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The Novelist's Lexicon: Writers on the Words That Define Their Work Kindle Edition
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I have recommended this book to other friends who are writers and they are similarly entranced. Each writer, in this Lexicon, writes about a single word, supposedly that encapsulates their writing, but actually, most have used it to write about a word they enjoy - happiness; that they hope might shock - cunnilingus; that they have reflected on - lies; or a word most of us have never heard of, adumbrated - that the writer can play with.
Perhaps this book is one that only a publication of the value of Le Monde would consider, and if that is so, then long may the carefully compiled and strictly edited word long be with us, to read such quality is to realise how much language is lost in internet waffle. We need good newspapers, Le Monde, The Guardian, New York Times, to help us remember that there is a more important world in the carefully considered, the slow unpicking of words, careful reflection and others who will challenge our musings, long before they ever go into the world of print. Writing is not about ego, it is about structure and discipline, this witty, wise and clever book reminds us of that again.
Le Monde, the French newspaper, sponsored an International Forum on the Novel in which 70+ writers were asked to write short essays on the word that defined their work. Think of it as some of the world’s best writers were put on the spot to write flash fiction. None of these essays exceed three pages. It would seem like an invitation to egotism, but it isn’t. The overt beauty of the collection is the insight into the creative process and self-perception. The joy, however, is encountering many authors not known in the English-speaking world. The anthology is an invaluable introduction to world literature since the writers gathered here are from around the world: Albanian, American (in the minority), Arabic, British, Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Vietnamese.
When these writers write about writing they are using words in their language that are merely translated into English, but they endeavor to provide the reader with a significant snapshot to all the nuances and associations of the chosen word in their mind and from their culture. One can’t help but appreciate translators more and yet know that the original text is but an approximation, far richer in tone, texture, and vision. These essays are brief, readable on the train, and run the range from the humorous to the philosophical, political and poetic. Rikki Ducornet, for example, writes on cunnilingus. Andre Brink chose ‘heretic’ and relates it to his choice to defy apartheid. Hélène Cixous questions deception and knowledge with ‘aletherature.’ Readers will come to understand all the permutations of the French word échappé from Marie Desplechine and Elisabetta Rasy explains that ‘ombra’ in Italian means more than the English ‘shadow.’
My favorite essay is ‘Silence’ from David Albahari. A brief quote: “Nobody knows what love really is, and yet we all keep falling in love, hoping that we will realize what true love is. In the same way we keep trying to go beyond words, to see the other side of language, hoping that then, and only then, will we be able to express everything.”
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