Milo loves to read so please enjoy his reading list from 2007 along with some notes and quotes he has compiled from some of them.
"Disobedience" Jane Hamilton
What my mother and Richard were able to do, once they were at last inside, in the alcove, once they'd pulled back the counterpane, once they were safely in bed–what they were able to do, beyond exhaust themselves in the usual way, was make a story out of nothing. That is easier said than done. There was, without the ballast of daily life, very little to hold them in their private world. And so they set about conjuring, doing the impossible work of building what they thought might be a solid structure, out of what proved to be flimsy materials in the end, out of words and touch and some musical notes.
It's a dismaying thing, to be known long enough so that you cannot even try out a new expression. To avoid that particular type of humiliation, my mother traveled to Wisconsin, where she could experiment with alternate gestures and phrases, becoming someone other than the usual and approved Beth Shaw. For a brief honeymoon period nothing she would say to her stranger man could smack of phoniness.
"The Patron Saint of Liars" Ann Patchett
"Gun, With Occasional Music" Jonathan Lethem
"Clown Girl" Monica Drake
This book came to me as a premium for my pledge to local community radio KXCI in Tucson. Monica Drake is a former Tucson-ite that now makes her home in Oregon. It's a dark, quirky tale of a girl trying to hone her ideals for art in the clown world and keeping her head just above the rising tide of desperation and illusion. I loved the title but I also picked it up because Katherine Dunn (Geek Love) gave it a positive review on the back cover.
"Underworld" Don DeLillo
This book has over 800 pages and jumps randomly from character set to other character sets. Not only that, you are left guessing what year you're in and who the new characters are. It was an exercise in frustration every time I picked it back up and yet I couldn't stop...madness.
Famous people don't want to be told that you have a quality in common with them. It makes them think there's something crawling in their clothes.
I noticed how people played at being executives while actually holding executive positions. Did I do this myself? You maintain a shifting distance between yourself and your job. There's a self-conscious space, a sense of formal play that is a sort of arrested panic, and maybe you show it in a forced gesture or a ritual clearing of the throat. Something out of childhood whistles through this space, a sense of games and half-made selves, but it's not that you're pretending to be someone else. You're pretending to be exactly who you are. That's the curious thing.
He didn't want to be a father. Being a husband was bad enough, what a burden, you know, full of obligations and occasions he couldn't handle. He was a loner, to use the romantic word, only worse than that, clinically self-involved, not out of vanity or stupidity, but out of some fear, some inbred perspective, some closeness of perspective that amounted to fear. It made him unable to see other people except as encumbrances, little hazy shapes that interfered with his solitude, his hardness of being.
That night she leaned over the washbasin in her room and cleaned a steel wool pad with disinfectant. Then she used the pad to scour a scrub brush, cleaning every bristle. But she hadn't cleaned the original disinfectant in something stronger than disinfectant. She hadn't done this because the regression was infinite. And the regression was infinite because it was called infinite regression. You see how fear spreads beyond the pushy extrusions of matter and into the elevated spaces where words play upon themselves.
A plain black everyday clerical shoe.
"Okay," he said. "We know about the sole and heel."
"And we've identified the tongue and lace."
"Yes," I said.
With his finger he traced a strip of leather that went across the top edge of the shoe and dipped down under the lace.
"What is it?" I said
"You tell me. What is it?"
"I don't know."
"It's the cuff."
"The cuff. And this stiff section over the heel. That's the counter."
"That's the counter."
"And this piece amidships between the cuff and the strip above the sole. That's the quarter."
"The quarter," I said.
"And the strip above the sole. That's the welt. Say it, boy."
"How everyday things lie hidden. Because we don't know what they're called. What's the frontal area that covers the instep?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know. It's called the vamp."
"The vamp. The frontal area that covers the instep. I thought I wasn't supposed to memorize."
"Don't memorize ideas. And don't take us too seriously when we turn up our noses at rote learning. Rote helps build the man. You stick the lace through the what?"
"This I should know."
"Of course you know. The perforations at either side of, and above, the tongue."
"I can't think of the word. eyelet."
"Maybe I'll let you live after all."
"Yes. And the metal sheath at the end of each lace."
He flicked the thing with his middle finger.
"This I don't know in a million years."
"Not in a million years."
"The tag or aglet."
"The aglet," I said.
"And the little metal ring that reinforces the rim of the eyelet through which the aglet passes. We're doing the physics of language, Shay."
"The little ring."
"You see it?"
"This is the grommet," he said.
"The grommet. Learn it, know it and love it."
"I'm going out of my mind."
"This is the final arcane knowledge. And when I take my shoe to the shoemaker and he places it on a form to make repairs–a block shaped like a foot. This is called what?"
"I don't know."
"My head is breaking apart."
"Everyday things represent the most overlooked knowledge. These names are vital to your progress. Quotidian things. If they weren't important, we wouldn't use such a gorgeous Latinate word. Say it," he said.
"An extraordinary word that suggests the depth and reach of the commonplace."
"The Telephone Booth Indian" A. J. Liebling (Library of Larceny)
The Library of Larceny, published by Broadway Books, is a delicious array of tales by such authors as J.R. 'Yellow Kid' Weil, Donald Dunn, Robert Byrne, Willie Sutton and, of course, A. J. Liebling who wrote the book above. Liebling knew how to spin the tales of New York hucksters (Telephone Booth Indians were "entrepreneurs" that conducted their business in telephone booths in the lobbies of New York office buildings), scammers and other petty nomads of the time. Liebling wrote for the New Yorker from 1935 until his death in 1963.
"Like Normal People" Karen E. Bender
"The Verificationist" Donald Antrim
One of the more quirky and joyfully odd books I've read in a while. Using a Pancake House as the setting, it mixes the surreal tone of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel with Woody Allen-esque humor.
What is a pancake? Cooked batter, covered in sugar and butter. Condiments are applied to it. It is food. But it is not as a food, not as sustenance, that we crave the pancake. No, the pancake, or flapjack if you will, is a childish pleasure; smothered in syrup, buried beneath ice cream, the pancake symbolizes our escape from respectability, eating as a form of infantile play. The environments where pancakes are served and consumed are, in this context, special playrooms for a public ravenous for sweetness, that delirious sweetness of long-ago breakfasts made by mother, sweetness of our infancy and our great, lost, toddler's omnipotence. Look around. Notice, if you will, these lighting fixtures suspended from the ceiling like pretty mobiles over a crib. Notice the indestructible plastic orange seating materials designed to repel spills and stains. Notice these menus that unfold like colorful, laminated boards in those games we once played on rainy days at home, those unforgettable indoor days when we felt safe and warm, when we knew ourselves, absolutely, to be loved. We come to the Pancake House because we are hungry. We call out in our hearts to our mothers, and it is the Pancake House that answers. The Pancake House holds us! The Pancake House restores us to beloved infancy! The Pancake House is our mother in this motherless world!
We pulled each other down onto the floor. The cat got between us and curled up for warmth. I had the beginnings of a cold. Jane, making love, has such poise. We weren't kissing. In the middle of everything, Jane began talking. She talked and talked, for the longest time, and it was fantastic to hear her. I kept my mouth shut. I breathed and listened. She said, “I used to love you so much, Tom. It was a simple thing, loving you. I didn't worry about us loving other people. I thought about that, the possibility, but I never worried. I thought I could care for somebody else and still love you. It didn't seem like a problem. You know? Why wouldn't we love other people? Loving other people isn't bad. But it's wrong to think everything won't change. You feel like a different person when you make love with someone new. Falling in love with a new person is a way of becoming a new person. Well, not a new person. A different version of yourself. It's true. That's the wonderful part, and it's the difficulty too, I suppose. I don't want you to be a new person. I always want you to be the man I fell in love with. We're different people and we haven't kept track of who we are. That's why we're in this room, isn't it? This is where we can come to find out who we want to be when things change and we feel strange to each other. I think we each have versions of ourselves that we don't know are in us. Are you scared? Don't be. You're a man and I'm not a girl. Do you remember how young we used to be? We were so young in our twenties. We were children. I was riding the enormous man's bike I used to have, remember? It was about a million billion sizes too big for me, and I was riding on the sidewalk, which you're not supposed to do, and then there you were in front of me and I ran into you. Well, I guess I didn't run into you, did I? You jumped out of the way. What happened? You tripped over the hedge, and that dog came tearing out of the yard on the hill. God. The dog's owner ran after the dog and yelled at us to leave his dog alone and get the hell off his property. All of a sudden, because of that man and his dog, we were united. We were a couple. Think of the ways people meet! I get off my bike and it felt like, ‘Oh, hello.’ We walked together, and you were sweet and took my bike and walked it for me, and we weren't paying any attention to where we were going, and the next thing we new it was nighttime and we were in that scary part of town where the book factory is, so we went into that bar, remember, but we didn't drink anything, did we? We ordered club soda, and the bartender turned out to be the father of a kid who beat you up in high school, then later got killed in that terrible loading-dock accident. The father wouldn't stop talking about how death was everywhere, and he got impatient with us for drinking club soda, and we gave him a huge tip, because of his dead son, and just to get out of there. We went right to bed, that night, didn't we? I was afraid to take off my clothes. You kissed my back and told me it was beautiful, my back. I believed you. Do you ever want to be a different kind of man? Could you be a different man with a different woman if I were the woman? Don't be hurt, don’t take it personally. Who else did you fuck, anyway? Tom? Actually, do you want me to tell you something? I'm not sure I want you to say. How would you feel about that? Would you think I don't care? Can you fuck me like I'm all the people you might ever love? Why am I telling you not to be hurt? It's because I want to fuck like I'm everybody and not just me. Is that a crazy thing to want?”
I was not, at this point, making a very good showing as a flying man. I might have done better if I had not eaten the pancakes. We eat pancakes to escape loneliness, yet within moments we want nothing more than our freedom from ever having so much as thought about pancakes. Nothing can prevent us, after eating pancakes, from feeling the most awful regret. After eating pancakes, our great mission in life becomes the repudiation of the pancakes and everything served along with them, the bacon and the syrup and the sausage and coffee and jellies and jams. But these things are beneath mention, compared with the pancakes themselves. It is the pancake – Pancakes! Pancakes! – that we never learn to respect. We promise ourselves that we will know better, next time, than to order pancakes in any size or in any amount. Never again will we be tempted by buckwheat or buttermilk or blueberry flapjacks. However, we fail to learn; and the days go by, two or three weeks pass, then a month, and we forget about pancakes and their dominion over us. Eventually we need them. We crawl back to pancakes again and again.
"Blue Ridge" T. R. Pearson
Author of The Sweet Hereafter
"Once Two Heroes" Calvin Baker
He is not certain, until it happens, what kissing her will be like. She had been his childhood heroine, but he knows fame in and of itself is a condition more grotesque than anything else P. T. Barnum ever found to display. He has driven by and been beside it a thousand times in Los Angeles, or seen it in magazines, and always sensed some organ of wanting, as an extra hand devoted only to manipulation. Fame, he has always thought, is frightening. He glimpses in it an endless hole of emptiness. But she is more than fame and celebrity. She is pure starlight and, like any furnace in heaven, generates her own energy, heat.
She radiates it out to him, and sends it through the room like a present bestowed, not a giftless pulling in. It is the heat of a fire already received. She pulls him into the warmth and energy stars exude, as he realizes, with an increase of gravity the nearer he gets to her face, that the humming molecules belong not to the celebrity but to the woman. She is a magnet of human depth and charisma. An omnisexual love. As their lips touch, he realizes she would be a star even if her picture were not plastered all around Europe. Even if no one except those who knew her had any idea what her name was. She would be the beloved of some small town, because her existence was a reminder that the universe's true gifts are equally distributed, and be proud that this one had been born to them. She would be the waitress who, night after night, picks up the most gold from her table, or the washerwoman who sings to herself on the street as she walks home from work, making every passerby's day the better for it. She would be the legend of only her husband's eye, or the eccentric, favorite aunt of all her nieces and nephews, because she lived in the rare world of the possible instead of the arbitrariness of ifs and must. The Queen of the City knows what she has, as any magician knows magic to be real, and possesses her gifts fully enough that they no longer belong to her, but to all the room, and to Mather's own cells. The closer he gets, the more he hears them buzzing inside of himself, as some small portion of misery flees. The war is really over.
"A Mist of Prophesy" Steven Saylor
"Don't the Moon Look Lonesome" Stanley Crouch
I used to read Stanley Crouch's writings on jazz music in the Village Voice throughout the 80's. I stumbled across this book at the Pima County Library book sale. Highly recommended.
The main two protagonists are Carla, the white jazz singer from South Dakota, and Maxwell, her black lover, a renowned tenor saxophonist.
Carla musing about Maxwell's wood-shedding cycle:
Those were periods of increasing grouchiness because he was at war with his own limitations and saw new information not only as an area of intrigue but as an opponent. Maxwell believed that the things you didn't know were trying to stay beyond your grasp. He had said as much. Weird. So there was a fusion of curiosity, determination, anger, and superstition as he worked and worked at the details until he had them down. Her man ceased being irritable once his fluency in a new area of expression had been brought home to his horn.
Yes, that tone was big, full, not loud and offensive. It was a statement in and of itself, which is what he had aimed for, explaining to Carla that the musicians who could play the very fastest weren't those who shot out scads of notes, lickety-split. Not them. The champs when it came to speed were actually people like Louis Armstrong and Ben Webster because the very sound each of those special people made was an immediate musical experience; no phrase was needed. They didn't have to build up. You were taken away instantly. One note against the ear. Boom: There, instantly. You can't play faster than somebody who always has the sound of the music in his horn.
"The Muse Asylum" David Czuchlewski
I've always found the term “postmodern writer” distasteful and vague. Dickens used multiple and sometimes conflicting narrative voices in Bleak House. Conrad was writing about alienation and absurdity at the turn of the century. Wells was writing about the collision of society and during the same period. These are supposedly postmodern concerns, but they belong to a much wider range of authors. Forster said that all the great authors should be thought of as sitting together in the Reading Room of the British Museum, rather than separated into different centuries and movements. That's a much better way to think about literature than this absurd pigeonholing so common among small minds.
"Mr. Dynamite" Meredith Brosnan
This book is not normal.
"Under the Banner of Heaven" Jon Kraukauer
EeeeeEEEwwwwwwww...there are some really scary folks out there.
The prologue to Part III begins with a excerpt from Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not a Christian, and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects":
One is often told that it is a very wrong thing to attack religion, because religion makes men virtuous. So I am told; I have not noticed it...
You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step toward the diminution of war, every step toward better treatment of the colored races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organized churches of the world...
My Own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as disease born of fear and a source of untold misery to the human race. I cannot, however, deny that it has made some contributions to civilization. It helped in early days to fix the calendar, and it caused Egyptian priests to chronicle eclipses with such care that in time they became able to predict them. These two services I am prepared to acknowledge, but I do not know of any others.
Kraukauer states that "the genesis for this book was a desire to grasp the nature of religious belief.” The last chapter is really the Author's Remarks which leads off with this excerpt from Annie Dillard's "For the Time Being:"
There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been: A people busy and powerful, knowledgeable, ambivalent, important, fearful, and self-aware; a people who scheme, promote, deceive, and conquer; who pray for their loved ones, and long to flee misery and skip death. It is a weakening and discoloring idea, that rustic people knew God personally once upon a time – or even knew selflessness or courage or literature – but that it is too late for us. In fact, the absolute is available to everyone in every age. There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less.
"Doghouse Roses" Steve Earle
Singer, songwriter and storyteller Steve Earle has come out with this gritty little collection of short stories. If you're a fan of his music, you'll love this read.
"Getting Things Done" David Allen
I have to admit that I am a fledgling organizational freak. I just have too much stuff to manage most of the time. This book has helped me to change some bad habits, which can suck the life force out of a Tasmanian Devil, with some fairly simple yet effective ideas.
"Motherless Brooklyn" Jonathan Letham
"Hard Freeze" Dan Simmons
"Chasing the Dime" Michael Connelly
Connelly consistently spins a good detective yarn...great for a fast, easy and brainless read.
"A Model World and Other Stories" Michael Chabon
"The Devil's Highway" Luis Alberto Urrea
The Mexican government's border sign near Sasabe doesn't actually say "Coyotes." It uses the hipper slang of the border. It says "Los Polleros."
A pollero would be a chicken-wrangler. The level of esteem the smugglers hold for their charges is stated plainly. They're simply chickens.
Of course, if you know Spanish, you know that the word for "chicken" is gallina. "Pollo" is usually reserved for something else. A pollo, as on arroz con pollo, has been cooked.
They gawked at the worms of snow on the highest peaks. The stared at the pine trees, the roadside deer. The big cities were no more amazing than the dry lands they entered, the maguey and burros of the heartland, the cacti and plains of the north. The ones who knew geography told the others where they were–the states with the strange names: Zacatecas, Chihuahua. They passed through a hundred towns, a scattering of cities. They crossed little rivers, watched a thousand beaten cafés and gas stations whip by, burned out hulks of ancient car wrecks, white crosses erected along the highway where their ancestral travelers had perished. The whole way was a ghost road, haunted by tattered spirits left on the thirsty ground: drivers thrown out windows, revolutionaries hung from cottonwoods or shot before walls, murdered women tossed in the scrub. Into the Sierra Madre Occidental, the opposite side of their continent.
Numbers never lie, after all: they simply tell different stories depending on the math of the tellers.
The same facts and figures add up to different sums. The Center for Immigration Studies did a number crunch in 2001, and they came up with the alarming data that each illegal costs the United States money. "The estimated lifetime net fiscal drain (taxes paid minus services used) for the average adult Mexican immigrant is negative $55,200." That is, welfare, medical services, school services, various outreaches, cost us $55K+ over a lifetime of menial labor. The Mexican Migration Project (MMP) points out that harsher border policies, including the famous Operation Gatekeeper and its ilk, ensure that illegal immigrants stay for long periods - thus ensuring some percentage of that $55K+ prophecy comes to fruition.
Several studies have also pointed out that illegal immigrants actually depress wages. They help keep the minimum wage down. This means savings for the managers: Captains of Industry and loyal Dittoheads in the grand cirque du capitalisme are saving money on low wages and cheaper product. That can of peas we eat doesn't cost $9.98, not until the Wobblies get in there and organize a real union. Vicks VapoRub is bottled in Mexico; Big Macs are cooked by Mexicans. Shaving points off both ends.
Although the federal tax figure is decried in some of the reports as minimal - after all, these are poor folks who make $4.50 an hour - it is still worth considering. If there are eight million tonks slaving away in the United States right now (and one of the Mexican pols interviewed for this book crowed, "We have inserted twelve million workers into the United States - it is already Mexico! We have won the war!), most of those workers pay federal income tax: shaved right off the top. No choice, just like you. They pay state taxes: shaved right off the top. They get tapped for social security and FICA. There's a whole lot of shaving going on. If you multiply $4.50 an hour by eight million workers, that would mean there are 36 million taxable dollars being accrued every hour by illegals getting tapped for some percentage by Uncle Sam. Those workers will not receive a refund. State tax? Has the governor of California gotten a new swimming pool lately? How's the governor's mansion in Baton Rouge looking?
Lower wages, cheaper product, unclaimed federal taxes, unclaimed state taxes, unused social security. Over a lifetime, does it start to ameliorate the $55K+? What about sales tax, gas tax, rent? What about pampers at the local Vons supermarket? Cigarette tax. Beer. Tortillas and BVDs and cable and used cars and speeding tickets and water bills and electric bills and tampons and Trojans and Mars bars. Movie tickets. Running shoes. CDs. Over a lifetime, how much does it add to the American commonwealth?
But they take away our jobs! Interestingly, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that by 2008, there will be five million more jobs in the United States than people to do them. This is after the tide of illegals. After the post-Iraq economic doldrums. Even if we vacuum up the homeless and set them to sweeping and frying, we'll have a few million vacancies. Who you gonna call?
UCLA's North American Integration and Development Center (you can hear the talk radio hosts protesting already - UCLA! Commie Bastards!) releases a twenty-first-century study that found that "undocumented immigrants" contributed "at least $300 billion per year to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP)." If you put their numbers at a mere 4.5 million, they still add between $154 million and $220 billion, the report says. Researcher Marisol Sanchez told the EFE News Service, apropos of this study, that "although conservative groups claim that undocumented immigrants are a social burden," illegals tend to shy away from seeking social services because they don't want to be deported. Wherefore $55K+?
How many toys. How many phone bills. How much in the poor box at church. Hoe much for pencils, steaks, charcoal, glasses, panties, bras, bikes, skateboards, concerts, Blockbuster, Monistat, Head & Shoulders, Listerine. AOL. Computers. Backpacks. Uniforms. Night School.
What of the Devil's Highway itself, the tormented border in Arizona?
In June 2003, right in the heart and heat of the killing season, Thunderbird, the American Graduate School of International Management, released a study. Sooner or later, everyone will release a study. But this one made the Mexican consuls of Arizona happy. No doubt Vicente Fox faxed it to the White House.
Thunderbird learned that Arizona "gets $8 billion in economic impact annually from the relationship" with Mexico. That's profit, not costs. Mexico makes $5.5 billion. Reymundo and his son would have been stunned to know they were dying under a high tide of money. Critics will be stunned to learn that the United States makes more money in the deal than those wily Mexicans.
"Mexican immigrants paid nearly $600 million in federal taxes and sales taxes in 2002...Mexican immigrants use about $250 million in social services such as Medicaid and food stamps...Another $31 million in uncompensated health care..."
That leaves a profit of $319 million.
The Arizona Republic further quotes the report:
• The average annual wage for Arizonans is $28,355; for the state's Mexican immigrants it's $12,963.
• The total buying power of Arizona's Mexican immigrants is estimated at $4.18 billion.
• The state's Mexican immigrants spend an estimated $1.5 billion in mortgage payments and rent annually.
• Mexican tourists and visitors spent $962 million in Arizona in 2001, while state residents spent about $328 million in Mexico.
• Remittances from the state's Mexican immigrants to their homeland reached $486 million last year, with those transactions generating about $57 million in fees to Arizona banks and financial institutions.
We not only gonna get it back, but we gonna pay for it, too...
"The Center of Everything" Laura Moriarty
"Taft" Ann Patchett
"Reservation Blues" Sherman Alexie
"Murther & Walking Spirits" Robertson Davies
"Zydeco" Rick Oliver and Ben Sandmel
"Django" Michael Dregni
"Blowback" Bill Pronzini
"The Salterton Trilogy" Robertson Davies
"Cavedweller" Dorothy Allison
In the weeks after Billy Tucker tried to kill Dede, she and Nolan reminded Tacey of those puppies. sleepy-eyed but always watching. and jumping up happily when the other approached. There was no doubt they were in season, tuned to each other and vibrating to the same measure. They were like dogs and children in summer, their tongues always hanging loose and their hair smelling sweet and slightly acrid at the same time, like sugar and piss and love. Sometimes Tacey would take a breath of them and laugh despite herself, but once in a while coming in on them when they were pressed to each other, she would feel as if something would hit her in the heart, stopping her utterly and making her whole life feel useless and uncertain. No one affected her like that, no one speeded her heart or altered her breathing. No one in her life had ever even made her think of changing anything. Watching two who in one moment had been remade rendered everything she had ever known questionable. Tacey pulled out some of her stories and read them through. With the smell of all that lust in the house, the stories seemed thin and bloodless. Tacey rocked on her mattress and tried to imagine what it felt like, the reeling passion that had overtaken Nolan. She felt cramped, uncertain and fearful that there were things she had not yet prepared herself to face.