Book Talk


A whole weekend to talk about books?  If this sounds like your idea of heaven on a stick you will be envious of an event that my colleague Leda Schubert and I attended in September.  We met in a barn in Vermont with other like-minded folk to talk about the works of Susan Cooper.  That was it.  No prize to decide; no lectures to attend; no conclusion to come to; no report to write; just the pleasure of focusing on books that have accompanied some of us on the road for almost fifty years. (As befits a group of readers there was also eating, drinking, walking, gossiping and contemplation of sheep against a backdrop of crimson and golden hills.)

             In reading and re-reading in preparation for this treat I couldn’t quite set my teacher self aside and I noticed several inspiring technical things in Cooper’s writing.  Here are a couple:  The first is punctuation extravaganza!  In a book like The Dark is Rising you can see how Cooper uses punctuation to orchestrate the rhythm of her sentences. It’s as though she teaches you how to read her work, how to hear it, as you’re reading it.  I know we’re in a punctuation-averse age.  I feel it in my own writing.  Maybe it’s a tool we’re neglecting.  (Please note my daring semi-colons in the previous paragraph.)

            The other writerly thing that really struck me was Cooper’s innovative use of point of view.  In King of Shadows for example she does something very cool with a dual point of view.  But that’s nothing to what she pulls off with first person in her recent Ghost Hawk.  I don’t want to give too much away here but it does contain the line, “I never heard the sound of the second shot that blasted a great hole in my chest and killed me.”  Intrigued?  Read the book and then find somebody to talk to about it.

Sarah Ellis


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5 responses to “Book Talk

  1. Kathy Quimby

    You’ve helped me start my next packet’s reading list (the current packet left my hands mere hours ago). As someone who teaches copyediting to college students, I constantly hear students complain about “too many commas,” or sentences that are too long, as well as sometimes, though rarely, sentences that are too short. I do my best to convince them that creating the desired effect is what is important. I’ll have to see if Susan Cooper can’t help me persuade them.

  2. Thank you, Sarah! It’s funny how often people assume that grammar and punctuation were created to make things hard for us, rather than to act as logical signposts, tools that help us orchestrate the music that language makes. These tools, like our language, are subject to growth and change. Hence your daring semi-colons or even occasional sentence fragments — all good, provided they’re used with respect (dare I say love?) for the sound of the words on the page.

  3. martineleavitt

    I never really got to love Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising… But I think I’ll try some of these other books. Thanks for the suggestion, Sarah!

  4. Love me some semi-colons; some commas; some artfully-constructed sentences! Sarah, I envy you that time with Leda and Ms. Cooper (not present, but lifting her voice) and others in Vermont, as the trees began to turn incredible colors.

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