Friday, December 17, 2010

Beauty of the Season and Beauty on the Page

It’s snowing here. Has been for a few days now. It is really lovely -- gentle flakes, floating around outside my window. Just enough to make me think we might have a white Christmas. And enough to make me wish for a fireplace (we don’t have one) and a hot mug of chocolate.
I stumbled upon two gems this week. One of them made me think about what it means to me to write and the other  had me pondering what role books have played in my life. Both touched my heart with  beautiful language, so I want to share some of the most stunning prose with you.
The book is A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. She has a new release this season called Revolution. I haven’t read that one yet, but you’d better believe it is on my TBR list now!
Here are some of my favorite passages from the paperback (Harcourt,  Inc., 2003).
Page 11 A description of the main character’s sister –
Our Abby is a sprigged dress that has been washed and turned wrong side out to dry, with all its color hidden.
Page 17 Describing the neighbor, Emmie—
As I tried to figure out what I could say – to find words that weren’t a lie but weren’t quite the truth, either – I thought that madness isn’t like they tell it in books. It isn’t Miss Havisham sitting in the ruins of her mansion, all vicious and majestic. And it isn’t like in Jayne Eyre, either, with Rochester’s wife banging around in the attic, shrieking and carrying on and frightening the help. When your mind goes, it’s not castles and cobwebs and silver candelabra. It’s dirty sheets and sour milk and dog shit on the floor. It’s Emmie cowering under her bed, crying and singing while her kids try to make soup from seed potatoes.
On page 37, the main character is reacting to some pretty harsh criticism from a less than talented teacher. (Mattie is a writer, but at a time when girls and women weren’t supposed to be anything but wives and mothers. Her teacher wants her to write about “beautiful thoughts and fine words.”)
I’d seen all the things she’d spoken of and more besides. I’d seen a bear cub lit its face to the drenching spring rains. And the silver moon of winter, so high and blinding. I’d seen the crimson glory of a stand of sugar maples in autumn and the unspeakable stillness of a mountain lake at dawn. I’d seen them and loved them. But I’d also seen the dark of things. The starved carcasses of winter deer. The driving fury of a blizzard wind. And the gloom that broods under the pines always. Even on the brightest of days.
It’s really that last line that gets me: the gloom that broods under the pines always. Beautiful, right?
Page 149 Describing the main character’s uncle and his stories  (I liked this particularly considering the many descriptions of her father and how you know from this one passage how different – foreign, even – her uncle is to her and her sisters.) –
They were whoppers, my uncle’s stories, every one. We knew it and we didn’t care. We just loved the telling. My uncle has a beautiful North Woods voice. You can hear the dry bite of a January morning in it and the rasp of wood smoke. His laughter is the sound of a creek under ice, low and rushing.
The other book I gobbled up was a middle grade novel called Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan. It touched my heart in a different way – with a brief, quiet story of fourth grade children learning how words can be powerful and learning that we can, all of us, be writers if we let the words come to us…word after word after word.
Have you read any passages that made you sigh this week? Dog-eared any pages so you could find that one sentence again or remind yourself that words have the power to take your breath away? If so, I’d love to know about it…


  1. I've been reading Vampire Academy - which is fun but few phrases of real literary power. I did quote from "Speak", "Dash and Lily's Book of Dares" and "Going Bovine" in a recent post - all those books have some amazing writing...

  2. I'm buried under books over here that I want to read, and you've given me two more titles to add to the pile! I've been wanting to read Donnelly's Revolution, plan to here soon, but now I want to read A Northern Light, too. And MacLaclan's Word After Word... Thanks for the endorsements:-)

    As for beautiful language, my choice in recent reading comes from Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees: "We crossed the Arizona state line at sunup. The clouds were pink and fat and hilarious-looking, like the hippo ballerinas in a Disney movie." Love it!

  3. Kenda -- Have you ever seen pink clouds like that? I've seen them in Santa Fe New Mexico. (Maybe it is a southwest thing??), but that description is priceless! And I love Kingsolver, but haven't read The Bean Trees yet. I'll have to add that one to MY list. :)