Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wonder Boys

The pleasures of reading are various. There's the lying down. There's the gratuitous snacking. There's the cracking open of yourself, like a window, to let in strange, new air. You relinquish control when you're reading; you live colorfully and precisely; you let someone else breathe for you. And all that's well and good. But it pales in comparison to the satisfaction -discrete yet boundless- of reading exactly the right words.

What do I mean by this? Certain authors have a way of selecting words so perfect, so intuitively right, they plug a hole in your mind you didn't even know existed. The right words complete you, round you out, stop the water from pouring through the dike.

This is one reason I'm a fan of Michael Chabon. Never mind the staggering plot; never mind the limping, one-eyed backstory. Michael Chabon says:

p. 202: "Still Grossman lived on, in his heated cage, escaping regularly, by means of various herpetological strategems, to prey on Irene's ragged tribe of chickens."

p. 191: "One of the things I'd always admired about Deborah was the unself-conscious scabrousness of her dealings with men in general and myself in particular."

P. 173: "James Leer had the kind of pallid and formless good looks that to a woman of Irene's age might bespeak illness, onanism, defective upbringing, or mental infirmity."

p. 138:
"Irv saw no point in the discussion of human feelings. He was sad at funerals, proud of Israel, disappointed in his children, happy on the Fourth of July. He had no idea how crazy I was about him."

p. 129: "For me the act of marriage has proven, like most of the other disastrous acts of my life, little more than a hedge against any future lack of good material."

p. 93: "That had always been Crabtree's chosen genre -thinking his way into attractive disaster and then attempting to talk himself out."

The dirty truth of the matter is that reading exactly the right words is like being touched in exactly the right way. I'm afraid to extrapolate what this means for writing.

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