The Company We Keep

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.

Jonathan Franzen cites Harriet The Spy, but a lot of people claim Ulysses.  When I meet people like that I know they are either lying or just super boring.

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.  .  

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5 responses to “The Company We Keep

  1. After reading A Wrinkle in Time, I knew I wanted to be a writer. So that book whispers to me, along with Lord of the Rings. And for the record, I couldn’t make it through Ulysses. I did however, adore A Room with a View.

  2. Lovely. Books and their whispers.

  3. The end of The Age of Innocence made me hopping mad for so many years of my life! Now it just makes me sad. But I can’t stop wishing to change it — and that wish lives right next door to the desire to write! Thanks for reminding me, Garret!

    • Darling Louise! Don’t you think you would have been even angrier (betrayed even) if Newland and Ellen had been allowed to escape? I remember being 15 and up until 2 in the morning reading with a mounting, “Holy god, no happy ending here.” Miss you tons, G.

  4. What a beautiful post, Garret! Permission to write is one thing, but this whispering of books is far more than that. The River by Rumer Godden was the one that spoke to me in this way back when I was 13-ish and had a writing bump on my middle finger just like Harriet in the book. It felt as if I were reading about some alternate version of myself.

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