Literary Gems

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I have enjoyed reading obscure or forgotten literature from the early 20th century. I once read a book called “Arrowsmith,” by Sinclair Lewis (1925) and almost laughed my fool head off over the health care system – as if nothing had changed in more than a century.

I finally discovered, “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” by Carson McCullers (1940), and found myself jealous that a college-age girl could write like that. It’s a beautiful and haunting story.

I use a highlighter when I come upon a passage that makes me stop. A phrase, sentence, or paragraph that jumps out, seems to be saying something. Below are a few. The first is from Jack Black’s 1926 memoir “You Can’t Win,” in which he outlines his descent into a criminal career. Here he is describing his childhood:

“Looking back, it seems to me that our life in the convent was not properly balanced. We had none of the rough, boisterous times so dear to the small boy, no swimming, baseball, football. We were a little too cloistered, too quiet, too subdued. There was no wrestling, no boxing, no running and jumping and squabbling and shuffling and shouldering about. Of course I learned all those later. But I learned them quickly, too quickly – all in a bunch. That put me out of balance again. Those exercises should have been mixed in with my studies and prayers.”

The next is from a short story by P.G. Wodehouse entitled, “When Papa Swore In Hindustani” (1901). Wodehouse was a comic British writer who wrote cleanly, concisely and smartly. You could write a stage musical out of this particular comic drama. Here’s the passage:

“Colonel Reynolds, V.C., glared sternly across the table at Miss Sylvia Reynolds, and Miss Sylvia Reynolds looked in a deprecatory manner back at Colonel Reynolds, V.C.; while the dog in question – a foppish pug – happening to meet the colonel’s eye in transit, crawled unostentatiously under the sideboard, and began to wrestle with a bad conscience.”

“Foppish pug”? I giggled like a schoolboy picturing it, before I even looked up the word “foppish.”

This last quote I’ve lost the reference for (having foolishly written it down in my journal without credit), and I apologize. It stopped me because there is a mountain of self-recognition in it:

“So every night he sat in Alcala, and wrote. Sometimes he would only try to write, and that was torture.”

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