This hard metal held up the new world. Some were shortsighted and thought they understood. Steel is born in the flames and sent out to live and grow old. It comes back to the flames and has a new birth. But no man could calculate its beginning or end. It was as old as the earth. It would end when the earth ended. It was deathless.
—from Blood on the Forge, William Attaway’s novel about the Great Migration and the journey of three brothers from the rural South to the harrowing steel mills of the North.
Blood on the Forge recently appeared in The Clarion-Ledger as one of ten “Top Mississippi Reads," and the staff at the wonderful TurnRow Book Company in Greenwood, MS, selected it as one of 20 must-reads for the winter. Not so recently, it was also selected for this “list.”
[Image: William Attaway; photographer unknown]
Denisov had tried inventing things—nothing got invented. He had tried writing poems—they wouldn’t be written. He started a treatise on the impossibility of Australia’s existence: He made himself a pot of strong coffee and sat at the table all night. He worked well, with élan, but in the morning he reread what he had written, tore it up, cried without shedding tears, and went to sleep in his socks.
Tatiana Tolstaya, “Sleepwalker in a Fog,” in White Walls: Collected Stories
Nice recursive effect on the latest photo in our Classics and Coffee series (even if some people have described the Tolstaya cover in less than glowing terms).
Do you have a picture of an NYRB Classic with a cup of coffee or tea? Send it to this address and we’ll post it here (making you an honorary member of the Classics and Coffee Club).
We had not eaten since the breakfast of cold coffee so the unexpected sight of a brightly lit restaurant was like an apparition, and even more so when we found it filled with seagulls that entered over the cliffs from the sea. I had never seen so many and had never seen them rising out of the darkness, swooping over the impassive customers, flying as though blind, stunned, crashing about like a band of drunken pirates boarding a ship.
—from Clandestine in Chile, Gabriel García Márquez’s re-telling of Miguel Littín’s undercover journey back to his native Chilé during the reign of Pinochet. The story is Littín’s, for sure, but Márquez—whose birthday is today!—gives scenes like this a special glow.
He had bet he could drink 15 absinthes in succession while eating a kilo of beef. After the ninth, Théophile Papin, of Ivry, collapsed.
In a dive in Versailles, the ex-priest Rouslot obtained with his eleventh absinthe the attack of delirium tremens that did him in.
—from Novels in Three Lines, by Félix Fénéon, in honor of National Absinthe Day. Obviously, these are examples of less-than-responsible consumptions of absinthe, and seeing as all of Fénéon’s three-line novels end in death, serious injury, or other forms of destruction, we don’t exactly encourage enjoying any day ‘the Fénéon way’ beyond reading the book.
[The image above is a drawing of Fénéon by Felix Vallottone taken from from Le Livre des masques (vol. II, 1898) by Remy de Gourmont (1858-1916).]
And the files…. he now understood the pleasure in throwing them on the ground. His files also landed, depending on their weight, with dull thumps or sharp claps; they also lay on the stained rug like corpses on a battlefield, giving him the illusion of some obscure victory.
The files were of flimsy brown, or thick yellow, paper. All seemed to be marked Urgent. His mind blanked out on the first page of each. He was supposed to sign somewhere, he would reason logically, otherwise the sonofabitch wouldn’t be in front of him.
—Upamanyu Chatterjee, English August
Our newest entry into the Classics and Coffee Club comes with the confession: “Shirking work by reading English, August.”
Do you have a picture of an NYRB Classic with coffee or tea? Send it to this address and we’ll post it here (making you an honorary member of the Classics and Coffee Club).
"Sex was going on all around us, in spite of danger and disruption; in spite of love." Joan Chase! @nyrbclassics— Nathaniel Popkin (@NathanielPopkin) March 4, 2014
Joan Chase’s During the Reign of the Queen of Persia (with an introduction by Megan O’Rourke) goes on sale April 15, 2014
I turned toward Rockefeller Plaza. There were crowds heavily leaning over the stone rampart looking down at the skaters in the skating rink. There was a rather stout man, in a checkered cap, clowning on the ice, and a little girl, completely costumed, doing astonishing figure eights and leaps, and a couple, she in a mink coat, he in a tuxedo, arm in arm, who must have thought it would be fun skating before dinner. I went down through the people watching into the English Grill to have a drink, and there was Vivian, in a short black velvet skating skirt, having a hot toddy at the bar. Lover, she said, how nice to see you. The hot toddy, steaming in its thick glass, looking medicinal as hell, was wonderful on a cold night, and she really went skating because half the fun was sitting at the bar in the short flaring costume, ordering a toddy; besides, she loved the trouble it put the bartender to.
—Alfred Hayes, In Love
This Classics and Coffee club entry is more boozy than usual, which seems right, given the setting for much of Hayes’s book …
Do you have a picture of an NYRB Classic with coffee or tea (or a beer or toddy)? Send it to this address and we’ll post it here (making you an honorary member of the Classics and Coffee Club).
—Sylvia Townsend Warner, Summer Will Show
If you’re in or around Seattle—for AWP or for other reasons—stop by Elliott Bay Books for their Indie Press Mingle at 4 PM tomorrow afternoon. Publicists, editors, and other staff members from Archipelago Books, New Directions, and New York Review Books will be on site and ready to gush about upcoming titles to anyone interested. It’s a rare opportunity, and sure to be lots of fun. Drinks + eats guaranteed.
For more information about the mingle, visit the Elliott Bay books page here and/or RSVP at the NYRB Classics Facebook event page here.
The jacket design for Slavko Goldstein’s 1941, which is published by the non-classics wing of New York Review Books, was chosen by Fonts in Use as one of the best uses of a typeface in 2013. Congratulations to Rumors Studio who designed that knock-out of a jacket.
The slightest word or gesture was enough to send us off into fresh paroxysms until we fought for breath and our cheeks were wet with tears. Bulgaria, it appeared, was one of the richest natural hashish gardens in the world. Cannabis indica thrives in embarrassing abundance. Its cultivation, which is scarcely necessary, and its smoking, my companions explained between puffs, were strictly forbidden: “Mnogo zabraneno. Ha! Ha! Ha!’ But the ban seemed about as effective as legislation against cow parsley or nettles. Regular smokers were few. It only came into play as an occasional lark. I longed for the opportunity to say ‘the party went with a bhang!’ The lack of opportunity to say so, however, didn’t stop me saying it, and dissolving in transports of hilarity at my own wit.
—Patrick Leigh Fermor on smoking Bulgarian hashish in The Broken Road. This third and final volume chronicling Leigh Fermor’s youthful walk across Europe comes out IN FIVE DAYS. Get excited.
Also, this passage confirms two things: (1) Leigh Fermor could be a total (but still charming) cheeseball at times (‘the party went with a bhang’?) and (2) he rarely turned down the opportunity to partake in the “occasional” local “lark” throughout his travels.
Tonight, NYPL Live's Paul Holdengräber will be speaking to Wes Anderson about that new flick of his, The Grand Budapest Hotel—and, we expect, a little bit about one of the main inspirations for the film, Stefan Zweig. Just a guess, but a good guess.
The event itself is sold out, but you can watch the live stream tonight from 7-8pm and learn more about the event here.
When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
'His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.'
—Hilaire Belloc., “On his Books,” collected in W. H. Auden’s Book of Light Verse.