I’m writing an Amazon customer review of a book I like, marking it as “five stars” and offering comments that I think might entice others to buy it and read it.
Suddenly, I am distracted. I become aware of the strangeness of what I am doing. I am using an electronic device to send information out into the world where thousands if not millions of people might read it.
A specific question intrudes: who invented writing? And how have we come to this place that I am writing about writing?
Consensus is that writing began in the Sumerian middle eastern civilization over five thousand years ago. This ‘cuneiform” first writing was a practical, economic tool, a series of pictures and symbols used to keep up with livestock and grain. Eventually, writing was used to tell stories.
Of course, before writing there was the oral tradition, the storyteller, one of the world’s oldest professions. The storyteller was the keeper of the culture, keeping alive the ancient stories of heroes, values, great floods, and wars. Think the Homeric poems of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
The oldest written story is the Sumerian cuneiform Epic of Gilgamesh, a story of flawed kings, friendship, sex, dangerous quests, and the search for meaning and immortality.
Alphabets, manuscripts, and all manner of stories then grew for thousands of years but nothing developed that could be called “literary criticism” until Aristotle wrote Poetics in the 4th century BCE. It took another two thousand years or so before reading and writing was no longer confined to the religions and the wealthy. With the “Enlightenment” and the printing press, new forms of expression spread, and a new form of human life evolved, the “critic.”
From there we now have the “new criticism” and “literary theory” but I’m getting too deep in the weeds now. All I want to do is tell you that a book I just read is a “good read” and you should buy it.
Out of my reverie now, I become aware that I am using writing for the same reason the Sumerians invented it, for commerce.
I read. I write. I learn. I’m in a writing group and I have four published books. I’m still pretty sure I’m not Steinbeck, but my heart and soul have found their way back to where they should be.