One of the best

May 11, 2012 Candace Morris 5 Comments

The Elegance of the Hedgehog


Yesterday, while waiting for my body to metabolize the ridiculously sugary drink I had to imbibe for my glucose tolerance test, I finished one of the best books I've read in my entire life. I know I've mentioned it a few times here, but I have to say that I felt this book was written entirely from my own thoughts!  Have you encountered an artist, musician, fashion designer, blogger, or author wherein you found a piece of your very own soul in the alchemy of the work they produce?  While I love to read, and do it often, it is rare that I find such deep camaraderie with an author.  While this book is also a NY Times Bestseller, I feel deeply gratified that it isn't what anyone else is reading (aside from some esoteric erudites I love), hasn't been made into a movie, and isn't popular because everyone loved the TV show.  I want to buy this book for everyone I know.  However, since this isn't possible, I want to share some particularly thrilling passages - and you will probably see why I loved it so.

Perhaps the most beautiful description of writing I've encountered:
Chapter 18: Ryabinin
In reference to Levin's working in the field (Anna Karenina):
"It is getting hotter and hotter, Levin's arms and shoulders are soaked in sweat, but with each successive pause and start, his awkward, painful gestures become more fluid.  A welcome breeze suddenly caresses his back.  A summer rain.  Gradually, his movements are freed from the shackles of his will, and he goes into a light trance which gives his gestures the perfection of conscious, automatic motion, without thought or calculation, and the scythe seems to move of its own accord.  Levin delights in the forgetfulness that movement brings, where the pleasure of doing is marvelously foreign to the striving of the will."  
She then equates this to writing:
"What other reason might I have for writing if it did not have something of the art of of scything about it?  The lines gradually become their own demiurges and, like some witless yet miraculous participant, I witness the birth on paper of sentences that have eluded my will and appear in spite of me on the sheet, teaching me something that I neither knew or thought I might want to know.  This painless birth, like an unsolicited proof, gives me untold pleasure, and with neither toil nor certainty but the joy of frank astonishment I follow the pen that is guiding and supporting me. In this way, in the proof and texture of my self, I accede to a a self-forgetfulness that borders on ecstasy, to savor the blissful calm of my watching consciousness. "

On Grammar:
p. 159
"Personally I think grammar is a way to attain beauty.  When you speak, or read, or write, you can tell if you've said or read or written a fine sentence.  You can recognize a well-turned phrase or an elegant style.  But when you are applying the rules of grammar skillfully, you ascend to another level of the beauty of language.  When you use grammar you peel back the layers, to see how it is all put together, see it quite naked, in a way.  And that's where it becomes wonderful, because you say to yourself, 'Look how well-made this is, how well-constructed it is!  How solid and ingenious, rich and subtle!'  I get completely carried away just knowing there are words of all different natures, and that you have to know them in order to be able to infer their potential usage and compatibility.  I find there is nothing more beautiful, for example, than the very basic components of language, nouns, and verbs. It's magnificent, don't you think!"

On the beauty of trees:
p. 169
"I began to understand why I felt this sudden joy when [he] was talking about birch trees.  I get the same feeling when anyone talks about trees, any trees: the linden tree in the farmyard, the oak behind the old barn, the stately elms that have all disappeared now, the pine trees along wind-swept coasts, etc.  There's so much humanity in a love of trees, so much nostalgia for our first sense of wonder, so much power in just feeling our own insignificance when were are surrounded by nature.  Just thinking about trees and their indifferent majesty and our love for them teaches us how ridiculous we are-vile parasites squirming on the surface of the earth-and at the same time how deserving of life we can be, when we can honor this beauty that owes us nothing."

Oh such beautiful musings interwoven in a simple and heartbreaking plot.  



p.s. I also have rekindled my love affair with the Seattle Public Library, and my goodness it feels good to stop purchasing and go back to borrowing.  Use your libraries!!!

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