Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces

Nonrequired Reading: Prose Pieces

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Wislawa Szymborska's poems are admired around the world, and her unsparing vision, tireless wit, and deep sense of humanity are cherished by countless readers. Unknown to most of them, however, Szymborska also worked for several decades as a columnist, reviewing a wide variety of books under the unassuming title "Nonrequired Reading."

As readers of her poems would expect, the short prose pieces collected here are anything but ordinary. Reflecting the author's own eclectic tastes and interests, the pretexts for these ruminations range from books on wallpapering, cooking, gardening, and yoga, to more lofty volumes on opera and world literature. Unpretentious yet incisive, these charming pieces are on a par with Szymborska's finest lyrics, tackling the same large and small questions with a wonderful curiosity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780151006601
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/28/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 252
Sales rank: 786,513
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

WISLAWA SZYMBORSKA (1923–2012) was born in Poland and worked as a poetry editor, translator, and columnist. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996.

CLARE CAVANAGH, professor of Slavic and comparative literature at Northwestern, has received a PEN Translation Award for her work, with Stanislaw Baranczak, on Szymborska's poetry.


Read an Excerpt

Absent-Minded Professors

Anecdotes about great people make for bracing reading. All right, the reader thinks, so I didn't discover chloroform, but I wasn't the worst student in my class, as Liebig was. Of course I wasn't the first to find salvarsan, but at least I'm not as scatterbrained as Ehrlich, who wrote letters to himself. Mendeleev may be light-years ahead of me as far as the elements go, but I'm far more restrained and better groomed regarding hair. And did I ever forget to show up at my own wedding like Pasteur? Or lock the sugar bowl up to keep my wife out, like Laplace? By comparison with such scientists, we do indeed feel slightly more reasonable, better bred, and perhaps even higher-minded as regards daily living. Moreover, from our vantage point, we know which scientist was right and which was shamefully mistaken. How innocuous someone like Pettenhoffer, for example, seems to us today! Pettenhoffer was a doctor who ferociously battled the findings on bacteria's pathogenetic powers. When Koch discovered the comma bacillus of cholera, Pettenhoffer publicly swallowed a whole testtubeful of these unpleasant microbes in order to demonstrate that the bacteriologists, with Koch at their helm, were dangerous mythomaniacs. This anecdote gains particular luster from the fact that nothing happened to Pettenhoffer. He kept his health and scornfully flaunted his triumph until the end of his days. Why he wasn't infected remains a mystery for medicine. But not for psychology. From time to time people do appear who have a particularly strong resistance to obvious facts. Oh, how pleasant and honorable not to be a Pettenhoffer!

Scientists in Anecdotes by Waclaw Golebowiez, second edition, Warsaw: Wiedza Powszechna, 1968.

Copyright © 2002 by Harcourt, Inc.

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Table of Contents

From the Author xi

Absent-Minded Professors
The Importance of Being Scared
By the Numbers
Dream On
Musical Chairs
Compulsory Happiness
The Cost of Chivalry
Seeing the Light
That's the Spirit
In Cold Blood
The State of Fashion
Love in Bloom
Feet and Fate
Humor's Younger Brother
Great Love
Bones to Pick
The Scales of Justice
Home Improvement
Nowhere to Hide
Who's Who
Talking Pictures
Glass Houses
The Long-Distance Walker
Back to Nature
Fair Game
Changing Places
Blowing Your Own Horn
The Road to Perfection
Trouble in Paradise
Lilliput Lost
The Psychic Life of Pets
The Ninety-Pound Weakling
Do It Yourself
To Be Continued
How Not to Be Noble
For Every Occasion
Family Affairs
On Your Toes
Childhood and Before
Old Friends
The Myth of Poetry
In Praise of Birds
Gladiators and Others
Bringing Up the Rear
Catherine the Not-So-Great
The Courtier's Inferno
The Art of Destruction
Cosmic Solitude
The Impresario
Close Calls
What's the Mystery?
The Vandals' Fate
What's Dreaming?
Too Late, or When?
Your Honor
Roman Thickets
Black Tears
Graphology on the Barricades
I Was Traveling with the Fairest
Mummies and Us
Chips Will Fly
Take the Cow
Willem Kolff
Hammurabi and After
Hugs for Humanity
Truth and Fiction
The Prince's Feet, Not to Mention Other Body Parts
They Were
Round Dates
The Female Pharaoh
Cat Music
The End of the World in Plural
The Nut and the Gilded Shell
Let Me Take This Occasion
A Word on Nakedness
In Relaxation's Clutches
Many Questions
The Piano and the Rhinoceros
Lace Hankies
Mountain Climbing
Ten Minutes of Solitude
A Bad Little Boy
At Last
Blocks and Blockheads
In Praise of Questions
The Cardboard-Eating Cadaver

Translator's Note

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