Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Words, words, words

While chatting with my friend GJ last night, he sent me the link to this OpEd piece by Jhumpa Lahiri entitled "My Life's Sentences." (We read her stories from Interpreter of Maladies in high school, and he remains fascinated by her.) I highly recommend reading the entire thing before proceeding here, but for those of you who aren't interested, I'll just copy the first couple of paragraphs, which I am most interested in, here:

In college, I used to underline sentences that struck me, that made me look up from the page. They were not necessarily the same sentences the professors pointed out, which would turn up for further explication on an exam. I noted them for their clarity, their rhythm, their beauty and their enchantment. For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.

I remember reading a sentence by Joyce, in the short story “Araby.” It appears toward the beginning. “The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.” I have never forgotten it. This seems to me as perfect as a sentence can be. It is measured, unguarded, direct and transcendent, all at once. It is full of movement, of imagery. It distills a precise mood. It radiates with meaning and yet its sensibility is discreet.

As I read this, I thought, "That's ME!" Every now and then I will come across a sentence or phrase that I just find so lovely that I have to linger over it or even underline it. In college I took a course with my favorite professor where we read Marilynn Robinson's novel Gilead (many of those of you who know me well have already heard me speak adoringly about this novel...please forgive me for repeating myself here). She is an amazing writer (I have since read one of her other novels, and bought the third), and Gilead is truly the most beautifully written book I have ever read. When I read it, I envision and almost feel sunlight, the way it is at around 6 o'clock on a summer's evening. Her words just radiate this soft warmth. While reading this for my class, I used those little Post-It flags to mark passages that contained important information or that I wanted to discuss in class or use for my essay. However, I found myself getting so caught up in the beauty of the words that I began underlining and flagging passages that might not have been "useful," but that I just simply loved and wanted to be able to revisit.

Robinson writes phrases that almost beg to be read aloud so that the reader can taste their sweetness. I've experienced this with a few other books, but never so consistently as with this novel. I wish that I could write like her. Like Lahiri put it, Robinson has that power to artfully arrange words and stop time with them. A few of my favorites:

Ah, this life, this world.

I wish I could leave you certain of the images in my mind, because they are so beautiful that I hate to think they will be extinguished when I am. Well, but again, this life has its own mortal loveliness.

There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.

Reading this book felt like such a profound experience, and sometimes, when I am feeling lost or sad and need a bit of guidance or warmth, I open this book and revisit it like an old friend. Besides being beautiful, and also contains some wonderful wisdom. One of my friends once said that sometimes, when she gets to the end of a good book, she gets the urge to kiss it as Jewish people kiss their siddurs (prayer books), and that once in while, she gives into it. That's how I felt with this one.

If any of you, my lovely readers, have read a book that has had this effect on you, or wish to share a sentence that struck you as being so perfect, please leave a comment below so that we may all enjoy it.

No comments:

Post a Comment