As a reader, I’m all over the place. I’ll read just about anything. When I was a kid, I used to pore over the back of cereal boxes and the labels of bottles. In a pinch, I’ll even read an instruction manual — though that’s pushing it!
One advantage of casting a wide net when reading is the possibility of coming across some way of viewing the world that can be useful from a writing perspective. Recently, I encountered Martin Buber, a well-known philosopher and religious thinker whose classic I and Thou is considered one of the great works of the 20th century. It’s heavy going, but very lyrical and amazingly insightful. His whole view of relationships is fascinating and very applicable. The dynamic he describes is too complex to capture here, but I’d encourage you to pick up I and Thou and check it out.
In I and Thou, Buber describes five different ways in which we can perceive a tree. This really caught my attention, because I had never thought of a tree’s “tree-ness” until I read Buber’s take on it. Here are his five aspects of a tree:
1) it can be viewed purely as a visual image, as a collection of sense perceptions: color, lines, background and foreground.
2) it can be perceived as movement, as representing the dynamic growth of a living thing, with “flowing veins,” “sucking roots,” breathing leaves,” and as an entity that is constantly interacting with earth and air.
3) it can be viewed as part of a species: a specific type of plant with a particular structure and set of attributes.
4) it can be seen as an “expression of law” — an example of a discrete set of forces that operate immutably.
5) it can be seen purely in its numerical relation to other trees.
There is something fascinating here, something I think we can use in our writing in some way. The whole idea of trying to express all the dimensions of a living organism as image, movement, type, example of immutable law, and number is just very compelling. In my YA novel, my little heroine actually has a special relationship with trees. I’m going to see if I can get deeper into describing this by exploring all these different dimensions. I’m sure we can also apply this framework in other creative ways. I’d love to know what you think!