We first came across Fatema when the Paris Magazine issued no.4 last June. There her name was as Editor of a magazine that since issue one all of 43 years ago, counts Sartre, Duras and Ginsberg as some of its contributors. She is also a senior editor at Icon we found out, which will no doubt give her selection of five books for our Bookshelf feature another facet…
“To make the task of choosing five books harder, I’m not anywhere near the shelves in the picture. Two years ago, I moved out of the flat where I’d been living for the previous five and put most of the contents, including the books, into a friend’s flat. Part of that time was spent in Paris where I lived for a year and edited The Paris Magazine, a magazine that the bookshop Shakespeare and Company first put out in 1967. It was planned as a one-off, but there will be more to come, designed once again by the brilliant Working Format.
I’m back in London now and when I visit the flat of the friend who has my books it’s like visiting an art installation of my former home. I’m treating it as a lending library until I have a place of my own again."
Troubles J. G. Farrell (NYRB Classics)
For years I wrongly and lazily assumed that J. G. Farrell was a writer I wouldn’t like. Misled by the British covers of his work, I was confusing his Siege of Krishnapur, which is set in 1857 during the Indian mutiny, with something like the Flashman series. But when a friend I trust recommended Troubles in this new edition, I read it at once and realised my mistake. Troubles is set in Ireland in 1919, but was written in 1969. The hero is the Major, an English First World War veteran who visits his fiancée in an enormous, decaying hotel in County Wexford where her family lives. The premise is a MacGuffin. The fiancée whom the Major has met for only an afternoon dies almost as soon as he gets there. He stays on with the elderly residents and a growing colony of cats while the Irish uprising carries on around them. It’s a strange and sad novel but also one of the funniest I know. The wonderful NYRB Classics series shows how important publishers can be in creating a different, and often much-needed, context for individual books and their authors. Over the past decade I’ve given more NYRB Classics as presents than the books of any other publisher.
The Transparency of Evil Jean Baudrillard (Verso)
Another work in a series although I’m not sure what I’ll do about this one when my books are reunited. Earlier sets of the Radical Thinkers series were brown, then silver, then black and in the lovely redesign by Rumors they are now white, and several writers have books in more than one set. To turn to content for a moment: like all my favourite writers (and unlike his pale imitations), Baudrillard is easy to read and quote from but difficult to pin down. With Baudrillard, there’s the added difficulty that he’s clearly enjoying himself. It’s hard not to think that he wasn’t right about what modernity is like, and hard to believe that he wrote this over 20 years ago. But even though he would disapprove of the question: what should we do about it?
Dance to the Music of Time Anthony Powell (University of Chicago Press)
I first read Dance to the Music of Time in a 12-volume hardback edition which I was getting out from the public library when I was at university. I was stuck behind someone who was borrowing the series just ahead of me and seemed to read very slowly; it took this other person, and therefore me, more than a year to finish. Later I bought the US edition which has the Poussin painting of the title across the spines; it seems mad that anyone would choose to illustrate the books differently… It’s a very odd book; there’s no one to like, and this is partly the point and, unlike Proust’s novel, it’s not really about time. Powell’s achievement in Dance is to create a narrator who retires from active life-duties in the novel at the end of volume 3, but still gets to tell us everything. Ten years after first reading it, I still don’t know how the trick is done, but I hope to work it out some day.
Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons
Cold Comfort Farm along with Leave it to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse, is one of the few novels I’ve always had to hand in the last couple of years. It is to me what the Pensées (by the Abbé Fausse-Maigre, a fictional philosopher) are to the novel’s heroine Flora Poste as she introduces order among the Starkadders, her relatives in Sussex. Unlike Leave it to Psmith, however, there isn’t an edition of the novel that I’m pleased to own. None of them are right. They’re all either maniacally jolly, or in pastels (it’s written by a woman!), or have Kate Beckinsale’s face on them (There was a BBC adaptation a few years ago). A plea to NYRB Classics?
The Evergreen Review Barney Rosset, Editor
The best account I know of how the great literary magazines affect those who write for them, read them and edit them, is in Bill Buford’s farewell editorial in issue 50 of Granta, the magazine he founded in 1979. (I worked at Granta for seven and a half years, but many issues later and have never met him.) The Evergreen Review was one of the great literary magazines. It was founded by Barney Rosset who went on to start the Grove Press. It was the house magazine of the Beats, and the first to publish several works by Beckett in English. It appeared in a few different formats between 1957 and 1973 but the early issues are the best. It’s not on my bookshelf any more, though. I’m not too embarrassed to say here that I regret giving away the copy I bought at Shakespeare and Company (where else?) last year; it seems a little less embarrassing than asking for it back privately. From now on I will look forward to postal deliveries with a greater sense of hope than usual.