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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review


Note: posting will be more sporadic through
late-August; apologies for the inconvenience

- the Management

18 August 2019 - Sunday

James Tait Black Prizes | The world of literary translation

       James Tait Black Prizes

       They've announced the winners of this year's James Tait Black Prizes, and they are Crudo, by Olivia Laing, which won the fiction prize, and In Extremis, by Lindsey Hilsum, which won the biography category.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       The world of literary translation

       In The Japan Times Louise George Kittaka has a piece on Understanding the challenging world of the literary translator (translating from Japanese into English), offering insights from several translators.
       Avery Fischer Udagawa observes:
The most challenging aspect is the low demand for international children's literature in the U.S., my home country. Getting published requires advocating in addition to translating, while earning a living another way altogether
       Meanwhile, Louise Heal Kawai -- translator of, among others, Ms Ice Sandwich and Seventeen -- notes:
“In the case of my own work, I’ve calculated that’s between a third and a half of reviews or recommendations,” she says. “There will be remarks such as ‘beautifully written’ or ‘flowing prose’ but no mention of the person who wrote that English prose.”
       And good to see also some publishers weigh in -- Pushkin Press and Stone Bridge Press.

       Interesting though the article is, the translation-article everyone (well, everyone who deals in some way with literature-in-translation) is buzzing about is Magdalena Edwards' detailed one in the Los Angeles Review of Books on Benjamin Moser and the Smallest Woman in the World. Moser has a Susan Sontag biography coming out (Sontag; see the Ecco publicity page), but for quite a while has hitched his wagon to Clarice Lispector, writing a biography (Why This World) as well as overseeing and being variously involved with translations -- new and re-translations -- of much of her work; see the New Directions page of all these; his industrious engagement with (and promotion of) the author certainly contributed greatly to the Lispector-renaissance of the past few years.
       The new translations have generally been widely hailed, but as Edwards' article (and reactions to it on Twitter) makes clear, Moser's handling of bringing the Lispector-œuvre into English has been ... not without issues.
       Text-focused, I'm uncomfortable with all the people-issues around books -- but of course there's no real way entirely around them. But, yes, some people ... put themselves in the picture way more than is strictly necessary, and often not in good ways. Unfortunately, especially the books-in-translation-world is one where (often loud and forceful) advocacy, in all its forms, from translators, publishers, booksellers (and the occasional critic), is (often seen as) the only way to get the attention work is due, so personality (too) often comes into play ..... Very strongly held opinions -- about how to do things -- and the sometimes dubious corresponding actions are ... not uncommon, and some of these rub many people the wrong way (often justifiably so; occasionally, not so much); generally, as we see from Edwards' article, readers are not privy to the significant behind-the-scenes ... maneuvering involved in the translation, and translation-publishing, processes.

       For what it's worth, you may have noticed that there actually are no Lispector works under review at the complete review, though I have copies of almost all these relatively recently published translations, have read most of them, and have mentioned some at this Literary Saloon, and although I find her a very interesting author (and, of course, mentioned several of her works in my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction).
       In part, the absence of reviews is due to the fact that I had read the earlier versions of the previously translated works years ago and would want to compare these with the new versions in any review (but that's a lot of work, and I also haven't had the patience for it yet); beyond that, the books got a great deal of coverage elsewhere, which always makes it less of a priority for me to get to a particular work. But part of it was also simply that something didn't sit entirely right either; I'm both disappointed and annoyed to find validation of that gut feeling in Edwards' piece -- annoyed because I wish it could just be about the texts, but, as her experiences show, other factors come into disruptive play .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



17 August 2019 - Saturday

Mao Dun Literature Prize | David Damrosch profile
Yvonne Owuor Q & A | Аутопсия на една любов review

       Mao Dun Literature Prize

       They've announced the winners of this year's Mao Dun Literature Prize (茅盾文学奖), a leading Chinese novel award that makes up for only being awarded every four years by having multiple winners:
  • 人世间, by Liang Xiaosheng
  • 牵风记, by Xu Huaizhong
  • 北上, by Xu Zechen
  • 主角, by Chen Yan
  • 应物兄, by Li Er
       See also the (brief) Xinhua report, Five novels win China's top literature award.
       (Not much English-language presence for any of these authors, much less their work, but a Paper Republic dreamlist ("our readers recommend Chinese books for translation") from 2016 does include another Liang Xiaosheng novel, 浮城 ('Floating City'), which is described as: "This Lord of the Flies for adults tells the bizarre tale of an entire city that breaks away from the mainland and floats away to sea, leaving the inhabitants to cling to civilization as best they can", so I'm definitely on board with seeing some of his work in translation.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       David Damrosch profile

       In Harvard Magazine Spencer Lee Lenfield considers 'David Damrosch's literary global reach' at some length, profiling the leading world-lit man in A World of Literature.
       Great quote, right at the start:
I work mostly on literature between roughly 2000 and 2015. But '2000' means 2000 B.C.E
       And good to see him advocating:
We really need to look at work that’s being done in Italian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and in Eastern Europe—in translation if we can’t read it in the original—and we need to be getting more translations of things that aren’t translated... One of the things world literature has to talk about is its own uneven playing field.
       Well worth a look.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Yvonne Owuor Q & A

       In the Saturday Nation Oumah Otienoh has a Q & A with Jomo Kenyatta Prize-winning Yvonne Owuor: We are no longer a literary desert.
       Good to hear that she finds:
That ‘literary desert’ tag is a daft, stale one; for writers of the world, Nairobi rocks, it truly rocks.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Аутопсия на една любов review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Bulgarian author Victor Paskov's last novel, the 2005 Аутопсия на една любов.

       Paskov's earlier, and best-known work, A Ballad for Georg Henig was translated into English -- published by Peter Owen -- but this one has just made it into German so far (the most obvious choice, given that Paskov spent much of his life in the GDR, and that much of the novel is set in modern-day Berlin).
       It has apparently elicited strong and mixed reactions -- notably, A Short Tale of Shame-author Angel Igov really ripped into it.

       (The German edition came out from Dittrich, in their nice little editionBalkan-series, of which I'd love to see more.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



16 August 2019 - Friday

'The Library of Unread Books' | SFC Literary Prize finalists
The Journalists review

       'The Library of Unread Books'

       'The Library of Unread Books' is an "an itinerant library" cum exhibition/installation that has already been shown in a variety of venues and is next coming to the Jameel Arts Centre (16 November through 31 January); in The National Rupert Hawksley previews it, in: How a library full of unread books is exploring the relationship between wealth and knowledge.
       This is an intriguing concept -- though of course my own library is also one that contains hundreds of unread books (which I prefer to think of as: not-yet-read books ...).
       Disappointingly, there's not an accompanying web-presence, just -- horrors ! -- a Facebook page.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       SFC Literary Prize finalists

       The St. Francis College Literary Prize -- a biennial, $50,000 prize for: "an author's third to fifth work of published fiction" -- has announced the finalists for this year's award.
       There are six titles left in the running, selected from 184 (unfortunately not revealed) entries.
       The winner will be announced 21 September.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       The Journalists review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gustav Freytag's 1852 play, The Journalists.

       You don't see this one being played a lot any longer (not even in the German-speaking world), but it was a huge hit in the nineteenth century -- among the most popular German comedies (though admittedly the German playwrights weren't exactly known for their comedies ...), with The New York Times' review noting, in 1888, that it: "has been presented again and again in New-York"; there are apparently also (at least) three translations of it into English. And it was popular enough for the American Book Company to publish the German original

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



15 August 2019 - Thursday

Nepali literature | Amazon publishing | BookBrahma

       Nepali literature

       At Global Voices Qurratulain (Annie) Zaman has a Q & A, 'The external world doesn't know how rich Nepali literature is': An interview with author Dr. Sangita Swechcha.
       Swechcha does note:
Since most of these are written in Nepali, the external world doesn't know much about how rich Nepali literature is. In this sense, Nepali literature seems to be a bit isolated from the external world. However, the situation is changing now. Not only is [the number of] Nepali writers who write in English slowly growing but the translation of literary works from Nepali to other languages is gaining momentum too. I believe that with this changing trend people will get acquainted with Nepali literature and Nepali literature will have more exposure to the external world as well.
       Most of this -- especially as far as written-in-Nepali works go -- still comes via (or just in) India -- though the (embarrassingly still just) one Nepali work under review at the complete review -- Mountains Painted with Turmeric, by Lil Bahadur Chettri -- came out from Columbia University Press.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Amazon publishing

       I missed this last week at The Atlantic, where Blake Montgomery wrote about The Amazon Publishing Juggernaut -- without even mentioning translation-specializing imprint Amazon Crossing .....
       Montgomery does note that The Three Mistakes of my Life (etc.)-author Chetan Bhagat is aboard -- maybe a way: "to establish a foothold in the gargantuan Indian market" (though he seems to have had ... limited success beyond it, including the US/UK).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       BookBrahma

       As Varsha Gowda reports in the New Indian Express, a new website is Typing a new chapter for Kannada literature.
       Okay, BookBrahma is probably only really useful at this point if you actually read Kannada, but it's always good to see these sites dedicated to literature from languages that don't get wide coverage elsewhere (and Kannada is no small language: the Wikipedia table of languages by number of native speakers has it ahead of, among many others, for example, Polish, Dutch, and Thai).
       And maybe the attention will also help bring a few more titles into English (or other languages) .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



14 August 2019 - Wednesday

Ogawa Yoko profile | FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year longlist
Audiobook advances | Tough Justice review

       Ogawa Yoko profile

       With The Memory Police now out in the US (and out tomorrow in the UK), it's good to see a decent amount of review coverage already, and now also Motoko Rich's profile in The New York Times, 'I Just Peeked Into Their World and Took Notes': Yoko Ogawa Conjures Spirits in Hiding.
       This is the fifth title by Ogawa to appear in English -- but, sigh, she is: "the author of more than 40 novels and story collections". (All five available-in-English titles are under review at the complete review, as are five that aren't -- but that's still less than quarter of her output .....)
       Amusing anecdote from the profile:
Growing up, Ogawa wrote for herself. When she married a steel company engineer, she quit her job as a medical university secretary — a common life step for many women of her generation.

While her husband worked, she wrote. She didn’t intentionally keep it secret, she said, but her husband only learned about her writing when her debut novel, “The Breaking of the Butterfly,” received a literary prize.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year longlist

       They've announced the longlist for this year's Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award -- though, bafflingly, the announcement is paywalled at the official site, which is why I waited until today -- when I can link to The Bookseller's report, where the information about what sixteen titles made it is freely accessible.
       None of the longlisted titles are under review at the complete review at this time.
       The shortlist will be announced next month.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Audiobook advances

       It's unclear how advanced this is, but obviously the technological capabilities will someday (soon) be here: synthetic speech that sounds like the author (or anyone you want) used to 'record' (i.e. generate) audiobooks, as the BBC summarily reports about such efforts, in AI reads books out loud in authors' voices.
       It's already possible to: "generate an audio version of a book, using digitised, synthetic voices" -- and these voices are just getting better and more lifelike. And so, for example:
London-based tech start-up DeepZen says its synthetic speech technology can create multiple versions of an audiobook within hours, cutting down time and costs by an estimated 90%.
       I am curious about the legal implications of who 'owns' a voice -- i.e. can/will they just imitate famous actors and speakers, will there be a market in licensing voices, etc.
       As someone who doesn't listen to audiobooks -- I don't have the patience, time, or occasion to, and really find actual books just so much more versatile -- I'm not sure what to think, but given the way the market is growing, these developments should be of interest to a lot of readers (listeners).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Tough Justice review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of (Frédéric Dard writing as) San Antonio's 1955 novel, Tough Justice, one of the handful of San-Antonios translated into English (though it's been a while since anyone tried this ...).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



13 August 2019 - Tuesday

German translation subsidies | Chinese online literature gets real ?
Israeli 'bookcrossing' in Ecuador

       German translation subsidies

       The Deutscher Übersetzerfonds ('German translation fund') provides grants for translators for works being translated into German -- much like the English PEN Translates awards and the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants do for translators-into-English, and they've just announced the newest batch -- 33 grants paying out a total of €180,100; the full press release (warning ! even more annoying than just being in dreaded pdf format ! has to be downloaded !) gives the full details of the projects getting support; the Börsenblatt report gives a good overview (though not the full titles of all the projects ...).
       These are always fascinating -- to see what gets translated (and what is deemed worthy of support ...) in(to) other languages.
       Among the projects are several translations from the English, such as of The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai, Hari Kunzru's Gods without Men, and Ali Smith's Winter, as well as a Jack Kerouac; more interesting is the foreign stuff, which includes some familiar names at which I perk up: Jin Yong, Aka Mortschiladse, and Sara Mesa, as well as a David Van Reybrouck. And there's also Antonio Scurati's Premio Strega-winning M -- il figlio del secolo; that one's also coming out in English, but as best I can tell none of the titles (beyond those written in English) have been translated into/are available in English yet.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Chinese online literature gets real ?

       Xinhua reports that Chinese online literature favors more realistic themes, as, while fantasy and period themes were long the big attraction, now:
Up to 65 percent of online literary works were about realistic themes, a 24-percent increase year on year, according to a report on the development of Chinese online literature in 2018.
       And for your periodic reminder of just how big and big a deal online literature is in China:
In 2018, 7.95 million online literary works were newly uploaded, raising the total number to 24.42 million, up 48.3 percent over that of 2017
       As far as readers: "China had 430 million online literature readers, up 14.4 percent year on year".
       (See also, for example, Michel Hockx's book on Internet Literature in China.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Israeli 'bookcrossing' in Ecuador

       This seems like a nice way for a smaller country to get the message out about its literature in another smaller country: Israel is distributing 200 books in Ecuador, bookcrossing-style, in their Libros Libres de Israel-project; Abigail Klein Leichmanhas the story (well, a mostly just regurgitated (but translated into English) version of the official press release) at Israel21c, Translated Israeli books hit the streets of Ecuador.
       They're even leaving books in the Galápagos.
       This seems like a really good, relatively cheap way of getting the word -- and the books -- out, and into another culture.
       (Note, however, that while Israel is a 'small' country (and Hebrew a 'small' language), the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature is one of the more impressive national literature-supporting agencies. Oddly (or perhaps not so much ...), several 'small' countries, from Finland to the Netherlands are particularly good with their literary support -- whereby having the funds (i.e. a government willing to spend money on this sort of thing) is of course the major factor, and rich European countries are a bit better positioned than others in this regard; so, of course, it's sad to see the Ecuadorians aren't able to launch a similar exchange-project in Israel ...).)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



12 August 2019 - Monday

'Literary fragments' | Institute of Naga Literature
'The great literature war' in Taiwan
Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas review

       'Literary fragments'

       In The National (Scotland) they collect Summer leaves: Scotland's top writers select their favourite literary fragments, with some fine selectors (including Janice Galloway and Alasdair Gray) and some nice selections.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Institute of Naga Literature

       With its many languages and regions, it's easy for some (many ...) Indian literatures to fall way under the radar, so it's good to hear that one of these -- fascinating Nagaland -- should now be getting its own Institute of Naga Literature: Medolenuo Ambrocia reports as much in EastMojo, in: Nagaland govt to set up institute for Naga literature (though: "a definite time frame is not yet ascertained" ...).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       'The great literature war' in Taiwan

       In the Taipei Times Han Cheung writes about Taiwan in Time: The great literature war -- when: "The debate over Taiwan-centric nativist literature boiled over in August 1977, with the government leading attacks on such writings as pro-communist and divisionist"
       Ah, the times when (and where) literature meant something ! (Okay, this kind of stuff still comes to a boil pretty often, in many places, but the extent (and government involvement) here is impressive.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Olivier Adam's 1999 novel, Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas -- not yet translated into English.

       I'm kind of surprised this -- and more of his work in general -- hasn't been published in English (Cliffs still seems to be the extent of it). This one would seem to have decent US/UK-audience potential, and would fit the list of any number of publishers (beginning with translation-powerhouse AmazonCrossing). And, hey, there's a movie tie-in (not that many people in the US/UK saw or aware of the movie version, but still).
       See also Lewis Manalo's 2010 (!) piece in Publishing Perspectives, A Very French Melancholy: Olivier Adam, the Man Who Lost the Goncourt.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



11 August 2019 - Sunday

9mobile Prize For Literature | Annie Ernaux profile
Duanwad Pimwana Q & A | Das Leben der Wünsche review
17 years of the Literary Saloon

       9mobile Prize For Literature

       I've mentioned the issues with the former Etisalat Prize for Literature, more recently known as the 9mobile Prize For Literature (most recently here), but, hey, they finally got around to announcing ... last year's winner. Not yet at the official site, last I checked, but still .....
       As, for example, Jayne Augoye writes in the Premium Times, Nigerian writer Ayobami Adebayo wins 2018 9mobile Literature Prize, as Stay With Me, by Ayòbámi Adébáyò, gets the prize.
       See also the Vintage publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Annie Ernaux profile

       In The Guardian Angelique Chrisafis has a profile, Abortion, sex and family secrets: Annie Ernaux, France's great truth teller.
       Works by Annie Ernaux have been appearing in English for quite a while, but it's great to see her finally getting the attention she deserves.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Duanwad Pimwana Q & A

       At PEN Lily Philpott offers The PEN Ten: An Interview in Translation with Duanwad Pimwana, the Thai writer with two books now out in English translation (I have both and should be getting to them ...).
       Admirably, the interview is presented in both the Thai it was conducted in and Mui Poopoksakul's translation.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Das Leben der Wünsche review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Thomas Glavinic's 2009 novel, Das Leben der Wünsche -- not yet translated into English

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       17 years of the Literary Saloon

       The complete review was started in 1999, so the site is already twenty years old, but today is the seventeenth anniversary of the first post at this later-added Literary Saloon; glad to see you're still reading it .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



10 August 2019 - Saturday

Library borrowing in the UK | Literary festivals in Africa
Manhattan's Babe review

       Library borrowing in the UK

       The British Public Lending Right scheme sees to it that (UK- or EEA-based) authors receive payment for when their books are borrowed in libraries -- the more they're borrowed, the more authors get (up to a certain limit) --, and they've now announced the Most borrowed authors and books in UK libraries (for the period July 2017-June 2018), with slightly more detailed information here (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) (though of course it would be great to see an even greater breakdown and more numbers).
       James Patterson was the most borrowed author (again) during this time period, and Lee Child's Night School the most borrowed book.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Literary festivals in Africa

       At Quartz James Murua looks at The rise and rise of the literary festival in African cities.
       Among these: they just held the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, which was once the premier book fair on the continent (though, yeah, that was quite a while ago).
       In NewsDay Beniah Munengwa laments Cry my beloved ZIBF ! -- writing:
The book extravaganza -- once the pride of Africa -- is now just a place where writers meet and reminisce over the past or discuss what could have been.
       But at least they're still holding it .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Manhattan's Babe review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Frédéric Beigbeder's Oona O'Neill and J.D.Salinger novel, Manhattan's Babe.

       I would have figured they might play up the names of the protagonists more in the title -- as in the French original: Oona & Salinger.
       Also: what's with all the illustrations in the English translation ?

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



8 August 2019 - Thursday

Olga Tokarczuk profile | Baltic region literature funding | Kafka papers
Rabindranath Tagore's paintings | 'On Reading' at the Salzburg Festival

       Olga Tokarczuk profile

       Olga Tokarczuk's Man Booker International Prize-shortlisted Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead has been out in the UK for a while already, but is only now coming to the US -- and it's good to see it getting some early attention, as Gabe Habash profiles the author at Publishers Weekly, in The Near-Mythic Inevitability of Olga Tokarczuk's Novels.
       I haven't seen Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead yet, but see the publicity pages from Fitzcarraldo Editions and Riverhead, and pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Baltic region literature funding

       Latvian Literature has been very active -- and, it seems, quite successful -- at promoting Latvian literature abroad, but, as Latvian Public Broadcasting reports, they are now receiving only a fraction of the funds they need/want -- as even: Estonia to spend 10 times more on literature than Latvia.
       Framing it as local competition is a good (and reasonable enough) idea -- and if the numbers are accurate and hold up (funding is always iffy ...) , the numbers in and around the Baltic sure do suggest that Latvia is an outlier -- on the wrong side -- as far as literary support goes.
       The numbers for the area-nations they give:
  • Latvia: €72,000
  • Lithuania: €440,000
  • Estonia: €732,000
  • Sweden: €954,000
  • Finland: €1,200,000
  • Poland: €1,600,000
       The money matters a lot, as the dirty not-so-secret of fiction in translation is that much of it has a vanity-publishing tint: you pay to play. Only a small part of end-costs, but it makes a huge difference to publishers -- especially translation-specializing US publishers (many of them small non-profits).
       Obviously, the difference between what they could do with €455,000 (the funding they asked for) and €72,000 (what they're apparently getting) is enormous.

       (Updated - 14 August): See now also Latvian Literarure's efforts to get the word and out and get more/proper funding, Latvian Literature platform launches #donotend campaign.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Kafka papers

       The long saga of the Franz Kafka and Max Brod papers has more or less come to an end, with all of them now at the National Library of Israel -- see also Benjamin Balint's Kafka's Last Trial for the account of the most notorious (and drawn out) episode -- and the library has now unveiled the latest haul: see their report, Kafka's Rare Manuscripts: From the Vault in Switzerland to the Library in Jerusalem or, for example, the DeutscheWelle report by Cristina Burack, Last batch of missing Kafka papers unveiled in Israel.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Rabindranath Tagore's paintings

       At The Wire Anjan Basu writes about the 1913 Nobel laureate, focusing not on his writing but rather considering how Rabindranath Tagore's Paintings Reveal His Quest For The World Beyond Words.
       He's far from the only writer who also tried his hand at drawing or painting, and it's always interesting to see the kind of work they do in another medium.

       (The only Tagore title under review at the complete review is Farewell my Friend.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       'On Reading' at the Salzburg Festival

       Just your friendly reminder that yours truly will be speaking (in German) On Reading at the Salzburg Festival on Sunday, 11 August, at high noon.
       A great honor for me, and I hope that those of you who can make it enjoy it.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



7 August 2019 - Wednesday

Toni Morrison (1931-2019)
'Bookstagramming' | 'Most Underrated Book Award'
Львовская гастроль Джими Хендрикса review

       Toni Morrison (1931-2019)

       As widely noted, American author and 1993 Nobel laureate Toni Morrison has passed away.
       There is an enormous amount of coverage already available online, but see, for example, obituaries in The Guardian and The New York Times.

       The Bluest Eye was assigned reading in one of my high school English classes -- making a very strong impression -- and our teacher managed to arrange for the class to meet and talk with her about the book (this was when she was still working as an editor) -- quite the literary experience for us kids.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       'Bookstagramming'

       Via, I'm pointed to Angela Haupt's piece in The Washington Post on The Bookstagrammers and BookTubers changing the way we read.
       And here I thought I was too old and set in my ways to change the way I read !
       This begins with the saddest literary-related question I've come across in a while, even if it's meant tongue semi in cheek:
To put a literary spin on an adage: If you read a book but don't post about it on social media, did you really read it ?
       Is this what we've come to ?
       My 'social media' presence is limited to Twitter (useful for actual (literary) news, if you can scroll past the political and other opinions); I am decidedly not a picture-person, so I have little use for Instagram (much less moving pictures, i.e. YouTube) -- though I do post the occasional screen- or (mostly) text-grab, and even a picture here and there.
       I do see some purpose in posting pictures of books -- I sometimes do it -- because it's easier/takes up less space than listing lots of titles. I don't quite get the idea of just posting pictures of books, with limited additional commentary/information, but if that's what people like ... well, that's fine. Hey, anything that provokes more interest in books .....
       Though of course I do wish the interest were specifically in reading, rather than just books as objects/props .....
       Obviously (or at least hopefully) many 'Bookstagrammers' are also interested in the reading part, but the platform does ... tend to favor appearance over content. (As the look of this website surely tells you: I'm all about content, and almost completely indifferent to appearance.)
       The nature of the complete review site does mean that I actually do post-on-social-media every time a new review goes up -- it's an automated Twitter-feed -- though I don't mention every book I've read; in either case, it doesn't make the reading-experience any more real or notable, much less validate it in some way. (I would also note that it doesn't seem particularly significant, either: at best a couple of dozen people -- a fraction of the number of my 'followers' on Twitter -- will click through to any given review; the overwhelming majority of readers still come either via search engine search or simply through the front door, i.e. regularly check out the site directly. And somehow I doubt that if I started posting pretty pictures on Instagram -- don't worry, it's not happening -- I'd be changing 'the way we read' either .....)

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       'Most Underrated Book Award'

       The Small Press Network has announced the shortlist the 2019 Most Underrated Book Award, which: "aims to uncover and celebrate the hidden gems of Australian publishing".
       I like this idea -- though I can't help but note that, from a foreign perspective, pretty much everything local published in Australia qualifies as 'underrated', with no or few US/UK editions of Australian fiction from any Australian prize long- or shortlist available (see this year's Miles Franklin Literary Award longlist, for example).

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       Львовская гастроль Джими Хендрикса review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Andrey Kurkov's Львовская гастроль Джими Хендрикса.

       Kurkov is actually quite well represented in English translation -- see the Penguin UK line-up -- but this 2012 novel hasn't made the cut so far, despite Jimi Hendrix in the title (and, sort of, in the story). Which I can't complain about too much; still, for fans -- and he has many -- it's still certainly a shame.
       The novel also features fellow writer Yuriy Vynnychuk -- and a character from one his novels (or, ultimately, not from one of his novels ...), and it's good to see Vynnychuk now making some English-language headway as well, with Glagoslav having recently published a collection (see their publicity page; I have a copy, and hope to get to it) and now Spuyten Duyvil publishing his Tango of Death (see their publicity page; I don't have a copy but desperately want one).

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6 August 2019 - Tuesday

New(ly discovered) Proust coming out | Daryaganj book market R.I.P.
'The Value of University Presses'

       New(ly discovered) Proust coming out

       Editions de Fallois have announced the publication (on 9 October) of some previously unpublished early stories by Marcel Proust, in a volume titled: Le Mystérieux correspondant (pre-order your copy at Amazon.fr; no word yet on an English translation -- though rest assured, one is inevitably coming).
       Among the reasons editor Luc Fraisse suspects they weren't published back in the day is: "qu’en raison de leur audace ils auraient pu heurter un milieu social où prévalait une forte morale traditionnelle"; presumably, they seem a a little bit less audacious nowadays.
       See also, for example, the Le Monde report, Des textes inédits de Marcel Proust seront publiés en octobre, or the AFP report at The Local, 'Lost' works from French literary giant Marcel Proust to be published in October (as there has been little English-language-media notice of this elsewhere so far).

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       Daryaganj book market R.I.P.

       As, for example, reported by Sean Collin Young in The capital that lost a literary gold mine in The Asia Age: 'The legendary Sunday Book Market at Daryaganj has been shut down due to an order passed by the [Delhi High Court]'.
       What was it ?
Set up in 1974, the footpaths of Daryaganj soon became the go-to place for those who wished to buy books that were both reasonable and rare to find. The bazaar, which was set up every Sunday, had 200 booksellers, lined along Netaji Subhash Marg and Asaf Ali Road.
       Apparently it got in the way of the cars, however, and they of course take priority, because ... cars, so ..... (I suspect any basic urban planning course would teach which of these should be prioritized, and tried to figure out a work-around (like banning cars in city centers, starting with: on Sundays ?), but, no, people have places they need to get to, city social fabric be damnend, etc.)
       See also Kanupriya Dhingra wondering Will Delhi soon have a Daryaganj-used-books-market-shaped hole ?

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       'The Value of University Presses'

       At the University of Minnesota Press weblog they post on The Value of University Presses, Then and Now, comparing the 2000 version of the Association of University Presses statement with a now renewed one, in a Q & A with contributor Douglas Armato, along with a copy of the statement (whose points are certainly worth recalling).

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5 August 2019 - Monday

'Naipaul and his critics' | Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid profile
Political jokes under Stalin

       'Naipaul and his critics'

       A few pieces from the Summer issue of the Hudson Review are now available online, including Elizabeth Powers', Among the Barbarians: V. S. Naipaul and His Critics.
       She focuses a lot on his A Writer's People -- one of the few Naipaul works I actually haven't read; see the publicity pages from Vintage International and Picador, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
       (Quite a few other Naipaul works are under review at the complete review, fiction (e.g. Half a Life) and non (e.g. Literary Occasions). And, of course, there's Paul Theroux's classic Sir Vidia's Shadow.)

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       Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid profile

       At ahramonline Dina Ezzat presents Novelist Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid talks about lasting impact of 1952 Revolution.
       They talk mainly about Alexandria, and Abdel-Meguid's trilogy -- whose last volume, Clouds over Alexandria, was recently published; see the Hoopoe publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
       Of course, it would be interesting to hear more about what only gets a brief mention at the end:
The impact of politics on society is something that can always be seen from different perspectives, Abdel-Meguid argues. His most recent novel, The Cyclops, is precisely about this. Published in Tunis, the novel is effectively an eulogy of the Arab Spring.

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       Political jokes under Stalin

       In The Moscow Times Anna Kasradze has a Q & A with Jonathan Waterlow about his book, It's Only a Joke, Comrade ! -- an "exploration of political jokes told under Stalin" that draws: "on 273 criminal cases of Soviet joke tellers". Sounds intriguing.
       (Get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)

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4 August 2019 - Sunday

Prix des cinq continents finalists | Chocolate Bookstore | On Savushun
Literary prize (mis)focus ? | C'est la Vie review

       Prix des cinq continents finalists

       They've announced the ten finalists for this year's prix des cinq continents, a leading internationally-focused French-language-book prize, selected from 120 entries.
       Since these are books that only recently came out in the original French, none are available in English yet; the only finalist-author under review at the complete review is Beyrouk (his recently translated The Desert and the Drum).

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       Chocolate Bookstore

       In The Korea Times Jung Hae-myoung has a double profile of the recently opened Chocolate Bookstore in Seoul (no official website, apparently; just a -- arghhh --- Facebook page): one focusing on the store-concept as a whole (Bookstore highlights special side of ordinary people), the other on the chocolate ('Buy a book, choose a chocolate').
       Offering "a selection of handmade chocolates and books that are carefully chosen by the owner" sounds like a decent retail recipe (and recall also the fuss a few years ago about a study that suggested the smell of chocolate helps entice book-buyers (Smelling the books: The effect of chocolate scent on purchase-related behavior in a bookstore)).
       And who could disagree that: "It is important to eat good quality chocolate" ?

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       On Savushun

       Among the many books I read before I started the complete review and which I do want to return to and cover at the site, Simin Daneshvar's Savushun (also translated as: A Persian Requiem) is near the top of the list (as it certainly is notably missing in the otherwise pretty solid coverage of Iranian fiction at the site), so it's good to see some mention and coverage elsewhere -- as Joobin Bekhrad now writes about it at the Los Angeles Review of Books, in Iran Under Pressure, Again: What a 50-Year-Old Persian Classic Tells Us About the Country's Predicament Today.
       And speaking of older novels getting renewed attention: good to see a re-issue of Kamala Markandaya's 1972 The Nowhere Man (at least in the UK ...); see, for example, Bernardine Evaristo's recent review in The Guardian.

       Regrettably, I haven't gotten to either book yet on the site -- but both authors did of course get a mention in my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction.
       Meanwhile, get your copy of Savushun (at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- and see The Washington Post review, Iran's Greatest Hit -- and The Nowhere Man (at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk); see also the Hope Road publicity page.

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       Literary prize (mis)focus ?

       At Scroll.in they open up discussion on Are India's literary prizes wrong to focus more on the winning authors than on their books ?
       It's not just India, and the answer is, obviously: Yes.
       As longtime readers know, this is a pet peeve of mine: it drives me nuts when announcements of book-prize (from Pulitzer to Goncourt) winners are announced and covered with headlines featuring the author's name instead of the book's. It's different for author-prizes, like the Nobel, but book-prizes should be all about the book. Who cares who wrote it ?
       (That said, the living-author requirement they note here -- which also goes for prizes such as the Booker Prize and the (American) National Book Awards -- is a bit of a more complicated case -- perhaps unfair in the example cited, but overall quite reasonable -- though first publication in the time specified (last year, usually) would probably be fairer, even if that did allow the odd newly-discovered book by some long-dead author to occasionally slip in.)

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       C'est la Vie review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pascal Garnier's C'est la Vie, out shortly from Gallic Books.

       Gallic admirably keep bringing Garnier out in English -- this is the eleventh (they're all under review at the complete review); indeed, the next one has already been scheduled and announced, A Long Way Off, coming in April 2020 -- the only problem with that being that that's ... a long way off.
       C'est la Vie is also the unusual book where the English translation has a title in a foreign language that was not the original title in that foreign language (in this case, it was: Nul n'est à l'abri du succès ('No one is safe from success')).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



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