You and I are having a conversation now. You can’t see me, and I can’t see you, but we’re communicating. Actually, we’re collaborating. More of that later. It’s delightful to think of you there, dear reader, wherever there is. I’m wondering if you’re seated in a thick leather chair. Or perhaps if you’re lucky, on the beach in one of those low-slung, striped canvas chairs with the pleasant sound of the ocean in the background, and the smell of suntan oil in the air. Wish I were there! Or maybe you’re in bed—excuse me for coming in without knocking—with a slew of fat pillows to prop you up and your best reading light illuminating the way. Or maybe you’re on the bus, making your way ever so slowly across town, reading away. Wherever you are, you’ve got a book—or, in this case, a website page—in front of you, and you’re reading the words I’ve written. For which I am extremely grateful.
It’s lovely to think of you there with a book—let’s just call it that—open before you, and your eyes following these printed words of mine across the page. Droll, isn’t it? When you think about it a little too much, it’s pretty strange how these inky symbols come alive in your mind and produce images, thoughts, characters, emotions—even tastes and smells. Are you smiling in agreement? Did you raise an eyebrow? Did you say, almost involuntarily,“Hmmm, yes, thatis a bit strange!” Well, I don’t blame you. Itis.
The fact is, we’re in this together—you and I—dear reader. We really are, because without you, as the song goes, I’m nothing. (This is the collaboration part I promised you.) It’s you who make these words spring to life. You read, and through the process of reading, produce a kind of animation. I suppose it’s something like the confluence of amino acids and lightening that first produced life—or so they say. Writer plus reader equals a living story. So, in many ways, you’re partly the writer, too. Without you, the story is never really finished. You provide the magic ingredient—let’s call it Inspirato!—that—poof!—turns these words into something more than mere flat, two-dimensional—or is it one dimensional?—words. Yes, you do that. You should be proud of yourself, dear reader. It’s quite something, this act of mental alchemy you’re performing this very minute. If ever there was magic, this is it.
Dear reader, I don’t know if you’re tall or short, female or male, old or young, married or single, left-handed or right-handed, have blue eyes or black, are interested in gardening, haven’t done your taxes, are allergic to pollen, own a Lincoln Towncar, live in an apartment, love candy, hate animals, smoke cigars, pluck your eyebrows, drink only decaf, or snore. But I do know one thing: you love to read. I’m pleased as punch about that. Not only because I love to read, too, but, because, well, I write. My ideal reader? Any reader is an ideal reader, actually. I’m just happy you’re cuddled up with me, as it were. I’m delighted, whoever you are. If you’re reading this while eating cornflakes or working out on the treadmill or just before you fall off to sleep, it’s all good. Just that you’re there, is all that really counts.
I think about you all the time. I do. I know that since your reading time is so precious, you want to make sure, as best you can, that the time is devoted to a good book. You want to be involved with an author who has done his or her job, with all the craft and heart he or she can muster. You want to know that an author has given it all he or she has got. You deserve that. Anything less, especially in this age when your time seems to be devoured almost indiscriminately, seems felonious. Believe me, I take this demand seriously. I want you to be happy, dear reader. I want you to be satisfied, to be content. I want you to feel justified in plunking down your twenty (or more) hard-earned dollars to buy my words. Oh, yes, I think money is a good way to ponder this. You earned your money by the sweat of your brow, and I like to think that my writing, if I’ve done my job, is worth every cent. After all, you could just as well be spending that money toward a new jacket for your son or daughter, or toward painting that extra bedroom, or for buying a good bottle of wine, or on the horse races. But no, you’re spending it on my words. I want to sleep easy at night, knowing I’ve given you your money’s worth, knowing I haven’t cheated you.
Which is why I think every waiter or waitress should read D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers before they step out and serve, before they go forth to meet the public. I’m thinking of the scene that takes place in Nottingham when young Paul Morel and his mother have lunch in a restaurant—a huge extravagance for them. In fact, Paul, the son of a coal miner, has never eaten in a restaurant. They find the waitress ignores them, and, when finally Mrs. Morel asks for some service, is insolent. That scene has stayed with me for over forty years and has made me think that you never know in a restaurant if there is a customer who has saved their money for perhaps a year for one rare, special meal. So it is I feel with my writing. You may not have saved for a year—or maybe you have!—but you have still decided to spend your good money on my book, or on my essay, and I don’t want you to regret that decision. I want to treat you well.
Once or twice, dear reader, I’ve actually had a chance to get to know you in the flesh. One day, I was walking home—home is a neighborhood in New York City—and I saw you reading my book in a cafe. There you were, seated outdoors, my book in your hands. I had to blink to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. Yes, it was true. You looked reasonably content. I think you may have even had a smile on your face. Or was it a scowl? I’m not really sure, because, in fact, I didn’t stop to introduce myself. I hurried on and left you to your reading. (I remember reading that the same thing happened to Thomas Wolfe. He was riding a bus and saw someone reading his book, his first book, and it was all he could do not to talk to the reader.) Because the truth is, this is the kind of relationship we both want. Separate bedrooms, as it were. You don’t want to have to make small talk to me. Anyway, I’m not that interesting. Besides, I wouldn’t know what to say. Nice weather we’re having, and don’t you love that book of mine? To tell you the truth, I’d much rather meet you between the pages. It feels more comfy there. If you want to leave any time, why you can just put me down and walk away. Or nod off to sleep. No excuses needed. No words of apology. Isn’t that an ideal kind of relationship, dear reader—for both of us? So, no stopping to say hello and introduce myself as the writer of that book you’ve got in your hands.
Anyway, the last thing I want to do is to interrupt your reading.
This article originally appeared in The Writer magazine.