We all have favourite books, songs and films. I used to ask people, ‘If you had to give up one of them, which would it be?’
A silly question, but I was sometimes surprised by the answers. As a working writer now the thought of giving up books – and by association writing itself – seems ludicrous.
But, until around 1999, books used to be my choice. I don’t know whether it was because I managed a bookshop and had a: ‘work in a sweetshop, never eat sweets’ feeling or that I was so obsessed with film and music – I went to the cinema or a gig; bought a new video (those days were pre-DVD!) or a new CD every week.
But I would never give up books, music or film. And, over the last fifteen years, books have become more and more valuable to me for two reasons.
I’ll start with the most obvious: like any and every reader, a great book makes me feel as if I am involved in the story – to paraphrase Hemingway – that the story is part of my own life experience.
Books, I believe, have more power than any other creative art to lift the individual out of reality and into other ways and means of life. Nothing is more powerful than our imaginations.
The second reason is that after I have finished a brilliant book, I am both thrilled and depressed. Thrilled by the wonderful narrative journey, the dialogue, the characterisation and, hopefully, the denouement. And then depressed inside the thought that I will never be able to write anything as good!
In these last fifteen years, two authors have left me speechless and coming back to their works over and over.
They are Richard Yates and Jonathan Franzen. Of course I love the writing of others too: Donna Tartt, Alice Munro, F Scott Fitzgerald, Paul Auster, et al.
But it is Yates and Franzen to whom I owe my greatest debt of literary gratitude.
I have become, and continue to become, a better writer because of Yates and Franzen. I have learned how to write well – finding my own voice, techniques, etc, through studying their writing obsessively.
I re-read Freedom and The Corrections by Franzen, and all of Richard Yates’s novels and short stories at least once a year. My wife has often made an affectionate comment about it being odd that a writer only seems to read the same works of two other writers and what could I possibly get out of the experience?
I get the thrill of great reading every time. I get lifted into those other realities. I get taught more and more about how to – maybe some day – reach the levels of skill employed by Franzen, Yates and all those other fabulous writers.
I wouldn’t give that up for anything.
Daniel David Gothard’s latest novel – Friendship and Afterwards – has been nominated for The People’s Book Prize. Voting ends on May 14th. Go to: www.peoplesbookprize.com