Unknown Masterpieces: Writers Rediscover Literature's Hidden Classics

Edwin Frank (Editor)


In this original collection, several of today's finest writers introduce little-known treasures of literature that they count among their favorite books. Here Toni Morrison celebrates a great Guinean storyteller whose novel of mystical adventure and surprising revelation transforms our image of Africa, while Susan Sontag raises the curtain on a distant summer when three of the greatest poets of the twentieth century exchanged love letters like no others. Here too John Updike analyzes the rare art of an English comic genius, Jonathan Lethem considers a hard-boiled and heartbreaking story of prison life, and Michael Cunningham uncovers the secrets of what may well be the finest short novel in modern American literature. Other contributors include such noted authors as Arthur C. Danto, Lydia Davis, Elizabeth Hardwick, Francine Prose, Luc Sante, Colm Tóibín, Eliot Weinberger, and James Wood.

Lucid, polished, provocative, inspiring, these essays are models of critical appreciation, offering personal, impassioned, thoughtful responses to a wide range of wonderful books. Unknown Masterpieces is a treat for all lovers of great writing and a useful and stimulating guidebook for readers eager to venture off literature's beaten tracks.

Eliot Weinberger on Hindoo Holiday by J.R. Ackerley

Arthur C. Danto on The Unknown Masterpiece by Honoré de Balzac

John Updike on Seven Men by Max Beerbohm

Jonathan Lethem on On the Yard by Malcolm Braly

Toni Morrison on The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye

Colm Tóibín on The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley

Francine Prose on A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

Susan Sontag on Letters: Summer 1926 by Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, and Rainer Maria Rilke

Luc Sante on Classic Crimes by William Roughead

James Wood on The Golovlyov Family by Shchedrin

Elizabeth Hardwick on The Unpossessed by Tess Slesinger

Lydia Davis on The Life of Henry Brulard by Stendhal

Michael Cunningham on The Pilgrim Hawk by Glenway Wescott

Product Details

New York Review of Books
Publish Date
July 31, 2003
5.02 X 0.45 X 8.1 inches | 0.39 pounds
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About the Author

Edwin Frank is the Editorial Director of NYRB Classics.


"This compilation will serve admirably as a springboard for contemporary audiences, inspiring them to borrow these classics from the library. The essays themselves, by writers ranging from John Updike and Toni Morrison to Jonathan Lethem and Colm Tóibín, are uniformly insightful and interesting; several are outstanding, even compelling." --Library Journal

"Read long enough--20 or 30 years, say--and you realize that "classics" is a mighty malleable word. Passionate readers all have classics of their own: books they return to again and again, whether the rest of the world is reading them or not. New York Review Books, in its wonderful reprint series NYRB Classics, picks up on that readerly passion with an eclectic lineup of backlist titles, all prefaced by authors who (for the moment) are better known than the writers they're introducing. Now 13 of those prefaces have been gathered in Unknown Masterpieces: Writers Rediscover Literature's Hidden Classics, edited by Edwin Frank....Looking for reading suggestions? Here's a good place to start." --Michael Upchurch, Times/Post Intelligencer

"When Morrison recommends Laye's mystical adventure in context with a discussion of 'literary Africa, ' you might want to find a copy. And Francine Prose is right on when she writes of the disorienting effect of Richard Hughes' 'luminous, extraordinary' A High Wind in Jamaica, with its reversal of expectations, 'a warning scent of danger and blood.'" --The Orlando Sentinel

"13 writers, including Francine Prose, Susan Sontag, John Updike, James Wood and Elizabeth Hardwick, give us--joyfully...--an insight into books they cannot allow to fall into further obscurity. These are true discoveries, even if their authors are sometimes familiar: On the Yard by Malcolm Braly; Hindoo Holiday by J. R. Ackerly; The Pilgrim Hawk by Glenway Wescott." --The Los Angeles Times