Thursday, November 29, 2007

Good books

I am reading Out of Africa, partly because I have a fascination with Africa these days, and partly because of a wonderful quote that has stuck in my head for several years, from Martha Gellhorn's Travels with Myself and Another. Gellhorn wrote, "The power of 'Out of Africa' is her self-possession. The charm of the writing is an archaic and quaint elegance--the idiom not quite right. But she worries me on God; as if she knew that He and she were both well born."

The writing is, indeed, charming. Dineson's descriptions of the African plain that she called home for many years are stunning and beautiful.

The following passage, however, struck me for an entirely different reason. In a section titled 'Kamante and Lulu,' Dineson tells of a conversation she had with one of the boys who lived on her farm about the book she was writing. He was having difficulty imagining how her piles of papers were going to be transformed into a solid book.

One night as I looked up I met these profound attentive eyes and after a moment he spoke. "Msabu," he said, "do you believe yourself that you can write a book?"

I answered that I did not know.

...Kamante...then said, "I do not believe it."

I had nobody else to discuss my book with; I laid down my paper and asked him why not. I now found that he had been thinking the conversation over before, and prepared himself for it; he stood with the Odyssey itself behind his back, and here he laid it on the table.

"Look, Msabu," he said, "this is a good book. It hangs together from one end to the other. Even if you hold it up and shake it strongly, it does not come to pieces. The man who has written it is very clever. But what you write," he went on, both with scorn and with a sort of friendly compassion, "is some here and some there. When the people forget to close the door it blows about, even down on the floor and you are angry. It will not be a good book."

Dineson went on to explain about bookbinding and publishing.

A few days later, I heard Kamante explain to the other houseboys that in Europe the book which I was writing could be made to stick together, and that with terrible expense it could even be made as hard as the Odyssey, which was again displayed. He himself, however, did not believe that it could be made blue.

My book will have a soft cover and I do not know yet what color the cover will be, blue or otherwise. However, the first round of edits has been turned in, and I have great hopes that my editor will indeed make it all "hang together from one end to the other" so that it will not come to pieces even when shaken. You, the reader, will have to judge, and I can only hope that you have more faith in me than Kamante did in poor Dineson.

1 comment:

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