Yesterday, I talked briefly about the joy of finding how books from my past have subconsciously influenced my work. Today, I’d like to discuss the opposite discovery: when you read something new that puts words to your most secret thoughts. Those are the moments when I leap from my chair and scramble for a pen because what I’ve just read must be written down! English poet Alexander Pope describes this “aha!” moment perfectly:
True wit is nature to advantage dressed
What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed.
So many great authors have inspired this feeling in me. Here are a few such “ne’er so well expressed” observations that have really blown me away:
MOBY DICK – Herman Melville
“… truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more.”
I have often argued this same point among friends and family: that the secret to being cozy lies in a part of you being cold; the moment a person is warm all over, they are too warm. However much I may have felt this in life, I could never have said it so well as Melville.
The Man Who Was Thursday – G.K. Chesterton
“Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.”
Chesterton is a master of pith. Case in point: before having really read any Dickens, I was still able to read his book Charles Dickens: the last of the Great Men and love every word — that takes a special type of writer. (If you like the above line, I’d recommend you check out the ChestertonQuote Twitter feed.)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J.K. Rowling
“Both glasses hissed and frothed: Goyle’s turned the khaki color of a booger.”
A small observation, but profound nonetheless.
Foundling – D. M. Cornish
“Convinced as a child that writers had a key to unlock other worlds and convinced as a young man that there were ways to be fantastical without conforming to the generally accepted notions of fantasy …”1
These are but a few writers who reached into my brain and scooped out (what I had thought to be) original thoughts. Ordinarily this would make me feel violated or robbed, but these authors managed to express the thought so perfectly that I can’t help but feel like I’ve just discovered a conspirator … or a new friend.
- emphasis mine ↩