Sunday, June 16, 2013

Words R Us

For some reason unknown to me, I've been on a serious reading jag.

About a year or so ago, I was shamed into reading a classic by a couple of friends of mine, "To Kill a Mockingbird," a book I probably should have read decades ago. I enjoyed that experience so much that I dusted off my library card and started checking out books left and right.

I checked out classics: "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "The Wizard of Oz" fell into my scope (Alice was a little too bizarre for me, but I did enjoy the Wizard). So did other books, usually World War II and Civil War histories, for which I have a great interest and passion.

I recently purchased a Galaxy tablet, which allows me to app up Kindle and other 21st century reading subscriptions — as well as access to Angry Birds. (Somebody rescue me now. Quick. Please).

At any rate, having tumbled into a career of writing myself, I think I can appreciate with some insight the skill, talent and craft of the giants, even if I could never emulate them.

This was never more true than with F. Scott Fitzgerald after I checked out "The Great Gatsby." I really thought I had read this book back in high school as part of my college preparatory summer reading program all those years ago, but clearly I had not. I was shocked by how thin — about 130 pages — the novel was when I checked it out. And yet, it was chock full of life, imagery and parable.

Witness as Fitzgerald describes Nick's encounter with Tom Buchanan as they discuss Gatsby: "Before I could reply that he was my neighbor dinner was announced; wedging his tense arm imperatively under mine, Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square."

Wow. That paragraph certainly paints a picture in the brain. The entire book is like that. Fitzgerald has vaulted way beyond Hemingway and Faulkner in my humble esteem.

Another author I've come to respect is Rick Atkinson, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of the Liberation trilogy dealing with the European campaigns of the United States military in World War II.

Under Atkinson's brush, this is hardly dry history. Words of description rise and fall throughout his narrative as if floating in a tidal basin. I read all the time and there were words I'd never seen before, or if I did, had no clue what they meant: pellucid, sangfroid, anabasis, insouciance, gyre, uxorious, quotidian. This could seem intimidating to the casual reader, but in Atkinson's hand, they are the artist's tools. And when you learn the definitions, they are nice surprises. Holy smokes.

Or should I say, they become pellucid?

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