Source: Retribution Rails, by Erin Bowman, page 197
“When you write,” I say, searching for an example she can relate to, “do you sit there laboring over every last word?”
“Sometimes,” she admits.
“And that works?”
“No, not typically. Sometimes I take twenty minutes to craft a single sentence, and then it won’t even be a good sentence, at that. But other days I let myself make mistakes. I write and write and worry about making it shine later.”
“Then look at it this way. You can focus on each step so precisely that it’s all a waste. or you can just trust yer hands to do it right.”
“That is the worst analogy I’ve ever heard. Writing and shooting have nothing in common.”
Context: Reese, a young outlaw in Arizona in 1887, is teaching Charlotte, a prim and proper aspiring journalist, to shoot a rifle. She seems to be overthinking it, so he compares shooting a gun to writing in the hopes that she will loosen up a little.
This Makes Me Think: Guffaw. I think this passage is a little ironic because there is some terrible writing in this book. At this point in the book there are quite a few sentences that made me cringe, yet here the author is, low-key telling her readers that spending too much effort trying to perfect your writing doesn’t help. Let that be a lesson to you, writers. Don’t be like Erin Bowman.
Source: Retribution Rails by Erin Bowman, page 183
Quote: “Secrets are like bullets. Ditto the dark, personal stuff. Folks say they’ll take ’em off yer hands, share the burden, but really they just load ’em into their own weapons so they can use ’em against you later.”
Context: It’s Arizona in 1887. The Wild West! Reese is a young man who has been forced to join a gang of outlaws called the Rose Riders against his will because he has information they want. Charlotte is an aspiring journalist who is convinced Reese in a murderous outlaw that may try to kill her at any time. Reese unburdens himself of his secret past hoping to gain her trust, only for Charlotte to double-down on her mistrustful attitude, making Reese sad.
This Makes Me Think: This was just about the only well-written and insightful passage in this whole book. I think a lot of us can identify with making ourselves vulnerable to another person, counting on a positive response, and then having that person react totally negatively. It’s rough to put yourself out there and have someone violate your trust, and that’s the feeling I think this passage captures.
Source: The October Country by Ray Bradbury, page 297, from the short story “The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone”
Quote: “We were boys together, John Oatis and I, born where the shade of an oak tree touched my house in the morning and his house at night.”
Context: The narrator, Mr. Douglas, travels to a small town to interview an author named Dudley Stone to find out why he mysteriously quit writing when he was only 30-years-old. As Stone is relating his story, he tells about a childhood friend, John Oatis who eventually tired to kill him.
This Makes Me Think: This passage is just an example of good wording. I really enjoy it when an author can express a commonplace idea in unusual way, but without being overly flashy or wordy. Saying that the shade of an oak tree hit Stone’s house in the morning and Oatis’ in the evening was, in my opinion, a skillful way of saying they lived next door.
Source: The October Country by Ray Bradbury, page 210, from the short story “The Scythe.”
Quote: “And the blade went on rising, crashing, severing, with the fury and the rage of a man who has lost and lost so much that he no longer cares what he does to the world.”
Context: Drew Erickson and his family inherit a farm from a dead stranger. He begins reaping the farm’s great wheat field only to become convinced that each stalk of wheat represents a real living person, and he’s been cutting them down indiscriminately. He tries to stop cutting the wheat to keep from killing people, but finds that he can’t rest, and then discovers that he is actually prolonging their suffering by not allowing them to die. When something happens to Erickson’s family, he responds by running out to the wheat field and cutting down as much wheat as possible in his anger.
This Makes Me Think: There are a couple of things that I thought were really cool about this passage. First, its incredibly dark. Erickson spends most of the story feeling horrible about knowing that he is killing people by reaping the wheat. But when he loses control he goes at it with gusto, cutting down as much wheat as he can in a blind rage, cutting down dozens of people, at the least, with every stroke. Second, I loved the sense of frustration that Bradbury was able to create in just a few words when he says “the rage of a man who has lost and lost so much that he no longer cares.” He doesn’t need to go into detail about everything Erickson has experienced, felt, or lost. He conveys the feeling in just a few words.
Source: The October Country by Ray Bradbury, page 60, from the short story “The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse.”
Quote: “Both claimed they were satisfied sitting alone nights after a brisk day at the office. Both worked at anonymous jobs. And sometimes even they could not recall the name of the colorless company which used them like white paint on white paint.”
Context: The narrator is describing the lackluster life of George Garvey, who is so boring that he is about to become a sensation among a group of avant garde beatniks because they find his excessive simplicity outrageous.
This makes me think: I thought the image of a company using its employees like white paint being used to cover white paint was pretty creative. Instead of explaining how the Garveys’ have dead-end jobs that are ultimately pointless, and instead of explaining that they are both completely expendable and nearly worthless, Bradbury uses this image of white paint covering white paint. I thought it was an effective image.
Source: The Sacrifice Box by Martin Stewart, page 87
Quote: “Back at his barracks the CO had given him new boots, a fresh canteen of water, and sent him straight back–along the same path, into the same ditch. And as he’d marched there, Roxburgh had understood what fear meant–not the jolt of a sudden noise, but real, primal fear–the chewing of reason between instinct’s yellow teeth.”
Context: An old groundskeeper, whose last name is Roxburgh, is out on the grounds in the evening while some freaky stuff is going on. He comes across the body of a crow that appears to be dead–showing a lot of bones and space in its rib cage–but when he gets close, it hops up and flies off. As he’s feeling a freaked out, he reflects back on experiences he had fighting in Malaysia during World War II, when he had experienced true fear.
This Makes Me Think: I picked this passage because I liked the way the author described fear. I’ve enjoyed a lot of this author’s writing and I think he has a knack for saying everyday things in fresh, interesting, and creative ways, and this is a great example. I thought it was cool that he compares and contrasts reason (the thought that it is probably nothing and I should just keep going) and instinct (the impulse to run away screaming at the first sign of danger) in the image of instinct as teeth chewing on reason. It’s just good writing.
Source: Grendel’s Guide to Love and War: A Tale of Rivalry, Romance, and Existential Angst by A.E. Kaplan, page 145
Quote: I was stunned by the quiet of the house with no one in it. Not that my dad is exactly loud, but the idea of him makes noise.
Context: Tom Grendel is staying at home alone while his father, a veteran soldier living with PTSD, is avoiding being home by leaving on business with the military.
This Makes Me Think: This passage cleverly describes a feeling most of us have had, but few of us could describe. The character, Tom is used to having to be very careful at home because sudden or loud noises have a serious and harmful effect on his father because of his PTSD and unpredictable moods. When his father is out-of-town, Tom reflects on how much different his father being gone feels than just having his father in another room. Tom is comparing the tension he feels when his father is around to his father making noise. I thought this was an effective use of figurative language to describe a feeling that would be tricky to describe literally.
Source: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, page70
Quote: “Ask me then, if I believe in the spirit of the things as they were used and I’ll say yes. They’re all here. All the things which had uses. All the mountains which had names. And we’ll never be able to use them without feeling uncomfortable. And somehow the mountains will never sound right to us; we’ll give them new names, but the old names are there, somewhere in time, and the mountains were shaped and seen under those names. The names we’ll give to the canals and mountains and cities will fall like so much water on the back of a mallard. No matter how we touch Mars, we’ll never touch it. And then we’ll get mad at it, and you know what we’ll do? We’ll rip it up, rip the skin off, and change it to fit ourselves.”
Context: Jeff Spender, one of the astronauts on the first successful expeditions to Mars, is feeling conflicted in his role as one of the first men from Earth to visit Mars with the intention of opening the planet to settlement by colonists from Earth. He’s explaining to his captain, Captain Wilder, why he’s gotten into a fight with some of the other astronauts over their wild behavior during their first night on the planet. When he gets his first look at the remnants of ancient civilization on Mars, he’s deeply uncomfortable with the idea of settlers from Earth coming in to rename and destroy what the ancient Martian civilizations left behind.
This Makes Me Think: This passage jumped out at me because Bradbury is making some pretty strong connections between his fictional story about settling Mars and what actually happened when Europeans settled the North American Continent, especially the American West. He seems to be saying that this is what happened in the western states: the settlers had a hard time adjusting to the deserts the way the Native Americans did, so instead of trying to adapt, they reshaped the land and the way of living on it to suit the way they were used to living in Europe or in the Eastern states they came from.
Source: A Death in Belmont by Sebastian Junger, page 66.
Quote: A black man accused of rape was a stand-in for his entire race, and he was lynched or executed by the state because a gradual mingling of the races had started to occur that racist whites were powerless to stop. Ultimately, the purpose of lynching was not to dispense justice, but to control the black population. Since lynching was primarily an instrument of terror, it mattered little whether the accused were guilty or not. In some ways killing an innocent man made even more of an impression than killing a guilty one.
Context: This book is a man named Roy Smith who may or may not have committed a murder for which he was convicted. The book goes off on a tangent about how dangerous life in the southern United States could be for a black when when a crime was committed without a known perpetrator.
This Makes Me Think: This quote struck me as relevant and interesting because we are currently studying To Kill a Mockingbird in English 9. In that book, Tom Robinson is a man who is clearly innocent, but is still charged with raping a white woman. Before, during, and even after his trial, there seems to be little concern on behalf of the citizens of the town whether of not Tom actually did it. I always struggle to find a way to explain to my students, or to understand for myself, how this sort of thing could have happened, because there is plenty of evidence that it did all the time in the early half of the 20th century. I think this quote does a better job than I ever have at explaining how and why people would be willing to accept a capital conviction that they know isn’t right.
Source: The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour, page 313
Quote: Reading had done that for me–that even when I disapproved of what my grandfather had done, I could understand him. It made his crimes no less, but left me with a clearer view.
Context: Johannes Verne, at this point in his mid-to-late teens, is reflecting on his grandfather’s motives in hiring men to hunt him down and kill him. Johannes’s grandfather, Don Isidro, is trying to have Johannes killed because Johannes’s father eloped with Don Isidro’s daughter, Consuelo. After Johannes was born, Consuelo died of tuberculosis. Don Isidro has succeeded in having Johannes’s father killed, and now wants Johannes killed to erase the shame brought on his family when Consuelo eloped with Johannes’s father.
This Makes Me Think: Even though he doesn’t want to die, Johannes says that he can understand why his grandfather is trying to have him killed. He understands because he read about similar situations and feelings of pride in Robinson Crusoe, by Sir Walter Scott. He doesn’t agree with his grandfather, but he understands why his grandfather is doing what he is doing.
Being able to understand why your enemies think and feel the way they do is an important skill. It’s part of being able to see both sides of any issue, which is a skill I try to teach my students. One of the best ways to develop this skill is by reading widely. When you read, you get used to seeing things from someone else’s perspective, and this is a real-world skill that can benefit a reader for the rest of his or her life. I like that Johannes points out that he gained this skill by reading.