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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 July 2012

21 July: New Asymptote | M.John Harrison profile | The 'literary fiction' debate | Chetan Bhagat Q & A
22 July: Ayckbourn's Surprises | Literary magazines in ... China | You & Me review
23 July: Martin Amis Q & A | Australian Prime Minister's Literary Awards | The Story of the Stone revisited | Military authors in China | Detective Fiction and the African Scene review
24 July: Give us the names ! | Ins and outs of literary translation | Censorship in ... Turkey
25 July: NEA translation grants | Hindi/Urdu literature divide | Children in Reindeer Woods review
26 July: Man Booker longlist | Bookselling in ... Hong Kong
27 July: Shahnama Project | Top Korean writer ? | Best Corsican fiction | NYRB Lit | Tyrant Banderas review
28 July: Esther Tusquets (1936-2012) | Two Lines Press | Classical Arabic literature in translation
29 July: John Minford on The Story of the Stone | Vernacular literature on ... the subcontinent | The Twenty-Year Death review
30 July: ZIBF | (Filipino) National Book Awards | Boris Akunin profile
31 July: Public funding for writers in ... Wales | Foreign literature in ... China | Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award invites entries | Chris Marker (1921-2012)

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31 July 2012 - Tuesday

Public funding for writers in ... Wales | Foreign literature in ... China
Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award invites entries
Chris Marker (1921-2012)

       Public funding for writers in ... Wales

       At Wales Online Rachael Misstear reports that Author Julian Ruck attacks taxpayer-funding for Welsh writers, as:
He said: "The Welsh publishing industry is nothing more than a parasitical, elitist carbuncle on the hide of a struggling Welsh economy.
       Ruck apparently makes a big deal about the fact that: "from 2008 to 2012, grants to Welsh writers totalled £1,409,493" (and local publishers received even more than that over the same period). All well and good to point those great sums out -- but nevertheless, to also put that in some perspective, note that, for example, the Welsh National Opera is getting £6,011,414 -- more than four times as much -- from Arts Council England for the 2012-2013 season alone (i.,e. more than sixteen times as much, per annum -- and, much as I love it, surely if ever anything was an elitist carbuncle it's opera).
       Yes, fun though it is to bash public spending on culture (and 'culture'), let's get all the facts and numbers (and not just support for culture, but also for nonsense like sport, etc.) out in the open, and then let's discuss it, okay ?
       (Admirably, Wales Online let Literature Wales' chief executive, Lleucu Siencyn, respond to Ruck.)

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

       Foreign literature in ... China

       In the Global Times Lu Qianwen finds Publishers turn a new page, in their embrace of publishing fiction in translation, as:
Besides the substantial demographic of readers in the country, increasing interest in this sector is due to the low-risk factor for publishers, in introducing work that is already popular in other countries.

"Many domestic publishers are publishing translated literature as a way to strengthen their status," said Han Weidong, president of STPH. "These works have been tested in the foreign market."
       Not an argument that seems to fly/carry much weight in the US/UK markets, as far as publishing fiction in translation goes .....

       The article also mentions the: "recent announcement of the shortlist for the fourth Fu Lei Translation Award, China's prestigious French-to-Chinese translation contest", and at his Ethnic ChinaLit weblog Bruce Humes has more details.
       Two of the shortlisted titles are apparently under review at the complete review: Vie Française (A French Life) by Jean-Paul Dubois, and Dimanche by Irène Némirovsky.

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

       Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award invites entries

       The Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award is now inviting entries; see also the Sunday Times call, Calling all short-story writers.
       Yes, it is restricted to English-written stuff, but otherwise it's pretty open -- and with an impressive £30,000 prize, and a stellar judging panel (Joanna Trollope, Andrew OíHagan, Lionel Shriver, Sarah Waters, and Andrew Holgate (and the I-hope-he-knows-his-place EFG Private Bank chairman, Matthew Evans)) should make for a pretty top-flight prize. Plus, the first time they awarded this it went to C.K.Stead, so they obviously didn't go wrong there.
       So if you have an eligible story -- enter !

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

       Chris Marker (1921-2012)

       Less author that auteur, Chris Marker was nevertheless one of the greats, and now he's dead; see, for example Richard Brody's In memoriam at The New Yorker's The Front Row weblog.

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

30 July 2012 - Monday

ZIBF | (Filipino) National Book Awards | Boris Akunin profile


       The Zimbabwe International Book Fair -- once the leading one in Africa -- runs today through 4 August.
       There's very little coverage or information to be found about this anywhere, although in The Herald Richmore Tera reports that American writers to grace book fair, as a contingent from the University of Iowa's International Writing Program will apparently be participating -- and:
Apart from facilitating writing workshops, they will also be holding capacity building seminars as well as exchanging readings of their works with Zimbabwean writers.

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

       (Filipino) National Book Awards

       The Philippine Star reports that 25 publishers, 182 books compete in the 31st National Book Awards , as:
The National Book Development Board (NBDB) and the Manila Critics' Circle (MCC) are gearing up to choose the best books published in 2011.
       Before you get too excited about the 182-book total, however, note that:
For 2012, there are a total of 106 books in the eight categories of the Literary Division: 10 in Fiction (Novel), 21 in Short Fiction
       Only ten novels !

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

       Boris Akunin profile

       At The New Yorker's Page-Turner weblog Sally McGrane profiles Boris Akunin: Russia's Dissident Detective Novelist (and translator from the Japanese).

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

29 July 2012 - Sunday

John Minford on The Story of the Stone | Vernacular literature on ... the subcontinent
The Twenty-Year Death review

       John Minford on The Story of the Stone

       In The Telegraph John Minford writes about China's Story of the Stone: the best book you've never heard of, and while I hate that best-book-you've-never-heard-of claim under any and all circumstances, I'm tremendously pleased to see so much space devoted to what is unquestionably one of the greatest works of world literature (and which I count among the ten most important/influential reads of my life); it is, of course, also under review at the complete review.
       Minford notes that: "a complete and highly readable English translation has been available in Penguin Classics for nearly 30 years" -- though perhaps it might have been worth adding before the biographical note at the end of the article what the nature of Minton's "own connection with the book" (and specifically the Penguin edition) is: he was one of the translators.
       Regardless, he offers a nice introduction to the novel and its significance, noting its "unique status" in China, and that:
Apart from its literary merits, Chinese readers recommend it as the best starting point for any understanding of Chinese psychology, culture and society.
       As to what's so special about it, he suggests:
One has to try to imagine a book that combines the qualities of Jane Austen -- brilliantly observed accounts of Chinese psychology and personality, meticulous depiction of an aristocratic Chinese/Manchu household -- with the grand sweep of a novel such as Vanity Fair or the works of Balzac. Its mood is allegorical, lyrical and philosophical. It leaves the reader with a visionary experience of the human condition, comparable to that of Proust. It's a blend of Zen Buddhism and Taoism
       It is a long book -- but, I would suggest, very much worth your while.

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

       Vernacular literature on ... the subcontinent

       In the Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) Smriti Daniel discusses 'the importance of developing vernacular literatures' with Jaipur festival co-founder Namita Gohkhale, in Looking into our own mirror again.
       A good question:
What does it mean that the world reads and believes it comprehends India through Rushdie and Roy rather than Kamleshwar (Hindi), Ambai (Tamil) or Qurrutalain Hyder (Urdu) ?" Namita says that the proliferations of translations of works written in Indian English are beginning to "challenge the sanctioned ignorance" of the sub-continentís numerous other literary languages.
       I hope she's right .....
       (I still have the damnedest time getting my hands on sub-continental fiction in translation, and of these three authors only Hyder (River of Fire) is under review at the complete review.)

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

       The Twenty-Year Death review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ariel S. Winter's The Twenty-Year Death, coming out next week from Hard Case Crime.
       This unusual three-in-one mystery debut is sure (and deservedly) to be much-discussed; it's among the few books I've read so far this year that I can wholeheartedly endorse as a worth-your-while 'summer'/beach-read (not necessarily the best books I've come across, but quality fun -- Michael Frayn's Man Booker-longlisted Skios is another).

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

28 July 2012 - Saturday

Esther Tusquets (1936-2012) | Two Lines Press
Classical Arabic literature in translation

       Esther Tusquets (1936-2012)

       Noted Spanish-Catalan author and editor Esther Tusquets passed a way a few days ago; see, for example, the mention at Books on Spain.
       Several of her books have been translated into English, such as Stranded; see the Dalkey Archive Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Two Lines Press

       The Center for the Art of Translation has announced:
the launch of Two Lines Press, which will publish its first two books of translated literature in spring 2013.
       Sounds promising -- and the first two books, a phone sex novella by Santiago Roncagliolo translated by Edith Grossman and a work by Marie NDiaye, should make for a great beginning. I'm looking forward to seeing these.

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

       Classical Arabic literature in translation

       In Migrations to the north in Al-Ahram Weekly David Tresilian has a look at the recent Penguin Classics translation of Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness, Arab Travellers in the Far North (see their publicity page, or get your copy at or -- but also looks a bit more generally at translation from the Arabic of older texts, reminding readers that:
Speaking to the Weekly in an interview late last year, the British orientalist Robert Irwin suggested that while more works of modern Arabic literature were now being translated into English than ever before, western readers were still sometimes ill served when it came to translations from the classical literature.
"I keep telling publishers they should do Jahiz," the polymath Abbasid writer, Irwin explained, as "he's so witty and so interesting, or the pre-Islamic poets, but they are not very receptive. When I suggest Jahiz, people look blank." At the moment, non-Arabic-speaking readers wanting to read the works of Jahiz have few options aside from older French or German translations, unavailable except in larger research libraries.
       Of course, now we have the NYU Press Library of Arabic Literature to look forward to -- which will, one hopes, pick up some of the slack.

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

27 July 2012 - Friday

Shahnama Project | Top Korean writer ? | Best Corsican fiction
NYRB Lit | Tyrant Banderas review

       Shahnama Project

       At the University of Cambridge they have an impressive-looking Shahnama Project website -- even if it is: "currently undergoing extensive reorganisation" -- and at The Iranian Fariba Amini has a Q & A with two of those involved, Charles Melville and Firuza Abdullaeva, in The Shahnameh Project.

       (You can also get the fine Dick Davis translation of the book, in a Penguin Classics edition, at or

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

       Top Korean writer ?

       The Korea Times reports that Korean netizens choose Kim Hoon as top writer for 2012, as:
Korean netizens chose Kim Hoon, the popular writer of novels Song of Sword and Heuksan, as this year's best Korean writer in an annual online poll, an online bookstore that conducted the vote said Thursday.
       I don't think anything of Hoon's [김훈] has been translated into English (though I am kind of curious about his prize-winning 언니의 폐경 ...) -- but the runners-up suggest the poll isn't completely without literary merit, as:
Novelist Lee Mun-yul came second, getting 8.9 percent of the votes, followed by poet Ko Un
       (Lee Mun-yol is, of course, also know as Yi Mun-yol (ah, transliteration ...), author of books such as Our Twisted Hero, and Ko Un is the great poet (see, e.g, Traveler Maps).)

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

       Best Corsican fiction

       Yes, they've handed out the Prix des lecteurs de Corse 2012, and les lauréats are:

        - Du domaine des murmures by Carole Martinez, in the French-language category

        - Ombre di guerra by Jean-Yves Acquaviva in the Corsican category

       No word how many Corsican titles were in the running .....
       But the Acquaviva is apparently the pick of the Corsican lot: it also picked up the 2011 Prix de la Collectivité Territoriale de Corse .....

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

       NYRB Lit

       New York Review Books is coming out with: "A new e-book series devoted to publishing contemporary books of literary merit from around the world" this fall -- NYRB Lit -- and in Publishers Weekly Gabe Habash reports on how New York Review Books Does E Only with NYRB Lit.
       Some interesting titles, but I still quite haven't gotten the hang of e-reading (i.e. it remains pretty much a last resort for me) so I kind of wish they were offering print editions, too .....

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

       Tyrant Banderas review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ramón del Valle-Inclán's 1926 classic, Tyrant Banderas, out in a new translation by Peter Bush from New York Review Books.

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

26 July 2012 - Thursday

Man Booker longlist | Bookselling in ... Hong Kong

       Man Booker longlist

       Yes, they've announced the longlist for the Man Booker Prize.
       They selected twelve titles (they can select twelve or thirteen), from 145 titles they considered (but whose names they won't tell us; see my previous mention ...) -- it's unclear what Booker Prize Foundation Literary Director Ion Trewin was babbling about last week when he claimed there were 147 novels in the running (get your stories straight, people -- better yet: just tell us all the titles, and we'll be happy to count for ourselves ...).
       Eleven titles were 'called in'; they're required (rule 4(d)) to call in between eight and twelve publisher-recommended titles (but can also call in additional titles not suggested by publishers (4(e)).
       Fourth Estate did phenomenally well, with three longlisted titles, but some smaller publishers (Myrmidon Books, And Other Stories, and Salt) also had titles make the longlist.
       Quite a few big-name authors fell short with their entries, including Peter Carey (his The Chemistry of Tears), Ian McEwan, John Banville, and Zadie Smith (all of whose books were automatically eligible for consideration, because the authors had previously been shortlisted for/won the prize); the never shortlisted (and hence not automatically eligible) [Updated: as a reader points out -- and I'd completely blocked out -- Amis' Time's Arrow was shortlisted, in 1991, so he too was automatically eligible] Martin Amis' Lionel Asbo also didn't make the cut (and is the strongest contender for the title of high-profile-title-that-wasn't-one-of-the-145, Jonathan Cape presumably deciding to risk not wasting one of their automatic entries on this and trusting that the judges would call it in if they thought it was worth the trouble (which I doubt they did); amusingly and embarrassingly, Jonathan Cape was completely shut out of the longlist.
       Only one longlisted title is under review at the complete review -- and I didn't expect to find it there: Skios, by Michael Frayn (though his Headlong made the shortlist, back in the day).

       Early newspaper reports include:        And The Telegraph also has a handy overview, Man Booker Prize longlist: who are they ?

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

       Bookselling in ... Hong Kong

       At CNN Corinna Liu and Molly Gray offer yet another variation on a familiar story, Hong Kong sellers profit from Beijing's 'forbidden' books.
       Still, always good to see some coverage of literary subversion.

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

25 July 2012 - Wednesday

NEA translation grants | Hindi/Urdu literature divide
Children in Reindeer Woods review

       NEA translation grants

       The American National Endowment for the Arts Announces Literature Translation Fellowships -- 16 fellowships, each worth $12,500.
       They describe (vaguely) the Translation Projects, which include Katherine Silver translating more Daniel Sada (she already did Almost Never), Sylvia Lichun Lin translating Li Ang's 迷园 (see an excerpt, at the invaluable Asymptote), and Christian Hawkey translating some Ilse Aichinger -- though I'm pretty eager to see most of these.

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

       Hindi/Urdu literature divide

       In Frontline Sanjay Kumar considers the Faultlines of Hindi and Urdu -- "once a shared common language of people of India stretching from Peshawar to the borders of Bengal split into two languages [...] Urdu, the Persianised Khari Boli in Persian script, and Hindi, the Sanskritised Khari Boli in Devanagari script".
       Fascinating stuff -- e.g.:
The case of Premchand is quite peculiar as he is considered as belonging to both canons, Urdu and Hindi, but on the basis of his Urdu and Hindi writings separately. So, half of Premchand belongs to the Urdu canon and the other half to the Hindi. The carving of Premchand's body of works into two separate canons is symbolic of the division of the body politic of the nation.
       No kidding that:
The list of things that we miss out on because of our myopic and insular approach is practically endless.

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

       Children in Reindeer Woods review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Kristín Ómarsdóttir's Children in Reindeer Woods, which Open Letter brought out earlier this year (and even got a review in The New York Times Book Review ...).

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

24 July 2012 - Tuesday

Give us the names ! | Ins and outs of literary translation | Censorship in ... Turkey

       Give us the names !

       So tomorrow they're going to announce the twelve or thirteen title-strong longlist for the Man Booker Prize, selected from, apparently (it's what 'Booker Prize Foundation Literary Director' Ion Trewin says), 147 novels that were considered. [Updated - 26 July: As the official press release now confirms, 145 titles were considered.]
       What they won't be telling you is what those 147 titles were, so aside from the longlisted titles, and, possibly, the handful of automatically eligible titles (any novel by a previously shortlisted author that appeared in the 1 October 2011 - 30 September 2012 publishing window may be entered (rule 4 (a)), though it is not clear that they (all) actually have been ...) the public won't have the foggiest idea of what titles were actually in the running for this prize (which, I remind you, claims to be "rewarding the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland" -- a dubious assertion if we can't even be sure that the arguably best novels have actually been submitted for consideration ...).
       At the risk of beating a very dead horse -- I've been bleating about this for about a decade, and practically no one seems to have gotten on board with this argument with any enthusiasm -- I, yet again, make my case:
       It seems pretty obvious to me that, in claiming to judge anything, the least you can do is acknowledge who, or what you're actually judging. The Man Booker folk (and many other literary prizes) fudge this by focusing on their 'we're-judging-the-best-book'-claim -- without ever revealing what their starting point is. The Man Booker is a particularly egregious case of misrepresentation, since they, at this time, only allow each publisher to submit two titles -- when, obviously, many publishers have many more titles that should or could be in the running.
       Yes, there are some possibilities for other books to slip in -- judges can (indeed, must) 'call in' titles recommended by publishers (publishers can 'recommend' up to five additional titles):
The judges will be required to call in no fewer than eight and no more than 12 of these titles.
       And, if publishers completely miss the boat (which, to me at least, seems highly likely) they can even call in titles that haven't officially been recommended by publishers (because, of course, they have so much time on their hands beyond dealing with the 147 submitted titles to check out the ones that might have been overlooked ...).
       Failsafe ? Surely hardly ......
       It is entirely unclear to me why the full list of all titles under consideration -- 147 this year -- isn't made public, so that the public can be certain that the best of the lot were, indeed, considered for the prize.
       Instead: "All submissions are made on a confidential basis".
       Why on earth would or should that be ? The only explanation I -- cynic, and deeply suspicious of all things publishers do -- can conceive of is that publishers want to continue to be able to lie to their authors and claim that they submitted their novels for consideration when, in fact, they didn't.
       I note also that no one -- no one, and certainly not the Man Booker folk -- has ever given me a better explanation. Or, indeed, any explanation.

       With the Olympics starting soon, I would compare this situation to one where the public was not told who the competitors for the 100 meter dash were until the semi-finals. Nations could nominate whoever they wanted for the preliminary heats, but those would be held without the public knowing who ran in them. Only in the twelve or thirteen-strong semi-final heats would the remaining sprinters' names be revealed.
       Absurd, you say ? Nations surely would simply enter those with the fastest times, and everyone knows those ..... But as anyone who has followed various national Olympic qualifications knows, even where there is such an 'objective' measure, it isn't quite that simple.
       With books it obviously gets even more complicated, and publishers (like nations) have a strong incentive to promote or push a particular kind of book and author. I remain convinced that especially with the Man Booker publishers try to promote a specific kind of book (which is also why I have to laugh every year when Ian Rankin et al. moan about no crime fiction title making the longlist, certain as I am that none of Ian Rankin's (et al.'s) books have come within a mile of being submitted or suggested for the Man Booker ...). And I'm pretty sure that, every year, they don't even consider several (and possibly quite many) of the best of the theoretically eligible titles. Which kind of undermines that whole rewarding-the-best-book claim.

       Amazingly, transparency isn't very popular. Few literary prizes allow it.
       Good for the Guardian first book award for listing all the submitted titles (and soliciting additional ones !) -- even if it was the first time last year.
       Good for the Canadian Governor Generalís Literary Awards, which lists all submitted titles (even if they don't make it easy for you to find where they offer that information ...).
       Good for small prizes like the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize, or the ILAB Breslauer Prize for Bibliography.
       And there are some other prizes offering reasonable transparency: the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award longlist -- hey, 147 titles strong ! -- reveals the names of all the nominated titles. The Best Translated Book Award basically considers everything that's eligible -- just check the translation database for the full list -- (though admittedly the logistics of getting our hands on all the books means that doesn't quite work out ...).
       But pretty much everyone else .....

       There's been relatively little pre-Man Booker longlist coverage (see my recent mention), but I hope once the longlist is out there will be at least some outrage (okay, I'll settle for mentions ...) about the fact that we have no idea what books were actually considered for it, and nobody's telling .....
       Or are some of those judges, or the administrators willing to be upfront with us ?

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

       Ins and outs of literary translation

       At Arabic Literature (in English) Hala Salah Eldin Hussein and Hilary Plum offer answers to 20* Questions: How Do I Become a Literary Translator ?
       That picture of Vaucanson's duck sort of worries me (that artificial digestive system hits way too close to home with many examples of 'literary translation' that I come across ...), but the piece is certainly of use and interest for anyone with questions about literary translation.

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

       Censorship in ... Turkey

       On the one hand the situation in Turkey seems worrisome -- see, for example Sal Robinson on Obscenity trials in Turkey get Snuff'd at the Melville House weblog -- on the other ... well, Hürriyet Daily News reports:
Censorship is unacceptable and obstructive, not only in literature, but also in the arts, media, politics and other fields, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said in an interview with The Istanbul Review magazine.
       (The interview is not freely available online, but The Istanbul Review is quite impressive looking -- though ... what's with the motto: 'A living history of voices in ink' ? Really ?)

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

23 July 2012 - Monday

Martin Amis Q & A | Australian Prime Minister's Literary Awards
The Story of the Stone revisited | Military authors in China
Detective Fiction and the African Scene review

       Martin Amis Q & A

       In New York David Wallace-Wells has a lengthy Q & A as New New Yorker Martin Amis Talks Terrorism, Pornography, Idyllic Brooklyn and American Decline. [Note that they seem to have mis-printed the interview, with the first two questions misplaced at the very bottom of the page. [Updated] This has now been corrected.]
       Amis doesn't help his New York street cred with observations such as:
Those risky bits like the Lower East Side and Alphabet Land are now chic.
       (For non-New Yorkers: it's Alphabet City (named after the avenues that run there -- A, B, C, D). Which, by the way, is in the Lower East Side. But it's also cruel of neither Wallace-Wells nor New York to help the guy out here and correct him -- though maybe they all live out in Brooklyn too and only have limited familiarity with downtown as well .....)
       One also looks forward to reports of Amis' first confrontation with law enforcement -- maybe a stop-'n'-frisk, to even out those annoying statistics ... ? -- as he opines:
The police in America are, to my senses, quite fascistic -- you know, immediate end to all humor, end of all human contact; itís a real assertion of authority in a way thatís very rare in England.
       And I'm not sure he's studied enough case law to spout stuff such as:
Thatís a good metaphor for what the Supreme Court is always doing -- finding in favor of Hitler. Cute legalism, pedantry, anti-common sense.
       Still, overall: pretty tame stuff compared to what the British press get out of him.

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

       Australian Prime Minister's Literary Awards

       They've announced the six winners of the Australian Prime Minister's Literary Awards.
       The fiction-category winner was Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears; see the Allen & Unwin publicity page, or get your copy at (there doesn't appear to be a US edition yet).

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

       The Story of the Stone revisited

       In the Cleveland Plain Dealer Karen R. Long reports that Pauline Chen builds 'The Red Chamber' around memorable characters from a Chinese classic, as Chen's novel takes characters from the great The Story of the Stone (also known as The Dream of the Red Chamber), by Cao Xueqin, and ... well, apparently builds her own story around them.
       Since The Story of the Stone is one of my all-time favorite novels I have great and grave doubts that this could work, but I figure I really ought to take a look .....
       See also the Knopf publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Military authors in China

       In the Global Times Liao Danlin writes about the wrong kind of Army of authors, as, apparently: 'China's military writers continue to rise in popularity'.
       Somehow, I do not find this very encouraging.

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

       Detective Fiction and the African Scene review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Linus Asong's Detective Fiction and the African Scene: From the 'Whodunit ?' to the 'Whydunit ?'

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

22 July 2012 - Sunday

Ayckbourn's Surprises | Literary magazines in ... China | You & Me review

       Ayckbourn's Surprises

       Alan Ayckbourn's latest play, Surprises, has now opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre; see also the Faber publicity page, or pre-order your copy at
       Early reviews include those by:        Lots of Ayckbourn plays are under review at the complete review -- see, for example, Henceforward ... -- and I hope to get to this one, too.

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

       Literary magazines in ... China

       Global Times looks at the Uncertain future of literary magazines in China, as:
It's not the worst of times, but it's not the best of times either. The Master scandal has ignited concern for the financial situation of other literary magazines. Lack of money is a common thread.
       (The Master scandal involved: "a bi-monthly literary magazine published by Yunnan People's Publishing House since 1994, was forced to suspend its operation for illegally running its magazine for commercial interests." For commercial interests !)
       And, of course:
The emergence of multi-media channels exacerbates their situation. "The publishing aspect of literary magazines is weakening," said Qiu. "Writers now have other ways to publish their work, and readers have a plethora of reading options."

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

       You & Me review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Padgett Powell's You & Me, just out in the US, but published in the UK last year as ... You & I.
       A novel entirely in dialogue(s), it's hardly the only fictional dialogue under review at the complete review.

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

21 July 2012 - Saturday

New Asymptote | M.John Harrison profile
The 'literary fiction' debate | Chetan Bhagat Q & A

       New Asymptote

       The July issue of Asymptote is up, and there's enough here to keep you busy and satisfied all weekend: Zambra and Smilevski excerpts, essays on Natalia Ginzburg and Qian Zhongshu, poetry by Gellu Naum (just to cover the authors with books under review at the complete review) and loads more. Great stuff, well worth checking out.

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

       M.John Harrison profile

       In The Guardian Richard Lea profiles M.John Harrison: a life in writing.
       Two of his books are under review at the complete review -- Light and Signs of Life -- and I'd cover a lot more if I could get my hands on them .....

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

       The 'literary fiction' debate

       I was amused by Brian Platzer's piece at Salon, where he acknowledges: English teacher: I was wrong about Hunger Games, describing how he recommended -- sight unseen, but reputation very much read about -- Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding as "adult 'literary' fiction" worth a teenager's summer reading while.
       Only then did he have a look, only to discover that:
In all the reviews in these publications, Harbach's résumé is foregrounded as if to underline his novel's seriousness, and I am convinced that its success is a product of the literary establishment celebrating a plot-heavy book it can pretend is sophisticated. Read this baseball book, reviewers exclaim, and feel pride in your intellectual labor ! There's nothing wrong with The Art of Fielding if you're merely seeking entertainment, but if you're looking for even a little bit more, look elsewhere. If Suzanne Collins had attended Harvard, founded n+1, and written essays about environmentalism and David Foster Wallace, her book could have been considered equally worthy of critical and intellectual respect. Which is all to say: The Art of Fielding is a simplistic children's book in a grown-up costume.
       I haven't read either The Hunger Games or The Art of Fielding, but am certainly more curious about the former than the latter. Sure, while the Melville connection speaks vaguely in Harbach's favor, the protagonist comparison of nubile-world-saving-teen v. gay-baseball-players tips the scales mightily in favor of the Collins. More importantly, however, all that 'review-acclaim' for the Harbach always struck a very unconvincing note with me: nothing about this book, beyond the hype, sounded (or sounds) in the least interesting. (The Hunger Games doesn't sound like great writing either, but the story is intriguing enough to make me curious.)
       So I enjoy the superficial validation in Platzer's observations such as:
The Art of Fielding isn't immoral or dangerous; it's simply not a book that adults, or teenagers seeking more than plot, should read. If the literary establishment wants our teenagers to fall in love with literature, it must stop cynically writing and imprudently reviewing books like The Art of Fielding as though they were examples of adult literary fiction. There is nothing worth thinking about in it -- fancy word choice, sure, but no language that delves into what it means to be human.
       Ah, yes, that foolish 'literary establishment'; I'd really love to encounter it some day ..... (But, yeah, he's right: let's see more coverage of actual "examples of adult literary fiction", and let's not treat the other stuff as if that's what it was.)

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

       Chetan Bhagat Q & A

       At the Wall Street Journal's Scene Asia weblog Jason Chow has a Q & A with Chetan Bhagat on Salman Rushdie, His Next Novel, 'Snobbish' Literary Culture.
       Bhagat argues:
Some people do art for aesthetics, and maybe I'm lacking in that. Some do art for impact, and I measure success by impact.
       Impact ? Hmmmm.
       I do note that, leaving aside that ... lack of aesthetics, One Night @ the Call Center is among the few books that I've actually found truly offensive -- it is an indefensibly bad book. His other novels are bad too -- see, for example, Five Point Someone -- but not indefensibly so.

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

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