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Hundreds and hundreds of books passing through me
Dispatch from Writing with the Seasons - June 2023
Welcome to ‘Writing with the Seasons’. In 2023, I’m sharing short dispatches alongside our longer monthly essays and brand new audio courses.
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This week, I heard Zadie Smith talking about writing, creativity and Virginia Woolf. She spoke so eloquently about how Woolf taught her how to really see people, to try to understand them. In Smith’s words: “That idea—lying to tell the truth, which is my job, which is fiction’s job—is so striking in A Room of One’s Own. The imagining of others' feelings is how we conduct our social lives. Constantly character-reading and processing.”
Zadie Smith is incredibly serious about the value of reading. Learning how to be a good, wide, curious reader makes you a better writer. She teaches her students not just to read authors they love but to read all the books written by those who’ve influenced that author, too.
Read everything, she urges, because the writers you admire—Sally Rooney, Deborah Levy—they read everything! They read everything!
Every book Smith reads has an impact. They have all changed her life, every single one of them, even the ones she disliked. While writing her novel NW, she wanted to put her ideas about reading into practice:
Language isn’t the sole possession of the author. That’s my theory of reading. I don't own this language, I didn't make it… So NW is a tissue of books, they all are. They’re a product of hundreds and hundreds of books passing through me.
I find this vision of books as active things—flowing, full of energy and life and rhythm, influencing us in all kinds of ways—so exhilarating.
Zadie Smith’s novel The Fraud is out in September! Writing with the Seasons is brought to you by Write & Shine, a programme of morning writing workshops and online courses. Summer artwork by Marina Ester Castaldo.
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