During my walks in the woods behind our house, I often reflect about books. Tudor Brătescu’s historical novel (Zeflemeaua) takes place in Romania between the two world wars. The author grew up in Bucharest and now lives in Paris. He tells his story organically, without “explaining” the backdrop. I liked that. The reader gains an almost instinctive understanding of the history of the country from the facts he narrates, not from tedious explanations.
Sometimes, when I read more scholarly, academic writers, mostly of Romanian origin, I don’t fully understand them. I get lost in their too abundant details, confused by their ambitious comparisons and frequent references to other thinkers, there almost as if to illustrate the breadth of their own knowledge, rather than benefit the subject matter. Often, I become frustrated. I feel less smart (intimidated) while reading them. I remember having heard some say: “If the reader doesn’t get it, it’s because the reader is not sophisticated enough, or educated enough, or well informed, which, of course, is not and cannot be the writer’s concern.”
Yet every time I read GREAT writers, I have a different experience: I understand them. Somehow they are clear and concise, without preaching or being didactic. I don’t have to consult the dictionary or the encyclopedia. These writers are also elegant, realistic, direct, down to earth, factual, romantic or poetic, depending on the tone they want to strike. What I feel when I read them is not that I struggle to climb to their intellectual heights, but that their prose elevates me, and that I reach their level of understanding life by simply immersing myself into their work — like a walk in the woods.
And I feel their equal.