Ian McEwan's Saturday has received so many raves that it looks like a leading candidate for book of the year -- but it may have some competition: in the Sunday Times Peter Kemp offers the first newspaper review of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, and he claims it is:
A clear frontrunner to be the year's most extraordinary novel
Elsewhere, so far, only the obligatory (and pointless) author-profiles:
Some of the most revered names in literature, including Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, face possible removal from the official pantheon of great writers in a modernisation of English in the national curriculum.
In their place, children may be required to study a greater range of modern writers and those who reflect the ethnically diverse nature of modern Britain such as the prize-winning black author Andrea Levy.
Other potential candidates for the new list include fantasy writers Tolkien and Philip Pullman, who many believe more closely reflect the reading tastes of children than the current list.
Are the schools merely trying to encourage reading, or fulfilling an educational teaching function ?
(No one seems to ask why the kids shouldn't/wouldn't read Tolkien and Pullman outside school, but apparently that would be expecting way too much.)
In The Korea Times Kim Joo-young writes about Banned Books From Past on Display, about an exhibition at the Samseong Museum of Publishing of books that were once banned (mainly during the Japanese occupation).
Yes, the Judges’ List for the £60,000 Man Booker International Prize has been announced (if you missed it, re-view the webcast !).
First point: the shortlist was supposed to consist of "fifteen contenders", but turns out to be eighteen strong.
One freebie for each judge ?
A fairly interesting mix:
Scroll down on the announcement-page for additional author information and English-language bibliographies.
(They also kindly link to our Tabucchi-reviews -- though not to all the other reviews of shortlisted authors we have (including all of Ozick's work).)
The most surprising choice is Tomás Eloy Martínez (we figure this was Alberto Manguel's uncontestable nominee): only two works available in English, both Peron-related.
(He has written more: see, for example, this page.)
Among the most questionable: Ismail Kadare -- not because of his worth, but because most of the work available in English is translated from the French, not the original Albanian .....
With five Nobel laureates on the list, the list by and large plays it fairly safe, though there are some notable names missing (Naipaul, for example).
Especially pleasing: the recognition for Stanislaw Lem.
(Their bibliography appears incomplete: surely more -- though far from all -- of his work has been translated (though much of it isn't in print any longer).)
Antonio Tabucchi, too, whose most recent books haven't made it into English yet .....
Early press-reactions have been very feeble (and nationalistic), but see:
Man Booker International Prize finalist (see above) Cynthia Ozick's most recent novel, Heir To The Glimmering World is coming out in the UK in the coming weeks.
But -- this being the wonderful world of publishing -- not as Heir To The Glimmering World.
No, they've re-titled it: now it's The Bear Boy.
Amusingly enough, Amazon.co.uk has listed it under: "Category(ies): Fiction , Children's Books".
Careful, parents: though a children's book figure prominently in Ozick's novel, toddler literature this ain't.
In The Guardian today Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes "on why no one reads fiction in Nigeria", in Blinded by God's business.
Interesting (if depressing) observation:
Yet books sell well in Nigeria.
In all the bookshops I have visited, the shelves are overwhelmingly stocked with Christian and business self-help books, God's Plan for You, The Richest Man in Babylon.
This suggests, then, that our economy has not prevented us from reading; it has only prevented us from reading literature.
The real reason for this may not be the economy itself, however, but what we have turned to in response to the economy: a scarcity-driven brand of religion where pastors in sleek churches assure you that God wants you to have that new Mercedes-Benz.
In Bookworm, a highbrow Lagos bookshop, there were novels by Moses Isegawa, Ian McEwan, Arundhati Roy.
The owner was about to have a give-away sale when I visited.
"Nobody buys them," she said.
The fiction titles that sell to her upwardly mobile clientele are those by John Grisham; even the elite does not read serious literature.
In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Khalid Al-Maaly reports on the recently held Cairo International Book Fair.
Among the points of interest: he mentions that books confiscated in the past two years were not returned to publishers, though according to the official fair-regulations they apparently should have been.
Meanwhile, Arab publishing union president Ibrahim al-Muallim promised, as in previous years, that there would be no censorship or confiscations; as in previous years, things didn't quite work out that way.
Al-Maaly reports that al-Muallim even accused his fellow-publishers (whose side is this guy on ?) of exaggerating and making false claims of censorship in order to spur sales.
(As Al-Maaly points out, many of the censored writers hardly need publicity of this sort to spur sales.)
There was also a symposium to discuss the Arab League having been guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair last fall.
The focus was on the positive, and Al-Maaly notes that not a word was said about the ambitious Arab plans to translate 200 works so that they could be presented at the fair: 200 became 100 became 20 and eventually there was only a single book left -- which never appeared.
(Translations did appear in conjunction with the book fair, but these appear to have been due entirely to foreign publishers' own initiative, rather than a concerted effort by the Arab League to introduce publishers to new Arabic works.)
This, in particular concerns us, as this fall's guest of honour in Frankfurt, Korea, also has an ambitious 100 Korean Books-project going.
Or not: as we've mentioned previously, plans have already (!) been scaled back, The Korea Timesreporting in early January that:
Kim did not hesitate to admit that the initial goals of translating 100 books to take to Frankfurt (46 into English, 22 into German, 10 into French, eight into both Spanish and Japanese and six into Chinese) by the end of January were far too ambitious and said that the work is being reduced.
No recent updates, but we hope they won't follow too closely in the Arab footsteps.
In Le Monde Christine Rousseau looks at French book sales in 2004 and finds: La fiction au "top".
Total book sales were up: 3 % by revenue, 1.5 % by volume (not a great trend right there: prices increases can generate higher revenue, but you really want the sales-volume to be up more).
Among the fifty top-selling books, 64.54 % of copies sold were fiction (compared to only 52 % in 2003).
Unfortunately, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code -- 857,300 copies sold -- seems to have helped a lot in that regard .....
In the New Statesman Terry Eagleton reviews the first batch of Granta's new How to Read-series.
"All six of these volumes do an efficient job", he finds.
They tackled some big names -- Hitler, Sade, Freud, Darwin -- and employed some decent authors (but didn't Ray Monk already do Wittgenstein ?).
Still: is there really a need for this kind of stuff ?
(Indeed, did the mini-biography/brief lives fad ever really take off ?)
Gotta love the colour-coded covers, however: from warning red (Sade, Hitler) to calming yellow (Darwin).
We missed the festival Etonnants Voyageurs, held 7 - 13 February in Bamako, Mali, but at least some of the French newspapers have some reports.
Libération looks at reading and writing in Mali and Africa in Expressions d'Afrique, while Natalie Levisalles introduces the authors who were there.
Le Figarofocusses on the poetry slam, and Malikounda also has a report.
For additional information, see also the official press release (warning ! pdf file !).
As has been widely noted, Edward Nawotka writes that Literary blogs fill a niche in USA Today.
A few of the usual suspects, including -- sort of -- us, though Mr.Nawotka seemed to have trouble with our name(s) and what we do:
Another site, www.complete-review.com, dedicates a specific blog to literature in translation.
At least the URL is right, but we've been looking all over the site for that specific blog we dedicated to literature in translation and can't seem to find it.
(Could he mean the Literary Saloon ?
Yes, we pay lots of attention to literature in translation -- but also to as-yet untranslated literature, and literary matters in general.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Suzuki Koji's story-collection Dark Water.
A film based on the book (we're not exactly sure how) and also called Dark Water is apparently due out later this year.
Directed by Walter Salles, it stars Jennifer Connelly, so it might be of some interest.
Sadly, the film version of Imre Kertesz's novel, Fatelessness, -- now in competition at the Berlinale; see the official page -- is garnering considerably more attention than the novel (despite the book having been re-published in a new translation just a few months ago).
See our previous mention for early reactions.
The first German reviews are out now, and they include:
Pretty much everyone thinks the Ennio Morricone score is a disaster, and only the colour-effects (the colour seeps from the film as it progresses, winding up in black and white (or grey)) are seen as a bright spot.
Overall: some tepid approval, at best, but it sounds like a flop.
Bartels acknowledges the difficulty of portraying camp-life effectively, while Lueken thinks Fateless again proves that Auschwitz just doesn't make for an appropriate film-set.
(Lueken really hated it, and was especially disappointed that the film wasn't able to wake even the slightest empathy in the viewer.)
The weblog Book World kindly offers excerpts from Henry Tricks' otherwise not freely accessible Financial Times article on the Man Group plc sponsorship of literary prizes.
Apparently their customers really are impressed by this sort of thing !
Meanwhile, the excitement builds, as:
The Judges’ List of contenders for the inaugural Man Booker International Prize is to be announced to a worldwide audience on the 18th February 2005 at 10am EST/3pm GMT from Georgetown University, Washington.
Yes: see the press conference press release -- and catch the webcast (really !) to be "posted shortly after the events conclude".
There will also be a panel discussion with the judges at 18:00, The Book As Prize.
Anyway: the time means we'll only be offering our commentary Saturday -- but no doubt many other literary weblogs will be on top of it by 15:05 GMT.
Quite a few weblogs had their fun with Peter Edidin's 14 February article in The New York Times about Harry G. Frankfurt's recently published (in book form) essay, On Bullshit, and the demure insistence on writing "bullshit" as "bull-----" or "[bull]".
They're not the only ones: depressingly, even a campus newspaper like The Daily Princetonian isn't willing to go much further: in her article, Philosophy prof pens book on bull, Ellen Young adds a few more letters, but still leaves it at: "bullsh-t".
On Bullshit is actually almost twenty years old, first published in The Raritan Review and then a 1988 collection of Frankfurt's essays, but someone at Princeton University Press wisely thought that in these Bushshit-mired -- pardon us, bullshit-mired (as if there were a difference ...) -- times it might do well as a stand-alone volume.
Last we checked, it was number 7 at Amazon.com !
(See the Princeton University Press publicity page, or get your own copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung today Thomas Frahm writes about a semi-resurgent Bulgarian book scene, offering loads of interesting statistics:
Two independent publishing houses were founded in 1990, by 1992 there were a dozen, and now some 3200 are registered -- though only 150 contribute significantly to book output, and 30 to 50 are responsible for 80 % of the market.
Times have changed since the Soviet-satellite days: in 1989 a bestseller could rack up 100,000 in sales, nowadays 1500 is considered a lot.
Per capita book purchases: 1.5 books a year: high prices (and an incredible 18 % VAT) obviously have had a devastating impact on book purchasing ability.
(One things the commies knew how to do: keep book prices (artificially) low.)
In 2003 there were some 6000 titles published: 4600 original Bulgarian, 1400 translations (compare that to American totals ...), with more than half the translations coming from the English.
Interesting: Bulgarian works had an average print run of 640 copies, translated titles 1170.
New bookstores are popping up all over now, apparently, and a few authors are even getting translated -- Georgi Gospodinov, for example, whose Natural Novel Dalkey Archive Press just brought out.
No mention of the Vick Foundation Award for Bulgarian novel of the year, but that's another nice attempt to give a helping hand to the authors of the land.
The American National Endowment for the Humanities recently announced the award of $ 7.4 million in fellowships to 195 scholars; see the full list here (warning ! pdf file !).
As usual, some (if not a great deal of) literary-related stuff.
Our favourite: Bill Johnston gets money to translate The Coming Spring by Stefan Zeromski.
(See his other translations (he's also done Zeromski's The Faithful River; we only have Jerzy Pilch's His Current Woman under review), Stefan Zeromski at Polska 2000, and The Stefan Zeromski Museum).
Helen Vendler also got a fellowship (Helen Vendler needs NEH money ?), for The Final Volumes of Poets Stevens, Lowell, Bishop, Plath, Merrill, and Ammons, and we're intrigued by Bettina Brandt's Contemporary Transnational German Literature and the Surreal.
(We're also curious about Jeffrey Schnapp's A Cultural History of the Concept of Velocity.)
Morocco's Minister of Culture, Mohamed Achaari, deplored that Moroccan books are little read in comparison to the number of inhabitants and Moroccan real potentials.
The depressing statistics:
In an interview with le Matin du Sahara et du Maghreb daily, published Monday, Achaari wondered why a best-seller is sold at only 5000 copies in a country of 30 million inhabitants, 14 universities, 300.000 students, 13.000 researcher-professors and 250.000 teachers.
5000 copies in a country of 30 million (Morocco) make for a bestseller (see above) and the Minister of Culture is complaining ?
What would he say in Mexico -- population topping 100,000,000 --, where Ken Bensinger reports in the Christian Science Monitor: "3,000 copies sold makes a bestseller".
Yes, another depressing nobody-reads-or-buys-books article: Chilling mystery: Why don't Mexicans read books ?
Part of the problem is insane (and inconsistent) book prices, but it seems to go beyond just that:
Competitive pressures in a country where 3,000 copies sold makes a bestseller have pushed 4 out of every 10 bookstores in Mexico out of business over the past 10 years, according to the Mexican Booksellers Association.
Meanwhile, from 2001 to 2004, roughly 10 percent of all publishers have shut down.
Both supply and demand seem in short supply:
Despite having three times the population of Argentina, Mexico produces about 2,000 fewer titles each year.
There are roughly 500 bookstores in Mexico, which translates into one for every 200,000 Mexicans, compared to a ratio of one to 35,000 in the US and one to 12,000 in Spain, according to the Mexican Booksellers Association.
And attempts to reach out to the reading public don't seem to have fared well:
An experimental library in the Mexico City subway last year was shuttered after most of the books were stolen.
In the Daily Star Liv Lewitschnik reports on Cultural exchange: a relationship with life and history, describing some of the recent attempts to engage in cultural exchange in Lebanon.
The German Goethe Institute, British Council, and Spanish Cervantes Institutes seem to be trying, with some success.
We hope he's right:
Despite the worrying trend of increasing radicalism among the Arab youth and the fact that internal Lebanese divisions can undermine cultural exchange, now more than ever before with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on Monday, the Lebanese experience of welcoming cultural influences from all over the world and then localizing them shows that the cultural dialogue is working and is doing so with the help of the European cultural presence here.
The Lambda Literary Foundation has announced the finalists for its many, many Lambda Literary Awards.
Typically, the information is not yet available at the site, but The Advocate lists all of them at Lambda Literary finalists announced.
New categories (like they needed any more) include: Gay Men's Debut Fiction and Lesbian Debut Fiction
Poor Alan Hollinghurst might as well finally get "gay novel" emblazoned on the cover of his ManBooker-winning The Line of Beauty, a Gay Men's Fiction finalist (is that fiction by, for, or about gay men ?).
But he's not a shoe-in: Colm Toibin's The Master also made the finals.
(What's the deal with the LLF site, by the way ?
They write it: "LλMBDλ" -- using a lower case lambda (λ) as some sort of clever substitute for the upper case A.
Enough to make any semi-literate soul cringe !)
Universities don't seem to be able to interest students much in reading nowadays, but it's nice to see that in the Ivy League some schools at least try to offer incentives for them to collect books (presumably in the knowledge that a book-lined professional office can be used to impress clients and patients (translating, of course, into higher fees) in these kids' future jobs).
We mentioned Princeton University's remunerative Elmer Adler Undergraduate Book Collecting Prize a few months back, and now learn of Brown University's Margaret B. Stillwell Prize for outstanding student collections of rare, interesting or unique books, in Taryn Martinez's Brown Daily Herald article, Stillwell Prize rewards student book collectors.
Established in 1984, there is again good money (and little competition) on offer.
It's like "Survivor," but without the tiki torches or exotic locales.
And members of the "tribe" vote off books instead of people
It's Canada Reads (decent site, by the way), of course, which starts 21 February !
An interesting selection of titles, which includes Frank Parker Day's 1928 Rockbound and Leonard Cohen's 1966 Beautiful Losers.
(Who came up with this list ?)
It's no The Morning News Tournament of Books (not that we really get what the hell that's meant to be about either), but it might be fun.
We're not great fans of the literary agency function, but given the hurdles foreign language literature faces in getting published in the US and UK we understand such agencies can be of some use, so we warily greet the Thailand Rights Center, as described in Woranuj Maneerungsee's article, Literary agency seeks deals abroad:
Thailand's first literary rights agency with a directive to export literary works written in Thai and other languages in the region globally has been set up.
No separate site yet, but they're a part of Direct Media Group.
There's extraordinarily little South East Asian (not including India) literature available in English, so anything they can do would be welcome.
They do seem to have set their sights a bit high however, as the overly (indeed, absurdly) optimistic projection suggests:
The agency expects to sell copyrights for 200 works this year.
What's so good about the new generation of book programmes is their low-key approach, and the very readable quality of the books they are discussing.
We recently mentioned the forthcoming Richard & Judy's Book Club-competition, Page Turners (both of which she discusses), but only now noticed their original press release, which lists the "strict criteria " according to which books were selected:
The book must be a page turner in the truest sense -- a compelling read that you are unable to put down
It is important that it is accessible for the audience and has broad appeal
The book must be a springboard for debate -- a real 'talk about' book
Books need to be distinctive and surprising, to introduce the audience to titles they may never have considered, which will really excite them
We're still not sure how exactly Nigella Lawson's Feast qualifies, but apparently no one is complaining .....
The book was published by the Harbin Publishing House in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.
Book dealers in various parts of China have purchased all 8,000 copies of the first printing, and the book can be bought at all bookstores across China now.
The film version of 2002 Nobel laureate's Sorstalanság (Fateless, recently also published in a new translation as Fatelessness) was shown at the Budapest Film Festival last week (see, for example, this AP report).
The producers originally couldn't come to an agreement with the Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin (popularly known as the Berlinale) to show it there, but in a last minute (or actually apparently: after the last minute) reversal it was accepted in the main competition; see the press release: Fateless new entry in the Berlinale Competition (or this AP report).
To make room for it Chris Terrio's Heights was apparently unceremoniously dumped .....
A 'book' in five days.
That's what Mara Reinstein and Joey Bartolomeo -- writers at Us Weekly -- have done: 40,000 words (on Brad & 'Jen', who have apparently broken up, which is apparently of interest to someone out there) in less than a week.
Alex French interviews the two 'authors' in this week's issue of New York:
Bob Wallace, the head of Wenner Books, said it had to be 40,000 words, which I didn’t really understand -- all I knew was that an Us Weekly cover story is, like, 1,300 words, so I knew it would be a lot.
See also Keith Kelly's report in the New York Post -- which notes that Mara Reinstein: "was originally assigned to the project alone" (she's the one who "didn’t really understand" that complicated 40,000-word concept, so you see why they'd want someone to maybe help her out).
What is nice to see is that no one seems to have pre-ordered this title at Amazon.com (sales rank, last we checked: 225,875) -- though we fear it'll do reasonably well on the supermarket racks.
It's always fun when the British Public Lending Right statistics come out, revealing the most borrowed titles and authors from British libraries (July 2003 - June 2004 is the latest period covered).
Among the depressing statistics: fiction borrowing is down over 5 per cent (from 50.18 % to 47.63 % of total borrowing).
The Most Borrowed Authors have remained amazingly stable: only one author dropped out of the top twenty from last year.
See also the Top 100 Authors and the Most Borrowed Titles
The BBC notes, Austen tops romantic novel poll (link first seen at places for writers).
The poll is the Valentine Poll of the Romantic Novelists’ Association -- who, we'd suggest, may have a very different notion of 'romantic' than most.
They also offer a prize, the FosterGrant Reading Glasses Romantic Novel of the Year Award (hey ! that's almost as catchy as 'Man Booker').
The recent shortlist-announcement is oddly headlined: 'ANDREA LEVY SHORTLISTED FOR THIRD LITERARY PRIZE', which must thrill the other finalists no end.
(Also: everybody seems to be ignoring the fact that Levy has previously also made the Commonwealth Writers' Prize finals, winning the Best Book category in the Eurasia Region -- and though it may be a close call, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize strikes us just a tad more prestigious than the FosterGrant Reading Glasses Romantic Novel of the Year Award.)
Murray Bail's much-acclaimed Eucalyptus was on the verge of being made into a film, starring Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman.
Everyone was all set, but earlier in the week there were reports of slight delays as Rain puts dampener on shooting Hollywood film, which were then followed by more serious problems.
As reported in, for example, The Australian and The Hollywood Reporter (here at The Book Standard), production has now been postponed indefinitely -- an incredibly costly nightmare for all involved.
The reason ?
Fox Searchlight Pictures president Peter Rice is quoted as explaining:
After consulting with all the creative elements involved in Eucalyptus, we have collectively agreed that the screenplay is not where we need it to be.
Maybe he means that it's still in the offices in Hollywood, not on location down under ?
Okay, maybe not.
But it's sort of nice to see that there is an industry that is even less professional than publishing.
Getting this close to starting a $25 million movie shoot without an acceptable script seems one of the more obvious mistakes one would want to avoid (coming right after not having enough money to finish the film, and not having cast the film).
Of course, working on the script while shooting is even in progress is not unheard of in Hollywood; still, you'd figure somebody would have noticed earlier that this script wasn't good enough.
(Matters are apparently complicated here because the script is by the person hired to direct the film, Jocelyn Moorhouse, while Crowe both acts in the film and is the executive producer .....)
Andrey Kurkov, author of the enjoyable Death and the Penguin, seems to be quite popular in the Ukraine, where he lives, and much of the West.
Aida Edemariam reports in The Guardian that the one place his work hasn't taken off is Russia:
Kurkov says he has never been reviewed in Russia, even though he writes in Russian, but that for a while he sold well on the internet, classified as a cult author.
No longer -- he hasn't sold there for nearly three years.
And a publishing house in St Petersburg that expressed interest in taking him up has fallen silent.
What the hell is going on ?
Well, politics apparently; see the rest of Edemariam's piece.
A depressing and ridiculous situation.
A reader alerts us to Sarah Maguire's interesting piece on Translation in the Poetry Review.
She's the founder and director of The Poetry Translation Centre at SOAS (a site well worth visiting, as we've mentioned previously), and that informs part of her take.
What concerns me in this essay is the response of the British "literary establishment" to translating poetry.
Outside the pale, a growing number of translations of non-European poetry are being published, notably of Arabic verse.
The results in this instance, though highly commendable, are as yet uneven, and the work often appears to be aimed at an audience interested in Arabic culture rather than in poetry per se, though this does appear to be changing as standards are raised and more mainstream literary organisations, publishers and venues begin to take Arabic poetry seriously.
However, this is very different from the response given to many contemporary East European and Russian poets (Brodsky, Milosz, Herbert, Holub, Sorescu, Szymborska: all translated to a very high standard) whose new books tend to be read and reviewed on the same terms as English-language poets, and whose translations are included in anthologies alongside poems in English without a second thought.
Indeed, contemporary poets from the old Eastern Bloc countries are far better known in the UK than those from Western Europe.
I also feel very strongly that poetry in English -- particularly poetry in this bland, grey land -- is vitally in need of what Palestinian, Arabic, or indeed, non-European poetry in general can bring us.
Contemporary British poetry is badly in need of an aesthetic injection.
Months before even the longlist is to be announced -- and before many of the books that are expected to contend for the prize have been published -- Ladbrokes lists Ian McEwan's Saturday as a 4 to 1 favourite for the Man Booker Prize.
The great reviews explain it -- and there seems little question that it will make one of the final cuts.
But remember: this is the Man Booker: McEwan has won before -- but for the weak Amsterdam, while his best work to date, Atonement (which most of the reviewers so far have agreed is superior to Saturday) didn't get the prize.
See also the report in the Daily Telegraph
(Story first seen at Maud Newton)
Michael Standaert of Nipposkiss has grand ambitions: to read William T. Vollmann's seven-volume Rising Up and Rising Down -- and to chronicle his adventures (and reactions) at a dedicated Rising Up and Rising Down weblog.
He's serious, and he's probably up to it: last year he read the whole Tim LaHaye/Jerry Jenkins Left Behind-series.
Anyone who can survive that .....
The purpose of this weblog for which these simple stories introduce is to offer a close reading of William T. Vollmann’s Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom, and Urgent Means.
I’m not aware if anyone else has been doing this, but if you are, please let me know as I’d like to compare notes.
Rising Up and Rising Down is actually a book we've been planning to review for about a year now, but organisationally (and conceptually) it has defeated us so far.
Maybe Standaert's approach will help.
Meanwhile: links of interest: