It doesn’t officially launch until June 1st, but Publishing Perspectives the new daily newsletter from the Frankfurt Book Fair, and run by Ed Nawotka and Hannah Johnson is off to a pretty solid start. It’s kind of a “literary VeryShortList,” featuring one interesting, well-developed story each day and some additional bonus information online.
The first week included a piece about Eva Gabrielsson, Stieg Larsson’s long-time partner, who, thanks to Swedish inheritance laws, doesn’t get a dime (er, krona) from Larsson’s sales. (She is writing a book about her experiences though.)
I can hardly be objective about reviewing this—I’m good friends with both Hannah and Ed, and really like their sensibilities—but I honestly believe that this is a perfect addition to the existing newsletters (like PW Daily, Shelf Awareness, Publishers Lunch) and publishing news sites (like GalleyCat, Literary Saloon) that are out there. It’s a fantastic approach—I’ve written this elsewhere, but one-item newsletters are the thing right now—and provides a great, um, perspective on the publishing industry.
One of the biggest books this spring—at least in terms of general coverage and growing hype—has to be Hans Fallada’s rediscovered masterpiece, Every Man Dies Alone.
It’s based on a true story of a working class couple living in Berlin during WWII who launch a “simple, clandestine resistance campaign that soon has an enraged Gestapo on their trail, and a world of terrified neighbors and cynical snitches ready to turn them in.”
The novel’s been receiving heaps of praise, including a very positive review in the New York Times Book Review that opens: “A signal literary event of 2009 has occurred.”
I should save this for my upcoming PRI post, but The World recently did a segment on The Kindly Ones and Every Man Dies Alone that included a brief conversation with Ulrich Ditzen, Fallada’s son.
All of this build-up is just to let you know that the German Book Office in New York is giving away five free copies of the beautifully produced hardcover. To get one, just e-mail Hannah Johnson at johnson at gbo dot org.
(And if you want to get future announcements from the GBO, be sure to join their Facebook Group.
It’s always great to uncover (or be told about) great new literary blogs, and last week I found about a couple of really impressive ones.
The first is Salonica World Lit which bears the slogan “Exploit. Explore. Examine. A Blog Dedicated to International Literature.” This is done by Monica Carter of Skylight Books, and, as incorporated into the title, focuses on international lit.
Recently she’s written about Stefan Zweig Amok & Other Stories, about Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Rashomon and Mandarins, and about Barcelona crime writer Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett. All the posts are well crafted, and with Monica’s bookstore connection and curiousity about world lit, this promises to be a great place to find out about new authors.
(This is kind of geeky, but I really like how her blog roll works. Rather than simply listing a bunch of blogs, it lists the title of the most recent post on each blog and allows the reader to click through and explore the literary blog world in a more connected and intuitive way. I don’t know if this is a common feature now or not—but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it and I think it’s pretty cool.)
Another great addition to the blog world is Beyond Hall 8 a blog sponsored by the Frankfurt Book Fair and serving as “a platform for discussion about book publishing from an international perspective and for an international audience.” The mission of this blog is incredibly impressive and with Thomas Minkus and Hannah Johnson involved, it’s destined for greatness. The posts about “Lookybook” (a site that provides free “previews” of children’s picture books) and the Australian Book Market are both really interesting. As a bit of statistics geek myself, I really dig the post about the Australian book market, and the fact that there are a ton of indie presses publishing in Australian that were uncounted in the last report from the Australia Bureau of Statistics . . . Nevertheless, it still shocks me to find out that there were only 851 works of adult fiction published there last year.
Our latest review is of Ror Wolf’s Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions by Hannah Johnson. Hannah works at the German Book Office and runs the blog Literary Rapture. And she’s a big fan of Lost.
Aside from the fantastically odd sample that Schoffling & Co. sent us, I’m intrigued by the fact that a story takes place in Mörfelden—the crazy suburb E.J. and I stayed in for the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Two or Three Years Later is a unique collection of short stories, many only half a page long. Each sentence has been distilled down to only the essential words, yet Wolf’s stories retain a very conversational quality. He often speaks directly to the reader, saying he is sure that the reader is curious to hear this or that about the story in question. Sometimes Wolf will cut himself off mid-sentence and begin his story again. All of these techniques make the bare bones of the writing process visible throughout this book. The reader becomes a part of the author’s struggle to find meaning in his characters and their lives, yet the confidence with which Wolf displays this struggle allows the reader to trust that there is meaning here.
The search for meaning in our everyday lives and in the lives of unknown strangers is paramount. Many episodes are told with little direct commentary, instead consisting of a series of events. On the first page of a two-and-a-half page story, “Ein Unglück im Westen, am 13. Mai” (“Misfortune in the West on May 13th”), a nameless man goes for a walk and sees a homeless man die, a car hits a tree before sinking into a nearby lake, another man falls off a roof, and a set of keys are lost in a canal. On the second page, a man sees a woman almost get hit by a bicyclist, a man reports that a body has fallen on top of his car, and while the police find out that this man is a criminal many times over, the homeless man dies at the same moment in another city. The story ends with the author telling the reader that he met the nameless man who went for a walk and wrote down his story.
This constant author-reader dialogue begs the question, where is the real story? Is the real story that of the nameless man walking down the street, or is it the story of an author writing a story? The ultimate conclusion I came to was that the process of writing, the examination of the ordinary and the extraordinary, is what is meaningful, and Wolf is seeking to create a dialogue with his readers about exactly that. Influenced by surrealism and absurdism, Wolf constantly probes the various situations that people create, and these stories reflect his satisfaction with the idea of art for art’s sake.
Admittedly, I found these stories repetitive and a bit frustrating at first. What changed my mind was the very last story, which is significantly longer than the rest and much more revealing of Wolf’s intentions. Told in the first person, this last story is broken into twelve short chapters. Set after the war, (when a nameless stranger asks the narrator which war, he replies, “any war”), the narrator drifts along on trains and boats, from Europe to Africa. In place of an author-reader dialogue is a narrator-stranger dialogue, and here Wolf reveals the questions he expects his readers to ask. I began rereading some of the earlier stories, looking for the questions I, as the reader should ask. In one very short story, Wolf writes that a man tries to grab a woman on the street, but the woman gets away, and nobody knows what the man wanted. Such a brief and seemingly meaningless account actually provokes the reader to finish reading the story, to wonder what that man really wanted.
From this perspective, Two or Three Years Later is a very engaging and active text, despite its first impression. Whether Wolf is arguing with himself over whether or not to write a story about a town called Mörfelden (and thereby writing a story about Mörfelden), or whether he recounts the uneventful events of a town hall meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, the reader cannot help but be involved in the process of creating a story.
Ror Wolf had been a mainstay in the German cultural scene since the 1960s, experimenting with collage art, radio collages, and other audio media. His star power probably encouraged many German readers to wade through this metafictional collection of stories. Although American readers—are less familiar with Ror Wolf—andmight not have the same motivation, it is ultimately worth the journey.
Zwei oder drei Jahre später. Neunundvierzig Ausschweifungen
(Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions)
By Ror Wolf
Schoeffling & Co.
English sample translated by Anthea Bell available from Schoeffling & Co.
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Think back to the last adventure- or action-type book you read. Wasn’t it cool? Didn’t it make you want to do things, like learn to shoot a crossbow, hack complicated information systems, travel to strange worlds, take on knife-wielding thugs,. . .
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