“It was one of those evenings when everything and everyone has withdrawn from you as if by some conspiracy.”
“He was a terrific Oh nothinger, and his Oh nothings were certain omens of the utterance of anything but nothings.”
— Patrick Hamilton, Twenty-Thousand Streets Under the Sky
Archipelago Books needs your support to publish a hardcover edition of MY STRUGGLE: BOOK ONE by Karl Ove Knausgaard!
Help our friends at Archipelago Books raise funds so they can publish Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book One. Not only do we think publishing fine international works in English translation is a worthy cause, but even a small donation will get you the book!
The fact that quite a few NYRB Classics sport rather “inflammatory” covers recently became a topic of interest around here. We got to wondering if we’re all repressed pyromaniacs. Or if some mad marketing employee here decided that “fire sells.” Not that anyone buys a book for its cover or anything.
Underneath the sizzling exteriors of each of the above titles, however, is a really great story. Clockwise from the top-left:
Unforgiving Years, Victor Serge’s harrowing depiction of World War II, told from the streets of Paris, Leningrad, a destroyed city in Germany, and, in the aftermath, Mexico.
Memed, My Hawk, a novel by Yashar Kemal about a young boy growing up in a desperately poor village in Turkey. He attempts escape, fails, tries again and … you’ll have to read the book.
Hav, a one-of-a-kind novel in which Jan Morris wields her legendary travel writing skills to bring to life a completely fictional and utterly beautiful city. After reading this book, it’s hard to believe that Hav doesn’t exist in our world.
Blood on the Forge, by William Attaway. A devastating vision of the African-American Great Migration that follows the fictional Moss brothers’ escape from the rural South, only to find themselves in the inferno of the Northern steel mills. (The cover is, aptly, a photograph of molten steel. Youch.)
Fiery photo credits/descriptions in the same order: Antony Gormley, Waste Man, 2006; Waves of fire near cattle pens, Chase County, Kansas, 1990 © Larry Schwarm; Hav cover image © Lee Gibbons; Molten steel, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania © Nathan Benn/Corbis.
“I’ve made some coffee. You do drink coffee, don’t you?”
“No,” said Katri pleasantly. “I don’t drink coffee.”
Anna was taken aback, more astonished than hurt. Everyone drinks coffee if it’s offered. It’s only proper; you do it for the hostess’s sake. She said, “Tea, perhaps?”
“No thank you,” said Katri Kling.
—Tove Jansson, The True Deceiver, translated by Thomas Teal
Spotted at the Foyles flagship store on Charing Cross Road, London.
"With the sudden appearance of a “liberal” Pope…there may be no more serendipitous moment to be thinking again about the writer J. F. Powers."
—Adam Gopnik, “'America's Cleanest Writer Goes His Lonely Way': The Letters of J. F. Powers,” The New Yorker's Page-Turner blog.
In this review of the recent collection of Powers’ letters, Suitable Accommodations, Gopnik attempts to explain the National Book Award–winning author’s fall from readership grace, landing on the simple conclusion that this writer of Midwestern Catholicism and priestly ennui might simply be too Catholic for contemporary America.
Powers’ novel, Morte d’Urban, which won the National Book Award over Nabokov’s Pale Fire (and over Updike’s Pigeon Feathers and Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools), and The Stories of J.F. Powers are also available as NYRB Classics.
P.S. Powers self-deprecatingly dubbed himself “America’s Cleanest Writer” in a letter to a friend, but presumably before he wrote that scene in Wheat that Springeth Green where his young (semi-autobiographical) hero has a three-way with two neighbors—and proceeds to repeat the act every day for the next three weeks. You know, the typical pre-priesthood antics.
Now, here’s a picture of Powers apparently pitching for a Little League Baseball game…
Our friends at London Review Bookshop compiled a list of their Top Ten Most Popular Fiction Books to commemorate turning ten, and guess what?! The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (in a lovely edition from Jansson’s UK publisher, Sort Of Books) and The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge top the list.
Congratulations, London Review Bookshop, and thank you for being such great supporters!
“That’s why we become witches: to show our scorn of pretending life’s a safe business.”
— Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes (1926)
She became a physician because it seemed a good idea to her and because it didn’t seem a good idea to relatives and friends.
— Rose Feld, New York Times (1939), in her review of S. Josephine Baker’s memoir, Fighting for Life, which is now available as an NYRB Classic.
Baker, a plucky, indefatigable woman, revolutionized child health care in New York City in the early 20th century and her simple medical guidance transformed “the suicide ward” that was the Lower East Side (1 in every 3 children died before their fifth birthday) into an emblem of the healthiest city in the world. Oh, and by the way: she also caught “Typhoid Mary” Mallon—twice.
Some of the programs Baker started are still in use today, but they definitely came from humble beginnings. Here are some of the “guidelines” first suggested to Baker by members of her “Little Mothers League”—essentially, young girls from the Lower East Side who would help Baker train mothers in the proper way to care for their children:
"Don’t give the baby herring"; "Don’t give the baby beer to drink"; "Don’t leave the baby run in the mud-gutter"; "Don’t let the baby eat dirty things from the floor that she threw down at first; also pickle"; "Don’t scream on the baby"; "Don’t try to awaken its intelligence and make it laugh";** "Don’t leave the baby alone in the carriage and play with your friends"; "Don’t give the baby sour cucumbers"; and, as a lurid touch which probably recalls some harrowing experience of the family next door: "Don’t leave the baby sit on the stove."
So basically, things were pretty bad in the Lower East Side.
**We might question this one, though…
Human love is a frightened thing with half-shut eyes: It dives into the dusk, skitters about in dark corners, speaks in whispers, hides behind curtains, and puts out the light.
I do not begrudge the sun. Let it peek—so long as I am there too—under the unsnapping snaps. Let it peep through the window. That doesn’t bother me.
Yes, I have always been of the opinion that for a love affair midday suits far better than midnight.
—the opening of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s story, “In the Pupil,” which will be published by NYRB Classics this December in the original story collection, Autobiography of a Corpse.
Krzhizhanovsky’s work was considered so subversive that much of it was too inflammatory to even show to a publisher. His philosophical and boundlessly imaginative stories completely ignored injunctions to portray the Soviet state in a positive manner and, as a result, never even saw the light of day until 1989.
Autobiography of a Corpse, newly translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull, will be the third book by Krzhizhanovsky in the NYRB Classics collection, which already includes the author’s surreal novella The Letter Killers Club and another story collection, Memories of the Future. We can’t think of a better way to end Banned Book Week than to celebrate his courageous, phantasmagorical work.
So, it’s National Dog Week, and while we love Banned Books Week, we absolutely don’t want to forget our furry friends, either. To celebrate, we thought we’d share all of our children’s dog books. All of them. Plus one dog-themed NYRB Classic. Ready, set…
By Rhoda Levine | Illustrated by Edward Gorey
A family moves into a new house and finds a sheepdog waiting—but waiting for what? Does the dog want dinner? a lollipop? a stray cat? conversation? No, what the dog wants is—a name! But you can’t just choose any name for a grown-up dog. No, it has to be the right name.
By Betty Jean Lifton | Photographs by Eikoh Hosoe
The adorable Runcible, a Weimeraner, digs a hole from Cape Cod to Japan, where he discovers Taka-chan, a little girl imprisoned by a sea dragon. Runcible will do anything to free his new friend. The two head to Toyko, and there answer the dragon’s challenge to find the most loyal creature in all the land.
Foxie: The Singing Dog
Written and Illustrated by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
The d’Aulaires bring Chekhov’s story of a lost little dog to life with their beautiful illustrations as the sassy and talented Foxie—”with her head like a fox and her tail like a cinnamon roll”—finds adventure wherever she goes.
By William McCleery | Illustrated by Warren Chappell
Okay, so maybe a wolf isn’t exactly a dog, but this book is just too cute: a father regales his five-year old son with tales of a fierce wolf and the son keeps interrupting and changing the story, totally usurping the bedtime storytelling.
By Sheila Burnford
The story of a small dog caught up in WWII who transforms the lives of people escaping occupied France. Can someone say heartwarming?
By J.R. Ackerley
Until he found himself in possession of a German shepherd named Tulip, J. R. Ackerley never considered himself much of a dog lover. That all changed, though, and this touching book tells of the 16 years Ackerley spent with the animal he came to adore. This book inspired a beautiful animated feature of the same name, voiced by Christopher Plummer and Isabella Rossellini. Watch the trailer here.
"I have written in my book what I believed, and continue to believe, to be the truth. I have written only what I have thought through, felt through and suffered through."
— Vasily Grossman, 1961, in a letter to Khrushchev upon the confiscation of the manuscripts for his WWII masterpiece, Life and Fate. The novel was considered so dangerous by Soviet officials that not only the manuscript, but also the ribbons upon which the novel was typed were confiscated. Now that’s pretty “dangerous.”
To celebrate this tremendous achievement of dissident literature, here’s the haunting opening chapter of Life and Fate, masterfully translated by Robert Chandler:
There was a low mist. You could see the glare of headlamps reflected on the high-voltage cables beside the road.
It hadn’t rained, but the ground was still wet with dew; the traffic-lights cast blurred red spots on the asphalt. You could sense the breath of the camp from miles away. Roads, railway tracks and cables all gradually converged on it. This was a world of straight lines: a grid of rectangles and parallelograms imposed on the autumn sky, on the mist and on the earth itself.
Distant sirens gave faint, long-drawn-out wails.
The road drew alongside the railway line. For a while the column of trucks carrying paper sacks of cement moved at the same speed as an endless train of freight wagons. The truck-drivers in their military greatcoats never once looked at the wagons or at the pale blurred faces inside them.
Then the fence of the camp appeared out of the mist: endless lines of wire strung between reinforced-concrete posts. The wooden barrack-huts stretched out in long broad streets. Their very uniformity was an expression of the inhuman character of this vast camp.
Among a million Russian huts you will never find two that are exactly the same. Everything that lives is unique. It is unimaginable that two people, or two briar-roses, should be identical… If you attempt to erase the peculiarities and individuality of life by violence, then life itself must suffocate.
The grey-haired engine-driver watched casually yet attentively. Concrete posts, revolving searchlights on high masts, and glass-domed towers flashed by. In the domes stood guards with mounted machine-guns. The driver winked at his mate and the locomotive gave a warning hoot. A brilliantly lit cabin passed by, then a queue of cars beside a striped level-crossing barrier and a red traffic signal.
From the distance came the hoot of an approaching train. The driver turned to his mate. ‘That’s Zucker. I can tell by the whistle. He’s already unloaded. Now he’s taking empty wagons back to Munich.’
There was a deafening roar as the two trains met. The air was torn apart, patches of grey flashed past between the wagons—and then the torn shreds of space and grey autumn light were woven together in a seamless cloth.
The driver’s mate took out a pocket-mirror and looked at his smudged cheek. With a gesture, the driver asked if he could borrow it himself.
'Honestly, comrade Apfel,' said the mate excitedly, 'if it wasn't for all this disinfecting the wagons, we'd be back home by supper-time. As it is, we'll be out till four in the morning. As though they couldn't be disinfected back at the junction!'
The old driver had heard this complaint many times before. ‘Give a good long hoot,’ he said. ‘We’re to be put straight through to the main unloading area.’
—Okay then, I’ll wait. You been queuing long?
—How many are they giving per person, d’you know?
—God knows…haven’t even asked. Do you know how many they’re giving out?
—Don’t know about today. I heard yesterday it was two each.
—Uh-huh. First was four each, then two.
—Not a lot, huh! Hardly worth waiting, really…
—You should get into two queues at once. Those guys from town have got places in three different queues.
—Then we’re going to be here all day!
—Nah, don’t worry. Service is very quick here.
—I’m not so sure. We haven’t budged an inch…
—from the opening of Vladimir Sorokin’s aptly-named and once-banned debut novel, The Queue, in which comrades line up for…nobody knows. Apples? American jeans? Someone heard there would be ice cream. But maybe not?
Sorokin’s work was suppressed in the Soviet Union all through the 1980s, but even his later, post-U.S.S.R. work has been considered inflammatory: the 1999 publication of his novel, The Blue Laird, which includes a sex scene between the clones of Stalin and Khrushchev, incited public demonstrations against the writer and demands that Sorokin be prosecuted as a pornographer.
Sorokin’s apocalyptic tour de force, The Ice Trilogy, is also available as an NYRB Classic.