“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”
–Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
As bizarre as it may sound, I still find it utterly depressing when I think about Douglas Adams’ passing in 2001. It’s been almost nine years, and yet my heart gives a little clench whenever I see his books on my shelves. And that final clip of his face in the Hitchhiker’s movie? Yeah, that can jerk a tear or two for me. He was the first witty writer I ever enjoyed. I mean, who else could have answered the ultimate question of the universe with 42?
“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”
Know who else I miss among the recently departed? Michael Crichton. Kurt Vonnegut. Madeleine L’Engle.
I mean, of course part of me is sad in a selfish way — no more new books to enjoy — but most of what I feel is a genuine sense of grief. Why is it that people I’ve never known can cause such an emotional reaction at their passing? I’ll tell you why:
I feel like I did know them.
They shared their imaginations, their thoughts, and above all, their voice with me. Who doesn’t feel like they must know Crichton intimately? You would recognize his books in an instant with their cool narrative distance (that somehow still causes major emotional involvement), their abundance of highly plausible and frightening situations in science and medicine, and the edge-of-the-seat thrill ride they always give you.
And Vonnegut, oh, Vonnegut. That man’s works got me through college. He constantly reminded me that my own depth (of which I had a very self-inflated and delusional concept) was shallower than a kiddie-pool. Who wouldn’t read,
“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”
and not know instantly who spoke? I lived for that constant intrusion of the narrator, hoping that the next words would offer me more gems of wisdom.
And as for L’Engle? Well, I saw myself in Meg and Vicky, I wanted to save Charles Wallace too, and the idea of multiple dimensions? Well, the nine-year-old ME sure learned a lot. After A Wrinkle in Time, I ate up every single one of her books. And then I read them all again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Now, as an aspiring young-adult-writer, I look through her pages for inspiration and guidance. In her own great words:
“A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”
That’s actually the point I’m trying to make. Those books were more than just books. They became our friends; the characters within reflected ourselves and the stories became life-experiences that we learned from. How can we not gain a sense of the author from the pages? How can we not grow attached to the mastermind behind the words?
Perhaps I’m being fanciful — too much snow will do that to you, I suppose. But aren’t there any authors you fondly remember? Writers you wish were still around? Robert Jordan springs to mind, along with Marion Zimmer Bradley or Hunter S. Thompson. Who else?