One needn’t have an excuse so humdrum & ordinary as a birthday to quote the great William H. Gass. But hey, if you’re lucky, you only turn ninety once. And today is Willie’s turn! So let’s raise our glasses high, friends, and sip some sentences with him.
“[The ideal reader] is skilled and generous with attention, for one thing, patient with longeurs [sic — intentional?], forgiving over error and the author’s self-indulgence, avid for details … ah, and a lover of lists, a twiddler of lines. Shall this reader be given occasionally to mouthing a word aloud or wanting to read to a companion in a piercing library whisper? yes; and shall this reader be one whose heartbeat alters with the tenses of the verbs? that would be nice; and shall every allusion be caught like a cold? no, eaten like a fish, whole, fins and skin; … oh, [the ideal reader] will be a kind of slowpoke on the page, a sipper of sentences, full of reflective pauses, thus a finger for holding its place should be appointed; a mover of lips, then? just, so, yes. large soft moist ones, naturally red, naturally supple, but made only for shaping syllables, you understand, for singing … singing. And shall this reader, as the book is opened, shadow the page like a palm? yes, perhaps that would be best (mind the strain on the spirit, though, no glasses correct that); and shall this reader sink into the paper? become the print? and blossom on the other side with pleasure and sensation … from the touch of mind, and the love that lasts in language? yes. Let’s imagine such a being, then. And begin. And then begin.”
– Preface to In the Heart of the Heart of the Country
Close readers & clickers of links will notice that the wonderful NYRB Classics is breathing new life into Gass’ indispensable story collection In the Heart of the Heart of the Country this fall. Sentences are dribbling down my chin at the thought!