The Craft of Fiction

“The reader of a novel–by which I mean the critical reader–is himself a novelist; he is the maker of a book which may or may not please his taste when it is finished, but of a book for which he must take his own share of the responsibility.”–Percy Lubbock

Earlier this year I mentioned several books on writing that I turn to when my writing isn’t going well.  As it happens, both of my current books are going fine –I have a firm publication date (Dec. 2) for The Nun’s Dowry, and have just passed the 36,000 word mark in Juvenal’s Lament–but I’ve started reading The Craft of Fiction, by Percy Lubbock, anyway.

It was written in 1921 which means it’s a bit musty and formalistic–I’ve seen somewhere that Virginia Woolf and her Bloomsbury friends found Lubbock a trifle stuffy–but some of his ideas (I’ve only read 22 percent of the book) are timeless.  Perhaps the above quotation from Craft, which reiterates one of my own pet bromides, is the reason I give him the benefit of the doubt.

I’ve posted several pieces where my idea of the “good reader” is discussed.  He or she is the person who pays attention, remembers and doesn’t object when the author asks her to figure something out for herself.  She considers the ideas in the book, and enjoys the characters and the settings, and doesn’t demand that the plot be advanced with every word.

Lubbock’s “critical reader,” i.e., one who takes “his own share of responsibility” for the novel he’s reading, is the same person.  Lubbock goes on to explain the differences between the “critic” and the author, and concludes, “But in one quarter their work coincides; both of them make the novel.”  Lubbock was writing at a time when literary criticism was in its infancy, and he may have intended his book as a kind of text for “critics,” but I believe that any reader is a critic, and should be.

There is no book unless someone reads it, and no good book unless someone reads it well.  It’s truly a joint exercise.

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