Posts Tagged ‘time’

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So it goes.

August 18, 2010

This author has been in my head for a long time. My first read by him was so good that it took me way too long to read. I know that doesn’t make sense, but it was open on page 80 until I was on public transportation where a computer wasn’t available to distract me – I started devouring it then. This book is sensitive, it makes me cringe, it’s very uniquely written – there are no extraneous words, each one enhances the scene or emotion or description. That fascinates me. Here is a taste. (As a sidenote: the main character of this book, Billy Pilgrim, has no sense of time.) Well, this was written after I typed up all the excerpts. I realize I gave you all more than a taste…I gave you a meal. It’s a good one though, please try it. I bolded my favorite parts if you’re not hungry enough for all of these words. Or, you know, you could just go check out the book and read the entire thing.

Excerpt #70:
From there he traveled in time to 1965. He was forty-one years old, and he was visiting his decrepit mother at Pine Knoll, an old people’s home he had put her in only a month before. She had caught pneumonia, and wasn’t expected to live. She did live, though, for years after that.
Her voice was nearly gone, so, in order to hear her, Billy had to put his ear right next to her papery lips. She evidently had something very important to say.
“How…?” she began, and she stopped. She was too tired. She hoped that she wouldn’t have to say the rest of the sentence, that Billy would finish it for her.
But Billy had no idea what was on her mind. “How what, Mother?” he prompted.
She swallowed hard, shed some tears. Then she gathered energy from all over her ruined body, even from her toes and fingertips. At least she had accumulated enough to whisper this complete sentence:
“How did I get so old?” (44)

Excerpt #71:
Billy Pilgrim, there in the creekbed, thought he, Billy Pilgrim, was turning to steam painlessly. If everybody would leave him alone for just a little while, he thought, he wouldn’t cause anybody any more trouble. He would turn to steam and float up among the treetops.
Somewhere the big dog barked again. With the help of fear and echoes and winter silences, that dog had a voice like a big bronze gong.
Roland Weary, eighteen years old, insinuated himself between the scouts, draped a heavy arm around the shoulder of each. “So what do the Three Musketeers do now?” he said.
Billy Pilgrim was having a delightful hallucination. He was wearing dry, warm, white sweatsocks, and he was skating on a ballroom floor. Thousands cheered. This wasn’t time-travel. It had never happened, never would happen. It was the craziness of a dying young man with his shoes full of snow. (49)

Excerpt #72:
Even though Billy’s train wasn’t moving, its boxcars were kept locked tight. Nobody was to get off until the final destination. To the guards who walked up and down outside, each car became a single organism which ate and drank and excreted through its ventilators. It talked or sometimes yelled through its ventilators, too. In went water and loaves of black bread and sausage and cheese, and out came shit and piss and language.
Human beings in there were excreting into steel helmets which were passed to the people at the ventilators, who dumped them. Billy was a dumper. The human beings also passed canteens, which guards would fill with water. When food came in, the human beings were quiet and trusting and beautiful. They shared. (70)

Excerpt #73:
Now he was indoors, next to an iron cookstove that was glowing cherry red. Dozens of teapots were boiling there. Some of them had whistles. And there was a witches’ cauldron full of golden soup. The soup was thick. Primeval bubbles surfaced it with lethargical majesty as Billy Pilgrim stared. (95)

There was silence now, as the Englishmen looked in astonishment at the frowsy creatures they had so lustily waltzed inside. One of the Englishmen saw that Billy was on fire. “You’re on fire, lad!” he said, and he got Billy away from the stove and beat out the sparks with his hands.
When Billy made no comment on this, the Englishman asked him, “Can you talk? Can you hear?”
Billy nodded.
The Englishman touched him exploratorily here and there, filled with pity. “My God – what have they done to you, lad? This isn’t a man. It’s a broken kite.”
(97)

Excerpt #74:
Derby described the incredible artificial weather that Earthlings sometimes create for other Earthlings when they don’t want those other Earthlings to inhabit earth any more. Shells were bursting in the treetops with terrific bangs, he said, showering down knives and needles and razorblades. Little lumps of lead in copper jackets were crisscrossing the woods under the shellbursts, zipping along much faster than sound.
A lot of people were being wounded or killed. So it goes.
Then the shelling stopped, and a hidden German with a loudspeaker told the Americans to put their weapons down and come out of the woods with their hands on top of their heads, or the shelling would start again. It wouldn’t stop until everybody in there was dead.
So the Americans put their weapons down, and they came out of the woods with their hands on top of their heads, because they wanted to go on living, if they possibly could. (106-107)

Excerpt #75:
“Dresden was destroyed on the night of February 13, 1945,” Billy Pilgrim began. “We came out of our shelter the next day.” He told Montana about the four guards who, in their astonishment and grief, resembled a barbershop quartet. He told her about the stockyards with all the fenceposts gone, with roofs and windows gone – told her about seeing little logs lying around. There were people who had been caught in the fire storm. So it goes.
Billy told her what had happened to the buildings that used to form cliffs around the stockyards. They had collapsed. Their wood had been consumed, and their stones had crashed down, had tumbled against one another until they locked at last in low and graceful curves.
“It was like the moon,” said Billy Pilgrim.

The guards told the Americans to form in ranks of four, which they did. Then they had them march back to the hog barn which had een their home. Its walls still stood, but its windows and roof were gone, and there was nothing inside but ashes and dollops of melted glass. It was realized then that there was no food or water, and that the survivors, if they were going to continue to survive, were going to have to climb over curve after curve on the face of the moon.
Which they did.

The curves were smooth only when seen from a distance. The people climbed them learned that they were treacherous, jagged things – hot to the touch, often unstable – eager, should certain important rocks be disturbed, to tumble some more, to form lower, more solid curves.
Nobody talked much as the expedition crossed the moon. There was nothing appropriate to say. One thing was clear:
Absolutely everybody in the city was supposed to be dead, regardless of what they were, and that anybody that moved in it represented a flaw in the design. There were to be no moon men at all. (179-180)

Excerpt #76:
(Billy has fallen asleep in the wagon while the rest have gone to search for souvenirs on what they called home before the fire-bombing on Dresden.)
Billy Opened his eyes. A middle-aged man and wife were crooning to the horses. They were noticing what the Americans had not noticed – that the horses mouths were bleeding, gashed by the bits, that the horses’ hooves were broken, so that every step meant agony, that the horses were insane with thirst. The Americans had treated their form of transportation as thought it were no more sensitive than a six-cylinder Chevrolet.

These two horse pitiers moved back along the wagon to where they could gaze in patronizing reproach at Billy – at Billy Pilgrim, who was so long and weak, so ridiculous in his azure toga and silver shoes. They weren’t afraid of him. They weren’t afraid of anything. They were doctors, both obstetricians. They had been delivering babies until the hospitals were all burned down. Now they were picnicking near where their apartment used to be.
The woman was softly beautiful, translucent from having eaten potatoes for so long. The man wore a business suit, necktie and all. Potatoes had made him gaunt. He was as tall s Billy, wore steel-rimmed trifocals. This couple, so involved with babies, had never reproduced themselves, thought they could have. This was an interesting comment on the whole idea of reproduction.
They had nine languages between them. They tried Polish on Billy Pilgrim first, since he was dressed so clownlishly, since the wretched Poles were the involuntary clowns of the Second World War.
Billy asked them in English what it was they wanted, and they at once scolded him in English for the condition of the horses. They made Billy get out of the wagon and come look at the horses. When Billy saw the condition of his means of transportation, he burst into tears. He hadn’t cried about anything else in the war. (196-197)

-Slaughter-house Five by Kurt Vonnegut

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50-Year-Old Women

July 22, 2009

This one was recommended by Burroughs. Augusten, that is. My favorite author ever. I had to read it. It made me feel many things and I enjoyed the style a lot, it really read like letters and journal entries, which is what the book is made up of. And Augusten recommended it on his list of Books To Make You Feel Like A Kid Again: “The last book I am going to suggest has nothing to do with childhood, so at first it may seem an odd choice. But if childhood is the single time in life when it seemed our nerves were new and we could feel life itself against our skin and there was no dividing the day into segments, where there was only one long “right now” — then The Pull of the Moon by Elizabeth Berg is exactly the book to take you back. ” 
Well that’s all it took for me, after an explanation like that. I am always longing to go back to that time when it was okay to do nothing, where we’d get pleasure from seeing a ball go up and down in front of our eyes. On with the excerpts. A little background info, Nan is the main character, a 50-year-old who is running away from home. Italics mean she is writing in her journal, and regular means she is writing to her husband, Martin. 
After looking through my page numbers of excerpts, none are from the letters, only her journal entries. I wonder if that means anything. I am going to bold my favorite parts like the last entry. 

Excerpt #30:
 I have a picture to give you, too. Here is a forties photograph of a woman that I found in last Sunday’s paper. She is seated on the grass, wearing a suit and a hat, her purse centered in her lap. She is smiling, but her eyes ache, and behind her, I know this, her hands are clenched. She can’t relax. She has forgotten the grass. I kept staring at her, thinking, this is me. Checking my purse three times for keys before I leave the house. Stacking mail in order of the size of the envelopes. Answering the phone every single time it rings, writing “paper towels” on the grocery list the second after I use the last one. I too have forgotten the grass. But I used to do one-handed cartwheels and then collapse into it for the fine sight of the blades close up. And there was no sense of any kind of time. And I was not holding in my stomach or thinking what does my opinion mean to others. I was not regretting any part of myself. There was only sun-rich color, and smell, and the slight give of the soft earth beneath me. My mind was in my heart, anchored like a bright kite in a safe place . (9)

For this one, Nan just fell almost face-first into the cement sidewalk, and this man that was behind her runs up and makes sure she’s okay. They start talking. And this is Nan writing about it later.

Excerpt #31:
          I’ll bet his name is Willy or something like that, and he puts down beer in the VFW hall in the late afternoons, his hat pushed to the back of his head. I’ll bet he has many key son his key chain and that the fob is tacky and meaningful. Baloney must be in his refrigerator. His socks must be thin and cheap and the blue that turns purple, and he must not be strict about how many days in a row they are put to the task. 
          Our steps made such a fine sound on the roller-coaster sidewalks. Our conversation was so light and arbitrary and I felt like my imagination was off the leash and rolling in the grass that had turned bluish in the setting sun.
          I still feel that way now, that my imagination is free, that I have a red carpet unfurled before me like Dorothy’s yellow brick road and I can go on and on. Speak, this journal says. I’m listening to you. Go ahead and say anything. Confess. Exult. Weep. Nothing makes me walk away. Nothing bores me.  (31)


Excerpt #32:
On my twentieth birthday, I was out driving with a girlfriend and we picked up a man I have thought about a million times since. He sat in the back with his arm draped across the seat as though his invisible companion were along for the ride, too. My girlfriend and I were kidding around a little bit and he was laughing at everything we said and soon we were all laughing, it was the kind of thing where the laughter feeds on itself, where the sound of someone else’s snorting and wheezing keeps you going until you don’t even know why you started laughing in the first place – and you don’t care. It’s so good for you, that kind of hard laughter, so cleansing – you feel like your liver’s been held up and hosed down, your heart relieved of a million grimy weights. (91-92)

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People

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!