A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of listening to a presentation by All the Light We Cannot See author Anthony Doerr. Before I delve into what he talked about, I’d like to urge readers and writers to support authors who visit your city. Every single time I attend these events, I learn about writing, reading, and a wisdom about humanity. It’s a chance to get to know an author and his or her perspective and to ask questions of your own (almost all of these events offer the audience an opportunity to ask questions).
When I read All the Light We Cannot See I felt overwhelmed with the characters, science, the lyrical language and the depth of Doerr’s narrative. Each sentence and sentiment is intertwined with deep metaphors that leaves the reader stunned. The prose is why I adore Doerr’s work. Sometimes I got caught up in the poetry of his sentences, I let the plot move to the periphery.
Here are some of my favorite passages:
“We all come into existence as a single cell, smaller than a speck of dust. Much smaller. Divide. Multiply. Add and subtract. Matter changes hands, atoms flow in and out, molecules pivot, proteins stitch together, mitochondria send out their oxidative dictates; we begin as a microscopic electrical swarm. The lungs the brain the heart. Forty weeks later, six trillion cells get crushed in the vise of our mother’s birth canal and we howl. Then the world starts in on us.”
“We all grew up before we were grown up.”
“Silence is the fruit of the occupation; it hangs in branches, seeps from gutters.”
“When I lost my sight, Werner, people said I was brave. When my father left, people said I was brave. But it is not bravery; I have no choice. I wake up and live my life. Don’t you do the same?”
Doerr opened his presentation in the most unusual and delightful way. He directed the audience to look at the screen and gaze at several different images. The images were captured via a microscope and the audience was asked to guess what the slide represented. Often times, the answer surprised us – there was a close-up shot of an eyebrow and other ordinary objects. When trying to guess the correct answer, people’s perception clouded their response. The purpose of this brief slide show was to prove the point of how different people perceived what was around them and how often our biases can alter these judgments. The other point – there are multiple ways of seeing.
Here are some of the other questions he answered for the audience:
What should I write about? He advises writers to find the questions that fascinate personally. He was enamored with radios as a kid and that played an important role in his novel. The writer’s personal enthusiasm for a particular subject will generally seep into the characters he or she is trying to build.
What are his thoughts on habits and the universal? Habits, according to Doerr, makes us take for granted the grandeur in our everyday life. He argues that simple act of seeing is miraculous. The journey of the individual goes through the universal. He emphasized that the more we can remember how interconnected we are, the better off we are.
How does reading and writing create awareness? Reading and writing, according to Doerr, isn’t about self, but about empathy. No one is usual or normal and the act of reading and writing can help us deconstruct barriers and nudge the world toward goodness.
For the procrastinating writer, what is the cure? Find out what fascinates you and that will carry you out of the darkness.
Should a writer work on long and short projects? According to Doerr, yes. The shorter project is a way to keep momentum going and offers small rewards while you are working on longer pieces.
What are some tips for writers? Get some sleep (sleep offers a way to eliminate the noise of the previous day), tackle the toughest projects first thing, and try to set tangible deadlines.