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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 December 2014

21 December: Books of the year in ... Spain | German authors' Christmas picks
22 December: Swedish Academy news | Ideology-tainted literature | Kadare favorites
23 December: Best books of 2014 in ... the Netherlands | Vladimir Sharov Q & A | E-reading study | M.T. Vasudevan Nair tributes
24 December: Contra Mundum Christmas ! New issue of Hyperion - Prae preview | WLT notable translations, 2014 | Het schervengericht review
25 December: Bestselling in 2014 in ... the UK | The New Yorker writer favorites | 'A Year in Reading' at The Millions
26 December: 2014 translations from the: Arabic - French | The History of Silence review
27 December: Anna Karenina x 2 | The literary year in ... Nigeria | Best and favorite books lists | The Brueghel Moon review
28 December: Tomaž Šalamun (1941-2014) | Stanisław Barańczak (1946-2014) | Books in 2015 previews | The Captain's Daughter review
29 December: January-February World Literature Today | Bestselling in 2014 in ... the UK (and France) | Andrey Kurkov Q & A | Trendy in ... India
30 December: Salon-critics' choice lists | Pulp publishing | 2014 in books in ... the Middle East
31 December: More best-of-2014 | Random House memories | Married Life review

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31 December 2014 - Wednesday

More best-of-2014 | Random House memories | Married Life review

       More best-of-2014

       Another foreign best of the year list, as Les inRocks offer Les 25 meilleurs livres de 2014.
       Emmanuel Carrère's Le Royaume makes their top five, too -- god, am I really going to have to read that ? maybe not: they put Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch up there, too ..... But, on the other hand, the Salvayre is surely eminently worthwhile .....

       I missed this when it was first posted, but the Times Higher Education's Books of 2014 list -- 'The year's best reads for work and pleasure, chosen by scholars and senior figures in the sector' -- has personal choices, making for a varied, interesting lot.

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

       Random House memories

       At Tablet they offer the full text of the remarks former Random House head Robert L. Bernstein made 10 December, when receiving The New Press' Social Justice Award, in Discovering Toni Morrison.
       A nice story about discovering (editor) Toni Morrison and how she came to Random House, as well as some André Schiffrin (The Business of Books) reminiscences.

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       Married Life review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of David Vogel's Married Life.
       This is yet another book which it's taken me a long time to get to -- 2836 days since I received the review copy, to be exact -- but Vogel has been getting more attention since Australian publisher Scribe re-issued this, along with publishing his newly discovered Viennese Romance recently (see their publicity page, or get your copy at or (Scribe, as I recently noted, are also the first English-language publishers of A.F.Th. van der Heijden -- another Australian publisher putting their US/UK counterparts to shame as far as works in translation go.)
       These novels of early twentieth-century Vienna are notable, among other reasons, for having been written in Hebrew, and Married Life makes an interesting contrast to the German-writing Viennese authors of the same period (though the Jewish elements are, strikingly, often less prominent here than in some of the written-in-German works of the time); I hope to get to Viennese Romance, too.

       One disappointing note: the translation, by Dalya Bilu, is: "Worldwide Translation Copyright © 1988 by The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature". Much as I admire what the ITHL does -- and much as I appreciate their resuscitation and spreading-the-word of this novel abroad -- that's still a really, really disappointing and ugly business practice.

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30 December 2014 - Tuesday

Salon-critics' choice lists | Pulp publishing
2014 in books in ... the Middle East

       Salon-critics' choice lists

       At Salon they now have Salon's What to Read Awards: Top critics choose the best books of 2014 where they tally up the top ten but also list each critic's top ten, as well as answers to six questions (allowing for some list- and book-commentary).
       A big mixed bag -- and very little in translation. But good to see Many Subtle Channels-author Daniel Levin Becker selects Juan Rodolfo Wilcock's The Temple of Iconoclasts as his top choice (even though it's not a new book, just a reissue of a fairly recent translation).

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

       Pulp publishing

       In The New Yorker Louis Menand has an interesting article on Pulp's Big Moment, a neat overview of the mass-market paperback revolution.

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       2014 in books in ... the Middle East

       In the Daily Star India Stoughton considers the Top Middle East novels of 2014.
       In Today's Zaman Marion James considers Has it been a good year for Turkish literature lovers ?

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29 December 2014 - Monday

January-February World Literature Today
Bestselling in 2014 in ... the UK (and France)
Andrey Kurkov Q & A | Trendy in ... India

       January-February World Literature Today

       The January-February issue of World Literature Today is now available, in part, online, including the video of Mia Couto's 'Re-enchanting the World: The 2014 Neustadt Prize Acceptance Speech' as well as Lane Ashfeldt's Q & A, Translating Hassan Blasim: A Conversation with Jonathan Wright.
       Most important, however: the entire review section, World Literature in Review, and all those review are accessible -- the usual interesting variety.

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       Bestselling in 2014 in ... the UK (and France)

       The Guardian has now posted Bestselling books of 2014: the chart -- the 100 top sellers for 2014, complete with sales-figures, through 21 December (why they couldn't wait ten more days to get a definitive list ... who knows ?).
       They also have John Dugdale's commentary / observations -- including his surprise that: "there should be a market for video game spin-off books at all, let alone such a stunning one" (I'm more surprised that they're counted as 'books' for these sorts of purposes, but ... whatever). He also finds that: "this has been another annus horribilis for non-fiction"; suspicious of (and not particularly interested in) popular non-fiction anyway, I heartily approve of this trend.
       Only two of the titles in the top 100 are under review at the complete review:        At JDN they have an even more premature list of bestselling-in-France titles (but at least also with sales-figures), Les meilleures ventes de livres de 2014: topped by Valérie Trierweiler's confessional, and followed by books by E.L.James and Guillaume Musso this is a pretty unsightly thing to behold and consider; at least Patrick Modiano makes it on the list, at number 13.
       The only title under review at the complete review is La vérité sur l'affaire Harry Quebert by Joël Dicker

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       Andrey Kurkov Q & A

       At Deutschlandfunk they have an interesting and fairly extensive (German) Q & A with Death and the Penguin-author Andrey Kurkov
       They begin by talking about the fact that they're talking in German, interviewer Katja Petrowskaja asking him since when he speaks the language. Kurkov relates how his German publisher Diogenes asked him to learn the language in 1997, so that he could do a reading-tour in the German market. He took a crash course in German for three and a half weeks -- and then went on tour, noting that for the first two weeks he could read the texts just fine but didn't understand what he was reading.....

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       Trendy in ... India

       At Arunava Sinha reports on The three genres that topped 2014: the gap between pulp and literary fiction just got wider in India.
       Limited to 'the bestselling lists put out by the leading e-commerce sites', this might not be the most accurate reflection of actual literary popularity, but it's still of some interest to see what was popular among such buyers.

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28 December 2014 - Sunday

Tomaž Šalamun (1941-2014) | Stanisław Barańczak (1946-2014)
Books in 2015 previews | The Captain's Daughter review

       Tomaž Šalamun (1941-2014)

       Leading Slovenian poet Tomaž Šalamun has passed away; see, for example, the RTV Slovenija report, Poslovil se je Tomaž Šalamun, ikonoklast slovenske poezije, or the updated biography page at Poetry.
       Dalkey Archive Press just brought out a translation his 1985 collection, Soy Realidad (see their publicity page, or get your copy at or, or check out his debut collection, Poker, available from Ugly Duckling Presse (see their publicity page, or get your copy at or
       None of his work is under review at the complete review but I have quite a pile of it and should get to some of it eventually.

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       Stanisław Barańczak (1946-2014)

       A bad two days for eastern European poetry, as Stanisław Barańczak died on the 26th; see the Gazeta Wyborcza tribute to him by Adam Zagajewski, or the AP report, Polish Poet, Translator Stanislaw Baranczak Dies.
       Aside from being a noted poet in his own right, he was a prolific translator into Polish, including of the works of Shakespeare, while he also helped translate the works of Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska into English.
       Among his non-fiction of interest: A Fugitive from Utopia: The Poetry of Zbigniew Herbert (get your copy at or and Breathing Under Water and Other East European Essays (get your copy at or

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       Books in 2015 previews

       Previews of what to look for in 2015 have begun to appear, and while many more extensive ones have yet to appear some of these early ones are already fairly useful (within local limits ...).

        - The Irish Times has a couple of pages worth of '2015 in books', notably Sarah Gilmartin on upcoming Literary Fiction, as well as Crime, thrillers and popular fiction and Literary debuts and short fiction.

        - At the Irish Independent Edel Coffey considers The best books on the way in 2015.

        - At The Age Jane Sullivan has a pretty extensive look at Books of 2015: a preview of the highlights.

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

       The Captain's Daughter review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Alexander Pushkin's classic novel, The Captain's Daughter, in Robert and Elizabeth Chandler's translation, recently re-issued by New York Review Books.

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

27 December 2014 - Saturday

Anna Karenina x 2 | The literary year in ... Nigeria
Best and favorite books lists | The Brueghel Moon review

       Anna Karenina x 2

       As I've noted previously, two major new translations of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina came out this year: Rosamund Bartlett's (Oxford University Press; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or and Marian Schwartz's (Yale University Press; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Not surprising that several publications have done the twofer-review, including the Wall Street Journal (Sam Sacks, a couple of weeks ago, the review, alas, paywall-hidden), but good to also see The New York Times Book Review give the double-Tolstoy cover treatment this week, with Masha Gessen's review.

       (This weekend's issue of the NYTBR can almost be taken as a nod to leaving-The New York Times-man Sam Tanenhaus, the former head man at the NYTBR: while the issue is uncharacteristically translation-heavy (well, two reviews of translated work -- but arguably five total titles ...) these then bear all the hallmarks of the not-so-fondly remembered days of Tanenhaus' rule: one review is of books by a dead guy -- and the books are re-translations ! --; the other is of a Nobel laureate's work (Patrick Modiano's Suspended Sentences). Dead, re-translated, or major-prize-winning -- that was almost invariably what it took to get the Tanenhaus regime to consider reviewing a book in translation -- I hope this isn't a sign Pamela Paul is returning to that system .....)

       (Updated - 31 December): See now also some commentary on Gessen's review, The Translation Police arrest Anna Karenina by Russell Scott Valentino at his weblog.

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

       The literary year in ... Nigeria

       In the The Sun Henry Akubuiro reports on 2014: A year of literary triumphs in Nigeria -- though, yes, these end-of-year summing-ups do lead to observations such as:
While some writers passed on, others passed the mark of success.
       But, hey:
The good news is that there were more smiles on the faces of members of literary community than prevalent despair.
       That is good news, isn't it ?

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

       Best and favorite books lists

       Gotta admire the best-of-the-year lists that hold out until after Christmas -- though I do have to wonder: if they hold out this long, why not all the way, until the year has actually come to an end ?
       Salon's Authors' favorite books: The ultimate literary guide to 2014 is of course far from the 'ultimate' guide -- really far, in fact -- but at least offers personal recommendations, so you can see what some of your favorite authors (or at least some writers whose names you've heard -- though I have to say, there are a lot here I don't recognize) claim are their favorites of the year.
       (I am kind of hoping that when Nell Zink writes: "I think I read only six other books published this year in English" that she was reading a hell of a lot of books in foreign languages; if I only read six books over the course of a year -- hell, over the course of a month -- I'd wither and die from lack of literary engagement. Hell, I get antsy if I don't finish off a book a day, and I can barely imagine a writer who spends so little time reading (well, I can imagine it, but it's a pretty ugly picture).)

       Meanwhile, another rare foreign best-list: Télérama -- who do have solid literary coverage -- offer Les 25 meilleurs livres de l'année 2014.

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

       The Brueghel Moon review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tamaz Chiladze's The Brueghel Moon, forthcoming in Dalkey Archive Press' Georgian Literature Series.
       And yes, Tamaz is Avelum-author Otar's (older) brother. I'm not sure there are any other sibling-pairs under review at the complete review.

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26 December 2014 - Friday

2014 translations from the: Arabic - French
The History of Silence review

       2014 translations from the: Arabic

       Always good to see language-specific lists of what's been recently translated into English, and at Arabic Literature (in English) The 40+ Modern Arabic Literary Works Published in English Translation in 2014 are listed.
       (The list differs some from the Translation Database at Three Percent (which is also the pool of titles from which the Best Translated Book Award is selected), the latter being restricted to US-published/distributed titles -- and it looks like it should differ a bit more: the Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing volumes, for example, look like they're only slated for 2015 release in the US (and I haven't seen them -- indeed I've only seen a third of the novels listed at Arabic Literature (in English)).
       A pretty decent selection -- though it's a bit disappointing there apparently isn't more non-fiction being translated. (I wonder why that is.)

       As a bonus, Arabic Literature (in English) also offers Seven New Books to Look for in Early 2015, all also translated from the Arabic.

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

       2014 translations from the: French

       The French keep fairly good track of what gets published in translation, and at French Culture they offer Estimated Translated Titles List for 2014 and 2015: First Look -- an overview, with links to pdf tables of the actual translated titles.
The number of translated works of fiction and graphic novels has increased substantially. This year, 177 francophone fiction titles and 118 graphic novels were published in English in 2014, up from 126 fiction titles and 45 graphic novels in 2013. Meanwhile non-fiction titles, which continue to be widely translated, represent between 140 to 150 translated titles from French to English.
       These lists and titles again differ markedly from the Three Percent Translation Database -- and are particularly inflated by re-issues (including sometimes just of US editions of titles published a year or two earlier in the UK, or vice versa) and new translations of previously translated works (which aren't counted on the Three Percent database).
       Still, these offer very good overview of what translations from the French are being published -- and the 2015 list (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) is helpful in pointing to what's coming -- from the predictable pile of Modianos to new works by Jean Echenoz and Jean-Philippe Toussaint. And fun to see that Penguin is bringing out a new edition of Eugène Sue's The Mysteries of Paris (hey, I read it in a massive Modern Library edition, way back when).

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       The History of Silence review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pedro Zarraluki's 1994 novel, The History of Silence, just out in English from Hispabooks.

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

25 December 2014 - Thursday

Bestselling in 2014 in ... the UK | The New Yorker writer favorites
'A Year in Reading' at The Millions

       Bestselling in 2014 in ... the UK

       At The Guardian they have a piece considering Bestselling books of 2014: did the booksellers get it right ? The did-booksellers-get-it-right angle seems completely uninteresting to me, but the article does provide some always welcome hard numbers about (UK) sales -- premature though they seem to be (the year ain't over and, as with best-of-the-year list, I really do wish they'd wait).
       Minecraft-handbooks seem to sell particularly well -- four titles are among the seven bestselling of the (almost) year. If not video games, then a film-tie-in seems to have helped too: John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl also performed very, very well.
       The only bestselling title under review at the complete review is Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, with an impressive 239,932 sold. Meanwhile, Man Booker winner The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan seems to lag, with only 65,692 sold.
       I look forward to a fuller list, less concerned with stale predictions and focused just on the final numbers.

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       The New Yorker writer favorites

       At The New Yorker's Page Turner weblog they asked some of their: 'contributors for their favorite books they read this year', in The Best Books of 2014.
       Top-dog reviewer James Wood of course gets a spread all his own, and offers his Favorite Books of 2014 -- though not with too many surprises, if you read his column.

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       'A Year in Reading' at The Millions

       The Millions entertaining A Year in Reading: 2014 series is finally complete, so there the link to check out all 74 entries, an enjoyable variety of recollections and recommendations from a whole lot of people; see also A Year in Reading: 2014 Wrap-Up, wrapping things up.

       (Bonus link: for those who can bear scrolling (and the horrific tumblr format), A la recherche du temps perdu (Proustitute) is collecting 'top-reads-of-2014' from a good selection of readers, too.)

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

24 December 2014 - Wednesday

Contra Mundum Christmas ! New issue of Hyperion - Prae preview
WLT notable translations, 2014 | Het schervengericht review

       Contra Mundum Christmas ! New issue of Hyperion

       A new issue of Contra Mundum Press' Hyperion is out -- over 200 pages of literary treats, beginning with Federico Fellini on "Why Satyricon ? Why Petronius ?", an excerpt from the great Hans Henny Jahnn's Perrudja, and 'Death' by The Blind Owl-author Sadegh Hedayat.
       Oh, just download the whole thing (yes, alas, in the horror that is the pdf format, but still ...) and enjoy.

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       Contra Mundum Christmas ! Prae preview

       Among the most anticipated of forthcoming books is Towards the One and Only Metaphor-author Szentkuthy Miklós's debut novel from 1934, finally appearing in English in Tim Wilkinson's translation: Prae. (See the Contra Mundum Press publicity page, or get your copy at or
       As a Christmas treat -- and/or tease -- they offer a preview (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) -- the first ninety-nine pages of the book ! Talk about whetting your appetite !
       Yes, the whole thing weighs in at over 700 pages, so it's not that much ... still. A good start, while you wait for the book you've by now ordered to come in the mail, right ?

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       WLT notable translations, 2014

       At the World Literature Today blog they offer their list of 75 Notable Translations of 2014.
       It looks a bit haphazard to me -- and there's some stuff from last year (e.g. The Rainbow Troops, by Andrea Hirata), and some from ... 1978 (Definitely Maybe, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky) -- but it's not a bad starting point. (But please note that an awful lot of very good stuff didn't make their cut.)

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       Het schervengericht review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Een transatlantische tragedie by A.F.Th. van der Heijden, his novel Het schervengericht.
       As longtime readers know, I've always found van der Heijden an interesting author (four more of his works are under review at the complete review) and I've been a bit surprised that he remains untranslated into English -- probably the major living Dutch author who hasn't been translated. (A reasonable amount of Dutch fiction gets translated into English, but there are still surprising gaps -- major work by Harry Mulisch and Hugo Claus, a load of stuff by The Darkroom of Damocles-author Willem Frederik Hermans, not to mention almost all of Gerard Reve's work, or J.J.Voskuil's Het Bureau.) This one would seem an obvious candidate for a US publisher to take a chance on: it may be a 'transatlantic tragedy' but most of it is set in the US -- and features no less than Roman Polanski confronting Charles Manson (the man behind the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate). So, yeah, pretty sensational material, in the hands of an author who can and should be taken seriously.
       Yes, it is really long -- 1167 pages in the German translation I read -- and I did find it flawed. But it won one of the highest Dutch literary awards, the (then still so called) AKO Literatuurprijs, in 2007.

       It doesn't surprise me (I called it a while back) that instead the first van der Heijden that will appear in English will be the slightly less massive and much more personal/universal (and multiple prize-winning) Tonio (see the Dutch Foundation for Literature information page) -- though I am a bit surprised/disappointed that it's not a US or UK publisher that's first up in English, but rather Australian Scribe. I'm afraid this isn't really my thing -- I prefer my fiction (and non) more detached and I don't enjoy personal wallows, however tragically occasioned they may be (and this is about as tragic as it gets). Still, if it gives him a foothold into English .....

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

23 December 2014 - Tuesday

Best books of 2014 in ... the Netherlands | Vladimir Sharov Q & A
E-reading study | M.T. Vasudevan Nair tributes

       Best books of 2014 in ... the Netherlands

       NRC Handelsblad now offer a list of their 10 beste boeken van 2014.
       Kees 't Hart's novel Teatro Olimpico (see the Querido publicity page) tops the list, and several US and UK titles make the top ten, including books by Phil Klay, Naomi Klein, as well as Ian McEwan's De kinderwet; so does Piketty's Capital, and a Svetlana Alexievich (when will more of her work finally come out in English ?). But the really striking title is an old one: the Dutch translation of 1937 Nobel laureate Roger Martin du Gard's classic saga, The Thibaults.
       Stuart Gilbert -- Joyce-scholar and noted translator from the French -- translated this back in the day (complete finally in 1941), but it's been long out of print; Knopf had a go at his unfinished Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort (get your copy at or some fifteen years ago, but that didn't really take either. So will there be an English-language revival ?
       I guess I should dig out my multi-volume edition and refresh, just in case .....

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       Vladimir Sharov Q & A

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Alexandra Guzeva has a Q & A with Return to Egypt-author Vladimir Sharov -- Russian Booker Prize winner: A novel is like a child.
       Good to see him evasive when asked noxious questions such as:
RBTH: Would it be fair to say that your work -- particularly Return to Egypt -- is only for intellectuals, rather than everyone ?

V.S.: It's hard for me to say. When someone is writing a novel they possess a certain amount of power within its bounds. But once a novel is published, the author is the last person who matters. And I think that they shouldn't even comment on the text. They should just listen to the people who read it. There is a huge difference between what you write at the time and what you have actually written.
       As I've mentioned before, this one sounds interesting, and I hope it is picked up by a US/UK publisher.

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       E-reading study

       This has gotten lots of popular press attention -- Why You Shouldn't Read a Tablet Before Bed (Time), Open the Book, Put Down the Tablet at Bedtime (Wall Street Journal), etc. etc. -- as a study that shows people who did some evening reading on a "light-emitting device (LE-eBook)" (a tablet -- specifically, an iPad) "averaged nearly 10 min longer to fall asleep than in the print-book condition".
       The study, in full, is Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) and sounds plausible enough -- but I have to wonder: a study size of twelve participants, of which only half are LE-eBook-exposed, is a sufficiently large sample size to conclude ... anything ?
       I know I'd be more ... reassured if the experiment were repeated on a larger scale, and with a more diverse group of subjects. Indeed, this 'experiment' doesn't sound like it simulates anything resembling real-world conditions very closely at all, as:
Participants with chronic medical or psychological conditions or sleep disorders and those taking prescription medications were excluded from study. History of night work or shift work in the prior 3 y and travel across more than one time zone in the previous 3 mo was also exclusionary. The presence of any eye or vision abnormality or the inability to read in dim light without the use of corrective lenses was exclusionary. Participants were instructed to refrain from use of medications, drugs, alcohol, nicotine, or caffeinated products for 3 wk before admission, which was verified by toxicological testing upon admission to the laboratory. Participants were also required to maintain a fixed 8-h sleep schedule (10:00 PM to 6:00 AM)
       No coffee or booze ? A fixed, eight-hour (!) sleep schedule ? Who the hell manages that except in laboratory conditions ?
       Wouldn't it be more sensible to test on real-life human beings ? Yes, yes, a lot more complex, with all the variables -- but couldn't some of these also affect the reaction to LE-eBook reading ?

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

       M.T. Vasudevan Nair tributes

       Almost better than the twelve days of Christmas: in The Hindu P.K.Ajith Kumar reports on A literary tribute, in letter and spirit, as eleven books on Bhima-author M.T. Vasudevan Nair are being released on eleven successive days -- a nice tribute to the author.

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

22 December 2014 - Monday

Swedish Academy news | Ideology-tainted literature | Kadare favorites

       Swedish Academy news

       Saturday they held the annual end-of-year bash at the Nobel Prize in Literature-deciding Swedish Academy, complete with royalty in attendance; see the whole overview (in Swedish ...) of the events, announcements, and festivities.
       They make a lot of year-end announcements, including the awarding of many prizes and much money (nice to see among them: Peter Weiss-widow Gunilla Palmstierna-Weiss taking the Svenska Akademiens kungliga pris), and Gentlemen-author Klas Östergren took his seat (Stol nr 11) among 'the eighteen' -- see also his lecture-speech on taking his seat.
       More Nobel-relevant: after six years, Peter Englund is stepping down as permanent secretary -- the guy in charge of the Swedish Academy's Nobel duties (and the one who comes through the doors and makes the announcement who won the prize on that Thursday in October). Taking his place will be Sara Danius -- the new girl on the block, who took her seat exactly a year ago.
       First off, it's important to note that Englund isn't stepping down immediately: his term ends 31 May, which means he'll still be overseeing the early 2015 Nobel work, right through the selection of the longlist and then the final list of five or so 'priority candidates' -- the shortlist, as it were. Only then does Danius take over the reins. (See also Englund's post, Mitt sista halvår, at his Att vara ständig-weblog for more details -- and let's hope Danius starts her own weblog, too.)
       The permanent secretary isn't (necessarily) a decisive figure in the selection of the Nobel candidate -- they like to present this as a group-effort, after all -- but certainly there's some room for influence, and so it's interesting to speculate how Danius' background might play a role in future Nobel decisions.
       Her Swedish Academy biography is fairly detailed: disappointingly, she's an academic, rather than a creative writer (though: "she worked for a couple of years as a card dealer and croupier at a casino in Stockholm"); interestingly, she: "spent almost all the 1990s in the USA" (she has a PhD from Duke, where she studied under Fredric Jameson). An "extended version of her thesis" was published as The Senses of Modernism: Technology, Perception, and Aesthetics; see the Cornell University Press publicity page, or get your copy at or (Den blå tvålen sounds more intriguing ("Texten vibrerar av idéer och infall", said the Svenska Dagbladet review) -- it'll be interesting to see if this gets picked up in English now; see the Bonniers publicity page.) Born in 1962, she is also the second-youngest of the Swedish Academy eighteen -- though practically the same age as Englund was when he took over the duties.

       Finally, Swedish Academy director Kjell Espmark gave the big speech of the evening -- and began with the words:
Litteraturkritiken befinner sig i kris, en allvarligare kris än någonsin tidigare.

[Literary criticism finds itself in crisis, in a more serious crisis than ever before.]
       In Sweden, too, apparently, newspapers and magazines have less space and money for, and less interest in book coverage .....

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

       Ideology-tainted literature

       Somehow I still find it heartening -- even as I cringe -- that there are authors and critics who maintain: 'Literature should have ideological base'.
       Profiling Central Sahitya Akademi Awardee Rachapalem Chandrasekhar Reddy in The Hindu, M.V.Subramanyam notes:
Commenting that many critics lacked an ideological base causing confusion, he said a literary critic should identify if he believed in Gandhism, Ambedkarism, Marxism or feminism.
       [Just in case: I apologize to concerned readers for never having made my position vis-à-vis 'Gandhism, Ambedkarism, Marxism or feminism' clear. Maybe next year ?]
       Apparently Dr. Rachapalem also determined:
Out of nearly 2.50 lakh stories in Telugu, nearly 85 per cent were non-serious fiction and the remaining 15 per were seriously linked with the societal issues and reflected the problems confronted in daily life
       I suspect 'non-serious fiction' sounds a lot more promising to most readers .....

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

       Kadare favorites

       Twilight of the Eastern Gods-author Ismail Kadare offers a list of his 6 favorite books at The Week.
       Mainly predictable classics, but with some interesting comments, such as that he copied out much of Macbeth by hand.

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

21 December 2014 - Sunday

Books of the year in ... Spain | German authors' Christmas picks

       Books of the year in ... Spain

       Babelia at El País now offers its list of Los 10 mejores libros del año 2014, with Javier Marías' Así empieza lo malo (see the Alfaguara publicity page) topping the list, followed by Javier Cercas' El impostor.
       Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book Two comes in fourth, the top title-in-translation -- and ahead of the new Nobel laureate, Patrick Modiano.
       Forty-one critics voted, and you can see their individual top-tens here (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) -- an interesting variety.

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

       German authors' Christmas picks

       In Die Zeit they asked twenty authors what book they plan on giving as a present this Christams, in Welches Buch verschenken Sie ?
       Lots of foreign/English-language offerings among them, as Clemens J. Setz offers up the new Michel Faber and Daniel Kehlmann suggests Michael Frayn's Matchbox Theater (yes, out in German before the US edition is available ...). Meanwhile, the estimable Friederike Mayröcker suggests ... some Jacques Derrida.

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

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