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Flashback Friday: Ivan Vladislavic Shares His List of Essential Reading

101 DetectivesThe FollyFlashback HotelDouble NegativeThe Loss Library The Restless Supermarket


This Flashback Friday, read Jan Steyn’s interview with Ivan Vladislavić, which ran in The White Review in 2012.

In the interview, Vladislavić discusses the visual art associated with his books, his reputation as Johannesburg’s “writer of place”, and his “desert island” list of four books.

Vladislavić says his list of essential reading is “too long and varied to make a sensible choice of four”, but names Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe, Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage by Tim Robinson and the Condensed Oxford Dictionary, the last on the advice of Aubrey Tearle, the narrator of The Restless Supermarket.

On writing, Vladislavić refers to a quotation by Italian writer Italo Calvino once told to him by Tim Couzens:

I’m always intrigued to hear what writers say when they’re asked this question. I obviously consider the reader to the extent that I hope someone will read what I’ve written and I expect them to get something from the exercise. But I cannot say that I think about this reader when I’m working. It feels to me like the contract is entirely between myself and the text; I am trying to resolve something for myself by working it through in language. What happens afterwards doesn’t concern me at the time. In this limited sense, you could say I’m writing for myself. Limited because I’m also not the intended reader; the pleasure for me is in the writing rather than the reading. Tim Couzens once told me something Calvino said about writing, to the effect that it was ‘hiding something so that the reader can find it’. This seems like a good description of the activity. When I’m ‘hiding something’ in written form, I imagine that someone will come looking, but I don’t know who this person is and I don’t consider how good their eyes are.

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