Thank goodness for my Art of the Novella subscription or I might not be getting in any classics this year at all! Has it really been since last April that I shared any of my Art of the Novella or NYRB Classics subscription books (looks like I squeezed in May's books as well)? I've been trying to write about them as I (slowly) read them, but they are piling up--both new ones to read and those that I've read and still would like to write about.
The beauty of the novellas is they are normally quite short in length, though I do have a couple of rather longish ones to tackle in the coming weeks and months. At the moment I am reading the comic story of Nikolai Gogol's How the Two Ivan's Quarrelled, which is a mere 83 pages. It's sort of a nonsensical story, but amusing in its way. I am wondering if it's always the best approach to read a new author by choosing one of their lesser works, but as the novellas are so short even if I don't necessarily "love" the book, I will certainly read more by the author. The Gogol along with Jane Austen's Lady Susan, which I already wrote about, were May's selections.
For June I have Willa Cather's Alexander's Bridge:
"Bartley Alexander, renowned engineer of bridges, is a man with a past who 'looked as a tamer of rivers ought to look.' Discovered by his mentor 'sowing wild oats in London,' he returned to America and the commission that made his name. Now, married to his wife of ten years, a chance encounter with actress Hilda Burgoyne, an almost forgotten love from his past, prompts a doomed attempt to recapture the boundlessness of his youth."
and Dostoevsky's The Eternal Husband:
"The Eternal Husband may constitute his most classically-shaped composition, with his most devilish plot: a man answers a late-night knock on the door to find himself in a tense and puzzling confrontation with the husband of a former lover—but it isn’t clear if the husband knows about the affair. What follows is one of the most beautiful and piercing considerations ever written about the dualities of love: a dazzling psychological duel between the two men over knowledge they may or may not share, bringing them both to a shattering conclusion."
July's books are two novellas by Heinrich von Kleist. I've already read (must write about soon) The Duel, which I think is one of my favorites so far.
"One of the few novellas written by the master German playwright, The Duel was considered by Thomas Mann and others to be one of the great works of German literature. The story of a virtuous woman slandered by a nobleman, it is a precise study of a subject that fascinated von Kleist: That people are sometimes seemingly punished for their very innocence."
Michael Kohlhaas sounds equally as interesting and I might just pick it up next.
"Based on actual historic events, this thrilling saga of violence and retribution bridged the gap between medieval and modern literature, and speaks so profoundly to the contemporary spirit that it has been the basis of numerous plays, movies, and novels."
Just this past week the mail brought two more duels to my door. One by Chekhov (which I already read but will happily reread, I think), and the other by Alexander Kuprin. Chekhov's Duel:
"One of Chekhov’s most important lengthy works, this remarkable story gives a startling twist to his classic, ongoing study of bourgeois romance when he sets it on a collision course with a decaying, Czarist concept of honor. It ends in the ultimate Chekhovian observation: that fate is often ludicrous.
I'm not at all familiar with Alexander Kuprin. There are quite a selection of novellas by Russian authors with this subscription, I must say. Kuprin's Duel:
"An absorbing saga about the brutalities of military life upon its own soldiers. Stranded at a distant outpost, young Romashov finds himself obliged to fight a duel — over something he realizes is meaningless. As the novel hurtles toward a startling conclusion, it reveals itself to be a luminous depiction of the end of an era."
Actually that sounds really good, too. Maybe I should try and read the rest of the duel novels back to back? My only disappointment with my novella subscription is that there have been so few female authors represented.
As for my NYRB subscription. I am enjoying each and every book I pick up--in different ways often, but they have all been really good. Let's see where did I leave off? Paul Hazard for April/May (but weighing in at nearly 500 formidable pages I put it on the back burner). I should really at least start reading (ten pages a day?) if I want to try and finish it this year still. Renata Adler's Pitch Dark was next(or thereabouts anyway), and then Ana Seghers' Transit. Now I am reading Russell Hoban's quirky but entertaining Turtle Diary. I hope to finish by the end of this week. I'm already looking forward to the next two books (and can hopefully catch up with this subscription!). For July In Love by Alan Hayes arrived.
"New York in the 1950s. A man on a barstool is telling a story about a woman he met in a bar, early married and soon divorced, her child farmed out to her parents, good-looking, if a little past her prime. They’d gone out, they’d grown close, but as far as he was concerned it didn’t add up to much. He was a busy man. Then one day, out dancing, she runs into a rich awkward lovelorn businessman. He’ll pay for her to be his, pay her a lot. And now the narrator discovers that he is as much in love with her as she is with him, perhaps more, though it will take him a while to realize just how utterly lost he is."
And just a week or so ago I received The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart, a new-to-me-author.
"A masterpiece of Caribbean literature, The Bridge of Beyond relates the triumph of a generous and hopeful spirit, while offering a gorgeously lush, imaginative depiction of the flora, landscape, and customs of Guadeloupe. Simone Schwarz-Bart’s incantatory prose, interwoven with Creole proverbs and lore, appears here in a remarkable translation by Barbara Bray."
I'm excited to read both book, but am especially looking forward to this last one. It's been quite a fun adventure getting these surprises in my mailbox and I plan on continuing both subscriptions next year!