Milo loves to read so please enjoy his reading list from 2011 along with some notes and quotes he has compiled from some of them.
"Faceless Killers" Henning Mankell
"The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter" Carson McCullers (1940)
"… Talk – talk – talk. The words came out of his throat like a cataract. And the thing was that the accent he used was always changing, the kind of words he used. Sometimes he talked like a linthead and sometimes like a professor. He would use words a foot long and then slip up on his grammar. It was hard to tell what kind of folks he had or what part of the country he was from. He was always changing. Thoughtfully Biff fondled the tip of his nose. There was no connection. Yet connection usually went with brains. This man had a good mind, all right, but he went from one thing to another without any reason behind it all. He was like a man thrown off his track by something. "
"…But say a man does know. He sees the world as it is and he looks back thousands of years to see how it all come about. He watches the slow agglutination of capital and power and he sees its pinnacle today. He sees America as a crazy house. He sees how men have to rob their brothers in order to live. He sees children starving and women working sixty hours a week to get to eat. He sees a whole damn army of unemployed and billions of dollars and thousands of miles of land wasted. He sees war coming. He sees how when people suffer just so much they get mean and ugly and something dies in them. But the main thing he sees is that the whole system of the world is built on a lie. And although it's as plain as the shining sun – the don't-knows have lived with that lie so long they just can't see it."
"…The people dreamed and fought and slept as much as ever. And by habit they shortened their thoughts so that they would not wander out into the darkness beyond tomorrow."
The following paragraph illustrates that the notion of the haves and have-nots is nothing new. This was written in 1940 and is as relevant today as it was then.
Jake turned the globe again and pressed his blunt, grimy thumb on a carefully selected spot. "Here. These thirteen states. I know what I'm talking about. I read books and I go around. I been in every damn one of these thirteen states. I've worked in every one. And the reason I think like I do is this: We live in the richest country in the world. There's plenty and to spare for no man, woman, or child to be in want. And in addition to this our country was founded on what should have been a great, true principle – the freedom, equality, and the rights of each individual. Huh! And what has come of that start? There are corporations worth billions of dollars – and hundreds of thousands of people who don't get to eat. And her in these thirteen states the exploitation of human beings is so that _ that it's a thing you got to take in with your own eyes. In my life I've seen things that would make a man go crazy. At least one third of all Southerners live and die no better off than the lowest peasant in any European Fascist state. The average wage of a worker on a tenant farm is only seventy-three dollars per year. And mind you, that's the average! The wages of sharecroppers run from thirty-five to ninety dollars ore person. And thirty-five dollars a year means just about ten cents for a full days work. Everywhere there's pellagra and hookworm and anaemia. And just plain, pure starvation. But!" Jake rubbed his lips with the knuckles of his dirty fist. Sweat stood out on his forehead. "But!" he repeated. "Those are only the evils you can see and touch. The other things are worse. I'm talking about the way that the truth has been hidden from the people. The things they have been told so they can't see the truth. The poisonous lies. So they aren't allowed to know."
"Hank & Muddy" Stephen Mertz
"Firewall" Henning Mankell
This is my first Henning Mankell book borrowed from my neighbor. Firewall is the ninth book in a series with Detective Kurt Wallander as the protagonist. This is smart, sharp writing and a serious page turner. I read the last half in one afternoon as I couldn't put the book down. I'll be starting the rest of them from the beginning of the series. Here's the line-up: 1. The Pyramid, 2. Faceless Killers, 3. The Dogs of Riga, 4. The White Lioness, 5. The Man Who Smiled, 6. Sidetracked, 7. The Fifth Woman, 8. One Step Behind, 9. Firewall, 10. Return of the Dancing Master, 11. Before the Frost, 12. The Grave, and 13. The Troubled Man.
"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" Stieg Larsson
You've read it. Now I've read it. Everyone's read it. Now Hollywood is cashing in on it. Folks, the movies of the series have been made. In Denmark. With Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander and Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Blomkvist. All released in 2009. See them.
That aside, Here's an interesting exchange on corporate salaries with SMP (news) editor Erika Berger, the CEO (Borgsjø) and the owner of the paper (Sellberg):
"Of course the board approved your measures, because you guaranteed a dividend each year. That's what has to stop, and now."
"So you're suggesting in all seriousness that the board should decide to abolish dividends and bonuses. What makes you think the stockholders would agree to that?"
"I'm proposing a zero-profit operating budget this year. That would mean savings of almost twenty-one million kronor and the chance to beef up SMP's staff and finances. I'm also proposing wage cuts for management. I'm being paid a monthly salary of 88,000 kronor, which is utter insanity for a newspaper that can't add a job to its sports desk."
"So you want to cut your own salary? Is this some sort of wage communism you're advocating?"
"Don't bullshit me. You make 112,000 kronor a month, if you add in your annual bonus. That's crazy. If the newspaper were stable and bringing in a tremendous profit, then you could pay out as much as you wanted in bonuses. I propose cutting all management salaries by half."
"What you don't understand is that our stockholders bought stock in the paper because they want to make money. That's called capitalism. If you arrange for them to lose money, then they won't want to be stockholders any longer."
"I'm not suggesting they should lose money, thought it might come to that. Ownership implies responsibility. As you yourself pointed out, capitalism is what matters here. SMP's owners want to make a profit. But it's the market that decides whether you make a profit or take a loss. By your reasoning, you want the rules of capitalism to apply solely to the employees of SMP, while you and stockholders will be exempt."
Sellberg rolled his eyes and sighed. He cast an entreating glance at Borgsjø, but the CEO was intently studying Berger's nine-point program.
"Parable of the Sower" Octavia E. Butler
Prodigy is, at its essence,
adaptability and persistent,
positive obsession. Without
persistence, what remains is an
enthusiasm of the moment. Without
adaptability, what remains may
be channeled into destructive
fanaticism. Without positive
obsession, there is nothing at all.
EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING
by Laura Oya Olamina
So begins the Parable series by author Octavia E. Butler. She had me at the gem written above. It's 2024 and the U.S. is in economic turmoil where the haves have so much more than the have nots (hmmm, sound familiar? She wrote this in 1993) that folks have put up walls to surround a small enclave of houses to protect their lives and belongings. It's not unusual during this time to be killed for your shoes or your shirt. Eventually, her family's walls are overtaken leaving Laura and a couple friends to escape heading north of the LA area. She is not even 20 years of age but has the wisdom of someone much older. She has been writing her 'Earthseed: Books of the Living' for years and lives by her convictions.
After her father, a minister, was killed outside the wall, Laura took over preaching at his church. Here's a brief account that. I think, relates directly to the Occupy Movement going on in 2011:
"I thanked them for all the ongoing – emphasize ongoing – efforts to find my father. Then . . . well, then I talked about perseverance. I preached a sermon about perseverance if an ordained kid can be said to preach a sermon. No one was going to stop me. Cory was the only one who might have tried, but Cory was in a kind of walking coma. She wasn't doing anything she didn't have to do.
So I preached from Luke, chapter eighteen, verses one through eight: the parable of the importunate widow. It's one I've always liked. A widow is so persistent in her demands foe justice that she overcomes the resistance of a judge who fears neither God nor man. She wears him down.
Moral: The weak can overcome the strong if the weak persist. Persisting isn't always safe, but it's often necessary."
"Last Comes the Egg" Bruce Duffy
"Which gets to the hidden nature of fixing. See, these were the days when things were still fixed at home – when things were still worth fixing. Still, the process totally mystified most people. It wasn't just fixing they failed to understand, Dad said. What people totally failed to grasp was the hidden nature of breaking, which Dad's cardinal rule was, nothing breaks all at once.
Think about it! Everything's going fine, when, fssst, your clock, radio, fan, or whatever, conks out! And why? It's just this busted pin or burned thinga-majigger, but after a few rough shakes, people say, 'It's broken,' like suddenly it's all broken, totally smashed to bits, not one screw salvageable. And not just busted, hated. Why, it's gypped and betrayed them! Worse, it's made them feel inept. Whump, into the trash.
Just bugged the hell out of Dad, how people who'd go to any length to save a sick cat or pry a quarter from under the molding would heave out a perfectly good clock or toaster that only needed a little oil or tinkering. Whump. Out on the curb it goes, there for some kid to kick down the street, and people are so haughty and ignorant they don't even know the love and familiness that gets accumulated into things, which somebody somewhere had sweated blood to invent and make for them, and all their lives they'd camped around it like a little fire with our ever seeing the soul inside it or anything. People being what they are, they wouldn't even dispose of it with any respect, say, in the way they's burn and old Sunday missal or wrap a poor sparrow in a cheesecloth and give him a decent burial. Whump."
"It's a surprise party. Floating across our living room in the morning sunlight, there's a cloud of smoke, and, beneath it, the huddled barn smell of all your grieving, perspiring, freely drinking relatives. Already Dad's been beat up so bad, and he's so pooped out, that he abandons ship for his room. Down the gauntlet I go, hugged, kissed, gazed upon, stuck with tie clasps and earrings, then smeared with tears and lipstick from various ailing, fleshy old aunts seizing up from creaking chairs, wall-eyed Rose with the polio leg, Marge with the elephantine arm that she cradles like an infant and Alice who kisses me with the teary abruptitude of a Vichy general. The doorbell rings. A pot of drooping lilies flies past me – passed down the family bucket brigade – back to the sideboard to be stacked with the other gaudy, poisonous looking flowers, beside which my Uncle Jim, the cop built like a fullback with the red combover, where cool Uncle Jim tends bar with his handsome, philandering brother-in-law and A&P butcher, Dave – 'Dog Dave' – or simply the 'Bellyman,' forDave's knack of boosting out porterhouse steaks and cold cuts strapped to his belly. Playing the nags, running the girls, it's Dave, happy Dave, with the transistor radio bulging from his shirt pocket and the little earphone dangling from one ear. You think life stops for game three of the World Series?"
"And these make such great stories. Trouble is, though, they always turn on me, making me think, So what's wrong with my life? It's like I'm staring through the wrong end of a telescope. Suddenly I'm feeling small instead of large, and wrong instead of right.
And that's the problem with the stories adults tell. They're not your stories. They're not your life at all, and they can't be – can't because as you must know by now, the real stories are the ones that adults'll never tell."
"And what a life! Grammaw can't even cook, unless you call boiling cooking. The bubbling pot clanks and foams until the steam's running down the windows. Steaming corned beefs and cabbages and roots. Boiled tongues and chickens that totally disintegrate under blisters of yellow grease. Frying at extreme heat – that's her other technique. Seared beef heart. Fried liver and onions smothered in evil oniony gravies. Coughing and smoking, she's forever pacing, her pink fluff Indian moccasins scuffling across the kitchen linoleum, past the black scorch like the flaming imprint of my butt. Suddenly, Titti-Titti seems a long way off.
And God, does that old lady wear me out. One night, I'm so worn out from her pacing that I flop down in the middle of the kitchen floor. What kind of crazy pervert am I? Because as Grammaw shuffles by, under her skirt I stare in disbelief at the heavens, a giant black widow of hair in the center of her slack, pantyless rump! But night's the worst. Her grief's like an avalanche. In the middle of the night she'll wake me up, her cold-creamed skin hugging my face like a rubber mask as she sobs, 'Do you remember her now? Don't you remember her? Can't you remember anything?' As she rocks and sobs over me, of course I can't help but see her old tithes hanging out through her chiffon nightgown. Still, like remembering – remembering or feeling anything now – it only lasts a second. The minute I see her old tits it's cauterized, it's erased completely, my eyes foaming over like two cuts doused in hydrogen peroxide."
' "Now here," says Mrs. Bayard, her voice a dry whisper, "now here's a truly great story." Slowly she cracks the binding, then smooths back the page with those bristling rings of hers, But Dr. Bayard could't afford to bury her in them, could he? Flings her rings in the mud? Mrs. Bayard's chest quivers. I feel her breath rising over her glasses, and sometimes she stops. But slowly, she reads me parts from Jack London and Stephan Crane. She even reads me those Nick Adams stories, complete with every last 'bastard' and 'son of a bitch.'
"But Mrs. Bayard," I ask. "Hemingway couldn't actually write that, could he? He could actually write that in a book?"
"Frank, it's not a bathroom door. He wrote it as an artist."
Another revelation, that you could write and be an artist. What Mrs. Bayard always hammers on, though, is that no matter how wild or made up, the story's gotta be true, with no holding back or phoniness. And no suckering people with 'pretties' so a lot of prissy dumdums can warm their hearts and say how nice it's written – like the idea, ever, is being 'nice.' No, she's real tough on books, Mrs. Bayard, not at all Dad's idea of a lady, much less a rich lady. And feeling like a vulture, my guts'll rumble, Liar. You wouldn't even like her if she wasn't rich and gonna die.'
"Look At Me" Jennifer Egan
Thirty-five-year-old Charlotte, a thoroughly unpleasant Manhattan-based model who escaped the middle-class nothingness of her upbringing in Rockford, Ill., then spent her adult life getting by on appearances, literally loses her face in a catastrophic car accident back in Rockford. As Charlotte's rebuilt face heals and she goes unrecognized at the restaurants and nightclubs that were her old haunts, she must grapple with the lives and losses she has tried to outrun a fractured childhood friendship, the fiancé she betrayed and "Z," a suspicious man from an unidentified Middle Eastern country. Anthony Halliday, an attractive, tormented private investigator, interrupts Charlotte's isolation. Hired by a pair of nightclub owners to track down Z because he absconded with a pile of their money, Halliday carries the scent of romance, but he also kicks off a chain of introductions that bizarrely lands Charlotte in the "mirrored room" of great fame. She is reconnected with her past at the same time that she becomes part of a brave new Internet world, where identity itself is a consumable commodity. Oddly, this narrative alternates with that of her old friend Ellen's daughter (also named Charlotte), whose life in Rockford centers around two older men. Though expertly constructed and seductively knowing, Egan's tale is marred by the overblown trendiness at its core. Charlotte (the model, who progresses from horrid to just bearable by the end) and the others come to the same realization: a world ruled by the consumerist values bred by mass production and mass information is "a world constructed from the outside in." The Buddha said it better. – Publisher's Weekly, © 2001
Incongruously, he smiled. So exceptional had Mark been for much of his life, so unaccustomed to being ignored and disregarded, that the normal responses – anger, bitterness – seemed never to have developed in him, and he reacted to each new slight and disappointment with an almost childlike bafflement. He didn't understand. He didn't understand and there was no way for Irene to explain what she barely understood herself: that fashion was ruthless, reputations variable, that the slightest intimation of failure could drive people away. Lately she had begun forcing herself to see these things coldly, dispassionately, because one of them had to; otherwise they would be trampled underfoot by everyone else.
The answer lay in the vision itself: a different man than Moose was the one who thrived in this new world, a sociopath who made himself anew each afternoon, for whom lying was merely persuasion. More and more they ruled the world, these quicksilver creatures, minotaurs who weren't the products of birth or history, nature or nurture, but assembled for the eye from prototypes; who bore the same relationship to human beings as machine-made clothing did to something hand-stitched. A world remade by circuitry was a world without history or context or meaning, and because we are what we see, we are what we see, such a world was certainly headed toward death.
"The Book of Illusions" Paul Auster
After Vermont professor David Zimmer's family perishes in a plane crash, he is pulled out of despair when he comes across a reference to a silent film director named Hector Mann who mysteriously disappears in 1929 and has been presumed dead. He locates Mann's biographer, Alma Grund, falls in love and embarks on a journey to find what became of the man and his work.
…The book fell open somewhere in the middle, and I saw that one of the sentences had been underlined faintly in pencil. Les moments de cries produisent un redoublement de vie chez les hommes. Moments of crises produce a redoubled vitality in men. Or, more succinctly perhaps: Men don't begin to live fully until their backs are against the wall.
"Last Car to Elysian Fields" James Lee Burke
"Falling Man" Don DeLillo
"The Crystal Frontier" Carlos Fuentes
Before he was twenty, Dionisio had taken as an article of faith that there were only five great cuisines in the world: Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish and Mexican. Other nationalities had dishes of the first quality – Brazilian feijoada, Peruvian chicken soup with chiles, Argentine beef were excellent, as were North African couscous and Japanese teriyaki – but only Mexican cuisine was a universe unto itself. From Sinaloa's chilorio, with its little cubes of pork well seasoned with oregano, sesame, garlic and fat chiles, to Oaxaca's chicken with mountain herbs and avocado leaves, the uchepo tamales of Michoacan, Colima's sea bass with prawns and parsley, San Luis Potosi's meatloaf stuffed with cheese, and that supreme delicacy which is Oaxaca's yellow mole – two so-called wide chiles, two guajillo chiles, one red tomato, 250 grams of green jitomatillos, two tablespoons of coriander, two leaves of hierbasanta, two peppercorns – Mexican cuisine was for Dionisio a constellation apart that moved in the celestial vaults of the palate with its own trajectories, its own planets, satellites, comets, meteors. Like space itself, it was infinite.
Dioniso would be speaking to dozens of Beavis and Butt-head wannabes, the offspring of Wayne's World, legions of young people convinced that being an idiot is the best way to pass throughout the world recognized by no one (in some cases) or everyone (in others). Masters always of an anarchic liberty and a stupid natural wisdom redeemed by an imbecility devoid of pretensions or complications. Knowing consisted of not knowing. The depressing lesson of the movie Forrest Gump. To be always available for whatever chance may bring… How could the successors of Forrest Gump understand that, when a single Mexican city, Puebla, can boast of more than eight hundred dessert recipes, it is because of generations and generations of nuns, grandmothers, nannies, and old maids, the work of patience, tradition, love, and wisdom? How, when their supreme refinement consisted in thinking that life is like a box of chocolates, a varied pre-fabrication, a fatal Protestant destiny disguised as free will? Beavis and Butt-head, that pair of half-wits, would have finished off the nuns of Puebla by pelting them with stale cake, the grandmothers they would have locked in closets to die of hunger and thirst, and of course they would have raped the nannies. And finally, a favor of the highest for the leftover young ladies.
From "Malintzin of the Maquilas"
"We all change jobs," chimed in Barroso merrily, "Even you. If we enforce work-safety rules, they move on. If we're strict about applying the Federal Labor law, they move on. If there's a boom in the defense industry, they move on. You talk to me about job rotation? That's the law of labor. If the Europeans prefer quality of life to profits, that's their decision. Let the European community subsidize them."
"You still haven't answered my question, Len. What about the loyalty factor?"
"Anyone who wants to hold onto a loyal labor force should do what I do. I offer bonuses to workers so they'll stay. But the demand for labor is huge, the girls get bored, they don't move up, so they move sideways, and that way they fool themselves into thinking they're better off for changing. That does generate some costs, Ted, you're right, but it avoids other costs. Nothing's perfect. The plant isn't a zero-sum situation. It's a sum-sum one. We all end up making money."
…"Ted, the real business here isn't the plants. It's land speculation. The location of the plants. The subdivisions. The industrial park. Did you see my house over in Campazas? People laugh at it. They call it Disneyland. But I'm the one laughing. I bought all those lots for five centavos per square meter. Now they're worth a thousand dollars per square meter. That's where the money is. I'm giving you good advice. Take advantage of it. The girls have to travel for more than an hour, on two buses, to get here. What we should do is set up another center due west of here. Which means we should be buying land in Bellavista. It's a dump. Shitty shacks. In five years, it'll be worth a thousand times more."
From "The Bet"
"You and your friends didn't look at one another. They were afraid of offending one another with a glance. Eye contact was worse, more dangerous than the contact of hands, sexes, or skin. It had to be avoided. All of you were manly because you never looked at one another; you walked the streets of the town staring at the tips of your shoes and always you gave other people ugly looks, disdainful, challenging mocking or insecure. But Paquito did look at you, looked directly at you, frightened to death but direct, and you never forgave him that – that's why you beat him up, beat the shit out of him."
"Ignorance" Milan Kundera
The Greek word for 'return' is nostos. Algos means 'suffering.' So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return.
Irena and Josef, Czech immigrants, return home (Joseph was in Russia, Irena in France) after twenty years in exile only to find 'You Can't Go Home Again.' Memories are fragile from both the returning parties and the ones who stayed behind along with the social, political and physical changes of the city of Prague.
I imagine the feelings of two people meeting again after many years. In the past they spent some time together, and therefore they think they are linked by the same experience, the same recollections. The same recollections? That's where the misunderstanding starts: they don't have the same recollections; each of them retains two or three small scenes from the past, but each has his own; their recollections are not similar; they don't intersect; and even in terms of quantity they are not comparable: one person remembers the other more than he is remembered; first because memory capacity varies among individuals (an explanation that each of them would at least find acceptable), but also (and this is more painful to admit) because they don't hold the same importance for each other. When Irena saw Josef at the airport, she remembered every detail of their long-ago adventure; Josef remembered nothing. From the very first moment their encounter was based on an unjust and revolting inequality.
Couples have a continuous conversation that lulls them, its melodious stream throwing a veil over the body's waning desires. When the conversation breaks off, the absence of physical love comes forward like a ghost.
We will never cease our critique of those persons who distort the past, rewrite it, falsify it, who exaggerate the importance of one event and fail to mention some other; such a critique is proper (it cannot fail to be), but it doesn't count for much unless a more basic critique precedes it: a critique of human memory as such. For after all, what can memory actually do, the poor thing? it is only capable of retaining a paltry little scrap of the past, and no one knows why just this scrap and not some other one, since in each of us the choice occurs mysteriously, outside our will or our interests. We won't understand a thing about human life if we persist in avoiding the most obvious fact: that a reality no longer is what it was when it was; it cannot be reconstructed.
"T is for Trespass" Sue Grafton
"Havana Bay" Martin Cruz Smith
"Middlesex" Jeffrey Eugenides
I found a review of this book that is concise and to the point by Debbie Lee Wesselmann (trutor.net/Welcome.html):
"From the first sentence of Jeffrey Eugenides' MIDDLESEX, I was hooked by this complicated tale of a young girl who grows into a man. The story of Cal Stephanides begins generations before his birth, in a small Greek village, when his grandparents succumb to incestuous desires. Immigration to the United States keeps Desdemona and Lefty's secret intact - until their grandchild Cal reaches puberty. Told with both humor and earnestness, the story grows more engaging with every page.
The brilliance of this book emerges not from the superficial story of a hermaphrodite but from the context - historical, scientific, psychological, political, geographical - of Cal's birth and subsequent rebirth. MIDDLESEX is about much more than gender confusion. Cal's mixed gender can be taken as a metaphor for the experience of first- and second-generations born of immigrants. While the context of this story provides the substance, the characters provide the vibrancy. Cal emerges as a reliable and likeable narrator. He is sensible, good-humored, and intelligent. The spectrum of his experiences provides a smooth transition between childhood and adult, enabling the reader to embrace the character as both male and female. Cal's family is affectionately portrayed, even with their failings. (Cal's brother, Chapter Eleven, annoyed me with his name, a running gag, but even he ended up a full-blooded character by the end.)
Eugenides has written an expansive, compelling book. Despite its length of over 500 pages, the novel is not a slow read - unless the reader wants it to be, to make it last. Accessible, intelligent, well-paced and plotted, it should appeal to a wide range of readers.I can't recommend this novel highly enough."
And here are some segments to whet your appetite:
Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered by single words. I don't believe in 'sadness,' 'joy,' or 'regret.' Maybe the best proof that the language os patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, 'the happiness that attends disaster.' Or: 'the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy.' I'd like to show how 'intimations if morality brought on by aging family members' connects with 'the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.' I'd like to have a word for 'the sadness inspired by failing restaurants' as well as for 'the excitement of getting a room with a mini-bar.' I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered my story, I need them more than ever. From here on in, everything I'll tell you is colored by the subjective experience of being part of events. Here's where my story splits, divides, undergoes meiosis. Already the world feels heavier, now I'm part of it. I'm talking about bandages and sopped cotton, the smell of mildew in movie theaters, and of all the lousy cats and their stinking litter boxes, of rain on city streets when the dust comes up and the old Italian men take their folding chairs inside. Up until now it hasn't been my world. Not my America. But here we are, at last.
In their support for Johnson's Great Society, in their applause after To Sir With Love, our neighbors and relatives made clear their well-intentioned belief that the Negroes were fully capable of being just like white people – but then what was this? they asked themselves as they saw the pictures on television. What were those young men doing carrying a sofa down the street? Would Sidney Poitier ever take a sofa or a large kitchen appliance from a store without paying? Would he dance like that in front of a burning building? 'No respect for private property whatsoever,' cried Mr. Benz, who lived next door. And his wife Phyllis: 'Where are they going to live if they burn down their own neighborhood?' Only Aunt Zo seemed to sympathize: 'I don't know. If I was walking down the street and there was a mink coat just sitting there, I might take it.' Father Mike was shocked. 'That's stealing!' 'Oh, what isn't, when you come right down to it. This whole country's stolen.'
"Armageddon In Retrospect" Kurt Vonnegut
"Where do I get my ideas from? You might as well have asked that of Beethoven. He was goofing around in Germany like everybody else, and all of a sudden this stuff came gushing out of him. It was music. I was goofing around like everybody else in Indiana, and all of a sudden stuff came gushing out. It was disgust with civilization."
These short stories were all written after Vonnegut returned from WWII, except for a speech written by Kurt but delivered by his son Mark after Kurt's death in 2007. They are not his best work but it's clear that his disdain for war lasted throughout his life.
An excerpt from the speech in 2007:
"Communism is what Karl Marx hoped could be an economic scheme for making industrialized nations take as good care of people, and especially of children and the old and disabled, as tribes and extended families used to do, before they were dispersed by the Industrial Revolution.
And I think maybe we might be wise to stop badmouthing Communism so much, not because we think it's a good idea, but because our grandchildren and great-grandchildren are now in hock up to their eyeballs to the Communist Chinese.
And the Chinese Communists also have a big and superbly equipped army, something we don't have. We're too cheap. We just want to nuke everybody."
"The Traveler" (Fourth Realm Trilogy, Book 1) John Twelve Hawks
I didn't know until after I read this book (I picked it up at a library book sale) that it was the first volume of a three part series and that the author, John Twelve Hawks, is a pseudonym and is unknown to both his editor and agent.
The story could be used as a metaphor for our current political and economical climate as a secret organization called the Tabula is working to gain control of all aspects of the population. The opposing faction is the Travelers, individuals with the power to travel to other realms to bring back wisdom and insights to enlighten the sheepish nature of the general population. There are also the Harlequins, sword-wielding fighters dedicated to protecting the Travelers.
This volume deals with a reluctant Harlequin protagonist named Maya who feels forced into duty after her father's death. She is assigned to protect Gabriel and Michael Corrigan, Travelers with little knowledge of their own power.
"There's just a Harlequin way of looking at the world. Some Harlequins fight because it's our destiny. Some of us fight to defend freedom. I'm not talking about the opportunity to buy fourteen different kinds of toothpaste or the insanity that drives a terrorist to blow up a bus. True freedom is tolerant. It gives people the right to live and think in new ways."
"Don't you understand, Michael? These days people are frightened of the world around them, and that fear is easily encouraged and maintained. People want to be in our Virtual Panopticon. We'll watch over them like good shepherds. They'll be monitored, controlled, protected from the unknown.
"Besides, they rarely recognize the prison. There's always some distraction. A war in the Middle East. A scandal involving celebrities. The World Cup or the Super Bowl. Drugs, both illegal and prescribed. Advertisements. A novelty song. A change of fashion. Fear may induce people to enter our Panopticon, but we keep them amused while they're inside."
"Meanwhile you're killing Travelers."
"As I said, that's an outdated strategy. In the past, we responded like a healthy body rejecting different viruses. All the basic laws have been written down, in a multitude of languages. The rules are clear. Mankind just has to learn how to obey. But whenever a society was close to some degree of stability, a Traveler came along with new ideas and a desire to change everything. While the wealthy and the wise were trying to build a vast cathedral, the Travelers kept undermining the foundation – causing trouble."
"Remember what I told you? It's all just fear and distraction. Fear will get people into our Virtual Panopticon and then we'll keep them happy. People will be free to take antidepressant drugs, go into debt, and stare at their television sets. Society might seem disorganized, but it will be very stable. Every few years we'll pick a different mannequin to give speeches from the White House Rose Garden."
"One of many places. There are between three and four thousand splendida in the silo. It's their breeding area." Sophia went down two steps and stopped. "Do the snakes bother you?"
"No. But it seems a little unusual."
"Every new experience is unusual. The rest of life is just sleep and committee meetings. Now come along and shut the door behind you."
"The Book of Air and Shadows" Michael Gruber
Michael Gruber's thrillers are a cut above the rest of the genre…interesting dialogue, creative plot twists and page turners all. The crux of this novel involves the hunt for a possible unearthed Shakespeare manuscript which would be worth untold millions. Hilarity ensues……….kidding. Actually, this may be a bit slow paced for some but I could hardly put it down.
Our Revels now are ended: These our actors
(As I foretold you) were all spirits, and
Are melted into Ayre, into thin Ayre,
And like the baseless fabric of this vision
The Clowd-capt Towres, the gorgeous Pallaces,
The solemn Temples, the great Globe is self,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And like this insubstantial Pageant faded
Leave not a racke behinde: we are such stuffe
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleepe . . .
– William Shakespeare;
The Tempest, act IV, scene i,
The First Folio, 1623
Since the coming of Arnold, people tend to confuse the use of weights to sculpt the body with competitive weight lifting. They are completely different enterprises. Weight lifters almost never have cut or pretty bodies, which are in any case more to do with the absence of subcutaneous fat than with strength. Any serious heavy-class weight lifter could break Mr. Universe over his knee. Only potentially, of course: I have found it to be the case that large, strong people are mild of temperament unless they are into steroids, which is more and more common nowadays, I fear. I remain nonsteroidally mild, however.
I love my children as much as I love anything, which I have to say is not all that much. I am able to maintain the simulacrum of a good father simply as an act of imagination, as previously I maintained that of a good son, a good brother, a friend, and so on. It is more easy than you might think to fool people, and until I met Amelie I thought everyone was like that, I thought people picked a script from a cultural box and played it out, I thought that, really, there was no difference beaten Jake Mishkin playing Mercutio and Jake Mishkin playing Jake Mishkin, except that Mercutio was better written.
He said (a teacher from Columbia named Charlton) there are three kinds of history. The first is what really happened, and that is lost forever. The second is what most people thought happened, and we can recover that with assiduous effort. The third is what the people in power wanted the future to think happened, and that is 90 percent of the history in books.
Paul's theory is that our civilization is collapsing into a dark age and that the advancing edges of this are visible in urban ghettos. He says dark ages are all about forgetting civilization and its arts and also the increasing reluctance of the ruling classes to pay for civic life. This sealed the fate of Rome, he claims. He doesn't think that the ghetto needs uplift, however, but rather that when the crash comes, the poor will survive better than their masters. They need less, he says, and they are more charitable, and they don't have to unlearn as much. This was why Jesus preferred them. Yes, quite crazy; but when I observe the perfect helplessness of my fellow citizens of the middle class and higher, our utter dependence on electricity, cheap gas, and the physical service of unseen millions, our reluctance to pay our fair share, our absurd gated enclaves, our "good buildings," and our incompetence at any task other than the manipulation of symbols, I often think he has a point.
So . . . this Polanski. He has had a horrid life. He is born at just the wrong time. He is a jew, his parents taken to death camps, he grows up wild. He makes success through hard work and talents and marries beautiful wife, band she is killed by some madman. Why should he believe anything but that devil rules this world? But I was born somewhat earlier in same time, not a Jew but still, life was not so happy for Poles either, the Nazis thought we were almost so bad as the Jews, and so I say I was, if not same as Polanski, at least, you agree, in same class. Father murdered by Nazis, mother killed in uprising, 1944, I am on streets, a baby cared for by my sister, she is twelve years old, my first memory is burning corpses, a pile of bodies in flames and the smell. How we survived I don't know, a whole generation of us. Later, I should add, like Polanski I lost my wife, not to a madman but also tortured to death, months of it. I was by that time not very well in with the authorities and it was difficult to obtain morphia for her. Well, not to talk about personal trouble. I meant to say, after the war, somehow, despite the Germans and the Russians, we look around and discover there is still life in us. We learn, we make love, we have children. Poland survives, our language lives.
People write poetry. Warsaw is rebuilt, every brick, same like before the war. Miloscz wins Nobel, Szymborska wins Nobel, and one of us is pope. Who could imagine this? And so when we make art, this art most often says something more than, oh, poor little me, how I have suffered, the devil is in charge, life is trash, we can do nothing. This is what I mean.
The boy responded to a polite question about the computer game he was playing with a continuous stream of information about his entire history in the Warcraft universe, every feature of his game persona, every treasure he had won, every monster fought. The spiel was uninterruptible by any of the conventional sociolinguistic dodges and the boredom was so intense it nearly sucked the flavor out of the excellent filet and the Chambertin. Crosetti wanted to stab the child with his steak knife.
"Surely not," Mishkin objected. "Surely it's the other way around – filmmakers take popular ideas and embody them in films."
"No, the movies come first. For example, no one ever had a fast-draw face-to-face shoot-out on the dusty Main Street in a western town. It never happened, ever. A screenwriter invented it for dramatic effect. It's the classic American trope, redemption through violence, and it comes through the movies. There were very few handguns in the real old west. They were expensive and heavy and no one but an idiot would wear them in a side holster. On a horse? When you wanted to kill someone in the Old West, you waited for your chance and shot him in the back, usually with a shotgun. Now we have a zillion handguns because the movies taught us that a handgun is something a real man has to have, and people really kill each other like fictional western gunslingers. And it's not just thugs. Movies shape everyone's reality, to the extent that it's shaped by human action – foreign policy, business, sexual relationships, family dynamics, the whole nine yards. It used to be the Bible but now it's movies. Why is there stalking? Because we know that the guy should persist and make a fool of himself until the girl admits that she loves him. We've all seen it. Why is there date rape? Because the asshole is waiting for the moment when resistance turns to passion. He's seen Nicole and Reese do it fifty times. We make these little decisions, day by day, and we end up with a world. This one, like it or not."
"Regeneration" Pat Barker
Based on the true events, this story focuses on British soldier Siegfried Sassoon's breakdown, or "shell-shocked" as it was termed then, from his time on the front lines during WWI in 1917. Sassoon is in a mental hospital for a statement he penned condemning war:
Finished With the War
A Soldier's Declaration
I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance if military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.
I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defense and liberation, has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them, and that, had this been done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.
I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.
I am not protesting against the conduct of war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practiced in them; also I believe that I may help to destroy the callus complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.
Some things never change. The first sentence in his statement strikes home 90 years later.
Sassoon is placed in the care of Dr. W.H.R. Rivers in Edinburgh's Craiglockhart Hospital, along with another patient, Wilfred Owen. Barker walks us through the effects of war on the men who are deep in the midst of the horror, and how the relationship of doctor and patient changes all three.
In leading his patients to understand that breakdown was nothing to be ashamed of, that horror and fear were inevitable responses to the trauma of war and were better acknowledged than suppressed, the feelings of tenderness for other men were natural and right, that tears were an acceptable and helpful part of grieving, he was setting himself against the whole tenor of their upbringing. They'd been trained to identify emotional repression as the essence of manliness. Men who broke down, or cried, or admitted to feeling fear, were sissies, weaklings, failures. Not men. And yet he himself was a product of the same system, even perhaps a rather extreme product. Certainly the rigorous repression of emotion and desire had been the consent theme of his adult life. In advising his young patients to abandon the attempt at repression and to let themselves feel the pity and terror their war experience inevitably evoked, he was excavating the ground he stood on.
He could see why Layard might use the term. Layard's relationship with his father had been difficult, and he was a young man, without any personal experience of fathering. Though fathering, like mothering, takes many forms beyond the biological. Rivers had often been touched be the way in which young men, some of them not yet twenty, spoke about feeling like fathers to their men. Though when you looked at what they did. Worrying about socks, boots, blisters, food, hot drinks. And that perpetually harried expression of theirs. Rivers had only had ever seen that look in one other place: in the public wards of hospitals, on the faces of women who were bringing up large families on very low incomes, women who, in their early thirties, could easily be taken for fifty or more. It was the look of people who are totally responsible for lives they have no power to save.
Rivers's inspection of the menu was confined to identifying which particular variety of poached fish was currently on offer. Sassoon gave the matter more thought. Rivers watched him as he pored over the menu and thought how much easier his life would have been if they'd sent Siegfried somewhere else. It wasn't simply the discomfort of having to express views he was no longer sure he held – though, as a scientist, he did find that acutely uncomfortable. No, it was more than that. Every case posed implicit questions about the individual costs of the war, and never more so than in the run up to a round of Medical Boards, when the MOs had to decide which men were fit to return to duty. This would have been easier if he could have believed, as Lewis Yealland, for example, believed, that men who broke down were degenerates whose weakness would have caused them to break down, eventually, even in civilian life, but Rivers could see no evidence of that. The vast majority of his patients had no record of any mental trouble. And as soon as you accepted that the man's breakdown was a consequence of his war experience rather than of his own innate weakness, then inevitably the war became the issue. And the therapy was a test, not only of the genuineness of the individual's symptoms, but also of the validity of the demands the war was making on him. Rivers had survived partly by suppressing his awareness of this. But then along came Sassoon and made the justifiability of the war a matter of constant, open debate and that suppression was no longer available.
Obvious choices for the east window: the two bloody bargains in which civilization claims to be based. The bargain, Rivers thought, looking at Abraham and Isaac. The one on which all patriarchal societies are founded. If you, who are young and strong, will obey me, who am old and weak, even to the extent of being prepared to sacrifice your life, then in the course of time you will peacefully inherit, and be able to exact the same obedience from your sons. Only we're breaking the bargain, Rivers thought. All over northern France, at this very moment, in trenches and dugouts and flooded shell-holes, the inheritors were dying, not one by one, while old men, and woman of all ages, gathered together and sang hymns."
They talked for over an hour. Near the end, after they'd been sitting in silence for a while, Burns said quietly, “Do you know what Christ died of?”
Rivers looked surprised, but answered readily enough. “Suffocation. Ultimately the position makes it impossible to go on inflating the lungs. A terrible death.”
“That's what I find so horrifying. Somebody had to imagine that death. I mean, just in order to invent it as a method of execution. You know that thing in the Bible? ‘The imagination of a man's heart is evil from his youth?’I used to wonder why pick on that? Why his imagination? But it's absolutely right.”
A horse's bit. Not an electrode, not a teaspoon. A bit. An instrument of control. Obviously he and Yealland were both in the business of controlling people. Each of them fitted young men back into the role of warrior, a role they had – however unconsciously – rejected. He'd found himself wondering once or twice recently what possible meaning the restoration of mental health could have in relation to his work. Normally a cure implies that the patient will no longer engage in behavior that is clearly self-destructive. But in present circumstances, recovery meant the resumption of activities that were not merely self-destructive but positively suicidal. But then in a war nobody is a free agent. He and Yealland were both locked in, every bit as much as their patients were.
Here Rivers passes on a story to his own therapist relating to a trip to the Solomon Islands:
“I don't know whether you've ever had the … the experience of having your life changed by a quite trivial incident. You know, nothing dramatic like the death of a parent, or the birth of a child. Something so trivial you almost can't see why it had the effect it had. It happened to me on that trip. I was on the Southern Cross – that's the mission boat – and there was a group of islanders there – recent converts. You can always tell if they're recent, because the women still have bare breasts. And I thought I'd go through my usual routine, so I started asking questions. The first question was, what would you do with it if you earned or found a guinea? Would you share it, and if so who would you share it with? It gets their attention, to them it's a lot of money, and you can uncover all kinds of things about kinship structure and economic arrangements, and so on. Anyway at the end of this – we were all sitting cross-legged on the deck, miles from anywhere – they decided they'd turn the tables on me, and ask me the same questions. Starting with: What would I do with a guinea? Who would I share it with? I explained that I was unmarried and that I wouldn't necessarily feel obliged to share it with anybody. They were incredulous. How could anybody live like that? And so it went on, question after question. And it was one of those situations, you know, where one person starts laughing and everybody joins in and in the end the laughter just feeds off itself. They were rolling round the deck by the time I'd finished. And suddenly I realized that anything I told them would have got the same response. I could've talked about sex, repression, guilt, fear – the whole sorry caboodle – and it would've got exactly the same response. They wouldn't've felt a twinge of disgust or approval or…sympathy or anything, because it would have all been too bizarre. And I suddenly saw that their reactions to my society were neither more nor less valid than mine to theirs. And do you know that was a moment of the most amazing freedom. I lay back and I closed my eyes and I felt as if a ton of weight had been lifted.”
“That, too, But it was more than that. It was…the Great White God de-throned, I suppose. Because we did, we quite unselfconsciously assumed we were the measure of all things. That was how we approached them. And suddenly I saw not only that we weren't the measure of all things, but that there was no measure.”
A society that devours its own young deserves no automatic or unquestioning allegiance.
"The Little Stranger" Sarah Waters
Touted as a ghost story, this is really a gothic tale of the Ayres family residing in their decaying mansion in post WW II Britain. A local physician, Doctor Faraday, narrates this tale as his relationship with the family slowly becomes more complex and complicated. A somewhat dense read but worth the time.
"Juliet, Naked" Nick Hornby
Hornby once again delves back into rock 'n'roll and relationships. The tale involves Annie and Duncan, a struggling couple, and Tucker Crowe, a former pop icon who quit the music biz many years back. Duncan is a devout fan of Tucker; he blogs obsessively about him, theorizes on his whereabouts and analyzes his lyrics to death. There are many priceless moments sprinkled throughout, some laugh-out-loud funny. In the end, the book is about Annie finding a way to take more control of her life in the midst of the boys club.
Annie wondered whether there was, anywhere in the country, a DJ wondering how to break into the business. It seemed unlikely, given the number of establishments that seemed to think they needed one. On the contrary, she suspected demand was such that young people had to be coerced into playing music in bars whether they wanted it or not, like a form of national service. Anyway, the Rose and Crown had a jukebox that offered Vince Hill's version of 'Edelweiss,' an offer that was only rarely taken up, in Annie's experience. It was hard to imagine many sex plans being drawn up in there. And if any were, they would be safe-sex plans, drawn up slowly, and running to several pages of warnings.
"The Scarecrow" Michael Connelly
Another fast-read mystery thriller from Connelly, this one reviving the protagonist Jack McEvoy, from The Poet. McEvoy, laid off from the LA Times, is searching for one last big story. He finds it in the tale of a gang member accused of a crime he may not have committed.
Connelly is one of my favorite crime thriller writers; he spins a good yarn, keeps up the suspense quotient and wraps it all with interesting characters. He can be a bit predictable at times but he tosses in enough twists and turns that you just have to go to the finish line.
"Roadside Crosses" Jeffery Deaver
This was in the house so thought I'd give it a go. From what I gather, Deaver, like Connelly, was a journalist turned crime writer. The bulk of his work has featured the quadriplegic detective Lincoln Rhyme. His first appearance was in The Bone Collector which was made into a film of the same name in the late 90s..
Roadside Crosses, however, is his second novel featuring CBI Agent Kathryn Dance. A page-turner, as it should be, with twists, turns, and enough tech talk for you cyberspace junkies.
"Crooked Little Heart" Anne Lamott
This is the story of Rosie Ferguson's 13th year. She is a junior tennis champion who excels on the court but her insecurities drive her to cheat during matches. Her parents, her tennis partner Simone and a mysterious tennis lurker named Luther all play a role in this tale of youthful peril.
There was a snapshot of Charles in a rowboat somewhere, young and handsome, wearing an old-fashioned T-shirt, like a muscle-man shirt. She almost said out loud to her mother that Charles looked like her dad would have looked if he'd lived another forty years, but if she said that, her mother would just try to make everything come out okay. Rosie wanted to feel these terrible empty held-breath feelings, this extremely sad thing that had happened, Charles dying, and she didn't want her mother to take it away and define it for her and then hand it back. She didn't want a guide. She felt like she had to be mean if she wanted to be herself, while all the grown-ups wanted her to be soft and sad and loving like they were being, and she did not want them to mess with her. She raised her elbows higher, like the turrets of a castle, to keep the grown-ups away. She felt fiercely alone, and she wanted to feel that way.
"Tinkers" Paul Harding
George Washington Crosby is hallucinating and on his death bed as he recalls images of his own father, Howard, an epileptic, tinker and traveling salesman. Not a book for thrill-seekers. This is a narrative to savor slowly with a hot cup of tea.
I will remain a set of impressions porous and open to combination with all of the other vitreous squares floating about in whoever else's frames, because there is always the space left in reserve for the rest of their own time, and to my great-grandchildren, with more space than tiles, I will be no more than the smoky arrangement of a set of rumors, and to their great-grandchildren I will be no more than a tint of some obscure color, and to their great-grandchildren nothing they ever knew about, and so what army of strangers and ghosts has shaped me until back to Adam, until back to when ribs were blown from molten sand into the glass bits that took up the light of this world because they were made from this world, even thought the fleeting tenants of those bits of colored glass have vacated them before they have had even the remotest understanding of what it is to inhabit them, and if they – if we are fortunate (yes, I am lucky, lucky), and if we are fortunate, have fleeting instants when we are satisfied that the mystery is ours to ponder, if never to solve, or even just rife personal mysteries, never mind those outside – are there even mysteries outside? a puzzle itself – but anyway, personal mysteries, like where is my father, why can't I stop all the moving and look out over the vast arrangements and find by the contours and colors and qualities of light where my father is, not to solve anything but just simply even to see it again one last time, before what, before it ends, before it stops. But it doesn't stop; it simply ends. It is a final pattern scattered without so much as a puss at the end, at the end of what, at the end of this.
Your cold mornings are filled without the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn't it?