1. "The turkey came from the store so it was all right."


    Sometimes, but especially in the fall, it seemed to Tommy that he came from a very bloody race: old ladies encased in dry skins and topped by stuffed birds, drawing their dusty, lifeless smell from ancient animal corpses; slaughtered creatures served at the table and glistening with pink juices; even their plates were garlanded with heaps of dead game, the tureen and serving dishes—relics of his mother’s mother’s family—with the heads of living animals whose mild eyes stared at him from beneath the glaze. Tommy imagined his father—he wasn’t old enough to go hunting from the camp so he could only imagine it—tracking the deer through the dark forest, following the spoor, finger loosely clasping the trigger of the rifle he had carefully cleaned and oiled until it gleamed, waiting to fell and gut the animal that this Thanksgiving Day was hanging by its heels, belly slit and ribs wrenched open, from a rafter in the garage behind the house, awaiting the knives of the butcher.

    —from William McPherson’s novel, Testing the Current, which tells the story of Tommy MacAllister, coming of age in the U.S. Midwest. Despite Tommy’s seeming aversion to the bloody business of animal slaughter, however, he’s able to suppress his conviction when it comes to the Thanksgiving turkey: “the turkey came from the store so it was all right,” he notes pages later.

    Here’s to the struggles of both the sublimating and conscientious eater on Thanksgiving! But really, here’s to taking time to reflect, with or without that store-bought turkey.

    (Panting by Dutch artist Joachim von Sandrart.)

  2. Happy 4th of July!


    The Hutchins and a lot of other people were there the night of the Fourth of July when everyone gathered on the Sedgwicks’ shrinking but still spacious front lawn and waved sparklers and watched the fireworks that the Indians set off. It was his mother’s birthday party, too. She was forty-six. Her birthday was really on the third, but they always celebrated it on the fourth, with fireworks—’the way a birthday ought to be celebrated,’ his father said: ‘with a bang.’ It wasn’t a big fireworks show—there were only a few of them—but it was very pretty, and it was fun to see the explosions bursting in the sky, the showers of colored sparks, the faces of the people in the dark suddenly illumined with a kind of pale flickering glow, like fireflies.

    —From William McPherson’s Testing the Current, a bildungsroman told by the ten-year-old protagonist Tommy MacAllister, about growing up by the Great Lakes in the 1930s.

  3. "It seemed to Tommy that he came from a very bloody race."

    Tommy peered through the opening at the opaque skies, straining to catch sight of the birds which, if the hunters were lucky, might drop down to feed and thus be blasted from the sky. This was supposed to be fun, but Tommy didn’t see anything fun about it. It was cold and wet and gloomy. If he moved, his father’s hand would stay him; if he spoke, he was hushed. Nobody could say a word of even move quickly for fear it would alarm the birds, who knew the sound of human voices meant trouble. The waiting was interminable. If this was a man’s world, Tommy thought he’d just as soon remain a boy.

    —Our eight-year-old hero, Tommy MacAllister, describing his trip hunting in William McPherson’s Testing the Current, a novel set in northern Michigan during the late 1930s. Tommy declines to eat the caught game, but doesn’t oppose meat bought at the store.

  4. "This significant comeback of an American classic."

    Maybe if the book had bombed, Bill would have remained primarily a journalist, but Testing the Current was met with the kind of reception writers fantasize about. In my copy of the original, I stuck three of the reviews that  greeted the novel’s appearance. Russell Banks, in the NY Times, opens his piece with this: ‘William McPherson’s first novel is an extraordinarily intelligent, powerful and, I believe, permanent contribution to the literature of family, childhood and memory.’  People proclaims that Testing the Current is ‘a beautiful first novel that provides a sharp, glowing portrait of a Midwestern town on the eve of World War II. McPherson’s loving attention to detail and the … funny, moving point of view keep the writing constantly fresh and involving.’ USA Today says the novel  ’…is brilliant. In places it is absolutely breathtaking.’ 

    —Terence Winch on William McPherson and the reception of his debut novel, Testing the Current, when originally published in 1984. Mr. Winch had attended the conversation between McPherson and literary critic Michael Dirda held last Saturday at Politics & Prose in Washington, D. C., and wrote about it on the The Best American Poetry blog

  5. William McPherson in conversation with Michael Dirda


    William McPherson, one-time daily book editor at The Washington Post and later founding editor of its Book World section, will be in conversation with current Washington Post literary critic Michael Dirda on the former’s debut novel, Testing the Current, at Politics and Prose in Washington D.C. on Saturday, January 26th at 6:00 p.m. Testing the Current was originally published to critical acclaim in 1984—Russell Banks called it “permanent contribution to the literature of family, childhood and memory”—and recent reviews concur.

    "Unmarred by sentimentality, false epiphanies, or forced drama, this novel both elegantly depicts a specific class in a specific time and conveys with rare understanding and subtlety the inevitable poignancy of growing up."—The Atlantic

    "[T]he clarity and precision of the prose, the ‘American’ voice, the focus on family, memory, time, and change — all did remind me of those two great books [William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow and John Williams’s Stoner]. However, despite the easy comparisons, Testing the Current held me under a spell of its own making.”—The Mookse and the Gripes

  6. "Shimmering and lithely transgressive"

    That summer morning, in the distance, Daisy Meyer bent her blond head over her club, a short iron for the short sixth hole, in effortless concentration on her practice swing. Still engrossed in her projected shot, and seemingly oblivious to the murmurings of the women on the porch, she walked over to the ball, addressed it, and crisply shot it off. For a moment the vision was fixed, motionless, beyond time—left leg straight, right knee bent, arms, shoulders, hips following through, ball suspended in flight—before the breeze stirred the leaves of the elms, her body unfolded, and the ball descended in its slow arc to the green, where it rolled to within a few feet of the cup, as, far across the fairways, the river began to flow again in the sunlight, catching it, and sending it back in sharp, dazzling beams of light.

    —The opening paragraph of William McPherson's Testing the Currenta coming-of-age novel set in a small Midwestern town in the late 1930s. If there isn’t a better case for letting women become members of The Augusta National Golf Club we haven’t read it (yes we know they let two women in last year, but one of them was Condoleezza Rice so we don’t count it). 

  7. “A writer may write for a variety of reasons, and many of them lie about what the reasons are, but finally he does not write for himself alone—or at least he hopes not. He wants and needs to hear his own words resonate, to have his vision reflected and refracted in the eyes and ears and sensibility of another, and then others —and he hopes there will be a lot of others. To touch the mind and the heart of another, a direct and intimate and utterly private connection, there is never enough of that.”

    — William McPherson, the editor and Pulitzer prize–winning critic whose novel Testing the Current we’ll be publishing next year, has a brand-new blog (McPherson’s Lament). You should most certainly follow it. The man knows a thing or two, and his voice is a delight.

  8. Fall 2012 Books Preview: Part II

    Yesterday we posted the first half of our Fall 2012 list, and today we are previewing the second half. This does include all of the imprints under the New York Review Books umbrella, which includes NYRB Classics (all the titles yesterday were Classics), The New York Review’s Children’s Collection, The Little Bookroom, and NYRB Collections.

    Happy Moscow by Andrey Platonov: Andrey Platonov, relatively unknown and unpublished at the time of his death, is now fully recognized as one the great Russian authors of the 20th century. NYRB Classics continues its series of his books with this early and unfinished work about a young girl who accepts Stalin’s tenets of a new utopian world, only to discover the tragedy that underlines the forced modernization of the Soviet Empire.

    Testing the Current by William McPherson: A classic bildungsroman on the New Deal era, Testing the Current is a remarkable debut novel by a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, and was highly lauded on its publication.

    The Gate by Natsume Soseki: A novel of tribulation in love throughout the years, all in the understated style that made Soseki so celebrated. Soseki, widely considered the greatest Japanese novelist of the Meiji era, believed The Gate was his best work.

    The Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck: A Prussian conservative aristocrat, one might expect that Friedrich Reck would have supported Hitler in his quest to make Germany dominant. In fact, Reck aggressively rejected Nazism in his journals, buried in his garden at night for safekeeping, journals that Hannah Arendt called “one of the most important documents of the Hitler era.”


    Cheerful by Palmer Brown: Cheerful is an adorable little story about a city mouse who wants to visit the country, wonderfully accompanied by Brown’s, author of Something for Christmas and Beyond the Pawpaw Trees, filigreed illustrations

    Pinocchio (illustrated) by Carlo Collodi: One of the best known stories of all time, though mostly through the Disney film. This edition with illustrations by Fulvio Testa—one of Italy’s most distinguished artists—is a perfect way to introduce children to this timeless story, through a translation by award-winning poet Geoffrey Brock.

    Wolf Story by William McCleery: This book is made to be read aloud by parents. Each night, Michael’s father tells stories about Waldo the Wolf’s constant attempts to catch Rainbow the Hen. Of course, the story continues and changes each night, often with firm directions from Michael himself.


    The Angels of Paris: Looking Up in the World’s Most Beautiful City by Rosemary Flannery: Angels have always exerted fascination among many people. So has Paris. Little surprise, then, that from the Sorbonne to the Théatre du Châtelet, the architecture of Paris is frequently decorated by sublime sculptures of Angels. Angels of Paris describes the history of these architectural messengers of God, with photographs, and allows the reader to study them at home or on a trip to the City of Lights.


    Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays on Classics and Pop Culture by Daniel Mendelsohn: A collection of Daniel Mendelsohn’s criticisms and reviews, mostly from the pages of The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. Mendelsohn’s essays provide a unique way of looking at contemporary culture, based upon a firm understanding of Classical Studies.