Notes from NYRB Classics
“What happens, though, when it is all unsaid, is that you wake up one morning, no, it’s more like late one afternoon, and it’s not just unsaid, it’s gone. That’s all. Just gone. I remember this word, that look, that small inflection, after all this time. I used to hold them, trust them, read them like a rune. Like a sign that there was a house, a billet, a civilization where we were. I look back and I think I was just there all alone. Collecting wisps and signs. Like a spinster who did know a young man once and who imagines ever since that she lost a fiancé in the war.”
—Renata Adler, Pitch Dark
Grandmother had had to be frugal all her life, and so she had a weakness for extravagance. She watched the basin and the barrels and every crevice in the granite fill with water and overflow. She looked at the mattresses out being aired and the dishes that were washing themselves. She sighed contentedly, and, absorbed in thought, she filled a coffee cup with precious drinking water and poured it over a daisy.
—Tove Jansson, The Summer Book
This reader-submitted photo was taken at what looks like Verb Café in Williamsburg—right next to the excellent Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers—in late October. She writes, that on the “last of the autumn Sundays … you gather close to your steaming mug and open book; the last pages of summer.”
From the BBC adaptation of Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky
Now the tragedy and evil of buying a ready-made suit is this—that it ends, just like that, in “Yes. . . .” You think it would be a good idea if you bought a suit; you delightedly resolve to buy a suit; you work yourself up into a heavenly climax about a suit—and then suddenly it is all over and you are merely saying “Yes. . . .” You stare at it. You pat the pockets; you turn round and look at yourself sideways; you see what it would look like if it wasn’t buttoned. But whatever you do, there is nothing else to be said. “Yes. . . .” You look at the cuffs—but they’re no help to you—they’re excellent. You examine the lining—it couldn’t be better. Perhaps it is too tight under the arms. But it is not. It is no good. You are faced by the depressing fact that you are going to buy it.
—Patrick Hamilton, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky
Household described himself as “a sort of bastard by Stevenson out of Conrad”, and the literary genealogy for Rogue Male seems clear enough. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped (1886) began the “hunted-man” genre. John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) updated it for an age of geopolitics and aerial surveillance. Graham Greene’s A Gun for Sale (1936) extended its geographies and reversed the logic of pursuit, so the assassin became the quarry. From these writers Household learned the skill of pacing and the propulsive narrative power of the chase.
I first read Rogue Male 20 years or so ago, rapidly and unreflectively, pulled onwards by its plot. It was only later, and on several rereadings, that the complexities of its patterns began to reveal themselves. This is a novel of elaborate design. There are paired concepts – “cover” and “open”, “surface” and “depth” – that repeat and weave. There are motifs – notably sunken tracks, tunnels, and skins/skinning – that recur dozens of times in different forms. And there is a sustained analogy between land and mind, whereby the narrator’s access to his buried emotions is enabled only by means of a literal digging into the Jurassic bedrock of south-west Dorset.
The reader who sent in this entry into the Classics and Coffee Club notes that all the items in the photo were “bought in Seoul, KR.” The book itself was purchased at What the Book?, and English-language bookstore.
I sat there, full of petty worldly vanity, trying to memorize details of our conversation and thinking about my Moscow friends: soon I would be telling them how I drank coffee with Vazgen I, the Catholicos of all Armenians, and talked about Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy with him.
—Vasily Grossman, An Armenian Sketchbook
— Mmmm … ah … .
— Slrrrp …
— … . .
— Aaah … .
— … .
— Slrrp …
— … tea’s not bad.
— Better than the coffee.
— Aaah …
— … … …
— Slrrp …
— … . .
— … … . .
— … slrrrp… .
— … .
— Look … slrrrp …
— Fool …
—Vadimir Sorokin, The Queue
That’s not a flawed copy of The Queue in the photo above. The characters in Sorokin’s book are standing in line waiting for—what were they waiting for again?—and have fallen asleep, hence the blank pages (and the empty cup).
An orange/maroon/blue + feet trend.
More cover themes here.
A bitter winter evening grew a little brighter last night as we celebrated with a full house of Pierre Reverdy lovers at McNally Jackson in Soho. There were readings by Geoffrey O’Brien, Mark Polizzotti, Mary Ann Caws (pictured below) (and: psst, sorry that some of these photos aren’t of the highest quality!) …
…as well as plenty of French wine…
Thank you, thank you to our translators for coming out to read and to all of you who braved the cold for the sake of poetry.
[The quotation in the title of this post is from Reverdy’s poem, “Empty Numbers,” which Richard Sieburth translated and read at last night’s event.]
It Must in Fact Have Been Quite Cold
And all the buzzers in the house went off at once
Why have they brought so many bells and alarm clocks
From the tapestry where my body flattens in profile
hands like a platter asking for mercy I look
at my life from which I’ve withdrawn myself
Distances were done away with and yet everything
stays in place
All that’s lacking is a little air
The harmony of their lines is enough to keep each
piece of furniture solid
Yet sometimes they weren’t recognizable
The visitor is in the sitting room or at the door
waiting after having rung the bell
And all those who pass by hold their hats in their hands
But I can no longer come down
The tapestry is trembling
It’s too cold
Unfortunately Paul Auster will not be able to make it to tonight’s event at McNally Jackson as previous listed. However, Mary Ann Caws, Geoffrey O’Brien, Ron Padgett, Mark Polizzotti, and Richard Sieburth will all still be there reading from their translations of Reverdy’s poem and discussing his work (plus wine). And for those concerned about the temperature, the poem above (translated by Marilyn Hacker) is for you.