Literary Wanderings

Great Works

You read a book. You have no idea what it is about, but you simply can't put it down. When you finish, you immediately re-read it. When you are done you are still at a loss, but you know that you have just read a great book.

I have felt this way numerous times over the course of my reading life, most notably with:

  • The Obscene Bird of Night, by Jose Donoso
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Marcia Marquez
  • The Castle, by Franz Kafka
  • Outer Dark, by Cormac McCarthy

    What is common about these works? They are beautifully written. They create their own world. The draw you in. Yet this is true of many books I wouldn't put in this category.

    There is one other trait they have in common: in each of the above works the book's meaning seems just out of reach. They tantalize, if you will.

    And they compel you to re-read them, perhaps in a search for that illusory meaning. Words indelibly etched in memory. Setting the mind on fire.

    It is almost as if they exist in another dimension. One has the feeling that when our world is vaporized these works will still exist.

  • Musings

    I own a twenty gallon fish tank. Nothing fancy. A year ago I purchased a Sunburst Platy--an orange tropical fish with a black tail--from a local fish store. An hour after I put her in the tank she had four babies. (I later learned that Sunburst Platys are one of the few tropical fish that give birth to live young. ) Fast forward a year. The mommy fish has passed away, but last week one of her babies had babies! I count three of them to date.

    Watching the little ones zip around the aquarium (boy, are they fast!), I wonder: are they really different from us? They live surrounded by water. We live surrounded by oxygen. The world they don't know (the world outside the aquarium) is vast. Scientists believe we can only detect 5% of the content of our universe. (And what else might be out there?)

    Most people have no idea how vast--and how empty--the universe is. It's not surprising, really. The distances are simply too large for the human mind to comprehend. There is one atom of matter per cubic meter of space in the universe. Since the radius of an atom is 1/10,000,000,000 meters, the universe is 99.99...% empty space. It's pretty depressing, actually. The only difference between us and those little fish is that we are swimming in a different aquarium.