The Big Read: Shades of Poe is a month-long celebration inspiring San Diegans to read Edgar Allan Poe through visual art, performances, music, exhibits, and celebrity appearances. Here’s a full schedule.
I’ve always been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, that master of mystery and the macabre, so when Write Out Loud asked me to participate in this year’s Big Read, how could I say “nevermore”?
As a San Diego author and former member of the city’s Board of Library Commissioners, I’m all for reading in any way, shape, or form. And I applaud the mission of The Big Read and Write Out Loud “to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.” But that’s only one part of the literacy equation. To enjoy and learn from what you read you must understand the meanings of the words a writer uses. You do yourself a grave disservice if you read around words you don’t know, or worse, merely guess at what they mean without bothering to look them up.
For me, reading has always been not only a quest for pleasure and enlightenment but also a word-hunting expedition, a lexical safari. That’s one big reason why I’m enthralled by Poe: his telltale verse and prose is a maelstrom of vivid, morbid words guaranteed to shock and awe readers of all stripes and ages.
Indeed, it’s hard to think of another writer whose vocabulary was so imbued with the gloomy, gruesome and grotesque. Who but Poe could — or would dare to — put together such a grandiose string of words as “this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore”?
Poe regularly trotted out scores of eerie specimens to augment what he called the “effect” of his writing, by which he meant the impression his word choice and narrative tone had on the reader. Some of his favorites were abyss, afflicted, aghast, agony, appalling, apparition, crypt, demoniacal, desolate, dirge, emaciated, enshrouded, fitful, frenzied, ghastly, grotesque, hideous, immolation, intolerable, malady, pallid, prostrate, quiver, sullen, tremulous, writhe and wretched.