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18 March 2012

The Agile Brain Leaps Among the Evocative Words

In a recent New York Times piece, Annie Murphy Paul, author of Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, writes of a wonderful confirmation of why people should read, but not (in my mind) only fiction, but also, poetry or true crime or history - anything by a good wordsmith.  Brains crave stimulation, and now we can see what readers have always intuitively known, that hearing words like, "lavender" and "coffee" is almost as good as smelling the real thing, that reading "velvety voice" or "leathery hands" is almost as good as hearing or seeing and reading "kick" and "leap" on a page is about as good as watching the action and maybe even thinking about doing such activities.

Verbal and written language are important.  Words -- the building blocks of a vast communications network -- are important. Descriptive words, the stuff of poetry, fiction and more, allow us readers to experience something more than the moment, whether the evocation of a memory, empathy with the narrator, entertainment alongside or at the expense of the characters, enlightenment, escape, and more (whether it starts with an "e" or not).  In a piece in the same NY Times section this weekend, Jhumpa Lahiri, author of such best-selling titles as The Namesake (a 2011 World Book Night choice) and Interpreter of Maladies, shares how certain written language had affected her and continue to transport her far from the present moment.

Thank you for such exquisite insight on writing, also, Miss Lahiri.  I love the imagery in your description of not being able to leave well (or not) enough alone;
Years later, I can always reach out to smooth a stray hair.
I agree writing is not static.  I leave my pieces to "pickle," returning to scrap whole lines, not knowing whether I have demolished the an essential I-beam of the foundation along with gingerbread that sounded good one day, but not anymore.  Years later, I am still doing so.  Sometimes, the re-writing is so paralyzing, I can't go forward, continuing to re-work the same pages again and again and not remembering where the piece was headed.  I cannot say whether this afflicts every writer and while I can't put myself anywhere near in the same class of talent as Jhumpa Lahiri, I feel affirmed that I am not the only one so determined to present the perfectly polished jewel of a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a thought, a moment, for you the reader.

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