William Styron wrote:
“A good book should leave you… slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.”
Have you ever thought how books, whether good or bad, whether we like them or not, change our lives? We all read for different reasons. Most of us read because we love to. Because sometime during our lives we fall in love with the written word, and the music that they produce. It is pure magic. Books have become our loyal friends. Others read to pass time and be entertained, some out of curiosity, while still others to gain knowledge. But for whatever reason we read, we are not the same person afterwards. In the words of Helen Exley
“Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life.’”
It is true that all books can be dangerous. Years ago when I first read Richard North Patterson’s book ‘Silent Eyewitness’ I was moved, but not in a good way. Yet when I go to a book sale or the library I hesitate to get his books. I still think about that particular book and I shudder. I read the book out of curiosity, as I did his ‘Eyes Of A Child’. No doubt he is an excellent writer because of what that book does to me, even after so many years.
The truth is books change not only the reader but the writer as well. The author is not the same person after writing the book. In the words of Graham Greene:
“Since a novel takes perhaps years to write, the author is not the same man at the end of the book as he was at the beginning… as though [the novel] were something he had begun in childhood and was finishing now in old age.”
It takes years to write a book. Biographers, academicians, scholars, journalists, other nonfiction writers spend years researching, gathering information and mastering material for their work. While novelists and short story writers, or writers of fiction spend days, months and years fabricating stories, plots, characters, fantasies and worlds.
Thomas Mann was working full time and he wrote a page a day. That is 365 pages a year. For he did write every day-a good-sized book a year. Gustave Flaubert wrote steadily. For twenty-five years he finished a big book every five years. There are those few who can manage in lesser time. William Faulkner wrote ‘As I Lay Dying’ in six weeks; he claimed he knocked if off in his spare time from a twelve-hour-a-day job performing manual labor. William Saroyan wrote three short stories on one day.
Christopher Morley writes,
“Lord! when you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.”
So how can we writers not change after such an experience, after such a creation? How can we produce a world, our own world for our readers and expect us to be the same afterwards?
William Saroyan once said in an interview:
“I remember talking to Shaw once when he told me he’d just had a call from H.G. Wells. Wells was sick and disheartened. He was sad, because he felt that all the efforts he’d made to influence the human race had failed. So I asked Shaw if he thought his own life would be an influence on the human race. He said, “Not in the least.” I was touched by Wells, but I agree with Shaw. I can’t imagine why we should think we can influence the enormous situation. We fancy that we’re taking charge. But that’s only a fancy. We’re never in charge.
I have to remind myself that if it were not for my good luck in having the profession of writing and the compulsion to write, the human experience would be for me a very different order of thing.”
Would it be different for you too?