Writers like to write about writing, and readers like to read about reading.
Look, I don’t make the rules- I’m just making an observation. I know it’s true, because I am both of these people. This realization struck me me as I spent 20 minutes trying to find the perfect book about the history of books- and then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Is this just a literature nerd thing?
Think about the Publishing World.
We have books about writing and books about reading. We have countless magazines (small and large press) about both topics- one now infamous for being found in bathrooms around the world (Reader’s Digest, ring a bell?). Then there are the countless literature classes we take where we will read a book, then read essays about other people reading that same book, and write an essay about reading the other essays about reading the book. Ditto for writing. And all of this is just in the professional/educational sphere! We haven’t even touched on the millions of book blogs and writing blogs online today. So what is it about literature that makes us so meta? There are painters who paint paintings and musicians who write songs about music, so clearly meta-ness isn’t confined to the literary world. It just seems so much more pervasive here.
I’m calling myself out here.
I have written several blog posts and poems about writing. I also read tons of blogs about books. I am as guilty as anyone. Or, perhaps I am more guilty now that I am literally writing about how I write about writing– the point is, I get it. Sometimes, I like to dig deep into how a certain book created a genre. Other times, I don’t have the energy to enjoy a book myself, so I read a review about it instead. In either case, I’m reading about reading, and it’s fascinating. You get to delve into someone else’s minds and speculate about their life, values, and thought processes based on their opinions. There’s something intriguing about seeing the masses find think are “The Most Influential Books of All Time, or “This Summer ‘s Hottest Reads”. It’s like catching a glimpse of the public psyche (or at least what some journalist or marketer thinks the public psyche is). As for writing about writing? To me, it’s a way of connecting with other writers and validating myself in the process. Writing about writing is shouting out to into the void “I’m here! I’m a writer too! I know your joy and your pain!”, and hoping that someone else shouts back.
Maybe “being Meta” Just enhances the joy.
Maybe there isn’t some deep meaning behind it after-all. Maybe the reason we read and write about reading and writing is because these are hobbies that so easily lend themselves to, well, themselves. And maybe thinking deeply about your hobbies is just an aspect of the hobby itself. Perhaps it’s like peeling off layers of earth until you reach the bedrock. You find the foundation of the hobby you love, so you can appreciate all the other layers that create the ground level. Maybe you only every see the beautiful grass and flowers at the top. That’s perfectly valid, and doesn’t make you any less of a fan of your craft. But perhaps going meta, for some, is just the way the curious show their passion (or obsession) with their chosen pastime.
*Disclaimer: I apologize for any typos or weird tangents. I wrote this while a little tipsy, and will attempt to edit later. Or not.