Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Power of Words

It takes my breath away when writers do it well. In this passage quoted at the blog First Things, three co-authors labor to bring forth this beautiful passage--beautiful on many levels:

[A Newsweek columnist and editor together are] speaking . . . in familiar tropes and fused-phrases and easy clich├ęs. They’re trying to convey a feeling, really, rather than an argument: Jesus loves us, love is good, homosexuals love one another, marriage is love, love is loving–a sort of warm bath of words, their meanings dissolved into a gentle goo. In their eyes, all nice things must be nice together, and Jesus comes to seem (as J.D. Salinger once mocked) something like St. Francis of Assisi and “Heidi’s grandfather” all in one.

This little passage refers to the use of language as a tool, then demonstrates how it is being done in a particular instance, then comments on the effect, helping us identify it for ourselves with a reference to other cultural referents. To understand the paragraph we need to know Heidi's grandfather AND St. Francis AND Salinger AND what tropes are. (Or at least we need to be able to link on to how tropes might be like fused-phrases and easy cliches--that's how readers cheat.) Reading this passage and enjoying it is like meeting someone we realize will be a fast friend very soon--we have so much in common!

Please use the link above to explore the post from which I have drawn, and from there then the review from another publication, as well as the original article.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Finding

I just heard on the Focus on the Family radio program an inspirational speaker-- funny, really, Ellie Lofaro--who quoted the following passage in part. It really struck me, so I looked up a phrase and found it immediately--I love Google. :-)


"Now the range of our possible sufferings is determined by the largeness and nobility of our aims. It is possible to evade a multitude of sorrows by the cultivation of an insignificant life. Indeed, if it be a man's ambition to avoid the troubles of life, the receipt is perfectly simple -- let him shed his ambitions in every direction, let him assiduously cultivate a little life, with the fewest correspondences and relations.

By this means a whole continent of afflictions will be escaped and will remain unknown. Cultivate negations, and large tracts of the universe will cease to exist. For instance, cultivate deafness and you are saved from the horrors of discord. Cultivate blindness, and you are saved from the assault of the ugly. Stupefy a sense, and you shut out a world.

And therefore, it is literally true that if you want to get through the world with the smallest trouble, you must reduce yourself to the smallest compass. And, indeed, that is why so many people, and even so many professedly Christian people, get through life so easily, and with a minimum acquaintance with tribulation. It is because they have reduced their souls to a minimum, that their course through the years is not so much the transit of a man, as the passage of an amoeba. They have no finely organized nervous system, or they have deadened and arrested the growth of one nerve after another. They have cut the sensitive wires which bind the individual to the race, and they are cozily self-contained, and the shuddering sorrow of the world never disturbs their seclusion.

Tiny souls can dodge through life; bigger souls are blocked on every side."

John Henry Jowett (1863 -1923)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Favorite

For this Friday in gift-shopping season I wanted to share a personal favorite gift for book lovers and students: Book Darts .

These classy little metal markers make readers feel special, and the tins are especially nice. Right now they have a sale if you mention "Holidays Special" in the comments section of your order--order four 18-count sleeves or four 50-count tins and get a fifth of each one free.

I get no incentive for posting this little notice. It's just the testimonial of a fan.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Jack Lynch, My Hero

I had occasion today to refer to a favorite resource, Jack Lynch's Guide to Grammar and Writing, incorporating "Getting an A on an English Paper," and I am eager to draw it to your attention.

Here's a taste:

Rules: There ain't a rule in the language what can't be broke. The so-called rules of English grammar and style were not spoken by a burning bush; they're just guidelines about what's likely to be effective. If you learn to treat them that way, you'll live a happier life. To that end, read my entry on Prescriptive versus Descriptive Grammars. . . .

Jack Lynch is a man of good sense, firm principle, and gentle wit, and he says a number of things the way I wish I had said them. Browse his entries and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Flannery O'Connor in Her Own Voice

I have to share a treasure with you, come to me thanks to the blog First Things. Use the title link of this post (above) to go to a little article about O'Connor and the precious links to audio files from a radio broadcast O'Connor made the year before she died.

As I listened to her lecture about the grotesque in Southern literature, I was amazed at O'Connor's eloquence and wit and warmed by her familiar voice, feeling protective of her against the opinions of those who might think her a slight thing because of her childlike tone and Southern accent. I am as I type this listening to her reading of "A Good Man is Hard to Find."


Monday, December 1, 2008

Delightful Diversion

Thanks to the blog Soul Shelter, with which I do not always agree, I have a Delightful Diversion for you today, E. M. Forster's little essay "My Wood." Use the Soul Shelter link to see their presentation of the essay, and use the essay link to read it in its entirety.

Forster has a self-deprecating humor and fun twists on Scripture references. This is the fun of a really good writer at play.