REVIEW: I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur, by Mathias Svalina

Each section of I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur begins the same way. “I started this one business that builds skyscrapers in your likeness.” “I started this one business that snuck into the bedrooms of children to leave little bits of cold flesh beneath their pillows.” “I started this one business that made music that nobody knew was music.” The stories go on to describe technicians who install padlocks in clouds, “elegant ladies made of glass” who give tours of Europe, an office that sells every kind of pencil you could need. Each vignette is coherent and delightful—a sudden flight of fancy caught in a jar, glowing. Many of them arrive at startling conclusions about the ideas that bind an individual and a community together.

For what is a man but the internalization of so many other humans, the little twist of the neck unconsciously stolen from a childhood teacher who could never remember his name, the fixed voice his father used just before the door was locked.

All of this is made absurd and pointedly political by the overall premise of the book, as stated in the title and the recurring first line, which is that a company could manufacture and sell the ineffable. The businesses in I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur are essentially selling mystery, empathy, inspiration, consolation, and “things that can’t be learned.” It’s both thrilling and scary to envision a commercial market for the kinds of sensations and epiphanies that are typically found only in daily life and great art. But, as the book asks, “What else do we make the money for?” If money is truly “the ambient guts of the universe,” then we better damn well have entrepreneurs as crafty and compassionate as this one.

Part literature, part prank, I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur is a clever and absorbing book that rewards multiple re-readings.

– Brian Hurley

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