Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Words Worth a Thousand Pictures

I'm reading William Least Heat-Moon's latest book, Roads to Quoz. Normally I wait until I finish a book before I do a "book review" here on the blog, but I'm enjoying his use of language so much that I have to share at least a few snippets here and now, when I'm barely one fourth of the way through the book. (I have a little bit of an excuse: it IS a long book, having 562 pages, not including the "Valedictories.")

Describing his English lit profs as he worked towards his "Phud," many years ago, at the ripe old age of about 30: "If any youthful moisture of soul remained in them, it had turned to mildew. The range of their dry-hearted, withered passions ran only from annoyance to worry, with every petty stage between and nothing beyond." (p. 163)

Descriptions from the Gulf Coast of Florida....

"The old cafe, its floors showing more relief than the surrounding land, had commensurately undulating wooden walls and ceiling,..." (p. 173)

"Sagging down like a line of wet laundry, old U.S. 98 followed the curve of the Gulf about as closely as a road could, the sound of the waves sometimes overcoming the hum and thrum of auto tires." (p. 176)

"The difference between the water on the roof and the humid air under it was distinguishable largely by the noise [of the hard rain coming down]." (p. 179)

A philosophical comment about memories from prior trips while traveling, "As dyspepsia is to a diner, so personal nostalgia is to the traveler." (p. 177)

And Heat-Moon's vocabulary! I rarely run across books where I have to look up words with any frequency at all - but I'm finding the need to keep a dictionary close by with this book. Not in a bad way, mind you, but rather in a "richness of the English language" sort of way. Without giving away the secret of which words I didn't know, here are a few that caught my attention in the same 3 short chapters from which I took my several quotes:

nimble conspectuses
piscatorial prophylaxis (describing mullet fish dip)
"third places"

Let me leave you with two more quotes. The first is describing the geography of Florida, and the second was the response of an oysterbar owner when asked if the humidity bothered him....

"While not hollow, Florida a few inches down is as porous as a weathered thighbone you might find in a High Plains pasture.... [Florida's] a piece of loosely stuck geology not so much affixed to the continent as merely anchored for the night." (p. 168)

" ' You know why little old ladies come here?' To find little old men? 'They come here to rehydrate their skins. Get one of them good and damp, and she can shuffle off ten years. Who wants to feel a dry sponge when he can have a damp one?' ...'Ever been to Arizona? Have you seen those old gals out there? The short ones turn into raisins and the big ones look like prunes. No Georgia Peaches in that desert.' " (p. 179-180)

On that colorful, if misogynistic, quote, I will end for now. I'm ready to get back to reading!

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