Saturday, March 17, 2012

more bookses, precioussss

Back in November a journalist wrote asking if there were any books I had reread, why rereading might matter to a writer, a few other questions.  I spent about 8 hours, I seem to remember, writing an insanely long e-mail.  Of this, two points made it into the piece: the fact that I had reread Nancy Drew as a child; an amusing quotation from Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love.  I was a bit demoralized; what I had been trying to show was the way that the books one reread obsessively at a particular time marked different stages of the self - some one could go back to (Alice in Wonderland), others not (not, at least, without recognizing that the self who had loved them no longer existed). 

I thought this mattered for writers because agents and editors are always offering comments with a view to "the reader" - "the" reader does not exist. The 9-year-old who discovered The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is genetically identical to the 54-year-old who cannot travel without Calvino's Invisible Cities and the OCT of the Iliad; if these are not the same reader -- if between them lie many, many obsessives to whom the current occupant of the body can never return -- the project of improving a book with a view to "the" reader is obviously a non-starter.

I recently got an e-mail from Sheila Heti asking about books I had read as a young reader that one might recommend as an alternative to YA.  Her piece is now available at the Globe and Mail.  She has said much better the things I was trying to say to David Bowman about the growth of a reader.  (Not to be too hard on myself, I assume she did not write the piece in an 8-hour blitz.  I thought a quick reply would be helpful to a journalist with a deadline.)  The whole thing here.


Andrew Gelman said...

1. One reason I blog was because I was writing the equivalent in emails anyway. Feel free to just blog the insanely long email that you sent.

2. Regarding your second paragraph above, I like this Michael Dirda quote: "Real readers always read for excitement; only the nature of that excitement changes through life."

Helen DeWitt said...

I am slightly afraid to look at that insanely long e-mail, but maybe I'll dig it out.

A friend told me he started blogging because it was a way of sharing links without sending them in e-mails, which put the recipient under pressure to click through. That was what got me started - people are free to follow a link if they feel like it. But it's true, I was also writing very long e-mails, normally to the same handful of people; it seemed entirely possible that some of the things we discussed would be of interest to people I didn't happen to know.

languagehat said...

I too would like to see the insanely long e-mail; I'm reading The Pursuit of Love now and am curious to know what you said about it.