I believe I have survived that now and nearly put dreaminess behind me, though there is a resolute sadness between X and I that our marriage is over, a sadness that does not feel sad. It is the way you feel at a high school reunion when you hear an old song you used to like played late at night, only you are all alone.
Richard Ford, The Sportswriter
This is why I write. This is why I read. For passages like this one, where there is so much beauty and honesty you feel like crying because of one simple sentence. One of the lessons for aspiring writers is to write the book you love to read, the kind of book that doesn’t yet exist. I love reading because every now and then you come across a sentence like this one, a sentence that validates the purchase of an entire book all by itself. As a writer, though, it’s hard to read a sentence like that, because within that sentence you can see true greatness, and know that at that moment you don’t possess such gifts that would allow you to craft such a thing.
With every book I finish, closing the cover brings delicious anticipation as I peruse my shelf and decide what to read next. Will it be a mystery, a caper wrapped in layers of thick, choking atmosphere, the kind of book where I can follow the twists and turns, get wrapped up in decadence, then recommend to my father who also loves such reads? Will it be a humor book, something I’ll finish in a day, hopefully give me a few laughs, to be picked up again when laughter is needed again? Maybe something a little more literary, the kind of book I can take my time with, savoring the delicate sentences, feeling the palpable energy on every page.
I live for those moments right before I settle on my next book, when the world is ripe with possibility, every book containing a fresh, new story, a work of art somebody toiled over for months or years, perhaps containing a single passage like the one above.
But most of all, this is the kind of sentence that motivates me to write. At this point in my life, I’m not capable of writing a passage like these by Richard Ford. Perhaps some day I will, but not until I’ve spilled hundreds of thousands more words and learn much more about life, loss and love. Every writer has a book they wish they had written. Mine is Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, which combines two stories—a crime novel about the search for a young girl’s killer, and the saga of a small New England town on the verge on gentrification, where the past can never be forgotten, and where good and evil often occupy the same space.
It’s the kind of novel I love. Terrific plotting, finely drawn characters, a mystery where you really care about finding the killer. Yet on the other side it’s so incredibly heartbreaking, the kind of book that stays with you long after the cover is closed, the kind of book where you know that for those characters, the end is merely the beginning. I’ve read interviews with Lehane where he talks about how writing Mystic River nearly killed him, that it took all own of his own blood to fill the beating heart within that book. These are the kind of books I love to read, and hopefully one day will write as well. But not yet.
The great thing for people like me, and for thousands of others as well, shelves are filled with these kind of books that inspire not only imagination but creativity. Every writer has their Mystic River, the kind of work that sits smiling on a perch well above you, as you jump and claw and use all of your gifts to try and reach its lofty heights. Some will reach these heights. Some won’t. But the act of reading, as well as writing, is the neverending drive, the neverending anticipation. The knowing that you’re never fully satisfied, because you haven’t experienced everything there is to experience. That’s why readers explore new worlds; that’s why writers create them.
That’s why reading a passage like the one above makes you get out of bed and write about how it moved you. That’s what it did to me. And I can’t wait to find the next book that stirs the same emotion. And one day maybe, just maybe, it will be my own.
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