A couple of months ago I posted about the longlist for the Lettre Ulysses Award, a prize that is given to the best book-length reporting. They have since announced the winner and runners-up, and this year the award went to The People on the Street: A Writer’s View of Israel by Linda Grant. Her book is a ground level view of life in Israel, placing it in counterpoint to the scads of books that look at the region from 35,000 feet. In an excerpt, we read about the reaction on the street in Tel Aviv when people found out that Saddam had been captured.
Most of the Booker longlisters are fairly well-known, and (as of this writing) all of them, save three, have their own Wikipedia pages. However, one of those three has actually been the subject of a Wikipedia war over the last few years, and his page was deleted after months of contentious argument.Ed O’Loughlin is a first-time novelist, who was until recently Middle East correspondent for The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, and The Age. His book, Not Untrue and Not Unkind is about a former war correspondent looking back on years of reporting from Africa.It appears that O’Loughlin was at the center of intense debate over his Middle East coverage for the Australian papers, where he was a target of critics who charged that he was biased against Israel. A note (scroll down) in The Australian gives a taste of the rancor O’Laughlin incited:He walked away from journalism last year with impressive references. Federal MP for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby, for example: “There’s nothing funny about O’Loughlin’s systematic bias against Israel, which is indeed both intellectually lazy and politically intemperate.” Or journalist Tzvi Fleischer: “Ed O’Loughlin is obviously a talented journalist who brilliantly distorts facts and substitutes opinions for news.” O’Loughlin responded to such attacks saying there had been an “intensive lobbying effort to skew the Herald and The Age to a pro-Israeli position”.Even as O’Loughlin was targeted by critics in Australia, a debate raged over his Wikipedia page in the back rooms of the online encyclopedia. One such page serves as something of an index to the ongoing dispute (the encyclopedia’s procedural intricacies can be notoriously difficult to parse for the casual Wikipedia reader, myself included). It appears that at one point, O’Loughlin himself requested that his page be removed from Wikipedia. His request, reprinted below, is taken from another page covering the debate over his entry:Dear whoever you all areMy name is Ed O’Loughlin – this is my real name, I stress – and I am the subject of this article.The article as it has appeared in its various manifestations in recent months is a starkly one-sided attack on my personal and professional character which is based entirely on highly partisan sources and falsehoods. The moving forces behind it are anonymous people who do not have the integrity to reveal their identities or interests, and whose malicious intent is quite clear from their contributions to the discussion pages and their vandalisation of posts expressing differing views.I note that the article has already been deleted once on precisely these grounds, and I am puzzled as to why it has now been re-instated. If it were published in the “old media” – which is to say, by people who have to publicly stand over and justify what they say and suffer the potentially severe personal consequences, such as loss of livelihood – it would clearly be actionable.Please note that my work has been repeatedly critiqued in the public domain in Australia for the past five years and in that time not one factual error or instance of bias has been substantiated. Please also note that every newspaper reporter covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to stand up to a level of vexatious attack from interest groups and ethnic partisans unknown in any other posting. Nevertheless, all the complaints against me to our internal ombudsmen and to the Australian Press Council have been dismissed as entirely without merit, including one (Press Council number 1305, December 2005) which went to full arbitration. My employers, whose commitment to truth in journalism comes second to no media organisation in Australia or indeed the world, has seen fit to extend my contract here from the original two years to five years and counting.I am, overall, an admirer of the Wikipedia project but I am disturbed to see how easily it can be manipulated by those hell-bent on imposing their personal beliefs, without regard to balance or empirical truth. I recently watched an episode of the Colbert Report in which the presenter demonstrated the pitfalls of what he terms “wikiality” by editing the page on African elephants to assert that their numbers are exploding. I now understand what he meant.I am requesting that this article be deleted. If anybody wants to write about me in future I would expect them to at least have the courtesy and guts to put their real name to their writing, as do I. If the article is not deleted I expect this letter be prominently displayed both on the front page and on the discussion page, and that the letter be protected from the vandalism which has been such a marked feature of this supposed debate.Yours, Ed O’Loughlin, Middle East Correspondent, Sydney Morning Herald, The AgeOne assumes that after all this O’Loughlin is pleased to have graduated from foreign correspondent to Booker-nominated author.Bonus Link: O’Loughlin has just completed his second novel.
Tomas Transtromer, the 80-year-old poet, became the first Swedish laureate since 1974. The Nobel committee gave Transtromer the award “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.” He is the first poet to take the $1.5 million prize since Polish poet Wisława Szymborska in 1996. The Associated Press called Transtromer a “perennial favorite,” and indeed he has ranked high in the betting odds in each of the last several years. The AP also noted that Transtromer suffered a stroke in 1990 that left him half-paralyzed but that he has continued to write. A number of collections of his poetry have been published in translation. Here are a few:
Bonus Link: Solitude (I) by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Robertson
The Booker was awarded Monday, the Nobel Prize will be awarded tomorrow, and today this year’s National Book Award finalists were announced (by John Grisham, no less). Last year the National Book Foundation was vehemently criticized by some and defended by others for nominating five relatively unknown women from New York in the fiction category, but there will likely be less controversy this year as big name (and past winner for World’s Fair in 1986) E.L. Doctorow leads the list. As the Amazon rankings at the time of the announcement indicate, the Mary Gaitskill doesn’t exactly qualify as obscure either. Though not a commercial superstar, another notable nominee is William T. Vollmann. The complete list of nominees in all categories follows:FictionE.L. Doctorow, The March (Random House) (rank: 17)Mary Gaitskill, Veronica (Pantheon) (rank: 786)Christopher Sorrentino, Trance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) (rank: 45,062)Rene Steinke, Holy Skirts (William Morrow) (rank: 423,858)William T. Vollmann, Europe Central (Viking) (rank: 51,709)NonfictionAlan Burdick, Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)Leo Damrosch, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius (Houghton Mifflin)Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (Alfred A. Knopf)Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers (Times Books)Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (Houghton Mifflin)PoetryJohn Ashbery, Where Shall I Wander (Ecco)Frank Bidart, Star Dust: Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)Brendan Galvin, Habitat: New and Selected Poems, 1965-2005 (Louisiana State University Press)W.S. Merwin, Migration: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press)Vern Rutsala, The Moment’s Equation (Ashland Poetry Press)Young People’s LiteratureJeanne Birdsall, The Penderwicks (Alfred A. Knopf)Adele Griffin, Where I Want to Be (Putnam)Chris Lynch, Inexcusable (Atheneum)Walter Dean Myers, Autobiography of My Dead Brother (HarperTempest)Deborah Wiles, Each Little Bird That Sings (Harcourt)
Long considered likely to win the prize one day, Hilary Mantel has finally taken home the Booker for Wolf Hall. The book will hit shelves in the States next week but has already been warmly received overseas. To win, Mantel edged out other big names like J.M. Coetzee and A.S. Byatt.
[Mantel’s] work is full of devils, literal devils, and when they are not present their place is filled by regular, shocking evil. Graves are robbed; a baby is drowned; a woman kills her mother. At the same time, the books are extremely funny. This doesn’t cancel out the horror. What we are left with is a picture of people—not necessarily good people—muddlingly trying to explain to themselves the pain and unknowability of their lives. Is there a God? What’s going to happen to us when we die? Eschatology crossed with comedy: this is Mantel’s literary property.