It's easy being green (-ish)

Is climate change a fact or a fad? Is global warming a conspiracy? It doesn't matter. I know that many of my actions are destructive to the environment, I can see it in my trash. So, I decided to be proactive. A couple of years ago I took the initiative to green my home, and my behavior (details were posted on my blog). Some recent changes are added below:

  • Installed a recyclable steel roof. This lowered heating and cooling electricity consumption, and I do not have to change my roof with toxic shingles every 15-20 years
  • Insulated the basement
  • Re-insulated the attic
  • Installed ceiling fans to circulate air / help cool / distribute heat around the house
  • Use a rain barrel to collect water and to water the garden
  • Replaced the washing machine to low-consumption (water and electricity) front loading one
  • Replaced clothes dryer to low energy one (though we use the clothesline whenever weather permits)
  • Replaced the dishwasher to low energy / water consumption one (considered ditching it altogether but found out that dishwasher uses less water than hand job)
  • Replaced the fridge to energy efficient one
  • Use a broom to sweep the floors (instead of vacuuming)
  • Changed all light bulbs to mini-spiral fluorescents
  • We compost all organic material, and that which cannot be composted in our garden goes out with the city green bin program
  • We recycle every scrap of paper, plastic, glass, etc…
  • We buy all our veggies and fruit from a corner store that is supplied by local farmers
  • I bike to my grocer 2-3 times a week instead of driving once a week to buy huge loads of stuff
  • Planted numerous trees and shrubs in our yard (the kind that thrive on low water consumption)
  • Planted a wall-creeping plant to help shade the house (and to hear the happy bird concerts)
  • Use bio-degradable soaps and cleaning supplies such as natural soap, baking soda, vinegar, etc.
  • Do not buy chemical cosmetics, only all natural
  • Do not eat meat (agriculture is a devastating carbon monoxide, methane and nitrous oxide producing industry)
  • Built bat houses to help combat mosquitoes (but, really, to stop my neighbors from using chemical sprays)
  • Installed "leaching pit" (only in the country because city does not permit those)
  • Purchase only those products that use skin tight packaging, and / or, strip it in store and make it known what I think of excess thrash
  • I tell my supermarket store owner what I think of open top fridges and freezers
  • In the winter we set our thermostat to 17C and put on a sweater if necessary
  • Limit the use and purchase of cotton garments, using hemp instead
  • Any construction involving wood uses bamboo (easily renewable)
  • I tell SUV driver what I think about the size of their penises, and place literature behing their windshield wipers (see www.earthonempty.com ) BTW: I want to ditch my car, but am not convinced that I can make it without one on this continent where car is often indispensable | considered getting an electric car, but am not convinced that we need more nuclear power plants to charge them
  • I do not fly anywhere on weekends, using those cheap airlines, as many Europeans do
  • I do not buy bottled water
  • I do not subscribe, nor buy any newspapers or magazines (although, these I ditched long before I thought of the environment)
  • I take part in anti-military rallies "The world’s military burns a quarter of the world’s jet fuel and emits 70% of ozone depleting CFCs. The US military generates more hazardous waste than the five largest chemical companies combined" in Losing Control by Paul Rogers
  • I refuse to submit my manuscripts by mail (insist on emailing)
  • I do not print my manuscripts to edit -- use split screen instead
  • Am considering writing the next novel on a typewriter (but, am worried that will use too much paper on rewrites)
  • Am petitioning my local and federal government to ban recreational ATV / water scooter / snow mobile use (each releases as much CO2 as 250 cars)

The above is by no means a complete list. I'm not suggesting that I'm a saint. I know I cause damage to the environment, but I also know that the only way to stop it completely is to eradicate the entire human race. So, I do my best to leave as little footprint as possible.


Feast for the eyes

Europeans to feast their eyes. To sample such great Mexican icons as Rivera, Siqueiros or Orozco, Europeans had to cross the Ocean. Now, for the first time, one has only to cross the English Channel. Great Mexican prints are available for viewing at the British Museum in London. The exhibit has an interesting slant: Revolution. What else?

The current exhibition at the British Museum of Mexican printmaking in the early 20th century is the first ever in Europe. For most people, Mexico is more often associated with one of the leading art forms of Twentieth Century―the huge murals of “los tres grandes” of Mexican art: Diego Rivera, David Álfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco. MORE

Exhibit runs till April 5.
Diego Rivera: Emiliano Zapata

Diego Rivera: Frida Kahlo


Birthday Party with Anton Chekhov

Today is Anton Chekhov's 150th birthday anniversary, so I thought I'd celebrate by reading his short stories. What a party!

Chekhov's nameplate on the door to his apartment

Chekhov's grave


No Literary Advance? No problem!

When Deanna Zandt signed her contract with Barrett-Koehler to publish her first book, Sink or Swim: Making Waves of Change in a New Social Media World next April, she knew the house did not give advances, relying instead on a more author-friendly royalty structure. To help fund her research and give herself the opportunity to devote full-time to writing, Zandt, a media and technology consultant, reached out for financial assistance and sent a fund-raising letter to 500 potential backers. The appeal was directed mainly to the communities that have been the focus of her life for many years: feminists, organizers and political activists.

“Relationships are everything, and we can help each other,” noted Zandt. “Sink or Swim is about the power of technology as a social networking tool for those on the sidelines of technology advances—women, people of color and more.” She hopes her fund-raising effort is an example of practice what you preach. Zandt's goal is to raise $15,000 to cover expenses, travel and research. Donations totaling $6,558 have come in since she started her appeal June 23, with $4,558 raised through her e-mail/Twitter campaign and $2,000 in a matching fund set up by large donors. The owner of the Two Boots pizza chain in New York has also contributed $100 a month in pizza to cover some of Zandt's outlay for food. “I'll even trade some of the Two Boots' gift certificates for research help,” Zandt said. She said she chose to publish with B-K even without an advance because “it was much more important for me to work with someone so supportive and aligned with my own beliefs about the need for progressive community development in our culture.” SOURCE


SadoMasochistic pleasures of sleepless nights

I often can't sleep at night, and last night was no different. I've learned that trying to force myself to sleep just doesn't work, and it is best to use the time for other means. Usually, I read. Last night I turned to sadomasochism.

First I read a couple of works by Marquis de Sade, father of sadism. Most people know who de Sade was, and what he wrote. Unlike de Sade, who is often considered one of the literary classics, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch is virtually forgotten. His writing lacked certain vivaciousness that was so abundant in the Marquis' works. Yet, without von Sacher-Masoch there would be no masochism. What makes these two go so well together? As wikipedia has it : Sadism is pleasure in the infliction of pain or humiliation upon another person, while masochism refers to gratification from receiving the same. Both authors indulged their imagination in describing bodily and emotional pleasures from said practices. Venus in Furs is the latter author's best known work. Download a free ebook and peep into Wanda and Severin's passionate reveries.

Who is a literary agent?

Made numerous additions and corrections to my literary agents and book publishers directory.

Who are agents? Well, let Raymond Chandler enlighten you:

Throughout the history of commercial life nobody has ever quite liked the commission man. His function is too vague, his presence always seems one too many, his profit looks too easy, and even when you admit that he has a necessary function, you feel that this function is, as it were, a personification of something that in an ethical society would not need to exist. If people could deal with one another honestly, they would not need agents.

The agent never receipts his bill, puts his hat on and bows himself out. He stays around forever, not only for as long as you can write anything that anyone will buy, but as long as anyone will buy any portion of any right to anything that you ever did write. He just takes ten per cent of your life.

Auschwitz espionage

A fascinating story of a Polish military spy who willingly entered Auschwitz concentration camp to organize insurrection.

A biography of Witold Pilecki, one of the unsung heroes of World War Two, has been published in Italy.

Entitled A Volunteer,  it was written by Marco Patricelli, a lecturer in modern history at the University in Chieti. The ANSA Agency  stresses in its review of the book that Pilecki’s war-time exploits and his tragic post-war plight remain virtually unknown in the West.

In 1940 Witold Pilecki allowed himself to be arrested by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz, where he organized a conspiracy among the prisoners with the idea of an insurrection in the camp. He was the author of the first report on the murder of European Jews that was passed over to the Allies. After three years in Auschwitz, Pilecki escaped from the camp, reached Warsaw, joined the Home Army’s intelligence department and formed a secret organization within the Home Army to prepare resistance against a possible Soviet occupation. He fought in the 1944 Warsaw Rising.

After the end of the war he went to Italy and joined the Second Corps. He was sent by the Polish intelligence to Poland as a spy. However, he was captured and executed by the communist authorities in 1948. SOURCE


Good movie adaptation

I read Babylon Revisited, by F. S. Fitzgerald. This autobiographical (alcoholism, Paris) short story was later turned into a movie The Last Time I Saw Paris, with Elizabeth Taylor. The movie is loosely based on the story, expands the wife character, and, for all the psychedelic colors, does a surprisingly good job at portraying a novelist, with all the ups and downs and uncertainties that go with the job.

Short story is available from Gutenberg (public domain in Australia; check the laws of your country), or from your local library. More about the movie on wikipedia.


Conspiracy Theorists Rejoice

It has been a good week for conspiracy theorists and truth seekers, starting with the British move to classify for 70 years the results of toxicology report to the mysterious death of Dr. Kelly.

In 2003 Dr. David Kelly, a weapon's expert with British Ministry of Defense contradicted official government propaganda which wanted the citizens to believe that Iraq's Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs (weapons of mass destruction). Dr Kelly was found dead several days after his damning report.

Fast forward to January 20010.

A Dutch commission of inquiry has concluded that the US-led 2003 Iraq war was illegal under international law. The conclusion has far-reaching implications. Potentially, it could open up leading politicians and military figures in the US and Britain to prosecution for war crimes.

And thus...

Professor Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois College of Law in Champaign, U.S.A. has filed a Complaint with the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) in The Hague (The Netherlands) against U.S. citizens George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, and Alberto Gonzales (the “Accused”) for their criminal policy and practice of “extraordinary rendition” perpetrated upon about 100 human beings.

In his letter, Professor Boyle writes:

I have the honor hereby to file with you and the International Criminal Court this Complaint against U.S. citizens George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice , and Alberto Gonzales (hereinafter referred to as the “Accused”) for their criminal policy and practice of “extraordinary rendition.” This term is really a euphemism for the enforced disappearances of persons, their torture, severe deprivation of their liberty, their violent sexual abuse, and other inhumane acts perpetrated upon these Victims. The Accused have inflicted this criminal policy and practice of “extraordinary rendition” upon about one hundred (100) human beings, almost all of whom are Muslims/Arabs/Asians and People of Color. I doubt very seriously that the Accused would have inflicted these criminal practices upon 100 White Judeo-Christian men.

How dare Professor Boyle cast such accusations?

In its modern form, universal jurisdiction is a democratic principle that arises historically from the bourgeois revolutions of the late 18th century, when it was established that sovereignty resides in the people and not the state. It implies that no one is above the law and that a minister, civil servant or military officer cannot claim immunity from prosecution for crimes committed against humanity because he was acting on behalf of a state. That is why individuals and groups can, at present, apply, as Palestinians have done in the UK, for an arrest warrant against even the most senior representative of a government or the armed forces.

This situation is becoming intolerable for the international league of war criminals who head the governments of the world’s major powers. It has led to repeated efforts to curtail universal jurisdiction by the US, Israel Belgium, Spain and now Britain. In doing so, these governments and their representatives only place themselves more firmly on a collision course with the mass of the world’s population, who continue to believe that those responsible for the crimes committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and elsewhere must be brought to justice.

Public library targets busy commuters

Following the example of Colombia's Bogota and Medellin, Spain's Madrid offers its subway commuters access to library books. The project is called Bibliometro.

Bibliometro is one of the most innovative and successful programs of the Dirección de Bibliotecas Archivos y Museos. It has been growing steadily since inception when it started with three locations, 500 books and 12 thousand loans a year. Today it has 15 locations and offers 45 thousand volumes of 15 thousand titles.

Access the catalogue here. Read more about it here.

The importance of publishing mega bestsellers

The New York Times article highlights James Patterson...

Like most authors, James Patterson started out with one book, released in 1976, that he struggled to get published. It sold about 10,000 copies, a modest, if respectable, showing for a first novel. Last year, an estimated 14 million copies of his books in 38 different languages found their way onto beach blankets, airplanes and nightstands around the world.

Since 2006, one out of every 17 novels bought in the United States was written by James Patterson. He is listed in the latest edition of “Guinness World Records,” published last fall, as the author with the most New York Times best sellers, 45, but that number is already out of date: he now has 51 — 35 of which went to No. 1.

...and argues that without mega producers, super bestsellers such as Patterson, the publishing offer would be very limited:

[...] without profits from blockbusters like his, publishers wouldn't have the resources to publish more literary, less mass-market works.
Or celebrity biographies for which they pay millions in advance fees only to find that readers don't give a damn about them.

R.I.P. hardcover books?

Ever since I started reading eBooks, I can no longer handle the hardback "traditional" book. Not just because of the price, but chiefly because of how uncomfortable they are. My eReader is just so much easier to handle, in all situations, and especially in bed.

Do eReaders have a future?

“For all the Kindle’s success, it remains in many ways a niche product, aimed at consumers who fit a certain narrow profile, namely avid readers. In 2007, the Associated Press reported that a quarter of Americans hadn’t read a single book in the prior year. And among those who did read that year, the average number of books read was seven. Even considering that you can get some non-book content on the Kindle, these numbers alone suggest that the market for the Kindle is limited.” From The Millions.

Visit Metapedia for some additional predictions and more on different eReaders.



Big fish

Great Russian Literary Classics

Great Russian Literary classics are the focus of the upcoming Havana International Book Fair:

Currently, many people in Cuba have a perfect command of the Russian language. This will make it possible to establish communication beyond translations during the upcoming Book Fair, which, to pay tribute to the guest country, the Book Institute and publishing houses like Unión will put at the disposal of the public on their stands.

The amount of excellent poets in Russian letters that published their works between the 19th and 20th centuries is considerable. It’s necessary to mention, among them, Alexander Blok and Ana Ajmatova, authors that are unclassifiable within any specific literary current, and others like Serguei Esenin, Marina Stvetayeva or Vladimir Mayakovski. Also excelling between the 19th and 20th centuries is the figure of Anton Chejov, a universal playwright and prose writer of great stature and influence in the future of universal letters.

Other authors like Mijail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak, Máximo Gorki, Ilia Erenburg, Mijail Sholojov or Evgueni Evtushenko complete this summary panorama of great names.

But Havana’s Book Fair will also be attended by more recent authors, practically unknown to Cubams, whom they’ll be able to learn about by way of two anthologies of poetry and short stories prepared by the Arte y Literatura Publishing House. Also very much anticipated is the translation of El maestro y Margarita (The teacher and Margarita), by Bulgakov, by Cuban novelist Julio Travieso, which will be a new interpretation of that novel, a favorite and often read book in Cuba since its first publication in the 1980’s. SOURCE


Volcanoes as literary inspiration

As early as the first century B.C., volcanoes were imagined as entrances to Hell. In the “Aeneid,” the epic poem by the Italian poet Virgil, the entrance to the underworld is located in the Phlegrean Fields, a volcanic area near Naples, Italy.

In another work about 1,300 years later, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri expanded on the same theme in the “Inferno.” In that work, the author explores the nine levels of Hell, some of which have fiery qualities obviously inspired by volcanoes.

As scientific understanding of the natural world advanced and the science of volcanology became established, volcanoes became more of a backdrop in works of fiction, especially in science fiction and adventure stories.

In Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” Professor Lidenbrock and his companions begin their travels by descending into the crater of Snaefellsjokull volcano in Iceland and end by being erupted out of Stromboli volcano in Italy.

James Fenimore Cooper, author of “Last of the Mohicans,” also wrote “The Crater.” In it, he writes of sailors, shipwrecked on a volcanic island, who establish a utopia later destroyed by an eruption.

Modern adventure writers also make use of volcanoes. Patrick O’Brian, author of the naval adventures of Jack Aubrey (featured in the movie “Master and Commander”), included a south Pacific undersea volcanic eruption in the opening of his book, “The Wine-Dark Sea.”

John Saul’s 1998 novel “The Presence” tells of teenagers with lungs modified to breathe vog (perhaps a useful adaptation for Big Island residents today). Less well-known is the book “Volcano Ogre,” which features a lava monster (in reality an American geologist in a heat-proof suit covered by molten rock) that terrorizes a community and has to be stopped by Prince Zarkon and his Omega Crew (whether or not this qualifies as literature is, perhaps, debatable).

Volcanoes have also provided the setting for romantic dramas. “The Last Days of Pompeii,” an 1834 novel written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (and inspired by a Russian painting of the same name), uses the A.D. 79 eruption of Vesuvius as the climax in an otherwise fictional story centered on a love triangle between three Pompeii residents.

More recently, Susan Sontag’s best-seller, “The Volcano Lover,” describes a real-life love triangle between the beautiful Emma Hamilton, her diplomat husband, Sir William Hamilton, and British naval hero Horatio Nelson. While serving in Italy, Sir William Hamilton spent much of his free time researching volcanoes (providing the title for Sontag’s novel), leading many to view him as the father of volcanology.

The preceding from article that does not mention Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry.


Marine Mammals used in warfare

It seems that by law (10 USC 7524), the Secretary of Defense is authorized to "take" (or acquire) up to 25 wild marine mammals each year "for national defense purposes."  These mammals — including whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions — are used for military missions such as locating and marking underwater mines, and providing force protection against unauthorized swimmers or vehicles, among other things.

Those "other things", allegedly involve dolphin suicide missions...

Read More


Kids read, but not what old fogeys want them to

In the week that sales of children’s books have soared by 4.9% research from Asda shows that although sales of Twilight and Harry Potter are increasing many children have little or no knowledge of classic literature. The supermarket, who polled over 100 children and 2,000 parents on their reading habits, is predicting that should the decline in classics continue the likes of Bronte and Dickins could be extinct within a generation.
When asked about the book Moby Dick, 40% of children thought the title character was a pop star, 40% an explorer and only 16% a whale. However, when asked to name David When questioned on the books they have enjoyed, children reinforced their love of modern literature with 28% having read Harry Potter versus just 3% for Lord of the Flies and Of Mice and Men. This is a rather different picture to their parents generation where 35% of parents remembered reading Jane Eyre as a child compared to just 4% of today’s generation. READ MORE

Writers face higher calling

Literary writers need to shoulder the trust of promoting noble values which serve as the pillar and source of strength for society since centuries ago, said Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

He said noble values such as courtesy, morality, honesty, sense of responsibility and strong family ties portrayed in high-quality literary works would help shape the thinking, values and way of life to create a balanced, progressive society. READ MORE


Resurrecting a good novel

Reading Resurrection. This is Leo Tolstoy's last great novel. In the author's lifetime it was more popular than Anna Karenina or War and Peace. It remains Tolstoy's strongest condemnation of social, judicial and religious conditions that were at the root of the misery suffered by the masses. Resurrection is as valid today, as it was at the time of publication, not long before the Revolution that sought to change the world and the condition of the people. Perhaps the novel should be resurrected...

Now it seemed as clear as daylight that the chief
cause of the people's great want was one that they themselves
knew and always pointed out, i.e., that the land which alone
could feed them had been taken from them by the landlords.

And how evident it was that the children and the aged died
because they had no milk, and they had no milk because there was
no pasture land, and no land to grow corn or make hay on. It was
quite evident that all the misery of the people or, at least by
far the greater part of it, was caused by the fact that the land
which should feed them was not in their hands, but in the hands
of those who, profiting by their rights to the land, live by the
work of these people. The land so much needed by men was tilled
by these people, who were on the verge of starvation, so that the
corn might be sold abroad and the owners of the land might buy
themselves hats and canes, and carriages and bronzes, etc. He
understood this as clearly as he understood that horses when they
have eaten all the grass in the inclosure where they are kept
will have to grow thin and starve unless they are put where they
can get food off other land.

This was terrible, and must not go on. Means must be found to
alter it, or at least not to take part in it. "And I will find
them," he thought, as he walked up and down the path under the
birch trees.

In scientific circles, Government institutions, and in the papers
we talk about the causes of the poverty among the people and the
means of ameliorating their condition; but we do not talk of the
only sure means which would certainly lighten their condition,
i.e., giving back to them the land they need so much.

Henry George's fundamental position recurred vividly to his mind
and how he had once been carried away by it, and he was surprised
that he could have forgotten it. The earth cannot be any one's
property; it cannot be bought or sold any more than water, air,
or sunshine. All have an equal right to the advantages it gives
to men.


Network Culture

Most of the changes in network culture are subtle and only appear radical in retrospect. Take our relationship with the press. One morning you noted with interest that your daily newspaper had established a website. Another day you decided to stop buying the paper and just read it online. Then you started reading it on a mobile Internet platform, or began listening to a podcast of your favourite column while riding a train. Perhaps you dispensed with official news entirely, preferring a collection of blogs and amateur content. Eventually the paper may well be distributed only on the net, directly incorporating user comments and feedback. Or take the way cell phones have changed our lives. When you first bought a mobile phone, were you aware of how profoundly it would alter your life? Soon, however, you found yourself abandoning the tedium of scheduling dinner plans with friends in advance, instead coordinating with them en route to a particular neighbourhood. Or if your friends or family moved away to university or a new career, you found that through a social networking site like Facebook and through the every-present telematic links of the mobile phone, you did not lose touch with them. Read More


Publish your book in minutes

Expresso Book Machine (EBM) is a combination of a photocopier, a printing press and a vending machine. It prints and binds books while you wait. According to manufacturer EBM can print and bind a 300 page book in under 4 minutes, at a cost of about $3.

Imagine this: a reader downloads an eBook, and likes it enough to want to place it on her bookshelf, so she heads to the closest supermarket (as she does already to print pictures from her digital camera), attaches the USB stick that holds the text, and a few minutes later walks out with a book.

According to the latest news, the manufacturer, On Demand Books signed a deal with Xerox to market and distribute the EBMs.


Future of book publishing

It's not a new debate, and the news isn't new anymore. Editors loose their jobs daily, hop from one publishing house to another, or from a house to a literary agency, and then back to editing. Publishing world is a mill that constantly churns up the same water, while occasional rain brings fresh drops.

From time to time we hear questions about the need for editors, to say nothing of literary agents. Ask any writer and you'll get a handful of opinions on the subject.

Some will say that editors are a necessary middle step before a book reaches readers, whereas others may opine: I'm going straight to self publishing. The times are ideal for those who want to skip the headache of going through the old process of submitting manuscripts, proliferation of self publishing venues allows for unprecedented freedom. It has not gone amiss on the publishing industry (see the eBook debate), where more and more high profile authors choose to publish directly to eBook format.

What do editors think about it?
"The people who tend to the words are the most endangered contributors to the publishing process [...]" Writes one.

Alberto Manguel has his own view of things, and suggests that editors are dinosaurs slated for extinction, the sooner the better. In his books The City of Words, he asks the rhetorical question: Are writers the only creators who are considered dumb, and thus must require editors? After all a painter's work is not edited. Neither is a composer's. So, what is it about the publishing industry that makes a job of an editor indispensable?

He writes:
"This literature [saleable, easy reads] exists in every genre, from sentimental fiction to the bloodthirsty thriller, from the historical romance to mystical claptrap, from true confessions to the realistic drama. It confines "saleable" literature firmly to the realm of entertainment, of relaxation, of pastime, and therefore of that which is socially superfluous and ultimately unessential. It infantilizes both writers and readers by making the former believe that their creations must be licked into shape by someone who knows better, and by convincing the latter that they are not clever enough to read more intelligent and complex narrations. In the book industry today, the larger the targeted audience, the more obediently the writer is expected to follow the instructions of editors and booksellers (and lately of literary agents as well), allowing them to decree not only practical copyediting changes of fact and grammar, but also of plot, character, setting, and title. [...] The controller in Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel Brave New World explains these tactics succinctly: "that's the price we have to pay for stability. You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We've sacrificed the high art."

As an author I have to agree with Manguel. If I want to be published I have to wag my tail every time an editor or an agent graces me with her attention, and accept whatever she demands of my books.

However, I am an optimist, and I believe that ultimately the reader  decides. Manguel argues that the reader has no choice, must consume only what an editor chews and spits out, and at last this model is begining to bite back, hence the troubles facing the industry.

One can hope that the debate on the future of publishing looks, and with humility, to those that it should always keep in the foreground: the readers.

Alberto Manguel Podcast


Benefit of International Literary Prizes

It's comforting to know that, despite the almost constant welter of controversy that surrounds the Nobel Prize for Literature, it continues to expose English-language readers to a world of writers they might not have otherwise encountered.

Controversy? Well, consider the ongoing discontent over who hasn't been awarded the world's most prestigious literary prize, including the concerted groaning by an entitled sector of American letters about the lack of U.S. laureates since Toni Morrison in 1993, while some members of the Swedish Academy make intemperate comments condemning the quality of American writing.

Still, without the Nobel, relatively few mainstream English readers would have encountered the works of Jose Saramago or Kenzaburo Oe. SOURCE


Why are we deprived of World Literature

The book market is heating up. I do no mean the constant dire predictions of doom for the industry, which seem to dominate the news. This time I would like to steer your attention to good news: books translated into English language are making headlines.

I lamented countless times about the scandalous practice, or as Manguel puts it simply: the Anglo-American book publishing model, which overlooks nearly all foreign writers and publishes almost exclusively those who write in English. Recently we can witness some debate on the topic, and hear from organizations that are determined to break the 3% barrier (the overly-optimistic estimates of a whopping 3% of books available in the US being books translated from foreign languages).

Why are English speakers deprived of World Literature? Author of a series of articles takes on the subject:

"Why is it so hard for foreign authors to get published in the US?  It’s clear to anyone working in international rights that the sophisticated marketplace involving scouts, rights sellers and foreign publishers that exists to get American books out into the world does not exist to the same degree in the other direction.

It is well known that placing a foreign book with a US editor can be devilishly difficult. First, there are the unforgiving economic calculations that publishers face in taking a translation to market."

Alberto Manguel argues, among other things, and quite eloquently, that the Anglo-American book publishing model, centered on commercial books, is dumbing down the reader.

But, are financial considerations that only obstacle? After all in other countries they translate books that do not guarantee commercial success.

"Apart from economics, the often cited reason for the difficult of placing translations with American publishers is the limited number of US editors who speak a foreign language.  This is indeed an obstacle.  Rachel Kahan, a senior editor at the Putnam, says, “There doesn’t seem to me to be as concerted an effort to bring [foreign language] authors to the US as there is to bring UK authors to the US, but I think a lot of that is just the language barrier.

One can only ask: Why is there no language barrier for, say, European editors who purchase books from all over the world, and not just from the English language? Is English language and its dominance the primary obstacle for US Editors? Will language courses or hiring of editors who speak more than one language change anything?

Apparently, and sadly, not. The reason, argues the author of the article, is diversity. There simply is too much available in World Literature for American editors to keep track of, to be able to asses what may be suitable to American readers.

If this depressing explanation isn't a blow to readers, then the Literary Agent institution is the proverbial last nail in the coffin. One can browse any industry publication to find articles whose authors blame Literary Agents and their seemingly primary goal of driving up advances on all the woes in American book publishing industry.

"Rachel Kahan, a Senior Editor at Putnam who reads fluently in Spanish, admits, “If they [foreign writers] don’t have a US agent and they aren’t being conspicuously packaged for the US sale, which is the case a lot of the time, I tend to luck into things.”

Are we, the readers going to have access to foreign authors, or are we doomed to remain locked up behind a huge wall that was raised by the industry? I think that some changes are coming, and the recent debates are a positive sign, but, I am sad to conclude that in order to read World Literature our best bet is and will be to learn foreign languages.


The Best eBook eReader

We hear a lot lately about electronic products developed with only one purpose: to read eBooks. Blogs and Newspapers outdo each other in presentations of different (but all very similar) devices. One of the most popular is the Kindle, owned by Amazon com. As an author I am delighted that people want to read books, in spite of pessimistic predictions from publishers and literary agents who see their profits fall as more writers skip the "traditional" way to reach readers, and publish directly in electronic format.

As a reader I must admit that the currently available eReaders do not quite match my needs. The ability to download eBooks at any time is their best feature, but it ends there. Being an active traveler I am excited to be able to carry dozens, hundreds, and thousands of reading material without breaking my back, as happened to Blaise Cendrars who dragged crates of books everywhere he went. Books that filled my backpack when I was younger, are now replaced by all kinds of electronic equipment, such cameras and corresponding chargers. A dedicated eReader, therefore, has no room in my suitcase, unless it is multifunctional. This is why I use the Nokia N800 tablet (not a phone!).

At one time this mini-PC received some unflattering reviews, but for me it has become indispensable. It is always in my pocket. I use it as an FM radio, Internet radio, MP3 player and recorder, video player, GPS, organizer, e-mail client, web browser, Skype (also to call landlines and cellphones), texting, Twitter, Facebook, etc. It's got unlimited expandable memory, and does multitasking. But, what is most important to me, is that it works as an excellent eBook reader.

I recall a time when I was not convinced that eBooks would ever replace "traditional" books on my shelves. Now, for every 10 books I purchase 8 are eBooks. I became so accustomed to using my tablet for eBook reading that I find "traditional" books, particularly the large hardcover format, to be very uncomfortable to handle, especially in bed. They are just too bulky and heavy.

In contrast to all available eReaders the Nokia screen sports excellent quality, brilliant color, and allows all the adjustments to colors, fonts, etc, which is extremely important in the evening when, after a long day of sitting in front of a laptop, my eyes are very tired.

N800 reads all popular eBook formats (through a variety of free applications), including those secured by DRM (albeit unofficially), and fits in my pocket. There appears to be a trend among eReader manufacturers to build ever larger devices. I see future in them, but only for stationary eBook reading, at home. I am waiting for news about Apple's latest product, perhaps will use it to read ebooks at home, but I do not foresee any replacement for my mobile Nokia N800.

Nokia N800:


My (partial) reading list of books in translation

Best translated book award for fiction, longlist is announced. I am looking forward to reading all of these books, read some of them already, in different languages. Couple days ago I picked up Orhan Pamuk's  The Museum of Innocence. I received this as an advance copy, way back when, and finally have the time to read it.

I do not post reviews or critiques here, never have and never will. I believe that every writer desrves only praise, it's a hell of a job that I do not wish on anyone. If I mention a book here it only implies that I read it and it was not a wasted time and Pamuk's latest is time well spent.

2010 Best Translated Book Award: Fiction Longlist:

Ghosts by César Aira.
Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. (Argentina)
(New Directions)

The Ninth by Ferenc Barnás.
Translated from the Hungarian by Paul Olchváry. (Hungary)
(Northwestern University Press)

Anonymous Celebrity by Ignácio de Loyola Brandão.
Translated from the Portuguese by Nelson Vieira. (Brazil)
(Dalkey Archive)

The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker.
Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer. (Netherlands)

The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolaño.
Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. (Chile)
(New Directions)

Wonder by Hugo Claus.
Translated from the Dutch by Michael Henry Heim. (Belgium)

Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada.
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann. (Germany)
(Melville House)

Op Oloop by Juan Filloy.
Translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. (Argentina)
(Dalkey Archive)

Vilnius Poker by Ričardas Gavelis.
Translated from the Lithuanian by Elizabeth Novickas. (Lithuania)
(Open Letter)

The Zafarani Files by Gamal al-Ghitani.
Translated from the Arabic by Farouk Abdel Wahab. (Egypt)
(American University Press of Cairo)

The Weather Fifteen Years Ago by Wolf Haas.
Translated from the German by Stephanie Gilardi and Thomas S. Hansen. (Austria)
(Ariadne Press)

The Confessions of Noa Weber by Gail Hareven.
Translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu. (Israel)
(Melville House)

The Discoverer by Jan Kjærstad.
Translated from the Norwegian by Barbara Haveland. (Norway)
(Open Letter)

Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky.
Translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull. (Russia)
(New York Review Books)

Desert by J. M. G. Le Clézio.
Translated from the French by C. Dickson. (France)
(David R. Godine)

There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night by Cao Naiqian.
Translated from the Chinese by John Balcom. (China)
(Columbia University Press)

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk.
Translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely. (Turkey)

News from the Empire by Fernando del Paso.
Translated from the Spanish by Alfonso González and Stella T. Clark. (Mexico)
(Dalkey Archive)

The Mighty Angel by Jerzy Pilch.
Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston. (Poland)
(Open Letter)

Rex by José Manuel Prieto.
Translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen. (Cuba)

Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda.
Translated from the Catalan by Martha Tennent. (Spain)
(Open Letter)

Landscape with Dog and Other Stories by Ersi Sotiropoulos.
Translated from the Greek by Karen Emmerich. (Greece)

Brecht at Night by Mati Unt.
Translated from the Estonian by Eric Dickens. (Estonia)
(Dalkey Archive)

In the United States of Africa by Abdourahman Waberi.
Translated from the French by David and Nicole Ball. (Djibouti)
(University of Nebraska Press)

The Tanners by Robert Walser.
Translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky. (Switzerland)
(New Directions)