Remembering William Safire

As part of their course of study in English grammar and composition, I assigned Anna and Daniel to read several books, among which are Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, James J. Kilpatrick’s The Writer’s Art (fortuitously discovered last year at the Seguin Goodwill store for two dollars), and The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time by William Safire. Anna started with the Safire book, a gift to me from a dear friend (thanks again, Mary). For days I had the pleasure of hearing my daughter cackle over its pages. Often she would stop to read lengthy passages aloud, but she could scarcely control her laughter to form the words.

It is a pleasant thing to be in the hands of a really capable writer, not to have to make allowances for deficiencies, or mentally rearrange sentences to better effect. Mr. Safire’s prose carries the reader along in a lively current of organized thought and felicitous wording. It is overwhelming, like a roller coaster or a water slide.

Today I opened the book in search of a particular passage. I did not find it, as it turned out to have been written by Mr. Kilpatrick, but I did end up reading the book’s introduction with Greg. It is a measure of Mr. Safire’s skill that we were both hooked from the first sentence, which must be read to be believed. The remainder of the introduction, an account of some fascinating correspondence between Mr. Safire and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, did not let down for a moment.

I was sorry indeed to hear of Mr. Safire’s recent passing. I have read his books with admiration and delight, and I look forward to reading the novels that I only recently learned he’d written.

The death of an esteemed artist has the particular melancholy of stopping a favorite fount. I remember mourning, upon the passing of Rich Mullins years ago, that there would be no more songs from him this side of heaven.

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