"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.
"I acquired expensive habits and affected manners. I got a third-class degree and a first-class illusion that I was a poet. But nothing could have been less poetic than my pseudo-aristocratic, seeingthrough-all boredom with life in general and with making a living in particular. I was too green to know that all cynicism masks a failure to cope — an impotence, in short; and that to despise all effort is the greatest effort of all."
"She is one of those village beauties of which the South is so prodigal. From the loins of redneck pa and rockface ma spring these lovelies, these rosy-cheeked Anglo-Saxon lovelies, by the million. No one marvels at them; no one holds them dear."
— Walker Percy, The Moviegoer. I forced my friend to read this book, and now a quote from it is his gChat status about every other day, and it’s like I’m re-reading it. It is one of those few books that is infinitely quotable and also beautiful as a whole.
A novel by Marilynne Robinson. A review on the back of this book says that you will want to read it slow, because each sentence is beautiful and you don’t want to miss one, and I found that overwhelmingly true. Some of the passages I marked as I was reading are just three or four words long, valuable little phrases.
And lord it was sad. Reading about a barren western glacial lake when you are sitting next to the perfect blue-green gulf (as of yet, un-oil slicked) makes the setting of the novel even more potently unlivable.
Robinson’s synopsis is this: “Haunting, poetic story, drowned in water and light, about three generations of women.” Yes, and also about the burden of a household— particularly one in the strain of a small mountain town— and how to escape it.
"One day my grandmother must have carried out a basket of sheets to hang in the spring sunlight, […] performing the rituals of the ordinary as an act of faith." Men are cursory in this book. The actions of women take on significance.
"Old women she had known, first her grandmother and then her mother, rocked on their porches in the evenings and sang sad songs, and did not wish to be spoken to." I certainly understand a homemaker’s need for silence.
"She was an old woman, but she managed to look like a young woman with a ravaging disease."
"Such a separation, I imagined, could indeed lead to loneliness intense enough to make one conspicuous in bus stations."
"My cold, visceral dread of school I had learned to ignore." Ha, yeah.
On skipping school repeatedly: "All of this was too dreadful to consider, and every aspect of the situation grew worse with every day that passed, until we began to find a giddy and heavy-hearted pleasure in it. The combined effects of cold, tedium, guilt, loneliness, and dread sharpened our senses wonderfully." Sounds a bit like winter quarter in Evanston.
"Here and not elsewhere, thus and not otherwise." Despite a hate for the word “thus” that editing a certain coworker’s writing has instilled in me, this is one of those beautiful things you don’t want to miss by cruising through this book. Here’s another: "Such delicate improvisations fail."
"I have often noticed that it is almost intolerable to be looked at, to be watched, when one is idle. When one is idle and alone, the embarrassments of loneliness are almost endlessly compounded." Explains why people bury themselves in their work.
For a lover of well-crafted prose, this is a great read. Otherwise, it is slow in pace, sad and the material is generally very tough and ordinary and sad.
Luckily, I followed it up with a Michael Crichton beach read that I have finished 500 pages of in about 2 days. Vacation reading is wonderful. A book that’s salty and warped by the surf in my hand on the beach and all my friends and fam is my own personal LOST finale.
"Maybe I’ve read too many positive novels with wonderful characters," Wilcox says. "I’ve read genre fiction. I read Judith Krantz when I was at Doubleday. The main characters are always rugged and handsome if they’re men and gorgeous and buxom if they’re women. They have a drive to succeed, and they do succeed. They forge ahead in life. Why can’t I write about more heroic characters?"
He answers his own question. “I’m not a positive thinker. Southerners tend not to be. Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor, they’re in the tradition of Hawthorne or Melville. There is depravity. We’re not good people unless we really try. Popular fiction is Emersonian. He transcends the dark side of human nature. Self reliance. We can become better people. I don’t subscribe to this. The sense of reconciliation readers want is not that easily won. Unearned idealism usually does more harm than good. I absorbed this from Robert Penn Warren. He wrote a poem about a night flight to New York in which he thought about Emerson at thirty-eight thousand feet, the point being that at that distance from life you can indulge in Emerson’s view of human perfectibility. I don’t see Olive as positive or negative. We’re all pretty mixed bags. Our faults are very much tied in to our virtues. Most of our lives are not weddings, funerals, and crises. We’re not in a plane that’s about to crash, and we’re not about to launch a new line of high-fashion clothing. We mostly have routine days. We can’t see where we’re going. I’ve heard the most interesting things standing in the checkout line at Wal-Mart.” Wilcox declined to make any significant changes in “Miss Undine.”
I think I might have even beat my sister to the end. I mean, given she is a hardworking full-time lawyer with two children, but still, I WIN!
Wartime talk: “It is getting to the point where killing Nips is no fun anymore. There is no sense of accomplishment in it. It is a tedious and dangerous job that never seems to end. When will these stupid bastards knock it off? They are embarrassing themselves in front of the whole world." Would anyone talk like this? Maybe that’s why Bobby Shaftoe is so great and fun to read. Because he is so unrealistic.
“Intellectually, he is juggling half a dozen lit torches, Ming vases, live puppies, and running chainsaws." Whew, do I know how this feels.
“To the north, and uphill, a jungle is attempting to tear down a mountain." Stephenson doesn’t do simple much, but when he does, I like it.
On that jungle compound: “It has something in common with a normal Philippine town in that it’s built around a church. In this case the church is small—Enoch called it a chapel—but that it was designed by Finnish architecture students would be obvious to Randy even if Root hadn’t divulged it. It has a bit of that Bucky Fuller tensegrity thing going for it—lots of exposed, tensioned cables radiating from the ends of tubular struts, all collaborating to support a roof that’s not a single surface but a system of curved shards.” I pulled this quote partially to show how ridiculously layered and researched and knowledgeable and just plain thick this writing is. But also to bring up the fact that, on the 11th (approximate) time I beat the 2927 #rd floor boys at trivia without any of them ever defeating me, I answered a question correctly with the answer “Buckminster Fuller.” Yeah.
And finally, a haiku on being hit with a grenade that did not go off, and then realizing you knew the person who threw it at you…
“Pineapple fastball— Guns of Manila applaud— Hit by pitch— free base!”
Oh man, just go ahead and read this book. It’s a time commitment, yes, but it’s beautiful, hilarious, gross and touching, and it will tell you how the digital computer was invented, which is something everyone should know.
I’m so close to being finished with this book, that I have been reading for the rise and fall of some six seasons, that I might read until my eyes fall out tonight to finish. And finishing is going to be such an accomplishment. I might even put it on my resume.
This description of a minister reminds me vaguely of my friend and favorite Father, Papa Joe. “It all leads to an unbearably tense and complicated meeting in a Sunday school classroom near the offices of the minister, who is called the Rev. Dr. John Mnrh. He is a stout red-faced chap who clearly would prefer to have his head in a tun of ale but who is putting up with all of this because it’s good for his immortal soul.” Isn’t that always the case?
(Cue technical difficulties— this book is so thick that I can’t make it stand up so I can read out of it and type at the same time.)
On the language of friendship. “'The most cigarettes,' Randy says. This is a contraction of the phrase, 'We could end up in prison married to the guy with the most cigarettes,' which Avi coined during their earlier Andrew-related legal troubles and had so many occasions to repeat that it was eventually reduced to these vestigial three words.”
On teenagers. “'But I don't think that teenagers are the way they are because of their age. It's because they have nothing to lose. They simultaneously have a lot of time on their hands and yet are very impatient to get on with their lives.' ‘And that’s where you are right now?’ ‘It’s exactly where I am.’" Good, me too.