A Story All Your Own

Bill Keller on the allure of book-writing:


So, why aren't books dead yet? It helps that e-books are booming. Kindle and Nook have begun to refashion the economics of the medieval publishing industry: no trucks, no paper, no returns or remainders. 

But that does not explain why writers write them. Writers write them for reasons that usually have a little to do with money and not as much to do with masochism as you might think. There is real satisfaction in a story deeply told, a case richly argued, a puzzle meticulously untangled. (Note the tense. When people say they love writing, they usually mean they love having written.) And it is still a credential, a trophy, a pathway to "Charlie Rose" and "Morning Joe," to conferences and panels that Build Your Brand, to speaking fees and writing assignments.

There's something else--books belong to writers in a way that articles never really can. Nothing beats the thrill of disappearing for years and coming back with a whole and complete thing that will have your name on it. No one much cares who first published The Great Gatsby. But everyone knows which paper broke Watergate. It's true they know the reporters too, but there is no real co-billing in book form. The bright lights are all your own.

Never underestimate the human ego.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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