how to read a novelist


Quotes about writing or reading from People Who Would Know. (All of these from How to Read a Novelist by John Freeman, a comforting collection of short profiles of novelists.)

“Some people think, ‘Oh she’s so virtuous to get up that early,'” Morrison says, letting loose a smoker’s cackle. “It has nothing to do with that. I get up because a) the sun’s up, and b) I’m smart in the morning. I just can’t get it together in the evening.” —Toni Morrison (Me too, Toni. Me too.)

“It’s like going into a dark room,” he says, his voice slowing. “I enter that room, open that door, and it’s dark, completely dark. But I can see something, and I can touch something and come back to this world, this side, and write it.” —Haruki Murakami

“I have a theory,” he says in a deep baritone. “If you lead a very repetitious life, your imagination works very well. It’s very active. So I get up early in the morning, every day, and I sit down at my desk, and I am ready to write.” —Haruki Murakami

“So you have to mistrust your memory. Because memory likes to make things look nice, it likes to make complicated things simplified—and I wanted to write down this mistrust. It’s one of the reasons why I tell stories which begin this way and then I make a correction, a variation.” —Gunter Grass

“I’ve begun working on a writers’ Hippocratic oath,” Wolfe says. “The first line of the doctors’ Hippocratic oath is ‘First, do no harm.’ And I think for the writers it would be: ‘First, entertain.’ Entertain is a very simple word. I looked it up in the dictionary. Entertainment enables people to pass the time pleasantly. And any writing–I don’t care if it’s poetry or what–should first entertain. It’s a very recent thing that there’s a premium put on making writing so difficult that only a charmed aristocracy is capable of understanding it.” —Tom Wolfe

“I feel comfortable operating within stringent restrictions in all the books,” he says—”a list of things I can and cannot do.” He picks up Black Swan Greene, which is told entirely in Jason’s voice. “So, if you write a book in the first person, you can’t give any information to the reader that the protagonist doesn”t know–unless you smuggle it either through the narrator’s stupidity or, in the case of Jason, of this device of him not knowing what he knows. Once you decide the rule, you can see how what happens is dictated. So you don’t have to work out what happens, you just have to work out the rule.” —David Mitchell

“I think about how much thinner literary characters have got since the disappearance of Christianity.” —A.S. Byatt




  1. mom

    Is the pic from your own shelf? I’m in love!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *