December 31, 2013

My (2013) Year In Books

No excerpt this time, I just want to say I DID IT. Not only did I read more this year than I've read in a long, long time, but I accomplished my goal of reading 30 books, finishing off the year by reading 36.
All titles can be viewed on my Goodreads page. I've also beat my previous record of 47 posts per year (in 2010) with 49. 50 if you count this one. :)

I will say honestly that I'm not sure I can beat that next year, but I will focus less on reading more than 36 books and more on continuing to read at the same pace. The first book of the new year is one I've technically, but barely, started --If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino. If I like it and if appropriate there shall be excerpts posted from it soon.

Cheers!

December 27, 2013

"Farewell! I leave you, and in you the last of human kind whom these eyes will ever behold."

Frankenstein, 1818 Text
By Mary Shelley

One of my favorites, started re-reading in October and I finally finished it. Love it for the monster. And his eloquence. In my opinion, one of the saddest and most beautifully written novels.

"'Oh, it is not thus -- not thus,' interrupted the being; 'yet such must be the impression conveyed to you by what appears to be the purport of my actions. Yet I seek not a fellow-feeling in my misery. No sympathy may I ever find. When I first sought it, it was the love of virtue, the feelings of happiness and affection with which my whole being overflowed, that I wished to be participated. But now, that virtue has become to me a shadow, and that happiness and affection are turned into bitter and loathing despair, in what should I seek for sympathy? I am content to suffer alone, while my sufferings shall endure: when I die, I am well satisfied that abhorrence and opprobrium should load my memory. Once my fancy was soothed with dreams of virtue, of fame, of enjoyment. Once I falsely hoped to meet with beings, who, pardoning my outward form, would love me for the excellent qualities which I was capable of bringing forth. I was nourished with high thoughts of honour and devotion. But now vice has degraded me beneath the meanest animal. No crime, no mischief, no malignity, no misery, can be found comparable to mine. When I call over the frightful catalogue of my deeds, I cannot believe that I am he whose thoughts were once filled with sublime and transcendent visions of the beauty and the majesty of goodness. But it is even so; the fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am quite alone.
'You, who call Frankenstein your friend, seem to have a knowledge of my crimes and his misfortunes. But, in the detail which he gave you of them, he could not sum up the hours and months of misery which I endured, wasting in impotent passions. For whilst I destroyed his hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires. The were for ever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned. Was there no injustice in this? Am I thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me? Why do you not hate Felix, who drove his friend from his door with contumely? Why do you not execrate the rustic who sought to destroy the saviour of his child? Nay, these are virtuous and immaculate beings? I, the miserable and the abandoned, an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on. Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice.
'But it is true that I am a wretch. I have murdered the lovely and the helpless; I have strangled the innocent as they slept and grasped to death his throat who never injured me or any other living thing. I have devoted my creator, the select specimen of all that is worthy of love and admiration among men, to misery; I have pursued him even to that irremediable ruin. There he lies, white and cold in death. You hate me; but your abhorrence cannot equal that with which I regard myself. I look on the hands which executed the deed; I think on the heart in which the imagination of it was conceived, and long for the moment when they will meet my eyes, when it will haunt my thoughts, no more.
'Fear not that I shall be the instrument of future mischief. My work is nearly complete. Neither yours nor any man's death is needed to consummate the series of my being, and accomplish that which must be done; but it requires my own. Do not think that I shall be slow to perform this sacrifice. I shall quit your vessel on the ice-raft which brought me hither, and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile, and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch, who would create such another as I have been. I shall die. I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me, or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched. He is dead who called me into being; and when I shall be no more, the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish. I shall no longer see the sun or stars, or feel the winds play on my cheeks. Light, feeling, and sense, will pass away; and in this condition must I find my happiness. Some years ago, when the images which this world affords first opened upon me, when I felt the cheering warmth of summer, and heard the rustling of the leaves and the chirping of the birds, and these were all to me, I should have wept to die; now it is only my consolation. Polluted by crimes, and torn by the bitterest remorse, where can I find rest but in death?
'Farewell! I leave you, and in you the last of human kind whom these eyes will ever behold. Farewell, Frankenstein! If thou wert yet alive, and yet cherished a desire of revenge against me, it would be better satiated in my life than in my destruction. But it was not so; thou didst seek my extinction, that I might not cause greater wretchedness; and if yet, in some mode unknown to me, thou has not yet cased to think and feel, thou desirest not my life for my own misery. Blasted as thou wert, my agony was still superior to thine; for the bitter sting of remorse may not case to rankle in my wounds until death shall close them for ever.
'But soon,' he cried, with sad and solemn enthusiasm, 'I shall die, and what I now feel be no longer felt. Soon these burning miseries will be extinct. I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly, and exult in the agony of the torturing flames. The light of that conflagration will fade away; my ashes will be swept into the sea by the winds. My spirit will sleep in peace; or if it thinks, it will not surely think thus. Farewell.'"
(pp. 189-91)

December 26, 2013

The words induced me to turn towards myself.


Frankenstein, 1818 Text
By Mary Shelley

"'This reading had puzzled me extremely at first, but, by degrees, I discovered that he uttered many of the same sounds when he read as when he talked. I conjectured, therefore, that he found on the paper signs for speech which he understood, and I ardently longed to comprehend these also; but how was that possible, when I did not even understand the sounds for which they stood as signs? I improved, however, sensibly in this science, but not sufficiently to follow up any kind of conversation, although I applied for my whole mind to the endeavor: for I easily perceived that, although I eagerly longed to discover myself to the cottagers, I ought not to make the attempt until I had first become master of their language; which knowledge might enable me to make them overlook the deformity of my figure; for with this also the contrast perpetually presented to my eyes had made me acquainted.
'I had admired the perfect forms of my cottagers -- their grace, beauty, and delicate complexions: but how was I terrified, when I viewed myself in a transparent pool! At first I stared back, unable to believe that it was indeed I who was reflected in the mirror; and when I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am, I was filled with the bitterest sensations of despondence and mortification. Alas! I did not yet entirely know the fatal effects of this miserable deformity." (p. 90)

"'The words induced me to turn towards myself. I learned that the possessions most esteemed by your fellow-creatures were, high and unsullied descent united with riches. A man might be respected with only one of these acquisitions; but without either he was considered, except in very rare instances, as a vagabond and a slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profit of the chosen few. And what was I? Of my creation and creator I was absolutely ignorant; but I knew that I possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endowed with a figure hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man. I was more agile than they, and could subsist upon coarser diet; I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame; my stature far exceeded theirs. When I looked around, I saw and heard none like me. Was I then a monster, a blot upon the earth, from which all men fled, and whom all men disowned?" (p. 96)

"'Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock. I wished sometimes to shake off all thought and feeling; but I learned that there was but one means to overcome the sensation of pain, and that was death -- a state which I feared yet did not understand. I admired virtue and good feelings, and loved the gentle manners and amiable qualities of my cottagers; but I was shut out from intercourse with them, except through means which I obtained by stealth, when I was unseen and unknown, and which rather increased than satisfied the desire I had of becoming one among my fellows." (pp. 96-7)


November 27, 2013

A flash of lightning illuminated the object, and I discovered its shape plainly to me.

Frankenstein, 1818 Text
By Mary Shelley

"My journey was very melancholy. At first I wished to hurry on, for I longed to console and sympathize with my loved and sorrowing friends; but when I drew near my native town, I slackened my progress. I could hardly sustain the multitude of feelings that crowded into my mind. I passed through scenes familiar to my youth, but which I had not seen for nearly six years. How altered every thing might be during that time? One sudden and desolating change had taken place; but a thousand little circumstances might have by degrees worked other alterations, which, although they were done more tranquilly, might not be the less decisive. Fear overcame me; I dared not advance, dreading a thousand nameless evils that made me tremble, although I was unable to define them." (p. 54)

"While I watched the storm, so beautiful yet terrific, I wandered on with a hasty step. This noble war in the sky elevated my spirits; I clasped my hands, and exclaimed aloud, 'William, dear angel! this is thy funeral, this thy dirge!' As I said these words, I perceived in the gloom a figure which stole from behind a clump of trees near me; I stood fixed, gazing intently: I could not be mistaken. A flash of lightning illuminated the object, and discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy daemon to whom I had given life." (p. 56)

"'I will try to comfort you; but this, I fear, is an evil too deep and poignant to admit of consolation, for there is no hope. Yet heaven bless thee, my dearest Justine, with resignation, and a confidence elevated beyond this world. Oh! how I hate its shows and mockeries! when one creature is murdered, another is immediately deprived of life in a slow torturing manner; then the executioners, their hands yet reeking with the blood of innocence, believe that they have done a great deed. They call this retribution. Hateful name! When that word is pronounced, I know greater and more horrid punishments are going to be inflicted than the gloomiest tyrant has ever invented to satiate its utmost revenge. Yet this is not consolation for you, my Justine, unless indeed that you may glory in escaping from so miserable a den. Alas! I would I were in peace with my aunt and my lovely William, escaped from a world which is hateful to me, and the visages of men which I abhor.'" (p. 67)

November 10, 2013

I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven.


Frankenstein, 1818 Text
By Mary Shelley

"These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven; for nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose, -- a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye." (p. 6)

"She died calmly; and her countenance expressed affection even in death. I need not describe the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil, the void that presents itself to the soul, and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance. It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she, whom we saw every day, and whose very existence appeared a part of our own, can have departed forever--that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished, and the sound of a voice so familiar, and dear to the ear, can be hushed, never more to be heard. These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connexion; and why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives, when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we had still duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest, and learn to think ourselves fortunate, whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized." (p. 27)

October 21, 2013

The long Halloween.


Batman: The Long Halloween
By Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale

The Long Halloween is worth reading for the covers alone. See them all here.

October 20, 2013

Paddle your own canoe.


Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living
By Nick Offerman

Somehow 2013 became the year of reading memoirs. It started with Tina Fey's Bossypants, and without having some kind of memoir-reading agenda, I read seven more. I've read memoirs (mostly humorous ones) by:
- Mindy Kaling
- Anthony Bourdain (both Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw)
- Eddie Huang
- Baratunde Thurston
- Questlove
- & now, Nick Offerman

I think of all of the books I've read this year, the ones written by the above, with the exception of Mindy Kaling's, have been my favorite. (Nothing against Mindy, just didn't like hers as much as the others.) I reviewed Paddle Your Own Canoe for The Manual; in short, I thought it was excellent. This is coming from someone who hadn't watched many Parks and Recreation episodes prior to my reading. As I mention in the review, many people know & see Offerman as a funny man mostly because of his role on Parks and Rec but what I thought was really special about this book--despite some of the similarities between him and Ron Swanson--was that it offered him the ability to reveal himself as more than the character he plays. He is an awesome human being & a funny storyteller with the kind of values all people should aim for: hard work, humility, loyalty. And he is unabashedly and admirably completely in love with his wife. Highly highly recommend. It will make you laugh and also probably put a lot in perspective.

The biggest takeaway from reading these memoirs by all of the successful, funny, insightful people above is that many of them had to go through a lot of shit to get to where they are today. They all worked insanely hard and often found themselves in dark or undesirable places as younger people but they pushed through and eventually found themselves right where they needed to be. And maybe some are still striving--or all are still striving to be better. A lot has changed for me since January and I've come to the realization that life is a work in progress & every experience--regardless of what it is--matters somehow and is essential to building my character and building my life. I feel an immense amount of gratitude and optimism and comfort in knowing I have a lot to look forward to, and that a lot of how my life turns out is in my hands. And even when it's not, that it can still be OK. So these memoirs have been really wonderful complements and companions while I've had these personal realizations.

I didn't mark any excerpts specifically but here are a few gems:

– “If you think that altering the tip of your nose with surgery will make you happier…alter something much more malleable than your flesh, like your priorities or your friends. Quit looking in the mirror so much.”

 – “Choose your favorite spade and dig a small, deep hole, located deep in the forest or a desolate area of the desert or tundra. Bury your cell phone and then find a hobby.”

 – ”Bring enough wit to any given situation to lighten the load with a grin.”

 – ”No matter how you decide to spend a little more time on your gestures of giving, the point is just quite simply that you do. You don’t have to give a person a papier-mache penis vase to get a reaction, but you won’t be sorry if you do.”

But you really need to read it.

October 05, 2013

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves."


The Fault In Our Stars
By John Green

The following excerpt is similar to my last for Fahrenheit 451 in that I didn't really like either book but from each I found an excerpt I liked that includes the words of another, more gifted [real-life] writer. This one also reveals where the title of the book came from:

I didn't read it until I got home, situated in my own huge and empty bed with no chance of medical interruption. It took me forever to decode Van Houten's sloped, scratchy script.

Dear Mr. Waters,
I am in receipt of your electronic mail dated the 14th of April and duly impressed by the Shakespearean complexity of your tragedy. Everyone in this tale has a rock-solid hamartia: hers, that she is so sick; yours, that you are so well. Were she better or you sicker, then the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves." Easy enough to say when you're a Roman nobleman (or Shakespeare!), but there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.
While we're on the topic of old Will's insufficiencies, your writing about young Hazel reminds me of the Bard's Fifty-fifth sonnet, which of course begins, "Not marble, not the gilded monuments / Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme; / But you shall shine more bright in these contents / Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time." (Off topic, but: What a slut time is. She screws everybody.) It's a fine poem but a deceitful one: We do indeed remember Shakespeare's powerful rhyme, but what do we remember about the person it commemorates? Nothing. We're pretty sure he was male; everything else is guesswork. Shakespeare told us precious little of the man whom he entombed in his linguistic sarcophagus. (Witness also that when we talk about literature, we do so in the present tense. When we speak of the dead, we are not so kind.) You do not immortalize the lost by writing about them. Language buries, but does not resurrect. (Full disclosure: I am not the first to make this observation. cf, the MacLeish poem "Not Marble, Nor the Gilded Monuments," which contains the heroic line "I shall say you will die and none will remember you.")
I digress, but here's the rub: The dead are visible only in the terrible lidless eye of memory. The living, thank heaven, retain the ability to surprise and disappoint. Your Hazel is alive, Waters, and you musn't impose your will upon another's decision, particularly a decision arrived at thoughtfully. She wishes to spare you pain, and you should let her. You may not find young Hazel's logic persuasive, but I have trod through this vale of tears longer than you, and from where I'm sitting, she's not the lunatic.

Yours truly,
Peter Van Houten
(pp.111-13)

September 23, 2013

Then he began to read in a low, stumbling voice that grew firmer as he progressed from line to line.


Fahrenheit 451
By Ray Bradbury

"The room was blazing hot, he was all fire, he was all coldness; they sat in the middle of an empty desert with three chairs and him standing, swaying, and him waiting for Mrs. Phelps to stop straightening her dress hem and Mrs. Bowles to take her fingers away from her hair. Then he began to read in a low, stumbling voice that grew firmer as he progressed from line to line, and his voice went out across the desert, into the whiteness, and around the three sitting women there in the great hot emptiness.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
In melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, 
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

The chairs creaked under the three women. Montag finished it out:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems 
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So curious, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Mrs. Phelps was crying.
The others in the middle of the desert watched her crying grow very loud as her face squeezed itself out of shape. They sat, not touching her, bewildered with her display. She sobbed uncontrollably. Montag himself was stunned and shaken."
(pp. 96-7)

September 14, 2013

He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water.


Fahrenheit 451
By Ray Bradbury

"He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact."
(p. 5)

September 12, 2013

Music has the power to stop time. But music also keeps time.


Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
By Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman

Questlove names at least 299 tracks throughout the course of the memoir. I know because I wrote down every single one and then tried to find them on Spotify. I only found 299; there were 10-12 (about?) tracks that were not listed. And that's also not counting the albums he mentioned, and all of the songs within those albums. I am only one person, after all. So ya. A lot of music. Super enlightening. I think most of the people who read Mo' Meta Blues will appreciate it differently, having been more familiar with the genre. I was just really excited to learn something new.


"And so that's how it goes. I keep moving through time and time keeps moving through me. And through that process, life takes shape. The question is what shape it is. I'm not the first person to ask this question, or to see how absurd it is to think there's a real answer. Maybe life's a circle. Maybe what goes around comes around. Maybe there's karma and an account ledger that balances off all debts and credits. Part of me believes that: the part of me that remembers that my drums are circles, that turntables are circles. But drumsticks are straight, and there are times when life seems like an arrow that goes in one direction and one direction only, toward a final target that might not be a final reward. Part of me believes that, too: the part of me that sees the "dun" in undun, and that believes that the story of that record, the life that ends before it's properly told, the life that has to unspool in reverse to exist at all, is the more common form of life. Music has the power to stop time. When I listen to songs, I'm transported back to the moment of their birth, which is sometimes even before the moment of my birth. Old songs, rock or soul or blues, still connect with me because the human emotions in them, whether jealousy or rage or hope, are recognizably similar to the emotions that I'm feeling now. But I'm feeling all of them, all the time, and so the songs act like a chemical process that isolates certain feelings at certain times: maybe one song helps illuminate the resignation. Music has the power to stop time. But music also keeps time. Drummers are time keepers. Music conserves time and serves time, just as time conserves and serves music. I think I have to believe in circularity, even if I know that the arrow's coming in on the wing. I think I have to cast my lot with cycles, and revolution, with the Beach Boys' "I Get Around" and Chuck Berry's "Around and Around" and James Brown's "World Cycle Inc." Will the circle be unbroken? That's not the only circle that's a question. Every circle is. Lines are statements. Arrows are especially emphatic statements. They divide and they define. They count up and count down. Circles are more careful. They come around again. They overthink. They analyze. They go back to the scene of the crime. They retrace their steps. That's where I end up, definitely maybe, always circumspect, always circumscribed by questions, by curiosity, by a certainty that I need a certain amount of uncertainty."
(pp. 271-2)

They were making loud music, putting it into a space where there had been no music before.


Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
By Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman

"At the same time, though, I wrote that manifesto to fax over to the Source, which means that I thought that there was a principle at stake. It's still a principle, I think, and it's still at stake. Just recently, I was talking to a book editor about hip-hop. "Right," she said. "Is that the period where rappers were talking all about how they wanted to rape and beat women?" At first I bristled at the characterization. Then it hit me that I see hip-hop in much greater detail than most people. I've devoted at least half my life to it, so I'm connoisseur even if I don't always think of myself that way. Pick any era and I can retrieve a vast array of awesome thought-provoking hip-hop artists who were genuine political thinkers, artists who were genuine comedians. A more casual observer will only see what's put in their face. That was the problem with hip-hop in the Biggie era, and it's the problem with what passes for hip-hop now.
In general, I don't like to blame the creators. They are making work that appeals to them and the people in the room with them. They are making something that is, at some level, genuine. But the distributors, the networks that bring art to the population, they are the ones who ensure that there's a flattening and narrowing. The younger me may have sat up all night with bandmates raging against Puffy or DMX or whoever, but the fact is that they were never the problem. The problem was that someone in the corporate chain of command felt that there was a need to play those songs fourteen times a day and to eliminate alternatives."
(pp. 152-3)

"As I started to enter this alternate world of sound, where human error was perfection, where warmth and organic playing mattered more than precision, my relationship with D'Angelo became more and more central to my work. We had started work on his next album, which was now named Voodoo, and I knew I wanted to see that through to the end. The Roots were a dicier proposition, especially after Illadelph Halflife stalled, like its predecessor, after three hundred thousand copies. That's when Rich had a brainstorm. He decided that since we had a new label president--we had been transferred to MCA, still under the Geffen umbrella but a different part of the company--it was time to make some new demands. He told the label that we had simple needs: we wanted them to spring for a bunch of jam sessions at my house--I had my own house by now, a modest place on St. Albans in South Philadelphia--and two fifteen-passenger vans. We hired a chef to cook the best food, and that was the siren song that started bringing people in. Before I knew it, there was round-the-clock music: singers, musicians, MCs.
Some of the people there were from the Roots, but most weren't. Most were normal people who aspired to careers in entertainment. All were welcome. And so the next thing you know, the girl who worked at Jeans West wanted to sing. That was Jill Scott. The pizza delivery guy, Jamal, thought that maybe he'd take his turn on the microphone, too, because he had done some singing, and he thought he had something to contribute. That was Musiq Soulchild. The little teenager up past his bedtime, wailing jazz songs out of his mind, was Bilal. The stripper girl was Eve, who was still calling herself Eve of Destruction. A friend of mine visited from Atlanta and brought a girl with a guitar, and that was India.Arie. Jazmine Sullivan was there, ten years old but with the voice of a grown woman. Common was there. All of this was unfolded in my living room in South Philadelphia in the late nineties.
It was a madhouse. People were milling around outside, waking up the neighbors, playing loud music until all hours. But it wasn't people playing loud music on boom boxes or stereos. They were actually playing it on guitars and singing with microphones. They were making loud music, putting it into a space where there had been no music before. By the seventh week, I was calling the police to say "There's a disturbance at 2309 St. Albans." Just to get some sleep, I was calling the cops on myself! But when I think about that time, the most amazing thing is how many of those artists made it. There were at least eighteen record contracts in the room, and at least nine of the people who became recording artists ended up bigger than us. And yet, it was an indisputably magical time, a kind of rebirth. If hip-hop had died at the 1995 Source awards, I felt like something new was being born on St. Albans."
(pp. 154-5)

"I laugh so hard at those shows now. I have told Jimmy a million times that when we get to our thousandth show, we should air the first practice episode. Now we have such a perfect rhythm, almost telepathic, but back then everything was awkward in the extreme. Plus, Jimmy was dealing with pressures from the other side; I remember watching the way Lorne walked around the set pointing at things, and thinking how anal retentive he was about every little detail. He didn't like the cuts of the intro montage. He hated the curtains. He wanted certain lights to point in a different direction. At the time, he seemed like a fussy uncle; it didn't really occur to me that he was a guy who had run a late-night empire for almost forty years. As it turns out, those fixes weren't just minor details. They were major improvements. The difference between what the show is now and what it was in practice is vast, and more than a little was due to his initial detail mongering. Lorne used to say that the average late-night show didn't really catch on for about four years. It took us about a year."
(p. 147)

"We went back to work the next day. We asked permission not to wear our suits, to wear Michael Jackson-related stuff instead. I got my T-shirt company to make me a quickie shirt, what I call Helvetica in Harlem, that had the six names of all the brothers. Other members of the band wore leather jackets and studs. Erykah Badu joined us in New York to sit in with us and we spent the day making sandwiches and trying to come to terms with Michael's death. And we played his songs on the air. Usually, they would be too expensive to use, but there is special stipulation, a death memorandum, that grants a 48-hour grace period where songs can be used for a standard rate for news purposes. I don't know if the full weight of the loss hit me then, or later, or if it has hit me yet. It wasn't that I expected him to make more great music, necessarily. I figure that with everyone who's designated a genius, especially people of color, has an expiration date. But Michael was so woven into the fabric of my life that it was painful and also unthinkable to have him suddenly gone."
(p. 253)

She thought that a father was just supposed to do those things for a child without asking for something in return.


Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
By Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and Ben Greenman

I loved Questlove's memoir. Great person who's had a pretty incredible life. I learned so much. I don't know too much about hip-hop, so it was a learning experience and I still feel like I need to go & listen to all of the songs he referenced, familiarize myself with them, and then reread the book to get a better understanding of him & the genre. (Though have to say, I'm at least a little familiar; I've seen him DJ twice and The Roots perform once on Jimmy Fallon and had a blast all times.) More excerpts to come, but the one below resonated with me because it reminded me of my dad. We've mostly had a good relationship but we disagree on certain things and he holds grudges. He hasn't been speaking to me for the past six months due to an argument we had (one we've had many times before). It's far too complicated to even begin to explain, but essentially the most recent argument came down to the below. He thinks we owe him because he was a good father, because he stayed with my mom (and us) when he (presumably) did not want to stay with her. Makes no sense to me. I didn't ask to come into this world. I am grateful to my parents, of course. Will always be grateful. They were/are good parents. But I thought it weird he felt we also owed him for doing the things a father should do. And I don't feel I owe him for my own personal accomplishments. Anyway. It's easy to feel sometimes that you're the only person in the world going through something, and it's comforting to realize that someone out there had a similar experience.

"That insecurity spilled over to the way he treated his kids. My sister wanted to act, but she ended up in the family band instead, partly because my father controlled everyone with such a tight grip. I felt it firsthand. After I got my advance for Do You Want More?!!!??!, my father came to me and told me that I owed him. I was confused. "You owe me," he said, "for all those years in private school, all those lessons. I sacrificed for you. I want a cut." I gave him the money, but it broke my mom's heart to see me handing it over. She thought that a father was just supposed to do those things for a child without asking for something in return."
(p. 127)

September 07, 2013

If you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.


Why I Write
By George Orwell

"Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned, and saw, under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in Modern English:

Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account. 

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit 3, above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations -- race, battle, bread -- dissolve into the vague phrase 'success or failure in competitive activities.' This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing -- no one capable of using phrases like 'objective consideration of contemporary phenomena' -- would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyse these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains 49 words but only 60 syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its 90 syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes."
(p. 110-1)

August 30, 2013

He had hoped to spot the flickering shadow of a murderer as he turned the file's pages.

The Cuckoo's Calling
By Robert Galbraith bka J.K. Rowling

I placed a hold on this book as soon as news broke it was written by J.K. Rowling under a pseudonym.  Maybe fair, maybe not. Rowling explores and masters the different genre and her characters. I love mysteries & I really enjoyed this one. Looking forward to more from this series:

“Strike was used to playing archaeologist among the ruins of people’s traumatised memories.”

“He had hoped to spot the flickering shadow of a murderer as he turned the file's pages, but instead it was the ghost of Lula herself who emerged, gazing up at him, as victims of violent crimes sometimes did, through the detritus of their interrupted lives.”

“How easy it was to capitalize on a person’s own bent for self-destruction; how simple to nudge them into non-being, then to stand back and shrug and agree that it had been the inevitable result of a chaotic, catastrophic life.”

August 21, 2013

So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.


Why I Write
By George Orwell

"What I have most wanted to do throughout the past ten years is to make political writing into an art. My starting point is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, 'I am going to produce a work of art.' I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing. But I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and I do not want, completely to abandon the world-view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us." (pp. 8-9)

August 20, 2013

65 Books You "Need To Read" In Your 20s

This evening I noticed I've been receiving traffic from a BuzzFeed article titled 65 Books You Need To Read In Your 20s written by executive editor Doree Shafrir in May. I wondered why and realized she credited me for #7, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (excerpt here). I'm not sure why, to be honest. But what really struck me was the similarity between her hed and the words I've written up top. (OFTEN WHILE I'M READING I COME ACROSS A PASSAGE THAT MOVES ME. IT EITHER INSPIRES ME, TEACHES ME, MAKES ME THINK, MAKES ME CRY, OR MAKES ME LAUGH.) I mean, those aren't revolutionary words or anything but still, you'd think there might have been a little more of an effort on her part to make them different. This may seem petty but I guess this little post is to say that despite this being a tiny blog that pretty much no one reads, those words were here first.

August 19, 2013

Imagine how much better you'll be at this sweet-spot game once you're aware of playing it.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
By Susan Cain

"Your sweet spot is the place where you're optimally stimulated. You probably seek it out already without being aware that you're doing so. Imagine that you're lying contentedly in a hammock reading a great novel. This is a sweet spot. But after half an hour you realize that you've read the same sentence five times; now you're understimulated. So you call a friend and go out for brunch--in other words, you ratchet up your stimulation level--and as you laugh and gossip over blueberry pancakes, you're back, thank goodness, inside your sweet spot. But this agreeable state lasts only until your friend--an extrovert who needs much more stimulation than you do--persuades you to accompany her to a block party, where you're now confronted by loud music and a sea of strangers. 
Your friend's neighbors seem affable enough, but you feel pressured to make small talk above the din of music. Now--bang, just like that--you've fallen out of your sweet spot, except this time you're overstimulated. And you'll probably feel that way until you pair off with someone on the periphery of the party for an in-depth conversation, or bow out altogether and return to your novel.
Imagine how much better you'll be at this sweet-spot game once you're aware of playing it. You can set up your work, your hobbies, and your social life so that you spend as much time inside your sweet spot as possible."
(p. 125)

August 18, 2013

We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.


Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
By Susan Cain

I've spent a lot of time in my life wishing I could be a different kind of person. More extroverted, more talkative, more outgoing, more uninhibited, etc etc. When I was younger, I hated that I was so shy & quiet. I hated when people called me out on it, and I hated that it was sometimes mistaken for not having anything to say. I hated that I just naturally didn't have a loud voice nor felt comfortable projecting it. I still hate all of the above sometimes. I don't know if shy is even a word that fits me; I have often used it as one of the go-to adjectives to describe myself but I think doing so is doing myself a disservice. I like interacting with others and I embrace the opportunity to meet new people. I have good friends. I think that maybe I see myself as more awkward than I actually am and I don't hate social gatherings but actually really enjoy them most of the time. Regardless, if one could only choose either introvert or extrovert to describe oneself, I'm definitely an introvert. I'm--we're--all more complex than that but yeah, if it came down to those two terms. As a preteen I had really low self-esteem, the lowest it'd ever been until a few months ago when I'd gone through mostly positive transitions in my life and yet still started to feel pretty shitty about myself. I hadn't felt that low about myself in so long and the self-loathing had a lot to do with how I felt about my personality. I've been able to pull myself out of that slump and am again learning to love what I previously thought were the weirdest parts of me and wanting less to be like someone else.

What I like about this book is that it acknowledges a person can only change so much while also encouraging growth. I'm so glad this book was written because there are so many things Cain says where I'm like 'Oh my god, there's an explanation for why I do that!' and 'Yes! I'm not being weird and  anti-social, I just need space sometimes!' A couple excerpts:

"But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions--from the theory of evolution to van Gogh's sunflowers to the personal computer--came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there. Without introverts, the world would be devoid of:
the theory of gravity
the theory of relativity
W.B. Yeats's "The Second Coming"
Chopin's nocturnes
Proust's In Search of Lost Time
Peter Pan
Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm
The Cat in the Hat
Charlie Brown
Schindler's List, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Google
Harry Potter"
(p. 5)

"Schwartz's research suggests something important: we can stretch our personalities, but only up to a point. Our inborn temperaments influence us, regardless of the lives we lead. A sizable part of who we are is ordained by our genes, by our brains, by our nervous systems. And yet the elasticity that Schwartz found in some of the high-reactive teens also suggests the converse: we have free will and can use it to shape our personalities. 
These seem like contradictory principles, but they are not. Free will can take us far, suggests Dr. Schwartz's research, but it cannot carry us infinitely beyond our genetic limits. Bill Gates is never going to be Bill Clinton, no matter how he polishes his social skills, and Bill Clinton can never be Bill Gates, no matter how much time he spends alone with a computer. 
We might call this the "rubber band theory" of personality. We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much."
(pp. 117-8)

August 08, 2013

Filled with hope, the egg followed.


The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Volume 1
By hitRECord & Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The other day Joseph Gordon-Levitt tweeted about the Tiny Book of Tiny Stories series and it intrigued me so I bought the first book. Quite lovely and took me all of 20 minutes to read on my way to work yesterday. People are so wonderfully creative.

The one that really hit me from this edition was:


I like this one too:


And the following image accompanied by: 
His hands were weak and shaking from carrying far too many books from the bookshop. It was the best feeling.

July 27, 2013

If day has to become night, this is a beautiful way.

Selected Poems
By E.E. Cummings

A favorite of mine:

Days of Innocence
who are you, little i

(five or six years old)
peering from some high

window; at the gold

of november sunset

(and feeling: that if day
has to become night

this is a beautiful way)

July 21, 2013

I wouldn't like Death if Death were good. (Not even if Death were good.)


Selected Poems
By E.E. Cummings

The first time I saw Ra Ra Riot was a few months after I started at Syracuse when one of my (now best) friends asked me if I wanted to check them out at the Funk N' Waffles on Marshall Street. I was indifferent and I'd never heard of them before but the show was 5 bucks, it was October, I was new to campus and had a try-anything mentality, so I went. This was before they renovated the place, so the stage was near the front and it couldn't have been elevated more than a foot off the ground.  Basically there was no real separation between band and audience. Not many people showed up that night from what I remember, or well, it was a small space. So it was intimate. And long story short: I fell in love and they're now one of my favorites. I've seen them five times since, including once at the beginning of this year and I'll probably see them again in October when they return to NYC. (A description I wrote of Ra Ra Riot in 2010 for CITYist.com.)

I am also a fan of e.e. cummings and the other day picked up Selected Poems, a book I purchased in January 2012 that I never finished. It was such a pretty cover (see above) and I like him so I bought it. As I was reading last week I came upon the below and realized that "Dying Is Fine," one of my favorites and one of Ra Ra Riot's most popular songs, was inspired by one of the poems! Instantly looked it up to make sure (though it had to be), and it was just kind of a great, quiet little epiphany I had one morning.

Read & then listen:

instagram.com/noeliasophia

July 16, 2013

Mama borned a baby and she slept in the arms of hope.


The second and last excerpt from How to Be Black is another by Derrick Ashong. Not my intention and I literally just realized that the following words would be his too. He wrote a great poem. In the words of Baratunde: "I honestly cannot think of a better way to fully close this book than [his poem] and Derrick's explanation in this final space."


Water
Water, fresh on the lips of one
Who has known no rivers.
What kiss could be so sweet
As the lingering taste of life?

Mama borned a baby
and she slept in the arms of hope
In her eyes she grew a lady
deftly robed in a cloth sewn centuries ago
with a needle threaded in tears
and guided by notes of a song
spun softly in a soul saddled
by a spirit so strong no noose
was ever long enough to break it.
Some people couldn't take it.
How could this thing with a different skin
sing so loud as to drown the stinking sin
of a nation?
Mama's baby was born post-emancipation
but pre-liberation, and so the song that she wore
within her skin was less a tale of times past 
than a calling.
A calling.

Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock
"Who's there?"
It's me. Tell the man I came for my Freedom
It called for me while you were sleeping. 
It screamed that the hypocrisy of our fathers was
reeking and it needed to get out of the house.

America the beautiful
Adrift in a reverie of her own making.
Had Freedom locked up so long 
we wouldn't recognize her if she were taken
from right beneath the flag.
This dress that she wears 
is a song we don't care to sing
We'd rather go carelessly marching into
a war we can never win, for the enemy
Lies within.

Who put the terror in terrorism?
Ask any brother shackled in prison,
whether by the forefather's vision of 3/5ths
of a man, or Supreme Court decision that hands
the American crown to the 
prodigal
profligate
prefabricate one.
The heir who cries WAR, when it won't be his son or daughter left to bleed our dreams
into the flood of the killing fields.
How long will it be before America yields
her thirst for violence to the people's need for Peace?

It is our calling
I done made my vow to the Lord.
Not the "president."

We wear the song of a slave, because in this 
home of the brave it was the hated one
who had the courage to cry Freedom.
We don't just sing Love, we live it.
For in our song strives the spirit that taught
us what it means to be FREE.

A Black tide carried us through the slaughter,
And so today we sing like

Water, so soft on the lips of one
Who has known no rivers.
What kiss could be so sweet
As the lingering sound of life?

*snap* *snap*

July 15, 2013

"America is not now post-racial, and America will likely not be post-racial anytime soon, and America will have a significant problem so long as she is interested in being post-racial as opposed to getting to the point where race is no longer a problem."


How to Be Black
By Baratunde Thurston

I first saw Baratunde Thurston speak at the same Skillshare event where I saw Eddie Huang. He was hilarious & friendly and had just released the above book a few months prior and shared some great anecdotes. (Even had the opportunity to meet him afterward & he was great!) I finally had the chance to read this last week. Let me just say, I put this book on hold at the library at the beginning of the year and my turn finally came at the beginning of this month. The Queens library system needs to order more because it's in high demand!

The back cover features a quote by an MSNBC analyst/writer for The Nation that describes How to Be Black as "part autobiography, part stand-up routine, part contemporary political analysis," and that's a pretty accurate description. Baratunde details his childhood, adolescence/growing up, his mother, his environment(s), education, his career(s), etc etc and evaluates how being black has shaped his life. Most of it is humorous (as evidenced by some chapters like "How to Be The Black Employee" and "How to Be The (Next) Black President"). At the same time, the underlying messages are profound and important to ponder. I loved hearing from Baratunde, but a favorite aspect of the book to me was his Black Panel, a group of his closest friends (including one white man) whose opinions and experiences he shares throughout to demonstrate the diversity of experiences black people have had in America. Very enlightening.

As "post-racial" (a term Baratunde hates) America believes itself to be given its progress, the term itself is ignorant and devoid of meaning. This is made clear on the daily, and coincidentally I have found the time to write this post two days after a jury's devastating verdict to find George Zimmerman not guilty of Trayvon Martin's murder in 2012. Blegh.

I'll excerpt the one passage I marked. (For the record, Baratunde says a lot of great things worth reblogging but they're more like entire chapters rather than passages i.e. just read the whole thing.) It comes from the chapter "How's That Post-Racial Thing Working Out For Ya?" and it's an answer to that question by Baratunde's friend (and Black Panel member) Derrick Ashong:

America is not now post-racial, and America will likely not be post-racial anytime soon, and America will have a significant problem so long as she is interested in being post-racial as opposed to getting to the point where race is no longer a problem. 
People will always find ways to determine who is in and a part of us, and who's an outsider. And part of that is because ... I define me to some degree in the context of you. I'm not just me existing in the world. I am, in part, me because I'm not you. We are part we because we're not y'all.
So folks will always find ways to create differences. The question is how much do those differences matter?
There was a time in this country when it was a big deal if you were a Catholic. That was a problem. There was a time in this country when it was a big deal if you were a Jew. Problem. Right now in this country, it's a big deal if you're a Muslim. Problem. But you know, you go down the street, you go in to eat in a little place and you're a Catholic, a Jew, who cares? Everybody's marrying each other, making little brown babies that don't know whether to go to church on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so they just be at the club.
So basically, it's one of these things where what was a problem causes to [be] as much of an issue. That is what is also happening with race, and it will continue to happen with race. Now you see a lot of beef right now because people who are used to, and whose worldview has been created in the crucible of how things once were in this country, they hearken to the good old days, which were not necessarily that great, even for them, frankly. But they hearken to those days, they yearn for those days of yore.
They forget that yes, fifty years later before the 1950s they were killing Irish people in New York. Their memory is limited. They forget that, yeah, you might persecute somebody for being Muslim here, but the Puritans who came out here back in the 1600s showed up to escape religious persecution. 
So I know that societies and people tend to have a short historical memory, but that history happens anyway. We are moving and we will continue to move to a point where race will not be the primary issue that binds or divides us. We'll find something else, and we'll combat that, too.

June 09, 2013

“He could have started a year earlier. He could have been in second grade. He was old enough.”

Heartwrenching Washington Post story profiling Mark and Jackie Barden, parents to Daniel Barden, 7, who was one of 20 children killed in Newtown, CT last December. I still can't believe this happened. Stories like this serve as reminders that we cannot forget.

The following scene -- the dialogue with the parents' thoughtful explanations for enrolling their son in school one year later -- broke me:

They drove nine miles outside of town to a small diner that a friend had once recommended. They had never been before. There were no memories here. A waitress led them to a booth by the window and handed over menus. “Perfect,” Mark said. The coffee tasted good. The restaurant was empty. They were the first customers of the day. The campy decor reminded Mark of a place he had liked in Nashville. “Pretty fun vibe,” he said. “I’m thinking about treating myself to the eggs Benedict,” Jackie said. “Yum,” Mark said.

Now another car pulled into the restaurant lot, carrying the second customers of the day, and out of all the people in central Connecticut, and all of the possible places and times for them to eat, these were two whom the Bardens recognized: a mother and her young son, who had been Daniel’s classmate in kindergarten.

“Do you remember the Bardens?” the mother asked her son, bringing him over to their booth.

“Hi!” the boy said, sitting down at the table next to them.

“Let’s let them enjoy their breakfast,” the mother told her son, sensing the awkwardness of the moment, pointing him to another table in the corner of the restaurant. She turned back to the Bardens: “I’m sorry. He’s excited. It’s his birthday.”

“Oh wow,” Jackie said.

“So nice,” Mark said.

“Seven,” the mother said, following her son to the other table.

“Should we leave?” Jackie said, whispering to Mark, once the mother was out of earshot. “Would it be easier?”

“It might be,” Mark said.

But instead they sat at the table and watched as the waiter brought the boy a gigantic waffle covered in powdered sugar, berries and whipped cream. They watched as the waiter stuck a candle into the center of that waffle, and as the mother sang “Happy Birthday” and took a picture with her phone. They watched as the boy swept his fingers through the whipped cream, smearing it across his mouth and face while his mother laughed. “You’re so silly,” she said.

This boy, who had ended up in the other first-grade class at Sandy Hook Elementary.

This boy, who had hidden in the other bathroom.

“Oh God,” Jackie said, shoulders trembling, questions and doubts tumbling out as she tried to catch her breath. “Why did we wait to enroll him in school?” she said. “He could have started a year earlier. He could have been in second grade. He was old enough.”

“We were thinking about what was best for him,” Mark said, knowing the cycle that was starting, the blame, the need for absolution. “We wanted him to be one of the oldest.”

“So he would be a leader and not a follower,” Jackie said, nodding.

“So he would be confident,” Mark said.

“So he wouldn’t be last to get his driver’s license,” she said.

They sat at the booth and thought about Daniel at 16. The coffee had gone cold. The eggs sat on their plates. The boy and his mother stood up to leave, walking past their table. “We had to eat in a hurry today,” the mother said. She explained that her son’s name and birth date were going to be read over the loudspeaker during the morning announcements at school, and he wanted to be there in time to hear it.

“Take care,” the mother told them.

“Bye!” the boy said, and Mark and Jackie watched as he ran to the parking lot.

June 07, 2013

And I promised myself that I would begin a new life.


The Dharma Bums
By Jack Kerouac

"While he snored I woke up and just lay flat back with my eyes to the stars and thanked God I'd come on this mountain climb. My legs felt better, my whole body felt strong. The crack of the dying logs was like Japhy making little comments on my happiness. I looked at him, his head was buried way under inside his duck-down bag. His little huddled form was the only thing I could see for miles of darkness that was so packed and concentrated with eager desire to be good. I thought, "What a strange thing is man ... like in the Bible it says, Who knoweth the spirit of man that looketh upward? This poor kid ten years younger than I am is making me look like a fool forgetting all the ideals and joys I knew before, in my recent years of drinking and disappointment, what does he care if he hasn't got any money: he doesn't need any money, all he needs is his rucksack with those little plastic bags of dried food and a good pair of shoes and off he goes and enjoys the privileges of a millionaire in surroundings like this. And what gouty millionaire could get up this rock anyhow? It took us all day to climb." And I promised myself that I would begin a new life." (p. 77)

There was something inexpressibly broken in my heart as though I'd lived before and walked this trail.

The Dharma Bums
By Jack Kerouac

Excerpt from chapter 9, which I thought was pretty perfect from beginning to end. It also marks the point in the book where I started to actually pay attention.

"We went on, and I was immensely pleased with the way the trail had a kind of immortal look to it, in the early afternoon now, the way the side of the grassy hill seemed to be clouded with ancient gold dust and the bugs flipped over rocks and the wind sighed in shimmering dances over the hot rocks, and the way the trail would suddenly come into a cool shady part with big trees overhead, and here the light deeper. And the way the lake below us soon became a toy lake with those black well holes perfectly visible still, and the giant cloud shadows on the lake, and the tragic little road winding away where poor Morley was walking back.
"Can you see Morl down back there?"
Japhy took a long look. "I see a little cloud of dust, maybe that's him comin back already." But it seemed that I had seen the ancient afternoon of that trail, from meadow rocks and lupine posies, to sudden revisits with the roaring stream with its splashed snag bridges and undersea greennesses, there was something inexpressibly broken in my heart as though I'd lived before and walked this trail, under similar circumstances with a fellow Bodhisattva, but maybe on a more important journey, I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all. The woods do that to you, they always look familiar, long lost, like the face of a long-dead relative, like an old dream, like a piece of forgotten song drifting across the water, most of all like golden eternities of past childhood or past manhood and all the living and the dying and the heartbreak that went on a million years ago and the clouds as they pass overhead seem to testify (by their own lonesome familiarity) to this feeling." (p. 61-2)

June 02, 2013

The city is like poetry.


Here is New York
By E.B. White

"New York is the concentrate of art and commerce and sport and religion and entertainment and finance, bringing to a single compact arena the gladiator, the evangelist, the promoter, the actor, the trader and the merchant. It carries on its lapel the unexpungeable odor of the long past, so that no matter where you sit in New York you feel the vibrations of great times and tall deeds, of queer people and events and undertakings." (p. 19-20)

"A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive." (p. 29)

"The subtlest change in New York is something people don't speak much about but that is in everyone's mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition." (p. 54)

"A block or two west of the new City of Man in Turtle Bay there is an old willow tree that presides over an interior garden. It is a battered tree, long suffering and much climbed, held together by strands of wire but beloved of those who know it. In a way it symbolizes the city: life under difficulties, growth against odds, sap-rise in the midst of concrete, and the steady reaching for the sun. Whenever I look at it nowadays, and feel the cold shadow of the planes, I think: "This must be saved, this particular thing, this very tree." If it were to go, all would go--this city, this mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death." (p. 56)

May 10, 2013

If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promise of life.


I really love the original cover. Plus, my pants matched that day!
The Great Gatsby
By F. Scott Fitzgerald

The first time I read The Great Gatsby, I was a sophomore, maybe a junior, in high school. Didn't like it, didn't "get it." "Read it again when you're in your 20s," my English professor said. OK. The major motion picture, starring Leonardo DiCaprio comes out in theaters today, hence my decision to choose earlier this month to finally re-read it. (Very excited for the movie, btw, despite the negative early reviews.) (I also highly, highly recommend the movie soundtrack.)

Not sure where my head was when reading this in high school; I felt as if now I was absorbing the plot and prose for the first time. Fitzgerald was a fantastic writer. Old news, but it was a revelation to me. I hope to one day achieve the same impact, sophistication, and beauty with words that Fitzgerald did.

I didn't mark any pages or phrases. (There were so many! And I feel a little lazy and too pressed for time to skim through the book again and find all the ones I liked.) Instead, I'm going to copy and paste a few excerpts from Goodreads' Gatsby quotes page, assembled over the years by Goodreads members. All lovely. I could read it all over again.

In no particular order:

*“He smiled understandingly--much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or seemed to face--the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”   

*“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”

*“Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.”

*“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams -- not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

*“So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.”

*“I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others--young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.”

*“His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed like a flower and the incarnation was complete.”

*“He must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about...like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.”

*“For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened -- then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.”

*“A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: "There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.”

*“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promise of life, as if he related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the 'creative temperament'-it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No - Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”

*“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.”

*“For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”

*"We shook hands and I started away. Just before I reached the hedge I remembered something and turned around.  

“They’re a rotten crowd,” I shouted across the lawn. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time. His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before. The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption—and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them good-by."

And, of course, the end, right?

*“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”