Great openings and shivers of recognition

I have a cousin who’s a graphic designer who is passionate about type: printed characters and letters. She has extraordinary printing herself because she used to practice printing for an hour every day. She collects examplars of type, like the ones that a hundred years ago were crafted at the Caslon Letter Foundry.

I appreciate beautiful typography, too, but as a writer and a reader, what thrills me is a great opening. I collect them like my cousin collects letters and types, in a file called (what else?) great openings. Here’s one of my favourites, written by Terry Glavin in a review of Brian Brett titled “Brett Spills Blood, Joy, Potatoes, Hormones” published in the Georgia Straight April 21, 2005. (I’ve been keeping this file for a while.)

Brian Brett, the poet, novelist, farmer, and great bull of a man whose idea of a good time is to set his chest hair on fire with a cigarette lighter just to watch people react, was saying something about the constraints of Euclidean thinking, but he’d stopped to pick up a sopping deer hide from the ground beside his barn, and then slapped it down over an upturned canoe, and then he cocked an ear to the mist-laden sky, distracted by the honking from a phalanx of Canada geese. Then something in a field caught his eye.


“Ah shit, the horse knocked over my beehive again.”

I’m an academic editor who thinks the first commandment of academic writing—any writing—should be “Thou shalt not bore thy reader.” When I edit a journal article, nothing gets my red pen out of its holster faster than these first words: “This article is about” zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I found an elegant specimen for my collection this morning when I cracked open M is for Mother: Conversations About Motherhood, edited by Kerry Clare (Goose Lane, 2014). I was sparked to seek out the book after Carin at Matilda Magtree wrote about it. The first essay, Heather Birrell’s “Truth, Dare, Double Dare,” captivated me in one paragraph:

What I know about motherhood could fill a book—a book with pages that crumble on contact with the earth’s fierce and gentle atmosphere. Or a thimble—a thimble full of fairy tears, a swimming pool for pin-dancing angels. Everything I know about motherhood seems to contain its own bristling contradictions. I cannot think “knowing” without thinking “knowing better.” But I didn’t know better, and I probably never will.

Checking out Heather’s website, I found her blog post on finding voice. Here she writes: “Maybe this is why when we hear an authentic voice … we get that shiver of recognition, that zing of potential and truth and strength.”

I love a day that opens with a shiver. If you do, too, share a great opening with me.


Photo credit: DMedina, Morguefile

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