Monday, June 21, 2010

Lost Books Month: Found Books - NYRB Classics

The collection of books known as the NYRB Classics constitutes one of the most important efforts in US publishing. They are more or less the 800 lbs gorilla of literary conservation. It should be noted that they are a benevolent 800 lbs gorilla, and one with a staggering list of books they've brought back from obscurity.

In the tradition of the two other "Found Books" posts I'd like to take a moment to feature three of the books they've brought back this year. One of them I reviewed a few weeks ago.

Incidentally I'm looking at two others currently and will post a full review of them somewhere down the line. What can I say? NYRB Classics are like cookies and milk to me.

NYRB Classics

The Lonely Passion Of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore. Afterword by Mary Gordon. NYRB Classics. Trade paperback. ISBN: 9781590173497. 240 pps. $14.95.

From the NYRB Classics website...

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is an unflinching and deeply sympathetic portrait of a woman destroyed by self and circumstance. First published in 1955, it marked Brian Moore as a major figure in English literature (he would go on to be short-listed three times for the Booker Prize) and established him as an astute chronicler of the human soul.

Judith Hearne is an unmarried woman of a certain age who has come down in society. She has few skills and is full of the prejudices and pieties of her genteel Belfast upbringing. But Judith has a secret life. And she is just one heartbreak away from revealing it to the world.

Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham. Introduction by Nick Tosches. Fiction. New York Review Of Books. Trade Paperback. 275 pps. ISBN: 9781590173480. $14.95.

From the May 10th Front List / Back List...

When he was found in his empty apartment he had a suit on and in his pocket he carried business cards that at the four corners read: NO ADDRESS, NO PHONE, NO BUSINESS, NO MONEY and in the center: RETIRED. It was September of 1962. Nightmare Alley, Gresham's biggest critical and monetary success, was utterly out-of-print.

Nightmare Alley is about crime and dilemma, guilt and madness, and pulls you in like the mark that you are. It is a novel about the fast-talking, quick misdirection of carnivals. It is about sexual obsession, murder and above all else, alcoholism.

It has also lived a largely underground existence. When Gresham died, no paper carried the story except the New York Post. The bridge columnist mentioned his passing. It seems the cards at least honored the man they apparently condemned.

The label of cult classic was seemingly the novel's fate. That is until 2010 when New York Review Of Books did what they do and brought it back to life, replete with insightful Foreword by Nick Tosches. This is not a book that should be underground. This is one for the 20th century's "best" lists.

The Murderess by Alexandros Papadiamantis. Translated from the Greek by Peter Levi. Fiction. NYRB Classics. Trade paperback. ISBN: 9781590173503. 144 pps. $12.95.

From the NYRB Classics website...

The Murderess is a bone-chilling tale of crime and punishment with the dark beauty of a backwoods ballad. Set on the dirt-poor Aegean island of Skiathos, it is the story of Hadoula, an old woman living on the margins of society and at the outer limits of respectability. Hadoula knows about herbs and their hidden properties, and women come to her when they need help. She knows women’s secrets and she knows the misery of their lives, and as the book begins, she is trying to stop her new-born granddaughter from crying so that her daughter can at last get a little sleep. She rocks the baby and rocks her and then the terrible truth hits her: there’s nothing worse than being born a woman, and there’s something that she, Hadoula, can do about that.

Peter Levi’s matchless translation of Alexandros Papadiamantis’s astonishing novella captures the excitement and haunting poetry of the original Greek.

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