Thursday, 22 November 2007

Review: Thank You for Not Reading: Essays on Literary Trivia, Dubravka Ugresic (2003)

I have a lot of time for this Croatian emigre and Holland resident (the book was first published in Dutch by Breda in 2001 as Verboden te lezen!, which is I think slightly different in meaning to the English title).

Most of the items in the book date from the late 1990s. As such, they predate the seminal moment of the first half of this century. You can tell immediately by the standard post-colonial bias she possesses but that also, it is salient to remark, lacks the hysterical cast of much political non-fiction published since September 2001.

It is, if you like, a work of the intersticial years: those following the fall of the Berlin Wall and preceding 9/11. A time of possibilities during which the tone of voice of a woman of such evident learning as Ugresic echoed in a void.

Nevertheless, the reading here is salutory and highly entertaining. Ugresic has an old-world practicality that expresses itself in a muted authority. She knows wtf she's on about but she's not going to tempt fate (or the higher authorities, such as those who control passports and residence permits) by indulging in triumphalism.

Indeed, her emigre status (despite belonging to the elite) gives her words a stubborn resolve generally lacking in those of us permitted by custom and law, to flaunt authority (because it ultimately resides in us).

Of particular note here is her observation that the literature industry developed within Communist Russia resembles that which dominates in late-term capitalism. The uniformity sought by publishers, the reliable forms and themes of the contemporary publishing industry, set her antennae quivvering. She is suspicious and so this book should be read by every publisher in the free world.

Lest we forget.

The book also has a charmingly light feel. Each essay is short and dense, but easy withal. No item takes more than five minutes to read. And the pace is regular, like the beam of a lighthouse that scans the walls of nearby houses just as easily as it shoots its ray into the darkness hanging just above the ocean's skin.

A truly delightful read written by a fair witness (the 'new elite' predicted by Heinlein in Stranger in A Strange Land). May she enjoy her fame.

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