And if we all could spread a little sunshine

My most recent listen-in-the-car endeavor is The Lovely Bones, which is an interesting story but very strangely told. I'm not sure now if I would have liked it better if I'd read the text version rather than listening to the audio book, but I suspect that's the case. I have a feeling that the flowery and metaphorical language that bothered me might have been less noticeable if I had read it rather than having it read to me. For example:

She asked for coffee and toast in a restaurant and buttered it with tears.

- "Snapshots"

What? Did she butter the coffee, the toast or the restaurant? I like to think that it's the restaurant, since that's the last noun used.

So did she literally butter the toast with her tears? Did she catch the tears with her knife and spread them on the bread? No, that's probably not what the author meant, but this line just leapt out at me. I actually talked back to my car tape player and said, "Oh shut up. No she didn't." There was no spreading of tears on toast. She cried and she ate toast. Did the tears lubricate the bread in some way and make it easier to eat? Did they flavor the bread like butter does? Did she spread them on? No? Then don't use the verb "buttered." She didn't butter anything, so stop trying to be all poetic about it.

I was well over halfway through the book when this line came up, but it's really ruined the rest of the book for me, because now I'm listening more intently for nonsensical and/or stupid lines.

And when I wasn't watching I could hear the others talking to those they loved on Earth: just as fruitlessly as me, I'm afraid. A one-sided cajoling and coaching of the young, a one-way loving and desiring of their mates, a single-sided card that could never be signed.

- "Seventeen"

First of all, I'm pretty sure that it's impossible on Planet Earth for a card to be single-sided. A postcard only has one side for writing on, but is still a three-dimensional object. That's mostly me being nitpicky, but if it can't be signed, what difference does it make that the card is single-sided? A one-way conversation is one thing and a single-sided card is quite another thing. They aren't just interchangeable terms.

And then, just before she began walking toward them - for they all seemed suspended and immobile for the first few moments, as if they had been trapped in a viscous gelatin from which only her movement might free them - she saw him.

- "Nineteen"

This isn't really a nitpick with the language, because it's clearly supposed to be a simile. I just like to imagine the whole family trapped in Jell-O like a stapler.

srah - Saturday, 17 November 2007 - 12:04 AM
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Comments (5)

gravatar courtney - November 17, 2007 - 2:32 AM -

why are you ok with similes and not metaphors? :)

gravatar katie - November 17, 2007 - 7:30 AM -


gravatar srah - November 17, 2007 - 8:57 AM -

Point for Katie!

I'll accept it if you say "The sea is as smooth as glass" because it's like hyperbole. Okay, it's not really as smooth as glass, but maybe it's close or maybe you're exaggerating for comic/dramatic effect.

If you say "the sea is glass" I am NOT going in that sea. I am either going to bounce off when I jump in or end up horribly mutilated by swimming in it.

I am horribly horribly literal. Just ask anyone who's tried to have a conversation with me!

I'm sure I must accept metaphors in other books without thinking about it too much, or it would be hard for me to read anything. But the "buttering" thing really bothered me and made me extra-aware of stupid metaphors.

Again, I think if I'd been reading it rather than listening, my eye might have just skipped over it and read "asked coffee toast restaurant buttered tears" and I wouldn't have thought anything of it. When someone is telling me the story, though, I'm much more likely to pick apart the actual writing style.

gravatar bob - November 19, 2007 - 5:54 PM -

I agree with you completely, sarah. I hate flowery language that doesn't make sense. It's annoying and a waste of my time. I admire clear, distinct viewpoints when I read a book. Throwing an intricate and lengthy metaphor into your prose does not make you artistic, it makes you LAME.

I also can't stand people that use "literally" incorrectly. Such as, "I literally flew in the air I jumped so high in my seat during the scary part of that movie." Did you really? The shock of the fear caused you to grew wings and fly around your living room? Because that's friggin amazing.

gravatar srah - November 19, 2007 - 6:03 PM -

My high school art history teacher used "literally" incorrectly all the time. We used to keep a tally in each class. I think her all-time high was 30. My favorite was "The lion is literally leaping out of the painting."

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