It’s morning and while sipping coffee, I read this. I visit this blog routinely because Allen Mendenhall knows how to write and I move seamlessly through his text, no matter what the subject. Initially, when given the advice by wordpress to write well, it is so! Good writing DOES draw readers.
Style is such an essential ingredient to writing and yes, style needs to be taught to even our youngest writers. So much is lacking these days, in terms of syntax, when a person looks at student-writing. And yet there are so many good writers out there! Where do they learn style? I think sometimes, quite by accident.
I remember one teacher in my early years who slogged her way through lessons on CLAUSES and doled out many worksheets. I don’t think those lessons made an impression. In fact, I remember feeling very confused and somehow overwrought with labels of things. Grammar didn’t sit well with me and I didn’t succeed in terms of ‘grades’. I DID enjoy reading, however, I didn’t really LOVE reading until much later.
I think reading teaches us to write.
I enjoyed the gist of Mendenhall’s blog posting this morning and clicked on the link to the biographical background of Natalia Ginzburg. I think I was most intrigued by Mendenhall’s suggested comparative writing exercise and so went in search of an example of Ginzburg and Blumenthal’s writing. I got sidetracked momentarily by Jimmy Wale’s appeal for donations on behalf of Wikipedia and then on I went, reading, with great interest, the story of Ginzburg.
Having spent time in Palermo, I was at first, really fascinated that such a great thinker came out of Palermo. Now, I’m somewhat ashamed of that initial response, as it is biased and small-minded. Palermo was a place that was spilling over with culture and rich history, beautiful views and stifling humid heat. The market places were filled with smells of fresh Mediterranean fish, olives of every sort and sweet pastries. But also, Palermo sadly wore the scars of history, buildings torn open from night-time bombings, mosaics and facades destroyed by the horrors of war. At the time of my visit, the unions were up-in-arms and garbage was heaped high in dumpsters and spilling over onto the streets. The mafia still had a huge hold on a place that could otherwise, be idyllic.
All of that aside, let me say that I believe great people come from all sorts of places and from all walks of life, and of my initial response, I offer a mere confession and apology. It is a wonderful thing to meet Natalia Ginzburg and I look forward to reading her work. Her life of activism is to be admired.
Palermo continues to be rooted in Catholic traditions and so it is interesting to read…
Born in Palermo, Sicily, Natalia Levi spent most of her youth in Turin with her family; her father took a position with the University of Turin in 1919. He was Catholic. Her father, Giuseppe Levi, a renowned Italian histologist, was born into a Jewish Italian family. Her parents raised Natalia and her two brothers as atheists. Their home was a center of cultural life, as her parents invited intellectuals, activists and industrialists. At age 17 Natalia published her first story, I Bambini, in 1933 in the magazine Solaria.
Although Natalia Ginzburg was able to live relatively free of harassment during World War II, her husband was forced to spend 1941-1943 in internal exile in a poor village in Abruzzo because of his anti-Fascist activities. She and their children lived most of the time with him. Opponents of the Fascist regime, she and her husband secretly went to Rome and edited an anti-Fascist newspaper, until Leone Ginzburg was arrested. He died in 1944 after suffering severe torture in jail.
Having endured war, huge conflict and the Holocaust, Natalia Ginzburg eventually experienced a conversion to Catholicism. She also became an extremely prolific writer. I came upon Susan Olding’s blog that was most beautiful, in terms of its introduction to Ginzburg (1916-1991) and in conclusion, would like to incude a quote that Olding shares. Of her own writing process, Ginzburg says,
“When I write something I usually think it is very important and that I am a very fine writer. I think this happens to everyone. But there is one corner of my mind in which I know very well what I am, which is a small, a very small writer. I swear I know it. But that doesn’t matter much to me. Only, I don’t want to think about names: I can see that if I am asked ‘a small writer like who?’ it would sadden me to think of the names of other small writers. I prefer to think that no one has ever been like me; however small, however much a mosquito or a flea of a writer I may be. The important thing is to be convinced that this really is your vocation, your profession, something you will do all your life.”