The Purpose of a Book Explained by a Writer

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” That’s how R. R. Martin explains books in “A Dance With Dragons”. In the age of the internet when trillions of web pages, each full of its own brand of insights and wisdom, are within arm’s reach of us at all times reading a book, in whatever format, seems a little antiquated.

As a writer you’d expect me to instantly tell you to read more and buy more books, often but that’s not quite what I will do here. After all, this is the age of transparency where social media has created a level playing field for us all. A writer is also a reader at some point and then his choices of what to read and when, become every bit as eclectic and dictated by need and circumstances as that of any other reader.

So, on World Book Day, I will readily admit that the question of “why should a reader buy a book” is one I have struggled with often. Writers write books for as many reasons as there are writers. Some write the books they would like to read. Others write books because they are compelled by a burgeoning force inside them that feels like a demon clawing at their innards, itching to get out. Others still write because a book is something that they find compelling. Its length and ability to form a deeper binder for their content than say a web page or an article that comes out in print. All serious writers write to make a living.

So, whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, whether it has been written due to an insatiable force that demanded its creation or was the result of something a little more planned, in order to work, each one has to answer the same question: does it have real value? Does it answer a question? Solve a problem? Open up the reader’s mind to greater possibilities?

Because a book has some length, out of necessity it also needs depth. Depth adds weight to it (and I am being a little metaphysical here) which means that whether it is fiction or non-fiction, without a structure that provides a progression which can lead to a revelation of sorts for the reader (the aha! moment all writers strive for) a book would collapse.

Consider that it’s fairly easy to carry an argument, any argument over the space of 1,000 words. This is what makes articles so easy to read and so great to engage with. Anything presented within them has been curtailed and shaped to some extent. The writing and editing that creates them speaks, at times, of blind spots and omissions or unarticulated knowledge and wide assumptions. This is as it should be. An article can move a reader to tears or have her screaming with frustration but it should never be just consumed with indifference. That would be a waste of time on both the reader’s and the writer’s part.

A book on the other hand is more balanced. There is plenty of space within its length for the scope of the arguments that support it and the ideas which gave it birth to be examined from every angle. So, if an article is reader-bait, a tease intended to make a reader, struggling with information overload, react; a book is a full treatise. The writer performs open-cranium surgery. He delves deep within his thoughts and ideas and instead of pulling some out to package and present, he carves a path and invites the reader deep inside his innermost territory.

Dr Seuss described this well when in “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!” he wrote: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” Bearing in mind just how lonely an enterprise writing can be and how the writer who’s truly invested in his readers works hard to find ways to render the immaterial nature of his thoughts visible a book is also a vehicle of deeper communication. Readers get to know the writers they read, understand what’s important to them, feel their thoughts and get a sense of their priorities and, because the world of today is truly connected, that in itself helps break down barriers and forge new connections. Readers who Tweet to their writers or find them on Facebook or Google+ create a direct, immediate layer of feedback that for the writer, who usually works in the vacuum of his craft, can change everything.

In Shadowlands, William Nicholson wrote: “We read to know we're not alone.” It’s great to know that now we also write for that same reason.

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Published on March 03, 2016 09:56 Tags: world-book-day, writers, writing
Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)    post a comment »
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message 1: by Zara (new)

Zara Altair David, this is wonderful insight into the "book" element of writing. We're all here on GoodReads because we read. Love this perspective from the writer's side. Communication and conversation is our "writer's" connection.


message 2: by Nishant (new)

Nishant Maliakel oommen Hi David, Thanks for the insights. I agree with the part that a book should add value to the reader. I believe the value comes when the author invests time in creating something of novelty.


message 3: by David (new)

David Amerland Zara wrote: "David, this is wonderful insight into the "book" element of writing. We're all here on GoodReads because we read. Love this perspective from the writer's side. Communication and conversation is our..."

Zara, thank you and it is in that conversation with the readers, where the writer can no longer just hide behind his/her book that the deepest honesty develops.


message 4: by David (new)

David Amerland Nishant wrote: "Hi David, Thanks for the insights. I agree with the part that a book should add value to the reader. I believe the value comes when the author invests time in creating something of novelty."

Nishant, novelty, maybe. I think perhaps something that is original rather than novel (there is a slight but decisive difference between the two and it revolves around lasting value) and you're right about the investment in time and effort that is required. In addition I would say that whatever the writer creates also needs to be honest. And honesty, once you get past your first book as a writer, is hard to maintain without real effort.


message 5: by Zara (new)

Zara Altair Just so, David, because there is no hiding. :)

David wrote: "Zara wrote: "David, this is wonderful insight into the "book" element of writing. We're all here on GoodReads because we read. Love this perspective from the writer's side. Communication and conver..."


message 6: by Zara (new)

Zara Altair David, thank you for your reply. I agree that original--thought, interpretation, observation--is the value inside a book that touches a reader. Especially true in fiction where every story has been told. The writer's original approach to the story is what keeps the reader reading.

David wrote: "Nishant wrote: "Hi David, Thanks for the insights. I agree with the part that a book should add value to the reader. I believe the value comes when the author invests time in creating something of ..."


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David Amerland on Writing

David Amerland
Writing has changed. Like everything else on the planet it is being affected by the social media revolution and by the transition to the digital medium in a hyper-connected world. I am fully involved ...more
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