3.19.2012

Butterfly in the Sky: What we Write, Why we Read

Source.
“Why are we reading if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?…Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness..?”
~Annie Dillard

“Why are we reading? What readers do we write for? And why, and how?”
~Masha

The answers to these questions strike me as immense enough to fill books, or powerful enough to engender some good aphorisms, but I don't expect to easily answer them in a blog post. Especially not since Mr. Pond already said pretty much everything that can be said in summary form regarding the first:
Why do we do anything, really?

That’s not a fit of existential angst, that’s an honest answer. I read for more or less precisely the same reasons I do anything else. Because I want to, or have to, or am getting paid to, or might get paid eventually. Or because of the company I’m with. Or because I want to learn something new, or revisit something old. I want to be frightened, or soothed, or contented. I want to improve myself, or I want to put myself to sleep.
Good enough for me. It's not like I have a better reason. I learned to read at age four; that's about the time my memory kicked in, so I have no actual memories that involve not being able to read. Whereas I have numerous memories of the McGuffey Readers, trips to the library for Curious George or Billy and Blaze, and then reading my own copies of the Little House books and The Chronicles of Narnia. In high school, Mom sometimes grounded me from fiction for extended periods of time, not as a punishment, but to convince me to live some part of my life outside a book. I've always had trouble with that.

Why? I don't know why. I love story. Therefore, I read. And write.

Mr. Pond answers Masha's second question as follows:
We write for other people, other living people who read. It’s as simple as that.
True, but when I'm alone with my stories I find that I write for myself. Whatever I need to understand, whatever I wish I believed, whatever I want to read of—those are the things I write. And why? says Masha. Well, because I've read Harry Potter, and I've read Lewis' Space Trilogy, and I've read Shannon Hale and Robin McKinley and Tolstoy and Alcott and Austen and Spyri and Card and Jordan, and yet I still find myself searching for more of their kind.

Masha did not try to answer her own question "And how?", but she gave us some suggestion of it with this:
...the stories that some people can shape into art, are within everyone. They’re the shared experiences of humanity, in some people they live forever within, unable to be formed into literature, and in others they burst out, unable to resist becoming literature, but they belong to each person because of our shared humanity.
Yes. That's not a method, but that is rather what it feels like. As for method, I don't know of one that could be called general, let alone universal. No one does. Steinbeck has said, and I quote secondhand from this post at TheAtlantic.com:
If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.
I'll tell you what I do. I put pen to paper, and pray for magic.

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