Happy Birthday, James Wood, born 1 November 1965
- Literature differs from life in that life is amorphously full of detail, and rarely directs us toward it, whereas literature teaches us to notice. Literature makes us better noticers of life; we get to practice on life itself; which in turn makes us better readers of detail in literature; which in turn makes us better readers of life.
- The acquisition of a book signalled not just the potential acquisition of knowledge but also something like the property rights to a piece of ground: the knowledge became a visitable place.
- Fiction is most effective when its themes are unspoken. An ideal fiction has a kind of thematic ghostliness, whereby the novel marks its meanings most strongly as it passes, as it disappears, rather as on a street snow gets dirtier, more marked, as it disappears.
- Death gives birth to the first question—Why?—and seems to kill all the answers.
- Although we move forward through a story, the entire story is already complete—we hold it in our hands. In this sense, fiction, the great life-giver, also kills, not just because people often die in novels and stories but, more important, because, even if they don’t die, they have already happened.
James Wood is an English literary critic, essayist and novelist. He is a Professor of Literary Criticism at Harvard and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. His books include The Book Against God and How Fiction Works. He is married to novelist, Claire Messud.
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