“What ya reading for?”

“What’s the point of writing?” said a friend of a friend. It was a rhetorical statement  rather than a question and one which is not, as you can imagine, music to the ears of a creative writing tutor. I didn’t waste my breath; it reminded me too much of the late Bill Hicks being asked in a Southern States diner, “What ya reading for?” However, it did make me think about an answer.

All writing aims to elicit an emotional response whether it’s evoked by an advert – “I really need cashmere-lined touchscreen gloves with micro conductors”, a political pamphlet – “I do like that Nigel Farage”, or a poem – “Crikey, that Pablo Neruda has just summed up my feelings about the transient nature of life and inevitability of death.” A good joke, a piece of comic writing, provokes a gut reaction ­– the laugh;  a ghost story makes you jump at shadows; a moving poem prompts a visceral tear; a sharp satire engenders indignation coupled with a wry smile.
Copywriters, spin doctors, poets and comics know all about why we write and what we can achieve by doing so. Kipling engendered patriot self-sacrifice in generations of young men; Churchill’s speeches gave a national courage and determination; DH Lawrence made the same nation talk about sex with Lady Chatterley’s Lover, while decades later Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying made a few actually do it; Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrathguilt-tripped the US congress into aiding migrant workers in 1939; James Baldwin made 1950s America feel what it meant to be black with Go Tell it on the Mountain, and black and gay with Giovanni’s Room; Sir Salmon Rushdie made people want to eat cream cakes with his slogan “Naughty but nice” and other people, possibly some of the same people, want to kill him with his novel Satanic Verses.
Writing can inform, inspire, impassion, inflame and irk. It communicates ideas, questions ideologies, undermines civilisation as we know it, and sells cereals. Writing can promote the wearing of green bowler hats or the emancipation of women. Writers gain self-fulfilment, self-expression, entertainment, cathartic therapy, and sometimes fame and fortune. Now if any one asks me this inane question again I can text them a link to the blog with a disgusted emoticon. So there!
Ardella Jones