“Failure is quite interesting, and it’s something I have a certain amount of experience with. I wasn’t a failure in the way lots of people are failures—I could always get published, that was pretty straightforward. Literary failure is funny because it’s not like you get this massive slap in the face and become a figure of ridicule. It’s more that you do this thing, you write this book, and then this big thing is poised to happen on publication. And nothing happens. It’s just a weird non-event. The literary Richter scale doesn’t register any kind of tremor. That was happening to me for a very long while, and then I managed to persuade myself that these serial failures were perhaps a kind of liberation in that it meant I was free from any kind of pressure from publishers. The stakes were so low that it didn’t really make any kind of difference to anybody that I went from writing a novel to writing a book about the First World War. So I’ve certainly known what it’s like for a book to simply, well, disappear.”
—Geoff Dyer in Bookforum
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”
—David Foster Wallace (born today in 1962)
Happy 50th, DFW. You are much missed.
“In 1812, the year Charles Dickens was born, there were 66 novels published in Britain. People had been writing novels for a century—most critics date the genre to Robinson Crusoe in 1719—but nobody aspired to do it professionally. Many works of fiction appeared anonymously, with attributions like ‘By a Lady.’ The steam-powered printing press was still in its infancy; the literacy rate in England was under 50%. And novels, for the most part, were looked upon as silly, immoral, toxic or just plain bad. …
“In 1870, when Dickens died, the world mourned him as its first literary celebrity: a career writer and publisher, famous and beloved, who had led an explosion in both the publication of novels and their readership.”
—from Radhika Jones’ ”Charles in Charge: The Secret of Dickens’ Enduring Success” in the Jan 30th issue of TIME [reg. required]
A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person—perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic.
—Carl Sagan’s COSMOS, pg. 232