A Reflection on the Written Word

Yesterday, the great Peggy Bechko wrote about the writing part of writing. After it appeared, an anonymous benefactor (thanks, Anon!) sent us a link to this, another perspective on the same verity/mystery of writing and life:

reflected-word1by John M. Williams

It all happened on the same day. A post I wrote about my first e-book, Special Forces, appeared on this blog, a friend suggested I look into producing my own audio book, and I received a visit from a charming retired Japanese journalist, Shoichi Nasu. Mr. Nasu, making a series of pilgrimages to American literary sites for a book he is writing, had stumbled onto me, seeking an answer to the question: why is Gone With the Wind not considered a great work of literature?

Mr. Nasu was too savvy to have gone looking for Tara, but he had been to Steinbeck country in California, In Cold Blood’s Kansas, Cather’s Nebraska, various shrines in New England, and was headed to Oxford on Monday. All astonishingly without a car. His appeal, with rare counterpart in my line of work, was that of a person engaged in a challenging project born of deep personal interest. That, and his frank, witty, polite nature.

Canon smanon, he just wanted to know. The story is quite popular in Japan, in its film avatar at any rate, and he had gotten a brochure on southern literature somewhere that didn’t even mention that fabled tome! Why not? Well, I, no apologist for any canon, and a loather of any sort of “100 Books You Must Read” list, a believer instead that one’s own reading life is a unique expedition as intimate as a fingerprint that may very well omit the entire list of esteemed titles to no harm, could only stammer some clichés: it’s basically a melodrama with stock characters, it is complicit in the promulgation of a myth that greater writers (the one on his next stop came to mind) had agonizingly and ingeniously dismantled, leaving its author stranded in the zone of her subject matter in a way that leaves article-hungry critics little to do but point that out, and one can easily imagine it serialized in Redbook. Abaslom, Absalom! not so much.

Mr. Nasu—whose English was good, and who admitted that he was a slow reader in his own, and certainly in his adopted language—was plodding his way through a massive paperback version of Miss Mitchell’s book, an exercise he politely labeled as “torture.” I thought to myself, surely this is ill-invested labor. Why not just watch the movie? Well, of course he had, many times, and I fear our conversation may have taken something from his resolve to stay the course of his laborious decoding with its dubious trophy. Be that as it may, his dilemma, and the other events of the day, turned my thoughts to the distinction between the “news,” and the medium through which it is delivered.

Read it all