Reading and Writing

“Beyond the First Draft” is a collection of essays about writing. Because they are about writing, they’re also about reading. For John Casey, as I would judge for most good writers, it’s difficult to separate the two activities. One feeds into the other, and the process is repeated in reverse. No doubt there are exceptions, because there is scarcely a rule to which there aren’t, but it is rare to find a writer who wasn’t first, and for a long part of his life, a devoted and compulsive reader, though not necessarily a discriminating one.

Eventually some writers may get beyond reading, but if they do so, it usually means that they are beyond writing too. The narrator of Somerset Maugham’s novel “Cakes and Ale” visits the home of celebrated novelist Edward Driffield, whom he had known in the author’s less reputable youth. There is a library with books neatly and tastefully arranged by the novelist’s second wife, but, on seeing a pile of magazines, the narrator remarks wryly that if Driffield now read anything it was probably only “the Gardeners’ Chronicle.”

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