cover image NONREQUIRED READING: Prose Pieces


Wislawa Szymborska, Wisawa Szymborska, Clare Cavanagh, ; trans. from the Polish by Claire Cavanagh. . Harcourt, $24 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100660-1

Szymborska's Nobel Prize for literature in 1996 recognized her achievement in poetry. This collection of short prose responses ("I couldn't write reviews and didn't even want to") to 94 books proves a luminous and inspiring set of readerly reports—sharp, digressive, joyous—that provide insight into the poet's process of intake and synthesis. The pieces don't so much describe the books in question as take off from them, riffing and meditating on their contents. "The world is full of all sorts of sleeping powers—but how can you know in advance which may be safely released and which should be kept under lock at all costs?" she asks after reading Karel Capek's 1936 novel The War with the Newts, a sort of 1984 meets The Lord of the Flies. "One hundred minutes for your own beauty? Every day? You can't always indulge in such luxuries, my dear vain, dizzy, professionally employed, married friend with children," is her wry response to One Hundred Minutes for Beauty by Zofia Wedrowska, fourth edition, Warsaw: Sport I Turystyka, 1978. "We all know that a gesture repeated too often grows trite and loses its deeper meaning," she writes of Kathleen Keating's A Little Book of Hugs, but notes that "Miss Keating is an American, and enthusiasm comes to her more easily." Readers will find it comes just as easily to them via this varied collection by a keen reader and thinker. (Oct.)

Forecast:While the conceit of a commonplace book of reader responses may be a little quirky, expect strong, explanatory national reviews (along with the diffuse interest in any Nobel laureate) to generate sales. This may very well be the season's sleeper hit among literati, particularly among non-regular readers of poetry who nevertheless recognize Szymborska's name.