Friday 30 July 2010

Links Roundup

My little Jiminy Cricket is shrieking at me for not posting anything all week. Boring work and personal issues, sorry.

So here's a brief list of links to people who did bother to bring you content.

English PEN promotes books in translation and has now brought out an "anthology containing extracts from the 36 books that the programme has supported since its inception. Making the World Legible contains a dazzling array of fiction, non-fiction and poetry from some of the best international writers of our time; distinct and powerful voices from every corner of the globe." Download it for free via English PEN for extracts from German-language writers Emine Sevgi Özdamar (trans. Martin Chalmers), Roger Willemsen (trans. Stefan Tobler), Senait Mehari (t. Christine Lo), Saša Stanišić (t. Anthea Bell), Ruth Maier (t. Jamie Bulloch) - and loads of other stuff. (Via Three Percent)

Tubuk is a platform for German-language books from independent publishers (I wrote about them in 2008), and they've started a blog. Over the summer they're featuring original pieces by some of their (and oddly enough, my) favourite writers. Worth checking out.

Which takes me link-hopping over to the Mairisch Verlag blog, where you really need to scroll down to about May for a German's eye view of the book world in and around San Francisco. Or go straight to the pieces about City Lights, Microcosm Publishing, McSweeney's, and loads more that I can't be bothered to link to. Tags would be nice, guys.

Los Superdemokraticos is "a blog running from June to October 2010, remembering 200 years of independency of Latin American countries. 20 German- and Spanish-speaking writers from Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Cuba, Germany, Guatemala, Israel, Mexiko, Peru, Uruguay, USA and Venezuela)" write about their daily lives in international political contexts. Apparently there'll be five texts translated into English every month but they're not up there yet. The German writers are young and dynamic and good.

It'll be raining poems in Berlin on 28 August, trade mag Börsenblatt tells us. A helicopter will scatter 100,000 bookmarks printed with poetry by German and Chilean writers over the Museum Island. Don't forget your umbrella.

Monday 26 July 2010

Totally. Devoted. To Books. It's German Independent Publishers!

Don'cha dig that punctuation, chicks and malchiks? Saturday was Tag der kleinen Verlage am großen Wannsee. That means my most dearly beloved institution, the Literary Colloquium Berlin, invited 20 indie publishers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland to present their wares in their hallowed halls. With non-stop readings from 3 til 9 that had smoke pouring out of the poor sound man's ears, with sausages on tap from the poor guy manning the barbecue, with tables groaning under the weight of books galore and much, much schmoozing.

German-language indie publishing is not the same as in the UK or the States. One reason is that major publishers are still willing to take the odd risk, so experimental writing is broadly spread across the publishing spectrum. You can find debut novels by young things, neo-Marxist tracts, poetry, and translations from obscure languages in a lot of the big houses - maybe only one or two books a season, but still.

So some of the "young independents" have less of a niche catalogue than you might expect - Matthes & Seitz, for example, have a diverse catalogue of fiction and non-fiction with a lot of translations. But others take the opposite approach and go for maximum scurrility, like the Poetenladen with almost all poetry and a litmag. Or the lovely Mairisch Verlag who do young literature and audio plays. And are putting out a record - yes, on vinyl, fellow crackle-loving retro-auditors - because they like song lyrics so much. Or edition sutstein, who do limited-edition stuff you're only allowed to look at with gloves on.

But the ethic and the atmosphere is the same as anywhere else where enthusiastic people just decide to go ahead and - hey, why the hell not? - set up their own publishing house. So these are people who really, really love their books. I talked to Ricco Bilger from Bilger Verlag, who praised his little babies with such hyperbole I almost fainted. And Axel von Ernst from Lilienfeld Verlag, who publishes books he digs up at flea markets and in archives. And because they love them so dearly, they dress them up in the most delightful outfits, with illustrations like Onkel & Onkel and gorgeous visuals like Verbrecher Verlag and even bonus CDs like Voland & Quist.

According to various press reports, the indies are doing OK. Their main problem, like anywhere else, is getting their books into the shops. But people are still buying books and they're still getting a kick out of making them. And it's so refreshing to be around people who are in it for sheer love. There are photos of people browsing, reading and schmoozing at Börsenblatt.

Saturday 24 July 2010

Katja Oskamp: Hellersdorfer Perle

This is a book with a picture of a corset on the front. And on the back as well, for that matter. The art department was obviously going for a clear statement. Yes indeed, vicar – there’s sex in it!

In fact though, Katja Oskamp has written a modern-day Cinderella for bored middle-class mothers. And I read it a rate of knots, because I only very narrowly escape the target group. Oh OK, I’m slap-bang in the middle of the target group, I admit it.

So here’s the deal: the narrator, who we can only surmise is called Katja, is a bored middle-class mother. Her partner Micha is a theatre critic and they have a pre-school daughter, who is of course perfect in every way. And life would be wonderful, a veritable ball of middle-class pleasures – a pasta machine, children’s parties, holidays by the sea – if only it weren’t so utterly dull and passionless. Oh, can you relate to this yet, fellow middle-class mothers?

So the narrator stumbles into a bar at the edge of East Berlin on a rainy night, the Hellersdorfer Perle of the title. And it’s an absolute freakshow, run by an ex-prostitute and peopled by a silent old bid, three men with no legs – and The Man. Like in all the best fairytales, The Man – we never learn his name either – sets a series of challenges. He tells her to wear a skirt next time and disappears. Next time she wears a skirt and he tells her to wear a corset, after that she wears a corset and he tells her to walk all the way home, and the time after that – well, that’s where the corset comes in. And the handcuffs. And the fluffy blue dressing gown.

There’s an interval, when she returns to the family and pretends to herself that she’s happy, until one day she goes to see a play with her partner – only to face an actress dressed up in a corset on stage, acting out her own night of kinky passion. Oh my. The Man, it transpires, is a playwright, and not a truck-driver with working-man’s hands from the wrong side of town after all.

How does it play out? They get back together again and she leads a double life, devoted mother and proofreader by day and S&M lover by night, or at least some nights. She introduces him to her daughter, and eventually there’s a cheesy half-page happy ending where she returns to her roots in a high-rise tower block in East Berlin. So now I’ve told you the plot, such as it is. But there’s so much more to Hellersdorfer Perle than that.

For a start, it’s wickedly funny, in a way that creeps up on you from behind. That corset is a huge source of comedy, as it’s a gargantuan task to put it on, and taking it off is even worse. The scene in which the narrator’s best friend catches her in the middle of the night, enlisting her partner to take it off – with a wrench in his hand – is straight out of Little Britain. I mean that in a good way.

And the comedy’s the cruel kind too that makes you squirm. The best friend, Tina, is a soap opera actress who has to be the centre of attention and talks in platitudes – often straight out of her scripts. While her partner Peter and their son spend their week nights watching mummy on TV with maxi-packs of potato crisps and tinned sardines. There’s a beautifully done parallel scene to the whole corset-removal episode, when Peter turns up to get the narrator’s help in donning a Santa Claus costume, tubby tummy and all.

And then there’s the clever casting and locations. Because it’s Ingeborg, the rake-thin prostitute-turned-landlady, who’s the fairy godmother, first helping the narrator into her uncomfortable outfit and then going shopping with her for more titillating gladrags. And Cinderella goes to the ball at Ingeborg’s down-at-heel dive, dancing to Je t’aime on the jukebox. And of course there’s Hellersdorf itself, a land of high-rise concrete that suddenly gives way to a rural idyll complete with squirrels and ponies.

And what a Prince Charming! An older man with thick eyebrows and hearing aids, a man who knows what he wants and has a past to talk about. After Cinderella runs off at the stroke of midnight he duly tracks her down, sending roses and staring across an empty playground. Which is utterly creepy. But like the setting, the rough prince proves to be not quite what the narrator – or the reader – expected. What he isn’t, though, is average.

Oskamp’s not the first writer to take a heroine out of the frustration of middle-class motherhood and plunge her into sexual adventures. I remember reading Judy Blume’s Wifey at a far too impressionable age, and am appalled in retrospect at her conciliatory ending. And there’s Lady Chatterley too, to stretch the point slightly. But Hellersdorfer Perle is so bitingly cynical and at the same time so laugh-out-loud funny that it does stand out. Oskamp plays skillfully with our expectations of the bonkbuster, refusing to conform to stereotype. Yes, her ending is annoyingly conciliatory too, but in a different way to Judy Blume’s 1970s classic – nowadays Wifey can actually leave her partner without the sky falling in.

One thing I find particularly comical is the critics’ reactions. The men don’t like it and the women do, to oversimplify. Which might have something to do with the fact that the lily-livered middle-class father constantly clutching a bottle of beer in front of the TV is of course – a critic. Or maybe you have to have been there to get it. You know, the guilt, the “Why aren’t I happy?” the lying to yourself, and the triumph and liberation when you stomp all over the middle-class dream. I totally get it. Now if Oskamp’s next novel looks at that uncomfortable bump when you land on cold, hard ground – and makes me laugh too – she’ll be in my good books forever.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Sabrina Janesch: Katzenberge

Regular readers will know I’m far from impartial on the subject of Sabrina Janesch, having translated her entry for the Ingeborg Bachmann competition a while back, met her, thought she was charming, etc. etc. Unlike the most vocal of the judges at the competition, I found the extract from her novel, out now under the title Katzenberge, very intriguing. I enjoyed the blend of historical subject matter with tense writing underlain with threat. I didn’t particularly share the criticism that we found out too little about the narrator – but that point is well and truly cancelled out by the full novel.

That narrator is Nele Leibert, a young German journalist with a Polish mother, who travels to her family’s roots after her grandfather’s death. For her Polish family actually originate from East Galicia, now part of Ukraine. And her grandfather was one of the first Polish settlers in Silesia after the ethnic Germans were expelled from the region. So this is a story of shifting borders and the effects of world history on individuals, but also of a family itself.

The narration switches between the present and the past, opening on a misty early morning in rural Poland as Nele sneaks out of the family home to the graveyard, obviously planning something. And its tight construction keeps us holding out for that ritual until the very end, maintaining a great sense of tension throughout. We learn a little about the young journalist’s life, her budding career and her unfulfilling relationship. More interestingly, I felt, Janesch shows us the prejudices Nele faces as a Polish German – on both sides of the border.

The Polish are barely visible in the bulk of German literature, despite being such close neighbours. With one exception – my friend and fellow translator Isabel Cole has a theory that the Polish cleaning lady is the German equivalent to the Black mammy. Peter Stamm’s Sieben Jahre might be a case in point, contrasting an unattractive Polish woman with a successful and glamorous female architect, German of course. But then the very idea of it put me off so much I couldn’t bear to read it, so I may be wrong. The Polish-German writer Artur Becker has done much to right this imbalance, winning the Chamisso Prize for his work last year. Yet his best-known novels at least are set very much in Poland, not exploring cross-cultural issues to any extent. And from what I’ve read – only extracts, I’m afraid – Becker would appear to play rather a lot with the cliché of the vodka-swilling Pole.

Not that Janesch doesn’t let her characters indulge in a spot of vodka-drinking. There are family funerals and get-togethers with plenty of home-brewed liquor on the table. We see a close-knit family – but one with an unusual patriarch, Nele’s grandfather, a man who spurns Catholicism and most company. Very lovingly portrayed, he acts as a second narrator, telling his stories through Nele in a way that gets slightly less logical and plausible as the plot unfurls. But hey, by that point you’ll be truly caught up and you won’t even notice, I promise.

Because Nele sets out to return to her grandparents’ village in East Galicia. Not an easy task under today’s conditions, and with the whole family against the idea. One strand of the novel, then, is a road movie of sorts, with the narrator travelling in trains, buses, trucks and vans from Berlin to Ukraine, almost constantly delayed – much to her dismay as a punctilious German. Along her way, we learn about her grandfather’s life, first arriving in an abandoned farmhouse in Silesia where a sinister threat awaits him, then going back to what is now the eastern edge of Poland where he arrived as a traumatised refugee, and finally ending at the beginning in a remote Galician village where Ukrainians and Poles lived side by side until ethnic massacres began in 1944.

There is a dark secret in the family, of course, which emerges as the novel continues and drives the pace rather well. And the spooky elements from the extract are spread more evenly throughout the book, coming across as earthy superstition and folk magic, mainly in stark contrast to the modern-day characters and their lives. The novel bravely tackles a relatively unknown slice of history – conflicts not quite solved to this day between Poland and its neighbours on either side. Yet it brings that history down to a very personal level and ultimately has a conciliatory message, with the narrator coming across two women with rather ambiguous relationships to the respective “other side” on her journey to her family’s roots.

The prose and structure are tight and enjoyable, the narrator ever so slightly irritating in that way earnest young Germans can be sometimes – but she does develop a sense of humour and relaxes as the story goes on. All in all, Katzenberge is a very well-rounded novel that I can envisage would work extremely well in translation. Combining moving historical fact, an affectionate family portrait and a secret curse, it has a great deal to offer readers – small wonder then that Günter Grass wishes it many of them in large letters on the cover.

Monday 19 July 2010

More Kafka Boxes Opened

"Dearest Max, My last request: Everything I leave behind me [is] to be burned unread."

You probably know all about this already. Mark Tran sums up the state of play on Kafka's papers in the Guardian. I'm looking forward to Kafka: The Shopping Lists and Kafka's Top Twenty To-Do Lists.

Update: Kate Connolly reports from Berlin on why this is so fascinating. She only pretends to avoid using the word "kafkaesque".

Sunday 18 July 2010

On Displaying Translated Titles

Not long ago, I referred to the podcasts from the Helene and Kurt Wolff Symposium in Chicago, which I listened to in the bath and can thoroughly recommend. Various translators, publishers and clever individuals all talking about translation (in particular of German literature). And I believe two of the panels touched on the subject of whether international literature should be marketed as translations or just plain ole books.

There was some disagreement, and it's a tricky issue. In the past, publishers have tried various approaches, including printing the translator's name in tiny letters and hoping nobody noticed the book was written by a dirty foreigner. Obviously, this didn't meet with major approval on the translators' side. Now we seem to be seeing a slight backlash, with special bookstore displays dedicated to translated fiction. I was in London last week and paid a visit to my old local bookshop, a suburban branch of Waterstones.

And lo and behold, there was a special shelf labelled "Lost in Translation". (A brief aside - is there anyone out there who doesn't groan instantly the moment they hear this hackneyed phrase? I've lost count of the number of articles I've read with this headline, which always makes my heart sink. But that could just be me I suppose.) In fact, however, I walked past the special "Lost in Translation" shelf and my mother had to call my attention to it. And do you know why? Because all the books were a strange shade of browny-grey. I can only assume that either most published translations come in strangely unexciting jackets or that Waterstones carefully picked titles that colour-coordinated with this dull scheme.

I probably ought to have taken notes, because I instantly forgot which books they were - apart from Charlotte Roche's Wetlands, which stood out a mile with its fuchsia pink avocadoed cover. And I also noticed they had committed the great folly of stocking the old Vintage Classics translation of The Tin Drum - surely some mistake what with Breon Mitchell's infinitely more interesting new version out there, even down to its much more funky jacket. But the overall impression I retained is that these books were worthy and old and not terribly sexy, and would probably make you a good person if you read them all. Which you would probably do sitting in your bath chair in front of a blazing fire, gouty leg raised on an upholstered footstool.

Now elsewhere in the store, there was a good sprinkling of more colourful translated titles - Roberto Bolano and Bulgakov under "Bad Boys" or some such, Stieg Larsson under "Local Favourites". So they seemed to be taking a belt-and-braces type approach, or at least not ghettoising international literature as such. And of course we should probably be grateful that the mighty Waterstones is highlighting translated fiction at all.

But I have to say the whole sorry spectacle placed me once and for all in the No To Special Sections camp. I much prefer the way German bookshops display their titles: arranged by genre pure and simple, no matter where the books come from. So you get Sophie Kinsella piled up next to Kerstin Gier, Feridun Zaimoglu next to Zadie Smith. Of course the huge difference is that translations are a perfectly normal phenomenon here and certainly don't need special attention.

But still, in an ideal world my perfect English-language bookshop would go to the trouble of stocking international literature but place it on the shelves alongside the books' untranslated peers. Readers would come across less well-known books as they browsed, rather than being explicitly alerted to them as translations. The translators would be credited on the covers, as is increasingly the case in the US but still unusual in Britain. And yes, it can make sense to highlight translations through events such as the (now defunct?) Reading the World series in the States, but in my personal utopia international writers would always be teamed up with domestic talents - firstly to foster exchange, and secondly to draw a larger crowd.

And there'd be a never-ending range of world literature in English, some with sexy covers and some fine upstanding re-translations of classics. And some fine upstanding re-translations of classics with sexy covers. And genre fiction and throwaway beach reading and books that change your life, and the booksellers would have read them all due to a secret time machine in the back room that enabled them to spend five hours of every day reading but still man the store all day long. And books would be really cheap because the state would subsidise them out of a special tax on tobacco, saturated fat and fossil fuels, but writers would be allowed to write anything they liked. And, you know, everything would be awesome.

Friday 9 July 2010

Büchner Prize to Reinhard Jirgl; Mann Prize to Christa Wolf

Often referred to as the most prestigious literary award for German writers, this year's Georg Büchner Prize has been awarded to Reinhard Jirgl, as Deutsche Welle reports. His most recent novel Die Stille, longlisted for last year's German Book Prize, looks at a hundred years of family history through a photo album, using Jirgl's very own difficult orthography. Der Spiegel gets its prizes muddled up and proclaims:

In view of the bestseller success for the winners of the German Book Prize in the past years (including Uwe Tellkamp and Julia Franck), the jury's decision in favour of Jirgl is a consistent return to a literature beyond the realms of the easily sellable: Jirgl's books are not easy to consume - or, as the academy puts it in its press release, are "protected by the varnish of an avantgardist writing gesture."

Quite. The Büchner Prize honours a writer's entire work and comes with €40,000.

And seeing as the Germans have so few literary awards, the city of Lübeck and the Bavarian Academy of Arts have decided to create a new one, by the name of Thomas Mann Prize. You'd think it might have been taken already, but apparently not. Oh, actually it was, I've just realised, but as it was awarded by the city of Lübeck they would appear to have dibs on the name. The Thomas Mann Prize is dead, long live the Thomas Mann Prize.

Anyway, they've awarded it to Christa Wolf, again for her life's work. The jury said she:

"critically and self-critcally questions the struggles, hopes and errors of her time in her life's work, describing them with deep moral seriosity and exploring them into essential confrontations with myth and humanity."

Wolf's current big thick book, Stadt der Engel, looks at her time spent in Los Angeles in the early 90s, when it turned out that she had two Stasi files, one as an observee and an earlier, far thinner one as an observer. I must say this "German writer goes to America" genre is not one I'm overly fond of, and I shan't be reading the book.

Wolf takes home €25,000 for her trouble.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Three Percent Pingpong

Sorry to source all my material from one place, but if you haven't just come from there you should now go to Three Percent, where Chad Post enthuses about this feature on Benjamin Stein and his book Die Leinwand. It's a great little film in English, a good introduction to the book, but unfortunately I'm not in it - even though I saw the film crew at Stein's reading in Berlin in May.

And I love the way independent publishers can still get excited about books.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Wolff Symposium 2010

As Chad Post points out at Three Percent, you can listen to podcasts from the Wolff Symposium in Chicago from 21-22 June. The annual event is run by the Goethe Institut and brings together translators from German, editors and other people. Ross Benjamin was given the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translation Award (I'm looking forward to painting the town red with him when he comes over to Berlin as part of his prize). And there were panels, panels, panels.

I'm in the middle of listening to Daniel Slager from Milkweed Editions, Dennis Loy Johnson from Melville House, Jeremy M. Davies from Dalkey Archive Press and Annie Janusch of the Quarterly Conversation - talking about an increased interest in translated fiction. I'm pleased to hear Slager saying he's noticed a boom in young translators out there in the world, and I hope they'll all keep plugging away, sending unsolicited manuscripts and sample translations and generally getting on everyone's nerves.

It's rare that I feel I'd like to live anywhere else but Berlin, but this is one event that always triggers huge envy. But at least the rest of us can catch up with what went on at WBEZ.

Monday 5 July 2010

Katy Goes to a Book Preview

So I was aware of the existence of these events. They're kind of like the equivalent of the promotional fluffy gonk in the book world. Presumably publishers offset them against tax. Because what they do is, they invite a whole load of journos to listen to a writer, and to make sure they come they ply them with wine and finger food.

So being forever on the margins of the publishing industry - kind of like Mary Poppins, providing an essential service and very well loved but still never part of the actual family - translators don't get invited to these previews. Except me. Because I know a writer and I bumped into her on the street yesterday and she said, Hey, come to my book preview tomorrow!

So I did. And given that this is Berlin and the Berliners love to dress down, I thought I'd dress up - because how often do you get sort of kind of invited to an inner-city villa where Max Frisch used to hang out? Unfortunately the chance to wear my favourite dress was the only good thing about the evening apart from the ending, which I shall reveal in due course.

So for various reasons I missed the actual reading. And the interview session with a renowned journalist. I'm told it went well. But I arrived in time for the hanging out with wine and finger food. And here's the deal: it was truly and utterly dull. I don't know whether everyone else found it truly and utterly dull. Maybe they were having an amazing time exchanging pleasantries about the olives. Maybe they all knew each other and were catching up on some fascinating gossip. Maybe they all took classes at journalism and publishing school on how to enjoy shallow smalltalk and lukewarm white wine. What do I know? I'm only Mary Poppins.

So I beat a hasty retreat, seeing as the only person I knew was the writer, and it was kind of work for her, and also she was talking to someone I recently trashed on my blog. And here comes the good bit: I stole a book (not the one in question – I already have that) on the way out, and then got fantastically, pornographically soaked in a rainstorm on the way home.

So yeah, once again I'm mystified by the inner workings of the publishing world. I can see the point: a spot of mild bribery to soften up the critics. But I can't see what the critics get out of it other than a reading and an otherwise excruciatingly dull evening out. OK, they get a free book. But surely the publishers could just send them out by post and spare everyone the agony?

Update: By Jove, I think I've got it. It's all psychological. The journalists get invited to an exclusive preview. And they get to flirt with publishing people, and they get actually invited to an inner-city villa where Max Frisch used to hang out. And one of their number does some of their research for them to present the book and interview the writer. And it gets them out of the house, or the editorial office. And they can pretend to the publishing people that their lives are thrilling and worth envying. While the publishing people pretend the same thing back.

On Meeting the Author

I've written about it before, but it's such an odd moment that I feel the need to share all over again. Meeting the person who wrote the book you've been labouring over, chose the words you've been mulling in your mind for weeks and months, thought up the plot that's been accompanying you for such a long time.

It's an oddly misbalanced situation. Because as a translator, you have to creep into your own interpretation of the writer's mind and rewrite their words on their behalf. So of course you think you know them - but of course you don't. The writer, on the other hand, has no idea of their translator, except perhaps an impression they might have gained from a few sporadic email enquiries. Which is probably more reliable than trying to judge a writer through their work, no matter how intimately one knows it.

I'm always slightly wary of that meeting. I often try to put it off, or just not meet the writer at all. It feels almost like surrendering control over my own translation, sometimes. I quite like just watching people I've translated short pieces by read at events, but am them wracked with nerves when I go up to say hello afterwards. As a rule they're pleased, flattered, interested. A friend of mine once said she loves talking to writers, they're great listeners because they're permanently gathering material to write about. And she had a distinct déja vu when she read a particular sex scene...

Today I met up with Inka Parei, whose novel Die Schattenboxerin/The Shadow-Boxing Woman I'm translating. And it was pleasant, and productive, and of course it confirmed that I had no idea what she's really like. And we talked about Berlin - which is very much one of the characters in the novel - and how things have changed here, and how so many people live very much on the surface of the city without knowing the almost personal history of the places around them. And of course about the book, with a lot of gesturing and drawing and trying to find a common language in which to answer those niggling little translation questions.

Of course most translators don't live in the same country as the writers they translate, let alone the same city. But for the very lucky ones here in Germany, there are occasional stipends to get together and consult with the author, or to travel to the place where the book is set. And the Literaturfestival Leukerbad last week invited six translators out of German to a two-day colloquium with the Swiss writer Rolf Lappert, to really get down to the nitty-gritty. I'd be interested to hear how that went, by the way.

And no, I haven't met Helene Hegemann.

Friday 2 July 2010

Hotlist 2010 Starts Here

You might remember all the fuss last year about the independent publishers' alternative book prize. Or that might just be incredibly nerdy. Anyway, what happened was, twenty German independent publishers called each other up and said, Hey, let's have our own book prize! And they all threw one of their books in the hat and readers got to vote online. And of course it was all higgeldy-piggeldy and a mixture of fiction and non-fiction and translations, and all the rest of the independent publishers were terribly offended that they hadn't been invited to the ball, and one of them cast a spell on the princess so that she would prick her finger on her sixteenth birthday.

So this year a good fairy from the trade mag BuchMarkt waved her magic wand and has come up with what appears to be the most complicated selection process in the history of humankind. There are 110 books nominated in ten categories, from translated fiction to political non-fiction, and readers can vote for their favourite at the Hotlist 2010 website up to 10 August. Then seven of those go through to the final round. And then a six-person "international" (i.e. Swiss, Austrian and German) jury proposes another eight titles. And then these judges choose the winner, who gets €5000. Presumably there'll be some kind of gala awards ceremony at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

I've already voted, but I suspect I might have done something wrong. It's slightly too complicated for this weather.