I’ve made reference to this a few different times—in a couple posts, on the podcast—but this article in today’s Frankfurt Show Daily (also available as a PDF) is the first official mention of the book that I’m writing with Stephen Sparks of Green Apple Books. (Granted, we don’t have a publisher yet, but we do have an agent — Marleen Seegers at 2Seas — so hopefully that will change soon. And besides, I’m not going to let that minor detail derail my excitement about this project and this article!)
Tentatively entitled 100 Best Translations of the Century (So Far), the book will be a sort of guide to the most interesting books that have come out (in their original language) in the past fifteen years and are also available in English translations. We plan on including representatives from as many countries as possible, highlighting titles that appeal to us for one reason or another—this could be because of the book’s structure, it’s political import, or because it has a special connection to our lives.
As you can see in the article, we want this to be fun and personal; a book that’s smart but not elitist or drily academic. I personally want people to argue with our choices of what we decided to include. I also think that readers already immersed in the world of translated literature will discover new things in this—threads connecting works from disparate cultures, ideas from one book that are reflected in another, idiosyncratic juxtapositions that open up various titles.
In addition to these hundred entries, there will be longer framing essays about different topics in international literature: international poetry, crime fiction, women in translation, books from “smaller” languages, etc.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy this article/sampler, which does unveil ten of the hundred books we will be including . . . .
From today’s PW:
The week leading to Mother’s Day was a good one for print books in general and adult fiction in particular. Unit sales of fiction titles at the outlets tracked by Nielsen BookScan rose 20% in the week driven by sales of that new favorite Mother’s Day gift—one of the titles from E.L. James’ Fifty Shades trilogy.
According to BookScan, sales of Fifty Shades of Grey jumped 40% in the week before Mother’s Day compared to the earlier week, selling almost 443,000 copies, pushing total sales to about 1.5 million at outlets tracked by BookScan.
For both of you who are reading this and have somehow avoided encountering this phenomenon, E.L. James’s Fifty Shades trilogy is basically smutty fan-fic that has become a massive thing among suburban moms. (It’s generally referred to as “mommy porn,” not because it’s about moms and porn, but because it’s the porn that mommies are willing to read. Apparently.)
But this whole thing raises a lot of issues for me. We’re such a creepy moralistic culture that people wig out with M.I.A. flips off the camera during the Super Bowl (and why not? ‘Eff you viewer and corporate America and self-indulgent, obnoxious, irritating NFL), but we’re totally cool with buying soft core porn for the women who reared us? Very strange.
I have no moral issues with any of this though. I’m glad that women in the suburbs are finding some pleasure in reading. My issue is with the smut that’s got them all on fire . . . Here’s a couple choice moments from the GoodReads quotes page for Fifty Shades of Grey:
“Does this mean you’re going to make love to me tonight, Christian?” Holy shit. Did I just say that? His mouth drops open slightly, but he recovers quickly.
“No, Anastasia it doesn’t. Firstly, I don’t make love. I fuck . . . hard. Secondly, there’s a lot more paperwork to do, and thirdly, you don’t yet know what you’re in for. You could still run for the hills. Come, I want to show you my playroom.”
My mouth drops open. Fuck hard! Holy shit, that sounds so… hot. But why are we looking at a playroom? I am mystified.
“You want to play on your Xbox?” I ask. He laughs, loudly.
“No, Anastasia, no Xbox, no Playstation. Come.” . . . Producing a key from his pocket, he unlocks yet another door and takes a deep breath.
Xbox? GROAN. But wait, there’s more:
“Why don’t you like to be touched” Ana whispered, staring up into soft grey eyes.
“Because I’m fifty shades of fucked-up, Anastasia”
Really?! The “fifty shades” thing runs throughout this book? THAT’S SO ORIGINAL.
““I am going to have coffee with Christian Grey . . . and I hate coffee.”
Is this what the good people of the suburbs refer to as “character development”?
“Holy shit. What does that mean? Does he white-slave small children to some God-forsaken part of the planet?”
OK, total props for making “white-slave” a verb. That’s the first thing in this book I can get behind. (Did you see what I did there? “Get behind.”)
“I’d like to bite that lip.”
Holy Jesus this is just TERRIBLE. There are a million variations on that construction that are hotter and more interesting: “I’d like to ace your deuce on the tennis court,” or “I’d like to conjugate your verbs,” or “I’d like to entangle my neutrons with your protons.” Whatever. But “I’d like to bit that lip”???? DO YOU EVEN HAVE AN IMAGINATION E.L. JAMES?
This post has no real place here on Three Percent, except to point out that American mainstream tastes tend to suck. We make fun of Eurovision songs and then read stuff like this? Who are we to judge? And really, is suburban life that boring? I’m sorry, American moms—your plight is not getting the attention it deserves.
As mentioned before, I’m
obsessed interested in the ways in which readers find books—especially in the New Digital Reality of Facebook comments and whatnot. The idea of a “Pandora for Books” (or maybe better, a “Last.fm for Books”) has been batted around for sometime now, and apparently a few of the big corporate publishers are putting some $$$$ into just this idea.
the main goal of Bookish is to make recommendations about books that will appeal to a reader’s particular taste. He compared the site to things like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes that mix information about movies with reviews and news. Editorial will include breaking news, author interviews, excerpts, reviews and other marketing materials that publishers feel will help readers pick a book, Lemgruber said. Although backed by Penguin, S&S and Hachette, Lemgruber stressed that Bookish will be editorially independent, covering books from all publishers (excluding vanity presses).
Penguin Group USA CEO David Shanks compared Bookish to Pandora and said unlike other sites that are driven by purchases, Bookish will make recommendations based on the information provided by consumers. “The more information readers provide the more customized the recommendations can be,” Shanks said, noting that Bookish is aimed at helping readers identify books they may like from the tens of thousands published annually. He said the three publishers came together after it became clear that their individual sites would never drive enough traffic to reach a critical mass of book buyers. As print media devotes less space to book coverage, the publishers felt they needed a way to raise the profile of their content, Shanks said.
As with the still not doing shit DiscoverReads, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak. And without being able to check out whether it recommends Harry Potter or The Pale King, based on my muted post horn tattoo it’s hard to say whether this algorithm is worth its weight in silicon. So we’ll see.
I’m all about the idea of recommending software/websites/apps/etc, mainly because I feel that the real challenge for book people in our Age of Abundance (everyone’s a writer! everyone’s a publisher! a million books is year is nothing!) is going to be hooking up the right reader with the right book at the right time. Maybe this is a step in the right direction . . .
Also curious to see how book reviewers respond to something like this. In a sense, a site that automates recommendations takes away a bit from their importance. Rather than puzzle out from a 1,000 word review if I should or shouldn’t read a book, I could just ask Bookish how well it “fits my criteria.”
It will also be interesting to find out how dispersed the recommendations are. I know there’s a better, more accurate statistical term for this that I can’t think of, but basically, will this site end up recommending pretty much the same books you see on tables at Barnes & Noble, or will it end up pushing readers down the “long tail” toward niche publications and books that are outside of the mainstream. There’s a fine balance to be struck here, one that Pandora is only so-so at (in my opinion).
All very curious that the tide has shifted in the direction we (people like myself and Richard Nash) have been talking about for some time now . . . Kind of cool to see a prediction start to come true . . .
I feel like this is a week of individual themed days . . . Yesterday was all Japanese literature and Michael Emmerich, today is all Zone . . .
Publishers Weekly‘s Indie Press Sleepers list for the fall came out yesterday, featuring twenty titles from independent presses that may be slightly less hyped than Franzen’s Freedom, but have a real shot at “breaking out,” capturing the imagination and interest of the reading public, and selling thousands of copies thanks to great indie stores, solid reviews, word-of-mouth, etc.
These lists are always fascinating, especially when they include one of our titles (the only translation included on the list . . . at least the one in the magazine. There are 20 additional titles featured online, including Laurence Cossé‘s A Novel Bookstore, translated from the French by Alison Anderson and published by Europa Editions):
Zone by Mathias Énard, trans. from the French by Charlotte Mandell (Open Letter)
This 517-page novel, winner of the Prix du Livre Inter and the Prix Decembre, has an unusual conceit; it’s told in a single sentence. Francis Servain Mirkovic, a French-born Croat, travels by train from Milan to Rome with a briefcase, whose contents he’s selling to a representative from the Vatican. It contains information about the violent history of the Zone—lands of the Mediterranean basin: Spain, Algeria, Lebanon, Italy. Over the course of a single night Mirkovic visits the sites of the tragedies of these lands in his memory and recalls how his own participation in that violence has wrecked his life. Author and translator Christophe Claro acclaims it as “the novel of the decade, if not the century.”
Not to jinx anything, but there is a lot of momentum for this book, so, fingers crossed . . . (I actually have a dream that one day I’ll see someone on the subway reading one of our titles, and I have some hope that it’ll be Zone.)
On a less self-promotional note, here are some other interesting titles from the list:
The Instructions by Adam Levin (McSweeney’s)
This massive 1,026-page debut novel covers four days in the life of 10-year-old Gurion Maccabee, a potential Messiah and accused terrorist, possibly both, who was ejected from three Jewish day schools. “This is wonderful in a quirky way,” says Sheryl Cotleur, at Book Passage, who is considering it for her Buyers Bookmark Club. “I see a great future for this author and really hope this book catches on. I’ll do my part!”
The Report by Jessica Francis Kane (Graywolf)
During WWII, tube stations across London have been converted into bomb shelters; immigrants and East Enders alike sleep on the tracks and wait. But on March 3, 1943, as the crowd hurries down the staircase, something goes wrong, and 173 people lose their lives. When the neighborhood demands an inquiry, the job falls to a young magistrate, who is forced to revisit his decision decades later. “The Report is a stealthy, quiet page-turner that understands there is as much tension in reckoning a disaster as there is in the disaster itself,” says Elizabeth McCracken.
Extraordinary Renditions by Andrew Ervin (Coffee House Press)
“Through the eyes of three outsiders, Extraordinary Renditions takes the reader deep into the heart of Budapest, both its past and present,” says Stewart O’Nan. “The whole city is here, the banks of the Danube brimming with history, intrigue, art, food, drink, and most important of all, music. His characters may be lost—even the one native is a foreigner—but Andrew Ervin is a sharp-eyed, sure-handed guide.”
Richard Yates by Tao Lin (Melville House)
This could be Lin’s breakout book. Although the title of this novel comes from the real-life writer Richard Yates, it has little to do with him. Instead, it tracks the relationship between a young writer in his 20s and his 16-year-old lover. Clancy Martin calls Lin “a Kafka for the iPhone generation. . . . [He] may well be the most important writer under 30 working today.”
Our release of The Golden Calf by Ilf & Petrov is only a few weeks away, and Publishers Weekly has already run a splendid and starred review (and our first starred review in PW, at that):
A hilarious blend of absurdist, futurist and surrealist sensibilities, this new (and only complete) translation of Ilf and Petrov’s novel . . . is a highly animated tale of a con artist’s journey through the cities and hinterlands of Soviet Russia. . . . It’s an invigorating journey through innumerable paradoxes, dreams and burlesque routines, and though it’s intensely chaotic (at times to dizzying effect), this is a finely translated edition of a triumphant literary experiment.
PW‘s Soapbox pieces can be a bit hit-or-miss, but the one this week from Douglas Rushkoff (author of several books, including Life, Inc., which, along with Gaddis’s JR, should be mandatory reading for all business school students) is pretty fantastic.
There’s nothing particularly new in Rushkoff’s depiction of what’s happened to the book industry, but it’s always good to be reminded of how the corporate structure has screwed with culture in such an insidious way (Andre Schiffrin’s The Business of Books also offers a great look at how the corporate consolidation went down):
Publishing is a sustainable industry—and a great one at that. The book business, however, was never a good fit for today’s corporate behemoths. The corporations that went on spending sprees in the 1980s and ’90s were not truly interested in the art of publishing. These conglomerates, from Time Warner to Vivendi, are really just holding companies. They service their shareholders by servicing debt more rapidly than they accrue it. Their businesses are really just the stories they use to garner more investment capital. In order to continue leveraging debt, they need to demonstrate growth. The problem is that media, especially books, can’t offer enough organic growth—people can only read so many books from so many authors.
So begins consolidation. In order to achieve the growth shareholders demand but the businesses can’t supply, corporations embark upon mergers and acquisitions, even though, in the long run, nearly 80% of all mergers and acquisitions fail to create value for either party. [. . .]
The same thinking led the conglomerates to hone in on publishing. Top-heavy, centralized bureaucracies know how to work with a B&N better than with a Cody’s or a Spring Street Books. And they applied their generic corporate management to a ragtag crew of book nerds, most of whom wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—know a balance sheet if their lives depended on it. Finally, unable to grow as fast as their debt structures demanded, these corporations have resorted to slashing expenses.
This we already know. (Some of my friends know this more personally and directly than others.) But what I like about Rushkoff’s piece is his optimism about the future:
The good news is that much of this talent—book editors, publicists and sellers—is ready to rebuild what Wall Street has seen fit to destroy. Book enthusiasts are not giving up. I get e-mails constantly from editors asking if I’m interested in writing books for their new, independent publishing houses. Many offer smaller advances but higher royalties and more attention to details—like the quality of my writing. I also get correspondence from people opening independent bookstores in the shadows of vacant outlets, stores that would be happy with a hundredth of the sales volume that made their larger counterparts unsustainable.
Behind the bad news, there is much to look forward to. Our industry has for too long favored those skilled at negotiating the corporate ladder and punished those who simply publish great books. Now that publishing has revealed itself to be a bad growth industry, it is free to rebuild itself as the vibrant, scaled and sustainable business the reading public can support.
Right on! Book lovers of the world, unite!
But seriously, I think there really is something to this. Look at all the great new presses and bookstores—mostly started by relatively young people with a lot of passion and energy. For any number of reasons—struggles of corporate publishing, e-books, implosion of chain retail stores, etc.—the next few years should be very interesting. (Although I can already see the comment below about how none of this matters since everyone spends all their time online instead of reading and kids hate books and etc., etc.)
I’ll tell ya, it seems like forever since we posted a video of Chad. Luckily, Publishers Weekly has just published a lovely article-slash-interview with our director. It’s all about things like Open Letter, the books we publish, our websites (such as this one), and literature in translation. Also, there is an accompanying web video.
I especially enjoyed the article’s title: “The International Literature Evangelist.” Not only does Chad spread the good news (of sorts), but it seems like only yesterday that we were philistines.
After all the recent Kindle discussions (which are still ongoing in today’s Shelf Awareness), this Publishers Weekly article about comic book publishers embracing the possibilities of digital publishing jumped out at me. In terms of engaging and trying to please their fans, the comic industry seems miles ahead of book publishers.
The diversity of initiatives is dizzying: Marvel Comics, Boom! Studios and Viz Media have made select back issues available in digital form; DC Comics and Top Shelf Productions now curate Web sites of comics developed specifically for the internet; Korean manhwa house Netcomics offers comics online for a small fee; and Tokyopop, Devil’s Due Productions, Papercutz and Virgin Comics have joined with mobile digital publishing services like uclick and GoComics, to distribute their content on mobile phones—not to mention e-books, animated comics on iTunes, or the smart phone-based reader from ClickWheel, which also offers a format for reading comics on the iPhone.
And in terms of the age-old (well, decades-old maybe) question about the impact on sales of giving something away for free online:
And while no print publisher is yet prepared to give away all its content online, some are beginning to conduct experiments to gauge the potential impact of free Web distribution on print sales. This January, Boom! Comics broke ground by releasing a new periodical comic, North Wind #1, in comic shops and on the Web simultaneously. Despite the objections of some comics shop retailers who saw the day-and-date release as a potential threat to their in-store sales, the first issue sold out within a week and went to a second printing.
“Usually on the fourth issue, you’re seeing a 10%–20% sales decrease, but we saw a 20%–30% increase,” says Mosher. “By the end, there wasn’t as much opposition as there was in the beginning.”
Looks like another well-known independent bookseller is on the ropes (via PW Daily):
After closing its 15-year-old Penn Quarter store in Washington, D.C., on Friday to make room for a Wagamama noodle shop, (Ed. Note: At least it’s not a fucking Cold Stone Creamery.) Olsson’s Books & Records, which is headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., is continuing to be squeezed by publishers. On June 19, three of the largest—Hachette Book Group, Random House and Penguin Group—filed a petition in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to place Olsson Enterprises, dba Olsson’s Books & Records, into involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Today’s PW Daily has a piece from Rachel Deahl about the possible death of another book review section:
Amid the pending real estate sale and newsroom cutbacks, rumors have surfaced about book sections being cut at Tribune-owned papers. One freelance critic told PW that the Tribune Company is planning to slash overall page counts across the chain. Although e-mails to editors who handle the book sections at both the Chicago Tribune and the L.A. Times were not returned, Michael Dizon, the communications manager at Tribune, said the paper is currently redesigning its print edition. When asked if this meant the book review section might be cut, Dizon said that “as of now” the coverage “continues to be an important part of the newspaper.” Dizon added that the redesign is scheduled to appear in September.
“As of now”—that’s so not reassuring.
It’s not available online, but there’s an article by Rachel Deahl in this week’s Publishers Weekly about Three Percent and the translation database.
The Excel file behind the above link is the most up-to-date version of the database, listing 187 works of adult fiction and poetry coming out this year. Some fall catalogs have started trickling in, so expect more updates in the near future . . . And soon, I swear, we’ll get back to writing brief overviews of all the books. (If you’re interested in seeing some of the earlier ones, all 2008 translation posts are available here.)
Rachel Deahl’s article for Publishers Weekly on how well translations sell is really interesting (not just because we’re mentioned there) and worth expanding a bit.
The main idea comes from Tom Colchie, famous translator and literary agent (and all around nice guy), who thinks that the “doom and gloom about readers avoiding works in translation is off the mark”:
Colchie also believes that given the dearth of translations published in the U.S., their hit ratio is similar to, or better than, English-language titles. “If you take the performance of the 200 to 300 translations published a year and compare them to the performance of the 200,000-plus [American] titles published, you won’t see a big difference.”
(One of the first things that jumps out to me about this is that if his numbers are accurate, then even Eliot Weinberger’s belief that only 0.3% of books published in the U.S. are in translation is overblown. According to this, the figure is closer to 0.1%.)
Echoing my comment in the article, this seems to be a statistical game of sorts. Since there are so few translations published, a higher percentage of them “take off” compared to the percentage of American authors that become household names. (In other words, if 25 of 300 literary translations do well, that’s a much better percentage than the 500 or so American books out of the 40,000+ published annually that do really well.)
It’s an interesting argument to make, especially taken in combination with Colchie’s later statement—“I now sell fewer books in a year, but sell them for a lot more money.”
This comes as no surprise, but what he seems to be describing is a publishing industry more bottom-line conscious than ever. I believe that publishers are willing to shell out more cash for books from wherever that are capable of selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Instead of being a translation vs. English question, perhaps this experience is representative of how publishing functions in a marketplace where (thanks to chains, WalMart, etc.) at any point in time, twelve to twenty books are selling spectacularly well and are everywhere (a la Shadow of the Wind or The Da Vinci Code) while most everything else is puttering along.
I’m not sure exactly what to make of this. One the one hand, the more books published in translation, the better; on the other hand, Colchie’s saying that the sheer number of translated books is declining but that the number of best-selling titles that get translated is increasing. Which, as someone who doesn’t usually read best-sellers, doesn’t appeal to me all that much.
Another interesting aspect of this article are the Nielsen numbers at the bottom. Nielsen numbers aren’t precise, and the arguments against this are well documented, but for the basis of comparison, it’s pretty illuminating. Of the four books cited, The Savage Detectives is the most clearly “literary” (in my elitist opinion) and sold 22,000 copies—a figure that is spectacular in terms of literary fiction, and demonstrates how much publicity and good attention Bolano has been receiving—but that is still 55,000 copies lower than the next book on the list, Perez-Reverte’s The Queen of the South, which has sold 77,000 copies since 2004, and it’s dwarfed by Serra’s The Secret Supper‘s, 88,000 copies and The Shadow of the Wind‘s 518,000.
One of the interesting points from Karl Pohrt’s speech is his allusion to the difficulties of getting young people into the book business.
As everyone probably knows, working in the book business (as a bookseller, reviewer, mid-list author, editor, etc.) isn’t quite as lucrative as, say, investment banking. Nevertheless, there are a lot of young people interested in the perceived glamour of publishing. I don’t know if it’s the intellectual stimulation of sales conferences and marketing meetings, or the massive piles of slush that arrive daily, but it’s not hard to find people looking to break into publishing.
Finding talented, good people who want to stay is a different matter . . .
Which is why I think Publishers Weekly‘s new year-long series featuring 50 exciting people in the industry under the age of 40 is so fantastic.
The first person featured is Emily Cook from Milkweed, who, at the age of 23, was hired to run the programming for Chicago’s Printer’s Row Book Fair. For the past three years she’s been at Milkweed as the Marketing Director, where her top concern is with getting more people to read:
Cook is adamant that, in an era when print media continues to cut back on book coverage, publishers must focus on figuring out how to convince more people to read, in order to arrest the downward spiral of people reading for pleasure.
“You want to publish a good book. But if nobody responds to it, you don’t have much of a book culture,” Cook declares. “It’s up to my generation of publishing professionals to figure out how we’re going to capture readers.
Personally, my favorite part of this piece is Emily’s dream job: “To be the next Nancy Pearl, complete with action figure.”
But PW has their list of the Best Books of 2008 online already.
It’s a huge list, but the fiction section includes some real gems. My personal favorites are:
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Chilean-born novelist Bolaño (1953–2003), beautifully translated by Natasha Wimmer, deliriously tracks Mexico City poets Arturo Belano (Bolaño’s alter ego) and Ulysses Lima as they travel the globe over 20-plus years.
Remainder by Tom McCarthy (Vintage)
In McCarthy’s haunting fiction debut, a semi-amnesiac London everyman uses newfound wealth to re-enact his memories in exacting detail.
White Walls: Collected Stories by Tatyana Tolstaya (NYRB)
Beautiful, imaginative and disconcerting, the Russia of Tolstoy’s great-grandniece is a labyrinth of eras, treasures and horrors: past and present, shabby and brutal, magical and otherworldly.
I’m a sucker for year-end lists (especially those on VH1), but I always have such a hard time coming up with these. If I were to make one for 2008 works of literature in translation, I’d definitely include the Bolano, Fogwill’s Malvinas Requiem, and Enrique Vila-Matas’s Montano’s Malady. That’s all I can think of right now . . . Anyone else have any good suggestions?
Publishers Weekly is one of my favorite review sources, providing a slew of brief, intelligent reviews every week. I especially like the fact that they cover a higher percentage of independent, small press, and university presses than most newspapers or magazines.
In this week’s reviews there’s a nice write-up of Yoko Ogawa’s The Diving Pool: Three Novellas. My friend Amber Quereshi acquired this for Picador some time back, and I’ve been anticipating its release ever since. (I believe James Gurbutt from Harvill also bought this, adding even more literary coolness to the book, topped off by the fact that Anna Stein was the agent.)
PW calls her work “crafty” and “suspenseful,” and state “Ogawa’s tales possess a gnawing, erotic edge.” The novella “Domitory” about a Toyko wife who nurses an armless one-legged manager at her old college dormitory sounds fantastic.
And if you’re interested, two of her stories appeared in the New Yorker — The Cafeteria in the Evening and a Pool in the Rain and Pregnancy Diary.
What’s troubling about this week’s PW is the starred review of the new Dean Koontz book. Really? He needs to be reviewed? I think there should be a ban on reviewing titles I can by in the Express Checkout Line at the local Wegmans. Yuck.
Couple interesting books reviewed in this week’s “Publishers Weekly,” including the latest Lydie Salvayre book, Power of Flies.
Salvayre’s fifth novel to be translated into English is a tightly introspective series of first-person confessions by an arrogant murder convict whose life was transformed by reading Blaise Pascal. [. . .] The novel seethes in a classically dark, French way.
“A classically dark, French way”—nice. This is a book we’d love to review if anyone from Dalkey Archive happens to be reading this blog.
(In the issue of full disclosure, this was another Dalkey book I helped acquire while I was there. I’m a big fan of Salvayre’s—especially The Company of Ghosts and The Award.)
Another Dalkey book reviewed this week is Place Names by Jean Ricardou, translated by Jordan Stump, and which sounds wild and promising.
A little bit Borges and a little bit Calvino, French postmodernist Ricardou’s newly translated 1969 novel proves a circuitous trek through a fictive landscape of eight metaphorically named places. Bannière, Beaufort, Belarbre, Belcroix, Cendrier, Chaumont, Hautbois and Monteaux—each gets its own chapter, and each serves as a source from which language springs, along with the whimsically opaque plot.
The only other fiction translation reviewed in PW this week is Elling by Norwegian author Ingvar Ambjørnsen, which is called a “heartening work.” And for that, I’ll leave this book to someone else to get excited about.
This week’s fiction reviews at Publishers Weekly includes a couple reviews of translations worth noting.
They gave a starred review to Victor Serge’s The Unforgiving Years, which is forthcoming from New York Review Books, and is a title we’d very much like to review here. The PW reviewer summed it up by stating, “Serge remains sophisticated even during the book’s more noirish moments, and action sequences form an inseparable part of his hypnotic, prophetic vision.”
Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen is coming out from Dalkey Archive Press in November, and is a book I helped acquire, so I’m personally interested in seeing how this is received. It’s a big, ambitious book about physics, neo-Nazis, Holocaust stories, and fakes, and although the review is primarily positive, the reviewer has a few reservations.
The novel strains to tie together loose ends, but the big convoluted twists and outlandish ending may be part of the point. This is an ambitious, epic literary debut, and it’s not surprising that Verhaeghen, in trying to orchestrate a familiar epoch, falls short of Gravity’s Rainbow and Underworld.
Of all the technological innovations impacting the book industry—Espresso Book Machine, Sony’s eReader—this is the one I find most appealing. As a reader, you can pick out a book (right now there are about 500 public domain books available) that you want to read, and DailyLit will send you an “installment” by e-mail or RSS feed on a regular basis. (Readers can choose from daily, MWF, or weekdays only options.)
It’s simple, easy, and perfect for our Internets-loving, constantly refreshing, RSS-addicted, contemporary lifestyle. I think this will appeal to people “too busy” to pick up a book, or those that spend endless hours online reading articles, e-mails, etc. And people generally seem to like the serial format, and reading in small chunks makes reading Dead Souls or Don Quixote that much more palatable.
Judith Rosen at Publishers Weekly reports on an interesting collaboration taking place in Western Massachusetts:
The concept of bookstore tourism is getting redefined in Western Massachusetts, where ten independent bookstores are following the example set last year by the region’s museums, who banded together to form Museums10 to encourage visitors to the area to visit all ten by putting together a cooperatively themed exhibit. In September, Pioneer Valley booksellers will join with museums for the second Museums10 show, a four-month long celebration of books, BookMarks.
Which hopefully will drive sales, since PW also posted this info today:
Bookstore sales fell again in June, dropping 6.6%, to $1.13 billion, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales declined every month in the January through June period, resulting in a 4.6% drop in bookstore sales at the midway point of 2007. For the entire retail sector, sales were up 4.0% for the first six months of the year and were ahead 3.8% in June.
The August 6th set of Publisher Weekly fiction reviews are now online and feature a couple of interesting books in translation.
The first is Cries in the Drizzle (which sounds like a translated title) by Yu Hua “depicts a family’s life in the Zhejiang province of Maoist China during the 1970s.” According to PW, “The narrative flits between time and space to create the landscape of Sun Guanglin’s youth [. . .] Though the fractured structure has its disjointed moments, Barr’s translation perfectly captures the ebb and flow of a community on the brink of change.”
Personally, I’m more interested in the review of Christian Oster’s The Unforeseen, the review of which ends with this intriguing statement:
The result is a love story deeply informed by Beckett (complete with the narrator acquiring a limp like that of Molloy‘s title character), where swells of feeling are tracked in sneezes as involuntary as love itself.
I thought A Cleaning Woman was an excellent book—and movie (and not just because I have a crush on the leading actress)—and can’t wait to read this new title. Good to see that someone is still publishing quirky, funny French writers. There are a slew referenced in Warren Motte’s excellent Fables of the Novel, although only a handful of the books he writes about have made it into English.
McSweeney’s and their “intern gulag” is totally busted! (via Notes from the Bookroom).
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
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. . .