“A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him with a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets the most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that surely will outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.”
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel's Game
Last night I just finished reading The Angel's Game, by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a brilliantly written story about a writer commissioned to write the Devil's Gospel. The story takes place in Barcelona during the 1930's. This is a hauntingly dark novel which descriptively takes the reader through a macabre adventure into the underworld of this famous coastal city.
Before I decided that I wanted to be a writer, I became an avid reader. Whenever I encountered suffering or struggle, I discovered profound comfort in books and literature. It was like new worlds were opening up to me in ways that I had previously left undetected. "How could I have missed this?", I thought. It's as conventional wisdom has taught, "when the student is ready, the master will appear." As I matured (much later than most of my peers) the metaphorical scales began to fall from my eyes, and like a blind person gaining sight, I could suddenly see.
I began to visit and spend time reading in bookstores and libraries. In fact, when I was in high school instead of going out with friends on Friday nights, I would sometimes visit local bookstores and read comic books for a few hours before returning home later on in the evening. I became a connoisseur of libraries and fell in love with the smell of old books while finding cozy places to sit and read.
Like anything else, it takes practice to develop a skill and reading books took me a while to get into. I enjoyed simple stories, but would become distracted or bored with more complex tales or non-fiction. One of my favorite scenes from a book is from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, where a young Tarzan teaches himself how to read. It's an incredible concept to behold. It got me thinking of how the first words were written and recorded for others to understand the author's thoughts and ideas.
Cave drawings are the oldest forms of recorded communication which tells me that our ancestors used pictures or pictograms to literally illustrate their thoughts. Eventually scrolls were developed which allowed cave-wall drawings to be transferred to more portable mediums which in turn allowed for the sharing of information in society. In one of the oldest advanced civilizations, the Egyptians used papyrus reeds to produce paper from which the word is derived. Eventually these scrolls of paper developed into scripts from which scribes and scriptures came about. In olden times, reading and writing were rare skills possessed by an elite few who could influence society. It was expensive to study to become a person of letters, an old term meaning educated (in fact earning a degree today is said to come with letters of designation such as MD, PhD, CPA, JD, etc.).
Today, reading is taught to children in school and has become a common practice all over the world. In fact, it has become so common that its worth has perceptually dropped in value as people are bombarded by literary information. Websites, a relatively recent innovation have replaced the old printed newspaper for most people; interestingly though, books remain more popular in print. The tactile pleasure of holding a book and turning its pages still holds more perceptual worth than the convenience of a digital medium. Perhaps the fact that the words are printed as opposed to existing in digital space lends to a sense of permanence and deliberateness. The author's words carry enough weight to be inscribed in a book that may survive generations. Many authors pour their heart and souls into their work. In this respect, books offer the ability to encapsulate the author's poem, story, or message long after their last breath is drawn. Furthermore, the effort necessary to bring a book into existence is infinitely more complex than releasing a digital copy which can be edited on the fly. Publishers and editors are needed in order to take the author's book to the market. These publishing houses are for profit organizations that reject far more manuscripts than they decide to approve. If a book deal is reached, it is often accompanied with legal clauses in favor of the publisher which include authorized use of the writer's name or pen-name. The writer may be trapped in a commitment unable to write for themselves in addition to being at the mercy of the political marketing and publicists that push or pull book sales. J.K. Rowling was rejected at least a dozen times before Harry Potter was given the green light which has made her a billionaire. Unfortunately, happy endings are not the fate for most writers. The majority end up writing for their own pleasure or as a side hustle as they take up day jobs to put food on the table and pay bills. In spite of the narrow odds of financial success, writers must be passionate in their pursuit of manifesting thought into word so that their work may be cataloged in the eternal libraries of Book Heaven.
In The Angel's Game, the narrator was himself a writer and was commissioned by the Devil, disguised as a mysterious publisher, to write a book that would inspire the hearts and minds of readers into following a new religion. The Devil waited patiently for the narrator, who initially refused his generous offer, before the narrator found himself at the threshold of temptation with disappointments in his life and accepted the unusual book deal. After beginning The Book, the narrator discovers that he is a pawn in an insidious plot to destroy the lives of those he loves, many others, and even his own soul. It sort of reminded me of L. Ron Hubbard's career from science fiction writer into the founder of Scientology.
While reading this book, it got me thinking of the reasons of why people write, their motivations, and the effort needed to bring a book to life. I hadn't really given too much thought to this other than my own compulsions to read and write. For me writing gives me a chance to organize my thoughts into coherent ideas. It gives me the opportunity to create and bring concepts to life, something the narrator touched upon with his quote, "Every book has a soul, the soul of the person who wrote it and the soul of those who read it and dream about it." Our books become like our children, as we carefully craft thought into word through inspiration and metaphor like DNA combining from each parent until we give birth to a self contained book.
One of the oldest and most published books of all time is the Bible, with estimates in the range of 6 billion publications. Its name is derived from Latin and Greek Biblia and Biblion, which means simply The Book. Its authorship is mixed dating back from the time of Moses (1500 B.C) and concludes with the introduction of Jesus the Christ in the New Testament. The Book is filled with explanations of where our ancestors came from, what they did, and what they believed. It contains mysterious prophecies and offers guidance to people searching for everyday answers. It has been translated through the years from ancient languages and recounts the age old questions of mankind such as why we are here, and how to live. It introduces us to The Author of the Universe, the Creator of Life who in the beginning spoke the words, "Let there be light." Here, our ancestors recount the creation of the earth as well as introducing the reader to God, whose mere words were enough to manifest our entire planet and all life existing upon it.
The bible goes on to discuss mankind's rise to dominion over the earth as seen with the Egyptian empire and man's ego which elevated him to believe in his self-ascribed God-King status. This empire was the dominant governing society on the face of the earth for thousands of years, until God intervened and guided mankind back onto track so to speak. Under this regime, humans were both literally and metaphorically slaves to a political and religious structure much like their pyramids, in which man placed himself at the top (ironically being buried below). The Book goes on to describe many other kingdoms and tells stories of each one's rise and fall for thousands of years, until once again mankind is in need of guidance back onto track. It even prophecies the coming of a messiah, or one who will fulfill God's promises to His faithful children. In it's dramatic conclusion, we are introduced to the unparalleled character of Jesus, "In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God... The Word became a human being, full of grace and truth, and lived among us."
Jesus embodied the word of God like no other before or after him. His thoughts, words, and actions have influenced mankind for thousands of years. He taught of freedom from all kinds of dependence, war, and slavery. He taught of brotherhood, inclusion, forgiveness, and compassion for everyone, especially the outcasts. He inspired faith in those who witnessed Him and healed the sick, blind, deaf, and even raised the dead. His followers were not brilliant writers, but mostly poor fishermen. The New testament was authored by those who witnessed Him firsthand as well as those who were divinely inspired by Him, each of whom give credit and testimony to Jesus for being God made flesh. Christ himself gave all credit to his Heavenly Father, something to behold.
The Book was authored by many souls, all of whom give credit to God, for its holy inspiration; while none take credit for their words other than to testify and authenticate its veracity. The Bible represents the written word of God through divine inspiration and man's evolving ability to write. If a book is the child of the author, then Christ is the eminent son of God, whose story was foretold, witnessed, and fulfilled in this Book leaving mankind with great expectation for the final reveal, like the promise of a sequel to the most published literary work of all time.
"The Bible is one of the greatest blessings bestowed by God on the children of men. It has God for its Author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture for its matter. It is all pure, all sincere; nothing too much; nothing wanting!"
― John Locke