Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wordy Ones

It is my opinion that a writer reads in a different way than an ordinary reader. We – and I say "we" without dissimulated humility, since I consider myself a writer in spirit – drink the words, wound them on the spindles of our imagination. We taste them like one would taste a strong, flavorful liquor: in small sips, imbibing our tongues with their meaning, with their personality. We wonder if we could have said it as well. We wonder if we could have said it better. Sometimes we marvel at words well chosen. The verbal self becomes enamored with harmonious sequence, with unexpected juxtaposition. We are suckers for linguistic innovation. Reading is an experience of curiosity, covetousness and love. I have often heard people say that they are “in love” with an author, but the statement seems hyperbolized because how can you love someone you have never met? This kind of love, it is not love for a person but for words, for faceless and pregnant words. In fact it is more envy than love. It is for me, anyway. Is it not true that we seek partners that outsmart us in some way and give us the incentive to rise, a pinnacle to reach and surpass? In this sense, books are our truly permanent partners, the ones that never give us reason to fall “out of love” with.

I wrote this with something in mind, of course, and those who know me well must know that it is Steinbeck who brought the thoughts to fruition. Each time I finish a book I write down the parts that I know I will want to read again. It is usually only a couple of sentences and paragraphs. A Henry Miller is an exception, for I can never set down to select excerpts – I would be copying down the entire book. In “Travels with Charley” it came down to ten big fat paragraphs, although if I had indulged my rapacious literary appetite it would have been much more than that. This time there was no quandary about which one should go in this post, however. I knew it when I read it. As is often the case, it was as if Steinbeck had read my mind. It is frustrating how someone can give voice so simply to ideas that in your own mind are so arcane and convoluted that you are misled into thinking that they are not worth anything. It is frustrating, yes, and it fills me with envy and gremlinian spite. But it is also overpoweringly enticing.

“In Europe it is a popular sport to describe what the Americans are like. Everyone seems to know. And we are equally happy in this game. How many times have I not heard one of my fellow countrymen, after a three-week tour of Europe, describe with certainty the nature of the French, the British, the Italians, the Germans and above all the Russians? Traveling about, I early learned the difference between an American and the Americans. They are so far apart that they might be opposites. Often when a European has described the Americans with hostility and scorn he has turned to me and said ‘Of course, I don’t mean you. I am speaking of those others.’ It boils down to this: the Americans, the British, are that faceless clot you don’t know, but a Frenchman or an Italian is your acquaintance and your friend. He has none of the qualities your ignorance causes you to hate.”

John Steinbeck - Travels with Charley (p 210)

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