The Lunatic Dialogues
In April I was invited to attend the Iceland Writers Retreat and give a talk about publishing at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík. If you’ve never been to Iceland, I highly recommend it. It’s by far the most geographically diverse—so beautiful yet stunningly bizarre—place I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. And Eliza Reid and Erica Green’s program is an ideal occasion to make the trip, as it combines a compelling lineup of lectures, workshops, and readings with opportunities to explore the country’s incredible geothermal pools, geysers, glaciers, and lava fields. And while I felt inspired and recharged in a way that only such long-distance travel can offer, I read astonishingly little during my visit—nothing, in fact, except a few pages of Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Viking, 2005), which, as a stranger in a strange land, felt somehow...necessary. But by and large my journey to and through Iceland provided a narrative that needed no supplement.
“Reading is a conversation,” wrote Alberto Manguel in A Reading Diary: A Passionate Reader’s Reflections on a Year of Books (FSG, 2004). “Lunatics engage in imaginary dialogues that they hear echoing somewhere in their minds; readers engage in a similar dialogue provoked silently by the words on a page.” Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t compelled to read during my travels: The experience itself was all I needed to prompt the lunatic dialogues in my mind—the ones that help me make sense of the world. But when I returned home, it was as if an immense reservoir needed replenishing, and I consumed one book after another, continually struck by the great variety and vision reflected in contemporary literature. Some of those books are included in First Fiction 2016 (page 31).
Manguel’s point is that when we read, the words on the page mingle with all the other bits and pieces lodged in our minds—the news report we read this morning, the song lyrics we unwittingly memorized, the names of the flowers we first smelled when we were kids—and each piece illuminates the other, thereby furthering a conversation. Case in point: I only recalled Manguel’s book after I read a quote by Rumaan Alam, one of our debut authors. “Writing is a conversation,” Alam says, “and it’s pointless to have a one-sided conversation. The reader is essential to the work; the reader takes over the work. I am really looking forward to that point when the book stops being mine altogether, and belongs to the people who choose to read it.” And so the conversation continues.