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Literature Rewards Patience

New Letters Editor Robert Stewart comments on the role of “slow” literature in our fast-paced world:

“From the audience recently, where I sat at the downtown public library in Kansas City, a man asked the visiting speaker, Joyce Carol Oates, how she managed to write her many books all in longhand,as she just had revealed. ‘My mind thinks faster than my hand can write,’ said the man. ‘I need a computer keyboard to keep up with my thoughts.’ A general assent seemed to puff across the audience.

“The question highlighted a feature — call it a value — of literary art, not always or easily acknowledged: Literature slows us down. Here was an author, Ms. Oates, emblematic in our culture for productivity, who had just baffled the crowd by her adherence to a human-scale, physical scratching out of one sentence after another, although she happens to do so, as she pointed out, hour after hour, day after day. Of her slow method, she made a joke, citing Shakespeare, who worked in longhand, of course, and, yes, it might be said that his mind was pretty quick.

“Shakespeare, let’s admit, might have worked by computer or Tweets if he could have, but the point has been made by the work, itself. It holds up. It rewards patience.”

The full Fall 2010 issue editorial is available online.

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