a cappuccino-soaked, meticulously-crafted list

I’m not usually much for memes, but this one felt like a challenge, and  I’m up for that. (via Litlove)

List some of your favorite words:

ineluctable, luminescent, snarky, meticulous, snarl, cartography, nefarious, hibachi, discombobulated, moxie, savvy, aardvark.

I tend to like the rhythm of hyphenated adjectives, too: cappuccino-soaked, travel-related, half-baked, mind-numbing.

What’s your favorite maxim or proverb?

I get annoyed by maxims or proverbs. Too buttoned-up and old fashioned.

What’s your favorite quotation?

I don’t really have a favorite quotation. Some people keep stuff like that taped to their computers and so on, for inspiration, but I don’t.

What’s your favorite first line of a novel?

I have to say that this is not something I think about much. First paragraphs, I think about. First lines, for some reason, I don’t. (My favorite first paragraphs, by the way, are probably those in Howard Norman’s The Bird Artist, and in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.)

But after going through every novel I could find in my house, I came up with the first line of Jeffery Eugenides’ Middlesex:

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

Give an example of a piece of description that’s really pleased you in your reading lately:

There were tons in Anthony Doerr’s About Grace …

I have a couple of passages from books I’ve read that I’ve bothered to copy down, and I still think they are amazing. There are several of them in Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” paragraphs in which details of what the soldiers carried catch my breath. There are passages in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye that have the same effect, although I can’t find my copy right now to highlight them.

One nice passage (though not necessarily a descriptive one) that I’ve written in an old notebook is this:

We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography – to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.
(The English Patient, p. 261)

Which five writers do you particularly admire for their use of language?

I think five is too few! Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Anthony Doerr, Annie Proulx, Pico Iyer, Joan Didion, Kiran Desai, Susan Orlean, and much as I hate to admit it, Paul Theroux. There are so many.

And are there writers whose style you really dislike?

It’s really hard to separate a style I dislike from authors I dislike in general. The content can overwhelm me to the point that style becomes much less relevant. For example, Phillip Roth. For example, Malcolm Gladwell. Also, I tend to be annoyed by writing that is too obscured by its own style and drive for substance. For example: Sven Birkerts. For example: Zadie Smith. Or too simplified and/or self-conscious: Like many writings that have come out of the McSweeney’s crowd.

What’s the key to really fine writing, in your opinion?

Imagery, rhythm, clarity, variation in sentence lengths. You should be able to read it out loud and not stumble.

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3 thoughts on “a cappuccino-soaked, meticulously-crafted list

  1. These are brilliant answers. I especially liked your definition of fine writing. I love to hear the author of the words read them aloud. If it’s not immediately clear whether I’m listening to poetry or prose, I think it’s quite wonderful.

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