The NYRB Classics series is designedly and determinedly exploratory and eclectic, a mix of fiction and non-fiction from different eras and times and of various sorts. The series includes nineteenth-century novels and experimental novels, reportage and belles lettres, tell-all memoirs and learned studies, established classics and cult favorites, literature high, low, unsuspected, and unheard of. NYRB Classics are, to a large degree, discoveries, the kind of books that people typically run into outside of the classroom and then remember for life.
This beloved classic about place-naming in the United States was written during World War II in a conscious effort to pay tribute to the heritage of the nation's peoples. George R. Stewart's love of the surprising story, and his focus not just on language but on how people interact with their environment, make Names on the Land a unique window into the history and sociology of America. From the first European names in what would later be the United States--Ponce de León's flowery Florida, Cortez's semi-mythical isle of California, and the red river Rio Colorado--to New England, New Amsterdam, and New Sweden; the French and the Russians; border ruffians and Boston Brahmins: Names on the Land is no dry dictionary but a fascinating panorama of language in action, bursting at the seams with revealing details. In lively, passionate writing, Stewart explains where Indian names were likely to be kept, and why; the fad that gave rise to dozens of Troys and to Athens, Georgia, as well as suburban Parksides, Brookmonts, and Woodcrest Manors; why "Brooklyn" is Dutch but looks English and why "Arkansas" is Arkansaw, except of course when it isn't. His book has delighted generations of road-trippers, armchair travelers, and anyone who ever wondered how their hometown, or (more likely) the next town over, could be called that. Stewart's answer is always a story--one of the countless stories that lie behind the rich and strange diversity of America.
The city is winched along a track through a devastated land full of hostile tribes. Tracks must be freshly laid ahead of the city and carefully removed in its wake. Rivers and mountains present nearly insurmountable challenges to the ingenuity of the city's engineers. But if the city does not move, it will fall farther and farther behind the "optimum," slipping into the crushing gravitational field that has transformed life on earth. The only alternative to the city's forward progress is death. The secret directorate that governs the city makes sure that its inhabitants know nothing of this. Raised in common in crèches, nurtured on synthetic food, prevented above all from venturing outside the closed circuit of the city, they are carefully sheltered from the dire necessities that have come to define human existence. And yet, for all that, the city is in crisis. The people are growing restive, the population is dwindling, and the rulers know that, for all their efforts, slowly but surely the city is slipping ever farther behind the optimum. Helward Mann is a member of the city's elite. Better than anyone, he knows the risks the city runs, how tenuous is its continued existence, how essential it is that discipline be maintained. And yet, as he is about to discover, the world is even stranger than he dreamed. Christopher Priest's The Inverted World is a meticulously imagined, deeply disconcerting vision of an alternate reality that lights up not only the dreams that sustain what passes for reality but the alien essence of the human.
General Fiction, Science Fiction, Fiction and Literature
Théophile Gautier is a dominant figure in nineteenth-century French literature and a complex and alluring one. No one so epitomized the "Bohemian artist" as this friend of Victor Hugo and Baudelaire who is credited with coining the slogan "Art for Art's Sake." At the same time, Gautier was one of the first French professional men of letters, a masterful journalist as well as an inspired proponent of the short story. Seven samples of Gautier's genius--all exploring themes of love and death--have been brought together in My Fantoms, a book that brilliantly illuminates the subtlety and range of his singular imagination. Compiled and translated by Richard Holmes, whose investigations into Shelley, Coleridge, and Dr. Johnson have established him as the modern master of the art of biography, My Fantoms is not so much a collection of stories as a unified work spanning the whole of Gautier's career and revealing his subtle and many faceted sensibility. From the erotic awakening of "The Adolescent" through the beautiful lament for the mad genius Gérard de Nerval that Gautier offers in "The Poet," these are tales that celebrate the senses and investigate the spirit with style and wit. "What ever would the Devil find to do in Paris?" Gautier wonders. "He would meet people just as diabolical as he, and find himself taken for some naive provincial . . ." Tapestries, statues, and corpses come to life, young men dream their way into ruin, and through it all Gautier keeps his faith in the power of imagination: "No one is truly dead, until they are no longer loved."
1968. The Vietnam War was raging. President Lyndon Johnson, facing a challenge in his own Democratic party from the maverick anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy, announced that he would not seek a second term. In April, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and riots broke out in inner cities throughout America. Bobby Kennedy was killed after winning the California primary in June. In August, Republicans met in Miami, picking the controversial Richard Nixon as their candidate, while in September, Democrats in Chicago backed the ineffectual Vice President Hubert Humphrey. TVs across the country showed anti-war protestors filling the streets of Chicago and the police running amok, beating and arresting demonstrators and delegates alike. Forty years after 1968, the year still looms as a decisive one in modern American politics, a year of cultural and political revolution and counter-revolution, from which arose today's bitterly divided country. In Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Norman Mailer, America's most protean and provocative writer, brings a novelist's eye to bear on the events of 1968. Mailer describes the fall of Rockefeller and the liberal Republicans while capturing the tinsel gleam of rising star Ronald Reagan. He confronts the stupefying pageantry of Miami and the mayhem in Chicago. He presents sharply-etched yet strikingly nuanced portaits of the complicated, ominous Richard Nixon and the enigmatic Eugene McCarthy. He shows himself struggling to do his job in the new mediated world of TV and expresses his sorrow, fear, fury, and pity at seeing his country nearing collapse. Miami and the Siege of Chicago is a great book not only about 1968, but about America.
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