Monday, August 22, 2011

Laura Harrington: Why Read?

Laura Harrington is tracking copies of her debut novel Alice Bliss via an ingenious summer promotion, Where's Alice Bliss? (more on that below), but she took a moment from her busy schedule to answer the question at the heart of what we do: Why read?

On the first day of every playwriting class I have ever taught I tell my students that I will share the secret of how to be a good writer. They sit forward in their seats. Read, I tell them. Read like your writing depends on it.

We have all heard this before. Many of us have said this before. But this week I’ve read two books that illustrated this point for me in a delightful way.

I read A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano and so loved the writing, the story, the depth and ambition of this book that I didn’t want it to end. When it did, I craved more good writing. The next book of brand new fiction on the pile was going to be interesting, even fun, but did not promise that kind of depth.

So I picked up Fools of Fortune by William Trevor, a book that shattered me in two hundred and seven pages. A book so finely wrought that I will immediately turn back to page one and begin again for both the pleasure of the writing and the desire to discover the mystery of the “how” of Trevor’s writing. How did he do what he did so beautifully and compellingly, so simply and so succinctly? I’m not sure there is a wasted syllable in this book.

Francine Prose wrote an exceptional introduction to the little Penguin volume I have in my hands. An introduction so exquisite in and of itself that I have read it twice already, and will probably give it another go before I have unpacked all of its insights.

Why read? Because if we’re lucky one writer will lead us to another writer and another as our desire for and understanding of good, even great writing grows and deepens. Why read? For the magic of holding a universe in our hands, between the covers of a book; a fictional world so real it can break our hearts, a world so compelling that we do not want to leave it.

Francine Prose quotes Trevor in her introduction, from an interview that appeared in the Paris Review in 1989. I will leave you with Trevor’s words and thoughts about time. You will need to read Fools of Fortune to experience his unparallelled skill with time and memory. In the meantime, William Trevor has inspired me, intrigued me, and given me much to aspire to.

“A huge amount of what I write about is internal, a drifting back into childhood based on a small event or moment. By isolating an encounter and then isolating an incident in the past you try to build up an actual life, and you cannot build up a life without using time in that sense … [Time] both heals and destroys, depending on the nature of the wound; it actually reveals the character. There is either bitterness or recovery: neither can take place without time. Time is the most interesting thing to write about besides people – everything I write about has to do with it. Time is like air; it is there always, changing people and forming character. Memory also forms character—the way you remember things makes you who you are.”

Where’s Alice Bliss? is a campaign to send copies of the novel Alice Bliss to as many countries and U.S. states as possible. Through, copies of Alice Bliss will be registered and tracked as they travel around the world, passing from one reader to the next.

Keep up with Laura Harrington and follow Alice's adventures via the Where's Alice Bliss blog and on twitter.

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