The Millions

Why We Read and Why We Write

Samuel Johnson said the greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write. But reading, unlike writing, is a pursuit decidedly devoid of glory. Ideally, it cultivates the quiet virtues of patience, attention, and self-denial. Yet, in the broader scheme of literary life, the pressure to write, to produce, to broadcast a voice and, with it, a reputation, always beckons. Regrettably, readers are often subject to the scorn of some writers, with the latter sometimes treating the former as mere consumers, incapable or unwilling to produce “work.” Sheila Liming, in her recent essay “In Praise of Not Not Reading,” recounts a male colleague pursuing an MFA in fiction tell her he literally didn’t believe in reading. “I’m a writer, I make things,” he said, “whereas you’re a reader, you consume things.”

Liming’s colleague is acting out what she describes as “producerist” ideology. And this

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