When I was fifteen (back in the last century), my dad bought me a copy of John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, a brand-new hardcover copy – a very big deal. I read the book hungrily, a book both technical and visionary, and carried it with me through all those moves of my twenties. Here’s a sampling:
The novelist Nicholas Delbanco has remarked that by the age of four one has experienced nearly everything one needs as a writer of fiction: love, pain, loss, boredom, rage, guilt, fear of death. The writer’s business is to make up convincing human beings and create for them basic situations and actions by means of which they come to know themselves and reveal themselves to the reader. For that one needs no schooling. But it’s by training – by studying great books and by writing – that one learns to present one’s fictions, giving them their due.
Which pretty much means: get down to work. I love fiction so much I find it almost incomprehensible that anyone would want to do anything else – like, say, teach kindergarten or litigate. My own teenage daughter’s natural inclinations bend towards art and photography, although she would never define or see herself as an artist. I remembered Gardner’s lines above when I saw this photo: her own way of taking things apart – a drinking glass, the kitchen table, sunlight – wondering how does this work? how does this look? what can I do?