Monday, March 12, 2007

Mailbox Goodies

I've just returned home to find a pleasant surprise in the mail - a complete catalog of the classical literature published by New York Review of Books. In the interest of full-disclosure, technically this catalogue doesn't belong to me. It belongs to the previous tenant - D. Williams, wherever you are - but since it was so nicely lodged in what is now my mailbox I saw no need to give it back. I mean really, could I be so cruel as to banish it to some gray, nondesript postal warehouse of unclaimed mail? Not even I. Not even I. Besides, does flipping through a catologue qualify as stealing someone else's mail? It's not like I a took a knife to an envelope or held it over a kettle of hot steam. If flipping the pages of a catologue or a magazine is stealing, then I think my mailman and I should have a chat. Maybe I could bribe him. I am hard up for cash right now...

But I was talking about my catologue, not defending myself to the likes of you. Now, I don't claim to be familiar with every book that rolls off the presses these days [who could be?] but I do pride myself in being at least remotely familiar with the classics, even if I haven't read half of them - you know, Dickens, Orwell, Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolff, and the the like. But, ahem, I'm pretty chagrined to say I've never heard of the classics in this catalogue. Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker, The Diary of a Rapist by Evan S. Connell, The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton...who the heck are they? I've never heard of them or their books a day in my life! Is there an alternative list of classics circulating about or am I just being completely oblivious? Come now NYRB, why not just call it what it is - a bunch of previously out-of-print books that deserve a second chance at canonization?

Some of the titles do sound interesting enough, like The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis:

Norman Moonbloom's brother, a slumlord, hires him to collect rent in the buildings he owns in Manhattan. Making his rounds, Moonbloom confronts a wild assortment of brilliantly described urban characters, among them a gay jazz musician with a sideline as a gigolo, a Holocaust survivor, and a brilliant young writer modeled on James Baldwin. He finds he is drawn, in spite of his best judgment, into a desperate attempt to improve their lives.

Why "in spite of his best judgment" though? Because the "urban" characters are irredeamable or because Moonbloom realizes he is in no position to improve someone else's life? I've always thought that to improve someone else's life for the them was rather presumptuous. But before I presume too much, I should probably save my questions until after I've read the book.