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A tiny Indian publisher is translating hidden gems of world literature for global readers

(From Quartz India. Link to the complete article given below)

“It isn’t about size. Or the scale. It is about the choice. The instinct that allows you to take the risk to step outside the structures the world of corporate publishing has so magnificently set up. And publish books that in your opinion need to be read.”

The mission statement of Seagull Books says it all: This is not your usual Indian publisher.

Founded in 1982, the Kolkata-based company publishes everything from literary fiction and poetry to philosophy and even cultural anthropology. But these books aren’t what you’d find on the catalogues of publishing giants such as HarperCollins or Penguin Random House. At Seagull Books, the focus is on translated writing from around the world, much of which has never before appeared in English, in India or anywhere else.

“We publish anything and everything to do with what I like to call ‘the human condition,’” founder Naveen Kishore told Quartz. “It is in many ways a wish-list of books we want to publish. Not dictated by trends or the marketplace or target readers.”

And that’s a far cry from the norms in India’s publishing business, which is estimated to be worth $6.76 billion, according to Nielsen. Though the sector is poised to grow at a compounded annual rate of over 19% until 2020, far above the global rate, it is overwhelmingly dominated by educational books. As a result, the massive success of commercial fiction writers, such as Chetan Bhagat, has prompted most publishers to focus more on cookie-cutter stories that sell well. And in this quest for bestsellers, original and unconventional writing has been pushed to the sidelines.

Read more at the Quartz India link here

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From Insta Novels to “Cat Person”: The digital platforms revamping literature

(From The New Statesman. Link to the complete article given below)

The popularity and ubiquity of online fan fiction (fan-written fiction created based on existing narratives) cannot be overstated. While often relegated to a niche in internet culture, assigned the same nerdy status as Tumblr teens and Reddit bros, “fanfic” is due the credit for a growing number of pieces of mainstream culture (Fifty Shades of Gray was originally Twilight fan fiction). But while fanfic has thrived, the internet has remained an unobvious place for the majority of society to go to read fiction. Opting for Kindles, literary magazines, or hard copy books, mainstream culture tends to use digital platforms for consuming news stories, culture reports, and opinion, and leaves its literary consumption to more traditional channels.

However, that could all be changing. The New York Public Library announced last week the launch of their series called “Insta Novels”: a “revolutionary new program that will bring digital novels to Instagram”. Classic novels, poetry, and short stories will be shared via their Instagram Stories feed, making literature accessible on a platform that millions of people visit daily. The first in the series is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; told through a series of animated videos and pictures spliced between images of each and every page of the book. It will be followed by the Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and the short story The Yellow Wallpaper.

Read more at The New Statesman link here


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Authors from the Arab world: Translator recommendations

(From Publishing Perspectives. Link to the complete article given below)

At a recent seminar in New York City on Arabic literature in translation, several literary translators recommended Arabic authors they’d like to see published in English.

t last week’s Seminar on Arabic Literature in Translation, questions from the audience and discussions during the reception afterward revealed enthusiasm among the US publishers, agents, scouts, and others about getting to know Arabic authors and the literary scene in the Arab world.

The seminar was co-organized by the Frankfurt Book Fair New York, Publishing Perspectives, and the Sheikh Zayed Book Award.

“A lot of books that I’ve come to publish, I’ve heard about in a forum like this,” said John Siciliano, executive editor of Penguin Books and Penguin Classics, who was a speaker on the seminar’s panel discussion.

One audience member asked the panel to recommend Arabic authors to the publishers in the room, authors they felt should to be translated and published in English. Among the recommendations were several books that the translators have decided to start working on–even without an English-language publisher lined up yet.

To that end, we’ve put together a list of the books that were recommended by the panelists as well as some insights about publishing Arabic literature in translation.

Alex Elinson: Moroccan Authors

“I’m working on a book that I feel very strongly about,” said Alex Elinson, translator and associate professor Arabic at Hunter College. Elinson is in the process of translating Hot Maroc by Yassin Adnan into English.

The book was longlisted for the 2017 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF). It’s Adnan’s first novel, published by Dar al-Ain in Cairo.Adnan’s first novel, published by Dar al-Ain in Cairo.

Read more at this Publishing Perspectives link


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The rare women in the rare book trade

(From The Paris Review. Link to the complete article given below)

In Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa Dalloway picks up the phone and receives a solo lunch-party invite intended for her husband, from another woman. Clarissa puts down the phone and reels over “the dwindling of life; how year by year her share was sliced; how little the margin that remained was capable any longer of stretching, of absorbing, as in the youthful years, the colours, salts, tones of existence, so that she filled the room she entered.”

Mrs. Dalloway, a book about an aging woman who is no longer valued by society, has increased in value as it has aged. The corrected 1928 typescript, with Woolf’s musings scribbled on its pages, now sells for £27,500. What is a woman worth as she ages? What is a book by a woman worth as it ages? The answers are braided into the realities of the book trade, which is still an old boys’ club. As you’d expect, the expensive books are by men: Joyce, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, and Hemingway. “No twentieth-century women command those prices,” said Heather O’Donnell, owner of Honey & Wax Booksellers. “Woolf tops out in the mid five figures, and Gertrude Stein and Zora Neale Hurston are relatively cheap.”

Although it’s true that old white men have always run the large, moneyed, century-old rare-book trade—buying and selling books for a living—women have made enormous inroads as private and institutional collectors. Things started shifting in the seventies. Second-wave feminism gave women a voice, and female collectors started patching the historical holes by seeing value and relevance in objects that men had ignored. When you put your gaze on a manuscript and call attention to it, you create value in the eyes of others. Curiosity creates a market.

Read the complete article at the Paris Review link


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Perpetual motion

(From the Times Literary Supplement. Link to the complete article is given below.)

What, then, shall that language be? One-half of the committee maintain that it should be the English. The other half strongly recommend the Arabic and Sanscrit. The whole question seems to me to be – which language is the best worth knowing?” So asked Lord Macaulay of the British Parliament on February 2, 1835. He went on, of course, to answer his own question; there was no way that the natives of the subcontinent over which they now ruled could be “educated by means of their mother-tongue”, in which “there are no books on any subject that deserve to be compared to our own”. And even if there had been, it did not matter, for English “was pre-eminent even among languages of the West”. English, it was decided, would be the language that would be taught to the natives. By 1837, English replaced Persian as the language of courtrooms and official business in Muslim India and took with it the cultural ascendancy of the Persian speakers.

This sordid story of tainted beginnings is aptly recounted in Muneeza Shamsie’s Hybrid Tapestries: The development of Pakistani literature in English, which traces the history of an often vexed but always intriguing literary lineage from the nineteenth century until today. It is a tricky tale to tell, not least because the moment of origin is also the moment of im­position and conquest. The development of Pakistani literature is directly linked to those deposed Muslims and their cherished Persian, which adds further flavours of resentment and betrayal to the mixture. The Indian Muslims who had dominated cultural production until then felt the demotion, and hence the inauthenticity and subjugation of adopting a foreign language, more acutely; Hindus less so, perhaps because they were merely exchanging one set of conquerors for another. The bifurcation, with each group turning to a different vernacular language to anchor their evolving identity, would have more than just linguistic consequences: it would result in two separate nation states.

Read more at the TLS page here


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Diversity in publishing is under attack. I hear the sound of knuckles dragging

(From The Guardian. Link to the complete article given below)

The furore over Penguin’s wise and brave decision to “reflect the diversity of British society” in its publishing and hiring output seems to have awoken the usual knuckle-dragging, semi-blind suspects with their endlessly repeated terrors and fears. They appear to believe that what is called “diversity” or “positive action” will lead to a dilution of their culture. Their stupidity and the sound of their pathetic whining would be funny if it weren’t so tragic for Britain. You might even want to call it a form of self-loathing; it is certainly unpatriotic and lacking in generosity.

The industries I’ve worked in for most of my life – film, TV, theatre, publishing – have all been more or less entirely dominated by white Oxbridge men, and they still mostly are. These men and their lackeys have been the beneficiaries of positive discrimination, to say the least, for centuries. The world has always been theirs, and they now believe they own it.

Some of us have been fortunate enough to force a way through the maze and make a living as artists. It was a difficult and often humiliating trip, I can tell you. There was much patronisation and many insults on the way, and they are still going on.

 


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The surprising practice of binding old books with scraps of even older books

(From Atlas Obscura. Link to the complete article given below)

From the earliest days of bookmaking, binders made use of scraps. Sometimes, it was just mundane material: leases or contracts that had expired or been rendered moot by a scribe’s mistake. In other cases, the bindings illustrate some seismic cultural shift. In these instances, the materials indicate to modern scholars what was important to the people assembling books—or, conversely, what had little or no value to them.

After the Reformation, for example, when Catholicism gave way to Protestantism in Britain, monastic libraries were dissolved and centuries’ worth of manuscripts were suddenly homeless and largely unwanted. This made them “available to a burgeoning print trade,” Heffernan says, “and they could be torn up into strips, or wrapped whole around books.” The change of faith sapped the Catholic materials’ “value as documents to be read,” she says. But their value as raw material—such as vellum, made from animal skin—remained.

Stumbling across one of these hybrid items now feels kind of magical—as if geography and time have collapsed into your hands. But repurposing scraps in this way wasn’t at all unusual at the time, and Heffernan suspects that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to readers. “To us, the manuscripts that have been wrapped around books are signs of destruction,” Heffernan says. But to early modern readers, slicing and dicing a text was just a strategy for taking care of other, more coveted objects—like wrapping a textbook in brown paper today. Oversized choir books, which could be twice as tall as a folio, went a long way: “Not quite half a cow,” Schmidt says, “but still a substantial piece of leather.” It was simple practicality. “It’s a moment of typical practice for 16th- and 17th-century bookbinders that seems utterly, delightfully weird to us,” Heffernan says.

Read more at this link from Atlas Obscura


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April 2018 bestseller lists from China: Young readers cheer a celebrity-powered World Book Day

(From Publishing Perspectives)

Our colleagues at OpenBook in Beijing and Trajectory in Boston point out that although Yu Hua’s To Live claimed the No. 1 spot on China’s Overall Fiction list for April, the two titles that follow it are warhorses of the market’s bestseller lists—both from outside China.

OpenBook’s analysis of the strong positioning for Yu Hua’s work points to a particularly robust World Book Day program in China on the 23rd of April.

As it happens, an 18-year-old celebrity named Yi YanQianXi—Jackson Yee to English-language fans—took to his Weibo social media channel to recommend the author’s To Live. Yee may be a book’s best friend: when he appealed for more reviews of the book, some 100 other celebrities jumped in, and more than 2 million followers were quickly following.

Before the activity was over, author Yu Hua had written a public message to Yi YanQianXi, addressing the generation of Chinese citizens he writes about, saying, in part, “You are a unique generation. You are in a period where the future has come and the past has not yet passed.”

The 57-year-old Yu Hua has at times written what’s described as postmodern Chinese fiction, sometimes with elements of magical realism, stories of young people in various eras, particularly building the context of small people in great times and their importance in society and culture. Yu Hua’s work supports the idea that the young Chinese citizens of today will be the leading consumers of pure literature in the future.

Read more at this link


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Counterview: Urvashi Butalia’s rejoinder to AR Venkatachalapathy on women publishers and editors

Long years ago, when I began working in publishing, it was an almost entirely male world. Women were to be found in some publishing houses, but mainly in administrative and secretarial positions. The bosses were all men – at least in English language publishing in India – and so were the editors. There was something about their anatomy that seemed to qualify them more to work in the business of creating and disseminating knowledge – an activity that is generally governed by the brain, something that lies between the ears (and not the legs) and looks the same no matter what sort of bodily shell it’s placed in.

As women, we – the handful of us who joined the industry at that time and who slowly made our way to becoming editors – knew well we would never rise to the top of our professions. My bosses at the Oxford University Press were concerned that I was a woman: “We’ve never employed a woman in an executive position,” they told me. “They get married and go away.” They made it sound like a crime – one, clearly, that the men never had to answer for.

The Oxford University Press, where I began work, was filled with kind and caring men: Charles Lewis, Santosh Mukherjee, Ravi Dayal, Adil Tyabji, Adrian Bullock, Dipen Mitra. Yet none of them ever had to answer to the kind of questions posed to me. None of them needed to worry about how they would get home at night if they had to work late. None of them needed to be concerned about the safety of seedy hotel rooms when they travelled on business. None of them had to defend themselves against leering printers who wanted to take you out to coffee when all you wanted was to get a book printed. Not surprising then that their paths to the top were smooth, whereas ours were non-existent.

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Who will buy your book?

1.
“Nobody else is here,” the elderly woman said into her phone. “It’s embarrassing!”  

She was the first one to arrive at my reading at the Philadelphia Library, a week after the release of my third novel, and two weeks after the pinnacle of my writing life, when that novel was praised in both The New Yorker and The Washington Post, two articles that I had assumed would create something like buzz around me or my writing. It was 6:58, and the reading started at 7:00.  

Earlier that day, I had gotten messages from nine different friends, all saying they’d planned on attending but something had come up and they couldn’t make it. Each of their explanations was understandable—sick children, stuck at work, car troubles—but also it seemed cruel that every one of them would have an emergency on the same night. My wife was there, in the second row and I sent her a text from the front of the room: can we just leave? Will anyone notice? 

I did not leave. I had promised to do an event, and the library had made space for me, and even if only one person was in the audience, I had a responsibility to deliver. But in those next two minutes—as I kept hoping for, say, a bus full of book critics to break down outside—I was thinking grim thoughts about the creative life.

2.
I have been very fortunate as a writer: since 2010, I have had three books picked up by three different publishers. I have gotten coverage in major publications and been invited to do events in many bookstores along the east coast. I made enough money on my first book contract to buy a pretty nice couch.  

Before I ever published anything, I’d assumed that if I ever finished a book, there would be so much demand from family and friends alone that we’d have to go into a second printing before the release date. But I am here to tell you: most people in your family will never buy your book. Most of your friends won’t either.  

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