Sunday, May 31, 2015

the last book I ever read (American Warlord by Johnny Dwyer, excerpt two)

from American Warlord: A True Story by Johnny Dwyer:

The first European contact on the Liberian coast occurred when a Portuguese explorer named Pedro de Cintra came ashore in approximately 1461. De Cintra immediately discovered a valuable commodity: an abundance of melegueta pepper, which the locals used to season food. He also encountered an insurmountable language barrier with the indigenous tribes who lived along the coast. As a way to document his discovery, the explorer kidnapped a tribesman and brought him back to Lisbon, hoping this man would elaborate on this strange and unknown land to geographers there. The journey north did little to make the two men more comprehensible to each other, and after the ship arrived in Lisbon, the geographers fared no better in understanding the tribesman. After some time—and with the help of a slave woman—their interrogations were finally able to reveal one fact of this unexplored land: it was home to unicorns.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

the last book I ever read (American Warlord by Johnny Dwyer, excerpt one)

from American Warlord: A True Story by Johnny Dwyer:

Taylor decided that he had to go to America to take his next step in life. He later attributed the decision to a superficial event—his girlfriend at the time dropped him for someone with a master’s degree who had just returned from the United States. The degree reflected not just attainment but also heightened status in Liberian society as a “been-to”—someone who had traveled to and received education outside the country.

Friday, May 29, 2015

the last book I ever read (T. C. Boyle's The Harder They Come, excerpt ten)

from The Harder They Come by T. C. Boyle:

After the funeral back in the fall, Carolee went to stay with her sister in Newbury Park for a few days, and when she returned, looking haggard, looking unrested and every bit as tragic as when she’d left, she kept harping on the theme of traveling, of getting out and seeing the world. Just a trip. Anywhere. If only to get out of town for a while because she couldn’t take the way people looked at her wherever she went, whether it was the library or the post office or just picking up the dry cleaning, and Sten felt as burdened as she did and gave in without much of a fight. They wound up driving down to Death Valley for the wildflower bloom at the end of February and then continued on to Las Vegas to throw money away and watch some overpriced idiotic revue he could have done without, once and forever. What he said to her was, “This is just like the cruise ship, except it’s floating on dirt instead of water.”

Thursday, May 28, 2015

the last book I ever read (T. C. Boyle's The Harder They Come, excerpt nine)

from The Harder They Come by T. C. Boyle:

Rob paused at this point. He had a cup of coffee before him now and he was staring down into it, slowly revolving the cup on its saucer. Sten found that he had a cup too, though he didn’t need it and it would just keep him awake. Carolee was standing beside him, leaning into him, all her weight concentrated in one hip, and if he felt that weight as a burden, so be it. This was marriage. This was love. Two bound in one, in the flesh, for better, for worse. Rob looked up. “I don’t know if you realize how good these dogs are,” he said. “They always get their man, I mean, always. I’ve never seen them fail yet, except in the rare care where the suspect shoots the dog—"

Carolee let out a sharp breath. “Not Adam, no—"

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

the last book I ever read (T. C. Boyle's The Harder They Come, excerpt eight)

from The Harder They Come by T. C. Boyle:

Had they seen him? No. They were there in the distance, bending over his plants, two of them, two aliens in olive-drab rain slickers and muddy boots and he was glassing them now, picking their faces out of the misting rain than hung over everything like poison gas and he was calm, utterly calm, as calm as Colter standing there naked while they decided his fate. But nobody was going to decide his fate. He was the one in charge here, he was the one in cover and he was no trespasser—they were. One of them he didn’t recognize, or not right away, but the other one was turning his face to him now, looking up the hill toward the bunker, and that one turned out to be the Dog-Face himself, Chip Moody. He set down the binoculars and took up his rifle.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

the last book I ever read (T. C. Boyle's The Harder They Come, excerpt seven)

from The Harder They Come by T. C. Boyle:

She was at the stove two days later, making a pot of low-cal chicken vegetable soup (tenders sautéed in safflower oil with garlic and onions, chicken stock, zucchini, tomatoes and snow peas from her garden), late afternoon, a glass of zinfandel on the counter beside her, everything as still as still can be. Kutya was asleep on the floor, in the cool place by the sink. A faint breeze, just the breath of one, came in through the screen windows. Quartering the tomatoes and dicing the zucchini, occasionally taking a sip of wine and gazing idly out the window to where the hummingbirds were buzzing each other off the feeder, she felt herself easing into a kind of waking dream, and wasn’t this the way life was supposed to be? No worries. Just living in the moment. Normally she would have been listening to the radio, but she’d spun through the dial twice and there was nothing but crap on—classical, with the stick-up-the-ass announcers who sounded as if they’d had all their blood drained out of them the minute they turned the microphone on; Mexican talk; Mexican music; Mexican car ads; classic rock with the same playlist they’d been rehashing for the last half century and, if you didn’t like that, the alt rock that was such crap even the musicians’ mothers couldn’t take it—and so she was listening to the house breathing around her, to the jay outside the window and the neat controlled tap and release of the blade on the cutting board.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

the last book I ever read (T. C. Boyle's The Harder They Come, excerpt six)

from The Harder They Come by T. C. Boyle:

What she was thinking was that the Republic of California was a place in which she no longer wanted to reside. It was the ultimate nanny state, everything you did short of drawing breath regulated through the roof, a list of no’s half a mile long posted on every street corner and the entrance to every park in the state. You couldn’t smoke on the street. Couldn’t park overnight, couldn’t pay your toll in cash on the Golden Gate Bridge, couldn’t buy something on the internet without the sales tax Nazis coming after you. You couldn’t even start a fire in your own woodstove or natural stone fireplace on a cold and damp and nasty winter’s day down in Visalia, where she’d lived with Roger through her unenlightened years, lest you run afoul of the air-quality control board, and don’t think you can sneak around the regulations because you’ve got a whole squadron of snitches and tattletales living right next door and across the street to report you out of sour grapes because they’re too whipped and beaten down to start up their own pathetic little fires.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

the last book I ever read (T. C. Boyle's The Harder They Come, excerpt five)

from The Harder They Come by T. C. Boyle:

There would have been shell casings. And the bullets themselves, the ones they dug out of Carey’s dead flesh. That would have been something, at least. But what he wondered—and here he was, following a wide beaten path uphill through the bracken at the feet of the trees, the morning still, nothing moving and nothing sound off, not even birds—was just what caliber those casings and bullets had turned out to be. Were they from a handgun? A revolver? An old wood-grip .38 or .45 some scoop-faced son of a bitch kept tucked in his waistband like a Hollywood cliché? Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges. Or something else. Something else altogether.

Friday, May 22, 2015

the last book I ever read (T. C. Boyle's The Harder They Come, excerpt four)

from The Harder They Come by T. C. Boyle:

That was all she heard, because in the next moment she had the phone down on the kitchen floor and was grinding it underfoot—they could track you, track you anywhere, the phone like a homing device, like your own little flag of surrender. For a moment she was too angry to think, and if she just kept grinding the phone under her heel and if the plastic frame of it was gouging the linoleum floor Adam’s grandmother had kept up through all her failing years, well, she would worry about that later. At the moment, she couldn’t seem to catch her breath, she was so upset. She kept telling herself to calm down even as the dog, with his dog’s radar, sensed that something was amiss and began to whine, his nails tapping out an elaborate distress signal on the slick linoleum.

As soon as she’d had a chance to catch her breath she began to rethink things. Already she regretted smashing the phone. Yes, the number had been compromised, no doubt about that—obviously the police had hacked the phone records to get her cell number, but without a phone how would her clients reach her? How would she schedule appointments? How would she live? Even now people could be calling her—or the home phone, where they’d just get a message. Which she couldn’t receive and couldn’t answer. And if she didn’t call back, they’d just go to somebody else, and there went her business. She looked down at her hands and saw they were shaking.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

the last book I ever read (T. C. Boyle's The Harder They Come, excerpt three)

from The Harder They Come by T. C. Boyle:

The next morning, early, he found himself back in Fort Bragg, at the grocery there—the cheap one, the one the tourists didn’t know about—pushing a cart and working his way through the itemized list Carolee had pressed on him as he went out the door. The place was over-lit, antiseptic, as artificial as the flight deck of a spaceship, and at this hour there were more shelf-stockers than shoppers. That was all right. He liked the early hours, when things were less complicated. He’d been up early all his life and though everybody said the best thing about retirement was sleeping in, he just couldn’t feature it. If he found himself in bed later than six he felt like a degenerate, and he supposed he could thank his mother for that. And his father. The work ethic—once you had it, once it had been implanted in you, how could you shake it? Why would you want to? Relax, he kept telling himself. Keep busy. Relax. Keep busy. The last thing he wanted was to wind up sitting in a recliner all day staring at the TV like some zombie or pulling on a sun visor to chase a golf ball around the fairways with a bunch of loudmouthed jocks. Or bridge. He hated bridge, hated games of any kind. But how did you relax? That was the problem he was trying to resolve—and certainly world-class indulgence wasn’t the answer.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

the last book I ever read (T. C. Boyle's The Harder They Come, excerpt two)

from The Harder They Come by T. C. Boyle:

John Colter was twenty-nine, four years older than he was now, when he signed on with Lewis and Clark for the expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase and open up the west. He’d been raised on the frontier in Kentucky, a wild place back then, more comfortable sleeping rough than in his own bed in the cabin he shared with his parents and his brothers and sisters and one uncle and his uncle’s wife, and if the other farmers’ sons were content to walk behind a plow, he wasn’t. He was a free agent from the earliest age, earning his keep by way of hunting, fishing and trapping, and in no need of a trail to carry him out or bring him home again either. As a child, he took to disappearing for days at a time, and then, as he got older and ran through his teens, for weeks, and no matter how far he roamed or in what territory, he was never lost, born with an uncanny ability to orient himself no matter where he was. He was like an animal in that regard, like a fox—or better yet, a wolf, an outlier with his nose to the wind.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

the last book I ever read (T. C. Boyle's The Harder They Come, excerpt one)

from The Harder They Come by T. C. Boyle:

“It’s no joke, because it’s not just money they’re after, you know that, don’t you? Anything can happen. Bad stuff, real bad stuff.”

She didn’t answer. She looked beyond him, out the open door to the bay and the sepia blur of the city that was like some fungus sprung up around a band of pale eroded beach and hacked green palm. He pushed his plate away. What he wanted was a cigarette, and he’d actually reached for his shirt pocket before he caught himself—he hadn’t smoked in ten years now. It was times like this he missed it most. Smoking had given him something to do with his hands, the whole ritual of it, from sliding the cigarette from the pack to tamping it on the nearest hard surface, to cupping the match and drawing in the first sweet sustaining puff. The thing was, his hands had become too busy, manipulating up to two packs a day, his fingertips stained yellow with nicotine and his lungs as black as the bricks of the fireplace back at home. That was all behind him now. Now he was healthy. Now he rode a stationary bike and got out in the woods two or three days a week, keeping his hand in with part-time work for the lumber company, looking out for trespassers, squatters, marijuana growers—patrolling, if that was what you wanted to call it. The way he saw it, he was getting paid to go hiking, simple as that, best deal in the world.

Monday, May 18, 2015

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, excerpt seven)

from the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for General Nonfiction The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert:

The first view I got of Suci was her prodigious backside. It was about three feet wide and stippled with coarse, reddish hair. Her ruddy brown skin had the texture of pebbled linoleum. Suci, a Sumatran rhino, lives at the Cincinnati Zoo, where she was born in 2004. The afternoon of my visit, several other people were also arrayed around her formidable rump. They were patting it affectionately, so I reached over and gave it a rub. It felt like petting a tree trunk.

Dr. Terri Roth, director of the zoo’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife, had arrived at the rhino’s stall wearing scrubs. Roth is tall and thin, with long brown hair that she had pinned up in a bun. She pulled on a clear plastic glove that stretched over her right forearm, past the elbow, almost to her shoulder. One of Suci’s keepers wrapped the rhino’s tail in what looked like Saran Wrap and held it off to the side. Another keeper grabbed a pail and stationed himself by Suci’s mouth. It was hard for me to see over Suci’s bottom, but I was told he was feeding the rhino slices of apples, and I could hear her chomping away at them. While Suci was thus distracted, Roth pulled a second glove over the first and grabbed what looked like a video game remote. Then she stuck her arm into the rhino’s anus.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, excerpt six)

from the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for General Nonfiction The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert:

The best time to take a bat census is the dead of winter. Bats are what are known as “true hibernators”; when the mercury drops, they begin looking for a place to settle down, or really upside down, since bats in torpor hang by their toes. In the northeastern United States, the first bats to go into hibernation are usually the little browns. Sometime in late October or early November, they seek out a sheltered space, like a cave or a mineshaft, where conditions are likely to remain stable. The little browns are soon joined by the tricolored bats and then by the big browns and the small-footed bats. The body temperature of a hibernating bat drops by fifty or sixty degrees, often to right around freezing. Its heartbeat slows, its immune system shuts down, and the bat, dangling by its feet, falls into a state close to suspended animation. Counting hibernating bats demands a strong neck, a good headlamp, and a warm pair of socks.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, excerpt five)

from the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for General Nonfiction The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert:

By the time Cohn-Haft and I got back to Camp 41, several other people had arrived, including Cohn-Haft’s wife, Rita Mesquita, who’s an ecologist, and Tom Lovejoy, who was in Manaus attending a meeting of a group called the Amazonas Sustainable Foundation. Now in his early seventies, Lovejoy is credited with having put the term “biological diversity” into general circulation and with having conceived of the idea of the “debt-for-nature swap.” Over the years, he has worked for the World Wildlife Fund, the Smithsonian, the United Nations Foundation, and the World Bank, and in good part owing to his efforts something like half the Amazon rainforest is now under some form of legal protection. Lovejoy is the rare sort of person who seems equally comfortable slogging through the forest and testifying in front of Congress. He is always looking for ways to drum up support for Amazon conservation, and while we were sitting around that evening, he told me he’d once brought Tom Cruise to Camp 41. Cruise, he said, has seemed to enjoy himself, but, unfortunately, had never taken up the cause.

Friday, May 15, 2015

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, excerpt four)

from the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for General Nonfiction The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert:

That evening in Moffat, once everyone had had enough of tea and graptolites, we went out to the pub on the ground floor of the world’s narrowest hotel. After a pint or two, the conversation turned to another one of Zalasiewicz’s favorite subjects: giant rats. Rats have followed humans to just about every corner of the globe, and it is Zalasiewicz’s professional opinion that one day they will take over the earth.

“Some number will probably stay rat-sized and rat-shaped,” he told me. “But others may well shrink or expand. Particularly if there’s been epidemic extinction and ecospace opens up, rats may be best placed to take advantage of that. And we know that change in size can take place fairly quickly.” I recalled a rat I once watched drag a pizza crust along the tracks at an Upper West Side subway station. I imagined it waddling through a deserted tunnel blown up to the size of a Doberman.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, excerpt three)

from the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for General Nonfiction The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert:

It’s been estimated that when Europeans first landed at Funk Island, they found as many as a hundred thousand pairs of great auks tending to a hundred thousand eggs. (Probably great auks produced only one egg a year; these were about five inches long and speckled, Jackson Pollock-like, in brown and black.) Certainly the island’s breeding colony must have been a large one to persist through more than two centuries of depredation. By the late seventeen hundreds, though, the birds’ numbers were in sharp decline. The feather trade had become so lucrative that teams of men were spending the entire summer on Funk, scalding and plucking. In 1785, George Cartwright, an English trader and explorer, observed of these teams: “The destruction which they have made is incredible.” If a stop were not soon put to their efforts, he predicted, the great auk would soon “be diminished to almost nothing.”

Whether the teams actually managed to kill off every last one of the island’s auks or whether the slaughter simply reduced the colony to the point that it became vulnerable to other forces is unclear. (Diminishing population density may have made survival less likely for the remaining individuals, a phenomenon that’s known as the Allee effect.) In any event, the date that’s usually given for the extirpation of the great auk from North America is 1800. Some thirty years later, while working on The Birds of America, John James Audubon traveled to Newfoundland in search of great auks to paint from life. He couldn’t find any, and for his illustration had to make do with a stuffed bird from Iceland that had been acquired by a dealer in London. In his description of the great auk, Audubon wrote that it was “rare and accidental on the banks of Newfoundland” and that it was “said to breed on a rock on that island,” a curious contradiction since no breeding bird can be said to be “accidental.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, excerpt two)

from the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for General Nonfiction The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert:

Lyell, who saw change occurring always and everywhere in the world around him, drew the line at life. That a species of plant or animal might, over time, give rise to a new one he found unthinkable, and he devoted much of the second volume of the Principles to attacking the idea, at one point citing Cuvier’s mummified cat experiment in support of his objections.

Lyell’s adamant opposition to transmutation, as it was known in London, is almost as puzzling as Cuvier’s. New species, Lyell realized, regularly appeared in the fossil record. But how they originated was an issue he never really addressed, except to say that probably each one had begun with “a single pair, or individual, where an individual was sufficient” and multiplied and spread out from there. This process, which seemed to depend on divine or at least occult intervention, was clearly at odds with the precepts he had laid out for geology. Indeed, as one commentator observed, it seemed to require “exactly the kind of miracle,” that Lyell had rejected.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

the last book I ever read (Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, excerpt one)

from the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for General Nonfiction The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert:

Cuvier’s job at Paris’s Museum of Natural History—the democratic successor to the king’s cabinet—was, officially, to teach. But in his spare time, he delved into the museum’s collection. He spent long hours studying the bones that Longueuil had sent to Louis XV, comparing them with other specimens. On April 4, 1796—or, according to the revolutionary calendar in use at the time, 15 Germinal Year IV—he presented the results of his research at a public lecture.

Cuvier began by discussing elephants. Europeans had known for a long time that there were elephants in Africa, which were considered dangerous, and elephants that resided in Asia, which were said to be more docile. Still, elephants were regarded as elephants, much as dogs were dogs, some gentle and others ferocious. On the basis of his examination of the elephant remains at the museum, including one particularly well-preserved skull from Ceylon and another from the Cape of Good Hope, Cuvier had recognized—correctly, of course—that the two belonged to separate species.

“It is clear that the elephant from Ceylon differs more from that of Africa than the horse from the ass or the goat from the sheep,” he declared. Among the animals’ many distinguishing characteristics were their teeth. The elephant from Ceylon had molars with wavy ridges on the surface “like festooned ribbons,” while the elephant from the Cape of Good Hope had teeth with ridges arranged in the shape of diamonds. Looking at live animals would not have revealed this difference, as who would have the temerity to peer down an elephant’s throat? “It is to anatomy alone that zoology owes this interesting discovery,” Cuvier declared.

Monday, May 11, 2015

the last book I ever read (Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper, excerpt ten)

from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink:

Once I got used to the visuals, there seemed nothing odd to me about a rider whose sneakers almost dragged the ground. Stephen didn’t use a saddle, just a folded blanket to keep donkey hair from working its way through his pants. I head the rope and carried our stuff in a backpack, and we fit right in. Albania is the West Virginia of Europe. Single mothers there dress and live as men.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

the last book I ever read (Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper, excerpt nine)

from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink:

We went back to Albania in October. Instead of sticking to the coast, we headed up into the mountains by bus—the Bjeshkët e Namuna, the “enchanted” or “cursed” mountains, depending on your perspective.

You can get tired of Albanian buses if you value fresh air or your life. Two villages after Thethi, Stephen suggested horses. I found out something that I hadn’t known. He couldn’t walk uphill. He would take ten steps up a mild grade and then wait.

That sort of explained why he had commuted so cheerfully by car between our first apartment and the corporate campus and didn’t like downtown Berne. And why he loved Berlin (flat as a pancake) and never visited my sister. And rented that place that was almost a basement, and drove up roads in Switzerland it had been totally illegal to drive up, and gave the appearance of being addicted to pills: Stephen had a bad heart.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

the last book I ever read (Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper, excerpt eight)

from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink:

Tukwila, in my opinion, was the trap in the drain. Nobody lives there voluntarily except people who saw nothing but westerns before their grandfathers pawned their TVs. If your basis for comparison is the town Clint Eastwood paints red and renames “Hell,” you might like the suburbs of Seattle just fine. For me, even the city was a stretch. Easterners hear “coffee culture” and think of Vienna, not longshoremen idling their pickups at a drive-through. They don’t know the uniform polo shirts at Starbucks are the alternative business model for when you want women customers to let their guard down. They hear “beach” and think of sand, not prefab boathouses selling onion roses and buckets of beer.

Friday, May 8, 2015

the last book I ever read (Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper, excerpt seven)

from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink:

To my surprise, Gernot looked at the ruined riverbank and was well pleased. Apparently it had never crossed his mind that sabotage doesn’t look criminal if you get a young, middle-class housewife to do it. I looked like Jane Birkin in Slogan, if Slogan had been set in a scout camp in Poland. I worked the way Patty Hearst would have robbed banks if she’d never met the SLA. The militant wing of Global Rivers Alliance radiated innocent industry. If I have one talent in the world, that’s probably it. Looking innocent enough to make whatever it is I’m doing appear legal.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

the last book I ever read (Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper, excerpt six)

from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink:

“Your mom told you to smoke weed?”

“No! She told me drummers smoke weed to keep from getting carpal tunnel syndrome.”

“I thought they did it because drumming is boring and monotonous.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

the last book I ever read (Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper, excerpt five)

from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink:

No one was sleek or fluffy in Berlin, not even me. In four weeks I didn’t see a single good-looking person on the street. Once in an upscale beer garden in a park I saw young moms and dads who seemed to have gotten some sleep. But everyone else was ashen, and too warmly dressed. It would be in the sixties, and the girls would be wearing army surplus overcoats and ski caps with pompoms, skin all wintry and sallow as if they had consumed nothing but nicotine and pasta for the last six months and lived in dungeons. The boys appeared even on chilly days in T-shirts, their faces flushed with beer. People routinely wore clothes that didn’t fit at all, with wrists and belly buttons hanging out.

Except for the space-needle-type TV towers, there was no place to look down at anything. You were always looking out and up until your gaze was arrested by the next moving car.

Every time we ate out we became mildly physically ill.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

the last book I ever read (Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper, excerpt four)

from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink:

I rode a heavy bicycle from our rental to the old Tempelhof airport almost every day to see the skylarks fight off the crows with their weapon of song. The crows walked spread out in teams like policemen looking for a corpse in the woods, turning their heads from side to side, staring at the grass with one monocled eye and then the other, but I never saw one eat a baby skylark. Or maybe I always lowered my binoculars in time.

Monday, May 4, 2015

the last book I ever read (Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper, excerpt three)

from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink:

Sometimes I would sit and go over things Stephen had said during our whirlwind courtship, fitting them into a context I was learning only slowly. It was hard. He had told me so little about himself, intent on taking note of my little foibles so he could, for instance, surprise me with tickets to Berg’s Lulu.

The birds were Stephen’s intimate sphere. He didn’t have to be cool or funny or even appetizing about them. “Breeding and feeding,” Stephen called their lifestyle, making them sound like sex-obsessed gluttons (that is, human being) instead of the light-as-air seasonal orgiasts they were in reality—ludicrously tragic animals, always fleeing the slightest hint of bad weather in a panic, yelling for months on end to defend territories the size of a handball court, having brief, nerdy sex and laying clutch after clutch of eggs for predators, taking helpless wrong turns that led them to freeze to death, drown, starve, or be cornered by hunters on frozen lakes, too tired to move.

To Stephen they were paragons of insatiable, elemental appetite. I saw them differently. I imagined two ducks, loyal partners. When the hunters cornered them, would they turn to face them, holding hands? Hell no. They would scatter like flies in as many directions as there were ducks. The duck who got hit would look up with his last strength to make eye contact with his lifelong friend, who would shake her head as if to say, “Hush now. Don’t rat me out just because you’re dying.” Love would conquer all.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

the last book I ever read (Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper, excerpt two)

from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink:

Otherwise Stephen was never mad at coworkers. He got along beautifully with his bosses and subordinates. Everyone liked him. They liked his work on the new stent. They admired his pretty wife with the orthodox-Jewish-looking outfits, but hey, not her fault Americans are dowdy. They frowned at her pregnancy no sooner announced than cancelled. One thing he never told them about: birds. The company employed expert tax evasion consultants, semi-closeted gray-market OTC pirates, hail-fellow-well-met good old boy executives who laughed off multi-million-dollar fines for taking risks that killed people, PR hacks who wrote threatening letters to Nelson Mandela about socialized medicine. They practiced twenty-seven kinds of window-dressing and I had typed letters about them all. But even the veterinarian in regulatory affairs whose life was spent tweaking a children’s book about cats that sing opera was less secretive than Stephen. No one at the company knew that Stephen birded, not even Omar’s wife. I only learned the truth when he pressed my wedding present into my hand: two-thousand-dollar binoculars.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

the last book I ever read (Nell Zink's The Wallcreeper, excerpt one)

from The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink:

He warned me that his parents were arty. His father sat me down on the dock behind their house and advised me to enter into a suicide pact effective on Stephen’s fiftieth birthday. I said, “If I make it that long,” which was the right answer. His mother didn’t make it home that weekend. We were married in Orphans’ Court. From the vault to the altar took three weeks. We didn’t talk much about what we were doing. We had a deal.

Friday, May 1, 2015

the last book I ever read (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, excerpt fourteen)

from Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh: A Biography by John Lahr:

“I don’t understand my life, past or present, nor do I understand life itself,” he had written to his Key West friend Kate Moldawer that May. “Death seems more comprehensible to me.” On Christmas Eve, worried that their persistent telephone calls to Williams had gone unanswered, Moldawer and Gary Tucker, the director who had mounted the early versions of A House Not Meant to Stand, went to Williams’s house. He had locked himself inside three days earlier. The door had to be broken down. They found Williams on the floor, wrapped in a sheet, with pill vials and wine bottles around him. He was dehydrated, frail, and incoherent. He was rushed to a hospital, where, under a false name, he spent several days recovering. His Key West doctor told him that he could not continue much longer without prolonged hospitalization. “He just wouldn’t have it,” Uecker said. “You couldn’t tell him anything. He would only do what he wanted to do.”