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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 September 2013

11 September: Man Booker shortlist | Gonçalo M. Tavares Q & A | C.H.Beck profile | The Spectre of Alexander Wolf review
12 September: French book/behemoth of the year ? | German Book Prize shortlist | More French literary prize longlists
13 September: Worst covers ever ? | David Mitchell Q & A | Premio RBA de Novela Negra | Before I Croak review
14 September: Jan Michalski Prize shortlist | The Family - the film | Joyce Carol Oates Q & A | The Mystery of the Enchanted Crypt review
15 September: Man Booker caves; will allow US entries | Patricio Pron Q & A | Windham-Campbell Prizes
16 September: Guyana Prize for Literature | Books of interest: New (old) Yaşar Kemal | Going postal
17 September: Nelly-Sachs-Preis to Abbas Khider | Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist | Reflections on Judging review
18 September: Reading in ... Khartoum | Thomas-Mann-Preis to Juli Zeh | New issue of Elm | Loeb Classical Library® enthusiasm
19 September: Man Booker confirms 'global expansion' | Hitler's Cocaine | Marcel Reich-Ranicki (1920-2013) | Prize for Best International Literary Adaptation | FT&GSBBofYA shortlist | The Colombian Mule review
20 September: Man Booker changes - the consequences | National Book Award longlists | Swiss Book Prize shortlist | Gregory Rabassa Q & A | 'Re-Thinking Literature'

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20 September 2013 - Friday

Man Booker changes - the consequences | National Book Award longlists
Swiss Book Prize shortlist | Gregory Rabassa Q & A | 'Re-Thinking Literature'

       Man Booker changes - the consequences

       As I discussed yesterday and previously, the Man Booker Prize has changed its eligibility and submission requirements; not surprisingly these have led to much commentary -- see now also, for example, The Booker prize's US amendment was a long time coming by Robert McCrum in The Guardian.
       National eligibility is one issue -- and you know where I stand: if writers from Mozambique are eligible (as they have been since 1995, when it joined the Commonwealth) then it's ridiculous not to include Americans ... -- but it's the submission-requirements (or rather: allowances) that I have the real problem with. As noted yesterday, these have been changed somewhat: submissions are still only permitted by publishers, and they are now limited to one entry apiece -- unless they have had titles longlisted in the five preceding years, in which case they get bonus-submission-slots.
       No one seems to have done the math yet, so I do (see below); the first articles that I've seen addressing the issue are either oblivious or flat-out wrong about how this plays out:

        - in The Telegraph 'Head of Books' Gaby Wood writes Man Booker: Don't panic about the new rules -- and suggests:
The new rules allow publishers who've never had a book longlisted to submit just one novel per year. And the Americans aren't necessarily evenly distributed across publishers. For instance, Jonathan Cape publishes fewer of the big American novelists than Fourth Estate, but Cape, given its history, will be allowed several entries.
       Yes, okay ... in fact Cape, with (by my count) five longlisted titles 2009 through 2013, will get the full complement of four submissions next year. Thing is: so should Fourth Estate (also five longlisted titles over the relevant period, by my count)

        - in Publishers Weekly Nicholas Clee reports that Man Booker Change Welcomed, Skeptically -- and claims that:
Under these criteria, Bloomsbury and Faber, for examples, would be able to make three submissions; and Cape and Picador would be able to make four.
       By my count (see below), this is wrong: Bloomsbury and Faber both had five longlisted titles 2009-2013 and so should get four submission-slots; Picador, meanwhile, only had four longlisted titles, and so should get only three slots. (I'm too lazy to list them all, but here are Faber's five longlisted titles: Narcopolis and Skios (2012), On Canaan's Side (2011), Parrot and Olivier in America (2010), and How to paint a dead man (2009); I know it's a bit much to ask from 'literary' journalists but this story just involves basic counting and shouldn't be so hard ...).

       So who are the winners among the publishers ?
       Recall that the new rules allow:
  • 1 submission - publishers with no listing [on longlists of previous five years]
  • 2 submissions - publishers with 1 or 2 longlisting(s)
  • 3 submissions - publishers with 3 or 4 longlistings
  • 4 submissions - publishers with 5 or more longlistings
       Here -- by my very unscientific count (helped by the fact that the Man Booker site is one hell of a user-unfriendly crap site), considering the longlists 2009 through 2013 (i.e. the ones that are applicable for the 2014 prize) -- are the publishers/imprints that get to automatically submit more than one title in 2014 (leaving aside the automatically qualified books-by-previously shortlisted authors ...). (Note that because of the vagaries of the definition of 'imprint' this list should not be considered definitive, and I hope the Man Booker folk publish an official list (preferably: soon).)
       The figures in parentheses are the number of longlisted titles per imprint over the past five years.
  • 2 submissions - publishers with 1 or 2 longlisting(s)
    • And Other Stories (1)
    • Atlantic Books (Grove Atlantic; 2)
    • Canongate (2)
    • Doubleday (Random House; 1)
    • Doubleday Ireland (Random House; 1)
    • Fig Tree (Penguin; 1)
    • Granta (2)
    • Hamish Hamilton (Penguin; 2)
    • Headline Review (Headline Publishing Group; 2)
    • Little, Brown (1)
    • Mantle (Pan MacMillan; 1)
    • Myrmidon Books (1)
    • Oneworld (1)
    • Penguin Ireland (Penguin; 1)
    • Salt (1)
    • Sandstone Press (2)
    • Sceptre (Hodder & Stoughton; 2)
    • Serpent's Tail (Profile; 1)
    • Tuskar Rock (Grove Atlantic; 1)
    • Virago (Little, Brown; 1)

  • 3 submissions - publishers with 3 or 4 longlistings
    • Harvill Secker (Random House; 3)
    • Picador (Pan MacMillan; 4)
    • Viking (Penguin; 3)

  • 4 submissions - publishers with 5 or more longlistings
    • Bloomsbury (5)
    • Jonathan Cape (Random House; 5)
    • Chatto & Windus (Random House; 5)
    • Faber and Faber (5)
    • Fourth Estate (HarperCollins; 5)
       At least one of these imprints -- Tuskar Rock -- appears not to exist any longer (does its extra selection devolve to Atlantic Books ?).
       Note that in addition to the publisher-submitted titles judges must call in: "no fewer than eight and no more than twelve" titles (from lists of recommendations submitted by ... you guessed it: publishers).
       Unfortunately, the Man Booker folk don't appear to reveal how many publishers submitted titles last (or any, as far as I can tell ...) year; given that only eight publishers will (by my count) be able to submit more than the previous limit of two titles (for a total of an additional thirteen titles) that should more than be off-set by the many publishers now only able to submit a single title: their promise that judges won't have to read more titles than in previous years seems entirely plausible.

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

       National Book Award longlists

       They've been unveiling the longlists for this year's National Book Awards all week and they finally got around to the fiction category yesterday. I'm a bit ... flummoxed by the fact that not a single one of the ten titles (or, indeed, the thirty others in the other categories) has come across my desk .....

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

       Swiss Book Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the Swiss Book Prize -- which, since it's limited to German-language Swiss books, surely should be the 'German Swiss Book Prize' ..... Still, some interesting-sounding titles.

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

       Gregory Rabassa Q & A

       At The Rumpus Susan Bernofsky has a nice Q & A with translator Gregory Rabassa -- with some discussion of his memoir, If This Be Treason, and some depressing translation-(not)-as-a-business observations such as:
Rumpus: When did you start being able to get royalties on your translations ?

Rabassa: I really don't remember. The sad thing is, I've been getting them ever since a certain date, but it hasn't made much difference -- it's meant an extra cup of coffee.
       I hope that, at least, that's some really good coffee .....

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

       'Re-Thinking Literature'

       Nobody told me about this in time (sigh), but at NYU they're holding a conference, Re-Thinking Literature through Saturday, with some impressive participants (Jean-Philippe Toussaint on 'Writing Today') and interesting sounding papers -- 'Rethinking the Textual Object: Translated, Curated, Punctuated, Looked at, Listened to...'; 'Literature and Its Discontents: Fortune and Misfortune of the French Case'; 'The Turn of the Screwed'.

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

19 September 2013 - Thursday

Man Booker confirms 'global expansion' | Hitler's Cocaine
Marcel Reich-Ranicki (1920-2013)
Prize for Best International Literary Adaptation
FT&GSBBofYA shortlist | The Colombian Mule review

       Man Booker confirms 'global expansion'

       No surprise: as I already discussed at length, the Man Booker folk have decided to open eligibility for the prize, following the lead of the novel The Folio Prize, and will now allow UK-published titles by any author writing in English to be submitted (within ridiculously tightly constrained reason) for consideration. Booker Prize Foundation chair Jonathan Taylor's 'message' makes that important point -- "The expanded prize will recognise, celebrate and embrace authors writing in English, whether from Chicago, Sheffield or Shanghai" -- but the similar-sounding press release offers a bit more (ugly) detail.
       The major changes in eligibility are:
  • Eligibility is expanded to: "to include novels originally written in English and published in the UK, regardless of the nationality of their author" (i.e. it's not just US authors who are newly added to the mix, but any English-writing author even from another non-Commonwealth country -- as long as the book is published in the UK)

  • The number of books publishers can submit -- previously capped at two is now, unbelievably, capped at one -- except that publishers with titles that were longlisted over the previous five years will get bonus-submissions, ranging from one additional submission (for those with one or two longlisted titles over the past five years) to a maximum of three additional submissions (for a total of four, for those with five or more longlisted titles over the past five years)
       The first expansion seems sensible enough -- at least insofar as if they want to include US titles they might as well go whole hog and not leave anyone out. (The Folio Prize immediately issued a statement in response, amusingly noting: "we are in some ways surprised by this decision".)
       One issue which I don't find addressed is whether there are any first-publication restrictions: the Man Booker does require the authors of submitted books to be alive, but they don't seem to have a rule in place that would prevent, for example, a 2014 first UK publication of a novel that was originally published in the US decades ago from being eligible; the only criteria seems to be the first UK publication date. (I note that this has been the case previously too -- compare the 2013 official rules (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), but until now this has only affected books published in India, Australia, New Zealand, etc. -- and let's face it, if a book by an author from those places wasn't first published in the UK, or reached its shores within a year or two, no way it would get any serious Man Booker consideration; given how much is cranked out in the US, it's possible a smaller book with a slowly growing following might not have been immediately picked up in the UK but only gets there after five years or so -- it would then still apparently be Man Booker eligible.) [They really should address that, by the way -- a five- or ten-year cut-off date sounds like a good idea.]

       The change in the submission guidelines are more troubling. While everyone will still have an opportunity to suggest titles to be called in that's a limited window (only between a minimum of eight and a maximum of twelve titles can be called in), and this new method (with its potential of a self-perpetuating cycle) favors big, established houses. Of course, the procedure is already fundamentally flawed -- in being in the hands of the publishers (the last folks who should be selecting what titles should be in the running for the prize) -- and, coupled with the complete lack of transparency (the Man Booker folk absurdly don't reveal which titles are in the running), this just reinforces an establishment status quo in an industry that really can't afford that. (The ridiculous rule that works by previously shortlisted authors automatically qualify -- absurd for what is ostensibly a book prize to focus on an author's previous accomplishments -- is yet another status-quo-maintaining nail in this prize's gilded coffin.)

       Many people already got reactions out of their systems when the rumor of these changes surfaced over the weekend (see my previous discussion), but, of course, this fans the flames.
       So, for example, Philip Hensher is entirely aghast, writing 'Well, that's the end of the Booker prize, then' at The Guardian's Book Blog -- and going rather far in claiming: "It will be a brave Booker panel in 2014 that doesn't give the prize to an American novel" (which seems a tad ... premature, to say the least). He -- and A.S.Byatt, whom he quotes on the issue -- also worry: "about what will happen when the number of submissions increases next year" -- though I imagine the Man Booker folk did the math and find that by limiting most publishers to a single submission the total will, at worst, be in the same 100-150 range it's been in recent years.
       Meanwhile, at The Economist's Prospero-weblog R.B. is more sanguine, in World Booker day -- not worried about the international expansion, but voicing some concerns if the number of titles under consideration increases (as noted above: I imagine they determined it won't.)
       If nothing else, they'll generate a ton of publicity and attention, now and next year.

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

       Hitler's Cocaine

       I recently reviewed (and very much admired) Pitigrilli's Cocaine, just re-issued by New Vessel Press -- and now via I learn that Hitler also had copy -- now at Harvard; see their post, Hitler's Kokain at their Modern Books and Manuscripts weblog. (Aside: I know it's Hitler, but the fact that book was looted still brings my blood to a boil.)

       See also Timothy W. Ryback's interesting Hitler's Private Library.

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

       Marcel Reich-Ranicki (1920-2013)

       Leading German literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki has passed away -- and with impressive speed even the English-language obituaries have started appearing, including in The New York Times and The Guardian; see also Gisa Funck's Outspoken literary critic Reich-Ranicki dies at Deutsche Welle.
       Tons of German reactions, too, of course -- beginning with Frank Schirrmacher's obituary in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

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

       Best International Literary Adaptation

       They've announced that Ziad Doueiri and Joëlle Touma's adaptation of Yasmina Khadra's The Attack has won the Frankfurt Book Fair's film prize for Best International Literary Adaptation.
       See also the IMDb page on the film, as well as John Horn's article in The Los Angeles Times, Ziad Doueiri's film 'The Attack' encounters opposition (as it's apparently been banned by the Arab League).

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

       FT&GSBBofYA shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the £30,000 FT and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award -- and, no, I still haven't read any of these.

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

       The Colombian Mule review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Massimo Carlotto's The Colombian Mule, now out in a new edition from Europa editions.

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

18 September 2013 - Wednesday

Reading in ... Khartoum | Thomas-Mann-Preis to Juli Zeh
New issue of Elm | Loeb Classical Library® enthusiasm

       Reading in ... Khartoum

       In The New York Times today Isma'il Kushkush reports that In a Faded Literary Capital, Efforts at a Revival, reporting from and about the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, as:
Books and reading are embedded profoundly in Khartoum's self-image and the country's history, and there is growing worry that the collapse of book culture is a direct mirror of the country's overall decline.
       As everywhere (and always ...) things sure ain't the way they used to be, the manager of the Sudan Bookshop noting:
"We used to order a shipping container of books every month or two," he recalled sadly. "But now no one reads anymore."
       Still, apparently:
That sense of urgency and loss is driving a new wave of activism, with its sights on reviving Khartoum's reputation as a literary city.
       And awful though it may be it is sort of exciting to hear (if perhaps not quite believe ...):
"There is more money in the counterfeit books trade than the drug and counterfeit currency trades combined," Mr. Iskander said.
       So, aside from the fact that "no one reads anymore" they also have to deal with the facts that:
While a significant market still exists here for local writers, high-cost and low-quality printing, censorship and copyright issues have limited the reach of locally published books. And it is harder and harder to find imported books in Khartoum
       (Yes, yes, it's pretty much -- with a few colorful local variations -- the standard identikit-article about bookselling and reading in place X that we've read a hundred times before; still, nice for Sudan to get some attention.)

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

       Thomas-Mann-Preis to Juli Zeh

       Another day, another German-language author (as opposed to book) prize: they've now announced (though not yet at any of the officially associated sites, last I checked ...) that Juli Zeh will receive this year's Thomas-Mann-Preis (€25,000, the ceremony to be held 8 December); see, for example, the (German) report at boersenblatt.
       Another prize with a fine winners' roll -- Christa Wolf, Peter Handke, Günter Grass, Elias Canetti, Wolfgang Koeppen, Heimito von Doderer, Martin Kessel, and Alfred Döblin, to name just a few of the prominent honored authors.
       Zeh is actually fairly well and regularly translated into English, with another work (Decompression) due out next spring; meanwhile consider, for example, her In Free Fall; get your copy at or

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

       New issue of Elm

       As Estonian Public Broadcasting reports, New Estonian Literary Magazine Out, as the Autumn, 2013 (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) of Elm, the Estonian literary magazine ("the only English-language magazine promoting Estonian literature", EPR notes) is out.
       Since information about what's currently happening in the Estonian literary scene is hard to come by (outside the Baltics, and in English, at least) this is a useful resource, with interesting 'Short outlines of books by Estonian authors' as well as a run-down of last year's domestic award winners in all sorts of categories and for all sorts of honors.

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

       Loeb Classical Library® enthusiasm

       At Designers & Books Amanda Kolson Hurley, finds Loeb at First Sight: The Classics Come in Red and Green, looking at Harvard University Press' Loeb Classical Library® and asking Harvard University Press' director of design and production Tim Jones a few questions.
       As Hurley notes: "The books’ distinctive, restrained design is part of their enduring appeal". Indeed ! Would that more publishers emulated both the simple, uniform cover design -- and, more importantly, the pocket-sized format. (Admirably, Harvard University Press has brought out some contemporary titles -- such as Ronald Dworkin's new book (see their publicity page) -- in the same pocket-size.)

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

17 September 2013 - Tuesday

Nelly-Sachs-Preis to Abbas Khider | Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist
Reflections on Judging review

       Nelly-Sachs-Preis to Abbas Khider

       They've announced (only in German, so far) that Abbas Khider has won the biennial literary prize of the city Dortmund, the Nelly-Sachs-Preis.
       Worth €15,000 this prize has an impressive list of winners. Thrice they gave it to a writer who would go on to win the Nobel Prize a few years later: namesake Nelly Sachs in 1961, five years before her Nobel; Elias Canetti in 1975, six before his; Nadine Gordimer in 1985, six years before hers. Since then the winners' roll has included: Milan Kundera (1987), Juan Goytisolo (1993), Javier Marías (1997), Christa Wolf (1999), Per Olov Enquist (2003), Aharon Appelfeld (2005), Margaret Atwood (2009), and, most recently, Norman Manea (2011).
       So Abbas Khider is in damn good company. And who is Abbas Khider ? Well, a German-writing Iraqi-born (in 1973) author; see also his official site.
       Fortunately, English-speaking readers should have an opportunity to read some of his work soon: Seagull is bringing out, or has, The Village Indian; see their publicity page, or get your copy from or

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

       Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the Canadian Scotiabank Giller Prize, selecting thirteen titles from 147 submissions. (And, no, I haven't seen, much less read a one of these.)

       Given all the Man Booker fuss -- see below -- it's also a reminder that Claire Messud is yet another 'American' author whose works, by virtue of her Canadian dual citizenship, are also Man Booker eligible (indeed, her The Emperor's Children was longlisted in 2006).

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

       Reflections on Judging review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Richard A. Posner's Reflections on Judging, forthcoming from Harvard University Press.
       (For some reason, Posner is -- by far -- the author with the most non-fiction titles under review at the complete review -- eleven.)

       In the book Posner sharply criticizes the Scalia-written majority decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), arguing that it is: "an example of motivated thinking" (rather than any sort of honest exercise in 'originalism' -- dubious though that might be, too). Given events in Washington DC yesterday (and throughout the United States, seemingly constantly), one can appreciate Posner's tremendous frustration with the current Supreme Court's far-fetched interpretation of the Second Amendment (and inconsistent one regarding states' rights) in this and other cases, as he suggests:
If ever there was a strong argument for states' rights, it is the argument for allowing states to determine rights of handgun ownership. Not only is there enormous cultural variance among states in attitudes towards guns, and no reason for national uniformity, but the diversity of state policies is a pre-condition for learning which policies are best. The states are indispensable laboratories for evidence-based solutions to the problems posed by widespread gun ownership and high levels of gun homicides, suicides, and accidental deaths.
       He's perhaps a bit overly optimistic -- given porous borders and the ease with which guns can be purchased in some states, as well as what has essentially amounted to a federal ban on gun violence research (research !) for decades now -- but he certainly nails Scalia on his inconsistency regarding his otherwise much-loved states' rights. Sad, however, that the consequences are so tragic (and so often repeated, with nary a lesson learnt from each instance).

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

16 September 2013 - Monday

Guyana Prize for Literature
Books of interest: New (old) Yaşar Kemal | Going postal

       Guyana Prize for Literature

       They announced the shortlists for the Guyana Prize for Literature two weeks ago, with only two books contending in the fiction category, no work found to be suitable in the poetry category, and only one work -- the automatic winner (now revealed as: Chaitaram Singh's The Flower Envoy) getting a 'Best First Book of Fiction' nod.
       As Stabroek News now report, Ruel Johnson wins Guyana Prize for Best Book of Fiction as his Collected Fictions took that prize.

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

       Book of interest: New (old) Yaşar Kemal

       Apparently Turkish great Yaşar Kemal has kept this in the drawer for a while, and at some 70-odd pages it's just a novella, but Tek Kanatlı Bir Kuş, just out from Yapı Kredi Yayınları (see their publicity page) sounds pretty interesting -- a rare Borgesian foray by the otherwise fairly realist author. See the Hürriyet article, Yaşar Kemal's unpublished novel on shelves after 40 years.

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

       Book of interest: Going postal

       Okay, it's a university press release, touting the work of their own, but I have to admit I was intrigued by Therese Boyd's report in the Penn State News about how Professor looks at how British postal rates put a stamp on literary history, with its promise that:
In her new book, Postal Plots in British Fiction, 1840-1898: Readdressing Correspondence in Victorian Culture (Palgrave, 2013), Laura Rotunno, associate professor of English and honors coordinator, has identified the mid-1800s postal rate change in the United Kingdom as the turning point toward an increasingly educated middle class.
       Who wouldn't be intrigued ?
       See also the Palgrave publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

15 September 2013 - Sunday

Man Booker caves; will allow US entries
Patricio Pron Q & A | Windham-Campbell Prizes

       Man Booker caves; will allow US entries

       The Man Booker Prize, apparently widely considered the leading English-language novel prize, has lots of objectionable/dubious eligibility requirements; my personal least-favorite, as you know, is the limits on submissions (how, and how many, starting or ending with the number of titles that can be submitted by any one publisher), but the one that gets the most attention is that the prize is notoriously limited to authors who are citizens "of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe".
       As this convenient map shows, the Commonwealth covers a lot of territory -- fifty-four countries, including ... Mozambique -- but leaves out at least one place where a lot of English-language novels are produced: the United States. The exclusion of US-authored book has widely been a knock on the Man Booker's credibility (even as a few dual citizens have at least half-represented the US on the prize's long- and short-lists over the years); the fact that this year's shortlisted authors seem to come from practically anywhere but the UK of course also sends a loud and clear message .....
       It's perhaps no coincidence that 2014 will see the inaugural The Folio Prize, which is pointedly: "open to all works of fiction written in English and published in the UK". Clearly, the Man Booker committee saw the writing on the wall (and in the pages) and is afraid of being left behind: as now reported by Richard Brooks in the Sunday Times (here, but gated; see it also here, at The Australian), they've now decided: 'Man Booker literary prize to allow US entries'.
The organisers increasingly believe that excluding writers from America is anachronistic. The Booker committee believes US writers must be allowed to compete to ensure the award's global reputation.
       It'll be interesting to see what exactly the rules change is -- will they just expand the eligibility requirement by the one nation (opening it 'to citizens of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland, Zimbabwe, or the US') or will they go the full-Folio route (opening it, too, 'to all works of fiction written in English and published in the UK') ? (Friendly advice: the latter is the far better and neater solution, even if it does open them up to considering that occasional written-by-a-Latvian-but-in-English novel; the 'published in the UK' requirement should keep that from getting out of hand.) Either way, it will put intense pressure on their two-book-per-publisher-submission limit -- something they'll be loath to loosen -- and make competition for the limited submission quota a whole lot tougher. (Titles can be called in, but judges will also want to limit the total number of books they want to (or are willing to) consider, and while the eligible US titles have to be published in the UK (i.e. it's a much smaller pool than what's published in the US) those titles are going to take places -- possibly very, very many places -- that otherwise would have gone to UK or Commonwealth authors.)
       In this global age, where national allegiance and identity is much more ... fluid (as Brooks notes: "Four of this year's six short-listed authors, who were announced last week, live and work in the United States") this all might not be that upsetting; still, this is a change that will ruffle more than a few feathers (and will definitely impact, above all, British writers).
       For what it's worth, I think the Man Booker, like the Folio Prize, is on the right track: if you're looking for the best book, inclusiveness is better than exclusiveness -- so the awards that I think will be most hurt by this are actually the two strictly American ones, the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, both limited (in the fiction category) to American citizens. Since the Man Booker will now automatically consider many of the books eligible for these (as long as they are also published in the UK -- admittedly not a given, even for some recent NBA and Pulitzer finalists) and offer them much stiffer competition it comes out looking as the much more impressive prize.

       Anyway, this news will be the talk of the literary pages (in the UK, at least) in the coming days, and that should be fun to follow.

       (Updated - 16 September): There have now been a few early reactions -- as we eagerly await for the Man Booker folk to reveal the specifics of any planned changes (they're still off the record as to any changes, as I write this):
  • Shock as Man Booker prize plans to accept works by American writers suggests Nick Clark in the Independent on Sunday -- which entertainingly offers a 'What if ? US novels that might have been in the mix', comparing some Booker-winners with (possible) US contenders of the same year, as well as listing a variety of reactions (Hilariously, David Lodge worries that: "the Booker would lose its distinctive openness" (while correctly noting that: "There would have to be some method for deciding which novels get put before the judge"); as is, the Man Booker is one of the least open, most secretive prizes around, with only publishers allowed to submit (aside from the automatically qualified previously shortlisted authors, as well as the possibility of a (limited number of) called-in titles), and severely constrained in how many titles they can submit and suggest.)

  • Allowing Americans to compete for Man Booker 'wrong decision' finds Graeme Paton in The Telegraph

  • If Americans can win the Booker Prize, should Britons qualify for a Pulitzer ? wonders Gaby Wood, 'Head of Books' in and at The Telegraph -- which gives me opportunity to point out, yet again, that the Pulitzer and (American) National Book Award and the like are national book awards, which the Man Booker has never been: it has always been one that includes the whole Commonwealth, as well as the Republic of Ireland, as well as the occasional suspended-from-the-Commonwealth nation (currently: Zimbabwe). I remind you also that the Commonwealth, as understood by the Man Booker, is not identical to what Rule Britannia nostalgists understand by the term: as I like to point out, Mozambique -- never a British colony, and not an English-speaking country -- is (well, since 1995) a 'Commonwealth' nation, its authors -- providing they write in English and can manage to get their books published in the UK -- eligible for the Man Booker. Kind of silly, no ? (Though as best I can determine, to date no Mozambiquean work of fiction has ever been submitted for the Man Booker.)
           Yes, opening the Man Booker to Americans would dilute the pool, but this was never a purely 'British' prize -- remember that !

  • The rise of the international literary award goes hand in hand with the decline of the novel argues (again) Tim Parks, in the Independent on Sunday, in a piece that I'd like to pick apart separately (and perhaps will, if I find occasion).

       (Updated - 17 September): Word is, the Man Booker folk will announce exactly what the changes are on Wednesday. Meanwhile, however, more have weighed in:
  • Bad News for Britain's Top Book Prize argues Radhika Jones at Time -- finding: "the American inclusion would mean that the Man Booker is voluntarily ending its status as an arbiter of English literature" (though given the Man Booker's Commonwealth-wide reach -- which she acknowledges -- I find this an odd concept of 'English literature' she's concerned with (and, as I try to remind people (without anyone seeming to notice): explain the rationale behind Mozambiquean eligibility to me again ?).
           I also don't buy the argument: "If the Man Booker really wanted to open its doors, why not drop the restriction on publishers that each imprint can submit only two works of fiction for consideration ? Impossible: there would simply be too many books for the judges to read." While I note that the Man Booker is on the low end of the spectrum as far as national-type literary prizes go as far as books they consider (the German Book Prize seemed to manage fine with over 200 this year) the selection process is problematic for a number of reasons -- led by the fact that it's almost entirely in the hands of publishers, and entirely secret -- the public (and the opportunity-denied authors ...) are never meant to learn what titles were actually submitted. If judges can only handle a hundred or so books to consider, fine -- but make it a more open and objective process how those hundred are chosen. The Folio Prize is taking an interesting approach, and I'm sure the Man Booker folk could figure out a pre-selection method too -- almost any is better than the terrible one currently in place.

  • Battle of the Booker Prize ? Bring it on argues Leo Robson in The Telegraph, though his focus is almost entirely on the effect on British (as opposed to also Commonwealth) writers

  • Man Booker Prize - The Yanks are coming ! at The Modern Novel blog

  • Why Americans Should Stay Out of the Booker Contest argues Why Americans Should Stay Out of the Booker Contest at The Atlantic's Wire

  • Would US authors sweep the board if the Man Booker was opened up ? wonders John Crace in The Guardian

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       Patricio Pron Q & A

       Via I'm pointed to a nice long Q & A by Claudio Iván Remeseira at Hispanic New York with Patricio Pron: The Argentine Writer and His Tradition.
       His novel My Fathers' Ghost is Climbing in the Rain was impressive (if a bit too fact-based for my tastes), and I certainly look forward to seeing more of his work in translation.

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       Windham-Campbell Prizes

       They handed out the Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes -- $150,000, nine times over -- last week, and there's been a bit of press coverage: Literature prizewinners descend on campus Wesley Yiin reported in the Yale Daily News, and in the New Haven Register Jim Shelton reported that Prize winners give New Haven students a primer on the lives of writers. And, rather surprisingly, one of the most in-depth articles about Donald Windham was to be found in the Schwäbische Zeitung, where Michael Scheyer reported that Donald Windham: Die Berühmtheit folgt dem Tod.

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14 September 2013 - Saturday

Jan Michalski Prize shortlist | The Family - the film | Joyce Carol Oates Q & A
The Mystery of the Enchanted Crypt review

       Jan Michalski Prize shortlist

       The Jan Michalski Prize for Literature -- admirably international in what it's willing to consider -- has pared down its list of contenders to three finalists:
  • L'aigle et le Dragon by Serge Gruzinski
  • The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
  • The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg
       I'm glad to see the Dowlatabadi still (deservedly) in the mix.
       The winner will be announced in November.

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       The Family - the film

       Tonino Benacquista's Badfellas (now published in the US as Malavita) has been made into a film that's now been released in the US as ... The Family. Directed by Luc Besson, and starring Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, it would seem to have considerable potential -- but the first reviews have not been stellar.
       Yes, in The New York Times Stephen Holden does find that: "buoyed by hot performances, it sustains a zapping electrical energy", but in The Atlantic Christopher Orr's review warns it's Unsuitable for All Ages, while in The Washington Post Stephanie Merry finds Little to laugh about in dark comedy 'The Family'.

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       Joyce Carol Oates Q & A

       In The Washington Post they have Joyce Carol Oates interviews herself [via], and she does a pretty decent job with herself.

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       The Mystery of the Enchanted Crypt review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Eduardo Mendoza's The Mystery of the Enchanted Crypt.
       Last year and this he's rated on the Nobel Prize betting sheets (Ladbrokes currently has him at 50/1) but even granting that this is an early work on the lightest side of his spectrum I don't see it.

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13 September 2013 - Friday

Worst covers ever ? | David Mitchell Q & A
Premio RBA de Novela Negra | Before I Croak review

       Worst covers ever ?

       The Literary Saloon post that attracted the most visitors to the weblog for any one-day period appeared exactly a decade and a day ago -- and, ironically, given how little attention I pay to book covers, it was about a book cover, suggesting that this was quite likely the most depressing cover of that year:

Wuthered Heights cover

       Yes, the tie-in cover that saw Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights billed as: "The inspiration for the MTV original film" ('starring' Erika Christensen, Katherine Heigl, and some guy who played one of the brothers on Malcolm in the Middle) was always going to be hard to beat -- but now it has competition.
       Leave it to professional dilettante James Franco to top the untoppable, defacing another classic, with:

Kill me already cover

       The reaction re-posted at Slate sums it up nicely.

       I won't pass up this opportunity to make my pitch for the plainest of covers (for all books !) yet again. Consider, for example, how the Germans did this Faulkner (in at least one of the editions ...):

Faulkner like he should look

       Sold ! (And I love the rows of Bibliothek Suhrkamp titles on my shelves, all the same handy size, all of the same uniform design, with just the colors of the covers differing from book to book.)

       (Admittedly, the bulk of my Faulkners are the wonderful mass-market paperback-sized Vintage ones, à la:

Vintage Faulkner

       Yeah, those are pretty good, too.)

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       David Mitchell Q & A

       In The Moscow Times Andrei Muchnik has a Q & A as David Mitchell Talks About Moscow, Literature and the Future.
       The Cloud Atlas-author disappointingly says: "let's try to avoid politics", but at least manages to insult some of his audiences:
How do Russian readers differ from those of other countries ?

Russians are surprisingly philosophical, you are more Germanic and less American in the sense that your questions are quite deep and theoretical. There was one girl who asked me, "Do you agree that writing is the dialogue with the unwritten." You don't get that in Milwaukee.

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       Premio RBA de Novela Negra

       They've announced that Arnaldur Indriðason has won the Premio RBA de Novela Negra -- the RBA International Prize for Crime Writing -- yet another Spanish literary prize that qualifies for the List of the world's richest literary prizes, with a payout of €125,000.
       Arnaldur's was one of 183 anonymous submissions for a prize that's also been won by Andrea Camilleri, Philip Kerr, Michael Connelly, and, well, Patricia Cornwell.

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       Before I Croak review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Anna Babiashkina's Before I Croak, her Russian Debut Prize-winning novel that's now available in English from Glas.

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12 September 2013 - Thursday

French book/behemoth of the year ? | German Book Prize shortlist
More French literary prize longlists

       French book/behemoth of the year ?

       When the dust settles (and the foreign rights sales have been completed), I suspect it'll be Pierre Lemaitre's Au revoir là-haut that emerges as the memorable 2013 French title (see the Albin Michel publicity page, or get your copy at, and at some 576 pages the prix Goncourt long-long-listed title is certainly a heap of a book. But the critical success, at least in these early days of the fall publishing season, is a book that dwarfs it, what Le Figaro calls: "le Léviathan de la rentrée": Yann Moix's Naissance, weighing in at 1.3 kilos and 1142 pages. (Yes, the "ultra-long novel" [pace] is alive and well in France as well.)
       The long (and long-long ...) lists of the biggest French prizes -- Goncourt, Renaudot, Médicis -- are now all out (see also my mention below), and the only one to hit the trifecta, making all three (and bonus-prize Décembre too) is Naissance (though the Lemaitre did manage the double that counts, Goncourt and Renaudot -- as did Frédéric Verger, with Arden (480 pages, yet another World War II story ...; see the Gallimard publicity page)). Sure, in the first rentrée-week's sales it couldn't crack the top 30 (Lemaitre came in fifth (3600 copies sold), Nothomb second) -- but it only went on sale two days into that week ..... The stunning four-prize-nods -- in a year with relatively little overlap among the longlists -- should help get it more review attention and sales.
       Apparently an autobiographical work, of the shaping of author Yann Moix in his earliest days (yes, from 'birth' on ...), one of the few reviews already out -- Adrien Gombeaud's in Les Echos -- says it's the 'literary equivalent' of Andy Warhol's Empire (six hours of film stretched into eight by going slow motion ...) and does call it a: "roman interminable".
       Since none of Moix's earlier works appear to have been translated into English -- not even the much more manageable (and surely intriguing) Cinquante ans dans la peau de Michael Jackson -- this doesn't seem the likeliest of candidates to ever make it into English (it would probably take a serious prize-sweep to force the issue), but you can get your French copy from

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       German Book Prize shortlist

       They've announced that Six novels chosen as finalists for the German Book Prize. I haven't read any of these, but Clemens Meyer's Im Stein arrived, well-timed, in the mail two days ago and I'm looking forward to getting to that before the 7 October announcement of the winner. (Another pretty 'big' novel, by the way -- 558 pages; see the S.Fischer publicity page, or get your German copy from (where it's selling reasonably well, but faring quite poorly with the reader-reviews: seven so far, and an average of just 2.7 stars, out of 5).)
       I like how the official press release also notes:
The radio stations Deutschlandfunk and Deutschlandradio Kultur will broadcast the ceremony live as part of the "Dokumente und Debatten" programme on LW 153 and 177 kHz, on MW 990 kHz, as a live stream online at and on digital satellite radio DAB+. The award ceremony will also be transmitted via live video stream at
       I found those frequency-listings handy when I listened to foreign broadcasts on my shortwave radio -- but that was in the 1980s. Does anyone listen to this stuff on an actual radio any more, rather than just tuning in on the Internet ?

       (Updated - 13 September): See now also the Deutsche Welle report, Shortlist announced for German Book Prize, where Aygül Cizmecioglu briefly introduces the shortlisted titles.

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       More French literary prize longlists

       They've announced a couple more of the French longlists, notably the Renaudot (twelve novels and seven works of non-fiction in the two categories; see, for example, coverage at L'Express -- and, yes, Lydie Salvayre's 7 femmes (see the Editions Perrin publicity page) is something I'm looking forward to ...) and the Médicis (see, for example, coverage at Le Magazine Littéraire), as well as the prix Décembre (see, for example, coverage at BibliObs).
       The Médicis is interesting because they also have a foreign-fiction category, with quite a few works by US and UK authors (including Hollingshurst, Didion, and Edna O'Brien) -- as well as Javier Marías' The Infatuations -- making the longlist-cut. It is also noteworthy that books by possible Nobel-contenders Marías and Joyce Carol Oates make the cut (again reaffirming their international stature).

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11 September 2013 - Wednesday

Man Booker shortlist | Gonçalo M. Tavares Q & A
C.H.Beck profile | The Spectre of Alexander Wolf review

       Man Booker shortlist

       They've announced the Man Booker shortlist, and while none of the books are under review at the complete review at this time I do hope to get to, for example, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton when it comes out in the US.
       Among the apparently noteworthy demographic aspects of the shortlisted authors (and here I was thinking this was a book prize ...): a lot of the authors are women, and, as the headlines note: Man Booker Prize 2013: 'most diverse' shortlist spans five continents (Hannah Furness in The Telegraph) and Man Booker Prize for Fiction: Six different nationalities on shortlist (Nick Clark in The Guardian).

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       Gonçalo M. Tavares Q & A

       In Bomb Pedro Sena Nunes has a Q & A with Gonçalo M. Tavares.
       Several books by Tavares are under review at the complete review -- see, for example, Joseph Walser's Machine or The Neighborhood.

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       C.H.Beck profile

       At DeutscheWelle Krisha Kops profiles C.H. Beck: Germany's literary rock for a quarter millennium.
       Yes, lasting 250 years in this business, as German publisher C.H.Beck has, is a pretty impressive achievement.

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       The Spectre of Alexander Wolf review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gaito Gazdanov's The Spectre of Alexander Wolf, out in a new translation from Pushkin Press (and it seems to me almost the quintessential Pushkin Press title).
       This has been doing the European rounds in recent years too, doing especially well in Germany last year. The Dutch translation is about to be released, and they even have a Gajto Gazdanov-site to go with it (but, yes, those transliteration variations from language to language re. his name don't exactly make finding information about him across different editions any easier).

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