When I was 19 years old I read The Letters of John Cheever. I don't believe that I'd read any of Cheever's fiction at that point, but I suppose I'd come to believe that the collection of his letters was an important thing to read. We do that sort of thing when we're young, don't we? We come to believe that a book or an author is worthwhile, important, valuable, and so we doggedly, painstakingly read--reading every word thoughtfully, thoroughly, dutifully.
However, some real good came of it. My 19 year-old-self was right about Cheever. I must have intuited something about him when I picked up that book of his letters--for Cheever is a good writer. And every time I read one of his stories, I'm deeply impressed. Just the other day I read Cheever's "The World of Apples," about an aging American poet living in Italy, and was moved by the story's quiet power. It's one of those stories in which every word seems to be well-placed, perfectly placed, and every scene beautifully rendered, building towards a powerful - though understated - conclusion.