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Viewing Blog: the Literary Saloon, Most Recent at Top
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1. Ali A. Mazrui (1933-2014)

       I'm a bit late in reporting this -- he passed away on the 12th -- but Ali A. Mazrui has died; see, for example, Douglas Martin's obituary in The New York Times or Horace G. Campbell on The Humanism of Ali Mazrui at counterpunch.
       The only Mazrui book under review at the complete review is, predictably enough, his only work of fiction, the woefully under-appreciated (look for mention of it in the obits ...) The Trial of Christopher Okigbo. Flawed though it is, I would argue it's still a very significant/important novel, a major work of the 1970s. (And, yes, I am pretty proud that I already got to this in the much earlier days of the site, reviewing it back in 2001.)

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2. Chinese reforms

       I mentioned Chinese president Xi Jinping's recent address on cultural production in China and, regrettably, it already seems to be having some effect. In the South China Morning Post Nectar Gan reports that the Ministry of Culture thinks it's now a good idea for Art and literature awards to evaluate 'social benefit' of works, as Zhu Di, head of the art department of the ministry:

said Xi's comments on arts and literature -- that works should place social benefits first, should not bow to commercial demands and should be evaluated by the public -- will become "important principals for the ministry's award evaluation system reform in the future".
       Oh, great .....
       Better yet:
The central propaganda department of the Communist Party is taking the lead in reforming guidelines, Zhu said.
       But I have to admit I'm curious how this will work out, since China has a vibrant -- and huge -- writing scene that isn't going to pay any attention to this kind of nonsense.

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3. Claude Ollier (1922-2014)

       At 91, French author Claude Ollier has passed away; he published his last book ... last year: Cinq contes fantastiques (see the P.O.L. publicity page). Surprisingly little notice of his death so far, even in the French press -- but see, for example, Sabine Audrerie's Mort de l'écrivain Claude Ollier.
       Several of his works have been translated; most of these were published by -- of course -- Dalkey Archive Press. (And, yes, Ollier's work fits the Dalkey-profile to a T.)
       Only one of his works is under review at the complete review: Wert and the Life Without End.
       See also Cecile Lindsay's 1988 A Conversation with Claude Ollier from the Review of Contemporary Fiction.

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4. Nobel-effect on Modiano sales

       So far there have been few articles about the sales-effect of the announcement that Patrick Modiano is this year's Nobel laureate -- in part, in the US/UK, no doubt because almost none of his works are actually available or in print (a situation that will be changing in the coming weeks).
       Unsurprisingly, he got a nice boost in France -- though not enough of one for his new novel to top last week's (through 12 October) bestseller list (you can see how Le suicide français would be hard to top, regardless of international honors ...).
       Ahn Sung-mi reports, in The Korea Herald, that Nobel prize boosts Modiano's book sales in South Korea, as, for example:

Online book retailer Interpark said Missing Person recorded 300 books in sales over a four-day period since the announcement. "This is a drastic change from 2010 when the book was first published and total of 120 books were sold that year," said Jeong Ji-yeon from Interpark.
       And:
"Prior to the award announcement, less than 10 copies of his books were sold on average in a month at bookstores," said a representative of Munhakdonge, publisher of seven books of the author. Munhakdongne printed 13,000 Modiano books upon the Nobel Prize announcement, and plans to print 10,000 more copies as the demand is increasing.
       More surprisingly and impressively, the Tehran Times reports that Patrick Modiano's books soar to Tehran bestsellers list, with six Modinao titles among the top-five at various Tehran booksellers.
       Okay, so in South Korea there are apparently seven Modiano titles available, in Iran -- Iran ! -- there are six, in the US/UK ... less.
       Yes, the situation is changing/improving: Yale University Press' three-in-one collection, Suspended Sentences (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), substantially increases what's available (from those two Godine titles, with one more reprint to follow soon), and the University of California Press has quickly resuscitated Dora Bruder -- a re-issue is due out next month (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com; no Amazon.co.uk listing at this time). (The University of Nebraska Press seems also to be working on resuscitating Out of the Dark -- see their publicity page, or back-order at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.) Still, overall: a sad state of English-speaking affairs -- and surely yet another counter-example to all the supposed translation-enthusiasm that everyone is so excited about: the down-to-earth reality looks like this: a lot uglier, with even the Iranians managing to do a better job in at least some (and possibly many ?) cases.

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5. International publishing statistics

       In The Bookseller Joshua Farrington reports that IPA: UK publishers 'published most in the world' in 2013, summarizing the new International Publishing Association Annual Report (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), as:

UK publishers released 2,875 new titles per million inhabitants, more than 1,000 titles ahead of the nearest nation, Taiwan. In absolute figures, 2013 saw the UK publish 184,000 new titles and re-editions, the highest figure in Europe, with only the US and China publishing more, with 304,912 and 444,000 titles respectively.
       I do note that Iceland is not included in the reckoning; the most recent statistics I could find, covering 2012, report 1349 published titles; with an Icelandic population at the end of 2012 of 321,857, that makes for 4,191 new titles per million inhabitants .....
       Nevertheless, the UK totals are impressive. Those from Georgia, too -- what the hell is that about ? On the other hand: South Africa only published 68 titles per million inhabitants ? (Okay, those are 2010 figures; not necessarily directly comparable -- but it's still shocking.)

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6. DSC Prize for South Asian Literature longlist

       They've announced the ten-title strong longlist for the 2015 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.
       A couple of real heavyweights on the list: books by Jhumpa Lahiri, Khaled Hosseini, and Kamila Shamsie. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi's The Mirror of Beauty is apparently the only work in translation that made the cut (not that you could tell it's a translation from the Penguin India publicity page ...).

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7. Augustpriset shortlists

       They've announced the shortlists for the Augustpriset, one of the leading Swedish literary prizes.

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8. The Fall review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Father's Memoir in 424 Steps, Diogo Mainardi's The Fall.

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9. (German) art-in-literature database

       The University of Vienna has put up an online Datenbank literarischer Bildzitate, a database of some 1,500 references to works of art in modern German literature, searchable by author, artwork, artist, and text. (See the search page, which makes it reasonably obvious what's on offer.)
       I'm not sure how comprehensive this is (yet) -- Bernhard referenced specific works of art in only one of his novels ? -- but it's still fairly interesting and even somewhat useful.

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10. Judging the Man Booker

       The obligatory 'judging the Man Booker Prize'-piece comes from Sarah Churchwell at The Guardian's book blog, where she writes about The joys of judging the Man Booker prize.
       (I enjoy these, but I'd love it if one year they did get the judge who just hated the experience to spill all the ugly beans about the process.)

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11. Limonov review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Emmanuel Carrère pseudo(?)-biographical 2011 prix Renaudot-winning Limonov -- rather desperately subtitled in the US edition: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia.
       As longtime readers know, I'm not a big fan of biography in any form, and I note with some amusement that my review barely even mentions any of these supposedly 'Outrageous Adventures' Limonov had -- I found and consider them completely uninteresting (and Limonov -- despite some obvious talents -- a vacuous poseur: I can't imagine a less interesting person or subject matter, all noise and affectation). I didn't even notice until after I finished writing the review, but it didn't even occur to me -- though of course it should have: presumably a not insignificant percentage of readers are curious about the book because they want to know about Limonov. But, yeah, I really shouldn't be reviewing biographies -- even if this can also be considered something else entirely (and is much more interesting when considered as such).
       (This is also the second recent prix Renaudot-winner that I've reviewed in less than two months -- Our Lady of the Nile is the other.)

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12. Writing in ... China

       While on the one hand, as reported at Livemint, Publishers aim to take Chinese literature to the world, the local authorities haven't all gotten the memo -- or rather: they're sticking with an old script. Yes, as Xinhua reports in China Voice: Boom of arts, a must for Chinese dream Chinese president and general secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping:

addressed another forum on literature and arts, again calling for artworks to "embody socialist core values in a lively and vivid way", to "uphold Chinese spirit" and "rally Chinese strength".
       Apparently the concern is that:
Although China has already had a Nobel Prize winner in Literature and a number of Chinese films have won international awards, there are plenty of vulgar, repetitive and fast-food art works. They lack insight and artistic values and do not meet the needs of the people.
       Always good to see when the state (or any other pseudo-authority) decides what exactly meets the "needs of the people" .....
       But maybe here is finally an explanation why Chinese literature (which seems to be thriving in China ...) hasn't done particularly well abroad yet ?
The current weakness of Chinese literature and art may derive from the pervasion of consumerism and money worship. These trends prevent artists from reaching deep into society to find the most vivid materials -- the method that Xi called for in the meeting.
       Down with such pervasion ! (?)

       Though I have to admit Xi's speech did give me the giggles -- the thought that he could take himself seriously (much less believe any 'artist' might) ..... Read the rest of this post

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13. Toni Morrison's papers to Princeton

       Princeton University has announced that Nobel laureate Toni Morrison's papers will join their library-collection -- about 180 linear feet worth (and counting, presumably). No word, alas, how much they shelled out for the collection.
       Recall that a 1993 Christmas Day fire at one of Morrison's houses fortunately apparently did not badly damage what was at hand there at the time. Already then, then Schomburg Center chief Howard Dodson said: "The whole world wants her papers".
       (He also said:

he and Ms. Morrison, friends for about seven years, have discussed the possibility that some of her papers would be left to the Schomburg Center, which she has long supported, but no formal agreement has been reached.
       Guess that didn't work out.)

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14. Marilynne Robinson profile

       In The Telegraph Jane Mulkerrins profiles Marilynne Robinson: the Pulitzer Prize winning author on her new book.

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15. Handke: abolish the Nobel Prize !

       Sore loser ? Annoyed by the annual distraction ? Whatever the case, Peter Handke thinks it's time to abolish the damn thing -- the Nobel Prize in Literature: that's what he said Thursday, Die Presse reports.
       He argues: it brings a brief bit of attention, 'six [!] pages in the newspaper', but that's about it. (Americans meanwhile shake their heads even more -- what newspaper would have six pages of laureate coverage ?)
       It can't all be sour grapes: he thinks this year's selection an excellent one -- and you can take his word for it: he's translated two of Modiano's books into German, Une jeunesse (see the Suhrkamp publicity page) and La Petite Bijou.
       (A pretty decent stamp of approval, to have been translated by Handke -- and a reminder, yet again, how few prominent English-writing authors also translate, while a world-class author like Handke thinks it's important enough to occupy himself with ....)
       I wonder whether he'll take up a petition among his prominent-author-buddies. And whether the Swedish Academy will hold this against him ..... Read the rest of this post

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16. De Sade exhibit

       A Marquis de Sade exhibit, 'Sade, attaquer le soleil', has opened at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris -- complete with supplementary website and near-X-rated video trailer, Une exposition, un regard.
       See also the AFP article -- here at the Daily Star --, High art or vile pornography ? Marquis de Sade explored in Paris exhibit. (And while I admire his monomaniacal writing, I'm not so sure about the news that: "Next month in France Ubisoft will release a video game based on Sade".)

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17. Sergei Dovlatov profile

       Eurozine reprints Vladimir Yermakov's look at Sergei Dovlatov, dissident sans idea, considering the dichotomy that 'All but invisible in his home country, Sergei Dovlatov became something of a mythical figure among the Russian diaspora of New York'.
       Dovlatov's Pushkin Hills was recently published, complete with James Wood Afterword (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), but I'm afraid I don't see, for example, -- as Wood does -- that it: "is funny on every page", etc.
       But, hey, they named a street after him ..... Read the rest of this post

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18. Mikita Brottman Q & A

       At boingboing they have a Q & A with The Solitary Vice-author Mikita Brottman, Solitary Vices: Mikita Brottman on the Books in Her Life.

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19. Man Booker Prize

       They've announced that The Narrow Road to the Deep North (by Richard Flanagan) has been awarded the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
       See also Flanagan's acceptance speech, as well as a fairly recent Q & A Dwyer Murphy has at Guernica with Richard Flanagan: More Corpses Than Words.
       Two Flanagan titles are under review at the complete review -- Gould's Book of Fish and Wanting -- but I can't see myself getting to this one: POWs, forced labor, etc.: all not realy subject-matter I want to read at any length about (in a work of fiction).
       But see the publicity pages for the book at Chatto & Windus and Alfred A. Knopf, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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20. (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards ?

       Another prize for which Richard Flanagan's Man Booker-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North is presumably a favorite is the 2014 (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards -- but that prize seems to be MIA (or rather: missing in inaction).
       Last year, they announced the shortlists on 17 June and the winners on 15 August; this year ... they haven't even announced the shortlists (though apparently the judging panels submitted them weeks ago). In The Australian Stephen Romei now reports on this odd Long wait for Prime Minister's Literary Awards shortlist.

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21. 'World Editions'

       In The Bookseller Anna James reports that Visser of De Geus launches English language publisher -- which is to be called World Editions. (The current World Editions site doesn't quite capture the English-language-publication version that's coming.)
       They kindly sent me ARCs of their forthcoming (in early 2015) first four volumes and it's a promising start. The most notable title is Linda Boström Knausgård's The Helios Disaster (see, for example, the review in the Swedish Book Review) -- yes, she is the wife of that struggling Norwegian author .....
       I'm very excited to see their ambitious program (twenty titles in 2015 !) -- and am very pleased that they are already working towards translating 25 Dutch and Flemish authors in time for the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair (when the Netherlands and Flanders are guests of honour at the book fair).

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22. Fall issue of Asypmtote

       The October 2014 issue of Asypmtote is now available online, with a theme of: 'mythology'.
       Lots of great material, so just work your way through.

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23. (American) National Book Awards finalists

       They've announced the finalists for the (American) National Book Awards.
       As usual: I haven't reviewed or read any of these (though at least I have a copy of the Marilynne Robinson, and am intrigued by the Rabih Alameddine).

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24. Donna Leon, not in Italian

       In The Guardian Lizzy Davies explores Who is the real Italian novelist writing as Elena Ferrante ? as the identity-hiding author (of The Days of Abandonment, etc.) has really taken off as of late -- but what I found most interesting in the article was something I hadn't realized: that:

Donna Leon, an American writer based at the other end of Italy from Naples, in Venice, has seen her Commissario Brunetti detective novels published around the world -- but she refuses to let them be published in Italian for fear it will spoil her relative invisibility.
       Surely they'd sell pretty well there, too, so she's a writer who is actually leaving a decent pot of cash on the table; quite remarkable.

       (As to Elena Ferrante's identity: who cares ? As with practically all fiction my advice is: ignore the author, read the books.)

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25. Cobra review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Deon Meyer's latest thriller, Cobra.

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