In celebration of beautiful writing

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

One of the things – and maybe the ONLY thing – I love about winter is the permission it gives us to hunker down and do whatever we want to inside. The cold and rain give us excuses, whether we need them or not, to “waste” time binging on television shows, playing computer card games or reading books that have been put aside.


For the most part, I am an indiscriminate reader. I read nonsense, teen books, mysteries that I usually figure out by chapter five, popular novels, historical novels and a few nonfiction books. Every now and then, however, I need to feed my writer’s soul with someone I can count on to give me good, solid and beautiful writing.

There isn’t a lot of it out there, I am sorry to say. I find many of the “best sellers” to be sloppily written. Seasoned writers I have loved in the past can’t always be counted on these days. They seem to be in a hurry, and their books show it.

Kate Morton, however, has never let me down. I am currently enjoying a good read as I am about a quarter-way through Morton’s “The Clockmaker’s Daughter.” I am a big Morton fan, and reading her latest has sent me back to my list of “Wish I had written that …”

I started the list when I was re-reading “The Great Gatsby” for the umpteenth time. When you already know the story, you can get lost in F. Scott’s words, his prose. I copied Nick’s summary of Tom and Daisy into a notebook: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made …”

I later transferred it to a Word document and added a description of Daisy’s voice: “The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain. I had to follow the sound of it for a moment, up and down, with my ear alone, before any words came through.”

The list became my way of remembering beautiful writing I find in the books I am reading.

It’s a bit of a strange list, I guess, as sometimes it has paragraphs from books I didn’t particularly like, such as “The Blind Assassin,” by Margaret Atwood. Atwood is a beautiful writer, but I didn’t care for the book. This description, however, made the reading of it worth the time:

“Wild geese fly south, creaking like anguished hinges; along the riverbank the candles of the sumacs burn dull red. It’s the first week of October. Season of woolen garments taken out of mothballs; of nocturnal mists and dew and slippery front steps, and late-blooming slugs; of snapdragons having one last fling; of those frilly ornamental pink-and-purple cabbages that never used to exist, but are all over everywhere now.”

Wow, right?

Sometimes I am touched by a paragraph or phrase that later comes to mean even more, which is the best thing about beautiful writing. I read Morton’s “The House at Riverton” in 2007, long before I became a grandmother. I copied several phrases and paragraphs from that book, but I love the fact that, even before I knew its truth, this one spoke to me:

“It’s special, grandparents and grandchildren. So much simpler. Is it always so, I wonder? I think perhaps it is. While one’s child takes a part of one’s heart to use and misuse as they please, a grandchild is different. Gone are the bonds of guilt and responsibility that burden the maternal relationship. The way to love is free.”

Snuggle up, dear friends. Find a good read that speaks to you and enjoy the winter.

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