Friday, February 29, 2008

Book Prize Juries Know Some German Authors

There has been a little flurry of prize activity among German authors in the last few days, and it would be remiss of me not to mention it.

The LA Times Book Prize (I didn't know there was such thing, but I still feel new to this whole scene) released the 2007 nominee list yesterday. In the Mystery/Thriller category, German author Jan Costin Wagner was nominated for his book, Ice Moon, translated by John Brownjohn. A whopping three translations made the nominee list this year, up from zero last year. Thank you, LA Times, for crossing a border or two! The press release doesn't say how much money the finalists receive, but they will receive the prize on April 25, the day before the LA Times Festival of Books, which looks like a great festival.

This next one is actually a German prize, but worth mentioning because the recipient will participate in the PEN World Voices Festival in New York this year. Sasa Stanisic has just received the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize, which celebrates foreign authors living and writing in Germany. Stanisic was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina. His first novel, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, has been translated by the omnipresent Anthea Bell and will come out with Grove/Atlantic in June.

And last, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize just announced its shortlist, which includes Austrian author Daniel Kehlmann, for his novel Measuring the World, translated by Carol Brown Janeway (although the Amazon website has no translator information listed...typical). Kehlmann will also participate in the PEN Festival this year.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rapt Reading

You all know this, so I am just reiterating the point. To sit in a comfy chair with a glass of wine and read a fabulous book is a fabulous way to spend your time...even if the chair is a mildly comfortable fold-out camp chair, and even if the wine is of the cheap, headache-inducing variety. Here's to indulging in creature comforts and good books.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lazy Sunday

This means that I am current not motivated enough on this overcast Sunday afternoon to write full posts about any of these subjects, but I would still like my readers to be informed of the following:

1) Literary Rapture will be attending BookExpo America this year! You can expect daily coverage from the trade show floor, the parties, and the streets of Los Angeles, where literati, cynical publishers, and New Yorkers will mingle with suntanned beach-going Californians.

2) In the Dept. of Gross, the Willesden Herald Prize of 5,000 pounds for unpublished writers was awarded to nobody this year. Apparently, Zadie Smith and the Willesden Herald are trying to save contemporary publishing from the "pseudo-literary fictio-tainment" that we must currently endure (obviously Zadie Smith is far above that). However, Zadie and the other jury members decided that none of the entrants possessed enough talent to do that. Zadie went on to assert that most literary prizes are more about "brand consolidation" than literature. Too bad we aren't al as smart or literary as Zadie Smith.

3) The part about brand consolidation brings me to my next point about branding in the publishing industry. This really needs to be a longer post, but let me introduce the topic that will become more frequent here on this blog. I firmly believe that publishers need to do more to market themselves as brands if they want to sell more books. Harlequin and McSweeney's are good examples. Readers are familiar with these publishers and the kinds of books they release. Before I started in this industry, I had no idea what publishers existed beyond the big guys. I simply never looked, and I am not unique in that regard. Even now, the publishing missions and strategies of many publishers are vague and hard to identify. They all seek to publish quality works by provocative and original authors...or whatever. Get a name, get a brand, and get an audience!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rochester, New York

According to one enthusiastic resident, Rochester boasts the following attractions:
  1. the world's largest indoor volleyball bar
  2. absinthe
  3. celebrity authors
Not bad.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ror Wolf Review

Chad Post over at Three Percent has just posted my review of Two or Three Years Later, a wild short story collection by German author Ror Wolf. He links to a sample translation by Anthea Bell here.

In other German book news, Sasa Stanisic has just been awarded the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize a.k.a 15,000 euros (found via Liisas Litblog). This prize is awarded by the Robert Bosch Stiftung and honors authors writing in German whose native language is not German. Stanisic's novel, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, is coming out this spring with Grove Atlantic, and translated by none other than Anthea Bell. Publishers Weekly featured the book in a Januray article, New Fiction New Worlds. Stanisic will participate in this year's PEN World Voices Festival.

HarperCollins joins this century

Finally! A publisher has decided that the Internet is not a thief's paradise or a money pit. HarperCollins launched a new ebook (or is it e-book) program called Browse Inside that allows users to read and search through full-text electronic versions of the latest titles for free. Reading books for free? Is Jane Friedman crazy? Oh wait, we've been able to read books for free in bookstores and libraries since bookstores and libraries came into existence. The Browse Inside program is a bit clumsy to navigate and pages sometimes load slowly, but I wonder if that wasn't done on purpose to discourage users from reading the entire book online instead of buying it. In any case, this is a much-needed step in the right direction.

Publishers need to trust that their readers want to buy books, not steal them. Of course there will always be those people who try to scrounge every ounce of free-ness they can from every situation, but these people are the minority. They are the people who sit in Barnes and Noble and read entire books without buying them, but they are already a factor in books sales. So what if a few of the people who go to the HarperCollins website read the book there instead of buying it? Those people probably would not have bought the book in the first place.

Still, Jane Friedman is wary and watchful of this new enterprise. In a New York Times article on this subject, Friedman said that the company would track sales of the featured titles on Browse Inside very closely, and that "we will know very soon if we sense any kind of cannibalization." This quotation seems to sum up the industry attitude toward the Internet. It sounds like a threat to all of those hungry little readers out there. Don't read too much of this book online or you will lose the privilege! Yikes!

Seriously, we just want to read some books, and we don't even mind paying for them.

Digital publishing afficianados, look for press coverage of the O'Reilly Tools of Change conference going on now in New York City. Bloggers, pros, and authors are teaming up to discuss digital technology as it relates to books!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Two British Books

The Guardian recently posted reviews about two books coming out by British publishers that sound fascinating (and make me curse the cost of shipping a book across the Atlantic Ocean).

We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek is about romance among foreign correspondents in Afghanistan. You get action, world politics, romance, and complexity in one solid book. My favorite quotation from the review: "Meek has a feel for the atmosphere of those years at the turn of the century, when the British and American and Australian publics regained for a period the taste for foreign warfare that they had lost in the 1890s."

Out of Breath by Julie Myerson sounds like a savage novel that spares very little in terms of emotional gut-wrenching. An abused boy sees a feral child appear in the garden behind his house. Only at the end of the novel does the reader find out the extent of the abuse the boy suffers and whether or not this feral child is real or imagined. Intense.

Reading the World 2008

Courtesy of Chad Post at Three Percent, here is the finalized 2008 selection of titles for Reading the World.

Note the whopping four titles translated from German, including the rapturous Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass. His US book tour included an amazing discussion at the NYPL with Norman Mailer last year, and a reading at the Goethe-Institut with his wonderful (and sadly, soon-to-be-retired) translator, Breon Mitchell.

Other books on the list I am excited about:

Yalo by Elias Khoury
Knowledge of Hell by Antonio Lobo Antunes
Beijing Coma by Ma Jian (he was great at last year's PEN Festival)
Mind's Eye by Hakan Nesser (I'm a sucker for Scandinavian crime novels)
Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano

Monday, February 4, 2008

Book party for Michael Krüger

The Goethe-Institut on the Upper East Side hosted a fabulous book party for Michael Krüger and the release of his book, The Executor, in English. The event, especially the speech that Krüger delivered, certainly inspired a bout of literary rapture (after refills of white wine and no dinner, I had to work hard to contain my excitement). As the publisher of Carl Hanser Verlag in Germany, Krüger is certainly an authority on all things literary. He encouraged American publishers to request more funding for translated literature and to remember their multi-cultural heritage.

Although my social circles only extend so far, I can say that the following people were present at this event: Barbara Epler and Declan Spring of New Directions, author of Susan Sontag: Geist und Glamour Daniel Schreiber, Siobhan O'Leary of Crown/Random House, several German journalists, and other New York literati. I don't mean to leave anyone out, but I can be shy at these kinds events and don't always get to meet everyone.

For my loyal readers, look for my upcoming post as I weigh in (along with several other bloggers) on the brand image of McSweeney's.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Back in Action

After a long absence from the blogosphere (I hope someone will come up with a better term soon), Literary Rapture has returned to active duty. To kick things off, I will start with a couple of events that LR recently attended, inspiring rapture of varying kinds.

To celebrate the December 2007 publication of The Seventh Well by Fred Wander, a panel of literary individuals gathered at the Austrian Cultural Forum on January 24th to discuss the artistic merits and historical significance of this book. Thane Rosenbaum moderated the panel which included Alana Newhouse (arts and culture editor of the Forward), poet Ed Hirsch, and the book's translator, Michael Hofmann. With a wealth of knowledge on Holocaust studies and literary history, the panel began to debate how to define Wander's book. Is it a shining example of Holocaust testimonial or should we read it as a work of art for art's sake? Can the Holocaust be separated enough from the words to simply appreciate the book on its pure literary and poetic merits? Ed Hirsch said yes. Alana Newhouse said no. It was an invigorated discussion that made me want to reread the book and join the debate.

On Saturday, I attended the annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writers' Programs to meet and greet my favorite publishers, get a little business done, and to check out all the books that were on sale. Three floors of exhibition halls were packed with publishing pros, literati, and aspiring writers. Conference-goers were laden with bags of books and brochures, enough to rival BEA and Frankfurt! I had no idea this thing was so big.

I have more posts planned for the future, so keep checking back as Literary Rapture returns to regular syndication.