Wednesdays with Words – May 7, 2014

I had intended to post more quotes from Good Prose: the Art of Nonfiction.  However, on Friday I received a book I had requested many weeks ago from the library, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  Since I knew that I’d only have two weeks to read this 700+ page book, I started on it right away and was immediately sucked into the world of Theo Decker.  While I’m not quite halfway through the book, I know that it will be one to remember for the prose, if nothing else.  Donna Tartt’s mastery of descriptions is amazing.  Some of the passages have reminded me of poetry in their ability to make me see and feel in words what I have experienced in life.

The library hold slip, which I have been using as a bookmark, is now only one third its original size as I have torn pieces off to mark the many passages that I want to reread and copy and remember.  Here are just a few of those marked passages for your enjoyment:

“I was not very excited at the prospect of a lot of pictures of Dutch people standing around in dark clothes, and when we pushed through  the glass doors–from echoing halls into carpeted hush–I thought at first we’d gone into the wrong hall. The walls glowed with a warm, dull haze of opulence, a generic mellowness of antiquity; but then it all broke apart into clarity and color and pure Northern light, portraits, interiors, still lifes, some tiny, other majestic: ladies with husbands, ladies with lapdogs, lonely beauties in embroidered gowns and splendid, solitary merchants in jewels and furs. Ruined banquet tables littered with peeled apples and walnut shells; draped tapestries and silver; trompe l’oeils with crawling insects and striped flowers.  And the deeper we wandered, the stranger and more beautiful the pictures became.  Peeled lemons, with the rind slightly hardened at the knife’s edge, the greenish shadow of a patch of mold.  Light striking the rim of a half-empty wine glass.”  p. 23

[I especially loved the second sentence.  It’s so true when you first walk into a gallery–the overwhelming general color and textures break into individual pieces as you go further in.]


“Even the memory was starting to seem vague and starry with unreality, like a dream where the details get fainter the harder you try to grasp them.  What mattered more was the feeling, a rich sweet undertow so commanding that in class, on the school bus, lying in bed trying to think of something safe or pleasant, some environment or configuration where my chest wasn’t tight with anxiety, all I had to do was sink into the blood-red current and let myself spin away to the secret place where everything was alright.  Cinnamon-colored walls, rain on the windowpanes, vast quiet and a sense of depth and distance, like varnish over the background of a nineteenth-century painting.  Rugs worn to threads, painted Japanese fans and antique valentines flickering in candlelight, Pierrots and doves and flower-garlanded hearts.  Pippa’s face pale in the dark.” pp. 149-150


“Sitting there on the edge of her bed, it felt like the waking-up moment between dream and daylight where everything merged and mingled just as it was about to change, all in the same, fluid, euphoric slide:” p. 159


“And the flavor of Pippa’s kiss–bittersweet and strange–stayed with me all the way back uptown, swaying and sleepy as I sailed home on the bus, melting with sorrow and loveliness, a starry ache that lifted me up above the windswept city like a kite: my head in the rainclouds, my heart in the sky.” p. 159


“…almost immediately its glow enveloped me, something almost musical, an internal sweetness that was inexplicable beyond a deep, blood-rocking harmony of rightness, the way your heart beat slow and sure when you were with a person you felt safe with and loved.”  p. 317


I’m very concerned about how this story is going to turn out–I’m afraid that it will be like watching a train wreck–but it is irresistible to keep turning the pages, wanting to know what happens next to Theo, how he will make his way in the world on his own, who will help and hurt him, and how The Goldfinch will be a part of the way he lives his life.

Wednesdays with Words – April 23, 2014

I’m reading By Design by Susan Hunt for my Sunday School class this quarter.  It is an excellent, balanced book on God’s design for women and how they can contribute to the Church.  Here are a few quotes:

“We were created to help, not hinder. We were created to complete, not compete. Competition destroys relationships, and the writer of Proverbs said: “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:1).”

“Woman’s helper design is not so much what we do but rather who we are. It is not the only aspect of who we are, but it is an essential part of our essence. ”

“In other words, in many situations men and women may do much the same thing. But our design equips us to bring a unique perspective to that role. We put our own female spin on the particular task, and that is as it should be.”

“We must not dilute the worth of our design as women by capitulating to the voices in our culture that say we have to do the same things as men in order to have value.”

“When we join a church, we place ourselves under the authority and protection of the elders (or governing body) of that church in matters relating to church-life, realizing that the Holy Spirit has guided in their selection (Acts 20:28). We enter into a covenant relationship that involves accountability. ”

“The decision to join a church is not a social decision; it is a spiritual decision with spiritual ramifications.”

“Any genuine resurgence of Christianity, as history demonstrates, depends on a reawakening and renewal of that which is the essence of the faith-that is, the people of God, the new society, the body of Christ, which is made manifest in the world-the Church. “

Wednesdays with Words – April 16, 2014

Continuing on with the Narratives chapter in Good Prose:

“The attempt to render characters is a piece of writing, to create the illusion that people are alive on a page, is so essential to storytelling, and so dependent on every other aspect of the art, that it can’t help but seem diminished by the standard term ‘characterization.'”

“In nonfiction, events and characters stand in paradoxical relation to each other.  There is a fundamental difference between writing about a man who gets into an accident and writing about the accident.  The event is the event.  It happened. It’s a fact.  As for the man, no one knows for sure who he really is, what skein of motives and desires led him to this event.  And yet he, not the accident, is your fixed star.  Once you have selected a person to write about, that person has become the central mystery you want to solve, knowing that you never will solve it completely.”

“The honest nonfiction storyteller is a restrained illusionist.”

“The fundamental elements of a story’s structure are proportion and order.”

“Serious narratives offer us good reasons for caring what will happen to the characters.  Why those things happen, especially the characters’ motives, is a higher order of question than what will happen next, but most stories lack propulsion if they lack sequence.”

Wednesdays with Words – April 9, 2014

I’m slowly continuing to savor Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd.  Since it is a library book and I can’t write in it, there are numerous post-it notes sticking out of the pages, marking the multiple passages I want to copy and remember.  This is a book that I may eventually have to buy for myself.

I started the chapter of Narratives this week.  Here are a few good thoughts:

“And then, my notes assembled and indexed more or less, I retired to my office to try to begin to make sense of what I had observed.  I imagine that this moment is much the same for most non-fiction writers.  We sit at desks in our offices, apart from the world, gazing at those notebooks stacked on our tables, hoping there are stories in them but once again unsure.”

“What, after all, is a story? It is not a subject.  A good story many include a great deal of information on any number of topics or issues.  It may blossom with implications.  It may be a way of seeing the world in a grain of sand.  But that grain of sand can’t be just any grain of sand.  A story lives in its particulars, in the individuality of person, place, and time.”

“The most important conflict often happens within a character, or within the narrator.  The story begins with an inscrutable character and ends with a person the author and reader understand better than before, a series of events that yields, however quietly, a dramatic truth.  One might call this kind of story a narrative of revelation.”

“Revelation, someone’s learning something, is what transforms event into story.  Without revelation, a story of high excitement leaves us asking, ‘Is that all?’ Discovering the deeper drama of revelation is a challenge for a nonfiction writer, especially the writer who has happened onto a cliff-hanger story.  And it is an opportunity, also a potential solace, for the writer who has in hand a story that lacks obvious drama but that may contain other important qualities.

For a story to have a chance to live, it is essential only that there be something important at stake, a problem that confronts the characters or confronts the reader in trying to understand them.  The unfolding of the problem and its resolution are the real payoff.  A car chase is not required.”



Wednesdays with Words – April 2, 2014

I’ve just started a book on writing entitled Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd.  I could tell in the first few pages that the writers were kindred spirits.  Here are just a few of the quotes from the first chapter.  Unfortunately it is a library book so I can’t underline all of the wonderful thoughts in it.  I’ll just have to share some with you all instead.

“Beginnings are an exercise in limits.  You can’t make the reader love you in the first sentence or paragraph, but you can lose the reader right away. You don’t expect the doctor to cure you at once, but the doctor can surely alienate you at once, with brusqueness or bravado or indifference or confusion.  There is a lot to be said for the quiet beginning.”

“Expansiveness is not denied to anyone, but it is always prudent to remember that one is not Tolstoy or Dickens and to remember that modesty can resonate, too.”

“Clarity isn’t an exciting virtue, but it is a virtue always, and especially at the beginning of a piece of prose.”

‘With good writing the reader enjoys a doubleness of experience, succumbing to the story or the ideas while also enjoying the writer’s artfulness. Indeed, one way to know that writing deserves to be called art is the coexistence of these two pleasures in the reader’s mind.”

“Journalists are instructed…to make sure they tell the most important facts of the story first. This translates poorly to longer forms of writing.  The heart of the story is usually a place to arrive at, not a place to begin.  Of course the reader needs a reason to continue, but the best reason is simply confidence that the writer is going someplace interesting.”

The heart of the story is usually a place to arrive at, not a place to begin.  I love this thought!

This is going to be a good book.  I can feel it in my bones.

Wednesdays with Words – March 26, 2014

A day late so perhaps I should rename it Thursdays with Words this week.

I’ve started reading Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education by Stratford Caldecott with Cindy over at Ordo Amoris.  I could stop right after the introduction and have the foundations for my school year next year.  Here are just a few of the many passages I highlighted:

Ideas have consequences.1 They shape our society, our economy, our very lives. The gravest threat our civilization faces is in fact not ecological but philosophical. It is the widespread belief that there is no objective truth and no ‘true’ way of considering the world and its history, only a plurality of subjective points of view, each point of view being of equal value and deserving equal respect.


Students graduate with some knowledge of, say, the Tudors or the Second World War, Romantic poetry or astrophysics, without any awareness of other historical periods or the classical origins of our civilization. It is as though we were attempting to construct the top floor of a building without bothering with the lower floors or foundations.


The liberal arts are a golden thread that comes from the Greeks, from Pythagoras and his successors both Islamic and Christian, especially St Augustine; a thread that weaves its way through the history of our civilization. These arts were intended for the cultivation of freedom and the raising of our humanity to its highest possible level.


Today, in democratic societies, all men and women participate together in ruling our society, even if only by electing representatives to do so, and the education that used to be reserved to aristocrats is now a necessary qualification for everyone. If we are all to rule, we all need to become wise, and the key to wisdom is to understand the unity or interrelationship of all human knowledge, which is where the liberal arts come in.


The central idea of the present book is very simple. It is that education is not primarily about the acquisition of information. It is not even about the acquisition of ‘skills’ in the conventional sense, to equip us for particular roles in society. It is about how we become more human (and therefore more free, in the truest sense of that word).


Mr. Caldecott ends with a series of triads, including the Trivium and I love the way he renames each of them.  Grammar becomes Remembering; Dialectic becomes Thinking; and Rhetoric becomes Speaking.

Also, I love what Cindy says in her post on the introduction:  “Great men have great imaginations. Remember that as you plan your next school year.”

Read about everyone else’s books at Ordo-Amoris.


Wednesdays with Words – March 12, 2014

Every day I receive a devotional in my emailbox called Daily Strength for Daily Needs.  I don’t always read it but yesterday I did and there was a quote from Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, which I read many years ago while still in college.  This particular quote was so helpful that I found the chapter from Mrs. Smith’s book and read the whole chapter.

[The Higher Christian Life or the “hidden life”] is simply letting the Lord carry our burdens and manage our affairs for us, instead of trying to do it ourselves.

How simple it seems to let the Lord carry our burdens but how difficult it is to do it day by day, minute by minute.

The greatest burden we have to carry in life is self. The most difficult thing we have to manage is self. Our own daily living, our frames and feelings, our especial weaknesses and temptations, and our peculiar temperaments, our inward affairs of every kind, these are the things that perplex and worry us more than anything else, and that bring us oftenest into bondage and darkness. In laying off your burdens, therefore, the first one you must get rid of is yourself. You must hand yourself and all your inward experiences, your temptations, your temperament, your frames and feelings, all over into the care and keeping of your God, and leave them there. He made you, and therefore He understands you and knows how to manage you, and you must trust Him to do it. Say to Him, “Here, Lord, I abandon myself to Thee. I have tried in every way I could think of to manage myself, and to make myself what I know I ought to be, but have always failed. Now I give it up to Thee. Do thou take entire possession of me. Work in me all the good pleasure of Thy will. Mould and fashion me into such a vessel as seemeth good to Thee. I leave myself in Thy hands, and I believe Thou wilt, according to Thy promise, make me into a vessel unto Thine honor,‘sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.’* ” And here you must rest, trusting yourself thus to Him continually and absolutely.

This was a long quote but there was no way to shorten it without losing some of it’s impact.  It is so much easier to lay down our circumstances, our family, our trials, and the other external things but oh how hard it is to lay down ourselves and our sins, failings, temptations, fears, resentments, sorrows, and pains.  Because they are hidden within us, they are easy to hide from others and so on the outside we seem to be living that hidden life in Christ whereas in reality we cling to ourselves and our petty anger and our pet sins.  Giving up everything to Christ is difficult but the joy and release in those moments when we do let go of everything for Him are inexpressible!

Christians always commit the keeping of their souls for eternity to the Lord, because they know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they cannot keep these themselves. But the things of this present life they take into their own keeping, and try to carry on their own shoulders, with the perhaps unconfessed feeling that it is a great deal to ask of the Lord to carry them, and that they cannot think of asking Him to carry their burdens too.

Most people,” she continued, “take their burdens to Him, but they bring them away with them again, and are just as worried and unhappy as ever. But I take mine, and I leave them with Him, and come away and forget them. And if the worry comes back, I take it to Him again; I do this over and over, until at last I just forget that I have any worries, and am at perfect rest.

Here is a secret to giving these things up to Him–do it again and again and again.  Sometimes we will have to give them up each and every moment of the day as we realize that we have snatched them back again.

The circumstances of her life she could not alter, but she took them to the Lord, and handed them over into His management; and then she believed that He took it, and she left all the responsibility and the worry and anxiety with Him. As often as the anxieties returned she took them back; and the result was that, although the circumstances remained unchanged, her soul was kept in perfect peace in the midst of them. And the secret she found so effectual in her outward affairs, she found to be still more effectual in her inward ones, which were in truth even more utterly unmanageable. She abandoned her whole self to the Lord, with all that she was and all that she had; and, believing that He took that which she had committed to Him, she ceased to fret and worry, and her life became all sunshine in the gladness of belonging to Him.

This was the original excerpt I read yesterday.  Oh, how I want my life to become “all sunshine in the gladness of belonging to Him.”

The Scripture upon which this devotional was based was this:

Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee: He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.–PS. lv. 22.

To that I will add the familiar but comforting verse from 1 Peter:

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

May we humbly cast our cares on the Lord today and every day so that we may live a life of sunshine and gladness because of His great love and care for us.