Any NYRB Duds (and not The Dud Avocado)?

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Any NYRB Duds (and not The Dud Avocado)?

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Juin 23, 2008, 1:10pm

Were there any books that you didn't like, just weren't into or were left wondering, Why did they publish this one? What were the reasons?

Juin 23, 2008, 10:43pm

I don't know if I'd qualify them as duds DieFledermaus since I think I have to read a whole book and not like it or abandon it because I don't like it for it to be a dud.

I did find that I started Raymond Queneau's Witch Grass twice but didn't get through it but I ascribed that to myself and my wandering attentions I often read 5 or 6 books concurrently and some naturally drift away and I come back to them later.

The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll I came back to with great delight.

Tess Slessinger's The Unpossessed is another title from which I wandered.

Juin 24, 2008, 1:55am

I found the recent issue of Félix Fénéon's Novels in three lines to be a real disappointment. This just isn't something that translates well and I wonder what kind of editorial thought process was behind the decision to publish it. Fénéon's work, which is virtually content free, relies essentially on style, his mastery of the French language, for any lasting interest. Without a translator who's a great stylist in English (ala Pound, Rexroth, Hughes, Carson, Wertenbaker, etc.) there's little point in making this available and publishing it widely. This one really left me scratching my head and wondering why the waste of paper.

But, just to show that one woman's trash is another's treasure and some of you out there may very much enjoy 'Novels in three lines' despite my lukewarm response to it, Marensr, Witch Grass is probably my second favorite NYRB book, right after Elizabeth Hardwick's Sleepless Nights.

Juin 24, 2008, 9:39am


It's a pity it isn't at least a bilingual edition. I regret the dearth of bilingual editions in general.

Juin 24, 2008, 9:44am

I wouldn't call it a dud, but Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household was an extremely peculiar book.

Juin 24, 2008, 10:41am

My least favorites have been Asleep in the Sun by Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Child by Jules Valles, Jakob van Gunten by Robert Walser and Mary Olivier by May Sinclair. In each case I found the plots very boring (they are all domestic novels of one stripe or another) and featured lead characters whom I couldn't appreciate either for their villainy or ingenuity.

Since all of these books have been widely hailed and have had significant staying power, I attribute my dislike to the randomness of personal taste. I suspect that others may find some of my treasures, like The Anatomy of Melancholy and Mawrdew Czgowchwz to be trashy.

Modifié : Juin 24, 2008, 12:36pm

# 4, How true. A translation is a completely new work, and the success of the original often depends on how well a translator captures the spirit, tone, style, and particularities of authorial voice. I recently read a translation from the Swedish of Captain Nemo's Library. According to the translator, Enquist shifts into a colloquial dialect to emphasize certain thematic points. For no reason I can figure, the translator decided to indicate these shifts by with a broad Scottish-English dialect. I loved the book but was so annoyed by the shift to Scottish dialect that I was not able to make the connection between the shift and the theme. Having spent time in Sweden (I really must learn Swedish), the Scottish dialect rang false in my ears. I also remember preparing a lecture on Lysistrata for an undergraduate world literature class. I don't read or speak classical Greek; however, I tried to give the students some sense of what they might either miss or pick up from different translation by taking a small section of the play and showing them how different translators had rendered that section. The worst translation (laughably horrid) occurred at a moment when the Athenian men were attempting to assert their manhood. This translator rendered the lines as follows: "We will show them we're not tacos; we are men!" "Tacos"??????? Was this an example of bad, racist humor?

I would like to have had The Child in a bilingual edition. I read French fairly well. Perhaps, I would have been able to register the "incomparable humor" of the work declared by the cover notes to be "one of the funniest in French literature. . . . a triumph of insubordinate comedy." As it was, I'm with #6. I found the work a dud. But #6 jfclark, I would never call The Anatomy of Melancholy trashy. It's wonderful, funny in places, and insightful, not to mention a fascinating compendium of 17th-century English trivia.

Other books I would put in the dud category include Mr. Fortune's Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner and My Dog Tulip. Vis a vis Mr. Fortune's Maggot, I generally like Sylvia Townsend Warner's work. Lolly Willowes, for example, is a delightfully wicked little novel. I picked up My Dog Tulip after having read various rhapsodic reviews of the work. I don't get the fuss. To my mind, it does not succeed either as dog book or a memoir. The poor titular Tulip isn't bad enough to be really funny, nice (she's not nice) enough to be touching, nor does she serve as a particularly insightful vehicle through which to explore Ackerley's eccentricities. Funnier, are some of the things that other writers have said about Tulip (the dog). But . . . there must be something to the book. It's being made into an animated feature film for adults. Why? I don't know? I attribute it to the popularity of a whole pack of duds that have come out in print the last few years: self-indulgent memoirs involving dogs. Incidentally, I love dogs and cats and enjoy some books about dogs, Paul Auster's novel Timbuktu, for example. Yes, Auster's book is sentimental and we can see the end coming almost from the beginning, but it's still a charming and sweet read. And Mr. Bones is memorable.

Juin 24, 2008, 3:46pm

urania1: Re: Greek drama. I'm teaching Sophocles' Antigone in the fall, and my translation of Euripides' Iphigeneia at Aulis was performed about eight years ago here at Carleton College (complete with professional choreography by a Twin Cities choreographer). If NYRB wants to publish a stage-tested translation of the Iphigeneia at Aulis, I've got one (*hint hint*)! Maybe I should mention this in the "What Should NYRB Publish Next?" thread rather than the "dud" thread! :)

Juin 24, 2008, 5:10pm


I'm impressed and envious. I wish I could read classical Greek texts in the original. I need to take some classes. Hey is your translation available? I would love to read it. Staging classical Greek drama, the tragedies at any rate, is so difficult and yet so satisfying when it is done well.

Juin 24, 2008, 7:24pm

urania1, don't feel bad. I studied classic Greek in high school (as well as Latin) and have forgotten virtually everything!
And to think I could translate it just like that......:-(

Juin 24, 2008, 7:45pm

Thanks aluvalibri. I feel so guilty about all the languages I don't speak (sigh).

Juin 24, 2008, 7:49pm

Well, we are in the same boat because so do I!

Juin 25, 2008, 12:19am

> 3,4
I'd buy a bilingual edition in an instant. Still, it's hard to object even to “rendering a Sung landscape in department-store plastic.” The French editions, including the cheap abridgment, are out of print. Americans (and Anglo-Saxons in general) don't read other languages. Yet despite that, there are comparatively few new translations into English: half as many as into German, which has a third as many L1 speakers or a fifth as many L1+L2 speakers.

Modifié : Juin 25, 2008, 1:09am

>4 LolaWalser: Yes, Lola, a bilingual edition would have been ideal. It's a brief enough text-unless rights were at issue somehow (which seems unlikely), I don't know why this wasn't done. (This raises a question: has NYRB ever published a bilingual edition of anything?)

>13 MMcM: Normally I'd agree with your point about the importance of translations even if the result resembles "a Sung landscape in department-store plastic" but in the case of Novels in three lines, I just don't think there's anything there to render. Without Fénéon's French, the whole thing falls flatter than a day-old, under-baked soufflé. Not very pretty and certainly not very palatable.

Juin 25, 2008, 10:42am

# 14 marietherese - I love the analogy you used in the last two sentences of the previous post. It was quite apt and witty.

Juin 26, 2008, 3:20am

*Blushes* Thank you, urania1! You're much too kind.

Modifié : Jan 24, 2010, 7:18pm

re 6: My least favorites have been Asleep in the Sun by Adolfo Bioy Casares(...) Jakob van Gunten by Robert Walser.

I read them not in the NYRB editions but in the portuguese editions (Walser was some peculiar cult in Portugal, if that can be called, probably similiar to Spain where the autor is championed in Enrique Vila-Mattas' books), and they are two favorite of mine (Walser's my favourite of the author, Asleep in the Sun not the same for Casares, as the Invention of Morel stands as his masterpiece - at least considering the edited work in Portugal).

Juil 13, 2010, 8:55am

I read Jakob von Gunten and loved it... Walser in general is a love him or hate him kind of author, but I personally can't get enough.

I think the duds I've read include Butcher's Crossing (though I think it has merit, and I loved Stoner) and A Sorrow Beyond Dreams (though I liked certain parts of it) and Poem Strip.

Sep 19, 2010, 2:09am

Wyndham's The Chrysalids was quite the let-down. So much plodding expository dialogue! Almost like a nancy drew mystery. I resisted buying the nyrb print and finally ran across a discarded library copy(marked "TEEN") at a thrift store- very glad I didn't drop 15 bucks on it! A much better nyrb sci fi read is Inverted World by Christopher Priest.