The one panel from Monday that hasn’t gotten a lot of coverage online is the Editors Buzz Panel. Consisting of French, German, and American editors (and Scott Moyers from Wylie—lot more below), this panel was an opportunity to highlight some really interesting forthcoming books.
Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens talked about Marie Darrieussecq’s latest book (which is the subject of a fascinating controversy); Jenna Johnson from Harcourt talked about I Have the Right to Destroy Myself and Michael Zollner from Tropen Verlag presented a book called What We Talk about When We Talk about Doping.
All the presentations were great, but what most got me going was Scott Moyers opening comments about fiction in translation. As someone who worked at Random House, Penguin, and now Wylie, he’s come into contact with a lot of big international authors. And I’m sure he’s a nice guy. But the things he said at the panel were a perfect example of how commercial publishing treats “international fiction” as a pure commodity and basically undercut a lot of the good interactions that happened earlier in the days.
First off, he started talking about W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, and that although Sebald had been “getting his name out there a bit,” this was an opportunity for Random House to put the “stamp of authority” on Sebald as a great European writers. Which is pretty inaccurate. New Directions (and Harvill in the UK) had been publishing Sebald for years and had already cultivated a huge reputation for him. Sebald was by no means unknown when Random House wrested the rights to Austerlitz away from New Directions in what seemed to be a pretty savage business move better suited to Wall Street than literary publishing. But RH saw an opportunity—not to promote Sebald, but to capitalize on him.
The next book he mentioned was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Which is a book with some merit, but not really the “great Barcelona novel” that it was portrayed as. But that’s an aesthetic debate, and it may be because I can name more than a dozen Spanish/Catalan writers that I have a slightly different perspective on where this fits in the Spanish literary tradition than Scott does.
What bugged me though was his insistence that, like with Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, The Shadow of the Wind sent publishers rushing to find other Spanish novelists writing just like him. Even if true, that precisely describes one of the things wrong with American publishing. This sort of pigeonholing, this looking to replicate what “worked” leads to the publication of a lot of pale imitations that are generally uninteresting and create the viewpoint that all fiction from country X is all the same.
All of these events—like everything the French American Foundation, the French Cultural Services, and the German Book Office do—were designed to promote a widening appreciation of literature from other cultures. But this perspective that Scott presented—which actually is pretty dominant in the marketplace—represents the exact opposite. Instead of appreciating art from other cultures, these publishers treat these books as commodities. The Shadow of the Wind is great because it sold well, not necessarily because it’s a great book.
There’s nothing wrong with for profit companies running their business in profitable ways, but in my opinion, expressing such a condescending, somewhat ignorant viewpoint at such a panel designed to celebrate cultural exchanges made Americans look crass and culturally naive.
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. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .