New York Review Books: The place to find some 'classics out of the classroom'

Launched in 1999, it brings cherished if sometimes underappreciated works to a new audience


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Nearly every student has bailed on reading a particular classic assigned in an English lit course. At NYRB Classics, editors publish books that are "classics out of the classroom" although the editorial director, Edwin Frank, is always happy when a teacher orders multiple copies of a particular title.

New York Review Books, which began publishing in 1999, shares Manhattan offices with The New York Review of Books but is editorially distinct from that publication, observing its 50th anniversary this year.

"We publish about 35 books a year. We are distributed by Random House and we sell through the chains and independents and Amazon," said Mr. Frank, who also oversees the NYRB Children's Collection and NYRB Poets.

NYRB Classics covers the genres of fiction, nonfiction and travel. New introductions or afterwords are often commissioned for the reprints. The series does not publish authors who are in print and under copyright, such as Jane Austen or Herman Melville.

Mr. Frank was delighted to reissue "Lucky Jim," a 1954 novel by Englishman Kingsley Amis that satirizes college life and post-World War II manners. "It's one of the funniest books I know. It's wonderful to see it come back and thrive and to see younger people coming to these books with new sense of discovery," Mr. Frank said.

The classics series has done well with works by Russian Jewish writer Vasily Grossman, especially "Life and Fate." Niall Ferguson, in reviewing it for The New York Times, called "Life and Fate" the "War and Peace" of World War II books.

"Butcher's Crossing," an early novel by John Williams, an American writer who won the National Book Award in 1973 but remained obscure, has done well. "Each of his books is really quite different from the others. Each book takes on a different challenge," Mr. Frank said. Williams' 1965 novel "Stoner," reprinted by NYRB in 2006, has become a hit across Europe in translation.

Also available is the work of J.G. Farrell, an Englishman who lived in Ireland and produced a trio of historical novels -- "Troubles," "The Siege of Krishnapur" and "The Singapore Grip."

"The Siege of Krishnapur" is "very contemporary and very funny," Mr. Frank said, adding that like Hilary Mantel, Farrell "takes you back in history and allows you to think about it in a modern way."

Farrell was fishing on Ireland's Bantry Bay when he was struck by a wave and drowned in 1979.

Englishman Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor was 18 during the 1930s when he walked across Europe from the Netherlands to Turkey. Two of his 10 books, "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water" were inspired by that journey. Fascinated by language and remote places, Sir Fermor also wrote two books about Greece. Considered one of the best travel writers, he is the subject of a biography by Artemis Cooper that NYRB Classics will publish in October. For additional titles, visit www.nybooks.com/books.

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Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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