Let me begin with a heartfelt confession.I admit it. I am a biblioholic, one who loves books and whose life would seem incomplete without them. I am an addict, with a compulsive need to stop by nearly any bookstore I pass in order to get my fix. Books are an essential part of my life, the place where I have spent many unforgettable moments. For me, reading is one of the most enjoyable ways to pass a rainy afternoon or a leisurely summer day. I crave the knowledge and insights that truly great books bring into my life and can spend transported hours scouring used book stores for volumes which “I simply must have”. I love the smell and feel of well-loved books and the look of a bookcase full of books waiting to be taken down and read.
The books—the generous friends who met me without suspicion—the merciful masters who never used me ill! The only years of my life that I can look back on with something like pride... Early and late, through the long winter nights and the quiet summer days, I drank at the fountain of knowledge, and never wearied of the draught.
I do not write every day. I write to the questions and issues before me. I write to deadlines. I write out of my passions. And I write to make peace with my own contradictory nature. For me, writing is a spiritual practice. A small bowl of water sits on my desk, a reminder that even if nothing is happening on the page, something is happening in the room--evaporation. And I always light a candle when I begin to write, a reminder that I have now entered another realm, call it the realm of the Spirit. I am mindful that when one writes, one leaves this world and enters another. My books are collages made from journals, research, and personal experience. I love the images rendered in journal entries, the immediacy that is captured on the page, the handwritten notes. I love the depth of ideas and perspective that research brings to a story, be it biological or anthropological studies or the insights brought to the page by the scholarly work of art historians.When I go into a library, I feel like I am a sleuth looking to solve a mystery. I am completely inspired by the pursuit of knowledge through various references. I read newpapers voraciously. I love what newspapers say about contemporary culture. And then you go back to your own perceptions, your own words, and weigh them against all you have brought together. I am interested in the kaleidoscope of ideas, how you bring many strands of thought into a book and weave them together as one piece of coherent fabric, while at the same time trying to create beautiful language in the service of the story. This is the blood work of the writer.Writing is also about a life engaged. And so, for me, community work, working in the schools or with grassroots conservation organizations is another critical component of my life as a writer. I cannot separate the writing life from a spiritual life, from a life as a teacher or activist or my life intertwined with family and the responsibilities we carry within our own homes. Writing is daring to feel what nurtures and breaks our hearts. Bearing witness is its own form of advocacy. It is a dance with pain and beauty.
I would probably have to say that reading fiction — those stories fill the space that other people might use religious stories for. The bulk of what I know about human life I’ve gotten from novels. And I think the thing about novels that make them important to the people who love them is that there’s always another perspective.
I repeat here what you will find in my first chapter, that the only thing that signifies to you in a book is what it means to you, and if your opinion is at variance with that of everyone else in the world it is of no consequence. Your opinion is valid for you. In matters of art people, especially, I think, in America, are apt to accept willingly from professors and critics a tyranny which in matters of government they would rebel against. But in these questions there is no right and wrong. The relation between the reader and his book is as free and intimate as that between the mystic and his God. Of all forms of snobbishness the literary is perhaps the most detestable, and there is no excuse for the fool who despises his fellow-man because he does not share his opinion of the value of a certain book. Pretence in literary appreciation is odious, and no one should be ashamed if a book that the best critics think highly of means nothing to him. On the other hand it is better not to speak ill of such books if you have not read them.
I don't see the use of reading the same thing over and over again,' said Phillip. 'That's only a laborious form of idleness.'But are you under the impression that you have so great a mind that you can understand the most profound writer at a first reading?'I don't want to understand him, I'm not a critic. I'm not interested in him for his sake but for mine.'Why do you read then?'Partly for pleasure, because it's a habit and I'm just as uncomfortable if I don't read as if I don't smoke, and partly to know myself. When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me; I've got out of the book all that's any use to me and I can't get anythning more if I read it a dozen times. ...
My mother used to read to me every night when I was little. We got through most of the major fantasy books of that time. The Narnia books by C.S. Lewis were my favorites and, later, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. I started making dolls to fill in the gaps of the dolls I had. Obviously we couldn't buy centaurs and fauns and elves and fairies, so I made them to play with the normal dolls I had. I must have been about six years old when I started making fantasy dolls.
I believe strongly that my books are entertainment. I hope you might learn a thing or two while reading them, but first and foremost, my job is to entertain you. If I’m waving a flag in Hot Target, it’s the same flag I’ve always waved in all my books—the American flag. And that’s a flag that’s supposed to stand for acceptance and understanding. For freedom for all—and not just freedom for all Americans, but freedom for all of the diverse and wonderful people living on this planet; freedom to live their lives according to their definitions of freedom. It’s a flag that’s supposed to stand for real American values like honor and honesty and peace and love and hope.
From my college courses and my reading I knew the various names that came at the end of a line of questions or were placed as periods to bafflement: the First Cause, the First Mover, the Life Force, the Universal Mind, the First Principle, the Unmoved Mover, even Providence. I too had used those names in arguing with others, and with myself, trying to explain the world to myself. And now I saw that those names explained nothing. They were of no more use than Evolution or Natural Selection or Nature or The Big Bang of these later days. All such names do is catch us within the length and breadth of our own thoughts and our own bewilderment. Though I knew the temptation of simple reason, to know nothing that can't be proved, still I supposed that those were not the right names.I imagined that the right name might be Father, and I imagined all that that name would imply: the love, the compassion, the taking offense, the disappointment, the anger, the bearing of wounds, the weeping of tears, the forgiveness, the suffering unto death. If love could force my own thoughts over the edge of the world and out of time, then could I not see how even divine omnipotence might by the force of its own love be swayed down into the world? Could I not see how it might, because it could know its creatures only by compassion, put on mortal flesh, become a man, and walk among us, assume our nature and our fate, suffer our faults and our death?Yes. I could imagine a Father who is yet like a mother hen spreading her wings before the storm or in the dusk before the dark night for the little ones of Port William to come in under, some of whom do, and some do not. I could imagine Port William riding its humble wave through time under the sky, its little flames of wakefulness lighting and going out, its lives passing through birth, pleasure, sufferning, and death. I could imagine God looking down upon it, its lives living by His spirit, breathing by His breath, knowing by His light, but each life living also (inescapably) by its own will--His own body given to be broken.
I . . . hurried to the city library to find out the true age of Chicago. City library! After all, it cannot be anything but Chicagoesque. His is the richest library, no doubt, as everything in Chicago is great in size and wealth. Its million books are filling all the shelves, as the dry goods fill the big stores. Oh, librarian, you furnished me a very good dinner, even ice cream, but—where is the table? The Chicago city library has no solemnly quiet, softly peaceful reading-room; you are like a god who made a perfect man and forgot to put in the soul; the books are worth nothing without having a sweet corner and plenty of time, as the man is nothing without soul. Throw those books away, if you don't have a perfect reading-room! Dinner is useless without a table. I want to read a book as a scholar, as I want to eat dinner as a gentleman. What difference is there, my dearest Chicago, between your honourable library and the great department store, an emporium where people buy things without a moment of selection, like a busy honey bee?The library is situated in the most annoyingly noisy business quarter, under the overhanging smoke, in the nearest reach of the engine bells of the lakeside. One can hardly spend an hour in it if he be not a Chicagoan who was born without taste of the fresh air and blue sky. The heavy, oppressive, ill-smelling air of Chicago almost kills me sometimes. What a foolishness and absurdity of the city administrators to build the office of learning in such place of restaurants and barber shops!Look at that edifice of the city library! Look at that white marble! That's great, admirable; that means tremendous power of money. But what a vulgarity, stupid taste, outward display, what an entire lacking of fine sentiment and artistic love! Ah, those decorations with gold and green on the marble stone spoil the beauty! What a shame! That is exactly Chicagoesque. O Chicago, you have fine taste, haven't you?
I love my lecture tours. I get up onstage. I have my stack of books and a glass of water and a microphone. No podium, no distance between me and the audience, and I just talk to people and get all excited and tell a lot of jokes, and sing some songs, and read from my work and remind people how powerful they are and how beautiful they are.
I will not mention the name (and what bits of it I happen to give here appear in decorous disguise) of that man, that Franco-Hungarian writer... I would rather not dwell upon him at all, but I cannot help it— he is surging up from under my pen. Today one does not hear much about him; and this is good, for it proves that I was right in resisting his evil spell, right in experiencing a creepy chill down my spine whenever this or that new book of his touched my hand. The fame of his likes circulates briskly but soon grows heavy and stale; and as for history it will limit his life story to the dash between two dates. Lean and arrogant, with some poisonous pun ever ready to fork out and quiver at you, and with a strange look of expectancy in his dull brown veiled eyes, this false wag had, I daresay, an irresistible effect on small rodents. Having mastered the art of verbal invention to perfection, he particularly prided himself on being a weaver of words, a title he valued higher than that of a writer; personally, I never could understand what was the good of thinking up books, of penning things that had not really happened in some way or other; and I remember once saying to him as I braved the mockery of his encouraging nods that, were I a writer, I should allow only my heart to have imagination, and for the rest rely upon memory, that long-drawn sunset shadow of one’s personal truth.I had known his books before I knew him; a faint disgust was already replacing the aesthetic pleasure which I had suffered his first novel to give me. At the beginning of his career, it had been possible perhaps to distinguish some human landscape, some old garden, some dream- familiar disposition of trees through the stained glass of his prodigious prose... but with every new book the tints grew still more dense, the gules and purpure still more ominous; and today one can no longer see anything at all through that blazoned, ghastly rich glass, and it seems that were one to break it, nothing but a perfectly black void would face one’s shivering soul. But how dangerous he was in his prime, what venom he squirted, with what whips he lashed when provoked! The tornado of his passing satire left a barren waste where felled oaks lay in a row, and the dust still twisted, and the unfortunate author of some adverse review, howling with pain, spun like a top in the dust.