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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 December

1 December: Henry James interview | Poetry Translation Centre | Best books lists | Sakurai's Innocent World | EU Literary Award shortlist | Book ratings | Publishing busts
2 December: Small Press Book Fair | 'Literary Blogger Summit' | KAFF also Mare Crisium | Cross-cultural prize
3 December: Untranslatable ? | Welsh success | Nell Freudenberger sighting | Keneally's The Tyrant's Novel
4 December: Russian Booker | Deaths: Kevin Coyne and Alexandru Vona | The Guardian's seasonal list | Translation problem ? | Gospodinov's Natural Novel
5 December: Finlandia Prize | Jean Echenoz in India | Ahistorical readers | Jane Eyre staircase | Another 'Year in Books'
6 December: NYTBR does translation ? | Australian's favourite book | Un-reviewed books
7 December: Russian literary prizes | Literature in translation in the US | Magic Seeds review | Literary webloggers
8 December: Jelinek's Nobel lecture | Winterson's deli | Watersheds for women | Ben Schott profile
9 December: Scandinavian literary weblogs | Muriel Spark reviews | Ngugi on NPR | Tolstoy in South Korea | Welsh literary classics
10 December: García Márquez's recent novel | International book lists | Bruno Schulz controversy | New Richard and Judy picks

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10 December 2004 - Friday

García Márquez's recent novel | International book lists
Bruno Schulz controversy | New Richard and Judy picks

       García Márquez's recent novel

       Ganriel García Márquez's recent novel, Memoria De Mis Putas Tristes, has gotten loads of attention already. Despite the fact that the books is only scheduled to appear in English (likely as Memories of My Melancholy Whores) in the fall of 2005, there has even been some English-language review coverage, most recently a review in The Economist. Impressive statistics -- "The initial print run was 1m copies, of which 400,000 were sold in the first week" -- and generally approving (and forgiving):
Absurd ? Yes, and so brief that the reader feels short-changed. Even so, the book is beautifully executed, and it has a sort of moral.
       The fall 2005 English publishing date isn't too far in the future -- but it's quite disappointing considering one can already find, for example, Herinnering aan mijn droeve hoeren (the Dutch translation; see also the Uitgeverij Meulenhoff publicity page) or Erinnerung an meine traurigen Huren (the German translation; get your copy at
       For reviews of these, see, for example, reviews in Het Parool, Die Presse, Rheinischer Merkur, Die Welt, and Die Zeit.
       Enthusiasm and widespread coverage in the Spanish press and now also in these countries likely would have little effect in insular America under any circumstances -- i.e. it doesn't really matter when a book gets published here or how it was received abroad -- but one can't help but feel that this is just one more case of American readers pushed out of step with the rest of the world. (It is, of course, available in the US, from Knopf and Vintage even (see the publicity page) -- but only in Spanish. You can get a copy at

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       International book lists

       Year-end book lists are popular all over the world (in other words: avoiding the bother of providing real book coverage by tossing together lists of these sorts is popular all over the world). Among the recent examples: Lire throws together its list of Les 20 meilleurs livres de l'année (and we wonder whether the Tabucchi title that tops it will ever be translated into English ...), while endless lists can be found at both the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (many categories and variations, including the ever-popular one of asking contributors and literati their annual favourites) and the Rheinischer Merkur (similarly rich pickings).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bruno Schulz controversy

       In the new Boston Review Benjamin Paloff asks Who Owns Bruno Schulz ?, revisiting the whole controversy about the Bruno Schulz frescoes removed from where they were painted by Yad Vashem. Not a story that's going away any time soon.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Richard and Judy picks

       It's apparently big news (and likely means big sales): the Richard and Judy TV show has chosen its ten titles for 2005. No information about them at the site yet (this year's list was still up when we last checked), but the press is full of reports: Richard and Judy choose top books the BBC reports, Louise Jury asks Does Richard and Judy's book club guarantee success for these 10 titles ? in The Independent, and Maev Kennedy finds Surprise hits ... the Richard and Judy shortlist in The Guardian
       Kennedy calls it: "the most eclectic book prize list of all". Surprisingly, we actually have three of the titles under review:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 December 2004 - Thursday

Scandinavian literary weblogs | Muriel Spark reviews | Ngugi on NPR
Tolstoy in South Korea | Welsh literary classics

       Scandinavian literary weblogs

       Some readers may be familiar with Malte Persson's Swedish weblog, Errata. Far more user-friendly (at least for our users, we imagine) is his new, supplemental weblog, Errata 2 -- the English version. Still getting its footing, but worth keeping an eye on (and maybe some good Nobel coverage this week).
       Meanwhile, readers may have noticed Denmark-based dust from a distant sun is closing shop -- but it looks like it has merely been transformed (without much to-do) into the more accessible and elegant Bookish. As long as the coverage-quality remains the same as in its previous incarnation, certainly a place to visit.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Muriel Spark reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two Muriel Spark works published this year:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ngugi on NPR

       On Day to Day Noah Adams talks with writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o "about the importance of creating literature in small languages in order to preserve world cultures" in Creating Literature in Native Languages.
       About five minutes worth of audio.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Tolstoy in South Korea

       They're apparently pretty excited in South Korea about the Leo Tolstoy exhibit opening tomorrow at the Seoul Museum of History. See Iris Moon's article in The Korea Herald, and Kim Sun-jung's article, Getting to know the human side of a literary giant.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Welsh literary classics

       Have you always wondered what Welsh literary classics in English you've overlooked ? As part of the ongoing campaign to support Welsh literature (see our previous mention) the BBC reports Book scheme lists 'forgotten' 20.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 December 2004 - Wednesday

Jelinek's Nobel lecture | Winterson's deli | Watersheds for women | Ben Schott profile

       Jelinek's Nobel lecture

       Yes, it's Nobel ceremony time, and, as announced, Elfriede Jelinek didn't show up in person, delivering her Nobel lecture in larger-than-life style on huge video monitors. As everyone will be reporting, the lecture is now available online -- as Sidelined (translated by Martin Chalmers). Or see also the main lecture-page, with links to the German original, French and Swedish translations, and the video feed.
       For those relying solely on the text, note that Swedish Academy secretary Horace Engdahl said:
"Diese Rede war sicher leichter anzuhören als zu lesen. Ich habe es so auch viel besser verstanden"

("This speech was certainly easier to listen to than read. I also understood it much better.")
       Not much media coverage yet, but presumably much will follow; we'll add links as we come across them.
       For now, it's largely German-language -- and, especially, enthusiastic Austrian -- coverage that dominates.
       In Die Welt Angela Merkel interviews her. Interesting answers include:
DIE WELT: Ist es für Sie denkbar, eines Tages mit dem Schreiben überhaupt aufzuhören ? Nicht, weil Sie nicht mehr können, sondern weil Sie nicht mehr wollen ?
Jelinek: Ja, das ist für mich absolut denkbar. Noch denkbarer wäre es, zu schreiben, aber nichts mehr zu veröffentlichen, um mich zu schützen.

(DIE WELT: Is it conceivable to you to stop writing one day ? Not because you can't any longer, but because you don't want to ?
Jelinek: Yes, that's entirely conceivable. And it's even more likely that I would continue writing, but not publishing, in order to protect myself.)
       Die Presse offers several articles: the overview piece includes a picture of what the lecture-screening looked like. Also: Eva Janke wonders (as did Joanna Kavenna a few days ago; see our mention) whether Jelinek really is untranslatable, while Pia Janke offers a survey-article on the author and her work.
       Meanwhile, Der Standard also reported on the lecture, finding it quite musical.

       (Updated - 9 December): Yeah, we we're kidding ourselves when we thought there'd be much interest in this. Still: a trickle of coverage continues. Today see Andreas Breitenstein's commentary in the NZZ, Die Sache mit dem «Sprachhund».

       (Updated - 10 December): See also Clemens Poellinger's interview with Jelinek in the Svenska Dagbladet, and Hubert Spiegel's commentary, Herrin und Hund: Elfriede Jelinek und ihre Sprache in the FAZ.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Winterson's deli

       As has been widely noted, Jeanette Winterson's house-deli, Verde's, has now opened.
       Winterson herself describes how it came about in The Times, in My deli dally (revealing, among other things: "I was offered an astronomical sum from one of those ubiquitous American coffee companies, who demanded a 15-year lease and never to see my face again") and offering all sorts of useful property-advice.
       Ed Vulliamy also reported on it in The Guardian.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Watersheds for women

       Radio 4 has been trying to figure out what's the most significant women's watershed fiction. The top ten were announced today, pared back from the top thirty -- and then there are a hundred more also-rans. Col Stringer (see previous mention) apparently did not infiltrate this list ......

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ben Schott profile

       There's a modestly amusing and creative Ben Schott (of miscellany fame) profile by Matthew Sweet in The Independent.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 December 2004 - Tuesday

Russian literary prizes | Literature in translation in the US
Magic Seeds review | Literary webloggers

       Russian literary prizes

       We mentioned that the The Open Russia Booker Prize had been awarded a few days ago. Now RIA Novosti offers more on this and other Russian literary celebrations.
       The Booker prize-winner understood how these things work:
Vasily Aksyonov who received a $15,000 Booker award for his novel, The Voltairians, told reporters: "I have never received any literary awards. This time I was lucky: my old friend, Vladimir Voinovich, happened to chair the jury."
       They were surely joking -- but ...:
Vladimir Voinovich, in turn, did not argue and said, "The decision of the jury is certainly biased, and, certainly, incorrect."
       Well, it's a welcome change from the usual scrupulous (at least towards the press) show of integrity so popular in the West.
       Meanwhile the Prizes of Andrei Bely have also been announced: Yelizaveta Mnatsakanova's poetry collection, Arcadia, and Sergei Spirikhin's novel Green Hills of Austria were honoured. The literary award game in Russia is, however, not quite as high-stakes as elsewhere:
The winners will be awarded one ruble, an apple and a bottle of vodka.
       Hey, but maybe they'll make a fortune on the increased sales that their books will now have with those "Andrei Bely Prize" stickers on them .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literature in translation in the US

       It wasn't available when we originally directed readers to issue 16 of Context, but it is now: the third instalment of Dalkey Archive Press head John O’Brien's series on the problems of publishing translated literature in the United States. This time he argues: The Finnish Know How To Do It.
       He's full of praise for the Finnish agency FILI -- who do indeed do admirable work in trying to spread the word (and the texts) regarding Finnish literature, but we're not sure this should be considered the ideal paradigm.
       The article (indeed, the series) deserves a longer response but among the main points we have some problem with are: a) his Common Illusions about the American Marketplace for Translations, which we can't imagine are very widely held -- and aren't quite as simple as he suggests, and b) the statist solution he suggests: "Foreign governments" figure far too large in his scheme of things.
       Finland -- consistently ranked as one of the least corrupt and most advanced (in any measure) societies in the world -- is an ideal few nations can live up to. The fostering of 'officialy approved' literature -- versus actual (i.e. good) literature -- also reared its ugly head, among other places, with regards to the Arab world when they were guests of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair: just because a state is willing to do something doesn't mean it is doing a good thing. Also, the vast majority of nations don't have the money to subsidize literary exports in any way: Amharic literature, say, will likely never have such resources behind it.
       Admittedly, O'Brien would presumably also welcome other institutions -- independent or not -- , taking on the same role as governments themselves. Even so, his main demand -- outside funds to prop up an otherwise economically unfeasible venture (publishing translated fiction) -- remains problematic.
       Dalkey Archive Press (indeed, the whole Center for book Culture) is, of course, a remarkable institution -- particularly admirable for keeping books in print for ages, regardless of poor sales. But they are also well subsidised, from a variety of sources, and a so-called 'non-profit organisation', meaning that money-making is not a primary concern. Costs have to be covered, but it doesn't matter how. Government hand-outs -- foreign or domestic -- are obviously an easy solution (hey, we'd take them) but not the neatest one; we'd like to think that other options could be explored as well.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Magic Seeds review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of V.S.Naipaul's new novel, Magic Seeds.
       What an odd mix of reactions this novel has elicited. Much of the review coverage was unfavourable -- though we were very impressed. In part the negative opinion seems to be due to the fact that Naipaul spouts much of the same nonsense he does in his interviews in the novel. However, we found that Naipaul consistently and very obviously undermined these positions throughout the novel. Hell, the man who sounds most like Naipaul, Roger, admits:
as had been happening more and more in my work in recent years, I had got it wrong.
       Indeed, all the Naipaul-stand-ins consistently get it wrong. But most of the reviewers either overlooked that, or read the book completely differently from us. Ah well.
       Philip Hensher, in his review in the Sunday Telegraph, seems to us to get it right:
Naipaul's best books have always taken a little time to sink in, and have sometimes been met with incomprehension. Whether Magic Seeds is an incomplete part of a series, or whether its effect of incompleteness is part of an aesthetic effect, it demands our attention, and nothing more authoritative will be published this year.
       We've read (and reviewed) a lot of works of fiction this year; Magic Seeds is one of the few works of literature we've come across along the way.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literary webloggers

       Emerging Writers Forum offers a second batch of literary weblogger-reponses to questions. Among the respondents: Literary Saloon-keeper M.A.Orthofer, who is just answering way too many questions these past few days. Back to work !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 December 2004 - Monday

NYTBR does translation ? | Australian's favourite book | Un-reviewed books

       NYTBR does translation ?

       As we constantly remind readers (most recently here), under the leadership of Sam Tanenhaus The New York Times Book Review seems to have developed a true aversion to covering any titles originally written in a foreign language (as opposed to the mere lack of enthusiasm displayed under his predecessor's administration). On first sight, the 5 December issue -- beautifully fat, review-packed (though, of course (if unreasonably), reviews of non-fiction titles outnumber those of fiction titles by an enormous margin) -- looks to show a much more open approach, the NYTBR suddenly willing to embrace foreign works translated into English: 4 (four !) of the books reviewed were originally written in a foreign language, almost ten per cent of all the titles covered. (Okay, the percentage is still pretty pathetic, but still: four titles !)
       But a closer look shows there's still an extreme wariness at the NYTBR regarding this foreign stuff. For one, all the titles fall into the "Fiction & Poetry" category; what Tanenhaus takes seriously -- non-fiction -- remains resolutely English-only (and that's 31 of the titles under review -- though 11 of those get only the briefer, "Chronicle"-variety coverage). (Dozens of additional books -- almost exclusively non-fiction -- are also covered in the seasonal 'Art', 'Travel', etc. round-ups; as best we can tell only a single of these was originally written in a foreign language.)
       But what's really disturbing is what sort of foreign-language titles are covered. The four reviewed books are:
  • The Burial at Thebes, a version of Sophocles' Antigone by Seamus Heaney
  • The Annotated Brothers Grimm, edited and translated by Maria Tatar
  • Gilgamesh, rendered by Stephen Mitchell
  • Casanova in Bolzano, by Sandor Márai
       Notice anything ?
       Where to begin ? Well, first of all, how about the fact that two of these titles are thousands of years old, another centuries old, and the most 'contemporary' (the Márai) was first published in 1940 ? Not exactly a look at the cutting edge of the current literary world, we would suggest.
       Note also that two of the titles are essentially adaptations: Mitchell can't even read Gilgamesh in the original (but that never stopped any translator ...), and in the NYTBR-index the Sophocles version is even listed as: "The Burial at Thebes. By Seamus Heaney", conveniently blurring over the (to Tanenhaus surely distasteful and off-putting) fact that a foreign-language work might be behind the book.
       Most telling and significant: three of the titles are merely new translations or versions of works previously available in English, all in several -- and, in the case of Antigone, dozens -- of renderings (the Márai is the only really new work). Certainly, re-translations are as worthy of coverage as any other titles (hey, we're still waiting for those NYTBR-reviews of the newly re-translated Imre Kertész-titles), but we suggest the reason Tanenhaus chose these works over new foreign literature is because, previous versions being available in English already, he can fool himself into thinking they are familiar, indeed almost, in some way, English themselves -- possibly not so much translations of foreign works, but different versions of previously available English works (that happen -- but we can overlook this -- to be translations).

       We're actually amazed: it's hard to avoid contemporary foreign-language fiction (and non-fiction) this successfully; Tanenhaus must really have a problem with it (we picture him cringing at the sight of every new such title coming into the office, and then flinging it into a big dumpster unread, washing his hands after each time he has disposed of one). Yes, the occasional contemporary work will slip in (we hear that a review of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Television will appear before the year is out ...), but this is getting ridiculous.
       2004 has actually been a decent year for books in translation in the US: there seems, at least to us, to have been a surge of publications, especially of fiction. Too bad that at the same time the NYTBR has so radically further cut back it's very poor coverage (in recent years) of books originally written in foreign languages.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Australian's favourite book

       The Brits did it, the Germans did it, now the Australian's have gone and done it: asked the TV-viewing public to name their favourite book. ABC's My Favourite Book came to a conclusion yesterday and -- surprise, surprise - The Lord Of The Rings came out tops.
       See the whole top 100 here. We like the author-attribution for number three, The Bible: "Various Contributors", and note that there was some obvious ballot-stuffing -- how else to explain number 14, Zhaun Falun by Li Hongzhi (it's a Falun Gong text, in case you hadn't guessed) ?
       In the (Australian) Daily Telegraph Lisa Miller writes that One book rules all, and notes:
There were some surprises -- including The Bible taking out third place, the huge number of children's books, the popularity of the fantasy genre and the scarcity of non-fiction works.
       The latter point comes as absolutely no surprise to us -- but does make us wonder once again why so much (media) attention is paid to non-fiction over fiction books (that means, above all, you, Mr.Tanenhaus) when fiction is what people buy and, apparently, care about.
       See also a report in The Australian.

       (Updated - 7 December): Milanda Rout reports in The Advertiser about the Preacher who beat the literary greats: Li Hongzhi wasn't the only surprise on the list, as two of Col Stringer's titles made the list at numbers 12 and 29 -- despite the fact that:
Nielsen BookScan, which tracks books in 85 per cent of booksellers but not religious stores, has recorded only seven sales for Mr Stringer's books since December, 2002.
       Okay, so he's a great self-publishing success, but his books still don't look like they reach a broad audience .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Un-reviewed books

       We thinks it's nice of Bob Hoover and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to suggest: May we offer our mea culpa, acknowledging that worthy books go unreviewed and short-changed and identifying some of them. Not a real good job this year, where other than the five American National Book Award finalist there's not much apologizing going on: many of the books he mentions are in the 'We're Working on It Department' (i.e. weren't really overlooked, just not reviewed in timely fashion), while the rest are fairly prominent works.
       Most disappointing, his admission:
The competition for attention was tough and the logical approach was to go with the big names.
       We would have thought quality-considerations would rank higher than name-recognition, but what do we know ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 December 2004 - Sunday

Finlandia Prize | Jean Echenoz in India | Ahistorical readers
Jane Eyre staircase | Another 'Year in Books'

       Finlandia Prize

       Helsingin Sanomat reports that Helena Sinervo's Runoilijan talossa ('In the House of the Poet') won the 2004 Finlandia Prize for Literature. It is her first novel (she is better known as a poet).
       The Finlandia is one of the big Nordic prizes; previous winners include Johanna Sinisalo's Not Before Sundown (published as Troll in the US), so maybe this is a book worth keeping an eye out for. Interesting, also, that the final judging was done by an individual (Professor Jukka Sarjala), rather than a big jury or the like.
       Sinervo gets €26,000, which ain't bad. In fact, it makes one wonder: how can tiny Finland offer such rewards for fiction -- more, recall, than an American who won the big double -- both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer -- would earn ? Finland is famously literature-obsessed (topping many literacy, per capita publishing production, and book-consumption lists); maybe that has something to do with it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jean Echenoz in India

       December's 'Literary Review' in The Hindu is out, and among the articles is Sonya Dutta Choudhury's piece on Jean Echenoz, who is in India to promote the publication of his novel, I'm Gone, there. Impressive to see that India is becoming an increasingly important book-tour stop in the publishing industry, no longer reserved for Indian, semi-Indian (Naipaul, for example), or even just English-writing authors.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ahistorical readers

       Also in The Hindu: Tabish Khair writes about A rose by another name , concerned that inaccuracies in contemporary fiction are leading to: "the wilful construction of an ahistorical reader who passively celebrates the text":
But this bothers me not because of what it says about the novelist, but because of what it does to the reader. It marks the death of the reader. The reader, not as a blank receptor of the intentions of the author or the text, but as someone who actually reads. The reader as the critic.
       Maybe a bit pedantic (re. the errors, especially re. names), but it's an interesting thesis.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jane Eyre staircase

       In The Independent Ian Herbert reports that the Discovery of secret stairs brings Brontë to life:
The secret staircase which inspired one of fiction's great characters has been uncovered, hidden behind oak panels and just as it was portrayed by Charlotte Brontë.
       One impressive secret stairway, if no one stumbled onto this thing for over a hundred years.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Another 'Year in Books'

       At the Weekly Standard Joseph Bottum offers a fairly exhaustive discussion/list of the year in books (with a somewhat strained winter theme). Far-reaching coverage, that's for sure, and a few interesting asides, including the -- previously unknown to us -- "0.4 Percent Reading Rule":
Or, more to the point, of the 175,000 books published in America last year, The Weekly Standard's 0.4 Percent Reading Rule predicts that 700 will repay typical readers. The other 174,300 are probably best saved for igloo-building. Unfortunately I didn't actually see all of those 175,000 books, so identifying the good 700 is a problem.
       We know the feeling.
       He also writes:
For people who follow books, there's an inexorable chain. Whenever a major new volume appears, it begins with the prepublication journals Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. Michiko Kakutani chimes in with a snippy notice in the New York Times, and book editor Erich Eichman sweet-talks someone into writing 800 words for the Wall Street Journal.

Then the bloggers start linking to reviews in other newspapers -- the Guardian and the Telegraph from England, the great book sections that Frank Wilson runs for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Carol Herman puts together for the Washington Times. The Times Literary Supplement, the New York Review of Books, The Weekly Standard, the New Republic, and Books & Culture all come along with longer essays, and by the time you've worked your way through seven or eight of these reviews, you really have read the book. Just not personally.
       We'd like to point out that bloggers have certainly begun to jump the queue, often providing coverage and/or reviews earlier than most -- and, in the case of less-than-major titles often more extensive coverage than found in even these illustrious publications. Also: quite a few of the papers Bottum mentions can only to a limited degree, if at all, be linked to.
       He also acknowledges -- and we know this feeling well too:
I know that I, at least, can't make sense of the publishing world anymore. Most days I just sit by the window and watch the blizzard of new books swirl around outside. Occasionally, when something drifts against the window sill for a moment and catches my eye, I pick up the phone and call a reviewer. The rest of the time I watch the woods fill up with snow.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 December 2004 - Saturday

Russian Booker | Deaths: Kevin Coyne and Alexandru Vona
The Guardian's seasonal list | Translation problem ? | Gospodinov's Natural Novel

       Russian Booker

       The Open Russia Booker Prize has been awarded to Vasily Aksenov.
       As Languor Management notes, Victor Sonkin writes about it in the Salon-column in The Moscow Times. Aksyonov won for Volteryantsy i Volteryanki ('Voltairiens and Voltairiennes') -- though: "It is not clear whether the $15,000 prize will actually be paid to this year's winner." Financially troubled, they seem to have knack of getting just the wrong sponsor, every time -- though we don't quite understand why the prize still has the 'Booker'-label attached, since they seem to have been the first to pull out. (If somebody explains to us that the 'Booker' label provides some sort of cachet even without providing cash ... well, nothing about the book industry can surprise us any more, but that sounds pretty damn pathetic to us.)
       Sonkin points out that:
many see the Booker prize as rather conservative: a lifetime achievement award for writers who already have long, successful careers behind them. In that respect, it differs from the Andrei Bely Prize, which favors bold innovation; the Apollon Grigoriev Prize, which reflects the refined choice of critics; and the Debut Prize, which is given to beginning writers. At the other end of the scale, the National Bestseller Prize is awarded to highly popular, sometimes scandalous books -- works that the respectable Booker jury would never support.
       See also Anatoli Korolev's report at Novosti (and note that he's their political analyst). He writes:
The jury preferred Aksyonov -- a good sign. The Voltairians comes up as a sophisticated experiment in literary style in this age of pop culture. Written in 18th century Russian, the big volume is an amazing piece of workmanship.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Deaths: Kevin Coyne

       Kevin Coyne isn't best-known as a writer, but he did publish a couple of books of some interest -- see his official site. He passed away on Thursday; see the obituary in The Independent.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Deaths: Alexandru Vona

       It's been three weeks now, but we only heard now the sad news that Romanian author Alexandru Vona died a couple of weeks back; his Ferestrelor zidite (available in French and German, though not English) is a work that's been on our to-review pile for ages. A Romanian exile in Paris, friend of Cioran and Eliade -- and whose novel no less than Paul Celan wanted to translate -- he sounds like worth reading. Richard Wagner's obituary appears in today's Neue Zürcher Zeitung; there's also a brief (Romanian) notice at Romanian Global News.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Guardian's seasonal list

       The Guardian joins in the fun with its own seasonal list ('Season's readings') -- enough to fill two pages: see parts one and two.
       Some heavy-hitters making suggestions, but we only mention it because of one good choice (and explanation), Giles Foden writing:
I checked out The Oulipo Compendium by Harry Matthews and Alaistair Brotchie (Atlas) and it blew my head off.
       Ouch !

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       Translation problem ?

       Here's the kind of complaint we'd like to read about more often: in Twice upon a time ... in The Guardian Kathryn Hughes writes: "You wait years for a good translation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales, and then two come along at once".

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       Gospodinov's Natural Novel

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Georgi Gospodinov's forthcoming Natural Novel -- a rare Bulgarian novel available in English (courtesy of, of course, of Dalkey Archive Press -- though you'll have to wait until early 2005 to find it at your local bookstore).

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3 December 2004 - Friday

Untranslatable ? | Welsh success | Nell Freudenberger sighting
Keneally's The Tyrant's Novel

       Untranslatable ?

       The newspapers haven't completely forgotten about this year's Nobel laureate in literature, Elfriede Jelinek, but the Daily Telegraph has found a novel way to not discuss her actual work. In The untranslatables Joanna Kavenna notes that Jelinek herself insists her work can't be translated, and uses that as a starting point to examine all sorts of arguably untranslatable authors. Interesting enough, but rather than rehash lots of old examples a tighter focus on the translation-issues with Jelinek's own work might have been more interesting.

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       Welsh success

       Rhodri Clark reports that Welsh books in English follow Irish:
Novels and short stories in English by Welsh writers could soon be seen as the new Irish fiction, after sales rose by more than a third in a year.
       Okay, we have no idea what it means to be "the new Irish fiction" (we must have missed that grand success story), but the sales increases are impressive. The Welsh Books Council (or as you probably know it: Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru) claims that it's proof that Publishing Grants make a Difference, though as Clark's article points out:
A key factor could be the decision of WH Smith to stock Anglo-Welsh literature in a specially marked section in each of its stores in Wales.

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       Nell Freudenberger sighting

       Nell Freudenberger's story, The Tutor -- previously found in her debut collection, Lucky Girls -- also made it into the collection of The Best American Short Stories 2004 (see the Houghton Mifflin publicity page or get your own copy at Last week they featured it on The Connection: listen to it there; the Freudenberger-conversation (focussed on the story, it seems), begins at about the 32:30 mark.

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       Keneally's The Tyrant's Novel

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Thomas Keneally's The Tyrant's Novel.

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2 December 2004 - Thursday

Small Press Book Fair | 'Literary Blogger Summit'
KAFF also Mare Crisium | Cross-cultural prize

       Small Press Book Fair

       Over the weekend they're holding the 17th Annual Independent & Small Press Book Fair in New York; see also Ken Switzer's preview article in The Village Voice.
       Among the many events: A Conversation with The New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus (5 December, 15:00-15:50). Apparently Tanenhaus:
reflects on what he's learned so far, provides insights into the reviewing process at the Times, and discusses the next phase of his plan to "capture the breadth of literary culture."
       Dare we hope that phase will actually extend to coverage of translated literature at the NYTBR -- as so far Tanenhaus has captured barely a sliver of that rather large slice of literary culture (see our previous mention) ?

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       'Literary Blogger Summit'

       At the Housing Works Used Book Cafe Dennis Loy 'MobyLives' Johnson hosts a discussion on What the Blog ? The Terrifying World of Literary Websites on Friday at 19:00 (eventually apparently also to be broadcast on BookTV). Participating are: Maud 'Maud Newton' Newton, Ron 'Beatrice' Hogan, George 'Bookninja' Murray, Laila 'Moorish Girl' Lalami -- and last-minute replacement panelist (for the regrettably indisposed Jessa 'Bookslut' Crispin) local barkeep Michael Orthofer.
       Sounds like it could be interesting -- though Michael probably isn't the best person to allay any terror the uninitiated may feel ..... (Just kidding: he -- and literary websites -- are perfectly harmless and shouldn't scare anyone off.)

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       KAFF also Mare Crisium

       Dalkey Archive Press published a translation of the great Arno Schmidt's KAFF auch Mare Crisium as B/Moondocks (okay, not the catchiest title -- but hey, it's part of the volume: Two Novels) a few years back (not, it appears with great or even due success -- but you can (and we suggest: should) pick up an (admittedly pricey) copy from or; see also Brian Lennon's review in The Iowa Review).
       The Germans have now gone one better, and brought out a 762 minute, 10-CD (!) audio version, read by Jan Philipp Reemtsma. There actually appears to be some sort of market for this -- and it's even getting decent review coverage: see, for example, the review in last week's issue of Die Zeit. (See also the Hoffmann und Campe publicity page, or get your own copy at
       Also of interest: the fairly impressive dedicated Kaff auch Mare Crisium site.

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       Cross-cultural prize

       We know you've been waiting for this one: the winners of the Canada-Japan Literary Awards, recognising "literary excellence by Canadian authors writing on Japan, Japanese themes or themes that promote mutual understanding between Japan and Canada" have been announced by the Canada Council for the Arts. (As (nearly) always Canadian prizes are double the fun because there are winners in English and French language categories !)
       This isn't the worst idea for a literary prize -- cross-cultural interest, etc. etc.; still, where might this sort of thing lead ?

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1 December 2004 - Wednesday

Henry James interview | Poetry Translation Centre | Best books lists
Sakurai's Innocent World | EU Literary Award shortlist | Book ratings | Publishing busts

       Henry James interview

       We're fans of the fictional interview (less so of the real kind -- see some of our reviews of collections of both) and Cynthia Ozick is one of our favourite authors, so when she offers An (Unfortunate) Interview with Henry James (as she does in the Winter 2005 issue of The Threepenny Review, a smattering of which is available online), well, what more could we ask for ?
       Some good fun and wordplay, including:
Interviewer: I gather that you intend to inhibit my line of questioning.
James: Madam, I do not inhibit. I merely decline to exhibit.
       But maybe a bit much on the suggestion that James, too, would have difficulty with the label 'gay novel' (compare this mention) .....

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       Poetry Translation Centre

       Languagehat points us to the site of the relatively new Poetry Translation Centre at SOAS. An admirable endeavour -- and a pretty useful site.
       Not much poetry yet, but a neat selection of languages (so far: Amharic, Arabic, Gujarati, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese, Somali, and Spanish), and the presentation of the poems (generally in original (well, transliterated), literal translation, and final translation) as well as background information (on the languages and poets) is excellent.
       If you're in town tonight, Hafiz Kheir will be bringing work by the Sudanese poet Al-Saddiq Al-Raddi to the workshop.

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       Best books lists

       As has been widely noted by now, in The Guardian Stephen Moss offers the obligatory annual round-up of the obligatory annual best-books lists (and the like) in the UK papers.

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       Sakurai's Innocent World

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Sakurai Ami's not so Innocent World (yet another contemporary (well, 1996) Japanese work now made available by Vertical).

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       EU Literary Award shortlist

       Admirable in intention -- to foster new South African fiction -- the European Union Literary Award (see also information here) is surely less than ideally named. Still, out of 116 entries they've named a shortlist -- explaining:
The books that made it on to the short list contain elements of surprise and difference, either in terms of writing style, experiment with form or engagement with post-modern techniques. They also have unusual, but coherent, storylines.
       See also this article.
       And what does the winner get ?
The award will consist of R25 000 and a trip to a literary festival in Europe. The 2004 award winner will be invited to the Winternachten Festival in the Netherlands.

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       Book ratings

       New book stickers for Taiwanese books: yes, not only do videos get rathings there, but so do books. As Ko Shu-ling reports in the Taipei Times, New rating system for books, videos begins today.
       As always, these systems are wonderfully thought-through:
Restricted content for books and audio publications is defined as material containing "over-description" of such criminal behaviors as killing, kidnapping or drug dealing; "over-portraying" of the process of suicide; "dramatic depiction" of violent, bloody and deviant scenes but acceptable by general adult audiences and languages, conversations, sounds, pictures or graphics portraying sexual behaviors, obscene plots or bare human sex organs -- but not abhorrent for adult audiences.
       For those who don't like the sticker-idea:
Publishers refusing to label restricted publications can opt to wrap them up in plastic bags or sell them at special sections of the store.

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       Publishing busts

       Bookninja points us to Danuta Kean's article on Why big names don't mean best-sellers, on the far too common (but much under-reported) fact that publishers blow millions of dollars (and pounds) on advances for books they anticipate will be blockbusters but turn out to to be incredible flops.
       Obviously, sometimes big advances are worth the risk -- but what were some of these people thinking ? More importantly: are they still employed in the publishing business (and if so -- why ?) ?
       If this didn't cause such great harm to the whole book-industry we'd laugh at this idiocy; instead it just makes us really, really sad.

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