A few months ago, I wrote about why I love books. Recently, I've been giving a lot of thought to why I like certain authors more than others.
I like writers who remind us what it is to be alive - writers who make sense of the world. No one has a manual about how to do it right, and I think it's pretty clear when someone's given that a lot of thought.
David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon in 2005 that was exactly about that (transcript). He starts with this story:
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"
The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.
I admire writers who have the clarity of thought to see these realities and the eloquence to help us understand them.
"When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?" - from my newest fictional friend, Don Quixote. Sometimes I like to do things that don't make much sense, just to remember that I can. Last night, I came to campus at midnight with some tea, a PB&J sandwich, some dark chocolate, and a small book by Hermann Hesse. I think he's another one of those writers.
... There is no more spring in my heart. It is summer. The greeting of strange places sounds different to me. Its echo is quieter in my breast. I don't throw my hat into the air. I don't sing.
But I smile, and not only with my mouth. I smile with my soul, with my eyes, with my whole skin, and I offer these countrysides, whose fragrances drift up to me, different senses than those I had before, more delicate, more silent, more finely honed, better practiced, and more grateful. Everything belongs to me more than ever before, it speaks to me more richly and with hundreds of nuances. My yearning no longer paints dreamy colors across the veiled distances, my eyes are satisfied with what exists, because they have learned to see. The world has become lovelier than before.