It is the endless pursuit of knowledge that captures a reader’s curiosity. Perhaps it exposes a writer’s vulnerability too. In other words, a reader’s journey is a writer’s quest; both are searching, exploring, and questioning some parallel unknown. Their respective travels are the making of a good story.
Billy Dean, the fictitious narrator in John Irving’s most recent epic, In One Person, articulates this well. “We are formed by what we desire,” he writes. While I believe this is true I would like to explore the narrative by going one further:
We are informed by how we enquire.
I am both an inquisitive reader and writer myself. I have scoured the pages of Jack Kerouac to get lost on the open road. I have searched the philosophies of Plato and Nietzsche to determine my own moral meaning. And I have questioned the new language of the cosmos as definitively described by Carl Sagan. Whether it’d be poetry, social theory or the new frontier, the boundless wonders—obsessions for new meaning—that inspire an author’s perspective are truly profound. Thus, we, as ambassadors of literature, are informed by how we indulge in a passage, a page … in all prose. It is how we reflect on the books we read and the words we write that evokes our desire to understand (and know) more.
Many modern day greats demonstrate this: Jules Evans is a firm believer that ancient philosophy underpins emotional therapy. Alex Ross argues that classical symphonies inspire all music genres. Even Christopher Hitchens became well versed on every available religion before concluding that God is not great.
You see, it is not a matter of how you navigate the narrative but in which medium you wish to learn from. To paraphrase Nick Hornby’s iconic character, Rob Gordon, whom infamously declares in High Fidelity: “it is not what you are like that matters, what really matters is what you like—books, records, films, these things do matter.” They matter because they influence how we, as humans, feed, challenge and engage our hungry minds.
We are curious creatures by nature. What was once a vice, curiosity has metamorphosed into a blissful virtue, an unlimited pass to asking questions, absorbing wisdom and investigating thoughts, beliefs and fairytales. After all, as Aristotle once scribed, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
If coffee houses have been identified as the birthplace of the Enlightenment than literature gives life to moments of self revelation when we, whether as the reader or the writer are left with ourselves and our newly acquired knowledge to ponder and persist—to enquire deeply within.