My rating: 5 of 5 stars
You are what you read. I didn’t make that up, and more and more people are waking up to that reality, especially as fewer and fewer people read, and so fewer and fewer people are capable of thinking critically, empathizing with others, or forming a rational argument. Even a cursory look at one’s Facebook feed is proof enough of that.
That being said, there is a lot of trash out there posing as literature, and so little time to filter through it. I agree with Annie Dillard’s sentiment:
“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellect and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms?”
Yes, that’s why I read. That’s why so much of what I have read lately just leaves me cold.
Reading Annie Dillard reminds you of why you read in the first place. It’s one of the few books published these days that forces you to savor, not to chew and spit out like a rabid alpaca. It’s also a book for writers, and as such it has some hard truths for all the people who think that you can actually write a novel in a month. Here’s one of the better ones:
“There are many manuscripts already–worthy ones, most edifying and moving ones, intelligent and powerful ones. If you believed Paradise Lost to be excellent, would you buy it? Why not shoot yourself, actually, rather than finish one more excellent manuscript on which to gag the world?”
Harsh? Maybe. But if it forces some writers (those who have readers already lined up to read them even before they’ve finished their latest book) to actually work on their craft, so much the better.
I wish more people would take her advice to heart, especially writers of fantasy. But more on that later.