asked to give an autobiography of myself as writer, I turned this in

Life in Words: A Dramatic Monologue
I shall begin, as always, with a lie: I am not a writer. It is a falsehood told with such earnestnesss, such wide-eyed and fervent credulity, that you have no choice but to believe me. Go on, accept it – let us all nod in unison for good measure, to cement it. There. That’s done, recognized. Now we can move on.

Let us talk instead about a more genial subject, of an identity that I will stake out in whole as my own: that of the reader. I read. It is a statement so obvious as to be superfluous, a state of being that I expect manifests somehow on my face, as visible to the world as the colour of my eyes or the curl in my hair. I read, I have always read, I will always read. Perhaps it is genetic, perhaps conditioned, perhaps simply obsessive. Having said it I turn blank, as if those two words are enough – a manifesto, succinctly spanning all that you might want to know about the subject. What more is there to add?

Maybe, my fond audience, you will prompt me with the obvious next questions. What do I read, and why? Having already touched upon the latter, let us linger upon it for a longer moment. It is genetic, I tell you, or conditioned, and I say these things seriously, for I am the firstborn child of an English professor and a librarian. Go on, smile if you want to – it explains a lot, I know – but I do find the explanation insufficient in its biographical ease. I prefer to think of my reading as a manifestation of a great abstract human characteristic, a facet of the human condition that I just happen to feel more acutely than many: the hunger for stories.

It is a strain that runs through the most apathetic of us, this taste for the narrative, and if we are not sating ourselves on other peoples’ experiences we are attempting to express our own to family, friends, strangers on the bus or the BART or the grocery line or behind the coffee counter; to the cat or the dog or the unhearing walls; to the trees, to the skies, to the stars, to the gods. Look to psychology for explanation of the human soul, if you must, or to sociology or anthropology or any science; I maintain that the truth of our existence is heard loudest in fiction, for we are fundamentally creatures of stories.

I read, then, for knowledge of myself and others, to learn about the world. There are other reasons, of course; the always-glittering and often profound Annie Dillard has a list: “You may read fiction to enjoy the multiplicity and dazzle of the vivid objects it presents to the imagination; to hear its verbal splendor and admire its nimble narrative…to feel, on one hand, the solemn stasis and immutability of the work as enclosed art object—beginning and ending the same way every time you read it, as though a novel were a diagram inscribed forever under the vault of heaven—and to feel, on the other hand, the plunging force of time compressed in its passage, and that compressed passage like a river’s pitch crowded with scenes and scenery and actions and characters enlarged and rushing headlong down together.”

You may indeed. I do. And as a result the list of what I read is voluminous and eclectic, with dozens of thematic threads that resist being braided or knotted into a cohesive whole. Easier, maybe, if I drew you a map, for, as I have said, I am not a writer; words fail me when I attempt to capture and cage in language the impossibility of multiplicity, the pantheon of my interests. A map might suffice, or a multi-paged list of all the books I have read within the past few years. Or maybe a list of the things I am not interested in, just to narrow the field a bit. I’m sure, if I tried, I could think of some subject somewhere, anywhere, which I cannot in any circumstances conjure at least a passing interest in. Actually—no, no, I cannot. For, like most of us, I require absolutely everything to be happy, and reading is no different. I demand my knowledge to come in legions, in multiplicity. Nothing less will do.

I will end where I began – no, not in more lies, but with explanation of my lie, out of guilt or courtesy. Reading and writing are inextricably linked; I feel safe in hypothesizing that every great reader secretly wants to be a writer. But if reading is consumption, then writing is unsafe, dangerous, an offering up of your self as sacrifice to the masses, a sort of cannibalism of the soul. Safer to be on the other end of that, wouldn’t you say? For reading is like eating, it is like breathing; it is something that I do naturally, without effort or intent, nothing more than just one of the many natural bodily functions that sustain my survival. Writing takes effort, it is something that one must do. But reading – reading simply is.


~ by Not Alice on February 1, 2008.

One Response to “asked to give an autobiography of myself as writer, I turned this in”

  1. This is gorgeous, and speaks to me as resonant to who *I* am, too. Thank you…

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