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The blog of The New York Review Children's Collection. This blog contains posts from both the children's and adult's classics series.
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1. A Different Stripe is Moving!

From now on if you want to find us, please visit

http://nyrbclassics.tumblr.com/

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2. Vladimir Sorokin to appear at the PEN World Voices Festival

64_sorokin_75x72 Vladimir Sorokin, author of the recently published Ice Trilogy* (as well as of The Queue, also published by NYRB Classics) lives in Moscow, but this weekend, you can catch him in New York. He's participating in two events being held as part of the PEN World Voices Festival of Literature. More about Sorokin and the festival can be found here.

 

Saturday, April 30, 2011
In Conversation: Vladimir Sorokin and Keith Gessen

4:30 pm – 6 pm
The Cooper Union, Frederick P. Rose Auditorium
41 Cooper Square
New York City

Tickets: $15/$10 PEN Members, students with valid ID. Call (866) 811–4111 or visit ovationtix.com

Sunday May 1, 2011; 1 p.m
Russia in Two Acts

With New York Review contributors Garry Kasparov, Jamey Gambrell, and Christian Caryl
Plus Vladimir Sorokin and Fedor Svarovskiy

The Morgan Library & Museum, Lehrman Hall
225 Madison Avenue
New York City

Tickets: $25/$20 for New York Review readers and PEN/Morgan Members or students with valid ID.  "Call (866) 811-4111 or visit ovationtix.com

 

*"I am reading this book and it is melting my MIND"—Colin Meloy
Paul Di Filippo reviews the trilogy in the BN Review
Boyd Tonkin writes about it for The Independent
"I crave rereading this trilogy, just as the Brotherhood of the Light long to be reunited
with their Ice.  It is a desire to experience something elemental, basic, and heart
altering. —Mike of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, WA, where we fear the employees might be forming their own gnostic cult. 

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3. Monday Multimedia: Paul Auster reads Kabir

Productimage-picture-songs-of-kabir-121_jpg_110x479_q85 The PEN American Center has posted audio of Paul Auster reading two poems by Kabir, translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's. The poems were originally published in PEN America 11: Make Believe. We've recently collected these poems (in slightly different versions), and many others, in Songs of Kabir.

Speaking of translation and the Pen American Center—don't forget that their annual world literature festival, PEN World Voices, kicks off today.

Paul Auster reads Kabir

 

And what was yesterday a little mucus,
tomorrow will be a mummy or ashes.
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, IV. 48

Birth is scented with death.
—Bhartrihari (c. 5th century), v. 197,
trans. Barbara Stoler Miller

Friend,
You had one life,
And you blew it.

From sticky spunk
To human shape,
You spent ten months
In your mother’s womb,
Blocked off from the world
Into which you fell
The minute you were born.
A child once,
You’re an old man now.
What has happened has happened.
Crying won’t help
When death already
Has you by the balls.
It’s counting your breaths,
Waiting.

This world, says Kabir,
Is a gambling den.
You can’t be too careful.

KG 60

 

It’s a mess,
But you’re there
To sort it out.

Cock of the walk,
In great shape,
Keeping the best
Company:
That’s me.

Listen, says Kabir,
I have a prayer to make.
I’m handcuffed to death.
Throw me the key.

KG 44

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4. More on L.J. Davis

Since we last posted about the death of L.J. Davis, a couple of more pieces about the writer have surfaced.

The first appeared in The Awl under the fabulous title, "The Most Flagrantly Tactless First-Rate Brooklyn Novelist." It's by Brooklynite Evan Hughes, whose own book, Literary Brooklyn: The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life, comes out this summer.

And n+1 has reposted Elizabeth Gumport's look at the literature of gentrification, which takes Davis's Meaningful Life as a starting point.

Previously: L.J. Davis, 1940–2011, a roundup

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5. Hey, librarians. Hey, readers. Hey, Small Press!

Has this happened to you?

You walk into your library. You glance around the shelves filled with row after row of the same best sellers, but you're not interested. Maybe you even know the titles of a book or two you've been wanting to read. Alas, the library doesn't have them in its collection. You walk out empty-handed, or with something you're just not that into.

or

You're in a bookstore. This book looks good. That book looks great! You reach for your wallet, but then you remember you're broke. No use checking out your library, you think, those aren't the kind of book they'd have.

 

Picture 1

Well, you've got the answer to your predicament, and it's already in your own hands. Just pick up that blunt golf pencil and fill out a library request form. For more on this, see Don Antenen's post about the power of the request form here. Don works in a library and he wants to spread his empowering message around. He and Kate Hensley have begun a new site called Hey, Small Press! to highlight some of the best books in the small press world and to encourage us all to start talking about them. That's right, they suggest talking to your librarian:

Tell them how much you like small press literature and why you’re excited about these particular titles. Encourage them to check out this site. There is nothing that brightens up the day of a librarian like a conversation with an enthusiastic reader.

If we can't convince you to go to a library, maybe Linda Holmes at NPR can. She had an epiphany about libraries and their greatness just the other week, chronicling them hilariously on her twitter feed.

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6. NYRB Classics Ebooks: Who Knows Seven?*

It's been a while since we offered a run-down of our ebook offerings (which can be bought from most major ebook retailers). We've published many more in the last six months. Here are seven of them, each with a representative passage:

(See part one of the series: the first 13 ebooks)

 

Productimage-picture-the-long-ships-89_jpg_180x539_q85 The Long Ships
Frans G. Bengtsson, introduction by Michael Chabon

"In his old age Orm used to say that this period in his life was lengthy to endure, but brief to tell of, for one day resembled another so that, in a sense, it was as though time was standing still for them. But there were signs to remind him that time was, in fact, passing; and one of these was his beard. When he first became a slave, he was the only one among them so young as to be beardless; but before long his beard began to grow, becoming redder even than his hair, and in time it grew so long that it swept the handle of his oar as he bowed himself over his stroke. Longer than that it could not grow, for the sweep of his oar curtailed its length; and of all the methods of trimming one’s beard, he would say, that was the last that he would choose."

 

Productimage-picture-the-outward-room-80_jpg_180x480_q85 The Outward Room
Millen Brand, afterword by Peter Cameron

"She put her suitcase on a chair and went to the window. The sun. It came steadily through the window, making no shadows of bars. The key. It was to keep others out, not to keep her in. Whenever she wanted to, she could leave. She looked at the room, the green walls, the floor; she touched the white rough covers of her bed. Here, in this room, to stand, to move, to sleep. Here, perhaps, to live?"

 

9781590172322_jpg_180x450_q85 The Dud Avocado
Elaine Dundy, introduction by Terry Teachout

"One of the things—one of the many, many, many things that fascinate me about myself—is how it is possible for me to know something without really knowing it at all. I mean I seemed to have known about queers all my life, I can’t remember

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7. L.J. Davis, 1940–2011, a roundup

It is with sadness that we report the death of novelist and journalist L.J. Davis, whose A Meaningful Life we were privileged to have published in 2009.

"L. J. Davis was a remarkable writer with a caustic sensibility that was very own his own. He was also a true character, scabrously funny and perfectly free of false piety. NYRB was lucky to publish his novel A Meaningful Life, one of the best books about not just New York but America in the strange decade of the 1970s, when the country lost its post-World War II optimism once and for all. I hope L.J. wrote down his wonderful and oft-told story about flooring (literally) a drunken George W. Bush. As far as I know it doesn’t make an appearance in Decision Points."

—Edwin Frank, Editor, NYRB Classics

 

"Mr. Davis was known among friends and editors as affable and voluble, a man who arrived at every personal encounter equipped with a capacious store of unusual facts and anecdotes he was prepared to dispense at the slightest provocation."

—L.J. Davis's obituary in The New York Times


"A little over a year ago, I interviewed Davis for a Forbes piece I was working on about NYRB Classics. When I first contacted him over email, he responded, “My dear fellow, this will be splendid; I will have much to say.” We made plans to meet at a little cafe near his apartment on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. 'Why not ring my bell at six?,' he wrote me the day we were to meet. 'That’ll give you time to hop over here. If you’re early, ring the bell anyway; I’m not a great fan of punctuality, having been raised (as I was) by compulsive right-wing fanatics.'"

Dante A. Ciampaglia, "A Meaningful Writer," Forbes.com 


"We'll miss the funny, smarter-than-you way he wrote about money and urban life."

The L

 

"I remember L.J. as an energetic, voluble man whose interests (and writing) were not at all confined to the literary. He knew a lot about all sorts of things, one of which was finance. His impersonal way of greeting you was to announce without preliminary some remarkable, usually grotesque piece of local news or information....
    L.J. is a serious comic writer. His novels mingle Groucho Marx, a bit of Noël Coward, and some Theodore Dreiser.... I add to the mix Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (Voyage to the End of the Night), a masterpiece of loathing. Davis is not only serious, he is stern. Life is a hard business that we need to think about. But all our thought doesn’t keep it from being outrageously grotesque, unsuccessful, ridiculous. If I may bring in another illustration, he is like a novel-writing Buster Keaton."

Paula Fox, writing in
The New York Review of Books in 2009

 

More on and by L.J. Davis

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8. "A Farewell to Tobacco"—from <i>W.H. Auden's Book of Light Verse</i>

Scent to match thy rich perfume
Chemic art did ne'er presume;
Through her quaint alembic strain,
None so sovereign to the brain:
Nature, that did in thee excel,
Framed again no second smell.
Roses, violets, but toys
For the smaller sort of boys
Or for greener damsels meant;
Thou art the only manly scent.

—from "A Farewell to Tobacco" by Charles Lamb
collected in W.H. Auden's Book of Light Verse

9781590170892_jpg_180x450_q85


 

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9. Translating Tove Jansson: Thomas Teal at Harvard Bookstore, April 8

 

New York Review Books
Translating the novels of Tove Jansson:
A talk by Thomas Teal at Harvard Bookstore
April 8, 2011 — 3:00 p.m.


Tove JanssonAs part of Harvard Bookstore’s Friday Forum series, Thomas Teal, translator of Tove Jansson’s novels The Summer Book, The True Deceiver, and Fair Play, will speak about translating these works from the original Swedish.

Although Tove Jansson is perhaps best known for her children's books featuring the Moomins, she also wrote a number of works for adults. Recently published by NYRB Classics, Fair Play is the first US publication of Thomas Teal's prize-winning translation. In Fair Play the art of loving, creating, and living is examined in this group of quietly moving, "discreetly radical" episodes from the lives of two artists.

Harvard Bookstore
1256 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
(617) 661–1515

 

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10. Gillian Rose offers some acting advice to Jennifer Garner

In one of the most bizarre casting decisions in recent memory, actress Jennifer Garner is, according to the Hollywood insider website deadline.com, to play Miss Marple in the forthcoming Disney reworking of the much-loved TV series based on Agatha Christie’s novels.

Telegraph, 4 April 2011

Meditating on her future, philosopher Gillian Rose considered the model of Miss Marple. We hope Ms. Garner is listening:

I aspire to Miss Marple's persona: to be exactly as I am, decrepit nature, yet supernature in one, equally alert on the damp ground and in the turbulent air. Perhaps I don't have to wait for old age for that invisible trespass and pedestrian tread, insensible of mortality and desperately mortal.

—from Love's Work

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11. Robert Walser translators disuss the author, dine on bratwurst

A lunch date with NYRB Classics (and Robert Walser)

Walser covers

Walser cover collage snagged from The Bridge, co-sponsor of the event

Wednesday, April 6th at 1PM
Swiss Institute
495 Broadway, 3rd Floor
New York City
(212) 925-2035

Join NYRB Classics editor Edwin Frank as he moderates a conversation between Robert Walser translators Christopher Middleton and Susan Bernofsky. $10 includes a lunch of bratwrust and kartoffel salad.

Click here for more information and to make a reservation

 

WALSER AROUND THE WEB
Susan Bernofsky's writes about Christopher Middleton in a recent blog post, "Reading with My Hero"
Find out more about Robert Walser at Wandering with Walser, a site devoted to his work
Walser's An Answer to an Inquiry, published by Ugly Duckling Press
"Robert Walser / did huge / things in / tiny spaces."—Eileen Myles
"3 Stories" by Robert Walser, translated by Damion Searls

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12. Multimedia Monday: Sophia Jansson and Thomas Teal on Tove Jansson, Larry Korn on The One-Straw Revolution

Sophia Jansson (Tove Jansson's niece and the chairman of Oy Moomin Characters, Ltd) and Thomas Teal (translator of several of Jansson's adult novels) talked with Leonard Lopate last week about Jansson's life and work, and the recent publication of Fair Play.

Listen to the podcast

And One-Straw Revolution translator, editor, and friend of Masonobu Fukuoka, Larry Korn, talks on Paul Wheaton's permaculture podcast about the sensei's visits to the US, his view of Los Angeles,  the "green cement" of the American Lawn, why natural farming can feed the world, the inadequacy of traditional organic farming, and other things. Fukuoka is known for popularizing the seed ball (and essential element of guerilla gardening), but here we hear about his idea of eco-terrorism: fill you pockets with dandelion and mustard seeds, cuts holes in them, and wander around the golf courses of the world.

Listen to the podcast
(this production values of the podcast are suitably DIY, but be patient, there's lots of good information here)

 

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13. "Pet cats, he believed, did nothing but behave badly."

Hotelkitties

Hotel Cat Tom isn't happy about Jenny Linsky, Edward, and Checkers ending up in his hotel.

The blood of the hotel cat boiled....
    "What a guest!" thought Tom. He's probably a spoiled pet accompanying his master on a pleasant little journey. Pet cat! Bah!"
    Tom hated all that he had ever seen of pet cats. Back in the days when he was a hungry kitten living ln the streets, he had climbed fire escapes and looked through windows. And often he had watched those darlings turn up their noses at platters of fine food and go off and scratch some furniture. Pet cats, he believed, did nothing but behave badly.

9781590171592_jpg_180x450_q85 The Hotel Cat
Story and pictures by Esther Averill

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14. "Except that it robs you of who you are, / What can you say about speech?," a poem by Kabir

The most recent issue of The New York Review of Books offers a preview of Arvind Krishna Mehrotra's translations of selected Kabir poems.

Except that it robs you of who you are,
What can you say about speech?
Inconceivable to live without
And impossible to live with,
[continue]

Seven additional poems from this volume appear in the March 2011 edition of Poetry magazine. You can read them at the Poetry Foundation's website.

Kabir cover
Songs of Kabir
preface by Wendy Doniger
selected and translated from the Hindi by
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

cover image by Dayanita Singh, from Dream Villa

 

 

 

 

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15. A Celebration of Tove Jansson, March 21

NYRB Classics and Scandinavia House invite you to an evening in celebration of the novels of Tove Jansson, Monday, March, 21st, 2011 at 6:30 PM. The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended: call 212.847.9740 or email event_reservation@amscan.org.

Tove_MiniPoster

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16. Guest post: An Interview with <i>The True Deceiver</i>

Micro Today we are very lucky to have Kenny Brechner, of DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Maine (an independent shop that is surely among the treasures of the state), offering up a guest post. Kenny somehow managed to score an interview with that fierce and prickly book, The True Deceiver. What dark magic he used to entice this work to speak with him, we'll never know. All we can say that the answers it gives show the book to be as gnomic as that great interview dissimulator, Bob Dylan. [microphone photo: Keith Bloomfield via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons usage.]

 This interview originally ran on Three Percent, "a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester," as part of the run-up for the Best Translated Book Award, for which The True Deceiver has been long listed. To read the complete post, along with Kenny Brechner's endorsement of the book, visit Three Percent.


KB: Do you feel that this BTBA [Best Translated Book Award] will be conducted fairly?

True Deceiver: “You know nothing about Fair Play!”

KB: Perhaps not, but how can the awards committee reach truth?

True Deceiver: “The truth needs to be hammered in with iron spikes, but no one can drive nails into a mattress.”

KB: I see. Perhaps you’re right and the committee will need to take a firm line. Now do you feel that Tomas Teal handled his translation of you properly, considering how taut the prose is?

True Deceiver: “Cluttering the ground with Flowery Rabbits would have been unthinkable”.

KB: I see. Now if you had a word for a judge what would it be?

True Deceiver: “He must understand how hard I try, all the time, to put everything I do to a strict test—every act, every word I choose instead of a different word.”

KB: Is there any other objective data that would make the selection of any book other than yourself as the BTBA winner a danger to the future well being of the human enterprise?

True Deceiver: “I’ve given security where there was no security, no direction, Nothing. I provide safety!”

KB: I really appreciate your willingness to go on record and clarify these points. The stakes are terrifying.

True Deceiver: “I can assure you that you needn’t be nervous, there’s no cause for alarm.”

KB: I guess there’s nothing else to be said on the matter!

True Deceiver: “We’ve done what matters most.”

KB: Well I certainly hope so, for all human interconnection involves translation, and without an exploration of its dark possibilities we should all be much the poorer. And, if you don’t mind my saying so, you really add something vital to the whole of Tove Jansson’s sublime body of work. After all the Moomins may demonstrate the delightful exercise of freedom, but your pages reveal both the cost and the means of losing it.

True Deceiver: “Thank you for calling.”

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17. The two Harriet Daimlers (includes mild, cartoon nudity)

All day, the blogger at Bella's Bookshelves has been tweeting about her pleasure in reading After Claude by Iris Owens. Which got us thinking that the book's heroine, Harriet Daimler, with her take-no-prisoners strategy and her viper-tongue, might make a good role model this winter. Let's not take this miserable season lying down, let's rally our wits and bitch at it until it relents. We're all Harriet Daimlers now.

[read Gerald Howard on Owens's "sublime snarkfest" at Bookforum]

Here Maxine, an friend tries to offer Harriet some advice:

“Well,” she demanded, “what’s happening between you and Claude? Isn’t he planning to marry you and take you back to Paris with him?”
    If there’s one thing on this earth that irritates me, it’s when a dumpy, frigid, former nymphomaniac assumes that my tongue is hanging out, thirsting for marital bliss. It goes without saying that though ideally suited and ecstatically happy, Jerry and Maxine had flown directly from their wedding ceremony to group therapy, paying top prices for the privilege of insulting each other in front of an audience.
    “I’ll make you a promise, Maxine, and then let’s adjourn this summit conference. I promise you that the day I decide to marry anyone I hate as much as you hate Jerry, one: you’ll be the first to know, and two: I’ll seek professional help.”
    Did Maxine get the message and leave me in peace? Not a chance. She sat there radiant with superior knowledge. “My dear, that is precisely your sickness. You think everybody hates their life. You’re wrong. I don’t hate Jerry. I love him. My heart may not palpitate when he walks into the room, but I’m happy with him. I appreciate his devotion and goodness. I love our child, our home.”
    “Excuse me very much, but if it’s love, sweet love, that makes you parade the streets like a crazed drag queen, if it’s happiness that drives you to come sniffing around here like a starved alley cat, give me hate and misery.”

Of course, Harriet Daimler was also the name under which Iris Owens wrote pornographic novels for the legendary Olympia Press. So maybe we should be looking to this young lady, who graced the cover of a reprint of Owens's notorious rape-fantasy novel, Darling (if not to the contents of the book). She radiates joy of the kind hard to find in bleak midwinter.

Daimler

18. Multimedia Monday: Adam Haslett on Patrick Leigh Fermor, Werner Herzog as Roger Ebert on My Dog Tulip

Fermor_custom Adam Haslett talked to NPR's All Things Considered about Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time to Keep Silence late last week. The segment was part of the "You Must Read This" series.

It replicates in style and rhythm the very experience that it seeks to describe. The writing is spare, exactingly precise, and then occasionally quite beautiful, just as the life of the monks we hear about are pared down, highly concentrated, and every now and then sublime. In short, it's a book about the contemplative life that delivers the reader into a contemplation of his or her own. [listen to the segment]

And here's a treat. Roger Ebert reviewed the film adaptation of My Dog Tulip on his new program, Ebert Presents: At the Movies. Because he cannot speak now, however, he enlists notable voices to read his reviews every week. So we're lucky enough to be able to hear Werner Herzog intone Ebert's very warm review. Just listen to that voice: "All humans desire one thing, and that is to be loved..." [watch the segment]

Picture 2

 

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19. Jules Renard's Bestiary

If you follow us on Twitter, you might notice that we couldn't help posting bits from Jules Renard's charming and inventive collection of observations of the natural world, Histoires Naturelles or Nature Stories. They were just too delightful not to share. Where writers often seek to make the world strange in order to enable us to experience it afresh, Renard's gift is to domesticate the by-definition inhuman. His patently false imaginings of animals' inner lives paradoxically grant them their own realities—realities that Renard's writings help us to understand that we can never understand. And beyond that, they will make you gasp with the wonder of this gifted and too-little-known writer's wholely fresh way of putting into words everything he observes.

To celebrate the book's official on-sale date, we can finally let you in on some longer excerpts, accompanied by the illustrations that Pierre Bonnard drew for the 1904 edition of the book.

And if, like us, you aren't satisfied with just one book by Jules Renard, then you must run out and buy the selection of his Journals translated by Louise Bogan and Elizabeth Roget and published by Tin House Books.

 

From "Frogs"

37frog

    They’re suddenly relaxing their springs. That’s how they take exercise.
    They’re leaping out of the grass like heavy drops of frying oil.
    They pose, like bronze paperweights, on large water lilies.
    One of them is soaking in air. Through his mouth, you could drop a coin into the money box of his stomach.
    They rise like sighs, out of the mud.
    Motionless, with their large eyes level with the water, they seem like growths on the flat pond.
    Squatting like tailors, they’re yawning, stupefied at the setting sun.
    Then, like street vendors deafening people as they yell, they croak the latest news items of the day.
    They’re giving a party this evening, at home. Can’t you hear them polishing the glasses?
    Sometimes, they snap up an insect.
    Others are only interested in love.



"The Stag"

      50buck I went into the wood at one end of the avenue as he was coming in at the other.
    At first I thought a stranger had just come in, wearing a plant on top of his head.
    Then I could see the little dwarf tree spreading out its leafless branches.
    Finally the stag came plainly into sight, and we both came to a halt.
    “Don’t be afraid, come closer,” I said. “I’m carrying a gun, but it

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20. The illustrated Platonov, drawings by Kirill Sokolov

The Russian artist Kirill Sokolov (1930–2004) produced a number of illustrations to Andrey Platonov's novel The Foundation Pit.  Many of these—two 1991 drypoints and nine 2000 drawings lifted and printed from wax crayon orginals (artist's technique)—are now in the collection of the Andrey Bely Museum in Moscow.  They were donated by the artist's widow, Doctor Avril Pyman, who has kindly allowed us to reproduce four of the later drawings.

Captions in brackets are the artist's own.

59 Sokolov

"'And why are you dying, Mama? From being bourgeois—or from death?'
"'I got bored,” said the mother. 'I’m worn out.'"

[Chiklin, Prushevsky, Nastya and her late mother, pp. 47-50; pp. 55-56)

 

  60 Sokolov

"Night was total at village level. it covered everything, and snow made the air cramped and impenetrable, such that chests were at a loss for breath, yet women were shrieking in every place, keeping up a constant howl as they got used to grief. The dogs, together with other petty and nervous animals, also maintained these sounds of anguish, and there was as much noise and alarm in the collective farm as in the changing room of a bathhouse."

["there was as much noise and alarm in the collective farm as in the changing room of a bathhouse," p.101]

 

55 Sokolov 

"The horse was dozing in her stall, having lowered her sensitive head forever; one of her eyes was feebly closed, but she did not have enough strength for the other and so it was left looking into the dark.The shed had grown cold without equine breath and snow began to fall inside, settling on the mare’s head and not melting. her master blew out his match, embraced the horse’s neck, and stood there in his orphanhood, smelling in memory the mare’s sweat, as when they were plowing."

[Parting with a horse that is starving to death, pp. 101-02]

 

  Sokolov 63

"Walking beside some yards felt as cool as in the open fields, while beside others there was a sense of warmth. Cows and horses were lying in these yards, their carcasses gaping and rotting—and the heat of life accumulated during long years beneath the sun was still seeping out from them into the air, into the shared wintry space. Chiklin and the hammerer had already passed a number of yards, but somehow they ha

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21. Rebecca's West's Christmas

After the drear of the last post (horses starving, mothers starving, patriotic bears liquidating kulaks) we thought we might bring you something more befitting the holiday season. Herewith an excerpt from Rebecca West's novel The Fountain Overflows, as sweetly Christmasy a passage as you could read without rushing to the dentist immediately after. (If you like you Rebecca West more bracing, we highly recommend reading her Paris Review interview.)

We went upstairs to our room and collected the presents we had made for Papa and Mamma and waited there till we were called. Then we stood outside the dining room until Mamma began to play a piano arrangement of Bach’s “Shepherd’s Christmas Music,” and then we marched in in single file, followed by Kate, and stood round the Christmas tree with our backs to it and sang a carol. That year it was “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Then we handed over our presents to Papa and Mamma. I know what they were, for Mary and I wrote them down in a little book, which somehow never got lost. Cordelia had knitted Papa a silk necktie and had made Mamma a set of muslin collars and cuffs. She was the best needle-woman of the three of us. Mary had practised considerable deception over the money given her for milk and buns at eleven, and had gone to a junk shop we passed on our way to school and bought Papa a little eighteenth-century book about the sights of Paris with pretty coloured pictures and Mamma a watercolour of Capri, where she had spent a wonderful holiday when she was young. I had painted a wooden box to hold big matches for Papa to keep in his study and had made a shopping bag for Mamma out of plaited straw. Richard Quin had given the matches to put in my match-box and to Mamma a bright pink cake of scented soap which he had chosen himself. We were hampered because we had almost no pocket-money, but really these presents were not quite rubbish. All except the necktie and the soap were still in the house when, many years later, we left it, and I do not think they had been preserved simply because Mamma loved us, I believe they survived because of their usefulness and prettiness. We were not specially accomplished or sensible children, but, with Papa and Mamma and Kate in the house, we were propelled along the groove of a competent tradition.

When Papa and Mamma had had their presents we had ours. They were lovely. I really cannot think, looking back over a lifetime in which I have known many quite opulent Christmases, that any children have ever had much lovelier Christmas presents. We had known that Papa was making us new furniture and inhabitants for our dolls’ houses, but he had done better than that. He had given Cordelia’s Tudor palace a maze and a sunken garden and a pleached walk, like the one in Much Ado About Nothing; he had given Mary’s Queen Anne mansion a walled garden with espaliered trees all around it and a vinery outside built against the south wall; and he had given my Victorian Gothic abbey a small park with a looking-glass lake with a rocky island in it surmounted by a mock hermitage. Out of her old dresses Mother had made a pale green Mary Queen of Scots dress for Cordelia, an eighteenth-century white dress for Mary, a rose-coloured crinoline dress for me, and a Three Musketeers uniform with a cardboard sword for Richard Quin. Like everything else that Mamma did each was unique, we had never seen anything like them before, any one of them was something only she would have imagined. So enchanted were we with these big presents that we had hardly

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22. 2010 Staff Favorites

In which we recommend our favorite NYRB Classics read over the past year and take a moment to plug something entirely unrelated to the series (an idea shamelessly lifted from the "endorsement" segment of Slate's Culture Gabfest).

Stephen Twilley
Pick: Stefan Zweig, Beware of Pity. I was halfway through Bolaño's admirably sprawling 2666 when I chanced to fall into the hands of the Austrian master Zweig, a writer of almost inhuman delicacy and control who nonetheless has so much to show us about errant passions and self-deception. 350-odd feverish pages later, I stumbled back, equal parts devastated and exhilarated, into "The Part about the Crimes."

Sing it: I would like to recommend an old song that some friends recently put on a mix CD: "Don't Touch That Thing" by Sylvia Hall, from the compilation Cult Cargo: Grand Bahama Goombay. It may be a strange comparison, but something in the languidness of her voice reminds me of Neutral Milk Hotel, along with a kind of we're-celebrating-as-we-drive-over-the-cliff-vibe (the respective horn sections certainly help here). And given that the NMH song that's perhaps most exemplary in this regard is "Song Against Sex," there's a thematic connection as well. Hall's refrain, based apparently on an indigenous children’s rhyme and intoned over the fuzzy blare of raucous mid-seventies funk, is

Don’t touch that thing, your momma gonna know.
Don’t touch that thing, your momma gonna know.

If you touch that thing, your momma gonna know, girl.
How's she gonna know? Your belly gonna show.

 

Yongsun Bark
Has been on a prison-novel kick this year. Her picks, listed in order of preference are:

On the Yard by Malcolm Braly
Dirty Snow by Georges Simenone
Hard Rain Falling by Don Carpenter
Next up:  Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist (or, may we suggest, The Enchanted April?)

 

Evan Johnston
Picks: Nightmare Alley by William Gresham. Thoroughly guilty pleasure, from its tarot-themed chapters to the carnival slang laden dialogue. The novel's best summation could be "Booze and mentalism don't mix" spoken by Zeena the fortune teller (p. 29). 
    The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant. In so many ways, the protagonist reminds me of the landlord I had for eight years, who passed away six months ago—decades too soon. I consider this book a friend.

Contents may be hot: 

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23. Final 2010 staff favorites

Gill late x-mas card
Bob Gill
A Christmas Card
(Designed to send in January)
From Bob Gill: Illustration

And here's one last look back at 2010, from Edwin Frank, the editorial director of the series. We figure if the B&N Review can post Robert Christgau's look back at the year in January, then it's not too late for us.

The books I most enjoyed reading this year were books I reread: Chekhov’s great novella “Three Years” (incidentally available in the NYRB Classics collection Peasants and Other Stories), which rings the changes on the cliche time will tell until it resonates anew but—this is the bleak beauty of it—always and only as a cliché; and Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, the intensity, courage, and undiminished freshness of which beggar my powers of description. Just read it. I was also happy to revisit Jean Rhys’s dismal-hued but sullenly seductive Voyage Into the Dark, about a woman slipping from actress to prostitute: Rhys charts her decline with relishable grimness. (For much the same reason, David Plante’s amazing memoir of Rhys at the end of her life in his book Difficult Women is also worth checking out.) New to me was Henry Green’s Back, the story of an invalid soldier returning from World War II to England: a mixture of fairy tale, Shakespeare, Hollywood romance, office comedy, and plain madness that is thoroughly bizarre and quite wonderful. Finally, the movie Black Swan has to be seen to be believed. It is much more alive (not to be confused with true to life) and much more fun than any recent fiction I know of.

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24. Pinocchio, a real girl?

Collodi-005

E.M. Keeler reads Geoffrey Brock's translation of Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio (aka The Real Pinocchio) and is surprised by what she finds there:

"The Pinocchio that traipses around Collodi’s story is a real brat. Not only does he lie and skip school and take things that aren’t his, but he’s finicky and whiny and a picky eater to boot. He’s basically already a real boy, before some kind of scary fairy makes it so." [read more]

If you like the photo above, you might enjoy Corpus Libris
And here's more on Tim Rollins and K.O.S—the collective behind the artwork on the cover of our edition of Pinocchio.
Finally, Caustic Cover Critic covered our cover, as well as earlier visual depictions of Collodi's puppet, on his site.

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25. "As far back as anyone could remember, there hadn’t been this much snow."

True Deceiver

© Tove Jansson (original cover art for The True Deceiver)

It had been snowing along the coast for a month. As far back as anyone could remember, there hadn’t been this much snow, this steady snow piling up against doors and windows and weighing down roofs and never stopping even for an hour. Paths filled with snow as quickly as they were shovelled out. The cold made work in the boat sheds impossible. People woke up late because there was no longer any morning. The village lay soundless under untouched snow until the children were let out and dug tunnels and caves and shrieked and were left to themselves. They were forbidden to throw snowballs at Katri Kling’s window but did it anyway. She lived in the attic over the storekeeper’s shop with her brother Mats and her big dog that had no name. Before dawn she would go out with the dog and walk down the village street towards the lighthouse on the point. She did this every morning, and people starting to get up would say, It’s still snowing and there she goes again with her dog and she’s wearing her wolfskin collar. It’s unnatural not giving your dog a name; all dogs should have names.

A passage from the opening of Tove Jansson's The True Deceiver, posted in honor of the record snowfall we've had in New York this winter, as well as the inclusion of the novel in this year's longlist for the Best Translated Book Award, (one of two NYRB Classics that made the cut—the other is Albert Cossery's The Jokers).

More on the Best Translated Book Award
Damion Searls on Tove Jansson in Harper's

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