Readers and Writers

Updated February 14, 2023

“I think the happiness of a reader is beyond that of a writer, for a reader need feel no trouble, no anxiety: he is merely out for happiness. And happiness, when you are a reader, is frequent.” – Jorge Luis Borges (The Craft of Verse)

“Readers and writers are united in their need for solitude, in their pursuit of substance in a time of ever-increasing evanescence: in their reach inward, via print, for a way out of loneliness.” – Jonathan Franzen (“Perchance to Dream,” Harper’s, April 1996; reprinted as “Why Bother?” in How to To Be Alone)

“The greater part of a writer’s life is spent reading.” – Samuel Johnson

“‘Tis the good reader that makes the good book; in every book he finds passages which seem confidences or asides hidden from all else and unmistakenly meant for his ear; the profit of books is according to the sensibility of the reader; the profoundest thought or passion sleeps as in a mine, until it is discovered by an equal mind and heart.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson (Society and Solitude, 1870)

“To read means to borrow; to create out of one’s readings is paying off one’s debts.” – George Christoph Lichtenberg

“The world may be full of fourth-rate writers but it’s also full of fourth-rate readers.” – Stan Barstow (1989)

“Whether they think about it or not, novelists…are preserving a community of writers and readers, and the way in which members of this community recognize each other is that nothing in the world seems simple to them.” – Jonathan Franzen (“Perchance to Dream,” Harper’s, April 1966; reprinted as “Why Bother?” in How to Be Alone)

“Writing and reading are not all that distinct for a writer. Both exercises require being alert and ready for unaccountable beauty, for the intricateness or simple elegance of the writer’s imagination, for the world that imagination evokes. Both require being mindful of the places where imagination sabotages itself, locks its own gates, pollutes its vision. Writing and reading mean being aware of the writer’s notions of risk and safety, the serene achievement of, or sweaty fight for, meaning and ‘response-ability.'” – Toni Morrison (Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, 1992)

“Writers generally enjoy reading, just as readers feel they might have been writers.” – Holbrook Jackson (1874-1948)

“Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard.” – Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989)

“…When a reader finishes a great novel, he will immediately begin looking for another. If someone loves your book, it increases the chance that he or she will look at mine. So there is no competition between writers. Another writer’s success helps build a larger readership for all of us.” – David Farland

“Biography is the medium through which the remaining secrets of the famous dead are taken from them and dumped out in full view of the world. The biographer at work, indeed, is like the professional burglar, breaking into a house, rifling through certain drawers that he has good reason to think contain the jewelry and money, and triumphantly bearing his loot away. The voyeurism and busybodyism that impel writers and readers of biography alike are obscured by an apparatus of scholarship designed to give the enterprise an appearance of banklike blandness and solidity. The biographer is portrayed almost as a kind of benefactor. He is seen as sacrificing years of his life to his task, tirelessly sitting in archives and libraries and patiently conducting interviews with witnesses. There is no length he will not go to, and the more his book reflects his industry the more the reader believes that he is having an elevating literary experience, rather than simply listening to backstairs gossip and reading other people’s mail. The transgressive nature of biography is rarely acknowledged, but it is the only explanation for biography’s status as a popular genre. The reader’s amazing tolerance (which he would extend to no novel written half as badly as most biographies) makes sense only when seen as a kind of collusion between him and the biographer in an excitingly forbidden undertaking: tiptoeing down the corridor together, to stand in front of the bedroom door and try to peep through the keyhole.” – Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes [Source:

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” – Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

“Ours is an age of exposure and self-exposure. Only what happens in public, we tend to believe, is really real; and it becomes more real the more people see it happen. This way of thinking is, among other things, hostile to literature. For literary experience begins in privacy, in the mind of the writer, and it is consummated in privacy, in the mind of the reader. Books are printed and sold, and reviewed, only in order to facilitate this kind of invisible intimacy. It follows that it is always impossible to say with certainty just where the genuine literary and intellectual life of any period is taking place, at least until it is over. Only later, sometimes much later, do the hidden traces of that life begin to surface.” – Adam Kirsch (in a New Republic review of Leopardi’s Zilbaldone; quoted by Patrick Kurp in his blog Anecdotal Evidence)

“What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure” – Samuel Johnson (from Johnsonian Miscellanies, ed. G.B. Hill, 1897; quoted by Patrick Kurp at his blog Anecdotal Evidence, January 22, 2020)

“Some writers we stick with for life. . . .  Reading them is like a happy marriage. With others it’s more of a crush or adolescent infatuation. I’m smitten but eventually turn fickle and unfaithful. I won’t take their calls, and I cross the street when I see them approach. . . . No regrets but keep your distance, please. – Patrick Kurp at his blog Anecdotal Evidence, February 19, 2020.

“No amount of trendy postmodern theory can alter the meaningful relationships that bibliophiles forge with the writers they love. If the cult of the author still exerts influence on today’s readers, it is because reading is an act of communication, not an act of isolation. Books are not inert text but rather points of intersection, windows into the experiences and worlds of other people.” – Rebecca Rothfield; quoted by Christopher Adamson at his blog The Golden Echo

“Reading is a pact of generosity between the author and reader. Each one trusts the other; each one counts on the other, demands of the other as much as he demands of himself….” – Jean-Paul Sartre, Literature and Existentialism; quoted by Christopher Adamson at his blog The Golden Echo

“Falling in love with a book is a unique and sometimes strange experience; it’s not hard to make the leap from adoring a novel to adoring its creator. The writer Justin Cronin compares it to a celebrity crush: “When you read a book, you spend hours in intimate contact with the mind of another person — it’s an intense, but one-sided relationship. If any reader knew who we really were, it’s guaranteed they’d find us disappointing. The experience of a book is so much better than the experience of a person.” – Margo Rabb (quoted by “Damian” at his blog A Sunday of Liberty)

“Writing a book is an extraordinarily disproportionate act: What can be consumed in a matter of hours takes years to bring to fruition. That is its virtue. And the rare patience a book still demands of a reader—those precious slow hours of deep focus—is also a virtue.” – Thomas Chatterton Williams (“The People Who Don’t Read Books, The Atlantic, January 25, 2023; quoted by “Damian” at his blog A Sunday of Liberty)


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