Home > About reading, Personal Posts, Uncategorized > About reading, a quote by Margaret Atwood

About reading, a quote by Margaret Atwood

In A Wolf in Wolf’s Clothing published in the magazine America, Margaret Atwood writes:

A book is a voice in your ear; the message is –while you are reading it –for you alone. Reading a book is surely the most intimate experience we can have of the inside of another human being’s mind. Writer, book, and reader –in this triangle, the book is the messenger. And all three are part of one act of creation, as the composer, the player of the symphony, and the listener are all participants in it. The reader is the musician of the book.

As for the writer, his or her part is done when the book goes out into the world; it is the book that will then live or die, and what happens to the writer is at that point immaterial, from the point of view of the book.

I agree with her about the intimacy of reading. Besides going to places I’ll never see in real life, being in someone else’s mind is the most fascinating experience of reading. Sometimes it’s a terrifying place to be, sometimes it’s comforting in a ah-you-too? kind of way and sometimes it’s eye-opening.

Her last paragraph about the writer’s role after the book is published? It probably explains why I rarely read interviews of writers about their books, especially when they are on tour to promote their new one.

  1. January 3, 2020 at 11:53 am

    That’s a wonderful quote, and what you say about the author is becoming a little more relevant to me as I read on through my,life. I find I’m often less interested in the author themselves nowadays!

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    • January 3, 2020 at 7:32 pm

      I loved it the moment I read it.

      I don’t really care about the writer’s life when I read their books. For example, it is said that Roth put things about his own marriage into I Married a Communist. Does it really matter to know that when you read the novel? I don’t think so.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. January 3, 2020 at 12:34 pm

    That quote is about the best articulation of the experience of reading that I’ve seen.
    Her view that the author’s role ends when the book is published is one that would be hard for many writers to accept I suspect – they have invested so much of their time in its creation, that it must be hard to just let it go

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    • January 3, 2020 at 7:36 pm

      It is. The only thing missing in this quote about the experience of reading is what happened when I read this quote. I thought “she managed to put on paper what I think and couldn’t express that well”

      Her vision of the role of the writer after the book is published is hard on the writers. First they are supposed to spend time promoting their book, so they can’t throw it into the world, wave goodbye and hope for the best.
      And then, as you say, it must be hard to let it go after spending so much effort writing it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. January 3, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    I love this quote – that sense of reading being “the most intimate experience we can have of the inside of another human being’s mind”. No wonder some authors are nervous when their books go out into the world!

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    • January 3, 2020 at 7:38 pm

      It’s an amazing quote: in a few sentences, she sums up the experience of reading and the relationship between writer/reader/book.

      And yes, I imagine that sometimes, for writers, it must be like walking down the street without clothes on.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. January 3, 2020 at 1:57 pm

    I really like this quote. The intimacy of reading is so right. I agree about the author too – I was watching a documentary on Samuel Beckett this week and it was all about his life, and I found myself thinking ‘just let the work speak’. Why try and work out who you think the person is? You’ll never get it right.

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    • January 3, 2020 at 7:47 pm

      I loved that quote immediately because it reflects how I feel about reading and books.

      It’s true that I don’t care much about a writer’s life, for various reasons. One of them is that I don’t want my reading of their work tainted by my opinion of them. Some are rather awful human beings.
      It’s useful to have basic biographical info but for the rest, does it matter?

      Liked by 2 people

  5. January 4, 2020 at 9:51 am

    I think Helen Garner for instance walks down the street tossing her clothes to the wind.

    “what happens to the writer is at that point immaterial, from the point of view of the book” should be a statement of the obvious, but so many writers continue to tell us, and so many readers seek out the writer to ask, how the book is intended to be read.

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    • January 4, 2020 at 4:38 pm

      I know nothing about Helen Garner but I’ll trust your word on this.

      Yes. Readers are as eager to hear the writer as writers are eager to talk about their books. That’s why I usually don’t watch La Grande Librairie, a famous literary TV show here in France.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Vishy
    January 11, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    Beautiful quote, Emma! Very thought-provoking! Loved what you said too! I used to like going to book launches and listen to writers talk about their books, but these days I prefer to just read their books and I don’t really care about what they say about it.

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    • January 12, 2020 at 4:59 pm

      Thanks Vishy.
      I enjoy hearing writers talking about literature in general or literature and music but not so much about their latest book. Promotion is a chore: the journalists ask obvious questions and writers answer with well-prepared answers. Not really interesting.

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