Ex-journalist and aspiring author Alix Christie (not pictured, right) asks an interesting question over at More Intelligent Life: “What makes any of us think that we have something to say that others need to read?”
My first reaction is to say that it’s probably not any one thing. For me it’s a combination of misplaced encouragement at a formative age, a love of words in their best order, and some kind of benign malfunction at the synaptic level that has fused ego, super-ego and id into a single psychic apparatus. That’s not to say that I’m sick, exactly, although it’s hardly healthy to be walking around with multiple conversations in your head. Still, so long as I keep taking the tablets, aka getting at least a little bit of writing done every day, then all should be well.
But back to Alix Christie’s question, and what’s interesting about it, I think, is that she asks about what people need to read, rather than what they want to read. Is there a difference?
There’s a big difference between needing and wanting. In fact, it’s often the case that the more you need something, the less you want it.
A lot of people need to read, and I’m one of them. I’ve only recently become aware, for example, that I should be somehow ashamed that I brought ten books away with me on my / our honeymoon. I mean, it was a three-week honeymoon (not pictured, above). And one of the weeks was spent in the Maldives, where, once you’ve stared for an hour at the picture-perfect view, and gone for a snorkel, and had a White Russian at the dock-side bar, there isn’t an awful lot else to do that doesn’t involve White Russians.
Again, I digress. People need to read, certainly, but that’s no guarantee they’ll have a need to read anything specific, let alone something specific written by you or me. So long as it’s halfway decent, I’m happy enough to have my need to read satisfied by almost any kind of reading. Whenever I get to indulge the luxury of reading a book I actively want to read, and it’s as good as I’d hoped, then that’s a whole different issue, and very probably an experience with the quality of magic that inspires the need to read in the first place.
Maybe it’s realising that I’ll always be more of a reader than a writer that’s had me noticing recently that a lot of writing-related blogs, this one included, tend to use the word ‘readers’ quite a bit. I don’t like it. The implication is that there are two camps, writers and readers, when the truth is that any writer worth his or her salt is first and foremost a reader, and will read far more on a bad reading day than a good writer ever wrote on his best writing day. Meanwhile, and at the risk of sounding even more whimsical than usual, I honestly believe that the writer only ever writes, at most, half the story. The other half is written in the reader’s mind. A writer cannot supply horror, joy, hunger, pain. He can hint at it, suggest it, whisper it or shout it, but even the best are just telegraph operators who set the reader’s synapses tingling. I think that that’s one of the reasons people love a good book so much, the fact that it brings the best out of them, literally.
Anyway, I’m just going to go ahead and dispense with the word ‘readers’, and just use ‘people’ instead. Because, in an ideal world, the words ‘people’ and ‘readers’ would be synonymous.
Finally, I’m curious: I need to read, but I’m not overly fussed about what I read, so long as it’s good. Do other people have a particular need when they read? Can your want only be satisfied by a specific need being met? Also - what’s the last book you read that really hit the spot?
“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.