In my internet wanderings yesterday I had a very interesting confluence of articles from two very different websites about two very different writers, but they both said the same important thing about reading and writing.
The Writer as Reader in the LA Review of Books leads one to believe from the title and essay beginning, that it is about Melville’s marginalia and Melville as a reader. To be sure, it has some interesting arguments to make about the influence of Melville’s reading of Milton’s Paradise Lost on Melville’s writing of Moby Dick.
The bulk of the essay, however, morphs into criticism of writers who are not readers. Giraldi argues that in order to be a first-rate writer, one must also be a first-rate reader.:
An untold number of Americans will finish a book manuscript this year, and the mind-numbing majority of them will be confected by nonreaders. How can a nonreader imagine himself an author, the creator of an artifact that he himself admittedly would have no interest in? Can you fathom an architect who’s not fond of impressive buildings, or a violinist who has never listened to music? The erroneous assumption among the multitude is that writing doesn’t demand specialized skills.
A very valid point.
The essay edges up quite close to rant at times but never steps over into it. Still, if I were a writer who didn’t read I would feel very ashamed of myself after this essay. Of course, if I were a writer who didn’t read I wouldn’t have read the essay to begin with. Which means Giraldi is preaching to the choir. Which means he assumes that one writes for Art, that one must suffer for one’s Art — writing is not enjoyable, writing is “maddening at best and soul-strangling at worst.” He takes swipes at Tom Clancy, Nicholas Sparks, Harry Potter, George R.R. Martin and Jodi Picoult. He saves his biggest slam for Dan Brown who, even though his new book is taken from Dante, is clearly a very bad reader.
It’s enjoyable watching him wind up and go. But as much as I agree with his basic premise of writers also needing to be readers, he is also exasperating. Exasperating because he implies that if a writer isn’t going to aim for Art, then he shouldn’t be writing at all. So much dreck and drivel is being published and he just can’t understand why any self-respecting person would write it let alone read it.
He would not appreciate the other essay, Ray Bradbury: The Best Writing Teacher You Could Ever Have. This essay has nothing but praise for Bradbury and his willingness to encourage and offer support and advice to fledgling writers.
I’m not sure Giraldi would consider Bradbury a great writer, but he can’t say that Bradbury was not a good reader. Bradbury is famous for his method of education — spending ten years reading his way through the library to educate himself because he could not afford college. And he can’t dispute the advice Bradbury gave young writers, telling them they needed to read classic works of the 19th century, Dahl, Matheson, Irving, Poe, Hawthorne and yes, Melville.
Yes, a good writer must also be a good reader. But what that writer does with her reading, what his goals as a writer are, does not have to be the same as every other writer or the writers she reads. That’s the thing about reading and writing. One person can read Milton and write a crazy story about a man obsessed with a white whale and another can read Melville and write some crazy science fiction stories. The important thing is to read.