As Princeton University has announced, T.S. Eliot letters, among best-known sealed literary archives, open at Princeton after 60 years, as on 2 January: "a collection of 1,131 letters from Nobel laureate and renowned writer Thomas Stearns Eliot, better known as T.S. Eliot, to his lifelong friend Emily Hale will open for research at Princeton University Library".
They were actually 'unsealed' in October -- "for processing and cataloging" -- but starting 2 January they will be accessible -- "on a first-come, first-served basis".
Since they're still under copyright until 2035 they will not be made available online (or, presumably, in print), so if you want to read them you have to head to Princeton.
I won't get around to posting a review today, so that leaves the total at the complete review 209 reviews for the year (down slightly from 217 in 2018) -- 282,561 review-words, for an average of 1352 words per review (considerably up from the 1168 average in 2018) and a median review-length of 1213 words (2018: 1063).
A full look at the year-in-reviews is forthcoming, once I go over all the numbers, etc., but meanwhile: while in 2018 there was one book rated A+ and two rated A, in 2019 only one book rate as high as A.
It was a decent reading year, with quite a few impressive and memorable reads, but, yes, fewer works that were unquestionably top-tier.
So I guess that makes the lone A title my 'book of the year' -- or at least the best book I read in 2019.
It's a Knausgaard-novel -- but probably not the one you're thinking of .....
(Updated - 2 January 2020): It turns out there is a second A rated title (mis-entered in my database, which is why I originally missed it ...): Waves by Eduard von Keyserling !
So ... co-books of the year ?
Iranian-born Azar moved to Australia in 2011; this novel, written in Persian, was published in English translation by Wild Dingo Press in 2017 -- and went on to be shortlisted for the Stella Prize; now there's a US/UK edition from Europa Editions.
Big props to Wild Dingo Press for also publishing the Persian edition; see their publicity page.
The great Alasdair Gray has passed away -- a great loss; see, for example, James Campbell's obituary in The Guardian and the Canongate notice.
Quite a few of his works are under review at the complete review, though not his most famous, Lanark -- see the Canongate publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- which, along with other early work, such as 1982, Janine and The Fall of Kelvin Walker, I read long before I started the site; all are worth revisiting and I do expect to get to them again.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the second volume of Brigitte Reimann's diaries, covering 1964 to 1970, Alles schmeckt nach Abschied.
This is the follow-up to I Have No Regrets; it's not yet available in translation, but a translation is apparently in the works.
Meanwhile, it has inspired a musical composition, by Jan-Willem van Herpen.
Litprom is a German organization that supports translation from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and they announce a 'best list' every quarter, the best translations published in German -- and they've now announced the Weltempfänger Nr. 45 | Winter 2019.
Four translations from the Spanish top the list; one of them -- Jorge Comensal's The Mutations -- is under review at the complete review.
"In the past, I used to pack myself and go deep into the forest or a mountain and stay there for several months to write, as I could gain necessary focus and calm to write," he said.
"But now I write at home.
I live in the quiet countryside in a southern region of Korea.
I usually wake up at around 3 a.m. every day and write until around 11 a.m. or noon.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Edogawa Rampo's 1931 novel Gold Mask, recently out from Kurodahan Press.
This novel pits Edogawa's own amateur detective Akechi Kogorō against Maurice Leblanc's Arsène Lupin.
And, yes, the title was inspired by Marcel Schwob's The King in the Golden Mask, about which Edogawa wrote: "I have a boundless love for that wonderful fantasy novel"; it was also recently published in English by Wakefield Press.
He thinks there is a big play to be written on capitalism and the City of London.
‘I think a lot of what I think of as being criminal behaviour is done by people who don’t consider themselves to be criminals at all.
I think the artist’s job partly is to remind us of what’s fair, but in moral terms.’
But he worries that he doesn’t have the time and energy to do the research into the big problem that capitalism currently presents.
What about one of his other ideas ?
He has all the paperwork upstairs (including the Leveson report and the transcripts of the House of Commons committee hearings) to write a play about the press.
He’s been thinking about that ‘from long before Leopoldstadt and long before The Hard Problem’.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Donna Zuckerberg on Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age, in Not All Dead White Men.
(Zuckerberg is the founder and editor of Eidolon -- "an online journal for scholarly writing about Classics that isn't formal scholarship" -- and, yes, she's the sister of that other Silicon Valley Zuckerberg.)
The focus is on the money (pricing) angle, but I continue to find e-books tremendously frustrating to deal with and fare much less well when I have to rely on them.
Despite the apparent convenience, I find myself increasingly trying to avoid them, wherever possible.
In The Washington Post Ron Charles identifies 11 trends that changed the way we read this decade.
(I do note that practically none of these have had any (more or less direct) effect on how I read -- I have not started to listen to audiobooks, etc. -- except possibly that: 'Instant-printing finally got real', as a considerable number of the titles I see (and seek out) are, essentially, printed on demand.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Rodrigo Fresán's The Invented Part.
This is the first part in a trilogy, and came out in English from Open Letter in 2017; it won the Best Translated Book Award in 2018 -- and the second volume in the trilogy, The Dreamed Part, recently came out; I should be getting to that one, too.
PEN America has announced the recipients of the 2020 PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grants -- 11 projects selected from 262 eligible applications.
(Great to see there were so many eligible submissions -- but of course a shame that only so many can be supported .....)
Some interesting titles to look forward to.
The latest issue of The Riveter, Writing from Germany (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), is now available online -- 160 pages of excerpts, reviews (of books that have been translated, and some that haven't yet), and articles.
Lots of interesting material, well worth a look (or, indeed, a couple of hours of your reading time ...).
I usually avoid lists like those of 'most borrowed books' from various libraries (since they depend a lot on how many copies of books a given library has and hence obviously favor the biggest-name and most heavily-publicized, bought-in-bulk titles/authors), but the huge number of reviews at Publishers Weekly makes for a more balanced pool for an exercise like their list of The Most-Read Book Reviews of 2019 (though it's disappointing that they don't specify how many reviews they posted in 2019).
Not necessarily the titles I would have expected, and an interesting variety.
(I will also list the most-read reviews at the complete review in 2019 -- but only once 2019 is actually over and the final totals are in.)
Critical reception has no place or means to be exercised.
The only criterion that decides on the visibility of an author is sales, as in the case of movies or music.
This is the reason why it is not the critical expertise, but the publishing houses and the institutions of literary awards which are most important in creating an author’s image.
Who publishes you ?
How do they support you ?
What literary award did you get ?
These are the new questions that have replaced the classical ones such as: What kind of literature do you write ?
What stylistic qualities does it have ?
What literary movement does it belong to? What generation does the author belong to ?
The “normal” writers, concerned with the human condition, descendants of Faulkner, Kafka, Virginia Woolf or Joyce, not to mention the poet or essayist, have increasing difficulties to assert themselves because their literatures seem to be “elitist” and barely accessible to today’s world.
Therefore, despite having some awards and the appreciation of some critics, their literature cannot be sold (only as much as real literature has always been sold), so it only exists sporadically.
A few small or medium-sized publishing houses carry on the tradition of three millennia of literary writing that no one cares about anymore.
The English translation, by Sean Cotter, of Cărtărescu's Solenoid is forthcoming (though it will still be a while ...) from Deep Vellum, and is eagerly anticipated ...; see also the Hanser foreign rights page.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Barry N. Malzberg's (very) 1974 science fiction novel, The Destruction of the Temple.
I was unfamiliar with his work, but recently picked up a pile of Malzberg titles -- they sound intriguing, and he certainly has some fun ideas.
This one didn't win me over completely, but sufficiently that I'll take a look at some of the others; aside from the concepts and how he plays them out, sentences like this one are enough to keep me going:
(I)n the repertory theater that is America nothing is quite as it seems but then again everything is exactly as it seems if we can bear the comprehension.
When comparing the top 10 adult books each year throughout the past decade, more non-fiction titles topped the NPD Bookscan charts in the second half of the decade than in the first half.
In 2010, nearly 80 percent of the top-selling titles were fiction, and by 2019 that percentage dropped to 32 percent.
El País' Los 50 mejores libros de 2019 is now up, with Luis Landero's Lluvia fina the top selection, ahead of Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk's Flights.
Only a few of the titles are under review at the complete review: Ian McEwan's Machines like Me (19), Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book Six (26), and Jonathan Coe's Middle England (40), but there are certainly more I hope to see (especially when the Spanish titles appear in translation).