This is a little bit like entering a new playground and being asked to play in the sandbox right away. I was always one of those kids who preferred swings, slides, and monkey bars. However, here I am surprisingly anxious to play.
Teaching always causes me to reflect on the books or authors who turned us toward writing fiction. The Proust scholar/literary critic/eminent man of letters André Aciman says it took reading a spy novel by Robert Ludlum before embarking on writing fiction. Of course, he says it in a much more elegant and vaguely pretentious way.
Both Mary Poppins and The Age of Innocence made me want to write, but the books that whispered We will sit with you while you fail to do this were by E.M. Forster. His writing sparkles but never shows off. He is kind to his characters, but not sentimental. He is wise, but not pompous.
The first thing I ask new students to do is to tell me about their favorite books, the one they hated the most, and the last one they read for pleasure. In this way, I get to know who whispers to them and then I can gauge the best way for me to join in. If you have ventured into the sandbox’s corner where I am sitting with an eye on the slides, treat yourself to either Forster’s Maurice or A Room With A View. Or just ask, who whispers to me? Who keeps me company while I write? For bliss and beauty’s sake, I leave you with this. .