An insulation of asperity…

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a metaphor from Janet Malcolm…

As a person with four siblings — three sisters and a brother — l love hearing or reading family stories. They remind me of home.

Perhaps that’s why I so enjoyed a June 23/14 Janet Malcolm article in the New Yorker. Headlined “The book of refuge,” the piece tells the story of Argosy Books, an family-run antiquarian bookstore in Manhattan. Founded by Louis Cohen in 1925 the store is a happy anomaly in that the owners — Cohen’s three daughters — also own the building.

Janet Malcolm relays the family history and in so doing she presents a marvellous bit of figurative language. In telling some family lore, one of the sisters disagrees with another (in a manner that appears humourous to the reader but that I know, from experience, most assuredly wasn’t.) Says Malcolm:

Any reader who has a sibling or siblings will recognize this exchange and its tone. The invisible cord that binds sibling together is wrapped in an insulation of asperity. 

I love that multilayered image, bringing to mind as it does not just electrical cords but also umbilical ones. I also appreciate her choice of the word “asperity,” meaning harsh, but containing more sibilant tones. And I like the juxtaposition of “asperity” (something nasty” with “insulation” (something protective.) Isn’t that clever?

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