I’ve kind of accepted that books don’t matter.
Individual books can still matter. I just don’t think books as a whole matter.
I want to write the book that will matter to a particular person and audience. i want to write a book that matters to you.
Novels are for empathy.
Books help with loneliness I guess.
Here’s a quote from an article about the now-rich author guy Garth Risk Hallberg. His new book is City on Fire and comes out next week, I think.
There’s also something new that Hallberg wants to do with City on Fire. In 2012, he wrote an essay for the Times Magazine on the Franzen-Eugenides-Wallace cohort headlined “Why Write Novels at All?” He read into their generation a desire to make readers feel less lonely by showing them other lonely people. Hallberg wanted to turn that notion on its head. “Think about it,” he wrote. “I can love you because I want to feel less alone, or I can love you because I want you to feel less alone.” His elders, he concluded, fell short on that second kind of love — empathy rather than self-consolation. What he didn’t quite say in the piece seems obvious now: This is where his kind of novel comes in. By entering the consciousness of so many characters and building connections between them (“I see you. You are not alone,” read the last lines of City on Fire), he wants to teach readers empathy — to make us better people.
I’ve never thought about novels making us better people. I’ve thought about them as sympathetic. And challenging. And frustrating. And enlightening. And educational. But I’ve never turned to a novel to make me a better person. A better writer, yes. But not a better person. I guess all of those things can make me empathetic, which would then help me relate better to people.
Okay, maybe so.
I’ll probably read Hallberg’s novel. He seems like a writer I would like (punk rock from the South).
But I’m still skeptical. Novels get in our heads more than movies, I think. Because we relate to the inner dialogue. Novels are inherently a more personable medium, which probably lends itself to better empathy.
I’m talking myself into it.
What do you think?