29 October 12 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Although information started leaking last week, it wasn’t until this morning that the Penguin-Random House merger was made official:

Publisher Pearson says it has agreed a deal with German media group Bertelsmann to combine their Penguin and Random House businesses.

Under the terms of the deal, the two businesses will be run in a joint venture called Penguin Random House.

Bertelsmann will own 53% of the joint venture, while Pearson will own 47%.

First off, I think “Random House Penguin” is a much better name, mainly because of the ambiguity—is it a Random-House Penguin? or a Random House-Penguin? Makes the new über-publisher seem both literary and playful.

The tie-up between Penguin and Random House marks the first deal between the world’s big six publishers. The others are Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster. It would bring together the publishers of the Fifty Shades series and Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks.

I keep reading this “Fifty Shades AND Jamie Oliver” line, and, to be honestly ignorant, I have no idea what it signifies. “This new MegaPublisher will publisher Super-Successful Book #1 PLUS Super-Successful Book #2!!!! ZOMG!!” Honestly, if you told me right now that Random House already published both of these, I’d totally buy it. It’s not like these are two random products suddenly being lumped into one administrative mess: “It’s going to combine Twilight and Gilbert Sorrentino!! Holy shitsnacks!”

Anyway, on to the real content: the creepy consolidation of two massive publishing entitles:

Pearson chief executive Marjorie Scardino, who is leaving the firm at the end of the year, said: “Penguin is a successful, highly-respected and much-loved part of Pearson. This combination with Random House… will greatly enhance its fortunes and its opportunities.

“Together, the two publishers will be able to share a large part of their costs, to invest more for their author and reader constituencies and to be more adventurous in trying new models in this exciting, fast-moving world of digital books and digital readers.”

In case you’re wondering, “be able to share a large part of their costs” equals “eliminate redundancies, especially in terms of personnel.” I hate to be the voice of cynicism, but all the “No jobs will be lost! We will rule the world together!” lip-service being paid to Penguin and RH employees has about a 99.9% chance of turning out to be utter and complete bullshit.

Based on recent results, combining the two firms will create a business with annual revenues of about £2.5bn and about one-quarter of both the UK and US book markets. [. . .]

“In the UK the market share will be around 27%, so they may have to divest themselves of some non-core interests,” said Philip Jones from the Bookseller magazine.

27%?! That’s fricking INSANE. And in no way can this be good for the book world. I don’t want to get into all that right now—I have sales calls to make, classes to teach—but putting so much power into the hands of one entity that produces a limited amount of books, yet will be defining culture, is fucked.

Which, for many, will bring to mind Amazon’s position in the marketplace . . .1 Speaking of Amazon:

“Amazon has 90% of the ebook market – if [the competition authorities] allowed that to happen, how can they block a merger that gives Penguin Random House 27%?”

And that’s really what this about, isn’t it? Making a company big enough to negotiate with Amazon in a way that will reap it shittons more money and profit. Great.

*

By random contrast, I just want to point out this WSJ article about the “semi-socialist” Bundesliga. (Referred to as a “soccer paradise.”) It’s a really interesting contrast between the free-spending, unmonitored Premiere League in the UK, and the less-profit motivated Bundesliga in Germany. Not only is the quality of the Bundesliga better—there are more teams with a legit chance to win the title, in contrast to the Chelsea, Manchester x 2, dominance in the Premiere League, or the Real Barcelona duo in La Liga—but the clubs are financially better off (Munich made $230 million last year, which exceeds the commercial revenues of Arsenal and Man United combined) AND more people are attending the matches.

What does this have to do with RHP? Nothing, really. But the idea that there is an alternative model to flat-out late-age hyper-charged capitalism—one that can be more successful in all the key areas—is a very captivating one.

1 This is a bit of a flawed analogy though. Amazon is a provider, a retail outlet that takes what is made elsewhere and dominates the chain from production to consumption. By contrast, Random House Penguin will control what is made available. This is a stark and horrifying difference. Amazon is predicated on the idea that “more of everything is better”—more books sold to more people in more formats equals more money—RHP is all about the production and sale of products that will benefit itself only. For all of the issues that people have with Amazon’s corporate practices, they are geared towards providing customers with what they want, when they want it, and at a reasonable price—it’s their tactics to achieving this that are circumspect. RHP will be about blockbusters and leveraging its enormous impact to restrict buying options, or at least direct customers into buying its products for the benefit of the corporate shareholders. In my mind—in which product diversity trumps everything, since the things I like are often not in line with mainstream anything—this RHP situation is a million times worse.

10 August 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

The latest review to our Reviews Section is a piece by me— Aleksandra Fazlipour — on Peter Lapeyre’s Life is Short and Desire Endless, which is available from Random House.

Here’s a bit of my review:

The endearingly (and intentionally) peculiar tone of Patrick Lapeyre’s Life is Short and Desire Endless complements the subject matter of the novel very well. Nora Neville, a flighty and immature young woman, flits manically between two men (Murphy Blomdale, a successful American businessman in London and a married French translator in Paris, Louis Bleriot, who barely scrapes by off the charity of his prominent wife and his friends), and potentially countless unnamed others. The story of their intertwined affairs is the classic love triangle, yet Lapeyre manages to make it more confusing, more twisted, and somehow even more alluring, with the strange childish tone that has a slight biting edge, much like the character of Nora herself.

The strength of this novel does not come from its action. In fact, very little happens within the narrative. The story unfolds through the character’s fantasies, looking back on their interactions with Nora, and to be honest, many of the scenarios are not that exciting. And yet that’s what makes the psychological dimension of this novel captivating—it’s highly identifiable. The novel opens to Louis receiving a call from Nora after she has been gone without a trace for two years (unbeknownst to him, living with her American lover in London and maybe others along the way, as well). Then we become immersed in the action, as Nora oscillates from one lover to another somewhat predictably. When one’s generosity seems to wane, she flings herself to the other, frequently begging for charity, sometimes playing innocent and denying affections, and always managing to maintain an air of mystery and untruth (being a self-proclaimed, but very unsuccessful, actress). There is not really much more to it.

Click here to read the entire review.

10 August 12 | Aleksandra Fazlipour | Comments

The endearingly (and intentionally) peculiar tone of Patrick Lapeyre’s Life is Short and Desire Endless complements the subject matter of the novel very well. Nora Neville, a flighty and immature young woman, flits manically between two men (Murphy Blomdale, a successful American businessman in London and a married French translator in Paris, Louis Bleriot, who barely scrapes by off the charity of his prominent wife and his friends), and potentially countless unnamed others. The story of their intertwined affairs is the classic love triangle, yet Lapeyre manages to make it more confusing, more twisted, and somehow even more alluring, with the strange childish tone that has a slight biting edge, much like the character of Nora herself.

The strength of this novel does not come from its action. In fact, very little happens within the narrative. The story unfolds through the character’s fantasies, looking back on their interactions with Nora, and to be honest, many of the scenarios are not that exciting. And yet that’s what makes the psychological dimension of this novel captivating—it’s highly identifiable. The novel opens to Louis receiving a call from Nora after she has been gone without a trace for two years (unbeknownst to him, living with her American lover in London and maybe others along the way, as well). Then we become immersed in the action, as Nora oscillates from one lover to another somewhat predictably. When one’s generosity seems to wane, she flings herself to the other, frequently begging for charity, sometimes playing innocent and denying affections, and always managing to maintain an air of mystery and untruth (being a self-proclaimed, but very unsuccessful, actress). There is not really much more to it.

Yet the story can be frustrating at times, because the strange tone takes even stranger turns, breaking the fourth wall several times:

It’s highly likely that if she’d never know she would be featured stark naked in a novel, Nora would have refused to take her clothes off. And she would have done everything in her power to make sure that, instead, her taste for Chekov’s theater or Bonnard’s paintings was mentioned.

At first, it’s not evident whether this is an issue with the translation from French. It seems perhaps too bizarre even for the grating tone the novel establishes as early as its very first page, so much that these instances seem jarring. Because of this, the final chapter of the novel seems equally out of place: it is uncharacteristically vague, suggesting different possibilities for the characters that were not presented in the novel, and does not mesh well with the highly detailed character development that is presented. And upon first glance, it’s unsatisfying. No character’s story wraps up neatly. It bothered me initially, upon reading and rereading the final few pages, that the book’s conclusion was so open and so vague. It didn’t conform to my literary expectations.

But this book is unlike any other that I’ve recently read. Many of the characters are unlikeable, but somehow strangely alluring because the reader is able to connect with their quirks, and even more so, their faults. The tone and the strong character development allows the reader to acknowledge all of the possibilities presented in this broadly sweeping ending because the characters are very believable. While at first I didn’t know what to think of the strange instances where the fourth wall was broken, it in a sense seems appropriate for the novel to acknowledge itself as a work of fiction. It complements Nora’s character because the men truly do not know whether anything she says is the truth, or whether she is, in fact, creating her own fiction (as Lapeyre is creating this novel).

Beyond that, the book really is entertaining. There are many false leads, bountiful odd occurrences that lead the reader into paranoia along with the characters, that ultimately build to… Nothing. Because that is the nature of paranoia, and the men in love with Nora are driven insane by their passion for her. All of the shortcomings I initially found with the book were quickly resolved upon a deeper consideration. And then I was really just stunned by how well-crafted this novel was.

I encourage you to take a look at the many possible interpretations of this novel, and report back with which you find most alluring.

28 March 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

One of the most anticipated books of the year has to be Murakami Haruki’s (or Haruki Murakami’s) 1Q84, an epically long book that Random House is bringing out in October.1 And to warm up the publicity machine, they just released an image of the cover and a blog post from Chip Kidd discussing the design.

Logistically the title is a book designer’s dream, because its unique four characters so easily adapt it to a very strong, iconic treatment. The plot follows two seemingly unconnected stories that eventually weave together. The first involves a woman named Aomame, who in the opening scene finds herself descending a service staircase off a busy elevated highway in Tokyo to escape a traffic jam. Once she gets to the bottom and out onto ground level, she eventually comes to believe that she has entered an alternate reality, one only slightly different than what she had known. She refers to this new dimension in her mind as 1Q84 (the book takes place in 1984 and in Japanese ‘Q’ sounds just like ‘9′), with the Q standing for “Question Mark. A world that bears a question.” This concept becomes one of the novel’s major themes.

Upon reading the manuscript, it soon occurred to me that the duality of Aomame’s situation could be represented by an interaction of the book’s jacket with the binding/cover underneath. By using a semi-transparent vellum for the jacket, and printing the woman’s image in a positive/negative scheme with the title on the outside layer and the rest of her on the binding, once the jacket is wrapped around the book it ‘completes’ the picture of her face. But something odd is definitely going on, and before the reader even reads a word, he or she is forced to consider the idea of someone going from one plane of existence to another.

1 Now I’m not going to tell the largest publisher in America how to do their job, but please please please please please don’t publish this as a straightforward run-of-the-mill hardcover. This isn’t Stieg Larsson or Suze Orman—it’s a book that could be a major cultural event. And not only is the idea of paying $30 for a large, unwieldy tome totally insane, it’s also incredibly passé, as demonstrated by the genius marketing of 2666. I’m guessing you—the anthropomorphized version of an inanimate, heartless corporation that exists in my mind—are thinking that your “mature” readers will shell out way too much of their retirement income to read this “serious literary work they heard about on The NPR,” whereas the hipsters will download the $15 ebook and show off their iPads by flipping imaginary pages and posing in subway stations. And sure, you may well be right. But that’s totally irrelevant. What matters here is long-term image management. You don’t want to be “that dinosaur press” anymore, do you? I mean, you must know we all laugh behind your back at parties about how out-of-touch you are with your non-musty offices and your corporate stationary. Book publishing isn’t about money, it’s about showing off how smart you are and about creating intellectual objects that other people crave. Will I read 1Q84 when it comes out? For sure. But if it’s in a multi-volume form housed in a cardboard slipcase, I’ll read it in public. Rather than completely concede to the advent of e-everything, it would be a public service to the last remaining readers if you gave us all an object that we could cherish. An object that is inherently cooler (in a retro way) than the iPad. Instead of having Chip Kidd just design the cover, give him the opportunity to create a stunning object. Or don’t. I’m sure you’ll still make enough profit off this to feel justified. Justified, but incredibly empty on the inside.

2 August 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Over the weekend, in addition to proofing Mathias Enard’s Zone and rereading Julio Cortazar’s Cronopios and Famas, I started reading Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Now don’t judge—I’m a single guy in frickin’ Rochester who doesn’t own a TV and might possibly be spending too much alone time with avant-garde music and experimental literature. Besides, of all the post-apocalyptic vampire novels out there, this one is supposed to be the most literary. (See Ed Nawotka’s review at Publishing Perspectives.) And yes, it’s pretty damn compelling. And entertaining. And well-crafted. Like a movie, but on paper!

That last statement is actually what got me to thinking about a few things, about blurbs, promoting titles, etc. . . . See, the only reason I had a galley copy of The Passage in the first place was because my former intern and friend Rhea Lyons sent one along for me to use in my “intro to literary publishing” class (or “class”) as an example of how a massive, corporate publisher can get behind a particular book.

Seriously—there’s like two full pages inserted in this galley detailing all of marketing stuff going on for this book: ads, Facebook and Twitter campaigns, iPhone apps, a reading tour, ads in every major paper, massive review coverage, so on and on and on. My interns were very impressed, and I believe the marketing budget for this book alone would keep Open Letter running until 2020.

Now for those of you who don’t know, galleys (or Advanced Reading Copies) are sent out to potential reviewers, booksellers, and buzz makers months before the book is actually released to give potential tastemakers a chance to read it and start creating a baseline of buzz for the book’s eventual release.

And to demonstrate that ALL of Random House is behind The Passage and determined to make it a massive sales success, instead of a reproduction of the book jacket, this particular galley is covered front in back with blurbs by actual Random House employees. Which is kind of cute and kind of funny, and probably works well with booksellers and in-the-know industry folks who feel like their friends are personally recommending the book to them. Although . . . No offense, but the fact that the district sales manager for the Pacific Northwest’s quote is “Blew. Me. Away.” really didn’t convince me to read this book. But that’s just me.

But this is something that can’t be done all that often, right? If you used this technique for every big book the hyperbolic statements would shrink up and people would start saying more obvious, more honest things, such as this list Rhea and I put together last night, and which, could actually convince me to read a particular title. (And in case it needs to be stated, none of these are actually in reference to The Passage, which I really am enjoying):

“Heavy!”

“If I read books, I’d read one almost exactly like this.”

“Challenging to read in the dark, otherwise very readable!”

“Not worth 300 times my salary, but good, I guess.”

“Nice to cuddle with and makes me look smart on the subway!”

“My assistant liked it, so . . . there you go.”

“We paid waaayyyy too much for this. So buy two!”

“A future remainder!”

“Where’s the USB port?”

(This is what happens when all the serious news is being posted at another site . . . But seriously, this sort of kind of ties into the editorial I’m writing for Publishing Perspectives. I swear.)

27 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Last Thursday the publishing news of month year century broke with the announcement that the Andrew Wylie Literary Agency (one of the largest, most powerful, most intimidated, most unscrupulous literary agencies out there) had launched Odyssey Editions so they could publish ebook editions of a number of backlist titles by the best-selling Wylie represents, such as Midnight’s Children, Invisible Man, Lolita, Portnoy’s Complaint, Borges’s Ficciones, Brideshead Revisited, and many more.

Approximately 5 minutes after this was announced the entire book world went a little bit apeshit.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this, although it is sort of a wet dream for anyone really interested in the future of the business of publishing . . . To an outside reader, this might seem pretty mundane—suddenly some famous books are available for the Kindle—but it’s actually a very layered story, the ramifications of which will be playing out for months and months to come.

Maybe the easiest way to unpack this is to go through each of the parties involved and look at their level of pissed. And there’s no better place to start than Random House.

Frequent readers of this blog are most likely aware of my skepticism with regard to the big corporate commercial publishing model. These presses do amazing, fantastic books—immediate case in point is David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet—but I can’t say I’m a big fan of the way they rely on the blockbuster model, on producing more and more books to outrace returns, etc., etc. There’s no need to rehash all the “This is the End of Publishing! We’re all gonna die!” lines of thought, but it’s worth pointing out that ebooks are one of the crucial issues—how much they’ll sell for, what royalties should be, how this could jack a press’s cash flow, and so on.

From a publisher’s perspective, Wylie’s move is pretty much a direct assault. First off, there’s the whole question of whether this is even legal. Prior to the advent of ebooks, contracts would usually assign a publisher the right to “print, publish, and sell the work in book form,” which, pretty typical when it comes to book contracts, is a bit vague. I don’t know exactly what’s in a Random House contract, but obviously royalties rates for hardcover and paperback editions are stated, as are any and all subrights, such as splits for film or foreign sales. But what’s missing from most all of these is any mention of ebooks. Who really knew this would be an issue? And besides, doesn’t “book form” include electronic versions? It’s still a book, right?

At least that’s the line of argument that most publishers try and promote. Little problem is that almost ten years ago, before the Kindle was a glimmer in Jeff Bezos’s eye, Random House filed an injunction against the epublisher Rosetta Books, claiming that Rosetta had violated Random’s rights by publishing e-versions of a number of Random House titles. Unfortunately—for Random—they lost. (Here’s another summary of the case.)

This test case established that unless specifically noted in a contract, an author owns the ebook rights to their works. Therefore, the estates technically control ebook rights for all of these classic titles that Wylie represents, thus allowing him to either a) sell the ebook rights to the highest bidder or b) simply publish them himself.

When I was in France last fall for the study trip, this issue came up once or twice. Our trip took place shortly after Jane Friedman had launched Open Road Media and had bought the ebooks rights to a bunch of William Styron titles out from under Random House. A few of the big publishing people who were on the trip argued that rights situation aside, this was really offensive, since [insert publisher here] made all the original investments to promote these titles and help establish them as “important works.”

And it is true that Wylie is riding a bit on the coattails of those who came before him. Does Odyssey need a marketing budget to promote The Adventures of Augie March? Fuck and no. It’s Saul Bellow for Christ’s sake. Just let people know it exists and that’s good enough. (At the moment the sales ranking for the Odyssey edition of Lolita is #577.)

So, insulted, irritated, and whatever, Random House issued a missive against Wylie, including this awesome section:

The Wylie Agency’s decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon for titles which are subject to active Random House agreements undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this Agency as our direct competitor. Therefore, regrettably, Random House on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved.

Maybe New Directions will be able to retain the rights to all the Bolano books they’ve been publishing . . .

Oh, and yeah, if I didn’t mention it before, Odyssey books are only available through Amazon. Which pissed off a few other groups of people, including independent bookstores and readers who don’t use a Kindle.

Michael Orthofer has a great post about this whole situation that touches on the Amazon-exclusive issue. In many ways, this is unfortunate, but whatever. I’m not entirely sure Wylie is really trying to “reach readers” at all—this seems more like a provocation to increase ebook royalties while making a little quick money for some of his big time authors.

On the independent bookstore front, Square Books in Oxford, MS, put together a Wylie World display featuring books that are “not for sale”:

Amazon manufactures a reading device, the “kindle,” which requires its owners to buy digital merchandise exclusively from Amazon – a bit like our selling you books that you could read only by using the bedside lamp you must also purchase from us. And this would be the only way you could read these books. Wylie’s authors’ electronic books will be available only via the kindle, only via Amazon, a soiling of first amendment principles that many of the agency’s authors, such as Arthur Miller and Salman Rushdie, have fought so hard to protect.

As you look at this display, we encourage you to think about the ramifications of this effort to vertically integrate the book industry and limit or exclude access to information and free expression. And, as always, we encourage you to support independent booksellers everywhere. Together we can let books live.

Again, not breaking news that indie stores are in trouble and that ebooks are disruptive to their (struggling) business model as well. But this display illustrates the level of pissed that’s going on at both of the key players in this deal. Publishers have their own issues with Amazon and seem a bit more focused on Wylie, the rights issue, the possibility that other agents could do something similar . . .

Or, other agents could at least start demanding higher royalty rates for ebooks. Enter stage right—the Authors Guild, who issued an interesting statement that has four main points: 1) yes yes yes authors control their ebook rights and publishers can suck it, 2) it’s scary when an agent becomes a publisher, 3) exclusive deal with Amazon equals bad, and 4) this is all a result of stingy publishers:

To a large extent, publishers have brought this on themselves. This storm has long been gathering. Literary agencies have refused to sign e-rights deals for countless backlist books with traditional publishers, even though they and their clients, no doubt, see real benefits in having a single publisher handle the print and electronic rights to a book. Knowledgeable authors and agents, however, are well aware that e-book royalty rates of 25% of net proceeds are exceedingly low and contrary to the long-standing practice of authors and publishers to, effectively, split evenly the net proceeds of book sales.

Bargain-basement e-book royalty rates will not last. Low e-book royalty rates will, as e-book sales become increasingly important, emerge as a dealbreaker for authors with negotiating leverage. Publishers will, inevitably, agree to reasonable royalties rather than lose their bestselling authors to more generous rivals and startups. We suspect publishers are well aware of this and are postponing the unavoidable because it seems to make sense in the short run. We believe this is short-sighted.

(My absolute favorite line from this release: “A major agency starting a publishing company is weird, no matter how you look at it.” Yeah. Totally weird.)

Who knows what’s really going to happen with all of this. As Boyd Tonkin stated in this post, “Wylie aims to provoke, and to annoy. He has done both.” These ebook concerns have been brewing for a long time (the Rosetta thing is ten years old, the Authors Guild has been bitching about ebook royalties for years), and it’s interesting to see that Wylie’s forced the issue now, a couple weeks before the entire publishing industry tends to shut down, only to emerge in the pre-Frankfurt build-up . . .

In the end, I’m more fascinated by this whole situation that concerned about it. It does totally suck that we don’t have ebook rights to most of our titles—mainly because foreign publishers were really reluctant to include these in a pre-Kindle world—and that now the agents have a bit more power in terms of negotiating with us over these rights. It sucks that I sort of respect Wylie for throwing down the gauntlet and livening up the whole ebook debate. It sucks that I don’t have time to reread Lolita (although I would read the actual paperback edition).

But it’s great that this publishing kerfuffle lead to the creation of the EvilWylie and GoodRandomHouse twitter accounts. Not the funniest of twitter accounts, but still, it’s fun to see tweets like this:

EvilWylie Thank you for following! Evil Wylie has granted you exclusive rights to turn JaneFriedman’s tweets into a musical.

EvilWylie even sent one directly to me . . . After grumbling about how stupid Arizona is as a state and baseball team for trading Dan Haren to the Angels (he should've come back to the Cardinals), I was informed that EvilWylie had negotiated that deal. Bastard!

2 February 09 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

It’s no surprise that more and more Chinese literature is making its way into English (there were 11 original works of fiction and poetry that came out in the U.S. in 2008, and through the first half of 2009, I’ve already identified 9), but this spring has a number of titles that look really fantastic, and that we hope to review in full in the not too distant future.

I started reading Five Spice Street by Can Xue on my trip to New York, and am amazed at how bizarre it is. On the surface things seem somewhat normal . . . well, maybe. Any book with a half-dozen containing a half-dozen page argument (one that involves 28 people) about a character’s age is pretty cool. Can Xue’s been published by Northwestern and New Directions in the past, and as one of the first books in Yale’s Margellos World Republic of Letters series it should get some pretty decent attention.

While in NY, I also picked up a copy of Yu Hua’s Brothers an enormous novel that was shortlisted for the 2008 Man Asian Prize. Yu Hua was profiled in the Times Magazine, and I’m sure this is just the start of the review coverage. (The crap line “The novel, which will be published in an English translation later this month, may also prove to be China’s first successful export of literary fiction” will inevitably catch the eye of a lot of reviewers . . . That, and the size of this book—it’ll break your wrist!—and the fact that Random House is bringing it out.) Here’s the rest of the Times Magazine description:

Certainly, foreign readers will find in its sprawling, rambunctious narrative some of China’s most frenetic transformations and garish contradictions. “Brothers” strikes its characteristic tone with the very first scene, as Li Guang, a business tycoon, sits on his gold-plated toilet, dreaming of space travel even as he mourns the loss of all earthly relations. Li made his money from various entrepreneurial ventures, including hosting a beauty pageant for virgins and selling scrap metal and knockoff designer suits. A quick flashback to his small-town childhood shows him ogling the bottoms of women defecating in a public toilet. Similarly grotesque images proliferate over the next 600 pages as Yu describes, first, the extended trauma of the Cultural Revolution, during which Li and his stepbrother Song Gang witness Red Guards torturing Song Gang’s father to death, and then the moral wasteland of capitalist China, in which Song Gang is forced to surgically enlarge one of his breasts in order to sell breast-enlargement gels.

Following up on the post last week about Columbia University Press, this May they’re bringing out the fantastically titled There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night by Naiqian Cao. I’ll read any Asian titles Columbia brings out, but this sounds particularly interesting:

In this genre-defying book, the author’s affection for vivid personalities and unflinching realism comes through in a stark portrait of adultery, bestiality, incest, and vice in rural China. Set near the border of Inner Mongolia, among a cluster of cave dwellings in Shanxi province, these intense vignettes describe the base desires and dark longings of a life lived in virtual isolation.

Finally, coming out from Penguin in April is English by Wang Gang, which, according to the Penguin site, is about a twelve-year-old boy learning English in the stifling atmosphere of Xinjiang in China’s remote northwest during the time of the Cultural Revolution. Editor John Siciliano highly recommended this to me, and I’m planning on reviewing it once we receive a galley . . .

(Paper Republic. is by far the best place online to get information about Chinese literature both translated and untranslated. Definitely worth checking out.)

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Live Bait by Fabio Genovesi
Reviewed by Megan Berkobien

When my eyes first crossed the back cover of Fabio Genovesi’s novel Live Bait, I was caught by a blurb nestled between accolades, a few words from a reviewer for La Repubblica stating that the novel was, however magically, “[b]eyond. . .

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