Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Cormoran Strikes Again!

Dear readers. Yesterday was at last October 20th, and at approximately 5:30 pm the latest Robert Galbraith mystery, actually written by JK Rowling and featuring detective Cormoran Strike, was delivered into my hands. And it is wonderful.

I haven't finished it yet--not for lack of trying--it's 492 pages long and I'm really past thinking all-nighters are a good idea. (I think my last was for Harry Potter 5.). For my money JK Rowling is our greatest living author, eclipsing even Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. There's something so effortless about the way she puts words together. I'm reminded of Dick Francis in his prime--not his final two novels, which were a bit forced, but the half-dozen or so immediately before it.

Writers have to be readers first. I tell any aspiring writer I meet to read everything that catches their fancy. Read, read, read. Lately, though, I realize I'm particularly drawn to two types of prose: the stylized, witty sentences of absolute masters like Jane Austen and Patrick O'Brian, where you're cackling over sheer subtlety, and the words-flowing-like-water streams of Rowling, Francis--maybe I'd add Patricia MacLachlan, who can say so much with so few words--hmm, poet Marilyn Nelson comes to mind too.

Here's 2 sentences I marked. (To my surprise I have lately become someone who marks up my books. I also dog-ear pages.)

He possessed a finely honed sense for the strange and the wicked. He had seen things all through his childhood that other people preferred to imagine happened only in films.

The spare elegance of those lines. The word choices: honed, wicked. "Preferred to image" not simply "imagine." The feeling of truth.

The older I get, the more I recognize that I became a writer far earlier than I thought. It wasn't with my first published book, or even my first byline. It wasn't when I sat in Patty MacLachlan's children's literature class at Smith. It wasn't when I quit medical school. It was when I was fourteen, the first time I finished a novel, stared at it in wonder and disbelief, then immediately began to reread it, to see if I could discover how exactly the author did that. 

(The book was A Wrinkle In Time.)