US/UK best-of-the-year lists dominate at this time of year -- especially this prematurely early in the season (there's a month left in the year, folks) but the French Lire-list is one of the few annual early exceptions.
It's not yet up at the official (L'Express) site, as I write this, but Livres Hebdo have the goods, Les 20 meilleurs livres de 2017 selon le magazine Lire.
Aside from a (shared) best book, the rest are actually the best in eighteen other different categories -- twenty best books, in all.
Best book of the year honors were shared this year by two translated titles -- neither from the (though both also already available in) English ! -- by Karl Ove Knausgaard (My Struggle - Book Four) and Claudio Magris (Blameless)
Best French novel went to Face au Styx by Dimitri Bortnikov, while best foreign novel went to The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
At hlo Owen Good has a Q & A with translator Adan Kovacsics -- who seems to be be very much tail-end-of-the-Austro-Hungarian-Empire focused, to the extent that:
I once was holding a lecture in German for a seminar, and somebody said: "Nobody speaks that way now, you sound like Hofmannsthal !"
As to who he would like to translate:
I’d love to translate Gyula Krúdy, because I think it would be a great challenge.
The question is to what extent I could give back his language and his world a hundred years later, in a seemingly different society and literature, so that his work would live in another language ... and be Krúdy.
Who doesn't enjoy a good literary discussion ?
Debate, exegesis, commentary, and a solid list of guest-commentators -- Open Letter/Three Percent's 'Two Month Review' is an impressive podcast exercise in deep-dive examination of recent Open Letter publications -- three to date.
I have to admit to having little-to-no patience for (and, quite honestly, being baffled by) podcasts (or the idea of listening to my computer, in general) -- I'm a text person through and through and through.
But if you're going to do or listen to a literary podcast, surely this is the way to go -- intense and in-depth engagement with books, with some pretty impressive expert (or at least interested-reader) commentary.
And there is text to go with it: Chad Post just posted the post All the Posts and Podcasts for "The Invented Part" Two Month Review, which includes a link to a Word Document download collecting all those previous posts (just for this one book ! Rodrigo Fresán's The Invented Part) -- 73 pages worth, over 26,000 words.
The other books treated so far: Guðbergur Bergsson's Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller and the great Mercè Rodoreda's Selected Stories and Death in Spring; due up next: Georgi Gospodinov's The Physics of Sorrow and Mikhail Shishkin's Maidenhair
Obviously, Three Percent is the place to keep up with the latest installments -- or go back to the old ones.
The iTunes page for the Two Month Review is also useful -- you can listen to all the podcasts (27 to date) there, if you have iTunes (some of us, of course, avoid Apple products like the plague, in which case you have to go to the relevant Three Percent page to listen); even if you don't the useful index and summaries make this a good overview page.
And there's also a Goodreads-group page.
A lot of effort, a lot of content here -- true engagement with literature.
Certainly worth encouraging !
So if you're a listener -- go listen !
Or at least check it out.
(The books, too !)
The books were purchased especially for their decorative value, "based on their varieties of green color tones," according to Stephanie Grisham, director of communications for first lady Melania Trump.
Oh, my .....
Krug politely sums up:
The titles that make up President Trump's holiday book tree are a perplexing assortment.
But, hey, they did apparently buy some books, so ... win ?
The 2018 London Book Fair has a Baltic Market Focus, and in preparation Leah Cross offers a convenient list of Upcoming Baltic Literature, at the British Council Literature blog.
Great to see there's a decent amount (though too little from Estonia !), and quite a bit of this looks very promising.
In the countries that I cover, the public is too small to sustain professional writers and therefore the writers all have other jobs as their main income.
In this sense, they are freed from the commercial need to produce ‘best-sellers’, so they write what they want and what they are passionate about.
Consequentially, the stories they produce are original, authentic and refreshingly different from what is produced by Creative Writing courses.
And, while not surprising, it's disappointing to have it confirmed that:
Sales to libraries, which were once a reliable source of revenue, are now almost non-existent.
Like pretty much everyone else on the internet, I've also set up a Patreon page for the complete review.
Advertising and Amazon-commissions provide some income for the site (i.e. me) but, as seems to be the experience of the vast majority of internet media sites, are not really adequate (and, indeed, have become (considerably) less adequate in recent years, even as the size and audience of the site continue to expand steadily); more intrusive advertising (pop ups ! interstitials !) doesn't seem worth the extra bother it would cause users.
And I certainly can't/don't want to see the site as a subscription service.
So if this is a viable alternative -- well, that would be great.
So if you enjoy and value the content you find here ....:
I do hope to offer some bonus-material to 'patrons' -- but the main idea is, after all, to continue to make as much as possible freely accessible.
Still, there should be a few occasional goodies for supporters .....
Yes, it's not even December yet, but the flood of 'best of the year'-lists is already overwhelming.
The writer/reviewer/etc. personal recommendations are certainly preferable to the institutional lists; among these are:
Books of the Year 2017 at the Times Literary Supplement -- admirably fully publicly available this year (and on a single page at that !)
The Guardian has: "novelists, poets and critics pick their best reads of the year" in their 'Best books of 2017' -- alas, as a two-parter: part one and part two
The New Statesman has: "Friends and contributors tell us what they've enjoyed reading most over the past 12 months", in The New Statesman's 2017 books of the year -- alas, stretched out ridiculously over three pages
The Washington Post's Best Books 2017 (presented over a ... variety of pages)
"Globe and Mail editors and reviewers offer up their favourite books of 2017", in: The Globe 100
Of course, for those who really want to immerse themselves in these lists, largehearted boy is "aggregating every online year-end book list I find" at their Online "Best of 2017" Book Lists-page -- updated daily !
"There is a thirst for Japanese literature in the U.K. and the U.S.," says North.
"But all too often it is simply quenched by what is known -- Mishima or Murakami.
We need to enrich people’s knowledge of what is out there.
And by people, I mean general readers, but booksellers, too."
(Despite the most recent review at the complete review being of a ... Murakami, I'm pleased to note that coverage of Japanese fiction at the site extends quite a bit further, with a lot added in the past year or two.)
At the Seoul Metropolitan Library they've opened 만인의 방은, an homage to poet Ko Un (The Three Way Tavern, etc.), with, among other things, a recreation of his (book-filled) old study; see pictures from the opening.
A very cool centerpiece:
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Journey through Alternative Economic Systems by Giacomo Corneo, Is Capitalism Obsolete ? recently out from Harvard University Press.
Interesting to see that, despite its topicality, the book has received essentially no US/UK review attention -- as Matthew Reisz also notes in bringing it up in this recent piece in Times Higher Education, where he considers: "How should we choose which titles to review when recurrent themes arise, and how ought we to feel when strong feelings are used to 'sell' academic content ?" where he notes about this title (contrasting it with Yanis Varoufakis' Talking to My Daughter About the Economy):
To give the survey a bit of drama, it is presented in the form of a father's extended answer to a daughter who is keen to replace today's economic system with something better.
But this is in essence just a literary device and the book does not yet seem to have been widely reviewed.
The Jan Michalski Prize for Literature is among the more interesting international book prizes, not limiting itself to books written/published in any specific language (though for all intents and purposes availability in at least English, French, or German seems a requirement ...) and considering fiction and non side by side; last year it went to The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov.
They've now announced this year's prize winner -- and it's Une histoire mondiale du communisme, Thierry Wolton's three-volume (three long volumes: the total page count is 3456 pages !) history of communism; see, for example, the Grasset publicity page for volume one.
The third volume just came out in French; I wouldn't hold my breath for an unabridged English translation ......
The New York Times Book Review has published its annual 100 Notable Books selection (limited to books reviewed in their pages -- "since Dec. 4, 2016, when we published our previous Notables list").
I continue to be not be reading/reviewing the 'right' books, I guess: only two of the 100 are under review at the complete review:
These are also two of the (only) four titles in translation that make the list -- declines from last year (6) and 2015 (14) .....
(There are a handful of other titles I might still get to, but ...yeah .....)
The limited-to-what-we-reviewed cut-off really impacts the quality of the The New York Times Book Review list, since they don't review ... a lot.
Including several of what I thought were stand-out 2017 titles -- say, The Evenings (Gerard Reve), Radiant Terminus (Antoine Volodine), and Such Small Hands (Andrés Barba)
So, while this might be a list of 'notables', don't forget to look beyond as well .....
In the Forward Mikael Gomez Guthart tells the fun story of Lin Shu, in: This Chinese Translator Changed The History Of Literature. You've Probably Never Heard Of Him.
His significance -- bringing much Western literature to Chinese audiences -- is undeniable; his technique ... questionable.
Yes, he was a translator who: "did not speak nor read any language other than his own" -- so you can imagine how that worked out.
Well, pretty well, in some ways -- he was very successful, and presumably good at what he did -- though Guthart is very generous in phrasing it:
Lin Shu was blessed with an unusual skill in that he could read any language through the eyes of another person.
With the help of 19 successive assistants, he translated, or more accurately, rewrote close to 200 classics of western literature
I love the title of Michael Gibbs Hill's recent study of him and this phenomenon (and how have I not seen this ?): Lin Shu, Inc.; see also the Oxford University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The Three Percent Translation Databases are certainly the most useful overviews of what's published in translation (for the first time, in fiction and poetry, in the US) ever year, but it's good to see language-specific lists like the Book Department of the French Embassy's French Books In The Us (their capitalizations, not mine ...) listings -- and at Paper Republic they now have the list of Translations from Chinese in 2017.
Kind of depressing, however, to find a mere fourteen works of fiction (about half of which are classical works ...).
The Vermont College of Fine Arts has announced the launch of a low-residency international master of fine arts program: "with a focus on transnational literature in English and world literature in translation", their International MFA in Creative Writing & Literary Translation program.
While I have my doubts about most MFA programs, I like the international orientation -- four residencies: "three international and one at the VCFA campus in Montpelier" -- and think that literary translation-concentration is a wise one to add to the usual fiction and non.
With Mark Polizzotti and Jason Grunebaum on the faculty, it looks like it has some possibilities.