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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Not-so-random words of wisdom

∞ Commonplace books are things of the past, it seems. Washington and Jefferson each kept one, TF throughout his life. When other, less imaginative, teaching and entertainments replaced books, people stopped jotting down wise or profound words which they could refer to again and again. When I taught fiction writing, I had the class keep a commonplace book for an entire semester. I think 3 of 22 had more than five pages filled. When one kid read something from a comic book, I wanted to hit him.

I’ve now kept this journal of not-so-random wisdom from literature for seven years, beginning in 2005 (in handwritten form), long before I opened my first blog. I want to post those gems, plus the noble stones I find anew as I continue to harvest the great books appearing now and those from the past. I shall leave on the date of my original reading, as I like to remember when, and perhaps where, these words first found me.

It’s fun for a writer to hand-write the words of kin and the masters. I’ve come closer to my own profound thoughts by doing so; and to understand what words feel like on the fingertips, to the eyes, read silently with lips moving, and how they smell on the page.

The mind flares.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

I’d like to start with a book I’ve read multiple times; one of the few that has enthralled me to read a second time, much less 4 times. “Mating” is the 1991 National Book Award winner, written by Norman Rush. The story is suggested by experiences he and his wife had while working in Botswana as Peace Corps directors. Rush spent many years writing the novel, and each sentence, in my opinion, is a thing of beauty.

What is particularly unusual about Rush’s narrative is that he assumes the identity of a 30-year-old woman, and after just a few pages, you don’t know the author is a man. A difficult feet. Most women can tell when a man is “writing a woman” but I had asked several women to read this book, and they all agreed: the voice is that of a woman. Enjoy …

december, 1995; october 1999; july 2004; may 2010

“Was something saying I should kill myself posthaste if the truth was that I was going to be mediocre? This was a thought with real pain behind it. To my wreck of a mother mediocre was a superlative—an imputation I resisted with all my might once I realized it involved me. I grew up clinging to the idea that either I was original in an unappreciated way or that I could be original— this later—by incessant striving and reading and taking simple precautions like never watching television again in my life.”

– Norman Rush, “Mating”

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