But if I were asked to pick one constant, one quality that seems dependable, immutable, endlessly available, I'd say that it was intensity. For nothing in Sicily seems withheld, done half way, restrained or suppressed. There's nothing to correspond to say, the ironic, the cerebral remove at which a Frenchman might consider an idea or a question, or the Scandinavian distrust of the sloppy, emotive response.
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So perhaps the correct conclusion is that Green was less attuned to how people sound when they speak - the actual words and expressions they employ - than to what they mean. This notion of dialogue as a pure expression of character that...transcends the specifics of time and place may be partly why the conversations in the works of writers such as Austen and Bronte often sound fresh and astonishingly contemporary...
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With so much reading ahead of you, the temptation might be to speed up. But in fact it's essential to slow down and read every word. Because one important thing that can be learned by reading slowly is the seemingly obvious but oddly underappreciated fact that language is the medium we use in much the same way a composer uses notes, the way a painter uses paint. I realize it may seem obvious, but it's surprising how easily we lose sight of the fact that words are the raw material out of which literature is crafted.
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Saying good-bye to a city is harder than breaking up with a lover. The grief and regret are more piercing because they are more complex and unmixed, changing from corner to corner, with each passing vista, each shift of the light. Breaking up with a city is unclouded by the suspicion that after the affair ends, you'll learn something about the beloved you wished you never knew. The city is as it will remain: gorgeous, unattainable, going on without you as if you'd never existed. What pain and longing the lover feels as he bids farewell to a tendril of ivy, a flower stall, the local butcher. The charming cafe where he meant to have coffee but never did.
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He claimed to be a Marxist, the only one of his claims I believed. He had that Marxist passion for oysters and good Sancerre, and that Marxist paralysis when the waiter brought the check. Already it's obvious how much the Communists got wrong, overbetting on human high-mindedness, lowballing human desire.
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[Referring to passage by Alice Munro] Finally, the passage contradicts a form of bad advice often given young writers - namely, that the job of the author is to show, not tell. Needless to say, many great novelists combine "dramatic" showing with long sections of the flat-out authorial narration that is, I guess, what is meant by telling. And the warning against telling leads to a confusion that causes novice writers to think that everything should be acted out - don't tell us a character is happy, show us how she screams "yay" and jumps up and down for joy - when in fact the responsibility of showing should be assumed by the energetic and specific use of language.
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Reading Chekhov, I felt not happy, exactly, but as close to happiness as I knew I was likely to come. And it occurred to me that this was the pleasure and mystery of reading, as well as the answer to those who say that books will disappear. For now, books are still the best way of taking great art and its consolations along with us on a bus.
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I waited for dawn, but only because I had forgotten how hard mornings were. For a second I'd be normal. Then came the dim awareness of something off, out of place. Then the truth came crashing down and that was it for the rest of the day. Sunlight was reproof. Shouldn't I feel better than I had in the dead of night.
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With this recitation of paraphernalia and detritus, O'Brien manages to encapsulate the experience of an army and of a particular war, of a mined and booby-trapped landscape, of cold nights and hot days, of soaking monsoons and rice paddies, and of the possibility of being shot, like Ted Lavender, suddenly and out of nowhere: not only in the middle of a sentence but in the midst of a subordinate clause.
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To be truthful, some writers stop you dead in your tracks by making you see your own work in the most unflattering light. Each of us will meet a different harbinger of personal failure, some innocent genius chosen by us for reasons having to do with what we see as our own inadequacies. The only remedy to this I have found is to read a writer whose work is entirely different from another, though not necessarily more like your own""a difference that will remind you of how many rooms there are in the house of art.
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