One of the obvious insights that one gains from reading a lot of books as I do is the understanding that a lot of books are simply not necessary. The question of necessity, though, depends much on the specific purposes in mind. As is true in much of life, the question of the necessity of a particular work depends very much on the context and on the particular person that one is dealing with in a given situation. For the sake of being obvious here, I would like to point out that this is an essay and is designed to provide some sketches of this process and is by no means intended to be an exhaustive look at the necessity of books or of their usefulness. That which is not useful to us may be useful to others, and as a writer who has created much that is not of use to many readers, but it very necessary for me personally, I am aware that necessity matters more on context than is often viewed to be the case.
The first category of works are those that are necessary to the writer. It is often joked (and perhaps it is not joked) that there are more people who write poetry than read it. The same is likely true of blogs and bloggers as well as diarists and diaries. Writing that is done for one’s own sanity and for one’s own need to understand one’s own experience is writing that no one else necessarily needs to read under most circumstances, but if one needs to write for one’s own health and well-being, then whatever one writes under those circumstances certainly needs to be written. And there are definitely some occasions where some works need to be read, not least if we read the writings of others and come to some sort of understanding that we are dealing with souls not unlike our own where it benefits us to know that we are a little less alone in the universe than we may sometimes think. If a work of writing helps us connect with others by showing that we are part of a larger humanity that shares certain ways of thinking, certain experiences, and certain insights and struggles, then by all means such work is necessary and helpful.
The cases we have dealt with are ones where pure necessity can be found. Work that is necessary for the reader or the writer (or both) is work that is easy to justify, regardless of how little it sells. Indeed, this is an area where self-publishing and free web publishing with little concern for personal profit can help build communities of people who share their thoughts and experiences with others and make the world a bit more connected and less isolated. There are other occasions where necessity is less pure when it comes to well-being with regards to mental health and where we must deal more with concerns of profit. I have noticed that many writers feel it necessary to tackle the same subjects, such as defending divine providence or writing about prayer or eschatology and so on, not because they themselves feel passionate about the subject or necessarily have anything new to add but need to fill a niche within their own bodies of work, like a checklist that one has to fill out to be recognized as a writer within a certain genre or community. Still, since such books often have a ready market, and can reach interested readers, it is hard to argue against the existence of these works even if many people are saying similar things because it is is seldom easy to connect people to the sort of books that they would appreciate when there are so many of them, so some duplication of efforts in different faith communities can be of use because it means that more people are reached by various insight and understanding in general.
There are other cases, though, where a given book may be necessary because so few people have dealt with a given subject, and where even slight or passing interest in a subject merits the expenditure of considerable time and effort to write something because no one has ever written it before that one knows of and because something genuinely needs to be said. This is an aspect of reality that is not quite the same as having a deep personal need to write for one’s own sanity, but an aspect of seeking to benefit others by doing what one can do that for whatever reason no one else has done before. This is how genres and approaches are invented in the first place, where someone feels a need to strike out into the unknown and therefore creates a path for others to follow and carry it onward and outward along with those who feel compelled to follow along to read it and enjoy it. If such trailblazing is not as common as we would hope, it happens at least often enough that it deserves to be recognized.
The sorts of works that are really unnecessarily belong to none of these previously discussed categories. They are the result of no driving personal need to express one’s feelings and experiences, no desire to connect with others and provide encouragement in the face of life’s difficulties, no need to fill out a particular set of subjects for a given community or one’s own curriculum vitae, no trailblazing because a subject or approach demands to be taken. Rather, the works that are most unnecessary are ones that say almost the same thing that other works have said over and over again that one says simply because one wants to chase trends and divert some of that reading audience to oneself without having anything to say that hasn’t been said over and over again by others. A lot of self-help books and a lot of genre literature in general fits in here, where people write the same sort of drivel as others do and as they themselves have written perhaps dozens of times before because one needs to pay the bills and because one has an audience that will buy what you are selling, even if it isn’t particularly inspired. In general, though, such books are often forgotten, because every generation is bound and determined to make its own choices about what is worthy of attention and praise, and a great many writers become faddish choices that are left in obscurity by those who simply don’t understand what the fuss was all about and who are caught up in the fads and crazes of their own places and times.