Friday, December 16, 2011

SIMILES FOR RENT: De-worming Makes New Friends

(NOTE: I got the key to the highway / Billed out and bound to go / I'm gonna leave here running, people / Because walking is most too slow / I'm going back to the border / Before they put up the fence / Where I'm better known / Because you haven't done nothing, baby / Except drove a good man away from home / When the moon peeks over the mountains / Baby, I'm gonna be on my way / I'm gonna roam this mean old highway / Until the break of day)

Mr. Detroit is on the telephone, loud as an over-aged Arrowsmith roadie who spent his formative years too close to the amplifiers. This limits the exchange expected in a conversation. Quotation marks for Mr. Detroit are used anyway.

“What’s with not including similes in your post about metaphors and analogies? That’s like building a house out of sugar cubes and expecting to move in after the rain lets up. You got to have it all, otherwise language just sits on the page without any animating force. Analogies use ‘as,’ metaphors just are, and similes use ‘like.’ Push this rule so the confusion is cut down.”

I thought I did.

“Nope. I have a close personal friend who looks like she would make a bishop kick in a stained glass window, and she agrees. A writer knows the names of the tools in his or her box and their proper usage. The reader wants only the experience of the story, not to stumble over the hammers and wrenches of grammar left lying around after the job is finished. Tidy your mess.”

You’re hard to please.

“The division of similes and metaphors is a matter of degree. A simile states that this is like that, while the metaphor is less explicit and encourages the reader to find a connection. A lot of hairs get split on this, and pulled out in frustration.”

So if a character sticks out like spats at an Iowa picnic, this is a simile?

“Excellent illustration. Raymond Chandler (1888–1959) started writing short stories for the pulp magazines when he was forty-five, two years younger than Lawrence Sterne when he turned to the novel. What set Chandler apart from other detective genre writers was his approach to American English as a foreign language. He played with the figures of speech and turns of phrase that came from the American tongue in novels like THE BIG SLEEP, THE LITTLE SISTER, and THE LONG GOODBYE. When he was good, Chandler’s descriptive sentences shined like the gold in old paintings. When he was bad, he was still Chandler, walking down the mean streets a man must go who is himself not mean.”

GEORGE WHITMAN (1913–2011)

In exchange for reading one book a day and writing a biographical sketch in any of the blue exercise books scattered around, George Whitman gave shelter to the broke and busted traveler in Paris. He started out selling books on the street after World War II until he had enough to open Le Mistral on rue de la Bûcherie in the Quartier Latin, later changing the name to Shakespeare & Co in honor of Willie the Shake’s 400th birthday and the book shop begun by Sylvia Beach in the 1920s. In his quieter moments (and there were few), George confessed to being the great grandnephew of Walt Whitman. On the outside of his shop he installed a plaque commemorating his relative that read in French, “Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?” Thousands spoke to George over the years. Shakespeare & Co remains, run by his daughter, Sylvia.


For the generous of heart and wallet, no holiday stirs the soul like Christmas. Why? Advertising. From television and print to the giant junkyard of the internet, ads shuck off their regular somber colors and get bouncy in red and gold and green. Ever heard of Santa dressed in dour tweed? I thought not. To commemorate the holiday season and wrench the last dollars from your pocket, purchase several copies of THE DOG WALKED DOWN THE STREET: AN OUTSPOKEN GUIDE FOR WRITERS WHO WANT TO PUBLISH (Cypress House, $13.95). These make great gifts, even stocking stuffers if the socks are big enough, and will provide chuckles and insight throughout the years to come. Run to for the nearest independent bookstore that sells this award-winning, gosh-almighty book.

NEXT: Scratching and Napping

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