They've announced the winners of the Galaxy® British Book Awards -- the so-called 'Nibbies' (or, as they like to style themselves: "the Oscars of the book trade").
Adding insult to the injury of On Chesil Beach having been ignored by the major British literary awards, Ian McEwan picks up not one but two of these 'awards': the book was named 'Galaxy Book of the Year', and McEwan now proudly can call himself (as no doubt he will) the 'Reader's Digest Author of the Year'.
See also coverage at The Telegraph.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of S.Y.Agnon's To this Day.
More than half a century after it first came out in Hebrew, the Nobel laureate's last novel has finally been translated into English.
The April issue of Poetry is 'The Translation Issue', and it's well worth your while.
A great selection of poets, poems, and translators, and with useful 'Translator's Notes' for each poem (or set of poems).
Some creative takes, too, such as Frederick Seidel's 'tribute', Mu'allaqa by Imru'al-qays.
The only thing missing ?
How about the originals (i.e. the poems in their original versions/languages) ?
In The word reflected in the mirror of society in the China Daily they survey the Chinese literary scene, as awards-season has apparently begun there
Among the points of interest: one-time Minister of Culture Wang Meng prefers author- over book-prizes:
The Chuang Chung-wen Literature Awards are unique because they honor writers on the basis of their "overall contribution to literature and society, and not on their short-term merits or fame earned through their bestselling works, if any", Wang said at the opening ceremony of the Chuang Chung-wen awards.
During the 11th National People's Congress' (NPC) first annual session last month, NPC deputy and popular novelist Ling Jiefang (alias Er Yuehe) submitted a controversial proposal to raise the standard of contemporary Chinese literature.
The Henan-born writer suggested that the country set up a Chinese equivalent to the Nobel Literature Prize and exempt writers' royalties from income tax.
This is important because many contemporary Chinese writers "lack creativity and originality", says Er Yuehe, who became one of the first millionaire writers in China in 2001.
(We have to admit, however, that we don't really get the connexion between creatvity and originality and paying taxes
By late last year, at least 40 netizen-generated fantasy novels had gone offline, with each selling more than 100,000 copies, Li says.
"Ten years ago there was a spate of Japanese books and lately there is a curiosity among the fiction-reading public about China," says Jennifer Crewe, editorial director of Columbia University Press, on the phone from New York.
Howard Goldblatt, who has translated 45 books from Chinese, is general editor of the coming HarperCollins series.
He says he has never been in greater demand as a translator.
"I am getting requests, but I have to turn them down because I have a full plate.
And I have a pretty good appetite," he wrote in an email interview from his home in Indiana.
Meanwhile, as to Jiang Rong's book:
According to translator Goldblatt, a lot is riding on the book's success in North America: "If Wolf Totem does well, it could send new readers looking for more from China, at least we all hope so."
And if it flops ?
(As we've mentioned before, this doesn't seem the ideal Chinese novel to pin so many hopes on .....)
Patrick French's V.S.Naipaul-biography, The World Is What It Is, has certainly stirred up quite a debate (see also, for example, our previous mention), but it's good to see that many are willing and able to separate man and books: see, for example, comments at The Reading Experience, and now Magnus Linklater arguing in The Times, VS Naipaul: ignore his life.
Linklater even goes so far as to suggest:
Far from destroying his literary reputation, I suspect that this biography will enhance it.
By refusing to censor its worst secrets, by allowing French free access to all his papers, by guaranteeing his right to free expression and complete independence, Naipaul has demonstrated that in the end the truth is more important than the image.
And that is the emblem of a great writer.
They've announced this year's Pulitzer prize winners.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz beat out Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson and Shakespeare's Kitchen by Lore Segal for the fiction prize.
We didn't have a single of the finalist-titles in any of the categories under review.
So from the publisher’s perspective, this is a really sweet deal.
Preselected works of high quality literature, already translated by very good translators, pre-edited by people at the J-Lit Center, one-stop shopping for the rights, and guaranteed sales of 2,000 copies.
It is a sweet deal -- but we have serious doubts about the efficacy of the programme.
Yes, the works are generally translated by good translators, but a couple of the other aspects are problematic.
'Preselected' first and foremost among them, as well as 'high quality literature' -- a very generous assessment .....
We've reviewed quite a number of JLPP titles, and while they're all of some interest ... well, we're easily interested.
But if we had to make a list of Japanese works that should be made available in English (and French, German, and Russian), this probably wouldn't be it.
One of the off-hand comments that caught my ear was the fact that the people on the JLPP selection committee had access to the sales data for all previously published titles, and that aside from a few exceptions (such as Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories) none of the books sold very well.
I haven’t seen many reviews of the recent JLPP books, and suspect that publishers have come to rely on the 2,000 copies being bought by the J-Lit Center to account for the majority of sales.
Which kind of sucks.
This guaranteed sale should free up the publisher to take a few more risks and do something special for these books.
(These would be prime candidates for some sort of free e-book promotion.)
Hopefully the JLPP will focus on placing their forthcoming titles with presses that are savvy promoters -- a few breakthroughs would do wonders for the J-Lit profile.
The Akutagawa was an exceptionally well-produced title -- with an introduction by Murakami Haruki, good press for it being part of Penguin's experimental new cover effort, etc.
And, of course, it helped that the author (and most of the contents) were familiar .....
So it's disappointing (though hardly surprising) that of all the titles that's the one that took off.
We can certainly attest to the fact that for many of these titles the
push from the publishers has been minimal (practically all the ones we have under review we had to request from the publishers, for example -- i.e. almost none sent them to us on their own initiative, even the houses that regularly send us unsolicited titles) -- and for some of these titles it seems essentially no effort was even made to publicize them.
Yokomori Rika's Tokyo Tango, anybody ?
It doesn't appear that even any of the trade papers bothered with that one .....
Personally, we don't really care whether or not the books sell; the fact that they're available is what thrills us, and even if they're like the output from those state-publishing houses from China (Panda books !) or the old Soviet Union -- heavily subsidized translations that make zero impact on the market -- at least they're there.
But US publishers seem to need that risk/reward equation to really get involved with a title -- otherwise, they'll just let it languish somewhere in their catalogues.
We are glad we were able to read, say, Tokyo Tango, but that pre-selected aspect of the JLPP approach seems particularly problematic -- or rather, foreign publishers' willingness to rely on those pre-selected titles.
Since it's so much cheaper and easier it's presumably harder to say no -- but, again: these are not the Japanese books that seem like the best candidates (in any respect -- from literary quality and significance to market potential) for, for example, the US market.
But given the limited initiative -- with a few very notable exceptions -- English-language publishers show in selecting books it may well be better than any of the alternatives.
Again: we don't really care that the books are market-duds.
If that's what the Japanese government wants to spend money on, more power to them and we're behind them all the way -- though our preference would, as always, be to channel the subsidy so as to make the books cheaper.
Dalkey Archive Press has two new JLPP titles out, for example, and they're both in hardcover (and priced $22.95 and $21.95).
Understandable: if JLPP is going to pick up (and pay for) 2000 of those it makes sense to price them as prohibitively as possible.
But wouldn't they likely sell better as $5.99 paperbacks ?
There are a hell of a lot of books we'd take a risk on if they were more affordable .....
(Our dream, of course, would be to have them in mass-market paperback format -- or, better still, in imitation of Japanese books, truly pocket-sized .....)
Of course, in the US it may well make sense to price translated literature on the higher end, since it is perceived as a more 'elitist' type of book (hey, even the NYTBR doesn't seem to want to touch the stuff with a ten foot pole (see our previous mention) ...) and the snob-appeal may be a distinct selling point, and maybe the professionals know best.
(And it should be noted that rock-bottom prices for those Chinese and Soviet paperbacks didn't seem to do wonders for their sales either -- though we purchased piles of them over the years.)
But if the books haven't been selling well -- and if the goal really is to reach as wide an audience as possible, rather than, say, make as many different translations as possible available -- , maybe it's time to look at going about this a different way .....
up the Scoop Review of Books, and if the pieces are a bit thin so far we still like the ideas, like finding out about the reception of Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip in Bougainville.
And maybe they're trying a bit too hard, but we like their approach, as suggested in their introduction:
We’re casting a wide net and have already sent a note to the Queen asking whether she would be willing to review Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader (a highly recommended tale on what would happen if the Queen developed a taste for reading)
We’ll let you know her response.
The New York Round Table® Writers' Conference
takes place 11 - 12 April, with any number of interesting events and panels.
Among them: local barkeep M.A.Orthofer will appear on the panel on 'The Digerati: Online Writing and Blogging'.
But a fierce Internet and newspaper war has broken out.
It is not new, for younger writers have for years complained that publishers would never touch a book that did not present Africa as exotic.
Witness the runaway success of The Famished Road or the Abyssinian Chronicles: African literature typecast, exiled to the realms of the phantasmagorical.
And he writes:
Look closely and you see that those 1960s books have something in common with the 1960s spinning mills, universities, airlines and agricultural research stations.
We had chased away the white man and we wanted to prove we could do the same things he did.
Soon, everything went moribund. The paint peeled. The ironwork was pilfered to make hoes.
Books are meant to be read in trains, on buses, hidden under office desks. In the hands of professors, they start to die. Generations of university professors killed African books by turning them into a witchdoctor’s props.
The Complete Short Stories by Agnes Owens is just out from Polygon (see their publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.co.uk) and so she's been getting some deserved attention, including now this interview by Chitra Ramaswamy in Scotland On Sunday.
See also reviews by:
Allan Massie in The Scotsman -- who finds: "This collection is splendid, the rich harvest of a writing life and a life before writing. Owens is a rare treasure. If you don't already know her work, you have a treat in store."
We recently discussed the
New York Times Book Review's coverage (or rather: lack thereof) of translated titles, and note that the streak continues with the 6 April issue, in which 15 titles are reviewed (all in full-length reviews) and not a one was originally written in a foreign language.
That makes three of the past four issues in which there hasn't been a single review of any title originally written in a foreign language.
So much for Douglas Kibbee's observation that: "Now it's rare to go a single issue without having a translated work in it."
(And it looks like the streak will continue: as best we can tell, no translated titles are scheduled for review -- at least of the full-length variety -- in the 13 April issue either.)
To us, it simply seems unreasonable (indeed unbelievable) that a leading, New York-based book review forum thinks it's covering the literary world and the books of importance and yet manages to review so few books originally written in foreign languages.
We've mentioned Patrick French's V.S.Naipaul-biography, The World Is What It Is, and it's been getting considerable review coverage in the UK (with a repeat performance to presumably follow in the US in November when the book finally comes out there ...).
Now the Sunday Times gets the author of the previously most notorious Sir Vidia account, Sir Vidia's Shadow, Paul Theroux, to write about it.
Theroux finds: "It seems that I didn’t know the half of all the horrors", and that:
French’s story is told with such completeness that it is less a strictly literary biography than a case study in narcissism.
And Naipaul’s pathology is central to the tale; his writing peripheral.
Theroux also believes:
It is not a pretty story; it will probably destroy Naipaul’s reputation for ever, this chronicle of his pretensions, his whoremongering, his treatment of a sad, sick wife and disposable mistress, his evasions, his meanness, his cruelty amounting to sadism, his race baiting.
But what reputation will it destroy ?
Surely he's long had a reputation as a pretty miserable human being, and certainly one imagines he'll have a harder time picking up women nowadays -- but most of this doesn't seem to have much to do with his writing.
As Theroux said: in French's account, Naipaul's writing is peripheral.
Yet for his readers, the writing is everything, and the only thing.
Since most of us will never have to worry about encountering the man in the flesh, but rather can focus on his work ... well, who cares what a miserable S.O.B. he was and is ?
(See also This Space's post about one reader who can't separate the books from the writer.)
The Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction got a lot of flak for inviting young entertainer Lily Allen to be a judge for this year's prize, and now, just before the shortlist is due out, she's made their choice look even more foolish, as she's decided it's not worth the trouble after all and has quit on them.
She already skipped one of the last judging-sessions, but they were in a forgiving mood about that:
A spokesman for the awards insists Allen had a valid reason for her absence, saying, "Actually she was feeling depressed, but she did call us by phone."
It follows a traumatic few months for Miss Allen, who suffered a miscarriage, then split from boyfriend, musician Ed Simons of the Chemical Brothers.
In addition, her new TV chat show has been panned by critics.
But you don't see other literary judges -- some of whom have surely suffered similar life-tragedies and -disappointments over the course of the long prize-judging-season --
backing down from their commitments, especially at such a late date in the process.
(Given that they'd already settled on a longlist -- meaning Allen had surely read all the titles left in the running (surely ...) -- it seems like the hardest and most time-consuming part was already over .....)
The Orion Publishing Group, which bought the firm from co-founder George Weidenfeld in 1991, is aiming to reduce W&N's non-fiction output from 100 to 50 books a year, according to a report in The Bookseller magazine.
The move follows three job losses in its non-fiction editorial team.
And apparently there's to be a shift from: "serious history books in favour of 'crappy' celebrity biographies and TV spin-offs".
We don't really get the business-practise of buying a 'name' imprint (as Orion described W&N: "an established brand name with a consistent history of quality publishing"), only then to run it down and ruin its reputation.
But then most publishers' 'business' plans are beyond our very limited comprehension .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Alberto Manguel's The Library at Night.
This actually came out in Canada two years ago, but only now has found a US publisher -- and it's not the first Manguel title to suffer this sort of delay.
What is also interesting is that, though originally published by Knopf (Canada) the US publisher is a university press -- Yale University Press.
It seems to us that we've been coming across more and more of these -- books published by 'regular' houses (and generally even large ones -- i.e. not non-profits or tiny independents) in the UK or also Canada, that then get published by a university press in the US.
These are generally more commercial titles -- i.e. with some mainstream appeal, such as this book (or, for example, Jim Endersby's A Guinea Pig's History of Biology, published by Heinemann in the UK last year and now by Harvard University Press
in the US)
-- but it makes us wonder about what both mainstream and university presses in the US now think of the market and their mandates.
Are university presses going more commercial (and at what cost ?) ?
Are mainstream publishers increasingly unwilling to take even the slightest risks, even with books that previously did fairly well elsewhere ?
Whatever the case, it doesn't look like a great development to us.
When Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française came out Alice Kaplan's review in The Nation stood out among the general almost hysterical excitement; now with the fuss about Némirovsky's David Golder (see, for example, Ruth Franklin's comments) and the new Everyman's Library collection (which collects three more Némirovsky-novellas along with David Golder) Kaplan's look at this Gray Area of French fiction in the current issue of The Nation -- which also considers Philippe Grimbert's Memory (properly also criticising the American publisher's choice of titles ...), as well as La Vie d'Irène Némirovsky by Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt, Le Mirador by Elisabeth Gille, and Shadows of a Childhood by Elisabeth Gille -- is also well worth a look.
As the Weekly went to press, writers from across the Arab world were gathering at the Salah Eddin Citadel in Cairo to celebrate the inauguration of new premises for both the Egyptian and the Arab Writers Unions.
Last night's opening ceremony, attended by minister of culture Farouk Hosni, was scheduled to include the awarding of prizes for creative writing and literary criticism, as well as of certificates of merit to the heads of the various Arab writers unions.
We've mentioned Daniil Kharms -- and the recent collection of his writings, Today I Wrote Nothing, in Matvei Yankelevich's translation (see the Overlook publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- several times, and now in The Moscow Times Benjamin Paloff discusses it, in The Small Print, -- and suggests:
But for the sizeable army of inadvertent imitators and the would-be trendsetters who enter American creative writing programs each year intending to reshape modernity, there is a growing catalog of what should be required reading before pen is set to manifesto. And Today I Wrote Nothing might well find itself near the top of that list.
His assessment seems about right:
Kharms practices an almost religious devotion to these "insignificant details."
In small doses, such devotion can be hilarious or horrifying by turns.
At longer stretches, it can be downright numbing. Ultimately, Kharms' attention to the banal is worthwhile because his prose sounds like a deflated fairytale, his poems like deconstructed nursery rhymes.
With accumulation, the details of his world lose their luster and become merely endless repetitions of the quotidian.
While this effect may fall well within Kharms' philosophy of art, it also makes for a slow and sometimes stultifying experience of the prose.
Similarly, the English renderings of the poems are not nearly as jaunty as their Russian originals, which may be ascribed in part to the erratic punctuation of Kharms' manuscripts and the decision, however admirable from a scholarly standpoint, to preserve it here.
How very exciting to find that, at least on the American Amazon.com site, Roberto Bolaño's 2666, in Natasha Wimmer's translation, can now be pre-ordered (and judging by the sales ranks, some people already have).
Better yet, FSG is apparently making it available both in a three-paperback-volume boxed set (pre-order here) as well as a 912-page hardcover (pre-order here) -- both available on 11 November.
Put us down for the paperbacks -- though we're pretty sure they won't be in the convenient mass-market-size.
Though given how
Bolaño-mania continues to rage, FSG might want to start stocking supermarket racks with his books .....
2666 just came out in France, too, leading to considerable coverage, and surely this has got to be one of the most-anticipated fall publications in the US.
(No word about -- or Amazon.co.uk listing for -- the UK edition, however .....)
Note that Anagrama has a new Spanish edition out too (get your copy at Amazon.com) -- and see also their foreign rights information page.
Also at the Anagrama site -- though only in the dreaded pdf format -- Natasha Wimmer's very useful essay on Roberto Bolaño and The Savage Detectives.
(And see now also David Orr, Carmine Starnino, and Marcela Valdes on The Savage Detectivesat Bookninja -- or refer, of course, to our review.)
At Transitions Online Lena Smirnova writes about The Philosopher-King, Uzbekistan's prolific head of state, Islam Abduganievich Karimov (see also his biography at the
Uzbek 'Portal of the State Authority' ...).
He's yet another one of these ridiculous post-Soviet dictators who thinks he has all the answers (all evidence -- and we mean all -- to the contrary), and he has, of course, written many, many books -- and they're required reading at school.
Which seems to be working out really well.
Amazingly, he has had one of his books -- Uzbekistan On the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century: Challenges to Stability and Progress -- published by Palgrave Macmillan (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Timothy Brook, Jérôme Bourgon, and Gregory Blue's look at the (in)famous Chinese execution method of lingchi (凌遲) in Death by a Thousand Cuts.
At Russia Profile Dmitry Babich writes about Prized Russian Speakers, discussing, for example, the Russian Foundation for International and Humanitarian Cooperation -- and finding that:
Artistic fiction, despised and neglected during the 1990s as an outdated remnant of the Soviet period, when Russian people allegedly lived in a fictional world, is at the foreground of Russia’s promoters’ activities.
"The best export Russia can make, after oil and gas, is artistic fiction," said Dmitry Bykov, one of the best known modern Russian fiction writers.
"When one goes to, say, the Frankfurt book fair, there is almost no need to promote the Russian delegation.
Even when we discuss politics, as happened in Poland, it is always an interesting and passionate discussion."
There's also some discussion about the translation prizes that Academia Rossica has established, but of particular interest is the Русская Премия.
As they describe it at the Academia Rossica site, the:
Russkaya Premiya, the unique Russian award for Russian-speaking writers of the near abroad, is annually adjudged to writers of the CIS (except for Russia) and the Baltic states who write in Russian.
An interesting idea -- though even more than UK prizes that allow Commonwealth submissions this prize comes with some heavy historical baggage: after all, the reason most of these authors can write and speak Russian is a legacy of Soviet times, when it was imposed on them (or their parents, etc.).
Still, with Chingiz Aitmatov chairing this year's jury (the award ceremonies are on 8 April) it seems to be taken pretty seriously.
With a new book (The Enchantress of Florence) just out in the UK -- and not yet available in the US -- we'd have figured Salman Rushdie would be doing the book-tour-thing in the UK right now.
Instead, he made time to pick up yet another honorary doctorate -- and a wad of cash (a "sizeable sum" is as precise as they get ...) -- by appearing
at Chapman University in California.
Marla Jo Fisher reports on the visit for the Orange County Register -- and we're pleased to hear that: "The author decried the increasing trend among readers to read non-fiction rather than fiction" (even though we're not really sure there is any such trend ...).
And, as usual, he does offer entertainment value:
"One of the strangest things is how people want to be the model for your characters, even if you've never met them," Rushdie said.
"One time in Bombay, a woman smacked me with her fan and said 'Naughty boy.'
I said, 'Who the hell are you?'
After the woman insisted she had been the model for one of his fictional characters, Rushdie said he pointed out to the woman that they'd never met.
"She said, "I've already forgiven you, so let's not go on about it."
As, for example, Patrick Bérubé reports in Original European comic art auction sets new record, a Hergé original -- the cover for the 1932 Tintin en Amérique -- went for a cool million dollars at auction over the weekend.
Maybe those comic-book-artists are onto something: you certainly can't resell just plain words (or even most manuscripts) for that kind of money.
No news up at the official site, last we checked, but at Publishers Weekly Edward Nawotka has the scoop: Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip has won the 2008 Kiriyama Prize (well, the fiction-half -- The Fragile Edge by Julia Whitty took the non-fiction half).
The new Australian PM Kevin Rudd has set up the new Prime Minister's Literary Awards -- which "celebrate the contribution of Australian literature to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life" -- and it turns out they really, really are the Prime Minister's Literary Awards.
As, for example, Rosemary Sorensen reports in The Australian, some of the judges were surprised to learn that Rudd has final say on literary awards:
Kevin Rudd has reserved the right to overrule the judges of the inaugural Prime Minister's Literary Awards, with those chosen to pick the winners discovering only yesterday that their word may not be final.
"I'd be extremely pissed off if our recommendations were not accepted," said author John Marsden, one of the "six eminent Australians" announced yesterday for the judging panel.
"I'm sure in practical terms they've only put that in in case we do something scurrilous."
Former chair of Australian Literature at James Cook University Peter Pierce, who is chairman of the fiction panel for the new Prime Minister's Literary Awards, said he, like Marsden, had been unaware their selection would be only a recommendation.
You'd think some of these 'eminent Aussies' would have bothered to take a glance at the guidelines (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) for the prize they were signing up for, which clearly state:
The Prime Minister will make the final decision on the awarding of the Awards, taking into account the recommendations of the judges.
So there's no excuse for them being surprised.
Outraged, maybe -- but the time to complain would have been earlier.
But our favourite guideline is:
Works may be entered in either the Fiction or Non-Fiction category of these awards but may not be entered in both.
We have five of Leon de Winter's novels under review, and continue to be surprised that he's not 'made it' in the English-speaking world yet.
Indeed, he's barely been translated into English.
Now, in A Dutchman on the edge, Calev Ben-David reviews his Hoffman's Hunger in The Jerusalem Post, and thinks it's about time he caught on:
Toby Press (...) has now made available a translation of de Winter's 1990 novel Hoffman's Hunger, providing him with an auspicious debut for English readers.
Maybe not so much.
For one, no one seems to have noticed (there's that review in the Financial Times, and ours, and that's about it ...).
For another, the 'debut' actually occurred in 1995, when that translation first appeared in English (the Toby Press edition is just a new edition) -- but it sank pretty much without a trace then either (and never even made it to the US at the time).
(And this for a book that was also made into a film (in 1993), starring Elliott Gould and Jacqueline Bisset.)
Few Dutch writers have ever found much of an audience outside the borders of the Netherlands.
A notable exception in recent years is Harry Mulisch, author of such novels as The Assault and The Kingdom of Heaven[sic], which also could be described as philosophical thrillers that touch on Jewish themes, and I was reminded of his work while reading this book.
De Winter clearly deserves the same kind of international exposure, and Hoffman's Hunger is a good start.
He's written half a dozen other novels, most of them dealing with Jewish characters, that also await translation.
How about it, Toby Press ?
Let's be clear: de Winter is not in the same class as Mulisch.
But he does deserve at least similar exposure -- and he's an entertaining and lightly thought-provoking author; John Irving still seems like the best comparison.
(Fortunately, Toby Press does seem committed to translating more of his books -- God's Gym should be next up.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review-overview of Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence (and, yes, we'll be adding those new links and review-quotes as they appear in the coming weeks -- and maybe even get around to reviewing it ourselves, once it is released in the US at the end of May ...).