Showing posts with label awards. Show all posts
Showing posts with label awards. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Award lists are important, but framing is important too

Over the past few weeks, I have had decidedly mixed reactions to the release of the Man Booker International Prize shortlist. The award - which has gone to women in translation twice in its history (as well as once to an English-language woman writer back when it was given to writers alone and twice in the parallel history of the International Foreign Fiction Prize) - suddenly emerged with a shortlist that was, to quote the Guardian and the NYT and just about every media outlet, "dominated" by women.

For the first time in history, the prize was not in its usual gender breakdown of 4 men and 2 women or 5 men, 1 woman. These are not just ratios of recent years, these are consistent numbers across the years (for the IFFP, at least). Women were consistently minorities, consistently outnumbered 5:1. They almost never took home the prize. And suddenly this year, the ratio flipped. Now it's 5 women writers and 1 man.

A shortlist "dominated" by women.

On the one hand, I am delighted by this shift. It's not about "beating men", rather it's a wonderful indicator that the women in translation project is working. The prize judges specifically cite the importance of diversity in their shortlist, in a way that makes it obvious that they are aware of what it means to have women in translation at the forefront. Prizes mean visibility, visibility means more sales, more sales means more readers, and ultimately more readers means that publishers may realize that it's in their financial interest (as well as their moral one...) to publish more books by diverse women in translation.

On the other hand... Framing is important, and the current framing of this shortlist as one "dominated by women" undercuts all of the hard work that has gone into this effort. It also undersells the list. It was deemed unremarkable for years that the IFFP had similarly ratio-ed shortlists, but with men "dominating"; men writer dominance was never commented on. The degree to which men writers have dominated literary discourse for decades despite stunning output by women writers is only discussed in the context of feminist perspectives. This creates the impression that women succeed only when there is a feminist agenda working in their favor. But the unremarked upon mostly-men shortlists? Those are simply as a result of the quality of the text, right?

It's important to recognize this shortlist. It's important to specifically recognize the degree to which it's still a rarity, that this is a shortlist that goes against market trends. Most important of all, recognize the women writers themselves, who are getting their moment in the spotlight, something that is still all too rare for women writers in translation.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Warwick Prize for Women in Translation!

On this International Women's Day eve, it's wonderful to have some truly good news on the women in translation front!

The newly announced Warwick Prize for Women in Translation - currently accepting submissions - is a wonderful step towards increasing visibility for women writers translated into English, and raising awareness of the startling global imbalance.

Prizes are more than just a monetary reward for a certain author (or in this case, author/translator team). Prizes are more than just ego boosts. Prizes are a brilliant way for many readers to identify high-quality books that might interest them. They provide authors with exposure, something sorely needed in a field as marginalized as that of women writers in translation. Prizes also encourage publishers to produce more of the thing, in this case showing many publishers of literature in translation that there is a market for women writers from around the world. This prize will help raise awareness of the problem, as well as provide many new readers with great recommendations across genres.

I cannot express how thrilled I am that this prize is happening and how happy it makes me. And who knows, maybe there'll be a longlist by next August (WITMonth!) that we can all shadow...!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Women in translation prize? Women in translation prize!

Here's some brilliant news: Katy Derbyshire (translator and blogger of Love German Books) is organizing a new prize for books by women writers in translation. This is something I can get all over.
What I want is a women's prize for translated fiction; a little sister to the Bailey's Prize, for instance. It would raise awareness for great women's writing from the non-Anglophone world rather than for great non-Anglophone writing by women. I know that's a subtle distinction but I think it's an important one.
This is some of the best news in the women in translation front I've ever seen (even if I'm posting about it at an embarrassing delay). I have often emphasized on this blog the need for awareness and discussion and analysis, because I truly believe those to be important. Yet there is no denying the fact that action trumps all. Actually reading books by women in translation, actually recognizing books by women in translation and actually raising books by women in translation is pivotal. This award will hopefully lead to all three.

Check it out!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Women in Translation | Moving forward (a short update)

Previous posts in Women in Translation series:

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist is out, ladies and gentlemen, and there's some fantastic news for women writers in translation. Why? Because for only the second time in its history, a full 50% of the shortlisted authors are women. Three out of six. Which is well above the baseline publication rate for women in translation. Fantastic news, right?

I'm not going to lie - this is fantastic news. For several reasons.

The first is the most obvious: three books by women writers are now in the prestigious club of shortlisted titles. They're getting coverage, attention, and respect. This is great news for Yoko Ogawa, Birgit Vanderbeke and Hiromi Kawakami. Three great books (technically I haven't read Kawakami yet, but a lot of other reviewers seemed to quite like the book), well-deserving of their place in this coveted list.

The second is a bit broader: the topic of women in translation - that thing I've been writing and ranting about, trying to raise awareness - is being discussed. Straight up. Maybe it's convoluted, maybe it's meta, maybe it's political, maybe it's discriminatory correction (which I don't think is true at all, by the way)... but the point is that we're talking about the fact that there is a problem in publishing (and a problem in award recognition). We're discussing exactly what we need to.

The third is that it states - strongly and unequivocally - that books by women are just as good as books by men. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it really isn't. Enough readers subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) weed out books written by women for a multitude of reasons. I used to be one of those readers. Sometimes it's a wildly unrepresentative cover (what the heck is going on with the Kawakami cover?), sometimes it's stereotypes about the "type of books women write" (and a general genre elitism), and sometimes it's outright sexism (the examples I raised in my review of How to Suppress Women's Writing). By including three books in their shortlist, the IFFP is directly challenging the idea that books by women writers are not at the same level as those by men. Which is wonderful.

We're moving forward. And that is, without a doubt, excellent news.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Women in Translation | Awards

Previous posts in Women in Translation series:
In my previous post in the Women in Translation series, I looked at the general issue of availability and bias. Today, I want to narrow that focus just a bit and take a look at various translation awards in relation to international women writers.

Let's start with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, which just released its 2014 longlist. The IFFP has long had an issue with recognizing women writers, to the point where I kept hearing this year that they were making an explicit effort to find more women writers in translation. Before we look at 2014, let's have a brief recap: the prize was launched in 1990, with a grand total of zero women taking home the prize until today. According to Wikipedia (which only includes complete shortlists from 2003 and on), less than 20% of shortlisted books from 2003-2013 were written by women. This amounts on average to one book a year by a woman.

The longlists paint a darker picture, if that's even possible. Looked at one way, you can point to a slightly greater number of women writers in some years as a sign that the award is not so skewed... yet these women are somehow consistently shut out of the next stage of deliberations, snubbed of the opportunity to actually win the prize. Meanwhile, a glance at 2012 and 2013 shows that only 2 women were even longlisted, which is, quite frankly, an embarrassment that I'm glad even the IFFP recognized. This year - 2014 - the situation is definitely brighter. A grand total of 5 women (out of 15) have been honored, a number that is comfortably above the average publishing statistics. And having read two of those books, I can easily say that both are brilliant without a doubt deserve their place on the list (more, I think, than the male-written book I've read from the longlist).

Now over to the US, we look at the Best Translated Book Award (fiction). This younger award turns out much better numbers overall, with a surprising 50% win-ratio by women authors. However, despite women writers' oddly skewed propensity to win, it turns out that the proportions of women nominated are actually much worse than the overall publishing trends, with something like 15% representation.

Taking another step back and looking at broader international awards like the Nobel, we can see further examples of women writers from around the world getting somewhat sidestepped. Over half of the prizes the Nobel has handed out to women over the past 25 years (still a clear minority overall, remember) have gone to women writing in English, from English-speaking countries. Not particularly representative either, it turns out.

The number one goal of these posts is to raise awareness - I want people to think about women's place in international literature. Awards are pivotal in getting readers excited about a certain genre or field, and are often instrumental in guiding readers to many new books they never would have read otherwise. If awards are consistently failing to recognize women writers, readers are again losing out on brilliant books by brilliant authors. Which is a shame, knowing how many other wonderful books are out there. Luckily, the trends overall seem to be improving - here's to hoping for more and more balanced lists as the years progress, and lots of new and excellent books for us to read.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Translation awards

Until a few days ago, I'd never heard of the Tchernichovsky Prize for translation. You probably haven't either - it's an Israeli prize awarded by the Tel-Aviv municipality for "exemplary" translations, both literary and academic. In the Ha'aretz blurb on this year's award winners, the article mentions that Mifal Hapayis (the Israeli national lottery), which sponsors the significantly more prolific Sapir prize, has set aside funds for a similar translation prize to be awarded from next year and on.

This is interesting. The proportion of translated vs. original fiction in Israel is obviously nothing like that of the English speaking world. Whereas foreign literature hardly makes its way into English, Israel collects world literature comfortably and prolifically. Yet I'm still struck by the sheer amount of recognition translators get. When the majority of books published each year are works in translation, it would make sense that translators get a bit of credit. Still, sense does not necessarily translate into action (and certainly not into awards), so these awards are nonetheless surprising. And pleasing.

Monday, February 28, 2011

My new favorite Oscar winner

Acceptance speech
I'd like to offer my enthusiastic, hearty congratulations to Shaun Tan of The Arrival fame and Andrew Ruhemann for winning the Oscar for best animated short film. It's not every day I get to see an author I really really admire accepting a prestigious award for something that is not at all literary (or even something in the "best screenplay" realm).

Back when I first read The Arrival, I found myself repeatedly comparing it to a silent film. It would appear that Mr Tan is just as adept at animating actual films as he is at drawing wonderful, wordless books. I very much look forward to seeing "The Lost Thing".

Once more, congratulations!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Not all hype is the same

Browsing book blogs, reading reviews and especially writing them means that I have a little bit more of a notion of what new (or not so new) books are being hyped at any given time. There are always a few "books of the moment", especially at that annoying end of the year period when everyone seems to hype up the same books. But I was reading a random comment today about the oft-recommended Room, and something occurred to me: hype changes from book to book.

Readers (whether or not they would have read the book) recall the recent Franzen Freedom uproar (and the still ongoing backlash). Here was a book so clearly hyped from day one that by the time it got to the hands of the public, so many had already formed opinions about it. This was both a good thing and a bad thing. Lots of times, the opinions of those around us influence how we view the book, particularly if we're apathetic. Strong emotions can easily influence apathy, and thus I have found myself shifting opinions more than once after reading a particularly sharply-worded opinion or review.

It's a bad thing, though, when backlash comes into play. Again, apathy is the worst emotion because it is the most easily manipulated. If faced with extreme praise and all you feel is apathy (or mediocre emotions - pleasant acceptance, etc.), what can easily happen is your opinion - while staying the same on an absolute level - takes on a relative extremism. In order to counterbalance the gushing, the reader might focus primarily on the negative aspects in a subconscious effort to create a so-called balanced picture of the book. And so backlash is born.

Four examples of hype - and there are still many others
But not all hype is "bloated hype", as I like to think of the whole Freedom story. Freedom came prepackaged with vast amounts of praise, but the praise also had a slightly false taste to it. It was, in a sense, pretentious praise, taking up a book that could very well have become a bestseller and a hit amongst readers with no additional effort, and inflating it until many people read it simply to prove the hype wrong. Similarly, you have a book like The Passage, which was more "publicity hype" - the book was hyped in that it was massively advertised and just about every internet reader/reviewer could have gotten a free copy in the first couple of weeks without too much strain.

On the other end of the hype spectrum (or on another end - like I said, there are many kinds of hype...) you have Room. Here's a novel that's been hyped by a collection of moderate praise. Not moderate in that the praise is reserved - hardly - but rather that it came on rather quietly. The book received attention after being shortlisted for the Booker and continued to gradually accumulate praise (and some dismissal, for the most part as a result of the child narration). Reading a review of Room doesn't feel like someone is trying to make a point - either in favor of the hype or against it - but rather a personal view on the book.

Somewhere else on this spectrum, you also find books like Harry Potter. Take Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Obviously a book that was hyped, a significant chunk of the hype was fan anticipation. Sure, there was (a long time ago) hype regarding the series as a whole but here exists a very different kind of hype. Waiting for the next book in a beloved series and hyping up its inevitable (or not so inevitable, fans of A Song of Ice and Fire...) new release is predictable, expected fan anticipation hype.

With the exception of Harry Potter, I haven't read these books but somehow I've managed to form opinions about them. Freedom honestly seems like the kind of book I'd just want to punch (or maybe that's just Franzen himself...?), The Passage seems a little too movie-esque for my taste (though I'll probably read it eventually) and Room seems sincerely good. It sure seems like the type of hype has influenced how I view these books...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Wolf Hall

My teaser post last week did not accurately encompass my feelings towards Wolf Hall. This isn't a book that just draws a reader in through its story, it's a book that dragged me into its depths because of its intense wit. Every page of Wolf Hall has some clever line, either spoken by the book's many sharp characters (Cromwell, you bastard) or even its less witty characters. Lines that fall into the context of history made me laugh out loud numerous times throughout the book.

One advantage Wolf Hall has over many other historical fiction texts (other than the excellent writing of Hilary Mantel, which is certainly going to lead me to read more of her books, though I need to remember to keep my expectations reasonably low...) is that Mantel takes a character previously shown in negative light (think A Man for All Seasons) and makes the reader absolutely, completely and totally fall into step (or love - whatever) with him. By the end of the book, I wanted nothing more than for Cromwell to manage my own affairs and then clap him on the back and say, "Well, if you're pretty much best friend/truster advisor to the king... I'm sure you can be best friends with me!"

It's not just Cromwell, though. It's the human way Mantel portrays everyone - the positive and negative sides of Henry VIII, Wolsey, Catherine, Anne and many other historical figures I've only ever encountered very vaguely. This isn't a historical text, to be certain, but it's not the typical historical fiction novel either (romance filled and, with no offence to good historical fiction, lame). It's refreshing.

The main criticism I'd encountered of Wolf Hall before reading it (and the one that made me hesitant to approach it) was the label "dense". While reading Wolf Hall, I understood where readers might get that impression, even if I did not. The book is long, certainly, and packed, but "dense" in my mind means heavily packed to the point that it does not flow well. Wolf Hall flowed. It positively bounced. Whether in the intensely entertaining scenes of historical relevance, or the simply brilliant dialogue, I wanted nothing more than to continue reading the book. And also finish it.

It's true that it's been a long, long time since I've read a good historical fiction book. Or a good classic. Wolf Hall appealed to me on both those fronts, in the weirdest of ways. It's a book that feels modernly old-fashioned, historically contemporary, and all-over well-crafted. It's a book that's truly "extraordinary" - not quite like anything I've ever read and most highly recommended.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Novels and short stories

One of the sub-genres I've recently discovered (knowing full well that this has existed for a while) is that of the "novel in stories". I have to admit that I love the idea. Short stories and I have a tentative relationship for the simple reason that I like watching characters develop. I like a long, in-depth introduction to a character, not a simple snapshot and then moving onto a whole new set. But I also love the wholeness in short stories, the way a really good short story can stand on its own and that's that.

So a novel in stories should be perfect for me. Some of them are. The White King, which I wrote about last year, was one such book - essentially a novel, watching the development of one central character, but written in such a way that it felt as though I was reading short stories. Enough characters stayed constant that these days I would define it as closer to a novel than a "novel in stories", but it still has that atmosphere. Olive Kitteridge, which I started and finished reading yesterday, is another such book. But my thoughts on it are far less positive. Despite the mountains of praise heaped upon the 2009 Pulitzer Winner (and I absolutely understand why this book won, but more on that later), there were things I learned about "novels in stories" from Olive Kitteridge. Things I will need to keep in mind for the future.

The first thing I realized about Olive Kitteridge was that whereas The White King was more of a novel, Elizabeth Strout's book is much more a short story collection, in the sense that it was at once broader - more characters, not just one story progression, and the wonderful quality of transitioning between worlds, rather than almost always knowing what kind of story you'll fall into - and at once suffering from many of the short story collection downfalls that I'm used to.

There is much to praise in Olive Kitteridge. The cleanness of the writing, the clarity of the characters' voices, the fluid way each story leads into the next while presenting completely different worlds - all these make Olive Kitteridge a nice book. That's the perfect word for it - nice. Not good, because that's too strong. Not fine, because that's too bland. Nice.

And disappointments as well. I had hoped and expected a novel in stories to take the best of both worlds. Long term character development, but small, complete stories. None of the messiness found in constructing complex novels, none of the padding to make a novel "novel sized". Much in the way that Strout's writing is clean, I had hoped the stories would be like this as well. This is not the case. The book is uneven. Not more than the typical short story collection, but still. Some stories are whole on their own and are really good stories. Others are absolutely pointless. Others still are so closely tied to what seems like a larger novel that with the random stories thrown in, they actually seem out of place even if this is precisely where they should be. It makes sense that these problems should arise. On the copyright information page, part of the history of Olive Kitteridge is revealed. Some of the stories were published almost two decades ago, others more recently. It is hard to fault an author for developing with time, but in a collection, it's hard not to notice the different styles and qualities.

As for the matter of the overall story itself, I find myself confused. The book is titled Olive Kitteridge - the book would appear, therefore, to be about her. It is, frankly, not (this is not a spoiler...). Olive stars in 7 out of 13 of the stories, sometimes in more of a supporting role but more often than not as the lead. In the remaining 6, she is a character mentioned casually or a side character - either way, not really worthy of recognition. But that we know her already makes it a strange cameo - not quite a random name drop of an unknown person, but reference to someone we're slowly getting to know.

Maybe it's just that I didn't like this style. I'm not certain, but ultimately I didn't enjoy the way characters couldn't grow, or the way that I liked Olive's character (despite being expected, I suspect, to find her somewhat frustratingly endearing, which was not at all the case - I sincerely liked her) but didn't care about her. 270 pages and I really didn't care about a single character mentioned. That should not be the case.

Again: Olive Kitteridge is nice. That word keeps coming to mind, as well as the description clean, which fits the writing and the clarity of the book perfectly. It's enjoyable to read writing of this kind, and the book does an excellent job of presenting a very different aspect of American life than is typically presented (there lies the absolutely perfect justification for the Pulitzer). I suppose Olive Kitteridge has made me realize that "novels in stories" can be tricky - much in the way that they can take my favorite aspects from novels and my favorite aspects from short stories, they can take good and bad as well. I don't regret reading it and know that many will go on enjoying it despite my relative apathy (relative, I say), but I would have to think carefully about who I recommend it to.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Newbery, Caldecott, Printz and... Batchelder?

This is an interesting award:

The Batchelder Award is a citation awarded to an American publisher for a
children's book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally
published in a language other than English in a country other than the United
States, and subsequently translated into English and published in the United

Everyone always hears about the Newbery, the Printz, and the Caldecott (Stead, Bray, and Pinkney respectively and all other winners: congratulations), but here's a smaller, fairly new childrens' award that is actually quite different. And even though it deals with two facets of literature I quite like, I've never heard of it.

The reason I'm so intrigued by this is because some of my favorite kids books are in translation. Like "The Neverending Story", which though I read belatedly (a few years ago), stands as one of the best kids book I've ever read. Or one of my favorite picture books, "The Little Polar Bear", written by a Dutch author. It's true, few kids books are translated into English but there should be some kind of outlet to recognize the best of them. And isn't it interesting that the award is given specifically to the publisher? A curious award indeed.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Score one for NPR

Amid all the "Best of" lists, you'd be hard pressed to find books not originally written in English. Here's where NPR wins big with Jessa Crispin's "World of Novels" list, where 5 foreign fiction books are crowned best of the year. Crispin writes:
[T]he inescapable truth is, sampling world culture is an essential and powerfully enriching experience. [...] [These books] just happen to be set in slightly unfamiliar locales.
Indeed. The list is fairly varied, with books translated from Spanish, Russian, Hebrew and Dutch (two books are originally from Spanish). Obviously, it might have been nicer having a wider variety (and a longer list!), but given how few books get translated per year, I'm willing to forgive Crispin. The topics are also all over the board, with horror stories, war tales, nerdiness, feminism and family drama all covered. For readers sick of constantly seeing the same titles again and again in "Best of" lists, this one is most recommended.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Looking back

Okay, this is amazing. The Guardian, in its typical fashion, has decided to set aside the typical "Best of the Decade" for a "Worst of" list. The result is quite spectacular. Over 450 comments where readers pour out their frustrations with what they feel are the worst books of the decade (typically, these books are ones they felt were overhyped or wrongly popular). Massively profane, incredibly upbeat about their insults, and 100% entertaining, these comments reveal 10 years worth of pent-up book hate (and on the rare occasion, love).

The grand winners are, for the most part, Dave Eggers, Zadie Smith, and Ian McEwan. It's amusing, though, to see the others nominated. "Twilight", Dan Brown and Harry Potter are repeatedly mentioned as "How do people like this [expletive]?!". Many (I think almost all; "Wolf Hall" may be the only exception) of the last decade's Booker winners have been mentioned as "pure drivel" and several other popular novelists' names keep getting tossed around back and forth: "He's great! No, he's [crap]. What are you talking about, ----- was a masterpiece of modern literature! You're an idiot if you think that! Yeah, well you think--"

And people say literary discussion is dead.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good and bad

Once again, the Guardian lets me in on a brilliant award, one where Philip Roth, Amos Oz, and John Banville can be counted among the shortlisted. With so many yearly awards massively publicized (Booker, National Book Award, Pulitzer, Nobel, ...this list can go on eternally...), there are a few that perhaps deserve a bit more attention. Or much, much less attention, depending on how you look at it (and the Guardian's response posts to this award...).

I think all this one needs is the link.

Friday, November 20, 2009

National Book Award winners

The National Book Award finalists have been narrowed down even more precisely - to the winners. The full list can be found here. And an observation: what long titles all the winners have. It makes it difficult to quote the whole list...

But in all seriousness, finally an award I can comment on. I've read the winning "Let the Great World Spin" and while I thought it was interesting and good (certainly very well written), I wasn't blown away. The book is like a collection of short stories except that the stories eventually connect to form a larger tale. A great tactic, sure, but there were too many stories. The book felt overly long and at times the connections were kind of pointless. That was my opinion, at least.

Should this have been the winning pick? I haven't read the other finalists (making it a little difficult to judge...), but I can't shake off the feeling that "Let the Great World Spin" doesn't deserve such honor. It's a good book; it isn't great. It seems like the award-givers wanted their audience to be pleased with the choice, rather than giving the audience a new and wonderful book choice. Perhaps it's just that it's been a very long time since I've read a book that later won an award. Perhaps it's my personal bias or an issue with my own taste. Either way, the judges have picked a well-written, interesting, and recommendable book for the fiction category (and most likely, equally [or better...] picks in the other categories as well).

Congratulations to all winners: McCann, Stiles, Waldrop, and Hoose.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

PW and sexism

Publishers Weekly released their "Best Books of 2009" list. Unremarkable, typically. This time, however, the list has caused certain groups to raise the alarm because all ten titles were written by men. PW says, "It disturbed us when we were done" and goes on to mention who/what else didn't make the list. Meanwhile, via the Guardian:
"They know they're being blatantly sexist, but it looks like they feel good about that," said [WILLA's (the new US literary organisation Women in Letters and Literary Arts) other co-founder and director of the creative writing programme at Florida State University, Erin Belieu]. "I, on the other hand, have heard from a whole lot of people - writers and readers - who don't feel good about it at all."
The question: is it sexist? If in going through the thousands of books published this year, the top ten happened to be written by men, is it sexism? Answer: not really "blatant sexism", but it's kind of wrong. Literary sexism is often spoken of but is difficult to prove. It's known that men and women statistically like different styles and often view the literary differently (this is not to say that one is more right than the other). What remains is an argument over whether or not award-boards and juries prefer "manly" books over their female counterparts, and it's one complex, difficult argument that I still haven't figured out.

So what about this is wrong? If I don't think there's something inherently and outwardly sexist to this list (meaning, I don't think that PW intentionally left off women), what is it about it that bothers? Well, it's that you can't help but feel that there has to have been at least one (and probably many more) top-notch, incredible, mind-blowing book written this year by a woman. I'm not saying it has to be one of the big guns mentioned in the Guardian article (Atwood, Munro, Byatt, etc.), but it seems slightly sloppy of PW to judge like this. I wouldn't criticize them for purposely ignoring women writers, but I feel like publishing a list like this displays a slightly unbalanced view of this year's literature. So props for trying (points for non-fiction and graphic memoirs alike), but don't get too hurt by those calling foul. And for those on the other side, I'm not sure this is sexism out to get you - I honestly think it's just stupidity.

I'm curious to know how others interpret this. I suspect there's much to learn and understand from all sides of the story.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Winners and finalists

Last week, Hilary Mantel won the Man Booker Prize for her novel "Wolf Hall". The surprise came in that Mantel was the expected win. Bookies and fans claimed her to be the favorite and indeed she won.

That Thursday, Herta Müller won the Nobel Prize in Literature. This Romanian-born German writer was received with a lot of criticism in the U.S. immediately, as many began to cry foul, claiming that the Nobels were far too Europe-centric. Müller, virtually unknown in the U.S. until her ascension as Nobel laureate, was seen as an obscure, bad pick by many, while others insisted that the problem was with the U.S. for not recognizing one of Germany's top authors, especially one who has been translated into English (nice list here). It's an interesting debate but is fairly pointless. Instead, let's congratulate Müller on her win and get reading her works.

Meanwhile, on U.S. soil, the National Book Award Finalists have been revealed. The picks emerge from over a thousand possibilities and will probably pinpoint a truly good book (going based on previous years' winners). Here is a prize with little controversy: there's not much in the finalist lists to complain about. In addition to the finalists, Gore Vidal and Dave Eggers received the awards for
Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and The Literarian Award, respectively.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Not the Booker

You've got to give the Guardian props for this one. After the Booker longlist was revealed, a blog post discussed how "the internet" always disagrees with the judges.

These criticisms fall into three main camps:

1) Your favourite book didn't win. This is the most egregious error the judges make, and they make it again and again. Worse still, instead of your favourite book, they select one that is at best mediocre and at worst thoroughly dull. What's wrong with them? 2) The books are always about post-colonial guilt, Irish poverty or English middle-class Islingtonians having Terribly Important Thoughts about their boring love lives … Where's the SF? Is that not literature? Where's the danger? Where's the challenge? Surely they are missing something. 3) The panel are unrepresentative. Who are these people? Who chooses them? Why should, say, James Naughtie be judging this year's prize? Are they really better judges than you or I?

The Guardian handed over nominations to the general public, compiled the list and invited all readers to judge by voting (and the only mention of possible voter fraud was to dismiss the idea, kudos!). And now, at long last, the shortlist, announced. Another list full of books I haven't read yet. Charming.

It's a nice idea. In fact, a really nice idea. Handing over a chunk of the responsibility to the masses, the folks who ultimately read these books. And so what if the Not the Booker prize lacks the prestige of the Booker and receives only a mug as a prize? It's a good way to find out what books people are reading... Hopefully next year the Guardian will also tackle something bigger - a reader driven prize looking at a different set of books. Perhaps books from non-Commonwealth English speaking countries (there's a big one across the pond, right?). Or perhaps a prize for books translated into English. Or maybe round up the year's self-published novels and see what gems lie there. But I suppose I should be satisfied for now and get reading.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Literary conflict in Israel

If you think you've heard of all the literary prizes, here's an interesting one for you: the head of Tel Aviv University's literature department criticized the Sapir Prize, Israel's "equivalent" of the Man Booker Prize. In Haaretz:
"The list this year, on the whole, is good but in previous years I had many reservations about them," Gluzman said. "This prize tries to follow in the footsteps of the Booker Prize. Look at which books won the Booker and which the Sapir. Since its inception, the Sapir Prize has been a prize for lists of best sellers. There is no way that a literary prize should be given to writers of best sellers. That is contemptuous of literature."
The article goes on to describe the methods of boycotting the prize:
The editor of the The New Library publishing house, Prof. Menachem Perry, has been boycotting the prize since 2004 and does not submit his writers for the competition. He explained that the prize engages in the futile promotion of books without any literary value and misses out on books of real value. As a result of the boycott, David Grossman's book, "Isha Borahat Mabesora" (English title: "Until the End of the Land") whose publication was one of the most important cultural events of the year, is not on the list. Another problem with the prize is that some of the country's most important writers refuse to submit their candidacy for it, including Meir Shalev, Aharon Appelfeld, A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz.
Several of the most famous Israeli authors don't apply for this prize. That's really a shame because I think Grossman and Yehoshua are excellent writers ("Someone to Run With" and "Friendly Fire" respectively). The head of the judging committee, a prolific Israeli politician and writer, Yossi Sarid, defends the choices, pointing out that "quite a few of the books this year weren't best sellers" and that they "try to choose a book that was not a bestseller to help it get publicity". Facing critique, as he is not a literary professor or professional, Sarid adds to say that many of the fellow committee members are indeed colleagues of Professor Gluzman.

That a prize ultimately ignores many of the major Israeli writers is a situation that could never come to be in the English speaking world. Some books originally written in Hebrew are translated into English (Three Percent's translation spreadsheet for 2008 displayed 12 titles), often by established authors and a few that make it on their own. Perhaps Sarid and the Sapir prize believe it should focus on those other books, those that would otherwise not receive international recognition. So even if some great authors are missing out and the literati are getting riled up, there's some logic to the Sapir Prize's choices and methods.