Faulkner And I

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but maybe I only imagined I’d done so, but the text I found, a hand-written letter by Faulkner, I’ll never forget. I’d spent lots of time in the library, but never really explored it, you know? Like many libraries, they had a special collections section. I’d never been there. None of my classes required reading anything from the special collections, and that part of the library was inhabited by old people. Like seriously old. Grandma old. Great grandma even. What ever was in there was as old as they were, or older. Anyway, here’s the thing. By accident, or maybe because it was raining outside and I wanted to stay dry, I cut through the special collections wing of the building so I could race from the exit there to the next building and the next and so forth, staying inside the whole way. Only on my way, I came across this display case, and in it was a first edition of some book by Faulkner, and next to that lay the letter. The ink was brown and the paper yellow, and the shape and antiquity of the words caught my attention. I read the letter, a ‘thanks but no’ letter to the university in response to a request that he come and talk about his works. I guess we’d just send an email or text him an emoji if we wanted to do that these days. Back then, written communication was complicated and took effort. The words he wrote, about how the task of the reader was in no way connected to the task of the writer, gave me pause. He went on to explain that his motivations for writing his stories were unrelated to the interpretation, and that he’d done his part in the writing. It was up to the reader to do their part in the reading for themselves. At the time, I thought he was copping out, but my thoughts kept returning to his words, and the more I digested, the more I realized he challenged me more by expecting me to do my part than he could have by explaining the stories to me. It was, and is, up to me, up to all of us to read and inwardly digest.

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