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<<November 2014>>
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Viewing Blog: the Literary Saloon, Most Recent at Top
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1. 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 (as the prize is for: "the best unpublished manuscripts or books in Kiswahili published within two years of the award year").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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. (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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. '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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12. 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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13. Whitbread Costa shortlists

       They've announced the category shortlists for the Whitbread Costa Book Awards -- though not yet at the official site, last I checked .... See, for example, the report in The Telegraph.
       None of these titles are under review at the complete review, but I do have and will be getting to the Ali Smith (and, if/when I get my hands on a copy, possibly the Neel Mukherjee).

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14. 'Literary' agents

       At The New Republic Stephen Akey writes about 'The problem with literary agents', in My Book Is Not About Vampires or Childhood Trauma. I'm Doomed.
       "I have no problem with the role played by literary agents as cultural gatekeepers", he claims -- but he does seem to have a problem: not with the abstract ideal of such agents as cultural gatekeepers, but the reality of how they perform that role -- concluding that:

in mediating between writer and publisher, the agencies build in an extra layer of exactly what is not needed: more conservatism and caution.
       You know where I stand -- at a safe and cautious ten-foot-pole distance -- but always fun to see yet another perspective on the peculiar business that is the publishing industry.

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15. Poetry in ... Poland

       At Eurozine they reprint Lukasz Wojtusik's Q & A with Polish poet Ewa Lipska from New Eastern Europe, A musician of words.
       For a Lipska-sampler, check out The New Century; see the Northwestern University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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16. New issue(s)/look for list

       _list Books from Korea has a new (confusing and messy) look to their site, which doesn't seem to be quite all there yet. The Summer, 2014 issue, which I had not previously seen/linked to is conveniently available; the current one -- apparently with a lot of Ko Un coverage, which you can access via the main page -- not so much.
       I hope they make it more functional/user-friendly, but meanwhile there's some interesting stuff to be found in the summer issue, including the usual reviews.

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17. Leave Me Alone review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Novel of Chengdu by Murong Xuecun, Leave Me Alone.
       This first came out in English from Allen & Unwin in Australia, in 2009, and has now been picked up by Make Do/Forty-six in the UK.

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18. Translations from ...Chinese

       The Translation Databases at Three Percent offer a good overview of most of what has been translated into English and published in the US in 2014, from all languages (though the upcoming long overdue update will certainly offer a better picture ...), but it can still be helpful to have more specific lists -- like Paper Republic's 2014 translations from Chinese -- a bumper crop.
       This doesn't quite overlap with the Three Percent list, as it includes both US and UK publications (Mo Yan's Frogs, for example, is only coming out in the US in 2015, and will thus only be included on next year's database), but gives a good sense of what has been translated.
       Surprisingly, almost a quarter of the fiction is under review at the complete review -- four titles, with another to follow later this week:

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19. Mao's little book

       Among the bestselling books of all time (okay, like that other big 'seller', the Bible, more copies were probably given away than actually sold) is Mao Tse-Tung's (as he was called/transliterated, back in the day) so-called 'Little Red Book' (actual title: Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung; get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
       At (New York's) Grolier Club they have a 50th anniversary exhibit -- see also the coverage in The New York Times. It sounds pretty neat, and I will certainly be going to have a look. (My own appreciated-for-its-pocket-size copy is a Foreign Language Press one from 1967.)
       And I am also really curious about Mao's Little Red Book: A Global History, edited by Alexander C. Cook, and will try to get my hands on a copy; see the Cambridge University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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20. Dwight Garner Q & A

       At The New York Times' 'Times Insider' Susan Lehman has a Book Reviewer Tell-All: Dwight Garner on Reading, Reviewing and Avoiding Blindness with The New York Times' book reviewer.
       Always of interest to me: how many books other reviewers/outlets have to deal with -- and Garner says: "I get about 25 books a day in the mail". By comparison, I -- admittedly better able to keep the unsolicited titles at bay -- have gotten 466 review copies to (yesterday's) date in 2014 -- less than a book and a half a day; at a 25-per-day rate I would be entombed in my apartment in short order (admittedly: not the worst fate I could imagine) -- I can barely handle sorting, and especially deaccessioning, from the trickle I do get .....
       (By further comparison: I have reviewed 173 books to date in 2014 -- not many less than have been reviewed in the daily edition of The New York Times so far this year .....)

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21. Jaume Cabré profile

       Jaume Cabré's Confessions is now out in English (in the UK ... and elsewhere, having apparently already sold 60,000 copies in Poland; see Bestsellery z wysokiej półki), and in The Scotsman David Robinsom profiles Jaume Cabré: Barcelona's literary superstar.
       See also the Arcadia publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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22. Margaret Drabble Q & A

       At The Believer online, Lydia Perović has a Q & A with A.S.Byatt's sister, Margaret Drabble, a fine writer in her own right.
       I certainly like her attitude towards historical fiction ("I know the plot. I know my Shakespeare. I know what happened. I don't need to read it to find out.").
       And then there's her take on (The Sea, the Sea, etc.-)author Iris Murdoch:

Basically, she was an androgynous figure. She wasn't really a woman; she wasn't a man, but she wasn't a woman. She was married to this elderly professor...
       Still, can't disagree re. Bayley's Iris ..... Read the rest of this post

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23. Books in ... Burma

       At CNN Alisha Haridasani reports that Myanmar comes in from cold with bookish revival, finding a literary and reading revival -- though with a long way to go:

A local library I visited in Bagan was a case in point -- bookshelves creaking under the weight of unloved, mildew-covered books, most of them obscure and unrecognizable. According to a survey by the Asia Foundation, almost 90% of books at libraries such as this one are religious texts.
       See also the (limited) index of books from and about Burma under review at the complete review.

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24. German literary prize: Bremer Literaturpreis

       It seems like one -- or indeed several -- German literary prizes are being awarded daily, and yesterday they announced that Marcel Beyer takes this year's Bremer Literaturpreis -- a rare German literary prize awarded for a specific title, Beyer's Graphit, in thsi case.
       A €20,000 prize barely seems worth a mention -- but the list of winners suggests this is one is worth paying some attention to: consider, they've given the award to: Clemens Meyer (2014), Wolf Haas (2013) Friederike Mayröcker (2011), Clemens J. Setz (2010), W.G.Sebald (2002), Elfriede Jelinek (1996), Peter Handke (1988), Volker Braun (1986), Peter Weiss (1982), Christa Wolf (1978), Thomas Bernhard (1965), Paul Celan (1958), and Ingeborg Bachmann (1957), among others.
       Equally impressively, their 'Förderpreis', for up-and-coming authors recognized talents such as Herta Müller (1985) and Durs Grünbein (1992) early on.

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25. German literary prize: Roswitha Literaturpreis

       The Roswitha-Preis is apparently the German variation on the English-language prize that use to be called the Orange Prize -- though it's been around considerably longer.
       At €5,500 it's not a huge money prize -- but that winner's list is a knock-out: future Nobel laureates were recognized way early on: Elfriede Jelinek in 1978 (!) and Herta Müller in (1990), and other winners include Aichinger, Mayröcker, Sarah Kirsch, Irmtraud Morgner, Julia Franck -- and die Grande Dame des deutschen Comics, Dr. Erika Fuchs.
       They've announced this year's prize-winner: it's Gertrud Leutenegger.

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