Travels with Charley

24 Aug
“It seemed to me that regional speech is in the process of disappearing, not gone but going…I who love words and the endless possibility of words am saddened by this inevitability. For with local accent will disappear local tempo. The idioms, the figures of speech that make language rich and full of the poetry of place and time must go. And in their place will be a national speech, wrapped and packaged, standard and tasteless.”
“And the night, far from being frightful, was lovely beyond thought, for the stars were close, and although there was no moon the starlight made a silver glow in the sky.”
“In colors of rose and lavender and purple it moved and pulsed against the night, and the frost-sharpened stars shone through it.”
“I walked in the old part of Seattle, where the fish and crab and shrimps lay beautifully on white beds of shaved ice and where the washed and shining vegetables were arranged in pictures.”
There is little so lovely to me as a well-written sentence. If I had my wish, I would spend a few hours every day buried in books, so I could discover these sentences. I have the habit of walking around the house while I brush my teeth. Tonight, while scrubbing my teeth, I rounded the corner to the book case, where I plucked “Travels with Charley” by John Steinbeck from a shelf. As I flipped through the pages, I noticed the book is pretty marked. I remembered that a few years ago, this slim book produced abundant beautiful sentences, which I hastily underlined before progressing to the next. You never know with books – which ones will delight, which ones will bore. With most, I read until the very end. If I stop mid-way, I’m forever wondering: what if it gets better? What if I missed out? Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Some, though, offer no hope, no glimmer to keep reading. These I gladly end. Above are a few of the sentences underlined in Travels. They’re the ones that rose to the surface and glittered, if only shortly, in the sun. And one can never later be sure what it was that caused the whipping pen to swoop along these words. I imagine it had something to do with “poetry of place” and “frost-sharpened stars.” Years later, they still sparkle. But never quite as they do when one’s mind fully swims in story.

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