Cover Image: I Would Prefer Not To

I Would Prefer Not To

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Member Reviews

Bartleby, what a remarkable character and for now I would prefer not to tell you why. Might reread this again someday.

Also, I would like to have a copy of this book simply because you got a bonus picture of Herman Melville!!!!!


Thanks to Netgalley.
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There are four stories in this book : Bartleby the Scrivener , where the title of the book comes from; The Lightning Rod Man; John Marr; and Benito Cereno, which is a novella, the longest part of the book. All four were interesting reads, slavery and racism being the main theme of Benito Cereno makes it a powerful story but Bartleby, the man who ‘would prefer not to’ is a picture of a man on the edge that definitely stays with the reader.
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I haven't read much Melville, but was happy to see that this is available and to get a change to read it. I had fairly high expectations and I wasn't disappointed. I like classic literature, and enjoyed this collection. I bet this will sell well.

I really appreciate the free review copy!!
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Bartleby the Scrivener was actually pretty decent - I see now why this is Melville's most celebrated short story. Shame about the others though - two instantly forgettable shorts and then an extremely, tediously long story about slavery and seafaring. Wow. Really, really dull. The worst elements of Melville - lugubrious, dreary prose, combined with boring description of the sea. Worth it to read Bartleby but the rest of it is eminently skippable.
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I’ve never read anything by Herman Melville – I know I should have read Moby Dick by now, but it has never sounded appealing to me – so when I spotted this new collection of Melville short stories from Pushkin Press it seemed a good opportunity to experience some of his work without having to commit to a 600+ page novel.

I Would Prefer Not To contains four stories, although the final one takes up more than half the book and is probably better described as a novella. My favourite was the first story, Bartleby the Scrivener, which was first published in Putnam’s Magazine in 1853. The narrator is an elderly Wall Street lawyer who employs two clerks, or ‘scriveners’ – Turkey and Nippers – whose job is to make copies of legal documents, and one office boy, Ginger Nut. An increase in work leads the lawyer to look for a third scrivener and, as he has been having difficulties with the temperamental natures of the other two, he decides to hire Bartleby, a quiet man whom he hopes will be a good influence on the others.

At first Bartleby works hard at his copying, but when the lawyer asks him to proofread a copied document, he replies with, “I would prefer not to”. Over the following days, he refuses to do more and more of the tasks that are requested of him – never giving an angry or rude response; always just those same five words: “I would prefer not to”. As the lawyer decides how to deal with this unexpected problem, the reader wonders what is wrong with Bartleby and what has caused his unusual behaviour. I enjoyed the story, but it left me very confused and I didn’t really understand what Melville was trying to say. However, after turning to Google for help, it seems that the meaning of the story was deliberately ambiguous and it can be interpreted in many ways, which made me feel a lot better about not understanding it!

Next is The Lightning-Rod Man, a short and intriguing tale of a salesman who arrives at the narrator’s house in Albania during a thunderstorm and tries to sell him a lightning-rod. The narrator is sceptical and says he will trust God to keep him safe, but the salesman won’t take no for an answer. Again, the meaning is not immediately obvious, but it’s an entertaining story and reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe. The third story, John Marr, is the weakest in the book, in my opinion. The title character is a retired sailor trying to adjust to a life on land, in a remote community on the American prairies. Feeling isolated and out of place, he remembers his seafaring days through songs and poems. The piece included in this collection is taken from John Marr and Other Sailors, a volume of poetry published in 1888, so maybe it would have worked better if read in the context of the original book.

Finally, we have the novella Benito Cereno, in which an American sea captain sailing off the coast of Chile encounters a Spanish slave ship in distress. Boarding the ship to see if he can help, he meets the Spanish captain, Benito Cereno, who tells him how the ship came to be in trouble. As he observes the behaviour of Benito Cereno and his slaves, he begins to wonder whether there is more to this than meets the eye. This was another interesting story, but I felt that it was much too long and too easy to guess the twist; we see things only through the eyes of the narrator, who is frustratingly oblivious to what is really happening on the Spanish ship. It was also another difficult one to interpret: was it a racist, pro-slavery story or an anti-racist, anti-slavery story? It could be either and it can’t be assumed that the views of the narrator reflect the views of the author.

So, now that I’ve had my introduction to Herman Melville, will I be reading Moby Dick? At the moment I think I would prefer not to, but maybe I’ll be ready to tackle it one day in the future!
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A classic from one of the world's best writers. I'm so glad it is being republished as I had never read this before, but I loved it and will be recommending it to everyone.
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I’ve heard said that Herman Melville’s classic story Bartleby The Scrivener is the first true example of existentialism in American Literature. I leave it up to English Scholars to debate the issue, but for me first reading the story in college circa. around 1968 I viewed it as an episode of The Twilight Zone I was not familiar with. With the new release of four classic Melville stories, #IWouldPreferNotTo, which includes Bartleby The  Scrivener, I had a golden opportunity to check my hypothesis. Bartleby, the 19th century law office scrivener whose only reply when asked to do anything is, I Would Prefer Not To, is perhaps one of the most alienated characters in American Fiction. But it is the possible explanation appearing at the end of the work which is why in my twisted mentality the story becomes Twilight Zoneish . Then add to that a last line that is as timely today as it was when it was written, a line I’ve taken to using more and more the older I get. On top of Bartleby, #I Would PreferNotTo contains the classic stories TheLightening-Rod Man, John Marr, and the novella Benito Cereno,which makes this a must have for your literature libraries. Don’t leave home without it !
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Melville is undoubtedly for me one of the best writers in early American literature and I have loved being able to read his other most famous short stories through this compilation! I would recommend this collection for anyone wanting to embark in his literature.
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Pure joy!  Oh, how I love Herman Melville's prose and insight into human nature...truly special.  He had such a way with words, intelligence, wit and irony.  Though his Moby Dick isn't a favourite book of mine, it would have been a shame to miss this new collection of four short stories.  "Bartleby, the Scrivener" is superb, my idea of utter perfection, and my favourite in the book.  It practically had me gnaw my tongue in frustration with the clerk and anticipation for the ending but also caused me to chuckle with enjoyment.  "Benito Cereno" is also arresting.   If the book title alone doesn't entice you, none will.  

Anyone seeking unique and brilliant writing ought to read this.  I had forgotten how mindblowingly pristine Melville's writing is.  The late 19th century is one of my favourite writing eras resplendent with masterful authors.

My sincere thank you to Pushkin Press and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this extraordinary book, a real treat.
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Nice collection of stories.  Honestly, when I hear Herman Melville, all I can think of is Moby Dick.  I liked some of these stories, not thrilled with others but it was a good experience reading this collection.
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This beautifully bound collection of short stories is a worthy bookshelf-addition for Melville fans. I had previously read his most well-known works (Moby Dick, The Confidence-Man, Billy Budd, Sailor, and Bartleby the Scrivener) so this was a refreshing insight (re-reading Bartleby was an added bonus). There’s a common thread of morality in much of his writing as well as more than one seafaring adventure. Aside from <i>Bartleby</i> I particularly enjoyed <Benito Cereno</i>. 

Thanks to NetGalley and Pushkin Press for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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"A new selection of Melville's darkest and most enthralling stories in a beautiful Pushkin Collection edition.

Includes "Bartleby, the Scrivener", "Benito Cereno" and "The Lightning-Rod Man."

A lawyer hires a new copyist, only to be met with stubborn, confounding resistance. A nameless guide discovers hidden worlds of luxury and bleak exploitation. After boarding a beleaguered Spanish slave ship, an American trader's cheerful outlook is repeatedly shadowed by paralyzing unease.

In these stories of the surreal mundanity of office life and obscure tensions at sea, Melville's darkly modern sensibility plunges us into a world of irony and mystery, where nothing is as it first appears."

If a title of a book could sell me on it, this would be that title.
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Melville is a master. Moby-Dick is obviously one of the greatest novels ever written but Melville can definitely write a great short story. Most of these stories are fantastic and well worth reading for any Melville fan or fans of classic literature in general.
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Until yesterday, I confess the only work of Melville's I had read was Moby Dick, and it is not a book I've ever been especially fond of. So, when I saw I Would Prefer Not To listed on NetGalley, I immediately requested a review copy, as I was keen to give Melville another try and see what some of his other writing was like. Overall, I would say that I prefer these shorter works of his to Moby Dick. "The Lightening-Rod Man" and "John Marr" I found so-so. However, "Benito Cereno" held my interest, as did "Bartleby, the Scrivener". The latter was my favourite piece in the collection, as Melville painted such a marvellous portrait of the enigmatic Bartleby that, as a reader, I could share in the narrator's confusion and consternation over his strange new employee. I would recommend this book to short story fans, readers of 19th-century fiction, and those who, like me, are intrigued to learn what kind of fiction Melville wrote other than Moby Dick.
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