Small Demons, headed by chief executive Valla Vakili, cross-references people, places, songs, books, films, food, drink and gadgets mentioned in books, allowing users to make connections between texts, and buy related goods. Last year Random House UK became the first UK publisher to place books onto the service. This year Small Demons embedded links to iTunes and Spotify, meaning readers could download related songs. The company was also looking into how it could integrate with an e-reading and e-commerce service, a development that would have facilitated a sale.
However, in a letter sent to publishers over the past 24 hours, Small Demons said that this acquisition had fallen through. It revealed that it will cease operations on 25th November, unless it can find an alternative buyer. The company had raised more than $2m in funding since its founding, but indicated that the ongoing sale negotiations left it without alternative funding sources.
That’s really unfortunate, since it was such a fun site to play around with—and because the amazing Richard Nash was involved—but it points to some big issues with monetizing a book discovery site and how people use these.Tweet
So, this morning, Amazon announced something called Amazon Source, a program to sell Kindles through participating independent booksellers. Yes, seriously. No, really, this isn’t one of my weird jokes.
We created Amazon Source to empower independent bookstores and other small retailers to sell Kindle e-readers and tablets in their stores. We crafted two unique programs with two different kinds of stores in mind, but retailers in select states can choose whichever program they prefer. Through the Amazon Source portal you can order inventory at wholesale prices, communicate with our account management team, and download professionally-designed marketing and merchandising assets to help drive your sales.
Not sure whether e-readers or tablets would be interesting for your customers? You can find out by participating in a completely worry-free trial. The first order you place through Amazon Source can be returned within six months. If you decide that e-readers and tablets aren’t the right fit for your store, we’ll buy back any tablet, e-reader or accessory that was on your first order, no questions asked.
OK, first off, I think most bookstores are going to see this as a huge slap to the face. We can help make money—and more market share—for the company that’s destroying our margins and making our lives that much more stressful??? Fuck. And. No. So, it’s unlikely that this will ever work.
But, at the same time, it’s not too dissimilar from the program whereby indie sell Kobo devices? But replacing Kobo with a device that dominates the markets?
Is there any benefit here? Well, this is Amazon’s claim:
We designed this program with bookstores in mind. The Bookseller Program offers a discount on the price of Kindle tablets and e-readers, plus the opportunity to make a commission on every book your customers purchase from their device, anywhere, anytime. With the Bookseller Program, you get a 10% commission every time one of your customers buys an e-book from a Kindle tablet or e-reader that they purchase at your store. This program allows you to give your customers a choice between digital and physical books, offer them access to a wide selection of e-books, and profit from every e-book they buy on their new device, from your store or on the go.
Buy Kindle devices at a 6% discount from the Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price.
Buy Kindle accessories at a 35% discount from the Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price.
Earn a 10% commission on the price of every e-book purchased from customers’ Kindle devices.
(I believe the 10% commission only lasts for the 2 years following the purchase of the Kindle.)
It’s not even worth parsing this, but 6% of the MSRP for Kindle devices? First off, which Kindle is this—the one with ads for Amazon products, or the one free of ads? And what’s to prevent Amazon from selling you, the bookseller, a Kindle for $100 then dropping the price on Amazon.com to $95? Even if a store gets 6% on the sale of these devices, THEY’LL STILL BE MAKING NEXT TO NO MONEY.
(Again, not worth going into, but there is a second program that doesn’t include the 10% commission, but sells the devices to booksellers at a 9% discount.)
From a reader perspective, does this make sense? I suppose so, sort of. If I could tie my Kindle to Talking Leaves, and give them $.80 for my purchase of Diary of a Wimpy Kid 8 (or whatever it was my daughter bought last night), a tiny chunk of the huge black mass of guilt and self-loathing that is my soul would fall away.
But $.80??? That’s not really going to help Talking Leaves. Especially if they would’ve made almost $7 if I had bought the physical book from them.
Sure, booksellers are aware that more and more people are reading ebooks and that they’re not getting any part of this market, and some of them wish they could capture a part of it . . . but this isn’t the solution.
It’s a fucking genius move from Amazon . . . if stores were to go along with it. In that case, Amazon gets more Kindles out into the world, customers feel slightly more encouraged to buy ebooks from Amazon, thus moving some of their spending money from the local indie bookstore (because really, wouldn’t you just rather buy something from home rather than drive all the way out to the store, which may not have the book, but will definitely be less comfortable than one’s couch . . .), to Amazon.
I can’t wait to read Dustin’s take on this over at Moby Lives/Melville House, but I’m just going to stop here, since I don’t think this is a program that booksellers will get behind, and will be a foggy memory a couple years from now.
It does dovetail nicely into what I was planning on talking to my students about in our “Intro to Publishing” class today. Namely, indie bookstores, the long tail, ebooks, and how Amazon can continue expanding and generating more revenue ($75 billion last year!).Tweet
Here’s a bit about Toad Press from their blog site: “The Toad Press International Chapbook Series publishes contemporary, exciting, beautiful, odd, and avant-garde chapbook-length translations of poetry and prose.” They have a couple handfuls of great chapbooks for everyone to look into—and some great chapbook deals as well!
Here’s a bit from Tiffany’s review of this compact yet powerful chapbook of poems:
Poetry always has the feel of mysticism and mystery, or maybe this feeling is a stereotype left over from high school literature class. It is generally the result of confusion, lack of time committed to consuming the poetry, and the general difficulty poetry imposes on the reader.
In Víctor Rodríguez Núñez’s collection, Every Good Heart is a Telescope, he elevates the mysticism and mystery of poetry through people, events, and experiences that we can be begin to understand tangibly through the use of metaphors relating to science, mathematics, inventorship, and space phenomena. Such imagery is equally as mystical and mysterious as poetry itself, but almost everyone has been consumed by science, mathematics, inventorship, or space at some point in their lives, most often during childhood. The reader will immediately become refamiliarized with their dreams of the yesteryear through Núñez’s love affair with the heavens, metaphysics, alchemy, and our unbounded universe.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
As announced Friday, Mia Couto has won this year’s Neustadt International Prize for Literature:
Gabriella Ghermandi, who nominated Couto for the Neustadt Prize, said of him, “He is an author who addresses not just his country but the entire world, all human beings.”
Couto is the first Mozambican author to be nominated for and to win the Neustadt Prize. He is considered to be one of the most important writers in Mozambique, and his works have been published in more than 20 languages.
Born in 1955 in Beira, Mozambique, Couto began his literary career in the struggle for Mozambique’s independence, during which time he edited two journals. Raiz de Orvalho, Couto’s first book of poetry, was published in 1983. His first novel and the novel that was the representative text for the Neustadt, Sleepwalking Land, was published in 1992 to great acclaim and is widely considered one of the best African books of the 20th century.
Couto is known for his use of magical realism as well as his creativity with language. In her nominating statement, Ghermandi wrote, “Some critics have called Mia Couto ‘the smuggler writer,’ a sort of Robin Hood of words who steals meanings to make them available in every tongue, forcing apparently separate worlds to communicate. Within his novels, each line is like a small poem.”
This year, Couto also received the 2013 Camões Prize for Literature, a prestigious award given to Portuguese-language writers.
Sleepwalking Land is available from Serpent’s Tail, and is definitely worth reading.
ALSO worth checking out though is The Tuner of Silences, which came out recently from Biblioasis.
Translated from the Portuguese by David Brookshaw, here’s a synopsis:
Mwanito Vitalício was eleven when he saw a woman for the first time, and the sight so surprised him he burst into tears.
Mwanito’s been living in a big-game park for eight years. The only people he knows are his father, his brother, an uncle, and a servant. He’s been told that the rest of the world is dead, that all roads are sad, that they wait for an apology from God. In the place his father calls Jezoosalem, Mwanito has been told that crying and praying are the same thing. Both, it seems, are forbidden.
The eighth novel by The New York Times-acclaimed Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences is the story of Mwanito’s struggle to reconstruct a family history that his father is unable to discuss. With the young woman’s arrival in Jezoosalem, however, the silence of the past quickly breaks down, and both his father’s story and the world are heard once more.
Before getting into this month’s list of recommended translations—which is kind of long, mostly because I couldn’t decide on which titles to cut—I want to follow-up a bit on last month’s post about our trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Actually, to be more specific, I want to talk about Germans singing karaoke. The book fair itself was fantastic. We met with dozens and dozens of people, found at least a half-dozen books we want to publish, and ate a year’s worth of currywurst. (I also drank all of Surhkamp’s wine at their swanky party. And heard a lot of details about the current court imbroglio, most of which I can’t write about here.)
As it turned out, the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the L.A. Dodgers on the final night that we were in Frankfurt. Most everyone reading this knows about my love for the Cardinals (and my heart-wrenching disappointment that they lost to the fucking Red Sox), and seeing this was the playoffs, I had to find a way to see the game. Luckily, right next door to our hotel was O’Reilly’s, an Irish Sports pub that also specializes in karaoke.
Although our waitress referred to it as “that singing shit,” I was sort of excited about the mixture of baseball and karaoke. Karaoke is one of those great moments when you get to publicly witness people overvaluing their skills. People generally think of themselves as the exception to the rule—ask all the stock traders in the world if they’re above average or below average and 75% of them will claim to be “above,” something that’s statistically bullshit—but rarely put that out of such obvious display.
Of course, this being Germany, I was expecting ALL the Bon Jovi and Guns n’ Roses, and possibly the ‘Hoff. But NO. NOT EVEN ANY ABBA. We were treated to exactly none of that. Instead, we got a totally different array of shitty music: multiple Billy Joel songs, a Dolly Parton finale (sung by a tone deaf guy who was a regular), and even NICKELBACK.
What was even more interesting than the bizarre song choices (“9 to 5”?? Has this ever been sung at another karaoke bar?) was the way in which German karaokers over-annuciate all the lyrics. There was no slurring or mumbling when the one dude belted out “WOAH-OH-HO-OH. FOH ZE LON-GEST TIME.” It’s as if they were adding in syllables to make sure that each word was fully articulated.
No where was this more apparent, and disturbing, than in the rendition of “How You Remind Me.” Listen to the “video” to remind yourself of a) how fucking terrible this song is, b) that the chorus to this song is “Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, no / Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, no,” and c) how Mr. Linkin Park trips from vowel to vowel with a bit of fierce in his voice.
That was not at all how it was sung that night in Germany. Instead of the sort of growl that’s a Nickelback trademark (cough), everything was as clean and orderly as possible (cough, Germans). So we got something like this:
It’s not like you to say so-HREE
I vas VAYting on a dee-fer-RENT sto-HREE
Zis time I’m me-STAY-ken
Foh hending you a haht vurt brea-KING
And I’ve been VRONG, I’ve been down,
Been to ze bot-TOM ov EH-VE-REE bottle
Zeez faif VURDS in my head
Scream “ah vee ha-VING fun yet?”
And this guy didn’t just sing one time and then give it up. He went up there TWICE. Oh, karaoke.
Red Grass by Boris Vian. Translated from the French by Paul Knobloch. (Tam Tam Books, $15.95)
Boris Vian was amazing. It’s a true shame that he died at such a young age (39), in such a tragic way (supposedly, he snuck into a premiere of the movie version of I Spit on Your Grave, stood up, yelled, “Those are supposed to be Americans? My ass!,” and died of a heart attack). It’s hard to imagine how many great works he would’ve produced had he lived to the ripe old age of Philip Roth.
Tam Tam Books—which is run by Tosh Berman, former buyer at Book Soup, and is dedicated to making Vian’s works available to English readers—is in a perfect position for a Vian resurgence, what with a new movie version of Mood Indigo coming out this year, and this newly translated novel sounds spectacular:
Red Grass tells the story of Wolf, an engineer like Vian himself, who, with the help of Saphir Lazuli, a mechanic, has devised a bizarre “machine” with which he hopes to annihilate old inhibiting memories.
More exciting than the plot is the Vian language which,
undergoes unexpected subversions, as new concepts, sports or occupations are invented, such as “rednecking,” “bloodsport,” and “thigh climber.”
Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell. Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell. (Two Lines Press, $14.95)
Two Lines, which comes out of the Center for the Art of Translation, is one of the best, and longest-running, journals for literature in translation. When they announced last year that they were going to expand into doing books, this seemed like a natural, and exciting, evolution.
This collection is pretty intriguing. Littell, whose Kindly Ones was a huge deal in France, but not so well received in most other countries, followed up his gigantic novel with four short books he wrote for the Montpellier publisher Fata Morgana. Exploring “sex, love, and memory,” this 178-page book provides a nice entry to Littell’s prose.
A True Novel by Minae Mizumura. Translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter. (Other Press, $29.95)
This book is beautifully produced. Two perfect paperbacks in a slick slipcase—this is one of the best designed volumes I’ve received all year.
Hannah Vose wrote a fantastic review of this book for us, so be sure and check that out for more info on the book itself. (She’s very convincing about how worthwhile this book is.)
Sticking with book design for a second: Have any of you seen S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst? HOLY SHIT. I knew this was going to be a multi-media sort of experience, but the product itself is pretty stunning—just look:
I’m totally getting sucked in . . . It’s like Lost all over again . . . Such a sucker for these sorts of games . . .
Black Stars by Ngo Tu Lap. Translated from the Vietnamese by Martha Collins. (Milkweed Editions, $16.00)
LAP! As is noted in the bio page to this collection, Ngo Tu Lap got his Ph.D. from Illinois State University where he interned at Dalkey Archive Press. Both Nate and I were there during that time, and remember a number of Lap stories. (And the fact that he totally knows how to rock a black leather vest.) My favorite was when he cooked us all a traditional Vietnamese dinner, then implied that it contained dog . . . It didn’t, but shit, for a second there I think most of us bought it . . .
The Mongolian Conspiracy by Rafael Bernal. Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. (New Directions, $14.95)
Tom and I talked about this book on one our recent podcasts, including the fact that Tom got the estate to chance the reference to the “FBI agent” to a “CIA agent,” which makes a lot more sense in the context of the plot.
We also talked about the word “fucking.” There are more “fuckings” in this book than in any other book I’ve read recently. Although there are a lot of times that this is used to illuminate the way the protagonist’s mind works, I’m sure it’ll be a bit overwhelming to some readers.
That said, I really appreciated Francisco Goldman’s blurb stating that this is, “The best fucking novel ever written about Mexico City.” Reminds me a bit of Toby Litt’s blurb for Carlos Labbé’s Navidad & Matanza, which he refers to as “headfuck fiction.” More blurbs need to include the word “fuck.”
Shantytown by Cesar Aira. Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. (New Directions, $13.95)
Sticking with ND’s November releases for a minute, Shantytown is the ninth book by Aira that they’ve published. I haven’t had a chance to read this one—Will Vanderhyden is working up a review for us and took the only galley that arrived—but I love using his books in my World Literature class. They’re all readable, enjoyable, and work in a similar way: At some point early on, Aira gets to believe in one unbelievable thing (in Ghosts it’s the existence of ghosts, in The Literary Conference, it’s the impossible to render description of the treasure and how it’s found) and then is free to do basically anything in the text. (Such as having huge silkworms come out of the hills.) This is a great set-up for talking about what translations have to accomplish . . .
The Combover by Adrián Bravi. Translated from the Italian by Richard Dixon. (Frisch & Co., $7.28)
Including this here both because Frisch & Co. deserves some praise, but also because of this line:
A hilariously dark tale in the tradition of César Aira, The Combover confirms Bravi’s unique status among Italian contemporary writers.
So, if you love the nine Aira books New Directions has put out, you should definitely check this out.
Also, it involves Lapland. LAPLAND.
Everything Happens as It Does by Albena Stambolova. Translated from the Bulgarian by Olga Nikolova. (Open Letter Books, $12.95)
Thanks to the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, Olga Nikolova spent a few weeks in Rochester working on this translation and learning about the American publishing scene. As part of her education, on her last day here, we decided to take her to Taylor’s, a “cougar club” which just so happens to be managed by Cuban author José Manuel Prieto’s brother. So, a literary cougar club? Anyway, as it turned out, Olga’s last night in town corresponded with the “What Women Want Weekend”—a frightening thing that involved hundreds of middle-aged women descending on Taylor’s to meet the University of Rochester’s a cappella group, the Yellowjackets. (Who appeared on NBC’s The Sing-Off.) Those kids barely made it out alive . . . But man, what a shit show! All the awkward dancing, the walk-by ass grabs, the make-up and hair! It was a thing that can only be experienced, never described. And Olga absolutely loved it. The way I remember, she almost “accidentally” left her passport behind so that she would be stranded in Rochester, frequenting the Taylor’s every weekend . . .
Dalkey Archive’s Library of Korean Literature, the first ten releases.
A few years back, Dalkey Archive announced that they had received a massive grant from the Literary Translation Institute of Korea to publish 25 Korean books. The first 10 come out this month, with the remaining 15 due in 2014.
I recently served as a judge for South Korea’s biennial translation contest, and ended up reading all 11 books published in English translation in the past two years. There’s more to say about those books and that contest, but for now, it’s worth noting that Dalkey, in one day, almost exceeded the total number of Korean books published over the previous two years. That’s what funding and determination can do!
Of the ten books that are coming out now, the four that caught my eye are: A Most Ambiguous Sunday, and Other Stories by Jung Young-moon, translated by Yewon Jung, Inrae You Vinciguerra, and Louis Vinciguerra; One Spoon on This Earth by Hyun Ki-young, translated by Jennifer M. Lee; When Adam Opens His Eyes by Jang Jung-il, translated by Hwang Sun-ae and Horace Jeffery Hodges; and At Least We Can Apologize by Lee Ki-ho, translated by Christopher Joseph Dykas.
If you’re interested in learning more about the series, and these ten books, you should really download this PDF sampler, which includes excerpts from all of the books.
The Maya Pill by German Sadulaev. Translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio. (Dalkey Archive Press, $15.00)
Sticking with Dalkey for a minute, this book sounds wonderful:
A bitingly funny twenty-first century satire, The Maya Pill tells the story of a mid-level manager at a frozen-food import company who comes upon a box of psychotropic pills that’s accidentally been slipped into a shipment. He takes one, and disappears down the rabbit hole: entering the mind of a Chinese colleague; dreaming that he is one of the rulers of an ancient kingdom; even believing he is in negotiations with the devil. A mind-expanding companion to the great Russian classics, The Maya Pill is strange, savage, bizarre, and uproarious.
I’m also intrigued by this title knowing that Carol Apollonio was one of Bromance Will’s professors at Duke. (And speaking of Bromance, it’s not too many more months before I can start including Deep Vellum titles on this list.)
Eucalyptus by Mauricio Segura. Translated from the French by Donald Winkler. (Biblioasis, $18.95)
Number one reason to read this book? Stephen Sparks of Green Apple and the BTBA blurbed it:
Well-executed, with a cinematic quality and keen visual sense . . . Segura locates the political through the personal in a way that is uncommon.
That’s it for now . . .Tweet
On this week’s podcast, Carolyn Kellogg of the Los Angeles Times joined us to discuss Thomas Pynchon’s latest novel, Bleeding Edge. All three of us are Pynchon fans, and all three of us really liked this latest book. Although, as we talk about, the fact that we experienced a lot of the cultural items Pynchon references makes this a bit odd . . . Like, Pynchon’s watched Office Space? He is aware of Pokemon and Beanie Babies?
In our conversation, we also referenced two images, the first is of the insane military tower in Montauk:
And also, Tom’s beard:
This week’s music, which will make sense when you get to the discussion, is Semisonic’s Closing Time.
Finally: Tom wanted to respond to my über-pissy comments on the last podcast blog, which is only fair. So here’s his final word:
Ok, fair enough: “intentionally esoteric” was an unfair gut reaction. This is not, however, a straight mea culpa. While I admit that you have done, as you said and stressed, “lifelong research” on international literature, and that said research has translated (get it?) into unmatched enthusiasm for these books that definitely deserve wider audiences, I do think it’s fair to say that it comes off a bit like two West Village record store employees geeking out over import LP’s from obscure Next Wave bands. Which is fine. But it does—and this is, as devout listeners know, something of a persistent issue of mine—smack, ever-so-slightly, of elitism. I’m not suggesting that in the act of composing the list you intentionally set out to demonstrate that your taste in translated literature is far superior to anyone else’s, or that people who do read and love the books included in _Flavorwire_’s list are flat-out ignorant, but there’s a hint of that sentiment.
The only reason I made the statement in the first place is because I believe that there are tons of books that fall somewhere between the predictable ones on the first list and those on Chad and Stephen’s on the spectrum of translated literature. Books that aren’t in the canon (yet) but that also aren’t so under-appreciated that the average literary reader hasn’t heard of them.
In the end, like Chad or anyone who toils in this poorly-lit corner of publishing or book selling, all I want is for people to 1) know about good books they might like; and 2) read those books. The problem with any and all lists is exclusion; working within finite confines, you chose what include, and were thus obligated to exclude others. So it goes.
The British Centre for Literary Translation—located in Norwich at the University of East Anglia—recently launched a search for a new director. You can get all of the information here, but here’s a brief summary of what sounds like one of the coolest translation-related positions ever:
Apply now for the post of BCLT Academic Director
£45,941 to £53,233 per annum
The School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing is seeking to appoint an Academic Director for the British Centre for Literary Translation.
The Centre is a vital point of intersection between professional translation and academic study, founded in 1989 by W.G. Sebald and supported by the University of East Anglia and Arts Council England.
This is an exciting opportunity to shape the next phase of its development in the context offered by UEA’s internationally famous Creative Writing programme and Norwich’s status as England’s first UNESCO City of Literature.
The Academic Director will be a Senior Lecturer in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, engaging in both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching and published research.
The post is available on a full-time indefinite basis from 1 March 2014.
The closing date is 12 noon on 22 November 2013.
And from the job description PDF, here’s a paragraph about the scope of the job:
The Academic Director will be responsible for leading the academic programme of BCLT through teaching, research and organisation, ensuring that the academic and public programmes complement and gain from each other, and acting as advocate for the role and activities of BCLT within UEA. S/he will have particular responsibility for raising BCLT’s academic profile, and developing its academic activity to parallel the well-established outreach programming.
I feel like there’s probably a number of readers of this blog who would qualify for such a position . . .Tweet
Jenn Witte is a bookseller at Skylight Books in Los Angeles
I fall in love easily. Books possess me and while reading them I am completely blinded. Is this a terrible quality in a panelist? I wonder, but I’m going to declare that my engagement with these books is fair in that I give them my whole self, one at a time. When I finish a book, separate myself from it, move on, only then do I begin to develop the perspective needed to pitch them against each other.
A bit like a young me, quietly crushing on some cutie I’d never talk to in school, I doodled about two of the books that I’m obsessing over. I animated them specifically to debut on this blog, but got excited and ended up leaking them onto my own blog/portfolio ahead of time. As a bookseller, it is in my nature to promote the books that I feel strongly about. I can’t help it.
I felt that the animation I made for Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book Two could be used to help promote the kickstarter campaign Archipelago was running at the time (I’m happy to report that they exceeded their goal). The turtle works in a couple of ways, for me at least, to represent the pace of the book as well as the potential that it has to win, slow but steady, somewhere down the line.
When I drew this animation of Seiobo There Below, it was a happy accident that I finished on its date of publication, so I leaked it to New Directions in case they could use it to help readers pronounce the title with confidence. (Feel free to send me requests for future pronunciation animations. This is a serious issue in translated literature.)
It is with blind confidence that I present these books as extremely strong candidates for this year’s award. I had the same blind confidence in Clarice Lispector’s A Breath of Life last year, which made it to the shortlist by a hair and quickly revealed itself to be too… of a way to win. She has a strong musk, I must admit— Karl Ove does, too. Everyone I’ve spoken to at the store has marveled at how they can coexist with his character, how they don’t mind devoting so much time to his books, despite everything (a tweet as evidence). I would love to hear from people who don’t enjoy living through this book. I didn’t expect to, at all, but it owned me. I sit at my dining room table now and I am transported to the conversation I read while sitting there before. I was knitting a scarf at the same time, and wearing it now takes me to Stockholm. On the other end of the spectrum, ,Seiobo There Below perfectly presents the world to the individual in a floating rainbow soap bubble, clean and shiny and at a safe distance. It is a bit of a trophy already. This might prove to be a more winning quality in a candidate. Time will tell. I ride my bike along the Los Angeles river every day, and the herons I see now remind me of the most beautiful first chapter I’ve ever read. Thank you, László, thank you forever.
To be fair, I’ve been equally enchanted by dozens of other eligible and ineligible books this year, and I hope to draw my way through understanding where they belong in the context of this award. I’ll be over here in Los Angeles, thinking about the whole world, thinking about nothing but the book in front of me, scribbling its name over and over, trying not to lose my identity, and trying to identify for everyone.Tweet
Last week, Open Letter editor and resident expert in all things Latvian, translated aloud a bit of an article decrying the Latvian stand at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of the article was that the stand was lame, boring, the laughing stock of the fair, and not nearly as cool as the Estonian and Lithuanian ones, thus severely damaging Latvia’s international reputation.
All of which is nonsense. The Latvian national stand was basically like every other national literature stand. Sure, it didn’t have the sleekness of the Catalan stand, or the extravagance of the Polish stand, but it was functional and totally fine. And did nothing good or bad to Latvia’s reputation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m 100% sure that outside of the handful of self-hating Latvians, no one spent a single minute evaluating this stand. Sorry Latvia, but no one cares how fancy or bare-bones your Frankfurt Book Fair displays are.
But to show that Eastern Europeans aren’t the only ones capable of putting on a bad show, The Hindu has this article about the disaster that was the Indian Publishers Stand:
Of the 40 Indian publishers who hired their stands through the good offices of Capexil, (Chemicals and Allied Products Export Promotion Council) at the recently concluded Frankfurt Book Fair, most have returned home angry, disappointed and disgruntled. [. . .]
The Indian publishers’ stand looked like a shoddy bazaar. The publishers’ names and stand numbers were not in alphabetical order and a visitor had to browse through the entire lot in order to find the right exhibitor. In contrast, the stand opposite, that of the National Book Trust was a swish, elevated red and white affair, with persons willing and ready to help and guide the visitors. [. . .]
“For many of us, especially the first-time participants the Fair was a disaster, a waste of hard-earned cash. Nothing was set up. My stand had not even been erected on the opening day of the fair. I had to go running around, begging for help from Ramesh Mittal, Chairman of Capexil’s Book Publishing and Printing panel and the elusive contractor, a certain Mohit Singla. I paid over Rs. 3,30,000 and I have absolutely nothing to show for it. It’s been a total waste,” Vijay Ahuja of DBS Imprints told The Hindu during a visit to his stall at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
One of my favorite people in the world, Urvashi Batalia, even got into this with some sharp comments:
Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan Books, a veteran of many Frankfurts said, “Everyone was blaming Mr. Mittal of Capexil. He is a very decent man but the organisation under him turned out to be totally incompetent. The contractor turned up very late on the eve of the opening. That is the only day exhibitors get to set up their books and displays. Our badges and directories were not given on time. He never bothered to introduce himself and we did not know what was happening. We received only one badge whereas every exhibitor has to be given two. Each badge costs 45 Euros — not a small sum for a struggling Indian publisher to cough up. We decided to go through Capexil because it was working out cheaper.” [. . .]
Said Urvashi Butalia, “Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, the fact is that the collective Indian stand always looks the worst in the Fair. Even Pakistan last year had a wonderful stand, attractive and beautifully laid out. This is a good example of how India shines abroad!”
So for those who were lucky enough to attend the FBF, which was worse—the Latvian stand or the Indian one?Tweet
Like most people in publishing—or most readers I know—I have approximately a hundred million books on my “to read” shelves. Which in no way stops me from buying more and more books, or, in this case, setting aside everything I “should” be reading to check out a book that won’t be available until April of next year.
The sort of cryptic, yet promising opening of the jacket copy first caught my attention:
Viviane is both an engrossing murder mystery and a gripping exploration of madness, a narrative that tests the shifting boundaries of language and the self. For inspiration, author Julia Deck read the work of Samuel Beckett, because, as she says, “he positions himself within chaos and gives it coherence.”
But it’s this line from the second paragraph that convinced me that I should read this right now:
You are not entirely sure, but it seems to you that four or five hours ago, you did something that you shouldn’t have.
Writing in the second-person is tough to pull off, but that sentence is basically perfect.
Aside from that, I don’t know too much more about this book. It’s published by Minuit—which is surprising, since they don’t often publish debut novels—and will be coming out New Press next year in Linda Coverdale’s translation. And it was nominated for the Prix Femina, the Prix France Inter, and the Prix du Premier Roman, three of France’s ten thousand literary awards.
Also of importance: This is a slim 149 pages, which is the perfect length for me to read tonight, seeing that most of the rest of my weekend will be consumed with baseball watching . . . I’ll let you know on Monday if it’s as good as Wacha’s postseason.Tweet
Paul Klee’s Boat, Anzhelina Polonskaya’s newest bilingual collection of poems available in English, is an emotional journey through the bleakest seasons of the human soul, translated with great nuance by Andrew Wachtel. A former professional ice dancer(!), Polonskaya left the. . .
In Seiobo There Below, Lázló Krasznahorkai is able to succeed at a task at which many writers fail: to dedicate an entire novel to a single message, to express an idea over and over again without falling into repetition or. . .
There are curious similarities in three Italian mystery series, written by Maurizio de Giovanni, Andrea Camilleri, and Donna Leon.1
They’re all police procedurals, and all set in Italy: Naples, Sicily, Venice.
The three protagonists are Commissarios: Luigi Ricciardi, Salvo. . .
Poetry always has the feel of mysticism and mystery, or maybe this feeling is a stereotype left over from high school literature class. It is generally the result of confusion, lack of time committed to consuming the poetry, and the. . .
Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic is not only a translation, but a transformation. It is a translation of Jean Genet’s novel Notre Dame des Fleurs, transmuted from prose to poetry. Originally written in prison as a masturbatory aid (Sartre. . .
Equal parts stoner pulp thriller and psycho-physiological horror story, a pervasive sense of dread mixes with a cloud of weed smoke to seep into every line of the disturbing, complex Under This Terrible Sun. Originally published by illustrious Spanish publishers. . .
From the start, Daniel Canty’s Wigrum, published by Canadian press Talonbooks, is obviously a novel of form. Known also as a graphic designer in Quebec, Canty takes those skills and puts them towards this “novel of inventory” and creates a. . .
Throughout his career—in fact from his very first book, Where the Jackals Howl (1965)—the renowned Israeli writer Amos Oz has set much of his fiction on the kibbutz, collective communities he portrays as bastions of social cohesion and stultifying conformity. . .
Antoon gives us a remarkable novel that in 184 pages captures the experience of an Iraqi everyman who has lived through the war with Iran in the first half of the 1980s, the 1991 Gulf War over the Kuwaiti invasion,. . .
Every fictional work set in L.A. begins with a slow crawl through its streets in the early hours of the morning right after sunrise. Maybe it’s always done this way to emphasize the vast sprawl of the city and highlight. . .