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.
“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
“And this—what. . .
Many authors are compared to Roberto Bolaño. However, very few authors have the privilege of having a Roberto Bolaño quote on the cover of their work; and at that, one which states, “Good readers will find something that can be. . .
In Josep Maria de Sagarra’s Private Life, a man harangues his friend about literature while walking through Barcelona at night:
When a novel states a fact that ties into another fact and another and another, as the chain goes on. . .
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. . .