Weekly News Roundup, 24th January 2014: Overrating American literature, Libraries in flux, Ironical semicolons

A look at some of the most important literary news this past week

Xiaolu Guo’s got a bone to pick with American publishers. At a panel called “the Global Novel” at the Jaipur International Literary Festival, she (now-famously) remarked, “American literature is massively overrated,” and it was this week’s grumble heard ‘round the literary world. She has got some very good points—here’s the discussion in full—but that’s not the whole story. Via Three Percent, a rant in response.

Literature powers through in the face of social upheaval: amid harsh anti-protest laws in Ukraine, the Ukrainian PEN Club released a statement denouncing the government’s blatant infringement on civil liberties, calling for solidarity with the country’s outraged writers, journalists, and citizens. Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina has joined an upsurge of social activists, decrying the recent wave of institutionalized homophobia in Nigeria and Uganda. In China, censors pick an unlikely foe and begin cracking down on  astrology books (we didn’t see that one coming)… In the spirit of idiosyncrasy, take a look at the country’s 1960s-era Afro-Chinese propaganda. Extreme violence in Sudan has virtually obliterated any semblance of the country’s book culture, says poet Mamoun Eltlib. In Germany, an effort to record oral histories of Syrian asylum-seekers shocks and enlightens. In Iran, good news as musical instruments are shown onscreen for the first time in over thirty years. Finally, translation’s political power, exposed: Hannah Arendt and the Arab Spring, Charles Darwin speaks Arabic, and Erich Auerbach’s life in Istanbul.

Bookstores and libraries are bastions of lit culture we’re willing to fight for, and this week was marked by stories of destruction and hope. First, the bad news: in Tripoli, Lebanon, an antique bookstore boasting rare scholarly texts is scorched by political radicals, the much-loved Rizzoli Bookstore in New York City risks demolition, and the flagship of indie mini-chain Book City closes in Toronto.  Overall, however, things seem to be looking up in the world of letters:  in Baghdad, writers and artists honor the city’s historic book hub, Al-Mutanabbi Streeet, destroyed by a car bomb in 2007. The newly opened Gazi Husrev-bey Library in Sarajevo safely houses thousands of asylum-seeking books. In Srinagar, India, bibliophile Muhammad Latif Oata carefully protects the locally treasured Traveler’s Library despite not being able to read himself, and in Delhi, the nearly century-old Marwari Library continues to perform its library magic. In Latvia, a human chain passes every book hand-to-hand in the National Library’s move to its new location at the Castle of Light. Finally, the library of your dreams: Polish artist Agnieszka Kurant forges an imaginary library on phantom material.

Excellent news for translation lovers this week: small presses encourage more reading translated fiction, while UNESCO and PEN join forces to protect endangered languages in the new Minority Language Publishing Project. Across the world, if you’re a writer, it’s safe to say you’re poor—so boost earnings by taking cues from these clickable literary titles or following The New Yorker’s advice on the six things that make stories go viral that will amaze, or maybe infuriate, you. At Vulture, Kathryn Schulz picks out the five best punctuation marks in literature (take notes: that dash, comma, or colon speaks a language of its own), while one grammarian wonders if the semicolon in “TL;DR” is ironic.

Finally, poetry in Internet inanity: five Google search poems.