Twentieth-century literature frightens me --- especially if when
naming an author or a title, the words "avant garde" or
"surrealism" are whispered in the same breath. I am never confident
that I'm going to understand or connect with the writing, and I
often find myself thinking that those writers lived and worked on a
plane of existence not accessible to mere mortals like myself.
This, of course, is completely silly. But when a book like THE
GROVE PRESS READER 1951-2001 comes along, it is like a godsend to
me, for it allows me to sample works of those writers I think I'll
never understand should I attempt to tackle a novel or collection
of stories in full.
This anthology is truly wonderful. An astounding collection of
fiction, drama, and essays from the amazing stable of writers
promoted and published by Grove Press over the last 50 years, THE
GROVE PRESS READER 1951-2001 will provide anyone with the chance to
face their literary fears and indulge themselves in the works of
some of the (to me) most intimidating writers I can think of.
In 1951, Barney Rosset bought a failing company called Grove Press
for $3,000.00, then proceeded to build it into "the era's most
explosive and influential publishing house." Rosset's wholehearted,
passionate devotion to the idea that censorship in any form was a
means of social and political control, and his refusal to kowtow to
the mainstream publishing philosophies of the day, would eventually
help in no small way to usher in the cultural, political and sexual
upheaval that would be called "The Sixties."
The "Table of Contents" of THE GROVE PRESS READER 1951-2001 reads
like a "Who's Who" of 20th century literature. Here reside some of
the most challenging --- and controversial --- writers ever to be
published, including Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, William S.
Burroughs, Samuel Beckett, Jack Kerouac, and D. H. Lawrence. There
is great variety here, and one reads the book feeling as though one
is sampling a large box of exotic chocolates that, though they
might not be for everyone, are rich and satisfying in immeasurable
ways if one has but the courage to take a taste. Letters, snippets
of plays, and a history of the press itself --- not to mention
excerpts from books such as TROPIC OF CANCER, NAKED LUNCH, and LADE
CHATTERLY'S LOVER --- all combine to celebrate both the history of
excellent writing and the spirit of independent publishing, which
carried Grove Press and defined its principles and its legend.
Anaïs Nin says it best in her "Preface to Tropic of Cancer
": "This book brings with it a wind that blows down the dead
and hollow trees whose roots are withered and lost in the barren
soil of our times...This book goes to the roots and digs under,
digs for subterranean springs."
For those unfamiliar with these writers, this is the book that will
get you started. If you've been reading these writers for years,
THE GROVE PRESS READER 1951-2001 will reacquaint you with their
genius and talent. In an era of publishing as Big Business, it is
anthologies such as THE GROVE PRESS READER 1951-2001 that serve to
remind us that good writing does exist.
Reviewed by Laura G. Carter (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 22, 2011