Twenty-seven memoirs of transforming personal and intellectual relationships among writers and artists from the pages of The New York Review of Books. Many of the contributors to The New York Review of Books have written about deep and abiding relationships— both personal and intellectual—with fellow poets, writers, and artists. The Company They Kept, Volume II is a collection of twenty-seven accounts of these friendships that were always stimulating, often inspiring, and sometimes vexing (as Robert Lowell writes about John Berryman: "Hyperenthusiasms made him a hot friend, and could also make him wearing to friends—one of his dearest, Delmore Schwartz, used to say no one had John's loyalty, but you liked him to live in another city"). There are historic moments—Isaiah Berlin's conversations with Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova, Hector Bianciotti's account of the death of Borges—as well as lighthearted ones—Bruce Chatwin's hilarious drunken evening with George Ortiz, and Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale's subway ride with George Balanchine ("...like a mythical guide he made the dingy steps, the sinister train, the underground arrival at the State Theater a Tiepoloesque flight into heaven"). Many of the portraits include vivid images that otherwise would have been lost forever: the poet Osip Mandelstam, whom Anna Akhmatova first glimpsed as "a thin young boy with a twig of lily-of-the-valley in his button-hole"; the young Gore Vidal in Dawn Powell's living room suddenly realizing "this is a menage a trois in Greenwich Village. My martini runs over"; twelve-year-old aspiring cartoonist John Updike writing Saul Steinberg to ask for a cartoon (Steinberg sent one, and another, nearly fifty years later, when Updike turned sixty). Each portrait is written with feeling and fullness of heart. A sense of the intimacy and verve of the memoirs is captured in Darryl Pinckney's description of the premises of The New York Review of Books itself, from whose offices these writings were edited and in whose pages they first appeared: "Books were streaking across the ocean and galleys were zooming in from the West Coast or the East Side, nearly all by messenger, by overnight delivery, because everything was urgent, every contributor was at the center of a drama called his or her 'piece.' Incredible battles went on during press week as indescribable things rotted in the office refrigerator. Someone's laughter in the typesetting studio would provoke to fury someone doing layout next door and the storms, the slammed doors. It was a family." The New York Review of Books, with an international circulation of more than 130,000, began during New York's 1963 newspaper strike when the present editor, Robert B. Silvers, and founding co-editor Barbara Epstein, along with Jason Epstein, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Robert Lowell, decided to create a new kind of magazine—one in which the most interesting and qualified minds would discuss current books and issues in depth. Since then, every two weeks, The New York Review has continued to be the journal where the most important issues in American life, culture, and politics are discussed by writers who are themselves a major force in world literature and thought. "The secret of its success, The New York Times wrote, "is this: Its editors' ability to get remarkable writers and thinkers, many of them specialists in their fields, to write lucidly for lay readers on an enormous range of complex, scholarly and newly emerging subjects, issues and ideas."
Anna Akhmatova on Osip Mandelstam Virgil Thomson on Gertrude Stein Jonathan Miller on Lenny Bruce Robert Lowell on John Berryman Stephen Spender on W. H. Auden Mary McCarthy on Hannah Arendt John Thompson on Robert Lowell James Merrill on Elizabeth Bishop Isaiah Berlin on Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova Joseph Brodsky on Nadezhda Mandelstam Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale on George Balanchine John Richardson on Douglas Cooper Hector Bianciotti on Jorge Luis Borges Gore Vidal on Dawn Powell Bruce Chatwin on George Ortiz Philip Roth on Ivan Klima Elena Bonner on Andrei Sakharov Elizabeth Hardwick on Murray Kempton Aileen Kelly on Isaiah Berlin Murray Kempton on Frank Sinatra Adam Michnik on Zbigniew Herbert John Updike on Saul Steinberg Jonathan Mirsky on Noel Annan Alison Lurie on Edward Gorey Ian Buruma on John Schlesinger Darryl Pinckney on Elizabeth Hardwick Colin Thubron on Patrick Leigh Fermor