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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 May 2006

1 May: PEN report: Idols and Insults | Peter Carey's alimony whore | James Tait Black Memorial Prizes shortlists | Okigbo conference | Novel Twists
2 May: Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006) | Grünbein (not) in Chicago | New Oxonian Review | Luxor review
3 May: Per Petterson takes IFFP | The lot of the translator | Wolff Translation Prize | Niche publishing | TIBF
4 May: New Ozick ! | Handke's French comedy | RTW/WWB reading groups | Shklovsky reviews
5 May: Barnes on Bouvard et Pécuchet | Turkish authors | Bookworld Prague | Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary Prize
6 May: The Times re. reviews x 2 | Celebrity books | Saudi literary clubs | New Transcript | The Mercy Room review
7 May: Banville profile | More on Latvian literature ... | Sunday Times Fiction Prize finalists
8 May: NY influential ? | Shirin Ebadi on tour | Iranian publishing | Framed review
9 May: World Literature Today | Bigger read ? | Chinese reading ... | Libris Literatuur Prijs | Lee Siegel/TNR weblog | Old Filth review
10 May: Fewer books ?!? | Waterstone's dumps Amazon | UK book trade failing minorities ? | eBooks

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10 May 2006 - Wednesday

Fewer books ?!? | Waterstone's dumps Amazon
UK book trade failing minorities ? | eBooks

       Fewer books ?!?

       So all we've been hearing for ages is that there are more and more and more books being published every year (and, for the most part, what a terrible thing that is -- a notion we disagree with completely), and now Bowker report: U.S. Book Production Plummets 18% in 2005; Smaller Publishers Show the Largest Drop in New Titles.
       New technologies allowing everyone who thinks they have a book in them to publish, cheaper small-scale publishing possibilities: it was all supposed to mean an overwhelming flood of books, more and more and more. Instead, the market has ... collapsed. (The numbers refer to titles, not unit sales -- but titles are what makes for variety: to us it's the far more important number.)
Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2005 decreased by more than 18,000 to 172,000 new titles and editions.
       Even more stunningly, Britain has leapt ahead of the much-larger US (what an embarrassment that is !):
Great Britain, long the worldís per capita leader in the publication of new books in any language, now replaces the United States as the publisher of most new books in English. 206,000 new books were published in the U.K. in 2005, representing an increase of some 45,000 (28%) over 2004.
       A year-to-year increase of 28% -- now those are the kind of numbers we like to hear !
       We're just flabbergasted by the American numbers, and look forward to the explanations and excuses .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Waterstone's dumps Amazon

       British bookseller Waterstone's' web-presence used to be (well, for now that's where still leads) but as, for example, Miles Costello reports in The Times in Waterstone's goes it alone on the Web:
HMV-owned bookseller Waterstone's is preparing to launch its own internet based retailing service, bringing an end to its five-year relationship with online distributor
       It'll be interesting to see how that works out.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       UK book trade failing minorities ?

       The BBC reports that the UK Book trade 'failing minorities':
The book industry is failing to cater for black and minority ethnic readers, according to an Arts Council report.
       The numbers do suggest some sort of problem:
Only 50 of the top 5,000 best-selling books in 2006 so far are by black and minority ethnic writers, it says.
       (Though we do wonder how exactly they determine whether a writer is black and/or minority. Do British writers have to register that information when they publish a book ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       Yet another eBook survey-article, this time by Michael Fitzpatrick in the Daily Telegraph: A virtual revolution.
       Among the devices discussed: the soon-to-be-released iLiad from iRex.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 May 2006 - Tuesday

World Literature Today | Bigger read ? | Chinese reading ... | Libris Literatuur Prijs
Lee Siegel/TNR weblog | Old Filth review

       World Literature Today

       The May/June issue of World Literature Today is now available online: see the table of contents and -- even though it is in the dreaded pdf format -- click through to the entire contents from there.
       Of greatest interest to us, of course, are the reviews -- though we note with some regret that the coverage doesn't seem to be as broad as it used to be. Still, some stuff to tempt (Enrique Vila-Matas' Doctor Pasavento, for one ...).
       In the editor's note we learn:
the current editors and staff of the magazine are determined to increase the publicationís readership, sales, and distribution as well as our advertising presence in various media worldwide. Toward this end, we hired our first full-time publicist, Terri Stubblefield, in 2001 and have made available online and free of charge the entire text of current issues of WLT since 2002.
       The archives (and site) are still a bit unwieldy (and the pdf format sure doesn't help re. online presence), but there is a lot of good material to be found here -- with a little bit of digging.
       Still, we hope they re-emphasise the international review coverage .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bigger read ?

       In USA Today Bob Minzesheimer reports that 'Big Read' expands 'One Book, One City' program in earnest (as if it were just a joke previously ...):
Tuesday at Carnegie Hall, the National Endowment for the Arts will announce a competition for grants, up to $20,000 each, to be awarded to 100 communities that select a novel and encourage everyone to read and discuss it.
       The (American) The Big Read:
is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literature in the nationís popular culture, and to bring the transformative power of literature into the lives of its citizens.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Chinese reading ...

       Xinhua report that Literature gaining in popularity amid economic enthusiasm.
More Chinese are showing more interest in reading literary books in comparison with an enthusiasm for economics following China's accession to the World Trade Organization, said Guo Kaiyan,press officer with the book mansion based in the bustling Xidan region in central Beijing.
People are becoming more psychologically balanced and paying greater attention to improving their all-round ability, experts say.
       Sounds like wishful thinking to us -- but:
Statistics from another book store based in Zhongguancun, better known as China's Silicon Valley, showed that the sales of literary books in both Chinese and foreign languages in the first four months of the year increased 43 percent from the previous year.
       Well, what more evidence does one need ?

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       Libris Literatuur Prijs

       At Bloomberg Martin Boer reports that Author Schippers Wins Libris Prize, Top Dutch Literary Award. That's K.Schippers, whose Waar was je nou took the €50,000 Libris Literatuur Prijs. See also (Dutch) reports in Trouw and de Volkskrant.
       Previous winning titles include Harry Mulisch's The Procedure (1999).

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       Lee Siegel/TNR weblog

       Fairly new: Lee Siegel on Culture, one of the weblogs at The New Republic. Not purely literary, but maybe of some interest; we're not sure about it yet.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Old Filth review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jane Gardam's Old Filth.
       Shortlisted for -- and apparently a close runner-up in -- the Orange Prize last year, it's finally coming out in the US -- and proved quite a pleasant surprise to us. We'd never read anything by her, and we'll now certainly keep an eye out for her previous work.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 May 2006 - Monday

NY influential ? | Shirin Ebadi on tour
Iranian publishing | Framed review

       NY influential ?

       New York magazine runs down who they think are the most influential folk in town in a variety of categories -- including Books.
       Among 'The Influentials': (literary) agent Nicole Aragi. Influential maybe, but we'd find it pretty hard to take anybody who would pose for a picture like that seriously. (But, of course, this is publishing: image is everything, substance of little interest ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Shirin Ebadi on tour

       Nobel laureate (peace, not literature) Shirin Ebadi's memoir, Iran Awakening, is now out, and so she's on a pan-American publicity tour (see some of the remaining stops here).
       In Time Jeff Chu has 10 Questions For Shirin Ebadi.
       We like the beginning of her answer to this one, but then it gets progressively worse:
What do you do to relax ?
Every night before I go to sleep, I read a novel for at least an hour.
       She continues her answer:
This is how I try to forget the aggressive work of the day.
       Okay, we can live with literature-as-escapism. But then she has to go and say:
Right now I am reading The Zahir by Paulo Coelho. I like the way Coelho looks at world issues.
       For other Ebadi coverage, listen to her interview on The Diane Rehm Show (though it's not Rehm doing the interviewing) -- nearly an hour's worth of (Farsi and English) talk --, the All Things Considered segment from NPR (3 May), and Jonathan Curiel's profile and podcast in the San Francisco Chronicle.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Iranian publishing

       It doesn't offer much insight, but there are a few titbits about Iranian publishing in the MNA report Former publisher seeks to revitalize Amir Kabir Publications. And Iran is apparently one of the few countries where they aren't complaining about there being too many writers yet:
There were not many female writers in those days. I used to find their names in magazines and newspapers, and then asked them to publish their writings. But now it is quite different. There are thousands of publishers but only a few works these days.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Framed review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tonino Benacquista's Framed.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 May 2006 - Sunday

Banville profile | More on Latvian literature ... | Sunday Times Fiction Prize finalists

       Banville profile

       Down under Angela Bennie profiles John Banville -- take your pick of the version at The Age (Banville's waves) or Sydney Morning Herald (To the next chapter). Hey, at least they use different photographs .....
       Still a big focus on The Sea (and the fact that it took the Man Booker), but also some mention of his forthcoming "detective story", Christine Falls, penned under the pen name Benjamin Black. No listing yet, but you can pre-order it at -- where, we note with some amusement, the product details put it in the category: "Children's Books". So get it for the kids ... !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on Latvian literature ...

       We know you can't get enough of our coverage of Latvia as the guest of honour at this year's Prague Bookworld (see our previous mentions here and here), so here's some more: Bernie Higgins and David Vaughan report on Landscapes of Loneliness: New writing from Latvia hits Prague -- and talk to the director of the Latvian Literature Centre, Marta Dziluma.
       Also of interest at the LLC site: their description of recent translations of Latvian literature. Surprisingly decent journal-coverage, but few books make it into English.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Sunday Times Fiction Prize finalists

       Last year Justin Cartwright's very agreeable The Promise of Happiness took -- somewhat controversially -- the (South African) Sunday Times Fiction Prize. Now this year's finalists have been announced; the only title we have under review is J.M.Coetzee's excellent Slow Man. (Since Coetzee is no longer South African -- and the book is set in Australia -- it, too, would presumably be a somewhat controversial choice.)
       See also some information about the judges, as well as the (relatively short) list of all the entries (along with Michele Magwood's discussion of them).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 May 2006 - Saturday

The Times re. reviews x 2 | Celebrity books | Saudi literary clubs
New Transcript | The Mercy Room review

       The Times re. reviews x 2

       Two pieces on book reviewing in The Times today:
       In First word Erica Wagner explains what a reviewer does -- and notes:
Even literary critics cannot separate themselves -- should not wish to separate themselves -- from their emotional responses; opinions, however cogently expressed and concretely argued, are still just that, formed in mutable hearts and minds. Read the reviews, but I think they should make you curious, not convinced.
       Meanwhile, in Last word Ben Macintyre offers yet another "glossary of literary euphemisms" employed by reviewers. Worth a few laughs.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Celebrity books

       In The Times Ben Macintyre also looks at Life, but not as we know it -- the celebrity book invasion. Not much new, but a few more frightening examples.
       Still, he finds:
Piperís memoirs are only the latest evidence of a phenomenon sweeping the publishing industry: books written by people who donít normally write books, bought by people who donít normally read books, being sold in places, such as supermarkets, that did not, until quite recently, sell books.
       If some of this weren't so sad it would be pretty funny -- but even a rare instance when publishers show sensible restraint goes awry for them:
Being Jordan was turned down by successive publishers until the manuscript was bought by John Blake, of John Blake Publishing, for a meagre £10,000. The book was panned by critics, who pointed out that the author did not appear to have read her own memoirs. ("I donít know if theyíve mentioned it in the book, but ..." she told one interviewer, with delightful candour.)

Being Jordan went on to sell more than half a million copies. A sequel appeared this year, and Price, or her ghostwriter, is now, inevitably, writing a novel.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Saudi literary clubs

       Well, at least they can write about it: in Arab News Ebtihal Mubarak notes that Exclusion From Literary Club Boards Angers Women:
In a move meant to rejuvenate the Saudi literary scene, the Ministry of Culture and Information announced new board members for Saudi literary clubs. No women, however, were appointed to any of the boards.
       But, hey, they can still contribute -- in some places:
The fiction group in Riyadh decided to take matters into its own hands and do something for the women. They asked the women to write down what they wanted to say and e-mail it to one of the male members who would read it out at the meeting. The solution does not appeal to the women but they admit it is better than doing nothing at all.
       Stuff like that makes you proud to live in the 21st century, doesn't it ?
       As we recall, American "first lady" Laura Bush occasionally claims some literary interest and appears to like to yap about women's rights in places like Afghanistan; funny that she never takes Saudi Arabia to task, but here's a grand opportunity for her to make a statement .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Transcript

       As we mentioned yesterday, Latvia is the guest of honour at the Prague book fair -- and in conjunction with that, the new issue of Transcript focusses on: "Contemporary Latvian Literature".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Mercy Room review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Gilles Rozier's The Mercy Room.
       Well, that's what it's called in the US; in the UK (and everywhere else) it's titled: Love Without Resistance.
       What is it with publishers having to retitle books when they cross the Atlantic ? Sure, Rozier says he's fine with it (see this interview, for example), but the French (and UK) title is just so obviously more appropriate.
       (The title-changing American publishers are ... Little, Brown, the good folk who gave you Kaavya Viswanathan (and gave her half a million). (Sidebar: how many people have been fired over that gross incompetence ? Oh, that's right, this is the publishing industry. God forbid anyone would be held responsible -- much less take responsibility.))

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 May 2006 - Friday

Barnes on Bouvard et Pécuchet | Turkish authors
Bookworld Prague | Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary Prize

       Barnes on Bouvard et Pécuchet

       The impressive new (25 May) issue of The New York Review of Books comes with lots of good stuff, including Julian Barnes weighing in on Flaubert's Bouvard et Pécuchet.
       He notes that:
while it will never be as popular as Madame Bovary or L'Éducation sentimentale (it has at least overhauled Salammbô, currently way out fashion), it is still stubbornly being read
       (We wonder whether Barnes ever gets tired of all the magazines and newspapers that call every time a new Flaubert or Flaubert-related title comes out .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Turkish authors

       The new issue of The New York Review of Books also prints Orhan Pamuk's PEN Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Memorial Lecture, Freedom to Write -- though remember that at the PEN media library you can listen to it, as well as the introductory remarks by Salman Rushdie, and Pamuk's conversation with Margaret Atwood. And they have pictures. (On the other hand, the print copy of the NYRoB does offer a picture of Pamuk greeting Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter at Istanbul airport back in 1985 .....)

       Meanwhile, charges continue to be filed against authors back in Turkey. Perihan Magden -- who has had several books translated into English -- is the latest example, as described in Alev Adil's commentary at the New Statesman. Apparently:
Magden will stand trial on 7 June, charged with "alienating the people from military service". In a column in Aktuel in December last year, she drew attention to the case of Mehmet Tarhan, a conscientious objector imprisoned for refusing to do military service. Magden suggested that a modern country with ambitions to enter the EU should respect the rights of conscientious objectors and provide non-violent options such as community service. For this she faces three years' imprisonment.
       Regardless of EU ambitions ... who even comes up with these nutty laws ?

       (For samples of Magden's writing, check out two pieces at Words without Borders.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bookworld Prague

       Yes, the 12th Prague International Book Fair runs 4 to 7 May. Guest of honour is Latvia, and it's actually a very impressive programme (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       Among the highlights: former president Václav Havel has a new book coming out, Prosím stručně ('Briefly, Please'), which wil be introduced on Saturday. Alas, not a new drama, but rather ... well, it's being called a memoir. As Pravda reports:
The book -- called Briefly, Please -- is partly an interview with prominent journalist Karel Hvizdala and partly a collection of notes he wrote last year

It also includes brief notes and instructions to his staff from the time when he served as president.
The book is to be translated into English, German and French, and will also be presented at the book fair in Frankfurt, Germany, later this year, publishers said.
       We think we can wait .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary Prize

       Kertész Imre's Fatelessness was only runner-up in the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (see our previous mention), but he's now earned the same amount of cash by taking the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary Prize, a prize that "recognizes work that stimulates an interest in and awareness of themes of Jewish concern among a wider reading public". See also the shortlist of the books he beat out, as well as a report at Something Jewish.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 May 2006 - Thursday

New Ozick ! | Handke's French comedy
RTW/WWB reading groups | Shklovsky reviews

       New Ozick !

       We prefer her fiction, but even her non-fiction is better than almost anything else out there, so we're thrilled there's a new volume of essays by Cynthia Ozick due out next month -- The Din in the Head (see the Houghton Mifflin publicity page, or pre-order your copy at
       Adam Kirsch apparently couldn't wait (hey, neither would we, if we had a copy of the book), and his review, A Moral Defense Of Literary Experience, appeared in The NY Sun yesterday (link likely so short-lived it's probably dead already).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Handke's French comedy

       We mentioned last week that the Comédie-Française decided that Peter Handke's presence at that slob Milosevic's funeral in March was so offensive that they weren't going to go ahead with their plans to put on one of his plays next year (the 1989 (!) Voyage to the Sonorous Land, or The Art of Asking).
       Not much English-language press attention on it, but some Europeans have now signed a manifesto (in support of producing his plays, if not his political stance) written by Anne Weber, Ne censurez pas l'oeuvre de Peter Handke !. You can find it here at Le Monde; scroll down for the signatories (who include: Luc Bondy, Elfriede Jelinek, Peter Stephan Jungk, Emir Kusturica, Robert Menasse, Patrick Modiano, and Paul Nizon).
       Now, part of what's funny about this whole affair is that the bozo who called off the Handke made his decision based on an article he read in the 6 April issue of the Nouvel Observateur (having apparently not read any newspaper for the three previous weeks, which might have alerted him to Handke's doings earlier ...). But, as it turns out, that article wasn't exactly accurate; as the Nouvel Observateur wrote yesterday, in Sur l' "affaire Handke": "Plusieurs erreurs factuelles très regrettables se sont glissées dans notre texte." Ah, yes, those slippery factual errors. Anyway, they give Handke some space to list them (scroll down), and they apologise -- and add:
Pour autant nous regrettons que cette polémique ait pu motiver la déprogrammation par la Comédie Française de la pièce de cet écrivain de grand talent
       Meanwhile: today is decision-day, when the announcement for the programme for next season becomes final -- and we're curious to see whether there's a last minute revision .....
       For additional French commentary, check out Pierre Assouline at his weblog, La République des livres as well as the un-related La République des lettres.

       As to the play in question, it's actually available in English from Yale University Press -- and on their publicity page they describe it:
In Voyage to the Sonorous Land, or The Art of Asking, a cockeyed optimist and a spoilsport lead a group of characters to the hinterland of their imaginations, where they search not for the right answers but for the right questions.
       Yes, that sounds way too controversial to stage. Maybe they should ban it outright, and burn all the copies they can find .....
       (You can get your copy -- to read or burn -- from or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       RTW/WWB reading groups

       At Words without Borders they announce their upcoming monthly book group series around titles from Reading the World (see also the RTW-page providing pretty much the same information).
       It starts 15 May, with Dalkey Archive Press' Chad Post leading the discussion of Dubravka Ugresic's The Ministry of Pain -- so you still have time to pick up your copy and get started on it.
       In June it's time to turn to Mati Unt's Things in the Night, moderated by The Paris Review's Radhika Jones, while in July local saloon-keeper Michael Orthofer leads the discussion of Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl.
       Sounds like an interesting approach, so check it out (and all the RTW books are certainly worth a look).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Shklovsky reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two Viktor Shklovsky titles from the 1920s:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 May 2006 - Wednesday

Per Petterson takes IFFP | The lot of the translator
Wolff Translation Prize | Niche publishing | TIBF

       Per Petterson takes IFFP

       Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses has won this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize; see Boyd Tonkin's report, Norwegian author wins 'Independent' prize.
       He notes that:
Petterson has already taken the critics' and booksellers' prizes at home for this, his fifth novel. It has sold 140,000 copies in Norway, a country with a population of 4.5 million.
       Sales in the UK don't seem to have been quite as impressive yet -- the rank when we last checked was 61,301 (though it should improve considerably today). And there doesn't even seem to be an American edition yet (surprise, surprise), though the UK one is available at (sales rank last we checked ... 249,596.)

       We don't have this title under review yet, but we do have reviews of the runner-up -- Kertesz Imre's Fatelessness -- and of two of the other shortlisted titles (Pawel Huelle's Mercedes-Benz and Dubravka Ugresic's The Ministry of Pain).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The lot of the translator

       In Unrecognised and unseen in the Sunday Telegraph Jasper Rees looks at the lot of the literary translator -- and, of course, it's a fairly bleak picture:
In general, though, remuneration remains low. "The money is terrible," says Adams, at 36 a relatively youthful translator. "Literary translators are seen as Miss Marples -- the old lady in the cardigan who does it for love. There has been an inbuilt xenophobia that a book must be extraordinarily good to be published in this country and that, therefore, it must be an honour to be translating it."
       Terrible is, of course, relative:
The current recommendation of the Translators Association is a rate of £70 per 1,000 words. Not many get that. "You don't necessarily get paid more as you become older and better," says Bromfield, "and you don't get more for doing a good job than for a bad job." Nor are even the most respected translators entitled to a royalty in this country, even though the author they have translated takes a lower royalty than an English-language author.
       (We're all for translator's being better-paid, but, for what it's worth: £70 per 1,000 words is still about £70 more per 1,000 words than we're making here .....)
       Quite a few interesting titbits, however, -- including:
Some authors welcome contact from translators seeking elucidation more than others. "If I have a problem that's insoluble I can get in touch with Mankell and he will answer," says Thompson. "But the bottom line is, he isn't terribly interested in the translator."

There's the rub. If the author shows little interest in the translator, the publishing industry and the reading public can scarcely be expected to show it on their behalf.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Wolff Translation Prize

       Golden Rule Jones notes that while the official site hasn't made it official yet, New Directions have spilled the beans and revealed that Susan Bernofsky has won the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize (for best translation from the German in 2005) for her translation of The Old Child & Other Stories by Jenny Erpenbeck.
       Admirably, they reveal which books contend for the prize, making the entire list of submitted books public.
       It's an interesting list -- as much for how few titles are on it (some three dozen) as for their quality (some good stuff, several of which we have under review). Maybe some publishers balked at the 6-copy submission requirement, but given that the prize encompasses pretty much all translation from the German -- fiction and non -- it's a pretty short list. (Of course, maybe some translators declined to have their works submitted: the 10,000 bucks sounds good -- but who the hell has time for the "three-month stay at the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin (LCB)" that comes with winning the prize ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Niche publishing

       In Business Week Stacy Perman finds that Small Publishers Book Big Rewards. A look at niche and small publishers, it offers Archipelago Books as Exhibit A -- specifically their recent success with Elias Khoury's Gate of the Sun:
Without the marketing muscle or resources of the large houses, small publishers have innovated in order to successfully bring their authors to market. For one, they have created alliances with like-minded independent bookstores with fiercely loyal customers. Small houses also defray costs by publishing their book catalogs online and publicizing new releases and author events through e-mail blasts and blogs.
Archipelago and the growing number of small publishers are writing their own chapters on book publishing success. Indeed, when Gate of the Sun sold all of its initial run of 5,000 copies, it was considered something of a runaway hit. And the novel just went into its second printing -- proving that some of the biggest rewards come in the smallest packages
       (Much as we admire Archipelago and similar publishers, perhaps more of an emphasis on their non-profit status -- which puts them in a totally different league (and leaves them with totally different incentives (they need donor-dollars, more than sales)) -- would have been called for. Odd that Business Week wouldn't emphasise that.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       Yes, we are curious what's going to happen at the Tehran International Book Fair -- as MNA reports, Tehran Intl. Book Fair to open tomorrow.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

2 May 2006 - Tuesday

Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006) | Grünbein (not) in Chicago
New Oxonian Review | Luxor review

       Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006)

       The great Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer passed away on Sunday.
       Not that many obituaries yet, but a few pretty good ones:        For older information, see also interviews in Michigan Today and at Radio Netherlands, as well as the Pramoedya Ananta Toer page and Pramoedya Ananta Toer at books and writers.

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       Grünbein in Chicago

       The calendar of (Chicago) events at Golden Rule Jones alerts us to the fact that Durs Grünbein is appearing in Chicago -- to give a reading on Thursday and a lecture on Friday (see information here). Alas, we haven't been able to dig up any more detailed description (like what he's planning on lecturing on .....)

       (Updated): Well, we now know the title of the lecture -- "Configured Night" -- but apparently he's not going to be giving it: both the reading and the lecture have been cancelled (see here and here). (Thanks to Dave Lull for letting us know the bad news.)

       Grünbein also recently made the International shortlist for the very well-endowed Griffin Poetry Prize, for his collection Ashes for Breakfast.

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       New Oxonian Review

       A new issue of The Oxonian Review is now available online.

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       Luxor review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Philipp Blom's Luxor.
       Blom is one of those rare authors who writes in more than one languages: he's written books in both English and German (despite apparently now living in Paris ...). This time around he went for German; presumably, he'll eventually also translate it himself into English .....

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1 May 2006 - Monday

PEN report: Idols and Insults | Peter Carey's alimony whore
James Tait Black Memorial Prizes shortlists | Okigbo conference | Novel Twists

       PEN report: Idols and Insults

       One of the Saturday panels of the PEN World Voice festival was devoted to Idols and Insults: Writing, Religion, and Freedom of Expression. Present were Juan Luis Cebrián, editor of El Pais; Indian author (and civil servant) Upamanyu Chatterjee; Hans Magnus Enzensberger; Nilüfer Göle, who teaches sociology in Paris; Somali-born Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali; and moderator Ian Buruma. In some ways the strongest statement of the afternoon came in the form of the fact that one invited panelist had not been able to obtain an American visa and hence was unable to participate -- Swiss national Tariq Ramadan.
       Ramadan was able to videotape his comments on the subject, and these were shown on a huge screen -- effectively larger than life -- but it was nevertheless a stark reminder of the barriers to freedom of expression that exist even in a country such as the US (which is, after all, far more open to free expression than most of the world). His ideas and words did make it here (indeed, ideas and words are notoriously difficult to stop at any border), but it wasn't quite the same thing as having him here -- and obviously he was unable to participate in any discussion, which is (ideally) how one would like ideas to be further shaped and allowed to grow.
       Ramadan's difficulties in getting permission to travel to the US pre-date the PEN festival, but -- as he also mentioned in his taped message -- the American authorities have still not made clear exactly why they refuse to give him a visa. (For more, see Julia Preston's article, U.S. ban on Swiss Muslim still a puzzle, as well as his official site.)
       PEN president Ron Chernow opened the panel, certain that there is: "no more incendiary topic". Ian Buruma then took over, noting that all were surely agreed that freedom of expression is fundamentally good, the question being what happens after the qualifying: "But ...".
       Embarrassingly, I found myself almost entirely defeated by the heavily accented comments of the first speaker, Juan Luis Cebrián, and never quite figured out what he was going on about. I scribbled down some snatches -- democracy is rooted in some universal values, which are not so universal now ... -- but couldn't piece anything together from them.
       Chatterjee was more straightforward. He's all for idols and insults, and his philosophy is: let a thousand flowers bloom -- as long as you don't hurt anybody. He also noted that there's a difference between insults in the private and the public domains -- an idea which variations of were echoed by other panelists, the word 'respect' invoked fairly often.
       A tack not much explored that he offered was the idea that if we don't understand a religion we should leave it alone as long as we can. Possibly a safe policy -- for a while -- but I wonder if that doesn't leave things to a worse reckoning; hearty criticism of the incomprehensible (with all due respect) surely might help head things off at the pass ..... Indeed, it seems to me that the ideas/philosophies/religions we don't understand (but that find enthusiastic followers) are the ones we shouldn't leave alone, from the very get-go: early, thorough engagement with (and the resulting inevitable (devastating, one hopes) criticism of) Nazism, various cults, militant religious off-shoots, etc., surely is the way to go.
       Among the points Enzensberger raised were the absence of reciprocity in the contemporary world, with a penchant for feeling insulted being on the rise, a "sensitivity bordering on squeamishness." Not for the last time, the Danish cartoons came up -- a minor incident that those who felt insulted made much larger than it had to be (though Enzensberger also acknowledged the likely original provocative intent of those who first published them).
       Ayaan Hirsi Ali asked: can and should religion be open to criticism and satire ? As far as 'can' she said: sure. The central question, she believes is: should it be ? -- and here her answer was also unequivocal: yes, it should be open to criticism. She thinks that's the way it has been in the West for centuries, and that has led to peace and prosperity. (Quite a few challenges, questions, and arguments those claims might lead to ... but they were not brought up.)
       She believes it is necessary to criticize Islam, for example. She also noted that all religions limit free speech, with some limiting it more than others. And she noted that governments and institutions have mechanisms to counter criticism and satire -- including denials, positive publicity, diplomatic pressure -- and violence and the threat of violence. All the mechanism are fine with her -- except for violence (and the threat thereof): that's where she draws the line.
       In his taped message Ramadan also brought up the respect-aspect, and the idea that the important thing is to use the freedom wisely -- education, rather than the law guiding how we see it.

       Buruma was concerned that the panel wouldn't find enough to disagree on, and -- despite Nilüfer Göle's best efforts -- that was, for the most part, the case. The panelists seemed basically on the same page; somewhat disappointingly, there was no one who argued for stricter limitations on free speech (aside from the voluntary respectful ones ...) ... and there was no one who dared yell: "Fire ! Fire !" in the (not too crowded) auditorium either. Yes, their position (not quite a uniform one, but close enough) was a sensible one, but I think the panel could have been more constructive if some had been willing to put forward more extreme positions. Or does being a public writer necessarily make one an adherent of this particular notion of freedom of expression ?

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

       Peter Carey's alimony whore

       We've previously mentioned Peter Carey's Theft, already available in Australia and due out elsewhere soon.
       His former wife has helpfully decided to help improve sales by stirring things up, as Anthony Barnes reports in The author & the 'alimony whore':
Alison Summers believes, like a number of others, that passages in the book depicting a marital break-up are a thinly-veiled attack on her and part of an attempt to smear her following the couple's divorce nearly three years ago.
The phrase "alimony whore", repeated within the pages of Theft: A Love Story, has left her feeling "devastated" by Carey's version of events
       The problem we have with this is that it would never have occurred to us worry about whether or not Carey's account was non-, semi-, or entirely fictional, or in any way based on his marriage. But now that Ms. Summers -- a person we were entirely unfamiliar with, and who (though she might be very nice) we couldn't care less about -- has brought it to our attention, we will forever think only those two words -- "alimony whore" -- should we ever again read or hear her name.
       Now, perhaps her concern is with the few dozen or hundreds of people who knew or know them as a couple, and she's bothered by the fact that Peter gets to trumpet his side of the marriage and divorce -- but by complaining so publicly she becomes in so many more eyes: Alison Summers, alimony whore -- a name and two words, forever linked together. (Does she really believe any readers could care less whether or not she actually is an alimony whore ? We certainly couldn't.)
       Still, one has to sympathise a bit with her, immortalized in such ignoble fashion:
"I think it is a misuse of literature. I don't think literature at that level should be used to settle scores. And I don't want to be portrayed as the horrendous woman of literature.
       We understand her position (we probably wouldn't like to be called alimony whores, either ... maybe) -- but we think it's a great use of literature, and we love it when literature is used to settle scores. And we note, once again, by identifying with the character the alimony whore ... pardon us: Alison Summers -- indeed by embracing this identification as publicly as she has (that's me ! that's me ! she seems to be practically screaming) -- she has contributed significantly to any misuse of literature that might have taken place.
A spokeswoman for Carey's publisher, Faber, said he did not wish to comment about whether the book was inspired by his own divorce: "He's not saying anything about anything. He has no comment and we will not be contacting him -- he's not interested."
       Well, we hope the interviewers all bug him about it ..... (Actually, what we hope is that he really doesn't say "anything about anything": an author who doesn't comment or have a thing to say, in this over-commenting age, what a blessing and wonderful thing that would be ! (Sorry, that must be the PEN World Voices hangover talking ...) But we're not holding our breaths.)
       Anyway, the whole to-do can't hurt sales, right ? Which might mean there's more alimony-money to fork over .....

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       James Tait Black Memorial Prizes shortlists

       The James Tait Black Memorial Prizes -- "Scotland's most prestigious and the U.K.'s oldest literary awards" -- shortlists have apparently been announced. No information yet at the official site -- and no information anywhere we could find about the Biography category. But at least Tim Cornwell runs down the Fiction-shortlist in The Scotsman, in Scots writer shortlisted for fourth major book award. The books are:
  • The Accidental by Ali Smith
  • Saturday by Ian McEwan
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Praying Mantis by André Brink
  • Beasts of No Nation by Uzodinma Iweala
  • Mother, Missing by Joyce Carol Oates

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       Okigbo conference

       With a slightly overenthusiastic headline in Vanguard Patrick Tagbo Oguejiofor informs us that Four American universities to raise Christopher Okigbo from the grave:
The first international conference on the life and works of Christopher Okigbo is scheduled to hold in September, 2007. The landmark event is collaboratively sponsored by the four Boston area colleges in the United States (Boston University, Harvard University, University of Massachusetts, Boston and Wesley College) in association with the Christopher Okigbo Foundation.
       He also offers some Okigbo information -- including:
Famous as Okigbo may be, he is only known within the literary circles and not known outside it as neither schools nor libraries have been named after him.
       More usefully, he notes that we can look forward to some re- and new publications, including that:
a volume of Okigboís completed works, edited with a critical introduction and elaborate explanatory notes by Chukwuma Azuonye, is due to be published early in 2007 by Africa World Press.
       (See also, for example, our review of Okigbo's classic collection, Labyrinths.)

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       Novel Twists

       In The Herald David Ross reports on yet another collaborative fiction effort, in Writers bid on eBay to create new book.
       Yes, Novel Twists (or rather: Novel Twists™, which is where they lost us) has authors bid on eBay for the right to write a page of the novel (you should be able to bid here). Nine pages sold, last we checked -- over two hundred to go.
       We didn't actually read the first pages -- trademarked phrases and titles are a red flag to us and we'll have as little as possible to do with them.

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