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TOMMY ORANGE

An Essay By Tommy Orange

Reading has always been a big part of my life, but books were especially important to me when I was young. We moved a lot. I was the new kid at school eight times. When I tell people that, they often say things like, “No wonder you’re so outgoing!” but let me tell you a secret: Being the new kid sucks the first time and the eighth time. It sucks every time. 

As someone who came late to reading and then became obsessed—with a kind of religious fervor related to having grown up with fanatical parents and feeling like I needed to catch up—I can’t help but revere not only reading and books, but the reader as well, and not just the general reader but the reader I used to be, the one who first came to understand what books could do, that ineffable, inexplicable feeling books give you when you’re in them, when you finish them and couldn’t help but do so while also wishing you didn’t have to—that they wouldn’t end. This feeling I’ve had toward the reader eventually changed the way I wrote. I wrote pretty experimental for the first half of my attempt at writing—which it can only ever be, an attempt right?—but halfway through decided it was more important to put my every effort in to connect to the reader, to meet the reader at the very least halfway, do enough work to communicate clearly what me or my characters are trying to say. Writing is communication after all. I was maybe being precious about my artistic vision when I was younger. Maybe this is a natural progression. But at some point I became ruthless about my pacing and readability. One thing I know readers love about reading is that feeling like you don’t want to put a book down. I’ve been so proud to hear responses from people about my book describing it as: unputdownable. Amongst other compliments such as this one, it has certainly been affirming to get such a wonderful reader response for There There. A writer writes in private in order for the reader to respond privately. I’m currently in the middle of becoming very public, and though it’s not what I ever had in mind, it’s certainly been amazing to hear from and connect with readers of my book. I am if nothing else, absolutely grateful for this.