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Posts Tagged ‘books’

What a Good Book Can Be: An Interview with Edwin Frank

April 7, 2016 | by

In 1999, Edwin Frank founded New York Review Books to reintroduce out-of-print works—many in first translations from around the world—to the reading public. “From the beginning, it was our intention to be resolutely eclectic, and build our classics series as different voices build a fugue,” Frank told the New York Times last year. “We set out to do the whole mix of things that a curious person might be interested in, which would take you back and forth from fiction to certain kinds of history.” In the last seventeen years, you’ve likely picked up a New York Review Book—maybe because you were taken with its arresting design, or because you recognized a work you didn’t know by a major author: Walt Whitman’s unexpurgated Drum-Taps, say, or unpublished stories by Chekhov, or new versions of Aeschylus and Balzac, Dante and Euripides, or essay collections by Sartre, Lionel Trilling, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm.

Since its inception, the series has won dozens of awards for its translations; the New York Times chose Magda Szabó’s The Door as one of the ten best books of 2015. New York Review Books have met not just with critical plaudits but commercial success, which naturally leads the curious reader to wonder: Who is Edwin Frank, anyway? We met in his apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn to discuss his process: how he finds the books he publishes and what provokes his interest. Frank has a soft-spoken manner and a reader’s excellent dispatch of vocabulary, but he clearly enjoys regular punctuations of loud laughter, provoked by his knowing, bone-dry sense of humor.

You’ve published two books of poetry. Has your background as a poet affected your tastes as an editor? 

Well you could say that reading and writing poetry saved me from ever being a professional reader or writer. I had a Stegner Fellowship after college, but the main thing I took away from it was a permanent aversion to the world of writing programs, and poetry is also a pretty effective inoculation against commercial publishing. And I was always sure that I wanted to have nothing to do with the academic study of literature. Then again, poetry did in some sense lead me to publishing—a kind of gateway drug—since in the nineties my friend Andy McCord and I started a small press, Alef Books, in which we published Joseph Lease, Ilya Kutik, Melissa Monroe, Michael Ruby. But that was a labor of love. In fact I came to editing very late, in my midthirties, which is unusual in publishing, a business people mostly go into right after college. It was a lucky break. I needed a job and I thought that having put out a handful of books of poems would make me of interest to publishers, which of course was dead wrong.
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Read and Worn

March 28, 2016 | by

Jeremy May’s book jewelry. Images via My Modern Met.

If you’re like me, the walls of your home are obscured by hundreds, nay thousands, of thick, musty, outdated reference texts: The 1903 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. Things to Know About Boll Weevils. Urinalysis and You. A day ago, I would’ve told you the only way to get rid of these books was to burn them. But now I’ve learned that you can turn them into jewelry. It’s easy:

  1. Carefully tear out hundreds of pages and laminate them together.
  2. Using your hands and the same unalloyed will that led you to hoard these books in the first place, form the laminated paper into a ring, bracelet, pendant, or necklace of your choice.
  3. With your safety goggles on, take a power sander to your jewelry and buff it until you achieve a lustrous, glossy finish.
  4. Or just call Jeremy May. He does this for a living and is better at it than you are.

May, an artist based in London, is showing his book jewelry—created using a vastly refined version of the process above—as part of a group exhibition called “Read and Worn: Jewelry from Books,” at New York’s RR Gallery through April 24. You can see more images below and at My Modern MetRead More »

Helped by Recollection

March 11, 2016 | by

From the New York Review of Books reissue of More Was Lost.

The other day, lacking something to read, I picked up a book at the Paris Review offices: Eleanor Perenyi’s More Was Lost, published in 1946 and recently reissued by New York Review Classics. Perenyi is probably best known today for her 1981 gardening memoir Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden. It’s considered a classic of its genre, but, having never had any particular interest in gardening, I’d never read her. Read More »

The Great Books

March 8, 2016 | by

Gunnar Asplund, View of Interior for Paris Exhibition 1925, Bookcase Wall Elevation.

There’s something profoundly sad about being surrounded by books and unable to find anything to read. It feels like a failure: yours, society’s, the universe’s. It can happen in a poorly stocked library branch, a failing bookstore, an airport newsstand. And it’s a horrible feeling. Read More »

Your Best-selling Foot, and Other News

February 25, 2016 | by

This is Brent Underwood’s foot, a more accomplished author than you or I.

  • Writers should always have a backup plan. A good one is to consider a career in the Central Intelligence Agency, which is what Jennifer duBois did around the time she was applying to M.F.A. programs. You ask: But couldn’t she do both? “When it comes to writing for publication, the CIA’s terms are stark: once you have been under their employ, everything you write for the rest of your life will be subject to their review and redaction … The CIA emphasizes that these redactions apply only to matters of national security—that a potential novelist would not, for example, be forfeiting her artistic autonomy for a lifetime, which is a question I think I actually asked—and, for what it’s worth, I believe this. But then, how could we ever know? Who would ever tell us?”
  • Do you have three bucks? Do you have five minutes? Friend, congratulations: you’re about to become a best-selling author. Brent Underwood tells you how: “I didn’t feel like writing a book so I instead just took a photo of my foot. I called the book Putting My Foot Down and included one page with, you guessed it, a photo of my foot … I decided my foot was worthy of the ‘Transpersonal’ category under psychology books and ‘Freemasonry & Secret Societies’ category under social sciences books … Burst onto the scene with three copies sold in the first few hours. Look at that hockey stick growth!”
  • When fingerprinting came on the scene in the late nineteenth century, it was regarded as a forensics godsend—and tellingly, it coincided with the popularity of Sherlock Holmes and detective fiction. But Francis Galton, who wrote the first influential book on fingerprints, was interested in them for a different kind of fiction: “He definitively declared that ‘no peculiar pattern …characterizes persons of any of the above races.’ And yet, despite his admission that ‘hard fact had made hope no longer justifiable,’ a closer look at Galton’s writings reveals that racial typologies were never far from his thoughts. The conflicted speculation, conjecture, and hesitation in Galton’s racial rhetoric in Finger Prints can be understood as a deliberate strategy, one which allowed him to perpetuate a strong racial and imperial research program even when his scientific data undermined it.”
  • Just a friendly reminder that good times are ahead: the Oscars are happening. A whole bunch of movies will be celebrated, and most of them are highly forgettable, but in interesting ways. Luckily A. S. Hamrah knows these ways, and has written them down. On The Martian: “Ridley Scott’s backlot Mars offers a parable for New Yorkers considering the move to LA … You’ll conduct your social life via text and Skype, make trips to the desert in your electric car. You’ll continue to shave every day on the off chance you get a meeting.” On The Revenant: “Iñárritu has finally solved the problem of how to film a realistic bear fight. The next cinematic problem he should tackle is screenwriting.” On Steve Jobs: “They should have given Steve Jobs away for free without anyone asking for it, like that U2 album. That way people (users) might have watched it by accident.”
  • In 1955, the saxophonist Wardell Gray died in bizarre circumstances, found miles outside of Vegas with a broken neck, his body having clearly been moved. For Aaron Gilbreath, his story reminds of “the small pantheon of jazz fiction. Writers looking to turn real life into dramatic narrative need look no further than the real history of American music. Racism, resistance, creativity, invention, the power to shape global culture while enduring systematic repression, violence, drug use, and the countless personalities with memorable names set against the sprawling canvas of post-WWII New York City, Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles–it’s all there.”

Silver Lining

February 11, 2016 | by

From Early Silver of Connecticut and Its Makers, 1913.

It’s hard not to have mixed feelings about Florence King after reading her famous memoir, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady (1985). She’s … idiosyncratic, certainly. Brave, in certain respects. Independent-minded, yes, and not afraid of being disliked. But King, a notorious crank, was hard to pigeonhole: Where do you fit an openly gay writer who wrote a famously cantankerous and conservative National Review column for decades? Or a feminist who hated the women’s movement and an outspoken agnostic who regularly attended church? 

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is as singular as its author. King is at her best when she talks about the South in broad, acid terms. She offers a particularly adept explanation of the Southerner’s relationship to silver—one that I read with relish, as I come from a family that fetishizes silver. Read More »