“One writes to make a home for oneself, on paper, in time, in others’ minds.”
What a gift to be introduced to a new author — one you end up loving and want to spend more time with! Whenever this happens, I know I’m in for a treat, because for me, one of the great pleasures of reading is immersion. If I really enjoy the work of an author I’ve never read before, then just like diving into the ocean, I want to go back and plunge into their world of words. When a teacher first gave me a Willa Cather short story called “Neighbor Rosicky,” I remember falling in love with her writing and devouring every novel of hers I could find — what a pleasure!
Right now, I’m experiencing the same warm feeling about Alice McDermott. I’ve heard her name on and off over the years, but never picked up any of her work until my reading group chose her novel, Someone, for our next meeting. What a beautifully written story! I’m sure my reading group will have lots to say about Alice’s writing style and techniques — and I’m really looking forward to hearing it all. But for now, I’m just enjoying the afterglow of having just finished a deeply satisfying read. I’m sure you know the feeling.
For me, it’s mostly about feeling that I’ve glimpsed into a world behind the world and glimpsed some deeper truth that I sensed but couldn’t really put into words myself. A wonderful book does that, doesn’t it: It shows you things you know about life, but didn’t know you knew until the author pulled them out of the ether for you.
When you find one of those moments in a story when some fundamental truth, large or small, is revealed — it’s just so comforting, isn’t it? You know you’re not alone: Someone else has been living life just as you have, but has been paying closer attention and brought back something precious to show you. The author is like a deep sea diver who’s found a beautiful, fragile shell or discovered a pearl deep below the surface of the water and brought it back up for you. Maybe it’s a place that you couldn’t get to on your own, but now you can be part of it, too.
There’s also something magical about a writer who has deep compassion and respect for the characters he or she creates — for the lives they live and the paths they take, for what life gives them and what it asks of them. When writers truly care about their characters — when they are not just clever hat tricks, but fully imagined human beings, then for a time, we live their lives right along with them. And that’s such an emotionally rich experience, a kind of homecoming, isn’t it? So let’s be deep sea divers — and write on!