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"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." These words of the famous poet Robert Frost are often quoted when someone is contemplating the effect that writers can have on their readers when everything is working. In other words, a writer cannot be expected to have any sort of impact on his/her reader if he/she doesn't have an impact on him/herself. Some writers talk of inspiration as coming to them almost as if they were taking dictation from someone outside of themselves; in these cases, a writer might very well be surprised by what flows from his or her pen. To really move a reader, a writer must somehow tap into a universal human experience or feeling in a way that probably hasn't been done before. For example, when one considers Harper Lee's classic "To Kill a Mockingbird," it is easy to find plenty of other books, fiction and non-fiction, that address roughly the same issues--racism, the Great Depression, traditions of the Old South, etc. What is it, then about Lee's novel that moves readers over and over again throughout the years? Lee herself never wrote another book; once she wrote Mockingbird, she didn't think she'd ever be able to reach that level of success again. For whatever reason, she told the story she wanted to tell, and that apparently readers still need to hear--there wasn't anything else to say, so she didn't attempt to say it.
Many people read for entertainment, but others read because they're looking for information, truth, a new perception or way of looking at the world. Should a reader's experience of a book be informed by the author's purpose, and if so, to what extent? Therein lies another issue; it is possible to read a poem and get something far different from it than the author intended; does that make one's perception/interpretation incorrect or invalid? Someone who teaches poetry might believe that it does--if so, what does that say about the relationship between a writer and reader? Is the writer's vision ultimately something to be foisted on a reader? Is that possible when one brings his own world of experience to everything that he/she reads? Is it possible that the writer-reader relationship is therefore determined by each writer and/or reader?
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