one -- or at least very few readers -- have ever heard of.
       [I realize the bar is set extremely low in the US, where Nobel awards to authors such as Herta Müller and J.M.G. Le Clézio are greeted with an almost universal exclamation of: 'Who ?', despite their work being widely translated into English and reviewed in publications such as The New York Times Book Review long before they won the prize, but still ... and surely The Quarterly Conversation's more literarily literate audience has a rather higher standard of obscurity than this.]
       (With two new English translations (bad though some of them may be) out in the past five years, and now this reprint of Tun-Huang Inoue can hardly be considered overlooked or ignored; as to the extent to which he is unknown ... well, I think there are quite a few (like hundreds) of Japanese authors of at least some (if perhaps not quite so much) worth with which readers are far less familiar.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Another 2010 top-ten

       They keep coming: today's entry: Sam Anderson's top ten in The Year in Books in New York.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       ACF Translation Prize

       A reminder that the ACF Translation Prize ceremony -- "followed by a Reception with authentic Austrian snacks" ! -- will be held in New York at 18:30 tonight, with David Dollenmayer picking up the prize for his translation of Michael Köhlmeier's Idyll With Drowning Dog. (I was one of the judges for this prize.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

5 December 2010 - Sunday

Publishing in ... Nigeria | Bella Akhmadulina (1937-2010)
The Hindu Literary Review | The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi review

       Publishing in ... Nigeria

       In Next Myne Whitman writes about Nigerian publishing and social media, noting that in Nigeria:
According to the Internet World Statistics, in June 2010, there were six licenced mobile line operators, over 75 million mobile subscribers, 400 operating ISPs, and almost 44 million internet users.
       Whitman concludes:
The book publishing industry is at an advantage when it comes to social media, in comparison with other corporate or consumer brands. The media thrives on content, which book publishers have a lot of. Most of them also already have fans that have read their books and enjoyed them. These book fans are loyal groups of people, passionate about their favourite authors. By utilising some of the above-mentioned strategies, Nigerian publishers can get themselves up to date with the current social media milieu and become more relevant in the 21st century.
       Of course most of this applies pretty much everywhere else as well.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Bella Akhmadulina (1937-2010)

       I missed this a few days back, but Russian poet Bella Akhmadulina (Бе́лла Ахмаду́лин) has passed away; see, for example, Marcus Williamson's Bella Akhmadulina: Poet who helped liberate Russian literary consciousness following the end of Stalin's rule in The Independent and William Grimes' Bella Akhmadulina, Bold Voice in Russian Poetry, Dies at 73 in The New York Times. (She was also married to Yevgeny Yevtushenko for a while.)
       Several of her works have been translated into English, but little is readily available -- though you can get used editions of, for example, The Garden: New and Selected Poetry and Prose at or

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Hindu Literary Review

       The December issue of The Hindu Literary Review is now online, and includes three tributes to P. Lal, exclusive excerpts from Susheela Punitha's much-anticipated forthcoming translation of U.R. Ananthamurthy's Bharathipura (see the OUP publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or, and profiles of E.M.Cioran and, in 96, not out, Navtej Sarna's profile of the still-active Khushwant Singh.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Argentine poet Edgar Bayley's collection, The Life and Memoirs of Doctor Pi and Other Stories.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

4 December 2010 - Saturday

Русский Букер | Canadian literature (not) in Canadian schools
Five years of the Asia Literary Review | Analyzing 1,681,161 titles
More best of year lists | Dance of the Photons review

       Русский Букер

       They've awarded the Русский Букер -- the ridiculously named 'Russian Booker' -- and it went to Цветочный крест, by Elena Koliadina [Елена Колядина]; see, for example, the report at Lizok's Books.

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       Canadian literature (not) in Canadian schools

       In the Globe and Mail Susan Swan wonders Why aren't we teaching more of these books ? as:
Never mind the acclaim of Canadian writers abroad and this fall's wealth of literary festivals and big book prizes. There's a shocking disconnect between the international success of Canadian writing and how Canadian literature is viewed in our schools.

For starters, few Canadian books are taught in our schools, and with one or two exceptions, no province has a mandatory course in Canadian literature.

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       Five years of the Asia Literary Review

       At Publishing Perspectives Duncan Jepson finds Asia's Literary Writers Now -- Quietly -- Demand Your Attention ! as he looks back on five years of the Asia Literary Review.

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       Analyzing 1,681,161 titles

       In The New York Times Patricia Cohen writes about Analyzing Literature by Words, but Also by the Numbers, as:
The titles of every British book published in English in and around the 19th century -- 1,681,161, to be exact -- are being electronically scoured for key words and phrases that might offer fresh insight into the minds of the Victorians.
       They also link to Dan Cohen's rough transcript of his keynote at the Victorians Institute Conference, which discusses some of the findings -- interesting stuff.

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       More best of year lists

       Best of year lists from the business-press -- though in this case two which have decent literary coverage: The Economist's Books of the Year and the Financial Times end-of-year Fiction round-up (with 'Fiction in translation' getting its own category-listing).

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       Dance of the Photons review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Anton Zeilinger going From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation in Dance of the Photons.

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3 December 2010 - Friday

Idris Ali (1940-2010) | Lire's top twenty
Prizes: Finlandia Prize - MLA translation prize
Translation conferences | Profiles: Padgett Powell | Irena Karpa

       Idris Ali (1940-2010)

       Egyptian-Nubian author Idris Ali has passed away; see, for example, Mary Mourad's Nubian Author Idris Ali passes away at ahramOnline.
       The only Ali title under review at the complete review is his Poor, while:
Idris Ali's latest work, The Leader Having a Haircut, caused controversy and was eventually banned from the Egypt's 2010 Book Fair. The short novella -- 130 pages -- describes Egyptian workers striving in Libya, driven away from their homes to work under inhumane conditions because of poverty and a lack of proper employment.
       Mourad also reports, depressingly:
Although he loved writing and considered it his life's task, he worked as an employee in a construction company that paid him barely enough to make a living, and their sole appreciation for his talent was to offer him a small raise when he received the award of the Best Egyptian Novel in 1999 and shook hands with President Mubarak. His minor pension was never enough and his constant suicide attempts reflected his low moods, especially after the loss of his son.

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       Lire's top twenty

       In the US and UK press top-ten (and -hundred ...) books-of-the-year are a dime a dozen, but foreign newspapers and magazines usually don't manage to come up with anywhere near as many. One that has had a year's-best list for years is the French Lire, and they've now published Les 20 meilleurs livres de l'année du magazine Lire -- which is actually a best of the year list in nineteen different categories, and one all-around best book.
       Their top title for the year was Hans Magnus Enzensberger's The Silences of Hammerstein, which is certainly an interesting choice; I haven't reviewed it but did find it intriguing; get your copy at or
       Other titles under review at the complete review include Coetzee's Summertime (best foreign novel) and Sofi Oksanen's Purge (best foreign discovery), and it's nice to see Emmanuel Dongala (several of whose other books are under review) pick up best French novel (for Photo de groupe au bord du fleuve). And I will be getting around to the best memoir, Per Olov Enquist's Ett annat liv, too.

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       Prize: Finlandia Prize

       As YLE reports, Novelist Rimminen Wins Finlandia Prize, as:
Finland's biggest literary prize has been awarded to Mikko Rimminen, 35. The winning novel, Nenäpäivä (Red Nose Day) is about a lonely middle-aged woman who poses as a public-opinion pollster in order to meet people.
       The Finlandia has a solid list of winners over the years, so this is probably worth a look.

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       Prize: MLA translation prize

       The MLA's Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for a Translation of a Literary Work has been announced, and Breon Mitchell gets it for his new translation of The Tin Drum by Günter Grass (get your copy at or, with an 'honorable mention' going to Lawrence Venuti for his translation of Edward Hopper by Ernest Farrés (get your copy at or
       (I do expect to get to the Farrés -- in a nice bi-lingual edition ! -- ; The Tin Drum ... probably not (prize-winning the translation may be, but I'll stick to the original).)

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       Translation conferences

       In Al-Ahram Weekly Ahmed Abu Ghazala wonders: 'Is translation put to its best use in the Arab world ?', in From one word to another, reporting on a conference held by the Centre for Translation Studies at the American University in Cairo

       Meanwhile, Writing Past Each Other ? Literary Translation and Community International Conference in Literary Translation will be held at Victoria University of Wellington 11 to 13 December.

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       Profile: Padgett Powell

       I've mentioned that Padgett Powell's The Interrogative Mood has made quite a splash in the UK -- indeed, it was the title at the complete review in November (sure, that was only seven copies, but still ...).
       Now Claire Allfree profiles him in Metro, in Padgett Powell: Great reviews almost always ensure no sales (via) -- as:
One broadsheet called it the most 'bloody-mindedly brilliant' piece of fiction all year. Powell is clearly chuffed but has no expectation that he has 2010's most unlikely bestseller on his hands. 'In my experience, great reviews almost always ensure no sales,' he deadpans.
       More amazing/disturbing, however: the news that: "his last book of collected stories was rejected by 17 publishers".

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       Profile: Irena Karpa

       Despite a vibrant literary scene, not much Ukrainian fiction makes it into English; with AmazonCrossing a US publisher finally picked up Oksana Zabuzhko's Field Work in Ukrainian Sex (pre-order your copy at, but there's still a lot to catch up on.
       I have my doubts that much of Irena Karpa's work will be made available in English, but she certainly is ... something; see now Olesia Oleshko's profile in the Kyiv Post, Blunt, erotic and obnoxious writing by Irena Karpa, as:
Karpa has written six novels to date, selling more than 50,000 copies altogether, which is not bad at all as far as Ukrainian book industry standards go. Her characters travel through Asia and Europe looking for trouble and romance. With no strings attached, they break up with each other as soon someone smells commitment and continue promiscuity.

In Freud Would Cry, The Pearl Porn and Bitches Get Everything, a plot is hard to trace. A mixture of travel notes and philosophical flashbacks, her fiction -- largely based on personal experience -- reads a lot like a blog.
       See also her official site.

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2 December 2010 - Thursday

Publication grants: Words without Borders - Chinese Literature Today
University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize | TLS Books of the Year 2010
Adonis profile | December issues

       Publication grants: Words without Borders

       Words without Borders has announced awards $44,000 grant to Words without Borders -- a tidy sum, as:
The grant will cover the author and translator fees for all twelve issues of Word without Borders: The Online Magazine of International Literature in 2011, including an upcoming issue on Pashto and Dari literature and works by winners of the Russian Debut Prize.'s grant provides significant and much-needed operating support to the organization and allows Words without Borders to raise its payments to authors and translators.
       Good to hear that there's more cash for the authors and translators -- and interesting to see that Amazon continues to bet on literature in translation (Words without Borders offering a nice, large sampling of international writing from which editors and publishers -- including Amazon's own AmazonCrossing imprint -- might eventually choose ...).
       Of course, with the money coming from Amazon they're also totally on the defensive, and beside the press release offer managing director Joshua Mandelbaum's A bit about's $44K grant to Words without Borders, where he writes:
I know some people consider's business practices antithetical to our efforts, and see these grants as smoke and mirrors. The truth, I believe, is more complicated. The problems and struggles of literary publishing are not the fault of any one company or organization, and solutions must be taken up by the publishing community as a whole, including the reader
       Okay .....

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       Publication grants: Chinese Literature Today

       The 'inaugural issue' of Chinese Literature Today is now available (not, alas, online), and as Janna Gentry reports in The Oklahoma Daily, New magazine to showcase Chinese literature.
       What's most interesting about this is that:
World Literature Today also holds a privileged position with the Chinese government. The publication received a $1 million grant for the formation of Chinese Literature Today.

"[The] Chinese government has never given $1 million to an agency outside of China," said R.C. Davis, executive director of Chinese Literature Today. "They have never trusted anyone enough to do this."
       $1 million ?!? Okay, I know publications like Salon and the London Review of Books apparently easily and routinely manage to lose that much annually, but that's still a whole lot to play with (and apparently more than 22 times as much as Words without Borders will pay all its authors and translators in 2011; see above).
       Still, it's nice for a literary magazine to be this well-endowed. Though maybe it would have been nice to use some of that money to, say, subsidize full online-availability of each issue ..... I'm just saying .....

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       University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize

       They've announced the winner of the University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize 2010 (and, yes, you know the drill: not yet at the official site, last I checked [and am I really the only one who is dumbfounded by the inability of all these prizes with their own fancy sites to post the winners' names as soon as they're announced ?]) and, as the BBC reports, US poet wins £30,000 Dylan Thomas prize, as Clamor, by Elyse Fenton, is the first poetry volume to take the prize, "awarded to the best eligible published or produced literary work in the English language, written by an author under 30" .
       (Get your copy of Clamor at or

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       TLS Books of the Year 2010

       The print issue of the Times Literary Supplement has the full 'TLS Books of the Year 2010', but there's also A selection of this year's picks available online: always interesting stuff.

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       Adonis profile

       In The National David Mattin profiles the Syrian poet, in The Syrian poet Adonis talks about the power of poetry.
       Among other things:
"There was a tradition of liberal, humanist thought in the West, and this thought hardly exists any more," he says. "Thought, or what we called thought, has just become a means to explain military strategy.
       Yale University Press has just brought out Adonis: Selected Poems; I have a copy, and it looks good; I should get to it soon. Meanwhile, see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

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       December issues

       Among December issues of literary journals now out are those of Open Letters Monthly and Words without Borders (the theme: horror).

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1 December 2010 - Wednesday

Amazon analysis | Todo está perdonado takes Premio Tusquets Editores de Novela
Warwick Prize longlist | German critics' picks for December
Malaysia Premier Literary 2008/2009 Awards | A Life in Pictures praise
The Light Club review

       Amazon analysis

       Widely linked-to already, Onnesha Roychoudhuri's Boston Review piece on Books After Amazon (which focuses on's business practices) is worth a look.
       Among the interesting points:
Many publishers with distributors don't even know the name of the person who buys their books at Amazon. The relationship is almost exclusively handled by the distributor. Indeed, of the 20,000 employees at Amazon, just one is tasked full-time with working as a liaison between the company and publishers.
       Roychoudhuri concludes:
Unless publishers push back, Amazon will take the logic of the chains to its conclusion. Then publishers and readers will finally know what happens when you sell a book like it's a can of soup.

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       Todo está perdonado takes Premio Tusquets Editores de Novela

       They've announced that Rafael Reig gana la VI edición del Premio Tusquets Editores de Novela con Todo está perdonado; see also the EFE report, Spaniard's historical novel wins book prize, reporting that:
Spanish writer Rafael Reig won the sixth edition of the Tusquets Editores Novel Prize for his work Todo Esta Perdonado, the jury at the Guadalajara International Book Fair in this western Mexican city announced Tuesday.

The prize is accompanied by 20,000 euros ($26,000), and Tusquets will publish the book in March simultaneously in Spain, Mexico and Argentina.
       See also the complete review reviews of Reig's Blood on the Saddle and A Pretty Face.

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       Warwick Prize longlist

       The jury for the Warwick Prize for Writing -- "given every two years for an excellent and substantial piece of writing in the English language, in any genre or form, on a theme which will change with every award" -- has announced its longlist for the 2011 prize, whose theme is 'Colour' (and, yes, their announcing it as a "colourful longlist" makes it very hard to take this thing seriously ...).
       Among the titles in the running for the £50,000 prize (none of which are under review at the complete review) are Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences by Peter D. McDonald, as well as books by Iain Sinclair and Derek Walcott. An interesting-sounding assortment, certainly.

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       German critics' picks for December

       The December SWR-Bestenliste, in which thirty German literary critics pick their titles of the month, has been announced -- and it's topped by works by ... Gisela von Wysocki and Henning Ritter. Esterházy Peter also makes the list, as does Günter Grass -- though his Grimms Wörter debuts dismally tied for eighth place -- and Thomas Bernhard and Peter Handke also secure (unimpressive) spots.

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       Malaysia Premier Literary 2008/2009 Awards

       The Malaysia Premier Literary 2008/2009 Awards have been announced (yes, apparently they take their time ...) and The Star reports that at the ceremony: DPM: Translate literary works to help nation-building, as:
The literary works of the country's multi-racial communities should be translated into the national language so as to contribute to nation-building, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said.

The Deputy Prime Minister urged the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and the National Institute of Translation to increase their efforts to translate various literary works into Bahasa Malaysia.
       Sounds good -- though I vote for translation into English, too.

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       A Life in Pictures praise

       In The Telegraph Tim Martin enthuses about Alasdair Gray's recently published A Life in Pictures -- and finds:
Anyone with even a passing interest in Gray will pass a happy few hours with this striking book, while for fans it will be among the most exciting works of the year.
       Sigh ..... (I haven't seen a copy yet; I should probably get on that .....)
       Get your copy at

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       The Light Club review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Josiah McElheny's (and friends') creative take On Paul Scheerbart's 'The Light Club of Batavia', The Light Club.

       I am still a fairly reluctant e-reader user, but I must say it was nice to be able to quickly download a few Scheerbart works (in German, from Google) which I'd never be able to track down in print; he's a fascinating author, and I think it'd be worthwhile to tackle some more of him (Lesabéndio is the only one of his books I have).

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