Reading and Writing Community Words

Vocabulary grabbed from Alexie's "The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me", Orwell's, "Why I Write" and Didion's "Why I Write"
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definitions & notes only words
  1. acquired
    gotten through environmental forces
    His subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in — at least this is true in tumultuous, revolutionary ages like our own — but before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape.
  2. active
    characterized by energetic movement
    The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive.
  3. aesthetic
    characterized by an appreciation of beauty or good taste
    (ii) Aesthetic enthusiasm.
  4. allude
    make an indirect reference to
    You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
  5. arresting
    commanding attention
    I wanted to write enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their own sound.
  6. aside
    on or to one side
    Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose.
  7. attest
    provide evidence for
    She goes on to attest to the character-forming importance of living the questions and trusting that even the meaningless moments will add up to one’s becoming:
  8. avid
    marked by active interest and enthusiasm
    My father, who is one of the few Indians who went to Catholic school on purpose, was an avid reader of westerns, spy thrillers, murder mysteries, gangster epics, basketball player biographies and anything else he could find.
  9. baroque
    relating to an elaborately ornamented style of art and music
    For reasons which now sound baroque I needed a degree by the end of that summer, and the English department finally agreed, if I would come down from Sacramento every Friday and talk about the cosmology of Paradise Lost, to certify me proficient in Milton.
  10. bias
    a partiality preventing objective consideration of an issue
    Once again, no book is genuinely free from political bias.
  11. biography
    an account of the series of events making up a person's life
    My father, who is one of the few Indians who went to Catholic school on purpose, was an avid reader of westerns, spy thrillers, murder mysteries, gangster epics, basketball player biographies and anything else he could find.
  12. bout
    a contest or fight
    Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.
  13. burlesque
    a theatrical entertainment of broad and earthy humor
    These magazines were the most pitiful burlesque stuff that you could imagine, and I took far less trouble with them than I now would with the cheapest journalism.
  14. claim
    assert or affirm strongly
    You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
  15. clarity
    the quality of being coherent and easily understood
    It is bound to be a failure, every book is a failure, but I do know with some clarity what kind of book I want to write.
  16. clause
    a separate section of a legal document
    The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive.
  17. compulsion
    using force to cause something to occur
    Although I had to search, and did search, for the right words, I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion from outside.
  18. consciousness
    an alert cognitive state in which you are aware of yourself
    Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.
  19. construction
    the act of building something
    It raises problems of construction and of language, and it raises in a new way the problem of truthfulness.
  20. credentials
    a document attesting to the truth of certain stated facts
    Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer.
  21. devotion
    commitment to some purpose
    My father loved books, and since I loved my father with an aching devotion, I decided to love books as well.
  22. dialogue
    a conversation between two persons
    Each panel, complete with picture, dialogue and narrative was a three-dimensional paragraph.
  23. dictation
    an authoritative direction or instruction to do something
    I wrote my first poem at the age of four or five, my mother taking it down to dictation.
  24. drudgery
    hard, monotonous, routine work
    After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all — and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery.
  25. efface
    remove by or as if by rubbing or erasing
    And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality.
  26. ellipsis
    omission or suppression of parts of words or sentences
    You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
  27. engage
    consume all of one's attention or time
    However, throughout this time I did in a sense engage in literary activities.
  28. epic
    a long narrative poem telling of a hero's deeds
    My father, who is one of the few Indians who went to Catholic school on purpose, was an avid reader of westerns, spy thrillers, murder mysteries, gangster epics, basketball player biographies and anything else he could find.
  29. essay
    an analytic or interpretive literary composition
    — ‘England Your England and Other Essays’.
  30. evasion
    the act of physically escaping from something
    You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
  31. exact
    marked by strict and complete accordance with fact
    I can no longer tell you whether Milton put the sun or the earth at the center of his universe in Paradise Lost, the central question of at least one century and a topic about which I wrote 10,000 words that summer, but I can still recall the exact rancidity of the butter in the City of San Francisco’s dining car, and the way the tinted windows on the Greyhound bus cast the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits into a grayed and obscurely sinister light.
  32. facile
    arrived at without due care or effort; lacking depth
  33. facility
    a building or place that provides a particular service
    I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life.
  34. fancy
    not plain; decorative or ornamented
    I cannot remember anything about it except that it was about a tiger and the tiger had ‘chair-like teeth’ — a good enough phrase, but I fancy the poem was a plagiarism of Blake's ‘Tiger, Tiger’.
  35. feeble
    pathetically lacking in force or effectiveness
    The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc.
  36. genetics
    the study of heredity and variation in organisms
    Inside our house, each family member existed as a separate paragraph but still had genetics and common experiences to link us.
  37. ghastly
    shockingly repellent; inspiring horror
    I also attempted a short story which was a ghastly failure.
  38. goodwill
    a disposition to kindness and compassion
    He bought his books by the pound at Dutch's Pawn Shop, Goodwill, Salvation Army and Value Village.
  39. grammar
    the branch of linguistics that deals with sentence structure
    Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned.
  40. homage
    respectful deference
    My book about the Spanish civil war, Homage to Catalonia, is of course a frankly political book, but in the main it is written with a certain detachment and regard for form.
  41. imagery
    the ability to form mental pictures of things or events
    I had trouble graduating from Berkeley, not because of this inability to deal with ideas — I was majoring in English, and I could locate the house-and-garden imagery in The Portrait of a Lady as well as the next person, ‘ imagery’ being by definition the kind of specific that got my attention — but simply because I had neglected to take a course in Milton.
  42. imperialism
    a policy of extending your rule over foreign countries
    This increased my natural hatred of authority and made me for the first time fully aware of the existence of the working classes, and the job in Burma had given me some understanding of the nature of imperialism: but these experiences were not enough to give me an accurate political orientation.
  43. impose
    charge and collect payment
    There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:
    I
    I
    I
    In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.
  44. imposition
    the act of enforcing something
    You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
  45. integrity
    an undivided or unbroken completeness with nothing wanting
    And the more one is conscious of one's political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one's aesthetic and intellectual integrity.
  46. intend
    have in mind as a purpose
    Nevertheless the volume of serious — i.e. seriously intended — writing which I produced all through my childhood and boyhood would not amount to half a dozen pages.
  47. invariably
    without change, in every case
    And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.
  48. irrelevant
    having no bearing on or connection with the subject at issue
    Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant.
  49. literary
    relating to or characteristic of creative writing
    I had the lonely child's habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued.
  50. literate
    able to read and write
  51. literature
    writings in a particular style on a particular subject
    She stresses the power of sentences as the living fabric of literature:
  52. mannerism
    a behavioral attribute that is distinctive to an individual
    For this and other reasons I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my schooldays.
  53. margin
    the boundary line or area immediately inside the boundary
    The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc.
  54. meticulous
    marked by precise accordance with details
    The ‘story’ must, I suppose, have reflected the styles of the various writers I admired at different ages, but so far as I remember it always had the same meticulous descriptive quality.
  55. modest
    marked by simplicity; having a humble opinion of yourself
    He grows into a man who often speaks of his childhood in the third-person, as if it will somehow dull the pain and make him sound more modest about his talents.
  56. monosyllabic
    having or characterized by or consisting of one syllable
    They were monosyllabic in front of their non-Indian teachers but could tell complicated stories and jokes at the dinner table.
  57. narcissistic
    having an inflated idea of one's own importance
    As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Robin Hood, and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my ‘story’ ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw.
  58. narrative
    an account that tells the particulars of an act or event
    Each panel, complete with picture, dialogue and narrative was a three-dimensional paragraph.
  59. passive
    lacking in energy or will
    The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive.
  60. perception
    the process of becoming aware through the senses
    Perception of beauty in the external world, or, on the other hand, in words and their right arrangement.
  61. periphery
    the outside boundary or surface of something
    In short my attention was always on the periphery, on what I could see and taste and touch, on the butter, and the Greyhound bus.
  62. perverse
    deviating from what is considered moral or right or proper
    It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write.
  63. plagiarism
    taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own
    I cannot remember anything about it except that it was about a tiger and the tiger had ‘chair-like teeth’ — a good enough phrase, but I fancy the poem was a plagiarism of Blake's ‘Tiger, Tiger’.
  64. posterity
    all future generations
    Desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts and store them up for the use of posterity.
  65. prodigy
    an unusually gifted or intelligent person
    If he'd been anything but an Indian boy living on the reservation, he might have been called a prodigy.
  66. proficient
    having or showing knowledge and skill and aptitude
    For reasons which now sound baroque I needed a degree by the end of that summer, and the English department finally agreed, if I would come down from Sacramento every Friday and talk about the cosmology of Paradise Lost, to certify me proficient in Milton.
  67. propaganda
    information that is spread to promote some cause
    Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant.
  68. prose
    ordinary writing as distinguished from verse
    Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose.
  69. recall
    bring to mind
    I can no longer tell you whether Milton put the sun or the earth at the center of his universe in Paradise Lost, the central question of at least one century and a topic about which I wrote 10,000 words that summer, but I can still recall the exact rancidity of the butter in the City of San Francisco’s dining car, and the way the tinted windows on the Greyhound bus cast the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits into a grayed and obscurely sinister light.
  70. reconcile
    come to terms
    The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.
  71. squall
    utter a sudden loud cry
    For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention.
  72. state
    the way something is with respect to its main attributes
    You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
  73. subjunctive
    relating to a verbal mood used for hypothetical acts
    You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
  74. sullen
    showing a brooding ill humor
    Then there are the sullen and already defeated Indian kids who sit in the back rows and ignore me with theatrical precision.
  75. surplus
    a quantity much larger than is needed
    We lived on a combination of irregular paychecks, hope, fear and government surplus food.
  76. tactic
    a plan for attaining a particular goal
    You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
  77. temperament
    your usual mood
    It is his job, no doubt, to discipline his temperament and avoid getting stuck at some immature stage, in some perverse mood; but if he escapes from his early influences altogether, he will have killed his impulse to write.
  78. tentative
    hesitant or lacking confidence; unsettled in mind or opinion
    You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
  79. theatrical
    of or relating to the stage
    Then there are the sullen and already defeated Indian kids who sit in the back rows and ignore me with theatrical precision.
  80. totalitarianism
    a form of government in which the ruler is unconstrained
    Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it.
  81. typography
    the craft of composing type and printing from it
    The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc.
  82. unambiguous
    having or exhibiting a single clearly defined meaning
    There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:
    I
    I
    I
    In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.
  83. utilitarian
    having a useful function
    The aesthetic motive is very feeble in a lot of writers, but even a pamphleteer or writer of textbooks will have pet words and phrases which appeal to him for non-utilitarian reasons; or he may feel strongly about typography, width of margins, etc.

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