I love words. I love reading. Ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated by words. I read encyclopedias and dictionaries. I read newspapers and magazines and comic books. At one point my mother had to ban cereal boxes from the kitchen table because I could ignore the people around the table while reading the back of the cereal box. I did crossword puzzles and studied the Reader's Digest ,"Grow Your Vocabulary" pages. I loved and love the sounds of words and the implications of the sounds of words. Even today"mellifluous" and scrumptious" and "detritus" and "multi-syllabic" make me smile. Years ago Cecelia Traugh, a former Middle School head, did a wonderful lesson with kids analyzing the descriptive verbs in a piece of political reporting. She noted how different an impression it created if the article said a candidate "walked" into a room" or "strode" into a room; "entered" it or "ambled into" it. I still think about that when I read political coverage, and I note how aware of these subtle differences advertising copy writers are. They know the power a carefully chosen verb or adjective can have. I say all that to say that I love words and all that they they can do, and that I have been truly enjoying the fact that I now have the time in my life to do some serious reading. And by "serious reading" I don't necessarily mean reading "weighty tomes" or books about depressing subjects such as climate change or income inequality. I mean that I now have the time to seriously practice the art of reading-of seriously interacting with and enjoying words.
I love authors who can put words together in such a way that I can see, feel and/or taste what they are saying. It's sort of a "synesthesia" effect; they shake up my senses, make me more alert or aware and make me see new things. William Faulkner was one such writer, and even though I have some real problems with a lot of his presentation and interpretation of the world, I love the way the feel and sound of his sentences transport me to a different time, place and climate. Larry McMurtry did that same thing for me in Lonesome Dove. Ernest J. Gaines, who wrote The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman with its wonderful speech patterns and descriptions of smells and sights, also does this consistently. In an interview I read in high school he mentioned the Russian writers who influenced him, and that led to me to Turgenev, Chekov and others who were able to make me see and feel the 1800's in Russian ways history books couldn't. Toni Morrison is another author who does that for me; I often think of her description of the troubled, tortured main character in her novel Sula. Morrison's description still resonates: "..had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. But like an artist with no art form, she became dangerous.” Whew! And there have been so many others from so many different genres: Raymond Chandler, Ursula LeGuinn, Kenneth Patchen, Alice Walker, Yukio Mushima; Octavia Paz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and more and more. The list is endless; it will never run out.
Currently I am reading two very different writers in two very different generes who both love playing with words. One is Diane Lord, a Barbados-Canadian writer who wrote a wonderful poetic and magical take off on a Senegalese folktale called Redemption in Indigo. Part folk tale, part meditation on the nature of arrogance and part a look at the unintended consequences of unrestrained egos, it is delightfully told in the voice of a narrator who loves playing with words and sentences. In explaining why the heroine of the story, Paama, left her constantly hungry husband, Ansige, for example, Lord writes: "I can hear some of you complaining already. "A woman who cooks and a man who eats should be a match made in heaven!" Do you really think so? Then you have not grasped that Ansige was not an epicure but a gourmand. Paama's talents were wasted on him." And the novel takes off from there. I am also reading Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell. An intense and bluntly beautiful story set in the Ozark mountains, it has paragraphs such as, "A picnic of words feel from Gail's mouth to be gathered around and savored slowly. Ree's feelings could stray from now and drift to so many special spots of time in her senses when listening to that voice, the perfect slight lisp, the wet tone, that soothing hill folk drawl." Both writers have these beautiful stretches of words that make me stop and go back and read them again. Often I have to read them out loud just to feel the sound of their words on my lips and to hear them in the air. It is a treat.
I have some other books I am planning to read and re-read in the next few months, and I would be interested in knowing what books and authors speak to you in special ways. I am always up for a good read and for being turned on to a new author or two. If you feel moved, please drop me a line and let me know. And now....well now I have the time to seriously read.