Publishers Weekly has an early review of Vladimir Nabokov's eagerly awaited The Original of Laura up, and finds:
This very unfinished work reads largely like an outline, full of seeming notes-to-self, references to source material, self-critique, sentence fragments and commentary
(Hmmm, that Playboy excerpt sounds like it's going to be a real dud.)
But I am very curious how this thing will look, as:
Knopf is publishing the book in an intriguing form: Nabokovís handwritten index cards are reproduced with a transcription below of each cardís contents, generally less than a paragraph.
The scanned index cards (perforated so they can be removed from the book) are what make this book an amazing document; they reveal Nabokovís neat handwriting (a mix of cursive and print) and his own edits to the text: some lines are blacked out with scribbles, others simply crossed out. Words are inserted, typesetting notes ("no quotes") and copyedit symbols pepper the writing, and the reverse of many cards bears a wobbly X.
Now that I have a copy of Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice a proper review will be up soon -- but given how many reviews have already appeared I've put up a place-holder review-overview page for now.
Links to nineteen reviews already, and more surely on the way each day (which will promptly be added to that page).
Or: example #752 why I do not understand how the publishing 'business' works.
So: I just posted a review Philippe Claudel's Brodeck's Report.
That's the title it appeared under when it was published in the UK a few months back; it's now available in the US, as Brodeck.
Normally, I'd scratch my head at why the British and American publishers can't agree on the same title, but, hey, I'm just glad it's recognizably the same book -- unlike with Claudel's previously translated novel -- published as Grey Souls in the UK and By a Slow River in the US .....
No, what bothers me is that I first became aware that this book was available in the US when I saw it in a bookstore.
It was vaguely on my radar because I'd seen some of the UK reviews, but I figured I'd hear about it as the US publication date approached.
I do pay particular attention to what new titles come out in translation -- and, sure, I should have noticed the PWreview (starred !) back in April, but I find it pretty hard to keep track of forthcoming publications on the basis of the endless PW advance reviews -- and this completely slipped by unnoticed by me.
Given that I had reviewed (quite favorably) the first Claudel, and that over the past year alone I've covered about 40 titles originally written in French, maybe a publicist somewhere might have mentioned this book to me (or offered to send a copy ...), but I didn't hear a word from Doubleday.
(Not about this title; in the same time-span they did pitch another one -- by an author not under review at the complete review, and one who writes in English (but -- good call -- one whose early books I am familiar with and which I was glad to learn about and did, in fact, ask for (and receive) a copy of).)
Granted, Doubleday probably (maybe ?) would have sent a copy of Brodeck had I asked; as is, there were already copies in the New York Public Library system, so it was easier for me to get a copy there.
I've been moaning a lot recently about how I've had trouble getting review copies from (major) publishers (oddly, the minors/independents are as helpful as ever).
I can understand how Random House/Doubleday/Nan A. Talese (god, how I love these layers of publishers ...) might not want to bother, even in a case like this: the complete review may be a good match for a book, and a venue where it's likely to be covered, but it's not a print review, etc. etc.
I can understand how the complete review might be priority B (or C or F).
But I have to assume that if you're not going to make much of an effort to reach out to places like the complete review then there's a better plan in place.
Given that I -- an interested reader, always on the lookout for fiction in translation -- only learned about the book when I saw it in a bookstore (and was able to obtain it from the NYPL essentially instantly, because none of the (all of) three copies (!) they have had been checked out (i.e. no one else had heard of this book either)), I have to wonder what exactly the publicity plan here was.
It got great reviews in the UK, and decent coverage there -- did they think they could coast on that ?
Yes, Brodeck has gotten a few US reviews -- in the San Francisco Chronicle (bad luck: probably the worst it's gotten so far), as well as the Boston Globe and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel -- but doesn't seem to have registered particularly widely.
As it happens, I rather disliked it -- Claudel forces too many issues for my tastes -- but on the whole it's been fairly widely acclaimed, and sure sounds like a book that there's an audience for.
But what's the plan for reaching that audience ?
This really looks like a book they literally just tossed on the market, hoping for the best .....
(And I do have to add one point re. the different UK/US titles: ridiculously the US edition of Brodeck lists books: 'Also by Philippe Claudel Published in English' at the front of the book -- and lists both (!) By a Slow River and Grey Souls (i.e. the same book under both the US and UK title).
Sadly this then leads reviewers to make statements claiming of Brodeck: "This is the third of Claudel's novels to be translated into English" .....
(Sorry, it's only the second, as even the most basic research would reveal .....))
"I feel bilingualism makes one more creative.
It takes the writing to a new horizon and enhances the thought process," Ghosh observed while responding to queries at a congregation of writers and academicians organized by an Oriya daily here on Wednesday.
And, less convincingly:
"This tension of being a bilingual helps a lot in sharpening the mind.
That is why Indian writers are widely read across the world," he pointed out.
As if bi- (and multi-)lingualism weren't widespread throughout the world (it's (almost) just Americans and Brits that are monolingual, after all) !
Come on, Amitav -- the success of Indian writers (writing in English, mind you -- those bilingual authors who write in other languages don't seem to have made much of an impact 'across the world', do they ?) is due to quite a few other factors, too.
And then there's the truly nutty:
According to the bestseller, bilingualism has been viewed with skewed eyes even in several developed countries.
"In Japan it was considered a disease. In France children were punished. In Holland they at one time stopped teaching Dutch!" he said.
I must have missed when the Dutch stopped teaching Dutch .....
(Yes, yes, no doubt there was some Wallonian backlash against the teaching of Dutch at some point, but come on ......)
And, of course, he's not helped by transcription that puts sentences like this in his mouth:
"I use a lot of native words in my books which long back found place in the English dictionary," said Ghosh.
In Al-Ahram Weekly, 'Youssef Rakha quizzes out novelist Ibrahim Farghali on his greatest masterpiece to date' in Sons of Mahfouz.
The book is أبناء الجبلاوي ('Sons of Al-Gabalawi'), and Rakha writes:
Yet from a history-of-literature point of view, Abnaa Al-Gabalwi is probably the closest we have come to a fulfilment of the prophecy that a home-grown magic realist movement would emerge in the new millennium
See also the complete review review of Farghali's The Smiles of the Saints; I look forward to the translation of this one.
I can't imagine this will ever get translated, but I have to admit that I am curious: in The Korea Times Han Sang-hee reviews (scroll down) Choi Min-ho's Outernet, summarizing the plot as follows:
Ma Sun-won, a student from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, is mesmerized by two interesting inventions called the "tulapulines," and the "flowertelescope."
The tulapulines is a new type of plant made up of tulips, lilies and the carnivorous plant nepenthes, while the flowertelescope enables people to actually communicate with plants.
Wanting to introduce them to the Korean public, Ma travels to Japan and the Netherlands to seek the two inventions, only to find himself caught in the middle of a murder case.
Little does he know that the murderer is a nonbeliever of genetically modified organisms and will do anything to stop further experiments and inventions concerning them.
Ma is then targeted as the murdered and he runs for his life, still seeking to prove his innocence and bring the two inventions to Korea.
In the TLS James Campbell looks at The real Raymond Carver, discussing: 'How an editor's pencil created an author's literary style -- and how an author's wife has undone it' in his review of the forthcoming Library of America edition of Carver's Collected Stories -- and finding:
What is certain is that the Library of America Collected Stories is a fascinating event, and that if you havenít read it you cannot claim, in the fullest sense, to have read Raymond Carver, whoever he may be.
See also the Library of America publicity page, or pre-order your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
I never really got Carver (or Gordon Lish, come to think of it), but maybe I should have a look at this.
Or maybe not.
So, they've announced the longlist for the Man Booker Prize, picking thirteen titles from 132 (of which eleven were called in by the judges).
None of the books are under review at the complete review, though there are review-overviews of two of them.
The longlisted titles are (not all yet available -- especially in the US):
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Muriel Barbery's Gourmet Rhapsody (to be published in the UK as The Gourmet; don't get me started ...).
Given the success of The Elegance of the Hedgehog this should at least attract some attention (she wrote this one first -- and it's also set in the same building as The Elegance of the Hedgehog).
(It is also holding up very well in France -- first published in 2000, its Amazon.fr sales-rank was 79, last I checked.)
The naysayers, in this case, were right.
HarperCollins published The Kindly Ones (its American title) on March 1 with an announced first printing of 150,000 copies; according to Nielsen BookScan (which captures approximately 70% of sales) the book has sold just 17,000 copies to date.
Ironically, another novel set during Hitler's reign and published on the same day as The Kindly Ones is emerging as a surprise hit.
If you believe that readers are only interested in one Holocaust novel per season -- as some booksellers do -- Melville House's Every Man Dies Alone is that book.
Of course, it isn't quite David v. Goliath -- except for the publishers involved.
Littell's book was a blockbuster in France but -- let's face it -- is just not very good.
Fallada's books doesn't strike me as superlative, either, but is certainly a few cuts above (though also not entirely comparable) -- but, while this title is a relative novelty, Fallada has certainly outsold Littell (globally) by an enormous margin (on the back of a lot more books, admittedly) and hence not exactly some unknown (even if in the US he counts as a rediscovery ...).
Certainly, Melville House deserves the success -- and HarperCollins should learn to make more realistic bids for books .....
Critics don't need all those free books.
At the Plain Dealer, I got more than 400 books a week from publishers, a landslide hard to handle even with another person helping me.
So from the start I've had a policy of not accepting books or galleys for my blog from publishers.
While I think this policy is admirable -- it does somewhat lessen some conflict of interest possibilities -- I'd find myself (and do find myself) fairly hamstrung without review copies.
While only about half the reviews at the complete review rely on copies provided by publishers, that's a considerable amount, and many of these I would not be able to find without going to considerable trouble and expense, including books from foreign publishers (two reviewed in the last month).
And even US publications are not always readily found: Abdourahman A. Waberi's In the United States of Africa is not available from the New York Public Library system, for example (and the publishers also originally declined to provide me with a review copy; I only received one because it is being considered for the 'Best Translated Book' award).
And while I understand newspaper book review sections receive more submissions -- and I certainly actively discourage most unsolicited submissions -- I've had a devil of a time getting much of anything recently, beyond from a few dependable independent publishers.
If I get ten books a week right now it's a lot .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ignácio de Loyola Brandão's Anonymous Celebrity.
It's fun, but the book I'm really looking forward to is his A última viagem de Borges -- subtitled: uma evocação; see the Global Editora publicity page.
I hope someone has that in the works.
The latest issue of Banipal, the London-based magazine of modern Arab literature, introduces us to a lesser known but important sector of Arab writers in Europe: those who write in Dutch. Ninety-seven pages of the 35th issue of Banipal are devoted to a Writing in Dutch special feature, guest edited and introduced by Dutch poet, journalist and editor Victor Schiferli.
The contents aren't available online, but the table of contents of the 'Writing in Dutch'-issue gives some idea of what's on offer -- looks quite fascinating.
So they're holding the Zimbabwe International Book Fair this week, but, as Mtandazo Dube reports in The Sunday Mail, ZIBF in financial straits, and so:
this year's Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF), which kicks off tomorrow and ends on Saturday, could still lack the glitz and glamour of yesteryear due to financial constraints.
But some still have (unrealistic ?) visions of grandeur:
Chilongo says even though ZIBF may not live up to the standards set before, he is sure that the literature exhibition will eventually reclaim its place as the best and most important book fair in Southern Africa.
"There is no doubt that we will get back to the top, it is just a matter of when. I have been to the Cape Town Book Fair and let me say I have my reservations about the way they conduct their exhibition.
"It is quite big and glamorous, which is a plus, but it lacks that African touch that we have.
"It is like a European festival in Africa and that is not what we want in an African book fair.
I'm all for a distinctive touch, but I'm not quite sure they have the capabilities to provide it -- at least currently.
The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature -- which has its own official website -- is due out soon, and general editor Nicholas Jose introduces it in The Australian, explaining that this: 'new anthology of Australian literature demands fresh ways of looking at the canon', in All our own work.
No Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk listing I could find, as of yet, but see the Allen & Unwin publicity page.
I'm always glad to see the Shahnameh get some attention, and this week Emily Esfahani Smith writes about how: 'The Shahnameh mourns the loss of Iran's pre-Islamic civilization and all that falls prey to time' in Tales of Persia's Wondrous Past.
Check out the recent Dick Davis translation, now out in paperback (and review forthcoming ... eventually); get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
They've announced the longlist for the 2009 Man 'Asian' Literary Prize (which, as longtime readers know, isn't nearly Asian enough for me to claim that name -- no titles by authors from Arabic-speaking countries are eligible, none from Iran, none from the former Soviet Central Asian nations, etc. etc. etc.).
Su Tong is the big name here, but it's also good to see the likes of Mongolia-born Oyungerel Tsedevamba and Bhutan-born Gopilal Acharya.
And by the end of 2010, novels by the following "new" African writers will have been published by some of the biggest names in contemporary publishing: Petina Gappah, Brian Chikwava, Peter Akinti, Chika Unigwe, Adaobi Nwaubani, Teju Cole, Kachi Ozumba and Lola Shoneyin. Six of those will be debut novels.
Most interesting however, and worthy of reflection, is this surprising fact: all but one of the eight names mentioned above live outside the African continent.
[(Updated - 31 July): See the complete reviewreview-overview page (which will soon become the cr review-page) for links to all the reviews I 've come across -- nineteen and counting, so far.
In the UK several early reviews of Thomas Pynchon's eagerly awaited Inherent Vice have appeared.
In The Times Aravind Adiga
Yet, if the caricature and hyperbole sometimes become tedious, the language, often in the same paragraph, can modulate to a spooky level of precision; Pynchon can skewer American popular culture better than anyone else around
Inherent Vice, like any Pynchon novel, gets bogged down in the middle -- the plot becomes incoherent, the characters repetitive -- but to reward you for persevering the last quarter of the book is superb
Unlike much of Pynchon's other work, however, Inherent Vice wears its learning lightly, intermixing it with dialogue that zings, jokes that never overstay their welcome and a stream of hilariously bad puns and wickedly acute observations. Who would have thought it? One of America's most wilful and obscure writers has produced the most enjoyable beach read of the summer.
And see also the review in The List.
Pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
(I'd love to offer review-coverage, but no one has cared to send me a copy yet, despite my request.
[Updated - 29 July: The Penguin Press has efficiently now provided me with a copy; review to follow shortly.])
(Updated - 26 July):
See now additional reviews in:
- The Observerby Sarah Churchwell, who finds: "it is probably Pynchon's most readable novel"
Before the story's end, Pynchon will confront character and reader alike with disintegration, disinheritance, dislocation, dismay; property, security, conservation and conservatism; loss, abandonment, marginalisation, being forgotten or overlooked; the futility of resistance; the pleasures and dangers of popular culture; free will, belief systems, religion and ideology, paranoia and faith; order and chaos, meaning and insignificance. Pynchon tends to spawn such lists, in part because of the proliferating quality of his own ideas and gags, which pinwheel out from metaphorical centres.
Excess is the recurring failure here.
There's also too much druggy humour, too many nubile women throwing themselves at men, too many mentions of the cult-leader killer Charles Manson, and too many sentences ending in ellipses.
But he also finds:
Some of the comedy is very funny, however, and Pynchon's novel is also full of superb dialogue and lovely descriptive passages that show that, at 72, the outstanding gifts that led in the 1960s and 1970s to comparisons with Joyce and Melville have not deserted him.
(Updated - 28 July): See now also Louis Menand's review in The New Yorker.
He finds: "Inherent Vice is a generally lighthearted affair", and that: "Pynchonís capacity for goofball invention is limitless".
In The Times Damian Whitworth profiles David Peace -- and finds:
Peace may sound terribly gloomy, but he wears his gloominess lightly and is very engaging.
The sequel to Peace's Tokyo Year Zero, Occupied City, is due out in the UK soon (pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk) but will still be a while before getting to the United States (but pre-order your copy there at Amazon.com).
At The Guardian Belinda Webb looks at The cost of our dead poets society, arguing that 'The enormous sums spent on dead authors' houses should be used to support those with few other chances to write'.
It;s incomprehensible to me, but apparently a universal truth: covers matter (as opposed to that nearly irrelevant content ...) -- even with religious books in Burma.
As Cherry Thein reports in The Myanmar Times, Sales of religious books covered, as:
Publishers of religion-themed books in Yangon are hoping that new cover designs will help raise readership among laypeople during Buddhist Lent, which this year runs from July 6 to October 3.
(Aside: three months of Lent -- Buddhist or otherwise ?!?)
As Thein notes:
"Many religious books have uninteresting covers so readers think they're boring, or they think they're too difficult for beginners so they don't read them," he said.
One retailer said books printed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which feature plain yellow covers, sell very poorly among the general public.
Surely anything printed by any ministry sells poorly -- isn't that a worldwide given ?
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Guillermo Rosales' The Halfway House.
An affecting book, this was originally published in Spanish with an English title -- Boarding Home -- but that's not the title they used for the US edition (though, oddly, it is the one they used for the German edition ...).
A later Spanish edition was titled La casa de los náufragos, which I rather like -- 'the house of the shipwrecked' -- but American publishers seem to hate shipwrecked titles: recall Miguel Delibes' wonderful Parábola del náufrago -- 'Parable of a Shipwrecked Man' --, published under the banal title of The Hedge
The Aravind Adiga profile by Fiona McCann in the Irish Times, Giving India's poor a voice, is more entertaining than most.
First Adiga acknowledges:
"I've failed at just about everything Iíve tried," says Aravind Adiga with convincing diffidence.
"Which is why Iíve got to be a novelist."
Then he claims -- and who am I to disagree ? --:
"There's very little or no original thinking in The White Tiger," he tells me categorically.
"If you had stayed in India as a novelist and just been alive for the past five or six years, and had any brains about you, you would have written a novel like this.
I don't know why someone else hadn't done it."
But surely no one could have (or should have) come up with the ridiculous epistolary framing device .....
But I do like the way the interview ends:
"Do you cover literature on a regular basis?" he asks, and when I answer in the affirmative, he smiles.
"Are you the person from The Irish Times who was abusing me after the Booker?"
I am reminded that this newspaperís literary correspondent used words like "trite" and "opportunistic" about Adiga's debut, comparing it to "a polemical cartoon for grown-ups".
I hurriedly assure him that I am not said literary correspondent.
"We heard about it in India," Adiga tells me with a smile.
Pakistan Academy of Letters (PAL) has planned to set up a National Translation Bureau to translate Pakistani literature in other foreign languages as well as foreign literature into Pakistani languages.
I couldn't get through to any official site, but have high hopes.
In Prospect John Nathan talks with Notes on a Scandal-author Zoë Heller and Notes on a Scandal-screenwriter Patrick Marber, in When Patrick met Zoë -- and I love the beginning:
Heller: There was this odd moment right at the end of the promotional tour for Notes on a Scandal, when we did this event in LA where they got me to read a section of my book and Patrick to read a section of his script.
At the last minute I realised I didn't have a copy of the book, so Patrick gave me his.
I started flicking through and he'd written comments such as "Boring old crap..." or "Eh??"
Can fiction build or maintain our national identity when we are in such a state of flux, when (despite the official version) no two people in my country can agree on who we are and what we stand for?
In our modern, multicultural world, one that has become geographically unbound, perhaps literature too has become unanchored.
The draft bill for the import and translation of books, which Tamir advanced Monday, says that "the aim of the law is to enable the import of books from any country and to allow their translation into any language in order to guarantee exposure to a large inventory of written literature and to expand the citizen's right to a rich cultural life in his mother tongue."
Tamir's proposal gives security authorities leeway in determining whether to ban the import of a book or periodical containing harmful content and incitement, such as Holocaust denial; encouragement or instructions for terror activities and bomb-making instructions.
"Passing the law will turn Israel into part of an open and global literary world, and will remove sweeping restrictions imposed on the import of books from enemy countries, which are archaic now," explained Tamir.
"Today in any case anyone who so desires is directly exposed to varied and up-to-date literature and information originating in the Arab countries, because of the widespread use of the Internet."
Sad to hear that Gordon Burn has passed away; see, for example, Faber's editorial director Lee Brackstone's tribute at the Faber site, as well as obituaries by Deborah Orr (The Independent) and Richard Lea (The Guardian).
I never understood why he wasn't more widely published in the US.
Three of his titles are under review at the complete review:
The to-do about Amazon.com's recent deletion of material from users' 'Kindles' (copies of Orwell's 1984) has, at least, served to get more people to discuss some important issues that have been simmering for a while now.
Farhad Manjoo's look at 'How Amazon's remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning's digital future', Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four, at Slate covers many of them -- and his advice certainly sounds sound:
The power to delete your books, movies, and music remotely is a power no one should have.
Here's one way around this: Don't buy a Kindle until Amazon updates its terms of service to prohibit remote deletions.
Even better, the company ought to remove the technical capability to do so, making such a mass evisceration impossible in the event that a government compels it.
Manjoo mentions Jonathan Zittrain several times, and Zittrain had an op-ed piece in The New York Times yesterday, warning of getting Lost in the Cloud, taking Google's new 'Chrome' platform as a starting point -- also well worth a look.
Zittrain's The Future of the Internet -- And How to Stop It sounds pretty interesting too; see the official site and the Yale University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Amazing to realize that Uwe Johnson died a quarter of a century ago, yet would have only turned 75 yesterday had he lived.
His Anniversaries -- well his Jahrestage; Anniversaries is the outrageously abridged English version (they tossed out half the book !) they made of it -- remains one of the great novels of New York of the late 1960s.
See (German) appreciations of the master in, for example, Die Welt and Neues Deutschland.