A visit to Columbia was one of only a few public appearances on Anthony Doerr’s calendar this spring. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author gave a presentation and question-and-answer time for the packed Law School Auditorium about his most recent novel, “All the Light We Cannot See.”
Started in 2012, The Open Book Series has brought authors such as Ian McEwan and Yiyun Li to the university for discussion about the writing and reading process.
“The Open Book is a wonderful opportunity to interact with living writers thinking about a variety of important issues,” said Elise Blackwell, English professor and creator of the series. “The very act of writing and reading fiction involves taking up the point of view of another person, an act that strikes me as particularly important in a democracy.”
The series runs from March 21 to April 20. Every Monday, either Blackwell or a guest speaker will host a discussion of the week’s featured book. The featured author will give an appearance the following Wednesday, usually consisting of a brief presentation on his or her work and a question-and-answer time with the audience.
“The Monday lecture allows people to hear what a reader, another writer or a scholar thinks about the book as well as to discuss the work themselves,” Blackwell said. “This makes the author's visits, which are held on Wednesday, even richer.”
Doerr kicked off his presentation Wednesday by running off scientific facts with a corresponding slideshow of pictures of everyday objects, zoomed in to the point where the object was not recognizable. With an award-winning novel about a German soldier and a blind French woman in World War II, it was not anticipated that Doerr would spend the first 20 minutes of his presentation showing zoomed in photographs of eyebrows and how light is the most common form of communication.
He referenced a train ride he took back in 2004 where he jotted down the phrase “all the light we cannot see,” which he knew he would eventually use as a story title. “All the Light We Cannot See” focuses on the surrounding darkness protagonists Marie-Laure and Werner share. Doerr continued to discuss his process of delving into French and German history at the time and the evolution of the story’s plot.
Doerr tied everything together by bringing the discussion back to the pictures of objects extremely zoomed in. While the complexities of the war were going on at that time, he said he needed to take a very narrow approach and view the world through his very defined characters. Doerr ended the evening by addressing the audience with the importance of taking a step back from the craziness of the world and to focus on our own individual experiences, to celebrate our own unique perspectives.