The Big Read Blog (Archive)

The Transparency of Prose

Washington, DC

Portrait of Willa Cather by Carl Van Vechten. Image courtesy of the Van Vechten Collection at the Library of Congress

In art, sometimes the medium can hinder a work?s impact. When reading, you become aware of syntax and literary mechanisms. At a play, you suddenly remember you?re in a theater, and not in the world of the characters on stage. While this type of questioning and provocation can be a wonderful thing, it can also distract from a piece?s true power. Below, former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser describes how Willa Cather, author of My Ántonia, managed to create a novel so immersive that the framework of the book fell away, leaving only the reader and the story.

"When I read Cather the first time as a graduate student, I wasn?t sure that I even had a sense of the importance of a kind of transparency in prose where you are never attracted back to the surface of the type to say, what do you suppose she?s doing here. You go right through the words into the story. Picking it up again after all those years, I mean, within a paragraph I was completely absorbed, forgot that I was reading a book.  And that is a marvelous achievement to be able to write with that kind of transparency."

For more information on My Ántonia, please visit The Big Read website.

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