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."
"Whether fond or surprisingly frank, these essays are soothing in their intimacy, their acceptance of fallible fellow humans. 'As always,' writes Robert Oppenheimer of Albert Einstein, 'the myth has its charms; but the truth is far more beautiful.'" –O Magazine
“A charming addition to a friend’s bookshelf would be The Company They Kept: Writers on Unforgettable Friendships.” –Vogue
"An extraordinarily striking, moving and delicious collection of short essays...The writing in most of these essays is dazzling, the anecdotes and insights even more so. It is a superb collection of vignettes, and their variety throws more light on the diversity and possibilities than a treatise could." –The Financial Times
"Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein co-edited The New York Review of Books for 43 years, until Epstein died in June. Over those decades, contributors to the review have written about their personal relationships, and this volume brings together 27 memoirs of friendship. This volume should be read piece by marvelous piece: Robert Oppenheimer on Delmore Schwartz, Saul Bellow on John Cheever, Susan Sontag on Paul Goodman." –The Chicago Tribune
"A touch of sadness clings to The Company They Kept, an otherwise joyous collection of essays by some of the world's best writers, in which they recount ‘unforgettable friendships’ they've been blessed with. The sadness stems from the fact that this would appear to be the last book project that Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein worked on. All of the writing in the collection first appeared in The New York Review of Books, which the two edited together for 43 years, right up until Epstein's death last June. The book, issued by their journal's publishing unit, New York Review Books, is an appropriate tribute to this long collaboration, as the volume hums with the thrill of friendship, which clearly imbued their work relations with a special quality." –Jewish Exponent
"Silvers and Epstein (coeditors, The New York Review of Books) have coedited collections of essays from the New York Review before (e.g., First Anthology: 30 Years of the New York Review of Books), but this collection is new in both its subject matter and tone. the book contains 27 rare and fascinating accounts of friendships between writers, with each account published in the New York Review in the past 40 years. Silvers explains well the feel of this collection in the preface: 'It is hard to say how any of them came about. For the most part, they are not the sort of essays an editor can ask for.' Not really a biography and not quite a memoir, this collection contains accounts by Robert Oppenheimer on Albert Einstein, by Edward Dahlberg on Hart Crane, by Susan Sontag on Paul Goodman, and more. Joseph Brodsky and Robert Lowell each appear twice, both as writers and subjects. An asset to any literature collection, this is the most interesting literature most of us never get to read." –Library Journal
"When some of Stravinsky's disciples suggested that Robert Craft write the great composer's biography, Craft countered that long friendship disqualified him: ‘I was too close to Stravinsky to do this.’ Precisely because they value a perspective that brings us closer to a great creator than a biographer ever could, Silvers and Epstein have assembled a remarkable set of essays by friends of prominent musicians, scientists, poets, and novelists. Only the close proximity of friendship allows readers to glimpse Einstein taking rare delight in a day of sailing, Roethke playing tennis with fierce abandon, and Kesey playing enchanting melodies on the wandering bus he shared with his Merry Pranksters. seeing through the eyes of friends permits readers to glimpse titans up close, without the often-dehumanizing lenses of theory or ideology. Even the political passions of Mary McCarthy part long enough to disclose a woman too spontaneous to keep a diary, too homespun to let others grind her coffee beans. These wonderful reminiscences will renew readers' appreciation for those unpredictable joys shared between all close friends." –Booklist
"Silvers and Epstein, editors of The New York Review of Books, pull together 27 essays in this smart and eclectic collection. Published over the past four decades in the NYRB, pieces here deal with professional relationships and personal friendships among such writers as Robert Lowell and Jerome London, Susan Sontag and Paul Goodman, and Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein. Saul Bellow writes of the immediate connection he made with John Cheever, whom he ‘met at irregular intervals all over the US.’ Derek Walcott shares his take on the work of fellow poet Robert Lowell, who ‘made the body of literature his body, all styles his style, every varying voice his own.’ And Larry McMurtry recalls his experiences with Ken Kesey, the original Merry Prankster, whom he first met at Stanford University in September 1960 and kept up with through the '70s, '80s and '90s." –Publishers Weekly
“This book will give hours of pleasure to those who love literature.” –The Jewish Herald Voice