Essays About

Originality Through Borrowing

The more I read old books, the more I discover the source of the thoughts in new books. No writer is absolutely original. Every writer's ideas are mostly recombinations of others' ideas. A novel book is a novel amalgam of previous books. Still, great and mediocre writers differ in how fully they fuse and transform their borrowed materials. A mediocre book has the consistency of vegetable soup. The still-visible chunks of others' thoughts soak in the watery broth of the writer's own voice. The writing follows no recipe except to throw in every desirable dish, which produces an undesirable dish. The book has no identity, through having too many. Great books are like vegetable juice. The blender of genius liquefies the ingredients of prior reading into a uniform drink, with a texture and taste no single part possessed. Out of many flavors comes only one, the author's. Lesser writers emulate what they read, great writers assimilate it—merging masterpieces into a masterpiece.