Writing is discovery, listening, love, and gift-giving over discipline and suffering. Mary Karr’s concise comment likening writing to hardship—fun only for neophytes and hacks—in The Art of Memoir has served as a magnet to attract to me emendations and counter-arguments. Like poet Claudia Rankine’s. In her recent essay for the Washington Post she admits to struggle. But the point of writing for Rankine seems to be its rewards, including sending her to read books.
There’s loving reading. There’s liking making sentences. There’s the discovery and attempted perfection of your truth. Isaac Asimov supposedly said, “Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.” Yes, writing is concentrated thought, which makes it hard, though saying it that way that misses the emotional component that Rankine alludes to. I too pull books from the shelves—just to see how a brilliant book is made of many great and ordinary sentences.
Literature’s demands and ideals militate against mere egotism. Writers speak for the mute Other and the muted populace. If those imperatives seem passé in the age of social media, print culture won’t let them pass. Reading and writing epitomize interpersonal connection and personal transcendence.