Six books with introductions worth stopping

In his excellent preface to Edith Wharton’s preface Novel writingAuthor and critic Brandon Taylor makes an observation that bears repetition: literature from the past may contain ancient worlds and ideas, but we can and must deal with them. Wharton’s work, for example, continues to provide “some amazing revelations about the way we live and write today,” he explains. Ancient writing can also give us “something to argue against.” Classic texts may remain static, but they revolutionize over time through readers’ changing experiences and provide us with a unique opportunity to be “in broad partnership” with them. New introductions can help us achieve that intimacy.

Literary superstars such as Taylor have been eager to take on the role of both guide and moderator, providing the foreground material that connects the past with the present by placing classic texts in a contemporary context. Recently, readers were treated to Merv Emery as she meditates on Virginia Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway AnnotatedEsmé Weijun Wang, commenting on Joanne Greenberg’s I never promised you a garden of rosesand Margo Jefferson teaching us on Gwendolyn Brooks Maud Martha. Written introductions were written by Toni Morrison, Rachel Kosk, Rachel Kushner, Jennifer Egan, and Hilary Mantell.

The authors of the six prefaces below ask us to reconsider our relationship to stories from the past. Through their interaction with the books they write about, they offer us new ways to read old works – and take this literary art form to new heights. Here, before we decide on a story, we can ask: What does it last? What should?


Penguin classics

Karl of Knusgaard for James Joyce A picture of the artist as a young man (Foreword translated by Martin Aitken)

In Joyce’s first 1916 novel, the author’s now infamous character, Stephen Daedalus (later seen in Ulysses), makes his fiery debut. Rejecting the religion he was raised in, Young Daedalus eschews Irish traditions, leaves home, and ultimately commits himself to becoming an artist by not offering what does not serve him. In his introduction to Penguin’s centenary edition of the book, Norwegian sensation Knausgaard . calls painting a “plastic novela story about coming of age, is perhaps the prime example of the genre in English literature.” Knossgaard thinks predictably of identity, but does not dwell on it unnecessarily. Instead, his curvy notes and philosophical reflections steal the show. Detailed notes on Joyce’s work Basic – that it “swells” with “mood”, and it’s really a book about spirit— Allow a larger image to appear. He writes: “Literature is not the monopoly of others, it knows no center, that is to say, its center is wherever literature is located.” “Only by refusing to serve, as Stephen does, can an artist do exactly that: serve.”


Cover of a woman running in the mountains
New York Review Books

Lauren Grove in Yūko Tsushima’s woman running in the mountainsTranslated by Geraldine Harcourt

Set in 1970s Japan, Tsushima’s novel, published in 1980 and reissued in 2022, follows the ordeal of Takeko Odaka, a lonely young woman about to have a child in a society that condemns single mothers. Tsushima embodies the wide range of feelings and experiences that pregnancy and early motherhood inspire: beauty, suffering, boredom, banal domestic struggles and a tireless determination to search for happiness no matter what. The matrix Author Grove’s preface does what few prefaces do: it allows the author to speak for itself. Grove quotes Tsushima, one of Japan’s most influential and prolific writers, intervening extensively to help readers only sort out the relationship between Tsushima’s life and work. As a result, instead of feeling the rigidity of the expert dissecting his subject, one feels that Grove and Tsushima are two sister souls: both a writer and a mother; Both are concerned with the complexity — and the inferiority — of violence, ecstasy, joy, and pain; they both ask What is the heroine? What is heroic? (Albeit from different places and times). They let us unravel the secret that the answers may not be what led us to believe.


Tolstoy cover together
public space

Yiyun Li on Leo Tolstoy’s war and peace in Tolstoy together: 85 Days of War and Peace with Yiyun Li

To understand and appreciate the genius Tolstoy together—which celebrates the experience of reading the novelist’s masterpiece about the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812 and its impact on many aristocratic families —tried to imagine the prologue as a set of nested matryoshka dolls. Tolstoy together like this. The first is to introduce me war and peace; Then Brigid Hughes, the founding editor of the non-profit publisher iPublicSpace, introduces him Tolstoy together; Then the book returns to war and peace, Other famous writers and readers from around the world also share their insights into the classic – and their personal and societal experiences of reading it. An Introduction to Lee includes and unites all of these parts; She wrote that readers “want writers to express what we haven’t yet found our own words for, we want our senses to be uncommon.” compare war and peace To an old tree whose majesty need not defend, and ends with an unexpected but welcome acknowledgment that “Faultability is in all I do.” Perhaps her ability to admit her own imperfection encouraged her to break all the rules? Here the book becomes an introduction to another book, and the introduction does not belong to just one author. with Tolstoy togetherYou give my readers the exact language they know they’re looking for.


Cover of All Our Past Days
wicked books

Sally Rooney on Natalia Ginzburg All we had yesterdayTranslated by Angus Davidson

In her preface to Daunt Books’ remarkable reissue of the late Italian writer Ginzburg’s third novel about life before and during the war, Rooney gushes about her “transformative” encounter with the “perfect” 1952 Ginzburg novel, then explodes into a recap of the major events of the book and the author’s life. Ginzburg grew up in an anti-fascist family and married a Jewish organizer who was later tortured and murdered by the Nazi regime that opposed him. Her heroine, Anna, also belongs to a family with defectors who are doing their best to survive World War II. As a young wife and mother, she provides sanctuary for fugitives in her basement. Rooney raves about the plot elements and “depth and truth” of the whole cast of characters, beaming with Ginsberg and Anna’s awareness of the “superior moral urgency” of the moment. that it our Time, and not just the events of the 1940s, which Rooney tells us she thinks of when she writes, “In times of crisis … there can be no morality without politics.” Like Ippolito, Emmanuel, and Danilo—the guys of Ginsburg who meet secretly to share books some consider too powerful—says Rooney, as if for a friend, over here, You really should read this.


Resitative cover
Knopf

Zadie Smith on Toni Morrison recitation

Morrison, a Nobel Prize winner and Queen of American Letters, has written 11 novels – and one stand-alone short story. Originally published in 1983 in an anthology by Amiri and Amina Baraka, recitation It follows two characters – Twyla and Roberta – who have known each other since childhood. Readers should understand that one is black and the other is white, but not either. All racial identifiers have been intentionally omitted. One of the first things readers may notice about Smith’s introduction is its size: it is as long as the story it presents. Smith knows Morrison has presented her readers with a mystery and is eager to play with it. you close (very close) Read text that spans about 40 pages, with analysis of speech patterns, plot points, character, and even the title of the story. But instead of trying to solve the puzzle (although she admits she wishes she could), she breaks up Why The puzzle is significant and praises Morrison’s “poetic form and scientific style”. Smith tells us that Morrison thinks the story can be an experiment. Smith seems to be asking why the introduction shouldn’t be one either.


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University of Chicago Press

Colm Toibin on Henry James The art of the novel: critical introductions

When it comes to the remarkable and enduring work of American-born novelist and critic James, it would be hard to find a more fitting or interesting guide than the Irish writer Toibin. Toibin wrote a novel, the master, with James as the main character; He is also an author All that a novelist needs, Critical essays on James and his works. In 2011 printed University of Chicago Press The art of the novel– A curated selection of prefaces written by James to many of his works – Toibin left no stone unturned. Along with the original 1934 preface by poet and critic R.B. Blackmore, he shares his stunning reflections on the James Collection. James’ penchant for takeout in 1877 in London increased his interaction with “the most important figures of the day”. Tóibín’s delicious introduction offers readers dramatic insights into gossip (“Robert Browning’s talk doesn’t sound good to me”) and real-life mishaps (“Robert Browning’s talk doesn’t sound good to me”)screw turn James was first told by the Archbishop of Canterbury!) that inspired his most popular works. If you’re as good as James and Toibin, even the prologue can be a masterpiece.


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