[T]heir chief enemies knew how to write, whereas the Vandals despised the art of writing to the end of their days. Whatever information we have about the Vandals … is inevitably less than favorable.
Wisława Szymborska was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996. Don’t let that scare you. This is a breezy, charming collection of responses to reading – don’t call them book reviews, she pleads. Think of “Nonrequired Reading” as a blog between covers. In the first essay Szymborska lets herself feel superior to scientists who have made their names discovering chloroform or proving the germ theory. “[D]id I ever forget to show up at my own wedding like Pasteur?” In an essay about terrariums, Szymborska protests that she can’t stand the creepy crawlies that live in them. “I’m not this book’s ideal reader. I’m reading it only because since childhood I’ve derived pleasure from accumulating useless knowledge. And after all, who’s to say what’s useless and what isn’t?” Knowing how to pack a frog for mailing might come in handy one day, right? Szymborska takes issue with authors who say the clothing one wears reflects the type of society in which one lives. In Rome, she protests, “[i]t wasn’t easy to tell a slave from a free man on the street; a slave might strut covered in gold, whereas free citizens just tossed on any old thing.” All the pieces are short, a page or two. If you have no interest in the topic at hand, well, maybe Szymborska doesn’t either and uses it as an excuse to talk about something else, some mishap from childhood, say, or how unfair it is that widgeons have yet to appear in poems. Szymborska is an intellectual, well-read and thoughtful; rarely, however, does her chatty, chiding, bemused voice talk down to us. A fun read and, possibly, you’ll find fresh leads through Szymborska’s reading to more of your own.
Check the BPL catalog for this title: Nonrequired Reading