Thursday, October 8, 2015

the last book I ever read (Edmund White's The Beautiful Room is Empty, excerpt six)

from The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White:

Late, very late at night, he’d start raving. He’d try to convince me of some absurdity that appealed to him only because it was the opposite of what all right-minded people believed. He’d oppose divorce because it put asunder what God had joined. Yet I was sure his opposition was inspired by the beauty of the word asunder. He wanted the chance to say it, and to say it in the only proper way, with Old Testament fury. Or he’d fulminate against travel and insist that everyone should stay in his own country, nourished by his native soil. He decided that Soviet-style censorship was defensible, even commendable, since people had no need to know what was happening in other lands.

One hot summer night, so late all the neighboring apartment windows were very dark, he decided we should go out in search of jazz. He showered and combed his wet black hair back, tore a new short out of its Brooks package, and put on a perfectly pressed suit. He looked elegant and vulnerable, his eyes edging away from contact and set into a face of exquisite unhealthiness. He smoked as he did everything else, consciously, looking at the cigarette as though he didn’t quite know what it was for, testing it experimentally.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

the last book I ever read (Edmund White's The Beautiful Room is Empty, excerpt five)

from The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White:

Ezra Pound was his true Penelope, and even Pound’s criminal politics and weird economics Lou was able to justify when it suited his mood. For Lou, Pound was strategic in any dismissal of Eliot’s absurdly English posturing, and both men rose serenely above the local American battle between the Beats and Academics. Lou couldn’t be an Academic. His fear and hatred of schools forbade that, as well as his contempt for sterile exercises. But the Beats, despite their appealing cult of drugs and Whitmanian sincerity, lacked the cool elegance Lou venerated. The values he really embraced were those of Negro jazz musicians who divided the world into what was square and what was cool. Things labeled cool were highly controlled if sometimes arbitrary and decorative, an expression of a narrow range of feelings: happy-guy exuberance, cerebral noodling, or a foggy but anxious melancholy.

Each of those few times Lou wanted to like someone over fifty, he repeated Pound’s phrase about “old men with beautiful manners.” Only twenty years later did I stumble across the line and realize Pound was mocking the statesmen who brought on World War I. Lou had no sense of irony or history and none of comedy save the grand guignol of his indignation. At about this time, a homosexual magazine, One, began to be published in California. Lou was appalled. “Why should a bunch of criminals be allowed to have a magazine, for chrissake. They might as well let thieves publish The Safecracker’s Quarterly. One, indeed …”

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

the last book I ever read (Edmund White's The Beautiful Room is Empty, excerpt four)

from The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White:

In the sweaty Chicago night we’d squat bare-chested inside the holds of semis, stacking cartons. Our sweating hands and arms would leave phantom brown prints on the tan cardboard boxes. My partner, a beer-bellied man whose five-o’clock shadow had deepened to midnight by dawn, never spoke to me; I could imagine marrying him, living in a trailer with him, and cooking him meatloaf. On the third night we worked together he finally opened up. He told me that when he was a teenager his father, a young doctor, had died suddenly of a heart attack. No insurance. My partner had been the oldest boy and had gone to work to support his mother and to send the three younger kids through college. “But I got stuck. Now they’re all in professions with nice homes in the suburbs and they’re ashamed of me, don’t like me coming around. So I’m stuck in this shit job.”

We talked about books. He liked Stefan Zweig and Nelson Algren. And he liked Beethoven, especially the symphonies. When he talked about books and music, his flat Midwestern voice (he pronounced milk as “melk” and wash as “warsh”) warmed up, almost as though through the smoked window of his face I could see a young man approach, smile, then go away.

Monday, October 5, 2015

the last book I ever read (Edmund White's The Beautiful Room is Empty, excerpt three)

from The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White:

William Everett Hunton was one of the first handsome homosexuals I’d ever met, a small, neatly made little guy who would flounce and languish around me but turn gravely masculine around the other law students. Even though he was hoping to reform himself and was quite optimistic about a cure, at least for a while he had been gay, and could still be considered at least a transitional case. Annie and I would sit around his room in the law quad and listen to his adventures, presented as evidence of his depravity but with a suggestion that his scarlet sins, at least, had been mink-linked.

We were alone, he and I, for a moment. He was shaving and dressing and I watched him as a child might, as though I myself didn’t perform these same rites every morning (or in the case of shaving, every third morning). When I told him in which Midwestern city I’d been born, he laughed and said, “But that’s where my patron lives, the real Everett Hunton.”

“Come again?”

Sunday, October 4, 2015

the last book I ever read (Edmund White's The Beautiful Room is Empty, excerpt two)

from The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White:

We found ourselves in her dormitory room. Like everything else in the art academy, her room had a distinctive odor I’ve never encountered since except once, recently, in the Chanel boutique of a Paris department store. I almost asked the saleswoman what the smell could be, but the most important things in our intimate lives can’t be discussed with strangers, except in books.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

the last book I ever read (Edmund White's The Beautiful Room is Empty, excerpt one)

from The Beautiful Room is Empty by Edmund White:

Things were simpler, clearer then. On one side were the painters, a few taunted, poor, scrawny kids, and on the other the philistines, the fat-cat majority. Certainly the painters felt justified at striking back at what they called the “boor-zhwah-zee,” but Maria hated all sorts of cruelty, especially to other women and to animals. A little bit later, just a year or two later, and she’d never have insulted that Sunday photographer. She’d have said, “Who knows, maybe he’s a genius in disguise. After all, Rousseau was just a Sunday painter.” She thought some sort of American Revolution would have to break out to equalize wealth, but she prayed it would be bloodless.

Friday, October 2, 2015

the last book I ever read (On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks, excerpt twelve)

from On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks:

My sense of England as “home” took a beating in 1990, when my father died and the house on Mapesbury Road—where I was born and brought up and which I revisited and often stayed in when I returned to England, the house of which every inch was suffused for me with memories and emotions—was sold. I no longer felt I had a place to go back to, and my visits thereafter felt like visits and not like returns to my own country and people.