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Prufrock: March 15, 2017

In today's Prufrock: Dorothy Sayer’s Lenten play, Soviet children’s books, automation and employment, ebook sales fall again, Marilynne Robinson’s favorite novel, Polish fiction today, and more.
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Reviews and News:
 
Marilynne Robinson loves it. So does Joyce Carol Oates. Is Harriette Arnow’s 1954 novel The Dollmaker that good?
 
Gilbert Meilaender on Dorothy Sayer’s The Man Born to Be King: “On June 4, 1955, C. S. Lewis wrote to Dorothy Sayers to thank her for a pamphlet and letter she had sent him. He noted, in passing, that ‘as always in Holy Week,’ he had been ‘re-reading The Man Born to Be King. It stands up to this v. particular kind of test extremely well.’ We might, I think, do far worse than imitate Lewis in our own Lenten reading.”
 
“Only one of the 270 detailed occupations listed in the 1950 US Census has since been eliminated by automation”: The elevator operator.
 
Ebook sales fall again in Britain: “While sales through shops increased 7% in 2016, ebook sales declined by 4%. It is the second year in a row that ebook sales have fallen, and only the second time that annual ebook sales have done so since industry bodies began monitoring sales a decade ago.”
 
The messy world of New York’s mid-century art galleries.
 
Soviet children’s books: “Early children’s books by artists like Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky are masterpieces of abstraction, but don’t offer much by way of either ideology or pedagogy. As the 1920s wore on, though, children’s literature got pulled into bitter cultural debates — highlights include a major brouhaha over the fairy tale, seen either as innocuously accessible or heinously corruptive. By the time Vladimir Mayakovsky, Osip Mandelstam, and Daniil Kharms — the authors featured in The Fire Horse — came to children’s literature, it was more of a minefield than a playground.”
 
 
Essay of the Day:
 
In The Times Literary Supplement, Jacek Dehnel argues that Polish fiction has changed little since Communism fell—it is still stuffed with dreams:
 
“In the communist past, the literary world in the countries behind the Iron Curtain was subject to some specific rules. Because of censorship, many Polish authors wrote ‘for the drawer’, with no hope of publication, or published their work under pseudonyms, in samizdat or with émigré publishers abroad. Meanwhile, authors to whom the authorities benevolently granted the paper for their books to be printed on, with a stamp of approval from the Office for Monitoring Publications and Performances, often used enigmatic or Aesopian language. The main forum for the exchange of ideas in society was clandestine – writers, readers and censors took part in a peculiar game, during which only very lightly veiled criticism of the Party occasionally broke through into print, while at other times the censor (or reader) detected satire in a text intended to be apolitical. Another strange feature of this world was literary hierarchies. The works of ‘prominent authors’, bought only by institutional libraries, clogged the bookshops, but you could only obtain truly worthwhile books, published in absurdly small print runs, ‘from under the counter’ if you happened to be acquainted with the bookshop assistant. Just as the dollar had an official and a black-market exchange rate, so literature had these two tiers: the authors and books valued within one were often worthless within the other, and vice versa. The collapse of communism was supposed to remove the ‘official rate’ and replace it with a ‘real’ one – that did happen in the case of the dollar, but not in that of literature.
 
* * *
 
“Polish fiction has retained much of its opacity and metaphor. What distinguishes it – not always positively – from other literatures of the region is a tendency towards irony, parody and a dream-like quality. Hovering over it are the spirits of three great authors of the early twentieth century: Witkacy (Stanisław Witkiewicz), Witold Gombrowicz and Bruno Schulz. All three depicted the real world in a visionary, exaggerated way, with little interest in giving their work a solid structure. Their element was language, phenomenal language too, magical, drawing the reader into a philosophical debate between grotesque characters, or into deliberately monstrous, fantastical worlds. The years of communism merely reinforced this current: the censor was more forgiving of dreams, and so the oneiric metaphor or the ‘made-up reality’ of Polish science fiction flourished.”
 
Read the rest.
 
 
Image of the Day: Bryce Canyon
 
 
Poem: Carol V. Davis, “Animal Time”
 
 
Forthcoming:
 
James McGrath Morris, The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War (Da Capos, March 28): “Eager to find his way in life and words, John Dos Passos first witnessed the horror of trench warfare in France as a volunteer ambulance driver retrieving the dead and seriously wounded from the front line. Later in the war, he briefly met another young writer, Ernest Hemingway, who was just arriving for his service in the ambulance corps. When the war was over, both men knew they had to write about it; they had to give voice to what they felt about war and life. Their friendship and collaboration developed through the peace of the 1920s and 1930s, as Hemingway's novels soared to success while Dos Passos penned the greatest antiwar novel of his generation, Three Soldiers. In war, Hemingway found adventure, women, and a cause. Dos Passos saw only oppression and futility. Their different visions eventually turned their private friendship into a bitter public fight, fueled by money, jealousy, and lust.”

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