Thursday, December 4, 2008

On Reading and Writing

So lately I'm starting to consider "reading up" a bit. I've got this time, great oceans of the stuff, for the first time in almost 20 years. Perhaps this is informed by my school days, but I've always though of really good literature as kind of heavy; something that you need to slow down for, to savor and interpret. Because of that I never really had time for the good stuff, or at least that's how I've always thought.

So mostly I read candy. Stirling and Weber, those sorts of guys. Brisk functional science-fiction that I can pick up and put down at a moment's notice, maybe have two or three going at a time. Like candy, these books are tasty and fun, but they aren't very filling. I'm finding that lately, I want to sit down to a meal. I want some meat, some protein.

Yeah I know I'm laying the metaphor on pretty thick, that's kind of a crutch for me when I'm trying to invoke imagery. That brings up another question, too, one which echos the thoughts of every writer aspirant in history. I wonder: how do they do it? The good ones, I mean, the Big Ones. Good writing seems like it should be so damned easy. Anyone with the vocabulary and a smidgen of smarts should be able to slap prose together like legos. Poetry to Epics, everyone should be able to do it.

It was a relatively innocuous turn of phrase that inspired all of this; I was browsing around for a new piece of candy when I recalled reading about Carmac McCarthy's The Road. I'm a big sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction of any stripe, but I haven't gotten around to this one yet. On the first page is this passage:

“Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than the one that had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.”

That's not really spectacular in the grand scheme of things, I know, but it's definitely a step or two above my normal fare. It started me thinking about the other times I've read or heard really awesome prose, and how it affected me. I remember the first time very clearly; it was during Ronald Reagan's national address on the Challenger Disaster in 1986. Quoting a poem by John Gillespie Mcgee, he said this:

"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God."

I still tear up when I read that last bit, to me it's that incredible. It's like reading a symphony. How does someone write something like that? Why can't anyone? It's just a few simple words chained together, and yet it invokes so much. I was 10 years old, and that phrase was my political awakening. I fell in love with Ronald Reagan at that moment (and back out, but that's another story), and I was moved to start learning about.. well, everything. The Cold War, our domestic and foreign policies, the whole shebang. All of that from one turn of phrase.

I want that, again.


daeguowl December 4, 2008 at 4:30 PM  

I have a love/hate relationship with speeches. I like listening to inspiring oratories but i feel i am being conned in that they are often not the words of the speaker himself. After all, the great words presumably came from some nameless, faceless speechwriter rather than Reagan himself.
On the other hand, nobody watns to listen to a debate conducting in the manner of a football post-match interview.

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