Writing Is the Process of Abandoning the Familiar

The novelist and editor Anna North discusses the Odyssey’s timeless lesson about leaving the comforts of home. Published in The Atlantic, 19 May 2015

My grandfather first recommended the Odyssey to me. When he died a few years ago, I went looking for my original copy because I wanted to read from it at the funeral. I found it in my parents’ house, with the original receipt still inside. So I could date exactly when I first got the book: I was eleven years old.

I have strong memories of reading it for the first time. The Odyssey’s a great book for kids. A lot happens. There’s strangeness, magic, excitement. Of course, the names are very weird to a modern person, and I remember getting tripped up over that. But still, I loved it.

It’s an obsession that’s stayed with me into adult life. I’ve always been interested in Greek and Latin literature. I’m excited by the ways those traditions show how old our concerns are. If you read Livy, for instance, you find that almost everything that’s said in American politics had probably said by the Romans, too: everything from concerns about men not being manly enough anymore to debates about the kinds of things the founding fathers cared about. With the Odyssey, it’s possible to see how many of the stories we still tell exist in ancient texts—they’re archetypal. There are things that human beings like to talk about, and always have, and a quest is one of them. Continue reading “Writing Is the Process of Abandoning the Familiar”

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