I've been mulling over Litlove's meme about the joy of language. In the days that have elapsed since she posted it, I have caught myself more than once repeating favourite words aloud to myself as I meander about my neighbourhood of an evening. I don't think I've frightened any of my neighbours but I've certainly confirmed my eccentricity in their eyes. (Incidentally, I rather like the words mull, meander, and eccentricity.) Here are my responses to Litlove's questions:
List some of your favourite words:
dreich, gloaming, marmalade, muse, quiescent, rivulet, smirr, whisper
What's your favourite maxim or proverb?
"What's for you will no' go by you."
What's your favourite quotation?
"When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story. The meaning of fiction is not abstract meaning but experienced meaning, and the purpose of making statements about the meaning of a story is only to help you to experience that meaning more fully." (Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners).
What's your favourite first line of a novel?
"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink." (Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle)
Give an example of a piece of description that's really pleased you in your reading lately:
"Everyone's saying this weather can't last. 'We'll pay for it!' we agree, in our gleeful Calvinism. Fancy—day after day of summer sunshine, in April. The house grows dusty and neglected because we spend so much time outdoors. It's unseasonal, but all weather is unseasonal nowadays. The plum blossom is coming and next door's old pear tree is a perfect triangle of greenish-white froth. They do this like a conjuring trick, the old trees. They're brittle and cronish all winter, then blossom issues out of them and fills the tree slowly, like a dancehall filling on a Saturday night.” (Kathleen Jamie, Findings)
Which five writers do you particularly admire for their use of language?
John Banville, Jackie Kay, James Salter, Ali Smith, Muriel Spark, and many more...
And are there writers whose style you really dislike?
I can't think offhand of particular writers to name in response to this question, but I can say that I don't enjoy writing that strikes me as flowery and excessively descriptive. (Yes, I do see the irony in my use of the word flowery here just after citing a descriptive passage about blossoming as one that has really pleased me recently!)
What's the key to really fine writing, in your opinion?
I'm reluctant to identify a single key. After all, a central element of one bit of fine writing may be wholly absent from another bit of fine writing. But perhaps I can provide a response to the question without smoothing over what seems to me the glorious diversity of fine writing by focusing on voice. A unique voice to which the writer has fully committed is often what rivets my attention. I hasten to add that I'm not referring here to the writer's voice (I'm not big on the old saw about writers needing to "find their own voice"), but to the particular voice he or she employs in an individual bit of work.
Go forth and meme if these questions capture your fancy as they did mine!