Books are about life…

…and they’re written for a reader.

That’s the philosophy of Edward Mendelson, who teaches at Columbia University and has just published a book called The Things That Matter. In it he explores what the following novels tell us about the stages of life–Frankenstein, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights; and three by Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, and Between The Acts. He gave a fascinating interview on Weekend Edition on NPR last Saturday.

He’s got some amazing things to say, for instance, about Wuthering Heights as a depiction of childhood. But what really impressed me most in this interview–other than his refreshing attitude of not looking for a message, but taking a book for what it is, a statement of the human condition–was this perceptive comment on what happens when a writer sits down to write, and he/she is…

…cooperating with hundreds, thousands of other writers; to have the support of the shape of a novel, to have the help of the English language…with its rhymes and puns and its echoes and allusions. When you sit down to write this book you’re not alone. You have all of your reading, all of the language, all of the things that you’ve forgotten that got into your head working with you, helping to shape that world…

A wonderful thought. We are not alone!

And have you checked out the current Riskies contest? See Sunday’s interview with Pam Rosenthal.

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