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A blog about books

Notes in the Margin

A blog about books
C. J. Schuler is a freelance writer and journalist specialising in literature, travel and the arts. He has written regularly for The Independent, and has contributed to numerous other publications including the Financial Times, The Tablet and the New Statesman. He is currently Chairman of the Authors’ Club.

Under the volcano

Posted by C. J. Schuler
  • Friday, 23 April 2010 at 08:29 pm
As the dust settles - literally – on the 2010 London International Book Fair, agents and publishers are weighing up the damage in terms of cancelled meetings and lost opportunities as flight restrictions prevented many foreign visitors from reaching Earls Court. Normally the major publishing event of the year, at which deals are done, international rights are negotiated and titles are pitched by agents, it was eerily quiet when I attended this week.

A letter from the fair’s organisers, distributed on the final day, estimated that overall attendance was down by a third. One agent told me: “70 per cent of my meetings have been cancelled, and I’ve heard that story all over. Only the French and Dutch, and those who got here early, made it."
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Prize collection

Posted by C. J. Schuler
  • Sunday, 18 April 2010 at 04:24 pm
Congratulations to Pietro Grossi, whose book Fists has been shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Italian author was a guest blogger on this site last year. His collection of three spare and elegant tales of young men coming to terms with adult life is translated by Howard Curtis and published by Pushkin Press.

It wouldn’t be the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize without a book translated by the ever-prolific Anthea Bell, and this year there are two on the shortlist: the German novelist Julia Franck's The Blind Side of the Heart, which hinges on a mother’s enigmatic decision to leave her seven-year-old son behind on a railway platform in Germany in 1945, and The Dark Side of Love by Damascus-born Rafik Schami, who has been living in political exile in Germany since 1971.

The other shortlisted books are:

Brodeck’s Report by Philippe Claudel, translated by John

Broken Glass by Alain Manbanckou, translated by Helen Stevenson

Chowringhee by Sankar, translated by Arunava Sinha

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Stay at home and read a good book

Posted by C. J. Schuler
  • Thursday, 15 April 2010 at 11:08 pm
I went for a walk in Sydenham Woods (pictured) in south London this evening to listen to the birdsong and watch the sun set through the hornbeams under a London sky completely free of vapour trails. With all air traffic grounded as a result of the volcanic eruption in Iceland, it was extraordinarily peaceful – and it must have come as a blessed relief to anyone who lives in the flight path of one of our major airports.

What strikes me as odd is the outrage and bewilderment of passengers interviewed on the news that an act of nature could interfere with their travel plans. Of course it’s frustrating when your holiday is cancelled, but we don’t have a God-given right to go wherever we want, whenever we want. In case we have forgotten, we live in a natural world, much as we try to keep that knowledge at bay. Just a century ago, high winds in the Channel could cut off the country completely.

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Anthony Quinn’s The Rescue Man (Jonathan Cape) has won the 2010 Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award at a dinner held last night at The Arts Club.

British novelist Amanda Craig, this year’s guest adjudicator, praised the shortlist as containing six exceptionally well-written, well-plotted and pleasurable first novels, “which do credit to the judges of the Author's Club First Novel Award and to a vintage year in fiction. Each had distinct strengths in terms of comedy, atmosphere, emotional power, characterisation and style; all are rewarding to read. But in the end Anthony Quinn's The Rescue Man won by virtue of displaying all these qualities in a mature, beautifully crafted novel about love, loss and architecture in the Liverpool Blitz.”
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You don't have to be Jewish ...

Posted by C. J. Schuler
  • Saturday, 27 February 2010 at 02:22 pm
The Jewish festival of Purim begins on Sunday. It’s a joyous celebration, sometimes called the “Jewish Mardi Gras”, commemorating Esther’s deliverance of the Jews from a massacre. It’s appropriate, then, that Jewish Book Week 2010 opens tonight at 8.30 with “A Purim Spiel with a contemporary twist” entitled Sex, Lies and Regal Japes; The story of Esther, the sex-crazed king and his evil counsellor. Hosted by David Schneider, its all-star cast includes the actress and comedian Debbie Chazen, the columnist David Aaronovich, novelists Kathy Lette and Anita Diamant, historian Simon Schama and many others.

Whether you’re Jewish or not, JBW is quite simply the capital’s finest literary festival. Lively, varied and stimulating, it sparkles with wit and sizzles with fearless discussion of the issues of the day. An unashamed celebration of the life of the mind, it is refreshingly free of the ghost-written celebrity trash and memoir-hawking politicians that infest the schedules of other so-called “literary” festivals.

There is no space here to do justice to the wealth of readings, discussions and other events, but here are a few highlights:

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Across the divide

Posted by C. J. Schuler
  • Thursday, 11 February 2010 at 03:30 pm
In 1959, C P Snow delivered his celebrated Rede lecture The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, which he deplored the mutual incomprehension with which the world of science and the arts viewed one another. Half a century on, can things be said to have improved?

The Space for Thought Literary Festival, held appropriately at the LSE, aims to explore the boundaries between the “two cultures”,asking what can be learnt in the borderlands between social science, natural science and the humanities about mind, self and society.

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Authors’ Club Best First Novel longlist

Posted by C. J. Schuler
  • Friday, 29 January 2010 at 02:12 pm
The Authors’ Club is delighted to announce the longlist for its Best First Novel Award of 2010. The shortlist will be announced on February 9th and the prize presented at a dinner at the Arts Club on 7th April. This year’s guest adjudicator is Amanda Craig, who will select the winner from the shortlist.  

The longlisted books are:

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Van Gogh in perspective

Posted by C. J. Schuler
  • Wednesday, 20 January 2010 at 06:31 pm
I was lucky enough to be at the opening of the new Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy last night. It all seemed a far cry from the troubled life of the artist: the bearded Academicians with their gong-sized medals hanging from red ribands; the young fogeys in tweed and the ageing rockers in leather; the corporate sponsors in suits eyeing their BlackBerries nervously and discussing hedge funds sotto voce; the women in ra-ra skirts and geometic earrings, whose fashion sense was formed at St Martin’s College in the Eighties and hasn’t changed since; the mwah-mwahs, the ‘oh, look, there’s Melvyn Bragg’s and the ‘isn’t that David Hockney’s; the bresaola and rocket canapés …

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Interlocking spaces: Self, Sebald, Zweig

Posted by C. J. Schuler
  • Friday, 15 January 2010 at 04:46 pm
First, congratulations to Anthea Bell, who has won the 2010 Schlegel-Tieck prize for German translation, for her work on Stefan Zweig’s compelling novella Burning Secret. It has been a good season for Bell, one of the finest translators around. In December, The Independent named her one of its “literary heroes of the Noughties”,  and she has now been appointed an OBE in the New Year Honours for services to literature and literary translations.

Nothing if nor versatile, Anthea Bell has worked on everything from Astérix, to Freud and Kafka, and in recent years she and the admirable Pushkin Press have done much to bring the works of Stefan Zweig to an English-speaking readership and revive his reputation as a major writer of the 20th century. (You can listen to the novelist Paul Bailey discussing Zweig with Anne McElvoy on Radio 3’s Night Waves here.)

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Dig for victory

Posted by C. J. Schuler
  • Thursday, 7 January 2010 at 04:35 pm
snowy streetA brief digression from the usual book-related postings today with a rant about the weather. Three days after snow fell in London, our street is like a skating rink. Since it’s on a fairly steep hill, this has caused the predictable traffic problems: those able to move their cars at all risk skidding into one another or into parked vehicles. One neighbour was out in the street on her mobile complaining to the council: a futile gesture, I thought, since by the time they come round it will probably have melted.snowy street

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