Until I read this beautiful quote from Carl Sagan (thank you, Grammarly), I didn’t know how to articulate the sensation I’ve felt that I’ve snuck into a writer’s mind, and was welcomed there. But as I thought about it, I realized I’ve “experienced” a variety of authors in such a manner. Tell me if you’ve had similar impressions with these or other authors:
Plato: I approached his writing hesitantly, researching background about ancient civilizations, when about two paragraphs into the chapter I felt as if Plato himself had come into the room to have a chat. In my mind he was a small, narrow-bodied man wearing a white tunic and sitting on plain stool. He smiled as if glad to see someone else was coming “in” for a visit, and he wanted to help. He pointed out sections, waved for me to skip other parts, and cheerfully gestured to a chapter he knew I’d particularly enjoy. Then he sat back and smiled as I read, waiting to answer questions he’s known the answers to for thousands of years.
J.K. Rowling: Reading her feels like a group activity, a sense of sitting on the floor on comfy cushions (a la the Room of Requirement) with about a dozen others of all ages and sizes—and no one cares that we seem too old to do this—while our friend Jo sits on a soft chair, but at the very edge of it, reading to us her stories and getting all of the voices just right.
James Joyce: I’ve wandered a few times into Mrs. Dalloway to find Mr. Joyce sitting in the corner rattling on and on, only distantly recognizing I was there as he gestured to the wall and talked to the ceiling, until I quietly slinked out again and closed the door. I don’t think he ever noticed.
Hugh Nibley: This scholar and philosopher stands at a podium in a lecture hall, while I sit near the back frantically taking notes as he reads his words at break-neck speed. But I have a remote control, and every minute I zap him to pause his lecture, rewind, listen, then flip to the extensive footnotes while Professor Nibley waits, just on this side of patient. I bite my lip as I read the footnote, realize it introduces yet more names and archaic traditions I’ve never heard before, so I shrug, occasionally write down a reference to Google later, then hit “play” again, pretending all the while that even though I just sit on the surface of his topic, I understand the depths to which he’s diving. We both know I can barely tread water.
Flannery O’Connor: She tells me her stories as we wash dishes in the back kitchen of a large southern plantation home, and we snigger when the ladies with fancy hats walk past the window.
Shannon Hale: She tells me her stories as we drove up through the canyons in a big SUV to take the teenage girls from our church on a camping trip, because I met her at a book signing where she told me she also loves Terry Pratchett, and I knew right then we could be great friends.
J.R.R. Tolkien: He sits behind a grand desk, leaning back leisurely and gestures to maps on his walls and charts on the desk, while talking in an oddly lilting monotone about details and histories and peoples I’m not quite following until I fall asleep. Guiltily I shake myself awake a moment later, only to realize he never noticed I nodded off—he’s enjoying himself far too much. My daughters, however, glare at me in disgust.
Stephen King: Because he starts his stories by turning out all the lights, then shining a flashlight in his face, I slam shut the book just as he opens his mouth to speak, and I move on.
Lao Tzu: He’s a sweet, gentle man, forcing me to sit in an expanse of sand while he teaches me his verses of philosophy. Much like Oogway in “Kung Fu Panda,” he speaks slowly and repeats himself until he sees a light of understanding come in my eyes. Then he hands me a peach, and recites me another couplet about war, and fighting, and peace, and knowing.
Jane Austen: We sit primly in her parlor, with arms folded just so and skirts adjusted in just this way, and glance furtively at the door for someone wonderful or dreadful to come through it, while she tells me all the news of the town as quickly as she can before either of our mothers can interrupt us.
Jessica Day George: We sit in the back of some dull meeting gossiping quietly and giggling, hoping no one hears us, but knowing the speaker is glaring right at us.
Orson Scott Card: I actually sat in two meetings with him! At a small private college in Virginia! But I never spoke to him! And he never noticed me! And when I finally read Ender’s Game, I felt as if I was huddled in the corner of that classroom with his book, and he was watching me out of the corner of his eye as if to say, “It’s about time.”
TO PROTECT THESE NEXT TWO AUTHORS FROM SCORN
(because I’m sure they’re both just as lovely as can be, but create utter drivel)
Authors who will remain anonymous, but have a fondness for writing about males that turn into animals and woo silly teenage females: I gritted my teeth and cringed through these authors first books, as if I was stuck on a long bus ride behind two chatting women telling each other far too many details about their fantasy love lives. I closed my eyes periodically hoping to avoid gooey passages, only to run into other sections that not only made my eyes roll but caused me involuntary gagging. I got off the bus at the earliest possible moment.
Terry Pratchett: My all-time favorite author who I visit frequently. He lets me right into his mind, which is most intimidating and most marvelous. Every time I want to turn left, he shifts me to go right; I look down, he points me up, and I sigh and wish I could think of such turns. He takes characters, sets them in front of me, then describes them in such terms that I despair, because I’ll never come close to writing like that. But he just chuckles, grabs my arm, and drags me to yet another amazing place until suddenly I stop and say, “I just had an idea . . .” To which he smiles and waves good-bye until I come back again, because it’s not about being better than him, or even as good as him, but about discovering what I want to say.