First launched in 1999, the New York Review Books Classics series has famously come to be known for its unearthing of lost masterpieces. The series is comprised of incredible books that somehow slipped through the cracks of time, only to be rediscovered by NYRB’s obsessive editors and re-published in tidy, color-coded volumes.
Now numbering in the hundreds, sifting through its bookshelf isn’t always easy. Here, we select our eight favorite books published by NYRB Classics.
William Stoner is a poor farmer’s son who finds solace from our uncertain world within the confines of academia. He is treated both fairly and harshly, through bitter colleagues, a hardhearted wife, an absent daughter and all-too-brief affairs. From adolescence to a tragically beautiful death, this is an average life where nothing is spared.
The book that brought NYRB Classics into the mainstream, Stoner is the very definition of a “lost classic,” a novel that disappeared soon after its initial release, whispered and rumored about for decades, and republished to instant acclaim. Beautifully written, it’s been celebrated by everyone from Julian Barnes to Ian McEwan.
On a ship from New York to Buenos Aires, a group of chess fans encounter the world champion, his ego and arrogance setting up a match that they know they can’t win. But there in the corner, a man chimes in with a strategy that can’t be beat—how he knows the inner workings of the royal game and why it matters, is the “story” in question.
A celebrity in his time, Zweig’s own story is as tragic as his last tale, suffering through the fall of intellectualism and rise of the great wars, before finally committing suicide in Brazil. Chess Story was the last thing he wrote, and it’s ironically the perfect introduction to his works—short and pithy, tense and tragic, tapping into the baseline emotions of all humans.
Hard Rain Falling
Jack Levitt is born into a traumatic background in the poverty-stricken backstreets of Portland, Oregon. Growing up as a hustler in its pool halls and whorehouses, he encounters Billy Lancing, who soon becomes a lifelong friend, and then, when tragedies collide, his cellmate at San Quentin.
Like Dostoevsky siphoned through America, Carpenter’s hard-boiled account of two boys-to-men stuck in a cycle of violence reads truer than most crime works that crowd shelves. Here, we feel the pain and sorrow, the chances at redemption quickly stamped out by an unfair world, and the consolations we can occasionally find among each other.
Invention of Morel
A fugitive escaping to a deserted island thinks he’s alone, until he starts to see the structures of a small town. There are people arriving in the distance, parties being thrown and affairs being had. Why are they here? What do they want? And most important of all, why can’t they see him?
A work of magical realism before it was given a name, Casares’ short work had a profound influence on the genre’s many authors, from Borges to Marquez. It’s all here, from the surreal setting to the literary allusions, unreliable narrators to ambiguous narratives, all forming the framework of the many masterpieces that came after, while being entirely whole in itself.
Life and Fate
Life and Fate traces the lives of the Shaposhinikovs during the height of World War II, a family that stretches from peasants to the bourgeois, scientists to soldiers, as the fate of Russia ebbs and flows between defeat on the home front and victories alongside the Allies.
The title is no hyperbole – Grossman modelled his epic novel on Tolstoy’s War and Peace, restructuring the narrative to his own Soviet times and channeling the realism that made up communist communication. Quickly confiscated by the KGB after its release, it’s an epic that sits atop with the other Russian greats.
A Month in the Country
Following the First World War, Tom Birkin arrives in a small UK village to help restore a church’s medieval mural, living simply while he encounters the kindly folk who make up the area’s populace. It’s here, as quiet starts to settle in and the art and approachability combine for something serene, that he begins to find peace.
A very British novel that charts a very British month for a very British man, Carr’s work is as leisurely-paced and regenerative as the Yorkshire countryside it depicts, peering into the main character’s recent trauma while surrounded by layers of time. The story might be simple, but its effects are profound.
Store of the Worlds: The Stories of Robert Sheckley
Robert Sheckley was a funny and perceptive man. Here in his 26 short stories lie the absurdist questioning that’s rarely found in classic sci-fi works, from the many tales of first contact through to the tragedies of a population outgrowing its world.
Originally published at the height of sci-fi literary obsession in the 1950s, these short stories showcase an author who went deeper into sci-fi philosophies than most authors of his era, always questioning life’s absurdity, even as it was being lived thousands of years in the future and millions of miles away.
A Time of Gifts
An adventurer who never stopped exploring, A Time of Gifts charts Fermor’s attempts at an on-foot journey from his London home into then-Constantinople, at the edge of Asia. A fortuitous and frightening time, his experiences see the rise of Hitler and its effects on Europe, the gypsy lives of the Slavic heartland, as well as his own coming-of-age in a quickly changing landscape.
Fermor was a treasure of a travel writer and here, at just 18-years old, we follow that glorious period between adolescence and adulthood, explored unlike most with new sights, sounds and cultures at every turn.