What Writing is For

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Howard Jocabson (in Whatever It Is, I Don’t Like It; a book of his Independent columns) says that he writes to entertain. Not, note, to inform, or to open his readers’ minds, but to entertain. Not by constructing funny situations…but by sharing his thoughts, his perspective, his life. But, of course, in so doing he does open his readers’ minds…..but that’s not his intention. Intention, and motivation, are important; they inform the writing as it is formed, and imbue it with a deeper purpose (which sometimes shines through, but sometimes just hovers just out of reach of the conscious mind).

This book (Howard’s, that is), was a gift to me. Not from a loved one, no, but from Tesco. It sat on the reduced produce shelf with a £1 sticker on it. I stumbled across it whilst bending down to look for ball points (or some such), and there it was. At first I thought it might be one of his novels, because, dear reader (as he would say), Howard is a famous contemporary novelist (Man Booker winning, no less). And I don’t like novels. But, no. This is a book of his newspaper columns, for just a quid. Are Tesco mad? A gift. Which I bought. And have since devoured over the Christmas period. What a delight, and I’ve read many books this year (I won’t name them….it’s not their fault that this one arrived as it did), but this entertained me more than those. See. Entertained.

I have known Howard for many years. It was many, many years of reading his column before I realised that he was, in fact, a famous novelist. I thought he was just a fabulously entertaining newspaper columnist, but did, I confess, wonder how he got to be one. So, a double delight, this book (especially as I don’t read newspapers anymore – Twitter), being by Howard and not being one of his novels. Why, you may wonder, do I not like novels? Surely, in this day and age, novels are all there are…..(it’s what edu-types have been arguing over; what novels should our little darlings be made to read)…..but they are fiction, made up stories, and there is so much from reality that I still haven’t got to grips with. So, I don’t really have time for novels…although I have got to page 182 of Howard’s Man Booker prize winning novel, The Finkler Question. Trouble is, that’s where I’ve been stuck for 3 years. I thought I should make the attempt, given that it was by Howard, and it won a big prize. But,….well, it’s a novel. On the other hand, so is Nineteen Eighty Four, and the Dune Trilogy, and Hi-Fidelity……ah, maybe it’s just about reading priorities? All of these were great reads; a delight, and entertaining…just like Howard’s book of newspaper columns.

That’s what writing should be. As much writing as possible should be a delight, and entertaining, and a surprise to read…..even to its writer.

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