Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Difference Between Writers and Cobblers

My colleague at the Olive Reader already pointed it out, but it deserves all the pointing out it can get. The Guardian ran a long piece by Zadie Smith this past weekend about, among other things, the connection of a writer's character to the quality of his or her novels and the duties that fiction writers and readers have to one another. Here's a taste, but read the whole thing ("Clive" is a fictional aspiring author who Smith introduces in the beginning of the essay):
Writers know that between the platonic ideal of the novel and the actual novel there is always the pesky self -- vain, deluded, myopic, cowardly, compromised. That's why writing is the craft that defies craftsmanship: craftsmanship alone will not make a novel great. This is hard for young writers, like Clive, to grasp at first. A skilled cabinet-maker will make good cabinets, and a skilled cobbler will mend your shoes, but skilled writers very rarely write good books and almost never write great ones. There is a rogue element somewhere -- for convenience's sake we'll call it the self, although, in less metaphysically challenged times, the "soul" would have done just as well. In our public literary conversations we are squeamish about the connection between selves and novels.



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