Whether you’re a novelist writing in a niche genre or a company trying to reach new customers, you have one task: move your audience.
Alberto Manguel, born 1948 in Buenos Aires, is an Argentine Canadian anthologist, translator, essayist, novelist, editor, and the director of the National Library of Argentina. His A History of Reading (1997) is a brilliant look at both reading and writing, and his words are instructive and important even in corporate settings.
We read to find the end, for the story’s sake. We read not to reach it, for the sake of the reading itself. We read searchingly, like trackers, oblivious of our surroundings. We read distractedly, skipping pages. We read contemptuously, admiringly, negligently, angrily, passionately, enviously, longingly.
We read in gusts of sudden pleasure, without knowing what brought the pleasure along. “What in the world is this emotion?” asks Rebecca West after reading King Lear. “What is the bearing of supremely great works of art on my life which makes me feel so glad?”
We don’t know: we read ignorantly. We read in slow, long motions, as if drifting in space, weightless. We read full of prejudice, malignantly. We read generously, making excuses for the text, filling gaps, mending faults.
And sometimes, when the stars are kind, we read with an intake of breath, with a shudder, as if someone or something has “walked over our grave,” as if a memory had suddenly been rescued from a place deep within us—the recognition of something we never knew was there, or of something we vaguely felt as a flicker or shadow, whose ghostly form rises and passes back into us before we can see what it is, leaving us older and wiser.
What Manguel doesn’t say here is that for the writer to achieve these remarkable powers and move her or his audience in this way, the words have to be carefully chosen, and somewhere along the way, an editor—either the author, wearing a markedly different hat, or an outsider, a hireling—has shaped and reshaped the author’s words into something that moves his or her intended audience.