Author's Note:

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My books of 2014

Fran Lebowitz once said that she was "...criticized for having 10,000 books.  You know what?" she said.  "They are books.  It's not like I am running an opium den for children.  ...You may think it's crazy, but you cannot have a moral objection to this."

Well, here is my third roll call on this website, my list of books read in 2014.  It may not seem like much, but I did my best.  All the titles are hyperlinked to Goodreads to provide you with a quick synopsis, should you be interested.  

Dave Eggers:  A Hologram for the King 
John Crowley:  Little, Big   One of my favorites for the year.
Anita Brookner:  Hotel du Lac, her Booker award-winning novel about a romance novelist living on the shores of Lake Geneva. I'm a big fan. Undue Influence   The Bay of Angels and Lewis Percy are three other Brookner books that I read this year:          
Steven Pressfield:  The Afghan Campaign  Incredible in its historical sensibility. Excellent, thrilling book.
Ian McEwan:  In Between the Sheets  A minor work by an superbly intelligent writer.
Edna O'Brien:  The Light of Evening  I liked this one more than her House of Splendid Isolation which I read a couple years ago. 
Jose Saramago:  Manual of Painting and Calligraphy  A very good, adult, ruminative book with a terrible title.   
Diane Ackerman:  A Natural History of the Senses, a lovely, beautiful, well-written book. Also read her The Human Age, an upsetting book; it should be read by as many people as possible.  There's a lot to digest in this book.  Also read The Zookeeper's Wife.  This is an awe-inspiring, life-affirming, huge and personal story of a husband and wife, and their son, who manage to keep the Warsaw Zoo and its animal populations from disappearing, and at the same time relocating hundreds of Polish Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto out from under the scrutiny of the Nazi occupation forces, who regarded all Poles as subhumans and marked for annihilation.  There are more than enough poignant stories in this wonderful book.
Mary Roach:  Stiff (what do you think it's about. Corpses!)  It's fascinating.
Artemis Cooper:  Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure  Interesting, compelling biography by Cooper about Patrick Fermor, who was a soldier (fighting with the partisans on Crete), a travel writer, a personality, a wayfarer.  I can't wait to read some of his books.
W. Somerset Maugham:  Complete Short Stories Volume 2.  I can't say enough about Maugham.
James Salter:  All That Is  I thought it was nothing that wasn't.
William Trevor:  The News From Ireland, a collection of short stories by one of the most revered modern Irish writers was as my friend Theresa predicted it would be: beautiful.
T.C. Boyle:  The Inner Circle, a fictionalized account of the life of Alfred Kinsey. This is a really good book. 
W.G. Sebald:  (a German writer and academic)  Austerlitz  I thoroughly enjoyed this semi-autobiographical novel.  Also read this year by the same author: The Rings of Saturn and Vertigo 
Stephen Ambrose:  Citizen Soldiers  At times heroic and heart-rending, what the common American soldier went through during WWII will infuriate you (how long it took us to get our act together in that war) and amaze you (our ability as former teachers, letter carriers, grocery clerks, high school grads and then some, to battle the German professional, long- and well-trained fighting machine). 
John O'Hara:  Waiting for Winter, a collection of short stories.  Disappointing.
James Purdy:   The Complete Stories of James Purdy was an experience, a brilliant, hilarious, stomach-aerating experience that I fully embraced.
Charles Portis:  Norwood This book cracked me up.  "Kirkus Reviews" said "This relaxed, funny first novel about an engaging young man in peculiar states of affairs features Norwood Pratt...a hardship discharge from the Service who returns home to tend his sister Vernell after the death of Mr. Pratt, his father. Norwood, a filling station attendant with a vague ambition to become a star on the Louisiana Hayride, settles down to tend house and backyard junkyard."
Frederic Raphael:   A Double Life, I felt this was a letdown.  He's a very good writer, I loved The Glittering Prizes, which I read a long time ago, but A Double Life? You need a double Stoli just to forgive yourself for having read it all the way through.
Martin Amis:  London Fields.  I don't know about Amis, really.  He needs a good year in the Gulag to make up for this book.
Xingjian Gao:  Soul Mountain. This book is a first-person narrative about a writer on the outs with the Peking government.  The narrator is diagnosed with terminal cancer and takes a journey through remote central and northern China.  Very stylistic.  Not for me.  Life's way too short.
Alan Furst:  Kingdom of Shadows. I can't get enough of his well-written, well-researched, intriguing, tense, pre-World War II historical fiction.
Milan Kundera:  Life Is Elsewhere is quite the comic rendition of some of Alan Furst's landscapes, but in Czechoslovakia, and from the point of view of a teenager.  
Colm Toibin:   Nora Webster  A really good book; except I don't buy the end of it.   I'm waiting for one of my friends to read it and explain it to me.
John Waters:  Carsick, Waters' memoir about hitchhiking across America.  It was at times hilarious and unbelievable.  But I guess that's America.
Ben MacIntyre:  A Spy Among Friends, a biography about Kim Philby, who spied for the Soviets while working in the higher echelons of the British and American intelligence communities during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.  It is a very good book by a very good writer about a very nasty business.
Richard Ford:  Let Me Be Frank With You, the fourth in a series of novels which focus on the character Frank Bascombe.  Almost as good as the other three I'd previously read.  (The Sportswriter; Independence Day; The Lay of the Land).  I really like Richard Ford's books.
Sarah Waters:  The Little Stranger is a long work, a good work, beautifully written and incredibly picaresque--England in between the Wars.  The crumbling aristocracy, hostilities from beyond the grave, I'm looking forward to her other books as well.
David McCullough:   The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris   A fast-paced history of American ex-patriots in 19th-century Paris.  It is extraordinary, not because they were extraordinary people, the Americans of 19th-century Paris, because they were, but because it was an extraordinary time!  McCullough's prose is as visual as it is lyrical.
David Sedaris:  Naked, a  memoir.  It is sometimes a laugh riot, other times it's an emotional roller coaster; but either way, it's a fine book.  Not everyone has crazy parents. And that's good.
Randall Jarrell:  Pictures From an Institution  This book is Jarrell's only novel, it's funny, intelligent, and although it's sophistication might be looked upon as exclusively northeastern intellectual, it is by no means inaccessible.
Pico Iyer:  The Art of Stillness   This reflective and interesting book-length essay helps to remind us of the importance of reducing stress through stillness.  It's about journeying sometimes nowhere.  I liked it and agree with its premise.
Jules and Edmond Goncourt:  Germinie Lacerteux (I posted about this novel in December, quoting from it.  I could have quoted more but that would've been over the top.) Barbara Kingsolver:  Pigs in Heaven.  I love Kingsolver, and this was the sequel to The Bean Trees.  A lovely book, although the end was a bit smarmy.
Reza Aslan:  Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.  Talk about scholarship blended with controlled prose.  This book pissed off a lot of people.  I wish more people would read it.  I'm looking forward to reading his book on the origins, evolution, and future of Islam: No God But God.

Then Fran Lebowitz said, "Even real estate agents would say to me, "If you got rid of the books, you wouldn't need such a big apartment."  And I would say, "Yes, that's true, but what if I had four children?  Would you say, 'Why don't you put them in storage, because you really can't afford an apartment for them.'?""

There's something to it, you know.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Germinie Lacerteux - I'm sharing excerpts with you as if they were gifts.

Germinie Lacerteux
by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt.  Translated from the French and with an Introduction by Ernest Boyd.
New York: Knopf, 1922.  First edition; copy #1367 of 3000

Edmond and Jules Goncourt--brothers, collaborative writers of French naturalism--published Germinie Lacerteux in 1865.  It is about a Parisian maidservant of a lonely old woman, Mademoiselle de Varandeuil, and it is based on the Goncourts' own maid Rose Malingre.  

This book is so good, in the reading of it, the mouthing of its words, the examination of sentence structure, and the swiftness with which the story takes hold of you.  I love books of 19th century France to oblivion, and can't wait to read the book which put the Goncourts on eternity's map, their "Journals."  To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, "I am usually a friend of pornography."

Below I've provided a few excerpts which demonstrate partially how exciting their narrative can be.  Phrases like "the relics of orgy" or "that portion of her heart which slept beneath the stone" are to me as thrilling as a scream.  I am sharing their phraseology with you as if it were a gift. 

[Germinie had early on worked in a cafe, oftentimes accosted by the waiters.]

"the relics of orgy"

She did not dare to tell all that she suffered from her association with these cafe waiters, brazen, jocular, and cynical as they were, fed on the leavings of debauchery, polluted by all the vices to which they ministered, and blending within them all the rottenness of the relics of orgy.

[Germinie visits the cemetery.]

"that portion of her heart which slept beneath the stone"

Then she would get up, turn round as though to bid the grave that she was leaving good-bye, go some distance farther, stop again, talk in a whisper, as she had already been doing with that portion of her heart which slept beneath the stone; and her visit being thus paid to all the dead of her affections, she would return slowly, religiously, enwrapping herself in silence, and as though afraid to speak.

[When Germinie and some of her servant friends and men from the neighborhood decide to have a day in the country, with wine, food, pleasure.]

"where bits of melon rind and suicides are to be found in the underwood"

On the trees hung women's hats fastened into handkerchiefs with four pins; an artilleryman's tuft shone red every moment through openings in the leaves; cake-sellers rose amid the thickets; on the bare turf, bloused children were cutting sticks, workmen's families were trifling away the time and eating cake, urchin's caps were catching butterflies.  it was one of the woods modelled on the old Bois de Boulogne, dusty and broiling, a vulgar and tawdry promenade, one of those places where the people go for an outing at the gates of capitals, parodies of forests, full of corks, where bits of melon rind and suicides are to be found in the underwood.

[Germinie's horrific time of sleeplessness and depression.]

"she succeeded in inducing periods of annihilation"

Finally she succeeded in inducing periods of annihilation which lasted half a day, and from which she emerged only partially awake, with stupefied intellect, blunted perceptions, hands which did things simply from habit, gestures like those of a somnambulist, a body and soul in which thought, will, and memory seemed to be still slumbering and dim as in the hazy hours of morning.

"the congested sleep of Drunkenness which cradles in the arms of Death"

To sleep such overwhelming sleep, to sink in the daytime into such a night, had come to be with her a truce to, and a deliverance from, a manner of life which she had lost courage either to continue or to end.  A boundless yearning for nonexistence was all that she felt in her wakefulness.  Such hours of her life as she lived collectedly, under self-inspection, looking into her conscience, a spectator of all her shamefulness, seemed so abominable to her!  She preferred to be dead to them.  Nothing in the world but sleep was left to her that would give her complete forgetfulness, the congested sleep of Drunkenness which cradles in the arms of Death.

 [Toward the end of the book, Germinie is in a hospital bed.]

"a face that was ugly and good, the mercy of God"
Mademoiselle asked to speak to the Mother of the Sainte-Josephine ward.  A little, half-deformed sister came to her, with a face that was ugly and good, a face like the mercy of God.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

I had the opportunity to attend a reading by Colm Toibin of his new book, Nora Webster, this past Thursday evening at the Writers Guild of America theater.  Toibin's interviewer after the segments he read was Rachel Kushner, author of The Flame Throwers

Toibin has a great sense of humor and loves to talk (Theresa says, "Of course, he's Irish!").  It was a great evening, the conversation between Kushner and Toibin was quite elevated and entertaining.

Afterward, I was able speak to him about my favorite of his books, The Master.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Balancing Brookner and Gao

Think of these as segmented proofs, through the use of auxiliary lines, literary lines that is, as I try to absorb the colloidal suspension of literature: or how I balance my love of Anita Brookner with my complete and utter confusion with Gao Xingjian, and what difference does it make? I still think you should read both, although one means far more to me than the other.  Just read them.  Read others.  Read on.

From Anita Brookner's The Bay of Angels:

I had seen the relief on the faces of those visitors as they left, the smile fading, the nod of recognition to others in the same boat.  Only the following day would restore them to themselves. 
The company of the able-bodied would reassure them once again that nature was on their side, and if nature needed a little help from time to time, needed to be postponed, or relegated to a dark corner, there was no harm intended. Surely it was more honourable to joke and to encourage than to case oneself, weeping, at the feet of a parent now in ruins?

From Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain:

The flying eaves curling upwards are lines of pure simplicity and the majestic forests on the mountain behind soundlessly sway in the night breeze.  Suddenly the myriad things turn silent and the sound of pure pipes can be heard, serene and flowing, then abruptly vanishing.  Then, beyond the gates of the temple complex,the noisy surging of the river under the stone bridge and the soughing of the night wind all seem to be flowing from my heart.

 From Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac:

He was a man of few words, but those few words were judiciously selected, weighed for quality, and delivered with expertise.  Edith, used to the ruminative monologues that most people consider to be adequate for the purposes of rational discourse, used, moreover, to concocting the cunning and even learned periods which the characters in her books so spontaneously uttered, leaned back in her chair and smiled.  The sensation of being entertained by words was one which she encountered all too rarely.  People expect writers to entertain them, she reflected.  They consider that writers should be gratified simply by performing their task to the audience’s satisfaction.

   “This life you advocate,” she queried, “with its low moral standards.  Can you recommend it?  For others I mean.”
   Mr. Neville’s smile deepened.
   “I daresay my wife could.  And that is what you are getting at, isn’t it?  Do I tolerate low moral standards in other people?”
   Edith nodded.
   He took a sip of his wine.
   “I have come to understand them very well,” he replied.
   Well done, thought Edith.  That was a faultless performance.

    “You cannot live someone else’s life.  You can only live your own.  And remember, there are no punishments.  Whatever they told you about unselfishness being good and wickedness being bad was entirely inaccurate.  It is a lesson for serfs and it leads to resignation.  People feel at home with low moral standards. It is scruples that put them off.”

   “You are a good woman,” he said.  “That is all too obvious.”
   “How is that obvious?” she asked.
   “Good women always think it is their fault when someone else is being offensive.   Bad women never take the blame for anything.”

From Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain:

   You realize that the childhood you have been searching for doesn’t necessarily have a definite location.  And isn’t it the same with one’s so-called hometown?  It’s no wonder that blue chimney smoke drifting over roof-tiles of houses in little towns, bellows groaning in front of wood stoves, those translucent rice-coloured little insects with short forelegs and long hind-legs, the campfires and the mud-sealed wood pail beehives hanging on the walls of the houses of mountain people, all evoke this homesickness of yours and have become the hometown of your dreams.
   Although you were born in the city, grew up in cities and spent the larger part of your life in some huge urban metropolis, you can’t make that huge urban metropolis the hometown of your heart.
   Perhaps because it is so huge that within it at most you can only find in a particular place, in a particular corner, in a particular room, in a particular instant, some memories which belong purely to yourself, and it is only in such memories that you can preserve yourself fully.  In the end, in this vast ocean of humanity you are at most only a spoonful of green seawater, insignificant and fragile.

Brookner, Anita.  The Bay of Angels, New York: Random House, 2001.
Brookner, Anita.  Hotel du Lac, New York: Random House, 1984.
Gao, Xingjian.  Soul Mountain, New York: Perennial Books, 2001.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

There was a truce in the field

(an excerpt from THE LONG HABIT OF LIVING, p. 286)


                There was a truce in the field, I noticed, as I walked alone over the expansive embankment high above the Canal de Cadenet.  I looked out over the rocky fields bordered by more fertile stretches of high plain and clumps of trees and farmhouses, and detected a break in the business of nature.  I stepped quietly from the tall grass and wandered over to a row of elms and, looking down the hill, saw very close to me Father Revenant and Georges Ebert.  Although I was shielded by the elm grove and by subsequent patches of jasmine bushes and scattered, exiled grapevines swaying in a warm breeze, I could still see and hear them perfectly.
Revenant sat on a three-legged stool facing a flimsy easel, on which was placed a small, white water-color board.  He dipped a brush into water, then paint, and made slow, careful strokes on the white paper.  Ebert leaned back, absorbing the view, a foot resting on the picnic basket that lay between them.  Two umbrellas had been propped up so as to give both men some shade.
                I found an area of dried moss and sat down, paying strict attention to what was being said.  I wouldn't normally spy on people, but I couldn't resist listening to them, two men who have listened so much to Owen.  They spoke in French, and so I offer the translation.
                "You don't think the river has any significance?" Revenant asked.
                "Albert," Ebert sighed, "this is getting me bored."
                "I was hoping that Your Literariness would enhance my theory," snapped Revenant, hurt.
                "You know how I feel about those things," said Ebert.  "Everybody in the world has a critical theory."
                "You could at least humor me," said the priest.  "I don't see a Nobel hanging in your living room."
                "Freedom from the Archbishop has taken on a whole new dimension for you, hasn’t it?”
                "What do you mean, ‘freedom from the Archbishop’?  I know no such freedom.  He's a sore tooth, I tell you.  I'll rot by the seaside, unclothed, unloved, forgotten."
                He turned full on Ebert and smiled brightly:
                "Why?  Have you noticed something?"
                "Yes, since Avignon, you have a new sense of duty," said Ebert.
                "Duty?" replied Revenant.
                "I'm afraid you don't understand me."
                "What do you know of duty?" Revenant interrupted.  "Besides, those kinds of questions are...what?  …café talk.  I hate café talk."
                "You hate café talk, I hate theories," responded Ebert.
                He waited for Revenant to continue.  I waited for Revenant to continue.
                "Well...?  What can you tell me about your new duty in life?"
                "What about the river?" asked Revenant.
                "Forget the river," said Ebert.
                "Why?  I'm not an intellectual weasel or some other tree-thing."
                "I didn't say you were," replied the novelist.
                "I don't know if you're naturally rude or if you've picked it up from your doctor.  You weren't this way when we were kids."
                "Albert," said Georges.
                "Why don't you ask your American friend about duty," said Revenant.  "It's crippled him."
                "He's your friend, too," added Ebert.
                Moments passed in silence.  I thanked God that I forgot to put on cologne or after shave before leaving the house, like I usually do, being a fanatic about such things.  I was upwind of them, and they would've caught a trace of it in the air.  It was a peculiar sensibility I'd begun to acquire, not necessarily thinking like an animal but definitely falling into a more organic and less synthetic frame of mind when it came to extra-personal hygiene.  I think it had something to do with the wine, or with Sarah's cooking, or the air and all its pollen, its dried leaves, or the dusty pickup when the mistral blew, or even the ripening fruit from the orchards all around Cadenet.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Why I Love James Purdy

Why I love James Purdy.

I love James Purdy.  Yesterday, while riding the Wilshire Boulevard express bus, I finished The Complete Short Stories of James Purdy.  It made me feel kind of lonely, even though the bus was well-populated and I had a forward facing seat.  It's important to get a seat on the L.A. buses because when you get off you're in dire need of a chiropractor or Vicodin or a martini.  I'd go with the martini, because you can still be witty while dealing with pain; the chiropractor just turns you into a Picasso painting; and Vicodin is what you take to dull the pain of watching a Judd Apatow movie.

In spite of that strange separateness I was experiencing, it was certainly a triumph.  Those 700 pages are remarkable.  My hero John Cowper Powys said of Purdy:

"James Purdy is the best kind of original genius of our day. His insight into the diabolic cruelties and horrors that lurk all the time under our conventional skin is as startling as his insight into the angelic tenderness and protectiveness that also exist in the same hiding-place. Few there be that recognize either of these things. But Purdy reveals them."

I'll go along with a Powys recommendation any day.
Prior to the Stories, I'd read House of the Solitary Maggot, Jeremy's Version, 63 Dream Palace, and Eustace Chisholm and the WorksI find his prose clean, well-structured; and the tone of his writing, the themes of abandonment, alienation, desperation, greed, jealousy, marbled with peculiar language and habits brings me simultaneous sorrow and Gothic hilarity.  Purdy says of his writing: "I think I learned early on that the only subjects I could deal with were impossible.  ...if I chose an easy subject I couldn't write it because it wouldn't mean anything to me."

Take for instance, Sound of Talking (1955), where we read about a wife who wants to buy a bird and her paraplegic husband who doesn't:

In the summertime it helped to watch the swallows flying around when the pain was intense in his legs, or to listen to a plane going quite far off, and then hear all sound stop.  There was a relief from the sound then that made you almost think your own pain had quit.  ...She wanted him to want something so that she could want something, but she knew he would never want at all again.  There would be suffering, the suffering that would make him swell in the chair until he looked like a god in ecstasy, but it would all be just a man practicing for death, and the suffering illusion.  And why should a man practicing for death take time out to teach a bird to talk? 

And then there are the two friends, Mahala and Plumy, in Eventide (1956), two women who are surrounded by the absence of their sons:

"It ain't like there bein' no way out to your troubles: it's the way out that kills you," Mahala said.  "If it was goodbye for always like when someone dies, I think I could stand it better.  But this kind of parting ain't like the Lord's way."

"You go through all the suffering and the heartache," she said, "and then they go away.  The only time children is nice is when they're babies and you know they can't get away from you.  You got them then and your love is all they crave. They don't know who you are exactly, they just know you are the one to give them your love, and they ask you for it until you're worn out giving it."

She walked over to the chair where Plumy was and laid her hand on her.  Somehow the idea of George Watson's being dead so long and yet still being a baby a mother could love had a kind of perfect quality she liked.  She thought then, quietly and without shame, how nice it would be if Teeboy could also be perfect in death, so that he would belong to her in the same perfect way as George Watson belonged to Plumy.  There was a comfort in tending the grave of a dead son, whether he was killed in war or peace, and it was so difficult to tend the memory of a son who just went away and never came back.  Yet somehow she knew as she looked at Plumy, somehow she would go on with the memory of Teeboy Jordan even though he still lived in the world.

Mr. Evening (1968) is one hell of a story, and I love this sentence:  "...then he was back in the chair again, the snow still pelted the shutters, and the east wind raved like lunatics helpless without sedation."

And this one from Short Papa (1976):  "I've always wanted to do what was best, Lester," Mama went on, "but parents too are only after all flesh and blood as someday you will find out for yourself."

Mr. Sendel, who sits at a bar every night, believing if he didn't talk he'd shatter like glass, habitually steps away for a few minutes to make a call in a phone booth (remember them?).  But you see, Mr. Sendel goes through the motions of dialing numbers that don't exist, and he talks into the mouthpiece to no one.  From Reaching Rose (2000):

Mr. Sendel now talked to prevent himself from collapsing like glass into smithereens.

When Mr. Sendel first began going to the telephone  booth he had talked only to himself, but this had never really satisfied him.  First of all he no longer had anything more he wanted to say to himself.  He was an old man, and he did not care about himself; he no longer actually wanted to exist as he was now.  Often as he sat at the bar he wished that he could become invisible, disembodied, with just his mind at work, observing.  He wished the painful husk of ancient flesh which covered him would be no more, that he might live only remembering the past currents of his life.  Perhaps, he reflected, that was all immortality was: the release from the painful husk of the flesh with the mind free to wander without the accumulated harvest of suffering.

And lastly, from Easy Street (2004):
..the presence of the many young visitors and of old Nehemiah and the church choir ladies made Mother Green's last days, if not quite as heavenly as the fortune teller had foretold, nonetheless a peaceable kind of half-light that suggests the growing presence of angels from beyond.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

It takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself (Harry Crews)

This is the third post in a series of four surveying 40 or more short story writers.

"Writers spend all their time preoccupied with just the things
that their fellow men and women spend their time trying to avoid thinking about.
It takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself,
in your experience, in your relationship with fellow beings,
your relationship to the earth, to the spirit or to the first cause
--to look at them and make something of them."  (Harry Crews)

As you may recall, my May 11 post displayed the second group of short story writers I wanted to herald, with photos of the authors and images of their collective works.  I mentioned that this is not a hierarchical piece, since I don’t like competing with list viewpoints and my intention was to, as they say elsewhere, shout out to my peeps, those authors who have impacted not only myself but the course of literature.

Shall we proceed?  Group Three, here, gathers together Henry James, Irwin Shaw, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Ivan Bunin, Jack London, J.D. Salinger, John Cheever, Joseph Mitchell, Katherine Anne Porter, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

#1  Henry James 1843-1916

“...I had the view of a castle of romance inhabited by a rosy sprite, such a place as would somehow, for diversion of the young idea, take all colour out of storybooks and fairy tales. Wasn't it just a storybook over which I had fallen a-doze and a-dream? No; it was a big, ugly, antique, but convenient house, embodying a few features of a building still older, half replaced and half utilised, in which I had the fancy of our being almost as lost as a handful of passengers in a great drifting ship. Well, I was, strangely, at the helm!
(from “The Turn of the Screw,” 1898)

#2  Irwin Shaw 1913-1984

            Fifth Avenue was shining in the sun when they left the Brevoort and started walking toward Washington Square. The sun was warm, even though it was November, and everything looked like Sunday morning--the buses, and the well-dressed people walking slowly in couples and the quiet buildings with the windows closed.
            Michael held Frances' arm tightly as they walked downtown in the sunlight. They walked lightly, almost smiling, because they had slept late and had a good breakfast and it was Sunday. Michael unbuttoned his coat and let it flap around him in the mild wind. They walked, without saying anything, among the young and pleasant-looking people who somehow seem to make up most of the population of that section of New York City.
            "Look out," Frances said, as they crossed Eighth Street. "You'll break your neck."
            Michael laughed and Frances laughed with him.
            "She's not so pretty, anyway," Frances said. "Anyway, not pretty enough to take a chance breaking your neck looking at her."
(from “The Girls In Their Summer Dresses,” 1939)

#3  Isaac Bashevis Singer 1902-1991

“Well, I read these things [Sherlock Holmes stories] when I was a boy of ten or eleven, and to me they looked so sublime, so wonderful, that even today I don't dare to read Sherlock Holmes again because I am afraid that I may be disappointed.  ...I don't think that the stories of Sherlock Holmes had any real influence on me. But I will say one thing—from my childhood I have always loved tension in a story. I liked that a story should be a story. That there should be a beginning and an end, and there should be some feeling of what will happen at the end. And to this rule I keep today. I think that storytelling has become in this age almost a forgotten art. But I try my best not to suffer from this kind of amnesia. To me a story is still a story where the reader listens and wants to know what happens. If the reader knows everything from the very beginning, even if the description is good, I think the story is not a story.”
(from The Paris Review, Fall 1968)

#4  Ivan Bunin  1870-1953

            The early days of a lovely autumn come back to me.  In August there were warm and gentle rains--rains that seemed to fall deliberately to help the sowing, coming in the middle of the month, near the holiday of St. Lavrenty.  People in the country always say that fall and winter will not quarrel if the water's still and the rain is soft on St. Lavrenty's Day.  During the warm days of babye leto, the gossamer was thick in the fields, and this too is a good sign, another promise of fine weather in the fall.  ...They've hired some of the local mouzhiki to pack up apples that they'll send to the city during the night--invariably the trip is made at night, when it's so wonderful to lie on a pile of apples and stare at the stars, smell the scent of tar in the fresh air, listen to the cautious squeaking of the loaded carts as they move in a long line through the darkness on the big road.
(from “The Scent of Apples,” 1900)

#5  Jack London 1876-1916

            I am a retired captain of the upper sea. That is to say, when I was a younger man (which is not so long ago) I was an aeronaut and navigated that aerial ocean which is all around about us and above us. Naturally it is a hazardous profession, and naturally I have had many thrilling experiences, the most thrilling, or at least the most nerve-racking, being the one I am about to relate.
            It happened before I went in for hydrogen gas balloons, all of varnished silk, doubled and lined, and all that, and fit for voyages of days instead of mere hours. The Little Nassau (named after the Great Nassau of many years back) was the balloon I was making ascents in at the time. It was a fair-sized, hot-air affair, of single thickness, good for an hour's flight or so and capable of attaining an altitude of a mile or more. It answered my purpose, for my act at the time was making half-mile parachute jumps at recreation parks and country fairs. I was in Oakland, a California town, filling a summer's engagement with a street railway company. The company owned a large park outside the city, and of course it was to its interest to provide attractions which would send the townspeople over its line when they went out to get a whiff of country air. My contract called for two ascensions weekly, and my act was an especially taking feature, for it was on my days that the largest crowds were drawn.
(from “An Adventure in the Upper Sea,” 1902)

#6  J.D. Salinger  1919-2010

I'LL EXQUISITE DAY you, buddy, if you don't get down off that bag this minute. And I mean it," Mr. McArdle said. He was speaking from the inside twin bed--the bed farther away from the porthole. Viciously, with more of a whimper than a sigh, he foot-pushed his top sheet clear of his ankles, as though any kind of coverlet was suddenly too much for his sunburned, debilitated-looking body to bear. He was lying supine, in just the trousers of his pajamas, a lighted cigarette in his right hand. His head was propped up just enough to rest uncomfortably, almost masochistically, against the very base of the headboard. His pillow and ashtray were both on the floor, between his and Mrs. McArdle's bed. Without raising his body, he reached out a nude, inflamed-pink, right arm and flicked his ashes in the general direction of the night table. "October, for God's sake," he said. "If this is October weather, gimme August." He turned his head to the right again, toward Teddy, looking for trouble. "C'mon," he said. "What the hell do you think I'm talking for? My health? Get down off there, please." Teddy was standing on the broadside of a new looking cowhide Gladstone, the better to see out of his parents' open porthole.
(from “Teddy,” 1953)

#7  John Cheever  1912-1982

            It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, “I drank too much last night.” You might have heard it whispered by the parishioners leaving church, heard it from the lips of the priest himself, struggling with his cassock in the vestiarium, heard it from the golf links and the tennis courts, heard it from the wildlife preserve where the leader of the Audubon group was suffering from a terrible hangover. “I drank too much,” said Donald Westerhazy. “We all drank too much,” said Lucinda Merrill. “It must have been the wine,” said Helen Westerhazy. “I drank too much of that claret.” This was at the edge of the Westerhazys’ pool. The pool, fed by an artesian well with a high iron content, was a pale shade of green. It was a fine day. In the west there was a massive stand of cumulus cloud so like a city seen from a distance— from the bow of an approaching ship— that it might have had a name. Lisbon. Hackensack. The sun was hot. Neddy Merrill sat by the green water, one hand in it, one around a glass of gin.
(from “The Swimmer,” 1964)

#8  Joseph Mitchell  1908-1996


To a devoted McSorley’s customer, most other New York City saloons are tense and disquieting.  It is possible to relax in McSorley’s.  For one thing, it is dark and gloomy, and repose comes easy in a gloomy place.  Also, the barely audible heartbeatlike ticking of the old clocks is soothing.  Also, there is a thick, musty smell that acts as a balm to jerky nerves; it is really a rich compound of the smells of pine sawdust, tap drippings, pipe tobacco, coal smoke, and onions.  A Bellevue interne once remarked that for some mental states the smell in McSorley’s would be a lot more beneficial than psychoanalysis or sedative pills or prayer.
(fromMcSorley's Wonderful Saloon,” 1943)

#9  Katherine Anne Porter  1890-1980

            She flicked her wrist neatly out of Doctor Harry’s pudgy careful fingers and pulled the sheet up to her chin. The brat ought to be in knee breeches. Doctoring around the country with spectacles on his nose! “Get along now. Take your schoolbooks and go. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
            Doctor Harry spread a warm paw like a cushion on her forehead where the forked green vein danced and made her eyelids twitch. “Now, now, be a good girl, and we’ll have you up in no time.”
            “That’s no way to speak to a woman nearly eighty years old just because she’s down. I’d have you respect your elders, young man.”
            “Well, Missy, excuse me.” Doctor Harry patted her cheek. “But I’ve got to warn you, haven’t I? You’re a marvel, but you must be careful or you’re going to be good and sorry.”
            “Don’t tell me what I’m going to be. I’m on my feet now, morally speaking. It’s Cornelia. I had to go to bed to get rid of her.”
            Her bones felt loose, and floated around in her skin, and Doctor Harry floated like a balloon around the foot of the bed. He floated and pulled down his waistcoat, and swung his glasses on a cord. “Well, stay where you are, it certainly can’t hurt you.”
            “Get along and doctor your sick,” said Granny Weatherall. “Leave a well woman alone. I’ll call for you when I want you…Where were you forty years ago when I pulled through milk-leg and double pneumonia? You weren’t even born. Don’t let Cornelia lead you on,” she shouted, because Doctor Harry appeared to float up to the ceiling and out. “I pay my own bills, and I don’t throw my money away on nonsense!”
(from “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” 1930)

“The past is never where you think you left it.” (K.A. Porter)

#10  Nathaniel Hawthorne  1804-1864

            That very singular man, old Doctor Heidegger, once invited four venerable friends to meet him in his study. There were three white-bearded gentlemen, Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Gascoigne, and a withered gentlewoman whose name was the Widow Wycherley. They were all melancholy old creatures, who had been unfortunate in life, and whose greatest misfortune it was that they were not long ago in their graves.
            Mr. Medbourne, in the vigor of his age, had been a prosperous merchant, but had lost his all by a frantic speculation, and was no little better than a mendicant. Colonel Killigrew had wasted his best years, and his health and substance, in the pursuit of sinful pleasures, which had given birth to a brood of pains, such as the gout and divers other torments of soul and body. Mr. Gascoigne was a ruined politician, a man of evil fame, or at least had been so, till time had buried him from the knowledge of the present generation, and made him obscure instead of infamous.
            As for the Widow Wycherley, tradition tells us that she was a great beauty in her day; but, for a long while past, she had lived in deep seclusion, on account of certain scandalous stories which had prejudiced the gentry of the town against her. It is a circumstance worth mentioning that each of these three old gentlemen, Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Gascoigne, were early lovers of the Widow Wycherley, and had once been on the point of cutting each other's throats for her sake.
(from “Dr. Heidegger's Experiment,” 1837 )