Writers I enjoy reading do a number of important things but the most important thing they do is make me fall out of my world and into theirs. They create a world so completely theirs that I willingly let go of mine to enter into theirs.
Sometimes, it isn’t about the story. It may be about the language or the tone that makes me not want to do anything but read the book and stay with it all the way through.
I don’t know about you but when I was a kid and first understood what literature was able to do to me, I fell in love with reading out loud. It meant reading when no one was home. I shared a room with my sister so it meant that my night time reading was different from the reading I did for myself in front of the mirror or just looking out the window with the book in my hand.
Yes, I pretended it was my work I was sharing with an unknown audience but an audience that had fallen in love with the language I read to them as much as I had. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a man from the south or a woman who had lived in a different century.
Pulling back from that nostalgia for my own reading past, I read today with such great happiness the review that Lorrie Moore wrote in The New Yorker (May 21, 2012) of Richard Ford’s new novel, Canada. I am not a huge Ford fan. I had read a chapter of the book in a recent issue of Harper’s and not been convinced to read further.
What Moore reminded me of in her review is why we write. She tells this story and I quote it in full because I think it is worth reading for those who may never read her review:
“There is a story about John Cheever that was once told at Yaddo by a painter in residency there. She was sitting next to Cheever discussing upstate New York, and told him, ‘Last year, I went to Cohoes to buy shoes with Hortense.’
“‘Oh what a wonderful sentence!’ he exclaimed. I went to Cohoes to buy shoes with Hortense. At which point the painter thanked her lucky stars that she wasn’t a writer, since she had no idea what was remotely lovely about that sentence.”
Moore goes on to explain that Richard Ford isn’t of the same kind of musicality as Cheever. “Ford’s language is of the cracked, open spaces and their corresponding places within. A certain musicality and alertness is required of the reader; one has to hear it instinctively and rhythmically.”
One of my favorite examples she provides is this one:
“Ripe wheat stood to the road verges, yellow and thick and rocking in the hot dry breeze that funneled dust through our car windows and left my lips coated.”
In the process of reading this review, I kept remembering the waking up in my young mind to the wonder that language provided. It happened usually when I was alone but at times I had a friend or two who also shared that attachment to what literature did to alter our lives.
The man I dedicated Scags at 18 to had also enjoyed literature in that way. At times I miss him greatly because through that acknowledgement of how books change us that we became close friends.