Assessment of the Printed Word

Here I was on the night of my birthday drinking alone in a small pub. They say you get wiser every year. Well, I didn’t feel very wise. I felt stupid. Stupid for not having settled in yet. Stupid for not having a college degree or holding down a decent job or maybe even adopting a house pet.

I was drawn back on a conversation I had with my publisher a few days earlier. We had a drink and he advised me to stop writing as much. ‘You bring me beautiful stuff every time,’ he said, ‘that it’s hard for me to turn you down. But the print industry is declining by 40% and no one is reading printed books anymore.’

They were running away from writers, they were running away from words, they were running away from truths. Those who sought to learn about love, travel to different places or experience other lives still wanted all those things – they just didn’t want to do them through books.

And writers are the ones who take on the personalities to express these things. They become the best friends, the alcoholics, the perverts, the psychopaths…

But people don’t fall in love with writers. People fall in love with people. Writing is only a means to a greater end, a necessary means the majority thinks it can bypass.

But they forget about the secrets of the written word. They forget that it’s like a song. Someone out there has put in tremendous effort to compose it – that same person could have gone through a terrible experience and summoned every ounce of courage to talk about it – only for others to benefit from it.

Those teenagers riding back home on the school bus listening to a sad love song by The Cure never stop to think about the original experience behind it. They just enjoy the music and maybe sing along to it and match it with their own experiences.

It’s similar with writing. It takes the same path from experience to creation – only the writer has more freedom in experimenting and being whatever he feels like being on the page.

My publisher showed me some of my earlier manuscripts I’d sent him. I read a few and almost failed to recognize myself in them. The style, the structure and the choice of words seemed vastly different from one work to the other. It’s almost as if they were written by different people.

He smiles at me and says, ‘It’s beautiful what you’ve managed to accomplish here. You’ve got a fine collection of works right here in your hands. It’s a shame no one will ever read them.’

But why wouldn’t they? The world was struggling right now – it was sick with rage, sick with fear, sick with racism, sick with judgment, sick with all kinds of phobias and false beliefs. It needed a cure. It needed enlightenment. It needed truth.

I told my publisher about a trip I took north of the country. It led me to a small lodge in the countryside. It overlooked the borders and a beautiful green valley of rare plants and trees.

I told him how that trip opened my eyes to things. Things besides drinking and sleeping with women I barely knew and obsessing about writing perfectly. There was never a clear answer to anything we did in this world. There was never going to be any. We think that with our latest technologies and data management facilities we own an explanation to everything through statistics and numbers.

But we are wrong. We can’t always refer to science to explain it all. You see, that little kid having a hard time at school – that little prodigy with perfect scores on his science exams but virtually no social life – might revert to a book and choose to find friendship in it.

The girl dating a junkie secretly without her parents’ knowledge might have fallen for a fictional character who displays the traits she desires in a perfect man.

There are ideals we cannot run from. Serious questions that are still unanswered and new ones that are being asked every day.

So why bother writing books about them? Why not?

There is a small bottle of Jim Beams’ on the table. My publisher and I have just finished it. It’s sour apple flavored whiskey. He drinks it bitterly while I lick my lips after each sip for maximum taste.

‘I’m leaving you my old unpublished manuscripts’, I tell him. ‘I’m giving you the new one as well. My part is done. You do what you want with them.’

I got up, shook his hand and left. On my way out I wondered why I placed so much faith in that man. He seemed so unsure of himself and his work. He seemed to genuinely fear for books and the publishing industry.

Maybe that was it. That genuine feeling of insecurity, that fear of losing something so precious to you – maybe that was what made him so good at what he did in the first place. He loved this business the way I loved to write and turn ideas into books.

When I started the meeting with my publisher I was hesitant as to whether I wanted to keep pushing to publish my work. I didn’t want to see my books fail the way I had failed at life just to write them. I wanted them to be the little glow that came out of my cracks and shone brighter than all the darkness filling me.

Well now I was sure. I was sure I wanted to publish the works. If Hemingway had decided his work wasn’t worth a damn, where would half the people living today be? We’d probably have a different world map with different continents and a different land-sea ratio. We’d have a different decomposition in the air matter we breathe and the food we eat. We’d taste water differently.

Words are shock waves sent through generations. They cause a massive ripple effect that reaches the four corners of the globe. They call it the butterfly effect. I call it music. Because just like the sad song you used to listen to every morning on your way to school, they too resonate in space and through the flapping pages of a bound book.

***

Be sure to check out my debut novel, A Road Away From Home, available on Amazon Kindle for 2.99$ and now in hard copy.

A Road Away From Home – Hanna Abi Akl

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