China confirms Swedish publisher Gui Minhai has been detained

15 February 2018

From CNN:

China has confirmed for the first time that a Hong Kong-based Swedish citizen who published and sold books critical of the Chinese government has been detained following his purported arrest last month.

At a Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefing Tuesday, a spokesman said that Gui Minhai, who was apprehended by plainclothes police on a train in January in front of Swedish diplomats, had been “subjected to criminal coercive measures.”

“Gui Minhai broke Chinese law and has already been subjected to criminal coercive measures in accordance with the law by relevant Chinese authorities,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, also criticizing a Swedish statement issued Monday.

“I want to once again stress that China opposes any form of speech or actions that ignore China’s legal sovereignty.”

. . . .

On Monday the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the arrest and detention of its citizen a “very serious matter,” and said it contravened “basic international rules on consular support.”

“The brutal intervention in January against a Swedish support operation was conducted in spite of repeated assurances from the Chinese authorities that Mr Gui was free at that time,” said the statement, attributed to Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom.

“The current situation also raises questions about the application of the rule of law, including the prohibition of arbitrary deprivation of liberty. We demand that our citizen be given the opportunity to meet Swedish diplomatic and medical staff, and that he be released so that he can be reunited with his daughter and family.”

The Foreign Affairs spokesman, Geng, said that, “Although Gui Minhai is a Swedish citizen, the case he is involved in must be handled in accordance with Chinese law. China and Sweden are maintaining open communication channels on this case.”

. . . .

On Tuesday, Geng slammed Sweden’s handling of the incident and said that the European country should not do anything that would adversely affect bilateral relations.

“China absolutely does not accept Sweden’s ignoring China’s notifications and repeatedly making irresponsible remarks. We strongly call on Sweden not to do things that may damage mutual trust and the macro bilateral relations between the two countries.”

Link to the rest at CNN and thanks to N. for the tip.

From PEN America:

A recent video of detained Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai, in which he claims not to desire international attention for his case, fits a pattern of staged or coerced statements made at the behest of Chinese authorities, PEN America said today.

On February 9, bookseller Gui Minhai was featured in a video interview in which he accused Swedish authorities of “sensationalizing” his case and said he felt like Swedish authorities had made him a “chess piece” and that he “would never trust the Swedish ever again.” The release of Gui Minhai’s video comes days before Gui was awarded in absentia the prestigious Prix Voltaire from the International Publishers Association. During his interview, Gui reportedly disavowed the award, saying “I do not want to receive, and will not receive, this award.”

These comments come days after Chinese security agents took Gui Minhai into custody for a second time in two years. On January 20, Chinese security agents seized Gui Minhai while he was traveling with Swedish diplomatic officials to receive a medical exam. Gui has reportedly recently been exhibiting symptoms of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), symptoms which he did not appear to have before entering Chinese detention.

“It is painfully obvious that this video has been staged and that these statements are what the Chinese government wants said, and not what Gui Minhai himself want to say,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Gui Minhai’s claim that he has become a ‘chess piece’ of the Swedish government—as a result of their efforts to gain his freedom and to supply him with adequate medical care—are farcical. From the beginning, it is the Chinese government that has treated him as a pawn. They abducted him, moved him against his will, and kept him in illegal detention for years. This clearly-staged video is yet another demonstration of China’s lack of regard for international law or human rights.”

Gui is one of five booksellers associated with the Mighty Current Publishing House and its affiliated Causeway Bay Bookstore who were seized by Chinese security agents in late 2015, in an episode known as the “Causeway Bay Bookstore Disappearances.” Gui was detained in China for two years without charge, before being placed on supervised release but forbidden to leave China. PEN America has documented the events of the Causeway Bay Bookstore Disappearances in its 2016 report Writing on the Wall, in which it concluded that the booksellers’ “confessional” videos were staged. PEN America has also published analysis on how China’s scripted “confessional” videos often make a key point of rejecting international assistance or intervention. This includes a video in 2016 in which Gui Minhai previously stated that he did not want Swedish officials to intervene on his behalf.

Link to the rest at PEN America

From The Guardian:

Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai was transporting secret documents to the Chinese capital when he was seized last month, a Communist party-run newspaper has claimed, as Stockholm hit back at the decision to parade its citizen before the Beijing-friendly press.

Gui, a publisher of racy tomes about Chinese politics whose stranger-than-fiction tale might have been lifted from one of his own titles, was snatched on 20 January as he attempted to reach Beijing with two Swedish diplomats.

On Friday, the 53-year-old Swede resurfaced at a detention centre in the eastern city of Ningbo, telling a group of handpicked reporters Sweden had tricked him into a botched bid to flee China.

“I fell for it,” Gui told journalists from Xinhua and the Global Times, two party-run outlets, as well as Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, which faced criticism in 2016 for printing an apparently coerced interview with a young Chinese activist.

Activists condemned what they called Gui’s “venal” forced confession with Sweden also dismissing the claims.

“This video changes nothing,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Katarina Byrenius Roslund told Reuters. “We continue to demand that our citizen be given the opportunity to meet with Swedish diplomatic staff and medical staff.”

Xinhua, China’s official news agency, claimed Gui had “applied to authorities and asked to speak the truth before media”.

. . . .

An editorial in the same newspaper, which is known for its aggressive, nationalist tone, launched a scathing attack on Stockholm. “They tricked Gui into cooperating with their plan … They wanted to arrange Gui’s ‘escape’ by breaking Chinese law,” it claimed, belittling Sweden as “a relatively small country in Northern Europe” that was trying “to demonstrate its diplomatic heroism by ‘saving the bookseller Gui Minhai’.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Book clinic: why are some titles changed from country to country?

11 February 2018

From The Guardian:

Q: Why are book titles sometimes changed depending on country of publication (for example, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK/Sorcerer’s Stonein the US) and what factors are considered when making a title change?

. . . .

A: From Rebecca McNally, editorial director of the children’s division at Bloomsbury Publishing.

There is a little bit of magic in a good title. It must entice and intrigue potential readers. Titles are the “word” in a “word-of-mouth” bestseller. Until recently, changes were common – for commercial reasons, cultural sensitivity or because of a pre-existing book with a similar moniker. And really, it did not matter unless/until a film came out that favoured one title over the other, which was a nice problem to have.

Children’s books have been particularly prone to transatlantic title shifts: Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights became The Golden Compass; Jennifer Donnelly’s US bestseller A Northern Light became A Gathering Light; Diana Wynne Jones, Anne Fine and Dick King-Smith all found that a title beloved of British children was deemed unenticing elsewhere. Who knows why Where’s Wally? became Where’s Waldo?, but it worked. Legend has it that 20 years ago Philosopher’s Stone was considered a little arcane in America and so, no one knowing quite what a phenomenon lived within its covers, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published a year after UK readers first met the boy wizard.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

What drives non-resident authors to write in Bengali?

8 February 2018

From The Times of India:

One is a scientist. Another is a chemical engineer. The third is a doctor. The list of non-resident Bengali authors writing in Bengali and flocking to the bookfair is growing by the year. But are these attempts only a way of connecting with the roots? Or are they qualitatively contributing to the treasure trove of Bengali literature?

Be it literature, films or music, there is always a penchant among the Bengali diaspora for attempting a work that will be appreciated back home. For some, it is a way of remaining in touch with their motherland. For others, it is a passion that keeps them afloat while pursuing their dreams in greener pastures abroad. But in their zest to connect with the roots through arts, they sometimes end up compromising on their quality.

Some non-resident Bengali authors too admit that not everything that the Bengali diaspora is churning out is qualitatively excellent. “There are a ton of writings that appear in multiple printed and web-based spaces, which are not at all good,” said Boston-based Bengali poet Alokesh Duttaroy. “In the digital media, everyone is writing. Everyone thinks he or she is coming up with great works. But everything needs time and practice,” said Dallas-based Bengali author Goutam Dutta. New Jersey-based Alolika Mukhopadhyay even said that most publishers don’t agree to spend money on publishing these books.

. . . .

But that’s hardly an impediment for any author based abroad. While earning in dollars, organising funds to self-publish a Bengali book isn’t too difficult. Creating a buzz isn’t tough either. Bengali celebrities, who often stay over at their place when they come visiting the US, are more than willing to attend their book launches in Kolkata. That, in turn, helps to boost their social standing when they return home to their peers with photos of celeb-studded book launches.

. . . .

According to author Subodh Sarkar, “Those who write poetry in Bengali from USA are perpetual fighters. They are neither respected as poets in America nor are they seriously taken in Bengal.” This, according to Sarkar, is “doubly frustrating”. “But I wait for good poetry whether it is in California or in Kolkata. I find Alokesh Duttaroy of Boston, Goutam Dutta of Dallas and Rudrasankar of Atlanta quite engaging. They really write good poetry,” Sarkar pointed out.

Link to the rest at The Times of India

Indigo Reports Its Highest Quarter Revenue Ever

7 February 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

Indigo Books & Music had a solid third quarter, with revenue up 8.2% over the comparable period in 2016. Net income in the quarter, ended December 30, 2017, increased 6.5%. Sales in the period were C$433.3 million, while earnings hit C$42.6 million. Indigo noted its sales in the quarter were the highest quarterly revenue in its history.

The Canadian chain attributed the sales gain to double-digit growth in its general merchandise category, as well as strong online sales. Overall same store sales were up 7.9% led by a 26.4% increase of online sales with comp store sales up 4.9% in Indigo’s superstores and 2.3% in its smaller format stores. Sales of books increased over last year’s comparable period, but the company did not say by how much.

. . . .

The priority in Canada is to continue to remodel more of its superstores to become what the company calls “cultural department stores for book lovers.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Top 10 books about the Scottish Highlands and Islands

7 February 2018

From The Guardian:

“Wherever I wander, wherever I rove / The hills of the Highlands forever I love,” said Robert Burns, and I high-five him wholeheartedly.

I’ve been obsessed with the Scottish Highlands and Islands since first going there on a family holiday at the age of 10. Its remote, rugged landscape has pulled me back most years since, whether to stay in the remote Moor of Rannoch hotel – where the nearest village is 13 miles away – or camping in Glen Coe and Glen Nevis .

To me, it’s the most beautiful place on Earth, but to ignore its raw, forbidding nature would be wrong. It’s a real place, and real people live there. My novel, Swansong, throws a 20-year-old English student into a disquieting world; it draws on a West Highlands version of a folk ballad, but is as much inspired by the real people I’ve encountered there as by the jaw-dropping scenery and often endless rain.

In fact and fiction, these books shine different lights on Scotland’s distant north.

1. The Crow Road by Ian Banks

With one of the best opening lines of any novel (“It was the day my grandmother exploded”), Iain Banks’s book follows a large, eccentric family, the McHoans, as the slightly feckless student Prentice plays detective within his own family to explain the disappearance of his uncle Rory. Set mostly in the West Highlands in the early 90s, there are plenty of familiar tropes here – whisky, ceilidhs, Uncle Fergus’s huge country pile – but just as many idiosyncrasies, from the looming Gulf war to the Cocteau Twins, a struggle between religion and atheism, and a massive, cement installation on the Isle of Jura. It’s a warm, witty and ultimately very poignant book.

. . . .

3. Corrag by Susan Fletcher
A historical novel set around the Glencoe massacre of 1692, in which three dozen members of the MacDonald clan were brutally slaughtered by William III’s redcoats. It is told from the perspective of Corrag, a young woman regarded as a witch who is incarcerated in Inveraray after the event, and by the Jacobite priest who is sent to interview her. Fletcher’s prose is shimmering, particularly when she writes about Corrag’s relationship with the natural world.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Even what doesn’t happen is epic

1 February 2018

From The London Review of Books:

Science fiction isn’t new to China, as Cixin Liu explains in Invisible Planets, an introduction to Chinese sci-fi by some of its most prominent authors, but good science fiction is. The first Chinese sci-fi tales appeared at the turn of the 20th century, written by intellectuals fascinated by Western technology. ‘At its birth,’ Cixin writes, science fiction ‘became a tool of propaganda for the Chinese who dreamed of a strong China free of colonial depredations’. One of the earliest stories was written by the scholar Liang Qichao, a leader of the failed Hundred Days’ Reform of 1898, and imagined a Shanghai World’s Fair, a dream that didn’t become a reality until 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, given the degree of idealistic fervour that followed Mao’s accession, very little utopian science fiction was produced under communism (in the Soviet Union there was plenty, at least initially). What little there was in China was written largely for children and intended to educate; it stuck to the near future and didn’t venture beyond Mars. By the 1980s Chinese authors had begun to write under the influence of Western science fiction, but their works were suppressed because they drew attention to the disparity in technological development between China and the West. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, when Deng’s reforms began to bite, that Chinese science fiction experienced what Cixin calls a ‘renaissance’.

Cixin himself has been at the forefront of the scene since the 1990s. He is the first Asian writer to receive a Hugo award (in 2015), and the author whose work best captures the giddying, libidinous pace of the Chinese economic boom. His monumental Three-Body Trilogy – first published between 2006 and 2010, and recently translated into English by Ken Liu, a Chinese-American sci-fi writer – is Chinese science fiction’s best-known work. Barack Obama is a fan, and the forthcoming movie adaptations are already being described as ‘China’s Star Wars’. The trilogy concerns the catastrophic consequences of humanity’s attempt to make contact with extraterrestrials (it turns out that the reason we haven’t heard from aliens yet is that we’re the only species thick enough to reveal our own location in the universe). It is one of the most ambitious works of science fiction ever written. The story begins during the Cultural Revolution and ends 18,906,416 years into the future. There is a scene in ancient Byzantium, and a scene told from the perspective of an ant. The first book is set on Earth, though several of its scenes take place in virtual reality representations of Qin dynasty China and ancient Egypt; by the end of the third book, the stage has expanded to encompass an intercivilisational war that spans not only the three-dimensional universe but other dimensions too.

. . . .

One of the most visionary scenes comes towards the end of The Three-Body Problem, when the Trisolarans develop ‘sophons’: tiny robots made from protons that have been ‘unfolded’ into two dimensions, according to principles derived from superstring theory. The plan is to send them to Earth to confuse the results from particle accelerator experiments and report news of humanity back to Trisolaris. But attempts at unfolding the proton, using a giant particle accelerator, go wrong. On the first try, the Trisolarans go too far and unfold it into one dimension, creating an infinitely thin line 1500 light-hours long that breaks apart and drifts back down to Trisolaris as ‘gossamer threads that flickered in and out of existence’. On the second attempt the proton is unfolded into three dimensions. Colossal geometric solids – spheres, tetrahedrons, cones, tori, solid crosses and Möbius strips – fill the sky, ‘as though a giant child had emptied a box of building blocks in the firmament’. Then they melt and turn into a single glaring eye, which transforms into a parabolic mirror that focuses a condensed beam of sunlight onto the Trisolaran capital city, setting it ablaze.

Besides theoretical physics, Cixin appears to have read widely in history, political theory, game theory, sociology, even aesthetics.

Link to the rest at The London Review of Books

Here’s a link to Cixin Liu’s books.

Mexican Publisher Grano de Sal Looking for World Spanish Rights

30 January 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

Launched late last year, Grano de Sal—as in a grain of salt—is a Mexico City-based publishing company focused on contemporary debate in politics, natural sciences, philosophy, society, and the arts for Spanish-language readers.

While concentrating initially in Latin America’s markets, “The next goal is Spain, because we have the worldwide Spanish-language rights to all the books,” says Tomás Granados Salinas, the company’s founder and editor-in-chief. “That was a priority strategy.”

. . . .

Publishing Perspectives: Is it Grano de Sal’s intention for all the books it publishes to be works in translation?

Tomás Granados Salinas: It’s our intention, yes, for them to be the first Spanish-language editions, which is the case of our books by Jan Werner-Müller and Barbara E. Mundy.

PP: Has procuring the rights for the books been an obstacle?

TGS: Of the 10 books we have taken on, eight have a co-publisher, and that’s our business model—to have the books bought or financed before bringing them to market. And in the face of the critical situation we’re facing with a lack of bookstores, we’re unable to live off what’s sold from the shelves. Therefore our model is prior sales.

. . . .

PP: Would you also publish a first edition Spanish-language book with a view to selling the rights? 

TGS: Yes, but the advantage of working in translation is that the book has already been worked on, so it’s a little less risky, even though it can be costly initially.

We’re also interested in the books being visually pleasing, with attractive colors and a granular texture. And we aim to have a touch of humor in their presentation, in contrast with academic books.

All of which comes right back to our goal of provoking a reaction among readers. We’re trying to be controversial.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives


29 January 2018

Not exactly about books, but definitely about language.

From Atlas Obscura:

Before children learn how to speak properly, they go through a period of imitating the sounds they hear, with occasionally hilarious results, at least for their parents. Baby talk evolves into proto-words, so that “octopus” might come out as “appah-duece,” or “strawberry” as “store-belly.” But it’s not just children who ape the sounds of spoken language. There’s a long tradition of songs that “sound” like another language without actually meaning anything. In Italy, for example, beginning in the 1950s, American songs, films, and jingles inspired a diverse range of “American sounding” cultural products.

The most famous is probably “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” a 1972 song composed by legendary Italian entertainer Adriano Celentano and performed by him and his wife, Claudia Mori. The song’s lyrics sound phonetically like American English—or at least what many Italians hear when an American speaks—but are clearly total, utter, delightful nonsense. You really have to hear it to appreciate it.


. . . .

[T]he 72-year-old Celentano was interviewed for an episode of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” “Ever since I started singing, I was very influenced by American music and everything Americans did,” Celentano said.

He wasn’t alone. After World War II, American culture started to exert its influence in many parts of Europe. The phenomenon was especially strong in Italy, where the arrival of American troops in Rome in June 1944 helped mark the country’s liberation from fascism.

. . . .

“Americanization” was captured in films such as 1954’s An American in Rome, in which Italian actor Alberto Sordi plays a young Roman who is obsessed with the United States. He seeks to imitate gli Americani in his daily life, and one of the most well-known scenes sees him trading red wine for milk.

. . . .

By the time Celentano’s song came out, the sound of American English had been “contaminating” Italian culture for decades. Linguist Giuseppe Antonelli analyzed Italian pop songs produced between 1958 and 2007, and revealed the ways in which Italian singers have incorporated American sounds into their music.

One way was to use intermittent English words, with preference for trendy terms. The most notable example of this is “Tu vuo’ fa l’americano” (“You Want to Be American”), a 1956 song by Renato Carosone about a young Neapolitan who is trying to impress a girl.

. . . .

Similarly, in the 1960s there was a trend of bands in England singing in Italian—with strong English accents. Both phenomena resulted in a similar hybrid sound, one that Italians responded to. According to Francesco Ciabattoni, who teaches Italian culture and literature at Georgetown University, this Anglo-Italian pop genre grew from Italy’s collective interest in America, as well as the British Invasion of the 1960s. “I am not sure how much thinking they put in it, but producers must have realized that imitating English and American sounds would sell more,” he says. Linguistics may have played a role, too. “The phonetic structure of English makes it more suited to rock or pop songs compared with Italian,” he adds.

. . . .

But the roots of Celentano’s song go much further back than the end of World War II. “What Celentano is doing, inventing a nonsense language, was already done by Dante and by medieval comedians before him,” says Simone Marchesi, who teaches French and Italian medieval literature at Princeton University. And that practice, Marchesi explains, goes back even further, to the Old Testament.

Genesis 11:1–9 says that after the flood, the people of Earth, who all spoke the same language, founded the new city of Babel, and planned to build a tower tall enough to reach heaven. In reaction to this act of arrogance, God decided to confuse humans by creating different languages so that they could no longer understand each other.

. . . .

And so, in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the author encounters a giant named Nimrod next to the ninth circle of hell. In non-canonical writings, Nimrod is associated with building the Tower of Babel. He approaches Dante and Virgil, and says “Raphèl maí amècche zabí almi,” a series of words that has no meaning but, according to some scholars, can sound a little like Old Hebrew.

Virgil says, “every language is to him the same/as his to others—no one knows his tongue.” Nimrod speaks a failed language, and failed languages are the result of divine punishment.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura

Carrefour is closing their ebook store and abandons e-readers

29 January 2018

From GoodEreader:

Carrefour is one of the largest supermarket chains in France and they have been involved in the e-reader space since 2013. The company has announced that it is closing their digital bookstore and suspending their relationship with Bookeen, who provided devices to them under the Nolim brand. This is going to result in over 2,400 people losing their jobs.

. . . .

The French ebook market will generate $442 million dollars in 2018 and 9.2% of the population reads digitally. The vast majority of users purchase their e-readers and ebooks via two companies; Amazon and Kobo. Kobo has a strategic relationship with numerous booksellers such as FNAC and Auchan. Amazon continues to be the most popular device.

Link to the rest at GoodEreader

A Cheeky Novel of Male Vulnerability Hits the U.S. at Last

27 January 2018

From The New York Times:

Paul Rainey is a loser. The protagonist of David Szalay’s first novel, “London and the South-East,” Rainey leads a team at a telephone ad sales company in Holborn; for years, he has worked with the kind of puffed-up men who admire Alec Baldwin’s character in the 1992 film version of the play “Glengarry Glen Ross,” which Rainey thinks depicts salesmanship as both “mythic” and “sweatily desperate, duplicitous and soul-destroying.” Playing a wealthy motivational trainer assigned to scare a group of real estate agents into closing deals, Baldwin embodies the white-collar alpha male. But unlike his colleagues, Rainey — a 39-year-old “shortish, plump,” alcoholic chain-smoker with a history of depression — has never been able to relate to Baldwin’s role. Deep down, he places himself among the “losers” Baldwin torments.

He thinks this “may be significant,” and he’s right. Like a career in ad sales, “London and the South-East” is built on “innumerable moments…[of] humiliation” that begin when Rainey loses a deal he believes is guaranteed. He responds by getting so drunk that he imagines a cute young bartender is interested in him, then falls off a train. As he is lifted “like a dead weight” off the tracks, young people laugh and pelt him with bits of kebab.

. . . .

Seizing the opportunity to escape the tedious yet all-consuming power dynamics of office life, he decides his new job should involve “useful simple manual work” and ends up on the night shift stocking shelves at a grocery store. He bungles everything from the routine smoking of a spliff to his relationship with his long-suffering partner, Heather.

. . . .

Clever but never cruel, Szalay renders male pain as few writers have managed, without veering into sexism or caricature. The inevitable pity you feel for Rainey is yet another insult, but Szalay’s knack for the matter-of-fact can elevate observations of the unexceptional to moving poignancy: “If it is hyperbolic to talk about ‘tragedy,’” he writes of Rainey’s brief snooker career, “a sad sense, at least, of something squandered.” Later, he simply notes, “It is all so sad.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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