Saturday, February 14, 2015

NYRB Classics: some of my favorites

For years, I've been wanting to do an event on NYRB Classics. The premise is simple: we ask three or four confirmed Festival authors to "champion" their favorite NYRB Classics book and defend it at a round-table event.

I've never been able to make it work for various reasons (though not giving up) but being a champion of NYRB and while reading Silvina Ocampo's Thus Were Their Faces in bed last night, I started wondering how many NYRB books I had in my library at home. A fair number it turns out. (I even have in my collection The Invention of Morel by her husband, Adolfo Bioy Casares.)

I think the first NYRB I bought was Mavis Gallant's collection Paris Stories. I may have even bought it in Paris now that I think about it. I've read and re-read this one many times and I love "The Moslem Wife" and several other stories in that collection which I could read and re-read every year and never grow tired of them.

I also love Natsume Soseki's The Gate which is one of those books whose images have stayed with me for years: a young couple who bitterly resign themselves to never being able to have kids and soon find themselves in a downward spiral.

Robert Walser's Berlin Stories is fascinating and when I was going through my Berlin literature phase a couple of years ago, I remember getting this one in the mail with the biggest smile on my face, knowing I would spend the entire next day on my sofa reading it. He's one of the most unique European writers...

And Eileen Chang's Love in a Fallen City is one of my most favorite books ever. Period. There are long passages of this collection that I practically know by heart.

The stroke of genius (or one of them) is that the editors ask really interesting writers to do the Simone Schwarz-Bart. Often these introductions or prologues or prefaces are just as interesting as the works themselves. So we have Helen Oyeyemi introducing Silvina Ocampo, Pico Iyer introducing Soseki, and Jamaica Kincaid introducing (the very under appreciated) Simon Schwarz-Bart. The main reason I bought George Simenon's Dirty Snow, in fact, is that I'm a huge fan of William T. Vollmann and I wanted to read what he thought about Simenon.

I don't love every NYRB (I find Stefan Zweig a bit thin though he's a fascinating character himself) but I love many of them and once something comes out in that familiar format, it rockets to the top of my list. (Really looking forward to Naked Earth by Chang and The Prank: the Best of Young Chekhov).

One could easily spend all one's time reading only NYRB collections and never have time to read anything else. Oh, in a perfect world...

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