Tuesday, August 17, 2010

South of Broad: Reading and writing


Image source: ADateToPaint

They say that if you want to be a better writer you need to write what you know and to write every day.

But perhaps as important as writing every day is the value of reading every day - reading the good writing of others, reading what they know.

I'm faithful to the first rule above, not so faithful to the second.

Vacation offers more time for writing and, more importantly, more time for reading. At the suggestion of a friend I've begun reading Pat Conroy's South of Broad. I have no fantasies about writing a novel but reading an author like Conroy reopens the mind to the mastery over words that some writers command. Just in the first few pages, gems like these...

The novel's first-person narrator describing his father:
A stargazer of the first order, he squealed with pleasure on the moonless nights when the stars winked at him in some mysterious, soul-stirring graffiti of ballet-footed light. He would clap his hands with irresistible joy on a cloudless night when he made every star in the sky a silver dollar in his pocket.

He was more North star than father.
And describing his mother:
Singularly, without artifice or guile, my mother's world seemed disconsolate and tragic before she really knew how tragic life could be. Once she learned that no life could avoid the consequences of tragedy, she softened into an ascetic's acknowledgment of the illusory nature of life. She became a true believer in the rude awakening.
Both descriptions craft an image from everyday words that yield far more about the two characters than any five lines might be expected to offer.

Like a painter at his palette, Conroy's brush deftly dips into simple colors, mixing and applying them to the canvass of a page, leaving us with art: impressionistic and realistic in one stroke.

Exposure to good writing ignites a writer's imagination - just a few chapters of Conroy has done that for me. Simply reading his prose is a sort of writer's workshop: not instruction, not a lesson, but an experience of writing that stirs the imagination and a desire to write, to write what one knows and to write as compellingly as possible.

Thank God for this summer break and for the time to read!


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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, I wrote my last comment before I read this post on Conroy's new work. He is one of my favorite authors for just the reasons you mentioned.

Ruthie

ConcordPastor said...

I believe!

Debra said...

Oh my! If I could just write that well!

Rosie Delacruz said...

Well put! There's nothing like rich, descriptive writing to draw one into a different world. It does, indeed, fire up the imagination. Enjoy the rest of your summer break!

Anonymous said...

I hadn't read a Pat Conroy novel in a long time. I checked out South of Broad from the library yesterday and read the first several chapters last night. Am enjoying it a great deal. This morning I had a call from someone in my home town in NC who was born in Charleston. She had a stroke last year and can no longer read small print, but does get talking books. I suggested South of Broad to her. Not only does Conroy create memorable characters, his writing draws you into the sights, sounds, smells of Charleston. I could almost smell the benne cookies baking!

So thank you for your book suggestion!

Rosemary

Anonymous said...

I finished South of Broad.

WHEW!

Rosemary