When Prose Is VERY Praiseworthy

One reason we read literature is to enjoy writing that’s beautiful, flowing, evocative, and other good things.

Prose doesn’t have to be exceptional for us to like a fictional work. If the plot and/or characters are compelling, an adequate writing style can be perfectly…adequate. But a wonderful way with words sure is a nice bonus, whether those words are used to describe positive or negative scenarios.

So, I will discuss various authors and novels known for high-quality prose — including a beautifully written book I just read that’s not as well known as it should be outside its author’s home country. The Leopard was Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s only novel, and — in yet another example of publisher stupidity — it was rejected while the author was alive. But after The Leopard was posthumously released in 1958, it became Italy’s best-selling novel ever.

The book, set in 19th-century Sicily as Italy’s aristocracy declined and the country’s unification took place, has historical appeal and an engrossing cast headed by a charismatic prince (“The Leopard” of the title) who possesses a mix of admirable and less-admirable traits. But it’s the knockout quality of the prose that’s the chief attribute of the melancholy novel. Paragraph after paragraph of the writing is lovely, rich, deep, elegant, and more. A passage from a ballroom scene:

“They were the most moving sight there, two young people in love dancing together, blind to each other’s defects, deaf to the warnings of fate, deluding themselves that the whole course of their lives would be as smooth as the ballroom floor…”

One might not immediately think of dystopian literature as a place for gorgeous writing, but there’s also plenty of stunning prose in Ray Bradbury’s sobering Fahrenheit 451 — a novel that ironically depicts the burning of books filled with graceful verbiage. A passage about “fireman” Guy Montag when he starts to have doubts about what he does for a living:

“He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over and down on itself like a tallow skin, like the stuff of a fantastic candle burning too long and now collapsing and now blown out. Darkness. He was not happy. He was not happy.”

I won’t continue to slow down this column with excerpts, but will instead just name more authors and novels with exceptional prose. F. Scott Fitzgerald is an obvious example — in works such as The Great Gatsby (which includes one of the best closing lines in literary history), Tender Is the Night, and the unfinished The Last Tycoon.

There’s also Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose superb prose portrays romance in Love in the Time of Cholera and tackles just about everything in One Hundred Years of Solitude; and Marcel Proust, whose In Search of Lost Time thrills some readers more than others, but contains language most agree is exquisite.

Or how about the often challenging yet lyrical writing of William Faulkner, or the almost biblical prose of Faulkner semi-disciple Cormac McCarthy? The latter, in works such as The Border Trilogy novels and The Road, is almost incapable of writing an average sentence.

Mary Shelley’s writing can also be a bit dense, yet extraordinarily evocative in the novels Frankenstein and The Last Man. The same with A.S. Byatt in her multilayered masterpiece Possession, and with expert wordsmith Henry James — especially in The Portrait of a Lady and many of his other mid- and late-career works. Toni Morrison artfully mixes the colloquial with the highly literary in novels ranging from Sula to Beloved.

Edith Wharton offers very smooth prose in books like The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, while James Hilton casts a writing spell in Lost Horizon and other titles. Erich Maria Remarque’s writing is also off the charts in All Quiet on the Western Front, Arch of Triumph, The Night in Lisbon, etc.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky? Obviously, it’s hard to beat the breathtaking way he crafted books such as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.

Another 19th-century classic, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, inspired Jean Rhys’ 1966 Wide Sargasso Sea “prequel” that reads like a lush fever dream.

Perhaps the best 19th-century stylist of them all was George Eliot, whose magnificently composed novels included Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss, and Adam Bede.

Then there are authors known for very good prose who, in one novel, got their eloquence into an even higher gear. Examples of that would include Willa Cather in Death Comes for the Archbishop and Robert Louis Stevenson in his incomplete last work Weir of Hermiston.

Of course, there are other authors who write brilliantly in a spare way — such as Ernest Hemingway in the literary-fiction realm and Lee Child in the thriller genre (I just read Child’s Jack Reacher novel One Shot, and…wow! Riveting). But terse authors are another subject…

Before ending this piece, I should mention that some gifted authors overdo the florid prose — showing off their writing chops to such an extent that it might distract from a book’s overall appeal.

Which authors and novels do you feel are exceptional in putting words together?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

195 thoughts on “When Prose Is VERY Praiseworthy

  1. I feel that “The Great Gatsby” has the most exquisite prose in any English language novel that I have ever read. In fact I prefer the writing style in this novel more than the characters whom I found rather shallow and unsympathetic.

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  2. Gosh yeah, I does like a nice bit of prose I does, the trick for all authors being not to overegg the pudding, get the balance, between the lean and spare, the appropriate places to describe a smile as in that passage above, not get so one exquisite bit slips to the next and so on causing the whole concoction to collapse like a souffle gone wrong. Because again, obvi, if every time the character smiled was written that way, then we’d just wish they’d damn well frown more. I guess, boiling it down Fitzgerald is prob my fav at putting words down. Interestingly it was at a time when many of his contemporaries also write in such sparing ways but I always felt his prose had something had something more.

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    • Thank you, Shehanne!

      Excellent/eloquent/at-times-funnily-written thoughts about finding that happy medium — great prose, yet not so overdone that it distracts from the overall novel.

      And that’s a terrific observation that Fitzgerald’s prose style was lusher than many of his contemporaries as sparer writing became more frequent after the turn of that century.


      • His style was kind of exquisite. Unmistakeable. Thank YOu for such a kind comment. This is another great post. I always the mechanics of what works and doesn’t, is such a fine balance. And it’s also good to see authors and genres mentioned here that often get bypassed in that respect.

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          • I do too. I have all sorts on my shelf that way. And honestly I really love reading your blogs. Honestly—also–in a rare moment I will even now say, talking prose as you are here, how I thought of Tolstoy’s words –
            “And the light by which she had read the book filled with troubles, falsehoods, sorrow, and evil, flared up more brightly than ever before, lighted up for her all that had been in darkness, flickered, began to grow dim, and was quenched forever.”
            were pretty okay in terms of how she’d gone under a train as opposed to some great long gory description of how that could be, like her head was scissored and all, only to be marked down and told by some English lecturer these words were trite, the worst in the book apparently. Having fought my way to even get to that bit in terms of getting into study English at all at a uni, I thought, I am outta here for other places and I was. You never make me feel that way.

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            • Thank you! 🙂 I also love the way you’re very knowledgeable about literature without being pretentious about it. Some book critics and lit profs are insufferable. Like you, I think that “Anna Karenina” passage is pretty darn impressive.

              It’s nice to toggle from literary fiction to popular fiction and back again — with romance, sci-fi, mysteries, thrillers, etc., in the mix!


              • Lol, I am smiling at the notion of being pretentious given I grew up in an place where the streets kept being renamed to foll folks into living in them. But you are right, some book critics and lit profs could do with taking their fingers out of certain places. I frankly thought that that Anna quote was the best in the book. One of these beacon moments in which I forgave Tolstoy everything….. . I think it is brilliant the way you toggle.

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                • Thank you! Great comment! As in your case, pretentiousness is not one of “my favorite things,” to quote the “Mary Poppins” song. 🙂

                  Yes, there can be some mixed emotions about Tolstoy the writer and Tolstoy the person, but at their best his novels, novellas, short stories, and passages are stunning.


                  • I could not agree more about Tolstoy and let’s face it these guys wrote at a time when there was no cinema, no Netflix box sets, so we should forgive the fact they spent 100 pages describing Russian farming methods…or in Hugo’s case the Paris sewers. But at their best they all had passages that leave your jaw on the deck.

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                    • That’s a terrific point I hadn’t thought of! Without all kinds of modern technology, it made sense for many pre-20th-century novels to describe things in a way that sounds like over-describing now but was very useful for readers then. One reason to forgive all the whaling info in “Moby-Dick.” 🙂

                      “…leave your jaw on the deck” — great/vivid turn-of-phrase!


                    • Yeah Moby Dick is a case in point. But all joking aside thxxxxx you. Always very kind. Truly. And yet, having said that re these days, there’s no doubt that certain of all these old books could well have been written with the then uninvented cinema in mind. Not the great long bore for whaling bits but the tight stuff re the characters and the drama. The last moments of Sidney Carton for starters, I sometimes wonder if some editor, ‘beta reader’ or whatever of the time, got in the way of these things, by going, ‘many people will never have seen a whale, or harpoon, or whatever, you need to show this.’ So we then get these, ‘please can we just cut to the real beyond the 100 page chase moments.’ Never know. We will never know.

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                    • True! Some of those old novels were quite cinematic, pre-cinema. “A Tale of Two Cities” is a great example, as you note. Ha ha — it would have been amazing to be a fly on the wall when Herman Melville was (possibly) asked to include some whaling info and then went totally…overboard. 🙂 Steinbeck was also a bit guilty of that approach with his alternating non-Joad chapters in “The Grapes of Wrath.”

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                    • Yeah Steinbeck was. Also I felt the start of East of Eden would be red penned now in terms of who exactly is gonna be the central character here, John? Yet he also wrote books like Mice and Men which had none of that sprawl.

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                    • You’re absolutely right about “East of Eden” being too sprawling at times. I guess Steinbeck was trying to write his personal epic/his masterpiece. Mostly succeeded, too.

                      And, yes, he could write shorter novels with almost no wasted words. “Of Mice and Men,” as you mentioned, as well as excellent books such as “Tortilla Flat,” “The Moon Is Down,” “Cannery Row,” and “Sweet Thursday.” Three of those four quite funny at times.

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  3. An author I am loving at the moment is Wanda Brunstetter. She lives in Washington state, but all of her novels are set in Amish communities in Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.

    Amish fiction on its surface may not seem like an exciting genre, but Brunstetter has a way of making the communities come alive in her multiple series. The Amish are generally perplexing to people who are not familiar with their religion, culture, and way of life. Brunstetter taps into her own Mennonite/Amish background and skillfully makes the Amish relatable to the mainstream. Some of the topics she touches on in her series are marriage, caretaking for an elderly/ill relative, loss of a spouse, relationship problems, health scares, optimism and hope, general happiness and being content with life….we can all relate to these things.

    I have The Kentucky Brother’s trilogy on my Kindle, and am in the middle of The Tattered Quilt, which is about a group of women in a quilting club. All of the women have a backstory and they allow their quilts to tell their stories; each patch of the quilt represents something the women have experienced. Great book so far.

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  4. Toni Morrison every single writings are like prose the one I read last was “Home” it is a Novella the story of Frank Money, a 24-year-old Korean War veteran, as on his solo journey after being discharged from army to a segregated homeland.

    “…maybe you think up North is way different from down South. Don’t believe it and don’t count on it. Custom is just as real as law and can be just as dangerous.”
    ― Toni Morrison, Home

    Two days ago Tony Morrison was in Fresh Air NPR…so many times when I run my errands I have it on in my car…I stopped even after reaching my destination to listen, her radio conversational interview was amazingly poetic.. she bared her soul on her personal life’s journey.


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    • First of all, thanks for that wonderful link, bebe! I haven’t listened to the audio part yet, but the text part underneath is so interesting. What a great, thoughtful writer and talker Toni Morrison is. One thing that struck me was her remark about how writing makes her forget everything else — old age, back pain, etc.

      That’s a terrific quote you posted from “Home.” I haven’t read that book, but it sounds really good from your description. I recently read one of Morrison’s earlier novels — “Sula” — on Ana’s recommendation, and it’s quite quirky and memorable.

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      • Dave the text part is like the interview..
        “Distinguishing color — light, black, in between — as the marker for race is really an error: It’s socially constructed, it’s culturally enforced and it has some advantages for certain people,” she says. “But this is really skin privilege — the ranking of color in terms of its closeness to white people or white-skinned people and its devaluation according to how dark one is and the impact that has on people who are dedicated to the privileges of certain levels of skin color.”

        I have personally witnessed that in so many races yet it is socially constructed , that is a profound statement.
        Whites want to have a tanned look, in Seoul S.K..they want to look as white as one could be , my black friends prefers lighter complexion same with Asian Indians and so on an on..

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        • Thanks, bebe — good to know the text is related to the interview!

          That Toni Morrison quote is indeed “spot on” (and eloquent). If only more people would think about how we’re all the same color on the inside.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Skin colour is connected to status in some cultures, and unfortunately, I don’t see that ending anytime soon. For example, look at the upper echelons of society in many Latin American countries. They are all extremely fair-skinned. Look at the features of the people living in poverty and/or working service industry jobs in those cultures. They tend to have darker complexions.

          What a glorious day it will be when social status and classification based on race or skin tone no longer matter. Will be an even more glorious day when people rid themselves of self-hate and stop trying to be something they’re not. #lovetheskinyou’rein

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    • I have only read one novel by Toni Morrison–‘Beloved’ and that was in the late 80’s. I am rectifying that situation now and just started reading ‘Song of Solomon’ a few days ago. Not far into it yet but my expectations are high.

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      • Haven’t read that one; I’d be interested in hearing what you think, bobess48.

        I know what you mean — we expect certain authors to be great. Sometimes we’re rewarded, sometimes we’re not. 🙂


  5. Morning Dave..John Steinbeck and his story telling so eloquent..my favorite is “Of Mice and Men” story of two drifters George Milton, an intelligent but uneducated man, and Lennie Small, a gentle giant of unlimited strength but limited mental abilities, all they have was each other.

    “At about 10 o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows and in and out of the beam flies shot like rushing stars.”
    ― John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

    John Irving another of my all time favorite, read most of his books. His latest work was “In One Person “.a brave author always for the underdogs. Here he narrates as the person in his 70`s what it means to be bisexual, famous, writerly..and going back to the 80`s and AIDS epidemic and so much more.

    “All I say is: Let us leave les folles alone; let’s just leave them be. Don’t judge them. You are not superior to them – don’t put them down.”
    ― John Irving, In One Person

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    • Good morning, bebe!

      There are some critics who feel John Steinbeck’s prose is not exceptional. But I think it’s great for what he wanted to do — a mix of plain-spoken and eloquent, powerful at times, and always very readable. Maybe some critics don’t like that Steinbeck doesn’t get all dense and challenging and incomprehensible like some very “literary” authors. 🙂 As you note, there are wonderful writing moments in “Of Mice and Men,” as there are in many other Steinbeck novels.

      Glad you also mentioned John Irving! He’s an exceptional writer, and can be funny, moving, quirky, and more — often on the same page or in the same chapter.

      Thanks for the great comment — including the two writing excerpts!


      • LOVE the photo, Ana! A great John Steinbeck collection you’ve built. 🙂

        And, yes, Steinbeck is indeed a master storyteller. Also, as you know, so humane and interested in social justice, too.


        • There was a piece of Steinbeck history located in a WA boatyard. After the popularity of Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck, his wife, and a friend (Ed Ricketts) wanted to take some personal/quiet time, so they set sail from Monterey on a boat called the Western Flyer, and traveled up and down the Pacific Coast, with stops in Mexico.

          This trip had 2 purposes: allow John Steinbeck to temporarily get away from his sudden fame, and give his friend Ed, who I think was a scientist, a chance to collect specimens for his lab experiments (doesn’t Ed sound a bit like Doc from Cannery Row?)

          He wrote The Log From the Sea of Cortez maybe 10 years after that voyage. Steinbeck’s boat was sold and re-sold to various fishermen along the West Coast and in Alaska. Last place it was docked was in a port city on the Olympic peninsula. I heard it is being restored.

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          • Fascinating information, Ana! Thanks!

            The huge success of “The Grapes of Wrath,” as wonderful as it was, did add a lot of stress to Steinbeck’s life.

            And I have indeed heard that Steinbeck at least partly used Ed as an inspiration for Doc in “Cannery Row” (and “Sweet Thursday”).


            • Best scene ever. And I love how Doc didn’t get angry even though they completely wrecked his lab. He was so cool and laid back, didn’t even flinch while his record collection and gramophone were being destroyed. Coolest Characters in Literature…that would be a fun theme:):)

              Hmmm. Looking at my pic, I’m missing Tortilla Flat. Guess I gotta track that down.

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              • Doc is indeed VERY cool and laid back, Ana. A bit like Jack Reacher in a way, minus the (justified) smackdowns of bad guys… 🙂

                “Tortilla Flat” is so droll. You might have read it even though you don’t own it (yet), but if you haven’t read it, “TF” is about a bunch of down-on-their-luck characters yet written in a way that makes them seem like part of some Camelot saga.


  6. Dave, I spent some time this afternoon reading through the entire thread, and I think this was one of the best of all your stellar blog posts. I spent last Saturday driving from Philly to Frederick, MD, for my niece’s husband’s funeral, which was so sad, although it was so good to see some of my family in much too long of a time. I hadn’t been so long of a way since I became disabled five years ago. Then someone did a hit and run on my car and completely knocked off my passenger side mirror — not very important in the scheme of things, but just aggravating to deal with. Anyway, it was calming to me to read comments from people who love books as much as I do. Thanks to you and all of my fellow commenters.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Kat Lib, and for your wonderful comment in general! The terrific comments, from you and others, add so much. 🙂

      Sorry about your recent experiences — the funeral (especially of someone who must have been fairly young), and a person knocking off your side mirror without even having the decency to stop after it happened. Glad you at least got to see some family — a small silver lining when we go to funerals.


    • Kat lib..so glad you are okay with that annoying experience. You are so right about this blog, I have basically skimmed through it , but next two days I am going to read all of the excellent comments.

      @ Dave…yours and fellow commentators writing flows through here like a prose.
      This is the best thing that could happen to us who were fortunate enough to follow you, should I thank thrive queen..naa 😀

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  7. More on Mark Twain’s prose style. I promise this comment witll be shorter than the last one I posted. He could also use ‘elevated prose’ to enhance the hilarity in much of his writing. A cas in point: the early tale ‘Journalism in Tennessee’. It’s a first person account of a journalist who was advised by his doctor to move to a Southern climate for his health. He gets a job as a regional newspaper called the Morning Glory and Johnson County War-Whoop as associate editor to the chief editor. The newspaper specializes in slander and the chief feels that it should be spiced up a bit. The narrator says, ” I never saw a pen scrape and scratch its way so viciously, or plow through another man’s verbs and adjectives so relentlessly.’ While the chief is revising it, one of the subjects of an article arrives to lodge his grievance, with firearms. The man shoots at the chief, misses and ‘marred the symmetry of my ear.’ The chief takes a shot at the man—’The shot spoiled Smith’s aim, who was taking a second chance and he crippled a stranger. It was me. Merely a finger shot off.’ A few minutes later a hand grenade falls down the stove-pipe, exploding the stove into a thousand fragments. ‘It did no further damage, except that a vagrant piece knocked a couple of my teeth out.’ The chief hands the piece back to the narrator. ‘It was scarred with erasures and interlineations till its mother wouldn’t have known it if it had had one.’ Shortly after that a brick hurls through the window and the narrator ‘began to feel in the way.’ The brick is followed by ‘the Colonel’ who appears in the door with a revolver, fires at the chief who loses a lock of hair and ‘the Colonel’s bullet ended its career in the fleshy part of my thigh.’ After some subsequent attacks by angry objects of the paper’s attacks the narrator says that he is having second thoughts. When a ‘friend drops in to swap compliments with you, and freckles me with bullet-holes till my skin won’t hold its principles’. Finally the narrator and the chief ‘parted with mutual regret, and I took apartments in the hospital.’
    I rarely laugh out loud at something I read even if it’s humorous. However, MT has successfully elicited quite a few literal guffaws from me, as in pieces such as this.

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    • That IS hilarious, bobess48! Thanks for describing an amazing scene so well!

      Mark Twain was indeed one of the funniest writers ever. For instance, as I’ve mentioned in the past on this blog, “The Innocents Abroad” has more laughs than any travel book I’ve ever read. And that’s just one of many Twain works, fiction and nonfiction, with side-splitting moments amid more serious content.

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  8. I’m very happy that Ray Bradbury is mentioned several times in this post as he was one of the first ‘literary’ writers I read (first at the age of fourteen), when he really began making me think of the ‘way’ a story is written, the effect that is created, the mood, etc. as much as the actual content. I read a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs that same year. While ERB is mainly a pulp writer, a hack, I thought that he had a very good grasp of English, more than much of what I’d read at the time. My contention that he was a good stylist was confirmed by Gore Vidal when he said the opening of ‘Tarzan of the Apes’ was ‘worthy of Conrad’—high praise. Nevertheless, ERB was pulpy, no denying that, but he sure could get that adventurous pace flowing. Bradbury, of course, was a very different kind of writer, very poetic, who was very painterly with his prose.
    Of course, I had read (or had read to me) portions of work earlier than I’d read either of those writers by that master stylist Mark Twain. His humor and wise (and wiseass) observations are remarked on more than his dexterity with the English language. However he was as much of a master of English prose in his own way as the great Henry James. There is a passage at the very center of ‘Huckleberry Finn’ which certainly possesses the qualities put forth by Joseph Conrad (himself a great stylist) in his writer’s ‘credo (I believe in the Preface to ‘The Nigger of the Narcissus’): “My task is to make you hear, to make you feel,and, above all, to make you see. That is all, and it is everything.” The passage is at the very center of the novel, when Huck and Jim have carved out their own little paradise floating down the river:
    ‘I had myself called with the four o’clock watch, mornings, for one cannot see to many summer sunrises on the Mississippi. They are enchanting. First, there is the eloquence of silence; for a deep hush broods everywhere. Next, there is the haunting sense of loneliness, isolation, remoteness from the worry and bustle of the world. The dawn creeps in stealthily; the solid walls of black forest soften to gray, and vast stretches of the river open up and reveal themselves: the water is glass-smooth, gives off spectral little wreaths of white mist, there is not the faintest breath of wind, nor stir of leaf; the tranquility is profound and infinitely satisfying. Then a bird pipes up, another follows, and soon the pipings develop into a jubilant riot of music. You see none of the birds; you simply move through an atmosphere of song which seems to sing itself. When the light has become a little stronger, you have one of the fairest and softest pictures imaginable. You have the intense green of the massed and crowded foliage near by; you see paling shade by shade in front of you; upon the next projecting cape, a mile off or more; the tint has lightened to the tender young green of spring; the cape beyond that one has almost lose color, and the furthest one, miles away under the horizon, sleeps upon the water a mere dim vapor, and hardly separabele from the sky above it and about it. And all this stretch of river is a mirror, and you have the shadowy reflections of the leafage and the curving shores and the receding capes pictured in it. Well, that is all beautiful; soft and rich and beautiful; and when the sun gets well up, and distributes a pink flush here and a powder of gold yonder and a purple haze where it will yield the best effect, you grant that you have seen something that is worth remembering.’
    Never mind that this is Mark writing more beautiful and lyrical prose than Huck could ever come up with his wildest imaginings. If Huck could articulate his feelings beautifully, it would sound like this. This may be a misstep for those who would insist that he tell the entire novel in that rough, not very literate thirteen year-old river rat’s voice. Nevertheless, it meets Conrad’s criteria and it is a perfect example of how beautifully MT could write.

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    • Brian, thanks for your interesting and reflective comment!

      I’m also glad that Ray Bradbury is getting lots of respect and admiration here. He was indeed, as you eloquently note, “very poetic” and “very painterly with his prose.”

      I agree that Mark Twain was a great stylist — often in a “vernacular” sort of way but also in a non-vernacular way in works such as his “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” novel and in that absolutely spectacular passage you quoted from “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • I also noticed when reading that passage from ‘Huck Finn’ that he left a big influence on Faulkner who, likewise, would write with the language of the unconscious even when ostensibly writing in the first person of a very rustic, non-articulate Mississippi country person who probably wouldn’t know the meaning of even half of the vocabulary used in Faulkner’s style.

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        • Nice insight, and well said, bobess48. I hadn’t thought of a Twain/Faulkner connection before. Then again, many American writers (including southern ones, of course) were influenced by Twain — at least somewhat.


    • I am also happy to see so many great comments about Ray Bradbury and that others find a “sci fi” writer to be a master of prose. I’ve also learned from the comments here that I must read or reread Mark Twain. I have a collection of many of his works, but unfortunately it doesn’t include “Innocents Abroad” which sounds like something that I’d love. Thanks, Dave, for mentioning that book.

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  9. Howdy, Dave!

    — Which authors and novels do you feel are exceptional in putting words together? —

    Everybody in the world knows Charles Dickens generally got paid by the word, so he had no incentive to be economical in his work. Still, he authored not only my favorite opening paragraph but also my favorite closing paragraph, both in a book that isn’t even my favorite Dickens novel.

    The Open

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

    The Close

    “‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’”

    Exceptional in putting words together? You bet.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    P.S.: The cinematic equivalent of C.D.’s achievement in the opening of “A Tale of Two Cities” may be the introductory voiceover of Lina Wertmuller’s “Seven Beauties.” Oh yeah.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, J.J.! When it comes to best-written opening passage combined with best-written closing passage, “A Tale of Two Cities” may indeed be the very top novel in all of literature. Pretty good book between those passages, too, even if it’s not your favorite Dickens novel. (It’s not mine, either.)

      Not sure which one is my favorite, but in the running are “The Pickwick Papers” (because it’s so funny), “Great Expectations,” “David Copperfield,” “Dombey and Son,” and “Bleak House.” How about you?

      As for “Seven Beauties,” I’m pretty sure I saw that movie when it came out in the ’70s, but I’m not remembering the voiceover you mention. Too many years… 😦


      • — Not sure which one is my favorite, but in the running are “The Pickwick Papers” (because it’s so funny), “Great Expectations,” “David Copperfield,” “Dombey and Son,” and “Bleak House.” How about you? —

        “A Christmas Carol.” However, I haven’t yet read “The Pickwick Papers,” which I’m told could lead to a reordering of my life list. (Apropos of nothing, I note Tugger was wont to call his best pitch a scroogie. Thank you again, Mr. Dickens.)

        Liked by 1 person

        • “The Pickwick Papers” (I guess its official name is “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club”) is by no means Dickens’ “greatest” novel, but to me it’s his funniest. It certainly was the book that made him famous.

          As for your parenthetical comment, literature lovers have a LOT to thank Dickens for. 🙂


  10. “There was once, in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish, which were so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy even though the skies were blue.”

    These are the opening lines of Salman Rushdie’s “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” which I have just completed. This book fits in perfectly with your topic, in that it was absolutely beautifully written. The opening lines above are but an example. This is the only Rushdie novel I’ve read, and it was his first book published after the famous Iranian fatwa was announced. It was ostensibly written as a story to his 10 year old son, but it is so much more. It contains elements of “Alice in Wonderland”, “Wizard of Oz”, and other classic hero-quest stories, and serves as a parable of what can happen when ideas and stories are stifled. The prose in the book paint a vivid and imaginative picture and I almost want to pick it up and read it again right away.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s quite a passage from “Haroun and the Sea of Stories,” drb19810. Thanks for posting it! Thanks also for your superb description of, and thoughts about, the writing in that book. I just put it on my to-read list.

      I’ve only read one Salman Rushdie novel — “The Satanic Verses,” which of course made the author the subject of the fatwa you mentioned. But that was 25 years ago, and I can’t remember what I thought of that author’s writing.


      • You know, I’ve long wanted to read “Satanic Verses”, mostly because I thought I should. I think that I haven’t read it precisely because I felt I ought to read it. I couldn’t help but thinking that it would be a disappointment considering all of the hype around it. (Was it famous because of the resulting reaction, or was it a great novel on its own merits). After reading “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”, I am very eager to read this novel, as well as other Rushdie novels, with a new fervor.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I hear you, drb19810. Sometimes we indeed feel we should read novels because we’re, well, supposed to. 🙂 I purchased “The Satanic Verses” at the time of the fatwa as sort of a solidarity thing for Salman Rushdie. All I have is a vague memory that I had a hard time getting through that book. I don’t even remember if I finished it. But I’m glad I bought it and contributed to putting a bit of money in the then-beleaguered author’s pocket.


  11. Hi Dave,
    I believe I mentioned Ray Bradbury before – his writing fully satisfied my hunger for BEAUTIFUL writing. The first time I read his “Dandelion Wine” I was mesmerized by his deceptively simple tale of a summer in the life of a young boy – he made me feel the new tennis shoes and the joy of running on a summer day, made me smell the scent of wild flowers and grass in the summer sun and the buzzing of the bees… maybe because it brought back childhood memories of summers spent alone, roaming fields and orchards full of the scents of flowers and trees and the flavors of freshly-picked fruit and the sensation of biting on a sun-warmed just-picked tomato. I read all his books, he is my favorite.
    I read most of the books you mention and cite, but not all, I am adding the Jack Reacher books to the must-read list, you and other commenters made me curious.
    You also mentioned “The Leopard” by Lampedusa, a book I enjoyed many years ago in the original Italian – as a translator and word lover, I have to add that the wonderful lines you cited also speak to the talent of the translator; I can state based on experience that it is not always easy to render so well the flavor of the original text, it’s much more difficult than the translation of a dry technical or medical text.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the wonderfully descriptive comment, Clairdelune, and thanks again for recommending “Dandelion Wine” a few months ago! Such a warm, nostalgic, deceptively deep novel — and beautifully written, like most of Ray Bradbury’s works.

      The Jack Reacher novels are usually not the genre (thriller, crime, adventure, etc.) I read a lot of, but they are truly addictive. Lean writing, nice deadpan humor, and a real adrenaline rush. Also, Reacher has so much low-key charisma…

      So great that you read “The Leopard” in the original Italian! And that’s an excellent point about the importance of expert translators (such as yourself). The one for the edition I read (Archibald Colquhoun) must have done a fabulous job, because the prose in the novel just knocked me over.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will look for that translation, I so liked the excerpt you cited that it make me want to read the book again in English. The reading stack is growing, but the time available to read is shrinking in more ways than one, alas! 😦

        Liked by 1 person

        • I hear you, Clairdelune. “So many books, so little time” (a quote apparently coined by Frank Zappa!). I know you have a heavy work schedule, and I know none of us on this blog are 20 years old anymore. 😦

          When I was writing the column, it was hard to choose a quote from “The Leopard.” There were MANY other ones as good or almost as good.


        • Typos happen to us all. I’m lucky that this blog gives me a chance to fix comments. But I’m NOT glad that it doesn’t allow commenters to fix their own comments.

          If you ever want a typo fixed, Clairdelune, don’t hesitate to pop me an email.

          But given that another commenter (J.J. McGrath) mentioned “A Christmas Carol,” I’m glad we had a chance to see the words “bah humbug” today. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Dave, I’m almost reluctant to be commenting here, as I feel that what I’m reading right now is the exact opposite of what you’re talking about, however I seriously doubt that I’d ever be kicked out for being off topic… anyway, I’m currently reading “The Time Travelers Wife” (for the first time, and TERRIFIED of spoilers), which I don’t think has the best writing style that I’ve ever read, and yet I’m finding it completely compelling. I can absolutely relate to one of the characters who said, “… I am near tears, and I don’t know why.” At least for Henry, it was a passing moment, for me, it’s been the whole damn book! Which means it can’t be my While I’m Out and About book. Definitely an in private one only.

    I recently read “One Hundred Years of Solitude” which I found annoying and pointless and VERY confusing. But it did have some stand out sentences, and I can understand why people rave about it. Eventually I’d like to try some other magical realism, and then eventually come back to try Marquez again.

    I’ve read “The Age of Innocence” (though not “The House of Mirth”) and loved the style of Edith Wharton. I’m glad to see her mentioned here.
    And I love lulabelle’s earlier comment of “It is so wonderful that you want to lie down and wallow among the words, phrases, and paragraphs.” It’s so nice to know that that’s how I spend my free time, rather than just reading a book!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Any topic is on-topic, Susan. 🙂

      I’ve read “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and totally agree that while it’s not “great literature” it’s a VERY engrossing book. And a real original take on the time-travel genre.

      As impressive as it is, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” IS confusing at times. Just the characters’ names alone (because some are so similar) are challenging. But, as you say, some of the writing is amazing — including the riffs on solitude. Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” is much more straightforward, though it does have its flourishes. As far as magical-realism novels by other authors, Isabel Allende’s “The House of the Spirits” is fantastic — somewhat challenging, but much easier to follow than “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

      Edith Wharton does have an impressive writing style. I also like her novella “Ethan Frome,” which has a much different feel and setting than “The Age of Innocence” and her other novels of the New York City rich.

      I agree with you about lulabelle’s line. A terrific one, and — ha 🙂 — it does make reading seem like more than just reading!

      Speaking of wonderfully written novels, Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries,” which you recommended a while back, would certainly qualify!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Sometimes I wish I could put books down before I’m finished, but somehow, I just can’t. And I’m glad that I read the end of “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. It did bring a sense of closure to the story. And I can honestly see why this book is rated so highly. It’s one of the few times that I’ve felt guilty for not enjoying a book. Because I can see that the book is amazing, and so there must be something wrong with me. I was about half way through it and discussing it at my book club with another lady who hadn’t been able to get through it. I couldn’t help but take a step outside myself, and listen to the ridiculous conversation we were having about Jose and Aurelino and the dead man under the tree and the life threatening insomnia. It got pretty funny, but I know we weren’t being entirely fair to the novel. Fortunately, our book club host defenced it, which I’m sure Marquez would appreciate. “Love in the time of Cholera” has been on my list for some time, and I’m looking forward to giving Marquez a second try.

        And re “The Luminaries”. I loved the story, and the characters. I loved the structure and the pacing of it, however I don’t remember the actual writing standing out to me. There were no sentences which I instantly memorised that would forever be printed on my brain.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Susan, I know what you mean about being reluctant to give up on a novel before finishing. I do that, but not very often — maybe once or twice a year. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is indeed an incredible achievement while often being challenging to read (sort of like “Moby-Dick”). And Garcia Marquez’s novel does have a very satisfying (albeit sad) and memorable conclusion.

          Great points about “The Luminaries”! I agree that there were few if any all-time sentences in it, but, as you say, the structure and pacing were out of this world. Very evocative and atmospheric, too.


          • I’m glad to hear you say such kind things about “The Luminaries”. I did wonder whether maybe you didn’t really like it, but you are just way too polite to ever be critical 🙂 But I know that you don’t think too highly of “Catcher In The Rye” so I’m sure you would have been honest if you didn’t like Catton’s book either.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I was indeed bowled over by “The Luminaries,” Susan. An amazing achievement — it read like one of those sprawling 19th-century novels someone like Dickens or Wilkie Collins would write, and Eleanor Catton did that at a very young age!

              My only quibbles were that the novel felt a bit too long and had concluding chapters a little weaker than the rest of the book. But the rest — wow! The complex interplay of all those characters, the recreating of that gold-rush era in New Zealand, etc.


              • Thanks, Dave. I’m not sue why I’m so lazy that I used your wealth of knowledge, rather than just googling it myself… But I’m glad that this hasn’t been adapted. If Marquez himself says that it’s unfilmable, then I guess it’s unfilmable. I wish David Mitchel had said the same about Cloud Atlas

                Liked by 1 person

                • It was refreshing to see that Marquez had said that; many authors jump at the chance to have their novels filmed, even though the results aren’t always pretty — as was apparently the case with “Cloud Atlas.” (I haven’t read that book or seen the movie version, so I’ll take your word for it, Susan. 🙂 )

                  Thanks for the follow-up comment!


                  • Hi Dave, sorry for the delayed response with this one. Work has been crazy, and there seems to be something wrong with my home computer 😦 Cloud Atlas wasn’t actually a bad movie, it just shouldn’t have been made at all. Like One Hundred Years of Solitude, it’s a very complex story, and I just don’t think that any kind of adaptation could do it justice. Even after having read the book, I had so much trouble following the movie. It’s an amazing book though. If you ever run out of things to read, I’m sure you’d enjoy this one.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Thanks for the reply, Susan! Sorry about your work overload and your home-computer issues. 😦

                      It IS puzzling why movies are made out of some very complex novels. As I mentioned before, why not a miniseries if it’s going to be done at all? I guess some movie producers, directors, and/or stars just fall in love with certain novels, or maybe it’s an ego thing.

                      I think I have “Cloud Atlas” on my to-read list from way back when (Huffington Post days), but I’ll put a star next to it — though not Tom Hanks or Halle Berry. 🙂


  13. In college I read Hemingway’s short story”Hills Like White Elephants.” Melancholic and symbolic prose that is a beautiful read. I’ve always been drawn to short stories as those well written tell elaborate and thought provoking tales in shorter measure and they have long lasting resonance. Another favorite is a the complete short stories by Dorothy Parker that I have on my bookshelf. Conditioned reflect is her sardonic wit but their is pathos in many of her stories including one called “You Were Perfectly Fine” which tells a albeit brief but long lasting in memory tale about a woman who lies to her boyfriend about him being perfectly fine after a night,one clearly of many,of too much imbibing. He makes a fool out of himself and of her. She denies any real problem not wanting to lose him.
    Priceless prose full of wit and sentiment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You named two great writers, Michele! Although Dorothy Parker is indeed probably most famous for her hilarious/sardonic wit in poetry and reviews, you’re right that she also wrote some more-serious short stories. As you probably know, “Horsie” and “Big Blonde” are among her those excellent fiction tales.

      Yes, there can be wonderful writing in short stories in addition to novels!


  14. Dave, for author’s with flowing prose, I must agree with those you’ve mentioned. I would also add Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo. Both write in a very smooth flowing style that, most of the time, doesn’t detract from the story.

    A couple of over-flowing writers would be James A Michener and Tom Clancy. Both very good and smooth with their prose (Clancy less so) yet their books could get quite long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Totally agree with you about Dumas and Hugo, GL! Their prose is indeed so smooth. (As an aside, I saw “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” play a couple of weeks ago; it was based partly on the Hugo novel and partly on the 1990s Disney movie. Very well done.)

      Yes, sometimes novels are longer than they have to be — though I didn’t mind the length of Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Wish it had been even longer. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Right now I am reading a novel by Lionel Shriver for the first time (“So Much for That”) about a man whose plans to retire to a remote island are derailed by his wife’s diagnosis of cancer. The main and supporting characters are people we may know and Shriver accomplishes this with clarity of prose and realistic dialogue as well has having a firm grasp of the forces of culture that contribute to our problems. Consider this passage:

    “Never knowing when the person you count on to make life seem worth living will suddenly make a rude, unannounced exit and it turns out, gosh, you were right–actually, now life really isn’t worth living?”

    I will read more of her work.

    Other contemporary favorites: T.C. Boyle (expansive, sweeping almost flamboyant style, e.g., Water Music or The Road to Wellville), Paul Auster (precise chiseled lean but descriptive prose, e.g. The New York Trilogy).

    20th century: can’t argue against Fitzgerald or Hemingway. I’d toss in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, certainly one of the best American novels of the 20th century.

    19th century: Have to go with Twain. I pick Melville, too, not because his prose is easy but because of its elevated style which at times is Shakespearean. Unique for his time and ahead of his time as Bartleby anticipates the existential angst of the following century.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Joe! You mentioned a number of authors who definitely belonged in my column — Melville, Ellison, Twain, Boyle, etc. I guess I had to pick and choose, or I would have written a VERY long column. 🙂

      I will add Lionel Shriver’s “So Much for That” to my reading list. It sounds excellent. And her male pseudonym interested me; seems she changed from Margaret Ann to Lionel at a young age because she considered herself a tomboy.

      And you’re so right that “Bartleby the Scrivener” was WAY ahead of its time.


    • Joseph, that book by Lionel Shriver is wonderful, and even my sister loved it (she’s a little bit fussier than I am when it comes to books). It has such a great ending, albeit sad, yet was still life-affirming. I’ve mentioned her most well-known novel several times on this blog, “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” as well as others of her books, “The Post-Birthday World, “Double Fault,” “A Perfectly Good Family,” and “Big Brother.” All were very good books, but “So Much For That” was probably the most satisfying.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, Roz. So sad and so unfair, and it happens way too often. Part of the problem is that some great literary works (like “The Leopard”) are “outside the box” and don’t fit into the neat categories many publishers want when they market their books.

      Humor writing (which you often do) has a real style when it’s excellent — and your writing has that! And, yes, having one’s work published when the writer is around to enjoy it is very satisfying. 🙂


  16. Hi Dave, you know I already love many stories and books by many different genres.. I was going to bring up Ray Bradbury, as an author who I think has superior prose writing skills, but you beat me to it. I’m quite fond of B&N’s leather-bound editions, and I have one that has “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man.” and “Golden Apples of the Sun.” I was looking for another quote, but got engrossed in the first story of the middle book. I read most of these books many years ago, and I was surprised how well the first one held up. Although, the Rover may just have found water, so perhaps there is or was “Life on Mars” as postulated by David Bowie many years ago (one of my favorites of his songs).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Kat Lib, for all the great thoughts about Ray Bradbury and his work!

      Some authors are put in a genre “box” (in Bradbury’s case, sci-fi) and not considered to be as accomplished as “the literary giants.” But Bradbury’s superb prose holds its own against most writers.

      Works such as “The Martian Chronicles” and “The Illustrated Man” (I haven’t read “Golden Apples of the Sun”) are terrific in both writing and story, as are other Bradbury titles such as “Dandelion Wine” and of course “Fahrenheit 451.”


    • Oh yes, Kat Lib, “The Martian Chronicles”!! I have read that book many times, and have the DVD’s of the TV film of a few years ago that did a good job of bringing to life the sand ships and other wonders.
      As I just wrote in another comment, Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite writers because of his prose and imagination.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Great post Dave..just read this one and first thing came to my mind was.
    The last book I read was “The Lowland” by Jhumpa lahiri…her writings was flowing through the book like a prose..enjoyed every word of it like listening to a complex musical drama.

    “But he was no longer in Tollygunge. He had stepped out of it as he had stepped so many mornings out of his dreams, its reality and its particular logic rendered meaningless in the light of day. The difference was so extreme that he could not accommodate the two places together in his mind. In this enormous new country, there seemed to be nowhere for the old to reside. There was nothing to link them; he was the sole link. Here life ceased to obstruct or assault him. Here was a place where humanity was not always pushing, rushing, running as if with a fire at its back”
    ~ The Lowland

    “At four Bela was developing a memory. The word yesterday entered her vocabulary, though its meaning was elastic, synonymous with whatever was no longer the case. The past collapsed, in no particular order, contained by a single word.”
    ~ The Lowland

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, bebe! “…like listening to a complex musical drama” — nicely put!

      When writing the column, I thought of Jhumpa Lahiri and her strong/lovely writing in her novels and short stories, but I had mentioned “The Lowland” in my last three or so columns… 🙂 But I’m VERY glad you mentioned that book and gave two great excerpts from it. Lahiri is a magnificent writer.

      My use of the word “lovely” above reminds me of the sad but wonderfully written “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold.

      And the word “bones” reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe, another writer with the ability to create fantastic prose.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Off topic Dave to my shock I just heard on CBS news about Country Singer Tim Mcgraw. for raising money for Sandy Hook victims.
        I knew he is a Democrat and was a Obama supporter..I support his bold brave decisions to go against his genre and fans.
        When Nashville I have read when his musical career slows down he wants to rum for Governor of TN..which could be never considering he is still going strong.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, bebe! I had heard about that controversy. So great Tim McGraw is doing that, and so depressing to be slammed for that by right-wing “gun enthusiasts.” Unbelievable how supporting little kids gunned down in a mass murder is considered controversial to NRA types.

          It’s a bit reminiscent of The Dixie Chicks being trashed and banned from country radio for criticizing President Bush and his vile Iraq actions.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Dr. Cara Barker was raising awareness right after the massacre and had gathers a large group who made quilts for the victim families. Then she made care packages to send them.
            Dixie chicks could not survive but Tim Mcgraw shall.
            On another note Linda Ronstadt was kicked out from her own show in Vegas for making a statement against Bush.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Wonderful that Cara did that!

              The Dixie Chicks lost much of their country music audience, but did pretty well with a more pop-oriented approach on that post-controversy “Taking the Long Way” album. But then their lead singer, Natalie Maines, decided to take a hiatus from the band, and The Dixie Chicks kind of faded. The other two members (sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Robison) formed a duo called Court Yard Hounds — not sure what their current musical status is.

              A real shame what happened to Linda Ronstadt, who has a million times more integrity and talent than George W. Bush.

              Liked by 1 person

        • Bebe and Dave, I sometimes fall asleep at night watching MSNBC (Chris Hayes or Rachel Maddow) and wake up in the morning to “Morning Joe.” I find both Joe and Mika very annoying most of the time, but they did an interview with Tim McGraw this morning and I watched it because of your comments about him. I’m not a huge fan of today’s country music, but I was quite impressed with him as a person. I’m so glad that not everyone has forgotten about Sandy Hook — every time I read an article about the NRA, Ted Nugent, or anyone talking about the 2nd Amendment, I want to throw something against the wall!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Glad Tim McGraw made an excellent impression in that interview, Kat Lib! It’s great that he, and some others, haven’t forgotten Sandy Hook. If there was any justice, and if the U.S. was a more sane country, that horrific massacre would have led to very strong gun-control laws.

            Maybe we can throw Ted Nugent’s records against the wall? 🙂 But, then again, that would involve buying his music first…

            Liked by 1 person

          • Hi Kat lib..good to know, I simply can not stand Morning Joe and Mika as well, years ago she was always t shirts and sometimes made sense. Now she is all dolled up..and have completely changed her tunes. Sadly the Koch Brs. have so many in their pockets.

            Thanks for mentioning that i`ll try to catch up to that interview. I am not a fan of Country Music. In the upcoming concert backup act, Billy Currington, pulled out of the show, what a loser.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Tim McGraw running for governor of TN would be a very interesting race and campaign. Before it became a national laughingstock, TN was actually a moderate state. It was governed and represented by Eisenhower-style Republicans and Kennedy-style Democrats, people like Jim Naifeh, Ned McWherter, Jim Sasser, Steve Cohen (he is currently a U.S. Rep), Phil Bredeson, Lamar Alexander (before he turned into what he is today). They had no problem breaking party lines and working across the aisle.

          Tea Party takeover in 2010 destroyed the progress that TN made. It is now governed by the religious reich, gun obsessed people, and general sociopaths. As much as I am looking forward to my time in Memphis-Jackson-Nashville this summer, I also look forward to leaving and returning to my beautiful blue state of Washington. TN is a nice place to visit, but a horrible place to live (unless you’re a hetero Christian gun totin’ white male).

          Liked by 1 person

          • Lamar Alexander was a Democrat ? So was John Boehner I understand. But they are grown ups why I wonder, not they were brainwashed.
            But Tim McGraw stayed true to his political belief even though it was not welcome to country musicians. Basically they were more into cash and pleasing the NRA`s than looking deep inside.
            Actually true about TN but Nashville is a great place to live and certain areas the democrats always wins then they lose eventually.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Lamar Alexander has always been a Republican, but back then, he was more focused on building TN into a model Southeastern state, and less focused on being bought and paid for by religious and business interests. His moderate side comes out every blue moon, but overall, he’s no better than other members of his party.

              TN has four moderate/Democrat strongholds: Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. I do not understand how these large metro areas have allowed the rural counties to have so much influence in the state house. It’s like TN Dems have given up and checked out of the political arena completely. Guns, gays, abortion, cuts to education….those are the only topics that your average TN resident is focused on.

              But I still plan on partying and hitting up various bbq joints in Nashville. That hasn’t changed. LOL.

              Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks, Ana! VERY well said.

            There have certainly been entertainers who ran for office, so why not Tim McGraw? I’d rather have him than someone like Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

            Sorry Tennessee has become such a red state, but it’s certainly not alone. The Republican Party in general is so much more right-wing and partisan than the GOP of Eisenhower’s time that it’s like a whole different elephant. 😦

            “The religious reich” — GREAT phrase.


            • bebe and Ana, it’s certainly true that most red states have moderate or liberal enclaves. The ones you mentioned in Tennessee, Austin in Texas, Bloomington in Indiana, etc. (A lot of times those are partly college towns, of course.)

              Gerrymandering and voter suppression certainly haven’t helped when it comes to limiting the clout of moderate or liberal, often-urban areas. Not to mention how wimpy some Democrats can often be. 😦


      • Jhumpa Lahiri IS an excellent contemporary writer, Clairdelune. Great/often-subtle prose, memorable characters, a lot to say about “the immigrant experience,” etc.!

        I will reply to your other comment as soon as I can — I will be out for a little while. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Clairdelune you would love it as Dave and I both did. Her writing styles are incomparable , she is of modern times yet her research when writing a book on before her time is great.

        Liked by 1 person

  18. I know what you mean about overdone florid prose, as if authors were trying to outdo themselves in ostentation, but I love what I call sumptuous writing, Dave. It is so wonderful that you want to lie down and wallow among the words, phrases, and paragraphs. The Bronte sisters were masters at that, especially Charlotte. So was Fitzgerald, as you said!

    Then there are those authors whose command of the language is passable (or less than passable), but they can spin a tale that involves characters whom you grow to love, in spite of the prose of the work. I think I told you about a cousin who published a book (available on Amazon) that I believe is partly autobiographical and is a multi-generational tale. Her writing is deplorable, but I became quite fond of her characters to the extent that I wanted to find out what happened to them so I plowed on until the end 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • “Sumptuous” — I love that word, lulabelle, and your terrific line about wanting “to lie down and wallow among the words, phrases, and paragraphs”!

      The Brontes were indeed excellent with their prose. I plan to soon reread Charlotte’s “Villette” after many years (after getting it as a birthday present last month).

      Definitely true that so-so writers can compensate with great plots and/or great characters. For instance, I know some people who feel John Grisham isn’t that much of a stylist but they still love his novels because they’re such page-turners. (I think the prose and dialogue in his exciting books are actually pretty good.)


          • I have got to find a way to get back to reading! I want to renew my relationship with Jack Reacher! I’ve been so involved in our rescue efforts during the past year that I don’t have the time and I don’t have the attention span for reading! I have to find a way to do both!

            Liked by 1 person

            • It’s tough to do everything, and your rescue work is so important and admirable. My impression is that you’ve read a huge number of novels prior to the past year, so that’s a wonderful thing.

              “I want to renew my relationship with Jack Reacher!” — a very droll way of putting that. 🙂 I’m trying to limit my Reacher reading to one a month so that I read other novels, but there’s part of me that wants to have a read-nothing-else relationship with the Reacher novels until I catch up with all of them!

              Liked by 1 person

    • Lulabelle, you got it right – I understand exactly what you mean by “It is so wonderful that you want to lie down and wallow among the words, phrases, and paragraphs”, that’s how I feel every time I reread “Dandelion Wine”, a Shakespeare play or sonnet, a mystery novel by P.D. James, the poetry of Georges Rodenbach and Pablo Neruda and Verlaine….. makes you want to wrap the paragraphs and lines around you and sit happily in a cocoon of words. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  19. On a more serious note your essay and examples are as always stellar , as you said one might not look to dystopian literature expecting pure writing but in the category I’d add Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World . Huxley is criminally underappreciated in general which I find a shame as he is a brilliant ,eclectic thinker who consistently wrote in the kind of understated yet perfect sentences we expect from the best of the Brits.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, Donny, and well said! The prose of the brilliant Aldous Huxley is indeed exceptional, and deserves a mention. Not only in “Brave New World,” but in his non-dystopian novels such as “Point Counterpoint.”

      Come to think of it, George Orwell was also pretty darn eloquent in “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

      And thanks for your kind words about my columns!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dave and Donny, it is too true, Aldhous Huxley is underappreciated today – I read almost all his work, and loved it all. He helped me shape my view of society, especially when I was still a teenager puzzled by the silliness of the world around me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s kind of inexplicable how some great authors become underappreciated in the years/decades after their deaths (in addition to Huxley, I would add authors such as Sinclair Lewis and Willa Cather to that list).

          “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is a somewhat more powerful novel than “Brave New World,” but the latter is just as relevant and prescient. The Orwell novel is about people being ruled by force and fear, and the Huxley novel is about people being ruled by becoming distracted and just seeking pleasure. Both those scenarios happen in real-life societies — and sometimes there’s a mix of the two.

          Huxley was also quite a versatile author. “Island” is a utopian rather than dystopian novel, “Antic Hay” is a comic novel, “Point Counterpoint” is a sophisticated novel of a more conventional sort, etc. Plus Huxley wrote interesting nonfiction, like “Brave New World Revisited.” (I know you know all this, Clairdelune! 🙂 )

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks for your faith in me, Dave, but there are some things that I knew once and now are lost in the fog of time – the price we pay for living too long – and I appreciate it when your columns reminds me of them.
            I did not read “Island”, I don’t know how I missed it; I did read “Antic Hay” and “Point Counterpoint” but I do not recall much about the latter.
            I agree about Sinclair Lewis, “The Ape and the Essence” spoke strongly to my adolescent feelings about the human condition, and the tragicomic contradictions between human nature and the needs of a civilized, orderly society.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I also forget details of a lot of books, Clairdelune! I was late to Aldous Huxley, so I happened to have read the ones I mentioned within the past four or five years.

              “Island” (1962) was Huxley’s last novel; it’s somewhat uneven, but overall worth reading.

              Eloquent last paragraph of your comment! Unfortunately, I’ve never read “The Ape and the Essence.”


            • I’m so glad that you both enjoyed it. We had to read Bradbury for our book club last year, and so I finally got around to reading “Fahrenheit 451”. I do most of my reading on my Kindle, and honestly see no difference between that and a ‘real’ book. (In fact, I’ve tried to ‘turn the page’ on my Kindle, and looked for buttons to push on paper copies!) However, I was very aware that I was reading “Fahrenheit 451” as a hard copy. Half of me was grateful for the tactile experience of being able to hold the book in my hands, but the rest of me wanted to download it and copy it over and over again so I’d know that it would always be there. A world without books? Without stories and poetry. Without written knowledge and the learning that comes from it. I’m not sure why this book isn’t classified as a horror.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Thanks, Susan! I will delete the duplicate comment at the top. I’ve done the same thing — the box that opens when replying at the bottom of the comments area is very close to the box for making an entirely new comment. 😦

                Interesting thoughts on you reading “Fahrenheit 451” as a print book vs. an eBook. (If Kindles were around in the 1950s, that would have made for a very different kind of burning in Bradbury’s novel!) And your humorous riff on turning pages and pushing buttons reminds me of the joke about going to a mailbox to mail a (paper) letter and trying to find the “send” button. 🙂

                “A world without books? Without stories and poetry. Without written knowledge and the learning that comes from it. I’m not sure why this book isn’t classified as a horror” — SO well said. Thank you.


                • Thanks for the delete, Dave. I’ve really enjoyed visiting this site. The content of course is amazing, but I also really like the layout of it, and it’s very user-friendly, so I feel extra stupid when I get it wrong. I think I’ve only done it when replying to the first (last) comment, and so I forget to click reply before I start commenting. But all good 🙂 And thank you for the kind compliment

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • You’re welcome, Susan, and thanks for your kind words about this site’s content! 🙂

                    As user-friendly as the WordPress blog format is and other online things may be, there can be minor quirks/pitfalls that affect us all — myself included. And the first (last) comment area is one of those potentially problematic places (in addition to being an excuse for me to use alliteration…).


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