More Things Jonathan Franzen Hates; Happy Birthday, James Joyce

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More Things Jonathan Franzen Hates; Happy Birthday, James Joyce
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More Things Jonathan Franzen Hates; Happy Birthday, James Joyce

Today in publishing and literature: the high costs of publishing literature in translation, Deval Patrick scores another book deal, and James Joyce 130th birthday is his first with work in the public domain.

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Earlier in the week, Jonathan Franzen shared his fears about e-books with the world. Franzen's disdain for technology is nothing new, but he's also dubious of things that don't need to be plugged in at night. Like cats (he revealed to the Baltimore Sun he was once a co-conspirator in a plot to kidnap one that belonged to his neighbor), New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani ("The stupidest person in New York"), and the musical version of Frank Wedekind's play Spring Awakening ("It turns it into a kind of self-righteous Avril Sévigné." He meant Avril Lavigne.) [The Daily Beast]

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The English PEN writers association has released a report warning that "future geniuses comparable to Murakami or García Márquez might never become accessible to English readers" if publishers continue to reduce the amount of translated fiction they they publish. The trouble is publishing a translated text is a costly endeavor. Editors typically have to decide if they want to acquire the rights to a foreign book based on brief written for them by someone who understands the language, and generally works outside the country. And there's no surefire way to predict a hit. The "Scandinavian crime book wave" and "low production costs of e-books" are reasons to be optimistic about an uptick in translated books in the years to come, but the struggle to market translated fiction to English-speaking audience and prospect of having to shell out two advances -- one to the author and another to the translator -- still make translated novels a hard sell for increasingly cash-strapped publishers.  [The Guardian]

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Today would have been James Joyce's 130th birthday, which literary archivist Sarah Funke Butler is celebrating in tandem with Joyce's work entering the public domain by posting an image of some notes Ulysses jotted down on a scrap of paper. This wasn't always possible to do before the first of the year, when Joyce's grandson Stephen was de facto head of the author's estate, and made scholar request permission before quoting from Joyce's letters and the novels Ulysses and Finnegan's wake, even in scholarly papers. The on-going feud between Joyceans and the younger Joyce was nasty enough to be recounted in a 2008 New Yorker piece, appropriately titled "The Injustice Collector." What's more, if you compare Joyce's original scrawl with the published version of the same scene, it's clear that subtle alterations have been made. To mark Joyce's birthday -- and celebrate his entry into the public domain -- we've embedded a completely illegible manuscript page from Ulysses. [The Paris Review]

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Wislawa Szymborska, the Polish poet who won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, died yesterday in Krakow at the age of 88. Her poems, The Guardian writes, were "beguilingly simple" in style, which made her popular in Poland, but she never quite broke through on the international stage, a result of both her reclusive nature and the difficulty of translating her work. "Her poems were clear in topic and language," explains The New York Times, "but her playfulness and tendency to invent words made her work hard to translate." After her Nobel win, she was unable to complete another poem for several years. Later in life, she would renounce her first two collections -- That's What We Live For (1952) and Questions Put to Myself (1954) -- both of which were heavily influenced by Communist doctrine. [The New York Times]

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Apparently the pitch he made to publishers in November worked, because Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has landed another book deal. Under the terms of the deal Patrick signed with with Hyperion, he'll be writing two titles: the first, "a budget-priced e-book" called Faith in the Dream, will come out in May. A second, non-budget-priced regular-old-print book will follow in 2014. In 2008, Random House gave Patrick a whopping $1.35 million advance for his first book, Reason to Believe, which sold less than 10,000 copies when it came out last year. Terms of the new deal are not available. [AP]

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