It has been a full decade since I’ve read a book of my own, singular choosing. What I mean is that every book I’ve cracked open and read in the past ten years has been read because of some friend, colleague, teacher; some review, prize, or list; some class, job, or writing goal dictated that the book was a must-read. The last book I read was a Man Booker finalist, the one before that was written by an old professor of mine, and the one before that had been both on the New York Times Bestseller list for weeks and adapted into a movie. The books on my to-read list are just as semi-known, semi-vetted. Don’t misunderstand — I still read widely (in fiction, at least), and I don’t feel constricted by the focus recommended reading gives me. But I also can’t stop thinking of how I used to read. Wildly, haphazardly, with no safety net.
The Holy Ghost was browsing in his or her library
one day in the future, unaccountably bored,
oddly querulous, vaguely wanting something that would be
quietly unfamiliar. “It doesn’t have to be great,”
said the Holy Ghost with the faintest note of exasperation
in his or her voice, “just so long as it has its own special character.”
“The most common dissenting sentiment is, ‘Look, it’s fine that people are gonna come to [feminism] through pop culture, and you can’t say it’s less real than coming to it through feminist theory.’ I’ve definitely heard some frustration around that. I agree with that sentiment to some extent, but it still doesn’t absolve people of their individual ability to research feminism further—to do their own exploring—and it doesn’t mitigate the media’s role in the ways they’ve filtered and diluted feminism.”
I found myself getting irked. Why such reticence to make a simple comment online that you don’t agree with an essay’s claims? One could maintain a level of tact within the discourse. “You have a wealth of knowledge and a compulsion to set the record straight,” I wrote, “and yet you decline to do anything but privately email me — why?” I thought of all the people who daily kick off their boots to plunge into the various mud pits of online forums. I invited this reader to do the same. She told me she had no intention of falling for that.
The ultimate journey that any writer takes is an emotional one, and that is what informs the geographical and professional passages you undergo, the moral development you attempt, the intellectual maturity you reach for. Being a writer is exhilarating, demanding, fascinating; it is the most wonderful life, but it can be terribly lonely. In fact, I am still surprised each time by how singular and private the experience of writing is—how this big conversation the writer conducts, and this desire to gobble up the world comes down, finally, to a quiet moment alone.