Over at Critical Mass, the blog of the National Book Critics Circle, Mark Athitakis has been running a series of interviews with literary websites. To date he’s talked with Andrew Altschul of The Rumpus, C. Max Magee of The Millions, Scott Esposito of The Quarterly Conversation, and Steve Donoghue of Open Letters Monthly.
All of these interviews have been fantastic, and today, Three Percent was fortunate enough to be included in the series. So if you’re interested in finding out more about the site you’re currently reading, head over to Critical Mass . . .
Actually you should head over there for all of the great Critical Mass content, such as the Critical Library series, the What I’m Looking Forward to Reading series (which happens to include a plug for Jakov Lind’s Ergo from Wayne Koestenbaum), and The Next Decade in Book Culture series.
Critical Mass — the official blog of the National Book Critics Circle — always has great (though depressing) coverage about the decline of book reviews in America. And yesterday, they ran a piece by Mark Athitakis (Arts Editor at the Washington City Paper) on book reviewing in alt-weeklies that’s very cogent and interesting.
As he points out at the start, alt-weeklies are facing a lot of the same circulation and money issues that daily papers are. And the alt-weeklies — which I still think of as a steady outlet for reviews of non-mainstream books — are cutting back in books coverage as well. But the door still remains “slightly ajar” for a book critic to get into these papers, and his article has a number of recommendations to critics on how to enter said door.
The recommendation that I find most interesting is this one:
3. Zig When Everybody Else Is Zagging. Given the thinning of book-review sections at daily newspapers, alt-weeklies have a great opportunity to pick up the slack. (Alas and thank goodness, my local daily, the Washington Post, remains a bright light when it comes to book coverage.) Look at your local daily and see what they’re not doing.
Let me guess: Not a lot of coverage of books from local presses, especially ones from university presses that could easily have wider appeal. Probably few independent presses. Not much on books in translation. Or on graphic novels. And not a lot of fun: No imaginative roundups, no visual thinking, no attempts at literary treatments of the current news, no attempts at humor that go beyond being sagely droll.
And yet freelancers occasionally seem baffled, even offended, that I have no interest in running a review of a much publicized book. A straightforward 1,000-word review of Netherland, even a nicely turned one, is never going to appear in City Paper. I assume my readers don’t need another one of those.
Right on. This kind of diversity is exactly what we need more of. From a customer’s point of view, it seems like the book industry (which is actually bigger than ever) is collapsing in on itself, with only a dozen books at any point in time being read, discussed on NPR, reviewed widely, and displayed at bookstores. It’s my belief that we naturally want to resist this sort of narrowing, but that book trade economics make this difficult. Alt-weeklies are historically one of the places that help expand awareness about books and culture, and hopefully, even in this age of consolidation and shady buy-outs, they’ll continue to wave this flag.
Critical Mass has a list of “ten commandments” for publishers from indie publisher and author Michael Kruger:
1. Publish only the books you really love.
2. Publish only the books you love to read yourself.
3. Never publish more books than you can read.
4. Never publish a book that bores you, even if you think that you can sell it.
5. Only publish books that make you wonder.
6. Do not publish only fiction
7. Never think that books make people better.
8. Always be happy that you do not have to publish the books of your competitors.
9. Always be aware that too much reading is bad for your eyes and bad for your back.
10. Publishers who are only interested in books, are dangerous.
I second all of these. And totally agree with this comment from Dick Margulis: “Publishers who are only interested in books are much less dangerous than publishers who are only interested in satisfying their stockholders.”
Critical Mass is continuing with their Reading the World series, with the latest being Stacey D’Erasmo’s recommendation of Lis Vibeke Kristensen’s “At Finde Velde” (“A Map to Get Lost”), which sounds pretty interesting.
From Kristensen’s agent’s website:
Reykjavik 1972. In a sports hall Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky play the chess game of the century. Out on the street a red ballon escapes from the hand of a small boy and starts a tale that ties together the lives of several persons. Joyce is pregnant but would rather study dying languages in remote places, searching for freedom. Vladimira works as an interpreter for the Soviet chess delegation. Her meeting with Boris Spassky ruins her life, but gives it a meaning. Edda works as a cleaning woman while looking for a man who can give her a child. Olivier owns a hotel in Bretagne. He travels to Iceland trying to escape a childhood with a mother who knew no boundaries. A map to get lost takes place in Iceland and Paris, the Rocky Mountains and Greenland, from 1972 until the turn of the millennium. It is a story about widely different persons planning for the future and looking for a stroke of luck, who all get bypasssed by real life. A story full of narrative zest, raw humour, warmth and life.
This book is available in Danish, but has yet to be translated into English.
Anna Clark has a post at Critical Mass this morning about Reading the World, praising it for pushing people to expand their reading boundaries, but also chastising publishers for the lack of women writers included in this year’s program.
And yet, even Reading the World’s exciting project is lacking. Of the 40 titles hand-picked for the campaign, only 12 are written or edited by women.
The 70/30 gender split is, sadly, a generous one, compared to lists and articles by other translation advocates,I detailed in a recent article for Women’s eNews, but what it comes to is this: while the gender gap certainly is rooted in who does and doesn’t get published, translation advocates must be vigilant about not exacerbating the the near-erasure of women’s voices around the world.
All of this is great, and makes sense, but just to clear things up a bit, each of the participating publishers in this year’s Reading the World select the titles they’d like to include. There is little oversight, although we do try and pay attention to covering as many countries of the world as possible.
Once this blog goes live, I’ll explain in greater detail, but RTW 2008 will be a bit different and will allow us to correct the scales a bit and hopefully include more women writers.
But just to bitch for a second, there are already enough obstacles facing those who publish and promote literature in translation, and adding on one more—you must represent equal amounts of men and women writers!—is hardly conducive. It’s not as if women writers are being intentionally excluded, and when we’re talking aobut such a small percentage of books in translation, in real numbers—12 women vs. 28 men—the difference ain’t all that great. Besides, if we’re successful in getting people to read international lit, and more and more books are published in translation, the numbers may well correct themselves.
Well, before I even had a chance to hunt down all of the “What To Read This Summer” posts on Critical Mass, someone got wise and applied my suggestion and added a “What To Read” tag to all of these posts.
Which is an awesome coincidence. And definitely a coincidence, since only six people have access to this blog right now. . . .
Anyway, it’s cool that this list is accessible in one place now, and that it’s continuing into July.
Taking Eliot Weinberger’s suggestion, I’m looking forward to reading Robert Walser’s The Assistant, which is just out from New Directions. Hopefully I’ll have a review up here in the next week or two.
Now here’s some good Summer lit recommendations . . .
I wish I’d been posting these all along (and it’s real hard to catch up thanks to Critical Mass’s poor tagging—come on guys and girls!), but Critical Mass—the blog of the National Book Critics Circle—has been asking famous authors to recommend a work of international literature to read this summer. (And yes, this is related to Reading the World.) But unlike Salon’s concept of summer reading, these authors are recommending real books! Imagine that—thinking about something other than Paris Hilton while at the beach . . .
Anyway, today’s post is from Helen Oyeyemi, author of The Opposite House, who recommends Gwendolen by Buchi Emecheta, which doesn’t appear to be available in the States . . .
I’ll try and piece together a list of all the author recommendations over the weekend. It’s a pretty interesting list of authors recommending and being recommended.
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .