A Word on Words

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I’ve always been a reader.

As a child, I used to stay up late at night, long after goodnights had been exchanged, reading books in the dim triangle of light cast from the hallway outside my room. Finally my parents gave in to the inevitable and installed a little reading light on my bed, allowing me to spend many of the hours between dusk and dawn lost in the labyrinthine passages of my favorite fictional worlds.

In school, I read while I walked down the hallway, finding the choppy waters of narrative conflict a lot easier to navigate than the shark-infested seas of junior high. Many days I missed getting off at my bus stop because I had my nose deep in a novel, years and miles and adventurous lifetimes away from the prosaic details of rural transportation in the Georgia school system.

From my lofty perch atop a pile of books, I learned how different two points of view can be. I developed a bittersweet understanding of the refining power of suffering. I traveled–not just to other people’s countries, but in other people’s heads. I stepped into whole other lives, trying them on the way a child tries on costumes.

I have had a library card as long as I can remember, and I’m a regular visitor there even now, when reading for pleasure is a treat that many adults have left behind. Though my “habit” is under control (I haven’t missed a bus stop in years), there are still times when a book sweeps me up in its whirling embrace, a tornado of beautifully turned phrases and arresting plot development, only setting me down when the last page has been turned. Those sorts of books are always over too quickly.

Occasionally, a book comes along that makes me fall in love in the first ten pages. Quite apart from the plot or the characters, it throws its net over me, and I know in an instant that, whatever happens before I reach the end, I’m going to love this book.

It’s about the words. Oh, how I delight in words! And some authors just have a way with them, as if they’re painting a masterpiece, or composing an aria. They swirl them about and fling them into the air for the sheer joy of seeing them fall across the page, a beam of light illuminating a feeling or a thought that the rest of us instantly recognize, though we couldn’t have expressed it just so in a million years of trying. A lot of writers can tell a story, but only a few can sing one like that. It’s like the difference between a plain juice glass and an intricately scrolled wine goblet. They serve the same purpose, and they’re made out of the same thing, but one of them lifts the experience into a whole other realm.

Nicholas Sparks has always struck me like that.  And Robert James Waller.  And recently I discovered Leif Enger within his delicious feast of a novel, Peace Like a River.  Now I’m reading The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, and only a few pages into it I’m getting that wonderful feeling again.

I know it’s a kind of jealousy, this intense admiration, but it’s not the kind that burns you up inside.  It’s the kind that makes you glad that the bar is set high, that there is such a thing as excellence in the world, because it gives you something to reach for, whether you touch it or not.

Meanwhile, there are the words.  What a gift.  I want to swim in them.

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15 responses »

  1. I read the Thirteenth Tale about 3 or 4 months ago and you are going to love it! Great post….there is nothing like a good book….unless it’s a good book, a tall glass of Diet Coke, and a blanket ;)

  2. “It’s the kind that makes you glad that the bar is set high, that there is such a thing as excellence in the world…”

    I loved this sentence because it’s so true! It seems that mediocre is so often the ‘bar’ anymore, and even less than mediocre is OK. I hate that this has become the norm, and that excellence is such an oddity!

    Such a wonderful post :)

    P.S. I’d love an email from you with more details about the authors you listed (i.e. what types of books? fiction, non-fiction, what? romance, suspense, etc.? I’m so often searching for that perfect book, only to find nothing that tickles my fancy. One of my favorite books growing up was “Anne of Green Gables” so maybe I find myself searching for the grown up version of the same story? Anyway, I’ve lately been reading novels by Karen Kingsbury, but I’m sort of ready for a change…suggestions?

  3. you are so eloquent with your words…

    you inspire me to write more creatively as well as look at how others write in a different light….basically, just to appreciate words more

    thank you

  4. :) You’re posts are always so eloquent… it’s easy to recognize the word-lover in you. You string words together in such a wonderfully descriptive and moving manner that I am constantly in awe of your ability. You inspire me to write better.

  5. Ok…this post is prove positive that we are kindred spirits. I have been accused of being a “slow” reader, but it’s my desired pace because I so much of the enjoyment of reading to me is sentence structure and word choice! It’s like a fine piece of chocolate that you want to savor not gobble up in an instant. I also get mildly depressed after I read a good novel. I don’t want it to be over, does that happen to you?

    Great post, Katrina!!!

  6. Those authors aren’t the only ones who have a way with words. You do, too. I’m just so glad I get to partake of it on your blog. I like having my weekly doses of Katrina. :)

  7. Ahh, Peace Like a River is a fantastic book. And I do love Nicholas Sparks (although nothing has struck me as much as the Notebook did). I have not read Thirteenth Tale yet, but I’m hoping that along your reading journey’s you’ve read something by Bragg. He just astounds me with his words. “Ava’s Man” swept me off my feet. Now I can’t get enough!

  8. Rose–you’ve been paying attention! A diet coke and a blanket (Willie Ford, if I can wrestle him away from the rest of the family) are my favorite reading companions. ;)

    Stephanie–Oooh, good! I’m getting into the meaty part now…there’s a small note of ominous anticipation creeping into the story.

    IEG–I’ll finish it up and get it back to the library soon for you! I’m not sure if there’s a line for it now, but I had it on hold for several weeks before it showed up.

    Jennifer–Thanks! I’ll certainly send you an email with some of my favorite works. I’m a big Anne fan, too, so I know exactly what you mean! :)

    Cori–Thank you! I really enjoy your blog–you cast such a glow on all your loving family memories, it’s a joy to read!

    Courtney–Thank you for the sweet comment! I’m loving being a fly on the wall through your pre-wedding adventures (and misadventures!) Your bubbly personality comes through so clearly in your writing I feel like I’d know you in an instant if I ever met you!

    Tracey–We definitely are kindred spirits in that respect! I’m glad I’m not the only one that gets sad when I get to the end of a truly wonderful read. Even before it ends, when I can feel that there are only a few pages left and I have to slow down and savor it…lol!

    Lisa–You are so generous with your praise! Thank you, my friend! I love your writing–it always makes me ponder, or laugh, or sigh. I have a feeling that one day I will be able to count a real, live published novelist among my friends thanks to you!

    Jessi–BFF, you know it! I think the “voice” of Reuben telling the story is what locked me into this book from the first paragraph. Great one!

    Amy–I remember reading The Notebook as a newlywed, finishing up the last twenty pages early on a Saturday morning while Paul was still in bed. I was weeping–like truly, audibly, gutturally sobbing–and trying so hard not to wake him up. I can’t remember being so affected by a book since. I have NOT read anything by Bragg, but now I have a book to look for on my next library trip–thank you!

  9. I may have already mentioned to you that when I was a young reader I would sneak out of my room after everyone was asleep. I would go to the kitchen and open the oven door and read by the oven light. It’s a bummer that now I am a grown up, and I don’t have a bedtime, but I’m too tired to sneak out of bed! I also read and enjoyed Peace Like a River.

  10. what a great post!
    I had a library card before I could read. I take my girls to the library to pick out books rather than a bookstore. There is more to choose from and it doesn’t cost a penny…unless of course they drop the book behind their bed and we can’t find it for a month! LOL!
    I used to read in bed under the covers with my flashlight when I was a kid. I’ve let my kids read themselves to sleep since they were toddlers. Not only do they love to read, but we never had trouble getting them to bed!

  11. I’m enjoying reading your blog. :)
    Book recommendations are treasures.
    My 14 and 15 year old daughters recommended a book to me that I loved reading: Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar. It isn’t elegantly written, but it is so many other things – funny, serious, educational, outrageous. I wonder what you would think of it?

    P.S. – Do you know what a “Tom Swifty” is?

  12. If you haven’t read it yet, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I didn’t like her other books as well but this one has…haunted?…pursued?… me for several years now. It’s the story of Hosea (the minor prophet) set in the 1800 California Gold Rush. The verbal picture it paints of a God who pursues me despite my (dare I say it?) spiritual slutiness.
    Thanks for the author recommendations!

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