Tolstoy is one of the most resonant names in literature and should produce a grand echo in my memory. Instead I am reminded of this: Tolstoy sometimes slept with a dictionary under his head. This was on his country estate, where he liked to lie down under a tree in the garden. I read this in an essay by Aldo Buzzi, the Italian screenwriter and food lover. It reminded me in turn of a line from Jeanette Winterson: “We cannot use a book as a pillow.” She has a point–although hard-headed realists and soft-headed mystics may disagree.
Ideas flow out of books in crooked courses and they don’t go through border posts. In the Republic of Letters–the phrase sounds increasingly quaint–it doesn’t matter what passport a reader or writer is carrying. Then again, I love books that deal with particulars. Ever since I was a child, I’ve read to discover what people think, how they live, what they say to one another in places, and times, I will never experience directly. My own work deals with the force and texture of place, with how the world presses on you and makes you who you are. In this sense I value cultural distinctions, although I don’t care much about nationality. An interest in your own neighbourhood is a useful defence against national cultures, which are usually self-important and chauvinist, and also against globalised culture, which wrings the differences out of human experience.
—Ivan Vladislavić is the author of the novel Double Negative, published by And Other Stories. Among his other books are Portrait with Keys, an account of life in Johannesburg, and The Loss Library, a reflection on writing (and not writing). He sometimes works with visual artists and has edited volumes on architecture and art.
2paragraphs gives special thanks to Anderson Tepper for curating our International Writers Interviews. Mr. Tepper is on the staff of Vanity Fair and is a Contributing Editor at Words Without Borders.