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Our most remarkable writers share what has influenced them the most: each other.
Many of the illustrious contributors to The New York Review of Books have had deep and abiding relationships–both personal and intellectual–with other poets, writers, artists, composers, and scientists of equal stature. The Company They Kept is a collection of twenty-seven accounts of these varied friendships–most of them undeniably fraught with “idiosyncratic complexities.”
One of the sweetest and funniest is Prudence Crowther’s memoir of her romance, at age thirty, with the seventy-four-year old S. J. Perelman (“As a friend of mine put it, ‘Yeah, too bad you couldn’t have met when you were twenty six and he was seventy–or when he was thirty, and your parents hadn’t met yet.’”). Darryl Pinckney recalls his unsettling stint as Djuna Barnes’s handyman. Susan Sontag’s piece on Paul Goodman is more about how they never hit it off; Seamus Heaney’s remembrance of Tom Flanagan has all the melancholy affection of a bereft and beloved son. Larry McMurtry and Ken Kesey were grad students together–for years afterward, McMurtry recalls, the Merry Pranksters would show up unannounced, and throw his family and neighbors into hilarious chaos. Derek Walcott recalls his parting of the ways with Robert Lowell, and of their bittersweet reconciliation. And Robert Oppenheimer writes that he wants to dispel the clouds of myth surrounding Albert Einstein: “As always, the myth has its charms; but the truth is far more beautiful.”
From Anna Akhmatova’s dreamlike description of wandering through Paris with the impoverished Modigliani to Joseph Brodsky’s account of his first meeting with Isaiah Berlin (from which he returned to report, around the kitchen table, to Stephen Spender and W.H. Auden), these pieces are tantalizing glimpses into the lives of those who have made The New York Review of Books into what Esquire magazine calls "the premier literary-intellectual magazine in the English language."