Pearl: On What Makes a Good Writer

Girl Writing

“I am afraid I shall never get education enough to make a good writer.”

“You could worry about plenty of other things to better advantage,” said Miss Maxwell a little scornfully. “Be afraid, for instance, that you won’t understand human nature; that you won’t realise the beauty of the outer world; that you may lack sympathy, and thus never be able to read a heart; that your faculty of expression may not keep pace with your ideas – a thousand things, every one of them more important to the writer than the knowledge that is found in books.”
– Kate Douglas Wiggin, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

(Painting: “A Girl Writing” by Henriette Brown)

On Friendship, or Peculiar People

north-and-south-vintage-coverI re-read North and South recently for book club, and while I’d previously concentrated on the tumultuous relationship between Margaret Hale and Mr. Thornton, this time I found myself thinking a lot about the power of conversation and curious connection of friendship.

Especially those wonderful friendships built on meaningful conversations.

Consider this powerful passage in which Elizabeth Gaskell writes about the special bond between Margaret’s dad and Mr. Thornton. The last few sentences pierce my heart:

It was curious how the presence of Mr. Thornton had power over Mr. Hale to make him unlock the secret thoughts which he kept shut up even from Margaret . . . Whatever was the reason, he could unburden himself better to Mr. Thornton than to her of all the thoughts and fancies and fears that had been frost-bound in his brain till now. Mr. Thornton said very little, but every sentence he uttered added to Mr. Hale’s reliance and regard for him. Was it that he paused in the expression of some remembered agony, Mr. Thornton’s two or three words would complete the sentence, and show how deeply its meaning was entered into. Was it a doubt – a fear – a wandering uncertainty seeking rest, but finding none – so tear-blinded were its eyes – Mr. Thornton, instead of being shocked, seemed to have passed through that very stage of thought himself, and could suggest where the exact ray of light was to be found, which should make the dark places plain. Man of action as he was, busy in the world’s great battle, there was a deeper religion binding him to God in his heart, in spite of his strong wilfulness, through all his mistakes, than Mr. Hale had ever dreamed. They never spoke of such things again, as it happened; but this one conversation made them peculiar people to each other; knit them together, in a way which no loose indiscriminate talking about sacred things can ever accomplish. When all are admitted, how can there be a Holy of Holies?

Blind Date With a Book

My experience with blind dates is limited. Really limited. As in, one time my husband and I set up mutual friends (I’ll call them Rod and Lucy). We arranged for them to meet in the greeting card aisle of Walmart, where Rod was holding a certain flower as a signal (“I’m your date!”). We’d given them a little package beforehand that they opened together to find out where they were going and how they’d be spending their evening.

Rod and Lucy went mini golfing, then out for dinner to a combined Italian eatery/gelato shop. And . . . the date was ho-hum, no sparks flew and they didn’t see each other again. Blind date fail.

So, I was both intrigued and wary when I popped in to our local library the other day and noticed a Valentine’s Day-related feature on right now called Blind Date with a Book. There’s a whole shelf of individually wrapped books looking all pretty in pink and red wrapping paper. The idea is, you choose package, take it home and unwrap the surprise, and read a book you might otherwise never have ‘met.’

I spent some time perusing the shelf, trying to guess which book looked the most promising.  A heavy hard-cover?  A slim paperback?  I ended up choosing a smaller, chunky book thinking ‘maybe it’ll be a classic??’

Life Lately-6

So here’s what I found when I unwrapped my book:

Life Lately-8

First impressions?  Kinda like walking up the greeting card aisle and seeing a short guy wearing a football jersey taking care of a wedgie.  Yeah, not my type.  This is a novel about an arsonist on the loose in rural Norway, and . . . pyromaniacs don’t really light my fire, the title is awfully grim, and there doesn’t seem to be much chance there’s a love story wedged inside there.  And the book has a 3.42 rating on GoodReads.  Altogether unpromising.

But I’m going to give it a try.  And I’ll let you know how this ‘date’ turns out . . . 🙂

Have you gone on any ‘blind dates’ with books?  How’d they turn out?

What Do Your Eyelashes Say About You?

Long dark eyelashes, now: what can be more exquisite?  I find it impossible not to expect some depth of soul behind a deep grey eye with a long dark eyelash, in spite of an experience which has shown me that they may go along with deceit, peculation, and stupidity.  But if, in the reaction of disgust, I have betaken myself to a fishy eye, there has been a surprising similarity of result.  One begins to suspect at length that there is no direct correlation between eyelashes and morals.

Adam Bede by George Eliot

The Magic of the Commonplace

Woman at the Garden by Renoir

Woman at the Garden by Renoir

The magic of the commonplace, the wonderful use of biblical language, the delightful realms of a child’s imagination – these are all reasons I love Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books.  Here is a wee little taste of the refreshing waters:

At heart a thorough clansman, she loved, without knowing she loved, all the old clan customs and beliefs and follies and wisdoms as immutable as the law of Mede and Persian.  They were all part of that int’resting world where she lived and moved and had her being – a world which could never be dull for Marigold, who possessed the talismanic power of flinging something glamorous over the most commonplace fact of life.  As Aunt Marigold said, Marigold saw the soul of things as well as the things themselves.
Magic for Marigold, Lucy Maud Montgomery

When a Few Words Paint a Most Vivid Picture


Rather than tackle the behemoth that is The Way We Live Now, I’ve been meandering through Barchester Towers; it’s been a most pleasant journey.  Tonight I’ve been chortling away at Anthony Trollope’s hilarious descriptions, and thought I’d share with you this little gem of a quote:

Mr. Slope is tall, and not ill-made . . . His hair is lank, and of a dull pale-reddish hue. It is always formed into three straight lumpy masses, each brushed with admirable precision and cemented with much grease. Two of them adhere closely to the sides of his face, and the other lies at right angles above them. He wears no whiskers, and is always punctiliously shaven. His face is nearly of the same color as his hair, though perhaps a little redder. It is not unlike beef – beef, however, one would say, of a bad quality. His forehead is capacious and high, but square and heavy, and unpleasantly shining. His mouth is large, though his lips are thin and bloodless, and his big, prominent, pale-brown eyes inspire anything but confidence. His nose, however, is his redeeming feature. It is pronounced straight and well-formed, though I myself should have liked it better did it not possess a somewhat spongy, porous appearance, as though it have been cleverly formed out of a red-colorer cork.

I never could endure to shake hands with Mr. Slope. A cold, clammy perspiration always exudes from him, the small drops are ever to be seen standing on his brow, and his friendly grasp is unpleasant.

Such is Mr. Slope.

– Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers

What’s been making you laugh these days? 🙂

Pearl of Personality: Thoughts of an Introvert in Emma

Summer Evening by Childe Hassam

Summer Evening by Childe Hassam

My 3-year old son, James, is a extrovert (bless his heart), while my husband and I are introverts.  We’re content being homebodies and spend most of our evenings quietly curled up on the couch, reading.  James, on the other hand, has a hard time feeling alive without people around him: the vast expanse of the great outdoors is a bleak desert if I’m not out there with him, and his toys inspire the most half-hearted interest until one of us joins in the play.  It can be pretty challenging to feed his seemingly inexhaustible need for social involvement in all the activities of his day . . . but it helps, at least, to have an idea of how we’re different.

The point being, all these thoughts about introverts and extroverts were floating through my mind the other day as I was reading Jane Austen’s Emma.  This passage seemed to leap off the page as I read it; I concurred most fervently with the thoughts of my fellow introvert, John Knightley!

The whole party were but just reassembled in the drawing-room when Mr. Weston made his appearance among them.  He had returned to a late dinner, and walked to Hartfield as soon as it was over.  He had been too much expected by the best judges, for surprise – but there was great joy . . . John Knightley only was in mute astonishment – That a man who might have spent his evening quietly at home after a day of business in London, should set off again, and walk half a mile to another man’s house, for the sake of being in mixed company till bedtime, of finishing his day in the efforts of civility and the noise of numbers, was a circumstance to strike him deeply.  A man who had been in motion since eight o’clock in the morning, and might now have been still, who had been long talking, and might have been silent, who had been in more than one crowd, and might have been alone! – Such a man, to quit the tranquility and independence of his own fireside, and on the evening of a cold sleety April day rush out again into the world! . . . John Knightley looked at him in amazement.

How about you?  Any favourite books with introvert heroes?  Are you a Mr. Weston or a Mr. John Knightley?