P.D.James has passed away -- so, lots of coverage; see, for example, obituaries in The Guardian (Richard Lea) and The New York Times (Marilyn Stasio)
She was very good, and I've read almost all her books; four are under review at the complete review:
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jonathan Coe's Expo 58, now also out in the US.
I'm a Coe-enthusiast -- all his fiction is under review at the complete review -- but this one was a bit of a let-down.
Still, Penguin seem to have re-issued his backlist over the summer, so you can (and should) dig into that.
There's already been a flood of US/UK 'best of the year' (and the like) lists, but these aren't nearly as popular (or premature) abroad.
One that's been around for a while is Lire's top twenty -- the best book in a variety of categories -- and they've now announced Le palmarès des 20 meilleurs livres de l'année selon la rédaction de Lire.
Their book of the year is Limonov-author Emmanuel Carrère's Le Royaume (about which I continue to harbor doubts -- but it looks like I'll have to have a look at it, when/if I can get my hands on a copy; see also the P.O.L. publicity page).
They named James Salter's All That Is the best foreign novel (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), and Nii Ayikwei Parkes' Tail of the Blue Bird was named best foreign first novel.
A Tanizaki was named best audiobook ....
Le Point is the other periodical out with a(n early) top-of-the-year list -- again headed by the Carrère: Le palmarès "Le Point" des 25 livres de l'année.
Salter makes their top 25, too (as does Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch -- a best foreign novel finalist on Lire's list).
Of course, Hillary Clinton's Mémoires make Le Point's top-25 too, so .... forget that ?
Hoping to emulate the success of the African Writers Series -- see, for example, my review of James Currey's history of The African Writers Series and the Launch of African Literature, Africa Writes Back -- the Association of Nigerian Authors.has launched a Nigerian Writers Series, now announcing the first ten titles (from fifty total and thirty-eight 'valid' submissions) that will be published by a variety of Nigerian publishers.
See also Henry Akubuiro in The Sun on the New dawn for Nigerian writers this might facilitate.
Sounds like a good idea, in any case, and I hope to eventually see some of these titles.
As Theodoros Grigoriadis reports at his weblog, they've announced this year's winners of the Greek Athens Prize for Literature, with Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena winning the best translated category (dominated by translations from the English; see the shortlist, which included titles by Coetzee, McEwan, Banville, and Hollinghurst) and Tηλέμαχος Κώτσιας' Kώδικας Τιμής taking the Greek novel prize (see also the Ψυχογιός publicity page).
Internet competition has forced bookstores across the nation to close, but in the San Gabriel Valley, they've evolved. Chinese bookstores ship packages, repair laptops, supply lottery tickets. One bookstore became a classroom, another a convenience store.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Diego De Silva's I hadn't understood.
The second in De Silva's series is about to come out -- My Mother-in-Law Drinks; see the Europa editions publicity page, or pre-order your cppy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- but I figured I should get to this one first.
The Premio de Literatura en Lengua Castellana Miguel de Cervantes is the biggest Spanish-language author prize, and they've finally gotten around to giving it to the greatest -- and by far the most important -- living Spanish-writing author, Juan Goytisolo (though they haven't gotten around to mentioning that at the official site yet, last I checked ...); see, for example, the Latin American Herald Tribune report, Juan Goytisolo Wins 2014 Cervantes Prize.
The Premio Cervantes has an impressive list of winners -- including Alejo Carpentier (1977), Jorge Luis Borges (1979), Octavio Paz (1981), Carlos Fuentes (1987), Miguel Delibes (1993), Mario Vargas Llosa (1994), and Álvaro Mutis (2001) -- but of course they'll never be able to live down not giving Gabriel García Márquez the prize, and they took their time with this other big-omission-to-date; thankfully, they came to their senses.
There aren't too many incontestable all-time literary greats around right now -- Handke is one of the few in the same league -- but there's little doubt that Goytisolo is one of them.
No doubt, actually.
The bizarre literary prize that is the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award has announced its longlist -- 142 books, a (sort of) impressive 49 in translation, originally written in 16 languages.
On the one hand, it's a neat idea -- libraries from around the world nominate books !
On the other hand, it's a batty idea -- libraries from select few libraries in parts of the world (preferably apparently not ... off-color parts of the world) nominate (far too often local) works.
Yes, this is a prize which has as many nominators (one) from Liechtenstein as it does from all of Africa.
More nominators from Iceland (one) than Japan (zero).
More nominators from the Caribbean (two -- Jamaica and Barbados) than all of South America (one -- Brazil).
And of course nationalism rules the day (surely the first rule here should be: you can't nominate a book by an author from the country you represent).
So, for example, the National Library of Liechtenstein nominated ... Kurt J. Jaeger's The Abyssinian Cache because ... well, of course they did -- who wouldn't have ?
Because you've seen The Abyssinian Cache at your local library/bookstore/friend's house.
Amazon ranking 5,956,751 ?
Pah -- it's published (meaning in this case also: self-published) by illustrious ... Windsor Verlag, with which you're as familiar as you are with Kurt J. Jaeger (who admirably and industriously also self-translated his masterpiece).
(In case you unfathomably haven't gotten a copy for yourself yet: see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
Look: I don't know, Kurt J. Jaeger may be the next coming of Günter Grass, Thomas Bernhard, and W.G.Sebald rolled into one -- but this sure smells to me like a hometown boy being put up for a prize that is way, way out of his league.
Somehow, among the 141 other international contenders not a single work written in Arabic or Japanese makes the cut ?
Sure, impressively a title translated from the Malay is in the mix -- but, hey, guess what: it was nominated by the National Library of Malaysia.
For god's sake, the 'Literature Translation Institute of Korea Library' nominated two titles whose translation into English their parent organization subsidized -- how is that okay ? how is that permissible ?
(And why is one of those -- At Least We Can Apologize by Lee Ki-ho -- listed on the 2015 Printable Longlist but not on the list of The Nominees ?
I know it's hard to keep track of so many titles, but ... sheesh.)
Anyway, the result is a mix of some really good stuff and ... works by ... how shall I put it politely ? less widely recognized ? local authors such as Kurt J. Jaeger.
One hopes the judges will be able to separate the wheat from The Abyssinian Cache the chaff.
A fair number of the nominated titles are under review at the complete review (and I'm also surprised by how many more I've read but didn't get around to reviewing) -- alas, not (yet ?) The Abyssinian Cache:
In this week's issue of New York Christopher Bonanos profiles New York's enormous ('18 Miles of Books') Strand bookstore, in The Strand’s Stand: How It Keeps Going in the Age of Amazon.
Certainly, the fact that in 1996 they bought the building that houses the store (and thus are able to set their own rent, and collect rent on much of the remaining space) makes survival a lot easier (though one hopes they recall that the similarly legendary Gotham Book Mart also owned its prime real estate, and that didn't work out so well ...).
I used to live nearby, and frequented it frequently (along with doing the rounds of all the other now-lost neighborhood bookstores); I still need my regular fix -- monthly or so -- but the 2003 renovation took a lot of the soul out of the place and it isn't quite the treasure-trove it used to be.
("Fifteen percent of the store's revenue now comes from merch", which pretty much says it all.)
Still, rare is the visit when I don't pick up something (or an armload) because I know I'm unlikely to easily or ever find it anywhere else ever again.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Éric Faye's Nagasaki, the 2010 Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française winner out from Gallic Books (in the UK; coming to the US in January).
The official Nobel Prize site continues to impress with the wealth of information available on it.
Okay, I don't really need to know the contents of each and every of the Menus at the Nobel Banquet 1901-2013 -- but I do like stuff like that catalogue of Alfred Nobel's Private Library
Given the criticism the literature prize gets -- especially for its early choices -- it's interesting to see what Nobel had in his own library -- and revealing that, for example, he had a tidy Tolstoy collection (much of it in Russian, no less) but not a volume by the first Nobel laureate, Sully Prudhomme (a prize Tolstoy could -- and arguably should -- have won).
First off, the Nobel winners -- a mix of the predictable (Nordic) ones and a few of the early stand-outs: Nobel's collection included works by: Henrik Pontoppidan (1917), Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam (1916), Paul Heyse (1910), Selma Lagerlöf (1909), Rudyard Kipling (1907), and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1903).
(It makes me wonder yet again about the now-forgotten Verner von Heidenstam, whose citation reads: "in recognition of his significance as the leading representative of a new era in our literature" -- what era was that ?
But Nobel had a bunch of his work, and he was translated into English back in the day.)
The only surprising missing laureate-name is Knut Hamsun, whose work was already fairly well-known before Nobel's death.
An interesting mix of other titles, too: no Dickens, for example, but Edward Bulwer-Lytton's notorious (for its: "It was a dark and stormy night ..." opening) Paul Clifford, and overall really quite a decent literary collection (in an impressive selection of languages).
(Also good to see: Karl Gutzkow's Die Ritter vom Geiste -- one of those big German books Arno Schmidt introduced me (and so many others) to (as noted also, of course, in my Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy).)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Margaret Jull Costa's new translation of Benito Pérez Galdós' classic, Tristana -- yes, the basis for the 1970 Luis Buñuel film with Catherine Deneuve in the title-role -- coming out from New York Review Books.
It's apparently Pérez Galdós-revival time -- a (new ?) translation in the Everyman's Library (see the ... cover) of his masterpiece, Fortunata and Jacinta, is one of the big upcoming publications of 2015 -- but much as I'm glad to see these works reworked and him getting attention, it would be neat if some of the still untranslated fiction was (also) made available, given how many huge piles of it still haven't been.
(Not that anyone could easily get their hands on the old translation of Tristana, either .....)
I can see these as the easier sell, but Pérez Galdós is one of the Spanish greats, and it's about time more of his work was available in English (for the first, not -- as in these cases -- the second or third time).
Well, maybe these, if nicely successful, will help open the floodgates.
The prize recognizes excellent writing in African languages and encourages translation from, between and into African languages.
Which is certainly admirable -- though excellent writing in African languages might be easier to recognize if the prize weren't restricted to just one of them ... (as the prize is for: "the best unpublished manuscripts or books in Kiswahili published within two years of the award year").
Still, as (Gikuyu-writing author) Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o notes:
Prizes have generally been used to drown African Literature in African languages under a Europhone flood.
I hope that this prize becomes an invitation for other African languages to do the same and much more.
(There are/have been some (generally regional/national prizes) honoring work in African languages, but this looks like the grandest in scale to date; the money is good too)
Let's hope prizes in other major African languages follow suit -- though the real dream is, of course, to finally see a truly pan-African prize in which submissions can be in any language.
One of the most interesting books for me this past year has been the latest "novel" by the much-laurelled Norwegian Dag Solstad.
(As longtime readers know, I revere Shyness and Dignity-author Dag Solstad, the Scandinavian author -- along with, perhaps, Per Olov Enquist -- most deserving of the Nobel Prize, if they dare pick anyone from that region anytime soon.)
Even more impressively:
Since the book, known familiarly over there as "Telemark novel" (its full title is long), does not exist in English, I have been struggling, happily, to make what I can of it in Norwegian
Way to go Ms. Davis !
(The book is -- suggested English title -- The Insoluble Epic Element in Telemark in the Years 1592-1896; see the Aschehoug Agency information page (and, hey, the opening words are, apparently: "Read slowly, one word at a time, if you want to understand what I am saying", which is presumably what Davis is doing).
I'm hoping for imminent translation into English (though I'll settle for: in my lifetime -- and am tempted to seek out a Norwegian copy, to try to make my way through it Davis-style ...).)
Flabbergasting, however: the site with the URL newlitfromeurope.org -- surely the one you'll be pointed to if you 'Google' (or whatever you do) for 'New Literature from Europe' -- only offers information about last year's festival, while the official site for this year's festival is apparently newlitfromeurope.wordpress.com.
Why not update the old site (archiving the 2013 information there too, so it's nicely all together ...) ?
They've announced the winners of the 2014 (American) National Book Awards.
Redeployment, by Phil Klay, won the fiction prize; I can imagine almost no circumstances under which I would review this title, but see the Penguin Press publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.com, or pre-order it at Amazon.co.uk.
The number of recently and newly-founded presses devoted to literature in translation continues to impress -- the promising Deep Vellum just released its first title, for example, and the still very young Hispabooks has already done an impressive job of bringing literature from Spain to English-speaking readers in a very short time.
New to me is Cubanabooks, but a just-received stack of their six fiction titles easily wins me over.
With a focus on: "contemporary literature by Cuban women writers" they offer the sort of things we're unlikely to otherwise see -- and, impressively, their books are bilingual editions; in a country (the US) where Spanish is widely spoken and read, that seems like a great way of making these works accessible to the largest possible audience, from native speakers more comfortable reading the originals to those without any Spanish who can rely entirely on the translated versions.
Surely worth a closer look -- the just-released The Bleeding Wound, by Mirta Yáñez looks like a great place to satrt; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The Korea Times prints the judges' report -- by Brother Anthony, Jung Ha-yun, and Min Eun-kyung -- for the 45th Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards.
One of their more positive reports in recent years -- though sad/interesting to note: "In the poetry category, only four entries were received".
But at least fiction-translation seems to be thriving.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem -- one of this year's most anticipated translations, as the first blockbuster science fiction title out China to make it into English.
Interesting publishing side-notes: after some back-and-forth publisher Tor went with a Western-style arrangement for the author's name on the cover: 'Cixin Liu'.
While Japanese authors' names have long been written 'Western' style ('Yukio Mishima', 'Haruki Murakami') only recently have publishers ventured to 'westernize' Korean names ('Young-ha Kim' and 'Kyung-sook Shin' are the first to get the Western treatment, while, for example, Dalkey Archive Press' Library of Korean Literature still adheres to the Korean-(/Chinese-/Japanese-)style of writing family names first ('Mao Zedong')), and I can't recall seeing it used for a translation-from-the Chinese (well, excluding also-English-writing authors like Zhang Ailing).
(House style at the complete review is home-turf style wherever the book was first published -- hence: 'Liu Cixin' (and 'Kertész Imre, etc.).)
I am curious to see whether this takes.
On a more troubling note: the work is translated by Ken Liu -- but the copyright page insists:
Allen B. Riddell's 'Public Domain Rank: Identifying Notable Individuals with the Wisdom of the Crowd' (see abstract or (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) full text) is an interesting attempt at: "identifying authors of notable works throughout history".
The main purpose is to identify works coming into the public domain -- determining which ones are most worth preserving -- but the methodology also works for authors whose work won't be in the public domain for quite a while, with Riddell suggesting:
A second application arise from treating the Public Domain Rank as a general, independent index of an individual's importance for contemporary audiences.
So how well does this thing work ?
Admirably (and entertainingly) there's an easy-to-use Public Domain Rank Browser -- allowing anyone to see for themselves.
The results are ... actually rather disappointing.
Okay, I've been complaining that Arno Schmidt hasn't been getting his due -- hence my Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy (you've got your copy, right ?) -- but does he really rank just 62nd among authors who died in 1979 ?
Okay, maybe I'm a little too close to that one; how about Brecht -- 17th among authors who died in 1956 ?
And among authors who died in 1989, surely I'm not alone in believing Samuel Beckett (12th) and Thomas Bernhard (33rd) rate higher ?
How about a bumper year like 1970 ?
Some authors of considerable note who died that year fare pretty poorly:
S.Y.Agnon - 21st
John Dos Passos - 22
Paul Celan - 54
John O'Hara - 57
Jean Giono - 68
Erich Maria Remarque - 77
Stanley Edgar Hyman - 86
Unica Zürn - 146
Nelly Sachs - 173
François Mauriac - 188
Mishima Yukio - 373 (or thereabouts -- it's hard to keep track that far down the list)
Do these rankings really reflect their relative: "importance for contemporary audiences" (especially when you consider some of the higher-ranked names) ?
Methinks ... not so much.
And consider even a year long in the public domain -- 1910, where the top four author are, in order:
Any formula that puts Goldwin Smith ahead of Tolstoy ... maybe not entirely reliable.
Still, fun to play with, and maybe a decent place to start.
But it could certainly use some tinkering.
In the Boston Globe Mark Shanahan profiles David R. Godine (of the eponymous publishing house), in Beyond sales, Boston publisher's devotion speaks volumes.
Godine now famously published (and kept in print) a couple of Patrick Modiano titles, even as for year they were ... not exactly flying off the shelves ("I couldn't sell them to Chicago for landfill", in his words), which has now paid off (see, for example, my review of Honeymoon).
But that's just the tip of an excellent list -- notable also for its many Georges Perec titles.
They've announced the category shortlists for the WhitbreadCosta Book Awards -- though not yet at the official site, last I checked ....
See, for example, the report in The Telegraph.
None of these titles are under review at the complete review, but I do have and will be getting to the Ali Smith (and, if/when I get my hands on a copy, possibly the Neel Mukherjee).
At The New Republic Stephen Akey writes about 'The problem with literary agents', in My Book Is Not About Vampires or Childhood Trauma. I'm Doomed.
"I have no problem with the role played by literary agents as cultural gatekeepers", he claims -- but he does seem to have a problem: not with the abstract ideal of such agents as cultural gatekeepers, but the reality of how they perform that role -- concluding that:
in mediating between writer and publisher, the agencies build in an extra layer of exactly what is not needed: more conservatism and caution.
You know where I stand -- at a safe and cautious ten-foot-pole distance -- but always fun to see yet another perspective on the peculiar business that is the publishing industry.
_listBooks from Korea has a new (confusing and messy) look to their site, which doesn't seem to be quite all there yet.
The Summer, 2014 issue, which I had not previously seen/linked to is conveniently available; the current one -- apparently with a lot of Ko Un coverage, which you can access via the main page -- not so much.
I hope they make it more functional/user-friendly, but meanwhile there's some interesting stuff to be found in the summer issue, including the usual reviews.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Novel of Chengdu by Murong Xuecun, Leave Me Alone.
This first came out in English from Allen & Unwin in Australia, in 2009, and has now been picked up by Make Do/Forty-six in the UK.
The Translation Databases at Three Percent offer a good overview of most of what has been translated into English and published in the US in 2014, from all languages (though the upcoming long overdue update will certainly offer a better picture ...), but it can still be helpful to have more specific lists -- like Paper Republic's 2014 translations from Chinese -- a bumper crop.
This doesn't quite overlap with the Three Percent list, as it includes both US and UK publications (Mo Yan's Frogs, for example, is only coming out in the US in 2015, and will thus only be included on next year's database), but gives a good sense of what has been translated.
Surprisingly, almost a quarter of the fiction is under review at the complete review -- four titles, with another to follow later this week:
At The Believer online, Lydia Perović has a Q & A with A.S.Byatt's sister, Margaret Drabble, a fine writer in her own right.
I certainly like her attitude towards historical fiction ("I know the plot. I know my Shakespeare. I know what happened. I don't need to read it to find out.").
And then there's her take on (The Sea, the Sea, etc.-)author Iris Murdoch:
Basically, she was an androgynous figure.
She wasn't really a woman; she wasn't a man, but she wasn't a woman. She was married to this elderly professor...
A local library I visited in Bagan was a case in point -- bookshelves creaking under the weight of unloved, mildew-covered books, most of them obscure and unrecognizable.
According to a survey by the Asia Foundation, almost 90% of books at libraries such as this one are religious texts.
See also the (limited) index of books from and about Burma under review at the complete review.
It seems like one -- or indeed several -- German literary prizes are being awarded daily, and yesterday they announced that Marcel Beyer takes this year's Bremer Literaturpreis -- a rare German literary prize awarded for a specific title, Beyer's Graphit, in thsi case.
A €20,000 prize barely seems worth a mention -- but the list of winners suggests this is one is worth paying some attention to: consider, they've given the award to: Clemens Meyer (2014), Wolf Haas (2013) Friederike Mayröcker (2011), Clemens J. Setz (2010), W.G.Sebald (2002), Elfriede Jelinek (1996), Peter Handke (1988), Volker Braun (1986), Peter Weiss (1982), Christa Wolf (1978), Thomas Bernhard (1965), Paul Celan (1958), and Ingeborg Bachmann (1957), among others.
Equally impressively, their 'Förderpreis', for up-and-coming authors recognized talents such as Herta Müller (1985) and Durs Grünbein (1992) early on.
So they're clearly doing something right.
The Roswitha-Preis is apparently the German variation on the English-language prize that use to be called the Orange Prize -- though it's been around considerably longer.
At €5,500 it's not a huge money prize -- but that winner's list is a knock-out: future Nobel laureates were recognized way early on: Elfriede Jelinek in 1978 (!) and Herta Müller in (1990), and other winners include Aichinger, Mayröcker, Sarah Kirsch, Irmtraud Morgner, Julia Franck -- and die Grande Dame des deutschen Comics, Dr. Erika Fuchs.
They've announced this year's prize-winner: it's Gertrud Leutenegger.