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September 23, 2005

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Lickona

And in Catholic-flavored New Orleans, with its tradition of All Souls' Day, the living spent perhaps more time among the dead than in most places. I almost got mad at that throwaway line about being married in a cemetery (!), and then I remembered.
From Walker Percy's Lancelot:
"It makes a pretty scene today, don't you think? All Souls' Day. A pleasant feast for the dead: the women in the cemetery whitewashing the tombs, trimming the tiny lawns, setting out chrysanthemums, real and plastic, lighting candles, scrubbing the marble lintels. They remind me of Baltimore housewives on their hands and knees washign the white doorsteps of row houses."
And again:
"Look at the street. Even the cemetery, especially the cemetery, looks cheerful. The mums are still fresh and yellow. The tombs spick-and-span, the rain trees bright as new copper pennies. Yesterday young people were singing in the old section. Some of them even sleep in the oven crypts, shove the bones aside and unroll their sleeping bags, a perfect fit. An odd thing about New Orleans: the cemeteries here are much more cheerful than the hotels and the French Quarter. Tell me why that should be, why two thousand dead Creoles should be more alive than two thousand Buick dealers?"

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TEV DEFINED


  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."

SECOND LOOK

  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

    Bs

    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe

    Rider_4

    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."