Alex (yakshaver) wrote,

A tiny treat

I always felt outsized and clumsy as a kid, and not without reason: when I was six, I was not only the biggest and tallest kid in first grade, but also the in second and third. One of my many formative responses to this was to develop a special affection for tiny and delicate things. On the farm where we lived til I was eight, what we called the front yard was really a parking area, bounded by house, road, and barns, and covered in fine gravel. Already when I was three or four, I remember my mom commenting to a friend on my habit of spending hours in the front yard, looking for the tiniest and prettiest rocks, which I would solemnly present to her. She had already raised three children, more if you consider that she was the oldest girl in a family of ten, so it wasn't that I was making a gift of rocks that she found odd. It was my complete disinterest in any rock much larger than the tip of my pinky, even a quite striking agate she had pointed out to me. I tried, and I suppose must have utterly failed, to explain to her that it was the tininess that interested me.

That early preference for things small has stuck with me, though it's evolved beyond gravel. One of its manifestations is the special affection I feel for a well-crafted paragraph. To be interesting and informative is hard; most writers rarely manage it. To be interesting, informative, and stylish is rare indeed. And a writing that is interesting, informative, stylish, and concise — that's a special treat.

In the middle of a four paragraph history of literacy in the West (itself quite a feat of concision), Ursula Le Guin writes:
In Europe, one can perceive through the Middle Ages a slow broadening of the light of the written word, which brightens into the Renaissance and shines out with Gutenberg. Then, before you know it, slaves are reading, and revolutions are made with pieces of paper called Declarations of this and that, and schoolmarms replace gunslingers all across the Wild West, and people are mobbing the steamer delivering the latest installment of a new novel to New York, crying, "Is Little Nell dead? Is she dead?"1
Eighty-five words to cover a millennium and a half, evoking a half-dozen images along the way.2 A miniature masterpiece.

1 Ursula K. Le Guin, "Staying Awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading," Harper's Magazine vol 316, nr. 1893 (Feb. 2008), pp. 33-38, at p. 34.
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