I love Jane Smiley's 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel. Stuck on her current project, this author of many novels in different genres decided to read one hundred novels. Her journey makes fascinating reading. I love her personal insights and humble tone. A book essentially for readers and novel fans, there is also an important section on novel-writing as well. I will be taking her excellent advice on editing, soon. I finished the first round of my report cards this weekend and hope to have some spare hours for writing this week - that is if I don't turn around and start rereading the first section of Smiley's book. It's that good.
This is how Smiley describes the "essential pleasure of literature":
Once a story has been put into words, people can analyze it, ponder it, hold it in their minds, come to know it, change it willingly, learn from it. But it exists not as words written in books but as images with feelings attached. To read and then reread a work is to reattach remembered images to unremembered words and to experience again (and sometimes even more sharply) the pleasure of the incohate becoming specific.
Smiley studies the forms that gave rise to early novels.
For many generations, the novel had no pretensions to art. The novel was not rooted in classical rhetorical and imaginative forms nor taught in schools and universities. Because novels were read for pleasure... novelists were from the beginning autodidacts, reading their own, idiosyncratic "courses" of novels, picking and choosing what to emulate and imitate, often writing in secret and pleasing themselves rather than teachers or scholars.
From these beginnings, it is possible to discuss the "art" of the novel. Smiley has her own theory:
... the novel is always about freedom, and readers of novels have an instinctive understanding of whether the novelist is exercising his freedom or whether he isn't -- that is, whether he means what he is saying or whether he doesn't -- because the novel is based on the most primal human materials, emotion and language.
I'm still reading the last section where Smiley outlines the 100 novels she analyzed on her quest. More about that some other time.
Labels: Literature, Writing