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The Sellout
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Booker Prize for Fiction > 2016 Winner: The Sellout

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message 1: by Trevor (last edited Jul 27, 2016 04:47AM) (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
The Sellout, by Paul Beatty

The Sellout

UK Publication Date: May 5, 2016
US Publication Date: March 1, 2016
304 pp

A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game.

Born in the ‘agrarian ghetto’ of Dickens on the outskirts of Los Angeles and raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, the narrator of The Sellout spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He was led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.

Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been wiped off the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident – the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins – he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.

In his trademark absurdist style, which has the uncanny ability to make readers want to both laugh and cry, The Sellout is an outrageous and outrageously entertaining indictment of our time.


Antonomasia | 2629 comments Very very sharp writing - comic writing this good is rare on Booker lists. I might be too tired & busy to read a whole novel this dense just now though: every sentence deserves full attention. So this may not be the book I finish next.


message 3: by Viv (new) - rated it 3 stars

Viv JM | 37 comments I am reading this at the moment. At about a quarter of the way through, I would say that it is a very funny read but quite exhausting, if that makes sense! Some of the sentences are so long and breathless and as a non-American I'm struggling a bit with some of the slang and pop culture references. I am glad to be reading it as an ebook so I can easily look things up as I go along!


message 4: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 456 comments I didn't find this book even remotely humorous, and unlike those who have said that they felt a barrier between the language and their full appreciation of the book because of a lack of familiarity with the popular culture he describes, I'm from LA and while a generation older than the author, had no problem following the references. But then I would rather clean outhouses than go to a comedy club, so maybe I simply don't appreciate a scatter-gun of pithy sentences.

That doesn't mean I consider the book a failure, and I certainly wouldn't accuse it of being poorly written. It is simply that I didn't like the style of writing, and I think way too much ink was wasted actually saying very little. The book is an examination of racism in the US, mostly black versus white racism. The author has no inhibitions about stepping on everyone’s toes with bluntness rarely encountered, and that is certainly a plus. Once in a rare while the author is serious, and makes a concise point, for example..."The problem is that we don’t know whether integration is a natural or an unnatural state. Is integration, forced or otherwise, social entropy or social order?" But mostly he hides behind the persona of a comic doing his schtick..."Dickens is an unincorporated city in southwest Los Angeles County. Used to be all black, now there’s hella Mexicans. Once known as the murder capital of the world, shit ain’t as bad as it used to be, but don’t trip."

A straw-man in the book is the lightly fictionalized mention of two Westside high schools that represent everything lacking in Dickens. For three generations my family, including me, have attended one or the other of those schools. Merely a factoid. I don't think it is relevant to my reaction to the book, but I'm fairly certain the author would disagree.


message 5: by Viv (new) - rated it 3 stars

Viv JM | 37 comments I have finished reading this and my general feeling was one of relief to have done so! I did find it very funny in places, but also found it rather irritating. I think at the end of the day, it just wasn't really my cup of tea (my review is here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1688629221)


Amanda (tnbooklover) | 99 comments Lascosas wrote: "I didn't find this book even remotely humorous, and unlike those who have said that they felt a barrier between the language and their full appreciation of the book because of a lack of familiarity..."

I completely agree with this assessment and while I'm not from LA I did live there in the late 80's and early 90's.

I don't really have much to add to what's already been said. I understand why some people really like this and why it's won accolades it just wasn't for me.


Matthias | 52 comments Near the end, the author writes: "Unmitigated Blackness is essays passing for fiction." For me, this sums up what the author is trying to do. It doesn't matter much whether you can laugh about the grotesque actions that take place. What is important is that we have here a fresh attempt at black identity, and I felt positively provoked. That being said, for a book like this I have to be in the right mood. It requires from the reader a certain amount of receptiveness for things different that I don't have every day. So while I think this book has immense cultural merit, its merit for me, today, has been lower.


message 8: by Doug (last edited Aug 30, 2016 01:02PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Doug My three star review:


"Unmitigated Blackness is essays passing for fiction." p. 277

That's more or less how I felt about this quasi-novel. While I could appreciate and admire much of the linguistic pyrotechnics and a few of the 'set pieces' (the Career Day chapter was a highlight - and I liked the character of Hominy - with whom I share a birthdate!), too often (for my taste, anyway), the book devolved into a rather uninteresting rant about race relations (... and I say this as an unabashed member of the 'Lost City of White Male Privilege'). Never as funny as others have made it out to be, I chuckled a few times, but never actually laughed at anything. I almost bailed during the Prologue, which was unbearably slow and incomprehensible, but once it got into the 'story' proper, it moved swiftly for me. But I could never really relate to any of it, and it annoyed me that there is never any resolution (unless I missed it) to the Supreme Court case... Nevertheless, am quite confident it will make it from the Booker longlist, to the shortlist, and might well be the eventual winner.


message 9: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10558 comments About 2 pages into this so a little early but....

This should have been entered for the Man Booker International, although only after someone has translated it into the Queen's English!


Antonomasia | 2629 comments I'm guessing you weren't a fan of 2014's The Wake then? (If you read it that is.)


message 11: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10558 comments I absolutely loved the Wake. If one read it out loud it made perfect sense - which admittedly did make it tricky to read on the train! I also found, interestingly, that my 8 year old daughter was able to read it very easily, as sounding out words was a skill that she had exercised more recently in her reading life than I had.

It didn't require constant access to google to make sense of it / simply letting whole paragraphs pass by uncomprehended. Just picking the sentence I happen to have just read: "downing mai tais and standing as close to Kristy McNichol's crew as possible so that security wouldn't f*** with us" (my censorship, incidentally I also hate swearing in books, it's not big and it's not clever) - who or what is Kristy McNichol.


message 12: by Doug (new) - rated it 2 stars

Doug Paul wrote: "I absolutely loved the Wake. If one read it out loud it made perfect sense - which admittedly did make it tricky to read on the train! I also found, interestingly, that my 8 year old daughter was a..."

Kristy McNichol was a child actress popular in America in the late 70's:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristy_...


message 13: by Hugh (last edited Aug 24, 2016 01:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3589 comments Mod
Doug wrote: "Kristy McNichol was a child actress popular in America in the late 70's ..."

... yes, but I agree with Paul that this is not exactly common knowledge to those of us who don't share Beatty's cultural background. I am still in the first quarter, and I am generally happy enough to let the odd unknown reference or two go - but I do get the feeling one can miss a lot that way. I can imagine quite a lot of this book being read out stand-up style, it is entertaining but I don't really see it as a potential winner.

I loved The Wake too, and had no problems with its language.


message 14: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10558 comments There are definitely some one liners that could give some of the Dave's Edinburgh Fringe winners a run for their money - the bimonthly meeting that "consisted mostly of the members who showed up every other week arguing with the ones who came every other month about what exactly 'bimonthly' means."

But 5 or 10 lines don't make the other 300 pages worthwhile.


message 15: by Will (last edited Aug 24, 2016 08:39AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will I wondered, after finishing this one, how it would read for people outside the US. I see that it has presented some problems. There were few references that I didn't understand since they are of a cultural nature that most people in the US (certainly ones of a certain age) would get, regardless of race (I had no problems as a white man.) I'm not generally a big fan of comic novels, but I thought this was so outrageous and so funny. But beyond that outrageous humor, it was also a novel that I found thought provoking. It made me think about the issues and questions of race in America that concern me, particularly in light of all the racial tensions we are currently experiencing. I can understand that it may not be to everyone's taste and may be a failure to those who don't find it funny or understand all of the references. However, for me it worked and I felt it was a smart, well written satire and certainly a worthwhile read for the issues it addresses.


message 16: by Antonomasia (last edited Aug 24, 2016 08:44AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Antonomasia | 2629 comments Will wrote: "I wondered, after finishing this one, how it would read for people outside the US. I see that it has presented some problems. There were few references that I didn't understand since they are of a ..."

Whilst I've not read that much of it, I would expect to rank it top based on what I know so far, if I get round to finishing it before the deadline.

I like it when translated books preserve local metaphors. I prefer online posts that don't explain cultural references and just use them (you're on the internet, you can look stuff up - and without the explanations they flow better, especially to someone who grew up reading UK music journalism). When I can give the time & concentration, I enjoy authors like Pynchon who employ more subject-specific and general knowledge than the average novelist. The Sellout was described as stylistically Pynchon-lite by some review, and that is a big selling point: similar fun but not quite so much work.

And I absolutely love that the author dares to bring humour to such a contentious issue. (I do generally like comic novels, unlike most in this group.)


message 17: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10558 comments "You're on the internet, you can look stuff up" - I am not on or have access to the internet while reading, which I do on the daily commute. If there is background research to be done that works, in fact I love books that make by want to find out about different periods of history or different cultures, but not when it's like the Kristy McNicol example - used in one sentence presumably for comic effect.

Perhaps that is one issue as I am very much a 20th century (or 19th) reader - e.g. I have never read an e-book and don't intend to any time soon.

My least favourite Booker winner of all time was Vernon God Little. And my least favourite shortlisted book of recent times To Rise At A Decent Hour. This combine the crass satire of the first with the annoying "humour" and overly-culture-specific references of the second to produce the perfect anti-novel for my personal tastes.


message 18: by Antonomasia (last edited Aug 24, 2016 11:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Antonomasia | 2629 comments Though the wifi is permanently off on my ereader (I load everything via USB) and I wouldn't read something like Pynchon when away from home. When I read Mason and Dixon for instance, I did research after every chapter, because I find that interesting, and also tried to contribute to a wiki where things had been missed. I had that book for over ten years before I read it - so am not implying there's space for that type of reading in everyone's life.
I wasn't familiar with McNichol but considered most of the other examples in your review and others comments below to be general knowledge. Deliberately steering clear of US fiction most of the time has meant I can now get more enthusiastic about cultural content when it does need to be looked up because it's more of a novelty. Which is only fair because I have got pretty wound up by American reviews complaining about British books that don't explain or translate content (there are plenty, but one example which sticks is a Lucy Worsley history book) - so I should accept the equivalent. Which can be interesting when it's a dense cultural experience like this, but tedious and disappointing when it's simply a matter of the odd "color" or "sidewalk" that an editorial assistant with a spellchecker could have sorted out in a couple of hours.

I thought To Rise Again... was a bit of a mess too though; always found the tone a bit off, not so with this one however.
I used to live with someone who was a part-time standup comic, so I may have greater comfort with the Sellout's type of delivery/ phrasing than the average.


message 19: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3589 comments Mod
Well I'm just over halfway through now and still finding plenty to enjoy, though the tone is relentless and I hope there are better things on the longlist. To put this in context, I quite enjoyed the Joshua Ferris, without thinking of it as a potential winner, and I'm happy enough with satire as long as it isn't too mindless. Incidentally I reached the Kristy McNichol line yesterday, and the sentence does go on to give a partial explanation of who she is after the bit Paul quoted. I'm now struggling a bit with the Spanish though - not a language I learned at school...


message 20: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10558 comments Thankfully I have finished this now. I'll shut up talking about it.

Just one final comment, from the last pages.

His father's name turns out to be ... F.K. Me.

Seriously! - in a literary novel talking about serious political issues?


message 21: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10558 comments Genuine question this time, rather the gratuitous abuse of the book...

Fruit is a big theme - the narrator is obsessed with it and the delicious nature of his fruit functions several times as a deus ex machina.

Is there political symbolism there? (I'm aware of the watermelon trope but it seemed to go beyond that)


Jonathan Pool I freely confess that I've not read a great deal of contemporary American literature written by black writers, and so it's taking me a while to 'get' the nuances and humour.
It does remind me a bit of 'A brief history of seven killings' which I came to love and regarded as a worthy Booker winner in 2015.
I normally don't want to know much (anything) in advance about the meaning of a book I'm about to read because it is bound to have somebody else's opinions influence my own. Just like not watching a film adaptation of a book. However, The Sellout is so disjointed, and it is so difficult to initially decipher what is anger and nasty, from what is funny and enlightening (in a positive way) that this is a book which does benefit from some background knowledge. I really liked it on an immediate, second reading, but not so much first time through.
I particularly enjoyed the renaissance of Dickens community and the centrality of The Farms. My favourite, cameo, character was that of 'Kang' Cuz, and I already find myself thinking 'no doubt.....' when I think it best to avoid a conversational contretemps!!


Susanne | 55 comments Paul wrote: "There are definitely some one liners that could give some of the Dave's Edinburgh Fringe winners a run for their money - the bimonthly meeting that "consisted mostly of the members who showed up ev..."
For me, the description of how his father told jokes at the comedy club in APA format was sublimely funny.


message 24: by Susanne (last edited Aug 30, 2016 11:12AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Susanne | 55 comments I have to admit I really liked this one, but like most of you here, I found it fatiguing but ultimately fulfilling: the 10 cultural references per minute, the long sentences, the endless tangents and non-linearity, etc.
Does it feel, as somebody above pointed out, like an essay masquerading as fiction? I would say yes, and while you can have all this intellectual depth, erudite humour and energy in an essay, over the length of a book, it does get exhausting. I wanted to tell the writer, "Slow down! Let us catch our breath!"
The author takes on white racism, well-meaning white liberalism, (not just black) intellectuals who descend into self-parody and hypocrisy and anyone who would try to convince you that identity are be easily defined. He spares no one. I would normally have given this book 3*, but I gave it an additional star for its balls.
I found myself chuckling very often- I liked Beatty's brand of erudite humour that often turned poignant. One of my favourite bits is the narrator's description of Career Day at the public school. It shows that any theorisation of a culture of poverty that keeps certain communities down is crap and that it is very difficult to escape the effect that the places and skin you were born into have on your chances in life.


MisterHobgoblin Paul wrote: "It didn't require constant access to google to make sense of it / simply letting whole paragraphs pass by uncomprehended. Just picking the sentence I happen to have just read: "downing mai tais and standing as close to Kristy McNichol's crew as possible so that security wouldn't f*** with us" (my censorship, incidentally I also hate swearing in books, it's not big and it's not clever) - who or what is Kristy McNichol."

Actually, the sentence goes on "so that security wouldn't fuck with us, thinking we were the teenage movie star's token black friends".

As it goes, even with your own truncated and bowdlerised quotation, you don't really need to know who Kristy McNichol is to get the idea. The sentence as a whole contains a world of meanings - about youth and trying to blag your way in, about black people being not quite welcome in a reggae bar, about white people trying to get street cred by associating with black people, about rich vs poor, about the ephemerality of celebrity.

But to then selectively omit the part of the sentence that addresses your own criticism is really poor form.


MisterHobgoblin The mark of a great novel is one that uses a story to convey a greater sense of understanding of oneself, or of society, or of a place or a time. The Sellout represents a long and complex exploration of race in the modern day United States.

This is not a plot driven novel. The plot such as it is finds our protagonist, Bonbon, aka The Sellout, living as a black farmer in a rough neighbourhood of Los Angeles formerly known as Dickens. Bonbon's mission is to resurrect the neighbourhood name through the creation of some kind of unifying identity. But given that the opening paragraphs find Bonbon on trial in the Supreme Court, it is clear that we are heading for some kind of disaster.

Most of the novel is in the form of episodes through Dickens's history, narrated by Bonbon and featuring local black personalities including a former actor in racist TV programmes, a bus driver, and a writer who is re-writing classing American novels to make black characters the heroes. It's basically an opportunity for Bonbon to riff about race relations and ask some pretty difficult questions about racism in a land where some (but not many) black people rise to high office. There are questions about whether black culture should exist at all, and if it does, what should it be? Should it focus on past injustice or should it focus on some unifying aspiration for the future? In this way, the novel goes beyond simple race relations and has a pretty good think about class structures in modern American society.

At the sentence level, the book is flawless. Every sentence drips with multiple meaning, innuendo and overt reference. It is tight and extremely funny. Funny, that is, if the reader can get over the discomfort of black people trying to recreate segregation in order to strengthen their cultural identity as victims of a central oppression.

But if the book does have a flaw, it is that the rich sentences make for very dense blocks of text that are not digested quickly. This relatively short novel is not a quick read. Whilst actually reading the book, it is an enjoyable if tiring experience. However, the reader may find themselves having to psyche themselves up to pick the book up for a fresh session. Occasionally it can feel a bit repetitive and the reader might be tempted to wish the writer would just get on with it.

Also worth mentioning that those gentle souls that get squeamish at swearing would be well advised not to pick up this book - perhaps they might consider reading Black Beauty instead.

But overall this is an excellent, ambitious and valuable book that gives a really good insight into the questions facing black American culture right now.

*****


message 27: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Excellent posts, MisterHobgoblin! I agree with you completely.


message 28: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3589 comments Mod
I can see both sides of this argument (or maybe neither) - it does seem somewhat flawed as a novel, mostly because it lacks narrative structure, but it is nowhere near as bad as Paul argues. My non-existent Spanish and very basic Latin let me down more than any lack of understanding of the cultural background.


Jonathan Pool No doubt, Mr Hobgoblin....with apologies to King Cuz!!!


message 30: by Paul (last edited Sep 04, 2016 03:57AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10558 comments MisterHobgoblin wrote: "Actually, the sentence goes on "so that security wouldn't f*** with us, thinking we were the teenage movie star's token black friends".."

Yes, fair cop - I genuinely stopped reading the sentence at that point (albeit my general view still stands), as to me a f word is a full stop as the author is telling me he or she has run out of vocabulary and had to resort to swear words. I am "a gentle soul that gets squeamish" in that regard, I would never use or say such words myself and I subscribe to the it's not big and it's not clever school.

So yes clearly not a book for me ( I still begrudge even one star), but I very much enjoyed reading and appreciate your views on why it was a great book for you. And to be clear, I'm not at all dismissing the issues the books raises which are clearly one of the biggest issues in the US at present.

Enjoying the debate, although I ultimately take the Brian Clough view of discussions!


message 31: by MisterHobgoblin (last edited Sep 05, 2016 01:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

MisterHobgoblin Paul wrote: "I genuinely stopped reading the sentence at that point (albeit my general view still stands), as to me a f word is a full stop as the author is telling me he or she has run out of vocabulary and had to resort to swear words. I am "a gentle soul that gets squeamish" in that regard, I would never use or say such words myself and I subscribe to the it's not big and it's not clever school."
It's a viewpoint, but it must be somewhat limiting. One of the joys of literature is being given a window onto another world - onto a part of society that is unfamiliar and potentially unsettling. In this case, we are looking at contemporary African American society in Los Angeles. If the first person narrator and the people whose speech is being reported all spoke in Jane Austen's language, it would compromise the authenticity of the experience. I don't think for a moment that the author put the word "fuck" in his narrator's mouth from any sense of being big or clever.

Some people may not use expletives, but many do. To eschew novels that include expletives is to eschew novels relating to a large part of society. A personal choice, but I'd prefer not to read books just about 'people like us'.


message 32: by Ang (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments I am not quite half way in but felt compelled to skim the thread to see what the disagreements are about.

I have barely noticed the swearing. Fine with me if swear words put you off, but you're going to miss out on some great literature.

As for the cultural references, I sometimes wish I was reading this on a kindle so I could slip through to Wikipedia, but I think that would disrupt the flow too much. I lived in the US for my first 30 years so I get most of them. However, I barely remember Kristy McN mentioned above, and I must have watched every episode of Family, because at that age and that time, it's what we did.

I like the book so far but I don't think it will make the shortlist. I will come back when I've finished and read the opinions fully, especially lascosas - I only read your first paragragh so far.


message 33: by Ang (last edited Sep 05, 2016 02:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments Antonomasia wrote: "Which can be interesting when it's a dense cultural experience like this, but tedious and disappointing when it's simply a matter of the odd "color" or "sidewalk" that an editorial assistant with a spellchecker could have sorted out in a couple of hours."
I disagree wholeheartedly with this. If this narrator was using the word pavement instead of sidewalk, I'd have no faith in the book and would probably stop reading it.

I remember when Indra Sinha's Animal's People was being prepared for US release and he joked about having it translated. I said that he shouldn't change a single word. We have to come across differences to learn about other cultures, and should expect those differences. He spoke to his publisher in the US who agreed. I believe this conversation took place on the old official Booker forum which has been wiped out, sadly.


message 34: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 05, 2016 02:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Antonomasia | 2629 comments Ang wrote: "I disagree wholeheartedly with this. If this narrator was using the word pavement instead of sidewalk, I'd have no faith in the book and would probably stop reading it."
I should perhaps have been clearer there: I hate this in translated books which have been left in the American English translation and don't get altered to UK / Australian etc English for those editions.
I'm also disappointed in books by authors of multiple nationalities who have both US and UK/Commonwealth citizenship or residence defaulting to the preferred US word rather than looking to a character's origins (the words that person might think in could be reflected in a third person narrative) or the scene's setting. These days some UK writers also use American words or spellings presumably to make books more saleable over there, but I've mostly seen that in popular fiction.

I agree that it would be silly for a book by an American, about Americans and set in America to change these terms.


MisterHobgoblin I agree with Ang that the author's original spelling and language should be respected across all markets. When a book is translated from a language other than English, I have no difficulty in reading an American translation with American spelling. I don't mind English writers using English spelling to narrate a story set on the US, or vice versa.

When it comes to differences of language (e.g. tap/faucet or nappy/diaper) then the author will have choices to make if writing on a Transatlantic basis and getting it wrong could jar the reader, which risks jeopardising the suspension of disbelief.


message 36: by Dan (new)

Dan Ang, Antonomasia, and MisterHobgoblin—Thanks for the interesting discussion. I found Tim Parks' essay on "The Dull New Global Novel" (in his Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books) thought-provoking on these and related points.


Antonomasia | 2629 comments Ah, yes, useful piece. I've linked that in several reviews, to the extent that my longer-standing GR friends are probably bored with it by now.


message 38: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 05, 2016 07:15AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Antonomasia | 2629 comments WRT the American spellings again:
Some publishers are keen on translation as a cultural project. I would like publishers to have more interest in a cultural project of using, and thereby extending, the lifespan of local varieties of English.

However, given the tighter profit margins that mean most books are quite poorly edited now, compared with say, 20 years ago, I doubt this will ever become widespread in terms of amending translations and the like.


MisterHobgoblin But using - and thereby extending the lifespan of - local varieties of English can best be achieved by allowing authors to use their own choice of local English and respecting that choice across all markets, thereby exposing more people to the rich varieties of our language. It actually doesn't matter if the reader is familiar with every last word, and there's nothing worse than heaps of expository dialogue to convey the meaning of some local word. Readers have brains (most of them, anyway) and should be trusted by both author and publisher to engage them.


message 40: by Antonomasia (last edited Sep 06, 2016 12:51AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Antonomasia | 2629 comments That was predominantly about editing translations for the relevant English language market.

Usage of American terms is pushing out other varieties, especially among people who grew up using the web, and I would like to see publishers in non-US territories do a little bit contra that, in particular in this area where it's not about the author's original words in the first place. (I've read plenty about prescriptive vs descriptive linguistics, but think there's nothing wrong with making a little bit of effort in this area.
Recalling parental dismay that I'd started saying "zee" instead of "zed" as a small child due to watching Sesame Street, and being corrected until I consistently used the English form again, and being encouraged to watch UK over US programmes, I'm now very much on that same page as an adult.)


message 41: by Ang (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ang | 1685 comments But hopefully you"re not suggesting that Sesame Street should have been edited or dubbed for UK transmission.


message 42: by Hugh (last edited Sep 07, 2016 02:41AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3589 comments Mod
Americanisation (note the English spelling) is a fascinating subject. To modern British eyes, the -ize ending is regarded as almost exclusively American, but even 50 years ago there were much more words spelled that way in English English. I find it particularly jarring when translations of European books have American spellings and local usages, but I think we have to accept that a translator will use what he/she is most comfortable with and that Britain is no longer the primary market for English translations.


MisterHobgoblin Actually, the "ize" is the English spelling and is preferred in OED.

As an Englishman who lives in Australia, I have to use "ise" and have to say "program" when I want to use "mme" and I die a little bit inside every time. But I still have to respect my paymasters.

I do find it sad when the boys say things like g'razh instead of garage or pants instead of trousers but I guess I have to go with the flow.

But by the same token, I expect Americans to use Americanisms and have no problem with non-native speakers opting for American spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary. The only qualification is that having made a choice, it should be applied consistently.


message 44: by Jibran (last edited Sep 06, 2016 06:51AM) (new) - added it

Jibran (marbles5) | 289 comments So, is -ise English or not English? Since it's definitely not the American way, and if it's also not English/British, then from where did it come? As a non-native I've made a conscious choice for British spellings and expressions because, for one, we've had a relationship with Britain such as we've not have had with America and, for two, because I've spent time in Britain but not in America.

I still prefer my child molesters to be spelt with an ae; I order a chequebook at the bank and walk on the footpath to work; I carry currency notes in my trouser pocket not the bills, which I throw away as soon as I leave restaurants; I've an instant dislike for words that omit the 'u' in colour, valour, labour etc (my spellcheck has underlined all three words as needing correction!); and I have shunned the ubiquitous zzzzeez of the American variety (which MisterHobgoblin's comment has put into doubt).

Antonomasia wrote: "Usage of American terms is pushing out other varieties, especially among people who grew up using the web."

The newer generation of my compatriots have shifted to American spellings without even realising (not 'realizing') that their parents used to write differently. American media products esp Hollywood has had a great influence in determining which spellings, expressions and pronunciations become mainstream. But among the old educated classes and in English language print media it is still common to see British spellings and even some of the old British terms which are obsolete in Britain but not in the Subcontinent - eg, out of station when someone is out of town, sentences prefixed with kindly instead of with please, challan for traffic ticket etc. My sister has opted for Americanism and she and I often "fight" about which is better.

I like to see local usage preserved in literature and hate it when publishers change the original to suit the local market (not talking about translations from non-English). You can do that with stuff that lasts a day or a month, like print media, but with literature I believe the reading public should make an effort to learn new or different ways of expression than expect everything to be presented on a platter. In context of Subcontinent's English-language literature, I also have objections to deliberate and unnatural Americanisation or Anglicisation of distinct local English diction and registers so that it sounds "correct." It is fine to choose the closest expression when there is no local alternative available but not when there is.

There would be readers who'd ask for a "translation" of The Palm-Wine Drinkard when in fact it is already an act of translation despite having been written originally in English.


message 45: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3589 comments Mod
In older English, whether -ize or -ise is used depends on the verb and was never entirely standardised (or standardized), for some verbs -ize used to be standard but in recent British usage -ise is almost always preferred.


message 46: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
Chris Phillips, whom some here know from other forums, posted his review of The Sellout over at my site here.

He's not having it, seeming to me more in line with Paul than many of the rest of you.


message 47: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1859 comments Mod
Incidentally, while editing Chris's review I had to re-Americanize some words :-) .


message 48: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10558 comments Trevor wrote: "Chris Phillips, whom some here know from other forums, posted his review of The Sellout over at my site here. He's not having it, seeming to me more in line with Paul than many of the rest of you."

A very thoughtful and well written review by Chris there, I must say.


MisterHobgoblin I think the Chris Phillips review misses just about every point by treating the novel as a single level exercise in telling jokes. It isn't. It is a deep cultural study into the constraints facing modern black society in the US; about the difficulty in dealing with a history of oppression and unequal opportunities in current society without resorting to playing the victim card; and about cultural expectations.

For example, the "joke" alluded to of the redneck, the Mexican and the black man each being given a wish - the redneck and the Mexican choose wealth and the black man chooses a coke - is about the lack of ambition and the lack of strategic thinking within the black community; but also juxtaposed against a man who is intelligent and thoughtful, who should have ambition beyond the bottle of coke, but feeling frustrated by the expectation that he should choose the coke.

The story about going to Mississippi to hunt for racism is about the determination within some parts of the back community to find racism - sometimes even by provoking a reaction through appalling behaviour and attributing the consequent reaction to racism - has parallels in society today. Are police hassling black people because of colour, or is it because the black people are carrying drugs, weapons and generally offending against the community?

The mixture of really bad cultural references and signs of erudition are representative of the perception that the black community is not allowed - and will not allow itself - to break free from the lowest common denominator and aspire to the middle class.

The point of The Sellout is that Bonbon (aka Me) is known as The Sellout because he is unwilling to conform to the low aspirations and norms of his own cultural group and aspires to live the life that his cultural peers complain so much about being excluded from. Hence, the suggestion of seeking out the victim role, exemplified by reintroducing segregation in order to provide an excuse for failure.

This, of course, also plays out against a backdrop where we realise that even if Bonbon does strive to achieve his full potential, he will still face institutional barriers that will make his task harder than that of his white counterparts. Racism does still exist, but perhaps not packaged up quite as conveniently as it did under segregation.

To my mind, Chris Phillips either didn't see the ideas at play in this work or chose not to engage with them. This has resulted in a somewhat superficial review based on a superficial reading of the text.


message 50: by Ctb (last edited Sep 07, 2016 06:01PM) (new)

Ctb | 197 comments Amen, Chris Phillips. His incisive review of The Sellout assuages anxiety that my brain has stopped evolving with the world. Chris uses every word in his review I’ve been thinking describes Beatty’s screed: puerile, HAM-FISTED, cheap, wholly unamusing, full of extraneous rants, crass, lacking in dexterity and subtleness (I use finesse and nuance for those last two)....

The Sellout is a copout.


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