“The Best Reader Is One Who Is Most Open to Human Possibility” — Don DeLillo

From a 1982  NYT profile of Don DeLillo. DeLillo talks Pynchon, Gaddis, and reader responsibility.

THE writer to whom Mr. DeLillo has most often been likened and for whom he has great respect is Thomas Pynchon. ”Somebody quoted Norman Mailer as saying that he wasn’t a better writer because his contemporaries weren’t better,” he says. ”I don’t know whether he really said that or not, but the point I want to make is that no one in Pynchon’s generation can make that statement. If we’re not as good as we should be it’s not because there isn’t a standard. And I think Pynchon, more than any other writer, has set the standard. He’s raised the stakes.”

Mr. DeLillo also praises William Gaddis for extending the possibilities of the novel by taking huge risks and making great demands on his readers. Yet many readers complain about the abstruseness of much contemporary writing.

”A lot of characters,” Mr. DeLillo says, ”have become pure act. The whole point in certain kinds of modern writing is that characters simply do what they do. There isn’t a great deal of thought or sentiment or literary history tied up in the actions of characters. Randomness is always hard to absorb.”

Mr. DeLillo believes that it is vital that readers make the effort. ”The best reader,” he says, ”is one who is most open to human possibility, to understanding the great range of plausibility in human actions. It’s not true that modern life is too fantastic to be written about successfully. It’s that the most successful work is so demanding.” It is, he adds, as though our better writers ”feel that the novel’s vitality requires risks not only by them but by readers as well. Maybe it’s not writers alone who keep the novel alive but a more serious kind of reader.”


  1. Kechagiar · October 5, 2011

    I always thought that characters, even in books squarely in the realist tradition, are unrealistic, because everything they do has a reason, a content, connections to his other actions, a cloud of significance. Rarely do they exhibit the behavioral randomness shown by most human beings.


  2. Ben Collins · October 5, 2011

    I’ve been so into DeLillo recently, Libra was fantastic!


  3. Ajay · October 5, 2011

    //The best reader,” he says, ”is one who is most open to human possibility, to understanding the great range of plausibility in human actions.//
    Coincidentally I am reading Pynchon’s ‘Against The Day’ and at the part where a character marries a person even after coming to know
    that he was one of the two who killed her father (She finally ends up shacking with both of them) and has a relationship of passion and revulsion at the same time. Now it would be easy to say that it is not possible and reject the whole scenario, but who can predict human emotions as Delillo has said.


  4. Kechagiar · October 5, 2011

    DeLillo is for sure fantastic. Just make sure to tackle “Ratner’s Star” when you are in a receptive mood. It’s very weirdly written. It’s not that weird a book, but its language and its rhythms are new and subtly alien.
    And Pynchon is one of those rare writers who can emulate life without copying it.


  5. Pingback: Book Review: The Body Artist by Don DeLillo « Read Heavily

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