Saturday, November 15, 2008


In Lectures on Literature (1980), Vladimir Nabokov writes that "the good reader is one who has imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense - which sense I propose to develop in myself and in others whenever I have the chance." Of those listed, which do you think is most important to being a good reader? How does that translate to writing? Is a good reader the same as being a good writer?

"Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s."
-Stephen King "On Writing"

Reading and writing come down to the same thing, imagination. Without that, you can go no further. Or rather, you could, but what would be the point. From a reading perspective, imagination is the key to the door. From a writing perspective, imagination is the door.

Who hasn't, as a child, sat with eyes closed trying to "see" action as it is described in a story. From the earliest age, its imagination that makes the journey worth taking. Retention, vocabulary and aesthetic, those things come later. They serve to decorate they scene and enhance the experience, but without the primary component of imagination, there seems to be little point.

That the same goes for writing would seem to be self evident, but it bear noting that it is possible to be a writer, and a successful one at that, with a very limited imagination. A good writer diversifies. A great writer utilizes an additional, or even all four of Nabokov's tools and does so in a skillful manner. Whether it's Neil Gaiman's aesthetic, Stephen King's epic recollection of his own work and or Cormac McCarthy's shame inducing vocabulary, these qualities are used in conjunction with boundless imagination. And it's usually these qualities that the readers of these particular authors share with them. Though not necessary, enjoyment of Stephen King's Dark Tower series is enhanced if you've read and recall details from the almost 40 years his fiction that get referenced throughout. And try reading ANY Cormac McCarthy novel without a vocabulary, or at the very least a comprehensive dictionary.

Does being a good reader translate to being a good writer? No more than being a baseball fan makes you a good player. But above all, being a good writer means being a good reader. Without a love and appreciation of the medium, well, what's the point? Again, King provides the definitive opinion on the subject.

"If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
-Stephen King

Morrissey - Reader Meet Author

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