Milo loves to read so here is his most recent list along with some notes and quotes he has compiled from some of them. Enjoy!
“The Resistance Man” Martin Walker
“Freezer Burn” Joe R. Lansdale
Lansdale is the author of the infamous Hap Collins and Leonard Pine novels which were made into a TV series that ran from 2016-2018. Starring James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams, it's a darkly comic swamp noir of two best friends, one femme fatale, a crew of washed up revolutionaries, a pair of murderous psycho killers, some lost loot, and the fuzz. Pretty terrific stuff.
Freezer Burn, though, stands alone as one of the best psychobilly noir, rotting corpse, corn dog eating, freak show and fireworks stand greasy novels to come down the pike. If you haven’t had enough the of the American nightmare in real life, read this bad puppy.
"Perhaps, he thought, I am an alien abductee, and a moment from now they’ll have me on a cold table with salad tongs spreading my butt cheeks and a cold wet alien finger up my ass. You hear about alien abductions, the asshole is always a prime target. And they like to jack people off for sperm. He thought he could handle that part better than the finger up the ass. It might even be kind of restful."
“Slow Man” J.M. Coetzee
The answer is that he is running down. Never is he going to be his old self again. Never is going to have his old resilience. Whatever inside him was given the task of mending the organism after it was was so terrible assaulted, first on the road, then in the operating theatre, has grown too tired for the job, too overburdened. And the same holds for the rest of the team, the heart, the lungs, the muscles, the brain. They did for him what they could as long as they could; now they want to rest.
“Born Standing Up” Steve Martin
“Sunset Park” Paul Auster
“The Auctioneer” Joan Samson
I’ve compiled a list and starting reading what’s known as Hick Lit, also called rural noir, country noir, redneck noir, redneck grit, or hillbilly noir. One of my favorites so far is this one, written in 1975, and mostly since forgotten. Pulp fiction at its finest.
When they were married, the price of milk was holding and nothing seemed difficult. Even when the milk stopped paying, they would have accepted children as part of the course of things, had they come along. But, by the time Hildie was born, their plans had faded to an almost forgotten ache, not from longing for a child so much as from a sense that they had been passed over by the rhythms of the earth, like the apple tree that blossomed so prettily but could not be coaxed to bear.
A ripple of attention passed through the crowd. On the porch of the old Fawkes place stood the auctioneer. He was as tall as Gore, but trim and upright. Despite his red plaid shirt open at the neck, there was something sharply formal about his stance which set him apart from the country Saturday slackness of the people waiting for him. His features were fine and tense and his skin was burned almost as brown as his hair. He stood looking out over the crowd, his hands in his pockets.
“Perly stood as if frozen in place, watching the turmoil beneath him spread. “Just remember this,” he said in a deep voice that cut neatly through the confusion. “Whatever I’ve done, you’ve let me do.”
“The Competition” Marcia Clark
“The Boy In the Field” Margot Livesey
“The Heavenly Table” Donald Ray Pollock
The author, Charles Foster Winthrop III, a failed poet from Brooklyn who had once dreamed of becoming the next Robert Browning, had centered the plot of the novel around one Colonel William Buchet’s insatiable need to avenge himself against the Northerners who had pillaged his plantation during the Civil War and left him without even a single cotton ball to wipe his ass on; and Winthrop had filled the book with every act of rape, robbery, and murder that his indignant, syphilitic brain could possibly conceive. For this, his twentieth such potboiler in less than three years, he was paid the niggardly sum of thirty dollars. By the time he settled with his creditors, and spent an hour passing diseases back and forth with the foul and wrinkled whore who lived across the hall in his building, Winthrop didn’t have enough money left over to buy a loaf of bread. “Well,” he said that night to the vermin living behind the cracked plaster in his dank room, “I gave it my best, and that’s all a man can do.” He waited until morning, and then, with the same cool steadiness he had conferred upon Bloody Bill, his final creation, the hack brushed the rat turds off his one good suit and chugged down enough turpentine to peel the paint off a two-story house. By the time the Jewetts discovered the book in a cast-off carpetbag near Oxford, Mississippi, poor Winthrop had been moldering in a soggy, unmarked grave on an island in the East River for nearly seventeen years, another forgotten casualty of the callous and fickle literary world he had once hoped to conquer.
Though nearly forty years had passed since that day, the culvert was still there, still overgrown. Thinking now of that rabbit, all alone on that cold winter night with the snow starting to cover the ground, a sweet and sorrowful feeling overcame him. Of course, he knew that that creature had died long ago, just as his father did a few winters later. But with a swelling in his throat, he wondered, almost desperately if felt like, if he might find some sign of that rabbit were he to go down there and search among the weeds and brambles. His eyes began to water. So many had passed on in his lifetime, and so much had happened or not happened that had taken him further and further away from the boy he was back then. No, he thought, as he wiped his sleeve across his face, he wouldn’t find anything, not a sliver of bone or a shred of fur, not if he hunted for a week. The rabbit was gone forever, and that saddened him in much the same way the stars sometimes did at night, the way they kept shifting in the same abiding patterns, as regular as clockwork, year after year, century after century, regardless of what went on down here on this godforsaken ball of rock and clay, be it young men getting butchered in another war, or some crazy blind man living with a dead bird, or an innocent babe drowning in a rat-infested outhouse, or even some poor shivering rabbit sticking his head out of the weeds to watch a farm boy making his way home with his father.
“What was ye doin’ in Ohio?” the bearded man asked.
“Working,” Sugar said.
“Thieving’s more like it, Captain,” said a flattish boy named Bill Dolly. He had the soft, hairless skin and flushed, jiggling jowls of a child. The biggest disappointment of his life so far had been, in fact, his life so far; and like so many other white do-nothings, luckless simpletons, and paranoid crackpots, he was convinced that somehow the black race was the root cause of all his miserable failures. “I ain’t never seen one that didn’t like to steal.”
“The Protector” David Morrell
“Shutter Man” Richard Montanari
“The Lost Legends of New Jersey” Frederick Reiken
“Humankind: A Hopeful History” Rutger Bergman
Modern scholars suggest it would be more accurate to characterize (the) dark ages as a reprieve, when the enslaved regained their freedom, infectious disease diminished, diet improved, and culture flourished. In his brilliant book Against the Grain (2017), anthropologist James C. Scott points out that masterpieces like the Iliad and the Odyssey originated during the ‘Greek Dark Ages’ (1,110 to 700 BC) immediately following the collapse of Mycenaean civilization. Not until much later would they be recorded by Homer.
So why is our perception of ‘barbarians’ so negative? Why do we automatically equate a lack of ‘civilization’ with dark times? History, as we know, is written by the victors. The earliest texts abound with propaganda for states and sovereigns, put out by oppressors seeking to elevate themselves while looking down on everybody else. The word ‘barbarian’ was itself coined as a catch-all for anyone who didn’t speak ancient Greek.
That’s how our sense of history gets flipped upside down. Civilization has become synonymous with peace and progress, and wilderness with war and decline. In reality, for most of human existence, it was the other way around.
What makes us so eager to believe in our own corruption? Why does veneer theory keep returning in so many permutations? I suspect it has a lot to do with convenience. In a weird way, to believe in our own sinful nature is comforting. It provides a kind of absolution. Because if most people are bad, then engagement and resistance aren’t worth the effort.
Belief in humankind’s sinful nature also provides a tidy explanation for the existence of evil. When confronted with hatred or selfishness, you can tell yourself, ‘Oh, well, that’s just human nature.’ But if you believe that people are essentially good, you have to question why evil exists at all. It implies that engagement and resistance are worthwhile, and it imposes an obligation to act.
When terrorists strike, the news media primarily focuses on the sick ideology that supposedly fueled the attack. And, of course, ideology does matter. It mattered in Nazi Germany, and it certainly matters for the leaders of terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS), many of whom have been moulded by a youth spent devouring books on radical Islam (such as Osama bin Laden, a known bookworm).
But research shows that for the four soldiers of these organizations, ideology plays a remarkably small role. Take the thousands of Jihadists who set out for Syria in 2013 and 2014. Three-quarters were recruited by acquaintances and friends. Most, according to responses to a leaked IS poll, scarcely knew the first thing about Islamic faith. A few wisely bought The Koran for Dummies just before their departure. For them, says a CIA officer, ‘Religion is an afterthought.’
The thing we need to understand is that most of these terrorist agents were not religious fanatics. They were the best of friends. Together, they felt a part of something bigger, that their lives finally held meaning. At last they were the authors of their own epic tale. And no, this is in no way an excuse for their crimes. It’s an explanation.
Of course there were always individuals who refused to abide by the fair-share ethos. But those who became too arrogant or greedy ran the risk of being exiled. And if that didn’t work, there was one final remedy.
Take the following incident which occurred among the !Kung. The main figure here is /Twi, a tribe member who was growing increasingly unmanageable and had already killed two people. The group was fed up: ‘They all fired on him with poison arrows till he looked like a porcupine. Then, after he was dead, all the women as well as the men approached the body and stabbed him with spears, symbolically sharing the responsibility for his death.’
Anthropologists think interventions like this must have taken place occasionally in prehistory, when tribes made short work of members who developed a superiority complex. This was one of the ways we humans domesticated ourselves: aggressive personalities had fewer opportunities to reproduce, while more amiable types had more offspring.
It transpires that people in power display the same tendencies (turning the nicest people into the worst kind of Machiavellian). They literally act like someone with brain damage. Not only are they more impulsive, self-centered, reckless, arrogant, and rude than average, they are more likely to cheat on their spouses, are less attentive to other people and less interested in others’ perspectives. They’re also more shameless, often failing to manifest that one facial phenomenon that makes human beings unique among primates.
They don’t blush.
Power appears to work like an anesthetic that makes you insensate to other people. In a 2014 study, three American neurologists used a ‘transcranial magnetic simulation machine’ to test the cognitive functioning of powerful and less powerful people. They discovered that a sense of power disrupts what is known as mirroring, a mental process which plays a key role in empathy. Ordinarily, we mirror all the time. Someone else laughs, you laugh, too, someone yawns, so do you. But powerful individuals mirror much less. It is almost as if they no longer feel connected to their fellow human beings. As if they’ve become unplugged.
You might think violence isn’t a big part of the equation any more –– at least not in tidy democracies with their boring bureaucracy. But make no mistake: the threat of violence is still very much present, and it’s pervasive. It’s the reason families with children can be kicked out of their homes for defaulting on mortgage payments. It’s the reason why immigrants can’t simply stroll across the border in the fiction we call ‘Europe’ and ‘the Unites States’. And it’s also the reason we continue to believe in money.
Just consider: why would people hole up in cages we know as ‘offices’ for forty hours a week in exchange for some bits of metal and paper or a few digits added to their bank account? Is it because we’ve been won over by the propaganda of the powers that be? And, if so, why are there virtually no dissenters? Why does no one walk up to the tax authorities and say, ‘Hey mister, I just read an interesting book about the power of myths and realized money is a fiction, so I’m skipping taxes this year.’
The reason is self-evident. If you ignore a bill or don’t pay your taxes, you’ll be fined or locked up. If you don’t willingly comply, the authorities will come after you. Money may be a fiction, but it’s enforced by the threat of very real violence.
One of the biggest sources of distance these days is the news. Watching the evening news may leave you feeling more attuned to reality, but the truth is that it skews your view of the world. The news tends to generalize people into groups like politicians, elites, racists, and refuges. Worse, the news zooms in on the bad apples.
The same is true of social media. What starts as a couple of bullies spewing hate speech at a distance gets pushed by algorithms to the top of our Facebook and Twitter feeds. It’s by tapping into our negativity bias that these digital platforms make their money, turning higher profits the worse people behave. Because bad behaviors grabs our attention, it’s what generates the most clicks, and where we click the advertising dollars follow. This has turned social media into systems that amplify our worst qualities.
Neurologists point out that our appetite for news and push notifications manifest all the symptoms of addiction, and Silicon Valley figured this out long ago. Managers at companies like Facebook and Google strictly limit the time their children spend on the internet and ‘social’ media. Even as education gurus sing the praises of iPads in school and digital skills, the tech elites, like drug lords, shield their own kids from their toxic enterprise.
And every year, right on cue, anti-fascists come along to give the neo-Nazis exactly what they want. Inevitably, a video surfaces showing someone proudly taking a swing at some Nazi. But afterwards, the effects prove counter-productive. Just like bombing the Middle East is manna for terrorists, punching Nazis only reinforces extremists. It validates them in their worldview and makes it that much easier to attract new recruits.
Wunsiedel (Germany) decided to test a different strategy. In 2014 a wisecracking German named Fabian Wichmann had a brilliant idea. What if the town turned the march for Rudolph Hess (buried in a local cemetery in the late 80s) into a charity walk? Residents loved the idea. For every meter the neo-Nazis walked, the townspeople pledged to donate ten euros to Wichmann’s organization EXIT-Deutschland, which helps people get out of far-right groups.
…on the day itself, Wundsiedel greeted them with loud cheers and showered them with confetti upon crossing the finish. All told, the event raised more than twenty thousand euros for the cause. In subsequent weeks the number of phone calls to EXIT-Deutschland went up 300 per cent. Wichmann saw how disorienting his messages were to the neo-Nazis. Where they’d expected disgust and outrage, they got an outstretched hand.
“The Monkey’s Raincoat” Robert Crais
“Rules of Civility” Amor Towles
The brunette in the suite walked past me toward the bathrooms. She gave me the cold unfriendly stare of an old enemy at an unpopular peace. Isn’t that just perfect, I thought. How little imagination and courage we show in our hatreds. If we earn fifty cents an hour, we admire the rich and pity the poor, and we reserve the full force of our venom for those who make a penny more or a penny less. That’s why there isn’t a revolution every ten years. I stuck out my tongue at her retroactively and wove toward the door trying to look from behind like a movie star on a train.
But one night near the end, as I was sitting at his bedside trying to entertain him with an anecdote about some nincompoop with whom I worked, out of the blue he shared a reflection which seemed such a non sequitur that I attributed it to delirium. Whatever setbacks he had faced in his life, he said, however daunting or dispiriting the unfolding of events, he always knew that he would make it through, as long as when he woke in the morning he was looking forward to his first cup of coffee. Only decades later would I realize that he had been giving me a piece of advice.
Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high-minded, but when a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane––in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath––she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger. What my father was trying to tell me, as he neared the conclusion of his own course, was that this risk should not be treated lightly. One must be prepared to fight for one’s simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.
But for me, dinner at a fine restaurant was the ultimate luxury. It was the very height of civilization. For what was civilization but the intellect’s ascendancy out of the doldrums of necessity (shelter, sustenance, and survival) into the ether of the finely superfluous (poetry, handbags, and haute cuisine)? So removed from daily life was the whole experience that when all was rotten to the core, a fine dinner could revive the spirits. If and when I had twenty dollars left to my name, I was going to invest it right here in an elegant hour that couldn’t be hocked.
It’s funny about photography, isn’t it? The entire medium is founded on the instant. If you allow the shutter to be open for even a few seconds, the image goes black. We think of our lives as a sequence of actions, an accumulation of accomplishments, a fluid articulation of style and opinion. And yet, in that one sixteenth of a second, a photograph can wreak such havoc.
––You’re going to let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand?
––That’s it, he said. Any interest?
––What’ll it cost me?
––According to Thoreau, nearly everything.
––It’d be nice to have everything at least once before giving it up. He smiled.
––I’ll give you a call when you’ve got it.
It is a bit of a cliché to characterize life as a rambling journey on which we can alter our course at any given time––by the slightest turn of the wheel, the wisdom goes, we influence the chain of events and thus recast our destiny with new cohorts, circumstances, and discoveries. But for the most of us, life is nothing like that. Instead, we have a few brief periods when we are offered a handful of discrete options. Do I take this job or that job? In Chicago or New York? Do I join this circle of friends or that one, and with whom do I go home at the end of the night? And does one make time for children now? Or later? Or later still?
In that sense, life is less like a journey than it is a game of honeymoon bridge. In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions, for a hundred visions and revisions––we draw a card, and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second. And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come.
“War Dances” Sherman Alexie
“Seeking Whom He May Devour” Fred Vargas
“The Wild One” Nick Petrie
“Invisible” Paul Auster
“The Devil’s Code” John Sanford
“Hold Still” Sally Mann
Mr. Foote was perhaps being a little extreme, exaggeration being another southern characteristic. It’s not that we southerners are exactly in love with death, but there is no question that, given our history, we’re on a first-name basis with it. And such familiarity often lends southern art a tinge of sorrow, of finitude and mourning. Think of the blues, for example, or early jazz; think of Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor, and others; think of the titanic triad of Rauschenberg, Johns, and Twombly in the visual arts. Cy was talking to me about them once, the three painters, and he said that if a book were ever written about them, it should be called Dickheads from Dixie.
On the controversy surrounding Sally Mann’s family (children’s) portrait work:
Let’s carry this a bit further. Not only was the distinction between the real children and the images difficult for people, but so also was the distinction between the images and their creator, whom some found immoral. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I believe my morality should have no bearing on the discussion of the pictures I made. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I actually was, as some New York Times letter writers suggested, “manipulative,” “sick,” “twisted,” “vulgar.”
Even if I were all those things, it should make no difference in the way the work is viewed, tempting as it is to make that moral connection. Do we deny the power of For Whom the Bell Tolls because its author was unspeakably cruel to his wives? Should we vilify Ezra Pound’s Cantos because of its author’s nutty political views? Does Gauguin’s abandoned family come to mind when you look at those Tahitian canvases? If we only revere works made by those with whom we’d happily have our granny share a train compartment, we will have a paucity of art.
Part of the artist’s job is to make the commonplace singular, to project a different interpretation onto the conventional. With the family pictures, I may have done some of that. In particular I think they tapped into some below-the-surface cultural unease about what it is to be a child, bringing into the dialog questions of innocence and threat and fear and sensuality and calling attention to the limitations of widely held views on childhood (and motherhood).
The greatest threat to that stability (colonial society) was thought to lie in the possible recognition of common interests between the poor whites and slaves. To prevent such a nightmare alliance from taking shape, the law, the pulpit, and the press joined forces to deepen the perceived differences between the races by convincing white colonists that they were naturally superior; that they, whatever their social rank, were, as Morgan put it, “equal in not being slaves.” As a cynically encouraged moral disease, racism has had regrettable stating power and, no matter how we deny it, is still employed as a subtle but potent political and psychological tool. This racist legacy of slavery was said by Faulkner to be a curse on the entire South, white and black, the wounds of African Americans mirrored in our guilty white souls. Reading “The Bear” under my tented covers, way past Putney’s “lights out” hour, I began to understand that he was right. “Don’t you see?” he wrote. “Don’t you see? The whole land, the whole south, is cursed, and all of us who derive from it, whom it ever suckled, white and black both, lie under the curse.”
So I soldier on, taking one dodo of a picture after another, enticed by just enough promising ones to keep going. Soon I encounter another obstacle: the new work, so precarious, unformed, and tender, is being subverted by my old work, which was itself once precarious, unformed, and tender but with the passage of times now taken on a dignified air of inevitability. The new work has none of that apparent effortlessness, the after-the-fact infallibility that the old work so confidently glories in. No, the new work is always intractable, breech-presented, mulishly stubborn, and near impossible to man-haul into existence.
Eventually, the law of averages takes pity on me, as it is known to do for my fellow sufferer, the monkey at his typewriter, and doles out a miracle: a good new picture, at last. It brings me relief and reassurance, but no one else sees it for the milestone it is. Each time, friends and family dismiss my panic and despair, saying breezily, “Oh knock it off, you’ll get another good picture, you always do. Relax!”
Ordinary art is what I am making. I am a regular person doggedly making ordinary art. But as Ted Orland and David Bayles point out in their book Art and Fear, “ordinary art” is the art that most of us, those of us not Proust or Mozart, actually make. If Proust-like genius were the prerequisite for art, then statistically speaking very little little of it would exist. Art is seldom the result of true genius; rather, it is the product of hard work and skills learned and tenaciously practiced by regular people. In my case, I practice my skills despite repeated failures and self-doubt so profound it can masquerade outwardly as conceit. It’s not heroic in any way. To the contrary, it’s plodding, obdurate effort. I make bad picture after bad picture week after week until the relief comes: the good new picture that offers benediction.
“The Beautiful Mystery” Louise Penny
“When Will There Be Good News?” Kate Atkinson
“The Wine of Angels” Phil Rickman
‘My assessment of the situation tells me,’ said Miss Devenish, ‘that you wanted her to suffer.’
‘Well…’ Merrily averted her eyes. ‘Let’s say I wanted her to regret it.’
‘Well, of course,’ said Miss Devenish, ‘you’re a Christian, and Christians are reluctant to believe that any significant lesson can be learned without suffering.’
‘And what are you, Miss Devenish?’
‘Labels!’ The old girl glared at her. ‘Why should one always have to be something? Traherne was a Christian, but with the perceptions…the antennae…of a pagan. But I’ll not be drawn into that sort of argument. I’d prefer us to remain on speaking terms. You want to know how your daughter could get horribly inebriated on copious draughts of rough cider and come out of it without a king-size hangover, and I’m trying to give you a possible explanation with our offending your religious sensibilities.’
“Tear It Down” Nick Petrie
“Total Chaos” Jean-Claude Izzo
I’d loved all the women I’d lived with. I’d loved them passionately. And they’d loved me too. But probably with a greater degree of honesty. They’d given me time out of their lives. Time is an essential thing in a woman’s life. To women, time is real, whereas for men it’s relative. Yes, they’d given me a lot. And what had I given them in return? Affection. Pleasure. Short-term happiness. I was quite good at those things. But after that?
With me, it was after the love that everything fell apart, that I stopped giving and didn’t know how to take. After the love, I went back on the other side of the border. Back to the territory where I have my own rules, my own laws, my own code, and my own stupid obsessions. The territory where I lose my way, and where I lost the women who ventured onto it.
“Shutter Island” Dennis Lehane
“Vinegar Girl” Anne Tyler
“World of Trouble” Ben H. Winters
Third book of a trilogy, World of Trouble finds policeman Henry Palace following clues to find his sister who has fallen prey to a ‘save the world’ scheme. An asteroid impact is expected within a week. The first in the series is The Last Policeman released in 2012 followed by Countdown City in 2013.
“Burning Bright” Nick Petrie
“The Bushwhacked Piano” Thomas McGuane
“Zydeco!” Ben Sandmel with photographs by Rick Oliver
These exceptions underscore the broader point that terminology has innate limitations in the world of traditional music. While useful as a point of reference, terminology is usually superimposed upon the music long after its emergence. As such it is often imprecise, arbitrary, and overlapping, with nomenclature that changes continually over time. Also, the assigning of such categories is often irrelevant –– if not annoying –– to working musicians who actually play for a living. So are the related issues of purism and authenticity that spark heated debate on the sidelines. These questions are particularly murky in the case of zydeco, which has always been a hybrid.
Here’s an excerpt that Ted Fox, Buckwheat Zydeco’s manager, released in 1988:
First, please so not use the word Cajun in connection with Buck or zydeco music. Cajuns are the white descendants of the original French settlers of Nova Scotia, which was originally known as Acadia (that’s where the word Cajun comes from). Buckwheat, and all the French-speaking black people of southwestern Louisiana, refer to themselves as Creole. Zydeco music is not Cajun music, although there are some similarities. Please refer to zydeco as “Creole dance music” or “Louisiana’s hottest music” or whatever you like, but not Cajun music.
This is a serious cultural issue with Buck. That’s why our performance contracts contain the following warning hand-stamped in large red type: DO NOT use the word “CAJUN” to promote/advertise this show. Such use us STRICTLY PROHIBITED and will void the contract.
Calling Buck a Cajun is sort of like calling an Irishman English, and referring to zydeco as Cajun music is like calling reggae calypso music.
Second, the band is not from New Orleans, and zydeco is not New Orleans music. The band, as well as most zydeco bands, is based in and around the small city of Lafayette, which is over a hundred miles west of New Orleans –– on the other side of the Mississippi River and the great Atchafalaya Swamp. Once again, it is as distinct a difference as Jamaica is from Trinidad, or Ireland is from England.
“The Devil’s Cave” Martin Walker
The priest studied him for a moment. Someone who had heard as many confessions as Father Sentout would hardly be innocent of the ways of the world. Something he had read came into his head, that André Malraux had once asked an elderly priest what he had learned of the human race after a lifetime of hearing confessions, and the priest had replied, “That there are no grown-ups.”
“Light Of the World” James Lee Burke
I have never laid strong claim on rationality, in fact have often felt that its value is overrated. Let’s face it, life is easier if we maintain a semblance of reasonable behavior and hide some of our eccentricities and not say more than is necessary in our dealings with others. The same applies to our actions. Why attract attention? No one takes an accordion to a deer hunt.
I wondered if my fatigue and adrenaline and revulsion had impaired both my senses and my ability to think. I was convinced that was not the case. I’m also convinced that all the events I was about to see and participate in happened just as I will describe them. I have never set much store in psychological stability or what we refer to as normalcy. I don’t believe the world is a rational place; nor do I believe that either science or the study of metaphysics can explain any of the great mysteries. I have always fled the presence of those who claim they know the truth about anything. I agree with George Bernard Shaw’s statement that we learn little or nothing from rational people, because rational people adapt themselves to the world and, consequently, are seldom visionary.
“Light It Up” Nick Petrie
“The Chalk Circle Man” Fred Vargas
‘For instance, that people don’t think enough about the objects they throw away. Once these objects have ceased to be useful, once they have served their purpose, our eyes don’t even see them as material any more. I could show you a pavement and say: “What do you see on the ground?” and you could reply: “Nothing.” Whereas in reality’ (heavy emphasis) ‘there are dozens of objects there, You follow? This man appears to be grappling with a painful investigation of some kind: metaphysical, philosophical, or perhaps – why not? – poetic, about the way human beings choose to make the reality of the material world start and stop, something for which he has elected himself the arbiter. Whereas in his eyes, it may be that material objects continue their existence outside our perception of them.
Adamsberg walked back to the office with vague thoughts running through his head. He was not in the habit of reflecting deeply. He had never been able to understand what was happening when he saw people put their hands to their foreheads and say, ‘Right, let’s give this some thought.’ What was going on in their brains, the way they managed to organize precise ideas, inferring, deducting, concluding, all that was a complete mystery to him. He had to admit that it produced undeniable results, and that after this kind of brainstorming, people took decisions, something he admired while being convinced that he was himself lacking in some way. But when he tried it, when he sat down and said ‘Right, I’ll give it some thought,’ nothing happened in his head. It was even at moments like that that he was aware of a complete blank. Adamsberg never realized when he was thinking and the instant he became conscious of it, it stopped. As a result he was never sure where all his ideas, his intentions and his decisions came from.
“Countdown City” Ben H. Winters
This is the second book of ‘The Last Policeman’ dystopian trilogy. All three feature former detective Henry Palace trying to keep a toehold on reality and civilized behavior as all of mankind is waiting for the arrival of asteroid Maya, due to strike earth in about two months. The third in the series is ‘World of Trouble’ released in 2014.
“The Crowded Grave” Martin Walker
“The Blazing World” Siri Hustvedt
Under the logical fallacy argumentum ad popular, the biggest brand is the best brand. This false reasoning is used by every cultural herd, however large or small. The herd runs to gape at the spectacle of whitening toothpaste. The herd runs to see the new hot gallery star. The herd thinks in unison. The herd is a collective voyeur, driven by received knowledge to see beauty, sophistication, cleverness in the shining thing, the empty vehicle of worth and wealth and glory. But the herd loves ugliness, too: humiliations, murders, suicides, and corpses––not actual corpses within reach, not corpses that stink, but the mediated dead, the dead and dying on screen. The familiar herd, our own herd, is mostly sanitary in its tastes. The herd reads The Gothamite to discover sanitary tastes that will not interfere with the spectacle of whitening toothpaste that brightens its collective Madison Avenue grin and will not sully its Wall Street suit. The herds, large and small, create varying identities through one or another commodity of choice, their raison d’étre. Images of the living as well as the dead are sold on the open market as delectable bodies. Their reality is exclusively of the third-person pronominal variety. The bodies have no inside because the first-person singular is not allowed. Value is determined within each herd by collective perception and the number of viewers.
For him, art was the enchanted part of life, the part of life in which anything can happen. He especially loved painting, and he was extremely sensitive to forms and color and feeling, but he always said beauty alone wasn’t enough. Beauty could be thin and dry and dull. He looked for “thought and viscera” in the same work, but he knew that wasn’t enough to sell it either. in order to sell art, you had to “create desire,” and “desire,” he said, “cannot be satisfied because then it’s no longer desire.” The thing that is truly wanted must always be missing. “Art dealers have to be magicians of hunger.”
After she died, my father showed me an album with photographs of his parents and some clippings he had brought from Paris. I saw how beautiful my grandmother had been. “She held court,” he said. She was quick with languages and spoke French, Italian, English, and some Cantonese, and, of course, Thai. But wherever they went, my father said, she would learn just enough to say something charming and win over a guest. “She was clever but not thorough. What counted was the effect, not the knowledge, trés mondaine.” And then he said something I never forgot. “In that way, I am like my mother. But I fell in love with your mother because she is exactly the opposite. She is deep and thorough and cares only about the questions she keeps trying to answer for herself. The world has little use for people like your mother but her time will come.”
PQE: How did you get interested in the weather?
B: From God. Beginning and end. He is, I proclamation, all weather, the weatherman of and illness, of all’s well that ends well. Windy pressures ride high in his blasted being of beginnings and endings. You understand he is a totalitarian, but also a hotelitarian, who takes in mankind, takes him to the inn, but then blows him down. The song goes, “Blow the man down, O give me some time, and give me some rhyme and blow, blow, blow the man down.” Blow that puny little butthead, Man, man and his kind, into ribbons and smithereens. How does he do it? It’s a big secret deal of the Potentate, the Reprobate, the Pulverizer and Mercifier, the Big Blue Sky Daddy who dreams on our screens. That’s what happened with the World and Trade, the Power towers. God had a nightmare, you see, and it went viral onto every TV and computer and also into the heads of every geek tuned into the net. Divine Head, the godhead storms onto the earth, his curse on our things, but no things we can understand or demand or remand or take in hand. I am blessed with inside scoops of ice cream and then I scream on these matters, these barometric matters that aren’t matter, but air issues for fair, fair weather, which should be fair, but often are not fair, in that life is not fair. It all registers, tremors and trickles and rumbles, ups and downs in my organs and my head, in the gray pulp up there with graphs and that little needle wobbling, you know, in there, too. My head has a direct connection to the godhead, two heads, and it can be too much, way too much for me, and some days I can’t manage the management of the bandages needed, too many, when the earth and the air are crying outside and inside my head…
In some cases, however, delusions become apparent. Harry and I were both fascinated by what have been called “moral panics,” outbreaks of spreading terror, often directed at one supposedly “deviant” group or another––Jews, homosexuals, blacks, hippies, and, last but not least, witches and devils. During the 1980s and early 1990s, satanic cults popped up all over the United States, and their gruesome rites were all soberly reported in the newspapers. Countless arrests, imprisonments, and wrecked lives resulted from that hysterical contagion. Social workers, psychotherapists, law enforcement officials, and the courts were all swept up in the panic. In the end, there was no evidence of a single accusation having been true. One conviction after another has been overturned. Caught in an epidemic of traveling thoughts, hundreds of people were eager to believe that the woman or man at the day-care center, the sheriff, the coach, the neighbors down the street were monsters who raped and mutilated children, who drank their blood and ate their feces for breakfast. Gruesome memories sprouted from the minds of grown-ups and children, accounts of Black Sabbath masses, of sodomy and untold numbers of murders, but no one ever found a dead body or any marks of torture on a single person. And yet, people believed. There are those who still believe. Think of the stories that bloomed and circulated after 9/11, that no Jews were killed at the World Trade Center and that the U.S. government had manufactured the atrocity. This nonsense had adamant followers, as, of course, did the Bush administrations big lie about the same carnage and Iraq. It is easy to claim that those who are swept up in these beliefs are ignorant, but belief is a complex mixture of suggestion, mimicry, desire, and projection. We all like to believe we are resistant to the words and actions of others. We believe that their imaginings do not become ours, but we are wrong. Some beliefs are so patently wrong––the proclamation of the 1st Earth Society, for example––that dismissing them is simple for most of us. But many others reside in ambiguous territory, where the personal and the interpersonal are not easily separated.
I begged her to give it up. Show your work now, I said. Take it to the cooperative here in Red Hook. Forget about pseudonyms and figments, your ironies and philosophies. Who cares about the incestuous art world of dupes and phonies. But Harry couldn’t give it up. Drowning, she clung fiercely to that small, splintered piece of mast bobbing in the ocean we call justice. There is no justice, of course, or very little of it, and counting on it as a life raft is a big mistake.
“The Nightmare” Lars Kepler
“Night of the Jaguar” Michael Gruber
He had been to college, too, but dropped out because of all the bullshit you had to take from the teachers, and how bourgeois it was, and it was better to be a revolutionary, which he was. Being a revolutionary was all about smoking a lot of dope and spray-painting walls and keying expensive cars, or so she imagined from observing Kevin, and this would eventually bring down the capitalist infrastructure that was destroying the planet, although she was not nearly smart enough to see how this would happen.
She occasionally wondered what it was like to know a lot and read the kind of books that Professor C. had, with small printing and no pictures, although he had a lot of pictures, too, that he didn’t mind her looking at. When she did think about it she felt a heaviness grow behind her eyes, and she felt kind of sorry for those people, like there would be no room for their own selves inside their heads with all that stuff pressing down.
“Now, intelligence is rather more complex than people imagine. With us, it’s the ability to manipulate abstract symbols. That’s what we prize above all else, nearly to the exclusion of all else, with the result that we often put in charge of our civilization people who have absolutely no concrete intelligence at all, who are in fact entirely cut off from real life––economists and such. The greatest virtue of real science, in contrast, is that it constantly throws nature into your face, messy, solid, and complex nature, which often makes a nonsense of all one’s airy-fairy abstractions. Obviously, real education would draw out the particular intelligence of every individual, but we don’t so that. We think we need abstract symbol manipulators, and so we try to produce them en masse, and fail, and toss the failures into the dustbin…and, of course, there are modes of intelligence, broadly defined, of which our culture knows absolutely nothing. My mum was always going on about that, the truly remarkable range of what different peoples choose to do with their brains.”
“That’s good, actually,” Jane said. “If you weren’t frightened, you’d be fucking doomed. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
“But we’re not talking about God here, are we?”
“Aren’t we? It’s always a mistake to try to put him in a box and say this is holy and this is not. As soon as we worship any good thing that’s not ourselves we’re worshipping him. You and I are on what they used to call the left-hand path. We have the illusion we know where we’re going, and how proud we are of our navigational skills. And then, well, what do you know! We end up in this tight little place with no way out except for one little tiny crack, but we can’t pass through it unless we admit we’re not God Almighty and in total control. That’s when we experience that ripping existential terror. If I were you I would visit the bathroom frequently.”
“The Overstory” Richard Powers
His words of thanks contain four of the top six releasers for producing action patterns in someone else; reciprocity, scarcity, validation, and appeal to commitment. He hides the evidence of his begging under another trick gleaned from Chapter 12: If you want a person to help you, convince them that they’ve already helped you beyond saying. People will work hard to protect their legacy.
It will take years for the picture to emerge. There will be findings, unbelievable truths confirmed by a spreading worldwide web of researchers in Canada, Europe, Asia, all happily swapping data through faster and better channels. Her trees are far more social than even Patricia suspected. There are no individuals. There aren’t even separate species. Everything in the forest is the forest. Competition is not separable from endless flavors of cooperation. Trees fight no more than do the leaves on a single tree. It seems most of nature isn’t red in tooth and claw, after all. For one, those species at the base of the living pyramid have neither teeth nor talons. But if trees share their storehouses, then every drop of red must float on a sea of green.
“The psyche’s job is to keep us blissfully ignorant of who we are, what we think, and how we’ll behave in any situation. We’re all operating in a dense fog of mutual reinforcement. Our thoughts are shaped primarily by legacy hardware that evolved to assume that everyone else must be right. But even when the fog is pointed out, we’re no better at navigating through it.”
“It’s so simple,” she says. “So obvious. Exponential growth inside a finite system leads to collapse. But people don’t see it. So the authority of people is bankrupt.” Maidenhair fixes him with a look between interest and pity. Adam just wants the cradle to stop rocking. “Is the house on fire?”
A shrug. A sideways pull of the lips. “Yes.”
“And you want to observe the handful of people who’re screaming, Put it out, when everyone else is happy watching things burn.”
A minute ago, this woman was the subject of Adam’s observational study. Now he wants to confide in her. “It has a name. We call it bystander effect. I once let my professor die because no one else in the lecture hall stood up. The larger the group…”
“…the harder it is to cry, Fire?”
“Because if there were a real problem, surely someone––”
“––lots of people would already have––“
“––with six billion other––“
“Six? Try seven. Fifteen in a few years. We’ll soon be eating two-thirds of the planet’s net productivity. Demand for wood has tripled in our lifetime.”
“Can’t tap the brakes when you’re about to hit the wall.”
“Easier to poke your eyes out.”
The world had six trillion trees, when people showed up. Half remain. Half again will disappear, in a hundred years. And whatever enough people say that all these vanishing trees are saying is what, in fact, they say. But the question interests Adam. What did the dead Joan of Arc hear? Insight or delusion? Next week he’ll tell his undergrads about Durkheim, Foucault, crypto-normativity: How reason is just another weapon of control. How the invention of the reasonable, the acceptable, the sane, even the human, is greener and and more recent than humans suspect.
Adam casts a look behind them, down the concrete canyon of Beaver Street. Beavers: the creatures whose pelts built this city. The original Manhattan Exchange. He hears himself answer. “Trees used to talk to people all the time. Sane people used to hear them.” The only question is whether they’ll talk again, before the end.
“Bury Your Dead” Louise Penny
“Black Diamond” Martin Walker
“The Master and Margarita” Mikhail Bulgakov
It took me almost a year to get through this book. It came highly recommended by a good friend who shares similar tastes in the arts. Maybe this ‘story’ would make an interesting theatre piece but it was a trudge muddling through the seemingly disconnected parts.
“Lost Light” Michael Connelly
“Feast Your Eyes” Myla Goldberg
“Home” Marilyn RobinsonWhat a slog that goes nowhere. Read about a third of it and put it down. You should put it down, too, right now.
“Nobody’s Fool” Richard Russo
Beryl Peoples, “Miss Beryl” as she was known to nearly everyone in North Bath, had been living alone long enough to have grown accustomed to the sound of her own voice and did not always distinguish between the voice she heard in her ears when she spoke and the one she heard in her mind when she thought. It was the same person, to her way of thinking, and she was no more embarrassed to talk to herself than she was to think to herself. She was pretty sure she couldn’t stifle one voice without stifling the other, something she had no intention of doing while she still had so much to say, even if she was the only one listening.
There were limits to folly. True, Jedediah Halsey’s Sans Souci hadn’t been so much foolish as “visionary,” which, as everyone knew, was what you called a foolish idea that worked anyway.
This late in the year, the well-scrubbed. well-mannered windbreaker men all wore sweaters beneath their jackets, and many wore scarves at the insistence of their wives, who, since their husbands’ retirement, had come to treat them like school-bound children, making sure their scarves were wrapped high and snug about their wattled throats, jackets zipped up as far as they would go. Toasty was the word these wives used. Toasty warm. In response to being treated like children, these husbands retaliated by behaving like children, unzipping and unwrapping as soon as they were safely out of sight. They shared the child’s natural aversion to heavy winter wear and could not be induced to don bulky overcoats until it snowed and the snow stayed.
These girls knew from experience that their clientele were enthusiastically committed to the buffet concept in direct proportion to their physical inability to negotiate it. The more compromised by arthritis, ruptured discs, poor eyesight, dubious equilibrium and tiny appetite, the more the Northwoods’ diners were enamored of the long buffet tables with their sweeping vistas of carrot and celery sticks, cottage cheese, applesauce and cheese cubes speared with fancy cellophaned toothpicks, as well as the exotica, pea and three-bean and macaroni-vinaigrette salads, many of which required explanation. The buffet tables had a way of backing up as these explanations were made and choices narrowed, until the line snaked halfway around the room.
“Mmmm,” the woman cooed when she sipped her coffee, “I’m sorry to be such trouble, but honestly, if I have caffeinated after five, I’m up all night long!”
And then she was off again, explaining how she had always adored coffee, had always drunk twenty cups a day and never had problems until recently. But now, lord, it was simply tragic what coffee did to her. There was no other word for it besides tragic, but wasn’t that the way with all the good things, the things you really loved. Everything good was either immoral or fattening, she added, apropos of nothing, and then she cackled as if the cleverness of this observation were attributable to herself.
While the woman talked, Miss Beryl sank comfortably into her seat and tried not to glare, taking what solace there was in the fact that the coffee she’d given her guest was not decaf. Slender consolation, since the fool woman was probably as wrong about caffeine as she was about anything else. Thinking she’d drunk decaf, she’d sleep like the dead, like the president she admired, all three of their shared ideas rattling around in their otherwise empty heads, unassailed by doubt or caffeine.
In this, it turned out, Miss Beryl had been wrong. She’d heard the dreadful Joyce woman get up to use the bathroom at midnight, then again at two, and finally at four-thirty. Each time, Miss Beryl had muttered “Good!” in the dark.
Rub has, Sully knew, and imperfect grasp of wealth, of what things cost. To Rub’s way of thinking, some people––Carl Roebuck, for instance––had money, which meant they could afford things that other people––Rub, for instance––could not. What people like Carl Roebuck could afford was everything Rub couldn’t. The central fact of Rub’s existence was what he couldn’t afford, and what he couldn’t afford was nearly everything. Therefore, conversely, what Carl Roebuck could afford must be nearly everything. The idea that people who had money might have money problems was inconceivable to Rub, who saw no reason for them to economize.
“That’s how people get rich,” Sully explained. “Instead of doing things the expensive way, they save a few bucks here and there. They hire guys like us to make their lives nice.”
Rub’s face was a thundercloud so dark that only profound stupidity could be at its center. “And then they don’t even pay us,” he said, remembering the trench they dug at Carl’s house.
In Texas and Arizona, he had learned about faith and land. D. C. Collins, years ago, had explained it to him, taken him out to the middle of the desert where there was nothing but stone and sand and cactus and sun. That and a promotional billboard announcing Silver Lake Estates. “See that lake?” Collins asked, pointing off at nothing. Clive Jr. had seen no lake and said so. “You’re wrong, though,” Collins had explained. “It’s there because people believe it will be there. If enough people believe there’s going to be a lake, there will be one. It’ll get built somehow. Look at this land.” He offered a seeping gesture that took in the whole desert, from the ground they were standing on all the way to California. “What’s the first thing you notice?” Before Clive Jr. could speak, Collins answered. “No water. Not a drop. So how come these cities keep growing? Dallas. Phoenix. Tucson. It’s because people believe there will be water. And they’re right. If people keep moving, they’ll pipe water all the way from Antartica it they have to. Trust me. You come back here in two years, and there will be the prettiest little lake you ever saw, right out there, a fountain in the middle of it, shooting water fifty feet in the air. The only thing that can stop it from happening is if about half the people who have already invested their money get cold feet. If that happens, there won’t be enough water out here to support a family of Gila monsters. We’re talking faith here, Clive. Trust that billboard, because it’s the future, sure as shootin’, or if it isn’t we’re all fucked.”
Possibly, he just wished Peter were a little more like himself. True, he was a hard worker, and, Sully had to admit, a more talented worker as well, slower to become impatient, quicker to understand, more steady of temperament. What negated so many of these qualities was his son’s apparent expectation that hard work would be rewarded, a childish attitude that Vera had instilled in him. Because he’s worked hard in school and made good grades, he expected a good job and good pay and security. Because he’d been a competent teacher, he apparently expected promotions and respect. When these hadn’t followed, he’d felt self-pity, another of his mother’s gifts. Moral outrage and self-pity had always been Vera’s strong suits.
“The Gargoyle” Andrew Davidson
No one believes that his own town can produce true artists, but most people accept it as fact that in other places they fall off the trees like ripe fruit.
“Underland” Robert McFarlane
Before I sleep I read Harrison’s The Dominion of the Dead. I copy out a few sentences early in the book:
“For the first in millennia, most of us don’t know where we will be buried, assuming we will be buried at all. The likelihood that it will be among our progenitors becomes increasingly remote. From a historical or sociological point of view this is astounding. Uncertainty as to one’s posthumous abode would have been unthinkable to the vast majority of people a few generations ago.”
’No divinity in which I would wish to believe would declare itself by means of what we would recognize as evidence.’ He gestures at the data read-out. ‘If there is a god, we should not be able to find it. If I detected proof of a deity, I would distrust that deity on the grounds that a god should be smarter than that.’
Among the relics of the Anthropocene, therefore, will be the fallout of the atomic age, the crushed foundations of our cities, the spines of millions if intensively farmed ungulates, and the faint outlines of some of the billions of plastic bottles we produce each year––the strata that contain them precisely dateable with reference to the product-design archives of multinationals. Philip Larkin famously proposed that what will survive of us is love. Wrong. What will survive of us is plastic, swine bones and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain.
There are many reasons to be suspicious of the idea of the Anthropocene. It generalizes the blame for what is a situation of vastly uneven making and suffering. The rhetorical ‘we’ of Anthropocene discourse smooths over severe inequalities, and universalizes the site-specific consequences of environmental damage. The designation of this epoch as the ‘age of man’ also seems like our crowning act of self-mythologization––and as such only to embed the technocratic narcissism that has produced the current crises.
But the Anthropocene, for all its faults, also issues a powerful shock and challenge to our self-perception as a species. It exposes both the limits of our control over the long-term processes of the planet, and the magnitude of the consequences of our activities. It lays bare some of the cross-weaves of vulnerability and culpability that exist between us and other beings now, as well as between humans and more-than-humans still to come. Perhaps above all the Anthropocene compels us to think forwards in deep time, and to weigh what we will leave behind, as the landscapes we are making now will sink into strata, becoming underlands. What is the history of things to come? What will be our future fossils? As we have amplified our ability to shape the world, so we become more responsible for the long afterlives of that shaping. The Anthropocene asks of us the question memorably posed by the immunologist Jonah Salk: ‘ Are we being good ancestors?’
‘I have this plan,’ Merlin says, ‘that for each formal scientific paper I ever publish I will also write its dark twin, its underground mirror-piece––the true story of how the data for that cool, tidy hypothesis-evidence-proof paper actually got acquired. I want to write about the happenstance and shaved bumblebees and the pissing monkeys and the drunken conversations and the fuck-ups that actually bring science into being. This is the frothy, mad network that underlies and interconnects all scientific knowledge––but about which we so rarely say anything.’
“Canada” Richard Ford
“The Interestings” Meg Wolitzer
“Death in Brittany” Jean-Luc Bannalec
“Fraud” Anita Brookner
Within that carapace she was an adult woman, but one who had no voice because of her lifelong concealment, which no one now would question. She was represented by an exterior manner which she herself found burdensome, as if she were only just learning what other women had always known, so that she made too many efforts, and all of them inept. This strenuous task of engaging the attention of a man who secretly appalled her filled her with sadness, yet she was bound to persevere with him, as another woman might, as if some part of her still wanted to prove that she might make a conquest, and because of Lawrence Halliday being in the same room.
Only hatred stung her, the hatred of Nick Marsh, of Vickie Halliday. For they had hated her, she knew, hated her bland surface and her patient smile, projecting unto her, as onto a blank screen, their unresolved conflicts, and finding no purchase for their aggressive defensiveness. Or was it defensive aggression? Something sharply sexual in both cases: an avidity, and instinct to destroy, and all disguised by a set of manners which commended themselves in society, good humour, slyness, the intimation of possession, the performance of actual or potential ownership, or the enactment of its opposite…
She could see that Nick was a mass of hurt pride, that he resented the presence at his side of a woman whom he found unattractive, and who was making a clumsy attempt to aspire to companionship. Yet she had seen no way of leaving him: his very rudeness indicated injury, his averted face an awareness of grievances sustained. Her instinct was to put him at ease, to play the pleasant party game, and, what was more important, to play it innocently, without becoming entrapped by the dubious undercurrents. It was only when she became aware of his impatience, his contempt for her simple and no doubt timid manners, that she had hardened slightly, for she recognized the sexual insult behind his elaborate performance of indifference, and her surprise had turned into anger before she was able to conquer what was for her so excessive a reaction.
Love was embarrassing, unless crowned by a wedding, and of course no-one in their set had a breakdown or an illegitimate child. They supposed such matters to be confined to the lower classes, with whom they were on excellent terms when the latter were employed as servants. Feelings were never much discussed, although with the advent of old age––of real age––they were diverted by the tricks which memory played on them, and trembled on the brink of discovery, of real information, after the years of well-bred subterfuge. ‘Do you remember so-and-so?’ one of them would suddenly ask, only to have the other reply, incredulously, ‘Why, I was thinking of her only the other day. She died. of course.’ But again, when death come into the equation, they turned resolutely to other matters.
“The Collectors” David Baldacci
“The Dark Vineyard” Martin Walker
“The Brutal Telling” Louise Penny
“City of Light” Lauren Belfer
...and there's Vonnegut:
Published on Wednesday, May 12, 2004 by In These Times
by Kurt Vonnegut
Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.
But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of America’s becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.
When you get to my age, if you get to my age, which is 81, and if you have reproduced, you will find yourself asking your own children, who are themselves middle-aged, what life is all about. I have seven kids, four of them adopted.
Many of you reading this are probably the same age as my grandchildren. They, like you, are being royally shafted and lied to by our Baby Boomer corporations and government.
I put my big question about life to my biological son Mark. Mark is a pediatrician, and author of a memoir, The Eden Express. It is about his crackup, straightjacket and padded cell stuff, from which he recovered sufficiently to graduate from Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Vonnegut said this to his doddering old dad: “Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.” So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.
I have to say that’s a pretty good sound bite, almost as good as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A lot of people think Jesus said that, because it is so much the sort of thing Jesus liked to say. But it was actually said by Confucius, a Chinese philosopher, 500 years before there was that greatest and most humane of human beings, named Jesus Christ.
The Chinese also gave us, via Marco Polo, pasta and the formula for gunpowder. The Chinese were so dumb they only used gunpowder for fireworks. And everybody was so dumb back then that nobody in either hemisphere even knew that there was another one.
But back to people, like Confucius and Jesus and my son the doctor, Mark, who’ve said how we could behave more humanely, and maybe make the world a less painful place. One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana. Get a load of this:
Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot.
He had this to say while campaigning: "As long as there is a lower class, I am in it. As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it. As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?
How about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes? "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God. …"
And so on.
Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff.
For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes. But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
“Blessed are the merciful” in a courtroom? “Blessed are the peacemakers” in the Pentagon? Give me a break!
There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: Only nut cases want to be president.
But, when you stop to think about it, only a nut case would want to be a human being, if he or she had a choice. Such treacherous, untrustworthy, lying and greedy animals we are!
I was born a human being in 1922 A.D. What does “A.D.” signify? That commemorates an inmate of this lunatic asylum we call Earth who was nailed to a wooden cross by a bunch of other inmates. With him still conscious, they hammered spikes through his wrists and insteps, and into the wood. Then they set the cross upright, so he dangled up there where even the shortest person in the crowd could see him writhing this way and that.
Can you imagine people doing such a thing to a person?
No problem. That’s entertainment. Ask the devout Roman Catholic Mel Gibson, who, as an act of piety, has just made a fortune with a movie about how Jesus was tortured. Never mind what Jesus said.
During the reign of King Henry the Eighth, founder of the Church of England, he had a counterfeiter boiled alive in public. Show biz again.
Mel Gibson’s next movie should be The Counterfeiter. Box office records will again be broken.
One of the few good things about modern times: If you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.
And what did the great British historian Edward Gibbon, 1737-1794 A.D., have to say about the human record so far? He said, “History is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind.”
The same can be said about this morning’s edition of the New York Times.
The French-Algerian writer Albert Camus, who won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, wrote, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”
So there’s another barrel of laughs from literature. Camus died in an automobile accident. His dates? 1913-1960 A.D.
Listen. All great literature is about what a bummer it is to be a human being: Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, the Bible and The Charge of the Light Brigade.
But I have to say this in defense of humankind: No matter in what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got there. And, except for the Garden of Eden, there were already all these crazy games going on, which could make you act crazy, even if you weren’t crazy to begin with. Some of the games that were already going on when you got here were love and hate, liberalism and conservatism, automobiles and credit cards, golf and girls’ basketball.
Even crazier than golf, though, is modern American politics, where, thanks to TV and for the convenience of TV, you can only be one of two kinds of human beings, either a liberal or a conservative.
Actually, this same sort of thing happened to the people of England generations ago, and Sir William Gilbert, of the radical team of Gilbert and Sullivan, wrote these words for a song about it back then:
I often think it’s comical
How nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative.
Which one are you in this country? It’s practically a law of life that you have to be one or the other? If you aren’t one or the other, you might as well be a doughnut.
If some of you still haven’t decided, I’ll make it easy for you.
If you want to take my guns away from me, and you’re all for murdering fetuses, and love it when homosexuals marry each other, and want to give them kitchen appliances at their showers, and you’re for the poor, you’re a liberal.
If you are against those perversions and for the rich, you’re a conservative.
What could be simpler?
My government’s got a war on drugs. But get this: The two most widely abused and addictive and destructive of all substances are both perfectly legal.
One, of course, is ethyl alcohol. And President George W. Bush, no less, and by his own admission, was smashed or tiddley-poo or four sheets to the wind a good deal of the time from when he was 16 until he was 41. When he was 41,he says, Jesus appeared to him and made him knock off the sauce, stop gargling nose paint.
Other drunks have seen pink elephants.
And do you know why I think he is so pissed off at Arabs? They invented algebra. Arabs also invented the numbers we use, including a symbol for nothing, which nobody else had ever had before. You think Arabs are dumb? Try doing long division with Roman numerals.
We’re spreading democracy, are we? Same way European explorers brought Christianity to the Indians, what we now call “Native Americans.”
How ungrateful they were! How ungrateful are the people of Baghdad today.
So let’s give another big tax cut to the super-rich. That’ll teach bin Laden a lesson he won’t soon forget. Hail to the Chief.
That chief and his cohorts have as little to do with Democracy as the Europeans had to do with Christianity. We the people have absolutely no say in whatever they choose to do next. In case you haven’t noticed, they’ve already cleaned out the treasury, passing it out to pals in the war and national security rackets, leaving your generation and the next one with a perfectly enormous debt that you’ll be asked to repay.
Nobody let out a peep when they did that to you, because they have disconnected every burglar alarm in the Constitution: The House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the FBI, the free press (which, having been embedded, has forsaken the First Amendment) and We the People.
About my own history of foreign substance abuse. I’ve been a coward about heroin and cocaine and LSD and so on, afraid they might put me over the edge. I did smoke a joint of marijuana one time with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, just to be sociable. It didn’t seem to do anything to me, one way or the other, so I never did it again. And by the grace of God, or whatever, I am not an alcoholic, largely a matter of genes. I take a couple of drinks now and then, and will do it again tonight. But two is my limit. No problem.
I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.
But I’ll tell you one thing: I once had a high that not even crack cocaine could match. That was when I got my first driver’s license! Look out, world, here comes Kurt Vonnegut.
And my car back then, a Studebaker, as I recall, was powered, as are almost all means of transportation and other machinery today, and electric power plants and furnaces, by the most abused and addictive and destructive drugs of all: fossil fuels.
When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won’t be any more of those. Cold turkey.
Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t like TV news, is it? Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.
And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.
© 2004 In These Times