Saturday, February 19, 2005


Another blog recently discussed the phenomenon of "too many books". Too many books isn't really a problem in my mind. Not when you have come to terms with the fact that most of these books are extraneous to one's focal interest. Imagine, if you will, a trip to your favourite local bookshop. Your preconceived notions about what matters to you in terms of literature will allow you to walk on past the tripe and zero in on what I guess to be the remaining one per cent of monographs up for sale. Granted, one per cent of a shitload of books still works out to be a shitload of books. But this is a shitload of books that matter. Should you be so inclined to put forth a few dollars in order to supplement your prized collection, you will have supported a living or dead author who was published during a time when the competition for publication wasn't as fierce as it is now, as in right-this-very-minute now.

Writers with so-called literary integrity, of course, are fully aware of the publishing industry's tendency to supplant their endeavours with less edifying works that are earmarked to make more money. This is why literary integrity is folly. But it remains the folly of those individuals who are convinced that they cannot live without the written word. Once in a while, one will slip through the cracks and achieve success [which in this context equates with publication]. But more often, they won't. Writers of a certain caliber will continue to write, but only because they have to, only because they can't not write. They write not to contribute to the world of "too many books", but to contribute to the canon that has brought them to the position they find themselves in today. If the product is to remain at the bottom of a desk drawer, its only fate to moulder away until time immemorial, then so be it. What has mattered is the exercise that leads to the resulting words. Ergo, the words are what matter.

Does this mean that a life spent in pursuit of writing has been a mistake? Yes, a gorgeous mistake.

And now, here, where I am writing still, still in this chair, hammering type like tacks into the page, speaking without a listening ear, whose eye do I hope to catch and charm and fill with tears and understanding, if not my own, my own ordinary, unforgiving and unfeeling eye?

-William H. Gass, The Tunnel

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