Thursday, January 17, 2008

The interesting bits.

I'm reading a novel, Moon Tiger, by Penelope Lively, a writer I've been only dimly aware of. I picked it up because Maureen Corrigan talked about Lively briefly on one of those end-of-the-year discussions of the best books of the year, on Fresh Air. This isn't the book Corrigan mentioned--this one won the Booker Prize in the late 80s. Anyway, I'm not crazy about the book so far--the main character, the narrator, seems to be smug and rich, condescending, and (worst of all!) a self-confessed terrible mother! (Yes, my feminist readers, this speaks volumes about me, I realize.)

However: I'm forging on because of these two passages which really spoke my language:

"We open our mouths and out flow words whose ancestries we do not even know. We are walking lexicons. In a single sentence of idle chatter we preserve Latin, Anglo-Saxon, Norse; we carry a museum inside our heads, each day we commemorate peoples of whom we have never heard. More than that we speak volumes -- our language is the language of everything we have not read. Shakespeare and the Authorized Version surface in supermakets, on buses, chatter on radio and television. I find this miraculous. I never cease to wonder at it. That words are more durable than anything, that they blow with the wind, hibernate and reawaken, shelter parasitic on the most unlikely hosts, survive and survive and survive."

and this:

"Children are not like us. They are beings apart: impenetrable, unapproachable. They inhabit not our world but a world we have lost and can never recover. We do not remember childhood -- we imagine it. We search for it, in vain, through layers of obscuring dust, and recover some bedraggled shreds of what we think it was. And all the while the inhabitants of this world are among us, like aborigines, like Minoans, people from elsewhere safe in their own time capsule."


  1. That last passage really speaks to me, which sounds pompous, but really: as I try to relate/develop a relationship with/get along with my GF's 7-year-old, it says exactly what I've been thinking. It doesn't help that I'm surrounded by people who work with small people and therefore understand them lots better.

  2. Both wonderful passages. I've been thinking about what's in a word, a little theme Unhip developed in the Lang and Soc course I'm currently teaching. And having just finished Bill Bryson's book on the English language, he points out the irony involved in all this. For example, sometimes purists have insisted on spellings or words which they felt were better (i.e. often more Latin) but sometimes it turns out they were Anglo-Saxon or Norse words. Language is a container which can simultaneously carry and expose our hypocrisy.

  3. mom. you are a fantastic wonderful mother! also that second passage is fantastic!

  4. these are amazing passages. I want to be able to write like this someday.



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