Thursday, May 10, 2012

What I'm Reading - Dawn Light

In addition to Fifty Shades Darker, which aggravates me the more I read it, I'm reading this lovely piece by Diane Ackerman, Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day.

Diane Ackerman is an author every author should read. Her work is poignant, her imagery vivid, and her insights astounding. We would all be better writers if we picked up only a small percentage of her abilities with the written word.

Case in point, this book had me at hello, in the first paragraph of the Prologue:

"At dawn, the world rises out of darkness, slowly, sense-grain by grain, as if from sleep. Life becomes visible once again. 'When it is dark, it seems to me as if I were dying, and I can't think anymore,' Claude Monet once lamented. 'More light!' Goethe begged from his deathbed. Dawn is the wellspring of more light, the origin of our first to last days as we roll in space, over 6.684 billion of us in one global petri dish, shot through with sunlight, in our cells, in our minds, in our myriad metaphors of rebirth, in all the extensions to our senses that we create to enlighten our days and navigate our nights."

But it was the last paragraph of the Prologue that truly captured me:

"Painting its own time zone, its own climate, dawn is a land of  petrified forests and sleeping beauties, when dry leaves, hardened by frozen dew, become ghost hands, and deer slouch through the woods, waiting for their food to defrost. Part of the great parentheses of our lives, dawn summons us to a world alive and death-defying, when the deepest arcades of life and matter beckon. Then, as if a lamp were switched on in a dark room, nature grows crisply visible, including our own nature, ghostly hands, and fine sediment of days."

Who would have thought to describe deer food as defrosting? Who would have compared dawn to one half of a parentheses? This is what Ackerman does. She persuades you to see the world around you in a different way. She is a master of showing you her words rather than telling them to you, which for nonfiction is pretty amazing.

If you're a writer and want to improve your writing, I suggest you pick up one or ten of Ackerman's books and study how she writes and the words she uses to describe simple things most of us take for granted, right down to how a flock of birds flies. And maybe you, too, will want to take your cup of coffee or tea outside to the porch at the break of dawn, your pen and notebook in hand, and observe all the wondrous events you never noticed before.

Happy reading...and happy writing.

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