The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Shirt needed to confirm groupie status

Posted on: December 17, 2007

I’ve been thinking of a way to justify this post because I occasionally worry about becoming a literary version of a LV brand ho. *shrugs* Here’s a list of all the NYRB Classics mentioned in the “Best of 2007” lists at which I bothered to glance. I privileged links to Amazon over the publisher’s if the former allowed you to read an excerpt.

The Guardian
The Bog People
P.V. Glob
Excerpt from a long ass recommendation: Rereading PV Glob’s The Bog People – my Christmas present to myself in 1969, the year it was published in Rupert Bruce-Mitford’s perfectly pitched translation (now published by New York Review of Books) – I took more notice of such incidental information than I did at the time: what entranced me then was the main story and the unforgettable photographs, most especially one that showed the head of the Tollund Man, perfectly preserved after centuries under the peat. No representation of the human face before or since, not Veronica’s napkin or Rembrandt’s self-portraits, has had such a profound effect on me; no better example exists of how flesh and blood life can be transformed into the otherness of an image with the power, in Yeats’s words, “to engross the present and dominate memory”. Seamus Heaney

The Horse’s Mouth
Joyce Carey
I first read Joyce Cary’s anarchic comedy The Horse’s Mouth (New York Review Books) when I was in bed with the flu one winter, aged about 18. It was heady stuff for a country boy with poetic dreams, and more in thrall then to Soho than saltmarsh. The book’s narrator, Gulley Jimson, is an ageing painter, former jailbird, con-artist, self-deprecator, and forever not finishing his vast mural of the Fall. His story is about the triumph of dream over accomplishment, and as he recounts his manic life, dodging creditors and ex-wives, stealing paint and searching for yet more ways of giving Eve some body, his staccato descriptions – half James Joyce, half Marie Lloyd – build up an incandescent picture of London’s landscapes and bohemian lowlife. From the very beginning, by the Thames – “Sun in a mist. Like an orange in a fried fish shop” – you know you’re in for a dizzy ride. Richard Mabey

The Guardian – 2

The Peregrine
JA Baker
The Peregrine by JA Baker (originally published in the 60s and reissued by New York Review Books in 2005) is a wonderfully intense combination of natural history and soul-searching – brilliantly watchful of its subject, and also of the author’s own melancholy spirit. Written in a kind of lyric trance, it is nevertheless always grounded and particular. Mesmerising. Andrew Motion

Sleepless Nights
Elizabeth Hardwick
…for real bad sleepless nights, there is nothing that keeps you awake more than Elizabeth Hardwick’s mesmeric novel Sleepless Nights (New York Review Books). Colm Tóibín

Publisher’s Weekly
White Walls: Collected Stories link
Tatyana Tolstaya
Beautiful, imaginative and disconcerting, the Russia of Tolstoy’s great-grandniece is a labyrinth of eras, treasures and horrors: past and present, shabby and brutal, magical and otherworldly.

Three Percent: Best translations of 2007
Novels in Three Lines by Félix Fénéon, translated from the French by Luc Sante (link)

Sunflower by Gyula Krúdy, translated from the Hungarian by John Batki (link)

Ice by Vladimir Sorokin, translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell (link)

In comments Penelope Burt suggests, “‘Soul and Other Stories‘ by Andrey Platonov, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler et al. – basically a reprint, I guess, but with one new story this time round. Chandler and his colleagues are doing the impossible for a very great and still neglected author.”

The Village Voice
All About H. Hatterr (link)
G.V. Desani
Imagine a schnockered Nabokov impersonating The Simpsons’ Apu while reeling off tales of an Anglo-Indian Don Quixote, and you get some sense of Desani’s wacko masterwork—a hilarious mix of slapstick misadventure and philosophic vaudeville, voiced in a manic Hindu-accented English so jagged and dense it makes you dizzy. A 1948 bestseller in England, sporadically reissued since then, and now in the NYRB home of the almost-forgotten, the author’s only novel follows the idealistic naïf H. Hatterr on his wisdom-seeking quest, in which he encounters (among other nuts) the malaria-mad mystic Giri-Giri, a scheming sage who deals in used clothes, and Charlie, the steak-loving lion. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot’s view: It’s the goddamn weirdest book you’ll ever read. ROBERT SHUSTER

Vladimir Sorokin
Let’s be honest: The novel, as a form, is not getting any younger. In an age of staid conventions, few writers have done more to invigorate and expand the possibilities of narrative fiction than Vladimir Sorokin, who has made it is his business, over the past 25 years, to probe and dissect the ulcerated psyche of the Russian people. It’s difficult to summarize the plot of Ice, only the second of his novels to be translated into English, without making it sound like the fantasy of a violent and heretical Scientologist. Let’s just say there are abductions, millenarian prophesies, and an alien super-race—and that, somehow, it works. GILES HARVEY

Novels in Three Lines
Félix Fénéon
History acknowledges Félix Fénéon (1861–1944) as the editor of Rimbaud’s Illuminations, a regular at the Mallarmé salon, and a dashing anarchist who may or may not have detonated a bomb that accidentally deprived the poet Laurent Tailhade of an eye. And now, thanks to a shrewd feat of translation by Luc Sante, Fénéon will be remembered for authoring one of the finest volumes of poetry in 2007. Novels in Three Lines assembles the 1,000-plus faits-divers published throughout 1906 in the Paris daily Le Matin. Fénéon transformed a minor mode of journalism into a major literary art, distilling current events into terse, evocative snapshots: “After a misstep, then tumbling from one outcropping to another, Rouge, a mason, of Serriéres, Savoy, who was picking herbs, fractured his skull.” Think of them as the missing link between the meticulous enigmas of Symbolist poetry and the thing-based integrity of Imagism. Read them, preferably in small daily doses, for endless, unnerving beguilement. NATHAN LEE

Slate Magazine
I’ve been dipping into two offbeat books that combine clear eyed reportage with exotica run wild. Félix Fénéon, an art critic who hobnobbed with Mallarmé, spent much of 1906 writing miniature summaries of news items to fill out newspaper columns. Assembled by his longtime mistress, and tautly translated by Luc Sante, Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines is violent, ironic, and sometimes just plain weird: “Frogs, sucked up from the Belgian ponds by the storm, rained down upon the streets of the red-light district of Dunkirk.” Christopher Benfey, art critic

New Statesman
Novels in Three Lines
Félix Fénéon
My other great delight has been Luc Sante’s translation of Novels in Three Lines by Félix Fénéon, a collection of over a thousand anonymous items by the French anarchist – deliciously tart and brilliantly compacted micro-vignettes of daily life in all its ironies, passions and dark mysteries. Sukhdev Sandhu

Novels in Three Lines
Félix Fénéon
An unclassifiable book if ever there was one — surreal and absurd and very funny in a macabre sort of way. Charlotte Mandell

I know that the Times Literary Supplement best list had one or two NYRB books (guess which one/s?) but the physical copy in the library that I’m in has disappeared, another copy at another library is half-way across campus, and the archived link to the article on their website isn’t working. Screw it.

I made the trek, claimed a copy, examined it twice, not a single NYRB C in sight. Ah, well. As far as the university presses went, Yale won by a mile.


9 Responses to "Shirt needed to confirm groupie status"

No shame, the NYRB imprint is a great project. Attractively printed and packaged books, a mix of neglected classics and weird stuff, useful introductions. Maybe I should note that I haven’t read even one that you mention.

The Fénéon and the Desani both look like something I need to find and spend some time with…thanks for posting the links. I am curious about the Sorokin even if I fear it might not be my thing.

Wow! I’m very impressed with your list. I think you found just about everything we’ve found ourselves so far. You have an eagle eye. If only we did have t-shirts, I’d send you one—you certainly deserve it!

My NYRB collection is growing and I have got my husband joining in on the madness. I will have to make sure I include several in my reading goals for next year!

Amateur Reader neither have I although I did get one from last year’s Guardian’s list — that James Hogg novel…”Confessions of a Sinner” or something like that. It may take me a whole year but I do get the books I want, eventually. 😀

I like the Guardian one best because they pulled out books that weren’t the more obvious new releases.

Vebivore, yes, I’m not sure about the Sorokin either — maybe when it’s out in paperback? I remembered the Feneon since J.V. for TLS‘ “N.B.” did a nice paragraph or two on it, complete with sketch.

Ian Stewart yes, that one definitely seems your weight. A friend of mine doing Russian linguistics says it’s pretty damn fab.

Sara ahh, I thought I did, although it was hard to miss — especially all of those recommendations for the Feneon. Thank you for the thought about the shirt. Truth be told my blog acts partly as a shopping list resource, since it’s easier to pop in a search term than flip through my journal. 😀

Stefanie I was thinking I would stay away from reading goals for 2008. I cringe looking back at goals I’d forgotten I’d made.

“…I occasionally worry about becoming a literary version of a LV brand ho.”

This line made me laugh somehow.

I actually have Gyula Krúdy’s “Sunflower” at my desk for a while. It looks really interesting – and it promises to be funny too. You think you might read it any time soon?

LV brand hos are a pretty amusing specimen.

Not sure about the Krudy. I’d like to say that I might be, maybe, but there are so many other books that technically deserve my attention first….

І do not еven know how I ended up here, bbut I thought this pkst waѕ good.
I do not kmow who you are bbut definitely you are going to a famous
bloǥger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

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