"Nothing passes away."

If I wanted to order a ring for myself, the inscription I should choose would be: “Nothing passes away.” I believe that nothing passes away without leaving a trace, and that every step we take, however small, has significance for our present and our future existence.

– Anton Chekhov, “My Life,” which is collected by Edmund Wilson in Peasants and Other Stories (the very first NYRB Classic published)

Today is Chekhov’s 155th birthday, and there’s no question that he’s left more than just a trace of influence behind. This June, NYRB Classics will release The Prank, an original collection of Chekhov’s early short stories, first assembled by the author himself but promptly censored when he went to have them published. It’s the first appearance of the collection as Chekhov originally intended—complete with the drawings he commissioned from his brother, Nikolay. 

[Image above: A portrait of Anton Pawlowitsch Tschechow by I.I. Letvian, 1885-1886; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.]

Cell phones are banned from public schools in New York City and students must store them in trucks outside the school during the day. The business of storing cell phones takes in around $22,800 a day, from students paying a dollar a day for storage. Francine Prose talked to students about the situation when she visited a high school in the Bronx recently.

"Why, the students asked, are the students in more prosperous neighborhoods unofficially allowed to ignore the ban, as long as they aren’t caught? And why are the poor kids in the eighty-eight New York schools that have been equipped with metal detectors forced to spend five dollars a week—an expense that, for some, means going without food?"

Why Are Poor Kids Paying for School Security? http://j.mp/XTq8xg

Photo: Students lining up to pay for cell phone storage near New York’s Washington Irving High School, September 27, 2012 (Tina Fineberg/AP Images)

Zadie Smith on a certain famous populous island: “Manhattan is for the hard-bodied, the hard-minded, the multitasker, the alpha mamas and papas. A perfect place for self-empowerment—as long as you’re pretty empowered to begin with. As long as you’re one of these people who simply do not allow anything—not even reality—to impinge upon that clear field of blue. There is a kind of individualism so stark that it seems to dovetail with an existentialist creed: Manhattan is right at that crossroads. You are pure potential in Manhattan, limitless, you are making yourself every day.”

For more of this morning’s roundup, click here.

A note from the newest member of the Classics and Coffee Club:

Reading Hoban’s Turtle Diary on a warm weekend while sipping a Vietnamese ice coffee. I was seated at the counter and the bartender at the restaurant asked me what I was reading. When I described the plot—two lonely 40-somethings in London bond over their appreciation for sea turtles at the London Zoo—she said, “Sounds like the two characters are great big turtles too, getting out of their shells.”

I got the book at Green Apple Books

As always: If you have a photo of an NYRB Classic posed with a cup of coffee or tea, send it to this address and we’ll add it to the Classics and Coffee Club series. And let us know where you bought or borrowed the book—we’d be glad to shout out places that stock NYRB Classics.

In the last thirty or forty years, the writer has become someone who works on a well-defined career track, like any other middle class professional, not, however, to become a craftsman serving the community, but to project an image of himself (partly through his writings, but also in dozens of other ways) as an artist who embodies the direction in which culture is headed. In short, the next big new thing. A Rushdie. A Pamuk.

It’s rather as if the spontaneous Romanticism of the nineteenth-century poets had become a job description; we know what a romantic is (his politics, his behavior patterns), we know that is the way to literary greatness, so let’s do it.


The Writer’s Job by Tim Parks | The New York Review of Books

Is this essay as important to everyone else as it feels to me?

The brush of a single tentacle is enough to induce ‘Irukandji syndrome.’ It sets in twenty to thirty minutes after a sting so minor it leaves no mark, and is often not even felt. Pain is initially focused in the lower back. Soon the entire lumbar region is gripped by debilitating cramps and pounding pain—as if someone is taking a baseball bat to your kidneys. Then comes the nausea and vomiting, which continues every minute or so for around twelve hours. Shooting spasms grip the arms and legs, blood pressure escalates, breathing becomes difficult, and the skin begins to creep, as if worms are burrowing through it. Victims are often gripped with a sense of ‘impending doom’ and in their despair beg their doctors to put them out of their misery.

Historically, fiction has afforded writers the chance to break taboos—under the guise of the fictive, one can “talk about potentially embarrassing or even criminal personal experiences without bringing society’s censure on oneself.” So what happens when taboos fall away? “It could be we are moving towards a period where, as the writer ‘gets older’ … he or she finds it increasingly irrelevant to embark on another long work of fiction that elaborately reformulates conflicts and concerns that the reader anyway assumes are autobiographical. Far more interesting and exciting to confront the whole conundrum of living and telling head on, in the very different world we find ourselves in now, where more or less anything can be told without shame.”

For more of this morning’s roundup, click here.