In The Guardian they collect The publisher's year: hits and misses of 2014, asking publishers about the books that made their year, the ones they think deserved to do better, and the ones they wish they'd published -- always a good reminder of some interesting titles (and also some of the misguided notions publishers have ...).
German author Fritz Rudolf Fries has passed away.
Born in Spain, he came to Germany as a young child and he grew up and remained in East Germany.
His first novel, The Road to Oobliadooh, was unpublishable in the East (right until the last minute -- it finally appeared there in 1989), but he published it with West German Suhrkamp, in 1966; an English translation came out in 1968 (from McGraw-Hill -- and getting not just The New York Times Book Review coverage, but even a review in Time; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
That was the only one of his books to appear in English -- though his last novel bears the title: Last Exit to El Paso; see the Wallstein publicity page, and click on 'Englisch' for an English description.)
A translator, too, he was the German translator of Cortázar's Hopscotch, among other significant works.
Last Exit to El Paso was probably his best since his debut -- and featuring a Benno von Arcimboldi (yes, borrowed from 2666), along with a Verneian Pierre Arronax, and given its American setting this is something that surely even a US audience would be intrigued by -- I hope it gets a second look from the editors who passed on it first time around.
(Fries was the only East German author to voluntarily step forward -- as opposed to being 'outed' -- and reveal he had been a Stasi-informer, in 1996; it was news which did not go over well.)
At Publishing Perspectives Olivia Snaije reports on Strong Foreign Rights Sales for 2014 French Bestsellers, an interesting overview of the year.
"All in all a positive year", she sums up (though really, the French never have too many problems placing a lot of their stuff abroad).
Among the interesting titbits: several of the big titles sold widely abroad but not in the US/UK (including, apparently: Katherine "Pancol's chick-lit trilogy", Muchachas -- which, I think, we can all live with) -- and, astonishingly: "No foreign rights have been sold yet" for one of the biggest sellers of the year, Eric Zemmour's Le suicide français.
the first publishing house that produces Italian fantasy, science fiction and horror fiction and distributes it worldwide in the English language in e-book format.
Okay, I'm not sure I'll be rushing out to get ... Poison Fairies: The Landfill War (though I have to admit to being intrigued ...) or Lieutenant Arkham: Elves and Bullets, and the fact that they're e-format only doesn't help (try as I might, I still haven't taken to e-reading), but it's great to see that this sort of shlock is also being translated.
The more, the better.
(Though, yes, my preference would be for more quality literature to be translated/available first.)
In Time Out (Shanghai) they offer their 'top ten picks for books that tackle new ground in China', in China's best books 2014.
Despite these being titles available in English, it's disappointing to see how many are not yet US-available, including the Susan Barker (due only next August !) and the Chan Koonchung.
meant to honor one of the greatest -- and most often ignored -- American writers of the twentieth century by recognizing other writers in his name.
Recipients of the prize are American creative writers who have produced a substantial body of significant publication that displays characteristics of John Dos Passos's writing: an intense and original exploration of specifically American themes, an experimental approach to form, and an interest in a wide rage of human experiences.
A reasonably interesting list of previous winners -- though surely they were just trying to make a name for themselves in giving the inaugural prize in 1980 to Graham Greene (apparently over the likes of John Updike and Norman Mailer, so: not the worst way to go) .....
(They seem to have gone all-American after that failed experiment.)
At Sampsonia Way Caitlyn Christensen has a Q & A with Open Letter and Three Percent-man Chad W. Post -- a good overview of those two fine institutions, with lots of interesting titbits.
And some depressing ones:
Here's a perspective for you: an average translation from a non-Big Five press (or even from a big press, because with the exception of Murakami, books don't sell very well), will sell about 1,000 copies.
I am, however, a bit disappointed that Chad says:
We don't want to publish the Estonian Jonathan Franzen.
You know what he means -- but come on, who else is going to publish this poor guy (or gal), whoever s/he is ?
Dalkey Archive and Open Letter pretty much have the translated-from-Estonian market cornered, and if there's a Franzen there, we want to see his/her work too !
At Deutsche Welle Jochen Kürten writes about The 10 must-read German books of 2014.
(A note at the end of the piece claims: "All ten books listed were published in the US in the past 12 months" but this doesn't appear to be accurate: Timur Vermes' Look Who's Back looks to be slated for a spring 2015 US release, Uwe Tellkamp's The Tower is US-available as an e-book, but has only come out in print in the UK, etc.
Published in the US but missing in action, on the other hand: H.G.Adler's The Wall.)
And somewhat disappointing to hear/note:
When it comes to German novels though, it's mostly small or "micro-" publishers who show an interest, said Riky Stock.
Crime fiction and novels by immigrant writers are among the most popular.
(So I'm curious to see how Christian Kracht's controversially Teutonic Imperium will do next year: see the FSG publicity page (with Karl Ove Knausgaard blurb !), or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
A new translation of one of the best-known works to come out of modern Greece, Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek, is coming out -- at least in the US, from Simon & Schuster.
Why a new translation ?
Well, Carl Wildman's did come out in 1952, so one can argue that, after more than half a century, it might be time for a new one.
But Peter Bien offers a better explanation in his Translator's Introduction:
The answer is both clear and simple.
The earlier translation was made by someone who did not know Greek and who worked from a previous translation into French.
[That sound you might have heard in the distance was my pained wail, followed by by the thud of my head again smashing against a brick wall.
Is there no international court of literary justice seeing to it that the miscreants responsible for these outrages are held accountable ?]
Okay, it is Kazantzakis, and true fans (like me) will recall that he actually wrote a couple of his works in French -- Toda Raba, anyone ? -- but certainly not this one.
Bien also notes that:
when one places the earlier translation next to the original Greek text, one is quite amazed by the differences: omissions sometimes of many sentences, obvious errors, even commissions, i.e., supposedly translated material not in the Greek text at all.
Editors and translators continue to take such absurd liberties (and readers continue to be kept in the dark ...).
I note also that the UK publisher of Zorba the Greek is Faber & Faber -- who notoriously are also responsible for the continued circulation of the abomination that is the from-the-French-translation translation of Lem's Solaris -- and that they don't seem to have jumped aboard the new-translation-bandwagon here either: their catalogue listing -- and Amazon.co.uk listing -- continue to be the Wildman translation-translation.
But at least in the US readers will now have a chance to read a closer translation; see the Simon & Schuster publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com.
I'm not sure that 23 December publication date is ... ideal -- hoping for the very-last-minute- shoppers, are they ?
Looks more like any and all coverage of this important publication -- come on, this is pretty much the only modern Greek title that readers can probably identify (Z is surely more famous for the film version) -- will be lost in the Christmas noise and rush.
(Which is why I mention it now.)
And while I am very pleased to see this proper translation, it pains me to read:
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Estonian author Kristiina Ehin's collection of stories, Walker on Water.
(While there's much here that impresses -- there's some great writing here, and some great ideas --, ultimately this is yet another collection that just reinforces my novel-bias; sometimes I wonder why I (or anyone) bothers with anything else.)
The French literary year will start with a bang, as the new Michel Houellebecq novel is due out on 7 Janaury -- Soumission (yes, 'Submission'); pre-order your (French) copy at Amazon.fr.
Les inRocks have some of the details (in French); The Local.fr has the gist -- 'Muslims rule France in provocative new novel', as their headline has it, of this set-in-2022 novel -- in English (but without the intriguing detail that the novel's erectile dysfunctional protagonist is also a: "spécialiste de J-K Huysmans").
No word yet as to US/UK editions, but presumably they shouldn't be too long coming.
While Houellebecq sure as hell doesn't look like he's aging well, he still has a name/brand-recognition rare among authors-in-translation.
Quite a few Houellebecq-titles are under review at the complete review; see, for example: The Elementary Particles (published as Atomised in the UK).
A couple of days ago they announced the Ngā Kupu Ora Aotearoa Māori Book Awards.
Great to see the support for Māori writing (and hopefully it will translate, at least a bit, abroad as well), and good to see, for example, Patricia Grace as guest speaker (though it kills me that her advice included: "write about what you know" -- the most dangerous and damaging of Creative Writing 101 advice (because the kids take it so to heart, in all the wrong (i.e. confessional) ways) ...)).
Libraries and book stores that once saw their premises bustling with bibliophiles at one time wear a deserted look now.
None of the shops are up-to-date. The reason is the same -- a lack of interest in reading.
And, while India has lagged in this regard until recently, e-books -- and the fact/concern that the: "onset of online behemoth Amazon has dramatically altered the rules of the game" (Amazon being very new to India) -- are, of course, much/easy to blame for the situation.
They've announced the eighty titles that will be considered for the Man Booker (II) Prize, a.k.a the 'Folio Prize':
These are the 80 works of fiction published in the UK in 2014 that, in the eyes of the 235 writers and critics who constitute the Academy, are the best of the year.
Unmentioned: these are the 80 works of fiction written in English (or maybe they just can't conceive that a translated work might also be among 'the best of the year' ...).
The process explanation also suggests the selection process is slightly more complicated -- that of the eighty titles:
The first 60 will be nominated by the Academy.
Publishers will then be invited to write letters in support of additional titles, after which the balance of 20 books will be called in by the judges.
Strangely enough, this is not mentioned in the official announcement.
See also the list of the eighty titles (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
Reminding me yet again that I read far too little contemporary English-language fiction, very few of these titles are under review at the complete review:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have apparently announced (though not yet at their 'media center', last I checked ...) that they'll be publishing the English translation of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano's latest in the US, the bestselling-in-France Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier (see the Gallimard publicity page), in late 2015.
(MacLehose Press had previously announced it was publishing this one, and two more, in the UK.)
Alexandra Alter reports the news in The New York Times -- along with some sales figures for the few Modiano titles actually currently available in English;
One of his most famous works, Missing Person, which is published by David R. Godine, had sold just 2,031 copies before the prize was announced in October, and has since sold more than 13,600 copies.
Yale University Press has sold more than 30,000 copies of Suspended Sentences, a collection of three novellas by Mr. Modiano that was published last month.
At The Washington Post's Style Blog Ron Charles also reports on the news, in New Patrick Modiano novel coming to U.S. next fall, with the additional information that the translation will be by Euan Cameron (translator of, for example, Philippe Djian's Unforgivable book), and offering slightly different sales-numbers:
The book clubs are all adopting Missing Persons [sic], and if you're going to read a Modiano, that's the one to read. We've sold 18,000 copies. Honeymoon also did well, and his children's book [Catherine Certitude] did well.
Meanwhile, an interesting titbit from Jennifer Maloney's report at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy weblog:
British publisher Harvill Secker UK then pulled its e-book version of Modiano’s novel, The Search Warrant, off Amazon.co.uk.
It turned out that Harvill Secker never had the rights to publish the ebook -- which Modiano’s French publisher, Éditions Gallimard, discovered after the Pulitzer [sic] was announced, according to Anne-Solange Noble, Gallimard's foreign-rights director.
What with all the best-of-the-year book lists coming out I'm kind of disappointed that there aren't more worst-of lists to be found, a reminder of the year's over-hyped crap and flops and disappointments.
Admittedly, they can be hard to put together -- after all, there are a limited number of good (or great) books, but seemingly no end of mediocre to terrible ones, and it's not so much a matter of scraping the bottom of the barrel as figuring out which of the many barrel-fulls to consider .....
But reviewers or publications would certainly be performing a public service if they at least pointed to the worst they've covered during the year, for example.
Among the few worst-lists is Entertainment Weekly's -- disappointingly not even a bottom-ten but rather only 5 Worst Books of 2014 -- one of which I've even read (The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, by Joël Dicker -- which, I agree, is pretty bad).
At his stevereads weblog Steve Donoghue offers 'best-of-the-year'-lists in all sorts of categories, and fortunately also a few 'worst'-lists -- notably the Worst Books of 2014: Fiction !
Some notable names here (he has a somewhat unusual populist/contrarian streak), but, alas, none that I've read.
While my fervent wish would be not to see any more book-lists at all for the remainder of the year, given how many best-of lists I'm sure to come across I hope that there will at least be a few more worst ones as well.
At Books from Finland they wondered how people whose mother tongue isn't Finnish became interested enough in the (difficult and not exactly widely-spoken) language to become translators of Finnish literature, and in Encounters with a language they get answers from: "Three translators into English, one into French, German and Latvian"
At Granta they print an interesting exchange, In Conversation: S.J. Naudé and Ivan Vladislavić, the two writers discussing 'translation, divided cityscapes and the electric current in writing'.
Lots of interesting observations, especially about translation and editing.
So, for example, Vladislavić notes (horrifyingly):
I've seen revised foreign editions that are substantially different to the originals.
I suppose it's tied up with a weakening sense of the text as definitive or sacrosanct, and a new conception of it as a dynamic, customized product.
(As longtime readers know, I'm entirely in the sacrosanct camp, and value fidelity to the original (and the author's intention) above all (even comprehensibility).)
Several of Vladislavić's books are under review at the complete review; see, for example, Double Negative.
Major Turkish authors Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak have been accused by the pro-government Turkish press of being controlled by an "international literature lobby" that has the Turkish government in its sights.
It would be funny if it weren't so cynically-sinisterly disturbing.
Though I'm sure writers everywhere can't help but be flattered at the thought of an 'international literature lobby'.
Hey, it could be the premise for a new Marvel comic .....
At Russia Beyond the Headlines George Butchard reports on efforts at Bringing early Chekhov to an English-speaking readership as apparently -- and somewhat surprisingly -- a great deal of early Chekhov has: "never been systematically translated into English".
It'll be interesting to see how this project develops.
He's incredibly -- and somewhat bafflingly -- popular, and in Vanity Fair Todd S. Purdum profiles The Henry Ford of Books.
An interesting background and path -- and apparently: "success may have mellowed Patterson somewhat":
"I always thought he was a total dick," one non-Little, Brown executive told me.
"I think that’s not fair now."
They've announced that Sudanese author Hammour Ziada awarded the 2014 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature -- though, of course, since this is (supposed to be ...) a book prize, it is, in fact, his novel, شوق الدرويش ('The Longing of the Dervish'), that was awarded the prestigious prize.
See also M. Lynx Qualey's report at her Arabic Literature (in English) weblog.
It's a prestigious prize, with a solid list of winners (several of which are under review at the complete review), and has certainly helped bring contemporary Arabic fiction into English.
(Meanwhile, don't forget the old master whom the prize is named after -- and, yes, lots (and lots) of Naguib Mahfouz's books are under review at the complete review.)
Among the endless best of year and the like lists, the more specialized ones tend to be both more interesting and useful -- and at PEN Atlas they get translation recommendations from a variety of authors and others, a decent selection, despite the unforgiveable head/tagline, Yule love these books in translation 2014.
Yes, 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction: Judges announced, and they are: Ellah Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith, and Frances Osborne, with Michael Wood as chair.
Interesting (?) side note: in 2011 the judges got Kindles, to read submissions electronically if they wished to; for the 2015 lot -- like last year:
The judges will read submissions both in hard copy and using iPad Airs, donated by Apple.
They held the fancy Nobel ceremonies yesterday, and everybody got to pick up their medals and diplomas and shake the royal hand and so on.
All very fancy and slightly ridiculous -- white tie and tails are mandated at the Nobel Banquet -- but good fun and, given the payday, what the hell ?
Anyway, the official site does a really nice job of providing coverage of every silly last detail, from video footage of the ceremony to the menu (side note: the wine selection looks kind of weak to me -- I would have stuck with the champagne -- and then Grönstedts Cognac VO ... not even XO ? come on, nice to support the local guy, but even akvavit would be preferable to this).
Modiano gave his Nobel lecture on Sunday.
Here now is the award ceremony presentation speech, given by "Writer, PhD Jesper Svenbro" -- and here is the Nobel diploma Modiano got yesterday:
I have to admit, I'm no great fan of the Nobel diplomas (yes, the official site lets you look at all of them since 1997 -- neat !).
But some of the art work is pretty good.
Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century -- see the Harvard University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- is surely one of, if not the book of the year in the US.
It is, of course, an economics book -- but also refers to actual literature.
At Slate Ted Underwood, Hoyt Long, and Richard Jean So now consider what Piketty has to say about literature (and, in particular, money in fiction) in his book, in Cents and Sensibility.
They argue that:
Piketty's account of literary history turns out to be wrong -- but wrong in a way that casts a surprising new light on the way novels do respond to the changing economic fortunes of people in the real world.
References to specific sums increased in frequency from 1825 to 1950, undeterred by the accelerating pace of inflation.
(And Eliot's Middlemarch is a somewhat surprisingly money-obsessed outlier.)
Also interesting/strange to note that "the median reference to money" (i.e. the specific amount mentioned) has decreased tremendously over the same period.
Other Press will be publishing the US edition of Kamel Daoud's much-discussed and prize-winning variation on Camus, Meursault, contre-enquête, and at Publishers Weekly publisher Judith Gurewich answers four questions from Clare Swanson about it.
As Gurewich notes, this probably won't be a hard sell -- this book should fairly easily get the attention it deserves.
I look forward to seeing it, and the reactions to it.