I often agonize over just the right word to express what I’m trying to say – to the point of ridiculousness. I try not to let my obsession with le mot juste (Bro Ruhl shoutout!) get the best of me, or I’d never get anything done, but I do have a dictionary (a book one, not an internet one) next to my desk for those times when I’m not sure if a word means what I think it means. Inconceivable!
Anyway, when I come across a passage or a paragraph that is full of the perfect combination of words, it makes my heart happy. So here, for your reading pleasure, are a few of the paragraphs that have made huge impressions on me.
Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever. ~Jeffrey Eugenides, in Middlesex
I’ll just let that one speak for itself. Love it.
Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them. They move on. They move away. The moments that used to define them – a mother’s approval, a father’s nod – are covered by moments of their own accomplishments. It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives. ~ Mitch Albom in The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Okay, I have not read that book, so I can’t speak for the story or the context. I saw a fraction of that quote, the part about the stories as stones upon stones, printed somewhere. I had to search for the full passage online, and I was not disappointed when I found it.
I am a dog, and I know how to fast. It’s a part of the genetic background for which I have such contempt. When God gave men big brains, he took away the pads on their feet and made them susceptible to salmonella. When he denied dogs the use of thumbs, he have them the ability to survive without food for extended periods. While a thumb – one thumb! – would have been very helpful at that time, allowing me to turn a stupid doorknob and escape, the second best tool, and the one at my disposal, was my ability to go without nourishment… ~ Garth Stein in The Art of Racing in the Rain
Unlike the first two, this quote (and really, the next two pages) are more meaningful as part of the context of the rest of the story. The Art of Racing in the Rain is told from the perspective of the dog, which could definitely be, well, absurd. But, my favorite thing about this book is that Enzo the Dog’s point-of-view completely makes sense. It doesn’t come across as human, and it’s somewhere between “dog” and “how we people completely anthropomorphize our pets.” In this same section, Enzo is faced with a demented stuffed zebra toy. This whole scene is why this book stands out to me – Stein takes a situation – dog is left alone so dog tears something up – and turns the scene around, successfully enough that you not only feel sorry for the dog, but also understand (sort of) his motivation.
Next time my dog eats a blanket (or a door, or a plastic swimming pool, or a box of hot chocolate), I’ll try to remember that.
Any other collectors of favorite passages out there?