Tuesday, November 15, 2011

last lines of 5771:

What's outside the window?

To this day, free access to the preserve is granted only to birds and to residents of the Canterbridge Estates, through a gate whose lock combination is known to them, beneath a small ceramic sign with a picture of the pretty young dark-skinned girl after whom the preserve is named.

Sometimes a wind comes before the rain and sends birds sailing past the window, spirit birds that ride the night, stranger than dreams.

And this is it.

The dark-windowed locomotive is sinister, the train seemingly about to explode off the wall, leap through the air, and shatter into a shower of red-hot shrapnel.

He bowed low, right down to the ground, in front of the man sitting there motionless, whose smile reminded him of everything that he had ever loved in his life, of everything that had ever been of value and holy in his life.

He says that he will never die.

The cults of the famous and the dead.

"Don't ask me why, old sport," said Stony, "but somebody up there likes you."

justice is everywhere and it's working
and the machine guns and the frogs
and the hedges will tell you

"We'll take in a quick bite at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe."

To write: to try meticulously to retain something, to cause something to survive; to wrest a few precise scraps from the void as it grows, to leave somewhere a furrow, a trace, a mark or a few signs.

Gosh, it sure is pretty... isn't it?

Go on, go on into the Light, into the peace, into the living peace of the Clear Light.

And when all the people were dispersed she still stood alone upon the sea-wall, remembering in her heart his saying, "A little while, a moment of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me."

May the year that is at hand uphold and strengthen you in that.

I had never known, never ever imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.

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So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old brokendown river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the evening-star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks in the west and folds the last and final shore in, and nobody, just nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Neal Cassady, I even think of Old Neal Cassady the father we never found, I think of Neal Cassady, I think of Neal Cassady.

But it was another girl, young and new to the city, fiddling with her keys.

"Yeah," I said. "He ought to be good at that."

that space
before they get to us
when they do
they won't
get it all


Friday, September 16, 2011

I first met met Neal not long after my father died.

I was having good times with the Denver kids and lounging around and getting ready to go to Mexico when suddenly Brierly called me one night and said "Well Jack, guess who's coming to Denver?" I had no idea. "He's on his way already, I got this news from the grapevine. Neal bought a car and is coming out to join you." Suddenly I had a vision of Neal, a burning shuddering frightful Angel palpitating towards me across the road, approaching like a cloud, with enormous speed, pursuing me like the Shrouded Stranger on the plain, bearing down on me. I saw his huge face over the plains with the mad bony purpose and the gleaming eyes; I saw his wings; I saw his old jaloppy chariot with thousands of sparking flames shooting out from it; I saw the path it burned over the road; it even made its own road and went over the corn, through cities, destroying bridges, drying rivers. It came like wrath to the West. I knew Neal had gone mad again. There was no chance of sending money to either wife if he took all his savings out of the bank and bought a car. Everything was up, the jig and all. Behind him charred ruins smoked. He rushed westward over the groaning and awful continent again and soon he would arrive.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

great first pages (a tangent)

So, I've been out of it for a few months. I'm sorry.

I have been reading, though, so I will try to catch up on blog posts, or at least start posting about what I'm reading at the moment.

For now, though: I just started a Fiction Writing class, and we got a great assignment. Bring in the first page of a published work of fiction that you think is great. Just the first page. No judgment about the book as a whole, literary merit, etc. Just a great first page, for any reason you like.

I have been having so much fun mulling this over. I think we should do this here. I'll start with a few of my favorites.

This one because there is no preamble, no orientation for first-timers, no sunny start. Right down to the grim business. Electrifying. And I remember a hot night in the summer of 2007, knee deep in the School at Steppenwolf but still waiting in line at midnight on a weeknight at Unabridged in Boystown to claim my pre-ordered copy. The line started outside the store, then snaked through the tidy bookshelves, a bunch of adult nerds cramped but happy. The book hit my hands at the entrance to what looked like a broom closet. I was then guided into the closet and through a second door inside it, finally finding myself dumped out into the back alley. Perfect. Stayed up till 2:30 reading. Beautiful memory. Great first page. Great book. I just pretend the epilogue doesn't exist:
The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane. For a second they stood quite still, wands directed at each other's chests; then, recognizing each other, they stowed their wands beneath their cloaks and started walking briskly in the same direction.

"News?" asked the taller of the two.

"The best," replied Severus Snape.

The lane was bordered on the left by wild, low-growing brambles, on the right by a high, neatly manicured hedge. The men's long cloaks flapped around their ankles as they marched.

"Thought I might be late," said Yaxley, his blunt features sliding in and out of sight as the branches of overhanging trees broke the moonlight. "It was a little trickier than I expected. But I hope he will be satisfied. You sound confident that your reception will be good?"

Snape nodded, but did not elaborate. They turned right, into a....

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling

This one marks the beginning of the end of Harry-Potter-as-children's-book. It was thrilling at the time and still hooks me right away. Shame. Less:
The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it "the Riddle House," even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there. It stood on a hill overlooking the village, some of its windows boarded, tiles missing from its roof, and ivy spreading unchecked over its face. Once a fine-looking manor, and easily the largest and grandest building for miles around, the Riddle House was now damp, derelict, and unoccupied.

The Little Hangletons all agreed that the old house was "creepy." Half a century ago, something strange and horrible had happened there, something that the older inhabitants of the village still liked to discuss when topics for gossip were scarce. The story had been picked over so many times, and had been embroidered in so many places, that nobody was quite sure what the truth was anymore. Every version of the tale, however, started in the same place: Fifty years before, at daybreak on a fine summer's morning, when the....

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling

This one's for Dorothy (and Frank Galati, who used some of this page as a vocal warm up in Presentational Aesthetics, my #1 favorite class at Northwestern):
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all, had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.

I was born in 1910, in Paris. My father was a gentle, easy-going person, a salad of racial genes: a Swiss citizen, of mixed French and Austrian descent, with a dash of the Danube in his veins. I am going to pass around in a minute some lovely, glossy-blue picture-postcards. He owned a luxurious hotel on the Riviera. His father and two grandfathers had sold wine, jewels and silk, respectively. At thirty he married an English girl, daughter of....

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

This is my favorite, the one I'll take to class, the one that takes my breath away:
I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific. The way it actually was. The endless ocean. The infinite specks of coral we called islands. Coconut palms nodding gracefully toward the ocean. Reefs upon which waves broke into spray, and inner lagoons, lovely beyond description. I wish I could tell you about the sweating jungle, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes, and the waiting. The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting.

But whenever I start to talk about the South Pacific, people intervene. I try to tell somebody what the steaming Hebrides were like, and the first thing you know I'm telling about the old Tonkinese woman who used to sell human heads. As souvenirs. For fifty dollars!

Or somebody asks me, "What was Guadalcanal actually like?" And before I can describe that godforsaken backwash of the world, I'm rambling on about the Remittance Man, who lived among the Japs and sent us radio news of their movements. That is, he sent the news until one day.

The people intervene. The old savage who wanted more than anything else in the world to jump from an airplane and float down to earth in a parachute. "Alla same big....

Tales of the South Pacific, James Michener

Thursday, April 7, 2011

the legend was this:

Once upon a time on Tralfamadore there were creatures who weren't anything like machines. They weren't dependable. They weren't efficient. They weren't predictable. They weren't durable. And these poor creatures were obsessed by the idea that everything that existed had to have a purpose, and that some purposes were higher than others.
These creatures spent most of their time trying to find out what their purpose was. And every time they found out what seemed to be a purpose of themselves, the purpose seemed so low that the creatures were filled with disgust and shame.
And, rather than serve such a low purpose, the creatures would make a machine to serve it. This left the creatures free to serve higher purposes. But whenever they found a higher purpose, the purpose still wasn't high enough.
So machines were made to serve higher purposes, too.
And the machines did everything so expertly that they were finally given the job of finding out what the highest purpose of the creatures could be.
The machines reported in all honesty that the creatures couldn't really be said to have any purpose at all.
The creatures thereupon began slaying each other, because they hated purposeless things above all else.
And they discovered that they weren't even very good at slaying. So they turned that job over to the machines, too. And the machines finished up the job in less time than it takes to say, "Tralfamadore."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Hitler scholars assembled, wandered, ate voraciously, laughed through oversized teeth. I sat at my desk in the dark, thinking of secrets.

"Whatever exists," he said. "Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent."

The absolutely most insane depraved bloodsoaked savage novel I have ever read, Blood Meridian is about the Kid, a 14 year old boy from Tennessee who runs away from home and stumbles into the westward expansion of 1849, a nightmare of liquid black apocalypse draining towards the California ocean, dripping over wild alien expanses of desert and chaos and empty void and Indian scalps.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood


Magic magic magic perfect. Although I will always be devoted to the true Margaret Atwood original story, it was just a joy and a delight to see her take on a classic myth.

I can't get enough! It's like a sickness! A wonderful, wonderful sickness! Bought The Blind Assassin today, as I haven't read it since, oh, probably sophomore year of college? All I remember is knowing that it's great enough to warrant a buy, rather than a library check out.

Get ready for more Atwood on the horizon.... I also have a hankering for a lot of Abraham Lincoln biographies. Perhaps that shall be my next kick? WHO EVEN KNOWS?!?!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Or "OK, Margaret. Write A Bad Book. I DARE You."

The first book I picked up after The Glass Castle was Tom Robbins's Jitterbug Perfume. I read about 120 pages of that one and then I reached a point where - true story - the very sight of the book filled me with such anger and ill wishes for the world that I couldn't stand to have it in my house anymore and I joyfully threw it back into the Return Book bunker at the Logan Square Library. Although I didn't get to add a book to my 2010-2011 book list, I did get to add a new Least Favorite Author to my Forever And Ever list, so it wasn't a total loss. I know a lot of people love this book, and love Tom Robbins. I am not one of them. I welcome discussion on this topic.

Next I read about 3/4 of the book Fever 1792 by Laurie Halse Anderson. I would recommend that one to anyone who likes historical fiction and/or young adult fiction (DOUBLE BONUS for fellow lovers of historical young adult fiction). It takes place during this huge fever epidemic in, you guessed it, 1792 in Philadelphia - an event that I hadn't known anything about prior to picking up this book. It was highly interesting and enjoyable. Then one of my friends took suddenly ill with the flu and passed away, and I haven't been able to revisit this book, whose plot contains nothing but people suddenly taking ill and passing away. I'd still recommend it for any of you interested parties out there, though. Laurie Halse Anderson is a champion young adult historical fiction writer - the kind that makes me want to take up being a young adult historical fiction writer myself.

Book number three I reached for was Alias Grace by my ladylove Margaret Atwood, who I can count on to write a stunning yarn every single time. And I'll be goddamned if she didn't blow me away again.

Alias Grace is based on the story of Grace Marks, a Canadian Lizzie Borden of sorts who became a media sensation in the mid 1800s after she and another hired hand murdered their employers. Atwood's retelling is extensively researched - the time period, the people involved, the facts about the case itself - as much as this particular event can be. There are huge gaps in the real information where Atwood has "felt free to invent," as she says in the Author's Afterward. So is it historical fiction? Fictional history? BRILLIANT?!? Yes.

I was talking to my sister about this book, and I heard myself say the sentence "If I could only read one author for the rest of my life, I would pick Margaret Atwood." And as I heard myself say it, I realized it was true. This woman is a master, and Alias Grace encompasses so much of what I love about her writing.

I'm on a kick for sure now. Just got The Penelopiad at the library, which Sanchez has been hyping up for months now. I'm 30 pages in and already in love. Get ready.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

All the Pretty Horses

I wanted to like this novel. But I also wanted to stay awake while reading it. Neither one of these things happened.

Crime? Oy Vey!

This is a pretty inventive book. I'll give Chabon 6 arbitrary points for his use of the Yiddish language and 8.5 arbitrary points for the originality of his setting. However: Take the same elements of this story, drop the Jewish subtext, and make the characters unique to, say, Laredo, Texas, and this book becomes just another crime thriller. And nothing too special, at that.

The Fortress of Solitude

Dylan Ebdus is too cool for Brooklyn. But he cannot escape its hold on him. Even if he discovers a magical ring found on a dying homeless man's finger than gives him the power of flight. Something about that ring, man.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gone, Baby, Gone

I picked this up for our trip to Fla. (cuz you know Dad's not going to read it!) as I needed something a little on the mindless side to pretend to read while really listening to everyone's constant cellphone chatter by the poolside. (WHY can't people be quiet anymore???) Mystic River was far, far better but this was enjoyable, if you don't mind the first-person-hokey-sounding-trying-to-be-funny-but-not-detective-type story. Maybe it was a great read or maybe I was more interested in the fat New Yorker in the brown tubby swimsuit chattering on and on and on and on about how she needs a sweatshirt in the cold Flaaada weather and how her grand-dahwtah is studying too hard up theyah in college. Whatever!! Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha. Instead he saw other faces, many faces, a long series, a continuous stream of faces - hundreds,

thousands, which all came and disappeared and yet all seemed to be there at the same time, which all continually changed and renewed themselves and which were yet all Siddhartha. He saw the face of a fish, of a carp, with tremendous painfully opened mouth, a dying fish with dimmed eyes. He saw the face of a newly born child, red and full of wrinkles, ready to cry. He saw the face of a murderer, saw him plunge a knife into the body of a man; at the same moment he saw this criminal kneeling down, bound, and his head cut off by an executioner. He saw the naked bodies of men and women in the postures and transports of passionate love. He saw corpses stretched out, still, cold, empty. He saw the heads of animals - boars, crocodiles, elephants, oxen, birds. He saw Krishna and Agni. He saw all these forms and faces in a thousand relationships to each other, all helping each other, loving, hating and destroying each other and become newly born. Each one was mortal, a passionate, painful example of all that is transitory. Yet none of them died, they only changed, were always reborn, continually had a new face: only time stood between one face and another. And all these forms and faces rested, flowed, reproduced, swam past and merged into each other, and over them all there was continually something thin, unreal and yet existing, stretched across like thin glass or ice, like a transparent skin, shell, form or mask of water - and this mask was Siddhartha's smiling face which Govinda touched with his lips at that moment."

Monday, January 24, 2011

This was kind of a stupid book about trains.

I mean, it wasn't that bad. William T. Vollmann, very prodigious, very brilliant, very insane writer, likes to spend his free time sleeping out by the railroad tracks, illegally hopping freight trains with his 50 year old friends, interviewing hoboes underneath bridges, and poetically pining for his lost women, his prostitutes, his Diesel Venus. This book could have been interesting, and when I purchased it on sale at a bookstore in Berkeley, this is what I was thinking. But, in the end, it really was just kind of stupid, rambling, incoherent, pointless, every once in a while dipping into some rather gorgeous prose and showing off Vollmann's handle of language, but then immediately backtracking and becoming once again, stupid. Oh well. I was going to start his 800 page book about crack cocaine and the seedy underbelly of San Francisco, but now I think I'll probably just read something else.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What to say about this book.......?

I picked this up by recommendation of my favorite oldest son (who heard it was a good one but hasn't read it himself). I question how to review this one because, as I was reading it, I was both enjoying the writing immensely but also, feeling like the writer was annoyingly repetitive and bogged down in too many unnecessary details...thus the 532 pages of story. Now that I'm finished though, it will be one of those books that I'll talk about and recommend as a work of a brilliant writer. Quite simply, it's a story about Kemal, a Turkish man engaged to be married to Sibel but he falls obsessively in love with a young, distant relative of his, Fusun, and he takes us along on his addictive journey of love for the rest of his life, collecting objects along the way to chronicle the progress of his feelings for Fusun, creating a museum for his collection...a museum of his 'heart'. I hope somebody out there reads it so that we can compare notes.

Unbroken spirit.

I try to avoid Bestsellers. I do. And to my credit, I began listening to this one before it hit every best of the best list but I must say that it deserves every ounce of praise it's been getting. Unbroken is the true story of Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner turned POW during WWII. A fascinating tale of a man whose spirit to survive will leave you in awe. (I even started to question my right to whine about the chilly weather and the cut on my heel.) Inspiring and a must-read!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Point Omega ∞ Don DeLillo

Time slows down.

Brute matter becomes analytical human thought.

There are five shower rings. No there are six shower rings.

People on line at the post office. Nannies with children.

"If you were any more intense, you'd be a black hole. A singularity," she said. "No light escapes."

The omega point. A leap out of our biology. Ask yourself this question: do we have to be human forever?

Jessie's circumstances.

Man at the wall. Up against the wall.

The film made him feel like someone watching a film.

Jessie shrugging.

Cities are built to measure time. To take nature out of time.

These nuclear flirtations we've been having.

Time to close it all down. This is what drives us now.


Franzen is the real deal.

This is a fantastic article about him and his work process (he superglued an ethernet cord into the back of his computer and broke off the wire to avoid internet distractions).

I think I may have liked The Corrections the tiniest bit more.

Both books have really excellent detailed visceral scenes about poop.