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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 September 2008

1 September: Fall book previews | Muriel Barbery profile | German theatre statistics | Таємниця review
2 September: Spanish authors' top ten | September Open Letters | Observer Translation Project (re)launch | Jonathan Coe Q&A | Writing in ... Ghana | Writing in ... Cambodia
3 September: New Quarterly Conversation | Blecher text | Abandoned books | Call for Sheikh Zayed Book Award submissions | Catalan book preview
4 September: New Bookforum | Man Booker notes | The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ... and translation issues
5 September: Dayton Literary Peace Prizes | Edgardo Vega Yunqué (1936-2008) | The New York Sun's future | Ugresic interview
6 September: New Words without Borders | 40 Years of (Man) Booker judging | Fewer banned books | Paul Theroux profile | Biography-killers ? | Robert Giroux (1914-2008) | German Book Prize: one less on the longlist
7 September: Interviews: Alaa Al Aswany - Andrew Wylie | Howard Jacobson profile | Sri Lankan State Literary Awards | Rodge Glass' Alasdair Gray book
8 September: Orhan Pamuk interview | 'E-authors' in Viet Nam | Oz in Arabic | Anathem review
9 September: Man Booker shortlist | Nigeria Prize for Literature shortlist | Hartwig on the Celan-Bachmann correspondence | Future Bolaños
10 September: Saramago's A viagem do elefante | Rain Taxi profile | John Sutherland's curry | The Murder Farm review

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10 September 2008 - Wednesday

Saramago's A viagem do elefante | Rain Taxi profile
John Sutherland's curry | The Murder Farm review

       Saramago's A viagem do elefante

       In The Independent Elizabeth Nash reports that Veteran Saramago reaches end of epic journey, as:
Portugal's Nobel Literature laureate Jose Saramago has announced the completion of his latest work 'The Elephant's Journey', based on the real-life epic journey of an Indian elephant named Solomon who travelled from Lisbon to Vienna in the 16th century.
       Sounds like it has some potential; we look forward to the English translation.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rain Taxi profile

       In Publishers Weekly Craig Morgan Teicher profiles the admirable Rain Taxi, in Running Rain Taxi:
Rain Taxi has been around for 12Ĺ years and celebrated the publication of its 50th issue this summer.

With a circulation of 18,000 and about 15,000 daily hits to its Web site, Rain Taxi is, as Lorberer says, "small for a big operation but very large for a small operation. We're very large from a literary magazine perspective, but small when thinking about newspapers." However it's classified, " is one of the very few places a reader can go for in-depth reviews of small press and offbeat books, as well as potentially edgier considerations of trade books.
       They certainly are always worth checking out, even though their magazine/online divide is somewhat confusing (at least to us)
       (Also: if by '15,000 daily hits' they mean 15,000 visitors a day we have some doubts about that number; we don't get nearly that many, but are fairly confident that traffic hereabouts is considerably higher than at their site.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       John Sutherland's curry

       In reviewing Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence in the Financial Times John Sutherland got a bit carried away and wrote:
There is more magic than realism in this latest novel. But it is, I think, one of his best. If The Enchantress of Florence doesnít win this yearís Man Booker Iíll curry my proof copy and eat it.
       This was an extraordinarily silly and reckless (and daring) statement to make, since the Man Booker isn't necessarily awarded to the 'best' book under consideration, but to the one the jury that year settles on. But perhaps it wasn't that silly or reckless after all: Sutherland probably knows the British literary scene as well as anyone, and he may well have been able to 'read' the jury (or at least thought he could) and made the statement based on his knowledge of those who would be voting on the book, rather than the book.
       Regardless, since the review came out we have been eagerly anticipating the Man Booker announcements, waiting for the moment when the book was out of the running -- and Sutherland would, as promised, curry that proof and consume it.
       Now we are shocked to find that Sutherland writes about the recently announced Man Booker shortlist:
I've read two of the titles. I'll take Michael Portillo at his word (ie the pageturningness) and have them all read by decision day. In short, an interesting shortlist. Particularly interesting for me, I should add, since I vowed -- publicly -- to curry and eat my proof copy of The Enchantress of Florence if it didn't win. It won't. And I won't. So there.

I might manage a custard pie on October 10, though.
       'So there' ?
       Does this man not have the slightest sense of honour ?
       Rarely have we been so disappointed by a literary critic. Here is an opportunity to stand by one's words, and with practically no explanation, he refuses to do so.
       Others, too, are disappointed -- with Edward Champion writing we should Demand Curry Accountability from John Sutherland ! -- and we hope the London literary establishment has taken the appropriate steps vis-á-vis Sutherland (who surely must now be shunned by one and all -- except perhaps Rushdie, who presumably feels obligated to support such a strong fan of his book).
       Perhaps one (or at least he) can argue that his words weren't meant to be taken seriously, that it was just an attention-seeking lark. After all, reviewers spout nonsense ('X is the greatest book ever', 'everyone has to read Y', etc. etc.) all the time. But that was what was so impressive about Sutherland's review: he didn't just spout empty phrases in praise of the Rushdie book, he was willing to back his high opinion of the book up in a way everyone could understand. If others -- the Man Booker jurors -- couldn't see the obvious brilliance and superiority of The Enchantress of Florence -- he was going to show them, and all the reading public, just how strongly he felt about it. Good for him ! we all cheered (while, of course, secretly hoping that the Man Booker judges would make him eat his (and Rushdie's) words).
       Instead, they turned out just to be empty words, the hollowest of promises.
       The damage is not only to Sutherland's reputation, but to that of the entire reviewing trade and craft. Like the critic who reviews a book without having read it and is discovered because s/he gets it all wrong Sutherland's failure to stand by his words is a blot on all reviewers, yet another example the public can hold up when they ask: why should we bother reading their opinions, they don't stand behind them anyway .....
       It's not as if Sutherland had melodramatically vowed to do something completely ridiculous -- say, to blow his brains out if the Man Booker judges were so foolish as to overlook the obvious brilliance of the Rushdie. No, the promise he came up with seems just about right: a little bit foolish, a bit unpleasant, but perfectly manageable.
       And now: 'So there' is the best he can come up with ?
       For shame, for shame, for shame.

       It's not too late, of course. Sutherland still has enough time to come to his senses and do the honourable thing. Sir Salman might even be able to help with the preparation -- he must have a few favourite family-recipes which can be tweaked to include a bit of paper and print. If not, sites such as Curry Recipes, Indian Curry Recipes, or How to Make a Simple Curry "Anything" might help with inspiration and tips.
       Come on, Mr. Sutherland -- do the right thing !
       (If he sticks to his guns and refuses, we wouldn't be surprised if he finds himself facing quite a bit of custard pie on 10 October -- flung in disgust in his general direction by disappointed literati.)

       (Going back to the review, however, one really does have to wonder what Sutherland was thinking: he made his grand pronouncements (and vow) in early April, when many of the titles that would presumably contend for the Man Booker weren't even available yet -- and he admits that even now, at this very late date in the season, he's only read two (!) of the six shortlisted titles. How on earth could he be so sure that the Rushdie not only stood a chance but was a prohibitive favourite when he had (indeed: has) no idea of the quality of the competition ? (The answer has to be, of course: he wasn't looking at the books, but at the jury, which he presumably figured was dominated by suckers who would simply swoon at the Rushdie name.))

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Murder Farm review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Andrea Maria Schenkel's The Murder Farm, a grim but immensely successful German crime novel.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 September 2008 - Tuesday

Man Booker shortlist | Nigeria Prize for Literature shortlist
Hartwig on the Celan-Bachmann correspondence | Future Bolaños

       Man Booker shortlist

       They've announced the Man Booker Prize for Fiction shortlist, which consists of:
  • The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
  • A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
  • The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher
  • Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
  • The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
       Somewhat surprising -- no doubt (American) folks will be wondering about the absence of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland -- but at least Salman Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence fell short and so John Sutherland can finally get cooking.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Nigeria Prize for Literature shortlist

       They rotate what they offer the Nigeria Prize for Literature for, through four categories -- prose, poetry, drama and children's literature -- and this year they're finally back to fiction. As Femi Salawu reports in NLNG Prize: Hazy picture on clear winner, only two (!) books made the shortlist, Unbridled by Jude Dibia and Yellow-Yellow by Kaine Agary.
     These young writers were short-listed from a total of 11 successful entries, and they would be announced during the Grand Award Night billed for October 11 at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos.

     While revealing that the books were singled out for their outstanding qualities, Professor Vincent hinted that a total of 149 entries were received for this yearís awards many of which recorded shortcomings in the areas of typographical and factual errors among others.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hartwig on the Celan-Bachmann correspondence

       We recently mentioned the new volume of the correspondence between Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan that recently came out in German, as Herzzeit, and now signandsight helpfully offer a translation of Ina Hartwig's informative piece on the book (originally published in the Frankfurter Rundschau), Magic and guilt.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Future Bolaños

       The 2666 buzz continues to build, as several bloggers have now mentioned finishing the book and are readying themselves to comment (our review is still a few weeks off), and there has also been some concern that with this book there's not much left by Roberto Bolaño to look forward to, beyond that volume of poems, The Romantic Dogs, that New Directions is also bringing out this fall..
       As it turns out, any concern is very premature, and readers are in for several more healthy doses of Bolaño: as the new New Directions newsletter notes (scroll down, second to last item), they have big plans: the novel The Skating Rink is due in August 2009, and then, 'In the Not-too-Distant Future', they're offering:
  • Monsieur Pain (novel)
  • Antwerp (novel)
  • The Insufferable Gaucho (novel)
  • Parenthetically (essays)
  • Assassin Whores (short stories)
  • Secreto De Mal (posthumous collection of writings-stories, sketches, poems, miscellany)
       It seems Bolaño-mania will be properly fed for years to come !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 September 2008 - Monday

Orhan Pamuk interview | 'E-authors' in Viet Nam
Oz in Arabic | Anathem review

       Orhan Pamuk interview

       At DeutscheWelle (but in English) Rainer Traube interviews Orhan Pamuk, who admits that winning the Nobel Prize has affected his life, career, and pronouncements:
It made me more famous, it brought me so many new readers and it made it slightly difficult -- it made everything I do more political than I'd expected.
       He also talks about his new novel, Masumiyet Müzesi, just out in Turkish (and German):
The Museum of Innocence chronicles the love story of Kemal, an upper-class person, a person who is occasionally described as high-society. He is 30 years old in 1975 and chronicles his infatuation with a distant relative, a twice removed cousin, Fusun, an 18 year-old shop girl, but very beautiful. As sort of a compensation for his failure to get her hand, he collects everything he can get that Fusun touches, and in the end he makes a museum of the objects that their story is associated with.

My "Museum of Innocence" is a real museum too, which tries to pin down all these objects. I've been collecting things for this museum almost for six years. I bought a house which is actually where this part of the story has been taking place since about ten years ago. I converted it into a museum so the "Museum of Innocence" is both a museum and a novel.

The enjoyment of the novel and the enjoyment of the would-be museum are two entirely different things. The museum is not an illustration of the novel and the novel is not an explanation of the museum. They are two representations of one single story perhaps.
       Sounds good to us.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       'E-authors' in Viet Nam

       At Thanh Nien News Nguyen Le Chi reports on Writer's unblocked, as:
They are still finding their way, but sure-footed e-authors have made a major impact on Vietnamís literature scene over the past three years.

More people in their twenties and thirties in Vietnam are taking to writing online, and itís hitting the spot with readers.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Oz in Arabic

       In Haaretz Shiri Lev-Ari reports that Arab terror victim's kin funds Arabic translation of Oz novel, as:
Amos Oz's autobiographical novel, A Tale of Love and Darkness, has been translated into Arabic thanks to a contribution by the family of an Arab man killed in a terror attack in 2004.
       Shockingly, only:
Two other books of Oz's have been translated into Arabic. My Michael, translated in the 1990s, received favorable reviews in Egypt. The other book, Soumchi was distributed in Jordan.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Anathem review

       We're somewhat surprised there hasn't been more fuss about the new Neal Stephenson novel, the first in quite a few years, due out this week, but we've now gotten to it: the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Anathem.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 September 2008 - Sunday

Interviews: Alaa Al Aswany - Andrew Wylie
Howard Jacobson profile | Sri Lankan State Literary Awards
Rodge Glass' Alasdair Gray book

       Interview: Alaa Al Aswany

       In the Financial Times Anna Metcalfe has some questions for Alaa Al Aswany (whose Chicago is now out in the UK) in this week's Small talk-column.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Interview: Andrew Wylie

       In the FAZ Felicitas von Lovenberg interviews 'literary' agent Andrew Wylie, in Wie gierig muss ein Schriftsteller sein, Mister Wylie ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Howard Jacobson profile

       Howard Jacobson has a new (and widely reviewed) book out, and in Scotland On Sunday Aidan Smith profiles him.
       Among the ...enlightening opinions and insights Jacobson offers:
He also thinks Max Mosley is honourable. "I found nothing shameful in what he did; in fact I think he should have apologised less. Who can say what is normal ? People have a right to be peculiar. "

How's he peculiar ? "Well, I was a bounder when I was a young man -- I was a bastard. My first and second wives would tell you that, especially the first, because when I was an academic I had a terrible reputation as a philanderer. " Arriving at Sydney University in 1964, he couldn't believe that the women were so beautiful -- and so sexually adventurous. "There was a lot of antagonism between the sexes and lots of Australian men were gay and in denial so we Englishmen seemed exotic. The whole department screwed. Actually in the department. Between 1 and 2pm, no one went for lunch. Girls knocked on our doors and everyone screwed on the floors. "
       Those were, apparently, the days .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Sri Lankan State Literary Awards

       In The best in literature in The Sunday Times they list the winners of the Sri Lankan State Literary Awards for works in English, which will be handed out at a ceremony on the 14th.
       Dragons in the Wilderness by Jean Arasanayagam took: 'Best Novel'.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rodge Glass' Alasdair Gray book

       We're big Alasdair Gray fans, so we are curious about Rodge Glass' Alasdair Gray: A Secretary's Biography -- see the Bloomsbury publicity page, or get your copy at -- but Stuart Kelly's review isn't very encouraging.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 September 2008 - Saturday

New Words without Borders | 40 Years of (Man) Booker judging
Fewer banned books | Paul Theroux profile | Biography-killers ?
Robert Giroux (1914-2008) | German Book Prize: one less on the longlist

       New Words without Borders

       The September issue of Words without Borders is now available; this month it's full of Reversals.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       40 Years of (Man) Booker judging

       In The Guardian they asked: 'a judge from every year to tell us the inside story of how the winner was chosen' for the (Man) Booker Prize, in Tears, tiffs and triumphs.
       Not nearly enough gossip (or insight), but certainly of some interest.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Fewer banned books

       In Gulf News Marten Youssef reports that locally the Number of banned books on decline as nation takes more tolerant stance:
The number of banned books in the UAE, dealing with controversial topics, is on the decline as the country takes a more tolerant stance towards the expatriate community, bookshop owners say.

"Of course, there are still books that will not be sold here -- like the ones that scold [defame] religion, those with sexual content and images and also politically-charged books. But we are noticing that fewer books are being banned," Mohammad Yousuf, store manager of Abu Dhabi's largest bookshop, Jarir Bookstore, told Gulf News.
       No books scolding religion, erotica, or politically-charged books ? Still sounds pretty repressive. But it's all relative:
"The UAE is one of the most progressive and adaptive countries that I have seen.

"No one walks around, checking your home library for banned books. No one arrests you for having a banned book. It is just a national statement that we don't support specific books. More countries need to do that," Yousuf said.
       Okay .....
       But, after all:
Jarir, a Saudi-owned bookstore, sells more titles and offers a lot more variety than it would do in Saudi Arabia.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Paul Theroux profile

       In The Times James Bone profiles Paul Theroux.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Biography-killers ?

       In The Times Valerie Grove moans that Celebrity culture is killing the serious biography.
       Given how over-rated 'serious' biography is -- sure there's a place for it, but there's way too much of it being peddled -- we can only say: we wish. Of course, the celebrity-bio is an even greater abomination, but at least that is throw-away crap that no one takes seriously or tries to defend (though given how much publishers throw away in advances for celebrity bio-flops they do also cause serious harm to the industry).
       And surely the numbers should tell you something:
To illustrate the gap between critical and popular success, the recently-quoted indicator is that Hilary Spurling's life of Matisse, which won the Costa Prize, had sold 12,000 copies, while Being Jordan, the ghost-written memoirs of the glamour model Katie Price, shifted 335,000. Not really surprising: what's bought and read in quantity reflects the state of the nation.
       Ah, yes, shame on you British -- look at the state of your nation, reflected in the reading matter you prefer !
       But at least the piece has one fun anecdote:
If today's instant celebrity blurs the distinction between fame and genuine worth, another pitfall is instant oblivion. Andrew Lownie, the literary agent who until recently ran the Biographers' Club, says: "I just know that if I sent a publisher a proposal for a life of Edward Heath, someone would say, who ? I heard recently about a publisher who asked, 'Winston Churchill -- is he still alive and will he sue ?'"
       Maybe the British really should start worrying about the state of the nation .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Robert Giroux (1914-2008)

       Robert Giroux -- the 'Giroux' in FSG -- has passed away ; see, for example, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt's obituary in The New York Times.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       German Book Prize: one less on the longlist

       They recently announced the 20-title strong longlist for the German Book Prize, and one of the titles was Peter Handke's Die morawische Nacht. Now Handke has written to the organisers and asked them to withdraw the title from consideration -- to give the younger kids a break; outrageously, the organisers have agreed to his request; see the (German) press release. (While they've been very efficient about posting English-language versions of all their press releases, somehow they haven't gotten around to translating this yet .....)
       The Man Booker (and numerous other prizes) try to avoid these situations by demanding the publishers guarantee that authors will participate; presumably the Handke was one of the called-in titles, which may have confused matters a bit (see our previous mention, where we noted that Suhrkamp had garnered four spots on the longlist, despite only being allowed to submit two titles).
       We have low expectations from all these prizes, but this is beyond the pale: it's a book prize, and should have nothing to with the author. They are trying to reward the best book, and it matters not one whit whether or not the author wants to be part of the show; by not considering the Handke the shadow of that book now hangs forever on whichever title they ultimately give the prize to. With all due respect: they should have laughed in Handke's face.
       Are there no serious book prizes out there, none that focus solely on the books and literary merit and don't care whether publishers want (or don't want) specific titles considered, or whether authors do or don't want their books considered ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 September 2008 - Friday

Dayton Literary Peace Prizes | Edgardo Vega Yunqué (1936-2008)
The New York Sun's future | Ugresic interview

       Dayton Literary Peace Prizes

       The Dayton Literary Peace Prizes -- "The first and only annual U.S. literary award recognizing the power of the written word to promote peace" -- have been announced; Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has been named the Fiction Winner.
       We're not quite sure how it promotes peace, but .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Edgardo Vega Yunqué (1936-2008)

       As Maria Vega reports in the New York Daily News, Puerto Rican writer Edgardo Vega Yunqué dead at 72; see also his official site.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The New York Sun's future

       As widely reported, The New York Sun's future is in question; see the Letter From the Editor, where they acknowledge the paper is in:
circumstances that may require us to cease publication at the end of September unless we succeed in our efforts to find additional financial backing.
       Quite a few people have bemoaned the possible demise of the newspaper, especially because its arts-coverage would be much missed. As James Kirchick writes The New Republic's 'The Plank', in Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me:
Its Arts section is widely considered to be the best in the country, even by those Manhattanites who loathe its neoconservative polemics.
       Similarly, at The Millions Garth Risk Hallberg writes Adam Kirsch, A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You, while at Three Percent Chad Post writes about NY Sun: The Bad News, both particularly concerned about the possible end of The New York Sun's superior books-coverage.
       The New York Sun is a very peculiar newspaper; its arts coverage is, indeed, about as good as it gets, from the great book-selection through their film, TV, and gallery/museum reviews; they're one of the few newspapers that regularly offer architecture criticism -- and they have Tom Perrotta providing most of their tennis coverage. On the other hand, their editorial line seems to us to generally be right there on the lunatic fringe, and we read their op-ed pages daily (we have a free subscription) with open-mouthed astonishment. (A recent favourite is their take -- and very tortured positive spin -- on the Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin's teenage daughter Bristol's unplanned pregnancy, where they manage to avoid most of the obvious issues it raises -- like how anti-sex-ed mom was apparently incapable of teaching her daughter even the basics of birth control (while preaching abstinence ...) -- and find a peculiar twist on the 'family values' angle, arguing: "Her story will highlight the more general and related issues of immigration and population. America needs more people, just like Alaska does. The rising powers of Communist China and India both far exceed America in terms of population; China has 1.3 billion and India has 1.1 billion. To catch up and compete with them, America will have to grow its own population by having larger families and by opening our doors to more immigration.")
       We'd like to think the formula has foundered on the off-the-wall politics, not the arts coverage, but who knows ? As is, The New York Sun remains a vanity publication: as Cityfile note in Why Are The Sun's Backers Getting Cold Feet ?:
Did we mention that after $70 million and six years, the paper still only has 16,000 paying subscribers ?
       We do remain fascinated by these vanity publications and their 'business' models -- especially since you'd figure the wealthy backers behind them must have shown some business sense at some point to accumulate the wealth that allows them to bankroll these things. But maybe it was just dumb luck.
       (They can't even seem to figure out where they want their revenue to come from: until about two years ago, the newsstand price of the newspaper was a bargain 25 cents (as they presumably hoped for lots of newsstand sales); they raised it fairly quickly to a dollar (still fifty cents cheaper than the Times ...) -- but at the same time increased their free-subscriptpion offers, which we've been enjoying for about a year and a half now. The free subscriptions -- and they hand out a lot -- pad the circulation and 'reader' figures, but don't really seem like a viable long-term policy. But we can't complain, always appreciating getting something for nothing.)
       Anyway, we do hope they hang on and keep up the arts coverage. Maybe they should change strategies and just get rid of all that political nonsense .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ugresic interview

       Dubravka Ugresic's The Ministry of Pain is now out in French, and so Natalie Levisalles interviews her at Libération, in Titonic ta mère.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 September 2008 - Thursday

New Bookforum | Man Booker notes
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ... and translation issues

       New Bookforum

       The September/October/November issue of Bookforum is now available online; well worth checking out.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Man Booker notes

       In The Independent Charlotte Cripps writes about The write stuff: The V&A celebrates the Man Booker winners from the past 40 years.
       Among the interesting notes: literary agent Peter Straus mentions that:
"I even searched for titles that had some connection with the Booker Prize but were not shortlisted. Patrick White's The Twyborn Affair was selected in 1979 but the author removed himself from the list, saying it was for younger and less well-known writers."

As Straus investigated further, he wanted to know why certain authors had never been shortlisted. "I discovered that John Fowles did not allow his publisher to enter his books, the first eligible being The French Lieutenant's Woman. In 1974 the panel wanted to shortlist John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but again Le Carré did not want his books entered."
       Which leads us to wonder, as we so often do, why the Man Booker (and so many other prizes) don't reveal what books are actually in the running for the prize -- and also, if they really mean to honour the best book they don't simply ignore authors' wishes (and publishers' submissions) and actually just consider the best books for the prize .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ... and translation issues

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, finally due out in the US.

       Two notes of interest regarding the translation: one is the title, which bears no resemblance to the Swedish title -- as, for example, the post at Detectives Beyond Borders notes in asking, Have you read Stieg Larsson's "Men Who Hate Women" ?
       Also: the translation of the book is generally credited to Reg Keeland, but the name of 'Steven T. Murray' also crops up (including in some of the reviews); Steven T. Murray (his real name) is, of course, 'Reg Keeland'; adding to the fun, he's the husband of noted translator-from-the Scandinavian Tiina Nunnally -- who has also published translations under the name of Felicity David (or, in the notorious case of the UK edition of Peter Høeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow (i.e. Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow), as F.David). 'Reg' weighs in in the comments-section of the Detectives Beyond Borders post, and mentions that:
By the way, "Reg" is the British cousin of Thomas Keeland, himself noted for an early translation of a thriller subjected to extensive editorial cutting in the USA.
       'Thomas Keeland' is the pen-name Murray and Nunnally have used for some co-translations; the book in question here is surely Jan Guillou's Enemy's Enemy -- and the guilty publisher yet again Knopf (who also publish the Larsson, and have been known to mess (and surely that's the only appropriate word) with other translations (notably Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle)); no wonder Guillou has fallen so flat in the US market.
       We would have figured building up a strong 'translation-brand' -- by becoming a trusted and familiar name -- is something translators would shoot for, so the many pseudonyms come as more than just something of a surprise. Yes, this is a prolific husband-and-wife team , and they may worry, like some authors, about their names coming up too often, but it still strikes us as odd. Or do they reserve the pseudonyms -- like F.David did -- for situations where they disagreed with the final version the publisher wanted to put out ? (And is that the case with the Larsson ? Though at least here, unlike in the Høeg-case, the author wasn't available to meddle with the translation, so that can't have been the problem .....)

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3 September 2008 - Wednesday

New Quarterly Conversation | Blecher text | Abandoned books
Call for Sheikh Zayed Book Award submissions | Catalan book preview

       New Quarterly Conversation

       A new issue of The Quarterly Conversation is now up, and, as always, well worth checking out.
       Among the enjoyable pieces: Martin Riker has Fourteen Questions for Jean-Philippe Toussaint, including:
MR: Are you at all interested in the United States of America, either as a concept or as a reality?

JPT: Letís not get into touchy subjects, if you please.
       (We have several Toussaint books under review; see, for example, our review of Fuir.)

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       Blecher text

       As we've mentioned, M.Blecher's Scarred Hearts just came out in English; we've also long had his Întâmplări în irealitatea imediată under review, and now Bookslut points us to Jeanie Han's English translation, the entire text of which is available online, as Adventures in Immediate Unreality (warning ! dreaded pdf format !). (And apparently an edition: 'in trade paperback coming soon from Apache Plume Press !')

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       Abandoned books

       Apparently some 7000 books are abandoned by Travelodge-guests in the UK annually, and Sky reports on the top 10 -- led by Prezza: My Story by John Prescott and with Speaking for Myself by Cherie Blair the third-most-left-behind title. Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach also makes the top 10.

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       Call for Sheikh Zayed Book Award submissions

       Authors still have until 15 October to submit titles for consideration in the seven categories of the Sheikh Zayed Book Awards.
       Any "writers whose work has contributed to the Arab world's cultural development" should have a look and give it a try .....

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       Catalan book preview

       A reader points us to this preview of what is forthcoming on the Catalan book market in the coming months, La tardor literària

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2 September 2008 - Tuesday

Spanish authors' top ten | September Open Letters
Observer Translation Project (re)launch | Jonathan Coe Q&A
Writing in ... Ghana | Writing in ... Cambodia

       Spanish authors' top ten

       J.Peder Zane recently edited a collection of The Top Ten, in which authors listed their top ten books, and a few weeks back El País offered a similar list, asking 100 Spanish authors for their top ten "libros que cambiaron su vida" ('life-changing books'). (A lot of tthe Spanish-language weblogs have commented on this (and we should have picked it up sooner); Iván Thays -- who got to play along -- pointed us to it at his Moleskine Literario.
       The full list -- all 100 authors' choices -- can be found here (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) -- and see also Benjamín Prado's overview-article, Cien escritores en español eligen los 100 libros que cambiaron su vida .
       Lots of interesting choices, and since many well-known authors responded, it's fun to see who they mentioned. Don Quixote was obviously popular -- and Francisco Ayala listed that as his one and only choice -- but we also particularly like Alejandro Zambra's ten: all by Georges Perec.

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       September Open Letters

       The September issue of Open Letters is out, with quite a bit that's worthwhile. It's 'The Bestseller Issue' and their 2008 Bestseller Feature -- a closer look at ten bestselling titles -- is particularly enjoyable.

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       Observer Translation Project (re)launch

       The Observer Translation Project, "an international magazine of Romanian writing in translation" has now well and truly been launched.
       As they explain:
OTP showcases previously untranslated fiction. We highlight a "pilot" author each month. This is the place to learn about Romanian writers, find updates on Romanian writing abroad, read CVís, take a look at covers published in countries around the globe, check out the bibliographies, dip into author photos, search our steadily growing archive, and discover essays that put Romanian writing in context. Look for single author fiction issues every month, with free-wheeling updates in between.
       Sounds very promising -- and we hope that other nations have a go at their own versions.

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       Jonathan Coe Q&A

       In this week's Small Talk-column in the Financial Times Anna Metcalfe has some questions for Jonathan Coe, including:
How do you relax ?
By playing the piano. Unfortunately this seems to make everyone else very tense.
What would you go back and change ?
All of my books so far.

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       Writing in ... Ghana

       Joseph Owusu thinks he knows Why Ghanaians Don't Write Books.
       Among the problems:
We have a fundamental crisis of lack of scholarship in Ghana. Most books on Ghana are written by westerners who lack a basic understanding of our culture. Similarly there are very few novels written by Ghanaians or textbooks of Ghanaian authorship. The trouble is that there is very little interest in scholarship, whether of an academic nature or of other purposes like leisure.
       Helpfully, he also has some suggestions -- like promoting a reading culture:
Most potential authors are discouraged by the fact that nobody buys books in Ghana; it is simply unprofitable to write books. Because Ghanaians donít buy books, there is very little demand or patronage for books written by Ghanaians. Who would want to spend time on writing and scholarship when it is so unprofitable to do so and there is no literary audience to appreciate their work ? This relates to a basic law of supply and demand: the anemic level of demand for books discourages authorship.
       (Funny, authors elsewhere moan and bitch about nobody buying books, too, but it certainly (and unfortunately) doesn't seem to discourage them in the least.)
       He also argues:
Ghanaian institutions must patronize Ghanaian authors at a higher rate than we see now. We have a culture of preferring to consume foreign products to domestic ones, for a germane reason -- a phenomenon that also afflict Ghanaian authors.

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       Writing in ... Cambodia

       Apparently things are looking up in Cambodia: in The Phnom Penh Post Georgia Wilkins reports that Love, money still a good yarn, as:
Over the last few years, increasing numbers of young Cambodians have started studying Khmer literature, and are reviving the genre's flagging following by penning their own works.

"Khmer literature teaches you how to love," said recently-graduated literature student Beang Nearyrath.
According to John Weeks, assistant managing editor of the NGO Our Books, the primary subject matter of Cambodia's budding literary talent is that age-old favorite: "Romance, romance, romance".
The increasing interest in literature at degree level mirrors a broader trend -- now "people are hungry for books and reading material in general," Weeks says.

But despite the growing demand for books in Cambodia, the infrastructure for a strong industry is still not in place.

"The market is there; we just need to have more people willing to publish and distribute the work," Weeks says.

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1 September 2008 - Monday

Fall book previews | Muriel Barbery profile
German theatre statistics | Таємниця review

       Fall book previews

       With 116 titles and not too much commentary The Washngton Post's Fall Books preview is fairly useful for reference.
       See now also Carla Maria Lucchetta's guide to This fall's big books in Canada, in the Ottawa Citizen, and Hillel Italie's AP Fall preview.

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       Muriel Barbery profile

       With mega-bestselling (in France) The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery due out in English any day now, Bruce Crumley profiles the author in Muriel Barbery: An Elegant Quill in Time.
       We are curious as to how readers in the English-speaking countries will take to it, because much of its appeal seems to us specifically French (which may, of course, be be exactly what appeals to US/UK readers):
Class-consciousness and conflict are central to Barbery's story, which some French critics have deemed a heavy-handed satire of waning French social stereotypes. That reading misses her point, Barbery says. "For me, those factors were only anecdotal in telling the story of these two solitary women, and how they arranged their lives to give full rein to their passions," says Barbery by phone from Kyoto, which she and her husband adopted as home earlier this year.
       If so, then we also missed her point -- and we still don't buy it: her simplistic-reductionist portrait, though it does certainly have an appeal, plays right into those French (class) expectations. But it comes as no surprise that she's gone Japan -- as that, too, is already signalled in the book as her answer for (almost) everything.
Barbery thinks her book has enjoyed such universal success because people everywhere are worried about superficiality overtaking substance in their lives.
       We think it's enjoyed such success because in her exaggeration she reassures people everywhere that their superficiality isn't quite so bad after all (and it isn't, compared to most of her apartment-house characters).
       Note that we still think the book is worth a look -- just that it should be read a bit more critically and circumspectly than most seem to be doing.

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       German theatre statistics

       The Deutscher Bühnenverein have come up with their 'Werkstatistik' of German stage production 2006/7, and summarise them in this (German) press release.
       Among the statistics on offer: 3,365 stage works were performed, up seven per cent over the previous season, with 534 world and German premieres.
       Scroll down to the bottom for the leading pieces and authors: Mozart's The Magic Flute topped all categories with 694 performances of 55 productions, and a total attendance of 348,998, miles ahead of the number two (and top play), Goethe's Faust (576 performances in 46 productions, and total attendance of 215,483). Contemporary works and authors don't figure high on any of the lists, though there were 20 productions of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?, good for seventh on the play-list, while Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt (!) is apparently the most popular living dramatist, with 35 productions of 10 of his plays. (Shakespeare was the most-played dramatist, 159 productions putting him way ahead of Goethe (91) and Brecht (89).)

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       Таємниця review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Yuri Andrukhovych's Таємниця.
       We do have a weakness for fictional dialogues, but are a bit surprised by how many of them we have under review. It's a decent choice for an autobiographical work (and works fairly well here), but Andrukhovych barely takes advantage of the form; something like Wolf Haas' work-focussed Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren was, at least in what he does with the form, considerably more interesting.

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