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The Purpose of the Writer

"The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself."

--Albert Camus

I came across this quote and it really made me think. How is it that writers can help keep civilization from self-destruction? The answer lies in a simple concept, generating empathy. This, I believe, is one of the great forces behind those books which have become so impactful in the world. If it is true that writers can keep civilization from destroying itself, it must be equally true that a well-read individual can do the same. Yes, this is another unapologetic plug for reading books– as many as you can.

In school, I had several texts assigned to me by different teachers. I know I don’t remember all of them, but the ones I do remember impacted my thinking for years to come. It might seem a bit mundane because I know most people my age had the book assigned to them, but The Diary of Anne Frank was a book that touched my heart. The curious thing about it is that Anne wanted to be a writer, but she clearly never intended her diary to meet the public eye. As such, it is deeply personal. When the decision was made to publish it, the public was given a window into the dreams, fears, and insecurities of this young girl who was trying to survive one of the greatest human atrocities the world has ever known. She met each day, sometimes trusting only “Kitty” with her thoughts and feelings. I will never forget how that story made me feel. Sure, I could have just sat through a history lesson on the Holocaust, but Anne Frank, the aspiring writer, made it real for me and so many others.

There are countless other examples I could provide of stories that made me think a little harder before choosing a course of action, books such as The Giving Tree and To Kill a Mockingbird. They, along with The Diary of Anne Frank, have even been banned at times. However, a discussion of what one ought to read versus what one has the liberty to read is not my point. I simply wish to express that those writers did their part to keep us from being a self-destructive society by generating empathy. In my opinion, they achieved their purpose according to Albert Camus.

When you read a book and you experience emotions on behalf of the characters, you are experiencing the power of the writer to generate empathy. When you finish a chapter and clutch the book with tears in your eyes, you are the living purpose of the writer. If we can learn to understand the feelings of others through reading, that’s just one more reason to pick up a good book!

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