Anyone with a literary pulse noted (and mourned) the passing of former United States poet laureate Mark Strand (here’s a primer to some of Strand’s work, which “moved from common to sublime,” as well as an interview with the Paris Review). And the United Kingdom lost its queen of crime fiction, P. D. James. Finally, another poet passed, but was rediscovered: some of beloved Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca’s remains may have been uncovered, perhaps (but only perhaps) offering some answers to those still mystified by his tragic death-by-firing-squad.
Meanwhile, straight talk: Chinese officials have banned puns and excessively idiomatic speech in all national media. In a language so rife for the punning, it seems a bit drastic to ban them outright in the interest of “linguistic purity”—what’s really behind the Orwellian edict? And in a contrary (though admittedly less drastic) move, the Russian government has vetoed the proposal to cut down on foreign films by 50 percent, a proposal initially supported by the upswing in anti-Western European sentiment but ultimately nixed.
The year-end listicle has begun: the New York Times’ list of 100 notable books is perhaps one of the most anticipated of the year, and this year it includes some Asymptote-related highlights, such as blog-reviewed F by Daniel Kehlmann (and translated by Carol Brown Janeway). If you’d rather stick to an even list, take a look at the Times’ 10 best books of the year, which unfortunately do not include any translations, but look promising nonetheless. Altogether more user-friendly is NPR‘s innovative Book Concierge, which allows you to identify the year’s top picks according to preference (the concierge includes the Latin American crime issue of McSweeney’s Quarterly Review, featuring gems translated by Asymptote alum Megan McDowell, as well as The Man with the Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi, which we featured in our July 2013 issue).
The Times makes a double (triple? quadruple?) shoutout on the roundup this week, as its “Bookends” column begs the question: What makes Russian literature so darn distinctive? (Here’s an accompanying infographic visually articulating elements of its notoriety). And, via the New Yorker, the story of how one of Russian/English/French language’s greatest geniuses and nitpickers Vladimir Nabokov embarked on a journey of authorial re-translation. Or listen to the New Yorker‘s great fiction podcast, in which Russian Aleksandar Hemon reads Nabokov’s short story “Pnin,” which would later become the first chapter of the novel of the same name.