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Descriptive Passages

by Kimn Swenson Gollnick

I keep a notebook where I collect prose enjoyed during my reading time . . . and now, you can enjoy excerpts from my current college readings. Here I share favorite excerpts and descriptive passages--a unique setting, an interesting turn of phrase, or narration that involves the senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing). Some of these passages work double duty by revealing character, and others reveal a message or moral. See if you can detect which ones serve which purpose. Please note, I don't necessarily endorse these books, but I include these examples since they teach me valuable technical details about descriptive writing.

"In Florida at this time of year, the sun does not take command of the day until a couple of hours after it has appeared in the east. It seems to carry no authority at first. The sun and the lizard keep the same schedule: they bide their time until the morning has advanced a good long way before they come fully forth and strike. The cold lizard waits astride his warming leaf for the perfect moment; the cold sun waits in his nest of clouds for the crucial time.
     "On many days, the dampness of the air pervades all life, all living. Matches refuse to strike. The towel, hung to dry, grows wetter by the hour. The newspaper, with its headlines about integration, wilts in your hand and falls limply into the coffee and the egg. Envelopes seal themselves. Postage stamps mate with one another as shamelessly as grasshoppers. But most of the time the days are models of beauty and wonder and comfort, with the kind sea stroking the back of the warm sand. At evening there are great flights of birds over the sea, where the light lingers; the gulls, the pelicans, the terns, the herons stay aloft for half an hour after land birds have gone to roost. The hold their ancikent formations, wheel and fish over the Pass, enjoying the last of day like children playing outdoors after suppertime." -- E.B. White, "The Ring of Time," published in In Depth: Essays for Our Time (c.1993, Thomson Heinle, 2nd edition.), p.714.

"...there are curiosity seekers scattered about, ordinary slouchers and loiterers, others deeper in the mystery, dark-eyed and separate, secretly alert, people who seem to be wearing everything they own, layered and mounded in garments with missing parts, city nomads more strange to her than herdsmen in the Sahel, who at least turn up on the documentary channel. There is no admission fee and gangs of boys roam the far reaches, setting off firecrackers that carry a robust acoustical wallop, barrel bombs and ash cans booming along the concrete ramps and sending people into self-protective spasms. ...Nobody knows how to feel and they're checking around for hints." -- Mao II by Don Delillo (c.1991, Viking Penguin), p. 4.

"'We understand how reality is invented. A person sits in a room and thinks a thought and it bleeds out into the world. Every thought is permitted. And there's no longer a moral or spatial distinction between thinking and acting.'" -- Mao II by Don Delillo (c.1991, Viking Penguin), p. 132.

"A pheasant called from the fields. Jack, the collie, barked twice out in the yard. Mosquitoes tested the window screen near the table, and a single moth, circuitous of thought yet sure of instinct, was goaded by the sink light's possibilities." -- The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller (c.1992, Warner Books), p. 64.

"Here at the station there was already a breath of autumn, the wind was cool." -- "The Lady with the Little Dog" by Anton Chekhov, published in The Story and Its Writer edited by Ann Charters (c.2003, Bedford/St. Martin's), p.304.

"At home in Moscow everything was already wintry, the stoves were heated, and in the morning, when the children were getting ready for school and drinking their tea, it was dark, and the nanny would light a lamp for a short time. The frosts had already set in. When the first snow falls, on the first day of riding in sleighs, it is pleasant to see the white ground, the white roofs; one's breath feels soft and pleasant, and in those moemtns one remembers one's youth. The old lindens and birches, white with hoarfrost, have a good-natured look, they are nearer one's heart than cypresses and palms, and near them one no longer wants to think of mountains and the sea." -- "The Lady with the Little Dog" by Anton Chekhov, published in The Story and Its Writer edited by Ann Charters (c.2003, Bedford/St. Martin's), p.305.

"Sitting beside the young woman, who looked so beautiful in the dawn, appeased and enchanted by the view of this magical decor--sea, mountains, clouds, the open sky--Gurov reflected that, essentially, if you thought of it, everything was beautiful in this world, everything except for what we ourselves think and do when we forget the higher goals of being and our human dignity." -- "The Lady with the Little Dog" by Anton Chekhov, published in The Story and Its Writer edited by Ann Charters (c.2003, Bedford/St. Martin's), p.303.

"Paul never went up Cordelia Street without a shudder of loathing. His home was next to the house of the Cumberland minister. He approached it tonight with the nerveless sense of defeat, the hopeless feeling of sinking back forever into ugliness and commonness that he had always had when he came home. The moment he turned into Cordelia Street he felt the waters close over his head. After each of thse orgies of living, he experienced all the physical depression which follows a debauch; the loathing of respectable beds, of common food, of a house permeated by kitchen odors; a shuddering repulsion for the flavorless, colorless mass of every-day existence; a morbid desire for cool things and soft lights and fresh flowers." -- "Paul's Case" by Willa Cather, eFictions (c.2004, Heinle & Heinle Publishing Co.), p. 83.

"The east-bound train was plowing through a January snowstorm; the dull dawn was beginning to show grey when the engine whistled a mile out of Newark. Paul started up from the seat where he had lain curled in uneasy slumber, rubbed the breath-misted window-glass with his hand, and peered out. The snow was whirling in curling eddies above the white bottom lands, and the drifts lay already deep in the fields and along the fences while here and there the tall dead grass and dried weed-stalks protruded black above it. Lights shone from the scattered houses, and a gang of laborers who stood beside the track waved their lanterns." -- "Paul's Case" by Willa Cather, eFictions (c.2004, Heinle & Heinle Publishing Co.), p. 86.

" . . . it is easier to steal eggs from under a hen that it was to change seats in the dinghy." -- "The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane, eFictions (c.2004, Heinle & Heinle Publishing Co.), p.202.

"Slowly the land arose from the sea. From a black line it became a line of black and a line of white--trees and sand." -- "The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane, eFictions (c.2004, Heinle & Heinle Publishing Co.), p.204.

"The room was warm and comfortably American. The three children moved intimately about, playing through the yellow oblongs that led to other rooms; the cheer of six o'clock spoke in the eager smacks of the fire and the sounds of French activity in the kitchen." -- "Babylon Revisited" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, eFictions (c.2004, Heinle & Heinle Publishing Co.), p.233.

"At the edge of the ribbed level of sidings squat a low cottage, three steps down from the cinder track. A large bony vine clutched at the house, as if to claw down the tiled roof. Round the bricked yard grew a few wintery primroses. Beyond, the long garden sloped down to a bush-covered brook course. There were some twiggy apple trees, winter-crack trees, and ragged cabbages. Beside the path hung dishevelled pink chrysanthemums, like pink cloths hung on bushes." -- "The Odour of Chyrsanthemums" by D.H. Lawrence, eFictions (c.2004, Heinle & Heinle Publishing Co.), p.300.

"The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellised panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remotor angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow." -- "The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe, eFictions (c.2004, Heinle & Heinle Publishing Co.), p.360.

"A squeak of wheels and plod of hooves came from the road. Elisa looked up. . . up this road came a curious vehicle, curiously drawn. It was an old spring-wagon, with a round canvas top on it like the corner of a prairie schooner. It was drawn by an old bay horse and a little grey-and-white burro. A big stubble-bearded man sat between the cover flaps and drove the crawling team. Underneath the wagon, between the hind wheels, a lean and rangy mongrel dog walked sedately. Words were painted on the canvas, in clumsy, crooked letters. 'Pots, pans, knives, sisors, lawn mores, Fixed.' ...The black paint had run down in little sharp points beneath each letter." -- "The Chrysanthemums" by John Steinbeck, eFictions (c.2004, Heinle & Heinle Publishing Co.), p.373-374.

"Although the three girls bombarded her with questions, Oonagh would not say another word. Wearing her lazy little-girl smile, she began to sing:

From the shadows will come the Chosen One
To unify the Realm
And lead it into the light,
As a King who must not reign
Crowned in the name of the Gift;
Three Stones, three young girls.
One will discover the Gift.
One will recognize the King.
One will convince the two others to die.
Of three Stones only one fate will remain."
Jade, Opal, and Amber understood that Oonagh would say no more to them, and they turned as one to cross back through the wall of light and pursue their destiny."

-- The Prophecy of the Stones, Flavia Bujor, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (c.2004, Miramax Books), p. 290.

"'What do you know about me? Can you tell me my name?' [asked the Nameless One].

'It isn't your name that makes you someone; it's what you are, what you do, what you feel. You've had your share of names, but I cannot tell you the one your parents gave you.'"
-- The Prophecy of the Stones, Flavia Bujor, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (c.2004, Miramax Books), p. 336-337.

"'If you wish to stand up to the Darkness, first stand up to the hatred of men.'"
-- The Prophecy of the Stones, Flavia Bujor, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (c.2004, Miramax Books), p. 343.

"I have never been in the Newberry Library before, and now that I've gotten past the dark, foreboding entrance I am excited. I have a sort of Christmas-morning sense of the library as a big box full of beautiful books. ...My boot heels rap the wooden floor. The room is quiet and crowded, full of solid, heavy tables piled with books and surrounded by readers. Chicago autumn morning light shines through the tall windows." -- National Bestseller The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (c.2003, Harcourt Inc.), p. 3.

"Little bells clang against the door as I walk into the [barber] shop. It smells of soap, steam, hair lotion, and elderly flesh. Everything is pale green. The chair is old and ornate with chrome, and there are elaborate bottles lining dark wooden shelves, and trays of scissors, combs, and razors. It's almost medical; it's very Norman Rockwell." -- National Bestseller The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (c.2003, Harcourt Inc.), p. 262-263.

"[I] announce myself to the receptionist, and sit in one of the deep lavendar upholstered chairs. The waiting room is pink and violet, I suppose to soothe the patients. Dr. Kendrick is a geneticist, and not incidentally, a philosopher; the latter, I think, must be of some use in coping with the harsh practical realities of the former. Today there is no one here but me. I'm ten minutes early. The wallpaper is broad stripes the exact color of Pepto-Bismol. It clashes with the painting of a watermill opposite me, mostly browns and greens. The furniture is pseudocolonial, but there's a pretty nice rug, some kind of soft Persian carpet, and I feel kind of sorry for it, stuck here in this ghastly room." -- National Bestseller The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (c.2003, Harcourt Inc.), p. 311.

"All endings are also beginnings. We just don't know it at the time." -- The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom (c.2003, Hyperion), p. 1.

"Like many other assisted living facilities, the Abbey was almost brand new. Constructed around 1995, it was a cross between a swanky hotel and a swanky office building. The tinted glass exterior was more the latter, but the interior was all Ritz with its burgundy carpet, navy-and-chocolate-brown paisley wallpaper, and the brass chandelier that monopolized a spacious, two-story lobby. Once I'd told the concierge on duty just inside the front doors that I had arrived quite a bit early to meet another visitor, I took cover amidst the many inanimate chair pairings sprinkled throughout this large, pleasant room. From my nook, I watched people come and go for close to an hour. And none of them, I noted, rolled." -- Once Upon a Gulf Coast Summer, Susan Oliver (c.2004, Broadman & Holman), p. 157.

"The Baudelaire children looked out and saw the prettiest house on the block. The bricks had been cleaned very well, and through the wide and open windows one could see an assortment of well-groomed plants. Standing in the doorway, with her hand on the shiny brass doorknob, was an older woman, smartly dressed, who was smiling at the children. In one hand she carried a flowerpot." --The Bad Beginning: Book 1 "A Series of Unfortunate Events", Lemony Snicket (c.1999, HarperCollinsPublishers), p. 9.

"I don't know if you've ever noticed this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong. You can look at a painting for the first time, for example, and not like it at all, but afer looking at it a little longer you may find it very pleasing. The first time you try Gorgonzola cheese you may find it too strong, but when you are older you may want to eat nothing but Gorgonzola cheese. Klaus, when Sunny was born, did not like her at all, but by the time she was six weeks old the two of them were thick as thieves. Your initial opinion on just about anything may change over time. I wish I could tell you that the Baudelaires' first impressions of Count Olaf and his house were incorrect, as first impressions so often are. But these impressions--that Count Olaf was a horrible person, and his house a depressing pigsty--were absolutely correct." --The Bad Beginning: Book 1 "A Series of Unfortunate Events", Lemony Snicket (c.1999, HarperCollinsPublishers), p. 28-29.

"But the children knew, as I'm sure you know, that the worst surroundings in the world can be tolerated if the people in them are interesting and kind." --The Bad Beginning: Book 1 "A Series of Unfortunate Events", Lemony Snicket (c.1999, HarperCollinsPublishers), p. 29.

"There are many, many types of books in the world, which makes good sense, because there are many, many types of people, and everybody wants to read something different. For instance, people who hate stories in which terrible things happen to small children should put this book down immediately." --The Bad Beginning: Book 1 "A Series of Unfortunate Events", Lemony Snicket (c.1999, HarperCollinsPublishers), p. 83.

"Abbie turned to the opening in the canvas cover and looked out again at the night. Yellow-white, the moon rose higher over the dark clumps of trees. A thousand stars, looking down, paled at its rising. An owl gave its mournful call. The smell of burning maple boughs came from the fire. A wolf howled in the distance so that James got up and took out the other gun from the wagon. There was a constant tick-tacking in the timber--all the little night creatures at their work. It was queer how it all hurt you--how the odor of the night, the silver sheen of the moon, the moist feeling of the dew, the whispering of the night breeze how, somehwere down in your throat it hurt you. It was sad, too, that this evening would never come again. The night winds were blowing it all away. You could not stop the winds and you could not stop Time. It went on and on -- an on. Tomorrow night would come and the moon would look down on this same spot--the trees and the grass, the wagon tracks and the dead campfire. But she would not be here. Her heart swelled with an emotion she could not name." --A Lantern in Her Hand, Bess Streeter Aldrich (c.1928, Scholastic Book Services), p. 15.

"It had been nine years now since the Deal and Lutz and Reinmueller wagons had first crawled across the prairie. A few fences had appeared, and the old buffalo trail had begun to take upon itself the semblance of a roadway. Tracks were plainly visible, worn by the feet of a thousand oxen and horses and the wide iron rims of the dingy prairie schooners. Between the trails the grass still flaunted, and the graceful goldenrod nodded its plumed head, as a queen bows when her subjects pass by. Sweet William and blue phlox, mousetail and wild indigo, crowded the grass of the roadway, and when the tiny primrose was gone, yellow and white mustard elbowed their way in to take the place." --A Lantern in Her Hand, Bess Streeter Aldrich (c.1928, Scholastic Book Services), p. 133.

"How queer people were. All the folks in the new country [Nebraska settlers] were hoarding things, hanging onto old heirlooms. They became their symbols of refinement and culture. Sarah Lutz had a painting that drew your eyes to it the minute you opened the door. Oscar Lutz's wife had a pink quilted bedspread that she kept rolled up in newspapers. Even Christine Reinmueller had a bright-blue vase with magentacolored roses on it, standing up on top of the cupboard. They stood for something besides the land and the corn and the cattle. They must hang onto them, never lose them out of their lives, for if lost, everything was lost." --A Lantern in Her Hand, Bess Streeter Aldrich (c.1928, Scholastic Book Services), p. 136.

"There was in the air that haze which is found nowhere but in the Midwest, and at no time but late fall when winters loiter on its way -- that glamorous haze which is not air, nor sunshine, nor smoke, but a little of all three -- air from all over the wild, free prairies, smoke and sunshine filtered through the sifting, shifting smoke and air. There was bronze on the clumps of oaks along Stove Creek, red on the maples, yellow on the cottonwoods, green in the late pastures, white clouds dipping low, and over all, that haze, which is not smoke, nor air, nor sunshine, but a little of all three." --A Lantern in Her Hand, Bess Streeter Aldrich (c.1928, Scholastic Book Services), p. 142.

"In any given lifetime, there are a handful of events that leave heavy marks on the same square of every calendar--events so sudden and far-reaching that ten out of ten men on the street who were alive then can tell you just where they were and what they were doing the moment they heard, no matter how many years have intervened." -- Once Upon a Gulf Coast Summer, Susan Oliver (c.2004, Broadman & Holman), p. 40.

"They would live with those attitudes all their lives. That's what discouraged [Francesca], knowing that, and she felt compromised and alone, in spite of the outward friendliness of the community. Poets were not welcome here. The people of Madison County liked to say, compensating for their own self-imposed sense of cultural inferiority, 'This is a good place to raise kids.'" -- The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller (c.1992, Warner Books), p. 60.

"They both smoked, saying nothing, drinking brandy, drinking coffee. A pheasant called from the fields. Jack, the collie, barked twice out in the yard. Mosquitoes tested the window screen near the table, and a single moth, circuitous of thought yet sure of instinct, was goaded by the sink light's possibilities." -- The Bridges of Madison County, Robert James Waller (c.1992, Warner Books), p. 64.

"He paused next to the Kerr Dining Room, poked his head in, and scanned the room. Round tables covered in white linens dotted the floor, each one candlelit and impeccably set with antique silverware. The room boiled with a gentle hubbub, two hundred heads of hot air expanding the significance of their small worlds. It was a wonder there was any oxygen left in the place." --Blink, Ted Dekker (c.2002, W Publishing Group), p. 89.

"Later still Daniel lay awake. Overhead the stars were big and close. The cool air was fresh and clean, free of the mists and taint of the town. He lay filled with meat and wine, his old comrades stretched out beside him. It was all just as he had imagined it on those endless steaming nights in the town. Yet sleep did not come. He turned over, twisting his shoulders to fit a hump in the rocky ground. ...In the same way, his mind shifted uncomfortably, trying to find a resting place." -- The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare (Newbery Award Book, c.1961, Houghton Mifflin Company), p. 157.

"A windmill swung its giant arms in slow obedience to the wind and a farmer passed them carrying a sack of grain to be ground. Over the treetops the spire of the village church could be seen, and thatched cottages began to appear at the road's edge." -- The Door in the Wall, Marguerite De Angeli (Newbery Award Book, c.1949 and 1961, Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers), p. 49.

For as long as I can remember, I had always wanted to be a white horse. I wasn't all white, but my good ancestry had left me more white than most horses I knew, and fortunately, in the most important places. Most of my face was white, and the white of my right front leg ran up to my shoulder so that if I stood at an angle . . . with my good leg out . . . and my head slightly cocked . . . all you could see was white. It was a good sign, I was told . . . ." -- Dark Horse: The Story of a Winner, John Fischer (c.1983, Multnomah Press, p.13)

Quotable wisdom, by Alice, an old woman cared for by Benjamin Newborn:

Ben laughed. She reached out and grabbed his hand. "You know I loves you as though you were me own. I knows you know that. Just don't ever lose your power to do good, boyo. If you do, you'll be powerless."
Ben looked at her blankly. She pressed, "A bad person can't do good even if he wanted to. Not for the right reasons, anyway. You can choose. Good or evil. That all by itself gives you power."

-- A Midnight Carol: A Novel of How Charles Dickens Saved Christmas, Patricia K. Davis (c.1999, St. Martin's Press), p.

"I thought about my mama. Thinking about her was the same as the hole you keep on feeling with your tongue after you lose a tooth. Time after time, my mind kept going to that empty spot where I felt like she should be." --Newbery Honor Book, Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo (c.2000, Candlewick Press), p.132

"There are certain moments in life when you realize that nothing will ever be the same. They can thrill you, those moments--like the morning after Bucky proposed, when I woke up and remembered that something wonderful happened." --Me Times Three, Alex Witchel (c.2002, Alfred A. Knopf), p.61

Sandra Berlin learns her best friend Paul is dying of AIDS. She walks aimlessly on Manhatten streets and enters St. Patrick's Cathedral: "I walked down the center aisle. No one looked up; people were either lost in thought or lost in prayer. One woman clutched a blue tissue in her fist. I slid down a row and sat on the bench, drawing my coat close. I looked up, up at the majesty of the building, the awesome beauty that man could make to offer God, and I listened as the organ played and the chords struck the room around me. I bent my head as if to weep, and prayed." --Me Times Three, Alex Witchel (c.2002, Alfred A. Knopf), p.171

Here is a good example of narration and dialogue involving the military:

Sec Com, short for Security and Communications, was alive with activity. Captain Marshall stood with his hands clasped behind his back and listened to a barrage of information directed at him.
"Sir, I have the Pentagon, and they've ordered us to stand down."
Another voice shouted, "Sir, our rockets were launched before that order."
Still another voice, "Sir, no repsonse from Maj 12. They're not answering on that level."
A young woman blurted, "Sir, we have what appears to be unauthorized personnel deboarding from our 737."
Marshall, the captain of the watch for that eight-hour shift, remained calm. "Order the base on red alert."
"Sir, I have a direct order from the secretary of state to prepare for an immediate inspection."
"Can you verify that?" Marshall asked.
"Yes, sir, decoding and authorization is complete. It's authentic."
Everyone looked at Marshall and waited for his answer.
"Sir, another order from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We are being told to stand down, sir."
Marshall clasped his hands behind his back. "Nothing from Maj 12?" he asked.
"Nothing, sir."
The captain swore. "Order our people to stand down. Have all personnel evacuate to the lowest level as if they were preparing for a nuclear assault." He stomped angrily from the room.

-- Nephilim: The Truth is Here, L.A. Marzulli (c.1999, Zondervan), p.414

"Major Vladimir Kuzmin moved back from the copilot's chair. Mission Specialists Gerard Valchon and Elsa Niemann floated over from their computer terminals. Payload Specialist Hana Yamada moved in through the hatch from the payload bay. They all gathered around Lia Medina's computer screen." -- Timebenders: Lost in Cedonia, Jim Denney (c.2002, Tommy Nelson), p. 80.

"Grass was next on the agenda--#419, one of the fastest-growing, most aggressive of the hybrid Bermudas. For the tees, it'd be #328, a finer-bladed grass. He'd done his homework and was therefore steeling himself for how pitiful the fairways would look at first. Spotty, weedy, nothing like a real golf course. Three weeks after the first sprigging, the mowers would arrive, and with them, the hope of greens to come." -- Bookends, Liz Curtis Higgs (c.2000, Multnomah), p.245

"'There are all kinds of courage,' said Dumbledore, smiling. 'It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends...." --Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling (c.1997, Scholastic Press), p.306

"It was the first really fine day they'd had in months. The sky was a clear, forget-me-not blue, and there was a feeling in the air of summer coming." --Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling (c.1997, Scholastic Press), p.229

(The Sorcerer's stone and its powers of immortality has been destroyed, and Harry is concerned for the husband and wife team who will now die after living for hundreds of years promoting the "good" side:) "[Dumbledore comforted Harry.] 'To one as young as you, I'm sure it seems incredible, but to Nicolas and Perenelle, it really is like going to bed after a very, very long day. After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure. You know, the Stone was really not such a wonderful thing. As much money and life as you could want! The trouble is, humans do have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them." --Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling (c.1997, Scholastic Press), p.297

Anne Lamott describes her grief after the death of her close friend, Pammie:
"The depth of the feeling [grief, loss] continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it, like a nicotine craving, I would discover that it hadn't washed me away. After a while it was like an inside shower, washing off some of the rust and calcification in my pipes. It was like giving a dry garden a good watering. Don't get me wrong: grief sucks; it really does. Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit. ...A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart. But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won't hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion. You begin to cry and write and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things: softness and illumination." --Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott (c.1999, Pantheon Books), p.72-73

Gladys surveyed the gathering, heart drumming. On the surface, all looked grand and congenial. Gladys liked to 'put on the Ritz' as she called it. Hailing from Queens, she said she was born to put on airs. True to form, she had brought out her best, the delicate bone china from Victoria, the silver tea service from London, and the crystal platters from Ireland. She was dressed in a pretty turquoise sweat suit that probably had never been out-of-doors.
"I should've laced your coffee with Valium," Gladys said sotto voce, standing over Evie with one of her plates of goodies. "You've got that pinched look."
"What do you expect? I'm facing the gallows."
"You underestimate your friends. We won't desert you. Now have a tea cake."
"I'm not hungry."
"Have one anyway. It might sweeten that look on your face."
Evie took one just to shut her up.

--The Atonement Child, Francine Rivers (c.1997, Tyndale), p.304

Fourteen-year-old Mark must survive in another time and place that he believes is on another planet:
"Sitting down under one of the short leafless trees, [Mark] cracked open a tree rock. The forest here was dry, barren and ugly. He was glad he lived where he did. He laughed. He was home-proud. Some branches in a tree and he was proud of them.
"He drank the brown juice and contemplated the thought. It was possible that he would never be able to find the light. So far he hadn't really made any long-term plans because he considered all this temporary. But what if it wasn't? What if he was destined to live in this primitive world the rest of his life?" --The Transall Saga, Gary Paulsen (c.1998, Delacorte Press), p.40-41

"[Riding his bike, Albert had] just begun adjusting to the cars [whizzing by] when he heard the roar of a powerful engine behind him. An empty logging truck blew past, its horn blasting. From six feet away he watched the blur of black tires and chrome wheels. The air deadened for an instant and then exploded, swirling around Albert like a small tornado, sucking up dust and leaves and twigs and tossing them twenty feet in the air." -- The Last Man's Reward, David Patneaude (c.1996, Albert Whitman & Co.), p.24

"For lunch, the family sat on benches around the picnic table. Brenda Louise's dad barbecued chicken on the grill. The yard smelled of fresh-cut grass, smoke, and pickle juice." --The Flying Chickens of Paradise Lane, Sylvie Adams Hossack (c.1992, Macmillan Publishing Co.), p.38

"The village of Mitford was set snugly into what would be called, in the west, a hanging valley. That is, the mountains rose steeply on either side, and then sloped into a hollow between the ridges, rather like a cake that falls in the middle from too much opening of the oven door." -- At Home in Mitford, Jan Karon (New York Times Bestseller, c.1994, reprint ed. 1996, Penguin Books), p.16

"[Dynah] found the house without trouble. It was a two-story gabled house in yellow and white. A high, decorative, black iron fence surrounded it with small steel notices warning intruders that a security system was in place. The lawn and shrubbery behind the fence were perfectly manicured. Marigolds, alyssum, and Royal Salvia were planted in neat rows along the curving walkway to a carved oak door, which boasted stained-glass panels. A large terra-cotta pot with a neatly pruned Japanese maple stood on the cobbled front steps." --The Atonement Child, Francine Rivers (c.1997, Tyndale), p.267

"On a bright, clear day Halcyon Grove was an enchanted place, its mysterious green-tinged shadows spangled with filtered sunlight, but today the light was dim and gray, and wisps of ocean fog drifted among the trees in ghostly veils." --The Trespassers, Zilpha Keatley Snyder (c.1995), p.10

"I sauntered into the living room to find Nicolas surrounded by a bevy of women. I noted the presence of his press secretary, whom I already knew, plus several other beauties I had never laid eyes on before.... The tall bay windows looked over the well-tended gardens of the Palais-Royal...the apartment was imposing, its interior decoration a curious amalgam of a Moscow subway station and the lobby of a major Swiss bank--neo-something-or-other. On one wall was an enormous pink painting signed Klein. The sofas were of white suede; the tables, set very low, were of black lacquer and looked like so many oversize chess pieces judiciously deployed over the black-and-white marble floor. I enjoyed watching Nicolas move from one square to another, one chess piece to the next, one woman to another, passing out compliments and casting fatal glances in his wake." --Death by Publication, J.J. Fletcher (recipient of France's Grand Prize for Detective Fiction, c.1993, reissued 1995 by Arcade Publishing), p.7

"The large waiting room was a cluster of seating areas, light blue padded wooden chairs facing one another in groupings of five or six, separated by six-foot partitions made of teak-colored wood. Artificial plants sat on low coffee tables. There were phones at strategic intervals around the room, and boxes of kleenex posted regularly as well, as if some hospital interior designer had determined that crying could be anticipated every twelve feet or so." -- The Strand: A Novel, Ellen Vaughn (c.1997, Word Books), p.21-22

"The homeless are close to the streets, to the pavement, the curbs and gutters, the concrete, the litter, the sewer lids and fire hydrants and wastebaskets and bus stops and store-fronts. They move slowly over familiar terrain, day after day, stopping to talk to each other because time means little, stopping to watch a stalled car in traffic, a new drug dealer on a corner, a strange face on their turf. They sit on their sidewalks hidden under hats and caps and behind drugstore sunshades, and like sentries they observe every movement. They hear the sounds of the street, they absorb the odors of diesel from city buses and fried grease from cheap diners. The same cab passes twice in an hour, and they know it. A gun is fired in the distance, and they know where it came from. A fine auto with Virginia or Maryland plates is parked at the curb, they'll watch it until it leaves.
A cop with no uniform waits in a car with no markings, and they see it."
--The Street Lawyer, John Grisham (reprint edition c.1999, Dell Island Books), p.298-299

"After a few moments, Camilla found herself relaxing, slowly but inexorably becoming part of the scene. This was what she liked. The sensation--unusual for her--that she was a part of the pageant, rather than a mere observer. For just as surely as she was sitting there beside the freckled man and his mother, there were tourists across the way snapping pictures. Pictures that they would bring home to Cincinnati and Lyons and Munich, pictures in which she would appear, a stranger in the square between two other strangers.... Camilla's heart suddenly lifted in her chest. She didn't have only the beauty of the scene in front of her, she was also part of the scene, now and forever in those snapshots and her own memory the woman dressed in brown at the table beside the well. She couldn't repress a small laugh." --The Bestseller, Olivia Goldsmith (c.1996, reprinted 1997, Harper), p.16


"Busy hands are happy hands, right? Then let's get a little happier. Run here, run there. See me running everywhere. One day I found I'd run out of breath and couldn't do all those important things. Suddenly I wasn't happy any more. And neither was my family.

"The kids knew they had a mother. Their father fondly remembered her. 'Yes, she has brown hair. Nice eyes, too. She was fun. There she goes, children, driving down the street. I think she's off to... Let me check. It's Wednesday. She's gone to choir practice.' ...Other Mommy sightings were reported but could not be confirmed--by the time the child had dragged someone to the spot where Mom had been seen, she had rushed to somewhere else. 'I tell you, I saw her. Right there. Loading clothes in the dryer.'

"...Before getting bamboozled into anything [now], I ask myself, 'Does this use my greatest skills? If not, does God want to build this skill in me? Or is someone better qualified to do it?' ...That does not mean I won't do anything. But I will do less. I'll use my particular talents where I really am needed--not where I'd like to think I'm needed." --I Hate Whining Except When I'm Doing It, Sheila Rabe (c.1996, Christian Publications), p.14, 18

NOTE: I close with this last excerpt. Although long, it's magical. I first read The Velvet Room as a child, and in spite of the passive verbs commonly found in books from the 1960's ("was," "were," "had"), this novel remains one of my favorites.

"From that first glimpse, from the first minute, it was more than a room--more even than the most beautiful room Robin had ever seen. Her hands shook on the doorknob, and the shaking didn't come from fear or cold. Her trembling hands were only an echo of something deeper that had been strangely shaken by that first sight of the Velvet Room....

"A thick pale rug cushioned her bare feet as she moved forward and turned very slowly in a circle. The walls of the room were paneled in dark wood. All along one wall the bright bindings of books contrasted with the wood. The books went on and on, all down one side and across the far wall, on shelves that went almost to the ceiling: except in the center of the wall, where there was a large fireplace with a marble mantle. On the opposite side of the room were four tall narrow windows. Above the windows were arches of colored glass. Sunlight, streaming in through the arches made rainbows on the rug.

"...At the far end of the room a wide doorway led to a circular alcove. Windows of curved glass lined the alcove above window seats fitted with dark red pillows. As Robin knelt on a window seat and looked out, she realized that this alcove was formed by a section of the tower. Through the curving glass of the window she could look back at the rest of the house--the stone arches and the front entry. And directly below was the driveway and the weed-grown lawn.

"It was there in the alcove that she first began to call it the Velvet Room. There were heavy drapes of dark red velvet at the windows, and the wide doorway that led into the rest of the library had drapes, too. When all the drapes were closed, there was a full circle of velvet. Robin pulled all the drapes shut, and then sat down and looked around.

"It was a wonderful, cozy place. A lot of people must have sat there to read in all the years since Palmeras House had been built. There must have been other children who had liked the wide window seats with their deep soft pillows. They probably took their books there and pulled the drapes shut, just as Robin had, and felt safe and comfortable and hidden. If they were a little younger, they probably pretended they were birds high in a nest, or maybe princesses in a magic tower.

"...[I]t wasn't until then that [Robin] began to wonder about the Velvet Room...she suddenly wanted an explanation very badly. Why would a room be left like this, beautifully furnished and full of valuable things? There must be a reason...Why was it there at all--a Velvet Room in a silent empty old house?"

--The Velvet Room, Zilpha Keatley Snyder (c. 1965, reissued 1988), excerpted from pgs. 79-83

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