Because of the scarcity of novels in the past, the earlier writers of fiction read from the book of life. The modern writer first reads about life in books, and it is fiction that makes him a writer. If he chooses to read all the books that he should, he may well be depressed by their achievement, and shaped to eds that exceed his talents: if he fails to read them he does so at the risk of being ignorant of his calling. The Waste Land has been written, Gatsby has been written, scores of great minor writers have sounded the note appropriate to their age and their talent, and on the evidence a state of innocence is of limited use to the writer of novels. He needs must know, even if what he knows is more that he can bear.
When the elusive truth appears to be cornered, the game loses interest.
In what measure does our need to possess what is new transform it, on the instant, into what is old? There is a loss - and the writer is the first to sense it - when he labors to explicitly clarify what is better left implicit. When we give what is vague in order to be clear, we may have given up the motive for writing.
The ideal reader of fiction is hard to determine, as teachers of literature have long known. We have no true way of appraising what a reader gets from a book. Good fiction, especially, would seem to be at the mercy of the reader's vulnerability. If he is en garde he is off target. He must be open to fiction at precisely those points where he has been closed to life. To ask all of that is too much, of course, and readers and writers are both losers. To the extent a work of fiction can mean se much, it is dismaying to find it can mean very little. The novel and the reader wait on the chance that will bring them together, like lovers. No two readers, if the fiction is good, can be said to have read the same novel. Non-fiction can be appraised in regard to its content, and sensibly discussed in regard to its message, but the good story or the great novel is possessed, if at all, on individual levels that are unique. The work of fiction that unlocks the soul of one reader is, by its nature, closed to many others. Readers of Hemingway are seldom readers of D. H. Lawrence. These two writers alone contradict the notion that a single reality waits to be captured.
It is sometimes easy [...] for the writer to persuade himself that he is flirting with vaguely extrasensory perceptions, but these perceptions, where they prove to exist, are merely the function of his talent. The way he shapes a line, the way he fashions a scene, the way he is impllicit of explicit, bears in mind the reader he might be himself, if he were not a writer, and the fiction he would like to read if he were not obligated to write it.
What we choose to call "style" is the presence in the fiction of the power to choose and mold its reader. The sought-for reader, in this view, is the first of the fictions the writer must create, and it is why, for such a writer, the opening lines of a work are so important. There is the voice that seeks to hold one reader enthralled, turn another away. From a vast surround of indifferent readers this reader has been shaped to be the true believer, or so the writer hopes. To this end he both bends and shapes his talent. In this knowledge the writer is empowered to write with more assurance than he otherwise might, and the reader is vested with more than his customary talents to read. Writer and reader are part of a single imaginative act. Most writers would like to mount such readers as trophies, forgetting, in their need, that they are fictions. To these ideal, built-in, nonexistent readers they dedicate their books.