My Life’s Sentences

Buying a used book might offer unexpected bonuses – highlighted phrases, dog-eared pages, notes in the margin, and underlined sentences. Jhumpa Lahiri, author of some of my favorite books – Unaccustomed Earth, The Namesake, and Interpreter of Maladies – in her article for the New York Times, My Life’s Sentences – wrote about words that she needed to underline to isolate and remember. Oh, how I would love to have one of her used books.

Having just finished Katie Ward’s Girl Reading, Ward’s concept of the impact of words in a real book was still with me when Lahiri wrote…

“…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.”

Katie Ward time travels through seven eras with books as the catalyst, but Lahiri confirms that readers can do this any time they open a book. Some phrases in books are so resilient, we never forget them. Like Lahiri, I underline sentences I want to remember, usually noting them in a journal, not trusting my memory. Words like…”A screaming comes across the sky.” (from Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow)

For Lahiri, it’s Joyce’s ” The cold air stung us and we played til our bodies glowed.”

Do you save favorite words from your reading?

Lahira uses the rest of her article to explain her own writing process – not as a primer for prospective writers – but as a testament to her own struggle with words – which she has clearly conquered.

In Honor of Edgar Allan Poe – Father of the Short Story

Today is Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday; the “father of the short story” would be 202.

The New York Times book review section uses the insights of three famous authors – Francine Prose, Joyce Carol Oates, and Roxanna Robinson – all who have written both novels and short stories – to capture “Small Moments,”  their reflections on the short story form, with lots of ideas for short stories to read in …

  • Colm Toibin’s The Empty Family
  • Charles Baxter’s Gryphon
  • Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision

Toibin’s collection sounds a little depressing, with tales of melancholy and regret; likewise, Baxter’s disturbed Midwesterners;  Pearlman’s ” perceptive and funny” stories sound right for me.  

“Pearlman writes about predicaments – odd, wry, funny, and painful – of being human.”

My library only has her second collection – Love Among the Greatsguess I’ll start there.

For the New York Times Book Review article: http://www.nytimes.com/pages/books/review/

and for more on Edgar Allan Poe:  http://knowingpoe.thinkport.org/default_flash.asp