In early 2014 I was invited by Seth Godin to participate in a new website project called HugDug by contributing book reviews. I decided to write about my favorite books, but submitted just four reviews before HugDug, alas, closed down at the end of the summer, just after I’d posted one of them here. Since they’re not readable anywhere else, I figured, why not post the rest of them on my blog, too. Here is the first of the series: My Favorite Books. — JDM
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This is a strange thing: all I write is nonfiction, but all I read is fiction. I don’t read, in other words, the kinds of books I write.
I read books for the same reasons I eat food: 1) it’s delicious, and 2) if I don’t I will soon run down like an unwound clock. (For those who remember clocks that you wind up.) Reading book nourishes my soul in a way that allows me to look at the world and see it in a new way, which is really the only way you can see if you’re going to attempt to write something new.
One of the very best of those new-way-of-seeing books to come along in a long while is The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman.
Neil Gaiman is to fiction what Seth Godin is to business books. By which I mean:
a) all I need to know is that he wrote it, and I’m already in, and
b) there is freshness and unaffected originality spilling over in every page, every line, and
c) reading it, I always get a sense of seeing the world through the eyes of an adult who still looks at the world with the eyes of a child. (And I mean that in a good way.)
I won’t spoil even the slightest bit of plot or story from The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but will just say that it left me with two impressions, both of them like thunderclaps.
First, that the world of a child is not innocent, or naïve, or simplistic, or anything like an adult’s dumbed-down Disneyfied version of life. A child’s life and perspective is weighty with terror, wonder, bewilderment, yearning, and near-infinite depth of feeling. In the pages of Ocean you’ll experience events through the skin of a seven-year-old, and there’s way more richness, dignity, and poignancy there than I imagined possible.
And second, that the world is full of magic. Not the rub-Aladdin’s-lamp magic, not click-the-link-and-find-Google magic, but the magic of forces beyond our comprehension pushing and pulling and tugging our lives in deep-ocean-like currents. Which can be a terrifying thing, but also an amazing and thrilling thing.
Writing is an attempt to tap into the flow of that magical current. So is entrepreneurializing. So is falling in love (and, in a different and trickier but even more thrilling way, staying in love).
I read the book nearly a year ago, but those two twin thunderclaps still reverberate every day.