Glorious distillations of a capacious mind and heart.

NONREQUIRED READING

PROSE PIECES

Nobel laureate Szymborska (Miracle Fair, 2001, etc.) reprints nearly a hundred pithy pieces about books from her many years as a newspaper columnist in Poland.

But don’t call them reviews. “I am and wish to remain a reader, an amateur, and a fan,” the poet writes. “Anyone insisting on ‘reviews’ will incur my displeasure.” Fair enough. In these brief nonreviews, Szymborska uses her eclectic reading habits to comment on everything from witchcraft trials to wall calendars. She does not, indeed, say much about the quality of the books at hand, nor does she often regurgitate or recommend. What she does do is allow her reading to jump-start her philosopher’s mind, her humorist’s imagination, and her poet’s pen. Irony abounds. In a piece about scientists, she quips, “From time to time people do appear who have a particularly strong resistance to obvious facts.” Along the way she takes on Carl Jung (didn’t he realize that people were telling him stories, not dreams?), beauty-obsessed women, deer hunters, biographers, autobiographers, poets overly interested in prosody, extraterrestrials, wax museums, Disney, tyrants’ abuses of history, anti-smokers (she’s a proud puffer), nudity, and home repair. Here are piquant disquisitions on the mysteries of talent (Hitchcock is her exemplar), on the poetry of Czelaw Milosz (which she greatly appreciates), on the absurdities of pseudo-science. She admires Thomas Mann and Samuel Pepys but mistrusts Dale Carnegie, wonders about the daily lives of Neanderthals, expatiates on the beauties of Polish birds and Andersen’s fairy tales, speculates about the meaning of life and death to a paramecium, worries about violence and about the psychological demands we make of our dogs. She recognizes that home-improvement books are wasted on the practically challenged, constructs a hilarious verbal family tree of Cleopatra, and observes that the three pictographs forming the word “peace” in Chinese are “already a microscopic poem.”

Glorious distillations of a capacious mind and heart.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-15-100660-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2002

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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