Archive for March, 2019

Do you hear music when you read fine writing?

March 16, 2019

Every day for almost two years I would bring out a couple books — Nabokov short stories and Donald Hall “Essays after 80”. The intent was just to develop an ear for writing. I wasn’t reading for content, I was reading for ear. I would spend two hours each night on just a paragraph or two or three, and I would break it down. When I opened Nabokov’s short stories at random and started reading his sentences, my jaw dropped. I didn’t know the English language could do that. How is this guy doing that? It was so different, at such a higher level. I would dissect his paragraphs: Why did he put this word here, in this sentence and not there? Why did he use this transition from this paragraph to the next? Suppose I do it differently; it sounds worse – why? Why does it sound worse when I move this word? There are 6 words that mean the same thing, why did he choose that one? Let me try replacing it; oh, it sounds worse. I would do this repeatedly.  I picked Nabokov because his sentences and rhythm and musicality of writing was jaw-dropping. In every sentence. Every sentence is a 10 out of 10. How does this guy do it?  I started getting a weird experience after doing this for a year. I would read passages and I would hear music. I would hear the passages in my head, as music. The music was in perfect harmony. And then I would pick up a newspaper or some other stuff and I couldn’t read more than two sentences because it sounded like clashing; it was grating.

— Safi Bahcall, at time 33:30 in this podcast.