I can always tell when a book speaks to me and I need to hang onto it (and not give it away) by the number of times I highlight passages in the book. The more lines and paragraphs that catch my eye, the more I feel engaged with the writing. This usually occurs when I’m reading non-fiction, but it will sometimes happen with fiction too. I highlight passages that I want to come back to.
Recently I picked up an abused copy of Patricia A. McKillip’s Alphabet of Thorn. She is well-known for her “Riddle-Master” trilogy (The Riddle Master of Hed, Heir of Sea and Fire, and Harpist in the Wind) as well as many other works. Many years ago I read the Riddle-Master trilogy and enjoyed it very much. I’ve even gone so far as to re-collect these books after letting them go years ago. (I seldom reread books - not because they aren’t worth rereading but because I have a Pile of Unread Books Waiting that grows week by week.) I began reading Alphabet of Thorn and realized very quickly there were examples of beautiful writing that struck me. So much so, in fact, that I purchased a new copy of the book so I could begin highlighting these examples. Here are just a few:
(page 2) “He carried a manuscript wrapped in leather that he laid upon the librarian’s desk as gently as a newborn. As he unswaddled the manuscript …”
(page 7) “[As a toddler in the library] Nepenthe had drooled on words, talked at them, and tried to eat them until she learned to take them into her eyes instead of her mouth.”
(page 9) “The world was so still that it might have vanished, swallowed by its own past or future.”
(page 13) “Dawn mists were shredding above the water, tatters and plumes of purple and gray.”
While “plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery,” writers are often advised to study the writing of authors they admire. If I could only do sorcery with prose like Patricia McKillip does, I would be thrilled.