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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review

The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 April 2023

11 April: Obama's reading | Zinik on Gogol | Theroux on rail travel
12 April: Ottaway Award | Meir Shalev (1948-2023) | Everybody Dies in this Novel review
13 April: Cullman Center fellows | RSL Ondaatje Prize longlist | The new Murakami novel
14 April: Granta Best Of Young British Novelists | Premio Formentor
15 April: Shortlists: Highland Book Prize - Food and Drink Awards
16 April: Don Winslow Q & A | Ōe's legacy | The Length of Days review
17 April: Reading translated fiction in ... the UK | Vivek Narayanan Q & A
18 April: Self-published authors raking it in ? | Barnes & Noble profile
19 April: International Booker Prize shortlist | Deutscher Sachbuchpreis finalists | PEN Presents shortlist | Joyce Carol Oates Prize | Hospital review
20 April: Next Lydia Davis, not* on ? | Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist | Lucy Jones Q & A | The Space Between Us review

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20 April 2023 - Thursday

Next Lydia Davis, not* on ? | Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist
Lucy Jones Q & A | The Space Between Us review

       Next Lydia Davis, not* on ?

       As Canongate has announced, Lydia Davis’s new collection, Our Strangers: coming in October, but only through bookshops and indie online retailers.
       Sarah Shaffi reports this in The Guardian as Lydia Davis refuses to sell her next book on Amazon, and Davis is quoted saying:
I am all the more pleased, now, that Canongate, with its long history of independence and its high standards, will be publishing Our Strangers and doing so in a way that puts my book on the shelves of booksellers who are so much more likely to care about it.
       This is all very admirable and well-intentioned, and a useful gesture -- but also a very limited one. Amazon will not be denied, and while Canongate won't supply the book to them directly that doesn't mean they won't be selling it (via re-sellers), especially once used copies are in circulation. In fact, tragi-comically, the book is already listed on, and *available* there for pre-order -- complete, just to rub it in, with the book-description that begins: "Only available at independent bookstores and libraries, by request of the author".
       Also: it's not like publishers haven't tried to keep their books off Amazon before -- but it's harder than it looks, as, for example, noted by Tilted Axis:

Tilted Axis tweet

       (The publishing and book-selling business has lots of problems -- and the press coverage of it certainly doesn't help. Perhaps one can't expect more than regurgitated publicity material and clickbait headlines here, especially since this is the kind of story everyone loves -- author and feisty, independent publisher stand up to the terrible Goliath ! -- and no one really cares about the details, but it's still disappointing that coverage of this, in that report in The Guardian or the one in The Bookseller (Canongate plumps for Davis' newest in deal excluding sales through Amazon) makes no effort to look into or explain what Canongate actually can and can't do with the book and Amazon. The Bookseller report goes so far as to claim: "the book will be blocked from sale through Amazon" -- which is, at best, misleading. Neither publication seems to have even taken the most basic step -- of checking whether or not the book was listed at (as, in fact, as noted, it already is). Maybe expecting, in an age where practically every piece -- certainly the ones about books -- is a puff-piece, these pieces to be fact-checked is too much to ask, but couldn't the journalists do a little bit of legwork beyond what the publisher hands them on a platter ?)
       [Note: that the complete review is an Amazon-affiliate and does receive commissions for sales made by users who click through the Amazon-links at the site -- including the above one to Davis' book. This is not meant to be an endorsement of or encouragement to purchase from Amazon (though of course there's no way around it in fact being, at least in some ways, both), but based on the reality that a lot of people do buy from Amazon and if we can get a cut ... well, we appreciate it when people do take that route, since we're hard-pressed to make any money off the site via any other means.
       (By comparison, for those suggesting alternatives: the complete review has been a for over a year now, and links to all newly-reviewed books that are available there (many aren't ...) have been available on the site since that time -- and, despite the occasional click-through, we haven't made a dime off of those. Not a dime. The Amazon-juggernaut is the only one that counts, just as in search there's only Google.)]
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for this year's Griffin Poetry Prize, with five works left in the running.
       The winner will be announced on 7 June.

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

       Lucy Jones Q & A

       At Asymptote Samantha Siefert has a Q & A, Great Material for a Novel: Lucy Jones on Translating Brigitte Reimann -- mainly about Jones' translation of Reimann's Siblings.

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

       The Space Between Us review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Zoya Pirzad's The Space Between Us.

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

19 April 2023 - Wednesday

International Booker Prize shortlist | Deutscher Sachbuchpreis finalists
PEN Presents shortlist | Joyce Carol Oates Prize | Hospital review

       International Booker Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for this year's International Booker Prize.
       Only one of the six titles is under review at the complete review so far, Angela Rodel's translation Georgi Gospodinov's Time Shelter. (I do also have Boulder and Whale and should be getting to those.)
       The winner will be announced on 23 May.

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

       Deutscher Sachbuchpreis finalists

       They've announced the eight finalists for the German Non-Fiction Prize.
       The winner will be announced on 1 June.

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

       PEN Presents shortlist

       I don't really understand what this is, but English PEN has announced a shortlist of thirteen titles for something called PEN Presents, with the translators: "awarded grants to create 5,000-word samples"; from these then: "Six samples will be chosen from the shortlist by the PEN Presents Selection Panel to be showcased in an issue on the PEN Presents platform".
       Some promising-sounding projects -- including something from Kanehara Hitomi; I haven't seen anything by her since Snakes and Earrings. Also: work by Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizkie, which somebody has to publish just to put that name on the cover.

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

       Joyce Carol Oates Prize

       New Literary Project has announced that Manuel Muñoz has been awarded this year's Joyce Carol Oates Prize.
       The prize is awarded to: "emerged and continually emerging fiction authors at the midpoint of a burgeoning career" -- and pays out $50,000.

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

       Hospital review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the first volume in a science fiction trilogy by Han Song, Hospital, recently out from Amazon Crossing.

       Translator Michael Berry was recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship -- the only translator among this year's fellows -- to complete his translation of the third volume of the trilogy, Dead Souls. (The middle volume, Exorcism, is due out in November.)

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

18 April 2023 - Tuesday

Self-published authors raking it in ? | Barnes & Noble profile

       Self-published authors raking it in ?

       At Publishers Weekly Jim Milliot reports that Survey Finds Self-Published Authors Making Gains, reporting on the Alliance of Independent Authors' Independent Author Income Survey (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       Among the findings:
The survey found that the average income for self-published authors rose 53% last year over 2021, reaching a median of $12,749, a figure higher than those of authors at traditional publishers. The most recent Authors Guild survey in 2018, for example, found the median income to be $6,080, down 24% from 2014
       That sounds very impressive -- but given that the data was self-reported, is maybe not entirely reliable ?
       (That 'average' Milliot quotes is the median, by the way; as the report clarifies, the mean income (what most people think of as 'the average') was: "$82,600 in 2022, a 34% increase".)
       Wishful thinking has me hoping the survey-results do reflect reality (rather than the fantasy of the responders), for the message it sends to and about traditional publishers ..... But as someone to whom it would not occur to answer a survey -- especially an online one -- even vaguely truthfully (and wonder why anyone possibly would), I have my doubts.

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

       Barnes & Noble profile

       In The Observer there's yet another article -- this one by Lauren Aratani -- reporting on James Daunt and ‘Amazon doesn’t care about books’: how Barnes & Noble bounced back.
       It's a nice success story -- and one has to like the formula, getting away from the one that had established itself:
Barnes & Noble, [Daunt] says, had been running itself like a conventional corporate retailer. Each store was the “same, same, same” – something that works at stores such as Staples, the office supplies chain and the bookshop’s neighbour in Union Square, but not at other places, he says.
       Ironically, the new formula, of giving each store lots of autonomy, probably makes Barnes & Noble a hard sell, when/if Elliott Investment Management want to try and unload it or take it public.

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

17 April 2023 - Monday

Reading translated fiction in ... the UK | Vivek Narayanan Q & A

       Reading translated fiction in ... the UK

       At the site of the Booker Prizes they look at Generation TF: who is really reading translated fiction in the UK, reporting on the results of Nielsen data compiled for the Booker Prize Foundation. (The data is actully about book buyers, rather than readers, but still .....)
       Interest apparently does skew young: "only 8% of translated fiction buyers in the UK were retired, compared with almost a fifth (19.9%) of overall fiction buyers", while:
In 2019, readers aged 60-84 (the oldest group surveyed) accounted for 20.9% of all translated fiction buyers. That number fell to 13.2% in 2022.
       Meanwhile: "book buyers under the age of 35 account for almost half (48.2%) of all translated fiction purchases".
       The most striking number to me is that the total number of all translated fiction titles sold in the UK in 2022 was ... 1,900,000, which seems ... piddling. (Point of comparison: Richard Osman's The Thursday Murder Club alone reportedly "sold more than one million copies" in the UK in the first year it was out .....) Total book sales in the UK in 2022 were a bit over 200 million -- but that's all books, not just fiction. (And all these statistics and numbers are way too hard to come by; the industry really should be much more open about this stuff.)
       (Updated - 18 April): Just how hard real numbers are to come by is now also illustrated by the vacuous new (British) Publishers Association A Year in Publishing-summary for 2022 -- which acknowledges 669 million "physical books" sold but doesn't define books more closely. With "total consumer publishing income" roughly one-third of all reported publishing income, one can guess-timate consumer publishing again shifted about a third of all units -- somewhat more than 200 million again. God forbid they'd actually offer actual, useful information and numbers ....

       Also of interest: out of the 30 biggest-selling translated fiction titles in 2022, 14 are translated from Japanese. (Regrettably, they do not say what qualifies as a 'translated fiction title' -- are they including manga, for example ? --, much less identify the titles.)
       Also interesting to note:
While only 32% of buyers of fiction generally are male, 48% of translated fiction buyers are male.
       What's that about ?

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

       Vivek Narayanan Q & A

       At Lina Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas has a Q & A with the poet, in: ‘A critical reading of the Ramayana opened me up to its riches’: Poet Vivek Narayanan, mainly about his book, After.
       See also the publicity pages from Harper Collins India and New York Review Books, or get your copy at, or

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

16 April 2023 - Sunday

Don Winslow Q & A | Ōe's legacy | The Length of Days review

       Don Winslow Q & A

       Via, I'm pointed to Greg Fleming's Q & A in the NZ Herald with Don Winslow: Best-selling author of City of Dreams on retiring from fiction writing for political activism.
       I missed Winslow's retirement-announcement last year, but always appreciate when an author doesn't force the issue. As he says in the interview: "I don't want to publish just for the sake of publishing"; would that more authors felt similarly ..... (I also appreciate his view that: "I’ve never been interested in “self-expression”. I’m not interesting."; would that more writers felt similarly about that, as well.)
       As to the activism he is now dedicating himself to, see Joe Pompeo's Vanity Fair piece, “I’m Going to Pick a Fight”: Don Winslow, High Priest of Crime Fiction, Wants to Write Trump Out of the Story.

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

       Ōe's legacy

       At Japan Today Rosi Byard-Jones reports that Int'l scholars reflect on Kenzaburo Oe's legacy a month after death

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

       The Length of Days review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of An Urban Ballad by Volodymyr Rafeyenko, his novel The Length of Days, one of the first volumes in the new Harvard Library of Ukrainian Literature.

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

15 April 2023 - Saturday

Shortlists: Highland Book Prize - Food and Drink Awards

       Shortlist: Highland Book Prize

       The Highland Society of London has announced the shortlist for the 2022 Highland Book Prize, celebrating: "the finest published work that recognises the rich talent, landscape, and cultural diversity of the Scottish Highlands".
       The winner will be announced on 6 June.

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

       Shortlists: Food and Drink Awards

       Fortnum & Mason have announced the shortlists for their Food and Drink Awards, with quite a few categories.
       The winners will be announced 11 May.

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

14 April 2023 - Friday

Granta Best Of Young British Novelists | Premio Formentor

       Granta Best Of Young British Novelists

       Granta has announced the latest batch of Best Of Young British Novelists, "the twenty most significant British novelists under forty.".
       They are: Graeme Armstrong, Jennifer Atkins, Sara Baume, Sarah Bernstein, Natasha Brown, Eleanor Catton, Eliza Clark, Tom Crewe, Lauren Aimee Curtis, Camilla Grudova, Isabella Hammad, Sophie Mackintosh, Anna Metcalfe, Thomas Morris, Derek Owusu, K Patrick, Yara Rodrigues Fowler, Saba Sams, Olivia Sudjic, and Eley Williams.
       The only one of these authors with any titles under review at the complete review is Eleanor Catton, with The Rehearsal.
       I haven't seen any of the works by any of the other authors.

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

       Premio Formentor

       They've announced the winner of this year's Premio Formentor de las Letras, and it is The Roving Shadows-author Pascal Quignard.
       This prize was revived in 2001, and has had a solid list of winners since, including Juan Goytisolo (2012), Javier Marías (2013), Mircea Cărtărescu ((2018), and Annie Ernuax (2019).

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

13 April 2023 - Thursday

Cullman Center fellows | RSL Ondaatje Prize longlist
The new Murakami novel

       Cullman Center fellows

       The New York Public Library's Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers has announced its 2023-2024 fellows -- 15, selected from 408 applicants from 51 countries. Fellows receive: "a stipend of up to $75,000, the use of an office with a computer, and full access to the Library's physical and electronic resources".
       This year's fellows include Yasmine Seale, for her work on a new translation of One Thousand and One Night, as well as authors Caoilinn Hughes, Amitava Kumar, and Catherine Lacey for fiction projects.

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

       RSL Ondaatje Prize longlist

       The Royal Society of Literature has announced the longlist for this year's RSL Ondaatje Prize, which is awarded to: "an outstanding work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that best evokes the spirit of a place".
       One of the nine titles is under review at the complete review -- The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, by Shehan Karunatilaka.
       The deliberating moves fast here: the shortlist will be announced 26 April, and the winner in less than a month, on 10 May. (The above link gives a different date for the shortlist announcement than the official press release (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), which says it's 24 April; either way, it's soon.)

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

       The new Murakami novel

       The new Murakami Haruki novel -- 街とその不確かな壁 ('The City and Its Uncertain Walls'); see the Shinchosha publicity page -- is now out in Japan.
       At Japan Today Mari Yamaguchi reports on it, in In new book, Murakami explores walled city and shadows; meanwhile, Daniel Morales is offering early reading reports on Twitter.
       As Yamaguchi notes, sadly: "The availability of an English translation is not yet known". Figure on a couple of years .....

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

12 April 2023 - Wednesday

Ottaway Award | Meir Shalev (1948-2023)
Everybody Dies in this Novel review

       Ottaway Award

       Words without Borders has announced that Daniel Hahn will receive this year's Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature -- certainly a very worthy winner.
       He will receive the award on 13 June.

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

       Meir Shalev (1948-2023)

       Israeli author Meir Shalev has passed away; see, for example, the report in the Times of Israel.
       Quite a few of his works have been translated into English; see, for example, the Penguin Random House author page.

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

       Everybody Dies in this Novel review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Beka Adamashvili's Everybody Dies in this Novel, just out from Dedalus.

       It's good to see some more Georgian literature available in English -- far too little is !

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

11 April 2023 - Tuesday

Obama's reading | Zinik on Gogol | Theroux on rail travel

       Obama's reading

       At Esquire Sophie Vershbow goes -- sort of -- Behind the Scenes of Barack Obama's Reading Lists.

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

       Zinik on Gogol

       At Eurozine Zinovy Zinik looks at Gogol: A Ukrainian in disguise.

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

       Theroux on rail travel

       At National Geographic they have Notes from an author: Paul Theroux reflects on the evolving nature of rail travel.

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

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