Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Sound On The Page-- Ben Yagoda

The Sound On The Page

I am still reading The Sound On The Page by Ben Yagoda. The text is dense, slow reading with lots of deeply meaningful statements and quotes. There is a six page appendix of original Interviewees in the back of the book which lists people; Cynthia Ozick, Dave Barry, Bebe Moore Campbell, Stanley Crouch, and many amazing authors.

Every time I pick this book up to read, I learn a little more. This is a wonderful quote from Dave Barry: "There is a lot of what I call "God Writing" in the newspaper. We're taught to sound authoritative and impartial and professional, and often to sound boring. I always wanted my column to look more like it was a total mistake that I had gotten hold of the wordprocessor."

I think that this is the problem I am having with my own writing. Maybe, I have been taught that in order to appear serious, I must be intensely and overwhelmingly boring. To put in my voice and spice will disconcert the reader and make them run far far away.

There is a later discussion on whether to use a pen and paper or wordprocessor. I personally feel that I must write down my reviews of books before putting them into a computer. There is something wonderfully tactile about putting words on paper. It makes them concrete and physical. The wordprocessor is ephemeral. It is lightning on a screen focused through our eyeballs.

He compiles dozens of different writers quotes to create a vision of how to create style. Think of a jigsaw puzzle completely made of quotes arranged to say something completely different once the quotes are all put together and you would have this book.

I may not finish reading this book until tomorrow or the next day. It is slow going, but worth it.

I find myself talking to myself out loud more as I write about The Sound On The Page. I think it is helping me develop an original voice.

This book has some very interesting polemics in it. Ben Yagoda comes out against The Elements of Style because the style is too simple. This makes the book quite interesting. This book unlike many writing books does not admonish you to write simply. It gives examples of both simple styles and very ornate writing styles; Harold Bloom, Henry James, and Saul Bellow . I rather like the idea of writing in a complex style.

Some writers will go against this book because it challenges the canon and introduces some very different ideas about writing style and voice.

Here is the book.

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