August 16, 2014

The 40s: The story of a decade

This isn't a review so much as a reflection on The New Yorker magazine's anthology: The 40s: The story of a decade. Divided into seven parts - The War, American Scenes, Postwar, Character Studies, The Critics, Poetry, Fiction - it totals 700 pages and resembles a thick magazine issue, minus cartoons.

As a long-time subscriber, I approached the book as I do an issue: scan the table of contents and contributors, skip to the back for the cartoon caption contest, then jump from movie and theater reviews to profiles, fiction, and so on, until the next issue arrives.

The anthology, almost seventy years old, belies how conventional we are even as we're sure we're not. Insert current conflicts and cultural behaviors, and it is jarring how we still self-deceive ahead of events about to crash through the roof: "Paris Postscript (On the Fall of France)" by A. J. Liebling is fresh and poignant.

In the September 2, 1939 issue, E.B. White reluctantly admitted The New Yorker could no longer ignore approaching disaster and delivered a last bit of magical thinking in his Notes and Comment: "Let me whisper I love you while we are dancing and the lights are low."