Reading a really great writer is a kind of sickening pleasure. It’s entertaining and cathartic and awe-inspiring to be in the presence of an elite — someone who is at the top of their game, but a not-so gentle reminder that this thing I do every day is done at a level deep in the shadows of these writers who are on another plane of existence and talent entirely. These are the people who have mastered their craft, who use an everyday object like words on a page to connect people with that human thing inside themselves, the part that makes our little tiny lives seem meaningful.
In college I had a professor who would start each class with a “prelude” some poem or bit of prose that was meant to make us think. One day she read the opening lines of Lolita and I got the book out of the library that same day. There is no one else who puts words together like this and at first I got so sucked into the way the syllables sounded together that I didn’t even realize I was being made to sympathize with old Humbert.
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
I was the last person on the planet to get on board the Gillian Flynn fan train express. I held out for so long because I don’t usually read fiction and Gone Girl just seemed like it had way too much hype to ever live up to it. But I was going on a camping trip where my goal was to lay outside and read for an entire week so I threw it in my bag. From the first page, I was captivated as much by the story she was telling as by the quiet, melancholy, sturdy way she told it.
You are a man. You are an average, lazy, boring, cowardly, woman-fearing man. Without me, that’s what you would have kept on being, ad nauseam. But I made you into something. You were the best man you’ve ever been with me. And you know it. The only time in your life you’ve ever liked yourself was pretending to be someone I might like.
If you want to spend a quiet afternoon being rocked by the width of the universe, pick up a copy of Dillard’s Holy The Firm. If you want to spend nights in bed reading until the morning hours because you are alive with wonder over an artistic retelling of scientific stories, try Teaching a Stone to Talk. Or, if you just want to know how fully you can live inside of someone else’s memory, read Annie’s memoir, An American Childhood.
I ran the sidewalk full tilt. I waved my arms ever higher and faster; blood balled in my fingertips. I knew I was foolish. I knew I was too old really to believe in this as a child would, out of ignorance; instead I was experimenting as a scientist would, testing both the thing itself and the limits of my own courage in trying it miserably self-consciou in full view of the whole world. You can’t test courage cautiously, so I ran hard and waved my arms hard, happy…
I crossed Homewood and ran up the block. The joy multiplied as I ran- I ran never actually quite leaving the ground- and multiplied still as I felt my stride begin to fumble and my knees begin to quiver and stall. The joy multiplied even as I slowed bumping to a walk. I was all but splitting, all but shooting sparks. Blood coursed free inside my lungs and bones, a light-shot stream like air. I couldn’t feel the pavement at all.
I was too aware to do this, and had done it anyway. What could touch me now? For what were the people on Penn Avenue to me, or what was I to myself, really, but a witness to any boldness I could muster, or any cowardice if it came to that, any giving up on heaven for the sake of dignity on earth? I had not seen a great deal accomplished in the name of dignity, ever.
Jeffrey’s writing is so dense and pretty I wouldn’t care if it was advancing any plot at all. It’s aesthetic and gorgeous and perfect.
We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing which colors went together. We knew that the girls were our twins, that we all existed in space like animals with identical skins, and that they knew everything about us though we couldn’t fathom them at all. We knew, finally, that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them.
Stephen is a master of his art in a much different way than Nabokov is. He will never have the respect or reverence of a great writer because he dared to do something as low brow as horror. But he lifts the genre up and, I think, makes people question why that sort of great writing is supposed to be considered less great than any other kind. Read The Shining if you don’t believe me and watch how your mind responds when you try to put it down.
It was not just Danny the Overlook was working on. It was working on him, too. It wasn’t Danny who was the weak link, it was him. He was the vulnerable one, the one who could be bent and twisted until something snapped.