NYRB Reading Week, even though I’m a ringer: I have been lucky enough to work with the press in various capacities since I first got obsessed with NYRBs in 2002 or 2003. (I now own 134 of the Classics.) You’ll be happy to hear that the folks at NYRB are as lovely as their book covers.

Here is the list, in alphabetical order, of my top ten favorite NYRB Classics. The next ten books down are great books too, and the ten after that, and etc., but these are ten I can no longer live without, not one of which I would have read without NYRB.

" />

The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

Available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and direct from this site:


Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

For low prices on Las Vegas shows visit LasVegas.ShowTickets.com

You Say

Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

Shop though these links = Support this site


Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • A Legacy by Sybille Bedford March 15, 2015
    Sybille Bedford had the benefit—or bad fortune, however you see it—of being born into the German aristocracy in 1911. Her father was a retired lieutenant colonel and art collector from the agrarian south, from a Roman Catholic family in fiscal decline. Her mother came from a wealthy German-Jewish family from Hamburg. A widower from his first marriage, Bedfor […]
  • Reviving Antal Szerb March 15, 2015
    Antal Szerb’s lithe, lively, and wholly endearing fiction is peopled by male dreamers on spiritual journeys of self-discovery. Each one sets out on his respective mini-mission with good intentions but knows from the outset that there are only so many harsh truths he can withstand. In this respect, all Szerb’s protagonists seem to have heeded the advice of Gr […]
  • 39 Africans Walk into a Bar March 15, 2015
    New anthologies of African fiction seem to materialize virtually every year, if not more often in recent years. When presented with the physical fact of yet another new anthology of African fiction, the immediate question, one which I was asked when I pressed the warm, bound pages of the Africa39 anthology into the even warmer hands of a new acquaintance, wa […]
  • The Country Road by Regina Ullmann March 15, 2015
    This collection of short stories, her first to appear in English, counters material poverty with a fulfilling and deeply spiritual relationship with the natural world. Ullmann herself was no stranger to hardship. A depressive, she was plagued by personal and professional crises. Financial constraints forced her to send her illegitimate children to the countr […]
  • The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura March 14, 2015
    The Fall of Language in the Age of English stirred up debate upon its publication in Japan in 2008, and it’s possible it will do so in the U.S. with its arrival in Mari Yoshihara and Juliet Winters Carpenter's translation. In their introduction, Yoshihara and Winters Carpenter, point out that Japanese reviewers accused Mizumura of being a jingoist, an e […]
  • Another View: Tracing the Foreign in Literary Translation by Eduard Stoklosinski March 14, 2015
    Another View demonstrates exciting potential in translation study and praxis. It is especially significant in deconstructing assumptions about fluency and linguistic identity. The author makes some persuasive arguments for considering and even preferring non-native translation of texts, the most controversial of which is the possibility that linguistic compe […]
  • The Latest Five from Dalkey Archive’s “Library of Korea” Series March 14, 2015
    Despite South Korea having the kind of vibrant literary scene you'd expect from a country with one of the highest literacy rates in the world, we're still not exactly inundated with English translations of South Korean fiction. Given this dearth, Dalkey Archive Press's Library of Korean Literature series, twenty five titles published in collab […]
  • B & Me: A True Story of Literary Arousal by J.C. Hallman March 14, 2015
    here’s a conspicuous history of books that simply should not work: Books like U & I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length exercise in “memory criticism,” where Baker traces Updike’s influence on his own writing life while studiously not actually re-reading any of Updike’s books. Or books like Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer’s book that procrastinates away from […]
  • The Valerie Miles Interview March 14, 2015
    The idea was to uncover the secret life of these texts, why do their creators consider them their best work? What’s the clandestine, the underground, the surreptitious meaning or attachment? Where’s the kernel, the seed from which a body of work grew, what the driving obsession? Is it something sentimental, something technical, maybe even something spiritual […]
  • On Being Blue by William H. Gass March 14, 2015
    Look up at the sky, or down into the ocean, and what color do you see? We see blue, but not Homer—he never once employs the term throughout The Iliad and The Odyssey, famously calling the sea "wine-dark" and the heavens "bronze." Neither did the Greek philosopher Xenophanes say blue—he described the rainbow as having only three colors. Th […]

Damion Searls' Top Ten NYRB Classics

I am grateful to The Quarterly Conversation/Conversational Reading for letting me guest-post a review for NYRB Reading Week, even though I’m a ringer: I have been lucky enough to work with the press in various capacities since I first got obsessed with NYRBs in 2002 or 2003. (I now own 134 of the Classics.) You’ll be happy to hear that the folks at NYRB are as lovely as their book covers.

Here is the list, in alphabetical order, of my top ten favorite NYRB Classics. The next ten books down are great books too, and the ten after that, and etc., but these are ten I can no longer live without, not one of which I would have read without NYRB.

To avoid needless repetition, please cut and paste in your mind the following sentence into all ten descriptions below: “It passes the bounds of human understanding how good this book is.”


The Winners, by Julio Cortázar, tr. Elaine Kerrigan

Cortázar is well known for lesser books; this early novel is my favorite. A cross-section of Buenos Aires society wins a cruise in a lottery, and the opening section swirls among the different couples, families, and individuals at a café on shore, where they meet to await further instructions. Then they’re off on a mysterious ship to an unknown destination. Intricate, philosophical, and transcendent.

A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor

Combine a great story (a charming 18-year-old travels on foot across Europe, from Holland to Constantinople, in 1933), forty years of learning and reflection (the book came out in 1977), and the richest prose stylist in the language since Thomas Browne: the result is a travel book overflowing with magnificence. NYRB publishes the sequel, Between the Woods and the Water, which covers the second third of his journey; we all pray that Fermor, age 95, will finish volume 3 and bring us to Constantinople.

A High Wind in Jamaica, by Richard Hughes

The best book ever written about childhood, and descriptive powers as mighty as Faulkner’s without any of the difficulty. One of Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels of the Twentieth Century; I wouldn’t have minded seeing it at #1.

The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson, tr. Thomas Teal

A six-year-old girl whose mother has died and her grandmother on a Scandinavian island. Like Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse—another book mourning the author’s mother—The Summer Book is a work of such beauty and perfect balance that to mention its glittering summer light makes it hard to believe it could be so dark, but to call it a book about grief and loss makes it hard to imagine it could be so bright and funny.

An African in Greenland, by Tété-Michel Kpomassie, tr. James Kirkup

A young man in Togo stumbles upon a book about Eskimos and vows to go to Greenland someday; it takes years, but he gets there. This is his absolutely winning memoir. One of the first NYRBs I bought on the basis of the cover and NYRB’s track record alone—a great discovery.

Sunflower, by Gyula Krúdy, tr. John Bátki

A Hungarian fever-dream of love and death amid mist-shrouded forests. The style may seem a little crazy at first, but let yourself go and this novel transports you like none other.

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, by Álvaro Mutis, tr. Edith Grossman

It is impossible to describe this book and how good it is, especially the first three or four of the seven novellas it contains. It’s about a philosophical drifter and his adventures of life and sex and thought and the poetry in our souls that can never be written. Gabriel García Márquez calls Mutis “one of the greatest writers of our time”—Gabriel García Márquez, people!

Jakob von Gunten, by Robert Walser, tr. Christopher Middleton

Walser is slowly getting the fame he deserves, thanks in no small part to NYRB. This novel, about a young man at a school for servants, is the book on this list most likely to change not only your life but the person leading it. Here’s the opening: “One learns very little here, there is a shortage of teachers, and none of us boys of the Benjamenta Institute will come to anything, that is to say, we shall all be something very small and subordinate later in life. The instruction that we enjoy consists mainly in impressing patience and obedience upon ourselves, two qualities that promise little success, or none at all. Inward successes, yes. But what does one get from such as these?”

Mr. Fortune’s Maggot, by Sylvia Townsend Warner

The title of this book should be The Complete Mr. Fortune: it has nothing whatsoever to do with maggots. Warner’s two long stories about an inimitably gentle hero, a missionary who goes to “convert” an island “native” but is converted himself. Prose as refreshing as watching a baby play.

Riders in the Chariot, by Patrick White

Another discovery—I had never come anywhere near hearing of Patrick White, Australia’s Nobel Prize winner in literature. This book has an epigraph by Blake and lives up to it: one of the two most visionary novels I have ever read, and the most painterly. Gobs of radiant color streak through the world as you read it. The variety and interplay of the four main characters of the four parts are astonishing.

And, one honorable mention:

The Journal: 1837–1861, by Henry David Thoreau, ed. Damion Searls (me)

Not on the main list for obvious, favoritist reasons, but it shouldn’t go unrecommended just because I’m the recommender. Thoreau’s Journal is his life’s work, has some of his best and most appealing prose, and is one of the great life-companions you can find between book covers.


This post appeared as part of NYRB Reading Week and was written by Damion Searls. Searls is the author of What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going and the translator of Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key, praised on the front page of the New York Times as a “masterpiece” in an “eloquent translation.” He wrote the preface to the newest NYRB Classic, Yasushi Inoue’s Tun-huang.

You Might Also Like:

More from Conversational Reading:

  1. Top Ten Books I Read This Year Right about now everyone and their mother is coming out with a list of the top ten books from 2004. I’m not sure that I’m...
  2. NYRB Classics Winter Sale Through March 20, NYRB Classics is offering 40% of paperbacks and 60% off hardcovers ordered through its website. That's an insanely good deal. ...
  3. The Top Top Ten J. Peder Zane’s new book The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, is an interesting little item. Of course, we’ve all had our fill...
  4. TQC Raved on the Back Cover of Soul of Wood from NYRB Classics Pretty cool. You can read the piece that gave birth to the rave here. And you can get your own copy to see for yourself...
  5. NYT Top Ten The Times has whittled their 100 notable books to the top 10 of 2006 (5 fiction, 5 non). Of the 5, there’s one reviewed in...

Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.

13 comments to Damion Searls' Top Ten NYRB Classics

  • David

    My favorite NYRB Classic is “Names on the Land” by George R. Stewart. It is a non-fiction work about how places in America got their names. Fascinating.

  • Reed

    I would have a hard time paring down the list to 10. “Inverted World” by Christopher Priest is a vastly entertaining and sharply metaphorical piece of sci-fi, and Kenneth Fearing’s “Clark Gifford’s Body” is a bizarre work of political noir; along the lines of “It Can’t Happen Here” but far stranger and yet more weirdly apt.
    Or “Stoner” or “A Way of Life Like Any Other” or “Fancies and Goodnights,” or “Morte D’Urban” etc etc etc.
    Or Collette! Olivia Manning! I’ll stop now…

  • Paul

    Grossman’s Life and Fate surely deserves a place on any top ten NYRB list…

  • Appreciate this list. NYRB’s books are also my favorites, however my list would include the novels of Georges Simenon, especially Pedigree. In reading this book I felt I became actually part of the whole scene. (Wups, not sure that’s a Classic).

  • Neil Griffin

    My wish list just got longer and my bank account just got emptier.

  • Just added The Winners to my wish list. My favorite NYRB title is The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig.

  • David, Sharon, and Frances: those are favorites of mine too, especially “Post-Office Girl.” “Pedigree” definitely is an NYRB Classic.

    Paul, I haven’t gotten to that one yet, but you should check out Der Nister’s “The Family Mashber,” another great Russian epic.

    Reed, I have somehow not read ANY of yours! except “Stoner.” Our venn diagrams only sliver.

    Neil, my favorite internet comment I’ve ever gotten!

  • JW

    Stoner left me in tears, and the tears started on like page 10. This whole series is wonderful and I appreciate the books above as I’ve never heard of them. Will look into them.

  • [...] Lists Interesting New Books — 2011 Damion Searls’ Top Ten NYRB Classics Ten Essential Southern Novels What I've Read So Far in 2010 Top 20 Spanish-Language Novels [...]

  • I love this, except why are you linking to the Amazon pages? These books can be ordered straight from the NYRB, without recourse to a behemoth middleman.

  • Thank you Damian, I’ve only read a couple of those but will definitely track down some, first – the Walser! Thanks to others for their recommendations too.

    My favourite, by some margin, is GB Edwards’s The Book of Ebenezer Le Page – had me weeping like a baby! Also loved The Post Office Girl, as did others. Have two other Patrick White novels on my shelves, dauntingly dense but I’ll give them a go, thanks for the encouragement.

  • [...] it in my mind to work my way through the entire series someday; but thankfully, I also came across this – a Top 10 NYRB Classics list – over at Conversational [...]

  • David Long

    This is a list I posted a few days ago:

    25 REASONS TO THANK
    THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS PRESS
    REPRINT SERIES

    [with date of original publication]

    A Month in the Country, J. L. Carr, 1980
    Sleepless Nights, Elizabeth Hardwick, 1979
    Speedboat, Renata Adler, 1976
    The Siege of Krishnapur, J. G. Farrell, 1973
    Red Shift, Alan Garner, 1973
    Troubles, J. G. Farrell, 1970
    Hard Rain Falling, Don Carpenter, 1966
    Stoner, John Williams, 1965
    The Invention of Morel, Adolfo Bioy Casares, 1964
    In the Reign of the Queen of Persia, Joan Chase, 1983
    The Tenants of Moonbloom, Edward Lewis Wallent, 1963
    The Ten Thousand Things, Maria Dermoût, 1958
    Warlock, Oakley Hall, 1958
    That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana, Carlo Emilio Gadda,1957
    Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis, 1954
    The Go-Between, L. P. Hartley, 1953
    In Love, Alfred Hayes, 1953
    A Game of Hide and Seek, Elizabeth Taylor, 1951
    Apartment in Athens, Glenway Wescott, 1945
    The Horse’s Mouth, Joyce Cary, 1944
    The Post Office Girl, Stefan Zweig, written before 1942,published 1982]
    Beware of Pity, Stefan Zweig, 1938
    Fear: A Novel of World War I, Gabriel Chevalier, 1930
    The Fountain Pit, Andrey Platonov [written 1930,published 1987]
    A High Wind in Jamaica, Richard Hughes, 1929

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>