Sunday, January 27, 2008


Another Sunday, another batch of quotes for you. With related open letters, because I felt like mixing it up a bit today.

First, one about books and readers that caught my eye in this article in today's New York Times*. Usually I like what Mr. Jobs has to say about advances in technology, but this bit in an article about Amazon's wireless reading device, the Kindle got my goat:

". . .when Mr. Jobs was asked two weeks ago at the Macworld Expo what he thought of the Kindle, he heaped scorn on the book industry. 'It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is; the fact is that people don’t read anymore,' he said. 'Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year.'

To Mr. Jobs, this statistic dooms everyone in the book business to inevitable failure."

Dear Mr. Jobs: Those of us who do read more than one book a year read a lot of books. Last year was a slow year for me owing to all the research I did, and I still read over 100 books. And book readers are still in the majority. Please send my goat back.

On first drafts
From an article by Bonita Pate Davis in the November/December 2007 SCBWI Bulletin:

"First drafts attempt to capture coalescing ideas into a semblance of order. They barely rise one step above the primordial soup. Still, no matter how rough, those first drafts come nearest to capturing the pure essence of ideas and feelings."

Dear Ms. Davis: I sure hope all the writers I know can find a copy of the Bulletin and read your article on page 16. Your thoughts are cogent, you make wonderful points about first drafts and your use of language is wonderful. Your reference to "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" and the Romantic poets just clinched this as a work of genius, in my opinion

On writing with integrity
In the same issue of the SCBWI Bulletin, Susan Salzman Raab interviewed last year's Newbery award-winner, Susan Patron. The question was "From your perspective as an author whose book has been challenged and as a former librarian who has defended other people's books, what would you recommend to authors who are afraid that a book they're writing may be controversial?" Here's an excerpt from Patron's answer:

As writers we choose each word with care so that it conveys our specific meaning, mood, emphasis, style, etc. And we write with respect for the reader's intelligence. We're doomed if we permit the specter of sensors or critics to enter our creative process. We must not let those crows of fear caw into our ears as we write, or we won't hear the genuine inner voice that we need to access in order to write honestly and well.

Dear Ms. Patron: Thank you. Thank you for your words, which all writers need to hear, and for your integrity, grace and humor. Thanks also for fighting back when the crows of censure/censorship came cawing over the innocent use of a correct anatomical term.

Next, this quote on poetry from Ted Hughes, which I discovered over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast the other day:

Because it is occasionally possible, just for brief moments, to find the words that will unlock the doors of all those many mansions inside the head and express something — perhaps not much, just something — of the crush of information that presses in on us from the way a crow flies over and the way a man walks and the look of a street and from what we did one day a dozen years ago. Words that will express something of the deep complexity that makes us precisely the way we are, from the momentary effect of the barometer to the force that created men distinct from trees. Something of the inaudible music that moves us along in our bodies from moment to moment like water in a river. Something of the spirit of the snowflake in the water of the river. Something of the duplicity and the relativity and the merely fleeting quality of all this. Something of the almighty importance of it and something of the utter meaninglessness. And when words can manage something of this, and manage it in a moment, of time, and in that same moment, make out of it all the vital signature of a human being — not of an atom, or of a geometrical diagram, or of a heap of lenses — but a human being, we call it poetry.

Dear Jules and Eisha: Thanks for all the excellent posts you guys do, including reminding me about books I should read and books I have read.

Dear Ted Hughes: From what I understand, you weren't always a nice guy. But I really like what you said here about poetry and language. So thanks.

On memory, a quote from Jane Austen's Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, the ITV version of which will be appearing at 9 p.m. tonight on most PBS stations.

Tonight's version features Billie Piper as the "insipid" Fanny Price. Pictured with her from left to right are Joseph Beattie as Henry Crawford, Joseph Morgan as William Price, and Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram. This movie features excellent performances by Beattie and his screen-sister, Mary Crawford, as played by Hayley Atwell, and by Maggie O'Neill as Mrs. Norris.

If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.

Dear Jane: Thank you for this book, which I happen to like, even if some members of your family did find Fanny to be a bit of a prig. There are a number of people who lead long-suffering lives, and the thought that all might turn out well for them is encouragin. I also like how the book can be read as allegory, with Fanny in a Job-like position, and various characters representing the 7 deadly sins: Lust (Maria Bertram), Gluttony (Tom Bertram), Greed (Mary Crawford), Sloth (Lady Bertram), Wrath (Sir Thomas Bertram), Envy (Rushworth), and Pride (Mary Crawford). At least that's how I'm assigning the roles today, although some of these folks do double-duty, and I've not assigned a particular sin to one of the most despicable characters in the book, Mrs. Norris, who seems to have Greed, Wrath, Envy and Pride in abundance. Also unassigned? Our "hero", Edmund Bertram, to whom I assign the sin of being annoyingly obtuse. But I digress, dear Lady, and I've gone on too long. I hope my friends will watch the latest cinematic adaptation of your fine book.

*You may need to sign up for a free account to read the NY Times online. I can't tell for sure because, well, I already have one.

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