Daily Challenge: Favorite quote (from a person, from a book, etc) and why you love it
“This toast feels raw. Is it safe to eat raw toast?”
― Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope
I’ll admit: this is not the most profound quote I can think of, nor is it even my favorite line from any of Mr. Snicket’s books. No, my life was not immediately changed nor did I go through incredible self-introspection when one of the two white-powder-faced women yelled at a baby for not being able to cook breakfast on the frozen summit of Mount Fraught. While many of Mr. Snicket’s passages have in one way or another influenced the person I am, the humor I have, the beliefs I carry, and the writing voice I use, this particular quote has stuck with me for one reason: he has an articulately absurd way with words.
I remember reading this for the first time in Barnes & Noble (who had money to buy books for pleasure in high school? Certainly not my family; what income we had came from making sandwiches), and becoming unable to stifle laughter. Actual laughter. From a book. A children’s book.
“If you feel . . . that well-read people are less likely to be evil, and a world full of people sitting quietly with good books in their hands is preferable to world filled with schisms and sirens and other noisy and troublesome things, then every time you enter a library you might say to yourself, ‘The world is quiet here,’ as a sort of pledge proclaiming reading to be the greater good.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Slippery Slope
It’s at this point you would expect me to say something like, “And at that point, I just knew I had to be a writer,” or “Mr. Snicket’s creative prose just inspired me to pack up my bags and see life outside of the suburbs,” or even “MY LIFE WAS CHANGED,” when in reality, I just learned to appreciate writing. Up until this point, I believed writing was only useful for writing romantic poems and/or getting into college. Writing wasn’t supposed to be something that I could be passionate about, but a way for my British Literature teacher to torture us even more while reading A Farewell to Arms.
Reading, as I saw it, was the original true pleasure to enjoy, but only for the plot. Who cared if the writer chose to use bad or terrible or horrendous or unfathomably awful? A word was a word, and if they carried the same definition, why bother making something sound unnecessarily complicated?
“In love, as in life, one misheard word can be tremendously important. If you tell someone you love them, for instance, you must be absolutely certain that they have replied “I love you back” and not “I love your back” before you continue the conversation.”
― Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid
The simplest, and most obvious answer, is to be able to articulate. Why be hungry when you could be starving or famished or malnourished or ravenous? The more I saw that choice of words was as much of a skill as in mixing paint colors for a canvas, or herbs in a recipe, or even red wine with fish-based dishes, the more I picked up books that I had skimmed over in high school.
I would like to believe that in the past years, my taste for literature has grown a little more fond of the classics; The Count of Monte Cristo and The Great Gatsby have easily wormed their way into my all-time favorite list, with plenty of room for more modern books like The Raw Shark Texts and House of Leaves. Although I can’t say I’ll ever be able to produce something as famous as these books, it’s comforting to know that they’ve played their role in paving the way to finding my writing voice.
“everything happens for a reason.”
― Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning
In Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid, Snicket at one point simply says, “Sometimes words are not enough.” While I’ve learned that hand-drawn pictures, wild hand gestures, and erratic facial expressions help move a story along, Snicket meant that some moments are best left unspoken, that some things can only be articulated without talking. As someone who often finds himself in a position where he thinks to himself, Damnit, I could have said that better, I now know that as articulate as the English language has allowed us to be, there are plenty of experiences that just can’t be described. The smell of leather, the taste of truffle oil, the sensation of having wax dripping out of your ear.
Is it an earthy smell? A salty taste? A vacuum-like feeling? Words only can describe so much before they have to be described themselves.
I believe that words have power, and that proper articulation, like casting one of Harry Potter’s spells, accurately releases that desired power. It’s in the choice of words that a writer can attempt to share a vision of a world with a reader. If the writer has done his or her job, a reader can smell the burning forest, hear the oncoming stampede, and feel the embarrassment of having pig blood poured over your homemade dress at prom. They’ll be able to understand the need to protect the bullied classmate, volunteer as tribute in place of her sister, and enter the labyrinth behind the closet door of their house.
Or, maybe, just taste raw toast.