In this week’s podcast we talk about the forthcoming World Cup of Literature and about some of the summer books that we’re both looking forward to reading. Almost all are translations; a few are authors you may have already heard of (Knausgaard); and others will be new to a lot of listeners. In our “Rants and Raves” section, Chad raves about a poem (?!—seriously, but it’s a really depressing one), and Tom takes down a particular aspect of the Internet.
And don’t forget that we have a dedicated podcast email address now, so send your own podcast-related rants, raves, and ideas to email@example.com.
Opening and closing this week’s podcast is Crouching Bees by Fight Like Apes off their new EP, Whigfield Sextape. (If you used to watch 120 Minutes, you’ll probably enjoy the video as well. It’s all smashing and fireworks, a fox costume and streams of paint.)
Michael Orthofer succinctly corrected all the bullshit I said about where the World Cup teams come from and how all that works. So, to clarify:
First: League strength has NOTHING to do with this (would be perverse if it did, since many leagues are filled with foreign players . . . )
Second: FIFA has six geographic confederations — the European one is UEFA, North/Central America CONCACAF, etc. (Check them out here.) These are actually pretty closely corresponding to the continents themselves; most of the old Soviet states (and Israel) are in the European confederation, but otherwise its geographically logical — the Gulf states in the Asian confederation, but the African Arabic speaking nations in the African section.
Anyway, the number of places each confederation gets is divvied up after each World Cup. International success factors into this to a great extent — but more success on the continental level than local (i.e. it doesn’t matter which European teams make the WC quarterfinals, but the number that do). Europe gets so many places because European teams always do so well in international tournaments (and vs. teams from other confederations in friendlies (which are weighted much less)) — helped also by the fact that it has so many nations (over 50 — not that sheer numbers do Africa much good). South America is the one with the greatest World Cup places vs. # of teams discrepancy — the confederation only has 10 teams! But South American teams (as a continental whole) do very, very well in international tournaments. The Wikipedia page on WC qualifying offers all the numbers and a good overview.
People complain about Africa (50+ teams) being underrepresented, but lets face it, they’ve never done anything internationally at the adult level (Nigeria’s under-21 is great, their overs, not so much). But the confederation that really gets too many places is CONCACAF — two strong teams (Mexico, and in recent years the US (though I still have a hard time taking it seriously — even non-qualifying Austria beat them last year)) and nothing else of note.
Results (especially at the WC — the only true international measure) really matter: if Africa or Asia put a team in the semis they’ll demand (and get) another place for their confederation at the next WC.
Hope all this doesn’t just confuse you more — but main point: league strength has nothing to do with international play (and strong continents (pretty much regardless of number of teams in confederation) get more WC places).
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
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. . .