There’s the rub, of course. Tolstoy doesn’t want anything from me, nor does Byron. They need me in the brute sense that, in a world with no Rick Gekoskis in it – with no readers – there are no Tolstoys or Byrons either. When this dratted planet finally implodes as a culmination of misjudgment and universal misadventure, our literature will catapult into the black hole with the rest of the infernal mash-mash: the cricket bats and mangoes, the snake oil and the iPads. Everything. Nothing.
Writers and readers coexist and invent and reinvent each other in some symbiotic way, but that doesn’t make me mistake James Joyce for a friend. He died before I was born. I would never have met him even if he hadn’t. If I had, I wouldn’t have liked him and he wouldn’t have been interested in me. Not a friend.
But having said this I want to take it back. A friend indeed. Some odd sort of friend. We seek help and wisdom from the great sources: from the Koran and Talmud or the Bible, from the sages and commentators, the poets and philosophers. At those stress points that threaten the fabric of who we are, particularly in the face of pain, and loss, and death, we acknowledge that we are neither strong nor wise enough to deal, alone, with the confusion, the dislocation, the heartache that loss involves. We need the best company we can find. And for a lot of us that company is in books, in the internal landscape that they provide for us. Indeed, one can hardly distinguish a sense of “self” which isn’t composed, in part, of the voices that we have introjected: from parents, teachers, lovers, books. And in times of trouble we consult them all, unwind the threads to reanimate the individual voices, seek consolation. After all, most of our serious literature is about human misery. If you want a happy message buy a greetings card. Happiness is something you feel, for a time; unhappiness is what you write and read about.
An excerpt from The Guardian’s Rick Gekoski: ‘Some of my worst friends are books’