i. “The more I write, the more I am convinced that the only way to write a popular story is to split it up into scenes, and have as little stuff between the scenes as possible.” (P. G. Wodehouse, Performing Flea. A long time ago I was working on a blog post covering this book, but I realized I’m probably not going to finish that one so I decided to include some of the quotes from the post here instead. He emphasizes the point made in this quote more than once in his letters, for example he writes in another letter that: “The longer I write, the more I realize the necessity for telling a story as far as possible in scenes, especially at the start.”)
ii. “The principle I always go on in writing a long story is to think of the characters in terms of actors in a play. I say to myself, when I invent a good character for an early scene: ‘If this were a musical comedy we should have to get somebody like Leslie Henson to play this part, and if he found that all he had was a short scene in act one, he would walk out. How, therefore, can I twist the story so as to give him more to do and keep him alive till the fall of the curtain?’ This generally works well and improves the story.” (P. G. Wodehouse, Performing Flea)
iii. “The absolute cast-iron good rule, I’m sure, in writing a story, is to introduce all your characters as early as possible – especially if they are going to play important parts later.” (-ll-)
iv. “I think the success of every novel depends largely on one or two high spots. The thing to do is to say to yourself ‘Which are my big scenes?’ and then get every drop of juice out of them.” (-ll-)
v. “I sometimes wonder if I really am a writer. When I look at the sixty-odd books in the shelf with my name on them, and reflect that ten million of them have been sold, it amazes me that I can have done it. I don’t know anything, and I seem incapable of learning … I feel like I’ve been fooling the public for fifty years.” (-ll-)
vi. “I don’t suppose that anything you say or anything I say will make the slightest damn bit of difference. You need dynamite to dislodge an idea that has got itself firmly rooted in the public mind.” (-ll-)
vii. “The day after graduating from college, I found fifty dollars in the foyer of my Chicago apartment building. The single bill had been folded into eighths and was packed with cocaine. It occurred to me then that if I played my cards right, I might never have to find a job. People lost things all the time. They left class rings on the sinks of public bathrooms and dropped gem-studded earrings at the doors of the opera house. My job was to keep my eyes open and find these things. I didn’t want to become one of those coots who combed the beaches of Lake Michigan with a metal detector, but if I paid attention and used my head, I might never have to work again.
The following afternoon, hung over from cocaine, I found twelve cents and an unopened tin of breath mints. Figuring in my previous fifty dollars, that amounted to an average of twenty-five dollars and six cents per day, which was still a decent wage. The next morning I discovered two pennies and a comb matted with short curly hairs. The day after that I found a peanut. It was then that I started to worry.” (David Sedaris, Naked)
viii. “If she’d had it her way, we would never have known about the cancer. It was our father’s idea to tell us, and she had fought it, agreeing only when he threatened to tell us himself. Our mother worried that once we found out, we would treat her differently, delicately. We might feel obliged to compliment her cooking and laugh at all her jokes, thinking always of the tumor she was trying so hard to forget. And that is exactly what we did. […] We were no longer calling our mother. Now we were picking up the telephone to call our mother with cancer.” (-ll-)
ix. “It was rather annoying to hear how kind she’d been; it entailed putting tiresome qualifications on his dislike for her.” (Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim)
x. “the most noticeable characteristic of the past, as seen by him, at least, was that there was so much more of it now than formerly, with bits that were longer ago than had once seemed possible.” (Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils)
xi. “Why, you might wonder, should prisoners wear themselves out, working hard, ten years on end, in the camps? You’d think they’d say: No thank you, and that’s that. […] But that didn’t work. To outsmart you they thought up work-teams – but not teams like the ones in freedom, where every man is paid his separate wage. Everything was so arranged in the camp that the prisoners egged one another on. It was like this: either you got a bit extra or you all croaked.” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich)
xii. “‘Well, brothers, good-bye,’ said the captain with an embarrassed nod to his team-mates, and followed the guard out.
A few voices shouted: ‘Keep your pecker up.’ But what could you really say to him? They knew the cells, the 104th did, they’d built them. Brick walls, cement floor, no windows, a stove they lit only to melt the ice on the walls and make pools on the floor. You slept on bare boards, and if you’d any teeth left to eat with after all the chattering they’d be doing, they gave you three hundred grammes of bread day after day and hot skilly only on the third, sixth, and ninth.
Ten days. Ten days ‘hard’ in the cells – if you sat them out to the end your health would be ruined for the rest of your life. […] As for those who got fifteen ‘hard’ and sat them out – they went straight into a hole in the cold earth.” (-ll-)
xiii. “Shukhov gazed at the ceiling in silence. Now he didn’t know either whether he wanted freedom or not. At first he’d longed for it. Every night he’d counted the days of his stretch – how many had passed, how many were coming. And then he’d grown bored with counting. And then it became clear that men of his like wouldn’t ever be allowed to return home, that they’d be exiled. And whether his life would be any better there than here – who could tell?
Freedom meant one thing to him – home.
But they wouldn’t let him go home.” (-ll-)
xiv. “You want to know what I do? All right. Some guy comes in with a bandage around his head. We don’t mess about. We’ll soon have that off. He’s got a hole in his head. So what do we do. We stick a nail in it. Get the nail – a good rusty one – from the trash or wherever. And lead him out to the Waiting Room where he’s allowed to linger and holler for a while before we ferry him back to the night. […] Because I am a healer, everything I do heals, somehow. The thing called society is, I believe, insane. In the locker room the steel grilles are pasted with letters that say, Thanks for your kindness for making a tough time much easier to bear, and, If it wasn’t for all of you there at the hospital I don’t know how we would have survived. The doctors read these thankyou notes with tears in their eyes, especially when gratitude is expressed in a childish hand. Not Johnny Young, though. Perhaps he knows, as I do, that the letters are propitiatory. The children (‘7 yrs’) haven’t been here yet. They won’t be so grateful when we’re through.” (Martin Amis, Time’s Arrow.)
xv. “Like all of my friends, she’s a lousy judge of character.” (David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day)
xvi. “Nobody dreams of the things he already has.” (-ll-)
xvii. “The word phobic has its place when properly used, but lately it’s been declawed by the pompous insistence that most animosity is based upon fear rather than loathing. No credit is given for distinguishing between these two very different emotions. I fear snakes. I hate computers. My hatred is entrenched, and I nourish it daily. I’m comfortable with it, and no community outreach program will change my mind.” (-ll-)
xviii. “Of all the stumbling blocks inherent in learning this language [French], the greatest for me is the principle that each noun has a corresponding sex that affects both its articles and its adjectives. Because it is a female and lays eggs, a chicken is masculine. Vagina is masculine as well, while the word masculinity is feminine. Forced by the grammar to take a stand one way or the other, hermaphrodite is male and indecisiveness female. I spent months searching for some secret code before I realized that common sense has nothing to do with it. Hysteria, psychosis, torture, depression: I was told that if something is unpleasant, it’s probably feminine. This encouraged me, but the theory was blown by such masculine nouns as murder, toothache, and Rollerblade.” (-ll-)
xix. “By the time I reached my thirties, my brain had been strip-mined by a combination of drugs, alcohol, and the chemical solvents used at the refinishing company where I worked. Still, there were moments when, against all reason, I thought I might be a genius. These moments were provoked not by any particular accomplishment but by cocaine and crystal methamphetamine — drugs that allow you to lean over a mirror with a straw up your nose, suck up an entire week’s paycheck, and think, “God, I’m smart.”” (-ll-)
xx. “As youngsters, we participated in all the usual seaside activities — which were fun, until my father got involved and systematically chipped away at our pleasure. Miniature golf was ruined with a lengthy dissertation on impact, trajectory, and wind velocity, and our sand castles were critiqued with stifling lectures on the dynamics of the vaulted ceiling. We enjoyed swimming, until the mystery of tides was explained in such a way that the ocean seemed nothing more than an enormous saltwater toilet, flushing itself on a sad and predictable basis. […] [“]The goal is to better yourself. Meet some intellectuals. Read a book!” After all these years our father has never understood that we, his children, tend to gravitate toward the very people he’s spent his life warning us about.” (-ll-. There were several reasons why I really enjoyed Sedaris’ book, but the fact that here in this book was actually a character who in some respects seemed to find it natural to behave in a manner similar to the way I could see myself behave – in a setting where the behaviour in question might by some people be considered unusual, that is – was definitely one of them. (Though I’m also slightly conflicted here; I don’t like children very much, and there’s no conceivable universe in which I’d ever have six of them; in such a universe ‘I’ would not be ‘me‘. I’d also on a related note be much more inclined to warn children to stay away from ‘intellectuals’, rather than the opposite…)).
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