If you’re a writer or a reader and have time to spare, I hope you’ll spend a few moments considering Sofia Samatar’s “Fiat Lux: On Literary Atmospheres” on the “Poets And Writers” Website. It’s one of their series of craft capsules.
At my age, I usually avoid these craft capsules because I know that the good and bad things I do with words will continue because, really, I’m not going to change. I almost didn’t read this article, but after a few words, I was hooked.
Words create places just as surely as the universe creates a river or a mountain. As Samatar puts it, “To write is to generate a space, with its topography, its temperature, the quality of its air.”
This is what we do when we tell a story.
And like any other tourist destination, it is–for the reader–a real place just as surely as the Grand Canyon and Glacier National Park are living and breathing locations. And like these places which we may visit more than once, we can visit stories more than once.
As Samatar sees it, “A question of rereading. Once you know what a book contains, why read it again? Because literature is not information. It’s an atmosphere, a location, a space, a landscape you can enter, with its own weather and light that can be found nowhere else.” And also: “Rereading means returning to a landscape: running down ill-lit streets, gliding through radiant fields, climbing up mountains buffeted by the wind.”
Every time I visit a place, whether it’s a friend’s or relative’s house or a widely known location in a travel guide, I see what I missed the last time I was there. The same is true of a novel or a story. It may seem finite inasmuch as the words on the page are the same every time I return. But I am not the same. I experience the story differently every time I re-read it; or, perhaps, I find myself interested in chapters and sections that didn’t wholly capture my attention the first or second or third time through the material.
As writers, we create real places we hope others will visit and one day return to for another look.