This post on The Importance of Readers was originally a guest piece on the Romantic Novelists’ Association blog. Many thanks to the RNA for letting us repost it here, complete with thoughts on our progress, nearly a year on…
Back in December 2015, Sophie Weston wrote . . .
Every author understands the importance of readers.They nurture our visions, buy our books, keep us creating. You might say, they’re our raison d’être.
But how much do we know about how or why or even what they do, when they read? Especially when they read fiction.
When I say they, of course I mean we.
All authors were readers before we started to write. Most of us stay readers — some, voracious — throughout our lives. Sometimes though, we don’t read the way we used to, need to, if we’re to fulfil the purist job description.
HINT: if you’re reading with a pencil in your hand you’re not leaving room for what Ursula Le Guin calls “acts of the spirit” (in Dancing on the edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, Harper Perennial, February 1990).
Put the pencil down, lie on the floor and get a mug of tea.
Le Guin, if you don’t already know her, is a wonderful, award-winning writer of primarily science fiction fantasy, for adults and children. Her stories are thoughtful, strange, evocative, unforgettable and her ideas about writing are both profound and crisply practical. But what I want to concentrate on here is what she says (in that same book) about reading:
The writer cannot do it alone. The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it alive: a live thing, a story.
The science of it is up there with atomic physics. A writer, like a spider, weaves a story out her guts, and then throws the golden crafted thing out into the world, not knowing where it will travel.
A reader opens the door to her imagination and says, “Come in. I embrace you.” This writer and reader will most likely never meet. They may well live in different countries and centuries. And yet their imaginations interact, independent of their intellect, physical presence or even will. Memorable encounters happen in theta space.
Social or Solitary Readers
These days we mostly think of reading as a solitary pursuit. But it has a social aspect — the church bells pealing for “virtuous Pamela, wed at last”; the man who turned to me on a snow-halted train and raved about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; the international and deliciously Woosterian Wodehouse Appreciation Society; they all give evidence of this. And some people still receive great pleasure from being read to by means of audio books, radio or even in person. Maybe more of us should try the latter.
LibertaBooks.com for Readers
All of this was what historical author Joanna Maitland and I had in mind when we set up our new website. We call it a place for writers and readers to meet. It is very new and ideas will develop. But the focus, even when we are trying to help other writers, is on remembering those readers.
Love Letter to a Favourite Novel
Specifically, we have dedicated a page for readers to offer their own Love Letter to a Favourite Novel. This will include authors — as long as they put their pencils down first! We don’t want it to feel intimidating, though, so we’ll probably invite a few non-writers to kick us off. Some readers think authors know an awful lot more than we do and are in unjustified awe as a result. We’re looking for Love Letters that are a spontaneous, heartfelt response to a favourite novel, not a high end critique. And we’re hoping for lots of new recommendations. Nothing persuades you to read a book like an enthusiast.
Reposting this here, in September 2016, we’d add . . .
We’re cautiously pleased with the responses we’ve had to the website, though the blog posts have garnered more attention and more comments than the pages about favourite novels and authors. We’ll be working on those, so watch that space!
We’re delighted by the geographical spread of responses — it seems that readers (and writers!) around the world are interested in some of the topics we cover. If you, Dear Reader, have a topic that you’re burning to see us discuss here at Libertà, please tell us via the contact page and we’ll do our best to respond.
And, more generally, we love to hear from you on any subject related (however vaguely) to reading. We may be writers, but we still read more than we write!
With thanks to all our Readers
Sophie and Joanna