Posts with tag: books/reading/writing

Cover photo, A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles

First Paragraph:

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.

—Amor Towles. “A Gentleman in Moscow.” 2016

Cartoon by The Gentleman’s Armchair.

The virtues and vices are all put in motion by interest.

—Francois de La Rochefoucauld

I blame my reading habit on a variety of the most insistent pushers and pimps.

New arrivals. From left to right, joy and laughter, literary gravitas, trepidation.


Forgot to check the mail yesterday, and this morning a nice surprise.

Break the Mirror: The Poems of Nanao Sakaki, 1986. I ordered another volume, Let’s Eat Stars, which will hopefully arrive on Monday. How to Live on the Planet Earth: Collected Poems is probably next.

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.


An installment of my Library of America subscription arrived today. Melville. I should be able to rip through this in no-time.

Pierre, Israel Potter, The Piazza Tales, The Confidence-Man, Uncollected Prose, Billy Budd

Cover photo from American Harvest
American Harvest, Marie Mutsuki Mockett, 2020

First Paragraph:

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.”

—Marie Mutsuki Mockett. “American Harvest.”

Rabbit, Run book cover
Rabbit Run, John Updike, 1960

First Paragraph:

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.

—John Updike. “Rabbit, Run.”


The Sentence is a Lonely Place |  

The word imagine spoken.

A lecture delivered by the short-story writer Gary Lutz to the students of Columbia University’s writing program in New York on September 25, 2008


Feeling the Heat

Book cover of The Future Earth by Eric Holthaus
Published today, 2020-06-30

There are plenty of memes circulating the internet these days about how awful 2020 is. There were plenty of memes circulating the internet about how awful 2019 was. But 2021? Really looking forward to it.

Awfulness. Our new metric.

Here’s … the rest “Feeling the Heat”


Book cover of Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Foundation, Isaac Asimov, 1951

First Paragraph:

His name was Gaal Dornick and he was just a country boy who had never seen Trantor before. That is, not in real life. He had seen it many times on the hyper-video, and occasionally in tremendous three-dimensional newscasts covering an Imperial Coronation or the opening of a Galactic Council. Even though he had lived all his life on the world of Synnax, which circled a star at the edges of the Blue Drift, he was not cut off from civilization, you see. At that time, no place in the Galaxy was.”

—Isaac Asimov. “Foundation.”


Home from an evening walk. 83º so a bit of relief from the day’s heat. I’ve been enjoying walking without earbuds, especially later in the evening when it’s quieter.

Tonight was a little noisier as some folks are beginning to set off their fireworks already.

Now home to choose which of the several books I’ve got going I’ll read until I get sleepy. I’ve got Asimov, Stegner, Updike, and McPhee all well involved.


Angle of Repose book cover cropped.

First Paragraph:

Now I believe they will leave me alone. Obviously Rodman came up hoping to find evidence of my incompetence—though how an incompetent could have got this place renovated, moved his library up, and got himself transported to it without arousing the suspicion of his watchful children, ought to be a hard one for Rodman to answer. I take some pride in the way I managed all that. And he went away this afternoon without a scrap of what he would call data.

—Wallace Stegner. “Angle of Repose.”


From detail map of the United States, 1992. Raven Maps and Images.

First Paragraph:

You go down through the Ocean View district of San Francisco to the first freeway exit after Daly City, where you describe, in effect, a hairpin turn to head north past a McDonald’s to a dead end in a local dump. It is called the Daly City Scavenger Company. You leave your car and walk north on a high contour some hundreds of yards through deep grasses until a path to your left takes you down a steep slope a quarter of a mile to the ocean. You double back along the water, south to Mussel Rock.

—John McPhee. “Assembling California.”

Two rows, two walks, some good reading, Steinbeck, McPhee, and Waugh all got some of my attention today. Stevie Wonder, Semisonic, Matthew Sweet some of the listening.

I started intermittent fasting today. Late day meal only. We shall see.


To a God Unknown book cover.
To A God Unknown – John Steinbeck, 1933

First Paragraph:

When the crops were under cover on the Wayne farm near Pittsford in Vermont, when the winter wood was cut and the first light snow lay on the ground, Joseph Wayne went to the wing-back chair by the fireplace late one afternoon and stood before his father. These two men were alike. Each had a large nose and high, hard cheekbones; both faces seemed made of some material harder and more durable than flesh, a stony substance that did not easily change. Joseph’s beard was black and silky, still thin enough so that the shadowy outline of his chin showed through. The old man’s beard was long and white. He touched it here and there with exploring fingers, turned the ends neatly under out of harm’s way. A moment passed before the old man realized that his son was beside him. He raised his eyes, old and knowing and placid eyes and very blue. Joseph’s eyes were as blue, but they were fierce and curious with youth. Now that he had come before his father, Joseph hesitated to stand to his new heresy.

—John Steinbeck. “To a God Unknown.”

5K walk with STP. Now reading, McPhee so I’m mentally in Wyoming. Geese fly by, honking. They are not daunted by grey skies.


Book cover illustration. Surveyor's Wagon in the Rockies by Albert Bierstadt
Surveyor’s Wagon in the Rockies – Albert Bierstadt, ca. 1859

First Paragraph:

This is about high-country geology and a Rocky Mountain regional geologist. I raise that semaphore here at the start so no one will feel misled by an opening passage in which a slim young woman who is not in any sense a geologist steps down from a train in Rawlins Wyoming, in order to go north by stagecoach into country that was still very much the Old West. She arrived in the autumn of 1905, when she was twenty-three. Her hair was so blond it looked white. In Massachusetts, a few months before, she had graduated from Wellesley College and had been awarded a Phi Beta Kappa key, which now hung from a chain around her neck. Her field was classical studies. In addition to her skill in Latin and Greek, she could handle a horse expertly, but never had she made a journey into a region so remote as the one that lay before her.

—John McPhee. “Rising From the Plains.”

I tried my hand at writing and posting a poem. I can’t sleep, so here I am, up and getting ready to finish reading my current book. I’ll go for an early walk when it’s light enough.