I returned from a week in Brussels with new energy and time to spend with my writing. And for comfort and stamina I’m turning to Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. This book has long sat on my shelves with too few pages turned. I hope to rectify that situation this month. Flipping through, whetting my appetite, I came on this quote:
Why would anyone read a book instead of watching big people move on a screen? Because a book can be literature. It is a subtle thing—a poor thing, but our own. In my view, the more literary the book—the more purely verbal, crafted sentence by sentence, the more imaginative, reasoned, and deep—the more likely people are to read it. The people who read are the people who like literature after all, whatever that might be. They like, or require, what books alone have. If they want to see films that evening, they will find films. If they do not like to read, they will not. People who read are not too lazy to flip on the television; they prefer books. I cannot imagine a sorrier pursuit than struggling for years to write a book that attempts to appeal to people who do not read in the first place. —Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
It’s the last line I love. And I don’t think it only applies to books written for people who don’t read, but books written to please certain groups of people in general (this is called a “platform”). While I do think it’s important that a writer considers her readers, a bulk of readers isn’t what makes a book good or interesting. A book is made good through the communion of writer with reader, one at a time; it is made good by the careful assembly of language and plot and character that strike from the creator to the receiver; it is made good by an insane kind of love and devotion that Dillard recounts through her various metaphors. I think The Writing Life will be a good book.
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