The Joy of Discovering Great Things

Remember that feeling you had, twelve years old (well, I was twelve at least — what about you?) walking out of the theater after seeing Star Wars for the first time? Maybe for you it was the first time you read Lord of the Rings, or Catcher in the Rye, or it might have been time you listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall on headphones.

Sometimes in this life — not too often or else it wouldn’t have the same magic — you come across one of these amazing things you immediately know you’ll always love, and revisit over and over. Often you don’t recognize it when you first come across the thing, and only looking back later do you try to remember that first encounter, try to remember how it felt the first time you saw that opening image in Blade Runner, with the first spine-tingling notes of the Vangelis score. In other words, we often don’t recognize the discover is so special when we first see it, and only get it in retrospect.

Once in a while you may be lucky enough to be told by a sufficient number of people you trust that you have a real special treat in store. In these case you know you should appreciate it, approach with respect and careful attention to your own sense of discovery when you finally get around to listening, reading, watching or whatever it may be.

I’ve somehow managed to miss Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun these past thirty years. I’ve seen the thing recommended so many times, with such passion, that of course I know I’m in for something great. The funny thing about approaching a beloved classic like this is that you recognize other people love it, but without understanding exactly what everyone responded to, what made it special, until you actually dig in for yourself. It was this way for me with reading Dune, for example, or watching The Sopranos. In both cases, I didn’t really “get” what was so interesting about the idea, but respected the many recommendations enough to finally give in, take a look, be swept away, and become a huge fan myself.

Same thing here, with this book. I’ve read a bit of Gene Wolfe, just a few short stories, enough to recognize the guy can write as well as anybody inside the Fantasy/SF genres, or even anybody in the mainstream. There’s nothing like the dawning recognition when you read something amazing, like Severian’s interaction with the blind librarian Ultan.

This isn’t so much a blog entry about Wolfe’s books (I’ll get to that when I’m done reading), but about that amazing experience of bumping up against true greatness. That first recognition is one of the greatest feelings in life, like falling in love, or traveling to a beautiful place for the first time. I’m so excited to continue with this book!

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