Mass, Energy, and How Literature Transforms the Dead Weight of Being: Jeanette Winterson on Why We Read

“A book needs to be the axe for the frozen sea inside us,” Kafka composed to his childhood good friend simply as he was setting out on a life of making and refining axes of words. As a kid, Jane Goodall read herself into her unexampled life. As a girl cusping on adulthood, Helen Fagin read herself alive through the Holocaust.

Art by Ofra Amit from A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader. Offered as a print, benefiting The New York Public Library.Jeanette Winterson– one of the finest writers and thinkers of our time, a maker of axes and lifelines welded and woven of words– takes up the topic of why we read, a topic on which a reader is lured to think absolutely nothing novel might be stated, with uncommon splendor of insight in the introduction to the Audible edition of her 1985 classic Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (town library).

We read for countless reasons and books change us in many methods, reckoned and unreckoned. We read the method we like– with our whole selves, with the flickering constellation of values, longings, injuries, joys, hopes, despairs, developmental experiences, and half-remembered impressions composing the self. We check out with our whole being, however we likewise read ourselves into being as each book silently reconfigures the constellation with its cosmogony of concepts and the psychological trip on which it takes us, so that we emerge from it a different self. That, too, is how love changes us.

Winterson begins where books start– in the life and mind of the author, a truth so fundamental we have grown blind to its magic: How is it that a single individuals experience can end up being basic material for something that speaks to generations of complete strangers, something that shapes selves significantly various from the authors and from each others? She considers what it takes to write from a deeply individual place in such a way that bridges the abyssal divide between awareness:

The trick is to turn your own life into something that has significance for people whose experience is absolutely nothing like your own. Compose what you understand is affordable recommendations. Read what you dont understand is much better advice.

The unidentified in life– the unknown in ourselves, the unknowns of the world– is constantly a double-edged sword of thrill and terror. The unidentified in literature, Winterson observes in consonance with the main truth of life– the reality that we are always figuring ourselves forward in an unpredictable universe– becomes a safe vessel from which to check out the uncharted territories of our knowledge and our self-knowledge:

Reading is an adventure. Adventures have to do with the unidentified. When I began to check out seriously I was excited and comforted all at the exact same time. Literature is a mix of unfamiliarity and recognition. The situation can take us anywhere– across time and area, the globe, through the lives of people who can never ever resemble us– into the heart of distress we have never ever felt– crimes we might not dedicate.
Yet as we travel deeper into the strange world of the story, the feeling we get is of being comprehended– which is odd when you consider it, because at school learning is based upon whether we comprehend what we are reading. It is the story (or the poem) that is comprehending us.
Books read us back to ourselves.

Art by Beatrice Alemagna for A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader.In a belief particularly resonant to those of us who read ourselves through tough lives, and out of them, and into improbable new lives, Winterson counsels on how to finest checked out for self-transformation:

Art by Violeta Lópiz from A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader. Readily available as a print, benefiting The New York Public Library.Complement with Rebecca Solnit on how books empower, solace, and transform us and Alain de Botton on books as portals to self-understanding, then revisit Winterson on how art and storytelling redeem our inner lives, the paradox of active surrender at the heart of all art, and her 10 rules of writing

One of the important things the story teaches us is this: Read yourself as a fiction as well as a reality.
When I was growing up poor in a bad location with a set of Pentecostal parents who were waiting for Jesus to return and roll up time and area like a scroll, I never believed my life was narrow or my opportunities bleak. I thought I was Heathcliff, Huck Finn, Hotspur, Aladdin, the Big Bad Wolf. The Fish with a Golden Ring.
And later on, when I had actually left home at sixteen and was residing in a Mini, I had my favourite books stashed in the boot and whenever I might be in the library, I existed. This wasnt a dream world or escapism– though it was an escape; it was the concealed door in the blank wall. Open it.
I went and opened the book through.
The escape into another story reminds us that we too are another story. Not captured, not restricted, not predestined, not only one gender or passion. Discovering to read yourself as a fiction along with a reality is liberating– it is the difference between energy and mass. Mass is the precious item– the world we can feel and touch– however mass is likewise the dead weight in ourselves and others.
Shifting the dead weight takes energy however at its atomic core the dead weight is energy. Transforming mass into energy, energy into mass is what innovative work is about.

As a kid, Jane Goodall read herself into her unexampled life. We checked out for many factors and books transform us in many ways, reckoned and unreckoned. We checked out the way we like– with our entire selves, with the flickering constellation of values, longings, traumas, delights, hopes, despairs, formative experiences, and half-remembered impressions composing the self. We check out with our whole being, but we likewise read ourselves into being as each book silently reconfigures the constellation with its cosmogony of concepts and the psychological voyage on which it takes us, so that we emerge from it a various self. Finding out to read yourself as a fiction as well as a fact is liberating– it is the distinction between energy and mass.