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“I don’t think I’d like it if people liked me. I’d think something had gone wrong.” - James Purdy

March 12, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"I know that you are not made of celestial ether, but he doesn't."

John Steinbeck's 1955 letter to Marilyn Monroe, requesting her autographed photo ("in a pensive girlish mood") for his lovestruck nephew. I love his tone.

March 8, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s freedom; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” - Gwendolyn Brooks

March 8, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Opening Lines

(A compendium of memorable opening lines of novels, updated occasionally as I come across new discoveries.)

“Billy Brennan overdid it again with the fast food.”
- Ethel Rohan, The Weight of Him

“When Jerome Lafirme died, his neighbors awaited the results of his sudden taking off with indolent watchfulness.”
- Kate Chopin, At Fault

“Obedient to the social law that makes the moot guest the early bird at a tea party, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Lockman were the first to arrive in Utopia.”
- Mary McCarthy, The Oasis

“It had never before been a problem which of them to visit first because they had been together every other time. Every other time he had got off the boat, hoisted up his rucksack, and walked with the straggle of travellers to where familiar faces were waiting beyond the barrier.”
- Val Mulkerns, Very Like a Whale

"I’m not here by choice."
- Giano Cromley, The Last Good Halloween

”Even standing still, finally, Ray Welter's body remained in motion and subject to inner tidal forces beyond his control."
- Andrew Ervin, Burning Down George Orwell's House

"No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water."
- H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds

"We slept in what had once been the gymnasium."
- Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

"Marley was dead, to begin with."
- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

"The first sound in the mornings was the clumping of the mill-girls' clogs down the cobbled street. Earlier than that, I suppose, there were factory whistles which I was never awake to hear."
- George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream."
- John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

"A nurse held the door open for them."
- Eudora Welty, The Optimist's Daughter

"The two grubby small boys with tow-colored hair who were digging among the ragweed in the front yard sat back on their heels and said, 'Hello,' when the tall bony man with straw-colored hair turned in at their gate."
- Katherine Anne Porter, Noon Wine

"Heraldic and unflagging it chugged up the mountain road, the sound, a new sound jarring in on the profoundly pensive landscape. A new sound and a new machine, its squat front the colour of baked brick, the ridges of the big wheels scummed in muck, wet muck and dry muck, leaving their maggoty trails."
- Edna O'Brien, Wild Decembers

"One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away."
- Willa Cather, O Pioneers!

"I am in Aranmor, sitting over a turf fire, listening to a murmur of Gaelic that is rising from a little public-house under my room."
- J.M. Synge, The Aran Islands

"On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide - it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese - the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope."
- Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides

"A wise man once said that next to losing its mother, there is nothing more healthy for a child than to lose its father."
- Halldór Laxness, The Fish Can Sing

"Studs Lonigan, on the verge of fifteen, and wearing his first suit of long trousers, stood in the bathroom with a Sweet Caporal pasted in his mug."
- James T. Farrell, Young Lonigan

"Dennis awoke to the sound of the old man upstairs beating his wife."
- Tim Hall, Half Empty

"Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board."
- Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

"We always fall asleep smoking one more cigarette in bed."
- Joseph G. Peterson, Beautiful Piece

"Tonight, a steady drizzle, streetlights smoldering in fog like funnels of light collecting rain."
- Stuart Dybek, The Coast of Chicago

"Beware thoughts that come in the night."
- William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways: A Journey Into America

"'There they are again,' the doctor said suddenly, and he stood up. Unexpectedly, like his words, the noise of the approaching airplane motors slipped into the silence of the death chamber."
- Hans Keilson, Comedy in a Minor Key

"Now that I'm dead I know everything."
- Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

"In the end Jack Burdette came back to Holt after all."
- Kent Haruf, Where You Once Belonged

"It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days."
- Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me."
- Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

"I'd caught a slight cold when I changed trains at Chicago; and three days in New York - three days of babes and booze while I waited to see The Man - hadn't helped it any."
- Jim Thompson, Savage Night

"Since the end of the war, I have been on this line, as they say: a long, twisted line stretching from Naples to the cold north, a line of locals, trams, taxis and carriages."
- Aharon Appelfeld, The Iron Tracks

"The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry."
- Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure

"Early November. It's nine o'clock. The titmice are banging against the window. Sometimes they fly dizzily off after the impact, other times they fall and lie struggling in the new snow until they can take off again. I don't know what they want that I have."
- Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses

"Picture the room where you will be held captive."
- Stona Fitch, Senseless

"Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk."
- Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry

"Bright, clear sky over a plain so wide that the rim of the heavens cut down on it around the entire horizon...Bright, clear sky, to-day, to-morrow, and for all time to come."
- O.E. Rölvaag, Giants in the Earth

"Click! ... Here it was again. He was walking along the cliff at Hunstanton and it had come again ... Click! ..."
- Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square

"It is 1983. In Dorset the great house at Woodcombe Park bustles with life. In Ireland the more modest Kilneagh is as quiet as a grave."
- William Trevor, Fools of Fortune

"The cell door slammed behind Rubashov."
- Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

March 6, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (5)

Irish March

Irish March has come around again, and I thought I'd read something contemporary this year, but my public library had no books from the recently acclaimed Anna Burns, Eimear McBride or Sally Rooney. Fortunately, as I was scanning the shelves for Rooney, I stumbled across Ethel Rohan's The Weight of Him, which crossed my radar a while back (it was published in 2017) but I had since forgotten. Ireland-born writer, Irish setting, good critical response. Works for me. I think she's even a Facebook friend (or something) of mine, but we've never corresponded. The book is 336 pages so it should take me a few weeks to read, but I'm not sure what I'll read for the remainder of the month. Maybe scrounge up something cheap at Open Books.

February 28, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)

“...that gift of not discovering...”

In Artie: A Story of the Streets and of the Town, George Ade writes this memorable character sketch:

Bancroft Walters is the second son of LaGrange Walters, who manufactures a superior kind of roofing and has grown moderately rich at it.

Bancroft plays the banjo, appears at amateur entertainments, goes to great many parties, and probably belongs to that indefinite class known as "society young men." He has a desk in his father's office, but it cannot be said truly that he is held down to office hours or that his salary represents the value of his actual service. He attended an eastern college for two years, and then came home for some reason, which perhaps only his fond and trusting mother could satisfactorily explain.

She knows it was the fault of the college.

Bancroft is inclined to be dapper, talkative and wonderfully full of self-assurance. Then he has that gift of not discovering that most people regard him as a very ordinary sort of person.

Bancroft is a childhood friend of the book's protagonist Artie Blanchard, but has "taken on airs" as his (inherited) social standing has grown elevated, far above that of the office clerk Artie. But Artie (and Ade) quickly cut Bancroft down to size, in devastating manner.

February 27, 2019 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“... a group not to be matched elsewhere in the country...”

William Dean Howells, from Literature and Life (1902):

Could one say too much of the literary centre at Chicago? I fancy, yes; or too much, at least, for the taste of the notable people who constitute it. In Mr. Henry B. Fuller we have reason to hope, from what he has already done, an American novelist of such greatness that he may well leave being the great American novelist to any one who likes taking that role. Mr. Hamlin Garland is another writer of genuine and original gift who centres at Chicago; and Mrs. Mary Catherwood has made her name well known in romantic fiction. Miss Edith Wyatt is a talent, newly known, of the finest quality in minor fiction; Mr. Robert Herrick, Mr. Will Payne in their novels, and Mr. George Ade and Mr. Peter Dump in their satires form with those named a group not to be matched elsewhere in the country. It would be hard to match among our critical journals the ‘Dial’ of Chicago; and with a fair amount of publishing in a sort of books often as good within as they are uncommonly pretty without, Chicago has a claim to rank with our first literary centres.

February 14, 2019 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (4)

“...like a blue phantom...”

Pelé on Gordon Banks and “the greatest save ever”:

“As a footballer you know straightaway how well you have hit the ball. I had hit that header exactly as as I had hoped, put it exactly where I wanted it to go, and I was ready to celebrate. But then Banks appeared in my sight like a blue phantom and somehow pushed my header up and over. Even now when I watch it I can’t believe it, I can’t believe how he moved so far, so fast. The save was one of the best I have ever seen. Rest in peace my friend, you were a goalkeeper with magic but also a fine human being.”

February 13, 2019 in Current Affairs, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Runaway nun...

...fakes her death, crafts a body double to act as her corpse, and pursues a life of carnal lust. Go, Joan, go!

“...having turned her back on decency and the good of religion, seduced by indecency, she involved herself irreverently and perverted her path of life arrogantly to the way of carnal lust and away from poverty and obedience, and, having broken her vows and discarded the religious habit, she now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order.”

Alas, Joan’s fate is lost to history, which is actually fiction’s gain. I think it’s nearly impossible for her story to not end up as a novel, or even a Netflix series. Handmaid’s Tale meets Game of Thrones.

February 13, 2019 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

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“Porous borders are understood in some quarters to be areas of threat and certain chaos, and whether real or imagined, enforced separation is posited as the solution. It may be that the most defining characteristic of our times is that, again, walls and weapons feature as prominently now as they once did in medieval times.” - Toni Morrison

February 10, 2019 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)