On this week’s podcast, we welcome National Book Critics Circle board member Carolyn Kellogg to talk about the NBCC awards, the changes to the National Book Award (which set me off on a bit of a paranoid rant), Bookish and its suckishness, and a variety of other literary topics.Read More...
This weekend, the National Book Critics Circle announced the finalists for its books wards for publishing 2011 and—not to bury the lede—including Dubravka Ugresic’s Karaoke Culture as one of the five finalists in the Criticism category.
This is the first major book award that one of titles has been nominated for (not counting the BTBA), and we’re extremely psyched. I’ve been on and on and on about this book for the past year, which makes this news just that much sweeter. To celebrate this honor, we’re selling copies of Karaoke Culture through our website for the special price of $9.99.
OR, if you’d rather become an Open Letter supporter and receive all of our fantastic books, you can buy a subscription and we’ll throw in a copy of Karaoke Culture for free.
Going back to the NBCCs, I have to say, the Criticism category is the very definition of LOADED. Check out this list of finalists:
Bellos, Lethem, Ugresic, AND Dyer?!?!? Damn. That’s all I can say.
By contrast, the other categories—all of which contain a few truly excellent books—seem tame. You can read the full press release and list of all finalists by clicking here. And here are my picks for which titles should win in the various categories:
Congrats to everyone, and special congrats to Dubravka Ugresic, David Williams, Ellen Elias-Bursac, and Celia Hawkesworth!
A couple weeks ago, the National Book Critics Circle hosted a panel at Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City entitled “Why Translation Matters?” and featuring Sarah Fay, Christopher Merrill, Cole Swenson, Russell Valentino, (incorrectly identified as Rudolph Valentino on the NBCC info page, which isn’t necessarily the worst person to be mistaken for) and Robin Hemley. (More on all of them below.)
I remember hearing about this panel and hoping that it would be recorded and made available at some point, and thankfully, it now is.
Here’s a bit from the NBCC on all the participants:
Sarah Fay is an advisory editor at The Paris Review. Her work appears regularly in the New York Times Book Review, The Paris Review, Bookforum, and The American Scholar, among others. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature at the University of Iowa.
Christopher Merrill has published four collections of poetry, including Brilliant Water and Watch Fire, for which he received the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages, his journalism appears in many publications, and he is the book critic for the daily radio news program, The World. He now directs the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa.
Cole Swensen is the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently Ours (University of California Press, 2008). Her work has been short-listed for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Award and won the Iowa Prize, the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award, and the National Poetry Series. A 2007 Guggenheim Fellow, she is the co-editor of the Norton Anthology American Hybrid and a professor at the Iowa Writers Workshop.
Russell Scott Valentino is a translator and scholar based in Iowa City, Iowa. He has published eight books and numerous essays and short translations of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from Italian, Croatian, and Russian. He is the publisher of Autumn Hill Books and Editor of The Iowa Review.He teaches in Iowa’s Translation Workshop.
Robin Hemley is the author of eight books of fiction and nonfiction, most recently Do-Over (Little, Brown). His work has been anthologized widely and he is the recipient of numerous awards including a 2008 Guggenheim, The Nelson Algren Award for Fiction, an Editor’s Choice Book Award for Nonfiction from The American Library Association, and two Pushcart Prizes. He currently directs UI’s Nonfiction Writing Program.
Just announced: Roberto Bolano’s 2666 has won the 2008 National Book Critic Circle Award for Fiction. It’s always great to see a translation win a NBCC. (I might be mistaken, but I think the last book to do it was Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl back a few years ago.)
Last month, Marcela Valdes wrote a profile of 2666 for the NBCC blog:
We will never know what ending Roberto Bolaño would have placed at the finale of his extraordinary novel 2666. Though he worked furiously on the book during the last years of his life, he died in Barcelona in 2003, before he could ever complete it.
Assuming, that is, that the supposed sixth part is bunk. . . .
But seriously, 2666 is a brilliant, demanding, deserving novel, and Marcela does a great job summing it up:
It begins with the passion four literary critics feel for the novels of a mysterious author named Benno von Archimboldi and ends with the tender attachment that Archimboldi himself feels for his younger sister. In between lie perhaps the most harrowing 284 pages in modern literature: a tour of the fictional town of Santa Teresa, Mexico, that includes clinical descriptions of 108 murders, all of them of women and girls. [. . .]
Bolaño’s novel is a carefully researched indictment of the circumstances that led to this war and to the murder of more than 400 women and girls in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. It is also, however, more than a book about Mexico. By casting his narrative net so widely—over Nazi soldiers and sympathizers, over Mexican cops and narcos, over Black Panthers and American sheriffs, over lonely detectives and writers, over Romanians and Argentines and Frenchmen—Bolaño assembles arguments for a sexy, apocalyptic vision of history. One that recognizes the constant presence of brutality and impunity, and love and courage in our world.
Congrats to FSG, Natasha Wimmer, Lorin Stein, and everyone else involved in the publication and promotion of this epic novel.
On Saturday, the NBCC announced the finalists for the series of awards they hand out every year. As always, all of the finalists are pretty strong, and there are two works in translation up for prizes. Bolano’s 2666 is a fiction finalist, and Pierre Martory’s The Landscapist is a poetry finalist.
I must say, I’m not entirely sure why the official listing of the NBCC site references John Ashbery as the translator of the Martory, but doesn’t list Natasha Wimmer as the translator of 2666. Probably an oversight, and not the only place where translator’s names tend to disappear (try looking through a publisher’s catalog some time and guessing whether certain books are translated or not), but still . . .
I was half-watching the live blog of this event, and liked Monica de la Torre’s comment that it was nice that 2666 was honored,
but had hoped that other books in translation would have received more attention in this year’s awards season as well. “There’s just so much out there!“ she exclaimed.
It’s also really cool that the PEN America Center is receiving the NBCC’s Ivan Sandrof Life Achievement Award. Very cool and very deserving.
America has always had one of the lowest literacy rates in the western world. The former book review editor of the LA Times, Steve Wasserman put it bluntly. “Reading has always been a minority taste in America,” he said, “and that’s OK.” But I think what we’re seeing now is something new which has to do with how a culture operates when all values become subservient to that of making money – when reading is not supported either from on top and from below.
I like Freeman’s take—and the aggressive way he points out the flaws in the overall system.
At the same time, the industries which support reading have been ground up and fed through the increasing corporatisation of American life. Book publishers and newspapers have been bought up by giant conglomerates. Publishers, once mildly profitable, have been forced to keep up with blockbuster driven media; newspapers, once wildly profitable, have been used as cash cows. And now that the media companies are done with these newspapers, those same owners are cutting back on all forms of news, including book pages.
This is something I completely agree with. To go a bit further, the rush for sales, for money, for readers, is, in my opinion, resulting in the production of a lot of craptastic books. Books I’m happy no one is reading. Great literature is out there, but you have to wade through mountains of shit to find it, and if people who don’t read a lot get caught up in the shit, I can’t imagine why they’d want to continue spending their time reading. TV is way more entertaining. . .
OK, I’ll get off my soapbox and let Freeman point out some of the good things going on:
In fairness, some attempts are being made to counteract these trends. The National Endowment of the Arts has started up a program called The Big Read, which turns entire cities into book clubs. Online sites and journals like The Complete Review and the new and improved Bookforum have started up to counteract the loss of book coverage in the media. On television, shows like the Colbert Report and the Daily Show dedicate half of their entire program to conversation with an author. And Dave Eggers has turned his McSweeney’s journal into an empire of generosity, starting up drop-in tutoring centers like 826 NYC and 826 Seattle. Visit one of these and it’s hard to doubt the lure of reading and writing.
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.
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .