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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 19 July

11 July: Whistler (and Wilde) | English literature in Pakistan | Ayckbourn questions | Amis' Yellow Dog
12 July: Borges and N.T. di Giovanni | Writing about friends
13 July: Tim Adams' bestseller spree | Translingual writers
14 July: New York on becoming a writer | Australian favourites | Pinter's War | Author publicity
15 July: More Platform reactions | Ozick on Nafisi | McCloskey's economic Sins
16 July: Dictionary fiction | Puffery ! | Caine Prize | War review
17 July: Joyce weblog | More RCF reviews | Selling out ? | Out of print books
18 July: More James M. Cain reviews | Banker's Ramayana
19 July: Georges Perec | Peter Olson preview | Jasper Fforde interview | Apology

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19 July 2003 - Saturday

Georges Perec | Peter Olson preview | Jasper Fforde interview | Apology

       Georges Perec

       In today's issue of The Guardian there's some Georges Perec news, in A life corrected, about a new issue of the Cahiers Georges Perec devoted to taking on David Bellos' marvel of a biography (see our review) and what are apparently the many mistakes found in it ("many of them minuscule points of detail"), as well as mentioning the publication of two volumes of interviews with Perec, Entretiens et conférences (we want ! we want ! oh how desperately we want -- get your copies of tome 1 and tome 2 from
       The Guardian's article clearly borrows from a somewhat more informative (but French-language) interview with Marcel Bénabou in Le Monde about these Perec-doings.
       For additional information, see also the Index to Antibiotiques (the corrective issue of Cahiers Georges Perec), and reviews of the Entretiens et conférences in L'Humanité and Le Nouvel Observateur.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Peter Olson preview

       We look forward to Sunday's issue of The New York Times Magazine, in which the cover piece, by Lynn Hirschberg, is on Random House head honcho Peter Olson. Steven Zeitchik kindly previews it at the Publishers Weekly site.
       For the official corporate line (presumably a different picture than Hirschberg paints), see Olson's biography at the Bertelsmann site.

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       Jasper Fforde interview

       There's a Jasper Fforde interview in today's issue of The Independent.
       In the US his Lost in a Good Book has recently come out (get your copy at; we hope to review it, but haven't been able to get our hands on a copy). In the UK they're a book ahead: The Well of Lost Plots just came out (get your copy at Meanwhile we just have his first, The Eyre Affair, under review.
       See also Fforde's official site, Fforde Grand Central.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       We recently thought Caroline Baum's referring to the author we know as Thomas Keneally as 'Tom' was entirely too familiar. Turns out Thomas apparently does lead a sort of double life (like Iain/Ian Banks ?): his Australian publisher, Random House, calls him Tom -- and it's the name his newest novel is published under (see their publicity page).
       Said book -- The Tyrant's Novel -- isn't available in the UK or US (yet ?), under either Tom or Thomas -- but you can read Andrew Riemer's review in today's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 July 2003 - Friday

More James M. Cain reviews | Banker's Ramayana

       More James M. Cain reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of James M. Cain's Mildred Pierce and Richard Schickel's little study of the Billy Wilder film (based on Cain's story), Double Indemnity.
       Mildred Pierce (also made into a fairly well-known film) isn't quite as hard-boiled as we'd like our Cain to be, but it'll do. We haven't been able to dig up (i.e. find cheap or accessible copies) of the other Cain titles we'd like to cover (Serenade being first and foremost), but we hope to eventually.
       The Schickel is one of those BFI Film Classic volumes: always worthwhile, though this one, more than most of these volumes, did leave us hungrier for more. (We also hope to cover the DI screenplay one of these days too -- and maybe get the full story on the switched endings.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Banker's Ramayana

       We've previously mentioned that the Ramayana appears to be the new 'in'-epic, mentioning new versions like Ashok Banker's. Now more information is available about what he's doing, in this interview in The Week (link first seen at Kitabkhana).
       Apparently Banker's version, too, is more a retelling than a translation. Oh well. Oh damn.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 July 2003 - Thursday

Joyce weblog | More RCF reviews | Selling out ? | Out of print books

       Joyce weblog

       A new weblog that should be of some interest: noseyflynn's is "A Daily Joyce Journal", where blogger Kelly Nolan hopes to: "enter some sort of information about Joyce on a daily basis up until the centennial of Bloomsday on June 16th, 2004".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More RCF reviews

       The wonderful Review of Contemporary Fiction continues to come out three times a year, but they don't seem to update their site anywhere near as often -- not that (unfortunately) much of the content is available when they do put the most recent issues up.
       In the past two weeks they've finally updated things: not much RCF content -- except that which is of perhaps most interest and use to users of this site: their book reviews ! Check out those from the Fall 2002 issue, and the Spring 2003 issue. (There's also a link for the Summer 2003 issue book reviews , but it doesn't lead anywhere (yet ?). (Updated - 18 July): Now it does.)
       The Review of Contemporary Fiction is probably the single publication with which the complete review has the most review-overlap (i.e. we discuss many of the same books), so readers who enjoy our site should appreciate their book coverage. Would that they made it easier to find their reviews ! (A few nice indices -- titles and authors alphabetically arranged -- would be a great first step.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Selling out ?

       To date, for the over four years we've run the complete review, we've avoided putting any advertising on our site (save, of course, for our many, many links to ubiquitous and inescapable
       Seduced by greed (or rather: desperate for every penny), and the ease with which they can be placed any- and every-where (and the promise of vaguely sensibly targeted ads), we've signed on to Google's AdSense programme. So from now on you'll find, on many of our pages, banners like this one:

       Actually, we don't intend to run the ads on the main weblog page (the changing content makes it a less than ideal location) -- though we'll probably put them on the archived pages. Elsewhere on the site they might be of more use, especially on the various review pages; the Google juggernaut seems to make for pretty decent matching of content and ads, thus actually providing a service for users who find their way onto our site .....
       Yeah, we're not completely convinced either -- baffled by the idea that anyone would ever click on an ad or otherwise succumb to advertising (though we probably do, at least subconsciously, as much as anyone, inundated by it in every newspaper and magazine we read, every TV programme we watch, ever radio show we hear). But the sleek and convincing Google model is (beside's (or's and the likes') ingenious and obvious book-link model) the first that's really tempted us to give it a go. So here we go.
       For now we're placing the ads as unobtrusively as possible (at the bottom of reviews) -- though if they're completely ignored there we might re-think our positioning strategy.
       Outcries of: "For shame ! for shame !" are duly noted, though you don't really have to bother us with them. (Shamefacedly we'll even remind you that there are numerous other ways you can contribute more directly to the site: see our page on supporting the site !)

       We're curious to see how the AdSense innovation goes. Google only really opened it up to smaller sites a few weeks ago, and it seems to have been eagerly and widely embraced. It would appear to have the potential to wreak havoc with the internet-advertising scene, since it certainly sounds like the most convincing programme matching content and advertisement.

       For additional information, see the Google AdSense site (a secure site), or a Case Study: does it work ? at (with some additional links).

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       Out of print books

       Today's Christian Science Monitor looks at a few out of print (but apparently in demand) books they picked up over the Internet -- Out of print bestsellers. We always like it when people pay attention to out of print books (though we wouldn't have chosen this particular batch).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 July 2003 - Wednesday

Dictionary fiction | Puffery ! | Caine Prize | War review

       Dictionary fiction

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Han Shaogong's novel, A Dictionary of Maqiao.
       This appears to be, for all intents and purposes, the first English-language publication of a book by Han (yes, there appears to be a collection of stories published in Taiwan, but we're guessing your local bookstore never stocked it). It's a university press publication (Columbia UP), but this is a book that might actually get some attention -- well deserved, too. A Dictionary of Maqiao isn't entirely a success (not helped by the premise and then the translation into another language), but there's a craftsman at work behind it.
       It's an odd counterpart to, for example, Dai Sijie's very popular Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress -- similarly set in the Chinese hinterlands, with a (relatively) educated youth outsider describing the mysteries of where he finds himself during the Cultural Revolution. A Dictionary of Maqiao is the much deeper (and more "literary" -- and, yes, a bit less approachable) attempt to address these times and the surrounding issues.
       Han is apparently better known in Europe: several of his earlier books have been translated into French (though not this one), and we'd be very curious to read some of them. A Dictionary of Maqiao has already been published in Dutch and seems to have been well-received. Columbia University Press also touts it as having been named "one of the Top 100 Works of Twentieth-Century Chinese Fiction by Yazhou Zhoukan Asia Weekly", winner of the "Shanghai Literary Prize", and winner "Best Novel in Taiwan, China Times Prize" -- whatever any of that means.
       Originally slated for August publication we've already sighted copies stacked up at New York bookstores; we hope there's been some interest in them. No American reviews so far, except in the trade publications -- where Publishers Weekly gave it a very nice write-up. We're curious to see whether it gets the media coverage it deserves, and especially look forward to reviews from those equipped to compare it with the original. (Translator Julia Lowell made some cuts because they would have required "extensive and distracting linguistic explanations" -- a decision we never appreciate being made on our behalf.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Puffery !

       Among the greatest outrages perpetrated by publishers is their use of blurbs -- especially advance quotes -- on books. In a vicious circle of mutual endorsement authors abet in this process, leaving the back (and occasionally front) covers of new publications filled with useless quotes that are as likely from friends of the author as sincerely meant words of praise. Sam Leith "finds out how the plaudits are secured" in The generous giants in the Daily Telegraph
       It's a fun article, including some entertaining quotes from A.S.Byatt ("The publishers now even employ teams of young persons to write threatening letters saying, 'We have not yet received your advance praise for these books', and reminding you of the deadline").
       There's also disturbing news about "the indulgent in-joke of the anti-puff" (for example Toby Young's book, How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, which boasts (?) quotes that were "actually produced in collaboration with the author").

       (And don't forget The Puffies (awarded annually, send in your nominations now) at Alex Good's

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Caine Prize

       The Caine Prize has been awarded -- to Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. This is apparently Africa's most prestigious literary prize -- though it's limited to the short story form (draw your own conclusions).
       See reports in the East African Standard (by Kimani wa Wanjiru) and The Guardian (by Michelle Pauli).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       War review

       We've previously mentioned Harold Pinter's War and, just recently, Adam Newey's review in the New Statesman.
       Now we've found another review -- Noel Malcolm's in the Daily Telegraph. The slant is predictable (could anyone at the Telegraph possibly approve of this volume ?):
Pinter's war is a war of blind hatred against the United States. Not surprisingly, for poetical reasons (leaving aside political ones) this poetry is distinctly bad.
       But at least Malcolm and the Telegraph-folk show something of a sense of humour: alongside Pinter's War they review Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld (ed. by Hart Seely).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 July 2003 - Tuesday

More Platform reactions | Ozick on Nafisi | McCloskey's economic Sins

       More Platform reactions

       Michel Houellebecq's Platform, finally available in the US, is eliciting all sorts of reactions (see, of course, our review for the full rundown of reviews and links).
       It's apparently the topic of the week at Slate's odd "book club" ("New books dissected over e-mail" -- what does that even mean ?) -- see the first entry here. (By the way: the dissecters are people named Keith Gessen and Aaron Matz. We never heard of them either -- but at least there's a button allowing you to find out "Who are these people ?" (not that the information provided is very reassuring).)
       Other Platform reviews now available on the Internet: Richard Lacayo's in Time and Joshua Clover's in The Village Voice.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ozick on Nafisi

       We've previously mentioned Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran (a book we'd like to review, but which Random House has not seen fit to send us) and some links of possible interest about the book. Since then it's received a great deal of additional praise and attention -- and now another heavy hitter weighs in on it: Cynthia Ozick writes on it in The Rule of the Bus in the current edition of The New Republic (a too-rare article actually freely accessible on the site).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       McCloskey's economic Sins

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of another of these neat little Prickly Paradigm Press pamphlets, Deirdre McCloskey's look at The Secret Sins of Economics.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 July 2003 - Monday

New York on becoming a writer | Australian favourites
Pinter's War | Author publicity

       New York on becoming a writer

       This week's issue of New York magazine has several articles on becoming a writer and getting published, including:
  • The New Literary Lottery by Alex Williams: "Good news for aspiring novelists: Advances for first-time authors have blown sky-high. The catch ? If the book doesn’t sell, the fallout can kill your career."

  • So You Want To Be A Writer ? by Alex Williams -- the different NY possibilities

  • The Write Start: "First-time novelist David Amsden talks to New York authors about how they got started"
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Australian favourites

       A survey of the hundred favourite Australian reads is out (see also this accompanying article at the Sydney Morning Herald site). Tolkien comes out tops, the Harry Potters do very well as well. The Bible just makes it into the top ten. Overall: not very impressive.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pinter's War

       We've previously mentioned Harold Pinter's new slim volume, War. Now Adam Newey reviews it in this week's issue of the New Statesman.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Author publicity

       Okay, it's the summer months and people are on vacation and maybe it's hard to find filler material, but how does crap like this get published ? (At the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal site no less.) It's not even a particularly witty or clever or insightful take on authors moving their books into more prominent positions at bookstores -- haven't we read half a dozen takes on this every year we can remember ?
       And what does it say about an author that his highest priority is not critical acclaim or his book selling well (or, presumably, the actual quality of the book itself) but merely that it not be "given a dismal display in bookshops". (Yeah, okay, this is all meant to be a bit tongue in cheek -- but even that is pretty sad.)
       What we are impressed by: that this guy has the connexions to get a piece of drivel like this published in such a prominent publication. Bravo.
       What we are depressed by: the same.
       God forbid -- once again (and, apparently, always) -- that anyone actually bother with any literary coverage. Even a discussion of this guy's story-collection (if they're already going to give him all this free publicity) would be better than this worthless waste of words (and our time).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

13 July 2003 - Sunday

Tim Adams' bestseller spree | Translingual writers

       Tim Adams' bestseller spree

       A truly deperate undertaking: Tim Adams "read every novel in last week's top 10 list", trying to figure out; "What makes a book a bestseller -- and what do Britain's bestsellers say about us ?" 3,891 pages and not too much fun, apparently (and more murders than orgasms). We admire his perseverance -- we wouldn't have made in nearly as far (naturally we don't have a single of these top ten titles under review).
       Read all about Tim's grand adventures in today's issue of The Observer, in Read 'em and weep

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Translingual writers

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Steven G. Kellman's anthology in which Translingual Writers Reflect on Their Craft, Switching Languages.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

12 July 2003 - Saturday

Borges and N.T. di Giovanni | Writing about friends

       Borges and N.T. di Giovanni

       We previously mentioned Norman Thomas di Giovanni's recent book, The Lesson of the Master (about his relationship with Jorge Luis Borges).
       Stephanie Merritt reviewed it in The Observer (16 February); she wasn't exactly bowled over -- but now Richard Flanagan offers a remarkably sympathetic piece on Writing with Borges in today's issue of The Age.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Writing about friends

       Caroline Baum writes about real people finding their way into works of fiction -- often to their surprise (and displeasure) -- down under in The writer who mistook my life for a novel in today's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald. A fair amount of good literary gossip -- though she flaunts her insider status a bit much (Tom Keneally ? come on ! (Updated - 19 July: -- or maybe not.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

11 July 2003 - Friday

Whistler (and Wilde) | English literature in Pakistan
Ayckbourn questions | Amis' Yellow Dog

       Whistler (and Wilde)

       Sarah Walden writes "on how the friendship between the painter and the playwright turned sour" in Shared wit of Whistler and Wilde in this week's issue of The Spectator.

       Walden restored Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 (popularly known as Whistler's Mother) and recently published a book about it, Whistler and His Mother: Unravelling the Mind. (It's available in the UK ( get it at and will be published in the US in October by the University of Nebraska Press (see their publicity page and/or pre-order it at

       It sounds like a fairly interesting title. See Valerie Grove's 5 July article in The Times, The truth about Whistler's mother, for a good overview (and information about Walden).

       For reviews, check out those in the Telegraph by Jane Ridley and Aileen Reid.
       Ridley writes:
It is a sparkling essay, elegantly written, and informed by a lifetime spent getting under the skin of old masters. It is let down by poor production -– cheap paper, sloppy proof-reading, disappointing illustrations.
       Reid writes:
The author has not been well served by her publisher. The illustrations are woefully inadequate. (...) And there are also an annoying number of small errors which suggest haste in both research and editing and which mar what might have been a charming and informative study if the focus were only tighter.
       (One hopes the University of Nebraska Press takes note and offers an improved version.)

       Meanwhile, Glasgow is celebrating the Whistler 2003 Centenary -- and the famous and now restored painting itself is hanging at the Hunterian Museum for the time being.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       English literature in Pakistan

       This has been brewing for a while, but Rory McCarthy offers a good overview in yesterday's issue of The Guardian of Professors fight to keep Swift on syllabus as Pakistan's Islamists target 'vulgar' classics . (For an earlier report, see also John Lancaster on The religious reshaping of Pakistan (The Washington Post, 20 June).)
       McCarthy offers a useful summary of the nutty goings-on. Not surprisingly, a busy-body general's wife apparently set things rolling -- " 'We have been tolerant for too long,' the general's wife said in a meeting with academics from the department ". (Yeah, that's what's wrong in Pakistan -- too much god damn tolerance.)
       Fortunately, not all Pakistanis agree with the influential meddlers who are trying to impose their limited world-views on academia -- see, for example, Masood Hasan diagnose SMD -- Serious Mental Disorder in The News or Navid Shahzad lament this Fall from grace in the Daily Times.

       See also the sites of the University of the Punjab itself, or its English Department (not that there's any information about these events to be found there -- god (or Allah ?) forbid there'd be any sort of open discussion (remember: "We have been tolerant for too long !")).
       Just a reminder: Pakistan is that undemocratic nation with bona fide weapons of mass destruction (of the nice nuclear sort, no less) that not only isn't getting invaded by the US and UK but recently got an enormous aid package ($ 3 billion of grants over five years) from the American government. A large part of that "aid" is, of course, earmarked for military spending (The Economist reports (28 June) that up to half of the funds can (i.e. will) be spent on weaponry) -- and very little, we're guessing, is going towards the teaching of literature of any sort. We suggest the country (and, over the long term, the world) would be far better off if all the money meant to be spent (i.e. wasted) on weaponry were devoted to making literature (including The Rape of the Lock) accessible to the Pakistani population -- though actually, spending the money on anything other than weaponry would undoubtedly make the Pakistanis better off. But, of course, weaponry allows General Perv Mushharraf to keep his army happy and himself in power -- while making literature accessible to his population (or even just teaching the large segment of Pakistani citizenry that's still illiterate how to read) just opens a whole can of worms. Well, the Americans once thought that funding Afghanistani freedom-fighters was a good idea too .....
       No public comment (as far as we can tell), by the way, from allegedly literacy and literature loving First Lady Laura Bush.

       (Updated - 17 July): See also Charles Paul Freund's commentary, What Not to Read This Summer, at Reason.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ayckbourn questions

       We continue to be baffled by the fascination people have with authors (as opposed to authors' works), but apparently authors are like any other famous or semi-famous people -- of interest simply due to their names sounding familiar and getting printed in the newspapers.
       Knowing this, The Independent gives readers the opportunity: "You Ask The Questions". Since Alan Ayckbourn has a new play coming out he went along with this -- here the results.
       We admit to a sort of perverse fascination as to what people are interested in about authors (since there's nothing we find particularly interesting about most of them), and this is a particularly mixed bag of questions. (Honestly, we wouldn't know what to ask him either -- and at least some of these are pretty creative questions (and vaguely entertaining answers).) But we'd rather just see (or read) one of his plays -- and suggest readers would be better off doing so as well.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Amis' Yellow Dog

       Martin Amis new novel, Yellow Dog, is due out at the beginning of September in the UK (pre-order at and in November in the US (pre-order at
       The Bookseller has an interview (of sorts) with Amis about the book -- the most substantive information we've found about it so far.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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