“Then he began to feel a little angry at Irma Fliegler. He wondered whether she appreciated what a right guy she was married to. Probably not. She probably just took him for granted. That was the other side of it: a woman married a louse that beat her and cheated on her, and she got so she took that for granted; and another woman married a real guy, a square shooter from the word go, and she didn’t see anything unusual about that. Al almost but not quite reached the opinion that all women are so used to getting the dirty end of the stick that they took it for granted when they did get it, and took for granted they were going to get it when they didn’t. The hell with them. He wanted to forget about them.
But that was not possible here, at the Stage Coach. It was a woman’s place. All dance places, night clubs, road houses, stores, churches, and even whorehouses—all were women’s places. And probably the worst kind of woman’s place was a place like this, where men put on monkey suits and cut their necks with stiff collars and got drunk without the simple fun of getting drunk but with the presence of women to louse things up.”
A passage on the concomitant powerfulness and powerlessness of women, and a weird little bit of misogyny, from Appointment in Samarra that feels relevant, presently.
“That summer she thought of her life after college in three ways: she thought of it as unicellular, but a life that reversed the amoeba’s performance. The days got together and formed one life, losing their separate identities. Again, she thought of those four years as calendar years, broken formally by the Assembly (New Year’s Eve), the July 3 Assembly, Easter, Hallowe’en, Labor Day. Put together, they made four years, the length of time she had passed at Bryn Mawr, and like the years of college in that they seemed so long a time and so short a time, but also not at all like the college years, because she felt she had got something out of college. These four years had not had the compactness of college, and they seemed wasted.”
Oof, the Caroline English (née Walker) chapters of Appointment in Samarra are good, too good.
More from Julian, the 30-year-old self-destructing manchild of narrator, justifying his misdeeds—namely, throwing a drink in a man’s face at the country club.
"He wanted to go on thinking about the terrible people, all the members of this club, and the people who were not terrible people but who had done terrible things, awful things. But now he got nothing out of it; it made him feel no better, no surer of himself. It had in the beginning, for there were many things he had thought of that were worse than things that he had done. […] But the trouble with making yourself feel better by thinking of bad things that other people had done is that you are the only one who is rounding up the stray bad things. No one but yourself bothers to make a collection of disasters. For the time being you are the hero or the villain of the thing that is uppermost in the minds of your friends and acquaintances." The uselessness of comparison.
On thirty: "Two kids looked at Julian and said hyuh, but they did not hover thirstily and wait for him to offer them a drink. He wondered about that again, and as it had many times in the last year and a half, Age Thirty stood before him. Age Thirty. And those kids were nineteen, twenty-one, eighteen, twenty. And he was thirty. "To them," he said to himself, "I am thirty. I am too old to be going to their house parties, and if I dance with their girls they do not cut in right away, the way they would on someone their own age. They think I am old." He had to say this to himself, not believing it for a moment. What he did believe was that he was precisely as young as they, but more of a person because he was equipped with experience and a permanent face. When he was twenty, who was thirty? Well, when he was twenty the men he would have looked up to were now forty. No, that wasn’t quite right. He had another drink, telling himself that this would be his last. Let’s see: where was he? Oh, yes. When I was forty. Oh, nuts. He got up and went out to the verandah." Drunken conversations with yourself when you are on the cusp of thirty. I don’t know anyone who would relate to this.
A young, married couple fighting on Christmas day, from Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara.
“She walked out and then came back. “My present is at the bottom of the pile,” she said.
That made him feel worse. Under all the other packages was something she had bought days, maybe weeks, before, when things were not so bad as they now appeared to be. When she bought that she was concentrating on him and what he would like; rejecting this idea and that idea, and deciding on one thing because it was something he wanted or something he would want. Caroline was one person who really did put a lot of thought into a gift; she knew when to choose the obvious thing. One time she had given him handkerchiefs for Christmas; no one else had given him handkerchiefs, and they were what he wanted. And whatever was in that package, she had bought with him alone in mind. He could not guess from the size of the box what was inside it. He opened it. It was two gifts: a pigskin stud box, big enough to hold two sets of studs, with plenty of room inside for assorted collar buttons, collar pins, tie clasps—and Caroline had put in a dozen or so front and back collar buttons. The other gift was of pigskin, too; a handkerchief case that collapsed like an accordion. Both things had J. McH. E. stamped in small gilt letters on the top cover, and that in itself showed thought. She knew, and no one else in the world knew, that he liked things stamped J. McH. E., not just J. E., or J. M. E. Maybe she even knew why he liked it that way; he wasn’t sure himself.
He stood at the table, looking down at the handkerchief case and stud box, and was afraid. Upstairs was a girl who was a person. That he loved her seemed unimportant compared to what she was. He only loved her, which really made him a lot less than a friend or an acquaintance. Other people saw her and talked to her when she was herself, her great, important self. It was wrong, this idea that you know someone better because you have shared a bed and a bathroom with her. He knew, and not another human being knew, that she cried “I” or “high” in moments of great ecstasy. He knew, he alone knew her when she let herself go, when she herself was not sure whether she was wildly gay or wildly sad, but one and the other. But that did not mean that he knew her. Far from it. It only meant that he was closer to her when he was close, but (and this was the first time the thought had come to him) maybe farther away than anyone when he was not close. It certainly looked that way now. “Oh, I’m a son of a bitch,” he said.”
That he loved her seemed unimportant compared to what she was.
The giving and receiving of gifts, to me, is an agonizing social custom that I love and hate. I enjoy passages that capture the agony of it. I am also enjoying watching Julian struggle with his own awareness of what an asshole he is in this book.
"When I look at my life and its secret colours, I feel like bursting into tears. Like that sky. It’s rain and sun both, noon and midnight … I think of the lips I’ve kissed, and of the wretched child I was, and of the madness of life and the ambition that sometimes carries me away. I’m all those things at once. I’m sure there are times when you wouldn’t even recognize me. Extreme in misery, excessive in happiness—I can’t say it."
— Albert Camus, from A Happy Death (Gallimard, 1971)
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. My take away: This book had enough original characters and plot lines for ten books, but maybe not enough sense or purpose for the one? That said, I was wowed by the sheer density of its weirdness and creativity.
"Only a lunatic would want to be president. These lunatics are created deliberately by those who wish to be presided over. You’ve seen it a thousand times. We create a leader by locating one in the crowd who is standing up. This may well be because there are no chairs or because his knees are fused by arthritis. It doesn’t matter. We designate this victim as a ‘stand-up guy’ by the simple expedient of sitting down around him."
"We protect children because they have not yet proven themselves to be hamstrung shitholes. Granted, the odds are lousy that they’ll turn out any other way but it’s been known to happen." How I sometimes feel on any given day of working with kids and parents.
A woman, on buying a gun: "Guy, when I bought it, tried to sell me a little automatic. Told me a lady needed more than four shots. I say to him, Well, if I shoot some sonofabitch I’m not gonna miss, ya know. And he shuts up like a bank on Sunday. I think it’s a cute gun." I need to learn the skill of making people shut up like banks on Sunday.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. Writer used to write for Arrested Development, so it’s very funny. Quick read. Gets a little absurd around the end.
An email to a friend the main character hasn’t seen in 20 years: "I suppose I should be honored or angry, but really the word would be nonplussed. (I just looked that up in the dictionary, and you know what’s funny? The first definition is "so surprised and embarrassed one doesn’t know how to react." The second definition is "not at all disturbed." No wonder I never know how to use it! In this case, I’m using it in the latter context.)
Paul Jellinek. How the hell are you? Are you mad at me? Longing for me because life’s just not the same without me? Nonplussed, in either the first or second sense of the word?
I believe I owe you a return phone call.” A small dip in the deep pool of the main character’s intense self-absorption, that I really enjoyed reading.
There are also tons of jokes about Seattle, Microsoft, Subaru parents, and Canadians, if you are into that kind of thing.
"…a certain quality of spirit, a gaiety, a sense of duty, a nobility worn lightly, a sweetness, a gentleness with women—the only good things the South ever had and the only things that really matter in this life.”
"Joyce is leaning on the sill, a brown-haired girl in a leather jacket. She has the voluptuous look of roommates left alone."
2. The Magus
"Handsomely quipped to fail, I went out into the world."
cras amet qui numquam amavit quique amavit cras amet
3. A Moveable Feast
"When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest."
4. Howards End
"She knew her own heart with a thoroughness that commonplace people believe impossible.”
"Away she hurried, not beautiful, not supremely brilliant, but filled with something that took the place of both qualities—something best described as a profound vivacity, a continual and sincere response to all that she encountered in her path through life.”
"A small girl, a piquant oval face, dark brown eyes, black hair; a simple white dress with a blue stripe in it; down to the ankles, sandals over bare feet…but it wasn’t only that. He had an immediate impression of someone alive, where everyone else had been dead; of someone who lived in the present, not in the past."
"The passage of time and the accidents of life wash ceaselessly about our feet many strangers, some of whom, thus wrecked upon the coast of our own lives, remain there. New deposits of friendship take the place of those sucked backward by the ebb."
"Was it, then, possible to keep a man without the carnal bond? She was beginning to think so. To be beloved, yet not to give herself: to be, at one and the same time, both femme fatale and amazon, irreproachable wife and adored mistress— a beautiful dream, perhaps, but entirely divorced from life as it is."
"Is this the cause of James Dillon’s agitated state of mind? Yes, I think so. Some strong pressure is certainly at work. What is more, it appears to me that this is a critical time for him, a lesser climacteric—a time that will settle him in that particular course that he will never leave again, but will persevere in for the rest of his life. It has often seemed to me that towards this period (in which we all three lie, more or less) men strike out their permanent characters; or have those characters struck into them. Merriment, roaring high spirits before this: then some chance concatenation, or some hidden predilection (or rather inherent bias) working through, and the man is in the road he cannot leave but must go on, making it deeper and deeper (a groove, or channel), until he is lost in his mere character—persona—no longer human, but an accretion of qualities belonging to this character."
Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander.
Brought back to my attention by a friend who added this: “I’m going to do everything I can to avoid this, because I often feel like I’ve stopped evolving and am descending into a caricature of myself.”
I could gush about Neal Stephenson for paragraphs/hours (and do, to those people in my life who probably won’t quit loving me—the same people who will usually listen to me describe my cinematic dreams at length).
Right now I’m reading Quicksilver, and it has convinced me that, much like Shakespeare, it is utterly impossible that Neal Stephenson could be only one man. Yes, I just compared Stephenson to Shakespeare, and I meant it, damn it.
It is difficult, as it was for Cryptonomicon, to pick favorite lines or imagery or excerpts from this book, simply because there is so much to choose from—the novel is, after all, 900 some-odd pages. Yet…
“The Dutch Ambassador rolled his eyes and tossed the waffle back over his shoulder—before it struck the ground, a stout, disconcertingly monkey-like dog sprang into the air and snatched it, and began to masticate it—literally—for the sound it made was like a homunculus squatting on the floor muttering, “masticate masticate masticate.”" I originally singled this passage out because it took me back to our high school debates (Garrett, Ross) about which words were and were not onomatopoeias (masticate? ejaculate?). Reading it now, it is twice as funny because Josh illuminated me on the meaning of the homunculus, making the visual that much more disturbing and hilarious.
“"What did he suppose you and Bob could get done in the real world?" “Carry messages across battlefields.” “Was he right?” “Half right.” “One of you succeeded, and the other—” “I didn’t fail. I just found more intelligent ways to use my time.”" A study on how I like any instance of insouciance towards unintelligent figures of authority, of which Jack Shaftoe provides many.
“"Thank you—you’ve brought me back to my question: what does the Doctor want?" “To translate all human knowledge into a new philosophical language, consisting of numbers. To write it down in a vast Encyclopedia that will be a sort of machine, not only for finding old knowledge but for making new, by carrying out certain logical operations on those numbers—and to employ all of this in a great project of bringing religious conflict to an end, and raising Vagabonds up out of squalor and liberating their potential energy—whatever that means.” “Speaking for myself, I’d like a pot of beer and, later, to have my face trapped between your inner thighs.” "It’s a big world—perhaps you and the Doctor can both realize your ambitions," she said after giving the matter some thought." Eliza’s my hero.
Looking forward to a winter break during which I can try to read 100 books.
Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin is awesome. She’s a great simple writer, an engaging essayist. And we share a lot of opinions on food and how to cook and eat it. (Like the frittata being one of the best things to cook and eat… ever.)
“Dinner alone is one of life’s pleasures. Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam." Undoubtedly true. The weirdest thing I’ve eaten alone, before my former Chicago roommates would return from work? Probably macaroni noodles with Catalina salad dressing and soy sauce. But I would make omelets/frittatas with whatever was around, including sunflower seeds, hot dogs and/or yesterday’s leftovers.
“Host- and hostessing, as we know, is often a heroic endeavor, requiring daring, ingenuity, a desire to take chances and a concern for others. These traits are also called for in saints and Nobel Prize winners." Such an undervalued art form.
More to come from this book and its sequel, I’m sure. I dig it.