The celebrated author takes us through the many shades of literature.
“Reading is at once a lonely and an intensely social act,” writes White (Creative Writing/Princeton Univ.; Our Young Man, 2016, etc.) at the beginning of his latest work of nonfiction. “The writer becomes your ideal companion—interesting, worldly, compassionate, energetic—but only if you stick with him or her for a while, long enough to throw off the chill of isolation and to hear the intelligent voice murmuring in your ear.” Here, the author intimately whispers the literary twists and turns that have shaped his life into his attentive readers’ ears. In exploring the books that have defined both his adolescence and adulthood, White dives into the various states of mind that acted as geneses for many of his novels and that elicited significant instances of self-realization. “When we’re young and impressionable, we’re led to embrace the books our first lovers love,” he writes. Though there was only one first love, his college peer Charles Burch, White had many other loves that helped develop his literary persona. This is the central premise of the book. What lies at the junction of love, literature, and writing? What stories define us, and how do we define stories? Taking his readers from Alexander Trocchi to Joyce Carol Oates to Roland Barthes to Leo Tolstoy, White’s repertoire is impressive; refreshingly, it’s never pretentious. White’s prose oozes mysticism and melancholy, the kind of melancholy that makes readers sigh with wonder and hope. “We like writers who can see the world around them,” he writes, “who don’t attribute impossible motives or responses to their characters, who can keep a balance between action and introspection, whose style is relaxed and flowing and conversational.” Throughout, White’s reflections are just as lucid as they are fascinating and just as compelling as they are bountiful.
A literary delicacy with more takeaways than one can count.