There are some writers so great and generous that they can change the way you see the world, they can open up possibilities and alter the very way you think. The best part is that YOU get to decide which writers are great.
When you stumble upon a true great you give them the power to include you in their world. You are part of something you may not have even known existed before you read their words. You can become a member of the tribe they speak to, even if you never meet a fellow reader, and you can feel less alone because of it.
Then there are the truly great writers who speak directly to you. They wrote what they wrote just for you. You are still alone, in your own brain and as a human in the world, but there is someone else who is alone in the same way.
This happened for me most often in childhood. Many of the books I read felt personal and enabled me to see that the world was bigger than my tiny box. I found hope in tales of children from the other side of the world or in creatures that displayed the qualities I needed.
These tales stay with me. The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark – Jill Tomlinson and Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl in particular, but I also remember snippets from Judy Blume and Thomas Rockwell.
As an adult these discoveries are less frequent. I don’t know if it’s my jaded reading palate or whether I simply haven’t searched hard enough for the writers that would speak to me, but when I do find them I know now to enthusiastically cling to them, to hug them to me as armour. In my twenties and thirties life was too full of other stuff for me to spend time seeking out hidden treasures so I relied on the famous and easily sourced. Stephen King and Terry Pratchett filled my shelves and even now Rose Madder and Thud have the power to collapse the universe down to just me and my book. Now I buy everything Becky Chambers and John Connolly write and my shelf is full of Christopher Brookmyre, but it is also Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations that comfort me and Neil Gaiman that transports me out of the mundane.
The reason for this foray into literary nostalgia is my discovery of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet. I cannot remember how I first heard of this (and I wish I could, simply to say thank you to whoever it was that pointed it out) and I don’t know why I decided to buy it (for a whole £1 from Hive books!) because poetry is not one of my pleasures. I can clearly see that other people find passion and comfort in poetry, so I know it holds meaning and value in the world, but it is not something that moves me so I really wasn’t expecting the wonder and delight I found in those pages.
Rainer Maria Rilke was born in 1875 and died in 1926 but his words are progressive and compassionate, he is earnestly trying to support someone on a path they are having trouble navigating. These ten letters (of which there is only one where not every word speaks directly to me) were startling, exciting and soothing to me.
I am happier in a world where this book exists.