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April 24, 2015

Book Review—The New Yorker Book of the 40s: Story of a Decade

This is an anthology of pieces originally published in The New Yorker magazine during the 1940s, featuring pieces by some of the twentieth century’s preeminent writers. Divided into seven sections, the text comprises character studies, writings about World War II, scenes from American life, reviews of books, film, music, and theatre, and original poetry and short stories.

For a lit geek like me the first section devoured was the literary reviews. Of particular interest are reviews of T.S. Eliot’s “Notes Towards the Definition of Culture” by fellow poet W.H. Auden, a review of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, as well as Orwell’s review of Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter  There are also numerous notes and comments throughout by E.B. White, who was a long time contributor to the publication. The character studies include Eleanor Roosevelt, Duke Ellington, Albert Einstein, and Norman Mailer, with their unifier being their influence during the decade. The sections dedicated to original poetry and short stories features writers like Auden, Vladimir Nabokov, and V.S. Pritchett. The star of that section is Shirley Jackson’s breakout story “The Lottery” which caused outrage when first published and marked a new era of horror writing.
This volume provides considerable interest and delight. The greatest surprise is the mix of names and styles, defining and characterising the decade while also fleshing out its many streams of thought and life, preventing it from falling into a simple stereotype of the era.
The New Yorker Book of the 40s is great for casual reading and even better for getting lost in the past.


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