Labour Day marks the end of summer for most people, but for me it's a wistful reminder that my school days are over and done with; it's hard to suppress that itch I still get to go school supply shopping. Part of the fun of each new term was making a pile of the required texts in delicious contemplation of hopefully discovering new writers, different eras, and challenging ideas. And as I was dusting my crowded bookshelves this weekend, I realized I have more than enough unread treasures in my own personal library to continue this tradition. I usually wait until January to assign myself some reading challenges, but since so much of my life has been oriented around the school year (I still use a September - to- September daytimer), I'm in the perfect mindset now to enroll in a new venture. And I know exactly what "course" I want to take.
Long before Random House started distributing New York Review of Books Classics (which I now proudly get to represent), I'd been an avid collector. I loved the eclectic selection of titles and authors, the thoughtful introductions, the handsome covers, their trade paperback size - so easy to pop into a purse - and price. They used to be hard to find in Canada and every time I went to the States for a holiday or Book Expo, I'd stop at a bookstore and buy five, ten, or twenty to bring home. I now own 184 but as is the curse of many a bibliophile with too many literary passions, I've only gotten around to reading 22. And yet I can honestly say that I've consistently enjoyed every single NYRB book that I've ever read. Some have been more to my taste than others, but each has offered something unexpected and the line has introduced me to many new authors I would never have otherwise read - especially classic works by international authors in translation, a genre they excel in.
Well, I'm not getting any younger and NYRB continues to publish 15-20 new titles every year. It's time to get serious and start making inroads into their rich list. And so I'm going to try my darnest to read and blog about 50 of their titles from Labour Day Weekend 2009 to Labour Day Weekend 2010. That's roughly one a week, with a couple of grace weeks for some of the longer books. I have no set order; whatever takes my whimsy that week will suffice, although I will leave some of the shorter books for times that I'm particularly busy. And I wouldn't look for Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy (1424 pages) to pop up anytime soon. I'm also going to try not to read the same writer back to back or consecutive writers from the same country. And I'll make a conscious effort to explore the many genres that NYRB publishes - not just great fiction, but memoirs, letters, biography, history, travel, philosophy and poetry too. Since most of the readers of this blog are Canadian, I'm going to stick to those books that have Canadian rights, although many that don't are available in Canada from other publishers.
Do check out their incredible selection of books at their U.S. website here. I'll just end this post by listing my ten favourite NYRB Classics among those I've already read. And I'd love to hear from any fans with recommendations of what to read next.
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. A revelation. Completely original. Completely unforgettable.
Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang. Very moving stories about life and love in mid-20th century China.
The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy (available in Canada from Virago). Every librarian needs to read this very funny novel.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (available in Canada from Sort of Books). Such beautiful, delicate, uplifting writing about nature, time, death and human relationships.
Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge. A powerful novel about trying - and failing - to escape the horrors of the twentieth century.
Mary Olivier by May Sinclair. A modernist masterpiece from an unjustly forgotten author.
The Queue by Vladimir Sorokin. Playful and witty - this novel is made up entirely of dialogue as hundreds stand in line for days never really certain what they are queuing for.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. The perfect, magical fairytale to curl up with on a rainy day.
Stoner by John Williams. A heartbreaking novel about the loneliness of academia.
The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig. An aching look at the desperate and lonely lives of women in post WWI Germany.