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Preview: the Literary Saloon

the Literary Saloon



opinionated commentary on literary matters



Copyright: Copyright 2017 the Complete Review
 



Q & A: Georgi Gospodinov
       At Music & Literature Maria Dimitrova has A Conversation with Georgi Gospodinov -- the author of The Physics of Sorrow (etc.).
       He discusses an interesting variety of work -- from his latest in the Cahiers Series to a graphic novel to a libretto.
       He's a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library 2017-8, and before that was in Vienna and Berlin:
     Vienna didn't suit ?

     I couldn't really write in Vienna, it was a little too leisurely, too melancholic. I need something opposite to my melancholy.

     Something to create friction.

     Yes, and Berlin is like that, a hard, raw city. In Vienna, you could just let the time pass ...



Q & A: Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès
       Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès' enjoyable Island of Point Nemo is just out from Open Letter, and at Three Percent Hannah Chute has an Interview with Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès.



Q & A: Karl Ove Knausgaard
       This week(end)'s The New York Times Book Review has Karl Ove Knausgaard: By the Book
       Some good responses from the My Struggle author -- including:
Tarjei Vesaas has written the best Norwegian novel ever, The Birds -- it is absolutely wonderful, the prose is so simple and so subtle, and the story is so moving that it would have been counted amongst the great classics from the last century if it had been written in one of the major languages.
       (I think it counts, regardless ... and good to see Archipelago recently reissue it in the US; it has long been UK available from Peter Owen; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. But you really can't go wrong with Vesaas -- try The Ice Palace , too !)
       Knausgaard also found Thomas Bernhard's My Prizes laugh-out-loud funny -- and as to who he would want to write his life story, he suggests Krasznahorkai (!) -- or Lydia Davis.



Pessoa-translation Q & A
       New Directions is bringing out a new translation, by Margaret Jull Costa, of Fernando Pessoa's The Book Of Disquiet (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk). It's hard to imagine there ever being a definitive edition of this classic work, but this surely is the strongest challenger to Richard Zenith's 2001 translation (see the Penguin Modern Classics publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- the one I've long relied on.
       At his Conversational Reading weblog Scott Esposito now has Ten Questions for Margaret Jull Costa on Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet.
       Among her most tantalizing responses:
And there is a possibility that I might translate some of his detective fiction
       Please, someone, make this happen !



Amit Chaudhuri on (well, against) literary prizes
       In The Guardian Amit Chaudhuri complains that My fellow authors are too busy chasing prizes to write about what matters -- specifically targeting the Man Booker Prize, "the only one that has a real commercial impact", as he argues:
The Booker now has a stranglehold on how people think of, read, and value books in Britain. It has no serious critics.
       'People' ? Many, certainly -- and the publishing industry, of course (but that's just business) -- but I still come across many people thinking of, reading, and valuing books by rather different criteria



The Book of Emma Reyes review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Emma Reyes' The Book of Emma Reyes -- subtitled, in its UK edition, A Memoir in Correspondence.
       This recent -- the Spanish original came out in 2012 -- posthumous discovery has been making the international rounds, and its discovery, the book itself, and Reyes' interesting life (beyond what she covers in this childhood memoir) certainly make for a good story. Hey, even The New York Times couldn't resist covering it a few days ago .....



German Book Prize longlist
       They've announced the 20-title-strong longlist for the German Book Prize, selected from 200 entries (which, regrettably and outrageously, are not revealed) -- 174 submitted novels, and 26 called-in titles.
       Quite a few of these authors have had work translated into English; Ingo Schulze's Peter Holtz is apparently an early favorite.
       The shortlist will be announced 12 September, the winner on 9 October (at the Frankfurt Book Fair).



Boris Kachka on Michiko Kakutani
       As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Michiko Kakutani has given up her book reviewing gig at The New York Times, and at New York's Intelligencer Boris Kachka now looks at What the Departure of the Times' Michiko Kakutani Means for Books Coverage (and some of the behind-the-scenes goings-on that might have played a role in her departure).



The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Shiraishi Kazufumi's The Part of Me That Isn't Broken Inside, due out shortly from Dalkey Archive Press.

       I was a bit leery of this -- his Me Against the World didn't work very well for me, and the title of this one doesn't help -- but I can see why it was such a big success in Japan. Still heavy on the introspective philosophizing, the narrative foundation here is just much better than in Me Against the World; it's the most satisfying novel I've read in quite some time.



70 'iconic' Indian books
       A reader points me to Chiki Sarkar's compilation of the 70 greatest books written in English post Independence at the Hindustan Times.
       Semi-admirably, 'written in English' includes several translations -- but these are:
A few extraordinary translations from Indian languages to English -- where we are recognising the translation, not the work itself. In these books the translator rather than the author's name are mentioned front up.
       The English-language focus -- and the: "Only one book per author"-limitation (surely an odd one, when you're making a best-book list) -- are pretty ... limiting, but there are certainly many works of interest on the list (and a few that are under review at the complete review).



Simenon out of print in German ?!??
       Georges Simenon always -- well, for the past 40 or so years -- seemed to be well-served by (Swiss-based) German-language publisher Diogenes; they published over two hundred of his titles, from the Maigrets to the romans durs to things like the Mémoires intimes (in a complete translation, not like the abomination that is the US/UK edition, Intimate Memoirs); see also the bibliography at Quai des Orfèvres. But, as already noted in a tweet from December, Diogenes lost the German-language rights last August, and have simply been emptying stock for the past year: the official site now doesn't list a single of their Simenon titles in print or available.
       Boersenblatt.de has now taken note; apparently Simenon-heir John, and estate representatives Peters Frasers + Dunlop ditched Diogenes -- leaving Simenon's work in a German-language limbo. (It is my understanding that New York Review Books, publishers of a fine little Simenon-collection, has also been de-righted.)
       I thought Diogenes did a fine job, and I find it hard to imagine any publisher would do markedly better, but of course literary heirs are free to screw with estates and success however they please. Still, there's screwing and there's screwing, and I note that a search on Amazon.de suggests the works of Georges Simenon are entirely out of print in German. Let that sink in for a moment: the works of one of the best selling and most popular authors ever (Wikipedia has him ranked sixth all-time) are currently completely out of print in one of the languages in which he has been the most successful .....
       WTF ? indeed.
       No doubt, Simenon jr. and PFD have someone lined up, or eventually will, or hope to, who will let them squeeze more money out of the backlist (because, as noted, Simenon is popular in German(y)). But he's apparently been out of print for a year now, and if there's been a big (or any) announcement of a/the new German-language publisher I've missed it .....
       Sure, Diogenes churned out enough of these over the decades that readers can hunt down old copies of more or less everything. But this is an ugly page out of the Wylie school of literary (mis)representation, in which the interests of readers come dead last (or rather, aren't considered at all): better to hold out -- no matter how long -- for the (potentially) 'better' deal than actually ensure the books are available to interested readers.
       Simenon is a more or less unkillable brand -- but I still think they're doing him (and, more importantly: his work) a disservice. And they're certainly showing how little they care about actual readers.



James Tait Black Prizes
       They've announced the winners of this year's James Tait Black Prizes: The Lesser Bohemians, by Eimear McBride -- out in paperback in the US today; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- , took the fiction prize, and The Vanishing Man, by Laura Cumming, took the biography prize.



Translation and resistance
       At Scroll.in Parvathy Raveendran looks back at a panel at "Lekhana, Bangalore's 'literary weekend'" about translation, in Can translations become a vehicle of cultural resistance ? No, because they always were -- an interesting overview (of the issue, and of such panel discussions).



Dubravka Ugrešić Q & A
       At Political Critique Michal Špína and Strahnija Bućan offer I am a Literary Smuggler: An Interview with Dubravka Ugrešić
       Always interesting to hear from Ugrešić -- and great that Open Letter has some new works in the works !



Killing Floor review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lee Child's first Jack Reacher novel, Killing Floor.

       Lee Child, you say ? Huh ?
       Well, John Lanchester admitted to being a fan in The New Yorker, and while on his European tour last year César Aira (How I became a Nun, etc.) repeatedly mentioned in interviews that he was gobbling up Child-books on the way -- and he even mentioned him in his opening speech (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) at the literature festival berlin last year:
And when I like something too much, as has recently happened with Lee Child, I have to ask myself seriously: is it really as good as it seems to me ?
       Elsewhere, Aira has said: "Lee Child is a genius."
       So, yeah, I was curious.
       (After reading this, I'm not entirely convinced. Borderline -- I might try one more, just to see (Persuader, probably -- Lanchester says it's the best of the lot).)



DSC Prize for South Asian Literature longlist
       They've announced the longlist for this year's DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, 13 novels selected from "more than 60 eligible entries" (regrettably unrevealed).
       Several of the books are US/UK available -- and some have even gotten decent attention abroad (Aravind Adiga's Selection Day and Karan Mahajan's The Association of Small Bombs, for example). Only two are translations -- The Poison of Love, by K.R.Meera, and Pyre, by Perumal Murugan.
       The shortlist will be announced on 27 September, the winner on 18 November.



Malayalam translation
       At his Original copy weblog Sudhakaran finds Writers in Kerala are only now waking up to what translation demands, as translations from Malayalam don't seem to attract the hoped-for attention -- even a classic such as O.V.Vijayan's The Legends of Khasak.
       He wonders:
Is it that our language not 'translation ready' ? Or is it that our literature revolves around a 'Malayali space' not palatable to others ?
       (Only five translated-from-the-Malayalam titles are under review at the complete review -- but, as with books translated from most Indian languages, the issue for me is mainly being able to get my hands on any.)



Israeli literature
       Reporting on a recent session at the World Congress of Jewish Studies, Aviya Kushner considers Why There's More To Israeli Literature Than Just Hebrew in Forward.

       See also the Index of Israeli and Hebrew literature under review at the complete review.



Kundera (not) in Slovak
       Milan Kundera famously not only moved from Czechoslovakia (as it was still then) to France, but also from writing in Czech to writing in French (e.g. The Festival of Insignificance), and at Eurozine Samuel Abrahám now recounts getting Kundera in Slovak, almost, as Kundera's linguistic shift has had the consequence that:
Kundera wrote in French an additional three books of essays and his last four novels. As he explained to me, he alone can translate his own text into Czech, for he cannot imagine someone else doing it. He added with some regret that translation costs him plenty of energy, and time is getting short ... so his books were translated from French into many languages, but not into his native Czech.
       So the chances of seeing (reading) him in Slovak .....



From the Berlin Journal review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Max Frisch's long-sealed (for twenty years after his death, per his instructions) From the Berlin Journal, now also out in English, from Seagull Books.



Rheingau Literatur Preis
       They've announced that the 2017 Rheingau Literatur Preis will be awarded (on 24 September) to popular German author Ingo Schulze.
       This is one of these gimmicky prizes that tries to stand out with a little twist to the actual prize -- here both in the amount (€11,111) and the bonus (111 bottles of premium Rheingau riesling). (Hey, it works -- that's why you're reading about this here, now .....)
       Still, as far as gimmicks go, a couple of cases of decent white wine isn't the worst.
       Schulze is quite well-represented in English -- translated by Arno Schmidt-translator John E. Woods, no less -- and though none of his books are under review at the complete review at this time, he did of course rate a mention in my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction. Get your copy of, for example, his novel New Lives at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

       (Gratuitous observation: it's nice of the Châteaux Hotel Burg Schwarzenstein to throw in some of the prize-money and host the bash, but, damn, that is not a happy mix of architectures classical and new. I realize it's hard to build around Middle Ages stone, but .....)



Fifteen years of the Literary Saloon
       The complete review -- the site, the review stuff -- has been around since 1999, but this Literary Saloon weblog was a relatively late addition, the first post only coming 11 August 2002.
       Still, that's fifteen years ago today, for those of you keeping track of these anniversaries (and, hey, on the internet fifteen years is several lifetimes -- just look at all the book-blogs that have come and gone in the meantime .....). I'm not really sure how (or why ?) I manage to keep going, but somehow I do, apparently without stop (I don't know the last time I even just skipped a day, but it has been a couple of years). Even in these very slow (literary-news-wise) summer months.
       For those of you still reading along -- many thanks for the continued interest and support !



Kingdom Cons review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yuri Herrera's Kingdom Cons, just out from And Other Stories.
       This is the third of Herrera's short novels to be translated into English, all part of a loose trilogy, but it's actually his first -- and started out as his MFA thesis at the University of Texas at El Paso in 2003.



'The Global Anthology'
       A neat project at the Culture Trip, where they offer a Global Anthology, a world-spanning sampler-anthology of literature from ... everywhere. Or at least 220 nations, territories, and assorted not-quite-state locales. (Even so, there are places and (significant) languages that get short shrift -- notably regional Indian literature.)
       Still, an impressive collection, and obviously a great variety.



New(ly officially approved) German words
       The new Duden -- the standard German dictionary -- is out, with 5000 new words (quite an increase, given that the total wordcount is only 145,000); at Deutsche Welle they have a decent overview, German language officially gets 5,000 new words.
       'Emoji' is now a ... (German) word, for example.
       But almost disappointing to hear that:
(T)he Germanized spellings of some words -- "Majonäse," "Ketschup" and "Anschovis" -- have been done away with.



Literary swearing
       Who doesn't love some word-counting literary data-analysis ? And I'm almost surprised it took this long for someone to do this -- but now Jean M. Twenge, Hannah VanLandingham, and W. Keith Campbell have, looking into: The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television: Increases in the Use of Swear Words in American Books, 1950-2008.
       Unsurprisingly, they find:
American books contained dramatically more swear words in the late 2000s than they did in the early 1950s. Readers of books in the late 2000s were 28 times more likely than those in the early 1950s to come across one of the "seven words you can never say on television."
       I especially appreciate the helpful graphing:

(image)


       There's some discussion -- but obviously also a lot of room for follow-up studies ...; I look forward to seeing them.



(American) National Translation Awards shortlists
       The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) has announced the shortlists for the 2017 National Translation Awards, in poetry and fiction.
       Only one of the titles is under review at the complete review -- Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto, in Esther Allen's translation.
       The winners will be announced at the ALTA conference in early October.



US sales numbers, 2016
       The Association of American Publishers released their 2016 numbers a few days ago, and at Publishers Weekly Jim Milliot sums things up in his report.
       Revenue was down 5.1 per cent -- but unit sales were up by 1.2 per cent.
       Disappointingly (worryingly ?):
Books with religious and inspirational themes from religious presses and trade publishers were among the best-selling books.
       E-book sales continue to slump, down 16.9% (revenue) and 14.7% (unit sales) compared to 2015 -- though presumably that comes with caveats regarding the counting of Kindle-editions and whatnot (it's apparently harder to keep track of e-sales, in all the e-formats, than it is print books).
       While: "publishers saw increased revenue from trade book sales at physical retail stores":
Most of the books purchased in 2016 were bought from an online retailer; about 814 million units were sold into online channels in 2016. About 672 million books were sold to physical bookstores.



Life of a Bishop's Assistant review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Viktor Shklovsky's 1931 novel, Life of a Bishop's Assistant, Dalkey Archive Press' latest Shklovsky translation.