Posts Tagged ‘childhood’


Free Reading

November 21, 2009

Yes, I make time for it in college. I have learned the complicated system of the library’s numerical code for each book – no idea what it means, and it takes entire minutes to find one book, but it’s worth it. For example, the code of this book is: PS 3554 E4425 W48 and the words inside are beautiful. However, the cover is not. My cover of this book is completely black.

Excerpt #43:
“Where are you living, Murray?”
“In a rooming house. I’m totally captivated and intrigued. It’s a gorgeous old crumbling house near the insane asylum. Seven or eight boarders, more or less permanent except for me. A woman who harbors a terrible secret. A man with a haunted look. A man who never comes out of his room. A woman who stands by the letter box for hours, waiting for something that never seems to arrive. A man with no past. A woman with a past. There is a smell about the place of unhappy lives in the movies that I really respond to.” (10)

I wish I had this cover...for purely superficial reasons.

Excerpt #44:
“Babette and I tell each other everything. I have told everything, such as it was at the time, to each of my wives. There is more to tell, of course, as marriages accumulate. But when I say I believe in complete disclosure I don’t mean it cheaply, as anecdotal sport or shallow revelation. It is a form of self-renewal and a gesture of custodial trust. Love helps us develop an identity secure enough to allow itself to be placed in another’s care and protection. Babette and I have turned our lives for each other’s thoughtful regard, turned them in the moonlight in our pale hands, spoken deep into the night about fathers and mothers, childhood, friendships, awakenings, old loves, old fears (except fear of death). No detail must be left out, not even a dog with ticks or a neighbor’s boy who ate an insect on a dare. The smell of pantries, the sense of empty afternoons, the feel of things as they rained across our skin, things as facts and passions, the feel of pain, loss, disappointment, breathless delight. In these night recitations we create a space between things as we felt them at the time and as we speak them now .This is the space reserved for irony, sympathy and fond amusement, the means by which we rescue ourselves from the past. (29-30)

Excerpt #45
He looked at me, still smiling in a half sneaky way.
“You have to learn how to look. You have to open yourself to the data. TV offers incredible amounts of psychic data. It opens ancient memories of world birth, it welcomes us into the grid, the network of little buzzing dots that make up the picture pattern. There is light, there is sound. I ask my students, ‘What more do you want?’ Look at the wealth of data concealed in the grid, in the bright packaging, the jingles, the slice-of-life commercials, the products hurtling out of darkness, the coded messages and endless repetitions, like chants, like mantras. ‘Coke is it, Coke is it, Coke is it.’ The medium practically overflows with sacred formulas if we can remember how to respond innocently and get passed our irritation, weariness and disgust.”
“But your students don’t agree.”
“Worse than junk mail. Television is the death throes of human consciousness, according to them. They’re ashamed of their television past. They want to talk about movies.”
He got up and refilled our cups.
“How do you know so much?” Babette said.
“I’m from New York.” (51)

Excerpt #46:
“Either I’m taking something and I don’t remember or I’m not taking something and I don’t remember. M life is either/or. Either I chew regular gum or I chew sugarless gum. Either I chew gum or I smoke. Either I smoke or I gain weight. Either I gain weight or I run up the stadium steps.”
“Sounds like a boring life.”
“I hope it lasts forever,” she said.
Soon the streets were covered with leaves. Leaves came tumbling and scraping down the pitched roofs. There were periods in every day when a stiff wind blew, baring the trees further, and retired men appeared in the backyards, on the small lawns out front, carrying rakes with curved teeth. Black bags were arrayed at the curbstone in lopsided rows.
A series of frightened children appeared at our door for their Halloween treats. (53)

Excerpt #47:
I went to German lessons twice a week, in the late afternoon, darkness crowding in earlier with each succeeding visit. It was Howard Dunlop’s working rule that we sit facing each other during the full length of the lesson. He wanted me to study his tongue positions as he demonstrated the pronunciation of consonants, diphthongs, long and short vowels. He in turn would look closely into my mouth as I attempted to reproduce the unhappy sounds.
His was a mild and quiet face, an oval surface with no hint of distinctiveness until he started his vocal routines. Then the warping began. It was an eerie thing to see, shamefully fascinating, as a seizure might be if witnessed in a controlled environment. He tucked his head in his trunk, narrowed his eyes, made grimacing humanoid faces. When it was time for me to repeat the noises I did likewise, if only to please the teacher, twisting my mouth, shutting my eyes completely, conscious of an overarticulation so tortured it must have sounded like a sudden bending of the natural law, a stone or tree struggling to speak. When I opened my eyes he was only inches from my mouth, leaning in to peer. I used to wonder what he saw in there. (54)



July 18, 2009

This came up when I was wandering in the forest of Visual Bookshelf on Facebook. I get lost in there frequently, the number of books I want to read increasing with every cover or title or summary that catches my eye. This one came up as one of Jonathan Safran Foer’s books (excerpts from his “Everything is Illuminated” book several posts before), and I want to read every word that man has written so I added it to my Want To Read list. On further research of this book, I found that it was a bunch of short stories by different authors all surrounding the concept of “character”. I was fascinated and intrigued by this and happened to remember it during one of my walks to the library. I was glad I didn’t let it fade into some other part of my mind, along with all the other books that will never show themselves long enough for me to catch them. The second excerpt isn’t spectacular, but I took the time to type it up anyway because of the parts that I bolded. Descriptions that just made me smile and shake my head in disbelief at the emotional effect of words.

So The Book of Other People represents real people making fictional people work for real people - a rare example of fictional people pulling their own weight for once. (from the Introduction)

"So The Book of Other People represents real people making fictional people work for real people - a rare example of fictional people pulling their own weight for once." (from the Introduction)

Excerpt #28:
‘What’s wrong with you.’
And Frank couldn’t tell her because he didn’t know and so he just said, ‘I understand why people look at fountains, or at the sea. Because those don’t stop. The water moves and keeps on moving, the tide withdraws and then returns and it keeps on going and keeps on. It’s like – ‘ He could hear her shifting, feel her sitting up, but not reaching for him. ‘It’s like that button you get on stereos, on those little personal players – there’s always the button that lets you repeat – not just the album, but the track, one single track. They’ve anticipated you’ll want to repeat one track, over and over, so those three or four minutes can stay, you can keep that time steady in your head, roll it back, fold it back. They know you’ll want that. I want that. Just three or four minutes that come back.’ (42)
-Frank,  A.L. Kennedy 




Excerpt #29:
          They were at the age when every moment was as incredible as a spacewalk. Leaping from the front step could entertain them for hours, even though the step was identical to every step they’d ever seen in their lives. The stunted San Francisco backyard, though – so much better than Newton’s own precipitous one – could telescope from an ant-kingdom in the grass to an interplanetary realm below the sadly unclimbable eucalyptus trees. But mostly they were so young that they needed nothing more than to run in circles among the trees, slipping now and then on the sickle-shapes leaves, finding new and yet newer hiding places for their tiny bodies among the bushes and the few patio chairs, waiting with a tiny beating frog-heart in the darkness of the woodpile until either the other boy leapt upon him with his own squeal of terror or the game went on too long, with the seeker beginning to cry beneath the scent and the surf-sound of the trees, and the hider jumping up, nearly in tears himself at having been lost for so long. At those times, an adult had to go outside to comfort them. They were for some reason incapable of comforting each other. 
          That was during the day. At night, their bodies still longed to run in circles, and, though it was clearly forbidden, they did it anyway. It was amazing to them that Martin’s mother could sense immediately if they were jumping on his bed; they both stood with wide-eyed looks of wonder as she ran in, clairvoyant perhaps, and scolded them for ruining the bed, telling them to find something else to do. Sometimes there were spankings; if Newton’s own parents weren’t there, Martin’s mother did not pause to spaink him as well. For instance for standing on a stool and reaching into the cookie jar, fearing it was empty, and having the exhilarating sensation of feeling, among the ocean of crumbs, the half-raft of a cookie…before bringing the ceramic jar crashing to the floor. Or for getting into Martin’s mother’s closet and making a mess of things, rooting through her exotic paraphernalia like pirate treasure and tossing long rosy satiny things onto the floor in search of diamond buckles and pearls, which Martin, at the age before a boy knows better, would wear around his own neck. But mostly Martin’s father believed in letting them be wild, and if he were around, they could take the sofa apart and make the most astounding fortress out of it, and even – on the best of all possible days – be allowed to eat dinner inside and watch, through the cracks of the cushions, an hour of blessed television. That was life until thirteen. 
          There are a thousand kinds of thirteen, more than there are kinds of fifty, or eighty. There is Oddly Childlike Thirteen, and Worried and Obsessive, and Alarmingly Manly, and Girlish, and Gothic Horro, and Scapegoat, and Something Happened to Him as a Child, and Beatific and Despised, and Lonely, and Just Plain Stubborn. Therei s manic and there is Depressed, still leading separate lives. There is Loves Adults and there is Steals Dad’s Antique Pornography. There is Steals Everything, Period. There is ALready Smokes and Already Drinks and Already Screws. There is Weeps Alone. And Misses Childhood. And Hates the World. He was none of these;  he was less than these. He was the kind of boy who had been a prodigy at six and faded by seven, the kind who would be handsome by twenty and show his old yearbook photos to girlfriends, unable to feel joy when they’d exclaim how hopeless he used to be. Somewhere in between those points was where he lay, and somehow – and this was the hopelessly sad part – he knew it. If you asked him, on a test sheet, to name his own type of thirteen, he would write in his seismographic hand: ‘Waits for Time to Pass’. (280-281)

-Newton Wicks, Andrew Sean Greer

short stories from The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith 

Please read it when you have the chance!