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“Only in our failures are we absolutely alone. Only in the pursuit of failure can a person really be free.” - Sheila Heti

May 28, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“The pyramids of Newark...”

To date the only Philip Roth I've ever read is Our Gang (hilarious but, I suspect, enormously different than the rest of his work), but this paragraph from American Pastoral has me thinking I should read more:

On the east side of the street, the dark old factories—Civil War factories, foundries, brassworks, heavy-industrial plants blackened from the chimneys pumping smoke for a hundred years—were windowless now, the sunlight sealed out with brick and mortar, their exits and entrances plugged with cinderblock. These were the factories where people had lost fingers and arms and got their feet crushed and their faces scalded, where children once labored in the heat and the cold, the nineteenth-century factories that churned up people and churned out goods and now were unpierceable, airtight tombs. It was Newark that was entombed there, a city that was not going to stir again. The pyramids of Newark: as huge and dark and hideously impermeable as a great dynasty’s burial edifice has every historical right to be.

Paul, I'm open to suggestions - but message me, because the comments function here is still kaput.

May 23, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


Julian Barnes, on William Trevor:

My wife, who was his long-term literary agent, told me that he liked to sit on park benches and eavesdrop on conversations; but that he never wanted to listen to a whole story, so would get up and move on as soon as he had heard the small amount he needed to trigger his further imaginings.

May 20, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)


“The best you can say is that New York is held together by competing antagonisms that tend to cancel one another out.” - Tom Wolfe

May 19, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


“All the time, I've felt that life is a wager and that I probably was getting more out of leading a bohemian existence as a writer than I would have if I didn't.” - Christopher Hitchens

May 16, 2018 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)


I love this passage from The Country of the Pointed Firs. The narrator, her landlady Mrs. Todd, and Mrs. Todd's mother, Mrs. Blackett, are riding upcountry to a family reunion, when they stop at a farm to water their horse.

We stopped, and seeing a party of pleasure-seekers in holiday attire, the thin, anxious mistress of the farmhouse came out with wistful sympathy to hear what news we might have to give. Mrs. Blackett first spied her at the half-closed door, and asked with such cheerful directness if we were trespassing that, after a few words, she went back to her kitchen and reappeared with a plateful of doughnuts.

“Entertainment for man and beast,” announced Mrs. Todd with satisfaction. “Why, we've perceived there was new doughnuts all along the road, but you're the first that has treated us.”

Our new acquaintance flushed with pleasure, but said nothing.

“They're very nice; you've had good luck with 'em,” pronounced Mrs. Todd. “Yes, we've observed there was doughnuts all the way along; if one house is frying all the rest is; 'tis so with a great many things.”

“I don't suppose likely you're goin' up to the Bowden reunion?” asked the hostess as the white horse lifted his head and we were saying good-by.

“Why, yes,” said Mrs. Blackett and Mrs. Todd and I, all together.

“I am connected with the family. Yes, I expect to be there this afternoon. I've been lookin' forward to it,” she told us eagerly.

“We shall see you there. Come and sit with us if it's convenient,” said dear Mrs. Blackett, and we drove away.

“I wonder who she was before she was married?” said Mrs. Todd, who was usually unerring in matters of genealogy. “She must have been one of that remote branch that lived down beyond Thomaston. We can find out this afternoon. I expect that the families'll march together, or be sorted out some way. I'm willing to own a relation that has such proper ideas of doughnuts.”

As Mrs. Todd later notes, there's no shortage of relatives (whether close or shirt-tail) in the area. But only one that has such proper ideas of doughnuts.

May 9, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...the recluses are a sad kindred...”

"There is something in the fact of a hermitage that cannot fail to touch the imagination; the recluses are a sad kindred, but they are never commonplace." - Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

Jewett's narrator refers to the sad story of Joanna Todd, who was so distraught and guilt-stricken after being abandoned by her fiancee that she hermited herself on a desolate, rocky island off the Maine coast for the rest of her life. The narrator visits the island decades after Joanna's death, hoping to get even the slightest glimpse of Joanna's former life there. Though there's little of that to be seen, I wish Jewett had continued the story for at least a few more pages.

I'm really, really enjoying the book - thanks to Paul for the recommendation. According to the promo copy, no less of an authority than Willa Cather believed that this book, The Scarlet Letter and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were "the three American works most likely to achieve permanent recognition." Clearly, history has not been as generous to Jewett as it has been to Hawthorne and Twain, possibly due to her great book not being mandatory reading in high schools anywhere, other than perhaps in the state of Maine.

May 8, 2018 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)