Tomorrow, 21 October, they're having a symposium on The Global Book Review at the Italian Academy at Columbia University in New York, from 14:00 to 17:30.
James Wood will give the keynote, while a panel that includes The New York Times Book Review head Pamela Paul and representative from a variety of international publications will be discussing: "how the Internet has -- and has not -- created a global readership".
I'm disappointed that I'll miss it (only learned about it earlier this week ...), but I do hope some reports about the proceedings appear online soon after.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Elena Ferrante's kid's book, The Beach at Night -- one of two Ferrante books coming out shortly that broaden the range of her available-in-English work (the other being the largely non-fiction collection, Frantumaglia, which I hope to be getting to soon as well).
There's already been lots of debate about how kid-appropriate this one is, for both silly reasons (the (one-time) use of the word 'shit') and not (it is one dark tale).
The formerly-(long)-known-as-the-Samuel-Johnson-Prize but now apparently called (since Sam couldn't afford the £30,000 prize-money any longer) the 'Baillie Gifford Prize' for Non-fiction has now announced its four-title-strong shortlist.
Unsurprisingly, none of the four titles are under review at the complete review; very surprisingly, it turns out I have reviewed other books by three of the four finalist-authors: Svetlana Alexievich (Voices from Chernobyl), Hisham Matar (In the Country of Men), and Philippe Sands (Lawless World).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nobel Prize non-winning Philip Roth's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, American Pastoral.
This has now -- yes, almost two decades after the book came out -- been made into a movie (see the official site), which is opening ('in selected cities') on Friday.
The film was directed by Ewan McGregor, who also gave himself a starring role, alongside Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Connelly.
(Somehow I don't see Ewan McGregor as the all-American 'the Swede', but maybe he has the chops for it.)
My favorite review-line comes from Michael Wood's review in The New York Times Book Review, where he suggests: "American Pastoral invites comparison with John Updike's In the Beauty of the Lilies" -- a reminder of how different these authors' current status is (and how hard it can be to properly judge the significance (and lack thereof) of books when they first appear).
Sure, Roth is helped by the fact that he is still alive (albeit (apparently) retired) while Updike is dead, but of these two book's Roth's has certainly had much more of an impact and shown greater staying-power.
The Pulitzer seal of approval helped, no doubt, but it goes beyond that; compare also the number of 'goodreads' ratings for each: 38,841 for the Roth, compared to a mere 1,462 for the Updike.
A 'Nathan Zuckerman'-book, American Pastoral also offers some nice incidental writing observations, most notably Nate himself opining:
Writing turns you into somebody who's always wrong.
The illusion that you may get it right someday is the perversity that draws you on.
What else could ?
As pathological phenomena go, it doesn't completely wreck your life.
The winner of the German imitation-Man Booker Prize, the German Book Prize, has been announced, and it's Widerfahrnis (by Bodo Kirchhoff); see also the DeutscheWelle report.
See also the New Books in German information page about the book, the Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.de
Kirchhoff's Infanta was published in English in 1992, by Viking in the US and Harvill in the UK (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), but it presumably didn't do very well, and it looks like he was one-and-done as far as US/UK publishers were concerned.
This prize will, of course, lead to a reassessment -- I imagine we'll see a translation -- and who knows ... maybe his backlist will take off here too.
With the awarding of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan many were pleased to see the Swedish Academy embrace a far broader view of 'literature' (and many others were, of course, disappointed, confused, and outraged); see my recent overview and links.
Regardless of what position one took, it certainly looked like under Sara Danius' stewardship (which also saw last year's genre-stretching selection of Svetlana Alexievich) the Swedish Academy had moved towards a far more wide-ranging interpretation of what the prize could be awarded for.
What next ? we wondered -- assuming that rather than returning to the more or less traditional novelists and poets who have dominated the Nobel there would be more 'bold' choices in the future.
Now I'm wondering whether Bob Dylan's (non-)reaction to getting this 'great honor' won't lead to the pendulum in fact swinging back, really hard, and really fast.
The new Nobel laureate seems singularly unimpressed with this 'honor' bestowed on him.
As widely reported (here and here, for example), Dylan has so far ignored the Swedish Academy's efforts to contact him.
They haven't been able to get through -- which at this point has to be taken to mean: he has no interest in hearing from them.
Obviously, he is free to do as he pleases, but at a certain point it's hard not to see this behavior as both rude and disrespectful.
(For all those who argue Dylan is a reclusive artist who doesn't make many public statements: come on -- he's a performer, he's been on stage in front of thousands of people on several nights since he won the prize, and regardless of any- and everything it's simply polite to take the Swedish Academy's (private) call, even if just to tell them Thanks, but no thanks, or just Thanks, or that they can stuff the prize where the sun don't shine, or whatever.
Some sort of acknowledgement doesn't seem to be asking too much.)
And this is where it gets interesting -- not so much regarding what happens next with Dylan and the Nobel this year (who cares ?), but what happens with the Nobel in future years.
One thing the prize does rely on is respect.
Even Sartre, who turned the prize down, did so respectfully.
Even those who couldn't care less have expressed their thanks and said they were honored.
Dylan -- who is, as I've mentioned, the first laureate bigger than the prize itself since Winston Churchill -- doesn't need to play along, and he isn't playing along.
And while Sara Danius is all smiles about this, this is a humiliation that severely undermines the agenda, and the vision for the prize that those who supported the selection of Dylan-as-laureate have.
I think it's clear that there was disagreement at the Academy regarding this selection -- the delay in announcing the winner by a week (and it was a delay, no matter what they try to say) suggesting considerable disagreement (though no one has come forward publicly, as has happened with previous controversial choices (such as that of Elfriede Jelinek)).
And now surely Dylan's behavior hands those opposed to giving him the prize -- a sizable minority, I assume -- a perfect argument for going back to the safe, more traditional way of doing things -- like awarding the prize to someone who mainly writes books.
I don't know who led the way in trying to convince the fellow Academicians to go with Dylan, but obviously those arguments now look a whole lot less convincing.
The Swedish Academy might want to show how cool they can be with their literature-expanding selections, but the one thing they can't afford -- and which surely upsets many of them -- is someone shitting on the prize like this.
And Dylan's behavior is the ultimate denigration of the prize: even denouncement is better, because that still suggests the prize means something.
To ignore the prize devalues everything the Swedish Academy does.
I previously argued that it would take years for the Swedish Academy to recover from this selection, to re-build the Nobel brand, but right now the situation looks far worse than I had imagined.
Obviously this million-dollar-prize will always attract considerable attention -- but this is a lot to recover from.
And it will be interesting to see whether they continue to try to make 'bold' choices, or return to their conservative traditions.
(My guess is the latter: I think there will be a forceful institutional backlash against the Dylan-faction, who will be hard-pressed to live this down (if the situation doesn't change in the coming days and weeks).)
The fall issue of Asymptote is now online -- and there is a lot of very good material here: fiction, non, poetry, drama, interviews, and criticism.
I won't even list the highlights-- just check it (all) out for yourself.
Sure, the Nobel Prize in Literature -- paying out SEK 8 million (about US$ 905,000) this year -- is the biggest of the literary prizes out there, but it's a career-spanning (and, as we've now learned, very-loose-in-its-interpretation-of-'literature') prize.
As far as book prizes, awarded for an individual title, the Premio Planeta de Novela, paying out a tidy €601,000, is nothing to sneeze at either.
They've now announced this year's winner -- Todo esto te daré, by Dolores Redondo.
No word at the official site yet, as I write this, but see, for example, the report in El Mundo.
Redondo has of course already made it fairly big internationally, with her 'The Baztan Trilogy', which has even begun to make its way into English: the first volume, The Invisible Guardian, came out in English earlier this year; see the Harper Collins publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Deep Vellum has quickly made an impact in the literature-in-translation market -- see the titles under review at the complete review -- as well as running an actual storefront in Dallas.
There's now been some reorganization of the operations, and in the Dallas News Lauren Smart invites you to Meet the new owner of Deep Vellum Books, Anne Hollander.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Honda Tetsuya's The Silent Dead.
This is the first in a series, and I do appreciate the US (and UK) publishers actually starting at the beginning (almost a rarity with translated crime fiction series ...) -- but I kind of wish they had stuck with the original Japanese title, the English ストロベリーナイト (phonetically: 'Strawberry Night'; see also the Japanese edition) -- a fitting (it comes up in the story) but more or less nonsensical-in-English (as is often the case with Japanese attempts at appropriation ...) expression.
And yet still probably better than the fairly pointless 'The Silent Dead'.
(But, yeah, a harder sell in the US/UK.)
In Observer (as it's now apparently called ...), Josh Feola and Michael Pettis report that Chinese Literature Finds Its Place, a slightly odd piece -- "Dazed and dealing with rapid modernization, PRC now produces writers who are unmistakably Chinese" -- that nevertheless offers a glimpse of some of the ways in which writing has changed in China over the past few decades.
As discussed yesterday -- hey, it takes a while for the reality of this to sink in -- they named ... Bob Dylan this year's Nobel laureate.
A few more observations now that it's (very slowly ...) sinking in:
- I think the selection was a misstep for the Swedish Academy.
They've made some ... unusual choices before -- but these have tended to be of the relatively obscure literary kind, say a Dario Fo or Elfriede Jelinek: only a very limited audience really has sufficient familiarity with their work to even hold an opinion as to whether or not the choice was good.
(Not that that ever stopped everyone else from opining/denouncing .....)
Bob Dylan isn't just well-known, he's an international superstar, a celebrity bigger than pretty much any author.
The last comparably famous literature laureate was also an odd choice -- Winston Churchill, in 1953 --, but Churchill did have an impressive body of serious writing. Sure, it was almost all non-fiction, and not widely read (outside the UK), but still.
Selecting Dylan weakens the brand the Swedish Academy had built up so carefully -- elitist and 'literary' (and, less helpfully, tending towards the male and European -- but that could be rectified by other means).
As the media complained every year before a name was even announced: no popular authors if they could help it.
It was a brand that was easy to criticize and/or make fun of, but, boy, they owned it.
But by selecting someone more popular than pretty much any author, ever -- and someone who isn't a traditional author, but rather struts his stuff on a stage and in recording studios -- they've hopelessly confused and muddled the issue.
And the brand.
What does this prize now stand for ?
Sure, great, they take the large(st) view of what 'literature' is, and can be, now -- where does that leave us, or get us ?
Wasn't their (high and mighty) little niche position a better perch ?
(And a lot more fun ?)
- I can't help but wonder whether or not the somewhat rejuvenated Swedish Academy (a younger generation replacing the old fuddy-duddies who have died off) isn't simply star struck.
They all are over-familiar with authors, and unimpressed by literary fame, so giving it to Philip Roth or Adonis or whoever is probably just a big yawn by now.
But Dylan ... Dylan is a different kind of star, one they don't often get to mingle with.
I have to wonder whether the Swedish Academy fan-boys and -girls weren't moved by nostalgia for days of youth and rock/folk abandon, and the chance to toast (and nervously giggle around) one of their big teen-idols in person (as they will have at the ceremonies in December).
(It will be interesting to learn (in fifty years, sigh ...) whether there was a generational divide in what was surely a contentious debate among the Academicians.
Though note that Dylan has been on the scene for ages -- folks now in their 70s 'grew up' with him and his music .....)
- I could see this being an exciting choice if they had made it in, say, the mid- or late-1970s.
But now ?
If they just want to shock -- well, they selected a pretty tired old specimen to shock with.
Yes, Dylan is a classic and an all-time great.
But let's face it, his best years are quite a few decades behind him.
(I know this could be said about many of the authors who have received the prize, but it's hard to think of any recent one that got the prize so far post-peak.)
- The Swedish Academy can't be blamed alone: candidates have to be nominated by someone, and I really wonder who that person (or people ?) was who wasted their nomination on Dylan year after year -- because he has been rumored to be a candidate for decades.
Did they mean it as a joke (which has now spectacularly backfired) ?
Were they serious ?
If you could only nominate one or two candidates a year, well, who in their right mind would nominate Bob Dylan above all the other wonderful writers out there ?
Someone has a lot to answer for .....
[Updated: Well, one of the nominators has come forward, as Gordon Ball admits I nominated Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize. You're welcome. in The Washington Post.
He claims/admits he's been nominating Dylan since 1996.
For what it's worth, I don't find his reasoning very convincing -- but read it for yourself.]
- As to the whole debate about whether a songwriter -- and, despite Tarantula and the memoirs, let's face it, that's what Dylan is -- should be considered for a 'literature' Nobel: generally I'm not thrilled about the expansion of the term in this way.
The argument would seem to me to be: if you strip away the music, do the words hold up ?
Drama seems to me to qualify: I don't need it to be acted out for me to appreciate it (in fact, personally I'm more of a play-reader than -watcher), but songs ?
And specifically Dylan's songs ?
I'm not convinced.
So that's another problem I have with him getting the prize: I think he's a great artist, but a middling writer.
- Finally, I think it's a bit problematic that the Swedish Academy makes this sudden leap into these particular big leagues.
Dylan is internationally recognized -- again, more than practically any author: there might be a handful (none of whom would ever be considered Nobel-worthy, by the way) with similar reach and name recognition (Stephen King ? Paulo Coelho ?) -- and this award, which generally goes to writers who might be lucky to sell tens of thousands of copies of their books (and often are selling far, far, far fewer) suddenly goes to an artist who has reportedly sold some 100,000,000 albums (never mind his download- and radio-reach ...).
Dylan is simply in a different popularity- and recognizability-league than anyone who has ever gotten the prize (well, arguably, save Churchill -- but his renown was of a different sort (and involved far fewer swooning and/or stoned college kids, etc.)) .
It seems a bit (or a lot) of a shame to me, to in a way waste such an opportunity and give the prize to someone who really already couldn't be more famous.
(Are there people -- anywhere -- who are hearing about Dylan for the first time because he won the Nobel ?
I kind of doubt it.
When was the last time we could say that of a literature laureate ?
(Yes, yes: 1953.))
I could accept it if Dylan's really was the apogee of art -- if he were a Shakespeare or a Goethe.
But he's not.
He's very, very good -- but that's about it.
And I'd argue there are a ot of writers who are better at their art (even granting they do something different than songwriter Dylan does) -- a lot of them, in fact.
So what about other reactions ?
Well, there have been some nice multiple-brief-reaction round-ups, such as:
On the day they announced this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature comes word that (controversial) 1997 laureate Dario Fo has passed away; see, for example, obituaries by Michael Billington (in The Guardian) and Jonathan Kandell (in The New York Times).
They've announced that Bob Dylan has been awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Literature, "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition".
Well, I have to admit I didn't see that coming.
Not really sure what to say at this point.
Well, 1997 laureate Dario Fo just passed away (see The New York Times' report), and now they've come up with an equally ... debatable selection.
While Dylan has long figured on the betting lists (as close as I could get to) closing odds at Ladbrokes: 16/1, and Unibet: 8/1):, and rumors have long swirled that some nuts on the Swedish Academy wanted to see him get the prize, I honestly would have never believed that they would actually give him the prize.
I assume the week's delay in announcing the prize was also due to some very heated debate on the matter; alas, the Zimmerman-supporters apparently got their way.
(I look forward to hearing the reports of what went on in these deliberations).
One obvious point: with Sara Danius taking over as permanent secretary things have certainly been shaken up, Nobel-wise: Alexievich was already a genre-defying choice, and Dylan is obviously even more out there.
Who next year ?
Jenny Holzer ?
Another point: the long American drought (since 1993) is over.
(But I wouldn't blame Roth and company for being mighty, mighty pissed right now.)
Okay, what I usually do here is point you to information about the obscure winning author -- but there seems little need for that.
It's Bob Dylan.
People have heard of him.
None of his work is under review at the complete review -- and I really can't see myself getting to any -- but the Nobel site's Biobibliographical notes (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) list an astonishing number of published (i.e. text) works, beginning with the Bob Dylan Song Book.
So, yeah, there's lots to 'read'.
(Still, I would have to call this prize a 'category error': as great an artist as Dylan may be ... 'literature' ?
(Well, I guess they want to expand that term for us. Thanks.))
Bob Dylan has been up for major international literary awards before -- he was a finalist for the 2012 Neustadt International Prize for Literature (losing out to Rohinton Mistry) -- and while many always dismissed him as nothing more than a sucker's bet on the betting lists, over the years quite a few suggested he was a worthy candidate:
Meanwhile, Dylan did win the 2007 Prince of Asturias Award -- but for the Arts; the prize for Literature went to Amos Oz that year.
(And I repeat that I think the Swedish Academy has committed a category error with this award.)
Dylan's award collection has got to be among the most varied around, as he's now won a Nobel, a Pulitzer (2008 -- in the lame 'Special Awards and Citations'-(non-)category), an Academy Award (2000), countless Grammy Awards, even a Golden Globe (2001).
And note that you can catch Dylan live tonight in Las Vegas.
As is to be expected, reactions to Dylan getting the prize are all over the place, but I'll wait until tomorrow before linking.
I have to admit; I am pretty baffled/confused/shell-shocked at this point.
I think that's all for me today, comments- and links-wise.
They've announced that the US$100,000 Nigeria Prize for Literature -- awarded for a work of fiction this year -- goes to Season of Crimson Blossoms (by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim); see also the Cassava Republic publicity page, the Van Aggelen African Literary Agency information page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Paul Willems' The Cathedral of Mist -- the second Belgian work translated by Edward Gauvin reviewed in a row (in an odd coïncidence).
This volume -- and it is a lovely little (truly pocket-sized, as all books should be) volume -- is from Wakefield Press.
The odds at Ladbrokes and Unibet are worth keeping an eye on in these last hours, especially for any big changes.
Still, don't let yourself get too easily carried away by every bit of movement (though movement now, when they've decided on a winner but haven't made the name public yet, is certainly more significant than it was last week): in The Guardian yesterday Alison Flood noted that: Don DeLillo sweeps into top 10 tipped for Nobel prize in literature -- but that is among the changes in odds to be consumed with care: while now rating 12/1 at Ladbrokes, his odds at Unibet as I write this are 33/1 (the same as you get for Bob Dylan) -- suggesting the betting is strictly amateur (you'd get much more bang for your bet-dollar at Unibet).
Meanwhile, however, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's odds -- which I noted yesterday were 4/1 at Ladbrokes but only 8/1 at Unibet -- have converged; they're now 7/2 at Unibet -- suggesting more serious (or at least well-placed) betting.
In the Flood-article Ladbrokes reports that: "the top three most popular bets at this stage are DeLillo, Thiong’o and Marías"; for what it's worth I don't think either the DeLillo or Marías (Ladbrokes odds: 16/1; Unibet: 40/1) bets are meaningful, but the Ngũgĩ interest seems better-founded.
The British Crime Writers' Association has announced its 'Daggers' literary awards, in a variety of categories (sorry, no convenient one-page list/press release available as I write this ...), and Pierre Lemaitre's The Great Swindle, in Frank Wynne's translation, won the CWA International Dagger for best foreign work.
Two of the other shortlisted works are also under review at the complete review: Sascha Arango's The Truth and Other Lies and Deon Meyer's Icarus (and I'm looking forward to Yokoyama Hideo's Six Four, but that isn't out in the US yet).
The Swedish Academy yesterday confirmed what they had already hinted at:
The Swedish Academy will announce this year's Nobel Laureate in literature at 1 p.m. on Thursday, October 13 in the Grand Hall in the Exchange.
(That's 13:00 CET.)
This means that they have determined a laureate -- and so far seem to have managed to remain tight-lipped/leak-free: there has been little dramatic movement on the betting boards, and while Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is now rated ahead of Murakami Haruki at Ladbrokes (4/1 v. 5/1, as I write this), he lags behind Murakami (7/2) and Adonis (13/2) at Unibet, with 8/1, suggesting betting hasn't gotten very serious yet (you get twice as much bang for your betting buck backing Ngũgĩ at Unibet, a gap that would have closed by now if there were any serious betting going on).
As far as my opinion(s) go, I don't have much to add to my original preview yet; we'll see if any late gossip develops.
The Marquis de Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom is now available in a new translation, by Will McMorran and Thomas Wynn, in the Penguin Classics series -- at least in the UK; the US edition is only due out 27 December (missing the whole Christmas stocking-stuffer market ...); see the Penguin publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order at Amazon.com.
In The Guardian translator McMorran writes about 'The most impure tale ever written': how The 120 Days of Sodom became a 'classic'.
I had not realized it (and all of de Sade's works) had been banned in Britain from the 1960s to the 1980s; in the US, I had no trouble getting my hands on the fat Grove paperbacks (then still in the much more agreeable almost-mass-market paperback size) of the major works back in the late 1970s, including the Austryn Wainhouse and Richard Seaver translation of this one (see the Grove publicity page).
In Prospect Kevin Jackson asks The Marquis de Sade: classic author ? -- and finds little here to weigh in favor of an affirmative answer:
He wrote a supposedly hideous book that is in reality so boring that to read it is a kind of torture.
Jackson notes: "these fantasies are not all that arousing" -- and even that seems giving their reputation too much credit: 'all that arousing' ? surely, practically nothing here is -- but then to read de Sade as an 'erotic' author seems entirely the wrong tack.
Lucy Ives' clever take on 'The Marquis de Sade and the office novel', in Sodom, LLC, in Lapham's Quarterly is already much closer to the mark.
Andrew Hussey also sees more of value in the book and author, in The Real Marquis de Sade, in The Economist's 1843 magazine.
As a fan of catalogue- and variations-on-a-theme novels, I've always found de Sade's work fascinating; and it still has agreeably absurdist transgressive appeal; I'm looking forward to this new translation (though, while I like the neat structure to this one, it is the much longer taking-it-to-all-extremes indulgence, Juliette (and not sister Jusine -- already long an Oxford World's Classics; see their publicity page), that is my favorite.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Naked -- the fourth of his 'Marie'-novels, and the twelfth of his books under review at the complete review.
It's just out from Dalkey Archive Press.