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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Monday, August 04, 2003

Nonrequired Reading by Wislawa Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh. New York : Harcourt, Inc., 2002. ISBN: 0-15-100660-1

On the face of it, this would seem to be a most unlikely book to recommend. "Prose pieces" (the subtitle) by a noted Polish poet (and incidentally, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature). The pieces in question appear to be from a newspaper column devoted to to writing about books, but not best sellers, or even books that normally are reviewed elsewhere. No, the author writes about those kinds of books that you see on the remainder shelves at your bookstore, books with titles like Scientists in Anecdotes, or The Opera Handbook, or The Historical Development of Clothing, not to mention The One Hundred Greatest Tyrants, or The Button in Literature, or even Steps and Missteps in the Evolution of Molluscs.

Having read this list of unlikely titles, and further learning that these books were written or translated into Polish when Ms. Szymborska read and then wrote about them, you might REALLY wonder about my sanity in recommending this little gem of a book to your attention. But what makes this book so charming is the author herself. In the preface, she admits that she makes no attempts to actually review these books. No, the books are just the starting point, often merely the "pretext" to use her word, for "spinning out various loose associations." She calls them "sketches" and what wonderful sketches they are!

Each is brief, no more than a couple of pages in length. And once you've read one or two, you'll see what I mean. They are delightful little vignettes, and so often, she's definitely on my wave length. What she has to say makes sense, and is just plain fun to read and think about. This is the kind of book that as you read it, you're often inspired to read the good bits out loud to your companion. They're just irresistable. You could call it (warning: SDA jargon) a secular "Morning Watch" book.

And besides, how could you not love anything written by someone who states as her credo: "One more comment from the heart: I'm old-fashioned and think that reading books is the most glorious pastime that humankind has yet devised." She goes on from there with an impassioned paean to the joys of reading. Reading this book from cover to cover was a joy for me!

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