An Open Book

I’ve just returned from a wonderful trip to London, where two inexplicably kind crowds allowed me to ramble on about 1917 and Babel. More importantly, I made good headway on my next project, Soviet satirist Mikhail Zoshchenko’s devastating Sentimental Tales. I’ll have much more to say about the Tales in later posts.

In the meantime, here I am on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book, discussing 1917 with host Mariella Frostrup and historical novelist Kate Furnivall (starting at 19:03). What an honor that was! And here is the ever-perceptive Phoebe Taplin’s fantastic review of 1917 for Russia Beyond the Headlines.

Busy as I was last week, I found time for a strenuous book hunt on Charing Cross. The catch of the day was a British edition of Proletarian Literature in the United States: An American Book Union Selection (1935), full of first-rate socially conscious writing from the 1920s and ‘30s, including prose by Erskine Caldwell, Josephine Herbst, John Dos Passos, Grace Lumpkin, and James T. Farrell, poetry by Muriel Rukeyser, Langston Hughes, Genevieve Taggard, and Maxwell Bodenheim, and drama by Albert Maltz and Clifford Odets. Here are two of my favorite poems from the volume — Kenneth Fearing’s “Dirge” and Alfred Hayes’s “In a Coffee Pot.” As Suzanne Churchill points out, the latter is a kind of working-class take on “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The scene Hayes describes calls to mind James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) — and, of course, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks (1942).


The basement at Any Amount of Books never disappoints!


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