Why I write, why I read

A selection of authors’ excerpts about why they write and why they read.

Nora Ephron

Let’s start with the funniest quote of the selection. US author Nora Ephron (1941-2012) is well-known for her romantic comedies such as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. She is also the author of many books and essays. An anthology of her essays entitled The Most of Nora Ephron was published in 2014 two years after her death. In Introduction to the Wallflower at the Orgy, she explains, with her great sense of humor, what it is to be a writer:

“Some years ago, the man I am married to told me he had always had a mad desire to go to an orgy. Why on earth, I asked. Why not, he said. Because, I replied, it would be just like the dances at the YMCA I went to in the seventh grade – only instead of people walking past me and rejecting me, they would be stepping over my naked body and rejecting me. The image made no impression at all on my husband. But it has stayed with me – albeit in another context. Because working as a journalist is exactly like being the wallflower at the orgy. I always seem to find myself at a perfectly wonderful event where everyone else is having a marvelous time, laughing merrily, eating, drinking, having sex in the back room, and I am standing on the side taking notes on it all.” – Nora Ephron, Introduction to the Wallflower at the Orgy

Virginie Despentes

Major French contemporary author Virginie Despentes (1969-) is famous for her Vernon Subutex fiction book saga of three volumes. She is also the author of an essential essay King Kong Theory about the contemporary women experience. If the below selected quote barely shows the power of King Kong Theory, it informs nonetheless about Virginie Despentes’ reading habits. Note that the below text has been translated from French to English by the author of this blog despite an English version being available to readers:

“When, for example, in 1984, I’m locked up for some months, my first reaction is to read. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, When I Was Five I Killed Myself and essays about psychiatry, internment, surveillance, teenage years. Books were there, keeping me company, making things possible, vocable, shareable.” – Virginie Despentes, King Kong Theory

George Orwell

British writer George Orwell (1903-1950), author of 1984, has written many essays. In his essay Why I Write, George Orwell explains the manifestations of his calling as a writer. Not obvious when he was a child, his writer path makes sense a posteriori. Having closely followed and reported about the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Hitler, the writings of George Orwell are eminently political. His ambition is to make political writing into an art:

“What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself ‘I am going to produce a work of art’. I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience.” – George Orwell, Why I write

Roland Barthes

Last let’s have a look at Roland Barthes (1915-1980)’s A Lover’s Discourse Fragments. With his particular mindset, Roland Barthes chose not to explain why one writes, but rather why one shall not write. The quote is probably the most moving of this selection:

“To know that one does not write for the other, to know that these things I am going to write will never cause me to be loved by the one I love (the other), to know that writing compensates for nothing, sublimates nothing, that it is precisely there where you are not–this is the beginning of writing.” – Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments

Books mentioned in this article: