The Guardian has a story on an interesting literary award. The International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award starts out with nominations from 162 libraries all over the world, which makes for a huge and eclectic longlist. The list of nominations includes everything under the sun. Or you can check out which libraries in which countries like which books. It’s sort of like a lesson in literary geography. Baudolino by Umberto Eco is apparently favored to win. Out of the three or four books on the list that I’ve read my favorite was probably The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster.
This year's "Genius grant" winners have been announced. The MacArthur grant awards $500,000, “no strings attached” to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Alongside, scientists, artists and scholars are some newly minted geniuses with a literary focus. This year’s literary geniuses are: Readers of the New Yorker will be familiar with Peter Hessler's unique coverage of China, where he lived as much like a local as any outsider might be expected to. While most journalism out of China, a country that seems to be capturing our fascination more and more with every passing year, focuses on the economic might and the "otherness" of the place, Hessler has written compellingly about day-to-day life in China and portrayed its people's hopes and concerns in a way that feels universal. His work on China is collected in Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China, River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, and Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip. Kay Ryan, one of two poets to be hailed by the MacArthur Foundation this year, was the 16th Poet Laureate of the United States. Her first major work, according to MacArthur, was 1985's Strangely Marked Metal, and she won the Pulitzer this year for The Best of It: New and Selected Poems. The Paris Review interviewed her in 2009. A. E. Stallings is the other poet (see Hapax) getting recognition from MacArthur this year, though she's also well known as a translator (see her translation of Lucretius's The Nature of Things. An interview with Stallings in the Cortland Review.
If there is an award season for the book industry, it's probably right around now. The Booker will be announced in a couple of days, the Nobel Prize was just announced, and now the finalists for the National Book Award have been announced. (The Pulitzer doesn't happen until the spring, though.) The big news this year is that the 9/11 Commission Report has been nominated in the non-fiction category. It's an unprecedented development, and I can't help but think that a message is being sent. And it is a rather clever way of getting publicity for the award. It also, however, reflects the important place in history that 9/11 will hold. On the fiction side, the nominees are an interesting bunch, all of the women and none of them big, well-known names. Below you can find the nominees for the fiction and non-fiction categories, and some excerpts or whatever else I could find.FictionMadeleine Is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum -- profileFlorida by Christine Schutt -- interviewIdeas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories by Joan Silber -- excerptThe News from Paraguay by Lily Tuck -- excerptOur Kind: A Novel in Stories by Kate Walbert -- excerptNon-FictionArc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age by Kevin Boyle -- reviewWashington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer -- excerptLife on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett by Jennifer Gonnerman -- excerpt (this is a good one)Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt -- excerpt9/11 Commission Report -- read it here
The National Book Critics Circle announced the nominees for its annual best of the year awards over the weekend. Ed has stepped up to call the fiction selections in particular "safer than a dinner for four at the Olive Garden." The relative safety of the books aside, my understanding was that this award was meant to be given to the books that the nation's critics believe are of the highest quality, regardless of how well known or how obscure they are.While it might have been more interesting to for us to discuss five relatively unknown and incredibly challenging novels, I think that such a slate would have been intellectually dishonest when the critics are charged with picking the books they think are the best. Let us not forget 2004, when the five National Book Award nominees in fiction were basically unknowns across the board. The people behind the Award that year were roundly derided for their selections and those nominees were anything but safe. In that case, and in looking at this year's NBCC nominees, I would suggest that we debate the books' quality rather than whether they are too "predictable," which strikes me as an even more slippery qualifier.For more on how the NBCC makes its picks, check out TEV's interview with NBCC president John Freeman. Here are this year's nominees in fiction and nonfiction along with excerpts where available (nominees in other categories can be found at the NBCC site):Fiction:Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (excerpt, an Emerging Writers best of the year)The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (excerpt)What is the What by Dave Eggers (excerpt, Garth's review)The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford (excerpt, Noah's review)The Road by Cormac McCarthyNonfiction:The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq by Patrick Cockburn (One of Cockburn's Iraq diaries in the LRB)The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade by Anne Fessler (NYT review)The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan (Patrick's review)Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution by Simon Schama (excerpt)The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan (excerpt)
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The Booker Prize has whittled down its longlist to an intriguing shortlist, and none of the authors tapped has previously won the Prize. As was the case in prior years, two Americans make the shortlist this year: Paul Beatty and Ottessa Moshfegh. They are joined by the UK's Graeme Macrae Burnet and Deborah Levy, and Canadians David Szalay and Madeleine Thien. The bookies suggest that Levy, the only author remaining to have previously landed on a shortlist, is the favorite to win. All the Booker Prize shortlisters are below (with bonus links where available): The Sellout by Paul Beatty (The Inanity of American Plutocracy: On Paul Beatty’s The Sellout) Hot Milk by Deborah Levy His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh (Ottessa Moshfegh's Year in Reading) All That Man Is by David Szalay Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
Max's recent post cataloging 13 years of Anglo-American "Prizewinners" got me wondering... what were the most decorated books in foreign-language fiction during the same period? And how many of them are currently available in English? I assumed that, in an Internet age, this information would be easy to come by in consolidated form; as it turned out, I was wrong. And so, by way of a remedy, I embarked on a tortuous research process.The first step was to figure out what prizes I should be looking at. I tried to identify awards that recognized a single work of fiction annually, or biennially; that focused on a specific linguistic tradition; and that would give a book traction in a market sizable enough to facilitate comparison. That is, I was looking for analogues for the National Book Award or the Booker. The list of prizes I ended up with covers a slightly expanded version of the U.N. Security Council - France and its former colonies, the Spanish-speaking world, Germany and Austria, Italy, Russia, and Japan - which may, in itself, tell us something about the nature of literary laurels.Next, to allow for the time required to translate a book, I narrowed my window to the years 1995-2005, assuming that more recent books may still be in the process of translation. Using Wikipedia, World Literature Today the Library of Congress Catalog, Amazon.com, Babelfish, and other resources, I was able to track down English-language versions of prize-winning titles from those years (though not to rule out the existence of translations the LoC and Amazon might have missed).With its many arbitrary elements, its patent Eurocentrism, and its shaky grasp of some of the languages and cultures involved (readers are encouraged to enlighten me via the comments button), my ad hoc methodology makes the one publisher John O'Brien critiques in the current issue of CONTEXT look positively rigorous. Nonetheless, in light of O'Brien's argument that "translations have suddenly moved from their marginalized place in the American marketplace," the resulting list turns out to be pretty interesting. And, no matter how one interprets the data, this "International Edition" of our Prizewinners feature should offer readers who share my passion for contemporary world literature a place to start.(N.B.: Jealous of Max's arithmetic prowess, I've injected some pseudoscience into this post by calculating the Translation Quotient (TQ): percentage of winners of each award that have been translated into English. The prizes are listed in descending order of TQ.)1. French-Language LiteratureIn the Prix Goncourt, France has one of the world's most venerable and distinguished literary awards. Every December since 1903, it has been given to "the best and most imaginative prose work of the year." My favorites among the honorees include Marcel Proust's Within a Budding Grove and Patrick Chaimoiseau's Texaco. Perhaps because of the prize's august history, and perhaps because of the intensity with which the French promote their literary culture, the Goncourt has the best Translation Quotient of any of the prizes I looked at. Of the 11 winning books from 1995 to 2005, eight have been translated into English. The 2006 winner, Les Bienveillantes, was written in French by an American, and was one of my Most Anticipated Books of 2008.Goncourt winners in translation 1995-2005 (TQ: 73%)1995 - Andrëi Makine, Dreams of My Russian Summers (Arcade)1997 - Patrick Rambaud, The Battle (Grove)1998 - Paule Constant, Trading Secrets (University of Nebraska Press)1999 - Jean Echenoz, I'm Gone (New Press)2000 - Jean-Jacques Schuhl, Ingrid Caven (City Lights)2001 - Jean-Christophe Rufin, Brazil Red (Norton)2003 - Jacques-Pierre Amette, Brecht's Mistress (New Press)2004 - Laurent Gaudé, The House of Scorta (MacAdam/Cage)2. Spanish-Language LiteratureNovelists working in Spanish have a number of interesting prizes at their disposal, including the Cervantes Prize, given for lifetime achievement. The premier prize for a single novel is pretty widely recognized to be the semiannual Premio Internacional de Novela Rómulo Gallegos. Three out of the six winners from 1995 - 2005 have been translated into English; some authors, like Enrique Vila-Matas, have had works other than their Gallegos-winners translated.RRómulo Gallegos winners in translation 1995-2005 (TQ: 50%)1995 - Javier Marías (Spain), Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me (New Directions)1997 - Ángeles Mastretta (Mexico), Lovesick (Riverhead)1999 - Roberto Bolaño (Chile), The Savage Detectives (FSG)3. Italian LiteratureThe preeminent Italian prize is the Premio Strega; the Italians seem to do a pretty good job getting books chosen for the Strega translated into English. Of the 11 winners between 1995 and 2005, three have been translated into English, and several authors have had other titles appear in the U.S.Strega winners in translation 1995 - 2005 (TQ: 27%)1999 - Dacia Maraini, Darkness (Steerforth)2002 - Margaret Mazzantini, Don't Move (Anchor)2003 - Melania G. Mazzucco Vita (FSG)4. Russian LiteratureThis one was a disappointment. Russian is one of the great literary languages, and has its own Booker-Open Russia Literary Prize. Monumental winners like Georgy Vladimov's The General and His Army (1995) would seem to be right up my alley - but haven't been translated into English. Vasily Aksyonov, a Millions favorite and winner of the Russian Booker in 2004, has had a number of books appear in the U.S. But apparently, only one book that took home the prize between 1995 and 2005 has itself been translated.Russian Booker winners in translation 1995 - 2005 (TQ: 9%)2003 - Ruben Gallego White On Black (Harcourt)5. German-Language LiteratureI have to admit, this surprised me. I would have expected German speakers, with their robust literary heritage, to coronate a single book each year to present to the world. Then again, given the history of the last 150 years, the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire, and so on, I suppose it's not surprising that there is some fragmentation when it comes to awards. Perhaps as a remedy, the German Publishers & Booksellers Association in 2005 created the German Book Prize. But according to my (admittedly cursory) research, the preeminent prizes for a single work of German-language fiction during the 1995 - 2005 period would have been Austria's Ingeborg Bachmann Prize and the Alfred Döblin Prize (endowed by Günter Grass). Surprisingly, out of the 17 combined winners of these two prizes from 1995 - 2005, only one was translated into English. (The percentage goes up slightly, to two out of 20, if we throw in the great Ingo Schulze's, 33 Moments of Happiness, which won the Döblin "Förderpreis," [meaning, first novel prize?] in 1995).Döblin and Bachmann winners in translation, 1995 - 2005 (TQ: 6%)1995 - Norbert Gstrein, English Years (Minerva [U.K.])Japanese LiteratureA mixed bag here. The Tanizaki Prize would seem to confer just the kind of distinction a publisher would want - it's so selective that some years, they don't even give it out - and yet none of the 12 winners from 1995 to 2005 have been translated into English. (There were two winners in 1997, 2000, and 2005). Then again, Yuko Tsushima, who won in 1998 and Yoko Tawada, who won in 2003, have had other works translated into English, and Ryu Murakami has been translated quite often.Tanizaki Winners in translation, 1995 - 2005 (TQ: 0%)