Wendell Berry, “A Warning To My Readers,” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
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Yesterday my 5-year-old son told me that he really wants to go to Germany so he can be friends with the guys in Kraftwerk. First, I had to explain that Florian, Karl, and Wolfgang don’t even tour with the band anymore, and second, Kraftwerk are notoriously secretive, so he probably has a better chance of meeting Paul McCartney. (Not that he knows or cares who that is.)
I then tried to explain to him what a tricky thing it is meeting the people who make our favorite things. Sometimes people whose music we really like are not necessarily people we would want to hang out with. And besides, we already get the best parts of them in their work. When you put on a Kraftwerk record or a DVD, I told him, you’re already sort of hanging out with Kraftwerk.
I realized, midway through my monologue, that these are hard concepts even for adult fans to grasp, let alone a 5-year-old fan.
“What really knocks me out,” says Holden Caulfield, in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye, “is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”
That is, in a sense, one of the things I love in books — that feeling of a human being on the other side of the page who really gets it. You fall in love with the voice, and part of you wants to talk back to it, and have it talk back to you. But it’s always so much better for me when they’ve been dead for a hundred years, and I don’t even have the temptation to want to meet them.
I love meeting my readers, but I am so aware that the person who writes the books that they read is the best version of me — the most hopeful, the most helpful version of me. In my day-to-day life, I am as confused, and stupid, and pessimistic as anybody. As Wendell Berry puts it, “I am a man as crude as any…”