Monday, May 01, 2017


When I was seventeen, I had a very good year. In fact, it may even have started when I was sixteen. I developed a crush on an older man. Even if it started with a crush on his cat.

Clive (the cat) would sit in the middle of the sidewalk outside his shop, beside the bakery I frequented. Soon enough, I was frequenting his shop, pretending to be in the market for retro clothing. Pretending to have the guts to be in the market for retro clothing. Pretending to be the kind of cool I hoped to one day actually be. You know, university student cool.

He gave me a poem he'd written about his cat.

Some friends and I took to cutting class, the period after lunch, to hang out at the shop, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes.

We talked about what I was reading (he asked; I guess even then I always carried a book with me). That was my Somerset Maugham phase. He knew them all. My crush deepened. He told me to read Butler's The Way of All Flesh; I did.

He asked what I thought about one book or other, I honestly forget which, and I said it was interesting, and he berated me for lazy thinking. And I've never used the word since, unless I was prepared to expand on an argument.

(He also taught me that when someone is lighting your cigarette, you must look him in the eye.)

As an editor, I've been telling this story to my writers for years. You write "interesting," and I will delete it. Tell me why it's interesting, or if you need to build up to a full explanation, at least give me a flavour: unexpected, playful, nostalgic, frightening.

So when I came across the following passage in Dexter Palmer's Version Control, I had some rethinking to do.
If the worst thing a physicist could say about a statement is that it was "false," the best thing he could say is that it was "interesting." This was different from saying it was true: most true things were, in fact, uninteresting. Interesting statements lived on the twilit boundary between fact and question; they held the promise of revealing something unexpected and new about the world, and thus were to be treated with respect. The physicists Rebecca met always seemed to be on the lookout for something interesting, a claim or proposition that seemed to possess some kind of rare interior light.

Rebecca came to understand that Philip's constant repetition of the word "interesting" meant that he was offering what he saw as the most precious of compliments.
Most of my writers are engineers. I am trying to understand "interesting" from their perspective.

But my crush was not a physicist. And I've been hardwired over thirty years to think "interesting" was boring.

See also
The word "interesting"
"Interesting" is a Boring, Overused, and Lifeless Word

1 comment:

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Right. A book is not interesting, but an idea found in a book, or an image, or a sentence, is interesting. "Interesting" means "hey, this could go somewhere (even if I am not going there right now)."