Now with the passing of years I know that the fate of books is not unlike that of human beings: some bring joy, others anguish. Yet one must resist the urge to throw away pen and paper. After all, authentic writers write even if there is little chance for them to be published; they write because they cannot do otherwise, like Kafka’s messenger who is privy to a terrible and imperious truth that no one is willing to receive but is nonetheless compelled to go on.
Were he to stop, to choose another road, his life would become banal and sterile. Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them to suffocate them. These characters want to get out, to breathe fresh air and partake of the wine of friendship; were they to remain locked in, they would forcibly break down the walls. It is they who force the writer to tell their stories.
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From the essay, “A Sacred Magic Can Elevate the Secular Storyteller” (New York TImes, June 19, 2000) by Eliezer (Elie) Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, activist, author (his most recognized work is Night, originally published in 1960), and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1986).
Of all the inanimate objects, of all men’s creations, books are the nearest to us for they contain our very thoughts, our ambitions, our indignations, our illusions, our fidelity to the truth, and our persistent leanings to error. But most of all they resemble us in their precious hold on life.
Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski; 1857-1924), Polish-born British author from the essay Books (1905), included in The Works of Joseph Conrad.
A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon and by moonlight.
Robertson Davies, Canadian novelist, playwright, professor (1913-1995) best known for writing The Deptford Trilogy (1970-75).
When you read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than there was before.
Clifton Fadiman, American editor, literary critic, and essayist (1904-1999). He helped establish the Book-of-the-Month Club and served on its editorial board for 50 years as well as serving on the editorial board of the Encyclopedia Britannica and The Reader’s Club. He was the a book editor at Simon & Schuster and The New Yorker. He was a voracious reader, known to read 80 pages per hour. Ironically, he lost his sight due to illness in the 1980s but continued reading (listening to audio tapes) and writing (through dictation).