Why This Book Should Win the BTBA: Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Three Percent is posting write-ups of each of the 25 books nominated for the long list of this year’s Best Translated Book Award (BTBA). I was pleased to be asked to contribute my own piece for Johan Harstad’s Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? It’s a casual recap/list of awesome things about this great book, but gave me a good excuse to go back and re-read much of the book, which was among my favorites last year. The re-read did nothing but confirm my positive feelings about the book, so I highly recommend that you check it out.

While I was reacquainting myself with Buzz Aldrin, I also ran across some interesting related links that I wanted to call to your attention:

  • Harstad has had three pieces of short fiction published at Words Without Borders, which are all available online, here.
  • The Power of Second,” and interview conducted with Harstad for The Brooklyn Rail, in which the author admits that despite what Buzz Aldrin might suggest, he’s “not a great Cardigans fan,” and also that “the novel as a whole will possibly read nicely to the sound of Beck’s Sea Change and Sigur Ros’s Ágætis Byrjun,” which sound like great pairings to me as well.
  • A 2010 piece in N+1 called Into the Woods: On Norwegian Literature” by Silje Bekeng uses Harstad and his work as an example of young Norwegian writers who “have found ways to use classic themes to reflect on the era they’re writing themselves into.” I remember reading this piece at the time and really enjoying it, but Harstad’s book hadn’t been published in English yet. Having read Buzz Aldrin now, Bekeng’s observations resonate more, but it’s still an interesting article if you haven’t read the book.

My “Why This Book Should Win” piece for Buzz Aldrin is on the Three Percent website, here. The full text is also below.

***

When we meet 29-year-old Mattias, the narrator of Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, he is happy and satisfied with his life. He loves his girlfriend, Helle, who he has dated for twelve years. He loves his job as a gardener at a local nursery–so much that he often comes in early to just sit in the quiet of the garden alone. Idolizing Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, Mattias only wants to “be a smooth running cog in the world. To do the right thing. Nothing more.” Instead of seeking recognition for his talents (he’s a wonderful singer, for instance) or trying to distinguish himself in an impressive career, Mattias instead hopes to blend into the background, “to vanish into the commotion out there, to be number two, a person who made himself useful instead of trying to stand out, who did the job he was asked to do.”

The simplicity of Mattias’ world is upended in short order, however, when Helle leaves him for another man (someone who “wanted to be seen in the world”), and he loses his job at the now-bankrupt nursery. Depressed and hopeless, he follows his friend’s band to a music festival on the Faroe Islands. The next thing he remembers is waking up face down in the rain, in the middle of a dirt road in the Faroe countryside, with 15,000 kroner in his pocket.

Norwegian author Johan Harstad’s Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? was, without a doubt, one of the best books I read last year. Won over almost immediately by just the title, I picked up the book on a whim and then spent the next few days delightedly underlining each wonderful sentence or clever bit of dialog until I realized that if I didn’t stop, I’d soon have underlined the whole book. As I read it, I talked about the book incessantly, reading bits aloud in bars, and generally recommending it to every third person I met on the street. The book is extremely well written, it’s funny, and it’s affecting without being trite. But as is so often the case with books that I’ve truly loved, it’s hard to go back and objectively critique it. What’s easier–and more fun–is to give you a short list of reasons that Buzz Aldrin is a fantastic book that you should go read now, and a great contender for this year’s BTBA:

1. It’s wonderfully written. Johan Harstad is an incredible prose stylist who pays particular attention to natural details. (All due credit to translator Deborah Dawkin that the language reads so fluidly.) Harstad has a knack for intermixing delightfully odd observations (“Tuesday. The week’s most superfluous day.”) with fantastically long, melodic trains-of-thought which fully immerse you in Mattias’ perspective. The opening paragraph of the book has a great example of this:

“I bend over the tulips, gloves on my feet, small pruning shears between my fingers, it’s extremely early, one April morning in 1999 and it’s beginning to grow warmer, I’ve noticed it recently, a certain something has begun to stir, I noticed it as I got out of the car this morning, in the gray light, as I opened the gates into the nursery, the air had grown softer, more rounded at the edges, I’d even considered changing out of my winter boots and putting my sneakers on.”

2. The Faroe Island Setting: A write-up in Kirkus Reviews embarrassingly referred to Buzz Aldrin as “the long-awaited Great Faroese Novel,” by which they probably meant not to discredit the brilliant (and actually Faroese) novels by William Heinesen, but rather to point out that the Faroe Island setting is as much a character in this book as any of the people. As described by Harstad, the Faroese landscape is not only evocative and otherworldly, it also provides an important counterpoint for Mattias’ isolationist worldview. There are less than 50,000 people living on the Faroe Islands, so it’s impossible to blend into the background as Mattias would like. As he comes to realize, “…for each person that died, there was one less inhabitant, one less person to meet on the road, one less person who spoke the same language.”

3. The Cardigans: Never has a book paid better homage to this Swedish pop band (you know you loved them, too). One of the book’s main characters listens exclusively to albums by The Cardigans because “…everything I need is in this band.” Also, each of the book’s four sections is named after a different Cardigans album. (Funnily enough, Harstad said in an interview that he isn’t really a big fan himself. “I chose the band because I couldn’t figure out who would love such a band.”)

4. The Cultural Collage: Harstad brings together a variety of historical and cultural reference points (beyond The Cardigans)–from Radiohead and Top Gun to the unsolved murder of Swedish prime minister Olaf Palme, the start of Bosnian War, the Chernobyl disaster, and the Challenger space ship explosion–not just to prove his zeitgeisty prowess, but also to create a fully contextual background for his characters and their general sense of unease and displacement. The main action of the book takes place between the mid-eighties and late nineties–not so long ago, and yet, long enough to be able to reflect back now on what a unsettling couple of decades it was.

5. The Epic Thor Heyerdahl-esque Escape: Thor Heyerdahl was a Norwegian adventurer and anthropologist who sailed roughly 8,000 km from Peru to Polynesia on a homemade raft (the Kon-Tiki) in 1947. After a particularly unexpected plot development, Mattias and his companions make a similar voyage from The Faroe Islands to the Caribbean. It’s awesome.

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Fun Reads for Friday: BTBA Finalists / 100 Great Books for Kids

25 Days of the BTBA (Three Percent)

As you may remember, Three Percent recently announced this year’s long list for the Best Translated Book Award (BTBA). Leading up to the announcement of the short list of ten titles on April 10, 3P is running a daily series of posts explaining why each of the 25 books on the long list should win the award. All of the posts are archived here, and many are rather compelling. (I’ll actually be writing one of these myself for the only book on the list that I’ve read–Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?) Chad Post’s pithy one-liners on why each book should win are also pretty fun. Some of the more amusing examples:

On Upstaged by Jacques Jouet, translated by Leland de la Durantaye:

Why This Book Should Win: Oulipians have the most fun.

On New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani, translated by Judith Landry [Ed: and this book sounds awesome]

Why This Book Should Win: Because Marani invented Europanto, a “mock international auxiliary language.”

On Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger, translated by Ross Benjamin

Why This Book Should Win: Two reasons: 1) during Thomas’s reading tour, three consecutive events were disrupted by a streaker, a woman passing out and smashing a glass table, and a massive pillow fight amid a Biblical thunderstorm; 2) the phone number. [Ed: Not sure about this reason…]

On Lightning by Jean Echenoz, translated by Linda Coverdale

Why This Book Should Win: Tesla, duh. And Linda Coverdale. But mostly Tesla.

Scholastic’s Parent and Child Magazine’s “100 Greatest Books for Children”

A friend who works at Scholastic brought this list–which actually includes Young Adult titles, as well as those for children–to my attention on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day. While drunken faux-Irish bar patrons sloshed about around us, we had quite a nice time of guessing books which were included on the list. I was happy to have guessed several in the top twenty, and was surprised at some of the omissions (Ed Young’s Lon Po Po; anything by J.R.R. Tolkien, but mostly The Hobbit). Since authors were only represented once on the list, some of the representative selections were also a bit suprising (Green Eggs and Ham over Cat in the Hat, even though I like the former better; Matilda for Roald Dahl over James and the Giant Peach or The Witches; The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik instead of Wonderstruck; The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks over basically any other Magic School Bus book…)

Of course, the question of what makes something a “great” book for kids is a big and incredibly vague one. P&C attempts to clarify their selection process here, although I think there is still some ambiguity. But here’s the gist:

“To create our list, we asked several highly respected literacy experts, educators, and parents for suggestions. (See “Contributors” on our bookshelf.) They came through in a big way — nearly 500 books were in the running. We used a variety of criteria to narrow down to 100 and then rank our titles, including diversity of genre, topic, format, ages and stages, authorship, and cultural representation. Factors such as literary and/or illustration excellence, popularity, and longevity or innovative freshness were all qualities of books in the final round.

Along the way, a few familiar and well-loved titles made way for fresh, unique books that children today know and love. Some authors’ secondary works stepped aside to allow for a greater variety of names and faces who may be new to you. We also included nonfiction, a rarity among these kinds of lists, but a must, given the high demand for it in schools today and the great quality of these works. In the end, we came up with a diverse range of timeless titles, classic and new, that children of all ages will learn from, grow through, and enjoy.”

And here’s the top 10:

  1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  2. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown / Illustrated by Clement Hurd
  3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  4. The Snowy Day written/ illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats
  5. Where the Wild Things Are written / illustrated by Maurice Sendak
  6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling / Illustrated by Mary GrandPré
  7. Green Eggs and Ham written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
  8. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  9. The Giving Tree written / illustrated by Shel Silverstein
  10. Frog and Toad Are Friends written / illustrated by Arnold Lobel

See any glaring omissions/terrible choices? Especially happy about a selection? (I was thrilled that The Phantom Toll Booth and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH were included, myself.) Discuss…

Fun Reads for Friday: Rural Libraries (and Cake Pan Collections), NBCC Award Winners,Yrsa Sigurðardóttir in New York

A grab bag of events, award announcements, and more today:

Photo by Tina King at The Good Midwest Life

“Morality and Cake Pans: The Rural Library”
by Marcel LaFlamme, via The Daily Yonder

A very interesting review of a recently-published book by library historian Wayne A. Wiegand called Main Street Public Library: Community Places and Reading Spaces in the Rural Heartland, 1876-1956. (The review title, I should note, alludes to a “lending collection of cake and muffin pans at the public library in Atkinson, NE,” which is pictured with the review (and above) but not mentioned, so far as I can tell, in the book itself.)

Main Street Library sounds fascinating, as does some of the methodology that Wiegand employed in his research. From the review:

Wayne Wiegand’s new book delves into the histories of four small-town libraries in the American Midwest. Although 80% of public library systems today serve populations of less than 25,000, Wiegand argues that “we know little about the overall history of the small-town public library.” Each of the four libraries that Wiegand considers was established by transplants from the East, first on a subscription basis for the merchant and professional classes and then, with tax support, for the town at large. Three of them received funds from Andrew Carnegie to erect a library building. And each, despite the rhetoric that emerged later about libraries as “arsenals of democracy,” was first imagined as a source of moral uplift in a culturally barren region aspiring to respectability.

In addition to more conventional sources like meeting minutes and newspaper clippings, Wiegand makes imaginative use of the accession books in which his four libraries recorded the new titles they bought. (An army of work-study students entered the records into a database, which Wiegand has generously made available for other researchers to mine themselves.) Examining how the four collections changed over time leads Wiegand to some interesting comparisons and speculations: were summer tourists in Lexington, Michigan, the reason that the Charles H. Moore Library was the only one of the four to subscribe to Cosmopolitan? Why did the Bryant Library in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, collect Hardy Boys and Tom Swift novels, only to spurn the Bobbsey Twins?”

The review also included the supremely heartening factoid that “the United States presently has more public libraries in operation than it does McDonald’s restaurants,” which: who knew? (Yay!)

The NBCC Award Winners for Publishing Year 2011
via Critical Mass

At an award ceremony last night, the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) announced this year’s award winners in fiction, nonfiction, biography, poetry, autobiography, and criticism. I hadn’t read many of the nominees this year, but was rooting for either David Bellos’ Is That a Fish in Your Ear  or Dubravka Ugresic’s Karaoke Culture in the criticism category. Neither won, but I have to admit that the Geoff Dyer book that took the prize is actually on my bookshelf at home, and seems an admirable winner. Both Dyer’s book and the fiction winner looked particularly interesting to me, so here’s a little info on both (descriptions from the publishers’ websites):

  • Fiction: Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision

    “…these 21 vintage selected stories and 13 scintillating new ones take us around the world, from Jerusalem to Central America, from tsarist Russia to London during the Blitz, from central Europe to Manhattan, and from the Maine coast to Godolphin, Massachusetts, a fictional suburb of Boston. These charged locales, and the lives of the endlessly varied characters within them, are evoked with a tenderness and incisiveness found in only our most observant seers.”

  • Criticism: Geoff Dyer: Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews

 “Otherwise Known as the Human Condition collects twenty-five years of essays, reviews, and misadventures. Here he is pursuing the shadow of Camus in Algeria and remembering life on the dole in Brixton in the 1980s; reflecting on Richard Avedon and Ruth Orkin, on the sculptor Zadkine and the saxophonist David Murray (in the same essay), on his heroes Rebecca West and Ryszard Kapuscinski, on haute couture and sex in hotels. Whatever he writes about, his responses never fail to surprise. For Dyer there is no division between the reflective work of the critic and the novelist’s commitment to lived experience: they are mutually illuminating ways to sharpen our perceptions. His is the rare body of work that manages to both frame our world and enlarge it.”

Upcoming Event at Scandinavia House: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir in Conversation with Elizabeth Hand

A good opportunity for New York-based Nordic crime aficionados, particularly because author conversations are, I find, often more ‘productive’ than a straight Q&A. Yrsa (Last Rituals; My Soul to Take) is in New York on March 27.

“Icelandic crime author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir joins American writer Elizabeth Hand in a conversation about their work, the current Scandinavian crime fiction renaissance, what drew them to the genre, and ideas for future Iceland-related crime stories.”

And lastly:

Chad Post over at Three Percent recently posted about a new transdisciplinary journal called Translation. The biannual journal is “published by St. Jerome Publishing in Manchester and Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura in Rome.” From the journal’s site:

With this publication, the editors present the new international peer-reviewed journal translation, which from January 2012 will be published twice a year. The journal—a collaborative initiative of the Nida School of Translation Studies—takes as its main mission the collection and representation of the ways in which translation as a fundamental element of culture transforms our contemporary world. Our ambition is to create a new forum for the discussion of translation, offering an open space for debate and reflection on what we call post-translation studies, moving beyond disciplinary boundaries towards wider transdisciplinary discourses on the translational nature of societies which are increasingly hybrid, diasporic, border-crossing, intercultural, multilingual, and global.

The Best Translated Book Award 2012 Longlist

Today, Three Percent released the longlist for 2012’s Best Translated Book Award (BTBA), and judging from the list, I fell behind in my international reading last year. You can check out the press release with more information about the selection process on the Three Percent blog here, but I’ve pasted the longlist below.

The 2012 BTBA Fiction Longlist (in alphabetical order by author):

Leeches by David Albahari
Translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursać
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

My Two Worlds by Sergio Chejfec
Translated from the Spanish by Margaret B. Carson
(Open Letter)

Demolishing Nisard by Eric Chevillard
Translated from the French by Jordan Stump
(Dalkey Archive Press)

Private Property by Paule Constant
Translated from the French by Margot Miller and France Grenaudier-Klijn
(University of Nebraska Press)

Lightning by Jean Echenoz
Translated from the French by Linda Coverdale
(New Press)

Zone by Mathias Énard
Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell
(Open Letter)

Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? by Johan Harstad
Translated from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin
(Seven Stories)

Upstaged by Jacques Jouet
Translated from the French by Leland de la Durantaye
(Dalkey Archive Press)

Fiasco by Imre Kertész
Translated from the Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson
(Melville House)

Montecore by Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Translated from the Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles
(Knopf)

Kornél Esti by Dezső Kosztolányi
Translated from the Hungarian by Bernard Adams
(New Directions)

I Am a Japanese Writer by Dany Laferrière
Translated from the French by David Homel
(Douglas & MacIntyre)

Suicide by Edouard Levé
Translated from the French by Jan Steyn
(Dalkey Archive Press)

New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani
Translated from the Italian by Judith Landry
(Dedalus)

Purgatory by Tomás Eloy Martínez
Translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne
(Bloomsbury)

Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski
Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston
(Archipelago Books)

Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz
Translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

The Shadow-Boxing Woman by Inka Parei
Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire
(Seagull Books)

Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger
Translated from the German by Ross Benjamin
(W.W. Norton)

Scars by Juan José Saer
Translated from the Spanish by Steve Dolph
(Open Letter)

Kafka’s Leopards by Moacyr Scliar
Translated from the Portuguese by Thomas O. Beebee
(Texas Tech University Press)

Seven Years by Peter Stamm
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
(Other Press)

The Truth about Marie by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Translated from the French by Matthew B. Smith
(Dalkey Archive Press)

In Red by Magdalena Tulli
Translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston
(Archipelago Books)

Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas
Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean
(New Directions)

I’ve read David Albahari before (I was a big fan of his Words Are Something Else in college), I’ve been meaning to read a different title (Unformed Landscape) of Peter Stamm’s  for a few years, and I am aware of several other authors on the list. But the only one I’ve actually read is Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?, which thankfully, I did really love. (Never has there been a book that has integrated the Cardigans’ Grand Turismo so well). But otherwise, I’ve got nothing on these titles or authors. So it’s time to do some research, eh?

Prior to posting the longlist, Chad Post asked readers of the blog to contribute titles that they were either guessing would be included, or just hoping to see on the list. I actually forgot that Buzz Aldrin was published in the right time frame to qualify (December 1, 2010 – December 31, 2011) so it wasn’t in my short list. Just for kicks, here are some titles–in no particular order–I would have liked to see included (obviously I skew a little more northerly than the judges….):

  • The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, Translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon
  • The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson, Translated from the Swedish by Michael Meyer (I haven’t reviewed The Long Ships, so no link above, but Nick Pinkerton had a good one on The L Magazine website here, and Michael Chabon–who wrote the kinda lame, but certainly enthusiastic, introduction–wrote a piece about it for The Paris Review here.)
  • Fair Playby Tove Jansson, Translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal (Teal won last year, so this would have been a long shot, but it’s such a good book! My favorite Jansson so far.)
  • Karaoke Culture by Dubraka Ugresic, Translated from the Croatian by David Williams

Snape Dominates All Other Harry Potter Characters in Incredibly Scientific Study Conducted by MTV

I will not descend into Pottermania, I promise, but in honor of the forthcoming release of the last epic film in the Harry Potter series, I must bring this to your attention:

Severus Snape Crowned Greatest Harry Potter Character of All Time

Well, I’ve been saying it for years, but now there’s this helpful data pool to back me up:

Professor Severus Snape has been crowned the winner of the Harry Potter World Cup. Over at MTV News, 64 characters were pitted against one another to determine who is the greatest Harry Potter character of all time.”

And you have to love The Rickmaster as he accepts the large tin cup award saying, “And it doesn’t weigh nothing.” Also, to quote Sir Deadpan further:

Interviewer: What does that mean to you? The fans–seven and a half million votes said he was the best.

The Rickmaster: It’s a vote for, em…ambiguity. And things where you don’t know quite how things are going to turn out. And all sorts of values that you can’t talk about without ruining the film, but…things like courage, and loyalty, and determination, and love, actually.”

I’ll leave you to watch it yourself–there are many highlights.

Fun Reads for Friday

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops

A must read for anyone who interacts with customers or patrons of any stripe. This six-part blog post (see the continuation at the bottom of the 1st post) was compiled by Jen Campbell, a London-based writer who works at the Ripping Yarns children’s bookshop. A sampling of some of the better gems:

on the phone
Me: Hello Ripping Yarns.
Customer: Do you have any mohair wool?
Me: Sorry, we’re not a yarns shop, we’re a bookshop.
Customer: You’re called Ripping Yarns.
Me: Yes, that’s ‘yarns’ as in stories.
Customer: Well it’s a stupid name.
Me: It’s a Monty Python reference.
Customer: So you don’t sell wool?
Me: No.
Customer: Hmf. Ridiculous.
Me: …but we do sell dead parrots.
Customer: What?
Me: Parrots. Dead. Extinct. Expired. Would you like one?
Customer: What?
Me: Parrots. Dead. Extinct. Expired. Would you like one?
Customer: Erm, no.
Me: Ok, well if you change your mind, do call back.

***

Woman: Hi, my daughter is going to come by on her way home from school to buy a book. But she seems to buy books with sex in them and she’s only twelve, so can I ask you to keep an eye out for her and make sure she doesn’t buy anything inappropriate for her age? I can give you a list of authors she’s allowed to buy.
Me:
With all due respect, would it not be easier for you to come in with your daughter?
Woman: Certainly not. She’s a grown girl, she can do it herself.

***

Customer: I read a book in the eighties. I don’t remember the author, or the title. But it was green, and it made me laugh. Do you know which one I mean?

Swedish Education Minister Pushes for Chinese Instruction in Primary Schools

“I want to see Sweden become the first country in Europe to introduce instruction in Chinese as a foreign language at all primary and secondary schools,” said Jan Björklund, who heads the Liberal Party, a junior member of the centre-right ruling coalition.”

A short article, but certainly one of note. Interesting–although not surprising, perhaps–that the decision to push for Chinese language education as well as English, French, and Spanish is motivated by economic factors. As Björklund is quoted, “Not everyone in the business world speaks English. Very highly qualified activities are leaving Europe to move to China. Chinese will be much more important from an economic point of view than French or Spanish.”

Man Booker International vs. Translated Literature

An article by freelance journalist, editor, and translator Ángel Gurría-Quintana published on Three Percent regarding the frankly surprising limitations of the Man Booker International Prize, which aspires to the same prestige of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The winner of the Man International Booker Prize 2011 will be announced in Sydney on May 18th. Though still a relative newcomer to the world of literary awards –it is only in its fourth edition—the £60,000 prize has already acquired some heft. Unlike the Man Booker, given yearly to an outstanding work of fiction by a British, Irish or Commonwealth author, this biennial gong aims to celebrate “one writer’s overall contribution to fiction on the world stage.”

Its organisers hope that such a global remit might eventually make MIBP a rival to the prestigious Nobel. But is this aspiration compromised by the rule that the award is given to an author writing fiction in English, or whose work is “generally available” in English language translations?

Australian writer and publisher Carmen Callil, one of this year’s judges, admits that the translation requirement can undermine the prize’s claim to rewarding the best of world literature. “There are many writers who haven’t been translated and who are very important. But we agreed that, to be considered for our list, authors needed to have at least three books in translation.”

And also via Three Percent:

The Booker Prize’s International Embarrassment

Oh, the literary drama, delightfully remarked on in caustic British fashion by Robert McCrum at The Guardian. As it begins:

“The latest Man Booker International prize, awarded on Tuesday to the absent figure of Philip Roth, has been a car crash. Or rather, an unfortunate series of avoidable collisions between the Booker limousine and the oncoming traffic on the four-lane highway to the top of Mount Parnassus.

First, there was John le Carre’s refusal to co-operate: the author of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold asked to be removed from the shortlist, on hearing he was in contention for the prize. The London book specialist Rick Gekoski, who was chairing, handled that pretty well.

More embarrassingly, this was followed by one of the three judges, the ex-publisher Carmen Callil, withdrawing from the panel in an outburst of literary road rage after Philip Roth was named as the 2011 winner.

Finally, Jonathan Taylor, chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, proceeded to throw kerosene on the smouldering wreck by claiming, in the course of some snooty and ill-judged remarks to the diners in the London ceremony held in Roth’s absence, that the prize he’s been in charge of for the past several years was now the world’s premier literary trophy, superior in fact to the Nobel.”

And lastly:

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Shortlist

Head’s up from Mystery Fanfare on the shortlist of a crime novel award I was previously unaware of. The delightfully named prize also includes a delightful award:

“The winner will receive a £3,000 cash prize, as well as a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakstons Old Peculier.”


Like the Oscars (but Shorter): Watch the Best Translated Book Awards

At a beery-cheery award ceremony at the Bowery Poetry Club during the PEN World Voices Festival in April, this year’s winners of the Best Translated Book Awards were announced.

For poetry, this year’s winner was The Book of Things by Aleš Šteger, which was translated from the Slovenian by Brian Henry.

For fiction, I was absolutely delighted that Tove Jansson’s True Deceiver, translated beautifully from the Swedish by Thomas Teal, won the award. I had a bit more stake in this one, I’ll admit: Jansson is one of my favorite newly-discovered authors. I read and reviewed True Deceiver for The L last year (read the review here) and was even more charmed by the new translation (also by Teal) of Fair Play (that review is here).

Teal’s acceptance speech was definitely the highlight of the 13 some-odd minute ceremony–he tells a great anecdote and is obviously delighted by the recognition. And, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you don’t have to rely on the notes I took in the dark–you can watch the whole thing yourself: