15 Great New Directions

New Directions is a publisher that has brought so many household names into existence, and here are 15 of its books that have meant a lot to me personally. These are all books that have changed the way I read and how my mind thinks.

As a bonus, if you want to know about the history of this press—how it was founded, how it first evolved and became self-sustaining, and how this dream list was amassed—read the admirable Literchoor Is My Beat by Ian S. MacNiven.

Years after I’ve read this book, lines of it still pop into my head, and I feel that its rhythms are in my thoughts for good. A list of sorts, but also a philosophy, an ecology, and a reminder of the fact that love exists.

The paranoid, deathbed rant of a bankrupt priest, this book showcases Bolaño’s power and his ability to conjure up the dark psychology of a Goya.

Hawkes will forever be haunted by some words he said about the enemy of literature being character, plot, etc. If you bother to read him, you’ll see that this does not mean he doesn’t put character, plot, etc into his book. In fact, he is a master of these things, and Second Skin surely shows this.

This is Lispector at her listy-est, a book that looks a reads a little like late David Markson, albeit if you substitute radiant passion for somber irony. There are more quotables and ponderables here than anyone should be entitled to write.

Although he’s not terribly well-known here, Emilio Pacheco is regarded as one of the foremost Spanish-language poets of his generation. He also wrote prose, and Battles in the Desert is a novella that’s required reading in Mexico. It’s a book about memories and nostalgia and childhood innocence, a bit of a red-herring-esque whodunnit in the tradition of a Bolaño.

I think this book stands as good a chance of any to be read 100 years from now. It’s a book about beauty and art’s purpose in this world, and how humans make order from anarchy. It’s also stylistically radical and utterly engrossing from virtually the first page.

A seminal book of New Criticism. Empson starts from the idea that ambiguity exists when “alternative views might be taken without sheer misreading” and moves on from there to construct a genealogy of the seven kinds possible. In its willingness to see this-as-that and to wonder where the sense in a text lies, it seems to anticipate some of the great critical movements that would come later in the 20th century.

This is the infamous book of Aira’s that involves a plot to take over the world with clones of Carlos Fuentes. I always tell people that this is one of Aira’s best, even if it sort of falls apart 2/3 of the way through. Which, actually, may seem like the most Aira thing about it.

A poet’s novel, a beast that a decade in the making, a book that tries to capture the American idiom, or at least what it was before America completely changed size and shape from the ’60s onward (but still, an idiom that can be found if you look in the right places).

Although other of Vila-Matas’s books have worked his central ideas in more elaborate ways, this may still be my favorite of his because of the brevity and tautness to it. A series of footnotes with no original, a series of riffs on modernism, a punchline with no joke. Read it in an afternoon, think about it for the rest of the month.

To me this is the quintessential Sebald, a walking tour that takes in the whole of European art and history, plus life, death, logic, rationalism. And “the rings of Saturn” must be one of the better organizing metaphors I’ve ever encountered.

Simply put, if you think you know what poetry is, read Nicanor Parra.

I believe this was my first New Direction ever. This book has introduced generations of readers to new worlds, and it will continue to as long as books are read.

I don’t even really know what Walser has set out to do here, or what kind of a novel this is supposed to be. I only know that it is unlike any novel I have read, and that it gives new definitions to the word weightlessness.

A spy novel mixed with a philosophical inquiry into Europe, the world view of its major religion, and its political possibilities. Plus an attempt to know oneself, and that Beckettian imperative to finally fall silent.

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My first New Directions exposure was in college: H.D. and Pound in one poetry class, Michael Palmer’s “At Passages” in another. After that, I remember buying any thing of Susan Howe’s I could find, many of which ND published. They were a great guide in those years after college when I was discovering things for myself that I hadn’t been taught.

And a few more I love (in addition to several you mentioned): Zukofsky, Carson, Di Blasi and Weinberger.

My favourite New Directions book is the hardcover edition of Pound’s Cantos.

Three of my all-time favourites: By Night in Chile, Rings of Saturn and Seiobo There Below. I agree with you about the least of these- it’s areading experience unlike any other and quite unclassifiable,

For those who may be searching for it, WCW’s “Paterson” has only one ‘t’ in the title.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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