Thursday, September 29, 2022

the last book I ever read (Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, excerpt four)

from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:

Buddy said he figured there must be something in poetry if a girl like me spent all her days over it, so each time we met I read him some poetry and explained to him what I found in it. It was Buddy’s idea. He always arranged our weekends so we’d never regret wasting our time in any way. Buddy’s father was a teacher, and I think Buddy could have been a teacher as well, he was always trying to explain things to me and introduce me to new knowledge.



Wednesday, September 28, 2022

the last book I ever read (Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, excerpt three)

from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:

We didn’t dare wait to add up the fare. We stuffed a pile of silver into the cabby’s hand and dropped a couple of Kleenexes to cover the mess on the floor, and ran in through the lobby and on to the empty elevator. Luckily for us, it was a quiet time of day. Betsy was sick again in the elevator and I held her head, and then I was sick and she held mine.

Usually after a good puke you feel better right away. We hugged each other and then said good-bye and went off to opposite ends of the hall to lie down in our own rooms. There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.



Tuesday, September 27, 2022

the last book I ever read (Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, excerpt two)

from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:

“You ought to read French and German,” Jay Cee said mercilessly, “and probably several other languages as well, Spanish and Italian – better still, Russian. Hundreds of girls flood into New York every June thinking they’ll be editors. You need to offer something more than the run-of-the-mill person. You better learn some languages.”

I hadn’t the heart to tell Jay Cee there wasn’t one scrap of space on my senior year schedule to learn languages in. I was taking one of those honors programs that teach you to think independently, and except for a course in Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and a seminar in advanced poetry composition, I would spend my whole time writing on some obscure theme in the works of James Joyce. I hadn’t picked out my theme yet, because I hadn’t got round to reading Finnegans Wake, but my professor was very excited about my thesis and had promised to give me some leads on images about twins.



Monday, September 26, 2022

the last book I ever read (Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, excerpt one)

from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. I’m stupid about executions. The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that’s all there was ro read about in the papers – goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway. It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves.

I thought it must be the worst thing in the world.



Sunday, September 25, 2022

the last book I ever read (We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, excerpt nineteen)

from We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O'Toole:

I remember when I first read James Joyce’s Ulysses as a student, being startled to find Artane right there as a sinister shadow, already imprinted on the imaginary life of the city. Leopold Bloom goes to the funeral of Paddy Dignam and the men discuss the fate of his young son: ‘Martin is trying to get the youngster into Artane.’ The Jesuit priest, Father Conmee, walks out to the industrial school to make the arrangements. The kid walks through the streets, unaware of what is being planned for him. Later on, in the night-town dream world, ‘Artane orphans, joining hands, caper round’ Bloom. The place flits in and out of consciousness, never quite coming into focus but always there as a portent, a sequel, the unseen fate that awaits the innocent boy. Reading the book, this made complete sense to me. It wasn’t literary modernism. It was social realism.



Saturday, September 24, 2022

the last book I ever read (We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, excerpt eighteen)

from We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O'Toole:

In a weird coincidence, the same seventeenth floor of the Grand Cypress was occupied at the same time by the great icons of a new form of global Irishness, the rock band U2. They were about to launch in Florida what would come to be regarded as the most spectacular stadium rock show ever staged, the Zoo TV tour. Even weirder is that one of the daring innovations of the show was a video confession booth where fans could look into the camera and tell it their most intimate secrets. Some of these would then be streamed during the concert. While Ben Dunne was raving to escorts about the Catholic Church and Confession, his compatriots a few doors away were about to launch a parody of the same sacrament.

When the hotel security staff heard that an Irishman was going mad on the seventeenth floor, they assumed that this must be typical rock star behaviour. They contacted U2’ s security staff, and they all made their way up there. In fact, the band members were down in the lobby, preparing to go for rehearsals. When another sex worker that Dunne had called arrived, she was surprised to see three police cars and an ambulance outside the hotel, but even more freaked out when Bono walked out past her. ‘I’ve always been a fan’, she recalled, ‘but it hardly seemed the time to introduce myself.’ There was another odd echo of the past – when Bono told U2’ s manager that a guy named Dunne had been arrested at the hotel with cocaine, they both assumed that he must one of the Dunnes who had introduced heroin to Dublin.



Friday, September 23, 2022

the last book I ever read (We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, excerpt seventeen)

from We Don't Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland by Fintan O'Toole:

I got my first job in the summer of 1972, working as a boy assistant for Dunnes Stores in George’s Street in the centre of the city. I remember the year because it has a soundtrack. My immediate boss John – really just a nineteen-year-old trainee manager in a cheap pinstripe suit – lived three stops further up the 81 bus route from Crumlin into town. I had no choice but to sit beside him for the journey. He was a nice guy but he liked to sing on the bus. At the top of his voice. And he had one song, the one that had been playing over and over for months on Irish radio, Shel Silverstein’s ‘Sylvia’s Mother’. John would start low, as we went down Clogher Road. But by the time we got to Leonard’s Corner, he’d be sobbing in a Texas-Crumlin drawl: ‘Pulleeese Mississ Ay Vurry, I’ve just godda talk to err / Ah’ll owny keep errr a why-ill.’ He would do it every morning and every morning I would sit rigid with mortification. It was not just that people would think I was part of this shameless act. It was that this histrionic mishmash of Ireland and America was hideously uncool.

It is not quite as decorous as Proust’s madeleine, but John’s renditions of ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ came into my head twenty years later in February 1992 when the news broke that Ben Dunne, scion of the retail dynasty that owned and developed the Dunnes Stores chain of clothes and food shops that were a cornerstone of Irish modernity, had been arrested in Florida, charged with trafficking in cocaine. He had gone crazy in the Grand Cypress hotel in Orlando. There was something apt about this other mishmash of Irish history and expensive American hotels. Just as Annie Murphy’s last encounter with Eamonn Casey in the Grand Hyatt the previous summer had opened an aperture into one kind of Irish reality, Ben Dunne’s freak-out in the Grand Cypress lifted the lid on another.