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 Sympathizer” Viet Thanh Nguyen
Dare I admit it? Dare I confess? America, land of supermarkets and superhighways, of supersonic jets and Superman, of super carriers and the Super Bowl! America, a country not content simply to give itself a name on its bloody birth, but one that insisted for the first time in history on a mysterious acronym, USA, a trifecta of letters outdone later only by the quartet of USSR. Although every country thought itself superior in its own way, was there ever a country that coined so many “super” terms from the federal bank of its narcissism, was not only superconfidant but also truly superpowerful, that would not be satisfied until it locked every nation of the world into a full nelson and made it cry Uncle Sam?
I had an abiding respect for the professionalism of career prostitutes, who wore their dishonesty more openly than lawyers, both of whom bill by the hour. But to speak only of their financial side misses the point. The proper way to approach a prostitute is to adapt the attitude of a theatergoer, sitting back and suspending disbelief for the duration of the show. The improper way is to doltishly insist that the play is just a bunch of people putting on charades because you have paid the price of the ticket, or, conversely, to believe utterly in what you are watching and hence succumb to a mirage. For example, grown men who sneer at the idea of unicorns will tearfully testify to the existence of an even rarer, more mythical species. Found only in remote ports of call and the darkest, deepest reaches of the most insalubrious taverns, this is the prostitute in whose chest beats the proverbial heart of gold. let me assure you, if there is one part of a prostitute that is made of gold, it is not her heart. That some believe otherwise is a tribute to the conscientious performer.
By this degree, the three call girls were troopers, which could not be said of 70 or 80 percent of the prostitutes in the capital and outlying cities, of whom sober studies, anecdotal evidence, and random sampling indicate the existence of tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands. Most were poor, illiterate country girls with no means of making a living except to live as ticks off the fur of the nineteen-year old American GI. His pants bulging with an inflationary roll of dollars and his adolescent brain swollen with the yellow fever that afflicts so many Western men who come to an Asian country, this American GI discovered to his surprise and delight that in the green-breasted world he was no longer Clark Kent but Superman, at least in regards to women. Aided (or was it involved?) by Superman, our fecund little country no longer produced significant amounts of rice, rubber, and tin, cultivating instead an annual bumper crop of prostitutes, girls who had never so much as danced to a rock song before the pimps we called cowboys slapped pasties on their quivering country breasts and prodded them onto the catwalk of a Tu Do bar. Now am I daring to accuse American strategic planners of deliberately eradicating peasant villages in order to smoke out the girls who would have little choice but to sexually service the same boys who bombed, shelled, strafed, torched, pillaged, or merely forcibly evacuated said village! I am merely noting that the creation of native prostitutes to service foreign privates is an inevitable outcome of a war of occupation, one of those nasty little side effects of defending freedom that all the wives, sisters, girlfriends, mothers, pastors, and politicians in Smallville, USA, pretend to ignore behind waxed and buffed walls of teeth as they welcome their soldiers home, ready to treat any unmentionable afflictions with the penicillin of American goodness.
When he interviewed me, he wanted to know whether I spoke any Japanese. I explained that I was born in Gardena. He said, Oh, you nisei, as if knowing that one word means he knows something about me. You’ve forgotten your culture, Ms. Mori, even though you’re only second generation. Your issei parents, they hung on to their culture. Don’t you want to learn Japanese? Don’t you want to visit Nippon? For a long time I felt bad. I wondered why I didn’t want to learn Japanese, why I didn’t already speak Japanese, why I would rather go to Paris or Istanbul or Barcelona rather than Tokyo. But then I thought, Who cares? Did anyone ask John F. Kennedy if he spoke Gaelic and visited Dublin or if he ate potatoes every night or if he collected paintings of leprechauns? So why are we suppose to not forget our culture? Isn’t my culture right here since I was born here?
Our performance entertained the Congressman, we the two little ingenious monkeys and he the organ-grinder, watching us hop and beg to a score not our own. We were well trained in this show from our previous exposure to Americans in our homeland, where the plays were all about unofficial money, i.e., corruption. Corruption was like the elephant in Indian lore, myself one of the blind wise men who could feel and describe only one part of it. It is not what one sees or feels that is confusing, it is what one does not see and does not feel, such as that part of the scene we had just paid before the Congressman that was out of our control. This was the part where he found ways to funnel unofficial money to us via official channels, that is to say, foundations that had on their boards of trustees the Congressman, or his friends, or the friends of Claude. These foundations were, in short, fronts themselves for the CIA and perhaps even other, more enigmatic governmental or nongovernmental organizations I did not know of, just as the Fraternity was a front for the Movement. This the Congressman knew full well when he said, I just hope this organization of yours doesn’t engage in anything illegal when it comes to its patriotic activities. Of course he meant that we should engage in illegal activities, so long as he did not know about them. The unseen is almost always underlined with the unsaid.
But what was this meaning? What had I intuited at last? Namely this: while nothing is more precious than independence and freedom, nothing is also more precious than independence and freedom! These two slogans are almost the same, but not quite. The first inspiring slogan was Ho Chi Minh’s empty suit, which he no longer wore. How could he? He was dead. The second slogan was the tricky one, the joke. It was Uncle Ho’s empty suit turned inside out, a sartorial sensation that only a man of two minds, or a man with no face, dared to wear.
“Sorrow’s Anthem” Michael Koryta
“Bewilderment” Richard Powers
They share a lot, astronomy and childhood. Both are voyages across huge distances. Both search for facts beyond their grasp. Both theorize wildly and let possibilities multiply without limits. Both are humbled every few weeks. Both operate out of ignorance. Both are mystified by time. Both are forever starting out.
He thought about that. Trouble is what creates intelligence?
I said yes. Crisis and change and upheaval.
His voice turned sad and wondrous. Then we’ll never find anyone smarter than us.
“The Nature of the Beast” Louise Penny
“The Thirst” Jo Nesbø
“Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art” Scott McCloudA very interesting read about the why and wherefore of the comic world presented in, you guessed it, comic form!
“The River” Peter HellerIt was an achievement-free zone, which Wynn was coming to realize is where most of his joy happened.
“The Institute” Stephen King
“Telephone” Percival Everett
My first book by this prolific writer and here’s the first paragraph of Telephone: People, and by people I mean them, never look for truth, they look for satisfaction. There is nothing worse, certain painful and deadly diseases notwithstanding, than an unsatisfactory, piss-poor truth, whereas a satisfactory lie is all too easy to accept, even embrace, get cozy with. Like thoughts that carry with them a dimension of attendant thoughts, so actions have attendant actions, with unpredicted, unprompted intentions and results, good or bad, and things, things themselves, have attendant things in unforeseen perspectives and dimensions. An unsatisfactory truth? Like Banquo’s ghost, such thoughts sit in the king’s place, literary allusions being all the rage. Such thoughts. It is slavery that inaugurates the path to freedom.
“The Breaker” Nick Petrie
“Open Season” C.J. Box
“The Stand” Stephen King
I had never read a Stephen King book before. My wife said, “Read The Stand. I loved it.” So I checked it out from the library. I had to use a dolly to get it to the car. 1153 pages. You’ll love it, she said. And it actually was pretty engaging. I managed to return the book on exactly the day it was due.
“Cross Her Heart” Melinda Leigh
“The Reckoning on Cane Hill” Steve Mosby
“A Man Without A Country” Kurt VonnegutThe book that brought to you his famous quote, “We are here on earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”
“The Lost Country” William Gay
Edgewater riding with a talkative sewing machine salesman. The car the salesman drove was comfortable and the flat country had slipped away with deceptive ease. The salesman was generous with his cigarettes and he was glad of an audience for his tales and it did not bother him that Edgewater mostly rode in silence. His tales all seemed to concern his various escapades with housewives. Most of them had him with clothing in hand escaping from windows, back doors, or hiding under beds and in closets. His narrow escapes were many and his virility had entered into female folklore, and under the cumulative weight of all his evidence Edgewater was forced to conclude that sewing and machine were the two most powerful words in the English language and that when combined they produced an aphrodisiac of irresistible and unreckonable potency.
A vague peace would come over him, not yet resolution but a feeling of uncontrollable postponement, fateful decisions the elements had wrestled from his hands. He came to think of time not as some amalgamation of scenery and people and voices and deeds that rushed overwhelmingly over him, but as a flat winding ribbon of asphalt he moved along. There were sideroads and alleys branching off it and logroads bowered by dripping rushes and empty houses abandoned to progress: gaptoothed treeline and people hidden with secret lives he would never know. But all the time that counted was the serpentine road, slick and black with rain or dazzling bright under a high tracking sun. His advance along it was a measurement of his allotted time and he could delay it on the sideroads, while he stumbled down alleys crept with lichens, time stopped, all the world that he mattered to held its breath and waited.
The men hunkered before the fire and extended their hands to its warmth as if the night were cold. Edgewater did not know them but he had seen hundreds like them. He had seen them in beerjoints and cafés on Saturdays and outside locked poolroom doors before daylight, as dispossessed as any tents evicted from their homes. The light flickered about their faces and their hard eyes and there seemed to be an inherent violence to them, arrogance and defiance as much a part of their genetic makeup as the color of eyes and hair. Their eyes were remote and studied and Edgewater wondered idly why all the faces he saw in this vast land seemed to allow for no middle ground between arrogance and servility.
Cripple Elmer cadged beer with a sort of wistful desperation while his mother searched faces foreign enough to these shores as to be unaware or desperate enough to be unmindful of her generosity with gonorrhea spores and body lice. Her wrinkled face powdered and rouged grotesquely as if her cosmetologist was a failed undertaker so inept as to be drummed from the craft, her hair an electric orange so red so absolutely divorced from anything that ever grew on a human head that it appeared something purloined in haste by mistake from the trunk of a clown. She wore brash and groundless confidence like some bright garment of youth that did not fit anymore. She forced on Edgewater a drink of Bobwhite from a half-pint she wore on a string about her neck like some gross bauble. Hauled up from whatever grubby depths of her garments and warmed to body temperature by her collapsed and withered dugs. The bottle itself lipsticked and scented alike with dimestore perfume and the acrid musk of her body; the bottle tilted to her upraised face and upon his ears like some backdrop or soundtrack to whatever drama he played out came through the graffiti-ridden walls of the mens’ room the click of the pool balls. The clanging of the pinball machine, the drunken voices crossing boast with complaint, farther yet and lost a wailing ambulance was shuttled down the endless walls of the night.
Once in his youth his mother had had a thing to tell him, conspirator’s eyes bright with portent. He had not wanted it on him. Old weights better borne by the dead than passed to the living. I will skip my turn, let the earth cover it forever, whatever it was, whatever it is. I handpicked enough burdens of my own, cut away the straps but they would not fall. Old mouths now long impacted with earth would have drawn me into their tawdry intrigues, used me to people the broken landscapes of their dreams. Hard now to learn that hands beyond the grave still retain their grasp.
Everyone knew Roosterfish. He’d hold court in the poolroom, a great favorite with the daytime idler. His illgotten gains flowed from him in a seemingly endless supply, buying beer for the crowd, maybe drinking one himself and telling his tales and listening to theirs. These old men and young with nothing to do but sit about the pool hall resting from no exertion in particular and possessed of little past and no future and endless talking, settling among themselves the vagaries of human nature.
“Exit Strategy” Steve Hamilton
“Liars’ Legacy” Taylor Stevens
“The Second Life of Nick Mason” Steve Hamilton
“How the South Won the Civil War” Heather Cox Richardson
So, in America, the idea that all men were treated equal depended on the traditional idea that all men were created unequal and that a few wealthy men should control the government, and therefore the lives, of women and men of color. This is the paradox that sits at the heart of our nation. We have the radical capacity to “make the world anew,” as Thomas Paine said, so that our government truly reflects human equality. But that idea assumed that some people were better than others, and that social hierarchies were natural–or even dictated by God. Natural leaders should govern the mudsills.
From its founding, America has stood at the nexus of democracy and oligarchy. And as soon as the nation was established, its history of conflating class and race have an elite the language to take over the government and undermine democracy.
On March 4, 1858, prominent South Carolina slaveholder James Henry Hammond gave a speech in the senate–to which he had been elected the year before despite the fact that his promising early political career had been nearly derailed when he admitted that for two years he had sexually assaulted his four young nieces, the daughters of the powerful Wade Hampton II (although he insisted he was being wronged because he should get credit for showing any restraint at all when faced with four such “lovely creatures”). Hammond embodied the hierarchy that enabled white planters to dominate their society, and his speech revealed how completely politics, society, and religion had come to spin around the southern oligarchy. The Southern system, Hammond announced, was “the best in the world…such as no other people ever enjoyed upon the face of the earth,” and spreading it would benefit everyone. If northerners persisted in trying to limit the extension of slavery, Hammond warned, it would come to war, one that the South would win. The South was the richest region in the world. It provided the world’s key product. Southern leaders could bring any country on earth to its knees just by threatening to cut off its supply of cotton. “Cotton is king,” Hammond declared.
Still, the greatest strength of the South was not its economy, Hammond said, but rather “the harmony of her political and social institutions.” Every society had “a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life.” Those people were the vast majority, and they made up the “mudsill” of society, supporting “that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement.” The men in the latter group were intelligent and well connected, educated and wealthy; they recognized fine art and culture and understood the economy. In the South, whites had made an “inferior” race into the mudsills, dull but loyal people who were content to have their labor directed by their betters and to have no say in their government. The system operated in perfect harmony.
Lincoln explained that Hammond’s “mudsill theory” divided the world into permanent castes: capitalists driving the economy and workers stuck at the bottom. But there was another theory: that workers, not capitalists, drove the economy, and hardworking men could–and should–rise. This latter “free labor” theory articulated the true meaning of American democracy for northerners and for the non-slave-holding southerners, who, as Lincoln reminded his listeners, made up the majority in the South. “The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his one account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him,” he explained. Unlike in the mudsill theory, those at the bottom were there not because of a caste system, but because of improvidence, folly, or singular bad luck. If able, they were free to move up.
When Lincoln won nonetheless, making it clear that the federal government would no longer defend the interests of slaveholders alone, southern leaders took the ultimate step to destroy democracy: they railroaded their states out of the Union to form the Confederate States of America. In this, southern leaders insisted they were defending the will of God. According to the Confederacy’s Voce President, Alexander Stephens of Georgia, the nation’s Founders had made a grave error by thinking that “all men are created equal.” Addressing an audience on March 21, 1861, he explained that “our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea…its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” The Confederacy was the first government in the world to be, as Stephens put it, “based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth,” and “if we are true to ourselves, our destiny, and high mission, will become the controlling power on this continent.”
The myth of the American cowboy was born of Reconstruction and carried all the hallmarks of the strife of the immediate postwar years: he was a hardworking white man who started from nothing, asked for nothing, and could rise on his own. The reality was that about a third of all cowboys were men of color–black, or Mexican, and sometimes Indian–and that few rose to prosperity. From the moment a young man signed on to a crew for a workingman’s wage, his life was guided solely by the task of getting those cattle alive to market. That meant days and nights in the saddle, rubbing tobacco in his eyes to stay awake, breathing dust, braving storms, and avoiding the cottonmouths that nested near river crossings. And those were the dangers a man could see coming. Worse was that cattle easily spooked. A sudden noise at night–a wolf howl, a gunshot, or a flash of lightning–and they might stampede. So, in the dark, cowboys sang sooting songs, in part to keep the cattle calm and in part so that crew members should try to turn stampeding cattle away from there partners before they were flattened–literally–by terrified beeves. Despite all their hard work, most of the profits went to the cattlemen. Their low wages, dangerous conditions, and lack of access to upward mobility made cowboys a western version of industrial workers in the factories back east.
The rise of the individualist resurrected the legitimacy of racism. Western settlers had reinforced racial distinctions rather than abandoning them, and their laws went far beyond the citizenship restrictions based on the 1802 naturalization law. By adopting elaborate laws against racial intermarriage, they advanced the pre-Civil War social categories that had established hierarchical racial lines to prevent the corruption of white blood. And they expanded the list of “races” that must not intermarry with “white” people to include Indians, Chinese, native Hawaiians, and anyone with “negro” blood.
Between 1945 and 1960, the gross national product–a leading indicator of economic well-being–jumped 250 percent, from $200 billion to $500 billion, expanding the middle class and creating a strong market for unskilled labor. Because wage laws and taxes kept money from moving upward, income across the economic spectrum doubled between 1945 and 1970. While Americans in rural areas and inner cities did not fare as well as those in more affluent areas, the overall sense of the 1950s was one of comfort, prosperity, and stability after the dislocation of the Depression and World War II: single-family homes, steady jobs, education, community, leisure time, sock hops, and innocence. Voters finally felt secure after the deprivation of the 1930s and the devastation of the war. They had little interest in the idea that government policies providing their security must be overturned.
From the beginning in the 1950s, Movement Conservative leaders had recognized that they could not win over the voters with policy, for the active state they opposed was quite popular. So they shaped their message around vignettes that made a compelling story. In the 1980s, as it became clear to most voters that they were falling behind under the Republican program, leaders stayed in power by deliberately crafting a narrative that harked back to western individualism. The hardworking individual–the cowboy–was endangered by a behemoth state. To protect him, they invoked the corollary to the American paradox, arguing that equality for women and people of color would destroy the freedom that lay at the heart of democracy. Then they sought to spread that narrative as widely as they could. The story they told of an America under siege by “takers” was not based in fact. Rather, it followed a formula that rewrote history in order to divide voters and win election by turning their supporters against minority and women. In this narrative, the popular policies of the liberal consensus were just what the Reconstruction years had been in this telling: To sell to voters a program that hurt most of them, the new Republicans deliberately shaped popular culture to bolster their ideology.
“The Boy” Tami Hoag
“Citizen Vince” Jess Walter
He was twenty-six, full into his burgeoning credit-card scam–which, for all he knew, he’d invented–in jail for the fifth time, when his mother died of liver infection. When he got out, Vince sat in the square and watched the college kids, trying to figure out what they had that he didn’t. He knew he was smart. He probably read more than most of the students with their full book bags. And yet he didn’t entirely get that he read. There were entire disciplines and schools of thought that he knew nothing about. Something was missing. Was it simply the sense of opportunity that came from having money and education? Was it a question of patterns of thought; were they conditioned to make better choices? Or was it some personality trait–a drive, an assuredness, some measure of place in the world–some quality that Vince could define only by his lack of it. Perhaps it was something as simple as a lack of ambition. After all, how can you make something of yourself when you’ve never dreamed of anything that wasn’t a girl in shorts, a six-pack, a straight flush?
History is just the memories you haven’t had yet. History is this cycle of arrogance and fall, arrogance and fall, and as soon as something happens, you can’t remember when you didn’t know it would happen, when there was any other outcome than the one in front of you. Reagan waves. Even if it had been a cliffhanger we were expecting, it would have been the same. This is the most humbling moment of my life. (Reagan speaking after defeating Carter)
“The Long Home” William Gay
He wondered what the truth was, secretly doubted there was any truth left beneath the shifting weight of myth and folklore. Truth had changed the way the landscape had changed to accommodate progress, altered by each generation to its purpose. He had learned from the talk of old men that there was no such thing as truth, truth was laws shaded by perception and expectation. And the old man’s truth might not be Winer’s. Hodges had said that the old man himself had killed two men, but Oliver had never spoken of it. Now that too was layered with time, had held truth only in the bright millisecond of all time it occupied, now there was the old man’s truth, the dead men’s survivors’ truth, the court’s truth, all of them separate truths men had sworn to. Winer disagreed with them all.
And down the line. Past sleeping houses behind those walls sleepers spun dreams he’d never know, let alone share. A thousand lives woven like threads in a patternless tapestry and if he died here on the highway it would alter the design not one iota. The world was locked doors, keep-out signs, guard dogs. He figured to just ease through unnoticed and be gone.
He sat watching the boy. The diminutive hog rustler, self-confessed and unrepentant thief of unborn swine. He with his fallow burlap bags and eye cocked to livestock futures. Oliver saw little that was lovable. He had a moment of clairvoyance, an insight of weary foreknowledge stabbed with regret. He knew that Clifford Hodges would alway be slipping in at night and digging up somebody else’s pigs. He would always be playing the longshot or taking a shortcut, figuring the angles in somebody else’s game. And he would never have a game of his own. If he lived until he was grown he would be shot then or shoot someone else in a failed inept holdup. He and a cohort halfmad as they looked aghast at each other across the body of a fallen grocer or gaspump operator. If he won the game he’d be in Brushy Mountain penitentiary, if he lost the graveyard. Oliver felt pity for him, a commiseration for the things that he had been and the things that were yet to be. He wished for words to encourage him, to enlighten him, but none came. And his own life did not lend itself to examples.
Winer sat smiling distractedly and listening, occasionally sipping his Coke. Behind the mask of his eyes he was trying to get a fix on Ann Barnett’s face, to single hers from the throng of faces swarming in his mind, but he could not. All he could recall was blond hair and iris colored eyes. He could see Toby Witherspoon’s gentle, beleaguered face but all these things Buttcut was telling him sounded strange and foreign, the obscure rites of some race he’d barely heard or one he’d forsaken long ago. He felt a cold remove from the, set apart, like a spectator never asked to participate, a face pressed against a window of frozen glass.
Down fabled roads reverting now to woods Winer felt himself imprisoned by the dark beyond the car lights and by the compulsive timbre of Motormouth’s voice, a drone obsessed with spewing out words without regard for truth or even for coherence, as if he must spit out vast quantities of them and rearrange them to his liking, step back, and admire the various patterns he could construct: these old tales of love and betrayal had no truth beyond his retelling of them, for each retelling shaped his past, made him immortal, gave him an infinite number of lives.
“Outlawed” Anna North
“Beautiful Ruins” Jess Walter
Pasquale considered his friend’s face. It had such an open quality, was such a clearly American face, like Dee’s face, like Michael Deane’s face. He believed he could spot an America anywhere by that quality–that openness, that stubborn belief in possibility, a quality that, in his lifetime, even the youngest Italians lacked. Perhaps it was the difference in age between the country–America with its expansive youth, building all those drive-in movie theaters and cowboy restaurants; Italians living in endless contradiction, in the artifacts of generations, in the bones of empires.
This reminded him of Alvis Bender’s contention that stories were like nations–Italy a great epic poem, Britain a thick novel, America a brash motion picture in Technicolor–and he remembered, too, Dee Moray saying she’d spent years “waiting for her movie to start,” and that she’d almost missed out on her life waiting for it.
“Plaster City” Johnny Shaw
“They don’t clean the bedspreads, Bobby. Seriously, if we had a black light it would look like Jackson Pollock’s drop cloth.”
“This blanket’ll be lucky I don’t give it a disease. Shit’s all bullshit, anyway. Germs aren’t real, man.”
“I don’t even know how to respond to that.” I cracked my beer. “But I assure you that germs are real. Scientists say so.”
“I mean, germs are out there, yeah. They’re things. But they aren’t trying to kill us. They’re being germs, germing around, you know. They’re all over, right? You touch ‘em, breathe ‘em, eat ‘em, all day. We grew up drinking ditch water out of the hose, playing under that crop duster spray–remember that weird, sweet smell?”
“I think that was DDT.”
“Smelled like burnt cabbage-flavored candy. I grew up eating street food in Mexicali. And I’m not talking the good places. I’d eat in the alleys. I can’t digest food unless it has some E. coli in it for flavor. All this nutrition nonsense is horse-shit. There weren’t such thing as antioxidants, electrolytes, or superfoods ten years ago. Now I’m supposed to be afraid to sit on the shitter in park toilets, eat an inorganic apple, and not lie down on a hotel bed. Shit, man, I ain’t the kind of guy that dies of old age. And I’m damn sure that someone else’s dry cum or piss or whatever else is on this blanket ain’t going to kill me.”
“Okay, you’ve convinced me. Lie down on your spermy blanket.” I said.
“You smoke. I could run my tongue across this entire blanket and it wouldn’t do as much bad to my body as one Winston.”
“Past Tense” Lee Child
“The Book of Malachi” T. C. (Tracey) Farren
The rogue lions, on the other hand, were skinny and wild, refusing a clumsy death at the hands of the panting, flaccid men who came all the way from America on jet planes to kill cats bigger than the ones that kneaded their pillows and meowed for tinned chicken.
“The Violated” Bill Pronzini
“The Long Way Home” Louise Penny
“That’s what I believe,” said Ruth. “Peter didn’t. Here was a man who was given everything. Talent, love, a peaceful place to live and create. And all he had to do was appreciate it.”
“Macbeth” Jo Nesbø
“A town, a country, rests on notions. Notions that banknotes can be exchanged for gold, notions that our leaders think about you and me and not their own good, that crimes will be punished. If we didn’t believe in those notions civilized society would disintegrate in a frighteningly short time. And in a situation where anarchy is knocking on the door Macbeth has just reassured us that the town’s public institutions are fully intact. It was a speech worthy of a statesman.”
“The Last Bookaneer” Matthew Pearl
“The Templars’ Last Secret” Martin Walker
“Between the World and Me” Ta-Nehisi Coates
Paraphrasing below from Reetu Varadhan of Boston University’s Arts and Sciences Writing Program.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s essay Between the World and Me is at once a cautionary tale, an analysis of contemporary American society. Written as a letter to his fifteen-year-old son, Coates uses his own adolescence and young adulthood as a means to communicate the reality of existing as a black man in America, thus creating what appears to be a how-to guide for the young black American. But this summation is surface level.
What message would Between the World and Me, a letter from a black man to a black teenager, carry for a white reader? One answer is Coates’s implicit suggestion that white people, and by extension the American media, should learn to discuss black life via black struggle instead of the inherently racist American Dream. This switch, however, is not offered as a solution to racism; rather, Between the World and Me serves as a call-out to the largely white media on their perpetuation of a quintessentially racist ideal, regardless of whether or not Coates explicitly intended for it to do so.
The keystone facet to Coates’s description of the black American’s reality is his separation of black Americans from so-called Dreamers—i.e., those who can and do follow the American Dream, which purports that the ultimate goal of life is a nuclear family, white and suburban with two-point-five children. Coates almost immediately dismisses the notion of a Dream that is, and has never been, accessible to black people.
He laments “the burden of living among Dreamers,” who “nullify the anger and the fear” of the black experience in order to preserve “their [own] innocence”; this concept of existing “among” but not as Dreamers draws a clear distinction between non-Dreamers and Dreamers, between black and white, between prosecuted and prosecutors. Furthermore, the claim that Dreamers intentionally delegitimize black pain in order to preserve the rosiness of the Dream suggests that Dreamers are willfully ignorant of black strife, and that the Dream is a tool with which Dreamers can justify their maintenance of the status quo.
Passages from the book:
That is the best of what the old heads meant when they spoke of being “politically conscious”––as a series of actions as a state of being, a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty. Some things were clear to me: The violence that undergirded the country, so flagrantly on display during Black History Month, and the intimate violence of “Yeah, nigger, what’s up now?” were not unrelated. And this violence was not magical, but was of a piece and design.
The writer, and that was what I was becoming, must be wary of every Dream and every nation, even his own nation. Perhaps his own nation more than any other, precisely because it was his own.
But American reunion was built on a comfortable narrative that made enslavement into benevolence, white knights of body snatchers, and the mass slaughter of the war into a kind of sport in which one could conclude that both sides conducted their affairs with courage, honor, and élan. This lie of the Civil War is the lie of innocence, is the Dream. Historians conjured the Dream. Hollywood fortified the Dream. The Area, was gilded by novels and adventure stories. John Carter flees the broken Confederacy for Mars. We are not supposed to ask what, precisely, he was running from. I, like every kid I knew, loved The Dukes of Hazzard. But I would have done well to think more about why two outlaws, driving a car named the General Lee, must necessarily be portrayed as “just some good ole boys, never meanin’ no harm”––a mantra for the Dreamers if there ever was one. But what one “means” is neither important nor relevant. It is not necessary that you believe that the officer that chokes Eric Garner set out that day to destroy a body. All you need to understand is that the officer carries with him the power of the American state and the weight of an American legacy, and they necessitate that of the bodies destroyed every year, some wild and disproportionate number of them will be black.
Here is what I’d like you to know; In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body––t is heritage. Enslavement was not merely the antiseptic borrowing of labor––it is not so easy to get a human being to commit their body against its own elemental interest. And so enslavement must be casual wrath and random mangling, the gashing of heads and brains blown out over the river as the body seeks to escape. It must be rape so regular as to be industrial. There is no uplifting way to say this. I have no praise anthems, nor old negro spirituals. The spirit and soul are the body and brain, which are destructible––that is precisely why they are so precious. And the soul did not escape. The spirit did not steal away on gospel wings. The soul was the body that fed the tobacco, and the spirit was the blood that watered the cotton, and these created the first fruits of the American garden. And the fruits were secured through the bashing of children with stovewood, through hot iron peeling skin away like husk from corn.
In the next paragraph Coates goes on to quote South Carolina senator John C. Calhoun, “The two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black. And all the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.”
“The Power of the Dog” Don Winslow
“Lives Laid Away” Stephen Mack Jones
“The Cold Millions” Jess Walter
I followed him through a fancy landing, beneath dual staircases, to a two-story library. Books that hadn’t been cracked since they were shelved. Give money to a monkey and he’ll fill his cage with bananas. Give the same money to a dim American and he’ll build a show library every time.
“Look,” Early said, “in case the first possibility is true, let’s not talk about her at all. Let’s say,” he stuck out his bottom lip, “there’s a castle. And a king is in the castle. And he’s an ass, because, well, kings are asses. Takes too much in tribute. The other knights and noblemen hate him. They say, This fella is getting rich off our fields and the tribute we get from the peasants. They scheme and plot and one day they slit his throat. Replace him with a new king. But pretty soon the noblemen say, Well, goddamn, the new king is as shitty as the last greedy son of a bitch. So they whack his head off, too, and put in a new greedy king. Kings killing kings. You know what that’s called?”
Rye shook his head.
“Shakespeare,” Early said. “Now let’s say you’re on the other side of the moat, and you got these peasants watching one rich king bump off another rich king, thinking, Wait, this ain’t changing anything.” He gestured at Gurley. “They gather behind some charming rebel who leads the peasants in revolt, and they behead all the shitty knights and princes and noblemen.”
Rye just shrugged.
“Here is my point–the peasants own the castle now, and they become the greedy sons of bitches. It’s all the same. What I’m saying is maybe the king ain’t the problem, Maybe what it is”–Early took another pull from the flask–“is time to blow up the whole goddamn castle.”
“The Fire Next Time” James Baldwin
“The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear.” – letter from James Baldwin to his nephew
In all jazz, and especially in the blues, there is something tart and ironic, authoritative and double-edged. White Americans seem to feel that happy songs are happy and sad song are sad, and that, God help us, is exactly the way most white Americans sing them–sounding in both cases, so helplessly, defenselessly fatuous that one dare not speculate on the temperature of the deep freeze from which issue their brave and sexless little voices.
It is the individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew themselves at the fountain of their own lives, that makes the discussion let alone elucidation , of any conundrum - that is, any reality - so supremely difficult. The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality... whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.
The White man's unadmitted - and apparently to him, unspeakable - private fears and longings are projected onto the Negro. The only way he can be released from the Negro's tyrannical power over him is to consent, in effect, to become black himself, to become part of the suffering and dancing country that he now watches wistfully from the heights of his lonely power and, armed with spiritual traveller's cheques, visits surreptitiously after dark.
We are controlled here by our confusion, far more than we know, and the American dream has therefore become something much more closely resembling a nightmare, on the private, domestic, and international levels. Privately, we cannot stand our lives and dare not examine them; domestically, we take no responsibility for (and no pride in) what goes on in our country; and, internationally, for many millions of people, we are an unmitigated disaster.
“August Snow” Stephen Mack Jones
“Willnot” James Sallis
“The twenty-minute slam.” When he shook his head, I went on, “Someone my father knew said that’s how he wrote a hundred TV shows. Whatever the character believes, by twenty minutes into the show it folds up on him. Everything he knew was wrong. And because of that, in the last five minutes his life is changed forever. Not like that, huh?”
“The Distant Dead” Heather Young
“Thousands of years ago, the Egyptians invented the sundial, and they divided the day into twelve hours instead of ten. Because they didn’t count in groups of ten like we do. They counted like this.” With his right thumb Mr. Merkel touched the knuckles of his right index finger. “Three knuckles on each finger. Four fingers on each hand. Twelve. All the Western civilizations that came after them kept the twelve-hour day, even if they used a base-ten counting system. So when Europeans decided to divide hours into minutes, they picked sixty instead of one hundred, because sixty is a multiple of twelve.”
It was also a multiple of ten, Sal thought. He’d waited all week for Mr. Merkel to tell him a math story, but this one didn’t make any sense. “What does that have to do with factor trees?”
“Sixty is also a good choice if you want to break your hour into smaller parts. You can divide it by every number between one and six, and also twelve, fifteen, and thirty. You can only divide one hundred by five, ten, twenty, twenty-five, and fifty.”
Sal still wasn’t following. He wondered if Lucas would have. He probably would. He had a remarkable mind, after all.
“Think about the numbers you can divide into sixty that you can’t divide into one hundred,” Mr. Merkel prompted. “Three, six, twelve, fifteen, and thirty. What de they have in common?”
“I don’t know.” Sal hated how he sounded–like a sulky little kid–bet he couldn’t help it.
“They’re all multiples of three. Three is a prime factor of sixty, but it isn’t a prime factor one hundred.”
Then, in a flash of understanding, Sal got it. One hundred was two times two times five times five. Sixty was two times two times three times five, and that made all the difference. He thought of how time was measured, in all its subparts–five minutes or six, ten minutes or twelve, fifteen or twenty or thirty–and how much more fluid it became when the denominator was sixty instead of one hundred. Prime factorization wasn’t just a math game like the Riemann Hypothesis after all. It mattered, in real and important ways, like how we keep time. When Mr. Merkel saw that Sal understood, he smiled, and relief warmed Sal’s face.
“Ridgerunner” Gil Adamson
The absurdity of the situation was not lost on Moreland: This was after all the border between two countries. But all around him was a sea of grass and rolling land and wind and animals and dust and seeds that flowed this way and that across the imagined line. A decade and a half earlier he would not have stopped, nor intended to stop, nor have approached the crossing station at all. He would not have given it the slightest thought, he would have gone his own quiet, solitary way, neither wild nor domesticated, just alone. But now he had been so long among people he’d forgotten that part of himself. So it came to him very slowly that the natural world, having long ago defined its own precincts and notions of order, was simply waiting for him to become unstuck.
The bloody rich. The quality. They worried about everything, unaware of the soft life they enjoyed. They looked down on everyone, including other rich people, and not a single one of them, in his experience, was ever happy. They lacked respect for life.
“Fatal Pursuit” Martin Walker
This is the ninth book in the Bruno, Chief of Police series. As in the other books, Fatal Pursuit is centered around Walker’s descriptions of purchasing, cooking, and savoring the foods of Bruno's region, the Périgord and the amazing produce of his idyllic town St. Denis. The murder investigations in each book almost seem secondary to good eats!
“Malraux in his Antimémoires says he asked an old priest what he’d learned after a lifetime of hearing confessions. And the priest thought for a moment and then said, ‘There are no grown-ups.’ “
“Animal Farm” George Orwell
“Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter” Tom Franklin
His mother had had to work two jobs plus clean houses to pay for the trailer home she’d bought in Fulsom. Back then he’d told himself she just wanted him out of the way. That was why she’d sent him off. Lying to himself even as he opened the letters she mailed him in Oxford, unfolding the limp five- and ten-dollar bills she sent each week so he could go to his classes and play baseball without having to get a job. He knew now she’s loved him despite his never writing her back, despite the trouble and fear he caused her, despite the thing missing out of him. He’d returned her love by rarely coming home, and when he did she’d doted over him, as if every meal was his last, or hers, straightened his paper napkin and laid another chicken leg on his plate and filled his milk glass or his iced tea so much he could barely stand it. He’d refused to see the truth, that she was starving from loneliness. In fact, he could barely look at her. All he could do was eat quickly and squirm away and go out into the night (driving her car) and find M&M and his other high school friends while she sat waiting for him to come home.
“Blood Hollow” William Kent Krueger
Johnny Papp’s Pinewood Broiler was an institution in Aurora, a gathering place for locals as far back s Cork would remember. His father, during his tenure as sheriff, often started his day there, rubbing elbows with the loggers and construction crews and merchants and resort owners of Tamarack County. Most of them were descended from the early Voyageurs and the immigrants–Finns, Germans, Slavs, Irish, and a dozen other nationalities who’d come in the old days, lured by the promise of a good life built on the wealth of the great white pines and the rich iron ore deposits of the Mesabi and Vermillion Ranges. Only a very few ended up rich, but most immigrants were able to build good lives, create homes, and establish history. The problem was that as they moved in, they shoved aside an entire group of people who had occupied that land for generations. The white men called them the Chippewa, which was a bastardization of one of the names by which they were known, Ojibwe. They were part of the Anishinaabe Nation whose territory, by the time the white settlers arrived, stretched from the eastern shores of the Great Lakes to the middle of the Great Plains. The Anishinaabeg saw themselves as stewards of the land with no more right or need to possess the earth than the hawks did the air currents that held them aloft. Land ownership was a white man’s concept, and it was accomplished through a series of treaties and underhanded business dealings that robbed the Anishinaabeg blind.
“Lazarus” Lars Kepler
“Righteous” Joe Ide
“Wild Seed” Octavia E. Butler
“Devil In a Blue Dress” Walter Mosley
I had read this over fifteen years ago but thought I’d give it another go. Mosley has written fifteen novels that feature the character Easy Rawlins and this was the kickoff from 1990. I’ll be willing to read the second one, A Red Death, if I can find it. The library here does not have it. I’ve since read so many outstanding mystery/crime writers that I’m not convinced Mosley’s work stands out. We’ll see.
“IQ” Joe Ide
“The Facts of Life and Death”Belinda Bauer
As well as trying to catch a serial killer, on Tuesday night Calvin had held Shirley’s hand through a tablecloth crisis. The choices were Ivory, Buttermilk, and Vanilla. They were all the same, but it had taken three hours hunched over the huge and hideous books of swatches, and two long, weepy interludes, to reach a decision. And the swatches were only part of it. Shirley had turned Calvin’s flat into her own little incident room, swirling with a thousand paper samples and cloth samples and cake samples and favors and flavors, and infinite lists that Calvin was supposed to have memorized. It was a glittery tide of wedding porn – all of which cost a thousand times more than real porn. The invitations were impregnated with bits of lavender and had edges that were ‘hand-torn’ – presumably by experts, given the price. And the centerpieces – which were only made of flowers – were each the same price as a crate of reasonable beer. The cake was costing more than Calvin’s first car.
“Purgatory Ridge” William Kent Krueger
“Blacktop Wasteland” S. A. Cosby
“Boundary Waters” William Kent Krueger
“The Ridge” Michael Koryta
“The Patriarch” Martin Walker
“The Line That Held Us” David Joy
“Kind Folk” Ramsey Campbell
“Snap” Belinda Bauer
“Iron Lake” William Kent Krueger
“The Kings of Cool” Don Winslow
“How the Light Gets In” Louise Penny
“The Mask” Taylor Stevens
“The Deptford Trilogy” Robertson Davies
I reflected, being decorated as a hero, and in the eyes of everybody here I am indeed a hero; but I know that my heroic act was rather a dirty job I did when I was dreadfully frightened; I could just as easily muddled it and been ingloriously killed. But it doesn’t much matter, because people seem to need heroes; so long as I don’t lose sight of the truth, it might as well be me as anyone else. And here before me stands a marvelously groomed little man who is pinning a hero’s medal on me because some of his forebears were Alfred the Great, and Charles the First, and even King Arthur, for anything I know to the contrary. But I shouldn’t be surprised if inside he feels as puzzled about the fate that brings him here as I. We are public icons, we two; he an icon of kingship, and I an icon of heroism, unreal yet very necessary; we have obligations above what is merely personal, and to let personal feelings obscure the obligations would be failing in one’s duty.
He was the quintessence of the jazz age, a Scott Fitzgerald character. It was characteristic of Boy throughout his life that he was always the quintessence of something that somebody else had recognized and defined.
It seemed that Mr. King’s taste in literature, like Leadbetter’s in religion, was evidence of a sweet tooth, and nothing more.
He was a genius – that is to say, a man who does superlatively and without obvious effort something that most people cannot do by the uttermost exertion of their abilities. He was a genius at making money, and that is as uncommon as great achievements in the arts. The simplicity of his concepts and the masterly way in which they were carried through made jealous people say he was lucky and people like my schoolmaster colleagues say he was a crook; but he made his own luck, and no breath of financial scandal ever came near him.
I had schooled myself since the war days never to speak of my enthusiasms; when other people did not share them, which was usual, I was hurt and my pleasure diminished; why was I always excited about things other people did not care about? But I could not hold in. I boasted a little in the Common Room that I had received an acceptance from Analecta; my colleagues looked uncomprehendingly, like cows at a passing train, and went on talking about Brebner’s extraordinary hole-in-one the day before.
They were a strange lot, these moneyed, influential friends of Boy’s, but they were obviously interesting to each other. They talked a lot of what they called ‘politics’, though there was not much plan or policy in it, and they were worried about the average man, or as they usually called him ‘the ordinary fellow’. This ordinary fellow had two great faults; he could not think straight and he wanted to reap where he had not sown. I never saw much evidence of straight thinking among these ca-pittle-ists, but I came to the conclusion that they were reaping where they had sown, and that what they had sown was not, as they believed, hard work and great personal sacrifice but talent – a rather rare talent, a talent that nobody, even its possessors, likes to recognize as a talent and therefore not available to everybody who cares to sweat for it – the talent for manipulating money. How happy they might have been if they had recognized and gloried in their talent, confronting the world as gifted egotists, comparable to painters, musicians, or sculptors! But that was not their style. They insisted on degrading their talent to the level of mere acquired knowledge and industry. They wanted to be thought of as wise in the ways of the world and astute in politics; they wanted to demonstrate in themselves what the ordinary fellow might be if he would learn to think straight and be content to reap only where he had sown. They and their wives (women who looked like parrots or bulldogs, most of them) were so humorless and, except when they were drunk, so cross that I thought the ordinary fellow was lucky not to be like them. It seemed to me they knew less about the ordinary fellow than I did, for I had fought in the war as an ordinary fellow myself, and most of these men had been officers. I had seen the ordinary fellow’s heroism and also his villainy, his tenderness and also his unthinking cruelty, but I had never seen in him much capacity to devise or carry our a coherent , thoughtful, long-range plan; he was just as much the victim of his emotions as were the these rich wiseacres. Where shall wisdom be found, and where is the place of understanding? Not among Boy Staunton’s ca-pittle-ists, nor among the penniless scheme-spinners in the school Common Room, nor yet at the Socialist Communist meetings in the city, which were sometimes broken up by the police. I seemed to be the only person I knew without a plan that would put the world on its feet and wipe the tear from every eye. No wonder I felt like a stranger in my own land.
He had virtually no education, though he could speak several languages, and one of the things Liesl had to teach him, as tactfully as possible, was not to talk out of his depth. I thought that much of his extraordinarily impressive personality arose from his ignorance – or, rather, from his lack of a headful of shallow information that would have enabled him to hold his own in a commonplace way among commonplace people. As a schoolmaster of twenty years’ experience I had no use for smatterers. What he knew, he knew as well as anybody on earth; it gave him confidence, and sometimes a naîve egotism that was hard to believe.
‘You should take a look at this side of your life you have not lived. Now don’t wriggle and snuffle and try to protest. I don’t mean you should have secret drunken weeks and a widow in a lacy flat who expects you every Thursday, like some suburban ruffian. You are a lot more than that. But every man had a devil, and a man of unusual quality, like yourself, Ramsay, has an unusual devil. You must get to know your personal devil. You must even get to know his father, the Old Devil. Oh, this Christianity! Even when people swear they don’t believe in it, the fifteen hundred years of Christianity that made our world is in their bones, and they want to show they can be Christians without Christ. Those are the worst; they have the cruelty of doctrine without the poetic grace of myth.’
Yes, I recalled Plato’s theory of our fourfold means of apprehension, and could name them: Reason, Understanding, Opinion, and Conjecture. But Dr von Haller, who had not been to Oxford, wanted to call them Thinking, Feeling, Sensation, and Intuition, and seemed to have some conviction that it was not possible for a rational man to make his choice or establish his priorities among these four, plumping naturally for Reason. We were born with a predisposition toward one of the four, and had to work from what we were given.
‘A manticore is a fabulous creature with a lion’s body, a man’s face, and a sting in his tail.’ “I never heard of it.’ ’No, they are not common, even in myths.’
‘We have agreed, have we not, that everything that makes man a great, as opposed to a merely sentient creature, is fanciful when tested by what people call common sense? That common sense often means no more than yesterday’s opinions? That every great advance began in the realm of the fanciful? That fantasy is the mother not merely of art, but of science as well? I am sure that when the very first primitives began to think that they were individuals and not creatures of a herd and wholly bound by the ways of the herd, they seemed fanciful to their hairy, low-browed brothers – even though those hairy lowbrows had no concept of fantasy.’
He talked a lot about Father as a great man of business, but that cut no ice with me. I don’t mean he suggested Father was anything but honest, because there were never any grounds for that. But he talked about the corrupting power of great wealth and the illusion it created in its possessor that he could manipulate people, and the dreadful truth that there were a great many people whom he undoubtably could manipulate, so that the illusion was never seriously challenged. He talked about the illusion wealth creates that its possessor is of a different clay from that of common men. He talked about the adulation great wealth attracts from people to whom worldly success is the only measure of worth. Wealth bred and fostered illusion and illusion brought corruption. That was his theme.
‘I think you’ll make an advocate,’ said he. ‘You have the two necessities, ability and imagination. A good advocate is his client’s alter ego; his task is to say what his client would say for himself if he had the knowledge and power. Ability goes hand in hand with the knowledge: the power dependent on imagination. But when I say imagination I mean capacity to see all sides of a subject and weigh all possibilities; I don’t mean fantasy and poetry and moonshine; imagination is a good horse to carry you over the ground, not a flying carpet to set you free from probability.’
‘I do not promise happiness, and I don’t know what it is. You New World people are, what is the word, hipped on the idea of happiness, as if it were a constant and measurable thing, and settled and excused everything. If it is anything at all it is a by-product of other conditions of life, and some people whose lives do not appear to be at all enviable, or indeed admirable, are happy. Forget about happiness.’
‘Who are our television viewers? Ragtag and bobtail; drunk and sober; attentive or in a nose-picking stupor. With the flabby concentration of people who are getting something for nothing. I am used to audiences who come because they want to see me, and have paid to do it. In the first five minutes I have made them attentive as they have never been before in their lives. I can’t guarantee to do that on TV. I can’t see my audience, and what I can’t see I can’t dominate. And what I can’t dominate I can’t enchant, and humor, and make partners in their own deception.
Time after time he has reminded us that he is the greatest creature of his kind in the world. He does it without shame. He is not held back by any middle-class notion that it would be nicer if we said it instead of himself. He knows we’re not going to say it, because nothing so destroys the sense of equality on which all pleasant social life depends as perpetual reminders that one member of the company out-ranks all the rest. When it is so, it is considered good manners for the pre-eminent one to keep quiet about it. Because Magnus has been talking for a couple of hours we have assumed that his emphasis is the only emphasis.
You’re trying to catch the Guvnor’s manner and you aren’t making a bad fist of it, but there are one or two things you haven’t noticed. You’re an acrobat, good enough to walk the slack wire, but you’re tight as a drum. Look at the Guvnor; he hasn’t a taut muscle in his body, nor a slack one, either. He’s in easy control all the time. Have you noticed him standing still? When he listens to another actor, have you seen how still he is? Look at you now, listening to me; you bob about and twist and turn and nod your head with enough energy to turn a windmill. But it’s all waste, y’see. If we were in a scene, you’d be killing half the value what I say with all that movement. Just try to sit still. Yes, there you go; you’re not still at all, you’re frozen. Stillness isn’t looking as if you were full of coiled springs. It’s repose. Intelligent repose. That’s what the Guvnor has. What I have, too, as a matter of fact. What Barnard has. What Milady has. I suppose you think repose means asleep, or dead.
‘I suppose the greatest advantage I have had over other people who have wanted to do what I can do is that I really had no education at all, and am free of the illusions and commonplace values that education brings. I don’t speak against education; for most people it is a necessity; but if you’re going to be a genius you should try to either to avoid education entirely, or else work hard to get rid of any you’ve been given. Education is for commonplace people and it fortifies their commonplaceness. Makes them useful, of course, in an ordinary sort of way.
‘You have read Spengler? No: it is not so fashionable as it once was. But Spengler talks a great deal about what he calls the Magian World View, which he says we have lost, but which was part of the Weltanschauung – you know, the world outlook – of the Middle Ages. It was a sense of the unfathomable wonder of the invisible world that existed side by side with a hard recognition of the roughness and cruelty and day-to-day demands of the tangible world. It was a readiness to see demons where nowadays we see neuroses, and to see the hand of a guardian angel in what we are apt to shrug off ungratefully as a stroke of luck. It was religion, but a religion with a thousand gods, none of them all-powerful and most of them ambiguous in their attitude toward man. It was poetry and wonder which might reveal themselves in the dunghill, and it was an understanding of the dunghill that lurks in poetry and wonder. It was a sense of living in what Spengler called a quivering cavern-light which is always in danger of being swallowed up in the surrounding, impenetrable darkness.
This is what Herr Trousers-Crease seemed to have, and what made him ready to spend his time on work that would have maddened a man of modern education and modern sensibility. We have paid a terrible price for our education, such as it is. The Magian World View, in so far as it exists, has taken flight into science, and only the great scientists have it or understand where it leads; the lesser ones are merely clockmakers of a larger growth, just as so many of our humanist scholars are just cud-chewers or system-grinders. We have educated ourselves into a world from which wonder, and the fear and dread and splendor and freedom of wonder have been banished. Of course wonder is costly. You couldn’t incorporate it into a modern state, because it is the antithesis of the anxiously worshipped security which is what a modern state is asked to give. Wonder is marvelous but it is also cruel, cruel, cruel. It is undemocratic, discriminatory, and pitiless.
“How It Happened” Michael Koryta
“The Free” Willy Vlautin
“The Children Return” Martin Walker
“Ship of Fools” Katherine Anne Porter
I’ve been reading this book off and on for a year or so with an attempt to get involved with the characters. After 340 out of 497 pages I decided to chuck it. There is seemingly no plot but large helpings of character assassination, which can be charming in doses. With no particular protagonist, we are witness to people from all socio-economic backgrounds with a mix of nationality, gender, and religions. Every person feels they are the wise ones and all others are the ‘fools.’ Written at a time when ocean travel was the only option, which took days and days and days, this is how time felt when reading this tome. Probably intentional on Porter’s part.
Despite all of that, they are several passages of interest noted below.
The place you are going towards doesn’t exist yet, you must build it when you come to the right spot.
“People can't hear anything except when it's nonsense. Then they hear every word. If you try to talk sense, they think you don't mean it, or don't know anything anyway, or it's not true, or it's against religion, or it's not what they are used to reading in the newspapers...”
Mrs. Treadwell moved away again, from the threat of human nearness, of feeling. If she stayed to listen, she knew she would weaken little by little, she would warm up in spite of herself, perhaps in the end identify herself with the other, take on his griefs and wrongs, and if it came to that, feel finally guilty as if she herself had caused them; yes, and he would believe it too, and blame her freely. It had happened too often, could she not learn at last? All of it was no good, neither for confidant nor listener. There was no cure, no comfort, tears change nothing and words can never get at the truth. No, don't tell me any more about yourself, I am not listening, you cannot force my attention. I don't want to know you, and I will not know you. Don't try to come nearer.
Jenny and Freytag fell into a kind of half-confidential talk about themselves with the ease of travelers who hardly expect to know each other better, that near-candor which comes of the possibility of future indifference.
Herr Lutz, whose mind, when not exercising its peculiar form of humor, stuck pretty consistently to the practical considerations of life, always led off his first talk with any stranger by inquiring how he got his living. The more unpretentious and immediate the means proved to be, the sooner the stranger established himself in Herr Lutz’s esteem.
Herr Hanson paid no attention to Frau Baumgartner. “Civilization,” he said, with blunt contempt, “let me tell you what it is. First the soldier, then the merchant, then the priest, then the lawyer. The merchant hires the soldier and priest to conquer the country for him. First the soldier, he is a murderer; then the priest, he is a liar; then the merchant, he is a thief; and they all bring in the lawyer to make their laws and defend their deeds, and there you have your civilization!”
Jenny couldn’t possibly be up to any good, or she would have stayed at home, where she belonged. That is the sum of it, thought Jenny, and wouldn’t their blood run cold if they could only know the facts? Ah well, the family can get under your skin with little needles and scalpels if you venture too near them: they attach suckers to you and draw your blood from every pore if you don’t watch out. But that didn’t keep you from loving them, nor them from loving you, with that strange longing, demanding, hopeless tenderness and bitterness, wound into each other in a net of living nerves.
Dr. Schumann chose to smile only a little at this and looked away over the rail to the water. “Imagine me, a doctor, after all these years in quiet Heidelberg thinking I should find repose from the world on a ship. I am astonished at myself for thinking, now maybe I shall learn something new about myself or the people I live with; but no such thing. I have seen all this before, over and over, only never until now did I see it on a ship. These people I have seen them all before, only in other places, under different names. I know their diseases almost be looking at them, and if you know what sickness is in a man you very often can tell what form his vices and his virtues have taken.”
“Let me say at once that if I had my way in the matter,” said the Captain, “I should not allow one even on board my ship at all (Spaniards), not even in the steerage. They pollute the air.”
He closed his eyes, opened his mouth, turned the point of his large spoon spilling over the thick pea soup and fried crusts towards him, plunged it deeply into his mouth, clamped his lips over it and drew the spoon out empty, chewed once, gulped, and instantly set about repeating the performance. The others, except Dr. Schumann, who drank his broth from a cup, leaned over their plates also, and there was silence for a time except for gurgling, lapping noises while everybody waded into the soup, and stillness except for the irregular rhythm of heads dipping and rising. The ring was closed solidly against all undesirables, ally as well as enemy. All the faces were relaxed with sensual gratification, mingled with deep complacency; they were, after all, themselves and no one else: the powerful, the privileged, the right people. The edge being taken off appetite, they fell to being charming to each other, with elegant gestures, and exaggerated movements of their features, as though they were in a play; making a little festival to celebrate their rediscovered kinship, their special intimate bonds of blood and sympathy. Under the gaze of aliens as they believed –– in fact no one, not even the Spaniards, was paying any attention to them –– they set an example of how superior persons conduct themselves toward each other. Herr Professor Hutten ordered wine and they exchanged toasts all around. They smacked their lips and said, “Ja, ja!”
And slowly there poured through all his veins again that deep qualm of loathing and intolerable sexual fury, a poisonous mingling of sickness and deathlike pleasure: it ebbed and left him as it always had before, merely a little sick. Once in the early days with Jenny, he had confessed to her, haltingly, after their fresh gay love-making in the cool spring morning, the strange times he had lived through in that place; somehow he felt, and expected her to understand, that this aftertaste of bitter disgust had cleansed him, restored him untouched to the wholeness of his manhood. He was glad to be able to say he was sick of the thought of sex for a good while after such nights. He had felt superior to his acts and to his partners in them, and altogether redeemed and separated from their vileness by that purifying contempt.
Jenny, sitting up in bed, had leaned over and taken his face between her hands and said blithely, “Never mind, darling. That’s a normal Methodist hangover. Men love to eat themselves sick and then call their upchuck by high-sounding names.”
“Above the Waterfall” Ron Rash
“The Weight of This World” David Joy
“Galveston” Nic Pizzolatto
“Anthill” E. O. Wilson
“Their philosophy,” Robbins went on, frowning and slightly shaking his head, “is that the earth was created for man, and dominion over nature mentioned in the Bible means replacing nature with people. They separate the world into two parts. Here is where we live, and away from us out there is nature, the place where critters, bugs, and wild plants live. Nature is fungible, in their view. I actually had a local banker say to my face what price he thinks will buy Nokobee, “It’ll be twenty million dollars, and a couple endangered species aren’t worth that,’ he said.”
“Well, what about all the churches? Don’t they care about the environment?”
Robbins shook his head again. “Believe it or not, a lot of folks on the Christian hard right around here are dead set against nature reserves. They think saving the wild environment is just an all-around bad idea. Don’t get me wrong. Most evangelicals I know are for conservation. They believe God means for us to save the Creation and God’s good green earth in general. But a few extremists are absolutely convinced God means us to do the opposite. They’re saying, ‘Use it all up, the faster the better, because Jesus is coming. The End of Days is almost here. He’ll show up as soon as the planet’s messed up a little bit more. The devil wants to keep us all here on earth, and Jesus wants to take us on up to heaven, at least He wants to take the true believers up.’ They say that’s all written in the Book of Revelation.”
“I suggest, Harvard man, that you go right home and read the book of Revelation to Saint John the Divine. It’s the last book of the Bible, put there for all to read, and it contains the prophesy in Jesus’s own words. His own words. You’ve probably been brainwashed to think the lord is always kind and forgiving. Now, that’s a lot of crap! Jesus came to John holding a sword. He said he hates those who deceive others and those who refuse to accept His rule. He said he will kill them. Yes. He will kill people in order to protect God’s people, those who choose to believe His Word. That’s the kind of war we’re in, Raphael, and Satan can’t be beaten any other way except by people giving their should to Jesus Christ, and right now!”
“The Sentinel” Lee Child and Andrew Child
“The Fire Witness” Lars Kepler
“When These Mountains Burn” David Joy
This is my first book by David Joy and won’t be the last. He’s an amazing storyteller and this novel is a harrowing tale of addiction, family, revenge, economic struggle, and North Carolina mountain living.
The very fabric that once defined the mountains fragmented and was replaced with outsiders who built second and third homes on the ridge lines and drove the property values so high that what few locals were left couldn’t afford to pay the taxes on their land.
Of course there were the drugs. There was the decade of meth, the transition to pain pills and needles, and that wasn’t a mountain problem so much as an American problem. That was the escapist cure for systemic poverty, the result of putting profit margins ahead of people for two hundred years. And when it all boiled down, that was the root cause of it all.
It wasn’t just a matter of economics. It wasn’t the drugs. It was an abandonment of values. It was trading hard work for convenience. It was marking the nearest Starbucks as a place more important than the front porch.