On October 14, I went to listen to Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See, speak at Shenendehowa High School East. It was actually sponsored by the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library, but they had so many people register, they needed to move it to the high school auditorium, which can seat 1,100 people. There were probably 800 people there and that was the largest author event the library has held yet. The event had been booked before he won the Pulitzer Prize.
I went with my mom, Rita, who usually is my partner at the author events, along with my fellow book lovers, Julie Guzi and Karen Patchell. Tony, as he was addressed, is a very tall, thin and bald man. I thought he was much older when I read his book, but he is only 41. He had a very quirky way about him, but in a genuine and very intelligent manner. He began with photos from his youth and explained how he took a ton of different classes in college, not liking the fact that he had to claim a major. He began to record things in his life that amazed and interested him and he was very inspired by the scale of items in relation to the world around him. He had another way of looking at time. According to Doerr, "It is OK to stand silently in the weather and feel the sunlight."
Questions preoccupied him as he saw the world in an unfamiliar way. Isn't that what makes a great writer? We ask questions like "What if?" or "Why does that happen?" or "Is this moral or fair or righteous?" Doerr asked these questions, but after writing for a number of years, he realized that in order to reach readers, he had to relate things to the human eye. He wanted to help the reader feel awe, like he did when he looked at the world in a microscopic manner.
All the Light We Cannot See was inspired by the idea of the radio and cell phone and the magic of using it to have a conversation abaout Keanu Reeves. When he watched a man on a train talking on an old cell phone about one of the Matrix movies get mad because the call dropped, he understood that the magic of this technology is gone. We don't appreciate what we do not see and there is so much light that we don't know about. He wanted the reader to see things that we now take for granted.
I was amazed by how much research he did for this book and it shows in the details. Doerr said that, "Writing this novel was like going through a college course again." I could tell he enjoyed the research about radios and gemstones. He learned about radiowaves and the invasion of Paris. Some of the images he showed were quite disturbing, but these photos that he kept on his desk were his constant inspiration. The question that arose when writing this book was, "Is it right to do something because everyone else is doing it?"
Doerr explained that the truth is more complicated than he thought and writing is looking beyond your ego. He said that, "Writing is about deepening our experierence of life and nudging the world toward goodness."
This was very interesting and compelling to me because one of the character's ending in the book was a bit controversial in that many in the audience weren't happy with how this character's outcome. Since anyone who hadn't read the book basically had it spoiled, I won't ruin it, but it made me wonder about the moral responsibility of a writer. Do we have a responsibility to make a character pay for his or her crimes and right a wrong, especially one that has had such a negative impact on the world? Even though Doerr wants readers to see goodness and light in this book, he felt morally responsible in making sure that his characters paid for their sins and were rewarded for their benevolence.
Anthony Doerr was fantastic, and I really enjoyed hearing him speak and meeting him. Mom and I waited for almost an hour to get our books signed and it paid off with a photo. I highly recommend All the Light We Cannot See and purchased About Grace, which I am looking forward to reading.
What did you like best about his book and who was your favorite character? I loved Marie Laure and also her great uncle. They had such a lovely relationship as she also had with her father. Hope to hear your thoughts!