Mar 25, 2013

The power of good writing

I've been reading a lot lately and I wanted to share a few of my favourite bits. Sometimes a passage strikes me as so unbelievably good I have to put the book down and savour it for a while. I read it a couple of times and think, "Ah, I see what you did there." (Well, actually, sometimes I don't see what the author did. I just accept that it's magic I cannot duplicate and that's that.) Here are a few gems.

From The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, there is a scene where Philip Marlowe, Chandler's detective, meets a certain femme fatale. I think I've mentioned elsewhere I am just a little bit in love with Philip Marlowe.


"The old bar waiter came drifting by and glanced softly at my weak Scotch and water. I shook my head and he bobbed his white thatch, and right then a dream walked in. It seemed to me for an instant that there was no sound in the bar, that the sharpies stopped sharping and the drunk on the stool stopped burbling away, and it was like just after the conductor taps on his music stand and raises his arms and holds them poised. She was slim and quite tall in a white linen tailormade with a black and white polka-dotted scarf around her throat."


I felt like everyone and I stopped breathing. "Chandler wrote like a slumming angel, and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence," said one reviewer. Some review.

And then there is this: "Blood, Bones, and Butter" by Gabrielle Hamilton, a chef in New York City. This is a passage from her memoir of growing up. Here she talks about her father, who held parties where he roasted whole lambs in a pit dug in a field outside their house. He constructed Ringling Bros circus scenery for a living:

"Prying back the lid on a fifty-gallon barrel of silver glitter - the kind of barrel that took two men and a hand truck to wheel into the paint supply room of the shop - and then shoving your hands down into it up to your elbows is an experience that will secure the idea in your heart for the rest of your life that your dad is, himself, the greatest show on earth... ...It was from him - with his cool, long sideburns and aviator sunglasses, his packet of unfiltered Camels, and box of watercolour paints (and artist's paycheck) - from him we learned how to create beauty where none exists, how to be generous beyond our means, how to change a small corner of the world just by making a little dinner for a few friends. From him we learned how to make and give luminous parties."

Aren't they magical? I am in love with this idea: using nothing but your imagination and scraps to create something marvellous. Glitter and greasepaint, smoke and mirrors, pen on paper. That's what good writing is all about.

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