Thursday, October 30, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt eight)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

As for Mr. Elton, his manners did not appear—but no, she would not permit a hasty or a witty word from herself about his manners. It was an awkward ceremony at any time to be receiving wedding visits, and a man had need be all grace to acquit himself well through it. The woman was better off; she might have the assistance of fine clothes, and the privilege of bashfulness, but the man had only his good sense to depend on; and when she considered how peculiarly unlucky poor Mr. Elton was in being in the same room at once with the woman he had just married, the woman he had wanted to marry, and the woman whom he had been expected to marry, she must allow him to have the right to look as little wise, and to be as much affectedly, and as little really easy as could be.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt seven)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

“It is a great pity that their circumstances should be so confined! a great pity indeed! and I have often wished—but it is so little one can venture to do—small, trifling presents, of any thing uncommon—Now we have killed a porker, and Emma thinks of sending them a loin or a leg; it is very small and delicate—Hartfield pork is not like any other pork—but it is still pork—and, my dear Emma, unless one could be sure of their making it into steaks, nicely fried, as ours are fried, without the smallest grease, and not roast it, for no stomach can bear roast pork—I think we had better send the leg—do not you think so, my dear?”

“My dear papa, I sent the whole hind-quarter. I knew you would wish it. There will be the leg to be salted, you know, which is so very nice, and the loin to be dressed directly in any manner they like.”

“That’s right, my dear, very right. I had not thought of it before, but that is the best way. They must not over-salt the leg; and then, if it is not over-salted, and if it is very thoroughly boiled, just as Serle boils ours, and eaten very moderately of, with a boiled turnip, and a little carrot or parsnip, I do not consider it unwholesome.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt six)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

The weather was most favourable for her; though Christmas Day, she could not go to church. Mr. Woodhouse would have been miserable had his daughter attempted it, and she was therefore safe from either exciting or receiving unpleasant and most unsuitable ideas. The ground covered with snow, and the atmosphere in that unsettled state between frost and thaw, which is of all others the most unfriendly for exercise, every morning beginning in rain or snow, and every evening setting in to freeze, she was for many days a most honourable prisoner. No intercourse with Harriet possible but by note; no church for her on Sunday any more than on Christmas Day; and no need to find excuses for Mr. Elton’s absenting himself.

Monday, October 27, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt five)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

“My poor dear Isabella,” said he, fondly taking her hand, and interrupting, for a few moments, her busy labours for some one of her five children—“How long it is, how terribly long since you were here! And how tired you must be after your journey! You must go to bed early, my dear—and I recommend a little gruel to you before you go.—You and I will have a nice basin of gruel together. My dear Emma, suppose we all have a little gruel.”

Emma could not suppose any such thing, knowing as she did, that both the Mr. Knightleys were as unpersuadable on that article as herself;--and two basins only were ordered. After a little more discourse in praise of gruel, with some wondering at its not being taken every evening by every body, he proceeded to say, with an air of grave reflection,

“It was an awkward business, my dear, your spending the autumn at South End instead of coming here. I never had much opinion of the sea air.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt four)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

“I must see somebody very superior to any one I have seen yet, to be tempted; Mr. Elton, you know, (recollecting herself,) is out of the question: and I do not wish to see any such person. I would rather not be tempted. I cannot really change for the better. If I were to marry, I must expect to repent it.”

“Dear me!—it is so odd to hear a woman talk so!”—

“I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! but I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine. Fortune I do not want; employment I do not want; consequence I do not want: I believe few married women are half as much mistress of their husband’s house as I am of Hartfield; and never, never could I expect to be so truly beloved and important; so always first and always right in any man’s eyes as I am in my father’s.”

“But then, to be an old maid at last, like Miss Bates!”

“That is as formidable an image as you could present, Harriet; and if I thought I should ever be like Miss Bates! so silly—so satisfied—so smiling—so prosing—so undistinguishing and unfastidious—and so apt to tell every thing relative to every body about me, I would marry to-morrow. But between us, I am convinced there never can be any likeness, except in being unmarried.”

“But still, you will be an old maid! and that’s so dreadful!”

Saturday, October 25, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt three)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

“And then their uncle comes in, and tosses them up to the ceiling in a very frightful way!”

“But they like it, papa; there is nothing they like so much. It is such enjoyment to them, that if their uncle did not lay down the rule of their taking turns, whichever began would never give way to the other.”

“Well, I cannot understand it.”

“That is the case with us all, papa. One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt two)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

“Emma has been meaning to read more ever since she was twelve years old. I have seen a great many lists of her drawing-up at various times of books that she meant to read regularly through—and very good lists they were—very well chosen, and very neatly arranged—sometimes alphabetically, and sometimes by some other rule. The list she drew up when only fourteen—I remember thinking it did her judgment so much credit, that I preserved it some time; and I dare say she may have made out a very good list now. But I have done with expecting any course of steady reading from Emma. She will never submit to any thing requiring industry and patience, and a subjection of the fancy to the understanding. Where Miss Taylor failed to stimulate, I may safely affirm that Harriet Smith will do nothing.—You never could persuade her to read half so much as you wished.—You know you could not.”

Thursday, October 23, 2014

the last book I ever read (Emma by Jane Austen, excerpt one)

from Emma by Jane Austen:

“Oh! not handsome—not at all handsome. I thought him very plain at first, but I do not think him so plain now. One does not, you know, after a time. But did you never see him? He is in Highbury every now and then, and he is sure to ride through every week in his way to Kingston. He has passed you very often.”

“That may be, and I may have seen him fifty times, but without having any idea of his name. A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need none of my help and is, therefore, in one sense, as much above my notice as in every other he is below it.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, excerpt five)

from The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons:

My favorite image of the 2009 Finals was Phil’s face after Kobe went one-on-four at the end of Game 2 (ignoring three wide-open teammates) and had a hideous shot blocked. With an overtime period looming, Kobe stormed back to his bench while a sitting Jackson watched from a few seats away, looking slightly amused, slightly disgusted and absolutely unwilling to blow the moment out of proportion. You know what Jackson’s reaction reminded me of, actually? Being married. Spend enough time with someone and you accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are. For instance, I am messy. I leave clothes on the floor. I make coffee in the morning, mistakenly leave grounds on the counter and forget to clean them up. I’m selfishly absentminded like that. My wife stopped complaining about it three years ago. When I do those things now, she makes the Phil Jackson Face. Crap. I’m stuck with him. It’s not even worth getting into it. The plusses outweigh the minuses. Let’s move forward. Jackson never made that face with his first wife (MJ); with his second wife (Kobe), he makes it every so often. You could say they’re an imperfect match, and if you want to keep the domestic analogy going, they even legally separated in 2004 after a few unhappy years. Now they might go on like this indefinitely. When a coach spends enough time with the same star, they really do start to feel like a married couple.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, excerpt four)

from The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons:

Of course, Kobe’s diva routine happened out of weakness: he couldn’t figure out his own identity and settled on a slightly creepy Jordan impression, pursuing that goal by trying to excel on both ends (did it), win a few rings (did it), score as many points as possible (did it), mimic Jordan’s celebratory fist pump (did it) and lead his own team to the title (finally did it). Everything about Kobe’s handling of the inevitable transition from “the Robin to Shaq’s Batman” to “Batman” was clumsy. Jordan always knew who he was. He had to win at everything. He studied up on opponents and searched for any signs of weakness, even pumping beat writers and broadcasters for insider information. He soaked teammates in poker on team flights so brutally that coaches warned rookies to stay away. He lost in Ping-Pong to teammate Rod Higgins once, bought a table and became the best Ping-Pong player on the team. He dunked on Utah’s John Stockton once, heard Utah owner Larry Miller scream, “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” then dunked on center Mel Turpin and hissed at Miller afterward, “He big enough for you?” He bribed airport baggage guys to put out his suitcase first once, then wagered teammates that his bag would be the first one on the conveyor belt. He stormed out of a Bulls scrimmage once like a little kid because he thought Doug Collins screwed up the score. When a team of college All-Stars outscored the Dream Team in a half-assed scrimmage and made the mistake of puffing their chests out, Jordan started out the next day’s scrimmage by pointing at Allan Houston and simply saying, “I got him” … and Houston didn’t touch the ball for two hours.

Monday, October 20, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, excerpt three)

from The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons:

Back in February 2008, I was killing time in an airline club waiting for my delayed flight to board. Sitting only twenty feet away? NBA legend Oscar Robertson. Did I jump at the chance to make small talk with one of the ten greatest players who ever lived? Did I say to myself, “This is a gift from God, I can introduce myself to Oscar, tell him about my book, maybe even have him help me figure some Pyramid stuff out”? Did I even say, “Screw it, I gotta shake his hand”?

Nope. I never approached him.

Had I heard too many stories about Oscar being a miserable crank? Was I still scarred from finishing his 2003 autobiography, The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game, maybe the angriest, most self-congratulatory basketball book ever written by anyone not named “Wilt”? Did I feel bad because Oscar was a profoundly bitter product of everything that happened to him? I don’t know. But he may as well have been wearing a BEWARE OF OSCAR sign. And so we killed time just twenty feet apart for the next three hours. I never said a word to him.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, excerpt two)

from The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons:

Of course, Kobe spent the summer of 2010 like he always did: killing himself in workouts and figuring out ways to stave off Father Time. LeBron? Heading into his first Miami season, he still lacks a fallaway jumper, spin move or effective jump hook (a shame because his passing would make him a beast from the low post). It’s not that his priorities were out of whack, just that he had too many … or maybe that he wasn’t cut out for this in the first place. After his final Cleveland game, I wrote that LeBron faced one of the greatest sports decisions ever: “winning (Chicago), loyalty (Cleveland) or a chance at immortality (New York).” I never thought he would pick “Help!!!!!!” There’s a chance LeBron was miscast all along, that God intended him to be Magic 2.0—an unselfish facilitator, the ultimate teammate, a walking triple double every night, someone capable of playing four positions and filling in any blank, someone just as happy setting up the game-winning shot as making it—and those seven Cleveland seasons pushed him in a direction that he never wanted. There’s a chance The Decision was really about embracing The Secret: someone sacrificing individual glory because Miami gave him the best chance to win, and because nobody knows how to push that button better than Pat Riley. There’s a chance I will feel differently about this five years from now.

But today? August 2010? I feel like LeBron James copped out. In pickup basketball, there’s an unwritten rule to keep teams relatively equal to maximize competitiveness of the games. If two players are noticeably better than the rest and have any pride at all—especially if they play similar positions—then beating each other trumps any other scenario. They want that test. Otherwise, hat’s the point? If two alpha dogs land on the same team by coincidence—like Kareem and Magic, or Shaq and Kobe—that’s one thing. That’s sports. Shit happens. But two perimeter players willingly deciding that it would be easier to join forces than compete against each other? There’s no “secret” to that. When I handed in my hardcover manuscript, I thought LeBron might surpass Jordan and Russell for the top pyramid spot some day. He took himself out of the running within twelve months. Then again, we’re the one who wanted it for him. Maybe he never wanted it. The most telling moment was the decision itself, when LeBron said, “I’ve decided to take my talents to South Beach.” Not the Miami Heat, or even Miami itself. South Beach. A place that, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have a basketball arena. A place where stars can act like stars, where life is easy, where the sun is always shining, where appearance matters more than anything else, where gorgeous women practically get churned off an assembly line. It’s beautiful there, and easy. If you’re looking for Bizarro Cleveland, look no further than South Beach.

That was the choice LeBron James made in the end: not Miami, not the Heat, but South Beach. That’s what he said. As someone who was twenty-five once, I can’t blame him. As someone who loves basketball, I can’t forgive him.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

the last book I ever read (The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, excerpt one)

from The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons:

Here’s where the perception that the NBA was in trouble took hold, thanks to tape-delayed playoff games, declining attendance, star players mailing in games, Walton’s continued absence, Buffalo’s move to San Diego, Erving’s disappointing play in Philly, a 75:25 black-to-white ratio and something of a smear campaign from various newspaper columnists and even Sports Illustrated. Since sports fans in 1978 and 1979 took their cue from SI, everyone was thinking the same thing: “The NBA is in trouble.” Even if it wasn’t necessarily true. With Boston already owning Bird’s draft rights, Indiana State’s undefeated ’79 season assumed greater significance for NBA fans as it unfolded. Bird loomed as the potential savior of a floundering Celtics franchise, and when Bird battled Magic’s Michigan State squad in the 1979 NCAA Finals, that boosted Magic’s profile to savior status as well. By sheer coincidence, two of the league’s three biggest markets (L.A. and Chicago) controlled the first two picks in the ’79 draft. The Lakers won the coin toss and Magic, while Chicago’s ensuing tailspin ended with Jordan saving them five years later. Throw in Boston signing Bird and everyone wins! Within a year, Bird saved the Celtics, Magic gave Kareem a pulse for the first time in five years, Philly finally built the right cast of role players around Doc, all three teams on 60-plus games and made the Conference Finals, and Magic put himself on the map with the clinching game of the Finals.

A bigger savior was coming that summer: cable. Just weeks after the NBA signed a three-year, $1.5 million deal with the USA Network for Thursday night doubleheaders and early round playoff games, ESPN launched the first-ever twenty-four-hour sports network on September 7, 1979, paving the way for SportsCenter, fun-to-watch highlights, and an eventual competitor for the league’s cable rights. You couldn’t find better advertising than slickly packaged game summaries that featured every exciting dunk, pass, and big shot and left out all the unseemly stuff. (You know, like fistfights, empty seats, utter indifference and players jog around and looking spent for the wrong reasons.) David Stern believe the arrival of ESPN and cable TV had more to do with saving the NBA than Bird and Magic, although he feels like the whole “saving” part has been totally overblown. Which it probably was. Remember, the Dallas Mavericks joined in 1980-81 for a cool expansion fee of $12 million, finishing 15-67 that season and spawning countless “Yeesh, maybe they should have had J. R. Ewing coach the team” jokes that were hysterically funny twenty-nine years ago. How bad could things have been if rich guys were throwing out $12 million checks to join the NBA?

Friday, October 17, 2014

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, excerpt eight)

from Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken:

He took the train back into the city, to move his suitcase into M. Petit’s apartment. The furniture was ancient, fringed, balding. The windows looked onto the courtyard, not the street. It felt like the depressed cousin of the apartment where they’d been so happy. The right place to be, in other words. The bathroom had a slipper tub, deep and short, with a step to sit on. How had M. Petit climbed into it? The bed was in a loft. No octogenarian should have to use a ladder to go to sleep. Everything in the world now looked like something to fall from. He decided he would sleep on the little L-shaped couch, in case M. Petit had died in the bed. He put the sea-serpent lampshade in the middle of the coffee table and fell asleep. He surprised himself by sleeping through the night. He checked the phone: a text from Laura, Arrived will call in my morning/your afternoon. He went, for the third day, to the hospital.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, excerpt seven)

from Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken:

The plan was to disrupt their lives, a jolt to Helen’s system before school started again in the fall. The city would be strange and beautiful, as Helen herself was strange and beautiful. Perhaps they’d understand her there. Perhaps the problem all this time was that her soul had been written in French.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, excerpt six)

from Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken:

Look here: Karen Blackbird is standing on the front porch before she disappears. The house itself is a wreck, the brown asbestos tile weathered in teary streaks. A lawnmower skulks up to its alligatorish eyebrows in the yard. Half the teeth in the porch railing have been punched out, and Karen Blackbird puts the toe of her shoe through a gap in the railing and pivots her foot back and forth, as though it’s a switch that might work a decision. Her loopy hair shifts in the wind. Her lips are chapped, as usual. She has the kind of face that makes old women say, “Dear, if you just took a little care, you’d be so pretty.” Those old women are wrong. Her bare calves are thick and muscular, but her hands are bony. She’s still too young to carry that nose with any authority. Her oversized coat is missing half its buttons, always has been.

The lives of the missing begin Last seen, and for a moment, or a week, or a day—who knows how long—she’s here. This isn’t the last time. She’s about to go but not right now. Only in magic shows does anyone announce the imminent disappearance of a woman. Even then you don’t know what you’ll find in her place.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, excerpt five)

from Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken:

In the December rain, the buildings around the town square were the color of dirty fingernails. Still, the French had tried to jolly things up a bit. Decorations hung from streetlamps, though at midday, Tony couldn’t tell what lit bulbs would reveal at night: A curried prawn? A goiter? People had dangled toddler-size nylon Father Christmases out their windows, each with a shoulder-borne sack of presents. There were dozens of Father Christmases, and they hung slack, sodden, like snagged kites. They looked lynched.

Tony drove the rattletrap Escort he’d just bought around Bazaillac’s covered market a second time. He and Izzy and the kids had lived in the countryside nearby for eleven years. At the start, people in town called them Les Anglais, because they were the only ones. Now the whole valley was overrun with English. You could fly into Bergerac for three quid on Ryanair, flash the mere cover of your passport to the on-duty Frenchman, and strike out. You could buy an old presbytery or millhouse for next to nothing, turn the outbuildings into gĂ®tes and rent them for the summer, and then sit back and lived the good life—or so the English thought. They renovated or half-renovated the properties and then lost interest, complained about how many other English were in the area: you couldn’t go into a market without being assaulted by the terrible voices of your countrymen. Tony had heard that Slovenia and Macedonia were the new places to go. He wishes Slovenia and Macedonia luck.

Monday, October 13, 2014

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, excerpt four)

from Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken:

The children’s librarian was inconsolable. Her mind wandered; her story times made no sense; she forgot the words to “The Wheels on the Bus.” She also forgot to feed the rabbit, who died a week later. The cage had to be covered with cloth so the children wouldn’t peep in. The rabbit lay in state all morning, till someone from the DPW could come and haul it away.

“You know,” said the children’s librarian to the head of cataloguing that day, “she told me, ‘I’ve had a good life. If I died tomorrow, I’d have no regrets.’” The head of cataloguing stared, thinking, That rabbit said no such thing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, excerpt three)

from Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken:

The line between pride and a lack of it is thin and brittle and thrilling as new ice. Only when you’re young are you able to skate out onto it, to not care which side you end up on. That was me. I was innocent. Later, when you’re old, when you know things, well, it takes all sorts of effort, and ropes, and pulleys, and all kinds of tricks, to keep you from crashing through, if you’re even willing to risk it.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, excerpt two)

from Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken:

I couldn’t sing, according to my friends. The only person who’d ever said anything nice about my voice was my friend Fred Tibbets, who claimed that when I was drunk, sometimes I managed to carry a tune. But we drank a lot in those days, and when I was drunk Fred was drunk, too, and sentimental. Still, I secretly believed I could sing. My only evidence was the pleasure singing brought me. Most common mistake in the world, believing that physical pleasure and virtue are in any way related, directly or indirectly.

Friday, October 10, 2014

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories, excerpt one)

from Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken:

She cackled a very European cackle, pride and delight in her ownership of the lusterware duck, whose name was Trudy. “The sole exhibit in the museum. When I am dead, people will know nothing about me.” This was a professional opinion: she was a museum consultant. In Normandy she was helping set up an exhibition in a stone cottage that had been owned by a Jewish family deported during the war. In Paris, it had been the atelier of a minor artist who’d been the longtime lover of a major poetess; in Denmark, a workhouse museum. Her specialty was the air of recent evacuation: you know something terrible had happened to the occupants but you hoped it might still be undone. She set historic spectacles on desktops and snuggled appropriate shoes under beds and did not overdust. Too much cleanliness made a place dead. In Rome she arranged an exhibit of the commonplace belongings of Ezra Pound: chewed pencils, drinking glasses, celluloid dice, dog-eared book. Only the brochure suggested a connection to greatness. At the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Odense, where they were mere tourists, she lingered with admiration over Andersen’s upper plate and the length of rope that he traveled with in case of hotel fire. “You can tell more from dentures than from years of diaries,” she’d said then. “Dentures do not lie.” She herself threw everything out. She did not want anyone to exhibit the smallest bit of her.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

the last book I ever read (Oranges by John McPhee, excerpt eight)

from Oranges by John McPhee:

One of the services that the Florida Citrus Mutual performs for the good of the growers is a program of theft prevention. In some years, particularly after freezes, as much as two million dollars’ worth of oranges and other citrus fruits have been stolen from Florida groves. After the 1962 freeze, Mutual set up a Central Intelligence Bureau. The central intelligence is Leslie Bessenger, a retired sheriff, who coordinates the efforts of sheriffs and deputies in thirty-two orange-growing counties. Bessenger is a heavy man with a leonine white head, and there is apparently nothing he would rather talk about than fruit thieves.

Sometimes thieves make a major haul, such as a whole semitrailer full of oranges; but the moonlighter, picking alone in the dark, is the most common kind. “The aggregate of the small steal is the major part of the big steal,” Bessenger explains. One night a couple seasons ago, a deputy in Bessenger’s network noticed a white Cadillac whose underpinnings were all but scraping the road. The car was riding low enough to be a Chris-Craft. It had three thousand five hundred oranges in it, loaded to the windowline. The driver admitted that he was making his ninth haul in three weeks, and said that he could pick a Cadillacful of oranges in the dark in three hours.

Fishing boats anchor off orange groves during the afternoon and the occupants fish until dark; then they jump out of the boats with burlap bags and fan out into the groves. More ambitious thieves sometimes hire innocent pickers and clean out whole blocks of trees. “But the biggest deal I know of was at a processing plant,” Bessenger said. “There was a seventy-one-thousand-dollar loss documented, but I believe it was well over a hundred thousand. The scalemaster was cheating—at a dollar seventy-five a box.” This was the scalemaster’s kickback for each box of nonexistent fruit he wrote up. Semitrailers roll into concentrate plants, one after another, all day long. Bessenger said that the crooked scalemaster was taking the plant for eight hundred dollars a truckload.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

the last book I ever read (Oranges by John McPhee, excerpt seven)

from Oranges by John McPhee:

Paradoxically, many societies have believed that the worst thing that could happen to an orange tree was the touch of a woman. If a woman were even to go near one, some thought, the foliage would wilt and fall away, the fruit would drop, and the tree would die. A Spanish Moor of the twelfth century, whose name was Abu Zakariya Yahya Ibn el-Awwam, wrote a basic text called The Book of Agriculture, which contained material on citriculture that was remarkably accurate and complete, until he brought up the matter of women. “Women should not be allowed to come near citrus trees,” he wrote, “unless they are in a state of absolute purity and unimpaired health.” According to the same writer, however, the woman stood to gain much from the very tree she was capable of destroying. “If a woman eats an orange,” he added, “it will banish all evil thoughts from her mind.” Superstition about oranges were remarkably persistent in Germany. As late as 1671, Italian orange salesmen found that Frankfurt was a poor territory. The Frankfurt City Council proclaimed that the salesmen were going around spreading “poisonous yellow ointments” on the doors of houses. If a person passed through or even near these doors within five hours, the council informed the populace, that person would die. German feelings about women and oranges were even deeper. In the early eighteenth century, when nearly all German princes were growing oranges in their palaces, Johannes Volckamer, of Nuremberg, in his Neurenbergische Hesperiden, described how women could cause whole trees to die. “Many will deride this as something foolish,” said Volckamer, “and I myself should not have believed in it had it not caused the undoing of some of my most valuable trees. Once, in winter, I noticed a woman of my gardener’s household seated upon a beautiful orange tree in full bloom. The next day, the tree started drying up from the top downwards, and so rapid was the progress of the disease that in the course of a few days it had infected every single branch, causing all the leaves to wilt and die.”

Later writers have guessed that Volckamer was ignorant of the effects of frost. My own belief is that science erases what was previously true. The earth was the center of the universe until Copernicus rearranged it. Life did begin in Eden before Darwin restyled it. In the early eighteenth century in Nuremberg, a woman did sit in the branches of an orange tree and kill it to the ground.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

the last book I ever read (Oranges by John McPhee, excerpt six)

from Oranges by John McPhee:

The main direction of research in harvesting seems to be toward getting rid of human pickers. With the rise of concentrate, orange-tree plantings are multiplying, but the picking force is diminishing. Florida used to depend on the supplementary help of offshore labor—pickers mainly from the British West Indies—but the Department of Labor is making it increasingly difficult for these workers to enter the United States. So, with a sense of considerable urgency, citrus men are hoping for the development of a mechanical harvesting machine. The citrus business is looking for an Eli Whitney, and many candidates are applying themselves to the pursuit of the fortune that would settle upon the inventor of what might be called the orange gin. One is Fred D. Lasswell, Jr., of Tampa, who draws the comic strip “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith.” Lasswell’s entry is a big set of whirling flexible fins, which are pushed up against a tree so they can snap the oranges free from the twigs that hold them. International Harvester once tried to develop Lasswell’s fins, but apparently without great success. William Adams, the nurseryman I visited, has something in a back room that looks like a giant version of the conical spring that fits behind the batteries in an ordinary flashlight; spiraling through the branches of a citrus tree, it is supposed to disengage the fruit with gentle force. Another inventor has tried sucking the fruit off the tree by using a kind of vacuum cleaner, more or less turning the picker into a janitor.

Monday, October 6, 2014

the last book I ever read (Oranges by John McPhee, excerpt five)

from Oranges by John McPhee:

“There aren’t many,” he said. “Rabbits come in and out. They gnaw the bark of the trees. Wildcats hunt the rabbits. People with dogs hunt the wildcats. Deer eat the leaves. Cows sometimes come in and eat the fruit. There are mice, of course, and rats, and what you call land turtles (we call them gophers), and what you call gophers (we call them salamanders). There are chicken snakes, gopher snakes, and rattlesnakes. They don’t live in the groves; they just come in to eat the mice. We used to have a fellow in the crew who was called Snake Man. His real name was Walter Henderson, but no one knew it. He was a tree planter, a sprayer, a grove man. They called him Snake Man because he always caught snakes and scared the others. He couldn’t stay away from snakes. One day, Snake Man picked up a little old ground rattler and waved it at the boys. It bit him in the thumb, and the foreman told him he had to go to the hospital. Snake Man said it was nothing and he wasn’t going. They finally got him there, and his arm swelled up three times its size, and they thought he was going to die. He was in the hospital a week, and a few days after that he came back to work. When the other boys saw him, one of them called to him, ‘Hey, Snake Man, how are you?’ Snake Man stopped, and he looked at the whole bunch of them, and he said, ‘My name is Walt.’”

Sunday, October 5, 2014

the last book I ever read (Oranges by John McPhee, excerpt four)

from Oranges by John McPhee:

The history of Florida is measured in freezes. Severe ones, for example, occurred in 1747, 1766, and 1774. The freeze of February, 1835, was probably the worst one in the state’s history. But, because more growers were affected, the Great Freeze of 1895 seems to enjoy the same sort of status in Florida that the Blizzard of ’88 once held in the North. Temperatures on the Ridge on February 8, 1895, went into the teens for much of the night. It is said that some orange growers, on being told what was happening on in the groves, got up from their dinner tables and left the state. In the morning, it was apparent that the Florida citrus industry had been virtually wiped out. The groves around Keystone City, in Polk County, however, went through the freeze of 1895 without damage. Slightly higher than anything around it and studded with sizable lakes, Keystone City became famous, and people from all over the Ridge came to marvel at this Garden of Eden in the middle of the new wasteland. The citizens of Keystone City changed the name of their town to Frostproof.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

the last book I ever read (Oranges by John McPhee, excerpt three)

from Oranges by John McPhee:

Despite the tidal rise of concentrate, Grierson has been trying to keep growers and shippers interested in fresh fruit. In his office, in a frame over the door, he has a small broken lance, which he carved himself from a piece of birch to symbolize his jousts in the name of fresh oranges and the kind of success he feels he has had. “I am the leader of His Majesty’s loyal opposition,” he told me the moment I walked into his office. “The fresh-fruit trade has been almost completely neglected lately. I believe that if growers continue to neglect the fresh-fruit market, they may find, in the next ten or twenty years, that the market for all forms of orange products has suffered. These canners get a blood lust whenever they see an orange. I, among others, have been out lobbying to try to keep the fresh-fruit part of the industry alive, although it isn’t becoming for a scientist to be out lobbying. In 1948, as a result of overplanting, growers were busy cutting down orange trees, grafting over to grapefruit, planting over to avocados, and that sort of thing, but then the miracle came. Oranges have quadrupled. The concentrate boom is the boomiest boom since the Brazilian rubber boom. The normal laws of economics are defied. When a freeze comes along now, it’s a fortunate disaster. It halves the crop, triples the price, reduces taxes, and saves gasoline. When things are going wrong, they are at their best—all bolstered by the miracle of concentrate. This industry is now hungry for new miracles, but one miracle per industry is considerably above any normal quota. We cannot always rely on natural disasters to keep down the volume of fruit. Incidentally, after the great freeze of 1962—the worst freeze of this century—the leaves all turned manila and fell to the ground. Much of the fruit fell to the ground, too, but a lot of it still hung eerily, and with a macabre beauty, in the trees. They looked like odd Christmas trees covered with bright-orange balls.”

Friday, October 3, 2014

the last book I ever read (Oranges by John McPhee, excerpt two)

from Oranges by John McPhee:

Out of the bewildering catalogue of orange varieties and strains, the Valencia has emerged in this century as something close to a universal orange. It is more widely and extensively planted than any other. From Florida and California and Central and South America to South Africa and Australia, Valencias grow in abundance in nearly all the orange centers of the world except Valencia. Having given the world the most remunerative orange yet known, Spain now specializes in its celebrated strains of bloods and navels. Only two per cent of the Spanish crop are Valencias, and perhaps only half of that comes from the groves of Valencia itself; much of the remainder grows in old, untended groves near Seville, where cattle wander through and munch oranges on the trees, on either bank of the Guadalquivir.

The Valencia is a spring and summer orange, and the Washington Navel ripens in the fall and winter. The two varieties overlap twice with perfect timing in California—where, together, they are almost all of the total crop—and the orange industry there never stops. In Florida, the Valencia harvest begins in late March and ends in June, and for about four months there is no picking. Florida grows few navel oranges, somewhat to the state’s embarrassment. Florida growers tried hard enough, some seventy or eighty years ago, but the Washington Navel, in the language of pomology, proved to be too shy a bearer there. Instead, to meet the fall and winter markets, Florida growers have a number of locally developed early varieties to choose from, and in the main they seem to prefer three: the Pineapple Orange, the Parson Brown, and the Hamlin.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Groucho Marx, born October 2, 1890

Photograph by Richard Avedon, 1972

the last book I ever read (Oranges by John McPhee, excerpt one)

from Oranges by John McPhee:

Just after the Second World War, three scientists working in central Florida surprised themselves with a simple idea that resulted in the development of commercial orange-juice concentrate. A couple of dozen enormous factories sprang out of the hammocks, and Florida, which can be counted on in most seasons to produce about a quarter of all the oranges grown in the world, was soon putting most of them through the process that results in small, trim cans, about two inches in diameter and four inches high, containing orange juice that has been boiled to high viscosity in a vacuum, separated into several component parts, reassembled, flavored, and then frozen solid. People in the United States used to consume more fresh oranges than all other fresh fruits combined, but in less than twenty years the per-capita consumption has gone down seventy-five per cent, as appearances of actual oranges in most of the United States have become steadily less frequent. Fresh, whole, round, orange oranges are hardly extinct, of course, but they have seen better days since they left the garden of the Hesperides.

Fresh oranges have become, in a way, old-fashioned. The frozen product made from them is pure and sweet, with a laboratory-controlled balance between its acids and its sugars; its color and its flavor components are as uniform as science can make them, and a consumer opening the six-ounce can is confident that the drink he is about to reconstitute will taste almost exactly like the juice that he took out of the last can he bought. Fresh orange juice, on the other hand, is probably less consistent in flavor than any other natural or fermented drink, with the possible exception of wine.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

the last book I ever read (There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, excerpt six)

from There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya:

Polina didn’t consider her aunt as family. As far as she was concerned, her only family was her son, but sometimes she didn’t speak to even him for months. As for her husband, Semyon, Polina had hated him ever since his stay at a health resort years ago, after which he gave Polina gonorrhea and told everyone at the clinic that she had given it to him. Her only son had married and moved in with his wife; he did try to come back, but where was he going to stay? There were two rooms, and their son was pushing forty—he couldn’t sleep with Papa or Mama, could he? Shame and tears—that was Polina’s family life.