Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska is more known for her poetry, but she also worked as a book reviewer in Poland for a few years. The reviews she writes in Nonrequired Reading are short and informal, probably due to column restrictions. The reviews, on a wide range of subjects from DYI to the search for aliens, from corruption in the world of paleontology to bird guides, from Greek philosophy to statistics, all are a pleasure to read and full of a poet’s insight. I am always interested in nonfiction writings of novelists and poets, and if Robert Hass says Szymborska is worth reading, I’m on board. Other great reads that come to mind: Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez and Saint-Exupéry’s Wind, Sand and Stars, Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, and Camilo Jose Cela’s Journey to the Alcarria. I am nearly always taken in when good writers take the time to write in their own prose about the truths in the worlds they live in.
A quote from her review of Karel Capek’s The War with the Newts:
“But…in the beginning, how can you tell a demented naysayer from a prophet with the right on his side? The world is full of all sorts of sleeping powers–but how can you know in advance with may be safely released and which should be kept under lock at all times? Between the moment when it’s already too late, a single, suitable, perfectly timed moment must occur when the misfortune can still be averted. In all the commotion in most often passes unnoticed. But which moment is it? How do we recognize it? This is probably the most painful question posed to human beings by our own history.”
By Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh
New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2002