This book of redefined definitions is haunted by the ghost of Ambrose Bierce, who wrote The Devil’s Dictionary (1911).
It’s gutsy to challenge the master, and for that, the author deserves our compliments and our sympathies. Writer Radovic (Observations, 1966, etc.) is not, in fact, trying to ape Bierce, at least not explicitly. He points out in the preface that some definitions are “attempts at humor and satire...[but] the rest are observations and opinions with which the reader may agree or disagree….” In other words, he can be snarky when temptation calls, but he can also be thoughtful. This is not a review of The Devil’s Dictionary, however, so just one comparison of definitions will suffice. “Bore: a person from whom the more we hear the less we want to” (Radovic); “Bore: a person who talks when you wish him to listen” (Bierce). This is instructive: Not only is Bierce pithier, but he also, characteristically, skewers the smug reader. Radovic is less the entertainer than the philosopher. And witty entertainment has a shorter shelf life than does thoughtful reflection, so in many ways, Radovic is the steadier companion. Often, Radovic’s definitions turn into mini-essays, but here are some of the shorter ones: “emulation: copying to which a plagiarist may admit”; “ignoramus: one who is aware of what he knows, as a wise man is aware of what he does not”; “insomnia: a rarely recognized opportunity for reflection”; “poverty: freedom from many things money can buy”; “myth: invention that, however hollow and false it may be, is often as durable as the interests it serves.” (Part of the fun is trying to tease out Radovic’s political/philosophical bent.) Such compilations are harder to write than they might seem, and a lot of brainwork went into this one.
So here is a brave attempt at a tough job and a good bathroom book in the bargain.