NYRB’s monthly Letter from the Editor is by far my favorite publisher newsletter. Edwin Frank is one of the most well-read, articulate editors in the country, and with such great material to write about, his pieces are always incredibly interesting.
The most recent letter is about Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, recently retranslated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock, and published with an intro from Umberto Eco. As Edwin explains, this ain’t exactly the same Pinocchio as found in the Disney movie. Even from line one—which I think is one of the best openings I’ve read in a while—expectations are subverted:
Once upon a time there was. . . .
“A King!” my little readers will say at once.
No children, you’re wrong. Once upon a time there was a block of wood.
Edwin goes on to describe how interesting, odd, and complex (in comparison to the Disney version) the book’s opening really is:
The scene that follows is not only unsettling but positively spooky. A carpenter is using his hatchet to trim that piece of wood into a table leg—when, out of nowhere, a not so still small voice cries out: “You’re hurting me!” Pinocchio (who thus oddly exists before he comes into existence) stuns and terrifies the carpenter, known, because of his red and presumably alcoholic nose, as Master Cherry. Master Cherry wonders whether he isn’t just hearing things, and for a moment we wonder too. Throughout the book, a book in which “being real” is a question of paramount importance, Collodi leads us to doubt the reality at hand. Perhaps all this is nothing more than a drunken carpenter’s imaginings? Who knows? But what it is unquestionably is the beginning of a story, and once started the story will have its way. [. . .]
Pinocchio is a book of deep intelligence and pure inspiration, a beautiful work that seems, like its hero, almost to have willed itself into existence. (Collodi, though an accomplished man, never accomplished anything remotely equivalent, and in Pinocchio he amusingly depicts a gang of boys bombarding each other with his books).
When I first heard NYRB was reprinting Pinocchio I was a bit suspicious, but now I can’t wait to get a copy . . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .