“Writers break black letters out of lead and line them up on white sheets and ask others to read sentences we have created for ourselves.” -Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World, in a section in which she compares herself to disembodied mosaic hands in prayer on Italian columns.
Terry Tempest Williams’s Finding Beauty in a Broken World is the kind of book that readers might want to send me to Siberia for recommending. It’s long, and has no chapters, making it hard to read at times. It moves from quiet, slow field-notes-style observations of prairie dogs to harsh testimonials about the Rwandan genocide.
Yet at the same time, perhaps because of all that, it’s brilliant, and I wish I could get away with writing like it.
Williams repeatedly talks about mosaics. It’s her cue for how she sets up the book, a picture of little fragments. The paragraphs, separated by spaces, are often short with only a few sentences.
If that style sounds familiar, it’s because, perhaps unintentionally, it’s the style you’re reading. The book is similar to the typical style of the internet in some ways.
Yet it’s undeniably “literary.”* It’s arty, poetic in places and it takes its time when it feels like taking its time, unlike the typical web style. It also has sections that are more like a single book, long masses of paragraphs.
*I absolutely despise the word “literary” because it’s too hard to define. I’m only using it here to mean “not stereotypically internet-y.”
Some parts are better than others. Her quick descriptions of action in nature read well: “The clam broke open and the gull swooped down to eat the fleshy animal inside.” She also speaks well about literal mosaics, “a dazzling narrative of cut stones and glass,” “a conversation between what is broken.” She falters at some moments though, like “What if the burrows of the prairie dogs follow the energy paths of the earth?”
In short I can neither sum up this book nor recommend it to most people. And yet I liked it.