I recently mentioned that the Commonwealth Writers' Prize has now become a best (first) book and short story prize, and now the new Commonwealth Writers site -- "a community of writers from all over the world" -- has launched [via].
See also the information there on the new Commonwealth Book Prize.
I'm not exactly sure how all of this is supposed to work, but it sounds ambitious -- "The site is designed to inspire and inform writers, readers and anyone with an interest in fiction" -- and it looks like it has some potential.
As widely reported, they've announced that Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending wins The 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
It's not under review at the complete review yet (I haven't received a copy yet) -- though several other Barnes' titles are (see, for example, England, England).
Alfred A. Knopf had pushed up the US publication date of the book, so it is already available in the US (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com).
While it hovered at a (US) Amazon.com sales rank of about 17, last I checked, the book was number one -- and two -- at Amazon.co.uk; rather amazingly (since the Kindle doesn't seem to have quite the reach in the UK that it does in the US yet) the Kindle edition was outselling the hardback -- which may have to do with instant gratification, as well as pricing: the Kindle edition goes for a bargain-basement £3.59, while the hardback costs £6.49.
(Oddly the US Kindle edition lags, at 60, way behind the US hardcover sales rank -- or maybe not so oddly: at $11.99 it is only $1.80 cheaper than the print edition.)
(See also the Jonathan Cape publicity page.)
For some overview-articles about The Sense of an Ending taking the prize, see:
This year's Man Booker award had more than its fair share of controversy and silly debate, and so there's been lots of fun posturing and arguments about things like 'readability'.
Noteworthy recent additions to the pile include:
I don't see this row as one about dumbing down though.
Rather, it is a misunderstanding about literature and its purpose.
We are nervous about anything that seems elitist or inaccessible, and we apologise for the arts in a way that we never do for science.
She also notes:
I did try to read Stella Rimington's own spy series but instead I began to wonder if we would choose an enthusiastic member of a painting-by-numbers club to chair the Turner prize ?
(That's not really a question, is it ?
But one can understand that perusing a few pages of Rimington's prose might leave her so discombobulated that she might make such a slip.)
At Slate.fr Eric Essono Tsimi thinks Les meilleurs auteurs africains de la décennie sont des femmes, as he considers who might be the best African writers of the first decade of this century.
Arguably Francophone-heavy, it also wouldn't be the top ten I'd select -- but admirably he also notes that these are: 'Les 10 que je préfère', i.e. that it's a very subjective list.
Lots of press attention for today's announcement of the winner of that Man Booker Prize, but outside the Spanish-language press very, very little for the much larger (at least in monetary terms) Premio Planeta de Novela, which was handed out on Saturday (yeah, no information yet at that official site, last I checked ... -- you'd think with the money they're handing out they could pay someone a few euros to update the site sooner).
As, for example, the Latin American Herald Tribune reports, Javier Moro Wins Spain's Planeta Prize.
Well, his novel, El imperio eres tú won -- a book: "based on the life of Brazilian Emperor Pedro I".
Two figures are particularly noteworthy about this prize -- especially when compared to the low-prize-money 'big' American literary prizes, but also that Man Booker:
The Madrid native's work was selected from the 484 novels competing for the prestigious prize, which carries a cash award of 601,000 euros ($833,887).
Recall how each year the Man Booker judges yammer about getting through at best a third as many titles .....
And the money ... well, money might not be everything, but in that respect this prize is in a whole different league than the Man Booker (hell, at €150,000 the runner-up -- apparently Tiempo de arena, by Inma Chacón this time around -- gets more than double the Man Booker winner's take) -- and the 'major' American prizes (Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle) are strictly minor league by comparison.
(Check out the useful Wikipedia page offering a List of the world's richest literary prizes to see just where the big literary prize money is to be found.)
And, while the official page may not have any information about this year's prize yet, Antena 3 offers good and extensive video coverage.
Yes, with the imminent US and UK publication of Murakami Haruki's 1Q84 all sorts of profiles and pieces are appearing.
Today's link: Stephanie Hegarty's profile at the BBC World Service, Haruki Murakami: How a Japanese writer conquered the world -- where I was ... surprised to learn of: "Murakami's status as a virtual recluse".
(Apparently in this media-saturated age everyone who doesn't appear on a couple of TV talk-shows every week is considered reclusive.)
Jean Rolin's The Explosion of the Radiator Hose recently came out, and I am curious whether Dalkey Archive Press (or perhaps even a more commercial house) will bring out his new novel, too -- Le Ravissement de Britney Spears.
Set in Los Angeles, and apparently featuring a protagonist as completely out of place there as the one in The Explosion of the Radiator Hose was in Africa, it apparently nominally has to do with protecting Britney Spears from being kidnapped by Islamist terrorists .....
Given that this is a Rolin text, I suspect it's less pulp-thriller and more a riff on the alien culture that is L.A. and Hollywood.
See also the P.O.L. publicity page, a brief (English) mention at French Culture, a (French) Q & A at Les inRocks and review in Télérama.
Or get your own copy at Amazon.fr.
I thought Levy Hideo's A Room Where The Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard was already unusual -- the English translation of a book written in Japanese by someone who learned it as a second language -- but amazingly enough there's actually another Japanese book written by an author for whom it was a second language appearing in English translation this year.
(Given how little Japanese fiction gets translated in the first place, this is both bizarre and astonishing.)
The book is David Zoppetti's Subaru literature prize-winning (and Akutagawa-nominated) Ichigensan: The Newcomer; see the Ozaru Books publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
In Mainichi Aaron Baldwin profiles Zoppetti, finding Acclaimed Swiss author no newcomer to writing Japanese literature.
Among the interesting observations Zoppetti offers:
My writing has changed a lot.
My level of Japanese and my vocabulary over the course of 15 or so years has improved very much and I have, in a sense, lost the spontaneity that I had in 'Ichigensan.'
It's very difficult knowing more vocabulary, being able to be more descriptive, in explaining more things, to remove all that is superfluous.
So I'm a little bit a victim of spending so much time reading and writing in Japanese.
One title that jumps out is Hallgrimur Helgason's The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning (pre-order your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), and not just because two of his other books are already under review at the complete review (101 Reykjavík and Höfundur Íslands).
No, it's the note that: "The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning is his only novel written in English" that surprised me.
It hasn't been published in that 'original' English yet -- but has been published in the author's own Icelandic translation.
Interestingly, the German translation appears to be based on the Icelandic translation, not the English 'original' -- a case of second-hand translation, or is the Icelandic version to be considered the standard one ?
Meanwhile, note that Amazon is really rapidly expanding its publishing efforts, and in just the latest of many articles on the subject David Streitfeld writes in today's The New York Times, Amazon Signs Up Authors, Writing Publishers Out of Deal, as they're publishing 122 books this fall alone -- and:
It is a striking acceleration of the retailer's fledging publishing program that will place Amazon squarely in competition with the New York houses that are also its most prominent suppliers.
Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors.
And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.
Of course I worry about that too, but also think that publishers (especially the largest ones) have coasted way too long by not really providing all the services they could and should and could certainly use the nudge (or cliff-edge-push) to try to get their acts together.
(Agents' services should, of course, be readily done without -- cutting out middlemen is always a good idea -- and critics ... well, who ever took them seriously, right ?)
A nice post (with picture) by permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Peter Englund at his Att vara ständig weblog, Min Tranströmer-ficka, where he presents what he had in his jacket pocket on the day he made the announcement that Tranströmer had won the Nobel Prize in literature.
(See how the Nobel judges disguise what book they're reading !
But why did he have the book with him ?
To take a last look and reassure himself they had made the right choice ?)
(See also more recent posts at the weblog, where he explains why he doesn't think there was a leak of the winner's name, or any betting at Ladbrokes based on that leak -- though of course that explanation looks much less convincing when the actual shift in odds is considered: recall that the odds dropped to 4:6 (quite an order of magnitude lower than the 6:1 he bases his arguments on).)
IANS reports on how Indian language literature goes to Frankfurt Book Fair, as they planned a: "showcase of Indian indigenous writing, a literary panorama featuring works by over 30 language writers", including Rabindranath Tagore, Rahi Masoom Raza, Ismat Chughtai, Mahashweta Devi (see, for example, her Bait), Maitreyi Devi, Sunil Gangopadhay, O.V.Vijayan (The Legends of Khasak), Dharamvir Bharati, Bhabendra Nath Saikia, Ambai (C.S.Lakshmi) and K. Satchidanandan, as:
The literary panorama, initiated by the union culture ministry under the 'ILA: Indian Literature Abroad' project, will be held on Oct 12-16.
The project aims to carry the diversity of contemporary regional Indian literature from the grassroots to the world through source translation, which involves creation of original work directly to foreign languages in an attempt to remove dependence on English translation, a top ILA official said.
Of course, some authors set their hopes a bit unrealistically high -- as, for example, U.R.Ananthamurthy suggests:
"Translated masterpieces have to be re-translated every 10 years to keep up with the changing nature of global languages," the Kannada writer said.
At Outlook India they're a bit underwhelmed by the plan, with the Bibliofile-column noting:
But judging by the pre-Frankfurt buzz, the six-figure deals are still on; it's just Indian books that aren't doing well.
Not even one is creating the right buzz.
This may have more to do with the changing reading tastes of English language readers worldwide than with a publishing slump.
(They also suggest showcasing Tagore et al. when publishers are looking for the next Stieg Larsson may also not be the best move.)
In Haaretz Gidi Weitz finds that Salman Rushdie is not afraid, in a very long profile of the author in which he also: "thinks 'Game of Thrones' is dumb, bemoans the lack of good modern novels and believes terrorism is dying out".
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Susana Fortes' Waiting for Robert Capa.
It's certainly cinematic material, and it's no surprise this is coming out as a film next year (hence the paperback original publication now ..), but: Michael Mann directing ?
Prolific translator Ewald Osers -- of Thomas Bernhard, Miroslav Holub, Karel Čapek, Ivan Klíma, Arnošt Lustig, and Jaroslav Seifert, among many others -- has passed away; see, for example, Stephan Delbos' post at The Prague Post Blogs.
Alan Levy's 2004 profile, Ewald Osers: Long-distance translator, also in The Prague Post, offers a good overview, and see also Milan Richter's interview with Osers in the Čísla Slovak Literary Review.
(By the way: I finally got my copy of the English translation of 1Q84, so I'll be able to update my review with coverage of book three (so far the review only covers books one and two, which I read in the published-last-fall-but limited-to-those-two-volumes German translation).
The big question: will I have to change the grade -- or does the whole, now with the final third, make the grade ?
(And, almost as important: does the two-man English translation make the grade ?))
The Telegraph has an edited transcript of an expansive Q & A from the recent Hay Festival, where Edmundo Paz Soldán (author of Turing's Delirium and The Matter of Desire) talked with Martin Amis, Martin Amis: intoxicating, free -- the novelist life.
Amis' ridiculous generalizations about life-stages he has gone through (and (bizarrely) therefore believes to be universal) are enervating -- speak for yourself, Martin, and don't be so damn presumptuous; 'I can tell you how it’s going to go' ? Can you now ? Sure, novelists like to believe they are god (and hence all-knowing, justifying their making silly claims and pseudo-observations such as these), but, really, that's a hand better only shown in the fiction --, but otherwise it's of some interest.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Oksana Zabuzhko's Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex.
Can it be that no one else has reviewed this yet (in English) ?
Sure, contemporary (yet slightly dated) Ukrainian fiction isn't a huge draw, but this is a major text in contemporary Ukrainian literature, and I can't help but think that if, say, Dalkey Archive Press had published this it would have seen a few mentions.
But it's an AmazonCrossing paperback original and while that helps get some attention -- seventeen customer reviews at Amazon.com, for one (though pretty much all of them part of the Amazon Vine™ program) -- it apparently doesn't carry much weight with book review editors.
(Unfairly so: the AmazonCrossing list is odd, but there's some decent stuff on it, and it should be getting more review-coverage than it is.)
Sure, it doesn't help that this 1996 book was only translated now -- about ten years too late -- but Zabuzhko deserves some attention.
Still, I haven't lost hope: admirably (and I mean really admirably) AmazonCrossing is publishing two more of her titles, and the massive The Museum of Abandoned Secrets (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) will be hard to overlook, and I can readily (ridiculously over-optimistically ?) imagine The New York Review of Books (the most obvious forum for a piece on her works) or the likes of Bookforum doing a two-for-one (or three-for-one) piece on these novels.
But, if not, well, I'll be covering it .....
The official Naguib Mahfouz centenary is just less than two months away, and it's good to see a bit more attention being paid to the master.
AUC Press is having a Naguib Mahfouz Centennial Celebration, with Swedish Academy member Sture Allén as well as the fine novelist Gamal al-Ghitani (see, for example, his Zayni Barakat) giving lectures, on 18 October.
AUC Press also offer a Q & A with Sture Allén.
Meanwhile, Arabic Literature (in English) has a Q & A with 'translator and biographer-in-progress Raymond Stock', who offers 5 Thoughts on Translating the Master -- and no doubt there will be considerably more Mahfouz-related coverage there in the weeks to come.
(I hope to get a few more Mahfouz titles reviewed by the official centenary date (11 December), too.)
Des amis, by Baek Nam-Ryong (also Paek Nam Ryong; sorry, I haven't been able to find the Korean spelling), has come out in France -- the first translation of a North Korean novel there.
(B.R.Myers' Han Sorya and North Korean Literature seems to still offer the most exposure to North Korean fiction English-reading readers can get.)
Actes Sud has brought it out -- see their publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.fr.
For reactions, see, for example, André Clavel's in Lire ("Le roman le plus exotique de la rentrée littéraire !") and Philippe Pons' in Le Monde.
They've announced the finalists for the 2011 (American) National Book Awards.
Predictably, none of them are under review at the complete review.
No doubt these -- especially in the fiction category -- will be much discussed in the coming weeks (in the US); a fun place to start is Laura Miller's look at: 'A once-influential literary prize is now the Newbery Medal for adults: Good for you whether you like it or not' at Salon, in How the National Book Awards made themselves irrelevant.
The Literature Prize will be for the best novel written in the English language and published in the UK in a given year, and a writer's country of origin will not be a factor.
Our aim is to establish a clear and uncompromising standard of excellence, and the prize judges will be selected in rotation from an academy of experts in the field of literature.
Sounds like it has some potential: the Man Booker is restricted to basically Commonwealth-citizen authors, excluding US authors -- and any prize with a claim to really be an English-language-best-book award must, of course, consider books regardless of citizenship.
Of course the major Man Booker requirement they should do without is the insane restriction of (essentially) considering at most two titles from any given imprint/publisher.
(Any sensible prize will also not allow publishers to be the ones to choose which books to submit -- and, most importantly, will also be transparent, i.e. will reveal which books are under consideration for the prize (as the Man Booker outrageously does not).)
For other reactions and commentary, see, for example, Arifa Akbar's War of words: major authors launch rival to 'low-brow' Booker and Boyd Tonkin's (brief) comment, Not a rival, but a suitable complement, both in The Independent.
Amusingly enough, just a few days ago Pierre Assouline wondered at his weblog, La république des livres, Un modèle, le Booker Prize ?
(The French prizes have their share of problems -- authors can only win the Goncourt once ? -- but unlike the late-starting Germans (who always went for the author prizes, and have only recently started dabbling in book prizes such as the Man Booker-clone (in all the worst ways (submissions limits, no transparency)) German Book Prize) cover the field pretty well.
The Man Booker may not be the last prize I'd recommend anyone imitate (there are enough with even sillier requirements and criteria), but it's certainly no reliable 'best book'-award (and certainly not designed to be one).
Last Wednesday saw the death of the Australian Literary Review, the monthly literary and intellectual supplement to The Australian.
But the ALR was the last bastion in the mainstream press of the higher journalism.
Somewhere you could read thousands of words about Virgil or Chou En Lai or market economics.
A serious loss, no doubt.
(Updated - 13 October): See now also Guy Rundle's response -- which I'd take a bit more seriously if he hadn't referred to the "George Perec style" of Craven's piece (that's not how you write the French author's name).
"The Internet is not new to African thinking," says Okri.
"It follows the same linkages as what we know -- the idea that you can communicate with someone who is not physically present with you, whether it is the spirits or the ancestors, has always been there."
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of David Bellos on Translation and the Meaning of Everything, in his new book, Is That a Fish in Your Ear ?.
(Oddly, this book is brought out by Faber & Faber in the United States but not in the UK, despite the fact that Faber only has a tiny US-presence (as part of Farrar Straus and Giroux, which in turn is part of the Holtzbrinck conglomerate); in the UK the book is published by Penguin-imprint Particular Books .....)
In New York you can hear Bellos speak about the book on Thursday, 13 October, at 19:00 at McNally Jackson Books, as part of the excellent The Bridge series -- certainly worth your while if you can make it !.
They just announced the winner of the German Book Prize -- see the previous post -- and the winning title, In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts, has shot up to number two at Amazon.de.
The one title ahead of it ?
Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs-biography, which C. Bertelsmann Verlag is bringing out on 31 October, just a week after the English version is due out in the US and UK; see their publicity page.
How are they planning on translating the estimated 704-page tome so quickly ?
Translation by committee, apparently: six (!) translators are listed.
Oh, yeah, that sounds like a really good idea .....
Pre-order your copy of this thing from Amazon.de -- or stick to the original, from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The Frankfurt Book Fair starts tomorrow, and runs through 16 October; I won't be there, but I look forward to the reports.
Iceland is this year's 'Guest of Honour' -- and they have a great site dedicated to that, Fabulous Iceland, which is well worth checking out.
There are not too many Icelandic books under review at the complete review, but there are a few: check out: