Saturday, March 24, 2012

Jhumpa Lahiri: My Life's Sentences

In the New York Times’ Opinionator column last Saturday, Jhumpa Lahiri wrote an excellent piece that relates to a couple of our own regular features. Here’s some of what she said:

 "In college, I used to underline sentences that struck me, that made me look up from the page. They were not necessarily the same sentences the professors pointed out, which would turn up for further explication on an exam. I noted them for their clarity, their rhythm, their beauty and their enchantment. For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do." 

"The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates."

Very nicely put. And it echoes what we’ve tried to do herehereherehere and here in our “From the Pen of…” series, originally inspired by this post, and in First Line Fridays, where we give thumbs up or down to various authors’ first attempts to enchant us. Read her entire piece here. And check out Ms. Lahiri’s own books below.


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