Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Music of the Spheres

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With all due respect to Lymaree–no, that isn’t what I’m doing.

It’s got nothing to do with keeping things in separate compartments.

It has everything to do with the music.

To  me, prose plays in my head the same way music does.  There is a music to written prose, different for every writer and for every piece, like Beethoven is different from Mozart and Mozart’s flute concertos are different from the Jupiter Symphony.

I don’t listen to music in the mornings when I’m going to write, either–if the rhythm of the Eroica gets into my head, it will override the rhythm that is inherent in my own writing, at least for fiction.

Try to think of yourself with a song stuck firmly in your head, so that you can’t get it out.  Try Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line.”  Then think of yourself walking into an evening at the New York Philharmonic. 

You try to hear the Mozart, but it just doesn’t work, because no matter what you do,  no matter how hard you try to concentrate, all you can hear is “I Walk the Line.”

Reading prose is, to me, essentially a musical experience.  My prose has a rhythm and a music, too, and what I have to guard against when I write is getting somebody else’s music stuck in my head so that I can’t shake it and produce my own.

And I don’t have to decompress from work and then pick up again to go back to work.

I have to decompress from work in terms of my emotional state, because I’ve just spend a long time living somebody else’s life in somebody else’s head. 

But that is not about what I read, and I could go on reading the stuff that suits me for writing without that being a problem.

I do sometimes need to sort of decompress from what I read, but that’s usually because the book in question has been unusually long. 

Long books–especially long nonfiction books–tended to be complicated and, yes, sometimes a bit difficult in terms of arguments and references,

So I always follow something really long with something really short, as a form of mental relaxation.

And sometimes when I get to the end of a very long book, I don’t really know what kind of thing I want to read next. 

I don’t need to keep things separate.  I just need to be able to focus on what I’m reading, and not be thinking of other things.

And I understand that if you’re tone deaf to the music of prose–and most people seem to be–then this must not make much sense.

And I also think that this thing–the ability to hear the music of prose–is what REALLY sets apart the people who like all that literary stuff nobody else wants. 

I don’t care about the plot.  I don’t really care about the story.  Strong characters are definitely a good idea, but they’re not primary.

I care about the music.

On any of the usual criteria proposed by people here, J.D. Salinger is a boring author who writes about “angst.”

But he makes some of the most beautiful music with his prose ever written, and for me, that makes him a greater writer than a hundred who produced exciting plots but whose prose is flat and discordant.

Written by janeh

August 12th, 2012 at 9:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'Music of the Spheres'

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  1. Well put, and let me show in good English prose exactly where it ends for me: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am a sounding gong, or a tinkling cymbal.”

    THAT is why Salinger and all the “literary mainstream” whose prose you praise while you bemoan the lack of content have no space on my shelves. Language is about thought and content. When what you have to say is vapid, twisted or evil, saying it in well-shaped sentences doesn’t make it better for me. It’s waxing a car with no engine.

    Exactly the right words can make a tremendous difference: read Pericles, Webster, Lincoln, Churchill or Kennedy. But it’s the meaning that gives weight to the words.

    When all I want is a pleasing noise, I have Goldsmith and Williams on CD.


    12 Aug 12 at 6:05 pm

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