….. you will never want to see the words of that book through your own eyes again.”
I can’t take credit for that line, and I hope you will find it as incredibly moving as I did. It was lifted from a post on the message board I wrote about last night, wherein the writer observed his wife reading. Loved just watching her read, and began to know in a way he had not, until then, how much books meant to her. He spoke of building bookshelves for her, and how there were books in every room of their house. Though I have never met these people, I could see perfectly the picture of a very good marriage, the kind where the two are well suited and very much in love and very comfortable, accepted and respected completely for who they are, and what they’ve shared.
I loved it because that’s how it is for me; I fall so deeply into a good book that I sometimes think, and always hope, I am reading it exactly as the author heard it during the writing process. I say that because when I am completely into my own writing, I hear my own characters speaking (and sometimes chiding me–“that’s not what I meant! I would never say that!”) When I am writing, I see her blue velvet dress, see the fire he carefully lit for her, feel the warmth of his hand folding over hers. I watch my two characters in their delicate dance of a new/old love….all that is new, and all that has hidden itself for decades.
I think about that, a lot, wanting to capture it all so precisely. I’m not talking about polishing my every sentence so many times that I will never complete the work; I simply mean that I’ve read (and in some cases given up on reading to completion) many books that annoyed me, because I knew they could be better. I didn’t always know how they could be better, although I find that the annoyances jump out much more clearly now than before; that comes with age, and with having read so much, and with working so steadily and determinedly at my own writing.
I don’t have time or money to waste on poorly written books, and I’m not going to put any out there expecting others to do the same.
So what have I seen through the eyes of the author? Immediately what comes to mind is my favorite book of all time, Anton Myrer’s THE LAST CONVERTIBLE. I was 19 when I read it for the first time and was so taken with it that I began to read it again, immediately, when I finished it. I read it over and over that year, absorbing more each time, completely identifying with the narrator, and knowing that these were his memories intertwined in the story. The WWII battle scenes were too powerful to be ‘just’ good writing. And the last line is just three words–“Well. Stars. Stardust.” I have only ever read one other final line that moved me so.
Laura Z. Hobson was another author I really liked. I have read every book she ever wrote, and there were some of them, more than others, which made me feel the same, that this was her life. I mean, we are taught to write what we know. And it made me feel really good when she released her autobiography and I learned what I already knew, that THE TENTH MONTH and CONSENTING ADULT and my favorite, UNTOLD MILLIONS, all had their origins in her life and experiences.
I think the first author that made me see things this way was John Steinbeck. It is no wonder his books are considered classics. If I could only have a handful of books for the rest of my life, some of them would be his.
What these authors have in common is twofold: I fall into each book as deeply each time I read it, no matter how many times I read it, though it is never the same twice, in that sense of not stepping into the same river twice. What I saw in a book at 19 is not the same as I would find at 29. Or 39. Life experiences, things I’d learned, parts of my life I hadn’t known when I read the book for the first time, all of them color the words and shape the way the paragraphs fall around me. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t well-written; that’s exactly the point–if it weren’t well-written to begin with, it would not seem to change as I did, wouldn’t have the fluidity that keeps a particular passage firmly in my mind. You know what I mean? Something that’s so solid you’ll page through book after book to find it, read it again, see if it was really as good as you remembered?
So that’s the standard to which I aspire. I want to write so well that you see through my eyes.