Saturday, April 30, 2016

the last book I ever read (Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band: A Memoir, excerpt three)

from Girl in a Band: A Memoir by Kim Gordon:

To me the canyons in L.A. held the most glamour. Rustic hillsides filled with twisted oak trees, scruffy and steep, with lighter-than-light California sunshine filtering through the tangles. In the winter, the dripping rain made them look more unkempt than usual. They were also denser, more able to hide the funky, scrabbled array of houses. The canyons were eternally shaded. This was where all the interesting, seemingly non-self-obsessed types were, and where the cool musicians lived—Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, and so on. In the hills, you could imagine you were anywhere in the world, at least during the day, when the trees and the overgrown landscaping hid the gluey sprawl just below. I listened to Joni Mitchell a lot as a teenager and always thought of her sitting up in a woody, funky, thrown-together canyon house, maybe one with a porch, with trees and vegetation dripping off the roof. She would be melancholy, looking out the window. I was in my room a few miles away, painting, smoking pot, and getting sad listening to her.

Friday, April 29, 2016

the last book I ever read (Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band: A Memoir, excerpt two)

from Girl in a Band: A Memoir by Kim Gordon:

Jackie still lives in Malibu. Her husband, Bill, is dead. Maxie and her son, Mike, still live in Santa Cruz, but most of the others, including my parents, are gone. In the late 1980s, a short while after my dad stopped working, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. His basic neurological functions began to leave him, one after another. At some point, my mom really wasn’t able to take care of him by herself, and she made it clear he’d be better off—in fact, it was his job and his responsibility to do so, she told him—if he went into a nursing home, which he did. My mom was tough and pragmatic, though in fairness to her, she didn’t have the money to pay for the twenty-four-hour nursing staff his condition required.

It wasn’t the Parkinson’s that killed him. It was the nursing home, where he contracted pneumonia, and then the hospital. A nurse, an old-timer who should have known better, inserted a feeding tube down the wrong pipe. But my family never sued the hospital, as by that point my dad’s Parkinson’s was so advanced it had taken away most of the person we all remembered anyway. In the year before he died, I remember how he never complained. I’m sure he missed doing things like cooking, and tending to his tomatoes, and playing with his custom-made smokers. I missed the father who’d given me a book of Emily Dickinson poems, sweetly inscribed, for my sixteenth birthday, even though I found Dickinson corny. I missed the man who took me to lunch at the UCLA faculty center, introducing me proudly to the people he worked with, making me so happy in return that he was my dad. During his last year I mostly remember his docility, his sweetness, his acceptance of what was ahead.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

the last book I ever read (Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band: A Memoir, excerpt one)

from Girl in a Band: A Memoir by Kim Gordon:

The band closed with “Teen Age Riot” from our album Daydream Nation. I sang, or half sang, the first lines: “Spirit desire. Face me. Spirit desire. We will fall. Miss me. Don’t dismiss me.

Marriage is a long conversation, someone once said, and maybe so is a rock band’s life. A few minutes later, both were done.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

the last book I ever read (Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh, excerpt ten)

from Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh:

Alone in your room, I sat on the bed with your remains. In the corner was your empty wheelchair and your guitar, your clothes hanging in the closet. It felt like it used to except . . . you were dead. I don’t actually remember you being there. Not like when you were flying around my parlor. It was real empty in your bedroom that morning.

I had a cinnamon Jolly Rancher in my purse. Bought a bag at the Atlanta airport and pitched all but one. Figured I’d trade it for a guitar pick, but I didn’t see any picks around, so I just left it on your pillow. “Eat candy, dammit,” I said out loud and then felt stupid. Too late to send you gentle into any good night, anyway. “See you in my dreams,” I tried and it sounded even dumber. I hoped that there was no one listening outside the door trying to make up their own last words to you.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

the last book I ever read (Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh, excerpt nine)

from Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh:

My bandmates and I pulled our van up to the sidewalk in front of Carnegie Hall and unloaded gear in the morning sunshine. Not a ton of gear; we were using house equipment as part of a gala dealie honoring R.E.M., who’d played an important role in our youth. Nice guys, too. Unusually nice. I mean, it’s unusual for musicians who’re more famous than others to not be vaguely focused on the area over your shoulder when you talk to them. The R.E.M. guys look you in the eye.

Monday, April 25, 2016

the last book I ever read (Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh, excerpt eight)

from Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh:

In Tucson, we played the show I’d promised you, at the Hotel Congress, with Howe Gelb and John Doe. You were not waiting on the sidewalk when we got there. Billy and I checked into our room—our very warm room. Felt like we were in Paper Moon. The Hotel Congress is without modern amenities, meaning, it is real and it is going-back-in-time and it is perfect. Our mushy, rainy winter-spring bodies were sucking up the dry Sonoran air, balancing. “I think my skin is smaller,” Billy said, pinching his arm.

“I’m gonna go find Vic,” I told him, “wanna come?”

Stare. “Nope.”

Sunday, April 24, 2016

the last book I ever read (Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh, excerpt seven)

from Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh:

A motel in Raleigh, North Carolina. Billy and I lay in bed, watching Holiday and ignoring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. We only had eyes for Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon, who played giggly, middle-aged professors. They lived in front of their fireplace in armchairs as far as we could tell . . . forever friends and lovers, forever telling time by the clock on the mantelpiece, for no other reason than that numbers are nice. No time in heaven, see. Clouds around the whole scene: their apartment building, their lives. A lovely limbo.

“That’s us,” said Billy.

“That’s us,” I agreed. And there was no time in that hotel room, even though numbers are nice.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

the last book I ever read (Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh, excerpt six)

from Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh:

You winked at me! And you were not a winker, but it was a winky moment and you captured it, which is just so . . . friendly. I try not to forget that wink because it was the opposite of so many looks you gave me over the years: drawn-and-quartered looks, tarred-and-feathered looks, beastly brains pouring out of your eye sockets. But I dunno, you were full of yourself, sitting at that piano in Ann Arbor, overflowing. So you winked at the only girl around: me. Barely a girl at all, just a road hog—hog child who crashed on your floor sometimes cuz my man and me always needed a safe house, a place to hide, and nobody but you and Tina would take us in and take care of us. But that wink meant it’s all a joke, so fuck it.

Of course, you were not The Singer. You deserve no credit or blame for what happened whenever you found yourself tuned in and turned on. But nobody does what you did; nobody can. You invented it and it died with you.

Friday, April 22, 2016

the last book I ever read (Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh, excerpt five)

from Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh:

I watch you watch poisoned pigeons and I know you want to be dead. I know you’d rather be a ghost than a man. You said so: “I wanna be a ghost.” You said this often, except you pronounced it “ghewst.” I know how many tequila shots and pills it takes you to come down with a coma. And I know that whenever you wake up in a hospital, happy to see Tina’s lovely, worried face, you’re pissed off that all your shaky friends who live outside your head won’t let you stop. That they are so greedy for your work and your self they don’t care how much it hurts you to stay.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

the last book I ever read (Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh, excerpt four)

from Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh:

One of your trademark squeals. “You’re a hick, too!”

“Not anymore. No okra in my yard.” I shifted on my stool, then remembered that I wasn’t supposed to move. “Thanks to Billy. If you marry a New Yorker, you get automatically classy.”

“Hicks are okay, I just don’t like okra,” Billy smiled. “Also, using the word ‘classy’ means you aren’t.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

the last book I ever read (Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh, excerpt three)

from Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh:

You weren’t always nice to that quiet woman. I could never really forgive you the unkindnesses you sometimes let fall on Tina’s gentle shoulders. Maybe because I didn’t understand, and maybe you weren’t asking to be forgiven. Could have been between y’all and none of my business. In fact, I know that’s true, but still . . . I was trying to keep you alive. Sugar is one way to enjoy being here, gratitude another.

Since Tina only had about half a dozen braids, though, glinting in the truck stop sun, I knew it was an okay day. She braided her hair when she was stressed out, and I’d seen her get up to about thirty little tiny stress braids. Two on a good day, her dark brown curls loose on the best days. Six was okay, though. The braid barometer was a fairly accurate one, so maybe you’d been a sweetheart this morning. That’d be nice. One step closer to heaven for Bitch Chesnutt.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

the last book I ever read (Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh, excerpt two)

from Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh:

“How many times? And you still don’t listen.” I held up the garish, fluorescent-orange bag to illustrate my point. Sparks of Alabama sun bounced off it onto my reflection in the window. “This here? Is a bag of control. Grab sugar wherever it falls.”

“What?” Shaking your greasy head. “That is prob’ly the gayest thing you ever said.”

Monday, April 18, 2016

the last book I ever read (Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh, excerpt one)

from Don't Suck, Don't Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt by Kristin Hersh:

Your driving glove on the steering wheel at three o’clock, you tried a muted version of the squint at me, but it wasn’t gonna work. And anyway, your heart wasn’t in it, cuz you hadn’t had your awful cawfee yet. I smashed the Jolly Rancher bag up against the glass and smiled with all my evil teeth. “Eat candy!”

You, dull-eyed, through the glass: “What?”

Sunday, April 17, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt twelve)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

In Beaufort, I went out looking for a hunting rifle to bring on my trip down the Chattooga. When my wife, Barbara, questioned my sanity as to why anyone would take a rifle in a canoe, I told her that in the North Carolina mountains I would meet many mountain men who would try to have their way with me. “It’s best to kill them with a bow and arrow,” I said, “but I’ve never shot a bow and arrow, so I’m bringing a rifle.”

“I think that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard a man say,” Barbara responded.

“You haven’t read Deliverance,” I said.

“And that sure as hell doesn’t make me want to read it, either,” she said.

When I remember this scene, it comes as no surprise that the marriage did not last.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt eleven)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

Let me now add my own voice to the hallelujah chorus of novelists who have found themselves enraptured by the immensity and luminosity of War and Peace and cast my own vote that it is the finest novel ever written. I can think of no other novelist who could take the entire known world as his subject matter and not be overwhelmed by the task at hand. But Count Leo Tolstoy writes with such assuredness and unshowy mastery that his powers can sometimes strike you as almost godlike as he looks over the world of the Napoleonic Wars with the calmness and certainty of a master surveying a chessboard with a hundred thousand pieces. Tolstoy overwhelms and humbles and delights me. He is massively interested in everything he sees around him. Nothing escapes his attention, and there does not seem to be a single subject that bores him. His subject is all the world and all the people and creatures who populate it and everything in between. Once you plunge into the inexhaustible depths of War and Peace, Count Tolstoy will take you prisoner for more than thirteen hundred pages. He will exhaust you with the deadly movement of troops the length and breadth of Europe; dance with you at soirees where you meet some of the most fascinating people in literature; make you happy to be young, fearful to be old, eager for battle, terrified of battle, anxious to fall in love, betrayed by the deepest soundings of love; place you in the middle of conversations with serfs and in the company of tsars—Tolstoy will do everything a novelist can do with all the magnamity and confidence one possesses when one if born to be the greatest novelist who ever lived.

Friday, April 15, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt ten)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

Gene Norris gave me a copy of Look Homeward, Angel as a Christmas present that December. I think you are now ready for the many pleasures of Thomas Wolfe, he wrote in the book, the first ever inscribed to me. The book’s impact on me was so visceral that I mark the reading of Look Homeward, Angel as one of the pivotal events of my life. It starts off with the single greatest, knock-your-socks-off first page I have ever come across in my careful reading of world literature, and I consider myself a small-time aficionado of wonderful first and last pages. The book itself took full possession of me in a way no book has before or since. I read it from cover to cover three straight times, transfigured by the mesmerizing hold of the narrator’s voice as I took in and fed on the power of the long line. It was the first time I realized that breathing and the written word were intimately connected to each other. I stepped into the bracing streams of Thomas Wolfe and could already hear the waterfalls forming in the cliffs that lay invisible beyond me. I kept holding my breath as I read Look Homeward, Angel. The beauty of the language, shaped in sentences as pretty as blue herons, brought me to my knees with pleasure. I did not know the words could pour through me like honey through a burst hive or that gardens seeded in dark secrecy could bloom along the borders of my half-ruined boyhood because a writer could touch me in all the broken places with his art.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt nine)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

All writers are hostages of their own divine, unchangeable rituals. I am a prisoner of yellow legal pads and fountain pens. In habit lies safety. I like classical music playing softly in the background, and I carried a small transistor radio across the Atlantic to satisfy this harmless though fundamental need. But since the concierge had honored me with a residency on the sixth floor, I often had far more classical music than I desired. There was a flute player with the lung power of a small whale across the hall and an accordion player in the room next to mine. The accordion player, frail but absolutely indefatigable, would whack away at her indelicate instrument through much of the day. When the flute player practiced at the same time, the accordion player would become furious and there would be spirited disagreements between two-thirds of the artists in residence at the Grand Hôtel des Balcons. The concertos of accordion and flute made for a most obscene accompaniment.

I would turn the radio up loud, especially when the accordion lady began her daily assault against music. My room filled up with the sound of Mozart accompanied by accordion. By the end of the week I would rather have listened to a duet of tuba and spoons than listen to an accordion. I wanted to start a club to assassinate accordion players. When I memorized a long conciliatory French sentence and knocked on the accordion player’s door to register a mild complaint about the noise, she howled demoniacally at me for ten minutes and played her accordion far into the night as an act of retribution for my temerity. She was giving me my first memorable lesson into the nature of French national character and, more specifically, my first glimpse of that perverse and ornery creature, the Parisian.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt eight)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

To his dying day, my father always thought I exaggerated the terror of my childhood. I exaggerated nothing. Mine was a forced march of blood and tears and I was always afraid in my father’s house. But I did it because I had no choice and because I was a military brat conscripted at birth who had a strong and unshakable sense of mission. I was in the middle of a long and honorable service to my country, and part of that service included letting my father practice the art of warfare against me and the rest of the family.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt seven)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

That was a darker part of my service to my country. I grew up thinking my father would one day kill me. I never remember a time when I was not afraid of my father’s hands except for those bright, palmy years when Dad was waging war or serving in carrier-based squadrons overseas. I used to pray that America would go to war or for Dad to get overseas assignments that would take him to Asian cities I’d never heard of. Ironically, a time of war for the United States became both respite and separate peace for my family. When my father was off killing the enemy, his family slept securely, and not because he was making the world safe for democracy.

Monday, April 11, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt six)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

In the first session that afternoon, I was part of a short-story workshop taught by the intimidating William Gass, whose book Omensetter’s Luck I had read in anticipation of his class. He had great bravura and showmanship, but he carried an intellectual freight that seemed to interfere with both his writing and his teaching. He intimidated his class with the brutish authority of his intellect. Ideas seemed to excite him more than his own writing did, and certainly the writing samples the class had given him. He carried more poisonous quills in his vocabulary than a porcupine did on his back, and his assessments were often cruel, even if just. He was neither wishy-washy nor mealy-mouthed, and you could feel the grand deflation in the room as wounded egos began to die. In a final tally, I thought Gass had a grand intellect, but a shoddy heart. At the end of his session, he clashed with a young woman who had written a short story about her lesbian lover. She fought back with much gusto when Gass accused her of writing emotional, hysterical tripe instead of literature. Later, it pleased me immensely when her story won the first prize as best in the show. I found Gass to be dyspeptic and prickly, as though he had not figured out how to wear his fame. Or maybe he thought he had not earned quite enough of it.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt five)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

When The Great Santini was published in 1976, my entire family flipped out and went into a full fruitcake mode that lasted for many years. Grandma Conroy called me, pronounced me worse than Judas Iscariot, told me she would never speak to me again, and proved as good as her word. My father disappeared for three days and Uncle Willie called to tell me that he had gone somewhere to commit suicide and I had only myself to blame when they recovered his broken body at the foot of some ravine in North Georgia.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt four)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

At a later time, I was manning the desk while reading Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill, and growing impatient with the play because I wanted it to be better than it was. I selected all my books for the possibility of some flare of candles along the road toward illumination or enchantment. Often the bookstore frustrated me when my own vast pools of ignorance made me pass by books that contained the real hard stuff I needed to make me dive deeper into the drop-offs in my own imagination. Though I was reading O’Neill’s most accomplished play, he wore me down in gloomy rain forests of dialogue that seemed both exhausting and fruitless. But the moment froze when the front door opened and three large, muscle-bound men walked into the store like an offensive line breaking out of a huddle. The largest man signaled someone outside in a limousine and a lithe, watchful young man with a terrific hat and expensive sunglasses entered the store. When he asked me a question, he appeared shy as a mollusk.

Friday, April 8, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt three)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

Both Scarlett and Rhett are perfect representatives of the type of Southerner who prospered amid the ruins of a conquered nation. They both collaborated with the occupying army, both survived by embracing pragmatism and eschewing honor. Rhett and Scarlett are the two characters who let you know what the South will become. Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Hamilton Wilkes let you know what the South was and will never be again. The practicality of both Rhett and Scarlett make them the spiritual parents of Atlanta. Born of fire, Atlanta was the first Southern city to fall in love with the party of hustle and progress. The burning of Atlanta increased the city’s lack of roots and made it even more like Dayton than Charleston. Rhett and Scarlett were masterful at cutting deals and playing the percentages and not looking back, and they bequeathed these gifts to the reborn city itself.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt two)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

Gone with the Wind is as controversial a novel as it is magnificent. Even after its publication year, then after Margaret Mitchell won a Pulitzer Prize, the book attracted a glittering array of literary critics, including Malcolm Cowley and Bernard DeVoto, who attacked the artistry and politics of the novel with a ferocity that continues to this day. Margaret Mitchell was a partisan of the first rank and there never has been a defense of the plantation South so implacable in its cold righteousness or its resolute belief that the wrong side had surrendered at Appomattox Court House. In this book, the moral weight of the narrative is solidly and iconoclastically in line with the gospel according to the Confederate States. It stands in furious counterpoint to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which Margaret Mithcell ridicules on several occasions by scoffing at Stowe’s famous scene of bloodhounds pursuing runaway slaves across ice floes.

Margaret Mitchell writes of the Confederacy as paradise, as the ruined garden looked back upon by a stricken and exiled Eve, disconsolate with loss. If every nation deserves its own defense and its own day in the sunshine of literature, then Margaret Mitchell rose to the task of playing the avenging angel for the Confederate States. There have been hundreds of novels about the Civil War, but Gone with the Wind stands like an obelisk in the dead center of American letters casting its uneasy shadow over all of us. It hooked into the sweet-smelling attar that romance always lends to the cause of a shamed and defeated people. Millions of Southerners lamented the crushing defeat of the Southern armies, but only one had the talent to place that elegiac sense of dissolution on the white shoulder of the most irresistible, spiderous, seditious, and wonderful of American heroines, Scarlett O’Hara.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Reading Life, excerpt one)

from My Reading Life by Pat Conroy:

Between the ages of six and nine, I was a native son of the marine bases of Cherry Point and Camp Lejeune in the eastern coastal regions of North Carolina. My father flew in squadrons of slant-winged Corsairs, which I still think of as the most beautiful warplanes that ever took to the sky. For a year Dad flew with the great Boston hitter and left fielder Ted Williams, and family lore has it that my mother and Mrs. Williams used to bathe my sister and me along with Ted Williams’s daughter. That still remains the most distinguished moment of my commonplace career as an athlete. I followed Ted Williams’s pursuit of greatness, reveling in my father’s insider knowledge that “Ted [has] the best reflexes of any marine pilot who ever flew Corsairs.” I read every book about baseball in the library of each base and town we entered, hoping for any information about “the Kid” or “the Splendid Splinter.” When the movie of The Great Santini came out starring Robert Duvall, Ted Williams told a sportswriter that he’d once flown with Santini. My whole writing career was affirmed with that single, transcendent moment.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Losing Season, excerpt fourteen)

from My Losing Season by Pat Conroy:

I came to the writing life as a point guard, and I became the metaphor of my transition. The novelist needs a strong ego, a sense of arrogance, complete knowledge of tempo, and control of the court. As a novelist, you tell people where to go and bark at them when they are out of position. It’s up to you to fill the seats by your style and flashiness and complete mastery of tempo. You thumb your nose at critics and academics and keep your eye on the flow of the game. You stand in the center of things and you create the world around you. You must retain your poise and confidence, and your dare them to box you in or trap you in the corners. The point guard knows that the world is fraught with pitfalls and dangers, and so does the novelist.

Monday, April 4, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Losing Season, excerpt thirteen)

from My Losing Season by Pat Conroy:

The team itself melted into the history of those days without a trace. So alienated was my team that I was not invited to a single one of my teammates’ weddings nor were any of them invited to mine. We turned our backs on each other and for the most part, played no part in each other’s lives. We did what all bad teams do. We pretended our losing season had never happened, or that losing was good for anything but a cause for the deepest shame. There were no covenants between us, no treaties to be broken, and no promises to honor. Our team was composed of twelve islands, bound by an uneasy alliance, and mindful of the dysfunction of our commonwealth and the vanity of even thinking we could take to the court as a unit forged by unbreakable bonds. We vanished into time, and tried to forget all we could about each other.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Losing Season, excerpt twelve)

from My Losing Season by Pat Conroy:

For the first time since I was nine years old, I awoke as an ex-basketball player. The most I could hope for now was to ripen into a knowledgeable fan. Because I couldn’t sleep well, and my leg throbbed with pain, I finished rereading Absalom, Absalom! sometime in the middle of the night, taking careful notes for my senior essay. I still felt humiliated by Moates but William Faulkner tamed and mesmerized me. I loved the way he could pack the whole world into a single sentence. Faulkner could inhabit a line the way God loomed over the universe.

In the next bed over, Root slept happily after playing his last wonderfully accomplished game. Because of the incandescent joy I take in reading, a secret alchemy worked without my knowledge, and I ceased to be the boy who has just given up thirty-nine points to Johnny Moates and felt myself transformed into the word-stung boy who let himself be taken on the floor by the flashy, unapologetic, grandstanding prose style of Faulkner, the agonizing descent into madness of Quentin Compson. From that troubled, long-ago night, I have forgotten neither Compson nor Moates.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Losing Season, excerpt eleven)

from My Losing Season by Pat Conroy:

All of my teammates remember what happened next—all of them. I sat by my locker for a brief moment, then fell apart at the far end of my boyhood, at the exact spot where it connected to my hesitant, unconfident young manhood. The first sob caught me by surprise and the second one was so loud that it didn’t seem to come from me at all. I wept as I had never wept before in public. I wept out of sheer heartbreak, unable to control myself. I was lost in the overwhelming grief I felt at losing my game, losing basketball as a way to make my way define myself in a world that was hostile and implacable. How do you say goodbye to a game you love more than anything else? What was I to do with a sunrise when I didn’t get up thinking about going to a gym to work on my jump shot? What does a boy do when they take his game away? In front of boys I had suffered with, I sobbed and I couldn’t help it. I removed my jersey and put my face into the number 22 and my sweat mingled with my tears in the sacramental moment, when I surrendered my game to the judgments of time. I gave it up, gave basketball up, gave my game up, the one I played so badly and adored so completely. I gave it up in Charlotte, in emptiness, in sorrow, in despair that I played it so badly yet in gratitude for what the game had given me. Each one of my teammates squeezed my shoulder as they passed on the way to the shower room. Basketball had rescued me from the malignant bafflement of my boyhood. It had lifted me up and given me friends that I got to call teammates. The game gave me moments where I brought crowds of strangers to their feet, calling out my name. The game allowed me to be carried off the court in triumph. The game had allowed me to like myself a little bit, and at times the game had even allowed me to love the beaten, ruined boy I was.

Friday, April 1, 2016

the last book I ever read (Pat Conroy's My Losing Season, excerpt ten)

from My Losing Season by Pat Conroy:

In the previous issue of The Shako, I had published my third short story written during my time as a cadet. The previous summer I had come under the touchstone influence of a young novelist named John Updike when my mother handed me a copy of Rabbit, Run. Until I read about Rabbit Angstrom, I did not know that basketball could make a guest appearance into the palace of fiction. Nor did I know that my sport could also take a shy bow among the backlit colonnades of poetry until I tracked down Mr. Updike’s wonderful poem “Ex Basketball Player.”

Under Updike’s powerful sway, I wrote the best poem and the best story of my Citadel career. The poem was called “Ted Lucas,” and I can detect in that splintery stack of words a hint of the melody that would later come. In the short story “The Legend,” I actually see the starting point of my life as a fiction writer. A great high school basketball player, Jimmy Amansky, plays his last high school basketball game and performs heroically in the championship game, then finds, to his horror, the long and ruthless stretch of time laid out before him when he has done not a thing to prepare himself for a job or a career. Both my short story and poem are unartful homages to the hold that Mr. Updike’s poem “Ex Basketball Player” had on my imagination. But it had unhinged Mel when he read the short story and he screamed at me for several minutes for holding him up to such ridicule on campus. My writing career has proven to be riddled with such encounters with people wounded by the malice of my portraiture. I had conjured up Mel Thompson when I saw down to imagine the story of young Jimmy Amansky. Mel seemed to have lost part of himself when he lost the game of basketball as a player. I could tell that he thought coaching was a second-string way of staying close to the game.