When I go to someone’s home, I always like to see what’s on the bookshelf. (If there is one, of course. If there isn’t, I may never return.) So I was delighted to stumble across this quotation from the French author François Muriac:
‘Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you who you are’ is true enough, but I’d know you better if you told me what you reread.
You’ll know me better, then, if I say that if I had to choose my eight Desert Island books, these would probably be the ones. Quickly chosen, with no concern over whether they’re great literature or will impress anyone. Feel free to comment with yours.
A Town Like Alice Nevil Shute
How Green Was My Valley Richard Llewellyn
Lord of the Rings JRR Tolkien
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
The Dark is Rising Susan Cooper
The Jungle Book Rudyard Kipling
Time Enough for Love Robert Heinlein
Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame
Obviously I get the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare too. So I’d ask if I could swap the Bible for Republican Party Reptile by PJ O’Rourke, a trade that I venture to suggest has never been done before.
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
It’s hard to write well and simply. For one thing, it’s terribly easy to become intoxicated by the exuberance of one’s own verbosity and, drunk on dramatic diction, seduced by subordinate clauses (often parenthetically embedded), plummet or plunge headfirst into a prolixity that nears inspissation.
And for another, we often feel that plain language just won’t do. I mean, no real writer would say something just like anybody else would say it, surely? Why did I spend those years reading the great works of literature and studying what the most insightful critics had to say, if only to use words a child could understand in my own writing?
I will leave the conclusion as an exercise for the reader.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
Alice never worked in the media, evidently.
… was the word.
And ever since then, we’ve been able to talk to each other, to share our thoughts and shape our relationships. Sometimes we communicate well, sometimes we don’t, and there’s an endless fascination in analysing the difference between those two. I’ve been a language and literature student, a printer, an editor and writer – words have been central to my life. I hope to share some of the pleasure and power I find in words on this blog, as well as writing about some of the stuff that catches my eye.