books

Just like money

“Words and emotions are simple currencies. If we inflate them, they lose their value, just like money. They begin to mean nothing. Use ‘beautiful’ to describe a sandwich and the word means nothing. Since the war, there is no more room for inflated language. Words and feelings are small now—clear and precise. Humble like dreams.”

—Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

But aren’t all great quests folly?

“But aren’t all great quests folly? El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth and the search for intelligent life in the cosmos—we know what’s out there. It’s what isn’t that truly compels us. Technology may have shrunk the epic journey to a couple short car rides and regional jet lags—four states and twelve hundred miles traversed in an afternoon—but true quests aren’t measured in time or distance anyway, so much as in hope. There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant—sail for Asia and stumble on America—and the hope of scarecrows and tin men: that you find out you had the thing you sought all along.”

—Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

Our stories go in every direction

“Imagine truth as a chain of great mountains, their tops way up in the clouds. Writers explore these truths, always looking out for new paths up these peaks.”

“So the stories are paths?” Pasquale asked.

“No,” Alvis said. “Stories are bulls. Writers come of age full of vigor, and they feel the need to drive the old stories from the herd. One bull rules the herd awhile but then loses his vigor and the young bulls take over.”

“Stories are bulls?”

“Nope.” Alvis Bender took a drink. “Stories are nations, empires. They can last as long as ancient Rome or as short as the Third Reich. Story-nations rise and decline. Governments change, trends rise, and they go on conquering their neighbors. Like the Roman Empire, the epic poem stretched for centuries, as far as the world. The novel rose with the British Empire, but wait… what is that rising in America? Film?”

Pasquale grinned. “And if I ask if stories are empires, you’ll say—”

“Stories are people. I’m a story, you’re a story… your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, our stories join into one, and for a while, we’re less alone.”

—Jess Walter, Beautiful Ruins

She prepared a face to meet the faces that she met

“She found it difficult, this thing of being alone, awaiting the arrival of a group. She prepared a face—as her favorite poet had it—to meet the faces that she met, and it was a procedure that required time and forewarning to function properly. In fact, when she was not in company it didn’t seem to her that she had a face at all… And yet in college, she was famed for being opinionated, a ‘personality’—the truth was she didn’t take these public passions home, or even out of the room, in any serious way. She didn’t feel she had any real opinions, or at least not in the way other people seemed to have them. Once the class was finished she saw at once how she might have argued the thing just as viciously and successfully the other way round; defended Flaubert over Foucault; rescued Austen from insult instead of Adorno. Was anyone ever genuinely attached to anything? She had no idea.”

—Zadie Smith, On Beauty

“But words…”

“‘But words brought into a happy conjunction produce something that lives, just as soil and climate and an acorn in happy conjunction will produce a tree. Words are like acorns, you know. Every one of ‘em won’t make a tree, but if you just have enough of ‘em, you’re bound to get a tree sooner or later.’” —William Faulkner, Mosquitoes