Wednesday 31 August 2011

Simon Boccanegra

Opera fans, check out the latest issue of the BBC Music magazine for a rather flattering review of our new Overture Opera Guide to Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. Michael Tanner has lots of lovely things to say, not least that: “All told, this is an indispensable volume.” He’s particularly complimentary about the literal facing-page translation, which will please our editor, who spent hours lovingly tweaking every word to make the lines match up – not a task anyone in the office envied. His highest praise, though, goes to the “exceptionally searching, well-written and cultivated piece” by Desmond Shawe-Taylor on Verdi and his singers, one of a number of essays included in this new edition.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

No More Discounts!

Don't worry – our successful promotion continues.

What I'm referring to is a law that has just been approved in Italy, which makes it illegal (except for art books, second-hand and antiquarian books and remaindered stock) to discount books, both in bookshops and online, more than 15%. The only exception is in-store special promotions, where the discount can go up to 25%. Now imagine if this were to happen in the UK . . . There would be more violent riots than the ones we had earlier in the month.

Another interesting piece of statistics from the Repubblica article where I found out about this: according to a recent research only 46.8% of Italians over the age of 6 have read at least one book (not for work or for study) over a period of six months. Grim. Try to be a publisher in the Bel Paese!

At the end of the article there's a slightly misleading report, showing that Italian bestsellers are sold at an average of 16.1 euros, the second highest average after Ireland, and well above United States (11.1), Germany (13.6), England (14) and France (14.4). I say it's misleading because Italy is a totally different market, with very few hardback non-fiction bestsellers (such as cookery books or celebrity memoirs). It would have been much more interesting to compare paperbacks with paperbacks. You'd have then seen a double digit figure for Italy and something like 3.5 for UK.

Whichever way you look at it, whether you are an Italian or an English publisher, the only thing you can do is to find comfort in the final words of Gogol's How the Two Ivans Quarrelled: "It is dreary in this world, gentlemen!"


Friday 26 August 2011

A follow-up on Heppenstall

As it turns out, we’re not the only ones with a fondness for Heppenstall: here’s a fantastic piece from today’s 3. A.M. magazine on the man, his career, and his place within 1930s literary Fitzrovia. Worth reading just for the tale of Heppenstall being given a sound beating by flatmate George Orwell for coming home drunk and disorderly.


Thursday 25 August 2011

Blaze of Noon

“For what are the emotions? They are things like anger, fear and curiosity. They are sudden changes in a man’s temper, breaking in upon his existence and distorting his features. […] Love is not an emotion.” So says Rayner Heppenstall in The Blaze of Noon, and the novel is filled with these nuggets of philosophy which both stand alone and illuminate the psyche of their narrator.

At once a love story and a treatise on the power dynamic between men and women, Heppenstall’s tale of a blind masseur staying in a Cornish country house posits a doctrine of emotional detachment which its narrator struggles to live up to. After going blind at the age of twenty-three, Louis Dunkel has exerted himself to make his disability as inconspicuous as possible, making masculinity, rather than infirmity, the driving force of his character. Embarking on a relationship with the beautiful but troubled Sophie Madron, Dunkel is at pains to establish himself as an authoritative male presence, educating and repairing Sophie whilst remaining emotionally neutral himself. “The brute fact,” says Dunkel, “is that man’s pleasure in love is a derivative of the pleasure he gives to woman.” This philosophy – and Dunkel’s emotional distance – is compromised by the arrival of Sophie’s blind and deaf cousin, Amity Nance.

I was ashamed not to have heard of Heppenstall until very recently, but in fact he has been widely neglected. Until now his much-admired early novels had fallen out of print, thanks largely to critical distaste at his later work. In its depiction of the minute-to-minute experience of blindness, The Blaze of Noon represents an intriguing engagement with literary form, and has often been hailed as forerunner of the nouveau roman.


Monday 22 August 2011

August Discounts

Yes, this is not a mirage nor a Photoshop job: it’s Céline’s Death on Credit with a 3x2 sticker in a Waterstone’s window display (Richmond). I swear this was not obtained through bribing or coercion – it’s totally the store’s initiative, and must be a sign of the good times ahead.

Incidentally, to celebrate the summer we are offering, for a very limited time, a 40% discount on all online orders of our Alma and Oneworld Classics titles (in addition, there is free postage over a certain amount spent). So please take advantage, as dozens of customers have already done, of this fantastic opportunity and hoard up for the cold and rainy seasons ahead.

Friday 19 August 2011

A Week in Review

We were delighted with the review of Peter Benson’s Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke in the Guardian, ‘A haunting tale of love, clairvoyance and cannabis’, although Alma Books got a slight rapping for choosing a comically themed cover and title. Read the full review here. A big thank you goes to fellow blogger Jim Murdoch for dedicating a lengthy review to Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke on his blog The Truth about Lies.

The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa has been wonderfully reviewed by the blogs In Spring it is the Dawn and What Sarah Reads. It has also won the Bancarella prize in Italy for food- and cookery-related books. The Premio Bancarella della Cucina was inaugurated in 2006 and the original Premio Bancarella is one of the most prestigious in Italy. It was established in 1953 and awarded the same year to Ernest Hemingway; other winners include Umberto Eco and John Grisham.

We sent Aharon Appelfeld’s Blooms of Darkness to the printers on Tuesday, and it’s already got a review! ‘With short, simple sentences and a brisk pace, the effect of this novel is reminiscent of a film, except that a film would place greater emphasis on dramatic incident and the horror of the situation. As readers, we are left to reflect on such matters for ourselves.’ This is from the East-West Review. Blooms of Darkness is arguably Appelfeld's most personal novel, and tells the story of an eleven-year-old Jewish boy taken in by a prostitute and hidden in the local brothel from the Nazis during the liquidation of the ghettos.

Also in the East-West Review, an entire page on Roger Clarke’s translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin.

And talking of classics, I leave you all with the following letter from our recently published Letters to Friends, Family and Editors by Franz Kafka:

[Liboch; Autumn 1902]
To Oskar Pollak,

It’s a strange time I’ve been spending here, as you must have noticed, and I needed a strange time like this, a time in which I lie for hours on a vineyard wall and stare into the rain clouds which don’t want to leave here, or into the wide fields, which grow even wider when you have a rainbow in your eyes, or where I sit in the garden and tell the children (especially a blonde little six-year-old, whom all the women call adorable) fairy tales or build sand castles or play hide-and-seek or whittle tables that - as God is my witness - never turn out well. A strange time, isn’t it?

Or where I go through the fields which now lie brown and mournful with abandoned plows but which all the same glisten silvery when in spite of everything the late-afternoon sun comes out and cast my long shadow (yes, my long shadow, maybe by means of it I’ll still reach the kingdom of heaven) on the furrows. Have you noticed how late-summer shadows dance on dark, turned-up earth, how they dance physically? Have you noticed how the earth rises towards the grazing cow, how trustfully it rises? Have you noticed how rich, heavy soil crumbles under too delicate fingers, how solemnly it crumbles?

Yours, Franz

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Books books books

Just back from a great trip through France and Germany (Reims, Strasbourg, Speyer, Worms, Trier and Cologne in four and a half days… our approximate itinerary is marked up in black) and was expecting a mountain of bumf on my desk. Surprisingly, and to my great relief, the only mountain on my desk was a tall pile of newly printed books – among them Dante's Vita Nuova, Conan Doyle's Tragedy of Korosko and Kafka's Letters, which I look forward to dipping into.

It's great to get out of Britain every now and again, not only because it's become a riotous place of late, but because you realize that in France and Germany, when people sit at restaurant tables or are on a tram or a metro, they don't muck around all the time with their iPhones and other hand-held gadgets.

Yesterday I went to my local gym and there was a guy on a cross trainer reading on a Kindle. Try to picture that. How much more idiotic can you get? I mean, I'm not trying to criticize Amazon or eBooks here: he'd have been an idiot even if he had been reading a book or a newspaper.

Catching up with the latest trade news, it's refreshing to hear what James Daunt had to say on The Future of the Book (BBC Radio 4, 15th August). I agree with him one hundred per cent. But when will Waterstone's start to buy beautifully produced books again?

Slightly more puzzling is Victoria Barnsley's half-go at Amazon in an interview for the same programme (16th August). "They're 'frenemies'," she said. Now, when HarperCollins shows such reverence, one really starts to wonder. And be scared...

Monday 8 August 2011

What the Dikkens?

Can you spot the typo? Good, then you can volunteer to help proofread Household Words (later called All Year Round), the weekly edited by Charles Dickens. In its long history it covered over 30,000 pages of crammed text, which apparently translates into approximately three billion words.

Though fairly accurate, I am probably one of the slowest proofreaders in the world. A 30,000-word text will probably take me the good part of 10-12 hours – i.e. an entire day. Therefore if I were to be assigned the task of proofreading all the HW/AYR issues, I'd be stuck in my job for the next 274 years or thereabouts – and maybe a bit longer, as I would probably need to take a holiday from time to time to rest my eyes.

It's an ambitious project, and a laudable one, but is it worth all the effort? What is the point of having the whole thing at your fingertips if people will only read bits of it anyway? Can't they do it on paper? Is it to make it searchable? Googlable? Twitterable?

Perhaps the promoters of this initiative are secretly hoping to sell millions of Household apps in 2012, the year of Dickens's 150th anniversary?

O brave new world!

PS: Who is going to do second proofs?

Wednesday 3 August 2011

William Wordsworth

"I am sorry that Wordsworth has left a bad impression wherever he visited in town by his egotism, vanity and bigotry. Yet he is a great poet, if not a philosopher." This is what John Keats wrote to his brothers George and Thomas on 21st February 1818. Wordsworth would have been 48 at the time, and at the height of his fame, having published his long philosophical poem The Excursion (1797–1814) in 1814.

I had not gone back to Wordsworth's poems for many years, and as I reread them – from his early attempts to the great poem of his maturity, The Prelude, published only posthumously in 1850 – my own impression is that he is a poet more preoccupied with himself than with the world. There is no doubt he is a good poet – although he often goes on for too long and outstays his poetical welcome – but was he a great poet? His poetry doesn't tell you much about the world or the society he lived in – it's all a bit detached and rarefied. He is, quintessentially, very much the image of the self-centred modern writer.

Do I like him? I like his diction, but his poetry leaves me cold and makes me yawn occasionally. I could not find a truly memorable line in my 400-page Selected Poems.

I know that he is the favourite of some of my authors and translators, so I'll stop here before I make anyone cross. However, going back to Keats, I remember that a friend of mine once told me he agreed with TS Eliot that John Keats, had he lived into old age, would have turned into a boring reactionary such as William Wordsworth (I hope I am quoting correctly as it's from memory). Well, my own take is that William Wordsworth, even if had lived 500 or 700 years, would never have become as great a poet as Keats was in his short life.

Monday 1 August 2011

What can you NOT find on the Internet?

My dear little sister alerted me to a You Tube video of my acceptance speech for the Premio Speciale Città di Monselice last year, for my translation of Pope's Rape of the Lock. Even if it's all in Italian (you can skip the first five minutes) I am delighted I can now share it with Elisabetta and many of my friends and family who could not come, due to the short notice.

Here's the link – so you can hear how Signor Gallenzi speaks Italian. I am the one on the right in the photo (hem).