“I was stunned by Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liars’ Club. Not just by its ferocity, its beauty, and by her delightful grasp of the vernacular, but by its totality—she is a woman who remembers everything about her early years.”
I found a copy of this book at The Dusty Bookshelf here in Lawrence, KS today. It’s reputation proceeds it but I would have purchased it on the strength of the epigram alone.
“When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.”
—An old Jew of Galicia
It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy. Their bread, their work, their private lives began to depend on this or that decision in disputes on principles to which, until then, they had never paid any attention. In their eyes, the philosopher had always been a sort of dreamer whose divagations had no effect on reality. The average human being, even if he had once been exposed to it, wrote philosophy off as utterly impractical and useless. Therefore the great intellectual work of the Marxists could easily pass as just one more variation on a sterile pastime. Only a few individuals understood the causes and probable consequences of this general indifference.
On the reading page for Terrible Ideas, the Currently Reading section now contains 9 books. The list doesn’t contain any books that I want to give up on, so it’s time to get moving.
The On Deck section, on the other hand, is completely ridiculous. I’m going to have to do some revising and reconsidering there. There are forty books “on deck” and for some of them, I should consider adding a “wishful thinking” section. There are also quite a few unlisted recent acquisitions that are trying to push for the top of that list. It’s time for a little planning and purging.
There’s definitely going to be more poetry read. Poetry increases strength and builds muscles.
It was one of the mixed blocks over on Central Avenue, the blocks that are not yet all Negro. I had just come out of a three-chair barber shop where an agency thought a relief barber named Dimitrios Aleidis might be working. It was a small matter. His wife said she was willing to spend a little money to have him come home.
I never found him, but Mrs. Aleidis never paid me any money either.
The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth. Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied.”
—Ray Bradbury. “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” 1962
It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
After a few random samples and the Dave Eggers* forward, I am really looking forward to digging into this one.
“I debated for a time as to whether I ought to open these memoirs at the beginning or at the end—that is, if I would start out with my birth or with my death. Granting that the common practice may be to begin with one’s birth, two considerations led me to adopt a different method: the first is that I am not exactly an author recently deceased, but a deceased man recently an author, for whom the tomb was another cradle; the second is that this would make the writing wittier and more novel. Moses, who also recounted his own death, did not put it at the commencement but at the finish: a radical difference between this book and the Pentateuch.”
—Machado De Assis. “The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas.” 1881
At half past six on the twenty-first of June 1922, when Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov was escorted through the gates of the Kremlin onto Red Square, it was glorious and cool. Drawing his shoulders back without breaking stride, the Count inhaled the air like one fresh from a swim. The sky was the very blue that the cupolas of St. Basil’s had been painted for. Their pinks, greens, and golds shimmered as if it were the sole purpose of a religion to cheer its Divinity. Even the Bolshevik girls conversing before the windows of the State Department Store seemed dressed to celebrate the last days of spring.
The poems date from 1966 and they are translated into English by the author.
Some people like their books to be in pristine condition but I have become less picky over the years. There is an inscription in this book that puts a smile on my face.
“To Another World Citizen…”
—Chris Iverson, Clara Dugan, Shannon & Meghan
I posted the untitled first poem from this collection the other day. I repeat it again here.
If you have time to chatter Read books If you have time to read Walk into mountain, desert and ocean If you have time to walk sing songs and dance If you have time to dance Sit quietly, you Happy Lucky Idiot
And a random selection:
Sharpening a Knife
Nanao, keep your knife clean Nanao, keep your mind clean
Sea breeze is bad for a knife they say Sea breeze is good for a m mind they say
Sea Breeze not bad for a knife Sharpen your knife, that’s all
Sea breeze neither bad nor good The ocean a whetstone for mind
A clean knife mind A clean mind ocean Nanao, sleep well tonight Blossoming crinum lily as a shelter The coral sand beach as a bed The Southern Cross as a pillow.
—Iriomote, Japan, Under the Tropic of Cancer, February 1976
Line three of Sharpening a Knife is typed here as it appears in the print version but I suspect a possible editing mistake. Perhaps it should read “Sea breeze is good for the mind they say.”
By the way, I ordered this book from AbeBooks which I recommend if you are looking for something out of print.
THIS IS THE LAND OF PRIMARY COLORS: red combine, blue sky, yellow wheat. Under the earth, pancaked layers of sediment conceal elusive minerals coveted by men, and the strewn, jigsaw bones of monsters awaiting reassembly. Untouched, the surface is a prairie, a tough lattice of grasses and shrubs that frame the darting meadowlarks and snakes who work together with the ants to survive dry days. There is little moisture, though winters can bring three feet of snow; rain will bring only half that. The Oglala Sioux, the Comanche, the Kiowa, and other Native Americans who once lived on this land by themselves hunted for buffalo and foraged for berries, nuts, and wild potatoes. But Europeans supplanted those potatoes for wheat. The buffalo have dwindled. The Indians who live here no longer predominate. Now the land is dotted with windmills and farms, though the coyotes still sing in the evening, and you can train your eyes to spot the thin caramel-colored frames of the antelope camouflaged by kicked-up dust smearing the spaces between the clusters of hardy yucca.”
BOYS are playing basketball around a telephone pole with a backboard bolted to it. Legs, shouts. The scrape and snap of Keds on loose alley pebbles seems to catapult their voices high into the moist March air blue above the wires. Rabbit Angstrom, coming up the alley in a business suit, stops and watches, though he’s twenty-six and six three. So tall, he seems an unlikely rabbit, but the breadth of white face, the pallor of his blue irises, and a nervous flutter under his brief nose as he stabs a cigarette into his mouth partially explain the nickname, which was given to him when he too was a boy. He stands there thinking, the kids keep coming, they keep crowding you up.