We’re really into NYRBs.
Is there an award for best bookstore staff recommendation? Because Green Apple Books would take it year after year.
Here’s a close-up of their Moravagine recommendation and it is a sight to behold.
Notes from NYRB Classics
Tonight! NYRB and Read Russia are teaming up to celebrate the publication of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Autobiography of a Corpse. NYRB Classics editor Edwin Frank and translator and critic Liesl Schillinger will discuss Krzhizhanovsky’s life and dazzling body of work.
The event will take place at 2nd Floor on Clinton and begins at 6:30PM. We promise you, New Yorkers, that this will be worth braving the snow/rain/slishy-sloshy mix.
RSVP and find more information here.
An old Indian folktale tells of a man forced to shoulder a corpse night after night—till the corpse, its dead but moving lips pressed to his ear, has finished telling the story of its long-finished life. Don’t try to throw me to the ground. Like the man in the folktale, you will have to shoulder the burden of my three insomnias and listen patiently, till the corpse has finished its autobiography.
—from the title story of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Autobiography of a Corpse. The NYRB Classics book club on Goodreads is reading Autobiography of a Corpse during the month of December, so if you want to think more about what it means to listen to a corpse (or what it means when a pianist’s fingers run away, or how past lovers live on in our minds—literally), join in!
P.S. This story makes a really nice companion to Zadie Smith’s recent article in The New York Review of Books, "Man vs. Corpse."
This whole story would have remained hidden under the starched cuff and sleeve of a jacket, if not for the Weekly Review. The Weekly Review came up with a questionnaire (Your favorite writer? Your average weekly earnings? Your goal in life?) and sent it out to all subscribers. Among the thousands of completed forms (the Review had a huge circulation), the sorters found one, Form No. 11111, which, wander as it would from sorter to sorter, could not be sorted: On Form No. 11111, opposite “Average Earnings,” the respondent had written “0,” and opposite “Goal in Life,” in clear round letters, “To bite my elbow.”
—the opening of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s story “The Unbitten Elbow,” from the collection Autobiography of a Corpse, which hit shelves today! Maybe a certain New York Review of Books should run a similar questionnaire…
Also, just a little reminder:
Please support our Kickstarter to purchase an Australian shepherd puppy, to be named Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, for the office.— NYRB Classics (@nyrbclassics)
This confession—shall I call it?—is written to keep myself from brooding, to get down to what happened in the order in which it happened. I am not content with myself. With this pencil and exercise-book I hope to find some clarity. I create a second self, a man of the past by whom the man of the present may be measured.
—from Geoffrey Household’s thriller Rogue Male. These are all good reasons to write, whether or not you are on the run from a vicious dictator’s secret police.
The NYRB Classics Goodreads Book Club is currently reading Rogue Male (and developing a lot of tantalizing theories about the reliability of this self-proclaimed “confessor” in the discussion forum). Next month’s pick is Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Autobiography of a Corpse. This is super exciting. Don’t hesitate to join in the fun.
Lastly, please do watch all or part of this clip from the 1976 film adaptation of Rogue Male, starring Peter O’Toole:
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.
Writers, in essence, are professional word tamers; if the words walking down the lines were living creatures, they would surely fear and hate the pen’s nib as tamed animals do the raised whip.
Certain writers are too weird to fully belong to their own time. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky—a Soviet writer obsessed with Kant and Shakespeare, whose own life barely rippled beyond a small coterie of Muscovite writers before his death in 1950—is among them. Krzhizhanovsky wrote philosophical works of fiction that veer between chattiness and, in the fine translations of Joanne Turnbull and Nikolai Formozov, unexpected elegance. They are tales of bodies suspended between life and death, of an animated Eiffel Tower that rampages across Europe, and of towns where dreams are made literal. To read these stories is to be buttonholed by a slightly mad but unfailingly interesting stranger desperate for a sympathetic ear. In Krzhizhanovsky, we find the aphorisms of a dime store philosopher and the polyphony of a schizophrenic.
- from a review of The Letter Killers Club, the recently published Krzhizhanovsky novel translated by Joanne Turnbull, in Bookforum. The collection of his short stories, Memories of the Future, is also mentioned in Jacob Silverman’s review.
According to Zez, any idea committed to paper is committed to death. To preserve ideas in their purest form, they are spoken. And so, every Saturday Zez and six companions, called ‘conceivers’ and referred to only by nonsense syllables, gather in a room filled with empty bookshelves as one member holds the floor to tell his ‘conception.’ The reader is invited into this world as leader Zez brings the nameless narrator — a literal stand-in for the reader — to the Club as an observer. Thrown into this environment, the narrator is as amazed as he is puzzled, and it is hardly surprising when he learns that the dynamics of the room are not all well and that there is another reason for drawing this eighth armchair around the fire.
To conclude our celebration of Banned Books Week we are taking a look at a different type of censorship. This one does not come from an authoritarian bureaucrat, worried about the public’s response against the regime; but from the cultural elite, in league with the political power of the day, maintaining the status quo in art and literature. Such as is the case of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, whose works were only published in 1989, after being discovered in a Soviet archive. Here’s Adam Thirwell on the matter from his review of Memories of the Future:
"In 1924 a collection of Krzhizhanovsky’s stories, Fairy Tales for Wunderkinder, was accepted for publication, but the publishing house went bankrupt before the book came out. And so begins the sad history of Krzhizhanovsky’s impossible publications. In 1928 and 1929 he wrote more stories, a screenplay, and a play. None of these appeared in public. On April 23, 1932, the Central Committee of the Communist Party created the Union of Soviet Writers, with Maxim Gorky appointed the first chairman. In the same year, Gorky stated that stories like Krzhizhanovsky’s ‘would hardly find a publisher,’ and if they did, and managed to ‘dislocate a few young minds,’ he added, would this really be desirable?
In effect, his opinion made Krzhizhanovsky definitively unpublishable. The next year, Krzhizhanovsky’s Academia edition of Shakespeare was canceled. In 1934, another play, The Priest and the Lieutenant, went unstaged. A collection of stories that was provisionally accepted by the State Publishing House was stopped by the censors. That year, the First Congress of the Writers’ Union set the terms of socialist realism. Gorky’s speech, ‘Soviet Literature,’ contained this helpful sketch of future subject matter:
'Life, as asserted by socialist realism, is deeds, creativeness, the aim of which is the uninterrupted development of the priceless individual faculties of man, with a view to his victory over the forces of nature, for the sake of his health and longevity, for the supreme joy of living on an earth which, in conformity with the steady growth of his requirements, he wishes to mould throughout into a beautiful dwelling place for mankind, united into a single family.'”
Valeriy Kozhin's animated adaptation of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's short story “Quadraturin”—about a mysterious substance that transforms small spaces (in this case a Soviet-era shared apartment) into large ones. “Quadraturin” is collected in Krzhizhanovsky's Memories of the Future.
Coming this winter: Krzhizhanovsky’s The Letter Killers Club