It would have sounded odd. . .

danticat claireIt would have sounded odd—people have been accused of sorcery for less–if she told someone how much she wanted to take all those little girls home, set them up in the many empty rooms of her house, and whenever she was sad, ask them to play with her. There were many days when she wanted to grab a little girl and hold her in her arms, just to inhale her smell, the smell that these men lacked. Their smells were musty: they smelled of roads and dust and cologne that never quite covered their musk. They smelled of work, of sweat, of other women. But little girls smelled of roses and wet leaves, of talcum powder, and the dew.

-Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

Not sad? To me she seemed the saddest person in the world, a woman completely perplexed by her life and its trappings. Being myself a sad person, I recognized that much. My own sadness isn’t something I admit to people. If someone asked, yes, I think I might. If someone noticed and inquired, I would explainI think I would explain−that I am a fundamentally sad person, a fundamentally unlovable person, a person who spends her life longing for a number of things she cannot bring herself to name or define. Some people can. Some people are small reference works of their own obsessions and desires, constantly cross-indexed and brimming with information. They do not wait to be consulted, they just supply.


From The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken

In books . . .

In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself. More powerfully and persuasively than from the “shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments, I learned the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. One of my favorite childhood books, A Wrinkle in Time, described that evil, that wrong, existing in a different dimension from our own. But I felt that I, too, existed much of the time in a different dimension from everyone else I knew. There was waking and there was sleeping. And then there were books, a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequent universe in which I might be a newcomer but was never really a stranger. My real, true world. My perfect island.

-Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life (1998)


The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writing sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled,” “gasped,” “cautioned,” “lied.” I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

From Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.



Small Wonder

Photo by OregonDOT

The land still provides our genesis, however we might like to forget that our food comes from dank, muddy Earth, that the oxygen in our lungs was recently inside a leaf, and that every newspaper or book we may pick up is made from the hearts of trees that died for the sake of our imagined lives. What you hold in your hands right now, beneath these words, is consecrated air and time and sunlight.

-Barbara Kingsolver, from  the essay collection, Small Wonder