When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he’d wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the brimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.
The Road (2006), Cormac McCarthyLet me begin with this wonderful old epigram from nineteenth-century Great Britain:
Some men wrest a living from nature and with their hands; this is called work.
Some men wrest a living from those who wrest a living from nature with their hands; this is called trade.
Some men wrest a living from those who wrest a living from those who wrest a living from nature and with their hands; this is called finance.
Enough: True Measures of Money, Business and Life (2008), John BogleThe method of laying out a corpse in Missouri sure took the proverbial cake. Like decking out our poor lost troopers for marriage rather than death. All their uniforms brushed down with lamp-oil into a state never seen when they were alive. Their faces clean shaved, as if the embalmer sure didn’t like no whiskers showing. No one that knew him could have recognised Trooper Watchorn because those famous Dundrearies was gone. Anyway Death likes to make a stranger of your face. True enough their boxes weren’t but cheap wood but that was not the point. You lift one of those boxes and the body makes a big sag in it. Wood cut so thin at the mill it was more a wafer than a plank. But dead boys don’t mind things like that. The point was, we were glad to see them so well turned out, considering.
Days Without End (2016), Sebastian BarryNo young kid growing up ever dreams of someday becoming a businessman. He want to be a fireman, a sponsored athlete, or a forest ranger. The Koch brothers and Donald Trumps of the business world are heroes to no one except other businessmen with similar values. I wanted to be a fur trapper when I grew up.
Let My People Go Surfing (2005, 2015), Yvon ChouinardThe final dying sounds of their dress rehearsal left the Laurel Players with nothing to do but stand there, silent and helpless, blinking out over the footlights of an empty auditorium. They hardly dared to breathe as the short, solemn figure of their director emerged from the naked seats to join them on stage, as he pulled a stepladder raspingly from the wings and climbed halfway up its rungs to turn and tell them, with several clearings of his throat that they were a damned talented group of people and a wonderful group of people to work with.
Revolutionary Road (1961), Richard YatesMr Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in charge of his brother-in-law. It could be done, because there was very little business at any time, and practically none at all before the evening. Mr Verloc cared but little about his ostensible business. And, moreover, his wife was in charge of his brother-in-law.
The Secret Agent (1907), Joseph ConradOne January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away. A mist of fine snowflakes was curling and eddying about the cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie, under a gray sky. The dwelling-houses were set about haphazard on the tough prairie sod; some of them looked as if they had been moved in overnight, and others as if they were straying off by themselves, headed straight for the open plain. None of them had any appearance of permanence, and the howling wind blew under them as well as over them. The main street was a deeply rutted road, now frozen hard, which ran from the squat red railway station and the grain “elevator” at the north end of the town to the lumber yard and the horse pond at the south end. On either side of this road straggled two uneven rows of wooden buildings; the general merchandise stores, the two banks, the drug store, the feed store, the saloon, the post-office. The board sidewalks were gray with trampled snow, but at two o’clock in the afternoon the shopkeepers, having come back from dinner, were keeping well behind their frosty windows. The children were all in school, and there was nobody abroad in the streets but a few rough-looking countrymen in the coarse overcoats, with their long caps pulled down to their noses. Some of them had brought their wives to town, and now and then a red or plaid shawl flashed out of one store into the shelter of another. At the hitch-bars along the street a few heavy work-horses, harnessed to farm wagons, shivered under their blankets. About the station everything was quiet, for there would not be another train in until night.
O Pioneers! (1913), Willa Cather“Oh pussycat, I’m so glad to hear your voice,” the girl’s mother said on the telephone. “My body is betraying me again. Sometimes I think my life is nothing but one long process of bodily betrayal.”
Purity (2015), Jonathan FranzenWhen I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbour, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labour of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.
‘Look here!’ said Gévigne. ‘I want you to keep an eye on my wife.’
D'Entre Les Morts (1954), Boileau-NarcejacHale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him. With his inky fingers and his bitten nails, his manner cynical and nervous, anybody could tell he didn’t belong - belong to the early summer sun, the cool Whitsun wind off the sea, the holiday crowd. They came in by train from Victoria every five minutes, rocked down Queen’s Road standing on the tops of the little local trams, stepped off in bewildered multitudes into fresh and glittering air: the new silver paint sparkled on the piers, the cream houses ran away into the west like a pale Victorian watercolour; a race in miniature motors, a band playing, flower gardens in bloom below the front, an aeroplane advertising something for the health in pale vanishing clouds across the sky.
Brighton Rock (1938), Graham GreeneAn abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic and a switchblade he’d bought off a pachuco at the border - right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootjack a piece of his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River.
L.A. Confidential (1990), James EllroyAt three-thirty A.M. on the night of 5 June 1992, the top telepath in the Sol System fell off the map in the offices of Runciter Associates in New York City. That started vidphones ringing. The Runciter organisation had lost track of too many of Hollis’ Psis during the last two months; this added disappearance wouldn’t do.
Ubik (1969), Philip K. DickAfter dinner I sat and waited for Pyle in my room over the rue Catinat; he had said, ‘I’ll be with you at latest by ten,’ and when midnight struck I couldn’t stay quiet any longer and went down into the street. A lot of old women in black trousers squatted on the landing: it was February and I suppose too hot for them in bed. One trishaw driver pedalled slowly by towards the riverfront and I could see lamps burning where they had disembarked the new American planes. There was no sign of Pyle anywhere in the long street.
The Quiet American (1955), Graham GreeneThe truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all. He came in mid-term without an interview, late May it was though no one would have thought it from the weather, employed through one of the shiftier agencies specialising in supply teachers for prep schools, to hold down old Dover’s teaching till someone suitable could be found. ‘A linguist,’ Thursgood told the common room, ‘a temporary measure,’ and brushed away his forelock in self-defence. ‘Priddo.’ He gave the spelling ‘P-R-I-D’ - French was not Thursgood’s subject so he consulted the slip of paper - ‘E-A-U-X, first name James, I think he’ll do us very well till July.’ The staff had no difficulty in reading the signals. Jim Prideaux was a poor white of the teaching community. He belonged to the same sad bunch as the late Mrs Loveday who had a Persian lamb coat and stood in for junior divinity until her cheques bounced, or the late Mr Maltby, the pianist who had been called from choir practise to help the police with their enquiries, and for all anyone knew was helping them to this day, for Maltby’s trunk still lay in the cellar awaiting instructions. Several of the staff, but chiefly Marjoribanks, were in favour of opening that trunk. They said it contained notorious missing treasures: Aprahamian’s silver-framed picture of his Lebanese mother, for instance; Best-Ingram’s Swiss army penknife and Matron’s watch. But Thursgood set his creaseless face resolutely against their entreaties. Only five years had passed since he had inherited the school from his father, but they had taught him already that some things are best locked away.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974), John Le CarréNeither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce. That happened in 1930, when Sarah was nine years old and Emily five. Their mother, who encouraged both girls to call her ‘Pookie’, took them out of New York to a rented house in Tenafly, New Jersey, where she thought the schools would be better and where she hoped to launch a career in suburban real estate. It didn’t work out - very few of her plans for independence ever did - and they left Tenafly after two years, but it was a memorable time for the girls.
The Easter Parade (1976), Richard YatesSnow covered the airfield.
The Looking Glass War (1965), John Le CarréThe American handed Leamas another cup of coffee and said, “Why don’t you go back and sleep? We can ring you if he shows up.”
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963), John Le CarréTom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way. Tom walked faster. There was no doubt that the man was after him. Tom had noticed him five minutes ago, eyeing him carefully from a table, as if he weren’t quite sure, but almost. He had looked sure enough for Tom to down his drink in a hurry, pay and get out.
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), Patricia HighsmithThe greatness of Carne School has been ascribed by common consent to Edward VI, whose educational zeal is ascribed by history to the Duke of Somerset. But Carne prefers the respectability of the monarch to the questionable politics of his adviser, drawing strength from the conviction that Great Schools, like Tudor Kings, were ordained in Heaven.
A Murder Of Quality (1962), John Le CarréWhen Lady Ann Sercomb married George Smiley towards the end of the war she described him to her astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary. When she left him two years later in favour of a Cuban motor racing driver, she announced enigmatically that if she hadn’t left him then, she never could have done; and Viscount Sawley made a special journey to his club to observe that the cat was out of the bag.
Call For The Dead (1961), John Le CarréAll day the heat had been barely supportable but at evening a breeze arose in the west, blowing from the heat of the setting sun and from the ocean, which lay unseen, unheard behind the scrubby foothills. It shook the rusty fingers of palm-leaf and swelled the dry sounds of summer, the frog-voices, the grating cicadas, and the ever present pulse of music from the neighbouring native huts.
The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy (1948), Evelyn WaughIn the town there were two mutes, and they were always together. Early every morning they would come out from the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work. The two friends were very different. The one who always steered the way was an obese and dreamy Greek. In the summer he would come out wearing a yellow or green polo shirt stuffed sloppily into his trousers in front and hanging loose behind. When it was colder he wore over this a shapeless grey sweater. His face was round and oily, with half-closed eyelids and lips that curved into a gentle, stupid smile. The other mute was tall. His eyes had a quick, intelligent expression. He was always immaculate and very soberly dressed.
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (1940), Carson McCullersThe Trottas were not an old family. Their founder had been ennobled following the battle of Solferino. He was a Slovene. The name of his village - Sipolje - was taken into his title. Fate had singled him out for a particular deed. He subsequently did everything he could to return himself to obscurity. He was an infantry Lieutenant and the commander of a platoon at the battle of Solferino. The battle had been in progress for half an hour or so. Three paces in front of him, he saw the white-clad backs of his men. Their front line was down on one knee, their second stood. They were all in good heart and confident of victory. They had had a good meal, and drunk brandy in honour and at the expense of the Emperor, who had been present on the field of battle since yesterday. Occasionally, a man would fall and leave a gap in the ranks. Trotta would leap into the gap, and fire off the widowed gun of the dead or injured man. Now he closed up the ranks, now he stretched them out again, looking in every direction with hundredfold sharpened eye, listening in every direction with preternaturally acute ear. Amidst the rattling of gunfire, his alert hearing could pick up every occasional, shouted command from his captain, his sharp eye penetrate the grey-blue haze in front of the enemy lines. He never shot without aiming, and his aim was always sure. His men felt his hand and his eye, heard his call and felt secure.
The Radetzky March (1932), Joseph RothThundershowers hit just before midnight, drowning out the horn honks and noisemaker blare that usually signalled New Year’s on the Strip, bringing 1950 to the West Hollywood Substation in a wave of hot squeals with meat wagon backup.
The Big Nowhere (1988), James EllroyThe big ocean liner, snow white, with two red and black slanting funnels, lay at anchor, attracting sea gulls. The sea was calm, the lens of the sky was set at infinity. The coastline - low green hills and the dim outlines of stone houses lying in pockets of mist - was in three pale French colors, a brocade borrowed from some museum. The pink was daybreak. So beautiful, and no one to see it.
The Chateau (1961), William MaxwellI never knew her in life. She exists for me through others, in evidence of the ways her death drove them. Working backward, seeing only facts, I reconstructed her as a sad little girl and a whore, at best a could-have-been - a tag that might equally apply to me. I wish I could have granted her an anonymous end, relegated her to a few terse words on a homicide dick’s summary report, carbon to the coroner’s office, more paperwork to take her to potter’s field. The only thing wrong with the wish is that she wouldn’t have wanted it that way. As brutal as the facts were, she would have wanted all of them known. And since I owe her a great deal and am the only one who does know the entire story, I have undertaken the writing of this memoir.
The Black Dahlia (1987), James EllroyThe golden age of cultural theory is long past. The pioneering works of Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault are several decades behind us. So are the path-breaking early writings of Raymond Williams, Luce Irigaray, Pierre Bourdieu, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Derrida, Hélène Cixous, Jurgen Habermas, Frederic Jameson and Edward Said. Not much that has been written since has matched the ambitiousness and originality of these founding mothers and fathers. Some of them have since been struck down. Fate pushed Roland Barthes under a Parisian laundry van, and afflicted Michel Foucault with Aids. It dispatched Lacan, Williams and Bourdieu, and banished Louis Althusser to a psychiatric hospital for the murder of his wife. It seemed that God was not a structuralist.
After Theory (2003), Terry EagletonThe gravel pit was about a mile east of town, and the size of a small lake, and so deep that boys under sixteen were forbidden by their parents to swim there. I knew it only by hearsay. It had no bottom, people said, and because I was very much interested in the idea that if you dug a hole straight down anywhere and kept on digging it would come out in China, I took this to be a literal statement of fact.
So Long, See You Tomorrow (1979), William Maxwell‘And the material doesn’t stain,’ the salesgirl says.
The Driver’s Seat (1970), Muriel SparkFirst, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister’s lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first.
Canada (2012), Richard FordIt was in the summer of 1998 that my neighbor Coleman Silk - who, before retiring two years earlier, had been a classics professor at nearby Athena College for some twenty-odd years as well as serving for sixteen more as the dean of faculty - confided to me that, at the age of seventy-one, he was having an affair with a thirty-four-year-old cleaning woman who worked down at the college. Twice a week she also cleaned the rural post office, a small gray clapboard shack that looked as if it might have sheltered an Okie family from the winds of the Dust Bowl back in the 1930s and that, sitting alone and forlorn across from the gas station and the general store, flies its American flag at the junction of the two roads that make the commercial center of this mountainside town.
The Human Stain (2000), Philip RothThe last time I saw any examples of Mr. Deacon’s work was at the sale, held obscurely in the neighbourhood of Euston Road, many years after his death. The canvases were none of them familiar, but they recalled especially, with all kind of other things, dinner at the Walpole-Wilsons’, reviving with a jerk that phase of early life. They made me think of long-forgotten conflicts and compromises between the imagination and the will, reason and feeling, power and sensuality; together with many more specifically personal sensations, experienced in the past, of pleasure and of pain. Outside, the spring weather was cool and sunny: Mr. Deacon’s favourite season of the year. Within doors propped against three sides of a washstand, the oil-paintings seemed, for some reason, appropriate to those surroundings, dusty, through not displeasing; even suggesting, in their way, the kind of home Mr. Deacon favoured for himself and his belongings: the sitting-room over the shop, for example, informal, not too permanent, more that a trifle decayed. His haunts, I remembered, had bordered on these northern confines of London.
A Buyer’s Market (1952), Anthony PowellHe was frowning. Perhaps, like a schoolboy, he was poking out the tip of his tongue? Lips set, a sulky expression on his face, he was snatching glimpses at Gène, trying to imitate his movements as closely as possible.
The Mahé Circle (1944), George SimenonIt was just about midnight when Stenham left Si Jaffar’s door. “I don’t need anyone to come with me,” he had said, smiling falsely to belie the sound of his voice, for he was afraid he had seemed annoyed or abrupt, and Si Jaffar, after all, was only exercising his rights as a host in sending this person along with him.
The Spider’s House (1955), Paul BowlesThis is the saddest story I have ever heard. We had known the Ashburnhams for nine seasons of the town of Nauheim with an extreme intimacy - or, rather with an acquaintanceship as loose and easy and yet as close as a good glove's with your hand. My wife and I knew Captain and Mrs Ashburnham as well as it was possible to know anybody, and yet, in another sense, we knew nothing at all about them. This is, I believe, a state of things only possible with English people of whom, till today, when I sit down to puzzle out what I know of this sad affair, I knew nothing whatever. Six months ago I had never been to England, and, certainly, I had never sounded the depths of an English heart. I had known the shallows.
The Good Soldier (1915), Ford Madox Ford“Sleep well dear.”
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea (1963), Yukio MishimaMiss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible, - or from one of our elder poets, - in a paragraph of to-day's newspaper. She was usually spoken of as being remarkably clever, but with the addition that her sister Celia had more common-sense. Nevertheless, Celia wore scarcely more trimmings; and it was only to close observers that her dress differed from her sister's, and had a shade of coquetry in its arrangements; for Miss Brooke's plain dressing was due to mixed conditions, in most of which her sister shared. The pride of being ladies had something to do with it: the Brooke connections, though not exactly aristocratic, were unquestionably "good:" if you inquired backward for a generation or two, you would not find any yard-measuring or parcel-tying forefathers - anything lower than an admiral or a clergyman; and there was even an ancestor discernible as a Puritan gentleman who served under Cromwell, but afterwards conformed, and managed to come out of all political troubles as the proprietor of a respectable family estate. Young women of such birth, living in a quiet country-house, and attending a village church hardly larger than a parlor, naturally regarded frippery as the ambition of a huckster's daughter. Then there was well-bred economy, which in those days made show in dress the first item to be deducted from, when any margin was required for expenses more distinctive of rank. Such reasons would have been enough to account for plain dress, quite apart from religious feeling; but in Miss Brooke's case, religion alone would have determined it; and Celia mildly acquiesced in all her sister's sentiments, only infusing them with that common-sense which is able to accept momentous doctrines without any eccentric agitation. Dorothea knew many passages of Pascal's Pensees and of Jeremy Taylor by heart; and to her the destinies of mankind, seen by the light of Christianity, made the solicitudes of feminine fashion appear an occupation for Bedlam. She could not reconcile the anxieties of a spiritual life involving eternal consequences, with a keen interest in gimp and artificial protrusions of drapery. Her mind was theoretic, and yearned by its nature after some lofty conception of the world which might frankly include the parish of Tipton and her own rule of conduct there; she was enamoured of intensity and greatness, and rash in embracing whatever seemed to her to have those aspects; likely to seek martyrdom, to make retractations, and then to incur martyrdom after all in a quarter where she had not sought it. Certainly such elements in the character of a marriageable girl tended to interfere with her lot, and hinder it from being decided according to custom, by good looks, vanity, and merely canine affection. With all this, she, the elder of the sisters, was not yet twenty, and they had both been educated, since they were about twelve years old and had lost their parents, on plans at once narrow and promiscuous, first in an English family and afterwards in a Swiss family at Lausanne, their bachelor uncle and guardian trying in this way to remedy the disadvantages of their orphaned condition.
Middlemarch (1874), George EliotLong ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions. The streets of the cities were lined with buildings in bad repair or in no repair at all, bomb-sites piled with stony rubble, houses like giant teeth in which decay had been drilled out, leaving only the cavity. Some bomb-ripped buildings looked like the ruins of ancient castles until, at a closer view, the wallpapers of various quite normal rooms would be visible, room above room, exposed, as on a stage, with one wall missing; sometimes a lavatory chain would dangle over nothing from a fourth- or fifth-floor ceiling; most of all the staircases survived, like a new art-form, leading up and up to an unspecified destination that made unusual demands on the mind’s eye. All the nice people were poor; at least, that was a general axiom, the best of the rich being poor in spirit.
The Girls Of Slender Means (1963), Muriel SparkThe boys, as they talked to the girls from Marcia Blaine School, stood on the far side of their bicycles holding the handlebars, which established a protective fence of bicycle between the sexes, and the impression that at any moment the boys were likely to be away.
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), Muriel SparkFrom a little after two oclock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that - a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them. There was a wistaria vine blooming for the second time that summer on a wooden trellis before one window, into which sparrows came now and then in random gusts, making a dry vivid dusty sound before going away: and opposite Quentin, Miss Coldfield in the eternal black which she had worn for forty-three years now, whether for sister, father, or nothusband none knew, sitting so bolt upright in the straight hard chair that was so tall for her that her legs hung straight and rigid as if she had iron shinbones and ankles, clear of the floor with that air of impotent and static rage like children's feet, and talking in that grim haggard amazed voice until at last listening would renege and hearing-sense self-confound and the long-dead object of her impotent yet indomitable frustration would appear, as though by outraged recapitulation evoked, quiet inattentive and harmless, out of the biding and dreamy and victorious dust.
Absalom, Absalom! (1936), William FaulknerThe world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.
A Bend In The River (1979), V. S. NaipaulMr. and Mrs. Otto Bentwood drew out their chairs simultaneously. As he sat down, Otto regarded the straw basket which held slices of French bread, an earthenware casserole filled with sautéed chicken livers, peeled and sliced tomatoes on an oval willowware platter Sophie had found in a Brooklyn Heights antique shop, and risotto Milanese in a green ceramic bowl. A strong light, somewhat softened by the stained glass of a Tiffany shade, fell upon this repast. A few feet away from the dining room table, an oblong of white, the reflection from a fluorescent tube over a stainless-steel sink, lay upon the floor in front of the entrance to the kitchen. The old sliding doors that had once separated the two first-floor rooms had long since been removed, so that by turning slightly the Bentwoods could glance down the length of their living room where, at this hour, a standing lamp with a shade like half a white sphere was always lit, and they could, if they chose, view the old cedar planks of the floor, a bookcase which held, among other volumes, the complete works of Goethe and two shelves of French poets, and the highly polished corner of a Victorian secretary.
Desperate Characters (1970), Paula FoxFive swivel chairs were ranged along the other side of the observation car of the Kyoto express. Oki Toshio noticed that the one on the end was quietly revolving with the movement of the train. He could not take his eyes from it. The low armchairs on his side of the car did not swivel.
Beauty And Sadness (1975), Yasunari KawabataIt was that emancipated race
That was chargin’ up the hill
Up to where them insurrectos
Was afightin’ fit to kill
The 42nd Parallel (1930), John Dos PassosAt the time of the Xie Qian troubles in Shandong, the great residencies of the nobility were all commandeered by the rebels. The mansion of Education Commissioner Wang Qixiang accommodated a particularly large number of them. When the government troops eventually retook the town and massacred the rebels, every porch was strewn with corpses. Blood flowed from every doorway.
Wailing Ghosts (1740), Pu SonglingWhat was known of Captain Hagberd in the little seaport of Colebrook was not exactly in his favour. He did not belong to the place. He had come to settle there under circumstances not at all mysterious—he used to be very communicative about them at the time—but extremely morbid and unreasonable. He was possessed of some little money evidently, because he bought a plot of ground, and had a pair of ugly yellow brick cottages run up very cheaply. He occupied one of them himself and let the other to Josiah Carvil—blind Carvil, the retired boat-builder—a man of evil repute as a domestic tyrant.
To-morrow (1902), Joseph ConradThe restaurant, Le Grillon, Mecca of the entite local boating community, was now slowy emptying. At the main entrance a large crowd of people were calling and shouting out to each other. With oars on their shoulders, strapping great fellows in white jerseys waved and gesticulated. Women in light spring frocks were stepping cautiously into the skiffs moored alongside and, having settled themselves in the stern of each, were smoothing out their dresses. The owner of the establishment, a tough-looking, red-bearded man of legendary strength, was helping the pretty young things aboard and with a practised hand was holding steady the gently bobbing craft.
Femme Fatale (1881), Guy de MaupassantI had done a few things and earned a few pence—I had perhaps even had time to begin to think I was finer than was perceived by the patronising; but when I take the little measure of my course (a fidgety habit, for it’s none of the longest yet) I count my real start from the evening George Corvick, breathless and worried, came in to ask me a service. He had done more things than I, and earned more pence, though there were chances for cleverness I thought he sometimes missed. I could only however that evening declare to him that he never missed one for kindness. There was almost rapture in hearing it proposed to me to prepare for The Middle, the organ of our lucubrations, so called from the position in the week of its day of appearance, an article for which he had made himself responsible and of which, tied up with a stout string, he laid on my table the subject. I pounced upon my opportunity—that is on the first volume of it—and paid scant attention to my friend’s explanation of his appeal. What explanation could be more to the point than my obvious fitness for the task? I had written on Hugh Vereker, but never a word in The Middle, where my dealings were mainly with the ladies and the minor poets. This was his new novel, an advance copy, and whatever much or little it should do for his reputation I was clear on the spot as to what it should do for mine. Moreover if I always read him as soon as I could get hold of him I had a particular reason for wishing to read him now: I had accepted an invitation to Bridges for the following Sunday, and it had been mentioned in Lady Jane’s note that Mr. Vereker was to be there. I was young enough for a flutter at meeting a man of his renown, and innocent enough to believe the occasion would demand the display of an acquaintance with his ‘last.’
The Figure In The Carpet (1896), Henry JamesThe Slades sat down to their breakfast more asleep than awake. The ship was in; they had heard its mournful whistle when it arrived out in the harbor at some dark hour during the night. Now it was only a question of getting aboard with the luggage. Last night, when they returned from their pre-bedtime walk around the deserted town, the proprietor had told them to set their minds at rest: the night watchman would wake them at half past five, and breakfast would be served in the dining room at six. It was now twenty to seven. In the center of the room a black woman on her knees scrubbed the already spotless floor. There was no one else in evidence, although faint sounds came from the region of the kitchen. Someone, they assumed, was making the coffee that would finally persuade them they were alive. The table had not been cleared away after last night’s meal; at each place lay a half-eaten custard.
Up Above The World (1966), Paul BowlesExcept for the Marabar Caves – and they are twenty miles off – the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. In the bazaars there is no painting and scarcely any carving. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.
A Passage To India (1924), E. M. ForsterWhat strange folly, to beguile the tedious hours like this all day before my ink stone, jotting down at random the idle thoughts that cross my mind…
Essays In Idleness (1329-31), Yoshida KenkōFor half a century, Madame Aubain’s housemaid Félicité was the envy of all the good ladies of Pont-l’Evêque.
A Simple Heart (1877), Gustave FlaubertOutside the laboratory windows was a watery-grey fog, and within a close warmth and the yellow light of the green-shaded gas lamps that stood two to each table down its narrow length. On each table stood a couple of glass jars containing the mangled vestiges of the crayfish, mussels, frogs, and guinea-pigs upon which the students had been working, and down the side of the room, facing the windows, were shelves bearing bleached dissections in spirits, surmounted by a row of beautifully executed anatomical drawings in white-wood frames and overhanging a row of cubical lockers. All the doors of the laboratory were panelled with blackboard, and on these were the half-erased diagrams of the previous day's work. The laboratory was empty, save for the demonstrator, who sat near the preparation-room door, and silent, save for a low, continuous murmur and the clicking of the rocker microtome at which he was working. But scattered about the room were traces of numerous students: hand-bags, polished boxes of instruments, in one place a large drawing covered by newspaper, and in another a prettily bound copy of News from Nowhere, a book oddly at variance with its surroundings. These things had been put down hastily as the students had arrived and hurried at once to secure their seats in the adjacent lecture theatre. Deadened by the closed door, the measured accents of the professor sounded as a featureless muttering.
A Slip Under The Microscope (1896), H. G. WellsThis is no work of mine. My friend, Gabral Misquitta, the half-caste, spoke it all, between moonset and morning, six weeks before he died; and I took it down from his mouth as he answered my questions. So: -
The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows (1890), Rudyard KiplingCall me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
Moby Dick (1851), Herman MelvilleHazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush train seat, looking one minute at the window as if he might want to jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the other end of the car. The train was racing through tree tops that fell away at intervals and showed the sun standing, very red, on the edge of the farthest woods. Nearer, the plowed fields curved and faded and the few hogs nosing in the furrows looked like large spotted stones. Mrs Wally Bee Hitchcock, who was facing Motes in the section, said that she thought the early evening like this was the prettiest time of day and she asked him if he didn’t think so too. She was a fat woman with pink collars and cuffs and pear-shaped legs that slanted off the train seat and didn’t reach the floor.
Wise Blood (1952), Flannery O’ConnorThe Swede. During the war years, when I was still a grade school boy, this was a magical name in our Newark neighborhood, even to adults just a generation removed from the city’s old Prince Street ghetto and not yet so flawlessly Americanized as to be bowled over by the prowess of a high school athlete. The name was magical; so was the anomalous face. Of the few fair-complexioned Jewish students in our preponderantly Jewish public high school, none possessed anything remotely like the steep-jawed, insentient Viking mask of this blue-eyed blond born into our tribe as Seymour Irving Levov.
American Pastoral (1997), Philip Roth‘They made a silly mistake, though,’ the Professor of History said, and his smile, as Dixon watched, gradually sank beneath the surface of his features at the memory. ‘After the interval we did a little piece by Dowland,’ he went on; ‘for recorder and keyboard, you know. I played the recorder, of course, and young Johns …’ He paused, and his trunk grew rigid as he walked; it was as if some entirely different man, some impostor who couldn’t copy his voice, had momentarily taken his place; then he went on again: ‘… young Johns played the piano. Versatile lad, that; the oboe’s his instrument, really. Well anyway, the reporter chap must have got the story wrong, or not been listening, or something. Anyway, there it was in the Post as large as life: Dowland, yes, they’d got him right; Messrs Welch and Johns, yes; but what do you think they said then?’
Lucky Jim (1954), Kingsley AmisOne day in August a man disappeared. He had simply set out for the shore on a holiday, scarcely half a day away by train, and nothing more was ever heard of him. Investigation by police and inquiries in the newspapers had both proved fruitless.
The Woman In The Dunes (1964), Kobo AbeI am obliged to begin this story with a brief account of the Hampton family, because it is necessary to emphasise the fact once and for all that the Hamptons were very grand as well as very rich. A glance at Burke or at Debrett would be quite enough to make this clear, but these large volumes are not always available, while the books on the subject by Lord Montdore’s brother-in-law, Boy Dougdale, are all out of print. His great talent for snobbishness and small talent for literature have produced three detailed studies of his wife’s forebears, but they can only be read now by asking a bookseller to get them at second hand. (The bookseller will put an advertisement in his trade paper The Clique, ‘H. Dougdale, any by’. He will be snowed under with copies at about a shilling each, and then will proudly inform his customer that he has ‘managed to get what you want’, implying hours of careful search on barrows, dirt cheap, at 30s. the three.) Georgiana Lady Montdore and Her Circle, The Magnificent Montdores and Old Chronicles of Hampton, I have them beside me as I write, and see that the opening paragraph of the first is:
Love In A Cold Climate (1949), Nancy Mitford
/ 2015I am an American, Chicago born - Chicago, that somber city - and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way; first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes not so innocent. But a man’s character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn’t any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles.
The Adventures Of Augie March (1953), Saul BellowThe men at work at the corner of the street had made a kind of camp for themselves, where, marked out by tripods hung with red hurricane-lamps, an abyss in the road led down to a network of subterranean drain-pipes. Gathered round the bucket of coke that burned in front of the shelter, several figures were swinging arms against bodies and rubbing hands together with large, pantomimic gestures: like comedians giving formal expression to the concept of extreme cold. One of them, a spare fellow in blue overalls, taller than the rest, with a jocular demeanour and long, pointed nose like that of a Shakespearian clown, suddenly stepped forward, and, as if performing a rite, cast some substance - apparently the remains of two kippers, loosely wrapped in newspaper - on the bright coals of the fire, causing flames to leap fiercely upward, smoke curling about in eddies of the north-east wind. As the dark fumes floated about the houses, snow began to fall gently from a dull sky, each flake giving a small hiss as it reached the bucket. The flames died down again; and the men, as if required observances were for the moment at an end, all turned away from the fire, lowering themselves laboriously into the pit, or withdrawing to the shadows of their tarpaulin shelter. The grey, undecided flakes continued to come down, though not heavily, while a harsh odour, bitter and gaseous penetrated the air. The day was drawing in.
A Question Of Upbringing (1951), Anthony PowellDear friend now in the dusty clockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in these sootblacked brick or cobbled corridors where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no soul shall walk save you.
Suttree (1979), Cormac McCarthyOne day in the middle of the twentieth century I sat in an old graveyard which had not yet been demolished, in the Kensington area of London, when a young policeman stepped off the path and came over to me. He was shy and smiling, he might have been coming over the grass to ask me for a game of tennis. He only wanted to know what I was doing but plainly he didn’t like to ask. I told him I was writing a poem, and offered him a sandwich which he refused as he had just had his dinner himself. He stopped to talk awhile, then he said good-bye, the graves must be very old, and that he wished me good luck and that it was nice to speak to somebody.
Loitering With Intent (1981), Muriel SparkThe Maples had moved just the day before to West Thirteenth Street, and that evening they had Rebecca Cune over, because now they were so close. A tall, always slightly smiling girl with an absent manner, she allowed Richard Maple to slip off her coat and scarf even as she stood greeting Joan. Richard, moving with an extra precision and grace because of the smoothness with which the business had been managed - though he and Joan had been married well over a year, he was still so young-looking that people did not instinctively lay upon him hostly duties; their reluctance worked in him corresponding hesitancy, so that often it was his wife who poured the drinks, while he sprawled on the sofa in the attitude of a favoured and wholly delightful guest - entered the dark bedroom, entrusted the bed with Rebecca’s clothes, and returned to the living room. Her coat had seemed weightless.
Your Lover Just Called, Stories of Joan and Richard Maple (1979), John UpdikeThe day broke grey and dull. The clouds hung heavily, and there was a rawness in the air that suggested snow. A woman servant came into a room in which a child was sleeping and drew the curtains. She glanced mechanically at the house opposite, a stucco house with a portico, and went to the child’s bed.
Of Human Bondage (1915), W. Somerset MaughamIt’ll never be known how this has to be told, in the first person or in the second, using the third person plural or continually inventing modes that will serve for nothing. If one might say: I will see the moon rose, or: we hurt me at the back of my eyes, and especially: you the blond woman was the clouds that race before my your his our yours their faces. What the hell.
Blow Up (1959), Julio CortázarI tell them dance begins when a moment of hurt combines with a moment of boredom. I tell them it’s the body’s reaching, bringing air to itself. I tell them that it’s the heart’s triumph, the victory speech of the feet, the refinement of animal lunge and flight, the purest metaphor of tribe and self. It’s life flipping death the bird.
Dance In America (1998), Lorrie Moore“What does this mean. — What — does this mean…”
Buddenbrooks (1901), Thomas MannThey stood in the doorway and stomped the rain from their boots and swung their hats and wiped the water from their faces. Out in the street the rain slashed through the standing water driving gaudy red and green colours of the neon signs to wander and seethe and rain danced on the steel tops of the cars parked along the curb.
Cities Of The Plain (1998), Cormac McCarthyHoward Roak laughed.
The Fountainhead (1943), Ayn RandBeing dyslexic, I don’t like to read. As a child I read train timetables instead of the classics, and delighted in making imaginary perfect connections from one obscure town in Europe to another. This fascination gave me an excellent grasp of European geography.
Being Digital (1995), Nicholas NegroponteMy name is Frank Bascombe. I am a sportswriter.
The Sportswriter (1986), Richard FordWhen they came south out of Grant County Boyd was not much more than a baby and the newly formed county they’d named Hidalgo was itself little older than the child. In the country they’d quit lay the bones of his sister and the bones of his maternal grandmother. The new country was rich and wild. You could ride clear to Mexico and not strike a crossfence. He carried Boyd before him in the bow of the saddle and named to him features of the landscape and birds and animals in both spanish and english. In the new house they slept in the room off the kitchen and he would lie awake at night and listen to his brother’s breathing in the dark and he would whisper half aloud to him as he slept his plans for them and the life they would have.
The Crossing (1993), Cormac McCarthySuddenly:
The milk truck cut a sharp right turn and grazed the curb. The driver lost the wheel. He panic-popped the breaks. He induced rear-end skid. A Wells Fargo armoured car clipped the milk trick side/head-on.
Blood’s A Rover (2009), James Ellroy“What did you make of the new couple?”
Couples (1968), John UpdikeABANDON HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Misérables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn’t seem to care because he tells the driver he will give him five dollars to turn up the radio, “Be My Baby” on WYNN, and the driver, black, not American, does so.
American Psycho (1991), Bret Easton EllisSo great was the noise during the day that I used to lie awake at night listening to the silence. Eventually, I fell asleep contented, filled with soundlessness, but while I was awake I enjoyed the experience of darkness, thought, memory, sweet anticipations. I heard the silence. It was in those days of the early ’fifties of this century that I formed the habit of insomnia. Insomnia is not bad in itself. You can lie awake at night and think; the quality of insomnia depends entirely on what you decide to think of. Can you decide to think? - Yes, you can. You can put your mind to anything most of the time. You can sit peacefully in front of a blank television set, just watching nothing; and sooner or later you can make your own programme much better than the mass product. It’s fun, you should try it. You can put anyone you like on the screen, alone or in company, saying and doing what you want them to do, with yourself in the middle if you prefer it that way.
A Far Cry From Kensington (1988), Muriel SparkLast week, I read in the Ashbury Press a story that has come to sting me like a nettle. In one sense, it was the usual kind of news item we read every a.m., feel a deep, if not wide, needle of shock, then horror about, stare off to the heavens for a long moment, until the eye shifts back to different matters - celebrity birthdays, sports, briefs, obits, new realty offerings - which tug us on to other concerns, and by mid-morning we’ve forgotten.
The Lay of the Land (2006), Richard FordThe grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing every chance to change Bailey’s mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. He was sitting on the edge of his chair at the table, bent over the orange sports section of the Journal. “Now look here, Bailey,” she said, “see here, read this,” and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. “Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what it says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.”
A Good Man Is Hard To Find (1953), Flannery O’ConnorThis was the year he rode the subway to the ends of the city, two hundred miles of track. He liked to stand at the front of the first car, hands flat against the glass. The train smashed through the dark. People stood on local platforms staring nowhere, a look they’d been practicing for years. He kind of wondered, speeding past, who they really were. His body fluttered in the fastest stretches. They went so fast sometimes he thought they were on the edge of no-control. The noise was pitched to a level of pain he absorbed as a personal test. Another carzy-ass curve. There was so much iron in the sound of those curves he could almost taste it, like a toy you put in your mouth when you are little.
Libra (1988), Don DeLilloA winter night, black and frozen, was moving over Japan, over the choppy waters to the east, over the rugged floating islands, all the cities and towns, the small houses, the bitter streets.
The Hunters (1956), James Salter‘And then say what? Say, "Forget you’re hungry, forget you got shot inna back by some racist cop - Chuck was here? Chuck come up to Harlem -"'
The Bonfire Of The Vanities (1987), Tom WolfeWhile still a young man, John Courteney Boot had, as his publisher proclaimed, ‘achieved an assured and enviable position in contemporary letters’. His novels sold 15,000 copies in their first year and were read by the people whose opinion John Boot respected. Between novels he kept his name sweet in intellectual circles with unprofitable but modish works on history and travel. His signed first editions sometimes changed hands at a shilling or two above their original price. He had published eight books - beginning with a life of Rimbaud written when he was eighteen, and concluding, at the moment, with Waste of Time, a studiously modest description of some harrowing months among the Patagonian Indians - of which most people who lunched with Lady Metroland could remember the names of three or four. He had many charming friends, of whom the most valued was the lovely Mrs Algernon Stitch.
Scoop (1938), Evelyn WaughThere were four of us - George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were - bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.
Three Men In A Boat (1889), Jerome K. Jerome
/ 2014The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door. He took off his hat and came slowly forward. The floorboards creaked under his boots. In his black suit he stood in the dark glass where the lilies leaned so palely from their waisted cutlass vase. Along the cold hallway behind him hung the portraits of forebears only dimly known to him all framed in glass and dimly lit above the narrow wainscotting. He looked down at the guttered candlestub. He pressed is thumbprint in the warm wax pooled on the oak veneer. Lastly he looked at the face so caved and drawn among the folds of funeral cloth, the yellowed moustache, the eyelids paper thin. That was not sleeping. That was not sleeping.
All The Pretty Horses (1992), Cormac McCarthyThey crested out on the bluff in the late afternoon sun with their shadows long on the sawgrass and burnt sedge, moving single file and slowly high above the river and with something of its own implacability, pausing and grouping for a moment and going on again strung out in silhouette against the sun and then dropping under the crest of the hill into a fold of blue shadow with light touching them about the head in spurious sanctity until they had gone on for such a time as saw the sun down altogether and they moved in shadow altogether which suited them very well. When they reached the river it was full dark and they made camp and a small fire across which their shapes moved in nameless black ballet. They cooked whatever it was they had with them in whatever crude vessels and turned in to sleep, sprawled on the packed mud full clothed with their mouths gaped to the stars. They were about with the first light, the bearded one rising and kicking out the other two and still with no word among them rekindling the fire and setting their battered pannikins about it, squatting on their haunches, eating again wordlessly with belt knives, until the bearded one rose and stood spraddle-legged before the fire and closed the other two in a foul white plume of smoke out of and through which they fought suddenly and unannounced and mute and as suddenly ceased, picking up their ragged duffel and moving west along the river once again.
Outer Dark (1968), Cormac McCarthyThey sent him to Dallas to kill a nigger pimp named Wendell Durfee. He wasn’t sure he could do it.
The Cold Six Thousand (2001), James EllroyThis morning I got a note from my aunt asking me to come for lunch. I know what this means. Since I go there every Sunday for dinner and today is Wednesday, it can mean only one thing: she wants to have one of her serious talks. It will be extremely grave, either a piece of bad news about her stepdaughter Kate or else a serious talk about me, about the future and what I ought to do. It is enough to scare the wits out of anyone, yet I confess I do not find the prospect altogether unpleasant.
The Moviegoer (1961), Walker PercyIn Haddam, summer floats over tree-softened streets like a sweet lotion balm from a careless, languorous god, and the world falls in tune with its own mysterious anthems. Shaded lawns lie still and damp in the early a.m. Outside, on peaceful-morning Cleveland Street, I hear the footfalls of a lone jogger, tramping past and down the hill toward Taft Lane and across to the Choir College, there to run in the damp grass. In the Negro trace, men sit on stoops, pants legs rolled above their sock tops, sipping coffee in the growing, easeful heat. The marriage enrichment class (4 to 6) has let out at the high school, its members sleepy-eyed and dazed, bound for bed again. While on the green gridiron pallet our varsity band begins its two-a-day drill, revving up for the 4th: "Boom-Haddam, boom-Haddam, boom-boom-ba-boom. Haddam-Haddam, up'n-at-'em! Boom-boom-ba-boom!"
Independence Day (1995), Richard FordAll night in darkness the water sped past.
All That Is (2013), James SalterThis volume contains the surviving notebooks of the man we used to call 'Steppenwolf' - an expression he himself employed on several occasions. Whether his manuscript is in need of a preface to introduce it is a moot point, but I at any rate feel the need to add to Steppenwolf's pages a few of my own in which I shall try to record my memories of him. Since I am wholly ignorant of his background and past life my actual knowledge of the man is scanty. I have, however, retained a stong and I must say, despite everything, congenial impression of his personality.
Steppenwolf (1927), Herman HesseStanding amid the tan, excited post-Christmas crowd at the Southwest Florida Regional Airport, Rabbit Angstrom has a funny sudden feeling that what he has come to meet, what's floating in unseen about to land, is not his son Nelson and daughter-in-law Pru and their two children but something more ominous and intimately his: his own death, shaped vaguely like an airplane. The sensation chills him, above and beyond the terminal air-conditioning. But, then, facing Nelson has made him feel uneasy for thirty years.
Rabbit At Rest (1990), John UpdikeRunning out of gas, Rabbit Angstrom thinks as he stands behind the summer-dusty windows of the Springer Motors display room watching the traffic go by on Route 111, traffic somehow thin and scared compared to what it used to be. The fucking world is running out of gas. But they won't catch him, not yet, because there isn't a piece of junk on the road gets better milage than his Toyotas, with lower service costs. Read Consumer Reports, April issue. that's all he has to tell the people when they come in. And come in they do, the people out there are getting frantic, they know the great American ride is ending. Gas lines at ninety-nine point nine cents a gallon and ninety per cent of the stations to be closed for the weekend. The governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania calling for five-dollar minimum sales to stop the panicky topping-up. And truckers who can't get diesel shooting at their own trucks, there was an incident right in Diamond County, along the Pottsville Pike. People are going wild, their dollars are going rotten, they shell out like there's no tomorrow. He tells them, when they buy a Toyota, they're turning their dollars into yen. And they believe him. A hundred twelve units new and used moved in the first five months on 1979, with eight Corollas, five Coronas including a Luxury Edition Wagon, and that Celica that Charlie said looked like a Pimpmobile unloaded in these first three weeks of June already, at an average gross mark-up of eight hundred dollars per sale. Rabbit is rich.
Rabbit Is Rich (1981), John UpdikeMen emerge pale from the little printing plant at four sharp, ghosts for an instant, blinking, until the outdoor light overcomes the look of constant indoor light clinging to them. In winter, Pine Street at this hour is dark, darkness presses down early from the mountain that hangs above the stagnant city of Brewer; but now in summer the granite curbs starred with mica and the row houses differentiated by speckled bastard sidings and the hopeful small porches with their jigsaw brackets and gray milk-bottle boxes and the sooty ginkgo trees and the baking curb side cars wince beneath a brilliance like a frozen explosion. The city, attempting to revive its dying downtown, has torn away blocks of buildings to create parking lots, so that a desolate openness, weedy and rubbled, spills through the once-packed streets, exposing church facades never seen from a distance and generating new perspectives of rear entryways and half-alleys and intensifying the cruel breadth of the light. The sky is cloudless yet colourless, hovering blanched humidity, in the way of these Pennsylvania summers, good for nothing but to make green things grow. Men don't even tan; filmed by sweat, they turn yellow.
Rabbit Redux (1971), John Updike
I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don't want you to tell me that you find it 'creative'. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product. When Aeschines spoke, they said, 'How well he speaks.' But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, 'Let us march against Philip'.
Ogilvy On Advertising (1983), David OgilvyAt the sunset hour of one warm spring day two men where to be seen at Patriarch's Ponds. The first of them - aged about forty, dressed in a greyish summer suit - was short, dark-haired, well-fed and bald. He carried his decorous pork-pie hat by the brim and his neatly shaven face was embellished by black horn-rimmed spectacles of preternatural dimensions. The other, a broad-shouldered young man with curly reddish hair and a check cap pushed back to the nape of his neck, was wearing a tartan shirt, chewed white trousers and black sneakers.
The Master and Margarita (1967), Mikhail BulgakovOn this Sunday morning in May, this girl who later was to be the cause of a sensation in New York, awoke much too early for her night before. One minute she was asleep, the next she was completely awake and dumped into despair. It was the kind of despair that she had known perhaps two thousand times before, there being 365 mornings in a calendar year. In general the cause of her despair was remorse, two kinds of it: remorse because she knew that whatever she was going to do next would not be any good either. The specific causes of these minutes of terror and loneliness were not always the words or deeds which seemed to be the causes. Now, this year, she had come pretty far. She had come far enough to recognize that what she had done or said last night did not stand alone. Her behavior of a given night before, which she was liable to blame for the despair of any today, frequently was bad, but frequently was not bad enough to account for the extreme depth of her despair. She recognized, if only vaguely and then only after conquering her habit of being dishonest with herself, that she had got into the habit of despair. She had come far away from original despair, because she had hardened herself into the habit of ignoring the original, basic cause of all the despair she could have in her lifetime.
BUtterfield 8 (1935), John O'Hara"You would need an engineering degree from MIT to work this", someone once told me, shaking his head in puzzlement over his brand new digital watch. Well I have an engineering degree from MIT. (Kenneth Olsen has two of them, and he can't figure out a microwave oven.) Give me a few hours and I can figure out the watch. But why should it take hours? I have talked with many people who can't use all the features of their washing machines or cameras, who can't figure out how to work a sewing machine or a video cassette recorder, who habitually turn on the wrong stove burner.
The Design Of Everyday Things (1988), Donald Norman
/ 2012The radio was tuned in to an all-night recorded program, and the man at the good upright piano was playing the tunes that were being broadcast. He was not very original, but he knew all the tunes and the recordings, and he was having a pleasant time. He was wearing a striped pajama top which looked not only as though he had slept in it, but had lived in it for some days as well. His gray flannel slacks were wrinkled, spotted, and stained and were held up not with a belt but by being turned over all around the waist, narrowing the circumference. On the rug in back of him, lined up, were a partly filled tall glass, a couple of bottles of beer, and a bottle of rye, far enough away from the vibration of the piano so they would not be spilled. He had the appearance of a man who had been affable and chunky and had lost considerable weight. His eyes were large and with the fixed brightness of a man who had had a permanent scare.
A Phase Of Life (1947), John O'HaraThe status of Dan Schecter was such that he was as welcome, or was made as welcome, in a Hollywood night club when he came in alone as when he brought with him a party of twenty. Not that he ever had brought a party of twenty to the Klub Kilocycle. The Klub, which has been called the little club without charm, is a late spot chiefly inhabited by musicians and radio characters, and visited by picture people only when broadcasts draw them to the vicinity of Sunset and Vine. No such thing had brought Dan to the Klub initially. He dropped in that first night without quite knowing where he was; it was during the time when he was carrying that torch for Sandra Sardou, and he'd been drinking.
Everything Satisfactory (1946), John O'HaraThe car turned in at the brief, crescent-shaped drive and waited until the two cabs ahead had pulled away. The car pulled up, the doorman opened the rear door, a little man got out. The little man nodded pleasantly enough to the doorman and said "Wait" to the chauffeur. "Will the Under Secretary be here long?" asked the doorman.
Graven Image (1943), John O'HaraGarbed in a crushed tweed suit, fingering the ragged end of a tie that might have already done a year's service about his waist, Swann de Lisle uttered a convivial obscenity in the four hundred cubic feet of air they euphemistically called my office. I had not seen him for some years: he is the kind of person who is often, for no reason one can deduce, out of the country. In passing, one may assume that his lengthy absences are due in some way to the element of disaster that features so commandingly in his make-up.
The Day We Got Drunk On Cake (1967), William TrevorThe game was played when the party, whichever party it happened to be, had thinned out. Those who stayed on beyond a certain point - beyond, usually, about one o'clock - knew that the game was on the cards and in fact had stayed for that reason. Often, as one o'clock approached, there were marital disagreements about whether or not to go home.
Angels At The Ritz (1975), William TrevorThe past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.
The Go-Between (1953), L. P. HartleyHumanity is moving ever deeper into crisis - a crisis without precedent.
Critical Path (1981), Richard Buckminster FullerIn the middle of the summer of 1891 the most extraordinary things began happening in a small Norwegian coastal town. A stranger by the name of Nagel appeared, a singular character who shook the town by his eccentric behaviour and then vanished as suddenly as he had come. At one point he had a visitor: a mysterious young lady who came for God knows what reason and dared stay only a few hours. But let me begin at the beginning…
Mysteries (1892), Knut HamsunThere are the so-called inert gases in the air we breathe. They bear curious Greek names of erudite derivation which mean "the New", "the Hidden", "the Inactive", and "the Alien". They are indeed so inert, so satisfied with their condition, that they do not interfere in any chemical reaction, do not combine with any other element, and for precisely this reason have gone undetected for centuries. As late as 1962 a diligent chemist after long and ingenious efforts succeeded in forcing the Alien (xenon) to combine fleetingly with extremely avid and lively fluorine, and the feat seemed so extraordinary that he was given the Nobel prize. They are also called the noble gases - and here there's room for discussion as to whether all nobel gasses are really inert and all inert gases are noble. And, finally, they are also called rare gases, even though one of the them, argon (the Inactive), is present in the air in the considerable proportion of 1 percent, that is, twenty or thirty times more abundant than carbon dioxide, without which there would not be a trace of life on this planet.
The Periodic Table (1975), Primo LeviI am enthusiastic over humanity's extraordinary and sometimes very timely ingenuities. If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat that comes along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday's fortuitous contriving as constituting the only means for solving a given problem. Our brains deal exclusively with special-case experiences. Only our minds are able to discover the generalised principles operating without exception in each and every special-experience case which if detected and mastered will give knowledgeable advantages in all instances.
Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth (1969), Richard Buckminster FullerFor many years I have wanted to write about the Finzi-Continis - about Micòl and Alberto, Professor Ermanno and Signora Olga - and about the many others who lived at, or like me frequented, the house in Corso Ercole I d'Este, Ferrara, just before the last war broke out. But the impulse, the prompt, really to do so only occurred for me a year ago, one April Sunday in 1957.
The Garden Of The Finzi-Continis (1962), Giorgio BassaniOlenka, the daughter of the retired collegiate assessor, Plemyanniakov, was sitting in her back porch, lost in thought. It was hot, the flies were persistent and teasing, and it was pleasant to reflect that it would soon be evening. Dark rainclouds were gathering from the east, and bringing from time to time a breath of moisture in the air.
The Darling (1899), Anton ChekhovIt was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog. Dimitri Dimitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight at Yalta, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals. Sitting in Verney's pavilion, he saw, walking on the sea-front, a fair-haired young lady of medium height, wearing a béret; a white Pomeranian dog was running behind her.
The Lady With The Dog (1899), Anton ChekhovAt eight o'clock on the evening of the twentieth of May all the six batteries of the N- Reserve Artillery Brigade halted for the night in the village of Myestetchki on their way to camp. When the general commotion was at its height, while some officers were busily occupied around the guns, while others, gathered together in the square near the church enclosure, were listening to the quartermasters, a man in civilian dress, riding a strange horse, came into sight round the church. The little dun-coloured horse with a good neck and a short tail came, moving not straight forward, but as it were sideways, with a sort of dance step, as though it were being lashed about the legs. When he reached the officers the man on the horse took off his hat and said:
"His Excellency Lieutenant-General von Rabbek invites the gentlemen to drink tea with him this minute..."
The Kiss (1887), Anton ChekhovIt was late in the evening when K. had arrived. The village was deep in snow. The Castle hill was hidden, veiled in mist and darkness, nor was there even a glimmer of light to show that a castle was there. On the wooden bridge leading from the main road to the village K. stood for a long time gazing into the illusory emptiness above him.
The Castle (1926), Franz KafkaAlready a noble day, young summer soaring, vivid with promise, drenched blue and green, had divided them, on the terrace beside the mill, into sun and shadow. Sally and Catherine lay stretched, as if biered, on flattened wooden beach-chairs with orange mattresses, of the kind one sees at Cannes; in dark glasses and bikinis, silent, outside the scope of other activity. Peter sat at the breakfast-table in shorts, bare-footed and bare-chested, opposite Paul and Annabel Rogers in the parasol shade. The three children were down on the lawn beneath the terrace, trying to catch whirligigs at the water's edge; knelt snatching at the surface, little cries, murmurs among themselves. Inky-blue dragonflies fluttered past; then a butterfly of a pale sulphur-yellow. From across the river, one saw a quietly opulent bourgeois glade of light, bright figures, red and aquamarine parasol blazoned on top (amusing trouvaille at some local sale) with the word Martini; the white cast-iron furniture, sun on stone, the jade-green river, the dense and towering lighter green walls of willows and poplars. Downstream, the dim rush of the weir, and a hidden warbler; a rich, erratic, un-English song.
The Cloud (1974), John FowlesIf I remember rightly, I began writing this book a few months after the publication of Topologie d'une cité fantôme, towards the end of 1976 or the beginning of 1977. And now here we are in the Autumn of 1983 and the work has hardly progressed; the forty odd manuscript pages have always been abandoned for tasks that seem more urgent. Two novels have appeared in the meantime, and a film - La belle captive - finished in January this year, screened in mid February. So, nearly seven years have gone by since I began with the words: 'I've never spoken of anything but myself...' - provocative at the time. The lighting has changed, perspectives shifted, in some cases inverted; but in fact the same questions still come up, perennial, haunting, maybe pointless... Let's try again seriously, one more time, before it's too late.
Ghosts In The Mirror (1984), Alain Robbe-Grillet'Don't look now,' John said to his wife, 'but there are a couple of old girls two tables away who are trying to hypnotise me.'
Don't Look Now (1971), Daphne du MaurierSeptember. It seems these luminous days will never end. The city, which was almost empty during August, now is filling up again. It is being replenished. The restaurants are all reopening, the shops. People are coming back from the country, the sea, from trips on roads all jammed with cars. The station is very crowded. There are children, dogs, families with old pieces of luggage bound by straps. I make my way among them. It's like being in a tunnel. Finally I emerge onto the brilliance of the quai, beneath a roof of glass panels which seems to magnify the light.
A Sport And A Pastime (1967), James SalterIf you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. They're quite touchy about anything like that, especially my father. They're nice and all - I'm not saying that - but they're also touchy as hell. Besides, I'm not going to tell you my whole goddam autobiography or anything. I'll just tell you about this madman stuff that happened to me around last Christmas just before I got pretty run-down and had to come out here and take it easy. I mean that's all I told D.B. about, and he's my brother and all. He's in Hollywood. That isn't too far from this crumby place, and he comes over and visits me practically every week end. He's going to drive me home when I go home next month maybe. He just got a Jaguar. One of those little English jobs that can do around two hundred miles an hour. It cost him damn near four thousand bucks. He's gota lot of dough, now. He didn't use to. He used to be just a regular writer, when he was home. He wrote this terrific book of short stories, The Secret Goldfish, in case you never heard of him. The best one in it was "The Secret Goldfish." It was about this little kid that wouldn't let anybody look at his goldfish because he'd bought it with his own money. It killed me. Now he's out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute. If there's one thing I hate, it's the movies. Don't even mention them to me.
The Catcher In The Rye (1951), J.D. Salinger'Eh bien, mon prince, Gênes et Lucques ne sont plus que des apanages, des family estates de la famille Buonaparte. Non, je vous préviens, qui vous ne me dit pas, que nous avons la guere, si vous vous permettez encore de pallier toutes les infamies, toutes les atrocités de cet Antichrist (ma parole, j'y crois) - je ne vous connais plus, vous n'êtes plus mon ami, vous n'êtes plus my faithful slave, comme vous dites. Well how do you do? How do you do? Je vois que je vous fais peur - sit down and tell me all the news.'
War And Peace (1869), Leo TolstoyThe madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel it: something terrible was going to happen. The sun low in the sky, a minor light, a cooling star. Gust after gust of disorder. Trees restless, temperatures falling, the whole northern religion of things coming to an end. No children in the yards here. Shadows lengthened on yellowing zoysia. Red oaks and pin oaks and swamp white oaks rained acorns on houses with no mortgage. Storm windows shuddered in the empty bedrooms. And the drone and hiccup of a clothes dryer, the nasal contention of a leaf blower, the ripening of local apples in a paper bag, the smell of the gasoline with which Alfred Lambert had cleaned the paintbrush from his morning painting of the wicker love seat.
The Correctons (2001), Jonathan FranzenThe first time Jean-Claude Pelletier read Benno von Archimboldi was Christmas 1980, in Paris, when he was nineteen years old and studying German literature. The book in question was D'Arsonval. The young Pelletier didn't realize at the time that the novel was part of a trilogy (made up of the English-themed The Garden and the Polish-themed The Leather Mask, together with the clearly French-themed D'Arsonval), but this ignorance or lapse or bibliographical lacuna, attributable only to his extreme youth, did nothing to diminish the wonder and admiration that the novel stirred in him.
2666 (2004), Roberto Bolaño...we are in a big building and an event is taking place. You can find this form of architecture in many cities. Its original function has been forgotten but the structure retains a certain aura. You could even say that it is a slightly troubled place. It is resilient and it has had many different uses. Now the building is old and it belongs to the city. A place that has been preserved because of the way it was designed, although this is due to the building's size as much as anything. It has become alternative. There can be no other function for a well-used structure such as this. The change of use has happened by default rather than because of definite reasons. Like in mathematics where you start by saying 2 + 2 equals 5 in order to consider the possibility that 2 + 2 equals 4. If all x are y, all y are z; therefore all x are z. But there is also an incompleteness theorem which demonstrates that an infinitude of propositions that are underivable from the axioms of a system nevertheless have the value of "true" within the system.
Snow Dancing (1995), Philippe ParrenoThe news about Walter Berglund wasn't picked up locally - he and Patty had moved to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now - but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times. According to a long and very unflattering story in the Times, Walter had made quite a mess of his professional life out there in the nation's capital. His old neighbours had some difficulty reconciling the quotes about him in the Times ("arrogant," "high-handed," "ethically compromised") with the generous, smiling, red-faced 3M employee they remembered pedaling his commuter bicycle up Summit Avenue in February snow; it seemed strange that Walter, who was greener than Greenpeace and whose roots were rural, should be in trouble now for conniving with the coal industry and mistreating country people. Then again, there had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds.
Freedom (2010), Jonathan FranzenEleven o'clock had just struck at the Bourse when, making his way into Champeaux' restaurant, Saccard entered the public room, all white and gold and with two high windows facing the Place. At a glance he surveyed the rows of little tables, at which the busy eaters sat closely together, elbow to elbow; and he seemed surprised not to see the face he sought.
L'Argent (1891), Emile Zola
/ 2011Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
- Introibo ad altare Dei.
Ulysses (1922), James JoyceBlessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain but upon taking of cold. I lived in Axe Yard, having my wife and servant Jane, and no more in family then us three. My wife, after the absence of her terms for seven weeks, gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year she hath them again.
The Diary of Samuel Pepys (1660 - 1669), Samuel PepysI can't remember how we got on to the question of 'spoil-sports', but I know that the Colonel suddenly because very indignant about them. He, Jimmy Tamaren, and I were seated in a large flat-bottomed punt tied up to the stakes, in the middle of a backwater on the grounds of old Sir John Gostard, whose guests we were. We were lolling there, smoking and talking, and waiting for the sun to get lower in the heavens, at which time we proposed to do a little of what is known as rough fishing. I think the subject of spoil-sports must have arisen from the obvious beauty and attractiveness of our setting: a perfect place and time of day for lovers. It seemed absurd somehow that three men should monopolise it all. And there was something pleasantly ironical in the situation that the eldest of us, to whom erotic experiences could have been little more than a fragrant memory, was the one to wax indignant about this tampering with the prerogatives of lovers.
The Spoil-Sport (1926), Stacy AumonierIn the year 1888 Herr von Parsenow was seventy, and there were people who felt an extraordinary and inexplicable repulsion when they saw him coming towards them in the streets of Berlin, indeed, who in their dislike of him actually maintained that he must be an evil old man. Small, but well made, neither a shrivelled ancient nor a pot-belly, he was extraordinarily well proportioned, and the top-hat which he always sported in Berlin did not look in the least ridiculous on him. He wore Kaiser Wilhelm I whiskers, but cut somewhat shorter, and on his cheeks there was none of that white fluff which gave the Emperor his affable appearance; even his hair, which had scarcely thinned yet, showed no more that a few white strands; in spite of his seventy years it had kept its youthful fairness, a reddish blond that reminded one of rotting straw and really did not suit an old man, for whom one would have liked to imagine a more venerable covering. But Herr von Pasenow was accustomed to the colour of his hair, not in his judgement did his monocle look in the least too youthful. When he gazed in the mirror he recognised there the face that had returned his gaze fifty years before. Yet though Herr von Pasenow was not displeased with himself, there were people whom the looks of this old man filled with discomfort, and who could not comprehend how any woman could ever have looked upon him or embraced him with desire in her eyes; and at most they would allow him only the Polish maids on his estate, and held that even these he must have got round by that slightly hysterical and yet arrogant aggressiveness which is often characteristic of small men. Whether this was true or not, it was the belief of his two sons, and it goes without saying that he did not share it. For, after all, sons' thoughts are often coloured by prejudice, and it would have been easy to accuse his sons of injustice and bias in spite of the uncomfortable feeling which the sight of Herr von Pasenow aroused, a really remarkable feeling of discomfort that actually increased when he had passed by and one chanced to look after him. Perhaps that was due to the fact that his back view made one doubtful of his age, for his movements were neither like those of an old man, nor like those of a youth, nor like those of a man in the prime of life. And as doubt gives rise to discomfort, it is possible that some chance stroller might have resented as undignified the man's style of progression, and if he should have gone on to characterise it as overweening and vulgar, as feebly rakish and swaggering, one would not have been surprised. Such things, of course, are a matter of temperament: yet one can quite well imagine some young man, blinded with hatred, hurrying back to thrust his cane between the legs of any man who walked in that way, so as to bring him down by hook or by crook and break his legs and put an end for ever to such a style of walking. Herr von Pasenow, however, went straight on with very quick steps; he held his head erect as small men generally do; and as he held himself very erect too, his little belly was struck slightly forward, one might almost have said that he carried it in front of him; yes, that he was carrying his whole person somewhere or other, belly and all, a hateful gift which nobody wanted. Yet as a simile really accounts for nothing, those ill opinions would have remained without solid foundation, and perhaps one might even have grown ashamed of them until one noticed the walking-stick accompanying his legs. The stick moved to a regular rhythm, rose almost to the height of his knees, returned with a little sharp impact to the ground and rose again, and the feet went on beside it. And these too rose higher that feet should do, the toes shot out a little too far as if they were presenting his shoe-soles in contempt to approaching pedestrians, and the heels were deposited again with a little sharp impact on the pavement. So the two legs and the walking-stick went on together, suggesting the involuntary fancy that this man, had he come to the world as a horse, would have been a pacer; but the horrible and disgusting thing was that he was a three-legged pacer, a tripod that had set itself in motion. And it was horrible, too, to realise that the three-legged purposiveness of the man's walk must be as deceptive as its undeviating rapidity: that it was directed towards nothing at all! For nobody who has a serious end in view could walk like that, and if for a moment one involuntarily thought of a profiteer inexorably conveying himself to some poor man's house to collect a debt, one saw at once how inadequate and prosaic was such a notion, and one was terrified by the intuition that it was devil's walk, like a dog hobbling on three legs - a rectilinear zigzag... enough: for anyone who analysed Herr von Pasenow's walk with loving hate might have discovered all this and more. Most people, after all, lend themselves to such experiments. There is always something that will fit. And if Herr von Pasenow did not really lead a busy life, but on the contrary expended ample time in fulfilling the decorative and other obligations which a quietly secure income brings with it, yet - and that too expressed his character - he was always bustling, and mere sauntering was far from his nature. Besides, visiting Berlin but twice a year, he had abundance to do when he was there. Just now he was on his way to his younger son, Lieutenant Joachim von Pasenow.
The Sleepwalkers (1932), Hermann BrochIn the public bar of the 'Wagtail', in Wapping, four men and a woman were drinking beer and discussing diseases. It was not a pretty subject, and the company was certainly not a handsome one. It was a dark November evening, and the dingy lighting of the bar seemed but to emphasise the bleak exterior. Drifts of fog and damp from without mingled with the smoke of shag. The sanded floor was kicked into a muddy morass not unlike the surface of the pavement. An old lady from down the street had died from pneumonia the previous evening, and the event supplied a fruitful topic of conversation. The things that one could get! Everywhere were germs eager to destroy one. At any minute the symptoms might break out. And so - one foregathered in a cheerful spot amidst friends, and drank forgetfulness.
Where Was Wych Street? (1922), Stacy AumonierTo begin at the beginning, the airplane from Minneapolis in which Francis Weed was travelling East ran into heavy weather. The sky had been a hazy blue, with the clouds below the plane lying so close together that nothing could be seen of the earth. Then mist began to form outside the windows, and they flew into a white cloud of such density that it reflected the exhaust fires. The color of the cloud darkened to gray, and the plane began to rock. Francis had been in heavy weather before, but he had never been shaken up so much. The man in the seat beside him pulled a flask out of his pocket and took a drink. Francis smiled at his neighbour, but the man looked away; he wasn't sharing his pain killer with anyone. The plane began to drop and flounder wildly. A child was crying. The air in the cabin was overheated and stale, and Francis' left foot went to sleep. He read a little from a paper book that he had bought at the airport, but the violence of the storm divided his attention. It was black outside the ports. The exhaust fires blazed and shed sparks in the dark, and, inside, the shaded lights, the stuffiness, and the window curtains gave the cabin an atmosphere of intense and misplaced domesticity. Then the lights flickered and went out. 'You know what I've always wanted to do?' the man beside Francis said suddenly. 'I've always wanted to buy a farm in New Hampshire and raise beef cattle.' The stewardess announced that they were going to make an emergency landing. All but the children saw in their minds the spreading wings of the Angel of Death. The pilot could be heard singing faintly, 'I've got sixpence, jolly jolly sixpence. I've got sixpence to last me all my life...' There was no other sound.
The Country Husband (1954), John CheeverWe are a family that has always been very close in spirit. Our father was drowned in a sailing accident when we were young, and our mother has always stressed the fact that our familial relationships have a kind of permanence that we will never meet with again. I don't think about the family much, but when I remember its members and the coast where they lived and the sea salt that I think is in our blood, I am happy to recall that I am a Pommeroy - that I have the nose, the coloring, and the promise of longevity - and that while we are not a distinguished family, we enjoy the illusion, when we are together, that the Pommeroys are unique. I don't say any of this because I'm interested in family history or because this sense of uniqueness is deep or important to me but in order to advance the point that we are loyal to one another in spite of our differences, and that any rupture in this loyalty is a source of confusion and pain.
Goodbye, My Brother (1951), John CheeverIt was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, "I drank too much last night." You might have heard it whispered by the parishioners leaving church, heard it from the lips of the priest himself, struggling with his cassock in the vestiarium, heard it from the golf links and the tennis courts, heard it from the wildlife preserve where the leader of the Audubon group was suffering from a terrible hangover. "I drank too much," said Donald Westerhazy. "We all drank too much," said Lucinda Merrill. "It must have been the wine," said Helen Westerhazy. "I drank too much of that claret."
The Swimmer (1964), John CheeverThe last time I saw my father was in Grand Central Station. I was going from my grandmother's in the Adirondacks to a cottage on the Cape that my mother had rented, and I wrote my father that I would be in New York between trains for an hour and half, and asked if we could have lunch together. His secretary wrote to say that he would meet me at the information booth at noon, and at twelve o'clock sharp I saw him coming through the crowd. He was a stranger to me - my mother divorced him three years ago and I hadn't been with him since - but as soon as I saw him I felt that he was my father, my flesh and blood, my future and my doom. I knew that when I was grown I would be something like him; I would have to plan my campaigns within his limitations. He was a big, good-looking man, and I was terribly happy to see him again. He struck me on the back and shook my hand. 'Hi Charlie,' he said. 'Hi boy. I'd like to take you up to my club, but it's in the Sixties, and if you have to catch an early train I guess we'd better get something to eat around here.' He put his arm around me, and I smelled my father the way my mother sniffs a rose. It was a rich compound of whiskey, after-shave lotion, shoe polish, woollens, and the rankness of a mature male. I hoped that someone would see us together. I wished that we could be photographed. I wanted some record of our having been together.
Reunion (1962), John CheeverWe defended the city as best we could. The arrows of the Comanches came in clouds. The war clubs of the Comanches clattered on the soft, yellow pavements. There were earthworks along the Boulevard Mark Clark and the hedges had been laced with sparkling wire. People were trying to understand. I spoke to Sylvia. "Do you think this is a good life?" The table held apples, books, long-playing records. She looked up. "No."
The Indian Uprising (1965), Donald BarthelmeSo I bought a little city (it was Galveston, Texas) and told everybody that nobody had to move, we were going to do it just gradually, very relaxed, no big changes overnight. They were pleased and suspicious. I walked down to the harbour where there were cotton warehouses and fish markets and all sorts of installations having to do with the spread of petroleum throughout the Free World, and I thought, A few apple trees here might be nice. Then I walked out on this broad boulevard which has all these tall thick palm trees maybe forty feet high in the centre and oleanders on both sides, it runs for blocks and blocks and ends up opening up to the broad Gulf of Mexico - stately homes on both sides and a big Catholic church that looks more like a mosque and the Bishop's Palace and a handsome red brick affair where the Shriners meet. I thought, What a nice little city, it suits me fine.
I Bought A Little City (1974), Donald BarthelmeWe dash the black river, its flats smooth as a stone. Not a ship, not a dingy, not one cry of white. The water lies broken, cracked from the wind. This great estuary is wide, endless. The river is brackish, blue with the cold. It passes beneath us blurring. The sea birds hang above it, they wheel, disappear. We flash the wide river, a dream of the past. The deeps fall behind, the bottom is paling the surface, we rush by the shadows, boats beached for winter, desolate piers. And on wings like the gulls, sore up, turn, look back.
Light Years (1975), James SalterBoys are playing basketball around a telephone pole with a back-board bolted to it. Legs, shouts. The scrape and snap of Keds on loose alley pebbles seems to catapult their voices high into the moist March air blue above the wires. Rabbit Angstrom, coming up the alley in a business suit, stops and watches, though he's twenty-six and six three. So tall, he seems an unlikely rabbit, but the breadth of white face, the pallor of his blue irises, and a nervous flutter under his brief nose as he stabs a cigarette into his mouth partially explain the nickname, which was given to him when he too was a boy. He stands there thinking, the kids keep coming, they keep crowding you up.
Rabbit, Run (1960), John UpdikeThe whole thing began with a blunder on my part, an entirely innocent piece of clumsiness, a gaffe, as the French call it. Then followed an attempt to put things right; but if you try to repair a watch in too much of a hurry, you're as likely as not to put the whole workings out of order. Even today, now that years have gone by I am unable to decide exactly where my sheer gaucherie ended and my guilt began. I dare say I shall never know.
Beware Of Pity (1939), Stefan ZweigReview my childhood? More than a half-century stretches between that time and me, but my farsighted eyes could perhaps perceive it if the light still glowing there were not blocked by obstacles of every sort, outright mountain peaks: all my years and some of my hours.
Zeno's Conscience (1923), Italo SvevoAt this point, confronted with the whole complicated affair of Nikolai Vassilevitch's wife, I am overcome by hesitation. Have I any right to disclose something which is unknown to the whole world, which my unforgettable friend himself kept hidden from the world (and he had his reasons), and which I am sure will give rise to all sorts of malicious and stupid misunderstandings? Something, moreover, which will very probably offend the sensibilities of all sorts of base, hypocritical people, and possibly of some honest people too, if there are any left? And finally, have I any right to disclose something before which my own spirit recoils, and even tends toward a more or less open disapproval?
Gogol's Wife (1954), Tommaso LandolfiA barometric low hung over the Atlantic. It moved eastward toward a high-pressure area over Russia without as yet showing any inclination to bypass this high in a northerly direction. The isotherms and isotheres were functioning as they should. The air temperature was appropriate relative to the annual mean temperature and to the aperiodic monthly fluctuations of the temperature. The rising and settings of the sun, the moon, the phases of the moon, of Venus, of the rings of Saturn, and many other significant phenomena were all in accordance with the forecasts in the astronomical yearbooks. The water vapour in the air was at its maximal state of tension, while the humidity was minimal. In a word that characterizes the facts fairly accurately, even if it is a bit old-fashioned: It was a fine day in August 1913.
The Man Without Qualities (1930 - 1942), Robert MusilOn Memorial Day in 1967 Daniel Lewin thumbed his way from New York to Worcester, Mass., in just under five hours. With him was his young wife, Phillis, and their eight-month-old son, Paul, whom Daniel carried in a sling chair strapped to his shoulders like a pack. The day was hot and overcast with the threat of rain, and the early morning traffic was wondering - I mean the early morning traffic was light, but not many drivers could pass them without wondering who they were and where they were going.
The Book Of Daniel (1971), E.L. DoctorowThe small town of Verrières may be regarded as one of the prettiest in the Franche-Comté. Its white houses with their steeply pitched roofs of red tile are spread over a hillside where clumps of sturdy Spanish chestnuts mark out the slightest dips in the terrain. The river Doubs flows several hundred feet beneath the old town walls, built in former times by the Spaniards and now fallen into ruin.
The Red And The Black (1830), StendhalOne village post office in Austria is much like another: seen one and you've seen them all. Each with identical meagre furnishings provided (or rather issued, like uniforms) during Franz Josef's rule, all drawn from the same stock, their sad look of administrative stinginess is the same everywhere. Even in the most remote mountain villages of the Tyrol, in the shadow of the glaciers, they stubbornly retain that unmistakable odour of old Austrian officialdom, a smell of stale cheap tobacco and dusty files. The layout never varies: a wooden partition perforated by glass wickets divides the room, according to a precisely prescribed ratio, into This Side and That Side - the public sphere and the official one. The state's failure to give much thought to the significant amount of time spent by citizens in the public area is clear from the absence of seating or any other amenities. In most cases the only piece of furniture in the public area is a rickety stand-up desk propped against the wall, its cracked oilcloth covered with innumerable inkblots, though no one can remember finding anything but congealed, mouldy, unusable goo in the recessed inkwell, and if there happens to be a pen lying in the grooved gutter, the nib is always bent an useless. The thrifty Treasury attaches as little significance to beauty as to comfort: since the Republic took Franz Josef's picture down, what might be called interior decoration is limited to the garish posters on the dirty whitewashed walls inviting one to attend exhibitions which have long since closed, to buy lottery tickets, and even, in certain neglectful offices, to take out war loans. With these cheap coverings and possibly an admonition not to smoke, heeded by no one, the state's generosity to the public ends.
The Post Office Girl (1982, posthumous), Stefan ZweigHe always shot up by TV light. Some spics waved guns. The head spic plucked bugs from his beard and fomented. Black & white footage; CBS geeks in jungle fatigues. A newsman said, Cuba, bad juju - Fidel Castro's rebels vs. Fulgencio Batista's standing army.
American Tabloid (1995), James Ellroy