I think I’ve found my favorite novel of all time: Steppenwolf. Hermann Hesse’s writing hits me harder than anything ever has before. Another of his famous works, Siddhartha, is in my top five favorites. Though “fiction,” these are extremely representative of the true human experience. His characters are usually very intelligent and exceptionally aware of their surroundings, but confused about their place in the world and struggling at a climactic turning point in their lives. In different ways, I feel the same strong connection with the writing in Crime and Punishment, Tropic of Cancer, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, among others. I finally started the behemoth of a novel, Infinite Jest, and it is already subconsciously appealing. In all of these books, I find myself highlighting or underlining nearly every other sentence and bookmarking pages frequently. I can’t get enough.
Besides the label of fiction, these works have one thing in common: they speak to me impeccably. My thoughts, which have been struck with even more confusion and fragmentation lately, are ambiguous and vague. I get bits and pieces of clarity and do my best to create a picture but it is never complete. I have been dealing with some pretty deep issues that are hard for me to think about other than in a roundabout, perplexed way. I have talked to family and friends and doctors and have perused relevant writings in self-help / psychology / philosophy. This definitely helps, but it’s hard for anyone to truly understand the way I view things internally; instead, it is easier to simulate my problems in an alternate world with characters much like me yet who are more developed and better express their inner ideas. Hence I see my thoughts and actions played out more completely in fiction. I understand things much better when they are indirect; indirect is my direct.
Sometimes the human experience cannot be illustrated or captured concretely. Instead of trying to qualify or quantify people scientifically, the books that appeal to me are not straightforward, their characters are nowhere near perfect or predictable, the answers to their profound spiritual questions are not known clearly, and their themes are not always apparent. Who knows if the characters are making the right decisions given the circumstances? Such is the nature of life. My favorite novels are essentially psychological and philosophical studies that artistically suggest deeper life meaning, a meaning words alone cannot describe.
When I (along with many others) read these works of fiction, I am able to associate with different characters and their thoughts. A well-written soliloquy or monologue or just a moving thought makes my eyes light up. When reading a book like the ones I enjoy, I focus on: the way characters deal with abstract ideas (and the way in which the author writes this), the individual deliberation process, flashes of clarity and confusion, the human responses to pain, anguish, or happiness, and the decisions and conclusions rational yet flawed characters come up with. And I don’t relate to just one character. The human personality is comprised of a number of opposing characters, and good works of fiction can sometimes be understood as representations of the different personalities and thoughts at work inside an individual mind.
In addition to relating to certain characters, I am able to see one step past that into the mind of the author. Generally, the author (loosely) expresses his or her ideas and views of the world through the way in which he/she writes and through the narrator’s or different characters’ voices. No one would be able to write something they haven’t thought about before, naturally, so these authors are showing me what they have thought out thoroughly, and it is the same stuff I have dealt with. Although I have never met Hesse, Kafka, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Camus, or Henry Miller, I nevertheless feel like they are close friends who know exactly what is going on inside of my head and who think the exact same way as me. They can usually offer me more insightful solutions to deal with problems than I can come up with myself.
I never really knew what it was like to connect with an author or character before. I guess you could say I just wasn’t reading the right books. Also, I never knew as much as I do now about myself; it’s hard to connect with someone else when you don’t know yourself. I can now relate to those of you who find passion in connecting with books, and I know how much of a positive it is. I hope all of you can find your literary doppelgänger or connect with an author’s unique ideas and thoughts on handling problems in a fictitious yet very realistic world. Sometimes, fiction novels can be crude but effective textbooks for (Insert Name Here)’s Life 101.
I plan on reading Hesse and D.F. Wallace and Nietzsche (fiction writings) as much as possible over my upcoming break from school. I am addicted to the association I feel with different characters and the connection I have with certain authors – intelligent, logical people with many problems and questions – who are challenging themselves and their readers to closely examine their lives and make something of this bizarre world.