Some writers on reading

Jennifer Egan, photo by Pieter M. Van Hattem/Vistalux

Some thoughts from clever people on reading and where it fits in our lives.

First, Jennifer Egan, in a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful piece on becoming a writer:

My advice is so basic. Number one: Read. I feel like it’s amazing how many people I know who want to be writers who don’t really read. I’m not convinced someone wants to be a writer if they don’t read. I don’t think the problem is that they need to read more; I think they might need to readjust their life goals. Reading is the nourishment that lets you do interesting work. To be reading good things. I feel that you should be reading what you want to write. Nothing less.

Beautifully said, I think. And it makes me want to read Jennifer Egan in particular (I haven’t, yet).

But on the other hand, this from Geoff Dyer:

Back home there are plenty of books that I’ve not read and yet, gazing blankly at my shelves, all I can think is, There’s nothing left to read. Hoping to lance the boil, to get to the heart of the matter in the course of a transatlantic flight, I bought—but couldn’t face reading—Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader and Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading. Having resigned myself to not reading them (or any of the other books I’d bought for the flight), I scavenged around for anything to read: the in-flight magazine, the duty-free catalog, the emergency evacuation procedure. And yet, at the same time that I am ready to read scraps like this, I am an overdiscriminating reader. I am always not reading something in the name of something else. The opportunity cost of reading a given book is always too great. Some books, obviously, are a waste of one’s eyes. To feel this about airport blockbusters is perfectly normal, but I feel it is beneath me to read Jeanette Winterson, for example, or Hanif Kureishi. In fact, most so-called quality fiction that is story-driven seems a waste of time (time that, by the way, I have in abundance). This would be fine if I could transpose a reluctance to read James Hawes into a willingness to read Henry James, but I am unable to get beyond the first five paragraphs (i.e., four sentences) of The Golden Bowl.

I should say that comment is very much taken out of context. It’s funny, cynical, bleak and interesting all at the same time. I’m glad I read it. So, there, some irony too.

And finally, this little exchange on Twitter with the one-and-only Norman Geras, on the subject of when it’s right to abandon a book:


2 thoughts on “Some writers on reading

    1. Nope, didn’t see it, adding to Instapaper right now (which isn’t the same as reading it, I must continually remind myself).


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