Brief Ramble on Reading as a Gateway Drug

“The way is suspicious, the result uncertain, perhaps destructive”

Walt Whitman

I read a Whitman poem from 1860 called Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand which is part of book 5 of Leaves of Grass.

As a poem it’s generally agreed to refer to the various types of attraction between males (erotic and platonic), but if you squint it can be taken to refer to the problem of being seduced by books, especially being seduced by writing.

Another line:

“Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting.”

This is not a recognised interpretation. I came at the poem from a lay perspective and drew from it what I wanted.

Virginia Woolf in the novel Orlando wrote:

“For once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the inkpot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.”

Woolf here states something that anyone who loves reading knows intimately: a reader falls in love with words and the making of sentences. It is a pleasure stronger and more enduring than any drug addiction. Reading is a gateway drug to writing. This can be seen from an early stage, from childhood. The writing need not be good, but it emanates from the same place where the love of reading dwells, which means it is its own reward. There’s no real money in writing despite what you may have heard. Yes, there are a few superstars, but most who embark upon it won’t make much cheddar. 

From my perspective it feels good to mould words into a narrative, to transfer my thoughts from my brain into that of a stranger (writing as telepathy, cribbed from Stephen King’s On Writing). The first time I wrote a story I was absolutely happy with was 2013 and the feeling was unbelievable. I felt a peace that I had never experienced before. No, I lie. I once wrote about a biographical traumatic event and felt better as soon as I dropped my pen, but that’s a narrative for another day.

Writing is cool, cruel, capricious and perhaps contagious. You have no idea where it will take you, but the journey is quite a ride. 

 

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