Literary Saloon

the literary
weblog at the
complete review

the weblog

about the saloon
support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist




to e-mail us:

literary weblogs:

  Arts Journal
  Brandywine Books
  Collected Miscellany
  dust/distant sun
  Elegant Variation
  Golden Rule Jones
  Maud Newton
  Moorish Girl
  NewPages Weblog
  Rake's Progress
  Reading Experience
  ReadySteady Blog
  Tingle Alley
  Waterboro lib blog
  Yahoo !

  La Feuille.
  La Muselivre

  Arts & Letters Daily
  Buzzwords Deux
  Cup of Chicha
  In Writing
  LNR Books Diary
  Notes in the Margin
  Old Hag
  wood s lot

  See also: links page

saloon statistics

the Literary Saloon at the Complete Review
opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review

The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 November

21 November: Birkerts on Kertész | NBA fallout | Writers and respect
22 November: Book journalist interview | Roussel's New Impressions of Africa | Zsolt's Nine Suitcases
23 November: Kenya needs Derrida ? | Food and literature
24 November: Stoppard not good enough | Premio letterario internazionale Mondello | Patrick White house and prize | Man Booker flop ?
25 November: Kertész celebrations | Presidential libraries | Lars Gustafsson coverage
26 November: McEwan's Saturday | Quintessence of debauchery for sale | Jelinek's Piano Teacher
27 November: Ba Jin at 101 | Review copies, signed copies, etc. | Frayn's Democracy
28 November: Another Jelinek interview | Books of the year | Best Bulgarian novel 2003 | Books in Africa
29 November: Monterroso's The Black Sheep | Frayn Q & A | Closer watch | NBA as gala-award ? | NYTBR's foreign-language phobia ?
30 November: New Context | Lu Xun the brand name ? | Hollinghurst in Princeton | Jungk reviews

go to weblog

return to main archive

30 November 2004 - Tuesday

New Context | Lu Xun the brand name ? | Hollinghurst in Princeton | Jungk reviews

       New Context

       Issue 16 of Context is now available online (more or less -- not the book reviews this time). As usual, a good amount of interesting stuff. Highlights include the great (and under-translated) Andrei Bitov (The Inevitability of the Unwritten) and Warren Motte on Reading Jean Echenoz:
I have argued that Jean Echenoz’s career is in the ascendant, and indeed I believe that Piano (2003) is his best book yet.
       (We only have a couple of Echenoz's titles under review, but of what we've seen Piano is the stand-out.)
       Explore for yourself -- there's quite a bit more.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Lu Xun the brand name ?

       Xinhuanet report that Lu Xun to become brand name ?. Lu Xun does remain the Chinese author with the highest name-recognition (not quite as popular out west; see the books and writers Lu Xun page for a brief introduction) -- but is this really necessary ?
       As the report notes, it may very well not be: seems everything has been going against the greedy heirs:
Lu Xun's descendants then applied to have the name registered as a trademark, but the application was rejected by the State Trademark Bureau, which also prohibited any commercial activity concerning Lu Xun.
       See, every now and then even totalitarian regimes get it right (though the heirs are appealing the decision).
       The report also notes:
In foreign countries, it is common to use big names to brand products, such as Napoleon wine, the Lincoln sedan, and the Churchill cigar, but this is not the practice in China
       But even in foreign countries author names don't add much value in branding -- yet.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hollinghurst in Princeton

       It turns out recent Man Booker winning author Alan Hollinghurst is currently teaching at Princeton -- he's an Old Dominion Fellow and Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and Creative Writing.
       In The Daily Princetonian Rahul Mehra reports that Hollinghurst details journey to Booker Prize. Mehra does provide an invaluable service in finally actually defining what the hell the much-used label 'gay novel' actually means:
Hollinghurst's novel breaks new ground, however, because it is the first gay novel -- one written directly from the perspective of a homosexual character -- to win the Booker in the prize's 35-year history.
       So that's what it means ! No wonder we were stymied in trying to figure out whether all the book-on-book-action on our shelves was of the hetero- or homo-sexual variety; hell, we couldn't even figure out which novel was male and which was female (their genitalia all looks the same to us).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jungk reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two of Peter Stephan Jungk's novels, The Perfect American and Tigor.
       Other Press published these two in the US this year; Tigor was first published in the UK two years ago, as The Snowflake Constant

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 November 2004 - Monday

Monterroso's The Black Sheep | Frayn Q & A | Closer watch
NBA as gala-award ? | NYTBR's foreign-language phobia ?

       Monterroso's The Black Sheep

       A bit early to get excited, but Augusto Monterroso's The Black Sheep, and other fables is coming back in print (at least in the UK). The admirable acorn book company (worth checking out) is bringing it out next February; it's not listed in their catalogue yet, but you can pre-order it at
       We're big Monterroso fans (see also our review of his Complete Works and Other Stories) -- if only someone would now bring out his many still-untranslated works .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Frayn Q & A

       Michael Frayn continues to get some attention, now that his Democracy has opened in New York. (Admittedly, it's not all good: "Democracy is one British import that doesn't survive the crossing" Richard Zoglin opines in his review in Time.)
       Boris Kachka asks him a few questions in New York, including what novels he likes -- and then:
What do you admire in them ?
Oh, dear. I’m not a literary critic. I just like the bloody things.
       And he's gone up even further in our estimation.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Closer watch

       Just a few more days until the film adaptation of Patrick Marber's play, Closer, opens. As we've mentioned, we have some concerns about what appears to be a change in the ending from the play to the film. Not much mention of this in the reviews that have appeared so far, except now in Ken Tucker's review in New York:
Closer is marred by some drippy music courtesy of Damien Rice and a small-surprise ending that feels like gimmicky irony.
       Which doesn't sound good. Still, the reviews have been very positive so far (see also now reviews at MSNBC and the NY Post) -- and Tucker does promise: "Portman herself is wonderfully wounded and bitter." So we're still looking forward .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NBA as gala-award ?

       New York also offers a piece Measuring The National Book Awards On The Gala-Meter, comparing it to the Academy and Vibe Awards.
       For the American NBAs:
This Year’s Vibe: A tweedy, low-stakes clash of lesser-known egos in the battle for a few thousand potential readers

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NYTBR's foreign-language phobia ?

       Week(end) after week(end) The New York Times Book Review continues to disappoint with its extremely limited fiction coverage (not a single title last week -- though they managed to stuff quite a few non-fiction reviews into what was ostensibly a poetry-focussed issue). There are several prominent novels covered in the 28 November issue, but there's a whole lot more non-fiction coverage, which seems to be the way it will be under Sam Tanenhaus.
       Okay, so the guy has little respect for or interest in fiction -- but at least he can't avoid it entirely. But what is proving remarkable is how well he has managed to avoid covering any books in translation -- fiction or non-fiction. Not that he doesn't look abroad; in fact, it's fascinating to see how many books in this week's issue are in some way international: there are novels by Naipaul and Desai, biographies of Marie Curie and Django Reinhardt, a book on Engaging India and Donald Richie's The Japan Journals. And yet not a single title under review (out of some thirty) was originally written in a foreign language ! And it's essentially the same story, week after week. The only translated book in last week's issue is a Czeslaw Milosz collection -- predictably co-translated by the author.
       We're as suspicious of books in translation as the next person, but they can't simply be ignored -- and most major English-language book review sections don't ignore them, certainly not so comprehensively. But damned if Tanenhaus isn't trying to prove us wrong; we're beginning to have our doubts that he'll even condescend to bother with the new Imre Kertész titles.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 November 2004 - Sunday

Another Jelinek interview | Books of the year | Best Bulgarian novel 2003 | Books in Africa

       Another Jelinek interview

       Honestly, it was practically worth giving Elfriede Jelinek the Nobel prize just to get her to give these interviews. She is one screwed up but highly entertaining lady.
       The most recent interview is a lengthy one conducted by André Müller in yesterday's issue of the Berliner Zeitung (link first seen at Perlentaucher). We learn that among the downsides of getting the Nobel is that she can't take the subway anymore or visit cafés (she doesn't like to be approached in public) and that she'd love to visit New York but -- you guessed it -- if she found herself on a plane "falle ich auf der Stelle tot um" ("I'd keel over dead on the spot"). Oh, and there's also her long-distance (but apparently successful, in its own very peculiar way) marriage -- though her husband has threatened her with the harshest penalties if she says anything about him .....
       The whole interview is full of choice quotes and exchanges (and there's a nice back and forth between her and Müller), but here a few for your amusement and information:
Die Dichterin Friederike Mayröcker antwortete auf die Frage, ob sie Ihnen gratulieren wolle: "So selbstlos bin ich nicht."
Das wundert mich. Ich hätte mich reinen Herzens gefreut, wenn sie ihn bekommen hätte, weil ich gedacht hätte, Gott sei Dank, ich bekomme ihn nicht. Ich wusste ja seit einigen Jahren, dass ich auf einer Liste stehe, und hab täglich für die Gesundheit vom Handke gebetet. Ich hab gebetet, dass er nicht stirbt oder krank wird oder wieder irgendwelche Blödheiten über Serbien äußert.

(The poet Friederike Mayröcker answered the question, as to whether she would congratulate you: "I am not that selfless."
That surprises me. I would have been happy from the bottom of my heart if she had got it, because I would have thought: thank God, I'm not getting it. I've known for a couple of years that I was on a list, and daily I prayed for the health of Handke. I prayed that he wouldn't die or get sick or say more nonsense about Serbia.)
       Yeah, those prayers went unanswered ..... Poor Pete, he probably had it in the bag ten years ago, and then went and blew it on those convictions ..... (And what's he going to do now, since he's presumably no longer in Jelinek's prayers ?)
Können Sie ohne Schlafmittel schlafen ?
Nein, um Gottes willen, ohne Valium geht gar nichts. Meine Grundausstattung sind Valium, Betablocker und Antidepressiva. Das Theaterstück Bambiland hab ich in einem einzigen Drogenflush hingeschrieben.

(Can you sleep without sleeping pills ?
No, for God's sake, without Valium nothing is possible any more. My basic necessities consist of Valium, beta-blockers, and anti-depressants. I wrote the drama Bambiland in a single drug-flush.)
       (Ruth Franklin will not be surprised to learn that ....)
Ich bin ja kein Unmensch. Ich bin ein sehr warmherziger und liebesfähiger Mensch, aber darüber schreibe ich nicht. Ich schreibe über das Zerstörerische, aber das kann ich nur, weil ich auch das andere kenne. Die Leute sülzen über ihre romantischen Erlebnisse, wenn die Sonne untergeht auf Mallorca. Aber wer macht die Drecksarbeit ? Ich muss die Drecksarbeit machen. Ich räume den Gefühlsdreck weg. Das ist meine Aufgabe. Ich bin in der Literatur die Trümmerfrau, die Frau mit dem Mülleimer. Ich bin die Liebesmüllabfuhr.

(I'm not inhuman. I am a very warm and loving person, but I don't write about that. I write about the destructive, but I can only do that because I know the rest as well. People wallow in their romantic experiences, when the sun sets in Mallorca. But who does the dirty work ? I have to do the dirty work. I wipe away the sentimental crap. That is my task. In literature I am the cleaning woman, the woman with the garbage pail. I am the one who handles the love-garbage.)
       And finally:
Wie stellen Sie sich Ihr Alter vor ?
Schrecklich ! Vor dem Alter habe ich panische Angst, seit ich bei meiner Mutter diesen Verfallsprozess miterlebt habe. Also, bevor es mit mir so weit kommt, hoffe ich, dass ich es schaffe, mich umzubringen.

How do you imagine old age ?
Horrible ! I am terribly afraid of old age, ever since I saw my mother's decline. Well, before it gets that far with me, I hope I manage to kill myself.
       Hey, she just has to get on a plane to New York and she'll keel right over, right ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Books of the year

       As has been noted, books of the year lists are popping up all over the place -- often, outrageously, in the place of actual coverage of new books. Most of these are pretty worthless (The Globe 100 ? you gotta be kidding us !) but here a few accessible ones that may be of interest:
  • The Economist's selection (wildly uneven, as usual, but from a decent pool of books)

  • The Observer is one of many periodicals that asks dozens of contributors ("The Observer's celebrity critics") about their favourites -- so many that there's a part one and a part two. (Hey, at least it leads to selections like "Christoph Hein's magisterial Landnahme", by Philip Hensher.)

  • The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has all sorts of book of the year coverage -- and two of their three biggest disappointments are books we have under review: Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint and Peter Handke's Don Juan

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Best Bulgarian novel 2003

       We previously mentioned that there was a new Vick Foundation award for Best Bulgarian novel, and now the first one has been handed out. Not that information is available at the official website yet .....
       But there's a report here:
The Bulgarian novelist Setafn Kisyov received the first Vick prize for the Best Bulgarian novel 2003 for his novel The Executioner at a ceremony in the National Art Academy in Sofia Wednesday evening.
       ("Stephan Kisyov", as they have it at the official website, sounds more like it, but you know who they mean ..... We're curious to see whether the English translation materializes (and, more importantly, makes it into American bookstores.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Books in Africa

       It's always hard to resist a story from Ouagadougou; too bad the news isn't better: Le Monde reports L'Afrique en mal de livres, and they ain't kidding. The usual issues, problems, complaints -- a sad situation.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 November 2004 - Saturday

Ba Jin at 101 | Review copies, signed copies, etc. | Frayn's Democracy

       Ba Jin at 101

       On the 25th Chinese author Ba Jin (also: Pa Chin) hit 101. He's not in great shape any more, but after six million words can surely afford to just lean back and enjoy retirement. Xinhuanet report that the big birthday was celebrated by, among other things, a ten day (!) exhibit of his works and manuscripts at the (or a ?) Shanghai Library.
       See also a brief biography of Ba, or read When the Snow Melted at -- where else ? -- Words Without Borders.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Review copies, signed copies, etc.

       Bookninja has been following this story (and commented on the linked-to stories below over the past few days), but it seems worth another mention: former International Festival of Authors head Greg Gatenby is trying unload much of his collection of 28,000 volumes he's amassed (and often gotten signed by the authors) -- in no small part in his official capacity. Problem is: not everybody thinks he has the right to dispose of the books as he pleases; see Rebecca Caldwell's article, 'They are my books', and the CJAD article, Former head of authors festival seeks Cdn buyer for massive book collection.
       Despite claiming to be in a position to donate the collection (i.e. claiming it's his to do with as he pleases), he says "I'm just not in a position to donate them". What he means, of course, is that he's as greedy as any of us would be if we had such a potential windfall (appraised value: $ 2,000,000 -- even if it's just Canadian dollars). But he also claims: "Gatenby decided to sell the collection because 'the sheer number of books became a problem.' " Yeah, life's tough .....
       The appraised value of $ 2,000,000 is pretty impressive -- that works out to over $ 71 per book, which is a hell of a lot more than we pay for the used books we buy (even when they're signed -- see for example one of our managing editor's purchasing experiences).
       Also impressive: the claim that:
Gatenby reckons he has spent 20,000 hours during the past 36 years searching antiquarian bookshops and remainder bins in stores
       That works out to over an hour and a half every day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Who has that kind of time ? And where do you find enough bookstores to feed that kind of habit ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Frayn's Democracy

       Michael Frayn's play, Democracy, has now also made it to New York, and we have finally gotten our hands on a copy of the text and reviewed it (god forbid that Methuen would actually have sent a copy to us last year when it first came out, allowing us to provide more timely coverage ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 November 2004 - Friday

McEwan's Saturday | Quintessence of debauchery for sale | Jelinek's Piano Teacher

       McEwan's Saturday

       In The Bookseller Benedicte Page talks to Ian McEwan about his forthcoming novel, Saturday (expected in the UK in February, in the US in March).
       McEwan explains:
I thought, 'What would happen if you've got a man who is not about to get divorced or disastrously fall in love and wreck his life, who doesn't have a terminal disease and is not alienated, whose children are not drug addicts and who has a pleasing relationship with his wife ?'
       What a concept !

       Pre-order your copy at or, see the book-information at the Ian McEwan site, or the Random House publicity page.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Quintessence of debauchery for sale

       In The Independent today John Vincent reports For sale: last surviving copy of 'quintessential' English pornography. An original copy of Sodom, or The Gentleman Instructed, ascribed to John Wilmot, Earl Rochester is going up for sale at Sotheby's (presumably at this auction).
       The book sounds fun -- and has a fun history. The second to last copy "was destroyed in the 1830s by the executors of the great book collector, Richard Heber, horrified at finding it in his library."

       (A cheaper reprint is available -- as Sodom; Or the Quintessence of Debauchery -- at -- and it's even available as an e-book.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jelinek's Piano Teacher

       Since she won the Nobel prize, Elfriede Jelinek and (some of) her work is getting a bit more attention. But not always much. The Independent, for example, couldn't be bothered to offer more than a very brief review (scroll down) of her novel, The Piano Teacher. Christina Patterson was not impressed -- indeed, she found it: "just triggers an intense desire to slit your wrists." Her conclusion ?
Full of clunky psychoanalytical insights, it offers little in the way of catharsis -- or pleasure.
       Not everyone is quite as dismissive: a month ago John Freeman's review appeared in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He didn't slit his wrists, but admitted:
The result of this watery flux is that reading Jelinek's prose can feel like having your head forcefully dunked underwater and then held there.
       And he sounds impressed:
Jelinek is such a grindingly persuasive writer that by the end of this exhausting novel, we've been to this harrowing place and back with her.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 November 2004 - Thursday

Kertész celebrations | Presidential libraries | Lars Gustafsson coverage

       Kertész celebrations

       In America he can barely get the time of day; in Frankfurt they get the mayor -- along with many locally prominent others (including critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki) -- on stage to join in a reading of his novel, Liquidation. Yes, they celebrated Imre Kertész's birthday a bit belatedly but at least in some sort of style on Sunday. Jamal Tuschick reported on the event in the Frankfurter Rundschau (link first seen at Perlentaucher), and here's a run-down of the participants.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Presidential libraries

       One's very own presidential library -- most recently Bill Clinton's -- is one of the more ridiculous vanity-perks of those who once held office in the US. Now other countries are trying get in on the act, not always with much success: in The Korea Herald they report on the Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library, Korea's first. It looks pretty impressive, but:
A year after its opening, the library is quiet and empty.

Large gaps in the library's holdings have driven away researchers, while the threat of political backlashes has pushed away potential financial supporters.
       Come on: national archives, open to the public (really open), are the only way to go.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Lars Gustafsson coverage

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Lars Gustafsson's recent (but not yet translated) Dekanen. We've also now added a Lars Gustafsson page.
       Despite being a long-time semi-American resident (teaching at the University of Texas for over twenty years), Gustafsson never seems to have really caught on there.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 November 2004 - Wednesday

Stoppard not good enough | Premio letterario internazionale Mondello
Patrick White house and prize | Man Booker flop ?

       Stoppard not good enough

       Tom Stoppard's record writing screenplays is wildly uneven, but despite including super-duds like Enigma he does have an Oscar nomination for Brazil and a win for Shakespeare in Love and most everyone thought he was a good choice to adapt Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Until now, that is: as Malcolm Fitzwilliams reported in the Independent on Sunday in Tom Stoppard dumped as 'gross-out' director takes over 'Dark Materials' his services are no longer required or wanted on the project.
       (Andrew Pierce actually reported that Stoppard falls to dark forces on 12 November, but we only caught the story in its second telling.)

       (Updated - 26 November): In The Guardian Paul Hunter offers a brief look at How three writers adapted Pullman, including Stoppard, who admits: "I haven't a clue what's going on."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Premio letterario internazionale Mondello

       A few days in Palermo sound good; that's where for the 30th time the Premio letterario internazionale Mondello (the "XXX edizione", as they have it) is being held, 24-27 November. AGI gives a brief English run-down, but there's more information at, for example, (in Italian).
       George Steiner is getting the premio Speciale del Presidente della Giuria (Special Prize of the Mondello Jury), while Les Murray's Freddy Nettuno (Fredy Neptune) won the best foreign literature prize.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Patrick White house and prize

       It's apparently big news in Australia: Patrick White's old house is up for sale -- or maybe not. ABC, for example, reported Australian literary legend's home goes under the hammer, but now there's an AAP report that White house may still be saved, as there's a "a last-minute bid to cancel today's auction ".
       Meanwhile, the Patrick White Literary Award was handed over a few days ago -- to 91 year-old Nancy Phelan; see, for example, this report.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Man Booker flop ?

       In recent years winning the Man Booker has meant phenomenal sales, but Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty looks to buck the trend: Mark Sanderson reports in his Literary Life column (last item) that it has:
already disappeared from the list of best-selling original fiction. In the week ending October 30 the exquisite if raunchy novel sold 4,014 copies which was enough to earn it only 10th place in the chart, bringing its total sales up to 16,609.
       He may be right in diagnosing:
lyrical descriptions of gay sex and a return to the heady days of Thatcherism must have failed to whet the appetites of some readers.
       The labelling of it, in headline after headline, as a 'gay novel' probably didn't help -- though we note that the widespread labelling of last year's bestselling winner, Vernon God Little, as a 'terrible novel' seemed not to have an adverse effect on its sales .....
       Just out in the US, it will be interesting to see whether it does any better there.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 November 2004 - Tuesday

Kenya needs Derrida ? | Food and literature

       Kenya needs Derrida ?

       In an article from The Nation (Kenya), available at, Stephen D. Partington writes on Kenya's Mediocre Writers And Titan Derrida's Legacy.
       Partington really took Derrida's recent demise to heart -- "I couldn't be more miserable if my own pet dogs had just exploded" (deconstruct that ...) -- and thinks that it's symptomatic of Kenya's literary provincialism that nobody else in the country seems to care:
How disgusting that the major figure in world (not Western) literature and scholarship has just died, and this without his name, or those of other Post-structuralists, ever having been sufficiently uttered in our own groves of academe. While we fail to engage academically, while we fail -- to use Ngugi's phrase -- to move the centre toward us, we deserve the literary marginalisation that Kenya so miserably continues to suffer on the world stage.
       Apparently Derrida has not been properly embraced there:
Kenya, meanwhile, plodded on ineptly, its Nyayo "Professors" writing the most agonising rubbish about Literature's "beauty" and the need for Kenyan literature to "inculcate the general reader with [Christian] moral values". We remain in this embarrassing time-warp as the rest of the (post-colonial) world engages with theory.
       Sure, there seem to be some issues to deal with, but it seems to us to be just as wise to have dodged the Derrida- (and theory-) bullet. That's one time-warp one can live with.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Food and literature

       We only heard about this now, but there's still time to catch the exhibit at the Alimentarium, Switzerland's very own food museum. Their current special exhibit (running through 9 January) is on food and literature. The site-information is only available in French, but it sounds pretty interesting.
       They actually took over the exhibit from the Strauhof Zürich, where it was called Eros des Essens (and where they have a bit more information about the exhibit -- albeit here only in German). (And we've found it worth following these trails since it led us to this Strauhof Zürich who specialise in Literaturausstellungen (literary exhibits) and seem to do a pretty damned good job of it. Next time we're in the neighbourhood .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

22 November 2004 - Monday

Book journalist interview | Roussel's New Impressions of Africa | Zsolt's Nine Suitcases

       Book journalist interview

       Bookninja made us aware of an interview with "four prominent book journalists" -- including Sam Tanenhaus (who runs The NY Times Book Review), Steve Wasserman (The Los Angeles Times) and Bob Minzesheimer (USA Today) -- at Mainly about prizes and bestseller lists, but some interesting responses.
       Relatively few come from the impressively evasive Tanenhaus: "I'll have to check on this", "'Influence' in what sense and in what direction ?" (with no follow-up), etc. Most surprising:
BRC: Do you get letters from readers complaining about the lack of commercial reviews in your publication or the fact that you do run commercial reviews ?
Sam Tanenhaus: We get very few complaints of this kind -- either pro or con.
       So maybe we should be writing letters instead of complaining on our weblogs .....
       Surprising also Bob Minzesheimer's response re. the incredible shrinking book review section:
I'm fortunate to work for a publication, USA Today, that has actually increased space for book coverage -- in part because we've been getting more book ads.
       We note, however, that they apparently aren't spending much money on the upkeep of their web-pages devoted to book-coverage -- when we just checked we found it had last been updated 22 October. (Yes, there appears to have been some book coverage elsewhere, but it's not as easily found.)
       Interesting also Tanenhaus' response:
Thanks to the support we've received from the publisher of the New York Times, since October 3 we've had at least four more open pages per issue. We hope advertisers will continue to support the section. If they do, our pages will expand still further.
       As we've often acknowledged, the newspaper industry -- like the publishing industry -- mystifies us. The idea that ads are necessary to pay for coverage, and that the more ads there more coverage can be provided seems logical enough. And the NYTBR is certainly packed with them -- the equivalent of at least 15 of the 40 pages in this week's issue.
       Our question, as ever, is: what about the sports section ? The pages there are twice the size, a total of 24 NYTBR-equivalent pages. Beside the back cover (the equivalent of 2 NYTBR pages, there is less than 1 NYTBR-equivalent page of advertising (one IZOD ad, one Madison Square Garden events ad -- plus a tiny section of 'Pet Services Guide' and 'Boats & Accessories'). Obviously, this section is not self-sustaining in terms of advertising revenue.
       Presumably the idea is that readers generally expect sports coverage, and that the section brings in a certain number of readers who will also encounter the ads elsewhere in the Sunday issue of The NY Times. But why doesn't that logic go for the NYTBR as well ? Is it so hard to believe that a certain number of readers choose The NY Times at least in part because of the extensive book coverage ? (Given what's become of the NYTBR it may, admittedly, be hard to believe ... but given The NY Times' sports coverage it's even harder to believe anybody would buy the newspaper for that .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Roussel's New Impressions of Africa

       MadInkBeard makes us aware of Atlas Press' publication of Raymond Roussel's New Impressions of Africa, in a translation by Ian Monk. See their publicity page or get your own copy from (Given that this is a limited edition, this is actually a story we considered not sharing with you, in the fear that you'll all do the sensible thing and get your own copies, leaving none left over for us.)
       (See also our coverage of Roussel-related titles, including Mark Ford's excellent Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, and Roussel's own explanation, How I Wrote Certain of My Books.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Zsolt's Nine Suitcases

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Béla Zsolt's Nine Suitcases.
       It's just come out in the US -- and has received surprisingly little attention. Maybe there's just too much Hungarian stuff floating around right now, between the Imre Kertész books, another Sandor Marai translation, and now this. But it's definitely worth a look: very impressive.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

21 November 2004 - Sunday

Birkerts on Kertész | NBA fallout | Writers and respect

       Birkerts on Kertész

       We just got the print-copy of the Decmeber/2004-January/2005 issue of Bookforum (not yet available online), and were pleased to see that Sven Birkerts reviews Imre Kertész's recent Liquidation in it. He does make the valid point that it "needs to be read in tandem with Kaddish for a Child Not Born" -- though it's a bit more complicated than that, as almost all of Kertész's works are deeply intertwined. Nevertheless, it again raises the question what Random House (Knopf and Vintage) was thinking with the order it is releasing his titles in (see also our previous mention).
       More disturbingly, Birkerts seems entirely unaware that Vintage was/is bringing out new editions (and translations) of Kaddish for an Unborn Child and Fatelessness. This is a disappointing oversight on his part, but also speaks volumes about the terrible job Random House has done spreading the word about these new translations (the first of which appeared a couple of weeks ago, the other being due out in early December).
       Remarkable, also, is that he writes of the old translations:
Fateless (1992) and Kaddish for a Child Not Born (1997), both published by Northwestern University Press, and both translated -- brilliantly by all accounts -- by Christopher C. Wilson and Katharina M Wilson.
       Now, we've been looking into Kertész coverage for a while now, and we have never found any accounts that suggest the Wilsons' translations are brilliant. In fact, pretty much everything we've heard about them has been to the effect that they are woefully inadequate, indeed unconscionable. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, Kertész recently gave his opinion as well (in a profile in The Journal News that is no longer freely accessible online), saying, among other things:
"The translators didn't understand what I wrote about," says Kertész, still cringing. "The radical nature of my words was something that estranged them. They thought in the interest of the reader, they would make the text more human, to round it off and chisel it a bit."
       It's unclear why Birkerts felt compelled to write that the Wilsons' translations are "by all accounts" brilliant -- as well as what accounts he's talking about, as we haven't come across any that even in the most generous reading would suggest as much.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NBA fallout

       At the Boston Globe David Mehegan looks back at the American National Book Awards to-do, in Critics throw the book at national award panel. He believes:
The controversy reflects two key facts in contemporary publishing -- first, that awards are increasingly important to book sales; and second, that book-award judging is about as unpredictable and subjective as awarding medals for synchronized swimming in the Olympics.
       (Updated - 22 November): See also Winners put nominations into perspective by Bob Hoover in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Writers and respect

       In The Stranger Neal Pollack notes It Can't Happen Here, wondering: In Times Like These, Where Are Our Frank Norrises, Our Upton Sinclairs, Our... Ah, Who Are We Kidding ?.
       He notes:
Writers get less respect in this country than people who eat live bugs on television for money !
       He doesn't, however, ask how much respect writers actually deserve ......

       (Updated): See also Maud Newton's more extensive take.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

previous entries (11 - 20 November 2004)

archive index

- return to top of the page -

© 2004 the complete review

the Complete Review
Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links