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The Reading Public

Found this little 29 page gem when I was waiting at Yale in the library for Greg to be done with his conference. It’s a private printing of a short essay written by Jessamyn West on the subject of readers and their writers, or the reverse. It was sent to friends for New Year’s and I’d never heard of it before

Like many private printings, this one is quite attractive, though not too precious. In it, West recounts a talk she went to in which the speaker [identified by her, forgotten by me] extolls the virtues of flowerly, even purple, prose and castigates those who simply write in plain language. West disagrees with this approach and writes the remainder of this short essay explaining why. She posits three rhetorical questions to her audience

  1. Is an unread book a book?
  2. Can a writer exist without a reader?
  3. What is the influence of the reader on the writer?

As part of her answering of these questions, she examines letters from some of her readers, explaining and reading into their letters what they had expected to find in her books and in her writing. The book, or long pamphlet really, is completely delightful and really shows some of West’s amusing and thoughtful critical style of writing in addition to her skill with the English language.