Thursday, December 02, 2010

NYRB: Ten Favorites

Others have tried their hand; I will try mine--ten favorites from the formidable catalog of NYRB Classics:
  • Alexander Berkman, Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist.  Oddly sympathetic account of a man who made it his life plan to be an assassin.
  • Alexander Wat, My Century   A triumph of endurance and preserved humanity under unimaginable stress.  Like so many who lived through the worst the Century had to offer, he died a suicide.
  • Nirad Caudhuri, Autobiography of an Unknown Indian.  Another hymn to civility and good order under another kind of stress.
  • Richard Cobb, Paris and Elsewhere.  The most straightforwardly refreshing of NYRB's "we'll always have Paris" line.
  • Yashar Kemal, Memed, My Hawk. Said to be hugely popular at home in Turkey.,  Though nominally a  novel, it is clearly intended to convey the reality of peasant life in the rural Anatolia.  I wonder how far it succeeds, how far it is a romantic delusion
  • Murray Kempton, Part of Our Time: Some Ruins and Monuments of the Thirties.   In the 50s at Antioch, people used to scoot down to the libraries on Thursday so they could catch Kermpton's pyrotechnical wisdom in the radical/liberal New York Post.  The memories are not quite mine but they form the substrate out of (or into) which mine emerged.
  • Andrei Platonov, Soul.  Here's one I had never heard of until NYRB came along.  Billed as a Russian writer, I think he might almost be better understood as Central Asian, or at the very least one who writes about the encounter between the two.
  •  Victor Serge, The Case of Comrade Tulayev.  We never knew, the old lefties used to say, what a miserable tyrant Stalin really was.  Serge knew, and told the truth movingly and directly while lots of people were still in denial.
  • Rebecca West. The Fountain Overflows.  An unexpected delight. I've long been a great fan of her Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, but I really wasn't prepared for the energy and vivacity of this loosely-jointed ramble through women's lives on the edge.
  • J. F. Powers, The Stories of J. F. Powers.  An old favorite, rediscovered.  Powers wrote novels with NYRB also reprints, but he is one of those for whom the (longish) short story is the perfect form.  "Lions, Harts, Leaping Doves," ranks right up there alongside "That Evening Sun" or "Lady with Lapdog" or "My Dovecote."
Review:  I see that I favor nonfiction over fiction, Europe over America, the implications of World War II over all else.  I'm already startled and chagrined and what I have left out.  Where is Mavis Gallant, Rose Tremaine, Janet Hobhouse, Gregor von Rezzori Olivia Manning, J.A. Baker (I notice that the A-list is mostly men, the B-list,  mostly women; and my point is--??)?  Where are a dozen others (I think I've read about 100)?  Which is not to say that their list is unerring: I persist in my conviction that Curzio Malaparte is a narcissistic fraud; that there is a bit more Leonardo Sciasscia and George Simenon than they really need; and that Gershom Scholem really didn't get the point of his own story.  Oh, and way too many former consorts of Robinson Jeffers.  But it's a noble venture, executed with great skill and mostly good judgment.  I want them to keep at it for years to come though I suppose this kind of publishing venture either runs out of good material or just starts jumping the shark.  Before that, they should quit.

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