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"Warm, pleasant, misty weather, which the great mountain amphitheatre seemed to drink in with gladness. A crow’s voice filled all the miles of air with sound. A bird’s voice, even a piping frog, enlivens a solitude and makes world enough for us. At night I went out into the dark and saw a glimmering star and heard a frog, and Nature seemed to say, Well do not these suffice? Here is a new scene, a new experience. Ponder it, Emerson, and not like the foolish world, hanker after thunders and multitudes and vast landscapes, the sea or Niagara." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I like Emerson's idea about appreciating the small, non-monumental aspects of nature. To me, an Illinois marsh is as fascinating as a western canyon. 

April 27, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"One ruins the mind with too much writing. — One rusts it by not writing at all." - Joseph Joubert

April 21, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

"...a crystal candle-stick of a girl..."

"If she was an angel, the girl at whom Sam was pointing, she was an angel of ice; slim, shining, ash-blonde, her self-possessed voice very cool as she parried the complimentary teasing of half a dozen admirers; a crystal candle-stick of a girl among black-and-white lumps of males." - Sinclair Lewis, Dodsworth

Which I've read, but remember absolutely nothing about. Still, I love this quote. 

April 19, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)


"There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood. I do not believe there is any sort of distinction between the real moral condition of the people in and out of jail. One is just as good as the other. The people here can no more help being here than the people outside can avoid being outside." - Clarence Darrow

April 17, 2017 in Current Affairs, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Unexpected Welty


Lovely surprise from my local public library: a sharp two-in-one edition of Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding and The Ponder Heart, which I bought for a dollar from the Friends of the Library sale shelves. Over the past few months I've been working through What We Have To Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell. The two were great friends for fifty years, and Maxwell was Welty's editor at The New Yorker, where The Ponder Heart first appeared, in an issue devoted entirely to that story. 

I've only read one Welty novel so far, and thus most of the references to her works in their letters have flown right past me. They talked a lot about The Ponder Heart in their letters, so I'm looking forward to not only reading the novella, but also re-reading the passages from their letters when they discussed the book, both as it was being written and prepared for publication. On the other hand, Delta Wedding seems to have mostly predated their correspondence, so I won't have a similar experience reading that one. 

At the moment I saw the Welty volume at the library, my arms were literally filled with books (Maddie is on spring break this week, and stocked up on manga) that we had checked out, but I somehow managed to take the book off the shelf without dropping the others, and even though our old house is already groaning under the weight of our personal library, once I saw what a nice edition it was, I just knew I had to buy it. My vices are relatively harmless, I keep telling myself, so it seemed safe to indulge. 

April 16, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...inflated language and other windy humbuggeries..."

Mark Twain, on the chivalric novels of Sir Walter Scott:

The South has not yet recovered from the debilitating influence of his books. Admiration of his fantastic heroes and their grotesque “chivalry” doings and romantic juvenilities still survives here, in an atmosphere in which is already perceptible the wholesome and practical nineteenth-century smell of cotton-factories and locomotives; and traces of its inflated language and other windy humbuggeries survive along with it.

Of Twain's works, I am sorely under-read. I should do something about that. This passage reminds me a lot of Mencken, of whom I'm a big fan. 

April 15, 2017 in Books, History | Permalink | Comments (2)

Michael Brand Brewery, the epilogue


Six years ago, I posted about the impending demise of the old Michael Brand Brewery complex on Elston Avenue in Chicago, which was about to be demolished for a new HH Gregg store. Which indeed happened, shortly after. And now comes the news that HH Gregg is bankrupt and is closing all of its stores. So, at the cost of an impressive relic of Chicago history (and buildings that could have easily undergone renovation and creative reuse) we got about five years of a crappy Indiana electronics chain. How stunningly short-sighted. 

April 8, 2017 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Forgotten bookmark


Heavily faded receipt from a long-defunct B. Dalton Bookseller in Chicago. It's the actual receipt from the original purchase (by the unknown previous owner) - the price and ISBN match the book and price sticker. Found inside 44 Irish Short Stories, edited by Devin A. Garrity (Konecky & Konecky, 1995; originally published in 1955).


April 7, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)



You had nowhere else to go. There were other hotels, dozens nearby, but none any different, or better, than where you ended up. That night, after long cold hours on the streets - the hotel didn't admit inmates until 6 p.m. - you slept fitfully, though just well enough that you never smelled the smoke. You should have smelled it clearly, with the tops of the cribs covered only with chicken wire, but the day's cold exhaustion laid you low. You had paid your sixty cents, and were intent on sleeping as well as you could, even though your lanky frame meant you had to draw up your long legs to fit the six-foot bed. The fire was the only warmth you had felt in months, and as you slept, your body must have told your mind that the warmth was good, so good, and you shouldn't stir or else the warmth would be lost. Whenever you stirred in the mornings, and were forced to rise, you had to go back outdoors into the cold, so that night your body told your mind that it would keep still for as long as it could. Your mind agreed, savoring the vicarious thrill of the fire's warmth. By the time your mind realized your lungs had filled with smoke, it was already too late. The other men may have been trampled, or coughed to death on the icy sidewalk, but not you. You never rose, never left your thin mattress, and stayed warm, for the first time that winter, right up to the end.

April 7, 2017 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (1)

Failed novelist? No.

This anonymous writer considers herself [1] a failed novelist because...her first two books failed to get published. Her first effort at getting published lasted only "several months." And now she's so devastated that she not only has given up writing, she also no longer reads contemporary fiction. Boo freaking hoo. I'd say more, but the writer David Barnett has responded much more eloquently (and diplomatically) than I ever could.

[1] I assume it's a woman, based on the "infertile woman at a baby shower" analogy. Very few men would ever make that reference.

April 6, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


"That I ever published a page of prose was due primarily to the dread prospect of spending the rest of my days in a bank." - James Stern

April 3, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Opening Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 3, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (4)