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<<November 2014>>
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Viewing Blog: the Literary Saloon, Most Recent at Top
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1. Nigerian Writers Series

       Hoping to emulate the success of the African Writers Series -- see, for example, my review of James Currey's history of The African Writers Series and the Launch of African Literature, Africa Writes Back -- the Association of Nigerian Authors.has launched a Nigerian Writers Series, now announcing the first ten titles (from fifty total and thirty-eight 'valid' submissions) that will be published by a variety of Nigerian publishers.
       See also Henry Akubuiro in The Sun on the New dawn for Nigerian writers this might facilitate.
       Sounds like a good idea, in any case, and I hope to eventually see some of these titles.

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2. Athens Prize for Literature

       As Theodoros Grigoriadis reports at his weblog, they've announced this year's winners of the Greek Athens Prize for Literature, with Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena winning the best translated category (dominated by translations from the English; see the shortlist, which included titles by Coetzee, McEwan, Banville, and Hollinghurst) and Tηλέμαχος Κώτσιας' Kώδικας Τιμής taking the Greek novel prize (see also the Ψυχογιός publicity page).

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3. Bookselling in ... the US

       In The Los Angeles Times Frank Shyong describes how To Survive in the U.S., Chinese Bookstores Evolve Way Beyond Books.

Internet competition has forced bookstores across the nation to close, but in the San Gabriel Valley, they've evolved. Chinese bookstores ship packages, repair laptops, supply lottery tickets. One bookstore became a classroom, another a convenience store.
As for books, they mostly gather dust.

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4. I hadn't understood review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Diego De Silva's I hadn't understood.
       The second in De Silva's series is about to come out -- My Mother-in-Law Drinks; see the Europa editions publicity page, or pre-order your cppy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- but I figured I should get to this one first.

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5. Cervantes Prize to Juan Goytisolo

       The Premio de Literatura en Lengua Castellana Miguel de Cervantes is the biggest Spanish-language author prize, and they've finally gotten around to giving it to the greatest -- and by far the most important -- living Spanish-writing author, Juan Goytisolo (though they haven't gotten around to mentioning that at the official site yet, last I checked ...); see, for example, the Latin American Herald Tribune report, Juan Goytisolo Wins 2014 Cervantes Prize.
       The Premio Cervantes has an impressive list of winners -- including Alejo Carpentier (1977), Jorge Luis Borges (1979), Octavio Paz (1981), Carlos Fuentes (1987), Miguel Delibes (1993), Mario Vargas Llosa (1994), and Álvaro Mutis (2001) -- but of course they'll never be able to live down not giving Gabriel García Márquez the prize, and they took their time with this other big-omission-to-date; thankfully, they came to their senses.
       There aren't too many incontestable all-time literary greats around right now -- Handke is one of the few in the same league -- but there's little doubt that Goytisolo is one of them. No doubt, actually.

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6. IMPAC award longlist

       The bizarre literary prize that is the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award has announced its longlist -- 142 books, a (sort of) impressive 49 in translation, originally written in 16 languages.
       On the one hand, it's a neat idea -- libraries from around the world nominate books ! On the other hand, it's a batty idea -- libraries from select few libraries in parts of the world (preferably apparently not ... off-color parts of the world) nominate (far too often local) works.
       Yes, this is a prize which has as many nominators (one) from Liechtenstein as it does from all of Africa. More nominators from Iceland (one) than Japan (zero). More nominators from the Caribbean (two -- Jamaica and Barbados) than all of South America (one -- Brazil).
       And of course nationalism rules the day (surely the first rule here should be: you can't nominate a book by an author from the country you represent). So, for example, the National Library of Liechtenstein nominated ... Kurt J. Jaeger's The Abyssinian Cache because ... well, of course they did -- who wouldn't have ? Because you've seen The Abyssinian Cache at your local library/bookstore/friend's house. Amazon ranking 5,956,751 ? Pah -- it's published (meaning in this case also: self-published) by illustrious ... Windsor Verlag, with which you're as familiar as you are with Kurt J. Jaeger (who admirably and industriously also self-translated his masterpiece). (In case you unfathomably haven't gotten a copy for yourself yet: see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
       Look: I don't know, Kurt J. Jaeger may be the next coming of Günter Grass, Thomas Bernhard, and W.G.Sebald rolled into one -- but this sure smells to me like a hometown boy being put up for a prize that is way, way out of his league.
       Somehow, among the 141 other international contenders not a single work written in Arabic or Japanese makes the cut ? Sure, impressively a title translated from the Malay is in the mix -- but, hey, guess what: it was nominated by the National Library of Malaysia. For god's sake, the 'Literature Translation Institute of Korea Library' nominated two titles whose translation into English their parent organization subsidized -- how is that okay ? how is that permissible ? (And why is one of those -- At Least We Can Apologize by Lee Ki-ho -- listed on the 2015 Printable Longlist but not on the list of The Nominees ? I know it's hard to keep track of so many titles, but ... sheesh.)

       Anyway, the result is a mix of some really good stuff and ... works by ... how shall I put it politely ? less widely recognized ? local authors such as Kurt J. Jaeger. One hopes the judges will be able to separate the wheat from The Abyssinian Cache the chaff.

       A fair number of the nominated titles are under review at the complete review (and I'm also surprised by how many more I've read but didn't get around to reviewing) -- alas, not (yet ?) The Abyssinian Cache:

       The shortlist will be announced in April -- but, boy, do they have their work cut out for them trying to (re)gain the slightest bit of credibility .....

       See also M.Lynx Qualey on The Curious Relationship Between the IMPAC Prize and Arabic Literature at Arabic Literature (in English).

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7. García Márquez archive to Harry Ransom Center

       They've announced that Nobel Prize-Winning Author Gabriel García Márquez's Archive Acquired by The University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center.
       How much they paid is, alas, not revealed, but no doubt serious money was involved -- Maggie Galehouse reports in the Houston Chronicle that the National Library in Colombia had been negotiating for the papers, but they obviously couldn't come up with the money the Texans have at their disposal.
       Among the items are not only his manuscripts but also: "the Smith Corona typewriters and computers" he used.

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8. Bookselling in ... Taiwan

       At CNN Johan Nylander reports on Nightclubs for literature ? Why book selling is booming in Taiwan, looking at the success of the Eslite book chain -- as, for example:

The Eslite store in central Taipei opens 24 hours and has more night owl visitors than most Western bookstores could dream of during their daytime hours.
       But, yes:
Eslite's success may seem counter-intuitive especially when it seems most late-night visitors treat it like a library, leaving empty handed after hours of free reading.

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9. Strand bookstore profile

       In this week's issue of New York Christopher Bonanos profiles New York's enormous ('18 Miles of Books') Strand bookstore, in The Strand's Stand: How It Keeps Going in the Age of Amazon.
       Certainly, the fact that in 1996 they bought the building that houses the store (and thus are able to set their own rent, and collect rent on much of the remaining space) makes survival a lot easier (though one hopes they recall that the similarly legendary Gotham Book Mart also owned its prime real estate, and that didn't work out so well ...).
       I used to live nearby, and frequented it frequently (along with doing the rounds of all the other now-lost neighborhood bookstores); I still need my regular fix -- monthly or so -- but the 2003 renovation took a lot of the soul out of the place and it isn't quite the treasure-trove it used to be. ("Fifteen percent of the store's revenue now comes from merch", which pretty much says it all.) Still, rare is the visit when I don't pick up something (or an armload) because I know I'm unlikely to easily or ever find it anywhere else ever again.

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10. Nagasaki review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Éric Faye's Nagasaki, the 2010 Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française winner out from Gallic Books (in the UK; coming to the US in January).

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11. Nobel's library

       The official Nobel Prize site continues to impress with the wealth of information available on it. Okay, I don't really need to know the contents of each and every of the Menus at the Nobel Banquet 1901-2013 -- but I do like stuff like that catalogue of Alfred Nobel's Private Library
       Given the criticism the literature prize gets -- especially for its early choices -- it's interesting to see what Nobel had in his own library -- and revealing that, for example, he had a tidy Tolstoy collection (much of it in Russian, no less) but not a volume by the first Nobel laureate, Sully Prudhomme (a prize Tolstoy could -- and arguably should -- have won).
       First off, the Nobel winners -- a mix of the predictable (Nordic) ones and a few of the early stand-outs: Nobel's collection included works by: Henrik Pontoppidan (1917), Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam (1916), Paul Heyse (1910), Selma Lagerlöf (1909), Rudyard Kipling (1907), and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1903). (It makes me wonder yet again about the now-forgotten Verner von Heidenstam, whose citation reads: "in recognition of his significance as the leading representative of a new era in our literature" -- what era was that ? But Nobel had a bunch of his work, and he was translated into English back in the day.)
       The only surprising missing laureate-name is Knut Hamsun, whose work was already fairly well-known before Nobel's death.
       An interesting mix of other titles, too: no Dickens, for example, but Edward Bulwer-Lytton's notorious (for its: "It was a dark and stormy night ..." opening) Paul Clifford, and overall really quite a decent literary collection (in an impressive selection of languages).
       (Also good to see: Karl Gutzkow's Die Ritter vom Geiste -- one of those big German books Arno Schmidt introduced me (and so many others) to (as noted also, of course, in my Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy).)

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12. Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards

       I noted yesterday that it was great to see the announcement of a new prize, the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature for writing in Kiswahili; among prizes already honoring work in a variety of African languages is the Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards, "for all 11 official South African languages".
       They rotate through genres, and this year was a drama year. They received 117 entries -- and 86 of those were in African languages (meaning, I'm guessing, excluding English ... (and Afrikaans ?)) -- and they have now announced the finalists; Books Live has the complete run-down, in Winners of the 2014 Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards Announced

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13. Tristana review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Margaret Jull Costa's new translation of Benito Pérez Galdós' classic, Tristana -- yes, the basis for the 1970 Luis Buñuel film with Catherine Deneuve in the title-role -- coming out from New York Review Books.

       It's apparently Pérez Galdós-revival time -- a (new ?) translation in the Everyman's Library (see the ... cover) of his masterpiece, Fortunata and Jacinta, is one of the big upcoming publications of 2015 -- but much as I'm glad to see these works reworked and him getting attention, it would be neat if some of the still untranslated fiction was (also) made available, given how many huge piles of it still haven't been. (Not that anyone could easily get their hands on the old translation of Tristana, either .....) I can see these as the easier sell, but Pérez Galdós is one of the Spanish greats, and it's about time more of his work was available in English (for the first, not -- as in these cases -- the second or third time).
       Well, maybe these, if nicely successful, will help open the floodgates.

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14. Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature

       Yes, "Major New Prize for African Literature Announced", the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature, and that's certainly very welcome.

The prize recognizes excellent writing in African languages and encourages translation from, between and into African languages.
       Which is certainly admirable -- though excellent writing in African languages might be easier to recognize if the prize weren't restricted to just one of them ... (as the prize is for: "the best unpublished manuscripts or books in Kiswahili published within two years of the award year").
       Still, as (Gikuyu-writing author) Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o notes:
Prizes have generally been used to drown African Literature in African languages under a Europhone flood. [...] I hope that this prize becomes an invitation for other African languages to do the same and much more.
       (There are/have been some (generally regional/national prizes) honoring work in African languages, but this looks like the grandest in scale to date; the money is good too)
       Let's hope prizes in other major African languages follow suit -- though the real dream is, of course, to finally see a truly pan-African prize in which submissions can be in any language.

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15. Cundill Prize in Historical Literature

       Just three weeks ago I noted that The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and A Forgotten Genocide, by Gary Bass, had picked up the Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award, and now it has picked up the next (and even more remunerative) honor, winning the Cundill Prize in Historical Literature -- a Canadian prize (that pays out in US dollars -- a tidy 75,000 for the winner).
       See the Vintage publicity page for the book, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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16. Lydia Davis reading Dag Solstad

       'Tis, sadly, already newspaper/magazine literary-silly-season -- meaning, astonishingly, things get even sillier than usual, with periodicals filling their pages (prematurely) with their 'best of the year'-selections -- see, for example, Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2014, Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction Books of 2014, and The Washington Post's The top 50 fiction books for 2014.
       Slightly more interesting than these are the contributors'/authors' favorites of the year that a variety of publications always publish -- the Times Literary Supplement's is always a favorite, The Guardian/The Observer always has a good line-up, The Spectator .....
       Among the first up this year: the New Statesman offers their: Books of the Year: NS friends and contributors choose their favourite reading of 2014.
       Worth it just for Can't and Won't-author Lydia Davis, who reveals:

One of the most interesting books for me this past year has been the latest "novel" by the much-laurelled Norwegian Dag Solstad.
       (As longtime readers know, I revere Shyness and Dignity-author Dag Solstad, the Scandinavian author -- along with, perhaps, Per Olov Enquist -- most deserving of the Nobel Prize, if they dare pick anyone from that region anytime soon.)
       Even more impressively:
Since the book, known familiarly over there as "Telemark novel" (its full title is long), does not exist in English, I have been struggling, happily, to make what I can of it in Norwegian
       Way to go Ms. Davis !
       (The book is -- suggested English title -- The Insoluble Epic Element in Telemark in the Years 1592-1896; see the Aschehoug Agency information page (and, hey, the opening words are, apparently: "Read slowly, one word at a time, if you want to understand what I am saying", which is presumably what Davis is doing). I'm hoping for imminent translation into English (though I'll settle for: in my lifetime -- and am tempted to seek out a Norwegian copy, to try to make my way through it Davis-style ...).)

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17. Coming to NY: New Literature from Europe festival

       This year's New Literature from Europe festival -- Crossing Borders: Europe Through the Lens of Time -- is on 5 and 6 December.
       As always, a nice little line-up (though the only title under review at the complete review so far is Viviane, by Julianne Deck).

       Flabbergasting, however: the site with the URL newlitfromeurope.org -- surely the one you'll be pointed to if you 'Google' (or whatever you do) for 'New Literature from Europe' -- only offers information about last year's festival, while the official site for this year's festival is apparently newlitfromeurope.wordpress.com. Why not update the old site (archiving the 2013 information there too, so it's nicely all together ...) ?

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18. Coming to NY: Russian Literature Week !

       It's Russian Literature Week ! 1 to 5 December.
       Some pretty interesting-sounding panels, definitely worth a look.

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19. 'Public Domain Rank' for authors ?

       Allen B. Riddell's 'Public Domain Rank: Identifying Notable Individuals with the Wisdom of the Crowd' (see abstract or (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) full text) is an interesting attempt at: "identifying authors of notable works throughout history". The main purpose is to identify works coming into the public domain -- determining which ones are most worth preserving -- but the methodology also works for authors whose work won't be in the public domain for quite a while, with Riddell suggesting:

A second application arise from treating the Public Domain Rank as a general, independent index of an individual's importance for contemporary audiences.
       So how well does this thing work ?
       Admirably (and entertainingly) there's an easy-to-use Public Domain Rank Browser -- allowing anyone to see for themselves.
       The results are ... actually rather disappointing.
       Okay, I've been complaining that Arno Schmidt hasn't been getting his due -- hence my Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy (you've got your copy, right ?) -- but does he really rank just 62nd among authors who died in 1979 ?
       Okay, maybe I'm a little too close to that one; how about Brecht -- 17th among authors who died in 1956 ? And among authors who died in 1989, surely I'm not alone in believing Samuel Beckett (12th) and Thomas Bernhard (33rd) rate higher ?
       How about a bumper year like 1970 ? Some authors of considerable note who died that year fare pretty poorly:
  • S.Y.Agnon - 21st
  • John Dos Passos - 22
  • Paul Celan - 54
  • John O'Hara - 57
  • Jean Giono - 68
  • Erich Maria Remarque - 77
  • Stanley Edgar Hyman - 86
  • Unica Zürn - 146
  • Nelly Sachs - 173
  • François Mauriac - 188
  • Mishima Yukio - 373 (or thereabouts -- it's hard to keep track that far down the list)
       Do these rankings really reflect their relative: "importance for contemporary audiences" (especially when you consider some of the higher-ranked names) ? Methinks ... not so much.
       And consider even a year long in the public domain -- 1910, where the top four author are, in order:
  1. Ambrose Bierce
  2. Mark Twain
  3. Goldwin Smith
  4. Leo Tolstoy
       Any formula that puts Goldwin Smith ahead of Tolstoy ... maybe not entirely reliable.
       Still, fun to play with, and maybe a decent place to start. But it could certainly use some tinkering.

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20. David R. Godine profile

       In the Boston Globe Mark Shanahan profiles David R. Godine (of the eponymous publishing house), in Beyond sales, Boston publisher's devotion speaks volumes.
       Godine now famously published (and kept in print) a couple of Patrick Modiano titles, even as for year they were ... not exactly flying off the shelves ("I couldn't sell them to Chicago for landfill", in his words), which has now paid off (see, for example, my review of Honeymoon). But that's just the tip of an excellent list -- notable also for its many Georges Perec titles.

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21. (American) National Book Awards

       They've announced the winners of the 2014 (American) National Book Awards.
       Redeployment, by Phil Klay, won the fiction prize; I can imagine almost no circumstances under which I would review this title, but see the Penguin Press publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.com, or pre-order it at Amazon.co.uk.

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22. Cubanabooks

       The number of recently and newly-founded presses devoted to literature in translation continues to impress -- the promising Deep Vellum just released its first title, for example, and the still very young Hispabooks has already done an impressive job of bringing literature from Spain to English-speaking readers in a very short time.
       New to me is Cubanabooks, but a just-received stack of their six fiction titles easily wins me over. With a focus on: "contemporary literature by Cuban women writers" they offer the sort of things we're unlikely to otherwise see -- and, impressively, their books are bilingual editions; in a country (the US) where Spanish is widely spoken and read, that seems like a great way of making these works accessible to the largest possible audience, from native speakers more comfortable reading the originals to those without any Spanish who can rely entirely on the translated versions.
       Surely worth a closer look -- the just-released The Bleeding Wound, by Mirta Yáñez looks like a great place to satrt; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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23. Kertész Q & A

       At hlo they reprint an excerpt from An interview with Imre Kertész by Thomas Cooper from The Hungarian Quarterly.
       See also my review of Kertész's The Holocaust as Culture, which is mentioned here and surely deserves to get more attention than it has so far.

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24. Korean Literature Translation Awards

       The Korea Times prints the judges' report -- by Brother Anthony, Jung Ha-yun, and Min Eun-kyung -- for the 45th Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards.
       One of their more positive reports in recent years -- though sad/interesting to note: "In the poetry category, only four entries were received". But at least fiction-translation seems to be thriving.

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25. The Three-Body Problem review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem -- one of this year's most anticipated translations, as the first blockbuster science fiction title out China to make it into English.

       Interesting publishing side-notes: after some back-and-forth publisher Tor went with a Western-style arrangement for the author's name on the cover: 'Cixin Liu'. While Japanese authors' names have long been written 'Western' style ('Yukio Mishima', 'Haruki Murakami') only recently have publishers ventured to 'westernize' Korean names ('Young-ha Kim' and 'Kyung-sook Shin' are the first to get the Western treatment, while, for example, Dalkey Archive Press' Library of Korean Literature still adheres to the Korean-(/Chinese-/Japanese-)style of writing family names first ('Mao Zedong')), and I can't recall seeing it used for a translation-from-the Chinese (well, excluding also-English-writing authors like Zhang Ailing). (House style at the complete review is home-turf style wherever the book was first published -- hence: 'Liu Cixin' (and 'Kertész Imre, etc.).) I am curious to see whether this takes.

       On a more troubling note: the work is translated by Ken Liu -- but the copyright page insists:

English translation © 2014 by China Educational Publications Import & Export Corp. Ltd
       That's just outrageous.

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