The “creative act” of reading

I’m backlogged like you wouldn’t believe, but here it is: this week’s Inspiration post.

In a recent and in-depth interview with, or the Poets and Writers Magazine, Laura Miller of Slate magazine, and the co-founder of Salon, an online-only magazine, Miller was asked about her reason for writing about writing (and reading) for a literary column. Her answer is pasted below and is beautiful, one that espouses the joys of reading as a completely “creative act” – one involving a complex “alchemy” and “collaboration” between writer and reader. Further, reading is a profoundly compassionate act, not simply a passive process, for it requires imagining other people with other voices, thoughts, dreams to pass through our own.

It certainly begs the question: why does one read?

We live in a time when everyone wants to write and seemingly no one “has time” to read. Everyone wants to speak and increasingly few people want to listen. People sometimes scoff when I make this observation and claim that aspiring writers read more than anyone else, but that is not my experience. I’m constantly meeting people who, when they learn what I do, always want to talk about the book they plan to write despite the fact that they seem to find no books worth reading. We fetishize the idea of being a writer in a variety of ways, most of them narcissistic. So when I meet a big reader who professes no desire to write, I think of them as a beautiful, almost mythical creature, like a unicorn, to be celebrated.

I also believe that reading is a profoundly creative act, that every act of reading is a collaboration between author and reader. I don’t understand why more people aren’t interested in this alchemy. It’s such an act of grace to give someone else ten or fifteen hours out of your own irreplaceable life, and allow their voice, thoughts, and imaginings into your head. I can’t respect any writer who isn’t abjectly grateful for the faith, generosity, and trust in that. I think there’s an unspoken, maybe even unconscious contempt for reading as merely “passive” in many people who obsess about writers and writing. Discussion of writers and writing generally bores me. But I’m always interested in why people read and why they like what they like. That’s far more likely to surprise and enlighten me than someone fretting about daily word counts and agonizing over their process.


xoxo M

Photo: L’Edition de Luxe (1910), by Lilian Westcott Hale (American, 1880–1963), at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


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