Do we read anymore? Has mass attention deficit disorder been firmly established in our land of home theaters and iPods? This is a subject that could spin in a million directions. Wow. Implications abound–from its effect on everything from the state of book publishing, to intellectual circles, and education in the very definition of what it means to be literate in today’s culture.
Here’s one book that brushes up against this topic a bit. It’s from a book review published in The Guardian titled “Joan Collins and the Decline of Western Civilization.” I like it already. The book, written by Dubravka Ugresic and titled “Thank You For Not Reading,” purports to be essays on “literary trivia” and the opening salvo says it best: “The writer and reader are more isolated than ever.”
Guardian reviewer Julian Evans writes that Ugresic’s subjects are not trivial matters at all. Ugresic, a Croatian, targets writers, editors and the publishing industry in her essays. The first in the book, according to Evans, discusses the author’s attendance at the London book fair more than a decade ago, which was opened by Joan Collins. Collins appeared, “dressed like a quotation: in a little pink Chanel suit, with a pink pillbox hat on her head and a coquettish veil over her eyes … What does all this have to do with literature?” Good question.
But Ugresic’s essays on current literati details go much deeper. Her insight captures what’s right in front of us: that book blurbs and author pictures matter more than words, that modern bookstores resemble supermarkets “whose fruit and vegetables had mutated and lost their flavour in favour of external appearance.” Here is a favorite paragraph from Evans’ review:
“Having set out her territory, her arguments take flight. In another essay, “Alchemy”, she writes that “The greatest shock for an east European writer who turned up in the western literary marketplace was the absence of aesthetic criteria.” The easterner, brought up to believe in a distinction between “literature” and “trash”, is introduced to a westerner and admits modestly that he is a writer. “What a coincidence!” the reply comes. “Our 10-year-old daughter is just finishing a novel. We even have a publisher!” This is the first insult in a series that makes him understand that the best way to be published is to make sure he has done something else to become famous for first: to be Joan Collins or Ivana Trump; a prostitute, murderer or model. An art-dealer friend reminds the author about Piero Manzoni’s artwork, “Artist Shit”, sold at the price of gold in 1961. While the price of gold has remained more or less stable in the past 40 years, he tells her, the price of shit has seen astronomical growth.”