How not to write a good book

OutOfAfricaAn excerpt from Out of Africa.

One night as I looked up I met [Kamante’s] profound attentive eyes and after a moment he spoke. “Msabu,” he said, “do you believe yourself that you can write a book?”

I answered that I did not know.

To figure to oneself a conversation with Kamante one must imagine a long, pregnant, as if deeply responsible, pause before each phrase. All Natives are masters in the art of a pause and thereby give perspective to a discussion.

Kamante now made such a long pause, and then said, “I do not believe it.”

I had nobody else to discuss my book with; I laid down my paper and asked him why not. I now found that he had been thinking the conversation over before, and had prepared himself for it; he stood with the Odyssey itself behind his back, and here he laid it on the table.

“Look, Msabu,” he said, “This is a good book. It hangs together from one end to the other. Even if you hold it up and shake it strongly it does not come to pieces. The man who has written it is very clever. But what you write,” he went on, both with scorn and with a kind of friendly compassion, “is some here and some there. When the people forget to close the door it blows about, even down on the floor, and you are angry. It will not be a good book.”

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