At the time of going to press, Seth's agent David Godwin was in furious negotiations with Hamish Hamilton, the imprint under which A Suitable Girl was to be published by the end of the year.
"It would be unfair to say the deal has been called off," he told us in the course of a telephone conversation hours before his meeting with the publishers was to begin in London.
Such a quick and drastic reaction is, however quite unusual -- indeed:
It must have been more than a minor delay that set the wheels of discontent rolling at Hamish Hamilton, says another publishing industry insider.
"It's possible that Vikram Seth has not started on the book or that it's nowhere close to completion, which explains the move."
Having little understanding of the publishing 'business' I don't get the whole advance-concept (especially for works of fiction); still, this quick reëvaluation seems pretty unusual for the way publishing 'business' usually is conducted.
Of course, if he hasn't even started they probably have a point .....
See also Somak Ghoshal's 'Lounge Opinion' on Unsuitable Vikram Seth at live mint.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yi T'aejun's 1941 collection, Eastern Sentiments.
The Columbia University Press author-information reports: "Yi T'aejun passed away sometime between 1960 and 1980" -- while lots of (South) Korean sources simply kill him off around 1950 (since he moved to North Korea, which they apparently considered as good as dying off: the Columbia University Press information also notes his books: "were banned in South Korea until 1988" for that particular geographic transgression).
At The Millions they now offer The Great Second-Half 2013 Book Preview, "9,000 words strong and encompassing 86 titles" -- mostly just the biggest names, but certainly a fair number of interesting-looking titles.
[Updated (19 July): Archipelago has now made all the old URLs redirect -- the bulk of my original complaint below -- which is much appreciated (and eminently sensible); the Dalkey Archive Press site, meanwhile, still hasn't (though, of course, I still hold out hope -- and since that site clearly still requires a lot of work maybe this will be part of it ...).
I leave the original post otherwise unchanged, because the problem remains a widespread one and maybe this helps draw attention to it (or, better yet, reminds publishers what to think about when relaunching their sites.)]
Just a few days ago I mentioned the recent Dalkey Archive Press website overhaul -- and my concern about the upcoming (and now realized) Archipelgo Books site relaunch.
As a content-person I don't care that much what the websites look like -- functionality is what counts -- and sadly (so far) most of my worst fears have also been realized here, as all the old links to the old book-information pages have been dropped (i.e. they didn't bother with redirects for the old URLs, just like the Dalkey webmasters), so all the links to the publicity pages for all the Archipelago books under review at the complete review now lead to the message:
Sorry, the page you are trying to reach does not exist or has been moved since we launched our new website.
The publicity pages are still (or again, in new-look form) there -- but at different URLs: Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle I used to be at archipelagobooks.org/bk.php?id=84; now it's at archipelagobooks.org/book/my-struggle/.
I have no problem with them changing the URL; I do have a big problem with them killing/not re-directing the original link-URL to the new one.
(With many more Dalkey titles under review the situation is even worse with these, all of them currently leading to a page that tells you:
404 - What have you done ? You broke the internet !
The page you are looking for is gone. Perhaps searching or one of the links below will get you back on track.
I harp on these two examples because these are the two most recent publishers to 'redesign' their websites without apparently caring what happens to all the old incoming links out there, but I encounter this all the time (and so do many of my visitors, when they use the links I provide on the review-pages here and wind up on 404 pages ...).
I might be more sympathetic if both these publishers hadn't already pulled this shit before (yes, they've both 'relaunched' their sites previously, and changed their URLs without redirecting old ones ...) -- and if these weren't two publishers whose lists are basically backlists, i.e. for whom continuity, conservation, and continued availability should be more of a priority than many other publishers.
I know the internet and its users have the shortest of memory spans, but come on, people .....
Anyway, this is the sort of thing that makes me feel like a real chump for linking to these (and so many other) sites.
Collecting all these links a labor- and time-intensive job, and if the sites themselves don't care about maintaining the links and information I have to wonder why I should.
(It also frustrates me that this means that far too often I send complete review-readers to pages that publishers (etc.) have abandoned or moved (but, so often, without a proper redirect so people can actually find it).)
These updated sites might have new bells and whistles (I am underwhelmed so far), but the constant churn also means a lot falls through the cracks and gets lost along the way.
One more example: I just collected reviews for my review of Mircea Cărtărescu's Nostalgia -- and one of the few in a US publication was in the Dalkey-publication the Review of Contemporary Fiction; that page (and all their RCF review pages ?) seems to have been another casualty of the Dalkey 'update': there's still a Google-cache-copy, but at the site itself ... nothing beyond a (non-)information page for the issue of the RCF in which it was published.
For over a decade I've been watching publishers' sites, in particular, repeatedly try to reinvent themselves, and it's rare that the gain/improvement outweighs the losses (with US independents having a particularly poor track record -- Graywolf recently re-did their site too (and doesn't redirect the old (but admittedly truly horrendous) URLs either ...).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mircea Cărtărescu's Nostalgia -- the first of his works to come out in English (in 2005); the review went up a mere 2825 days after I received my review copy ......
(His Orbitor-trilogy is finally coming out in English, from Archipelago Books, so I figured this was a good place to start.)
They've announced (only in German, so far ...) that Katja Petrowskaja has won the 2013 Bachmannpreis (that German literary-performance prize held annually in Klagenfurt) with her text, Vielleicht Esther.
At her love german books weblog Katy Derbyshire has a run-down of the events -- noting also that: "In past years the jury has favoured older writers, intricate language and non-native speakers, all boxes Petrowskaja ticked".
(In the absolutely least surprising news, they also announced that the prize and the surrounding 'Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur' ('Days of German literature') festival would continue to be funded; I can't believe it was ever in the slightest danger.)
(Updated - 10 July): See now also Holger Heimann's Q & A with Petrowskaja at Deutsche Welle.
In The Oxonian Review Rebecca Loxton has a Q & A with guest judge for the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize 2013 (and Madame Bovary-translator) Adam Thorpe.
The rest of issue also features translation-related pieces, including Liz Sawyer on Thucydides, Translating the Untranslatable.
In The Age Paola Totaro profiles Ma Jian, discussing his new book The Dark Road (I haven't seen a copy yet (sigh); get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) as well as the new Folio Society edition of Moss Roberts' translation of Luo Guanzhong's Three Kingdoms (which is also available in cheaper editions ...).
Ma wrote an introduction to the Folio Society edition -- and here explains:
It strikes me that the work offers an alternative to the monolithic ideology of Confucianism, which provides only one model to emulate.
Three Kingdoms gives you a panoply of different routes; everyone can find their own path.
It shows that sometimes the route to fulfilment or success is not the obvious one.
You must take twists and turns to achieve a goal.
In The Hindu Jaya Bhattacharji Rose has a Q & A with Seagull Books-publisher Naveen Kishore, in 'I publish what I wish to'.
Brief, but certainly of interest, as Seagull is a leading international publisher of translations-into-English, despite being based in India -- though as he notes:
My presence in the U.K. and the U.S. is in itself an interesting reversal of traditional market strategies !
It also offers a model that no longer suggests that Indian publishers must buy rights only for India.
Seagull buys world rights, because our distribution through the University of Chicago Press allows us to sell across the world.
It is a globalised world; your geographical location is of no consequence.
A thought that should lead a few American publishers to quake a little in their leaden boots .....
In The Sun (Nigeria) Henry Akubuiro profiles visiting (and a bit too eager to please) Penguin Press man Scott Moyers, in You can't study in the U.S. without reading Achebe.
Much as his enthusiasm may be admirable, Moyers perhaps goes a bit overboard with claims such as:
In America, for instance, the Nigeria Civil War, says Moyers, is understood as a big event not just in the history this great country but the history of relations between the world, the international community and human rights catastrophe
(I would be surprised if one out of a hundred Americans asked to identify what decade the 'Nigeria Civil War' took place in could come up with the correct answer (toss in 'Biafra' and I figure it's maybe three out of the hundred).
Of course, I'd be surprised if one out of five Americans could identify 'Nigeria' on a map of Africa .....)
And he's also quoted as saying:
I mean, the Nigerian community in the US, take for example, we all know, is probably the most successful individual community in the US and, fortunately, in many of the countries in the world
(Do I hear the sound of sucking up so loud that it's drowning out everything else he's saying ... ?)
But at least there's this interesting titbit: Achebe's Biafra-book, There was a Country, is selling well -- with apparently over a hundred thousand sold in the US alone already.
(I'd prefer relying on audited numbers, given some of his other claims, but, hey .....)
I haven't seen There was a Country yet (sigh), but you can get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
A whole 'tumblr' could be dedicated just to following the odd and unlikely translations that get published in contemporary Iran, as faithfully reported every few days at IBNA.
So, in the past week alone we learn that a collection of Angela Carter stories is coming out, along with two plays by ... Arthur Kopit (yes, Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad is coming to Iran ...).
Timur Vermes' Hitler-returns novel, Er ist wieder da, is being translated (it's forthcoming in English from MacLehose Press) -- hell, even a recent ... Mitch Albom book is being inflicted upon the Iranian people (yes, apparently the Iranians will shy away from almost nothing ...).
What now caught my eye was not so much the fact that Chantal Thomas' Farewell, My Queen is hitting Iranian bookshelves (jaw-dropping, yes, but on the other hand, as the previous examples suggest, par for the course) but rather some additional information about the translator's other work:
Saeedeh Bougheiri has translated several books into Persian including Still wie die Nacht by Manfred Bieler, Die griechische Tänzerin(Greek Dancer) by Arthur Schnitzler, The Most Beautiful Book in the World by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt as well as Alabama Song by Leroy.
That last title is, of course, Gilles Leroy's 2007 prix Goncourt-winning Zelda Fitzgerald novel, Alabama Song.
Yes, a novel about Zelda Fitzgerald (a couple of those have come out this year in the US, haven't they ?) that won the biggest French literary prize is appearing in Iran before it comes out in the US .....
What a strange world we live in.
What a strange way American publishers deal with works in translation.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sinan Antoon's Iraq-novel, The Corpse Washer, out now in English in Yale University Press' wonderful Margellos World Republic of Letters-series.
Regardless of whether or not one considers it literarily successful, Alaa Al Aswany's novel, The Yacoubian Building, has clearly achieved a certain kind of iconic status -- and so too now Nicholas Caey reports in the Wall Street Journal that 'The author of The Yacoubian Building and its real residents watch and worry as a revolution unravels' in considering Egypt's Agony on A Storied Street.
Yes, he actually starts his piece by suggesting:
To understand the unrest that toppled the Egyptian government this week, start with a visit to Cairo's Yacoubian Building.
Much as I like the idea of literature-as-reflection-of-reality (on a certain level), too often this sort of exercise strikes me as little more than the laziest of substitutes for actual reporting and analysis.
In the Times of India Madhubanti De suggests Reading gets a digital makeover, insisting; "it is imperative that we take a look at the various ways in which reading practices have evolved among youngsters over the years".
Apparently, change in India is still behind the US and Europe as far as the shift to e-reading goes ("With the rise of technology and given how tech-savvy the youngsters today are, will reading books online be too far behind ?") -- but then so are some of the actual reading habits too:
"I used to read a lot of Enid Blyton when I was young.
Now, my juniors prefer Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games and other books.
In the sci-fi genre itself, there are a number of independent authors, who are coming up with great new books," says Piyali, a 19 year old student from Bangalore.
(Yes, that's a 19 -- not 91 -- year old student who read a lot of Blyton when she was ... young.)
Still, the reason I point to this dime-a-dozen piece is for the great quote in ... support of old-fashioned print books and bookstores:
One girl, on a social networking site, updates her status about a second-hand bookstore, "Show me one Kindle that smells like this place."
If that's the only hope left for physical bookstores and printed books ... we might as well pack it in right now.
(And I'm surprised there isn't an e-reader with a 'book-smell'-feature yet, e-formats that you can set to your particular nose and taste that outdo any musty real-book fragrances .....)
The French 'rentrée littéraire' -- when they dump practically all their high-profile titles on the market over the course of a few weeks starting in mid-August -- approaches, and the numbers are now out: 555 titles will be published, a shocking decline from last year's 646 (and the all-time high of 727 in 2007).
A sign of the decline of French literature ? harder times ? or of a more sensible publication schedule (i.e. publishers also publishing important titles at other times of the year, not all at once) ?
357 of the titles are French (down from 426 last year), and 198 are translations (down from 220).
One area where there has been an increase: first novels -- 86, up from 69 last year.
See, for example, reports in Le Figaro and L'Express.
And, of course, Amélie Nothomb continues her novel-a-year streak at the rentrée with her twenty-second, La nostalgie heureuse; pre-order your copy at Amazon.fr or the Albin Michel publicity page.
They're holding the Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur ('Days of German literature') in Klagenfurt, with the centerpiece of the Bachmann Preis (where authors read their texts out loud and are judged on stage (and on live TV)).
There's been some to-do this year about the prize possibly being discontinued because of a lack of funds, but that seems extremely unlikely to me -- this is a big draw and a big deal, and they'll find the money.
The list of previous winners suggests that, despite the format, it's something to be taken seriously: the first winner was no less than Gert Jonke, and they've done pretty well in the years since, too.
(Of course, there have been some controversial moments too -- recall Urs Allemann's controversial text (and title)).
At her love german books weblog Katy Derbyshire wrote about Gearing up for the Bachmann Prize, and she'll be tweeting (and, I presume, writing another post or two) about the proceedings; unfortunately this year again there aren't English translations of the competing texts at the official site.
They've announced that Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi wins Kwani? Manuscript Prize -- i.e. her novel, The Kintu Saga, did.
I hope to see some of these winning manuscripts in print soon.
(I also like the fact that the winner: "runs the African reading group, ARG!, in Manchester which focuses on obscure African writers". ARG!)
With much trepidation I have been awaiting the announced relaunch of the Archipelago Books site, which is apparently taking place on Monday, but meanwhile I've been blindsided by Dalkey Archive Press' latest site redesign (the fourth or fifth since I've been linking to them, sigh ...).
As they note, "Our new website is in the works. Any missing features will be added in the coming weeks", so I certainly wouldn't presume to judge this iteration yet (and the last one was ... problematic, to say the least (in a funky black-and-white way -- check it out at the Wayback Machine, as well as earlier incarnations here and here)), but ... dear god, how I hate when this happens.
The complete review, online since 1999 and looking every bit that antiquated and out-of-date ultra-basic HTML-coded site that makes clear the basics haven't changed a bit since back then, is, of course, a pretty sorry looking site.
But every time I'm tempted to 'update' the look (and some of the works behind the scenes) ... well, I remind myself of what happens when sites get 'updated' and a new look -- which is, almost inevitably: nothing good.
One of the things I do here is link to all available reviews (or at least the ones I can find) and other information about any books under review, and one of the things that constantly amazes me is how few sites practice any sort of maintenance regarding their links and content.
Essentially nothing I linked to in 1999 (or 2005 -- or, too often, 2011) is still available at the same URL (if at all).
Publishers -- who would do well to have a stable, static page for each of their books -- are among the worst offenders -- and much-loved Dalkey Archive Press (over a hundred of their titles are under review at the complete review) is a perfect good (= bad) example.
I'm still digging out and replacing links to their rebranding effort as centerforbookculture.org (check it out on the Wayback Machine ...) and now this .....
Maybe they'll get the redirects right this time (they sure as hell didn't last time, which wasn't that long ago), maybe Archipelago will too, but I have my doubts.
Keeping the links on review-pages at the complete review vaguely up-to-date is a Sisyphean task (that's probably not worth the trouble ...).
Sites routinely change their page-URLs, and very few manage comprehensive redirects (where users are forwarded to the new URL even if they arrive on the old one), apparently allowing themselves to be convinced by their webmasters (rather than their content-masters) that the new system (which usually has a shelf-life of only a few years) is the must-have, must-do system.
It's a constant and recurring nightmare -- and seems to me to be ultimately self-defeating.
(But maybe I'm wrong ? Maybe stability is pointless in the modern (and future) internet-universe ?)
I am curious what the new Dalkey site will offer -- hey, there's promise of blog of sorts (or two ? an 'editorial blog' and a 'reader response blog' ?) ! -- but really all I'd like to see is stable, permanent links to the basic information (their books, old issues of the Review of Contemporary Fiction and Context, etc.).
But I'm not holding my breath.
And I'm terrified of what I'll find at wherever the Archipelago Books site might turn up on Monday.
(Okay: there are times when webmasters get it just right: the one I've been most impressed by in recent years is the Publishers Weekly-review system.
Not the whole site, mind you (no comment), but the reviews: type in the ISBN-13 (with or without hyphens) and there you go: e.g. their review of Dan Brown's Inferno can be found at www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-38553-785-8 (or, indeed, www.publishersweekly.com/9780385537858).
They blew it on the redirects from their previous (awful) system too, but this almost makes up for it -- this is sensible, this works, this is a real improvement over any previous (and all alternative) identification-systems.
Unlike what most publishers do .....
(Just to remind you of how ancient the complete review is: page-URLs are so basic because back when I started this it wasn't possible (!) to have file-names longer than eight characters; some at the complete review are now longer, but the habit is hard to break.))
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Maurizio de Giovanni's The Crocodile, out now in the US in Europa editions' 'World Noir'-series (but they didn't get world rights: the UK publisher is Abacus).
They've announced (just in German so far, apparently) that the 'Guest of honour' at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair will be Indonesia.
(It's Brazil this year, and Finland next.)
As I often mention (like ... yesterday), Southeast Asian literature gets far too little exposure abroad, and so this is a great opportunity, and it will be interesting to see whether US and UK publishers are receptive to what will be on offer.
Being guest of honour usually makes for a nice exposure-bump -- Iceland, Turkey, and South Korea all seem to have gotten a nice boost among recent nations in that position (though admittedly last year's guest, New Zealand, doesn't seem to have been able to capitalize particularly well in the United States, though maybe they fared better elsewhere, in translation).
The Lontar Foundation has done some great work promoting Indonesian literature abroad, and that's a great starting point -- especially their Modern Library of Indonesia.
Several of these titles (and some other Indonesian ones, like all-time local bestseller The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata) are under review at the complete review -- and I'm sure I'll get to more by 2015.
Yes, it's summer silly season, and 'best of'-lists continue to be hard to resist, so I'll even link to something as arbitrary as Entertainment Weekly's recently unveiled top 100 novel-list -- one of the laziest I've ever come across.
A(n annoying) gallery of the top ten is up at the EW site, but the whole hundred can be found here, for example.
It's so silly that it's almost fun -- Tolstoy tops the list (with Anna Karenina), but War and Peace only ranks 28th -- one spot behind ... A Wrinkle in Time (yes, a ... great novel, but come on ...), etc.
The titles under review at the complete review ?
It's not so much these as many of the other choices that are ... questionable (as are the rankings, all around) -- though without any clear indication as to the selection criteria and process it's hard even to get worked up enough to do anything more than laugh at this list.
(It really does seem basically entirely random; I imagine a group of EW-staff and writers tossing out famous novel names around a table until they reach a hundred.)
A quick (i.e. appropriately lazy) count suggests only 85 of the 100 titles were originally written in English (because there are so few great foreign novels ...) -- though, amazingly (or, again, exceptionally lazily), several foreign-language-writing authors managed to land two titles apiece on the list (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Garcia Marquez)
Although there are many promising Thai writers who might write more about Southeast Asia in the future, it might be some time until Thai books reach readers in other regions.
Charan Homtienthong, president of The Publisher and Bookseller Association of Thailand, said that the government doesn't place much importance on the intellectual culture of Thailand.
Indeed, as I've often noted, beside the Central Asian region, Southeast Asia is one of the worst-represented in translation (especially into English).
It doesn't help much when domestic support and opportunities are lacking as well.
Bookslut (with, disappointingly, only a single fiction-review)
And a selection from the July issue of the Literary Review is also available online, including Kevin Jackson writing about the two (available) volumes of Reiner Stach's Kafka-biography, as well as Saul Friedländer's recent Kafka-book.
This fund could establish a sponsorship system that provides carefully selected Emirati writers with monthly payments for a certain period of time, to enable them to focus on their vocation.
It could also recruit critics to review their books to help establish a culture of literary criticism.
Of course, more is needed -- as she recognizes:
And this process ought to start from the very early stages in schools and universities.
The first step is to improve the education system so that it makes students more accustomed to reading and writing.
Money alone can't buy a literary culture (or make for good writing), but it probably can't hurt .....
In Dawn Ikram Junaidi suggests there's been a Setback to literary departments in Pakistan, as the Pakistan Academy of Letters, the National Book Foundation, and numerous other departments were placed under the the Ministry of National Heritage and Integration in 2010 -- which has, in turn, now been merged into the the Ministry of Information, arguably not the ideal institution to deal with all this ("The information ministry has its own priorities and seems unable to utilise these departments for which they had been established").
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Imraan Coovadia's The Institute for Taxi Poetry -- shortlisted for the (South African) Sunday Times Fiction Prize (which was announced yesterday -- it didn't win).
(I have to admit, this is one of the nice things about having a literary website and wblog such as this one: a while back I mentioned that I'd love to see this (not available in the US) title, and the author saw that mention -- and kindly provided me with a copy.)