Tag Archives: Books

Striving for Immortality

“Writers live lives of curious contradiction. Their work succeeds only by means of a monastic interiority and lonesomeness, and yet they yearn for that work to deliver them the very things most likely to murder it: whole continents of fans, invitations to claim and cash fantastical checks. They’ve heard the warning that says celebrity is one of the toxins which contributes to a writer’s artistic contamination, but they can’t help themselves—writers spend lots of time being overlooked, and thus lots of time fantasizing about the opposite predicament. There’s no such thing as a writer who yearns to be ignored.”

“The potent brand of immortality that was possible for Wordsworth, Keats, and Austen is no longer possible, and for myriad reasons, chief of which is the basement-level regard we now have for serious writers—the world doesn’t care about literature the way it did when those three were undergoing their immortalization. Our new Keats is Steve Jobs or someone like him. The cultural emphasis has shifted from one incarnation of creative brilliance to another.”

“[…] today our fissional culture has obliterated consensus—most readers now appear beguiled by what genuinely constitutes a good book, and so they fall back upon that least accurate mode of assessment: personal taste, relatability, identity confirmation. The criterion by which to judge any book must be the sentences: Do they work, are they imbued with torque and verve, do they have something permanent to say about a human circus both shining and absurd? Publishing is a business in which writers of ironclad intelligence and integrity must watch in paralysis as third-rate books are lavishly rewarded and celebrated, and so those writers cheer themselves up by imagining that their laurels will arrive after their deaths, when society finally gets wise and realizes the injustices it heaped upon genius.”

From, and read more: newrepublic.com/article/121197/writing-literary-immortality-writers-want-fans-who-last-forever

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Writing, a Solitary Voyage Through the Universe

“The reader may laugh, but for us writers, writing is every time a mad, exciting business, a voyage in a tiny craft on the high seas, a solitary flight through the universe. While one seeks to choose the single word among three that present themselves, at the same time struggling to hold the feeling and tone of the whole sentence he is constructing — while forging the sentence into the selected structure and tightening the bolts of the edifice, he strives at the same time to keep in mind the tone and proportion of the whole book; that is an exciting activity.

I know from personal experience only a single other activity that has a similar tension and concentration; that is, painting. There it is the same: to blend each individual color with its neighboring color properly and carefully is pleasant and easy, one can learn to do it and then practice it at any time. Over and beyond that, however, to have really before one’s mind the as yet unpainted and invisible parts of the whole picture and to take them into account, to experience the whole fine network of intersecting vibrations, that is astonishingly difficult and seldom succeeds.”

Hermann Hesse, A Patient at a Spa

See also: The Sorrows of a Young Writer https://spywriter.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/the-sorrows-of-a-youngish-writer/

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Storytelling Hightens Moral Reasoning

Intriguing new evidence “shows a positive correlation between literacy and moral reasoning, most particularly between reading fiction and being able to take the perspective of others. Perspective-taking in novels requires a matrices-like rotation of relational positions combined with an understanding of what it would feel like if X happened to you, even though the “you” in this case is a character in the novel.”

“In a 2011 study, for example, the Princeton neuroscientist Uri Hasson and his team scanned the brain of a woman while she told a story out loud that the scientists recorded and subsequently played back for other subjects while their brains were being scanned. When the reader’s emotional brain region called the insula lit up during a certain portion of the story, so too did the listeners’ insulas; when the woman’s frontal cortex became active during a different part of the story, the same region in listeners’ brains was also activated. It’s almost as if the fictional story synchronized the reader’s and listeners’ brains.”

“This experiment is important because it nails down the direction of the causal arrow from reading literary fiction to perspective taking, eliminating the objection that perhaps people who are interested in and good at interpreting the mental states of others just happen to be people who read novels.”

From: reason.com/archives/2015/02/17/are-we-becoming-morally-smarte

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Writing is more than Craftsmaship

“Literature is language — the tongue is an extension of a man’s deepest feelings, his very soul. Not every person who speaks, however, is a writer or artist because language is not automatically literature. Literature is art that uses language as its basic tool and the writer is a skilled user of language. Writing, like all other art forms, is a craft that is learned in school, through constant practice. The apprentice craftsman learns how to fashion sentences, paragraphs, the stories, novels, essays, and poetry even. He learns grammar, punctuation, the precise meaning of words, and their meaning. He learns how to produce tension, how to be clear if precision is required, and how to be obtuse if obfuscation is demanded of him. He knows brevity or long-windedness. He writes to communicate, to arouse love or hate. He also knows his writing will most probably survive if he is good enough. Indeed, literature is the noblest of the arts.”

“To achieve art the writer knows he has to be more than a craftsman. He must now be creative, imaginative, original and profound, all these cannot be taught — these virtues he must search in himself. He will surely find them if he strives hard enough, if he goes deep down to his very core and finds it there … because artists are rare creatures; they are born, not made.”

From: m.philstar.com/366247/show/ed251572d567c9c2c506cd8110150bff/?

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Violent Obsessions of the Literary Kind

“Violent obsessions sometimes lay hold of a man: he may, for instance, think day and night of nothing but the moon. I have such a moon. Day and night I am held in the grip of one besetting thought, to write, write, write! Hardly have I finished one book than something urges me to write another, and then a third, and then a fourth—I write ceaselessly. I am, as it were, on a treadmill. I hurry for ever from one story to another, and can’t help myself. […]

As soon as I stop working I rush off to the theatre or go fishing, in the hope that I may find oblivion there, but no! Some new subject for a story is sure to come rolling through my brain like an iron cannonball. I hear my desk calling, and have to go back to it and begin to write, write, write, once more. And so it goes for everlasting. I cannot escape myself, though I feel that I am consuming my life.”

Anton Chekhov, The Seagull

See also: The Sorrows of a Young Writer

https://spywriter.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/the-sorrows-of-a-youngish-writer/

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Reading – a Bridge to Self

“What does reading do?”
“You can learn almost everything from reading.”
“But I read too.”
“So you must know something.”
“Now I’m not so sure.”
“You’ll have to read differently then.”
“How?
“The same method doesn’t work for everyone, each person has to invent his or her own, whichever suits them best, some people spend their entire lives reading but never get beyond reading the words on the page, they don’t understand that the words are merely stepping stones placed across a fast-flowing river, and the reason they’re there is so that we can reach the farther shore, it’s the other side that matters. Unless…”
“Unless what?”
“Unless those rivers don’t have just two shores but many, unless each reader is his or her own shore, and that shore is the only shore worth reaching.”

Jose Saramago, in The Cave

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Living in a Screen World

We are spending too much time in front of various screens, instead of reading books, to the detriment of our brains.

“To illustrate the neurological effect of this imbalance, we can adapt Marshall McLuhan’s ideas about “hot” and “cool” media: the screen delivers its communication piping hot, in fully cooked messages. If it’s a tree, it looks like a tree — no decoding required. Moreover, the screen delivers fully formed stories, with actors, sets and all other manner of visual stimuli and narrative embellishments — no imagination required. Reading a book, however, demands all kinds of brain work: decode the words; imagine the look and sound of the story; and be responsive enough that conflict, suspense and climax are made emotionally satisfying without a musical score and well-crafted editing. And might this emotional satisfaction teach our brains that hard work is rewarding?” 

“If de Saussure were alive today, I suspect he’d approve of mashing up semiotic theory and neurobiology, since he argued that it’s in the brain that the signifier (the word) is combined with the signified (what the word represents) and meaning is made. Today, neuroscientists have extended that notion exponentially: because “the neurons that fire together, wire together,” we know this meaning-making process affects the brain’s physical structure and shapes our behaviours and our proclivities. It follows logically that living in a screen-filled world, without the brain-training afforded by habitual reading, is undermining [ our ] ability to accurately decode the details and nuances of the written word”.

From: m.thespec.com/opinion-story/5204679-all-i-want-for-christmas-is-semiotics/

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Infinite World Awaits Your Discovery

When we read books our world becomes infinite:

“We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books…. in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.” C. S. Lewis, in: An Experiment in Criticism

From: lifehacker.com.au/2014/11/cs-lewis-on-reading-literature-those-who-dont-inhabit-a-tiny-world/

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Modern writers are stylistic clones

American mathematicians … set out to investigate “large-scale” trends in literary style. … they processed 7,733 works from 537 authors written after the year 1550, were looking for the frequency at which 307 “content-free” words – such as “of”, “at” and “by” – appeared. They called these words the “syntactic glue” of language: “words that carry little meaning on their own but form the bridge between words that convey meaning”, and thus “provide a useful stylistic fingerprint” for authorship.

“When we consider content-free word frequencies from a large number of authors and works over a long period of time, we can ask questions related to temporal trends in similarity”, they write in their new paper.

After finding that authors of any given period are stylistically similar to their contemporaries, they also discovered that the stylistic influence of the past is decreasing. While authors in the 18th and 19th centuries are still influenced by previous centuries, authors writing in the late 20th century are instead “strongly influenced” by writers from their own decade. “The so-called ‘anxiety of influence’, whereby authors are understood in terms of their response to canonical precursors, is becoming an ‘anxiety of impotence’, in which the past exerts a diminishing stylistic influence on the present,” they write. This could, they suggest, be explained by the modernist movement, in which authors “reject their immediate stylistic predecessors yet remain a part of a dominant movement that included many of their contemporaries.

From: theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2012/may/14/writers-no-longer-influenced-by-classics

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Books – The Cumulative Wisdom of Mankind

“People buy books, borrow books from libraries or friends, inherit books from family members across the generations, start their own book collections or receive books as gifts. People also give books as gifts to share and enjoy knowledge and build a kind of knowledge and insight community, looking at the world and its beauty and challenges from different lenses, portals and windows of the mind and heart.” 

“There is a bonding between the giver and receiver of books.  When we receive books as gifts, there is moral and courtesy duty to enjoy the gift, to read and not just display such gifts.” 

“The focused reading of such books, opening new windows of the mind may lead to immediate or longer-term changes in intellectual character, behaviour and even personality. At the very least, reading of such selected gifts hones, sharpens, sensitises cognitive and affective capacities.”

It is through reading that “The various windows of the mind fling open breadth and depths of understanding and nurture intellectual character, as well as the virtues of heart and soul.”

A Reader “is enabled to have access to the received wisdom of mankind. The received wisdom from authors are the cumulative acumen of what all that man knows and understands about reality.”

From: nst.com.my/node/50433?m=1

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