A few miles away across the East River was the apartment he could never get used to, the job where he had nothing to do, the dozen or so people he knew slightly and cared about not at all: a fabric of existence as blank and seamless as the freshly plaster wall he passed. Soon his wife would return from New Jersey. Soon everyone would be back, and things would go on much as they had before. From the street outside came the sound of laughter and shouting, bottles breaking, voices droning in the warm air, and children playing far past their bedtime. It all meant nothing whatever to Lowell. Standing in the parlor of a house no longer his, listening to the voices of people whose lives were closed to him forever, contemplating a future much like his past, he realized that it was finally too late for him. Everything had gone wrong, and he had succeeded at nothing, and he was never going to have any kind of life at all.
From A Meaningful Life by L.J. Davis. Someone give Lowell Lake a hug, please.
There was always some book or other in his study, with a bookmark at page fourteen, which he had been reading for the past two years.
— From Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, in the new translation by Donald Rayfield. Published by NYRB Classics.
SOME OF MY READING PLANS, aka: THE FUTILE RAMBLE:
And so I plod on with my own little ambitions—to amass as much of the dead-people-literature that I want to read, which involves reading a lot of the Oxford World’s Classics [oh, that unrelenting white spine] and amassing more of NYRB Classics, too. I’ve also just recently bought Proust’s Swann’s Way—partly because of the heathenhood factor, partly because I trust Lydia Davis’ translating prowess. I’ve bought this beautiful annotated and unexpurgated edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as yet another edition of Jane Eyre. I want to read Frankenstein, too, and Dracula, and Moby-Dick. I’ve bought Anna Karenina, and one of these days, I am taking a deep breath. I want more of Sherlock Holmes. And then there’s Raymond Carver and Richard Yates—we need reunions, we do—them, and Wilfrido Nolledo and Kerima Polotan. I want more of the books people have forgotten over time but are recently rediscovering—it’s not unlike being privy to a great secret, not unlike being part of a movement. I want more dead writers in my shelves, more people-characters that have grown timeless right in my head, were they justly belong. I just want more. [x]
Here in this uncertain world, money, property, the permanent things—they’re all unreliable. The only thing she could rely on was the breath in her lungs, and this person who lay sleeping beside her. Suddenly, she crawled over to him, hugging him through his quilt. He reached out from the bedding and grasped her hand. They looked and saw each other, saw each other entirely. It was a mere moment of deep understanding, but it was enough to keep them happy together for a decade or so.
From Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang. Translated by Karen S. Kingsbury, published by NYRB Classics, devoured by me.
(via “From your window, can you see the moon?” « Sasha & The Silverfish)
The NYRB Classics that you most want to read next?
Delicious question, Anon. My heart is a-flutter. Aherm. So, what follows are the books from this kick-ass publisher that I would love to read next, soon, soonest—in no particular order, hah:
The NYRB Classics in my shelves:
- Irretrievable by Theodor Fontane.
- A Journey Round My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy.
- Flaubert and Madame Bovary: A Double Portrait by Francis Steegmuller. I’m trying not to reread Madame Bovary [I love Lydia Davis’ translation; I don’t think I would have ever discovered that Emma Bovary was my spirit animal were it not for her], but maybe I could read this?
- The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig. Because Zweig is love and I want to reunite with Zweig. But am almost afraid to open this because it’s the last unread Zweig in my shelves.
- Boredom by Alberto Moravia. Because I remember saving up for two months before buying this book and now that I have it and it’s been in my shelves for longer than that, well, that makes me sad.
- Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang. The second NYRB Classics I ever owned, a gift from an aunt. [The first was Stoner.] I really ought to get on this.
The NYRB Classics that, unfortunately, are not in my shelves:
- I just discovered this, actually [um, two hours ago?]: The Mirador: Dreamed Memories of Irène Némirovsky by Her Daughter by Élisabeth Gille. I love me my Némirovsky, and have been really curious about her life ever since that first book of hers I read. Sigh. Also, I want to know what that subtitle means.
- Love’s Work by Gillian Rose.
- Acts of Passion by Georges Simenon. I’ve read a negligible fraction of Simenon’s prolific body of work, but, you know, you can never have enough Simenon.
- Born Under Saturn: The Character and Conduct of Artists by Rudolf and Margot Wittkower. I really do need this in my life.
My answer is quite obviously the cheat-y kind.
Vilhelm Hammershøi, Interior, Strandgade 30, 1908. The cover art of the NYRB Classics edition of Irretrievable by Theodor Fontane.
“Let’s wait for winter. The first, the second, the third winter… Let’s wait for monotonous evenings of this place, the courses of the moon, the howling-wolf nights. We’ll just have to make sure to wind the clocks each day, bury our memories, sit in tranquility by the warm fireside, play enough tric-trac, and never, ever write letters without each other’s knowledge, no matter how overcast the twilight.”
“I’ll be waiting for you.”
“Let crazy life rush headlong on the highway, for others; we shall contemplate the sunflowers, watch them sprout, blossom, fade away. Yesterday they were still giants, but now, in autumn, they are thatch on the roof.”
The last lines of Sunflower by Gyula Krúdy, translated from the Hungarian by John Bátki, with an introduction by John Lukacs. Published by NYRB Classics.
(via Sasha & The Silverfish)
Nights in the gardens of Brooklyn—yes, that’s just the way it was. The boys came home from the war. They were probably men then but we tended to say “the boys.” If home was New York they would probably live in Brooklyn, at least until they were sure they didn’t want to go west to San Francisco or south to New Orleans, or to some countryside to become a farmer. As in Nights in the Gardens of Brooklyn, the girls were waiting. Of course they were probably women by then, but we referred to ourselves and our friends as girls until the women’s movement told us not to and we happily agreed. Before all of us young women and men lay the amazing GI bill, work, and life.
From Grace Paley’s introduction to the NYRB Classics edition of Harvey Swados’s Nights in the Gardens of Brooklyn. Good god, doesn’t that make you want to go get this book and read it? Right now?
Loved this collection! Reminds one of, well, Richard Yates. [Though spaghetti-monster forgive me if I use “Richard Yates” as shorthand I will write about the truest thing I know, and damn it all if it won’t hurt you and tear you to pieces.]
A favorite story is, “A Year of Grace.” At its surface, post-war restlessness and, well, love: Small-town boy marries the pharmacist’s daughter. But, it’s really about a woman who falls out of love with her husband, or, well, maybe realizes that she never loved him at all. Oh, heart.
He was not infuriating, he was simply comical, sitting there hunched over the wheel in his shorts that he insisted on wearing a little too long and waiting to be reassured that he was right and the vegetable lady was wrong. There was no need for her to lose control, no need to answer him in kind; in fact, if she really wanted to hurt him she had only to ignore his implied request for support, or to turn it down. But she had no desire to hurt him, she discovered, nor even the wish to assert herself or to explain herself to him. She was simply not interested any longer in Burton, in his work, or in what he thought of her. This in itself was such a shocking realization that it made her feel weak and a little dizzy, and, in the moments that it took for them to reach the wind-scudded seacoast, happier and more lightheaded than she had ever been. So this, she thought, is why I’ve been working so hard all those long weeks on my French. And it struck her that just as a woman’s body will prepare her almost magically to experience the great physical and emotional events of her life, so her mind, deviously, almost furtively, will adjust and retrain itself—if it has any vitality at all and is more than an inert lump of matter—to prepare for new contingencies and unexpected vicissitudes.
Again: Oh, heart.
April is the usual [hello, global warming] start of the summer here in the Philippines. I’d know, though, regardless of any calendar—the daily twenty-minute walk from the office to the train station has me wishing I could rub against an ice cube doing the mambo.
One of the things that the season [one of blasted two, here in my country] allows me to do is to submit to my O.C. tendencies and read books set in the summer. Mostly. Kind of. [Actually, what the three NYRBs I read for the start of summer have in common is that, uh, they all have red spines. I are dorkus.] The first two books, I’ve had with me for months—acquired November of last year, thereabouts. But I had to be my uptight self and read them this April. Because it makes more sense in my head that way.
What The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim and The Summer Book by Tove Jansson have in common: Summer setting the scene for a long-deserved / much-needed escape. Also, undercurrents. Also, unorthodox yet refreshing heroines.
In von Arnim’s case, it’s four women spending summer in an Italian villa—rest and relaxation are sought, and transformations are inevitable. Reading the plot summary—a summer escape to gorgeous Italy!, basically—you’d be threatened by fluff. [I shudder to think what today’s Hollywood would do with this premise. I am giving you the side-eye, Elizabeth Gilbert.]
But it’s all so catty and funny and endearing—those sharp undercurrents, each woman’s agenda. And their distinct perspectives of what escape—and change—means. What home stands for. [The fluff threatens after the fact, no?] We’ve got a docile young wife, a do-gooder community pillar, a doyenne stuck in the past, a too-beautiful-for-her-own-good socialite.
Jansson’s novel-in-vignettes feature a precocious six-year-old and her hardy grandmother. Their isolated island serves as a backdrop for their adventures, their tantrums, and some of their secrets.
It all seems so quaint—but Jansson dispels that with a blink-and-you’ll miss it sentence: The child’s mother has died. Everything before and after this softly spoken sentence shines differently: The failed camping adventure, spending the night alone under the stars; the little creatures carved into the forest’s scraggly trees; the too-sensitive flowers hoarded and cultivated by the quiet father; the child’s treatise on earthworms and the conundrums of earthworm-splitting [a section too long to include here, yet all-too charming and sad].
This island and its inhabitants’ little joys—a flower growing beneath a dislodged rock—and its near-catastrophes—a sea storm, a new neighbor—hints at so many graver things. And Jansson’s restraint is startling.
Now. No Tomorrow by Vivant Denon is touted as a companion to Laclos’ Les Liaisons dangereuses—but whereas that was a manifesto and manipulative excess and rakehelling and salaciousness, Denon’s 32-page novella on genteel seduction and tables-turned role-playing is of exquisite delicateness.
Sure, there’s illicit kisses and caresses. But it’s a hazy, dreamlike eroticism in these spare pages, involving circuitous promenades and conversations. Not to mention some of the loveliest passages about seduction. Basically, you’re compelled to quote the whole novella. But I will restrain myself to the following:
- Our souls met and multiplied; another was born each time we kissed.
- Our sighs replaced language. More tender, more numerous, more ardent, they expressed our sensations, they marked their progression and the last sigh of all, suspended for a time, warned us that we would have to offer thanks to Love.
The haze, this careful one-night seduction, the eroticism of so many things left unsaid [mostly the characters’ doing]: the reader is obliged to speculate, to fill in the blanks. This book, so much like the night itself, both for me and the lovers: “The night was superb; it revealed things in glimpses, and seemed only to veil them so as to give free reign to the imagination.” I saw what you did there, Monsieur Denon.
At the novella’s end, you immediately want to reread it, to experience the language again, to brush closer to the secrets each character holds.
* * *
A jaunty summer-wave from my part of the world. I’m off to haunt that cursed jigging ice cube. Until later.
Cross-posted from Sasha & The Silverfish.
Kisses are like confidences: they attract each other, they accelerate each other, they excite each other… . Our souls met and multiplied; another was born each time we kissed.
— From No Tomorrow by Vivant Denon, translated from the French by Lydia Davis.
My review of NYRB Classics’ Asleep in the Sun, novel of Adolfo Bioy Casares, is up on Metakritiko of The Philippine Online Chronicles. Casares’ slim novel is only my second NYRB read, and it sort of fell on my lap on BookSale spelunking — I think I hurt the guy beside me reaching for this book. Here’s a snippet:
Doppelgängers, body doubles, body snatchers. They’re icing on the cake. It’s Lucio’s perceptions that make the theme-tackling honest. While his wife stayed in the asylum, her jealous and man-hungry sister, Adriana María, moves into the house with her son. What ensues is a rather bewildering seduction — mostly because Lucio is so immune to it due to his absolute love for Diana. But then, but then: One night, missing his wife so much, he comes home, and thinks he sees Diana. But it is only Adriana María — the sisters look so much alike, it’s almost only a difference in hair color, a difference nullified by nighttime. And Lucio thinks this through, so shaken he is by this slight against Diana — how could he mistake anyone for her? Is she just her hair, or even less, the wave of her hair on her shoudlers, and the shape of her body and the way she sits?
I enjoyed the book; it didn’t knock my socks off, but I was very satisfied. It was good, a little surreal, unexpectedly sensitive. And funny, yes. What flaws I found had little to do with the story itself — my biggest gripe was the jacket copy, which threatened to leech all possible enjoyment from the experience. [I elaborate on this over at the review]. It’s a good teaser for Casares’ work — I’m dying to read his The Invention of Morel. Though I doubt that that book will fall onto my lap as easily as this one did. Oh well.
Cross-posted from the book blog.
Oh, Skylark. I just love this book. Really really love this book. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did, didn’t expect it would resonate. Note that a day or two after reading this, I went to the pages I’d marked. I reread them. I loved them all over again, I loved it more. Fine me for overuse of the word “love.” I don’t much care.
He stood for some minutes before the gate with all the patience of a lover waiting for the appearance of his beloved. But he was waiting for no one. He was no lover in a worldly sense; the only love he knew was that of divine understanding, of taking a whole life into his arms, stripping it of flesh and bone, and feeling into its depths as if they were his own. From this, the greatest pain, the greatest happiness is born: the hope that we too will one day be understood, strangers will accept our words, our lives, as if they were their own.
Happy reading, all.
Excerpted from the full review.