Monday, November 26, 2007

This Week in Reading Nov. 25 - Dec. 1

What a week. Mark Twain, Jonathan Swift, Woody Allen and Jon Stewart were all born this week. Something funny, yet pointed, was in the stars, on comets or somewhere. Throw in Louisa May Alcott, Madeliene L'Engle, Alberto Moravia, and David Mament and you'd balance the cultural conservatism of Winston Churchill, C.S.Lewis, Rex Stout, and the creator of Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz.

You'll note but one event this week, however it is an extremely important one for us librarians. Andrew Carnegie gave money to build many of the public libraries in America and regardless of how he gained his wealth in the robber baron era, he reached social consciousness by the time of normal retirement and began to give back to the democratic institutions of those countries which allowed him to amass that wealth. His generosity has nearly been matched in our era by the BIll and Melinda Gates Foundation which began a program nearly ten years ago to give computers to hundreds of public libraries so that we librarians could train others to get over the digital divide. Carnegie and Gates are the signifying bricks and clicks of this ever changing public institution.

This Week's Question: Twain, Swift, Allen, and Stewart, all use satire, as do several others born this week. Satire often uses irony and sarcasm to make the point behind the seeming absurdity linger beyond the joke. Sometimes the absurdity which is pointed out actually happens later because others do not see its absurdity. Sometimes this works against the author, such as the Archie Bunker character in Norman Lear's All in the Family television series who became a hero to the right wingers he was meant to satirize. Which of these authors said the following? One can deliver a satire with telling force through the insidious medium of a travesty, if he is careful not to overwhelm the satire with the extraneous interest of the travesty.

Answer to Last Week's Question: The Algonquin Roundtable of literary wits and games players met in New York at the Algonquin Hotel in the 1920s and was also called the Vicious Circle. It included playwrights George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, Robert Sherwood, humorists and columnists Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Heywood Broun, Franklin Pierce Adams, and editor of the New Yorker, Harold Ross. Various actors, composers and other Broadway lights flitted in and out, among them Harpo Marx, Talalulah Bankhead, and Edna Ferber. The group centered around the critic Alexander Woolcott (who was satirized as Kaufman's The Man Who Came to Dinner.) The Friends of Libraries USA declared the hotel as a national literary landmark in 1996, no doubt due to the popularity of works by and about these people in American public libraries.

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