His eyes gleamed with excitement and pleasure if a student said anything remotely pertinent or intelligent; but if the student was altogether wrong, as the six of us in his seminar often were, he flinched and scowled as if a bug were flying at his face, or he gazed out a window unhappily, or refilled his pipe, or wordlessly cadged a cigarette from one of us smokers, and hardly even pretended to listen. He was the least polished of all my college teachers, and yet he had something that the other teachers didn’t have: he felt for literature the kind of headlong love and gratitude that a born-again Christian feels for Jesus. His highest praise for a piece of writing was ‘It’s crazy!’ His yellowed, disintegrating copies of German prose masterworks were like missionary Bibles. On page after page, each sentence was underscored or annotated in Avery’s microscopic handwriting, illuminated with the cumulative appreciations of fifteen or twenty rereadings. His paperbacks were at once low-priced, high-acid crapola and the most precious of relics – moving testaments to how full of significance every line in them could be to a student of their mysteries, as every leaf and sparrow in Creation sings of God to the believer.
Jonathan Franzen. The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History. Fourth Estate, 2006.