Milo loves to read so please enjoy his reading list from 2016 along with some notes and quotes he has compiled from some of them.
“The Witch of Hebron” James Howard Kunstler
This is the sequel to ‘A World Made By Hand,’ published in 2008. It’s a vision of post-oil, post-electricity (except for salvaged turbines using water flow) America, this story taking place in upper New England.
“The Circle” Dave Eggers
After I read this, I found out there’s a film in production to be released in 2017 starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.
Not a deep read, but an intriguing look at a protagonist who gets caught up in a company (The Circle, a combination of Facebook, Twitter, and Google) that does away with all your privacy, using corporate motivation tools that compel people to be complicit in the scheme.
“Leather Maiden” Joe R. Lansdale
“Affinity” Sarah Waters
I said, ‘And you are aware of spirits, all about you?’––Ah, he said then, he is aware of them when they come to him. He has not the powers of a great medium. ‘I catch glimpses, only––“a little flash, a mystic hint”, as Mr Tennyson has it––rather then seeing vistas. I hear notes––a simple tune, if I am fortunate. Others, Miss Prior, hear symphonies.’
I said, To be aware of spirits…
‘One cannot but be aware of them, when one has seen them once! And yet’––he smiled––‘to gaze at them, too, may be frightening.’ He folded his arms; then gave me this curious example. He said I must imagine that nine-tenths of the people of England had a condition of the eye, a condition which prevented them from appreciating, say, the color red. He said I must imagine myself afflicted with such a condition. I would drive through London, I would see a blue sky, a yellow flower––I would think the world a very fine place. I would not know I had a condition that quite prevented me from seeing part of it; and when some special people told me that I had––told me of another, marvelous color––I would think that they were fools. My friends, he said, would agree with me. The newspapers would agree with me. Everything I read, indeed, would confirm me in my belief that those people were fools; Punch would even print cartoons to demonstrate how foolish they were! I would smile at those cartoons, and be very content.
‘Then,’ he went on,’a morning comes and you awaken––and your eye has corrected itself. Now you can see pillar-boxes and lips, poppies and cherries and guardsmen’s jackets. You can see all the glorious shades of red––crimson, scarlet, ruby, vermillion, carnation, rose…You will want to hide your eyes, at first, in wonder and fear. Then you will look, and you will tell your friends, your family––and they will laugh at you, they will frown at you, they will send you to a surgeon or a doctor of the brain. It will be very hard, to become aware of all those marvelous scarlet things. And yet––tell me, Miss Prior––having seen them once, could you ever to look again, and see only blue, and yellow, and green?’
“Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands” Chris Bohjalian
The brain is wider than the sky,
For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include
With ease, and you beside.
This is not the most important thing I am going to tell you, but it may be the most interesting: Did you know that a lot of Emily Dickinson’s poems can be sung to the theme from Gilligan’s Island? Not kidding, this is totally legit. When my English teacher, Ms. Gagne, first told me that, I had never heard of Gilligan’s Island. But she explained to me it was an old sitcom, so I looked it up and watched it on YouTube. It’s from the really early days of TV: the 1960s. The first year, they didn’t even use color film, which makes it look prehistoric. And the show is ridiculous. As lots of people before me have pointed out, they’re stranded on this island after a shipwreck and seem to build whatever they want out of coconuts and bamboo…but for some reason they can’t fix their boat. Still, the starting music has a catchy tune, and you can learn it pretty quickly. I bet most of you know it, especially if you’re from my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. So, try it.
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
“A Cold Day In Paradise” Steve Hamilton
“Day For Night” Frederick Reiken
“The Enemy” Lee Child
“True North” Jim Harrison
She wouldn’t put up with a single moment of the white guilt posture. After my first morbidly unsuccessful day of teaching I movingly said, “They try so hard. I’m not sure I deserve to live on the same earth.” Riva exploded. “Cut that bullshit. That’s all ego jive. You’re here to improve their reading and writing five percent in two months, maybe more but probably less. Why think about yourself in that bullshit way? You got your head up your ass, boy. You’re suppose to be helping these kids and you can’t do it with your head up your rich ass, kiddo.”
What I learned in a few minutes of forced pleasantness was that my father saw himself as the aggrieved one, the insulted and the injured, as if the family were a collective pope that had excommunicated him without good cause. He referred to his shortcomings as “foibles.” My sense of my own mental balance felt a tremor. It was easy to see that to him his victims weren’t quite people or human any more than the loggers or miners that had worked for his father and grandfather were human, or if they were vaguely people it was altogether sensible to ignore them. It was appropriate to ignore them. It was just to ignore them. When I got back in my pickup after relenting and giving him a good-bye hug it occurred to me that as surely as Europe we Americans had developed an aristocracy whose merit depended on how long their money had allowed them to largely ignore the rest of the human race.
The long wet walk in Paris lifted another layer off my confusion. Some rich and powerful men obviously had a firm aesthetic sense. This was far less apparent in urban areas in America than it was in Paris where you come close to not believing your eyes and your skin prickled as if you were looking at a great painting. There was something historically troubling in America’s geopiety that allowed her to become proud of the destructiveness of her creation of ugliness. The capacity to cut all of the virgin timber in the state of Michigan became a source of pride.
I brought up the idea that you can seem normal to yourself because you are who you are and have become accustomed to your oddities. You hope to be rewarded for what you are whether you deserve it or not.
Coughlin’s sister lived alone after two bad marriages and as an aspiring painter she had refused to have children. She was a pretty good painter but not good enough, Coughlin said, adding that this put her in the highest category of the “almost” and made her a clear example of the “wretched” and “mysterious” lack of democracy in the arts. “Many are called but few are chosen,” he concluded pouring himself an amber glass of malt scotch at two A.M.
“Police” Jo Nesbø
“Salt River” James Sallis
“The past,” he said, resting three fingers across the mouth of his cup to keep Bea from pouring yet another refill, “is a gravity. It holds you to the earth, but it also keeps pulling you down, trying, like the earth itself, to reclaim you. And the future, always looking that direction, planning, anticipating–that’s a kind of free fall, your feet have left the ground, you’re just floating there, floating where there is no there.”
“Never Let Me Go” Kazuo Ishiguro
“The Glass Castle” Jeanette Walls
“Continental Drift” Russell Banks
He still can’t decide whether his decision to sit in his chair in the living room until Sarah was dressed and cheerfully downstairs was the right decision, for, like most people, Bob finds it difficult to know right from wrong. He relies on taboos and circumstances to control his behavior, to make him a “good man,” so that on those infrequent occasions when neither taboo nor circumstance prohibits him from satisfying an appetite and he does not satisfy that appetite or even attempt to do so, he does not know what to think of himself. He doesn’t know if he has been a good man or merely a stupid or scared man. Most people, like Bob, unchurched since childhood, now and then reach that point of not knowing whether they’ve been good, stupid or scared, and the anxiety it provokes obliges them to cease wondering as soon as possible and bury the question, as god buries a bone, marking it and promising to themselves that they will return to the bone later, when they have the time and energy to gnaw, a promise never kept, of course, and rarely meant to be kept. One of the more attractive aspects of Bob’s character, however, is his reluctance to bury these bones, his willingness to go on gnawing into the night, alone and silent, turning it over and upside down, persisting until finally it is white and dry and, in certain lights, a little ghastly. His memory is cluttered with these bones, like a medieval church basement, and it gives to hi manner and bearing a kind of melancholy that attracts people who are more educated and refined than he is.
“The Crossing” Michael Connelly
“Valley of Bones” Michael Gruber
He belonged to that small fraternity of extremely bright men who have no patience at all with academics, from which is drawn most of history’s entrepreneurial billionaires as well as those responsible for the physical maintenance of Western civilization: carpenters, masons, firefighters, soldiers, cops. Like most autodidacts, Paz had an original rather than a disciplined intellect, and much of what composed it had been put there across the pillow by a long skein of brainy women, the only sort he liked to take to bed.
“I dreamed I was getting a guided tour of heaven?” Emmylou says. “I was wearing a jumpsuit and a hard hat and my tour guide, he was an angel, of course, but he looked just like a regular man, dressed the same as I was, and we were in this giant building, kind of an industrial shed like in those boron gold movies they used to show us in high school, how they make paper or ice cream. And there was this big huge machine in it, whirring and clanking away, and there was a conveyer belt com in gout of one end of it, and on the conveyer belt were rows of golden bricks, but softer: they looked like giant Twinkies, row after row of them, and when they got to the end of the conveyer belt they fell off of it. I looked to see where they were falling to and I saw that there was a big hole in the floor there and through it I could see clouds and blue sky and the earth far below. I asked the guide what the Twinkie things were, and he said they were blessings, and I remember thinking, in the dream, how marvelous is the Lord showering all these blessing shown on us. Then we moved on, across an alley and into another big huge shed with the same kind of machine cranking away, the same conveyer belt, the same giant Twinkies falling down, and I said to the guide, ‘Oh, these are more blessings,’ and he said, ‘No, these are afflictions,’ and I said, ‘Oh, but they look just the same as the blessings,’ and he said, They are the same!’ Excuse me…”
That’s when she told me the Eskimo story, which I will write down because it’s important for you.
A pilot walks into a saloon in Alaska and the bartender says, oh Fred we have not seen you in church recently. Where have you been? The pilot says, I don’t go to church any longer. I have lost my faith. The bartender says, but why? The pilot says, last month I crashed my plane in the wilderness in the mountains and I was trapped in the wreckage. I prayed to God to get me out but nothing happened. Day after day I am praying, but nothing. I decided that there is no God and I am going to die and there is nothing after death. This is how I lost my faith. So the bartender says, but you did escape from there. You are here and alive. And the pilot says, oh, that had nothing to do with God. Some damn Eskimo wandered by and pulled me out.
Emmylou looked startled for a moment. “Oh, gosh, no, I’m not talking about judgement day. I’m talking about the fact that it’s unreasonable to assume that ten percent of humanity is going to control ninety-eight percent of the world’s wealth forever. I’m talking long time scales here. A thousand years ago Paris and London looked like raggedy-ass trailer parks and Baghdad was the intellectual capital of the world. There were more books and literate people in Timbuktu than there were in England. New York was an Indian village. For all we know the world will be ruled from Wibok a thousand years from now, or someplace we never heard of. It’s no crazier than telling some sheik in Basra in the year one thousand that his descendants would be kicked around by Englishmen. And look around you, Lorna, look at what’s happening to your country, the stupid apathy, the addiction, the violence, the mercenary army, the corrupt political system, the rich and the poor becoming practically different species again, the collapse of religion…
Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame,
Descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like the Tao, unseen.
Such is the perfect man: his boat is empty.
“The Gravedigger’s Daughter” Joyce Carol Oates
“Fingersmith” Sarah Waters
“The Beast God Forgot to Invent” Jim Harrison
I had reassured myself many times that the three most wildly imaginative acquaintances of mine had come to nothing, but stopped doing so when I realized I had come to relative nothing without being imaginative.
At the time it seemed apparent that a phalanx of officers striding toward lunch was not unlike a phalanx of pissed-off chimps in remote Gombe. These noble thoughts did not diminish my concern over the sign in the restaurant that simply said, “Fried Fish.” There had been a past, silly experience in Kansas when I never did find out what kind of fish was available. The waitress said, “You know, fish fish.” When I said that the ocean contained many types of fish she said, “This is Kansas,” closing off further discussion.
“The Ghost In Love” Jonathan Carroll
Danielle put a flat hand against her chest. “We’re born with everything in here–everything we need to be happy and complete. But as soon as life starts frightening us, we give away pieces of ourselves to make the danger go away. It’s a trade: you want life to stop scaring you, so you give it a part of yourself. You give away your pride, your dignity, or your courage…
“When all you feel is fear, you don’t need dignity. So you don’t mind giving that away–at the moment. But you regret it later, because you’ll need all those pieces. By then they’re gone, though; you can’t use them to help.”
Rats and cats think differently. Rats are much smarter animals but also awfully greedy and can be distracted by anything that is in their immediate self-interest. In contrast, cats generally take a more distanced view of things. They stop eating as soon as they’re full. When anything bores them, they walk away without hesitation or concern for others’ feelings. They are not diplomatic and do not suffer fools gladly. Felines find life both amusing and pitiable in equal measure. They don’t see that as a contradiction, either. Isn’t it possible to smile and sigh simultaneously?
Life’s tough for a rat. Get used to it. Use your nose and find what’s important, get it, and then get out, because everybody else hates you and wants you gone. No animal can smell danger or a threat faster or better than a rat.
“Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands” Michael Chabon
Science fiction has always been a powerful instrument of satire, and thus it is often the satirist’s finger that pushes the button or releases the killer bug.
This may help to explain why the post-apocalyptic mode has long attracted writers not generally considered part of the science-fiction tradition. It’s one of the few sub-genres of science fiction, along with stories of the near future (also friendly to satirists), that may be safely attempted by a mainstream writer without incurring too much damage to his or her credentials for seriousness. The anti-science fiction prejudice among some readers and writers is so strong that in reviewing a work of science fiction by a mainstream author a charitable critic will often turn to words such as “parable” or “fable” to warm the author’s bathwater a little, and it is an established fact that a preponderance of religious imagery or an avowed religious intent can go a long way toward mitigating the science-fictional taint, which also helps explain the appeal to mainstream writers such as Walker Percy of the post-apocalyptic story, whose themes of annihilation and re-creation are so easily indexed both to the last book of the New Testament and the first book of the Old. It’s hard to imagine the author of Love In the Ruin writing a space opera.
Sometimes it’s hard, trying to make art you know you can sell without feeling that you are selling it out. And then sometimes it’s hard to sell the art that you have made honestly without regard to whether or not anyone will ever want to buy it. You hope to spend your life doing what you love and need and have been fitted by nature or God or your protein-package to do: write, draw, sing, tell stories. But you have to eat. Will Eisner knew that. He knew what it felt like to be hungry, to feel your foot graze against the cold hard bottom. He knew how lucky you were to be born with a talent that people would pay you to share. But he was also graced with the willingness (and, when he was lucky, the ability) to get people to pay a little bit more, to drive the price a little bit higher, to hold out for a better deal or a lower price from his suppliers. Will Eisner was a great artist and a skilled businessman; inextricably both. I loved that about him. More than fifty years after the first issues of Blackhawk and Doll Man and the other titles that he and his partner Jerry Iger packaged for Quality Comics had hit the newsstands, he still remembered the sales figures, the distributors’ names, the dime-and-dolor details of hits and flops. And I sensed that all that stuff was every bit as interesting – every but as important – to him as the nuance of an inked line, the meaning that could be compressed into and sprung from three square panels in a row. There may be many routes to happiness for a man; there may be only a few. But in his artistry and acumen – in the way he moved so comfortably through the world as an artist who worked money and as a businessman who worked for art, I think that Will Eisner came awfully close to finding one of those routes. He was lucky like that.
“The Little Friend” Donna Tartt
“I’m not saying there’s not bad colored ones, too. It’s bad ones that’s colored, and it’s bad ones that’s white….All I know is I ain’t have time to fool with any Odums, and I ain’t have time to fool with anybody always thinking about what they don’t got, and how they going to get it from another. No, sir. If I don’t earn it,” said Ida somberly, holding up a damp hand, “and I don’t have it, then I don’t want it. No, ma’am. I who don’t. I just goes on by.”
Harriet, all her life, had heard about this church fire – and about others, in other Mississippi towns, all confused with each other in her mind – but she had never been told that the Ratliffs were responsible. You would think (said Edie) that Negroes and poor whites would not hate each other the way they did since they had a lot in common – mainly, being poor. But sorry white people like the Ratliffs had only Negroes to look down upon. They could not bear the idea that the Negroes were now just as good as they were, and, in many cases, far more prosperous and respectable. “A poor Negro has at least the excuse of his birth,” Edie said. “The poor white has nothing to blame for his station but his own character. Well, of course, that won’t do. That would mean having to assume some responsibility for his own laziness and sorry behavior. No, he’d much rather stomp around burning crosses and blaming the Negro for everything than go out and try to get an education or improve himself in any way.”
Sometimes the October light that flared up suddenly in the west windows on those afternoons was clinical, terrifying in its radiance, and its brilliance and chill seemed like a promise of something unbearable, like the inhuman glow of old memories recalled on a deathbed, all dreams and lurid farewells. But always, even in the most still, desolate lights (leaden tick of mantel clock, library book face down on the sofa) Libby herself shone pale and bright as she moved through the gloomy rooms, with her white head ruffled like a peony. Sometimes, she sang to herself, and her reedy voice quavered sweetly in the high shadows of the tiled kitchen, over the fat hum of the frigidaire:
The owl and pussycat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat
They took some honey and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note….
“Make Me” Lee Child
“The Girl In the Spider’s Web” David Lagercrantz
People with a photographic memory are also said to have an eidetic memory, an ability to recall images, sounds, or objects after only a few instants of exposure.
Research shows that people with eidetic memories are more likely to be nervous and stressed than others.
Most, though not all, people with eidetic memories are autistic. There is also a connection between photographic memory and synaesthesia – the condition where two or more senses are connected, for example when numbers are seen in color and every series of numbers forms an image in the mind.
“The Ocean At the End of the Lane” Neil Gaiman
Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the space between fences.
“Oh, monsters are scared,” said Lettie. “That’s why they’re monsters. And as for grown-ups…” She stopped talking, rubbed her freckled nose with a finger. Then, “I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world. She thought for a moment. Then she smiled. “except Granny, of course.”
“Reykjavik Nights” Arnaldur Indridason
“The Unbearable Lightness of Being” Milan Kundera
Our day-to-day life is bombarded with fortuities or, to be more precise, with the accidental meetings of people and events we call coincidences. “Co-incidence” means that two events expectantly happen at the same time, they meet: Tomas appears in the hotel restaurant at the same time the radio is playing Beethoven. We do not even notice the great majority of such coincidences. If the seat Tomas occupied had been occupied instead by the local butcher, Tereza never would have noticed that the radio was playing Beethoven (though the meeting of Beethoven and the butcher would also have been an interesting coincidence).
Franz felt his book life to be unreal. He yearned for real life, for the touch of people walking side by side with him, for their shouts. It never occurred to him that what he considered unreal (the work he did in the solitude of the office or library) was in fact his real life, whereas the parades he imagined to be reality were nothing but theatre, dance, carnival–in other words, a dream.
“You mean you don’t want to fight the occupation of your own country?” She would have liked to to tell them that behind Communism, Fascism, behind all occupations and invasions lurks a more basic, pervasive evil and that the image of that evil was a parade of people marching by with raised fists and shouting identical syllables in unison. But she knew she would never be able to make them understand.
Franz shook his head. “When society is rich, its people don’t need to work with their hands; they can devote themselves to activities of the spirit. We have more and more universities and more and more students. If students are going to earn degrees, they’ve got to come up with dissertation topics. And since dissertations can be written about everything under the sun, the number of topics is infinite. Sheets of paper covered with words pile up in archives sadder than cemeteries, because no one ever visits them, not even on All Souls’ Day. Culture is perishing in overproduction, in an avalanche of words, in the madness of quantity. That’s why one banned book in your former country means infinitely more than the billions of words spewed out by universities.”
For Sabina, living in truth, lying neither to ourselves nor to others, was possible only away from the public: the moment someone keeps an eye on what we do, we involuntarily make allowances for the eye, and nothing we do is truthful. Having a public, keeping a public in mind, means living in lies. Sabina despised literature in which people gave away all kinds of intimate secrets about themselves and their friends. A man who loses his privacy loses everything, Sabina thought. And a man who gives it up of his own free will is a monster. That was why Sabina did not suffer in the least from having to keep her love secret. On the contrary, only by doing so could she live in truth.
Franz, on the other hand, was certain that the division of life into private and pubic spheres is the source of all lies: a person is one thing in private and something quite different in public. For Franz, living in truth meant breaking down the barriers between the private and the public.
Then what was the relationship between Tereza and her body? Had her body the right to call itself Tereza? And if not, then what did the name refer to? Merely something incorporeal, intangible?
(These are the questions that had been going through Tereza’s head since she was a child. Indeed, the only truly serious questions are ones that even a child can formulate. Only the most naive of questions are truly serious. They are the questions with no answers. A question with no answer if a barrier that cannot be breached. In other words, it is questions with no answers that set the limits of human possibilities, describe the boundaries of human existence.)
And again he thought the thought we already know: human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions are good and which bad is that in a given situation we can only make one decision; we are not granted a second, third, or fourth life in which to compare various decisions.
His true goal was not to free the prisoners; it was to show that people without fear still exist. That, too, was playacting. But he had no other possibility. His choice was not between playacting and action. His choice was between playacting and no action at all. There are situations in which people are condemned to playact. Their struggle with mute power (the mute power across the river, a police transmogrified into mute microphones in the wall) is the struggle of a theater company that has attacked an army.
Dogs do not have many advantages over people, but one of them is extremely important: euthanasia is not forbidden by law in their case; animals have the right to a merciful death. Karenin walked on three legs and spent more and more of his time lying in the corner. And whimpering. Both husband and wife agreed that they had no business letting him suffer needlessly. But agree as they might in principle, they still had to face the anguish of determining the time when his suffering was in fact needless, the point at which life was no longer worth living.
“Benediction” Kent Haruf
“The Devil’s Punchbowl” Greg Iles
“Fifty Degrees Below” Kim Stanley Robinson
Frank rolled his eyes at this. For a while they talked in a different way than they usually did, about how things felt; and they agreed that lives were not easily told to others. Frank speculated that many life stories consisted precisely of a search for a reiterated pattern, for habits. Thus, one’s set of habits was somehow unsatisfactory, and you needed to change them, and were thereby thrown into a plot, which was the hunt for new habits, or even, but exceptionally, the story of the giving up of such a hunt in favor of sticking with what you have, or remaining chaotically in the existential moment (not adaptive if reproductive success were the goal, he noted under his breathe). Thus Frank was living a plot while Anna was living a life, and when they talked about personal matters he had news while she had the “same old same old,” which was understood by both to be the desired state, irritating and difficult though it may be to maintain.
Anna merely laughed at this.
Clothing and shelter. At work Frank could see that civilized people did not really think about these things, they took them for granted. Most wore clothing suited to “room temperature” all the year around, thus sweltering in the summer and shivering in winter anytime they stepped our of their rooms–which however they rarely did. So they thought they were temperature tough-guys, but really they were just indoors all the time. They used their buildings as clothing, in effect, and heated or cooled these spaces to imitate what clothing did, no matter how crazy whiz was in energy terms. But they did it without thinking of it like that, without making the calculation. In the summer they wore blue jeans because of what people three generations before had seen in Marlboro ads. Blue jeans were the SUVs of pants, part of a fantasy outdoor life; Frank himself had long ago changed to the Khembali ultralite cotton pants in the summer, noting with admiration how the slight crinkle in the material kept most of the cloth off the skin.
Now as it got colder people still wore blue jeans, which were just as useless in the cold as they were in the heat. Frank meanwhile shifted piece by piece into his mountaineering gear. Some items needed cleaning, but were too delicate to run through a washing machine, so he had to find a dry cleaners on Connecticut, but then was pleasantly surprised to discover that they would take all his other clothes, too; he had disliked going to the laundromat up the street from Van Ness.
So, autumn weather, cool and windy: therefore, Patagonia’s capilene shirts, their wicking material fuzzy and light against the skin; a down vest with a down hood ready to pull onto his head; nylon wind-pants if windy. Thick Thurlo socks inside light Salomon hiking shoes. As an ensemble it looked pretty good, in an Outside Magazine techno-geek way–a style which actually fit in pretty unobtrusively at NSF. Scientists signaled with their clothes just like anyone else, and their signal often proclaimed, “I am a scientist, I do things because they Make Sense, and so I Dress Sensibly,” which could resemble Frank’s mountaineering gear, as it meant recreational jackets with hoods, hiking boots, ski pants, wool shirts. So Frank could dress as a high-tech paleolithic and still look like any other NSF jock.
Take a problem, break it down into parts (analyze), quantify whatever parts you could, see if what you learned suggested anything about causes and effectsL then see if this suggested anything about long-term plans, and tangible things to do. She (Anna Quibler) did not believe in revolution of any kind, and only trusted the mass application of the scientific method to get any real-world results. “One step at a time,” she would say to her team in bioinformatics, or Nick’s math group at school, or the National Science Board; and she hopes that as long as chaos did not erupt worldwide, one step at a time would eventually get them to some tolerable state.
Of course there were all the hysterical operatives of “history” to distract people from this method and its incremental successes. The wars and politicians, the police state regimes and terrorist insurgencies, the gross injustices and cruelties, the unnecessarily ongoing plagues and famines–in short, all the mass violence and rank intimidation that characterized most of what filled the history books; all that was real enough, indeed all too real, undeniable–and yet it was not the whole story. It was not really history, if you wished to include everything important that had happened to humans through time. Because along with the violence, underneath the radar, inside the nightmare, there was always the ongoing irregular but encouraging pulse of good work, often, since the seventeenth century, created or supported by science. Ongoing increases in health and longevity, for larger and larger percentages of the population: that could be called progress. If they could hold on to what they had done, and get everyone in the world to that bettered state, it would actually be progress.
“The Third Rail” Michael Harvey
“Natchez Burning” Greg Iles
Right after reading the book below, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, I ran across this passage in Natchez Burning:
A few hours ago, Caitlin said something that’s resonated ever since: “There’s a secret history here…” That phrase always makes me think of Donna Tartt, the Mississippi-born writer, though that title originated with Procopius and his exposé of the crimes of the emperor Justinian. Every small town has its history arcana, and in Natchez, our secret historian is a woman whom few people have seen in the past ten years. A fabled recluse, she lives with her three servants in one of the finest antebellum mansions in the city. Her name is Pythia Nolan–“Pithy” to her friends–and she’s probably one of the few Natchezians who could read Procopius in the original Attic Greek.
“The Secret History” Donna Tartt
Henry, who generally disliked and was disliked by hoi polloi–a category which in his view expanded to include persons ranging from teenagers with boom boxes to the Dean of Studies of Hampden, who was independently wealthy and had a degree in American Studies from Yale–nonetheless had a genuine knack with poor people, simple people, country folk; he was despised by the functionaries of Hampden but admired by its janitors, its gardeners and cooks. Though he did not treat them as equals–he didn’t treat anyone an equal, exactly–neither did he resort to the condescending friendliness of the wealthy. “I think we’re much more hypocritical about illness, and poverty, than were people in former ages,” I remember Julian saying once. “In America, the rich man tries to pretend that the poor man is his equal in every respect but money, which is simply not true. Does anyone remember Plato’s definition of Justice in the Republic? Justice, in a society, is when each level of a hierarchy works within its place and is content with it. A poor man who wishes to rise above his station is only making himself needlessly miserable. And the wise poor have always known this, the same as do the wise rich.”
Though not nearly so spectacular, this manifestation of grief for Bunny was in many ways a similar phenomenon–an affirmation of community, a formulaic expression of homage and dread. Learn by Doing is the motto of Hampden. People experienced a sense of invulnerability and well-being by attending rap sessions, outdoor flute concerts; enjoyed having an official excuse to compare nightmares or break down in public. In a certain sense it was simply play-acting but at Hampden, where creative expression was valued above all else, play-acting was itself a kind of work, and people went about their grief as seriously as small children will sometimes play quite grimly and without pleasure in make-believe offices and stores.
When I disagreed–strenuously–and asked what was wrong with focusing one’s entire attention on only two things, if those two things were Art and Beauty, Laforge replied: “There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty–unless she is wed to something more meaningful–is always superficial. It is not that your Julian chooses solely to concentrate on certain, exalted things; it is that he chooses to ignore others equally as important.”
I spent all my time in the library, reading the Jacobean dramatists. Webster and Middleton, Tourneur and Ford. It was an obscure specialization, but the candlelit and treacherous universe in which they moved–of sin unpunished, of innocence destroyed–was one I found appealing. Even the titles of their plays were strangely seductive, trapdoors to something beautiful and wicked that trickled beneath the surface of mortality: The Malcontent, The White Devil, The Broken Heart. I pored over them, made notes in the margins. The Jacobeans had a sure grasp of catastrophe. They understood not only evil, it seemed, but the extravagance of tricks with which evil presents itself as good. I felt they cut right to the heart of the matter, to the essential rottenness of the world.
I had always loved Christopher Marlowe, and I found myself thinking a lot about him, too. “Kind Kit Marlowe,” a contemporary had called him. He was a scholar, a friend of Raleigh and of Nashe, the most brilliant and educated of the Cambridge wits. He moved in the most exalted literary and political circles; of all his fellow poets, the only one to whom Shakespeare ever directed alluded was he; and yet he was also a forger, a murderer, a man of the most dissolute companions and habits, who “dyed swearing” in a tavern at the age of twenty-nine. His companions on that day were a spy, a pickpocket, and a “bawdy servingman.” One of them stabbed Marlowe, fatally, just above the eye: “of which wound the aforesaid Christ. Marlowe died instantly.”
“The Little Country” Charles de Lint
Originally, the function of songs was devotional. Then in the balladeering centuries, they became a vehicle for the spreading of information, stories, and opinions. Now in the 20th century, they have become a way of making money and achieving fame. I think the other two purposes were better. –Mike Scott; from an interview in Jamming, 1985
The thing to remember, is that artists are magical beings. They’re the only people other than the gods who can grant immortality. –Matt Ruff, from Fool On the Hill
A cousin to the mouth organ, the accordion was a free-reed instrument that was invented by a German named Christian Buschmann in the the course of his development of the mouth-blown instrument. He produced a device that had twenty reeds on a brass table, powered by a leather bellows, which he called a “handaeoline.” Further improvements were made by Demian of Vienna 1892, who coined the name “accordion,” but the first serious commercial production of diatonic accordions, or melodeons, was the work of the M. Hohner harmonica factory, situated in the Black Forest’s Trossingen some fifty years later.
Felix had often suffered the ignorance of those unfamiliar with the instrument to whom the word “accordion” conjured up painful versions of “Lady of Spain”–a far cry from the music that Felix and his peers played. Those same souls, once they heard what could be done with both the piano and button accordion in traditional music, were, more often than not, won over with only a few tunes. And they were surprised at the instrument’s heritage.
For before zydeco and rock ’n’ roll, before Lawrence Welk and Astor Piazzolla, the “squeeze box” was being used in traditional music_to accompany Morris dancers in England and clog dancers in Quebec and on the Continent, and to give an unmistakable lift to the jigs and reels of Ireland and Scotland. Without the pedigree of the harp, the flute, the fiddle, or the various kinds of bagpipes, it had still developed a surprisingly large number of virtuoso players who were only just beginning to be acknowledged as some of the finest proponents of the folk tradition.
Their music could make the heart lift, the foot tap, and, as Felix had found so often, bring consolation to him when he was feeling depressed. The only thing better than listening was playing.
“Our worlds need each other,” Edern said. “They grow too far apart now and we suffer for it–both our worlds suffer. Their separation makes for a disharmony that reflects in each of them. Your world grows ever more regimented and orderly; soon it will lose all of its ability to imagine, to know enchantment, to be joyful for no other reason than that its people perceive the wonder of the world they are blessed to live in. Everything is put in boxes and compartmentalized and a grey pall hangs over the minds of its people. Your world will eventually become so drab and drear that its people will eventually destroy it through sheer blindness and ignorance.”
“Trouble” Kate Christensen
I figured I could go into the kitchen and clean up the remnants of dinner, then take a shower, then check on Wendy and make sure she wasn’t on her laptop, being lured to a Burger King by a predatory middle-aged man posing as Zac Efron, and then I could come back to bed and read The New Yorker until I fell asleep. I was so sick of The New Yorker, I couldn’t bear it. I had read just about every issue for the past twenty years, and for a long time now, I had suspected that they recycled their articles and stories and cartoons in five-year loops; the poems were all just rearranged jumbles of the same words over and over: land, sky, light, death, love, cabin, hand, deer, cedar, lake, face, dark, kitchen table, skin, you. It made me want to try my hand at a New Yorker poem myself. How hard could it be?
“Nothing To Lose” Lee Child
The plants were all sharp-leaved things that looked silver under the night sky. Native, adapted to the desert. Xeric plants, or xerophilous, drought tolerant, from the Greek prefix xero-, meaning dry. Hence, Xerox, for copying without wet chemicals. Zeno of Cittium would have been puzzled by Xeroxing, but he would have approved of xeriscaping. He believed in going with the flow. The unquestioning acceptance of destiny. He believed in basking in the sun and eating green figs, instead of spending time and effort trying to change nature with irrigation.
“American Detective” Loren D. Estleman
“Glass Soup” Jonathan Carroll
What Flora and the rest of the world didn’t know was Rick Chaeff and most other self-help gurus floating around out there in gullible land were all creatures of chaos, as was Kyle Pegg/John Flannery. It was a minor but interesting way to fuck people up that worked surprisingly well. All you had to do was make them aware of their shortcomings, which wasn’t hard in this age of guilt and doubt. Next, convince them that they were nevertheless close to “the answer,” the key to happiness, the end of the rainbow, Nirvana…whatever. Only a few baby steps more and you’ll be there if you follow my instructions.
Except there was no there there because people were constantly changing and so were this needs and desires. They could never land on one spot and stay–sure that this was their happiness forever. Because mankind had the attention span of a housefly. How many houseflies do you know that have found their bliss and stay at home evenings?
“Bad Luck and Trouble” Lee Child
“Spark” John Twelve Hawks
Thomas shook his head. “I wouldn’t put a label on my beliefs, and I’m definitely not a member of some political party. Nowadays true ideology has vanished, replaced by fear and fantasy. The right wing wants corporate control and a return to a past that never existed. The left wing wants government control and a future that will never exist. Both groups lose sight of the essential question: How can the individual speak and think and create freely? New ideas are the only evolutionary force that will save us all from destruction.”
“Serena” Ron Rash
“Galileo’s Dream” Kim Stanley Robinson
This is an amazing and sometimes frustrating read. I’m glad I stuck it out. From Amazon (which might help to put some of the quotes below in context): ‘At the heart of a provocative narrative that stretches from Renaissance Italy to the moons of Jupiter is the father of modern science: Galileo Galilei. To the inhabitants of the Jovian moons, Galileo is a revered figure whose actions will influence the subsequent history of the human race. From the summit of their distant future, a charismatic renegade named Ganymede travels to the past to bring Galileo forward in an attempt to alter history and ensure the ascendancy of science over religion. And if that means Galileo must be burned at the stake, so be it. From Galileo’s heresy trial to the politics of far-future Jupiter, Kim Stanley Robinson illuminates the parallels between a distant past and an even more remote future—in the process celebrating the human spirit and calling into question the convenient truths of our own moment in time.’
Slowly they crossed the city, from the great prison on the Tiber to the Campo die Fiori, the square of Flowers. Low dark clouds scudded overhead on a stiff wind. Priests in black prayed at him and tossed holy water on him, or thrust their crucifixes in his face. He preferred the hooded and impassive Dominicans to these grotesque faces, twisted by hatred. No hatred was like that of the ignorant for the learned–though now he saw that even greater was the hatred of the damned for the martyr. They saw the end they knew would eventually engulf them for their sins. Today they rejoiced that it was happening to someone else, but they knew their time would come and would be eternal, and so their fear and hatred exploded out of them, putting the lie to their pretended joy.
She said carefully, “In some people’s eyes, your success includes your immolation. Ganymede and his followers are among them. They have a fixation on you and your work, on what it meant to the rest of history. From that point on, they say, science began to dominate, and religion to recede. The secularization of the world began. Only that saves humanity from many centuries of darkness, in which science is perverted to the will of insane religions. So they think of you as the great martyr for science.”
Winning all those banquet debates had apparently caused Galileo to think that argument was how things were settled in the world. Unfortunately this is never how it happens.
“people are much more likely to kill each other over ideas than over food,” she said. “It’s very clear in the historical record, a statistical fact.”
We all have seven secret lives. The life of excretion; the world of inappropriate sexual fantasies; our real hopes; our terror of death; our experience of shame; the world of pain; and our dreams. No one else ever knows these lives. Consciousness is solitary. Each person lives in that bubble universe that rests under our skull, alone.
Galileo struggled on with his new sickness, his ability that was a disability, alone.
In Sarsi I seem to discern the firm belief that in philosophizing one must support oneself upon the opinion of some famous author, as if our minds remain sterile and barren unless wedded to the reasoning of some other person. Possibly he thinks that philosophy is a book of fiction by some writer, like The Iliad or Orlando Furioso––productions in which the least important thing is whether what is written there is true. Well, Sarsi, that is not how matters stand. Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and recognize the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is completely impossible to understand a single word of it. Without these, one wanders in a dark labyrinth.
“Fights over ideas are the most vicious of all. If it were merely food, or water, or shelter, we could work something out. But in the realm of ideas one can become idealistic. The results can be deadly. The Thirty Years’ War, isn’t that what they called the religious war that Europe was fighting during your time?”
“Yes,” he confirmed, “The world works by mathematical rules. This is much more amazing than people usually seem to realize. Consider it–numbers are ideas, they are qualities in our minds that we abstract by looking at the world. So we see that we have two hands, and that there are two sheep in the meadow, but we never see a two anywhere. It’s not a thing but an idea, and therefore intangible. Like souls in this world. And then we teach each other some games we can play with these ideas–we see how you can add them together and get resulting numbers, as if adding sheep to the meadow. We see for instance that any number can be added to itself by its own number of selves, two twos, four fours, we call them squares because they can be put into squared patterns with the same number of sheep on each side, and we see how larger numbers multiplied by themselves grow larger than the previous number very quickly, and that this rapid growth also happens in a proportion. An interesting idea. It makes a nice pattern in the mind or on the page. Then we look at the world around us. We drop a ball and watch it fall to the ground. It seems to be speeding up as it falls, the eye tells us that much, and so we measure the falls in various ways, and lo and behold, we find that all things fall at the same speed, and that the distance that something falls increases by the square of the increase in the time of the fall–this quite precisely!–and despite the fact that time and distance seem to be very much different things. Why should it be so? Why should the ratio be so simple and neat? Why should the two be related at all? All we can say is, they are. Things fall by rules, acting the same always, and the rules are simple–or then later, not so simple. But the world moves by mathematical laws! The world is proportionate to itself across things as disparate as time and distance. How can it be?”
There was a deep stupidity in ambition, a blindness in it, the way it was so serious, so unplayful. It failed to value the ringing feeling that had come over him, as when he saw a proof, or on that first night with Marina, or sometimes on the dawn barges back over the lagoon to terra-firms. These were the moments that mattered.
There were no words that would reach the youth. You could never teach other people anything that mattered. The important things they had to learn for themselves, almost always by mistakes, so that the lessons arrived too late to help. Experience was in that sense useless. It was precisely what could not be passed along in a lesson or equation.
“Mortal Friends” James Carroll
And what’s more important, Colman thought, is that finally Micko the Pure is throwing curves. Perhaps his son’s zeal would ebb now that he was learning how truths and lies are carved together like the hearts and arrows in ancient bark. If truth could be an act of hatred, so its opposite could be an act of love.
“Secrets Of Eden” Chris Bohjalian
After the service an old deacon – a coal miner who had somehow made it into his seventies without succumbing to any of the grotesque lung diseases that usually mark the end of a coal miner’s life – approached him and asked with a rich voice of irony, “Was you sent or did you just went?” My professor understood instantly what the deacon was suggesting: He, the young pastor, seemed to lack passion and conviction. He seemed merely to be going through the motions.
“The Great Man” Kate Christensen
One thing about getting old was that your openness to new people shrank through the years from a naive embrace to a narrow squint. By the time you hit old age, you barely had the ability to be civil for one minute to any stranger, let alone get through a whole evening of “interesting” conversation.
The real problem was that the human race was so disappointing. Why had she expected it to be otherwise? As a young woman, Maxine had tended to leap with open arms, like a wet-eyed, splayed-out nincompoop, toward everyone she met, but she had quickly encountered enough snideness, selfishness, neediness, cruelty, rejection, and indifference to enable her to gradually develop the social crankiness that had by now become thick and insuperable as an old toenail.
…Maxine hated to be interrupted when she was working, even by Katrina. Being dragged from the world of painting back into the world of life was as difficult as forcing herself from the world of life back into the world of painting. A thick but permeable membrane separated them. Going from one to another required a shape-shifting in the brain. She was never safely ensconced in either world: the demands of the other one could be heard, muffled from whichever one you were in, so no matter where you were, you felt a tug of anxiety that something might go wrong in the other one in your absence, something you’d failed to account for before you left. It would have been much easier if the transition could have been accomplished through a series of soundproof air locks, decompression chambers. It felt as if there were only room in one lifetime to inhabit one of these parallel worlds, but here she was, trying to cram them both in. Each parallel life sucked the air out of the other one. When she was deep in her painting, she felt how short her time there was and panicked because she would never get to do it all before she died. It only got harder as she got older, harder because, as with sleep, she could never be as fully in either world as she’d been when she was younger. The membrane had become worn and weakened with age, like everything else.
“I regret,” said Maxine, “and you can print this, that I let the love of my life, Jane Fleming, get away about thirty years ago. My second-greatest regret is that I wasn’t more famous during my lifetime. I wish I had seized and pursued and hunted down the two things I most wanted and failed to secure for myself. Self-denial is pointless. Niceness is ridiculous. You’re a very smart young woman, to know this already.”