Susanne Dunlap

Dining and Reading

In Uncategorized on December 14, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Ready for dinnerSunday evening, I had a little dinner party. Just two girlfriends. Quiet, lively, fun conversation. I worked for about 5 hours producing the dinner and setting the table and generally creating the ambience for such a gathering. The meal, when it was finally ready to consume, took about fifteen minutes all told to eat. With the “oohs” and “aahs” of delight coming from my friends (and my own tastebuds confirming that it was delicious), I considered the evening a great success.

Last year, I wrote a book. With hope, quite a few people will choose to consume it, just as I have devoured many books myself this year. Right now I’m cruising through Christopher Gortner’s Confessions of Catherine de Medici. I recently finished a lengthy feast of The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt. But however long it took me to read, I imagine it was a tiny fraction of the time it took Byatt to write it. And Christopher—I’m sorry I’m not stretching out my enjoyment, but you would write such fast, compelling reads!

And that’s the thing: writers labor long and hard over books, going through numerous versions and edits, a publishing process that can literally take years in some cases, to produce a book that will be gobbled down (with any luck) quickly, and leave the reader hungry for more. Unlike a nice dinner, though, the reader will probably have to wait about a year for another taste of that particular author’s offerings (assuming the backlist has already been read).

Of course, there is a difference in that a single meal can only be shared by a certain number of people, and once it’s over, that’s the end of it—except in the memories of those who partook in the first place. But a book does not have a shelf-life, or limitations, on its presence, its availability to be a source of enjoyment. It’s also likely that the people who sat at your table won’t publish nasty comments about the quality of your cooking, or compare you to their favorite chef at their favorite restaurant. But hey, it’s an honor to be reviewed.

Perhaps this is a trite comparison, but as a writer, I look forward to having others enjoy the fruits of my labors. I don’t think I could ever be someone who only wrote for myself, or wrote solely to be measured against some arcane standard, established by centuries of literary minds. The point is, after all, to tell a story. And if no one’s listening, why tell it?

So in this season of giving, I am happy—and privileged—to give to readers all over the world. I intend to keep doing so as long as I can write, and as long as I can keep getting published.

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  1. We certainly write for ourselves first, but we do have to publish for the public – or at least an audience somewhere. Appreciation of what one does as a writer is great from a general audience. It means a bit more when it comes from peers, or those who know how much of the heart and mind go into a written work.

  2. I am presently savouring the works of Elizabeth Kostova: unfortunately only two, but big books, and exquisite. The Swan Thieves is a delight, and like a box of marron glaces, needs to be enjoyed slowly, or it will run out too quickly. I wonder what The Historian is like: I am reading them in reverse order to how they were written.
    After Christmas, we shall be enjoying The Musician’s Daughter!

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