Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Beauty Of Language

At my wedding my Dad said in his speech that wherever I went, books went to. He told stories of my love of books dating from before I could walk, and bet Josh that I had a stack of books sitting by my bed to take on my honeymoon.

He was wrong.

There were so many they were stacked beside my bed and on the floor.

I took the opportunity over the last few weeks to read a lot of books I never would have ordinarily picked up. Sure there were a couple of chicklitty beach reads, but the majority were books that I chose from the Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2009 list. I wanted to see what it was that it took for a book to rise above all the others and make this list.

The answer, across all the genres and all the lengths and all the different POVs and styles was a no-brainer. The beauty of their language. These authors had an ability to twist words and create pictures in ways that had you mesmerised. In ways that made you read paragraphs, and then reread them again and again, because the mastery of their craft was something that demanded adoration.

In fact, in one particular book the beauty of the language was so overwhelming that I was three quarters of the way through and compeltely riveted before I realised very little was actually happening. One character was stuck in the back of Nebraska, another was on a long car journey and another was in an abandoned cabin, and pretty much everything was either backstory, or flashbacks or the characters thoughts on the situation they were in and/or the relationships that surrounded their situation.

In fact I could probably list in about eight bullet points, all of the key plot points, and you'd pretty much get a good overview of the story. But it would do absolutely no justice to the immensity of the talent it took to craft it.

It was kind of like being a varsity level runner and thinking that you weren't bad, not great, but okay in the grand scheme of things, and then suddenly watching the Olympics for the very first time.

And they were all like that, book after book after book. Sure maybe some themes I didn't really like, or some were darker than I would chose to read, and some styles resonated with me more than others, but every single one of them made me gape in wonder at their mastery of language.
If I could craft one paragraph the way these authors could I would be thrilled, and somehow they managed to do it for page after page for hundreds of pages.

For me there was one standout last year. Bonnie Grove's Talking To the Dead. We had the privilege of interviewing Bonnie on this blog a few weeks ago and all I can say is that, if you haven't read her debut novel then you absolutely must get your hands on it.

So tell me. What is one book that you read last year knocked you sideways with the magic of its words?

Kara is a bit distracted at the moment with her own fairytale romance to be writing much, but she figures that's okay since it's all technically research! She can be found chatting about writing, love, life and the trials of trying to buy a house at


  1. 'Cold Mountain' by Charles Frazier and also 'The Secret Scripture' by Sebastian Barry. Although the language is vastly different the pictures painted are still with me, and will remain so I think.
    I find your point interesting though as I hadn't considered language as being a possible end in itself which is silly I guss, look at poetry, that's pure language which grabs you (when it does).

  2. Kara, interesting post! I recently started reading a general market book in a genre I don't usually read. The writing was beautiful, her writer's voice and style was amazing, but despite the exquisite writing I couldn't finish the book. I think the story was too dark for me and I felt uncomfortable in the main character's head. I closed the book wishing this author wrote 'happy stories'.

  3. Hi Narelle,

    I know completely what you mean - I had the same experience with one of the books that I took away with me.

    It was a well crafted story, beautifully written but the starting premise was dark (a family is massacred, one daughter survives and a key witness in convicting her older brother. Twenty years later questions arise about whether he really did it). The story is told through three POVs - the surviving daughter 25 years after the event, and then her mother and brother the day of.

    About two thirds of the way through I just couldn't read any more. As gripping as it was, and as much as I wanted to find out what had happened, the sense of darkness and evil was just too much for me.