Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
2 - 8 December 1999
Issue No. 458
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

 
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The secret reader

Naguib Mahfouz The ultimate goal of any writer is to satisfy both the elite and the average reader. Shakespeare's ideas may be profound, his characters of a complexity that must be studied, yet his plays are never wanting in humour and humanity. These traits make them accessible even to those who cannot understand the many references and allusions with which they are rife. Fencing scenes and comic situations provide visual appeal in his plays, even the tragedies. Because of this uncanny ability to touch the cultured and the uneducated alike, Shakespeare's plays have universal appeal.

Other literary works are too difficult for average readers. The difficulty may be ascribed to the innovative approach of the writer. This approach may be worthy in itself, but the public is not familiar with it, and therefore fails to appreciate it. This does not imply that all works that become bestsellers are of uniformly high quality. One must not discount the mass appeal of the cheap thrill, which explains the wide audience catered to by writers of cloak-and-dagger mysteries, slasher horror stories and pornography.

When I write, I simply feel that I am addressing myself. A writer must not feel that he is talking directly to the public - although, admittedly, the public is ever present in the back of his mind. If the readers are the writer's sole concern, he will sacrifice much and gain little. As he takes up his pen, a writer must think only of the work at hand, of himself and possibly of another reader, identical to himself. Once that much is accomplished, he can only wait, and hope for the best.


Based on an interview by Mohamed Salmawy.

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