Teaser Tuesdays: The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

writing life

Annie Dillard is wonderful. I am glad to be back with her funny, wise but slight self-deprecating voice – and about writing this time! Wonderful. Check out these words of “comfort” to writers disappointed with their slow pace of production.

It takes years to write a book. Between two and ten years. Less is so rare as to be statistically insignificant. One American writer has written a dozen major books over six decades. He wrote one of those books, a perfect novel, in three months. He speaks of it still with awe, almost whispering. Who wants to offend the spirit that hands out such books? Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks. He claimed he knocked it off in his spare time from a 12-hour-a-day job performing manual labor. There are other examples from other continents and centuries, just as albinos, assassins, saints, big people and little people show up from time to time in large populations. Out of a human population of four and a half billion, perhaps 20 people can write a serious book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled dog races, go over Niagara Falls in barrels, fly planes through the Arc du Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.

This, I feel, is a great example of her voice: funny and filled with factoids while simultaneously being entirely serious, and empathetic. Of course I am enjoying this audio edition. Strangely, since I mention voice, the voice doing the reading is not Dillard’s. I guess I don’t know what her literal voice sounds like, but the reader here is suiting me fine.

Teaser Tuesdays: Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

dakotaWarning: rave review coming. Dakota is an amazing feat of essays exploring ethics, community, a sense of place and belonging and the meaning of home, geography, the unique features of the western Dakotas, and yes, spirituality (a subject usually sure to turn me away). This teaser post is just that, a preview of what I love about this book. For example,

The word ‘geography’ derives from the Greek words for earth and writing, and writing about Dakota has been my means of understanding that inheritance and reclaiming what is holy in it.

or, quoting Benedictine monk Terrence Kardong,

We have become as indigenous as the cottonwood trees… If you take us somewhere else, we lose our character, our history – maybe our soul.

I would love to share the entire 16 pages of “Where I Am,” which include the factoid that

the absolutely temperature range record for the Western Hemisphere [was] set in 1936 when a town in western North Dakota registered temperatures from 60 degrees below zero to 121 above within the same year.

or “Rain,” a single-page poetry-in-prose listing of the types of rain experienced there. Mind-blowing, right?

I am very impressed, and hope you’ll go looking for your copy of Dakota, too. My review is coming.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

I am loving Mary Karr’s well-regarded memoir about growing up in small-town East Texas. She is amazing in many regards, on which more to come soon; but today I want to talk about describing place. I have a special fascination with a “sense of place” in the books I read, whether they are fictional descriptions of real places (James Lee Burke and Michael Connelly, on Louisiana and Los Angeles respectively) or made-up places (Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, or du Maurier’s Manderley), or nonfiction.

liar's clubAs an example of the latter, I think this paragraph-and-a-half near the beginning of The Liars’ Club is as good as it gets.

If Daddy’s past was more intricate to me than my own present, Mother’s was as blank as the West Texas desert she came from. She was born into the Dust Bowl, a vast flat landscape peppered with windmills and occasional cotton ranches. Instead of a kitty for a pet, she had a horny toad. She didn’t see rain fall, she said, for the first decade of her life. The sky stayed rock-white and far away.

About all she later found to worship in Leechfield was the thunderstorms, where were frequent and heavy. The whole town sat at a semitropical latitude just spitting distance from the Gulf. It sat in a swamp, three feet below sea level at its highest point, and was crawled through by two rivers. Any hole you dug, no matter how shallow, magically filled up with brackish water. Even the wide ditches that ran in front of the houses, where I later learned that sidewalks ought to be, were not enough to keep the marsh from burbling up.

This is an astounding piece of writing. So much is communicated, and much of it we take in without even noticing. On the surface, we see that Mother is from West Texas, where it is dry, and East Texas, where the author grew up, is much wetter. But just below that surface, we get a time-frame (implied by the Dust Bowl reference), and a visual cue from “rock-white”: rocks aren’t white everywhere, but now we have a blinding tone for the “blank” West Texas desert. I love that Leechfield is “spitting distance” from the Gulf of Mexico: another reference to wetness; and “was crawled through” by two rivers? That’s a passive voice usage to compete with Hemingway’s famous one that I keep referring to. I like what is implied by that last line: Karr didn’t know about sidewalks til she left town. Not to mention the onomatopoeic effect of burbling…

Creative Nonfiction magazine has a special issue coming out on the theme of Weather. If they get to publish any passages remotely as communicative and deceptively simple as this one, I think they’ll be glad.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Full disclosure: I got this tattoo, below, after reading this piece by Kingsnorth. (It’s more complicated than that, and Kingsnorth did not supply my first exposure to the green man, for the record; IMG_5964but he was a significant inspiration.) If you poke around his website, and his larger presence as a writer, you’ll see that he’s written a good deal about the Norman invasion of 1066; and now, a novel (released last year in Kingsnorth’s native Britain). But there is something different about this book: it is written in a “pseudo-language,” a hybrid between the Old English of the time in question, and the language we speak and understand today. Somewhat in the spirit of the “Landspeak” article I recently posted, Kingsnorth feels that the language in which we express a thing changes the thing being expressed: in other words, it matters.


wake

I am on board with the concept, but I confess, it would be a mistake to underestimate it. The Old English-ish language is a challenge, and casual readers will be dissuaded. It is worth the effort, however. The story inside is riveting and, yes, improved in tone by the impassioned voice of the narrator in his native tongue (or a slightly more readable version thereof). Pro tip: try reading aloud to get the full flavor, and to hear cognates come clear.

I have a few lines for you today that struck me especially, and which are almost understandable.

the fugols that sang here was the fugols i cnawan and the heofon was the heofon of my cildehood and for a small time i felt that my heorte had cum baec to where it sceolde always be. the mist cum round the secg cold as we walced saen lytel and sounds colde be hierde that was lic the sounds of my eald lands when i was still a man

Or, in my own translation,

The birds that sang here were the birds I knew, and the heaven was the heaven of my childhood, and for a small time I felt that my heart had come back to where it should always be. The mist came round the sedge, cold, as we walked saying little, and sounds could be heard that were like the sounds of my old lands, when I was still a man.

I love the sense of place and of belonging to a place – which is one of the losses of the Norman Invasion, in Kingsnorth’s telling – and the tone of mourning. Try it again in the original text. Go ahead. I know I threw you into it in the middle, but a full book of this actually comes to be quite compelling, if you can put in the effort.

Stay tuned for my positive review to come.

Teaser Tuesdays: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

station eleven

You’ll recall that I’m loving this audiobook. Here are the lines that made me snort the other day:

“I’m afraid I’ve no idea,” the tuba had said when Kirsten had asked him for confirmation a few years back. No one had any idea, it turned out. None of the older symphony members knew much about science, which was frankly maddening, given how much time these people had had to look things up on the internet before the world had ended.

Take note, people, we should all be spending more time looking things up on the internet in case of the world ending! (KIDDING – go ride your bike.)

Teaser Tuesdays: The Secret Place by Tana French

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

It’s astonishing how long it’s taking me to listen to this book, isn’t it?* It’s certainly astonishing to me; and let me say that it’s no fault of The Secret Place itself, which is as wonderful as any of Tana French’s novels. (I’ll wait to rank it til I’ve finished, of course.) I’ve already teased you with it once, but here we are again.

secret

Today I’ll share with you a few lines spoken from Frank Mackey (who we remember from The Likeness and Faithful Place) to Detective Stephen Moran.

“Always fuck with people’s expectations, Sunshine. It’s good for their circulation.”

Good advice from Mackey, I’m sure. Keep that in mind, kids. And stick around: one day I will finish this book and review it for you.


*If you’re curious, my lifestyle is much changed these days, now that I don’t have a day job. I no longer have a lengthy commute during which to listen to audiobooks. I am clearly not spending nearly enough time in the gym or doing housework, either. I’m loving the new life; but it’s skewing me much more towards print and away from the audio. Bear with me.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Savage Professor by Robert Roper

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

savage

On just the opening pages, a characterization of person via his books. How could I pass this one by?

Inside, a scouth of books, as the Scotsman said. Some that had been with him since the beginning, since before he went to St. Paul’s, where he had been a subsidy boy, a scholar on the foundation. Books bought as a lonely Bohemian maths grind at LSE, where had gone instead of Cambridge, for “political” reasons. Plain paperbound books in French, bought at outdoor stands along the Seine, as they ought to have been. A solid selection of the approved high-lit product of the last forty years, books spoken of in the pages of the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, Les Temps Modernes. Mystery novels by the hundreds, by the thousands. Oodles of sci-fi, and pornography, an eclectic sampling, still consulted sometimes in the dead of night, with the left hand. Math texts read for brain tuning. The full epidemiological monty, of course, everything in any way relevant to his own lines of study plus all others, everything ever attempted by his busy generation, in special nine-foot-tall shelves of stained cherrywood.

Outstanding, isn’t it? We’ve only just met this character, and now look at what all we know about him, solely by what he stocks on his bookshelves. A whole personal history. We readers are not new to the concept, of course, but it’s nice to see it written out like this. And this is just the beginning!

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

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