“I also saw that invariably what made the work of a good book affecting—and this was something implicit in the writing, trapped somewhere in the nerves of the prose—was some haunted imagining (as though coming from the primeval unconscious) of human existence with the rift healed, the parts brought together, the hunger for connection put in brilliant working order. Great literature, I thought then and think now, is a record not of the achievement of wholeness of being but of the ingrained effort made on its behalf.”

From: Notes of a Chronic Rereader

“Within days I had met Kate Millett, Susan Brownmiller, Shulamith Firestone, and Ti-Grace Atkinson. It seemed as though they were all talking at once, and yet I heard every word each of them spoke. Or, rather, it was that I must have heard them all saying the same thing, because I came away from that week branded by a single thought. It was this: the idea that men by nature take their brains seriously and women by nature do not is a belief, not an inborn reality: it serves the culture and is central to how all our lives take shape. The inability to see oneself primarily as a working person: this, I now saw, was the central dilemma of a woman’s existence.”

From: Notes of a Chronic Rereader

“I wanted badly to call that out, as everyone else was calling out whatever hurt most, but he terrified me (one can hardly imagine the strength of Baraka’s public presence in those painfully inspired days), so I kept silent, went home, and, burning with a sense of urgency I couldn’t really account for, sat up half the night describing the entire event from the perspective of my one great insight; and discovering, as I wrote, what was to become my natural style. Using myself as a participating narrator, it was my instinct to set the story up as if writing a fiction (“The other night at the Vanguard … ”) in order to put my readers behind my eyes, have them experience the evening as I had experienced it, feel it viscerally as I had felt it (“I’ve paid my dues, LeRoi. You know I’ve paid my dues!”), then come away moved and instructed by the poignancy not of Art and Politics, but Life and Politics. Although I did not then know it, it was personal journalism that I had begun to practice.”

From: Notes of a Chronic Rereader

“I had to laugh when, a few years ago, I came across an essay by Delmore Schwartz in which he (Schwartz) takes Edmund Wilson to task for Wilson’s shocking lack of interest in literary form. For Schwartz, form was integral to the meaning of a literary work; for Wilson, what mattered was not how books were written but what they were talking about, and how they affected the culture at large. His habit, always, was to place a book in its social and political context. This perspective allowed him to pursue a line of thought that let him speak of Proust and Dorothy Parker in the same sentence, or compare Max Eastman favorably with André Gide. For Schwartz, this was pure pain. For me, it was inexpressibly rewarding. And what could have been more natural than that the way I read was the way I would begin to write”

From: Notes of a Chronic Rereader