A generous friend brought me a book the other day. As you can imagine, I rarely turn down the gift of a book. It was one he wanted to pass on and thought I would like.
The book contains a collection of fine pieces from that illustrious magazine The New Yorker and is entitled The 40s: The Story of a Decade.
And what a decade it was. During the first half the world was at war and the second half was spent beginning recovery from that war.
I whooped out loud with glee when I opened the book to the Table of Contents. Oh, the riches. Here are pieces written during WWII by E.B. White, A.J. Liebling, along with John Hersey’s profile on the then Lieutenant John F. Kennedy.
There are post-war pieces by Edmund Wilson, Lillian Ross, and Rebecca West’s report on the Nuremberg trials.
And, oh, the section of Character Studies: Walt Disney, Edith Piaf, Duke Ellington, Albert Einstein, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Of course I read the book section first. Clifton Fadiman muses on Ernest Hemingway’s latest offering For Whom the Bell Tolls (he finds it to be a much deeper book than The Sun Also Rises), and Lionel Trilling gets a glimpse of the future in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, a book he found to be “profound, terrifying, and wholly fascinating.” It is compelling to read these reviews written so soon after the now-famous books were just hitting the market.
There is also commentary on film, theatre, art and architecture, musical events, and fashion.
And of course it wouldn’t be The New Yorker without poetry - verses by William Carlos Williams, W.H. Auden, and Elizabeth Bishop - and fiction - Carson McCullers, John Cheever, and the first publication of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
Irresistible! You can see why I am excited to have this book at hand. History combined with stellar writing. So much more convenient - even at almost 700 pages - than a mile-high pile of ten years’ worth of magazines.