NYRB Classics

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Dohol
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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by Dohol »

jon abbey wrote:finally got to this one yesterday:

Image

so good, the plot may not sound so interesting if you read it beforehand, and if that's not enough, the book basically starts with a synopsis of what will follow.

but none of that matters, deeply moving and really well written, lines I wanted to quote every few pages, best book I've read in a while.

and somehow it's the #1 seller in the Netherlands, despite initially being published in 1965:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-t ... rseas.html


Thanks Jon, for reminding me (just got my own copy from Amazon today..) I first read this more than thirty years ago... I was getting along by planting trees, trimming trees, picking fruit... what ever I could find in those less than memorable rust belt days. And I was getting along by reading every book in the South Haven Michigan public library. And this was one of those books (strange, aint it?)

A simple, perfect book.

the term "great american novel" is very much over used..

not in this case..
“In a kind of middle-aged crisis, it dawned upon me that there was a possibility that music might not even be an art form.”

Morton Feldman


http://soundcloud.com/doug-holbrook

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Dohol
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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by Dohol »

not to mention the cover of this edition is ace...
“In a kind of middle-aged crisis, it dawned upon me that there was a possibility that music might not even be an art form.”

Morton Feldman


http://soundcloud.com/doug-holbrook

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jon abbey
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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by jon abbey »

nice, Doug!

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jon abbey
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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by jon abbey »

Adrian wrote:try this one in this series:
Nescio - Amsterdam Stories
just finished this, not bad but pretty slight. The Freeloader was the most memorable, I kind of wish I'd only read that one as the others didn't really live up to it or add too much. I get that writing was never his main occupation, and I do think his prose is often beautiful, even in English translation, but I still couldn't help wishing there was some more meat there. fragments of what could have been, I guess.

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by Adrian »

I kind of get what you mean Jon. Nescio is well known for his pared down, almost un-literary, very Dutch style. These 4 novellas are his core work, but in Dutch there is a much larger volume that collects everything. Also, there is a 'nature diary'. And yes, he wrote while being employed in an office.
Very Dutch all round... :-)
plus sonat quam valet - seneca

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jon abbey
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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by jon abbey »

since then I read Stefan Zweig-Confusion, which was OK but also pretty slight. it is around 150 pages, but I have never seen a book where all four margins are so huge and there are so few words per page.

I have been on a NYRB buying spree lately, maybe I'll take a shot at Butcher's Crossing next.

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by frozen reeds »

Classic Crimes by William Roughead really floated my boat.
http://www.frozenreeds.com/
Now available: Morton Feldman - Crippled Symmetry: at June in Buffalo, performed by The Feldman Soloists (Eberhard Blum, Nils Vigeland, Jan Williams)

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by jon abbey »

mudd wrote:Image
got to this one this weekend, I didn't connect with it quite as much as Stoner, but that's a very high standard. it's very strong and well done, the details throughout (especially of the buffalo hunting) are mesmerizing. thanks for the push, mudd!!

Matt Wuethrich
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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by Matt Wuethrich »

I'm going to have to pick up those Williams books. There are just too many superlatives being thrown their way to not see what the fuss is about.

Thanks to this thread I've amassed a decent stack of these. I recently finished this one:

Image

Eloquence, erudition, experience. Fermor converses in almost off-handed way about Lord Byron's lost slippers, Greek mountain shepherds, the Cretan resistance (of which he was a part), secret beggar dialects and the monastic community in Meteora. His enthusiasm about the country and its history rubs off. He comes as an advocate and not a historian or an expert, which makes all the difference. It's not necessarily an end-to-end read, because the chapters are more or less self-contained but that means you can kind of dip in and out. Still, it holds together as a whole really well, held together by Fermor's pretty unique voice.

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by Herb Levy »

Image

I finished Stoner a couple of weeks ago. It is, as so many others have acclaimed here, a very, VERY good book.

I'm by no means a hardliner about this kind of issue, but I can't help thinking, in the context of the fiction that had already been published by writers like John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Samuel Beckett, William Gaddis, Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon & Kurt Vonnegut by 1965 when Stoner was first printed, that stylistically, Williams' book may be analogous to, say, a symphony composed in 1965 written entirely in the style of Mahler or a be-bop record made by a band of young musicians in the 1980s.

On another note, FWIW, I either had never noticed, or had long forgotten, that Katy Homans, who I knew when she lived in Seattle for about ten years when I still lived there, does all the great cover designs for NYRB Classics.

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by faster »

Herb Levy wrote:Katy Homans, who I knew when she lived in Seattle for about ten years when I still lived there, does all the great cover designs for NYRB Classics.
Then she's awesome.
You, of all people, should understand

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by Herb Levy »

faster wrote:
Herb Levy wrote:Katy Homans, who I knew when she lived in Seattle for about ten years when I still lived there, does all the great cover designs for NYRB Classics.
Then she's awesome.
Her design awesomeness was a given long before the NYRB series. She always designed a lot of museum catalogs, artist monographs, etc every year.

Her connections with that part of the art world probably make the NYRB things easy because she's always looking at that material for other purposes anyway (& it probably doesn't hurt when they're getting the reproduction rights either).

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by surfer »

Image

I just finished Stoner, and cant share the enthusiasm for it, unfortunately. I really expected to like this one, it seems almost universally loved here and elsewhere. I'm absolutely puzzled about the love for this one to be honest. William Stoner is to me no more than a tedious Job-like figure who stoically endures a series of unprovoked vengeful tribulations directed at him by his wife, and then by his colleague, while never losing an iota of patience, grace, or appreciation. Willy is the most tedious type of saint-like figure, barely human, an inert paradigm of teaching perfection and husbandly responsibility and fatherly love. There’s nothing remotely human about him or his reactions to any of the situations Williams puts him in. And knowing some details about Williams’ life from the introduction, the whole thing feels uncomfortably close to autohagiography.

Much of this relatively short novel feels rushed. For instance, we move from Stoner's first glimpse of Edith at the party, to his marriage to her in about 12 pages. There is barely even a cursory attempt made by Williams to illuminate her interior life: her perspective, her dreams. All we are told is that she wanted to go to Europe with her aunt before she was married, and this is supposed to be a metaphor for the larger cultural and social claustrophobia she feels in her marriage to a assistant professor in provincial Columbia. Her artistic interests (indeed all of her interests outside of her marriage) are portrayed in the most condescending and chauvinistic way. She's sketched as an entirely unsympathetic shrew built from the most clichéd of Victorian stereotypes about women: hysterical, superficial dilettantes, nagging anchors on their more talented husbands, emotionally and physically fragile. In this novel, women are either shrill harpies, or sexual playthings who disappear when needed. I felt that at times that the author's complete lack of empathy towards Edith bordered on outright misogyny. I’d love to hear this tale told from her point of view. Furthermore, I could write paragraphs on how the author's portrayal of an affair between a professor and student is so far from reality that it’s more or less a middle-aged man's sexual fantasy. There’s no pressure on him from Katherine to leave his wife, no conflicted feelings about where this relationship is going. There is not even any significant tension from his wife Edith who seems to accept the affair with relief.

And then there’s his career. Stoner's two main academic antagonists are both crippled to, I guess, mark them as malignant in some way. The only reason implied for Lomax's extreme partisanship for the student Walker, is simply because they are both handicapped. Because, you know, “those handicapped people” are all in some sort of secret cabal. Finch is 100% percent gregarious frat-boy. I didn’t mind him so much, and Grace’s portrayal, and her relationship to William Stoner, especially after she gets pregnant, is probably the single most interesting dynamic in the novel.

The bare writing style is occasionally poignant, but more often just banal. Occasionally Williams can turn over a clod or two of lyric writing in his plain prose style:
“He had come to that moment in his age when there occurred to him, with increasing intensity, a question of such overwhelming simplicity that he had no means to face it. He found himself wondering if his life were worth the living; if it had ever been. It was a question, he suspected, that came to all men at one time or another; he wondered if it came to them with such impersonal force as it came to him. The question brought with it a sadness, but it was a general sadness which (he thought) had little to do with himself or with his particular fate; he was not even sure that the question sprang from the most immediate and obvious causes, from what his own life had become… He took a grim and ironic pleasure from the possibility that what little learning he had managed to acquire had led him to this knowledge: that in the long run all things, even the learning that let him know this, were futile and empty, and at last diminished into a nothingness they did not alter.”
After I read this I thought it was a nice passage, with a certain grim poetic beauty. I went back and reread it, and instead I saw how it was stapled together with a colon, three semi-colons, and an ellipse. Its not terrible writing, just depressingly mediocre.

For me, there is very little holding this novel together other than a vision of William Stoner as a martyr, an academic "Mouchette". For some reason while reading this I kept thinking of Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome, a novel I haven’t read since high school, but one which iirc also features a handicapped character and a love triangle involving a cold bitter spouse, and a doomed affair. I think I might read that next and see how it compares.

My primary issue with the novel is that it is morally simplistic and diametrically constructed. Every character (possibly Grace excepted) is either wholly and completely good and wholesome, or bad and corrupted and bitter. Any kind of ambiguous middle is excluded. Williams’ world is not one where these mix in kind of emotionally complex way. Sadly disappointing.

Image

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by surfer »

I'm also bummed to be starting '14 by posting a disappointing review of a book a lot of people seem to really genuinely love. Not my intention to detract from anyone else's enjoyment of this novel. Just a humble but honest opinion.

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by Matt Wuethrich »

Excellent critique, Surfer. You make a lot of valid points, especially about the female and handicapped characters in the book, but I think there's more tragedy and depth to Stoner's situation than you suggest. I also wonder if a lot of the seemingly two-dimensional caricatures were completely intentional. The reader is more or less viewing the world through Stoner's eyes, and his perspective was in many ways a shallow (and very male) one. I found myself both pitying and getting angry at William for being so locked within himself, so unable to feel connection with others, even when he might want to. I found no admirable qualities in his martyrdom but certainly gleaned something about how one person can insulate themselves emotionally and spiritually from the world.

As for the writing style, it certainly is plain, austerely grim in places, but again, doesn't this just reflect on Stoner's own perspective — disconnected at times, trance-like in others?

I've got Butcher's Crossing here, and I'm curious how Williams' style varies from book to book.

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by surfer »

Matt Wuethrich wrote: The reader is more or less viewing the world through Stoner's eyes, and his perspective was in many ways a shallow (and very male) one. As for the writing style, it certainly is plain, austerely grim in places, but again, doesn't this just reflect on Stoner's own perspective — disconnected at times, trance-like in others?

I've got Butcher's Crossing here, and I'm curious how Williams' style varies from book to book.
I'd have more sympathy for this pov if the novel were written in the 1st person, but it is not. There's a real danger with having an author identify too closely with the protagonist. John Williams gives Stoner too much benefit of the doubt, and entirely withholds that same kindness from others. I have Butcher's Crossing too, but I think I'm going to pass.

Going back to Daniel Kahneman Thinking Fast and Slow

Image

which is excellent. I was taking a short break from it because it is very dense, and taxing (thought not difficult) to read. About halfway through. Its a great companion to Silver's book btw, they touch on a lot of the same topics from two different perspectives.

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by jon abbey »

Butcher's Crossing has pretty much no stylistic overlap, FWIW. it might as well have been written by a different author.

Stoner was probably the best book I read last year, but I don't really feel like defending it.

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by Lao Tsu Ben »

surfer wrote:Image
William Stoner is to me no more than a tedious Job-like figure who stoically endures a series of unprovoked vengeful tribulations directed at him by his wife, and then by his colleague, while never losing an iota of patience, grace, or appreciation. Willy is the most tedious type of saint-like figure, barely human, an inert paradigm of teaching perfection and husbandly responsibility and fatherly love.
I haven't read the novel, but it seems to me that this saint-like figure, which I think as a sympathetic version of the Alexei Karenina-like figure, is currently in fashion in books published in the United States. I think of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen but there are other examples. It might well be a fancy of the mind.

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by mudd »

well the book is nearly 50 years old so i don't know what it has to do with fashion. i haven't read any books in the past year or two that have characters at all saint-like, but there are always lots of books.

i think i said this upthread or elsewhere, but i think butcher's crossing is the superior novel. stoner is moving, poignant and nearly tragic, but i think it isn't tragedy when the man falls on the blade of his own virtue.

i do think stoner is a great book, though, because the atmosphere of the book is controlled nearly perfectly and the gravity is very real. in a family of academic isolation books with lucky jim, d'arconville's cat, and probably a bunch of others it stands out for that.

m

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Re: NYRB Classics

Post by Lao Tsu Ben »

mudd wrote:well the book is nearly 50 years old so i don't know what it has to do with fashion.
Yes, I should have checked when it was written. I was saying that because someone offered me Asterios Polyp recently, a graphic novel, as they say, and it reminded me of Freedom which I didn't like at all. They achieve, or tend toward a similar feeling of wistfulness, which in both case is kind of phoney.