The idea of this blog is to facilitate the love of reading by collecting news about new books, or sometimes good old books. It is also dedicated to stamping out the scourge of e-books, Kindles, Kobo's, i-Pads, and all other such abominations.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Will a Crime Novel Win the Booker?

Literary awards have been one of the last bastions of high culture, but in the week when the crime writer Peter Temple took Australia's top literary prize, the Miles Franklin award, Alison Flood examines whether a detective novel could ever win the Booker

When the Australian crime novelist Peter Temple heard that one of his detective novels, The Broken Shore, had been longlisted for the 2006 Miles Franklin award, he "thought it was a clerical error". So when his latest novel, Truth, made this year's Miles Franklin shortlist, Temple had little hope that this time Inspector Stephen Villani, the brooding head of the Victoria homicide squad, could bring off his greatest coup and go on to win Australia's most prestigious literary prize.

"I read the other shortlisted authors, on the basis you should know who the people are who are going to beat you, and I was quite confident that at least three were going to beat me," said the author, speaking from Australia. When the judges for the prize opened the envelope to read out his name, "Booker-style", on Tuesday night, he was "absolutely humbled".

Temple is the first crime novelist ever to win the Miles Franklin, setting him in a canon of former winners including Peter Carey, David Malouf and Patrick White.

"It is a very bold thing for the judges to do. They really are the custodians of Australia's oldest literary prize, they decide who should be admitted to the contemporary canon. So to admit a crime novelist, they've put their lives on the line," said Temple. "It's a fairly small panel [of previous winners] but the writers are all of quite extraordinary talent and quality ... I don't know what on earth I'm doing there."

Back on this side of the world, no crime novel has ever won the Man Booker prize, and the former chairman of the Booker judges John Sutherland isn't expecting it to happen any time soon.

"The twice I've been on the Booker panel they weren't submitted," he said. "There's a feeling that it's like putting a donkey into the Grand National."

According to Sutherland, the perception in the UK is that there are enough specialist awards for crime fiction. The barriers to genre writers are also higher. "They just don't have quite the same class system in Australia, and perhaps they don't have the same class distinctions in Australian letters," he said.

Sutherland also worries that awarding a mainstream literary prize to a work of genre fiction, particularly one which is part of a series, would devalue its reputation. "There is a dilution effect," he said. "Series have tended to inhabit the lower reaches of literature."

But according to the bestselling crime novelist Ian Rankin, attitudes towards genre fiction are slowly shifting in this country as well.

"Things are changing," Rankin said. "The old canards are that crime fiction is plot-driven, thin on character, populist: a lesser calling. But that no longer holds true. Kate Atkinson's last three novels have been crime. Ian McEwan's Saturday is a crime story. William Boyd's Ordinary Thunderstorms is a thriller. Slowly, the barricades are tumbling. You can now study crime fiction in some universities and high schools. At least three PhDs on my own work are currently under way. A St Andrews lecturer has written a book about one of my novels. Thirty years back, 'modern literature' at St Andrews meant Milton."

According to the crime writer Val McDermid, the chair of the Booker judges pointed to her novel A Place of Execution in 1999 as an example of great writing, but dismissed it as a contender for the prize "because ultimately it's a genre novel". "It made me feel cross more than anything – a good piece of fiction is a good piece of fiction, whether there's a dead body in it or not," she added. "I think perhaps in Australia there is slightly less of a literary snobbism than there is, still, in this country."

According to Rankin, Ruth Rendell should have been regularly shortlisted for the Booker, while "in the USA, the likes of Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos are writing fiction that is Pulitzer-worthy, but I don't see them winning it".

Temple said the situation was similar in Australia. "The feeling is there is a very clear line of demarcation between the two things. With crime, romance, science fiction, we are considered to be writers within a formulaic genre, whereas literary writers are considered to be 'moving freely', as it were," he said. "There has always been a feeling that literary fiction is improving, that you come away from reading it and you're a better person for it. No one ever said that about reading a crime novel – although maybe you come away feeling happier."

Although no crime novel has won the Booker in the past, Tom Rob Smith's thriller Child 44 was longlisted in 2008 – and that year's winner, Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, follows the story of a murderer. To add to the sense that attitudes might be softening in the UK as well as in Australia, the judges for this year's Orange prize shortlisted Attica Locke's thriller Black Water Rising.

Ion Trewin, who judged the Man Booker prize in 1974 and who, as administrator for the award, has sat in on many a judging session, said approaches to genre fiction have changed greatly over the years: Sarah Waters, for example, has been shortlisted twice for the Booker, "and if she'd been published 40 years ago she would never have been considered, people would have said she was just genre fiction".

"In 1974, the idea of genre fiction of any kind being considered for a 'literary' prize was just unthinkable. When the Booker began in 1969, Rebecca West was one of the judges and she made it absolutely clear that as far as she was concerned this was a prize for literary fiction, and that this very much excluded anything thought of as a crime novel, thriller, or genre. If you'd said science fiction, she would probably have gone into orbit," he said.

But John Sutherland's experience of literary judging panels suggests this thawing in the attitude still has a long way to go.

"They're very tolerant towards crime fiction until they come to the final judging," he said, "when they start to ask 'Is this really a serious contender?'" There may be a shift in the literary atmosphere, he continued, but "climate change is very slow, and this is no exception."

For Morag Fraser, a Miles Franklin judge for the past six years, it is simply a question of quality. "Most crime novels that I have read (and I read one a week, often more) will never win the Miles Franklin or any other 'literary' prize because they do not work language hard enough, and they do not think originally and with sufficient depth and imagination," she said. "They may gratify but they do not surprise the way great literature does."

"In the case of Peter Temple's Truth, the divide was so comprehensively crossed that we did not think much about the conventions of crime fiction except to note that Temple was able to observe them rather as a poet observes the 14-line convention of the sonnet or a musician the sonata form: as a useful disciplinary structure from which to expand, bend or depart."

Former Pulitzer judge Catharine Stimpson, dean of the graduate school of arts and science at New York University, agreed, as well she might: in 2007, when Stimpson judged the Pulitzer, the panel awarded the prize to Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel The Road. "All wonderful writing subverts and transcends generic boundaries, although it is always fun to play the genre game and to stick books into categories," she said. "Amusing and historically interesting though this game might be, the vital distinction among texts is not the genre per se but the degree to which the writer either sticks rigidly to the formulae of the genre or to which the writer upends the formulae."

John Banville, who won the Booker for his novel The Sea, and who writes crime fiction as Benjamin Black, was absolutely in agreement, saying that "there is only one distinction, and that is between good writing and writing which is ... not good".

"I see no reason why a so-called crime novel should not win the Man Booker prize," said Banville. "I suppose an objection that might be raised is that crime fiction always has a prior commitment, as it were – there can be a non-crime novel that has a crime in it, but there cannot be a crime novel that has not a crime in it, and perhaps this could be a hindrance to a freely and purely imagined work of art. But as EM Forster among many others has pointed out, the novel's requirement to have, for instance, a plot of some kind is already a burden."

For the newly crowned Miles Franklin winner, Temple, crime was just "an excuse to write". "It gives a sense of urgency, of narrative drive. My characters have a reason to get up in the morning. Ian McEwan, who I think is wonderful, his characters do not really have an urgent reason to get up in the morning," said the author. "There is only one judgment for the value of a book, and that is what sort of emotional response it elicits in the reader. That's down to the quality of the writing."

His UK publisher Quercus is submitting Truth for this year's Booker prize, raising the prospect that Temple could go on to complete a memorable double. "Just to make the Booker longlist would be a wonderful thing," he said. But is he in with a genuine chance to be the first crime writer to take the Booker? "We shall see," said Trewin. "I've said to the judges each year that there are no exclusions at all. If you consider a novel – whether it's crime, romance or science fiction – is really fabulous in every particular, then judge it with the same criteria you'd use for a literary novel, and if you agree, you must include it … It would be great if a genre novel was to win the Booker one day and I hope that's the next stage. It would be rather like having the first woman prime minister, and it will be terrific when it does happen."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Atwood, Sawyer Shortlisted for SciFi Prize

Four Canadian authors have been nominated for the American John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel: Margaret Atwood for The Year of the Flood (McClelland & Stewart), Cory Doctorow for Makers (Tor Books), Robert J. Sawyer for Wake (Viking Canada), and Robert Charles Wilson for Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America (Tor).

The award will be presented during the Campbell Conference awards banquet at the University of Kansas on Friday, July 16. Other finalists include:

Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (Night Shade Books)
Iain M. Banks, Transition (Orbit)
Nancy Kress, Steal Across the Sky (Tor)
Paul McAuley, Gardens of the Sun (Gollancz)
China Mieville, The City & the City (Del Rey)
Adam Roberts, Yellow Blue Tibia (Gollancz)
Kim Stanley Robinson, Galileo’s Dream (Spectra)
Bruce Sterling, The Caryatids (Del Rey)

Brown, Solie among Trillium winners

The 23rd annual Trillium Book Awards for the best book from the universe (Toronto, in case you didn't know!) have just been handed out and are:

English-language book award: Ian Brown, The Boy in the Moon (Random House Canada)

French-language book award: Ryad Assani-Razaki, Deux cercles (VLB éditeur)

English-language poetry award: Karen Solie, Pigeon (House of Anansi Press)

French-language poetry award: Michèle

Ten Top Intergalactic Summer Reads For Kids

The Reading Agency names its top space-themed summer reads as the 2010 Summer Reading Challenge prepares for blast-off
As libraries across the UK prepare to launch the popular nationwide Summer Reading Challenge, organisers at The Reading Agency have put together a list of top 'space-themed' summer reads for children to get stuck into during the long school holidays.

The list has been compiled to coincide with the 2010 Challenge's space theme, SpaceHop, after asking children in their Chatterbooks network of reading groups which books they have most enjoyed reading recently.

The full list is:

Space Pirates by Scoular Anderson

Henry's House: Space by Philip Ardagh

Disappearing Moon by Simon Bertram

Stink: Solar System Superhero by Megan McDonald

Milo and the Moon Kangaroo by Dan Taylor

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Astrosaurs: Riddle of the Raptors by Steve Cole

Larklight by Philip Reeve

The Story of Astronomy and Space by Louie Stowell & Peter Allen

Krazy Kow Saves the World – Well Almost by Jeremy Strong

"This is by no means an exhaustive list as there are so many fantastic books out there to keep children reading over the summer, however the youngsters in our reading groups have told us that they love these books in particular; we hope that the list will give a flavour of the intergalactic treats in store to inspire all those taking part in the Summer Reading Challenge this year," says Anne Sarrag, Summer Reading Challenge director for The Reading Agency.

"Children really enjoy taking part in the Summer Reading Challenge and it is completely free to do so, which is why we want to encourage even more families to go along to their local library and get involved. Not only is the Challenge a great way to keep children entertained over the holidays, but also we know that those who take part read more books and read more widely than those who don't, with potentially life-changing results."

The Summer Reading Challenge is an immensely popular and successful reading initiative. Now in its twelfth year it is expected to reach over 750,000 children aged four to 12 years via the UK library network. It is created and run by The Reading Agency, the independent national charity working to inspire more people to read more, and is supported by children's publishers.

Children are encouraged to read six or more books of their choice during the holidays with collectable incentives and rewards, plus a certificate or medal for every child who completes the Challenge. They can sign up at their local library as the school summer term draws to a close (from approximately 16 July in England and Wales, and from 25 June in Scotland and 30 June in Northern Ireland) and all materials are absolutely free to children.

The 2010 Summer Reading Challenge has the space theme, Space Hop, which will enable children to boldly go to new worlds, discover the joy of books and nurture a life-long love affair with reading. Illustrated by leading children's book artist Tom Percival, Space Hop coincides with the 350th anniversary of The Royal Society's scientific endeavours and the 2010 BBC Year of Science.

The adventure starts in their local library, where young Space Hoppers will meet Finn, Jessie, Nabil and Safiya – the crew of the Ex Libris – as they embark on their mission to set up the first lunar library. Unless the dastardly Spacekatz lead them into the nearest black hole...

An interactive website links children and their families with top authors and illustrators. The site offers them a space to talk about their favourite books and to share reading ideas. The Summer Reading Challenges (which takes a different theme each year) also helps local libraries promote themselves as a place of wonder for children, where librarians can offer invaluable advice and guidance to help them complete the challenge.

"The Summer Reading Challenge helps you to read and it makes you want to read more. That's really fun, and I like getting the certificate and medal at the end," said Sulaimaan, aged 11.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Crime Novel Wins Aussie's Top Award

IT BEGINS with a dead body but Peter Temple's Truth - which created history last night when it became the first crime novel to win Australia's most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award - defies convention.

''I am very humbled to win the award and I never expected to have a chance,'' Temple, 64, said after receiving the $42,000 prize at the State Library of NSW .

The former journalist, who has won five Ned Kelly awards for crime fiction, emigrated to Australia from South Africa.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Wolf Hall Continues to Mop Up Awards

Author Hilary Mantel's novel Wolf Hall has won the inaugural £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction.

The book, set in the 16th century, previously won the £50,000 2009 Man Booker Prize and was shortlisted for the Orange prize.

Judges praised Wolf Hall as "compulsively readable" at a ceremony at Sir Walter Scott's home in Abbotsford, Scottish Borders.

Ms Mantel said she was "astonished and delighted and gratified".
'Compulsively readable'

The prize, for novels set at least 60 years in the past, was awarded during the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival.

Wolf Hall, about Henry VIII's adviser Thomas Cromwell, had been selected from a shortlist of seven, by authors including Robert Harris, Adam Foulds and Simon Mawer.

Judges said all had been deserving but Wolf Hall was "in a class of its own".
Continue reading the main story

"This is as good as the historical novel gets - immersive, constantly engaging, beautifully crafted, and compulsively readable," they added.

"Mantel's empathy for, and assimilation of, her world is so seamless and effortless as to be almost disturbing."

Ms Mantel, who was unable to attend due to illness, said 2010 was perhaps "a turning point year" for historical fiction and praised the new award for stimulating interest in the genre.

She added: "Much the best thing that has happened for lovers of historical fiction is the founding of this prize.

"In the years to come, this prize will magnetise attention and stimulate debate."

The award is sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, distant descendants of Scott.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

$100,000 Impac Prize Won by Novice Novelist

June 17, 2010 | 4:34 PM | By Stuart Woods

For the third year in a row, the winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the world’s richest fiction prize, is a debut novelist. Dutch writer Gerbrand Bakker (and translator David Colmer) accepted the €100,000 prize for The Twin, about a Dutch farmer named Helmer who is forced to return to his family farm after the death of his brother in a car crash.

Last year’s winner was Michael Thomas’s first novel Man Gone Down, and Canadian Rawi Hage’s debut, De Niro’s Game, was the winner in 2008.

According to juror Anne Fine the jury’s citation, The Twin is “sparely written” and “rich in detail.” Fine continues, “The writing is wonderful: restrained and clear, and studded with detail of farm rhythms in the cold, damp Dutch countryside. The author excels at dialogue, and Helmer’s inner story-telling voice also comes over perfectly as he begins to change everything around him.”

From The Guardian:

The idea for the book came to Bakker on a holiday in Corsica in 2002. Hiking through the mountains, he had the idea of a son “who was going to do something terrible to his father.”

“It stayed in my mind for months and I got so frustrated – nothing was happening with the idea. Then I just sat down and got writing. I didn’t know where I was going, I just started – for me that’s a good way to write,” he said.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Books are Still Best

Books to have and to hold
Sam Jordison
Author and journalist

June 10th, 2010

At the moment I’m working on a website – Organic Peas And Orderly Queues – all about the agonies and absurdities of middle class life.

Running a website is very rewarding. For a start, it’s all mine. I decide how it looks, reads, feels and when it gets updated. Thanks to twitter and facebook I even have a degree of influence on who reads it and when. I get hundreds of visitors every day. I get immediate feedback and people even feed me new ideas. I can build up a rapport with my online visitors that I will never have with a book. That terrible sense of working in a vacuum – that no one will ever read or care about my ideas and that I’m heading in entirely the wrong direction – is absent. I can hone my work in public and with public support. I can even sell them a suitably over-priced middle class t-shirt or mug from an online store that gives me a far better financial cut than most royalty deals.

Even so, the truth is that my ultimate goal is to get a book deal. Like most writers, I’ll only consider my work truly validated when I see my name on the cover that wraps it. Why this should be so is an increasingly interesting question, given the amount of time we all now spend online compared to holding a book in our hands. Why bother with old fashioned paper? Why would punters want to pay for a physical incarnation of something they can get on the web for free? Why too would writers want to go through the agonies of publication? Why put themselves through that painful birth and then see their brainchild try to make its way in a world already bursting with similar products? Where the almost entirely arbitrary decisions of the book buyers in Waterstone’s and can make the difference between success and abject failure? Where they lose control of a project that has, until then, been all their own?

Partly, it’s to do with ego – and the way a book massages it. You can’t touch the internet. You can’t hold it in your hands. You can’t sign a copy of it. A book remains a far more concrete achievement than a website.

But there are also good practical reasons writers prefer communicating on paper – and will do for a long time to come.

The simple truth is that it’s still more enjoyable to read things in book form – and it’s a more effective way of taking in information. Pleasurable as it’s been to put together, I’m all too aware of the site’s drawbacks. Most people will only read two or three articles on the website in one sitting. It’s not impossible that they would engage in the same way with the book – especially, since it’s the kind of literature that people like to take in the smallest room. But even if they do, they will still get a bigger sense that it adds up to a coherent whole and that it’s a satire on societal values as well as a series of jokes. The turning of pages engenders a sense of purpose and continuity that clicking from page to page on the web just can’t replicate. Physical pages also offer many opportunities for visual jokes and jokes to do with order and place that don’t work on a screen. They allow for time and continuity – a sense of building and development. A blog only exists in the present moment, since you have to assume that a healthy percentage of people reading your front screen are there for the first time. There are no last pages. And when those people move onto a new website, or turn off the computer, your work disappears from their life. Completely.

And that brings me to the other reason writers prefer books. They’re more durable. Websites disappear. Long before the Friday Project started, stalled, then started again I was devising a web project called Crap Towns (which can lay a pretty good claim to have been one of the first to make the transfer into best-selling book territory). While Crap Towns has long since ceased to be a meaningful online presence, the book is still out there. People still take it from libraries. Some still buy it. Others at least have it on their shelves. There’s still a hope that they’ll refer to it sometime. And even when no one reads it any more, I’ll still have copy on my own shelves. I’ll still be able to use it to bore my grandchildren. I won’t be able to send them to the URL.

There’s also the fact that books still have a far bigger reach than websites. Before the book came out, the visitors to Crap Towns could be measured in the hundreds. The book sold more than 120,000 copies and reached many more people thanks to the associated publicity and furore. There’s also the simple fact it was there in shops – a tangible physical presence. People have to look for you online, or at least be directed to you, but with a book there’s always that wonderful chance that someone will pick you up entirely by chance. That they will be sucked in by the cover and maybe, just maybe, fall a little bit in love with your ideas. For a writer, there’s no bigger thrill.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Biblioracle: New Internet Fount of Book Tips

by Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

As a child—an easily bored, semi-feral child without a TV—I spent a lot of time in the local bookstore. The store had a large children’s section, with rows and rows of chapter books that led out to a small café, but by the time I was eight or nine, I would peruse the stacks and come away with the distinct impression that I had read everything there. The only thing—or, rather, person—that stopped me from giving up and turning to some other sort of entertainment was the children’s bookseller, a short black-haired woman who had read everything and could, if I told her some books I liked, recommend a new one to me—inevitably a more obscure but equally good one—with seemingly magical accuracy, the way that other adults enjoy pulling quarters out of kids ears. It was astonishing.

The recent appearance of the Biblioracle had a similar effect on me. Offering to suggest a book based on one's last five reads, he was impressive in his range, perfunctory in his responses, and quick on the draw. (Though I did wonder whether the public nature of the enterprise altered the responses. Were these really the last five books people had read, or only the ones they wanted to openly confess to? It’s like having your admired English teacher ask you what you have been reading: you aren’t going to confess it was "The Carrie Diaries"). And the oracle was prophetic in more ways than one: he didn’t just recommend books, he also showed that something is lacking in the way we buy books now, namely that black-haired woman. The oracle was quickly overwhelmed by demand, and queries began to go unanswered. One reader had a suggestion of her own for those stranded: “What to do if you don't get your Biblioracle recommendation request in during the designated window? Go talk to a librarian. They've been doing this sort of thing for decades.”

Of course, friends recommend books—but usually based on their tastes, not yours, and then reading can feel onerous, like a book report crossed with a blind date. There are also algorithms and Web sites intended to provide this sort of service, but I find them unreliable and broad. The suggestions on Amazon, for instance, are limited—they tend to pound me over the head with new releases, analogizing books based primarily on sales rankings—and often odd (this morning, in a rise-and-shinish sort of mood, my Amazon site recommended that I might like pancake mix). I’m sure someone could build a better program—a sort of Pandora for books, with user-feedback creating an increasingly subtle set of recommendations—but the rate at which we read books is simply slower than the rate at which we plow through songs, and thus it would take a lot longer to develop a truly sensitive system. It’s one thing lost most in the age of the Internet, and it makes the Web seem like a place very far from that cozy children’s bookstore, and much closer to some of the fearsome landscapes described within it—in the most literal sense, bewildering.

Note: Biblioracle is still working, but closes to traffic at 12:00 noon coast time.

Read more:

Lacuna Beats out Wolf Hall for Top Novel by a Woman

An epic, ambitious novel that straddles the Mexican revolution and the crazed communist witch-hunts of 1950s America was tonight named winner of this year's Orange prize for fiction.

Barbara Kingsolver took the £30,000 prize for The Lacuna, her eagerly awaited first novel since 2000.

The American novelist held off heavyweight competition from Hilary Mantel, for Wolf Hall, and Lorrie Moore, for A Gate at the Stairs, to take what is the biggest literary award for women writers.

Daisy Goodwin, the TV producer who chaired this year's judges, praised The Lacuna's "breathtaking scale and shattering moments of poignancy" and said the winner was only ever between the three books. "It was a bit like trying to choose between your three beloved children," she said.

"In the end I suppose that while a couple of us felt very passionately about The Lacuna everyone was happy for it to be named winner. They were three of the finest books I've read in a long time. It wasn't like we were scraping in any sense."

The Lacuna, made up of memoir, diaries, letters, newspaper reports and congressional transcripts, is arguably the most demanding of the six books on the shortlist. It's a doorstopping novel that needs to be read properly rather than in snatches and tackles big subjects that resonate today – not least, the media creation of, and obsession with, celebrity.

Beginning in 1929, it follows the life of Harrison Shepherd from his sensitive teenage years in Mexico to fame in 1950s America as the reclusive author of Aztec swashbucklers. In between – and central to the story – Shepherd gets work in the bohemian household of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo while they entertain house guest Leon Trotsky, for whom he becomes a scribe.

Some readers have found it heavy and daunting, but Goodwin said: "I'm a book slut, I'm not high minded and I'm happy to read anything and everything from Dan Brown to Georgette Heyer to Ian McEwan, and I loved The Lacuna."

Goodwin said she also discussed the shortlist with her book group – "a random collection of non-literary people" – and they all said "it was one of the finest books they had ever read. It's such a fascinating and beautifully constructed book. I don't want to sound wanky but the architecture of the book is fantastic."

All six shortlisted books have seen a marked sales increase and Jonathan Ruppin, of Foyles bookshop, said The Lacuna had been "by far the bestselling title on the shortlist". He added: "It's a daunting read, which fans of her hugely popular novel The Poisonwood Bible won't all take to, but it rewards patient reading. It would be good to see more British writers and more women coming up with fiction as ambitious as this."

The Kingsolver was not a unanimous choice but Goodwin said no vote had been taken. The decision was a consensus. "As a jury we argued passionately about the books and we agreed that we wanted a winner that at least some people were passionately committed to."

Goodwin said she was proud of all six books and the three other books on the list would not be selling anywhere near what they are without the Orange. In particular, the curve ball of the shortlist, Rosie Alison's old-fashioned romance The Very Thought of You, which had not even been reviewed by a national paper when it was chosen, could have slipped off the radar. Instead, Amazon, revealing different sales figures from Foyles, said it made up a fifth of the sales of all six books combined over the past month – Wolf Hall sold 53% and The Lacuna 8%.

The inclusion of a thriller was also a surprise – Attica Locke's 1980s Houston-set Black Water Rising, which interweaves black activism and corporate dirty dealing. Then there was the page-turningly enjoyable The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey, telling the story of a white couple who move to Trinidad for a new life they love and loathe in equal measure.

In a way, Mantel had the least to gain. Her novel won the Man Booker last year and is already a soaraway sensation. "There's no doubt that Wolf Hall will become a classic," said Goodwin.

This is the Orange's 15th year and there have been notably fewer voices speaking out against it. For some, it is simple discrimination to exclude men.

But Goodwin called the argument boring and said you could just as well complain the Man Booker prize excluded Americans, which it does.

She said the Kingsolver and Moore novels would sell nowhere near what they deserve to in the UK if it were not for the Orange.

Kingsolver was presented with her prize by the Duchess of Cornwall after a champagne reception at the Royal Festival Hall [wed].

Irene Sabatini won the Orange award for new writers, for The Boy Next Door. Anne Michaels won the youth panel award and Anna Lewis won the short story competition for unpublished writers.

The other judges who helped plough through the 129 submissions this year were: Rabbi Baroness Neuberger, novelist Michèle Roberts, and journalists Miranda Sawyer and Alexandra Shulman.

Goodwin attracted headlines this year when she complained about the misery and despair and lack of humour in so many of the novels written by women being published. Today she admitted the next book she read would be a Jane Austen novel.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The New Yorker talks about its young fictioneers list

"...these twenty men and women dazzlingly represent the multiple strands of inventiveness and vitality that characterize the best fiction being written in this country today.' --Editors of the New Yorker on their new 20 under 40 list.

A Readers persepective on New Yorker fiction:

"Say what you will, The New Yorker is one of our culture’s most stalwart curators of this type of literary experience. For that reason, its editors’ vision of the future of fiction is worth considering. It’s my hope that, like the 1999 issue, the 2010 version will include some surprising treats that open up new readerly enthusiasms for me..." Frank Kovarik, The Millions

Do today's young writers bear up? Looking at 20 under 40 lists from the past, real and imagined:

Gibsons Writer Wins $10,000 Danuta Gleed Award

B.C. writer Sarah Roberts has won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award for her debut book of short fiction, Wax Boats (Caitlin Press). The award was announced at The Writers’ Union of Canada’s annual general meeting this past weekend in Ottawa. Roberts receives $10,000 for the prize, which was established in 1997 to recognize a debut collection of fiction. Wax Boats is set on a remote island community in B.C., and features characters caught between modern life and the wilderness that surrounds them.

Roberts beat out Victoria’s Deborah Willis for her collection Vanishing and Other Stories (Penguin Canada), and Toronto’s Joey Comeau for Overqualified (ECW Press).

Monday, June 07, 2010

Are Literary Prizes Reserved for Boring Books?

Martin Amis has claimed that only “unenjoyable” books win awards because judges do not appreciate fun literature. The author, 60, has never won a major literary award such as the Man Booker or Costa, despite his popular appeal. The closest he came was in 1991 when Time’s Arrow was shortlisted for the Booker.

He made the comment during a speech at the Hay Festival in Wales.

“There was a great fashion in the last century, and it’s still with us, of the unenjoyable novel,” he said.

“And these are the novels which win prizes, because the committee thinks, 'Well it’s not at all enjoyable, and it isn’t funny, therefore it must be very serious.’ ”

He said such an approach was wrong because literature should reflect life’s humour.

During an hour-long talk he also criticised the work of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett — considered by many to be among the most influential writers of the 20th century — for not being entertaining enough.

“It all started with [Samuel] Beckett, I think. It was a kind of reasonable response to the horrors of the 20th century — you know, 'No poetry after Auschwitz’. He described it as a mistake, saying: “You look back at the great writers in the English canon, and the American, and they are all funny.”

Writers such as Dickens, Jane Austen, and George Eliot all shared that trait, he said.

“The reason for that is that life is funny. It’s horrible, and there are disgusting atrocities etc, but we all know that life is very funny — that’s its nature.”

Despite his criticism, for the past two years the Man Booker has been awarded to novels generally considered “good reads” — Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel last year and The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga in 2008.

The previous year, however, it was won by Anne Enright’s bleak novel The Gathering.

Amis made his claim while talking about his relationship with the reader, which he likened to a host wanting to entertain a guest. “I want to give the reader the best glass of wine I have, the best food in my kitchen,” he said.

“Some writers clearly don’t feel that way at all. When you visit the later James Joyce, you knock on the door and there’s no one there.

“Eventually after you have wandered around for a bit you hear him in the other room mumbling to himself as he prepares a snack of two slabs of peat around a conger eel and some homemade cider that is absolutely undrinkable.”

Amis also admitted he was afraid of his own gifts deserting him. “Writers now have to endure the loss of their talent,” he said. “This is horribly evident when you read the later novels of any writer who lived beyond 70 … writers die twice.”

He said he held out hope that he could emulate his father, Sir Kingsley Amis. “My father wrote his best novel when he was 65, The Old Devils,” he said.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Solie Wins $65,000 Poetry Prize

TORONTO — A poet first discovered in an anthology published by BC press Harbour Publishing, a sponsor of Thorasbook, has won one of the world's most lucrative poetry prizes. Karen Solie was named the Canadian winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize at a gala ceremony in Toronto on Thursday night, eight years after first being nominated for the country’s most prestigious award for poetry.

The 43-year-old Solie was honoured for her collection Pigeon, published by House of Anansi Press. The other poets on the Canadian shortlist were Kate Hall of Montreal, who was nominated for her debut, The Certainty Dream, and the late P.K. Page, for Coal and Roses.

“I see so many people here whose work I have read and learned from and made it possible to live,” she said in accepting her award. “I feel very grateful that I have found something that, while it doesn’t always make a living, it’s a way to live.”

Born in Moose Jaw and raised on a farm in the southwestern Saskatchewan, not far from Medicine Hat, Solie was a relative latecomer to poetry. She spent three years reporting for the Lethbridge Herald before enrolling at the University of Lethbridge, and later pursued graduate work at the University of Victoria.

She burst onto the Canadian poetry scene in 1995, when her work appeared in Breathing Fire: Canada’s New Poets (Harbour), a landmark anthology edited by Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane. “That was my first publication,” she told the National Post last month. “I thought there had to be some luck involved.” The book was published by Harbour Publishing

Solie — who lives in Toronto with her husband, fellow poet David Seymour — didn’t have much chance of winning the first time she was nominated for the Griffin Poetry Prize. In 2002, her debut collection, Short Haul Engine, was up against Governor General Award-winner Eirin Moure and ultimately lost to Christian Bok’s Eunoia, one of the most successful poetry collections of the past decade.

Speaking minutes after she was declared the winner, Solie admitted she never thought she’d be back in the same position: “For one thing, it was so extraordinary, that whole thing. I really felt and appreciated it as a once-in-lifetime thing, for this to happen, and to have it happen again totally melts my brain.

“But I don’t think anybody ever writes or paints or designs buildings with a goal of being nominated for a prize. I don’t think that ever happens. It’s kinda of useless to the process of making anything. So when this kind of thing comes along, it’s encouraging and it’s spectacular.”

Solie was also a judge for the 2007 prizes, which went to Charles Wright and Don McKay.

Eilean Ni Chuilleanain was awarded the international prize for her collection The Sun-fish (published by the Gallery Press). An associate professor of English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, she is the author of several previous books of poetry and an editor and publisher of Cyphers, one of Ireland’s most long-standing literary magazines.

The other finalists on the international shortlist were the American poet Louise Gluck (A Village Life), Scotland’s John Glenday (Grain) and Susan Wicks and Valerie Rouzeau for Wicks’ translation of Rouzeau’s collection Cold Spring in Winter.

A jury consisting of Canadian poet and past Griffin Prize winner Anne Carson, Scottish poet (and past Griffin Prize nominee) Kathleen Jamie, and American poet Carl Phillips chose the winners. The judges read close to 400 books of poetry from 12 countries around the world before settling on this year’s shortlist.

Solie and Ni Chuilleanain each receive $65,000 for winning the Griffin Prize. Earlier this year, the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry doubled the prize money to $200,000. All finalists received $10,000 at the Griffin Poetry Prize readings on Wednesday night, therefore Solie and Ni Chuilleanain take home $75,000 in total.

At the readings, “the doyenne of North American poetry,” Adrienne Rich, was given the Lifetime Recognition Award, which has previously gone to Robin Blaser, Tomas Transtromer, Ko Un, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Griffin Poetry Prize, which was founded in 2000 by industrialist and philanthropist Scott Griffin, who is the chairman of the Trust.

The idea for the prize grew out of a dinner he had with Michael Ondaatje and David Young, who both serves as trustees.

The prize is one of the most lucrative in the world, and one of the most respected.

The Griffin Poetry Prize is awarded annually to two books of poetry, including translations, published in English the previous year. Past International winners include Paul Muldoon (2003), Charles Simic (2005), John Ashbery (2008) and C. D. Wright, who won last year, while past Canadian winners include Christian Bok (2002), Margaret Avison (2003), Roo Borson (2005) and A.F. Moritz, who won in 2009 for The Sentinel.

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Griffin Fever

June 3, 2010 | 1:38 PM | By Zoe Whittall

The 2010 Griffin Poetry Prize will be handed out at a ceremony in Toronto this evening. Verse lovers are making bets on who will take home the world’s most lucrative award for a collection of poetry in English. One prize honours a Canadian poet, and another is awarded to an international poet. This year the prize money has increased from $50,000 to $65,000 for both recipients, with each shortlisted author receiving $10,000.

The Canadian shortlist includes debut collection The Certainty Dream by Kate Hall (Coach House Books). The judges wrote in their citation: “I like the feeling her poems give that as we read them we are amidst an actual process of thought.” The book is regarded as a long-shot by some, as a first collection has yet to win a Griffin.

Coal and Roses by the late P.K. Page (Porcupine’s Quill), is a collection of 21 glosas by the iconic poet. “How heartening to be reminded that creativity, zest and curiosity can endure, even flourish, into great old age,” wrote the judges. Page’s collection Planet Earth was nominated for the Griffin in 2003, and some are speculating the 2010 award will go to her in part to honour her considerable life’s work.

Pigeon (House of Anansi Press) is Karen Solie’s third collection of poetry. This is Solie’s second Griffin nomination, and some surmise this one might secure a win. From the judge’s citation: “Among the greatest of Solie’s talents, evident throughout the poems of Pigeon, is an ability to see at once into and through our daily struggle, often thwarted by our very selves, toward something like an honourable life.”

Over a thousand people attended last night’s Griffin readings at the Telus Centre for Performance and Learning. American poet Adrienne Rich was awarded the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award.

The judges for this year’s prize are Anne Carson, Kathleen Jamie, and Carl Phillips.

2 Young Semi-Canucks Make New Yorker's Top 20 List

Two young semi-Canadian writers have made the prestigious New Yorker list of 20 writers under age 40 to watch. They are David Bezmogis, author of Natasha and Other Stories (Harper Collins, 2004), who was born in Latvia but grew up in Canada before decamping to the US; and Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) who was born in Toronto but left for the US as an infant. Too bad, but face it, if they'd stayed in Canada they would never have made this list, even though they would have been just as good. C'est la vie.

The New Yorker's editors chose its “20 Under 40” list via a lengthy, secretive process that has provoked considerable anxiety among young literary types in the big show. The list will be published in the double fiction issue of The New Yorker that arrives on newsstands Monday. All of the writers were told two weeks ago that they had made the cut.

The complete list is: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 32; Chris Adrian, 39; Daniel Alarcón, 33; David Bezmozgis, 37; Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, 38; Joshua Ferris, 35; Jonathan Safran Foer, 33; Nell Freudenberger, 35; Rivka Galchen, 34; Nicole Krauss, 35; Yiyun Li, 37; Dinaw Mengestu, 31; Philipp Meyer, 36; C. E. Morgan, 33; Téa Obreht, 24; Z Z Packer, 37; Karen Russell, 28; Salvatore Scibona, 35; Gary Shteyngart, 37; and Wells Tower, 37.

It has been more than a decade since the magazine has published a “20 Under 40” list. The last one, in 1999, included some future literary stars who were then relatively unknown, like Jhumpa Lahiri, Nathan Englander and Junot Díaz. (Relatively established authors like Michael Chabon, Jeffrey Eugenides, and David Foster Wallace were also on the earlier list.)

The new list has its own distinctions. A significant number of the writers hail from outside the United States or have parents who do. All but two (Ms. Obreht and Ms. Russell) are in their 30s. And there is an even number of men and women, a characteristic that Deborah Treisman, the magazine’s fiction editor, called “a rewarding accident, in terms of what it says about equal opportunity on the literary playing field these days.” (The 1999 list included only five women, The New York Observer noted in May.)

Beyond their age, the writers on the list have nothing in common, said David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker.

“If they had too much in common, it would be really boring,” he said in an interview. “This is not an aesthetic grouping. The group is a group of promise, enormous promise. There are people in there that are very conventional in their narrative approach, and there are people who have a big emphasis on voice. There are people who are in some way bringing you the news from another culture.”

It is no secret that publishing these kinds of lists can be tricky. Whatever the intention, they sometimes resemble a publicity stunt. The age cutoff, whether 25 or 35 or 40, can feel capricious. After a list is made public, there is the inevitable sniping that some writers on it were too famous to have been included and that others were unfairly excluded.

“For those people who feel they already know Writer X or Y or 1 through 20, so be it,” Mr. Remnick said, naming Mr. Foer as one writer on the new list “who would be, to many, predictable.”

Bill Buford, a former fiction editor at The New Yorker who led the compilation of the list in 1999, said he had no regrets about who was chosen for it.

“By gathering up these writers and gathering them up with some authority and some panache, and saying, with all the stuff that’s out there, you’re saying, here are 20 you should pay attention to,” Mr. Buford said, “it’s a way of getting those authors to a bigger audience.”

The process began in January, when editors in the fiction department started brainstorming. By e-mail they asked literary agents, publishers and other writers to suggest potential candidates.

The editors eventually whittled the possibilities down to a shortlist of roughly 40 eligible writers. A few prominent fiction writers, including Colson Whitehead and Dave Eggers, were slightly too old to make the cut, Ms. Treisman said.

“It’s a little agonizing,” said Willing Davidson, associate fiction editor at The New Yorker. “We’re trying to think of what has this person already done, but also, what are they doing right now that we can put in the magazine?”

Each person who made the shortlist was asked to produce a piece of writing that could be published, whether a short story or an excerpt from a novel. Some had nothing to submit and were taken out of the running.

“The whole thing was so cloaked in weird secrecy,” said Ms. Russell, one of the eight writers on The New Yorker’s list who also landed on Granta’s “Best of Young American Novelists” list in 2007. “It’s such a wonderful compliment. But there’s a pressure too. You want to honor that vote of confidence. You’re like: ‘Thanks for putting me in the game, coach. Oh God, I hope I’m not going to be one who is distracted by a butterfly and drops the ball.’ ”

Behind the scenes the process predictably aroused some competitive jealousies and angling. “Basically everybody I know whose work I like has been scrambling for a spot on this,” said Mr. Englander, who appeared on the 1999 list. “If you get on it, then it’s a nice confirmation. If you don’t get on it, then it doesn’t mean anything.”

Mr. Ferris, a novelist who made the current list, submitted a short story in April that he began writing in February. “I knew if I made the list, I’d be very happy,” he said. “It was the anxiety that it’s so utterly out of my hands in the same way that a review might be.”

Eight of the writers’ pieces of fiction will run in the fiction issue next week; the remaining 12 will run in subsequent issues of the magazine over the course of the summer.

Mr. Díaz, one of the writers on the 1999 list, said that he felt it was a “deep honor,” but that he wasn’t sure it had an immediate impact on his career.

“I had written a book of short stories about Dominicans,” Mr. Díaz said. “I can promise you that there was no bump in sales after the list came out.”