Origin of Great Books

Dear Reader,

The greatest books crawl out of wonderfully unpleasant environments: fetid sewers, mucky swamps, decaying teeth. They’re ill-bred rascals with putrid breath that exhale into your nose. They’re indigestion, gangrene, sulfuric emotions. They’re vivisections, frostbite, vomit. They’re cunning and “thick,” and they want you.

There’s no hiding from them, not in dreams, not in work, not in love. There’s no outrunning them, either. They’re artfully fast, eternally in the way.

Great books nag and nip, poke and pick, until you’re worn down, until you’ve no resistance left and your only means for survival is saying, “Yes.” Then, you can begin to slop up your shoes; grass stain your clothes; cuss, burp and snort; make love sans restraint; wash down éclairs with port wine; sleep; sing; spit.

It’ll be distressing at first, this wanton abandoning of profundity and order for decadence and grit. But before long you’ll get an inkling of the “you” that once fried mudburgers on the sidewalk, the you that baked poison-berry cakes, the you that squeezed rotten tomatoes between your fingers then flung them at your brothers. You’ll find that you will shed all that squeaks of tidiness to wallow in the slime and guts of the story you must tell.

You’ll be tempted to terminate your struggle and may even stop writing—for a while. But the greatest books thrive on torturing you. You’ll try to hold out, but sooner or later you’ll break, “talk,” and—hopefully—get very, very dirty.

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