Monday, September 30, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey, excerpt two)

from The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey:

I hit bottom. As much as I hated to, I decided to eat crow. But crows are a lot harder to catch than you think. Hungry and depressed, I wandered along the shimmering waters of the Bay of Diarroa, where children were playing with sailboats.

As I dragged myself back to the hotel, I passed the statue of Sir Edmund Honolulu. A bum with a blowtorch was cutting on it. “Hey, buddy, wanna buy a metal arm?” he said. Sure I would, but with what?

I had dreams once. Once I wanted to build the world’s longest suspension bridge. But then I found out someone else had already done it.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey, excerpt one)

from The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey:

I wandered down a crooked back alley and came to a souvenir shop. I don’t think I would have even noticed it except for a big neon sign that said, Souvenirs! Curios!

The shop had the usual tourist junk. But something caught my eye. I had never seen anything so exquisite. It was a little statue of a native girl with her arms held out. It was locked in a display case. I jimmied the lock with a paper clip and took it out.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth, excerpt four)

from The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth:

Here where the literary culture is held hostage, the art of narration flourishes by mouth. In Prague, stories aren’t simply stories; it’s what they have instead of life. Here they have become their stories, in lieu of being permitted to be anything else. Storytelling is the form their resistance has taken against the coercion of the powers-that-be.

I say nothing to Bolotka of the sentiments stirred up by my circuitous escape route, or the association it’s inspired between my ancestors’ Poland, his Prague tenement, and the Jewish Atlantis of an American childhood dream. I only explain why I’m late. “I was followed from the train station onto the trolley. I shook him before I got here. I hope I wasn’t wrong to come anyway.” I describe the student Hrobek and show Bolotka his note. “The note was given to me by a hotel clerk who I think is a cop.”

After reading it twice he says, “Don’t worry, they were only frightening him and his teacher.”

“If so, they succeeded. In frightening me too.”

Friday, September 27, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth, excerpt three)

from The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth:

A stocky gray-haired man with formal manners and a heavy unsmiling face, the clerk is oblivious to her rage; he continues unemotionally in Czech.

“What is it?” I ask her.

“Tell him!” she shouts at the clerk. “Tell him what you want!”

“Sir, the lady must show her identity card. It is a regulation.”

“Why is it a regulation?” she demands. “Tell him!”

“Foreign guests must register with a passport. Czech citizens must show an identity card if they go up to the rooms to make a call.”

“Except if the Czech is a prostitute! Then she does not have to show anything but money! Here—I am a prostitute. Here is your fifty kroner—leave us in peace!”

He turns away from the money she is sticking into his face.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth, excerpt two)

from The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth:

“When I came to New York and wrote my letter to you, I said to Eva, ‘I am a relative of this great man.’ I was thinking of my father and his stories. Since we have come from Europe, I have already read fifty American novels about Jews. In Prague I knew nothing about this incredible phenomenon and how vast it was. Between the wars in Czechoslovakia my father was a freak. Even had he wished to publish his stories, where would they have appeared? Even if he had published all two hundred of them, no one would have paid attention—not to that subject. But in America my father would have been a celebrated writer. Had he emigrated before I was born, had he come to New York City in his thirties, he would have been discovered by some helpful person and published in the best magazine. He would be something more now than just another murdered Jew. For years I never thought of my father, now every minute I wonder what he would make of the America I am seeing. I wonder what America would have made of him. He would be seventy-two. I am obsessed now with this great Jewish writer that might have been.”

“His stories are that good?”

“I am not exaggerating his excellence. He was a deep and wonderful writer.”

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

the last book I ever read (The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth, excerpt one)

from The Prague Orgy by Philip Roth:

“And your mother?”

“My mother hid on a farm. There I was born, two months later. Neither of us looks like my father. Neither did my brother, but his short life was just bad luck. We two survived.”

“And why did your father, with an Aryan wife, write stories in Yiddish? Why not in Czech? He must have spoken Czech to the students at the high school.”

“Czech was for Czechs to write. He married my mother, but he never though he was a real Czech. A Jew who marries a Jew is able at home to forget he’s a Jew. A Jew who marries an Aryan like my mother has her face there always to remind him.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth's The Anatomy Lesson, excerpt six)

from The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth:

“I can do it.”

“Okay—let’s say you even manage to, which I doubt. By the time you’re worth anything you’re going to be damn near fifty. You’ll have plenty of companionship, but you’ll have no recognition, and how the hell are you going to like that when you’re fifty?”

“I’ll love it.”


“You’re wrong. I had the recognition. I had the public. In the end it doesn’t do anything to the public, but to me it did plenty. I sentenced myself to house arrest. Bobby, I have no desire to confess or to be taken for a confessor, and that was mostly where their interest got stuck. It wasn’t literary fame, it was sexual fame, and sexual fame stinks. No, I’ll be content to give that up. The most enviable genius in literary history is the guy who invented alphabet soup: nobody knows who he is. There’s nothing more wearing than having to go around pretending to be the author of one’s own books—except pretending not to be.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth's The Anatomy Lesson, excerpt five)

from The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth:


“Medical school. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the grades. I want to be a doctor. I’m going back to the University of Chicago.”

“Oh, shut up. So far, this conversation has just been depressing. Now it’s idiotic.”

“No, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I want to be an obstetrician.”

“At your age? Really? In ten years you’ll be fifty. Pardon me, but that’s an old man.”

Sunday, September 22, 2013

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth's The Anatomy Lesson, excerpt four)

from The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth:

Henry’s eulogy lasted nearly an hour. Nathan kept count as Henry slipped each page beneath the last. Seventeen—some five thousand words. It would have taken him a week to write five thousand words, but Henry had done it overnight, and in a hotel suite with three young children and a wife. Zuckerman couldn’t write if there was a cat in the room. That was one of the differences between them.

A hundred mourners were gathered in the mortuary chapel, mostly lonely widowed Jewish women in the sixties and seventies who’d been transplanted South after a lifetime in New York and New Jersey. By the time Henry had finished, they all wished they’d had such a son, and not only because of his height, posture, profile, and lucrative practice: it was the depth of the filial devotion. Zuckerman thought, If sons were like that, I’d have one myself. Not that Henry was out to put something over on them; it was by no means a ludicrously idealized portrait—the virtues were all hers. Yet they were virtues of the kind that make life happy for a little boy. Chekhov, drawing on material resembling Henry’s, had written a story one-third that length called “The Darling,” However, Chekhov wasn’t undoing the damage of Carnovsky.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth's The Anatomy Lesson, excerpt three)

from The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth:

Zuckerman had lost his subject. His health, his hair, and his subject. Just as well he couldn’t find a posture for writing. What he’d made his fiction from was gone—his birthplace the burnt-out landscape of a racial war and the people who’d been giants to him dead. The great Jewish struggle was with the Arab states; here it was over, the Jersey side of the Hudson, his West Bank, occupied now by an alien tribe. No new Newark was going to spring up again for Zuckerman, not like the first one: no fathers like those pioneering Jewish fathers bursting with taboos, no sons like their sons with temptations, no loyalties, no ambitions, no rebellions, no capitulations, no clashes quire so convulsive again. Never again to feel such tender emotion and such a desire to escape. Without a father and a mother and a homeland, he was no longer a novelist. No longer a son, no longer a writer. Everything that galvanized him had been extinguished, leaving nothing unmistakably his and nobody else’s to claim, exploit, enlarge, and reconstruct.

These were his distressing thoughts, reclining on the playmat unemployed.

Friday, September 20, 2013

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth's The Anatomy Lesson, excerpt two)

from The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth:

One doctor prescribed a regimen of twelve aspirin per day, another prescribed Butazolidin, another Robaxin, another Percodan, another Valium, another Prednisone; another told him to throw all the pills down the toilet the poisonous Prednisone first, and “learn to live with it.” Untreatable pain of unknown origins is one of the vicissitudes of life—however much it impaired physical movement, it was still wholly compatible with a perfect state of health. Zuckerman was simply a well man who suffered pain. “And I make it a habit,” continued the no-nonsense doctor, “never to treat anybody who isn’t ill. Furthermore,” he advised, “after you leave here, steer clear of psychosomologists. You don’t need any more of that.” “What’s a psychosomologist?” “A baffled little physician. The Freudian personalization of every ache and pain is the crudest weapon to have bequeathed to these guys since the leech pot. If pain were only the expression of something else, it would all be hunky-dory. But unhappily life isn’t organized as logically as that. Pain is in addition to everything else. There are hysterics, of course, who can mime any disease, but they constitute a far more exotic species of chameleon than the psychosomologists lead all you gullible sufferers to believe. You are no such reptile. Case dismissed.”

It was only days after the psychoanalyst had accused him, for the first time, of giving up the fight that Diana, his part-time secretary, took Zuckerman—who was able still to drive in forward gear but could no longer turn his head to back up—took him out in a rent-a-car to the Long Island laboratory where an electronic pain suppressor had just been invented. He’d read an item in the business section of the Sunday Times announcing the laboratory’s acquisition of a patent on the device, and the next morning at nine phoned to arrange an appointment. The director and the chief engineer were in the parking lot to welcome him when he and Diana arrived; they were thrilled that Nathan Zuckerman should be their first “pain patient” and snapped a Polaroid picture of him at the front entrance. The chief engineer explained that he had developed the idea to relieve the director’s wife of sinus headaches. They were very much in the experimental stages, still discovering refinements of technique by which to alleviate the most recalcitrant forms of chronic pain. He got Zuckerman out of his shirt and showed him how to use the machine. After the demonstration session, Zuckerman felt neither better nor worse, but the director assured him that his wife was a new woman and insisted that Zuckerman take a pain suppressor home on approval and keep it for as long as he liked.

Isherwood is a camera with his shutter open, I am the experiment in chronic pain.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth's The Anatomy Lesson, excerpt one)

from The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth:

When he is sick, every man wants his mother; if she’s not around, other women must do. Zuckerman was making do with four other women. He’d never had so many women at one time, or so many doctors, or drunk so much vodka, or done so little work, or known despair of such wild proportions. Yet he didn’t seem to have a disease that anybody could take seriously. Only the pain—in his neck, arms, and shoulders, pain that made it difficult to walk for more than a few city blocks or even to stand very long in one place. Just having a neck, arms, and shoulders was like carrying another person around. Ten minutes out getting groceries and he had to hurry home and lie down. Nor could he bring back more than one light bagful per trip, and even then he had to hold it cradled up against his chest like somebody eighty years old. Holding the bag down at his side only worsened the pain. It was painful to bend over and make his bed. To stand at the stove was painful, holding nothing heavier than a spatula and waiting for an egg to fry. He couldn’t throw open a window, not one that required any strength. Consequently, it was the women who opened the windows for him: opened his windows, fried his egg, made his bed, shopped for his food, and effortlessly, manfully, toted home his bundles. One woman on her own could have done what was needed in an hour or two a day, but Zuckerman didn’t have one woman any longer. That was how he came to have four.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

the last book I ever read (Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth, excerpt six)

from Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth:

A young black man, his head completely shaved, stepped out of one of the houses with a German shepherd and stared down from the stoop at the chauffer-drive limousine in front of his alleyway, and at the white man in the back seat who was looking his place up and down. A chain fence surrounded the three-story house and the little garden of weeds out front. Had the fellow cared to ask, Zuckerman could without any trouble have told him the names of the three families who lived in the flats on each floor before World War II. But that wasn’t what this black man wished to know. “Who you supposed to be?” he said.

“No one,” replied Zuckerman, and that was the end of that. You are no longer any man’s son, you are no longer some good woman’s husband, you are no longer your brother’s brother, and you don’t come from anywhere anymore, either. They skipped the grade school and the playground and the hot-dog joint and headed back to New York, passing on the way out to the Parkway the synagogue where he’d taken Hebrew lessons after school until he was thirteen. It was now an African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

the last book I ever read (Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth, excerpt five)

from Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth:

Simple. Because he couldn’t sit complaining to them about becoming the decade’s latest celebrity. Because being a poor misunderstood millionaire is not really a topic that intelligent people can discuss for very long. Not even friends. Least of all friends, and especially when they’re writers. He didn’t want them talking about him talking about his morning with the investment counselor and his night with Caesara O’Shea and how she jilted him for the Revolution. And that was all he could talk about, at least to himself. He was not fit company for anyone he considered a friend. He would get started on all the places where he no longer could show his face without causing a sensation, and soon enough he would make them into enemies. He would get started on the Rollmops King and the gossip columns and the dozen crazy letters a day, and who could listen? He would start talking to them about those suits. Six suits. Three thousand dollars’ worth of suits to sit at home and write in. When he could write naked, if need be; when he could sit there as he always had, in work shirt and chinos, perfectly content. With three thousand dollars he could have bought one hundred pairs of chinos and four hundred work shirts (he’d worked it out). He could buy sixty pairs of Brooks Brothers suede walking shoes of the kind he’d been wearing since he went off to Chicago. He could buy twelve hundred pairs of Interwoven socks (four hundred blue, four hundred brown, four hundred gray). With three thousand dollars he could have clothes himself for life. But instead there were now fittings with Mr. White twice a week, discussions with Mr. White about padding the shoulders and nipping the waist, and who could possibly listen to Zuckerman carrying on about such stuff? He could hardly listen—but, alas, alone with himself, he couldn’t shut up. Better they should think he was in Payne Whitney. Maybe he ought to be. Because there was also the television—couldn’t stop watching. Downtown on Bank Street, all they saw regularly was the news. At seven and again at eleven he and Laura used to sit together in the living room to watch the fires in Vietnam: villages on fire, jungles on fire, Vietnamese on fire. Then they went back to their work on the night shift, she to her draft dodgers, he to his Great Books. During his weeks alone, however, Zuckerman had probably spent more hours by the TV set than in all the years since they had begun to broadcast test patterns back when he was finishing high school. There was little else he could concentrate on, and then there was the strangeness of sitting in your bathrobe on your Oriental rug eating a takeout barbecued chicken and hearing someone suddenly talking about you. He couldn’t get over it. One night a pretty rock singer whom he’d never seen before told Johnny Carson about her one and “Thank God” only date with Nathan Zuckerman. She brought the house down describing the “gear” Zuckerman advised her to wear to dinner if she wanted “to turn him on.” And just the previous Sunday he had watched three therapists sitting in lounge chairs on Channel 5 analyzing his castration complex with the program host. They all agreed that Zuckerman had a lulu. The following morning André’s lawyer had gently to tell him that he couldn’t sue for slander. “Your nuts, Nathan, are now in the public domain.”

Monday, September 16, 2013

the last book I ever read (Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth, excerpt four)

from Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth:

“They lean on the bell when they pick up—it interrupts my concentration.”

“A housekeeper should answer the bell. You should have someone to cook your meals and to shop for your groceries and to deal with the tradesmen at the door. You don’t have to push a cart around Gristede’s ever again.”

“I do if I want to know what a pound of butter costs.”

“Why would you want to know that?”

“André, Gristede’s is where we poor writers go to lead a real life—don’t take Gristede’s away from me too. It’s how I keep my finger on the pulse of the nation.”

“You want to succeed at that, get to know what I know: the price of a pound of flesh. I am being serious. You should have a driver, a housekeeper, a cook, a secretary—“

“And where do I hide in that crowd? Where do I type?”

“Get a bigger place.”

“I just got a bigger place. André, that is more ridiculousness, not less. I just moved in here. It’s quiet, it’s plenty big for me, and on East Eighty-first at five hundred a month, it’s no slum.”

“You should have a duplex at the United Nations Plaza.”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

the last book I ever read (Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth, excerpt three)

from Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth:

The first thing he saw in her dressing room was a pile of brand-new books on the dresser; three were by him—paperback copies of Higher Education, Mixed Emotions, and Reversed Intentions. Besides the books was a vase holding two dozen yellow roses. He wondered who they were from, and when she put down her shawl and went off to the bathroom he sidled over to the dresser and read the card. “To my Irish rose, Love and love and love, F.” When she came back into the room, he was in the wing chair that looked across the park to the towers on Central Park West, leafing through the book that had been open on the table beside the chair. It was Søren Kierkegaard, of all people. Called The Crisis in the Life of an Actress.

“And what is the crisis in the life of an actress?” he asked.

She made a sad face and dropped into the settee across from him. “Getting older.”

“According to Kierkegaard or according to you?”

“Both of us.” She reached across and he handed her the book. She flipped through to find the right page. “’When,’” she read, “’she’—the actress—‘is only thirty years old she is essentially passé.’”

Saturday, September 14, 2013

the last book I ever read (Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth, excerpt two)

from Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth:

Zuckerman couldn’t remember ever seeing any of those quiz shows back in the late fifties, and didn’t know one from another; he and his first wife, Betsy, hadn’t even owned a television set. Still, he thought he could remember somebody in his family—more than likely Cousin Essie—once mentioning a Pepler family from Newark, and their oddball son, the quiz contestant and ex-Marine.

“It was Alvin Pepler they cut down to make way for the great Hewlett Lincoln. That is the subject of my book. The fraud perpetrated on the American public. The manipulation of the trust of tens of millions of innocent people. And how for admitting it I have been turned into a pariah until this day. They made me and then they destroyed me, and, Mr. Zuckerman, they haven’t finished with me yet. The others involved have all gone on, onward and upward in corporate America, and nobody cares a good goddamn what thieves and liars they were. But because I wouldn’t lie for those miserable crooks, I have spent ten years as a marked man. A McCarthy victim is better off than I am. The whole country rose up against that bastard, and vindicated the innocent and so on, till at least some justice was restored. But Alvin Pepler, to this day, is a dirty name throughout the American broadcasting industry.”

Friday, September 13, 2013

the last book I ever read (Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth, excerpt one)

from Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth:

You see, not everybody was delighted by this book that was making Zuckerman a fortune. Plenty of people had already written to tell him off. “For depicting Jews in a peep-show atmosphere of total perversion, for depicting Jews in acts of adultery, exhibitionism, masturbation, sodomy, fetishism, and whoremongery,” somebody with letterhead stationery as impressive as the President’s had even suggested that he “ought to be shot.” And in the spring of 1969 this was no longer just an expression. Vietnam was a slaughterhouse, and off the battlefield as well as on, many Americans had gone berserk. Just about a year before, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been gunned down by assassins. Closer to home, a former teacher of Zuckerman’s was still hiding out because a rifle had been fired at him through his kitchen window as he’d been sitting at his table one night with a glass of warm milk and Wodehouse novel. The retired bachelor had taught Middle English at the University of Chicago for thirty-five years. The course had been hard, though not that hard. But a bloody nose wasn’t enough anymore. Blowing people apart seemed to have replaced the roundhouse punch in the daydreams of the aggrieved: only annihilation gave satisfaction that lasted. At the Democratic convention the summer before, hundreds had been beaten with clubs and trampled by horses and thrown through plate-glass windows for offenses against order and decency less grave than Zuckerman’s were thought to be by any number of his correspondents. It didn’t strike Zuckerman as at all unlikely that in a seedy room somewhere the Life cover featuring his face (unmustached) had been tacked up within dart-throwing distance of the bed of some “loner.” Those cover stories were enough of a trial for a writer’s writer friends, let alone for a semi-literate psychopath who might not know about all the good deeds he did at the PEN Club. Oh, Madam, if only you knew the real me! Don’t shoot! I am a serious writer as well as one of the boys!

But it was too late to plead his cause. Behind her rimless spectacles, the powdered zealot’s pale green eyes were glazed with conviction; at point-blank range she had hold of his arm. “Don’t”—she was not young, and it was a struggle for her to catch her breath—“don’t let all that money change you, whoever you may be. Money never made anybody happy. Only He can do that.” And from her Luger-sized purse she removed a picture postcard of Jesus and pressed it into his hand. “’There is not a just man upon earth,’” she reminded him, “’that doeth good and sinneth not. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

Thursday, September 12, 2013

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, excerpt four)

from The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth:

This was the lesson that on the journey home she came to believe she had the power to teach. But only if she were believed to be dead. Were Het Achterhuis known to be the work of a living writer, it would never be more than it was: a young teenager’s diary of her trying years in hiding during the German occupation of Holland, something boys and girls could read in bed at night along with the adventures of the Swiss Family Robinson. But dead she had something more to offer than amusement for ages 10-15; dead she had written, without meaning to or trying to, a book with the force of a masterpiece to make people finally see.

And when people had finally seen? When they had learned what she had the power to teach them, what then? Would suffering come to mean something new to them? Could she actually make them humane creatures for any longer than the few hours t would take to read her diary through? In her room at Athene—after hiding in her dresser the three copies of Het Achterhuis—she thought more calmly about her readers-to-be than she had while pretending to be one of them on the stirring bus ride through the lightning storm. She was not, after all, the fifteen-year-old who could, while hiding from a holocaust, tell Kitty, I still believe that people are really good at heart. Her youthful ideals had suffered no less than she had in the windowless freight car from Westerbok and in the barracks at Auschwitz and on the Belsen heath. She had not come to hate the human race for what it was—what could it be but what it was?—but she did not feel seemly any more singing its praises.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, excerpt three)

from The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth:

After the accident, as her foster parents called it, Uncle Daniel informed the Jewish Welfare Board that his wife’s ill health made it impossible for them to continue to have Amy in their home. The foster child moved on to another family—and then another. She told whoever asked that she had been evacuated from Holland with a group of Jewish schoolchildren the week before the Nazis invaded. Sometimes she did not even say that the schoolchildren were Jewish, an omission for which she was mildly rebuked by the Jewish families who had accepted responsibility for her and were troubled by her lying. But she could not bear them all laying their helpful hands upon her shoulders because of Auschwitz and Belsen. If she was going to be thought exceptional, it would not be because of Auschwitz and Belsen but because of what she had made of herself since.

They were kind and thoughtful people, and they tried to get her to understand that she was not in danger in England. “You needn’t feel frightened or threatened in any way,” they assured her. “Or ashamed of anything.” “I’m not ashamed. That’s the point.” “Well, that isn’t always the point when young people try to hide their Jewish origins.” “Maybe it isn’t with others,” she told them, “but it is with me.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, excerpt two)

from The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth:

My heart, of course, was pounding away, though not entirely because the sound of glass breaking and the sight of a disappointed woman, miserably weeping, was new to me. It was about a month old. On our last morning together Betsy had broken every dish of the pretty little Bloomingdale’s set that we owned in common, and then, while I hesitated about leaving my apartment without making my position clear, she started in on the glassware. The hatred for me I had inspired by telling the whole truth had me particularly confused. If only I had lied, I thought—if only I had said that the friend who had intimated I might not be trustworthy was a trouble-making bitch, jealous of Betsy’s success and not a little crazy, none of this would be happening. But then, if I had lied to her, I would have lied to her. Except that what I would have said about the friend would in essence have been true! I didn’t get it. Nor did Betsy when I tried to calm her down and explain what a swell fellow I actually was to have been so candid about it all. It was here, in fact, that she set about destroying the slender drinking glasses, a set of six from Sweden that we had bought to replace the jelly jars on a joyous quasi-connubial outing some months earlier at Bonniers (bought along with the handsome Scandinavian throw rug onto which, in due course, I had tried to drag the photographer from the Saturday Review).

Monday, September 9, 2013

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, excerpt one)

from The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth:

And not just from a father who was an artist instead of a foot doctor, but from the most famous literary ascetic in America, that giant of patience and fortitude and selfishness who, in the twenty-five years between his first book and his sixth (for which he was given a National Book Award that he quietly declined to accept), had virtually no readership or recognition, and invariably would be dismissed, if and when he was even mentioned, as some quaint remnant of the Old World ghetto, an out-of-step folklorist pathetically oblivious of the major currents of literature and society. Hardly anyone knew who he was or where he actually he lived, and for a quarter of a century almost nobody cared. Even among his readers there had been some who thought that E. I. Lonoff’s fantasies about Americans had been written in Yiddish somewhere inside czarist Russia before he supposedly died there (as, in fact, his father had nearly perished) from injuries suffered in a pogrom. What was so admirable to me was not only the tenacity that had kept him writing his own kind of stories all that time but that having been “discovered” and popularized, he refused all awards and degrees, declined membership in all honorary institutions, granted no public interviews, and chose not to be photographed, as though to associate his face with his fiction were a ridiculous irrelevancy.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, excerpt six)

from The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson:

Did you ever see one of these two-bit jazz singers? You know, trying to put something across with their bodies that they haven’t got the voice to do? They lean back from the waist a little with their heads hanging forward and their hands held up about even with their ribs and swinging limp. And they sort of wobble and roll on their hips.

That’s the way he looked, and he kept making that damned funny noise, his lips quivering ninety to the minute and his eyes rolling all-white.

I laughed and laughed, he looked and sounded so funny I couldn’t help it. Then, I remembered what he’d done and I stopped laughing, and got mad—sore all over.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, excerpt five)

from The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson:

It was around nine o’clock in the morning. By rights, I should have been headed for the courthouse. But I wasn’t knocking myself out, these days, to get downtown; and Dad had always laid himself out for any doctors that came around.

“I’ve thought about selling it, off and on,” I said, “but that’s about as far as it’s gone. I’ve never taken any steps in that direction. But come in, anyway. Doctors are always welcome in this house.”

Friday, September 6, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, excerpt four)

from The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson:

It happened three days after my talk with Rothman. It was a payday Saturday, and I should have been working, but somehow I hadn’t been able to bring myself to do it. I’d stayed in the house all day with the shades drawn, pacing back and forth, wandering from room to room. And when night came I was still there. I was sitting in Dad’s office, with nothing on but the little desk light; and I heard these footsteps moving lightly across the porch, and the sound of the screen door opening.

It was way too early for Amy; but I wasn’t jittered any. I’d had people walk in before like this.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The 49ers at McSweeney's, episode 19 and final, with Dr. Jeffery W. Kelly

"I was probably 40, watching my wife just finish medical school and, you know, a year later she was dead. That’s when I realized life wasn’t fair."

from the 19th and final installment of The 49ers: Oral Histories of Americans Facing 50 for McSweeney's, with research scientist Dr. Jeffery W. Kelly.

the last book I ever read (Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, excerpt three)

from The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson:

I’d forgotten about it, and now I forgot it again. There are things that have to be forgotten if you want to go on living. And somehow I did want to; I wanted to more than ever. If the Good Lord made a mistake in us people it was in making us want to live when we’ve got the least excuse for it.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, excerpt two)

from The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson:

There wasn’t any more work I could do, so I filled a big cup with coffee and took it up into Dad’s office. I set it on his desk, lighted a cigar and started browsing along the rows of books.

Dad always said that he had enough trouble sorting the fiction out of so-called facts, without reading fiction. He always said that science was already too muddled without trying to make it jibe with religion. He said those things, but he also said that science in itself could be a religion, that a broad mind was always in danger of becoming narrow. So there was quite a bit of fiction on the shelves, and as much Biblical literature, probably, as a lot of ministers had.

I’d read some of the fiction. The other I’d left alone. I went to church and Sunday school, living as I had to live, but that was the end of it. Because kids are kids; and if that sounds pretty obvious, all I can say is that a lot of supposedly deep thinkers have never discovered the fact. A kid hears you cussing all the time, and he’s going to cuss, too. He won’t understand if you tell him it’s wrong. He’s loyal, and if you do it, it must be all right.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

the last book I ever read (Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, excerpt one)

from The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson:

I ate part of a clubhouse sandwich, but it didn’t seem to set so well. So I fixed another big drink and took it over to the window. I felt kind of restless and uneasy. I wished I could get out and wander around the town.

Fort Worth is the beginning of West Texas, and I wouldn’t have felt conspicuous, dressed as I was, like I would have in Dallas or Houston. I could have had a fine time—seen something new for a change. And instead I had to stay here by myself, doing nothing, seeing nothing, thinking the same old thoughts.

Monday, September 2, 2013

scary president

#16 in a series!
collect them all!

the last book I ever read (Pastoralia by George Saunders, excerpt five)

from Pastoralia by George Saunders:

Outside the tinted window were a little forest and a stream and an insurance agency and a FedEx drop-off titled by some pipeline digging. There were six students. One was the barber. One was a country boy with a briefcase, who took laborious notes and kept asking questions with a furrowed brow, as if, having been caught speeding, he was now considering a career in law enforcement. Did radar work via sonar beams? How snotty did someone have to get before you could stun them with your stun gun? Next to the country boy was the Buggin’ girl. Next to the Buggin’ girl was a very, very happy crew-cut older man in a cowboy shirt and bolo tie who laughed at everything and seemed to consider it a great privilege to be here at the Driving School on this particular day with the particular bunch of excellent people, and who by the end of the session had proposed holding a monthly barbecue at his place so they wouldn’t lose touch. Across the table from the Happy Man was a white-haired woman about the barber’s age, who kept making sly references to films and books the barber had never heard of and rolling her eyes at things the instructor said, while writing Help Me! and Beam Me Up! on her notepad and shoving it across the table for the Happy Man to read, which seemed to make the Happy Man uncomfortable.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

the last book I ever read (Pastoralia by George Saunders, excerpt four)

from Pastoralia by George Saunders:

Two redheaded girls sailed by in a green canoe, drifting with the current. They yelled something to him, and he waved. Had they yelled something insulting? Certainly it was possible. Certainly today’s children had little respect for authority, although one had to admit there was always Ben Akbar, their neighbor, a little Pakistani genius who sometimes made Morse look askance at Robert. Ben was an all-state cellist, on the wrestling team, who was unfailingly sweet to smaller kids and tole-painted and could do a one-handed push-up. Ah, Ben Shmen, Morse thought, ten Bens weren’t worth a single Robert, although he couldn’t think of one area in which Robert was superior or even equal to Ben, the little smarty-pants, although certainly he had nothing against Ben, Ben being a mere boy, but if Ben thought for a minute that his being more accomplished and friendly and talented than Robert somehow entitled him to lord it over Robert, Ben had another think coming, not that Ben had ever actually lorded it over Robert. On the contrary, Robert often lorded it over Ben, or tried to, although he always failed, because Ben was too sharp to be taken in by a little con man like Robert, and Morse’s face reddened at the realization that he had just characterized his own son as a con man.