Wednesday, October 18, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt three)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

In Walker Percy’s epochal novel The Moviegoer, an anonymous boy on the street transcends “his own shadowy and precarious existence” and joins the “resplendent reality” of William Holden just by giving the movie star a light.

When the wounded Vito Corleone’s men have been sent away in suspicious circumstances, Michael, the good son, enlists the appremtice baker Enzo. They pretend to be a couple of toughs standing guard outside the hospital. After they’ve bluffed a carload of potential assassins, Enzo’s hand shakes. He can’t even light his trembling cigarette. One, two, three, four, five clicks, the lighter won’t work. Michael takes it, and lights it in one try—like Crouse’s, a pivotal moment. The way you handle a cigarette lighter means something.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt two)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

A lighter is the trinket that enthralls the robot Eve and allows timid WALL-E to try holding her hand. In Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, Yuli Kudo picks up a cigarette lighter with her bare foot and gives her boyfriend a light with her toes. That’s intimacy.

A good light makes a connection.

Monday, October 16, 2017

the last book I ever read (Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis, excerpt one)

from Cigarette Lighter (Object Lessons) by Jack Pendarvis:

The art teacher’s last name was Kennedy. He played records for his students as they painted. As I held my pose I recognized who was playing, Mingus or somebody. During a break Kennedy and I started talking about the music we liked in common. I remember that he introduced me to the work of clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre.

Kennedy had gotten out of the army, or some branch of the service, and gone to Paris, where he had seen the Modern Jazz Quartet playing in a basement. There was a grouchy guy who turned out to be Miles Davis blocking his view the whole time.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt fourteen)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

The officers hadn’t taken off their clothes for a week. Their boots were waterlogged, their feet swollen, their knees stiff, their calves sore, their backs couldn’t bend. They were billeted in huts. They tried to fish dry clothes out of the trunks and wash at the meager wells. In the clear, still night, with the abandoned and forgotten dogs in scattered farmyards howling in fear and hunger, the lieutenant couldn’t sleep, and he left the hut where he was quartered. He walked down the long village street toward the church spire, which loomed against the stars with its twofold Greek cross. The church with its shingle roof stood in the middle of the small churchyard, surrounded by slanting wooden crosses that seemed to caper in the nocturnal light. Outside the huge gray wide-open gates of the graveyard three corpses were dangling: a bearded priest flanked by two young peasants in sandy-yellow smocks, with coarse-plaited raffia shows on the unstirring feet. The black cassock of the priest hung down to his shoes. And sometimes the night wind nudged his feet so that they struck the circl of his priestly garment like dumb clappers in a deaf-and-dumb bell; they seemed to be tolling without evoking a sound.

Lieutenant Trotta approached the hanged men. He peered at their bloated faces. And he thought he recognized some of his own soldiers in these three victims. These were the faces of the peasants he had drilled with every day. The priest’s black, fanning beard reminded him of Onufrij’s beard. That was his parting image of Onufrij. And who could say? Perhaps Onufrij was the brother of this hanged priest. Lieutenant Trotta looked around. He listened. No human sound was to be heard. The bats rustled in the belfry of the church. Abandoned dogs howled in abandoned farms. The lieutenant drew his sword and cut down the three hanged men, one by one. Then he slung the corpses, one by one, over his shoulder and carried all of them, one by one, to the graveyard. Then, with his bare sword, he began loosening the soil on the paths between graves until he felt he had room enough for three corpses. Then he put all three of them in, shoveled the soil over them with sword and scabbard, and trampled on the ground till it was solid. Then he made the sign of the cross. He hadn’t crossed himself since the final mass at the military academy in Hranice. He wanted to recite the Lord’s Prayer, but his lips moved without producing a sound. Some nocturnal bird shrieked. The bats rustled. The dogs howled.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt thirteen)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

Trotta thereupon wrote to his father. He reported tha the threat to his honor had been averted on the highest level. He begged forgiveness for maintaining a blasphemously long silence and not answering the district captain’s letters. He was touched and moved. And he tried to describe how touched he was. But he found no words for regret, melancholy, and longing in his meager vocabulary. It was a bitter drudgery. After he signed the letter, a sentence crossed his mind: “I am planning to apply for a furlough soon so I can ask your forgiveness in person.” For formal reasons this felicitous sentence could not be added as a postscript. So the lieutenant set about rewriting the entire letter. One hour later he was done. The style had only improved in the new final draft. And thus he felt that everything was taken care of—the whole disgusting business.

He himself marveled at his “phenomenal luck.” The grandson of the Hero of Solferino could count on the old Kaiser, come what may. No less delightful was the demonstrated fact that Carl Joseph’s father had money. Now that the threat of dishonorable discharge had been sidestepped, he could, if he liked, resign voluntarily, live with Frau von Taussig in Vienna, perhaps get a government job, and wear civvies. He hadn’t been in Vienna for a long time. He hadn’t heard from the woman. He missed her. He drank a 180 Proof and missed her even more—and he reached that beneficial degree of longing which permits a little weeping. Recently his tears had flowed quite readily. Lieutenant Trotta had another pleasurable look at the letter, his successful handiwork; then he slipped it into an envelope and cheerfully scrawled the address. To reward himself he ordered a double 180 Proof.

Friday, October 13, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt twelve)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

It was a wonderful morning. The district captain had been trying his dress uniform on all night long. He left the window open. It was a bright summer night. From time to time he went over to the window. He would then hear the sounds of the slumbering city and the crowing of roosters in distant farmyards. He smelled the breath of summer; he saw the stars in the patch of nocturnal sky, he heard the even footfalls of the policeman on his beat. He waited for morning. For the tenth time he stood at the mirror, adjusted the bow of his white tie over the corners of the stand-up collar, ran his white cambric handkerchief once again over the gold buttons on his coat, polished the gold pommel of his sword, brushed his shoes, combed out his whiskers, and forced down the few wisps on his bald pate even through they kept sticking up and curling, and he once again brushed the swallow tails of his coat. He took the cocked hat in his hand. He stood in front of the mirro and rehearsed: “Your Majesty, I beg for clemency for my son!” He saw his whiskers moving in the mirror and considered that inappropriate, and he began pronouncing the sentence in such a way that his whiskers did not stir even though the words were distinct and audible.

He did not feel the slightest fatigue. He stepped back to the window like a man on a far shore. And he yearned for morning the way that man looks forward to a ship that will carry him home. Yes, he was homesick for the Kaiser. He stood at the window until the gray shimmer of dawn brightened the sky, the morning star died, and the confused voices of birds announced the rising of the sun. Then he switched out the lights in the room. He rang the bell by the door. He sent for the the barber. He slipped off his coat. He sat down. He had himself shaved. “Twice,” he told the groggy young man, “and against the grain!” Now his ching glistened bluish between his silvery whiskers. The alum tingled, the powder cooled his throat. His audience was scheduled for eighty-thirty. Once again he brushed his black-and-green coat. He repeated in front of the mirror, “Your Majesty, I beg for clemency for my son!” Then he closed the door behind him.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

the last book I ever read (The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, excerpt eleven)

from The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth:

The Kaiser was an old man. He was the oldest emperor in the world. All around him Death was circling, circling and mowing. The entire field was already cleared, and only the Kaiser, like a forgotten silver stalk, was still standing and waiting. For many years his bright hard eyes had been peering, lost, into a lost distance. His skull was bare like a vaulted wasteland. His whiskers were white like a pair of wings made of snow. The wrinkles in his face were a tangled thicket dwelt in by the decades. His body was thin, his back slightly bowed. At home he shuffled about. But upon going outdoors, he tried to make his thighs hard, his knees elastic, his feet light, his back straight. He filled his eyes with sham kindness, with the true characteristic of imperial eyes: they seemed to look at everyone who looked at the Kaiser, and they greeted everyone who greeted him. But actually, the faces merely swirled and floated past his eyes, which gazed straight at that soft fine line that is the frontier between life and death—gazed at the edge of the horizon, which is always seen by the eyes of the old even when it is blocked by houses, forests, or mountains.

People thought Franz Joseph knew less than they because he was so much older than they. But he may have known more than some. He saw the sun going down on his empire, but he said nothing. He knew he would die before it set. At times he feigned ignorance and was delighted when someone gave him a long-winded explanation about things he knew thoroughly. For with the slyness of children and oldsters he liked leading people down the garden path. And he was delighted at their vanity in proving to themselves that they were smarter than he. The Kaiser disguised his wisdom as simplicity: for it does not behoove an emperor to be as smart as his advisers. Far better to appear simple than wise. If he went hunting, he knew quite well that the game was placed in front of his rifle, and though he could have felled some other prey, he nevertheless shot only the prey that had been driven before his barrel. For it does not behoove an old emperor to catch someone in a falsehood. If people smirked behind his back, he pretended not to know about it. For it does not behoove an emperor to know he is being smirked at, and this smirk is foolish so long as he refuses to notice it. If he ran a fever, and people trembled all around him, and the court physician lied to him, telling him he had no fever, the emperor said, “Well, then, everything’s fine,” although he knew he had a fever. For an emperor does not accuse a medical man of lying. Besides, he knew that the hour of his death had not yet come. He also experienced many nights of being plagued by fever unbeknownst to his physicians. For sometimes he was ill, and no one realized it. And at other times he was well, and they said he was ill, and he pretended to be ill. When he was considered kind, he was indifferent. And when they said he was cold, his heart bled. He had lived long enough to know that it is foolish to tell the truth. So he allowed people their errors, and he believed less in the permanence of the world than did the wags who told jokes about him in his vast empire. But it does not behoove an emperor to compete with wags and sophisticates. So the Emperor held his tongue.