When you read something, what is it that makes you like it? Is it
the topic? If that is the case then your reading choices are
deplorably limited. After all, our interests are few in a world
with an unlimited supply. Should not reading be an opportunity to
escape from the ones we know? All reading--serious or
otherwise--is a form of escapism, and what we are escaping is ourselves.
Reading is nothing more than a way to explore the unknown. If the
written word fails to tell us something new then it does not deserve
our time. The new can come in many guises, of course; the new
idea, the new perspective, the new fact, and--yes--even the new way of
saying the same old thing. Words that repeat something already
known are not a form of communication; they are propaganda.
The two that overshadow all the others are Robert Frost and John
McPhee. The words of Robert Frost are accessible to all.
His voice is that of a kindly grandfather and his messages are simply
true. As for John McPhee--such purity of expression is
unique. His language is so crystalline that the reader sees the
subject through clear glass and the author becomes a hidden motive
force, invisible but all-powerful. Although these two are the
mentors, there are others who have left their mark. Tennyson and
Coleridge gave romanticism a good name and Conrad did the same for
meaningful description. In the realm of pure writing style, none
surpass Annie Dillard, but her standards are to high for me.