Thursday, November 14, 2019

the last book I ever read (Tim Alberta's American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, excerpt six)

from American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump by Tim Alberta:

Suddenly high-strung and wary of his surroundings, Ailes proceeded to unpack for Boehner the outlines of an elaborate, interconnected plot to take him down. It started with Ailes’s belief that Obama really was a Muslim who really had been born outside the United States. He described how the White House was monitoring him around the clock because of these views. He concluded by assuring Boehner that his house had been fortified with combat-trained security personnel and “safe rooms” where he couldn’t be observed.

“It was the most bizarre meeting I’d ever had in my life. He had black helicopters flying all around his head that morning,” Boehner recalls. “It was every conspiracy theory you’ve ever heard, and I’m throwing cold water on all this bullshit. Ratings were ratings to Murdoch, but I began to realize that Ailes believed in all this crazy stuff.”

The Speaker had come with hopes of quieting the furor on Fox News. He left more concerned than ever about the threat it posed to the country.



Wednesday, November 13, 2019

the last book I ever read (Tim Alberta's American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, excerpt five)

from American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump by Tim Alberta:

Looking back, Boehner says that not solving immigration is his second-biggest regret after the failed Grand Bargain. He blames Obama for “setting the field on fire.” But it was the inaction of the House of Representatives—not voting on the Senate bill, not bringing up any conservative alternative, not doing anything substance to address the issue—that enabled the continued demagoguing of immigration and of immigrants. Ultimately, Boehner’s quandary boiled down to a choice between protecting his right flank and doing what he thought was best for the country. He chose the former.

It wouldn’t be the last time.



Tuesday, November 12, 2019

the last book I ever read (Tim Alberta's American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, excerpt four)

from American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump by Tim Alberta:

Robert Jeffress, the prominent pastor of a Dallas megachurch, denounced Romney’s religion as a “cult” and implored evangelicals to oppose him. During an organized debate with Christian attorney (and Romney supporter) Jay Sekulow, Jeffress addressed “the hypocrisy” of church leaders who “for the last eight years of the Bush administration have been telling us how important it is to have an evangelical Christian in office who reads his Bible every day. And now suddenly these same leaders are telling us that a candidate’s faith really isn’t that important.” Jeffress added: “My fear is such a sudden U-turn is going to give people a case of voter whiplash. I think people have to decide, and Christian leaders have to decide once and for all, whether a candidate’s faith is really important.”

Jeffress continued his crusade during the 2012 campaign. A supporter of Perry for president, the pastor used an appearance at the Values Voter Summit in October 2011 to drive a wedge between Romney and evangelicals. “I just do not believe that we as conservative Christians can expect him to stand strong for the issues that are important to us,” Jeffress told reporters. “I really am not nearly as concerned about a candidate’s fiscal policy or immigration policy as I am about where they stand on biblical issues.”

(Four years later, Jeffress would become Candidate Trump’s most visible Christian disciple, appearing with the thrice-married, casino-owning candidate onstage in Texas during the heat of the GOP primary race. “I can tell you from experience, if Donald Trump is elected president of the United States we who are evangelical Christians are going to have a true friend in the White House,” he said, according to the Dallas Morning News.)



Monday, November 11, 2019

the last book I ever read (Tim Alberta's American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, excerpt three)

from American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump by Tim Alberta:

Numerous state governments debated newly urgent legislation in 2009 and 2010 requiring presidential candidates to release long-form birth certificates. This paranoia echoed beyond the provinces: Twelve House Republicans cosponsored a similar bill in Congress, lending a higher degree of legitimacy to the conspiracy theorizing. When one of the cosponsors, Texas congressman Louie Gohmert, urged Cantor in a meeting to bring up the bill for a vote, he made his point with the subtlety of a sledgehammer: “Kenya hear me? Kenya hear me?”

“Louie Gohmert is insane. There’s not a functional brain in there,” Boehner says, muttering a few expletives for good measure. “I don’t know what happened to him.”

But Gohmert wasn’t an outlier. “I knew people, smart people, who were into it,” says Karl Rove. “They thought it was this vast conspiracy, that people took this kid who was born in Kenya and faked newspaper clippings from the time of his birth, and documents in the Hawaii state government files, so this Kenyan-born kid could pass for an American citizen and wind up running for president. This was the Manchurian candidate on LSD and peyote.”



Sunday, November 10, 2019

the last book I ever read (Tim Alberta's American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, excerpt two)

from American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump by Tim Alberta:

With his health care plan languishing, the president convened a joint session of Congress on September 9 to reset the national conversation and dispel some of the more sinister myths about his proposal. It was an attempt to bring down the temperature. Instead, the fever spiked. When Obama reiterated that his bill did not provide coverage to illegal immigrants, Joe Wilson, a South Carolina congressman seated near the front of the House chamber, hollered, “You lie!” It was an atrocious breach of decorum. It was also erroneous: Obama was right one these facts, as health care experts and fact-checkers certified, and Wilson was wrong.

Not that it mattered. Wilson’s online fund-raising exploded the next day. Talk radio hailed him as a hero. Conservative movement groups made him an honored guest at upcoming banquets. He was reamed out by Boehner behind closed doors and forced to apologize, but the lesson fo the incident was clear. By disrespecting the president of the United States with a blatant, provable falsehood, Wilson had become right-wing royalty.



Saturday, November 9, 2019

the last book I ever read (Tim Alberta's American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, excerpt one)

from American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump by Tim Alberta:

TARP is quite possibly the most successful government program of its generation. All the money was paid back, with interest, and experts believe that the intervention almost certainly staved off a Depression-like catastrophe. But the entire episode was scarring for millions of Americans who became convinced that Washington and Wall Street were playing by a different set of rules; that the economy was rigged against them; that professional politicians had sold them out.

“McCain came back to bail out the banks. He had a chance. I was hoping he wouldn’t vote for it,” says Jordan. “That was when the populist sentiment started to take root around the country. I think that was probably laying the groundwork for what happened in 2016.”



Friday, November 8, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt twelve)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

I spent the rest of the week coming into the city and going to the movies. There was a Diane Keaton retrospective at Film Forum. The ticket taker told me he’d never seen a more dedicated Diane Keaton fan. Then I’d leave and check on Rachel, who was now at home, with a nurse/minder she and I had hired to sit with her while she slept. She kept saying that she would call the kids if she could just get a few more hours of sleep.

I was watching Baby Boom when I got a text from Seth. He wanted Toby and me to come to his apartment Saturday night. It was important, he said.



Thursday, November 7, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt eleven)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

“We had these FastPasses,” I said. “We got into every ride within, like, six minutes. But you’d go on this empty line past the people who had been waiting in a different line, and you realized that you weren’t transcending a line, you were cutting one. You had subverted the system of fairness for the people who happened to not be on the club level.”

“A thing about my wife is that she can be unhappy both standing on a line and cutting a line,” Adam said. “She’s pretty amazing, isn’t she?”

“You can also get a FastPass for coming to the park early in the morning, though,” Toby said. “Arriving early isn’t elitism.”

“Sure it is. But you’re missing my point. It’s that even when it’s not fair in my favor, I can’t get over how it’s not fair. I am a miserable person, and I don’t know if that was always true, or if I became this way.”



Wednesday, November 6, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt ten)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

He brought Bubbles upstairs, and he opened the apartment and said, “Here it is, little guy. This is your home now.” He could not have told you why, but he spent the next ten minutes hugging the dog and crying into his fur.



Tuesday, November 5, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt nine)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

I reread a few of Archer’s pieces that night. I cried a little because it hurt to be ending my career there before I was ever sent to Chile to eat the brain of a goat with my bare hands, but right then, maybe for the first time, I also realized I was never going to be sent to Chile to eat the brain of a goat with my bare hands. People could love my stories, they could go far and wife, I could do everything, but I could never be a man. But also, given the chance, I don’t think I would have taken the goat’s head and broken its jaw and done what needed to be done. Who could do that to even a dead goat? Maybe, in that way, the system worked.



Monday, November 4, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt eight)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

It was hard for Toby to pinpoint exactly when he’d noticed the change in her. Yes, she spoke to her subordinates like they were pieces of shit, but that was the culture at Alfooz & Lichtenstein—that was how they taught their employees to survive, or something. Toby would express surprise when he heard her on the phone talking to an intern or an assistant—it particularly seemed at asst2 couldn’t find his ass from his ass these days. He would hear her on the phone saying, “You forgot who you are talking to,” and “I’m sorry, but do you think I’m an idiot?” and “Honestly, I am listening to you and cannot believe what is coming out of your mouth,” and “No offense, but when I hire at a Yale job fair, I expect someone with a little light behind the eyes,” and “I saw those press kits and it looks like a homeless person off the street did them.” He assumed the stress of her work was sending her into overdrive. But then she said things to her clients like “Oh my God, were we the same person in another life?” and “You are too much,” and “That is amazing,” and “You are amazing.” See? She was also capable of that, which made the fact that she didn’t do it at home harder to stomach.

When he put it all together and applied himself to the situation, he realized that he was being spoken to like the employee, not like the client. And he’d ask, “Do you ever notice that you speak to me like one of your employees that you hate? And that you’re really nice to your clients?” And she would say, “God, Toby, do you really need me to put on a show for you, too?” And then she would do a sickly sweet impression of he wasn’t sure quite what—a 1950s housewife? A version of herself she thought Toby wanted her to be? “I’m so glad my hubby is home! Should I get you a martini?” Her voice would be bouncy and bright and he would think for the first time that maybe he should murder her.



Sunday, November 3, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt seven)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

He was a good doctor; he was even great. That was the worst part of Bartuck. He had been such a good mentor to Toby that it had been impossible to foresee that he’d become the oily money guy that he had become. Or maybe what was hard was accepting that you could be both a good doctor and a money guy and still choose to be the money guy? Either way it was sad. When Toby was one of his fellows, Bartuck told him war stories and gave him whiskey in his office at the end of their hard days. Toby remembered when Martin Loo, a subdivision head in gastroenterology, died from pancreatic cancer in a fast, sad sequence of hospital poetry that reaffirmed to Toby that what he did was good and worthy. Toby and Bartuck sat in Martin Loo’s room for hours during his final weeks, and Toby listened to them talk about their good old days at the hospital, and stories from before medical records were digital and nobody knew anything. They laughed together until Dr. Loo was too exhausted and needed to rest.

Toby and Bartuck were in the room with Dr. Loo when he died. As his breaths began coming further and further apart, they’d stood up to leave with his wife and children. But Martin’s wife had stopped them and said she believed that Martin, three days unconscious by then, would have wanted them to stay. “You were as big a part of his life as we were.” When finally his last breath was drawn, his wife put her forehead to his and said, “Goodbye, my love,” and Toby had felt then that despite his early death, Martin Loo was a lucky man. So was Toby. Right then, he couldn’t help but think what a privilege all of this was: to know these people, to try with them.



Saturday, November 2, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt six)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

“You can text me when you’re ready for them to come home,” Toby told her.

“She still doesn’t have a phone?” Roxanne asked. “Toby, the girl needs a phone!” She said that last thing in some kind of mockery or imitation of something, like a Groucho Marx voice. He remembered that Rachel had once said about Roxanne that she could only confront people or ask for something if she was doing a weird voice.



Friday, November 1, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt five)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

He gave a sonogram to an MTA worker whom he had diagnosed with hemochromatosis a year ago. Now the man’s liver was a little scarred, but it was better. It was regenerating. It was almost new again. Toby pushed the wand over and around the man’s liver. He loved this part; every sonogram, every biopsy, was always like the first time. You couldn’t believe what the liver was capable of. This never got old for Toby, not since the first time he saw it in medical school, in a textbook of time-lapse pictures of a healing liver. Livers behaved in some erratic ways, sure, all the organs do. But the liver was unique in the way that it healed. It was full of forgiveness. It understood that you needed a few chances before you got your life right. And it wouldn’t just forgive you; it would practically forget. It would allow you to start over in a way that he could not imagine was true in any other avenue of life. We should all be like the liver, he thought. We should all regenerate like this when we’re injured. On the darkest days of his marriage, Toby attended to his hospital business, and out of the corner of his eyes was always the liver, whispering to him that one day, there would be not much sign of all of this damage. He would regenerate, too.



Thursday, October 31, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt four)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

St. Thaddeus had once been a mental hospital that was owned by the City of New York, which then sold it to Columbia University, which tried to renovate it into just a regular hospital but did a half-assed job so that as of the mid-1980s, it still looked and felt and even smelled (they couldn’t get the smell out no matter how much they tried) like an asylum. It wasn’t a public hospital, but nobody wanted to go there for surgeries—not when you could go to Lenox Hill or Mount Sinai. In 1988, a finance group bought it from Columbia, which dumped $100 million into it and turned it into a modern marvel: glass and metal and stainless steel and state-of-the-art everything and the smell finally gone. Being at the hospital was like being inside the future, but as it was imagine by science fiction films in the last part of the twentieth century, not the actual future we ended up with, where everything just turned out being smaller and flimsier than it used to be.

As unconscious woman awaited Toby in the ER. “Karen Cooper, forty-four. Unresponsive since arrival, reported by her husband. Elevated AST/ALT,” Clay said. Clay was the runt of this round of fellows. He had a slightly lazy eye, which would stray only when he’d been staring at you for a long time, as if the eye were done with the conversation and was hinting at the rest of him that it was time to go. It was unclear if he knew about his blackhead situation.



Wednesday, October 30, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt three)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

Anyway.

It’s not like I wasn’t busy. I was an officer in good standing of my kids’ PTA. I owned a car that put my comfort ahead of the health and future of the planet. I had an IRA and a 401 (k) and I went on vacations and swam with dolphins and taught my kids to ski. I contributed to the school’s annual fund. I flossed twice a day; I saw a dentist twice a year. I got Pap smears and had my moles checked. I read books about oppressed minorities with my book club. I did physical therapy for an old knee injury, forgoing the other things I’d like to do to ensure I didn’t end up with a repeat injury. I made breakfast. I went on endless moms’ nights out, where I put on tight jeans and trendy blouses and high heels like it mattered and went to the restaurant that was right next to the restaurant we went to with our families. (There was no dads’ nights out for my husband, because the supposition was that the men got to live life all the time, whereas we were caged animals who were sometimes allowed to prowl our local town bad and drink the blood of the free people.) I took polls on whether the Y or the JCC had better swimming lessons. I signed up for soccer leagues in time for the season cutoff, which was months before you’d even think of enrolling a child in soccer, and then organized their attendant carpools. I planned playdates and barbecues and pediatric dental checkups and adult dental checkups and plain old internists and plain old pediatricians and hair salon treatments and educational testing and cleats-buying and art class attendance and pediatric ophthalmologist and adult ophthalmologist and now, suddenly, mammograms. I made lunch. I made dinner. I made breakfast. I made lunch. I made dinner. I made breakfast. I made lunch. I made dinner.



Tuesday, October 29, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt two)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

Solly, his nine-year-old, woke up, but Hannah, who was eleven, wanted to stay in bed. “Sorry, kid, no dice,” Toby told her. “We have to be out the door in twenty.” They stumbled into the kitchen with unfocused eyes, and Toby had to muck around in their bags to find the clothing they were supposed to wear for camp that day. Hannah snarled at him that he’d chosen the wrong outfit, that the leggings were for tomorrow, and so he held up her tiny red shorts and she swiped them out of his hands with the disgust of a person who was not committed to any consideration of scale when it came to emotional display. Then she flared her nostrils and stiffened her lips and told him somehow without opening her teeth that she had wanted him to buy Corn Flakes, not Corn Chex, the subtext being what kind of fucking idiot was she given for a father.

Solly, on the other hand, are his Corn Chex cheerfully. He closed his eyes and shook his head with pleasure. “Hannah,” he said. “You have to try these.”



Monday, October 28, 2019

the last book I ever read (Taffy Brodesser-Akner's Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel, excerpt one)

from Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

Toby searched his bleary brain for their last hateful interaction and remembered it with the force of a sudden, deep dread: Rachel had been sputtering some nonsense about opening up a West Coast office of her agency, because she was not busy enough and overwhelmed enough as it was. Honestly, it was a blur. She’d ended the conversation, he remembered now, by screaming at him through her sobbing so that he couldn’t understand her until finally the line went dead and he knew she’d hung up on him. This was how conversations ended now, rather than with the inertia of marital apology. Toby had been told all his life that being in love means never having to say you’re sorry. But no, it was actually being divorced that meant never having to say you’re sorry.



Sunday, October 27, 2019

the last book I ever read (Paradise by Donald Barthelme, excerpt eight)

from Paradise by Donald Barthelme:

They sit in her kitchen. “The burning barns in your poems,” he says, “why so many? Isn’t that a little . . . repetitive?” “My burning barns,” she says, “my splendid burning barns, I’ll burn as many barns as I damn please, Pappy.” He is older than she is, by ten years, and she has given him this not altogether welcome nickname. She looks absolutely stunning, a black three-quarter-length skirt embossed with black bird figures, a knitted sleeveless jacket, a yellow long-sleeved blouse, a red ascot. “Seriously, do you think there are too many? Barns?” It’s the first time she has asked his opinion about anything connected with her work. “I was half teasing,” he says. “But they did burn,” she says. “Every one I’ve ever known.” “Simon says,” Simon says, “Simon needs a beer.” She rises and moves to fetch a St. Pauli Girl from the refrigerator.

The poet lives in the country, in an old Putnam County farmhouse that she has not touched except to paint the walls pale blue. She has painted over the old wallpaper, and the walls puff and wrinkle in places. The furniture is junk golden oak, one piece to a room except in the kitchen, where there is a table and two mismatched chairs. “This one is Biedermeier,” the poet says, “from my mother, and the other, the potato-chip jobbie, is Eames, from my father. That tell you anything?”

Simon takes the train from Grand Central to Putnam County. He doesn’t like the train, almost always in miserable repair and without air conditioning, and he hates changing at Croton, the rush from one train to another more like a stampede than anything else, but the views of the stately Hudson from the discolored windows are wonderful, and when he alights at Garrison at the end of this trip she is sitting on the hood of her circus-red Toyota pickup, drinking apple juice from a paper cup.



Saturday, October 26, 2019

the last book I ever read (Paradise by Donald Barthelme, excerpt seven)

from Paradise by Donald Barthelme:

“What’s your wife’s name?”

“Carol.”

“Everybody’s wife is named Carol. You ever notice that?”

“I didn’t know that, no.”



Friday, October 25, 2019

the last book I ever read (Paradise by Donald Barthelme, excerpt six)

from Paradise by Donald Barthelme:

Simon enjoyed life as a ghost, one of the rewards of living in the great city. So many units rushing to and fro that nobody noticed anything much or had time to remark on strangers in the house, in the neighborhood. Sublets were everywhere, two men and a grand piano might pop up in your building any Wednesday. Maybe old blockwatchers of thirty years’ standing were keeping running censuses of the population, but Simon did not know the old blockwatchers and so felt comfortably anonymous. For amusement, he cooked, or went to a neighborhood movie. He saw The Benny Goodman Story and Silverado, the first with Anne and the second with Dore and Veronica. Dore and Veronica had not heard of Benny Goodman and thus weren’t interested; Anne didn’t like Westerns. “How can you not like Westerns?” Simon asked her, truly amazed, and she had said that when she was a child she had seen one in which Indians had tied a man to two bent-down saplings and then cut a rope and the saplings had rent the man into two distinct pieces and that she had never seen a Western since. Simon told her that not all Westerns had that kind of thing in them but she remained unpersuaded. Simon read, much of the time, and consulted with them on their plans.



Thursday, October 24, 2019

the last book I ever read (Paradise by Donald Barthelme, excerpt five)

from Paradise by Donald Barthelme:

Veronica says, “So what are you doing now?”

“Car wash,” Tim says, “over on Tenth Avenue. Washing cars. What most people don’t know is that the finish on today’s cars, especially the Japanese cars, actually embraces the dirt. I mean if you wanted the dirt to adhere to the finish you couldn’t come up with a better . . . There are these tiny pits uniformly distributed over the surface of the car that act like traps for the graime, reach out and suck it up. It becomes like plaque on teeth. Now, you wonder why they can’t devise a solvent that would dissolve the plaque and not harm the enamel. I’m telling you, the formula exists. It is in being. But because the big dentrifice outfits don’t want to lose a very, very lucrative market, you and I get zip. Have to go in twice a year and have some dental assistant scrape away with the old hand tool for an hour. Are you familiar with the work of Buckminster Fuller? Have you read what Fuller has to say about copper wire? The earth’s supply of copper is finite. Our per capita investment in copper, for every man, woman and child on earth—“



Wednesday, October 23, 2019

the last book I ever read (Paradise by Donald Barthelme, excerpt four)

from Paradise by Donald Barthelme:

Simon was delighted to be fifty-three, lean and aggressive except for his belly which was not lean and aggressive. He was younger than I.M. Pei, younger than Dizzy Gillespie, younger than the Pope. He had more wisdom packed in his little finger than was to be found in the entire Sweets catalog, with its pages of alluring metal moldings and fire-rated expansion joints. He had kept asbestos and asbestos-containing products out of every job he had ever worked on, sometimes at considerable cost. He had a daughter who would come into the kitchen at breakfast and say, “Who’s got the goddamn New York Times?” Sarah did not wake well. He could spell 49,999 words correctly and make a pretty good stab at many of the rest. He had a Bronze Star, courtesy of a clerk-typist in his unit whose gift for writing citations for routinely rotating personnel had been envied even at Corps level. The IRS regarded him as a cash cow, on a small scale, and regularly sent him loving salutations, including, one year, a box of Godiva chocolates. He could speak persuasively in meetings, maintaining a grave and thoughtful countenance and letting all the dumb guys speak first. He had about twice the élan of youth, normal élan plus extra élan derived from raw need and grain spirits. Several of the male members of his family had lived to be fifty-nine or sixty. “Grow or die” was the maxim that most accorded with his experience and when he did not think of himself as a giraffe he thought of himself as a tree, a palm, schematically a skinny curving vertical with a lot of furor at the top. With colored felt pens and a pad of tracing paper he could produce impressive sketches in twenty minutes, which he then had to reconcile with reality and sweat over for forty days, cursing himself for his facility. “What about the cornstalk?” A design prof had told the students that there were no right angles in nature, and Simon had raised the question of the cornstalk. Had he to do it again, thirty years later, he would have raised the question of the telephone pole, a deterioration of sensibility, perhaps. He rushed toward things, normally, his present quietude a parenthesis in a life not unmarked by strife and contestation. Pipe bombs did not bother him so long as they did not blow his face off. The assassination of the Swedish Prime Minister, on the other hand, scarred his brain. He had met Palme once, at a conference on the work of the Greek planner Constantin Doxiodes in Stockholm in 1972, at which Doxiodes had declared himself a criminal because he had put human beings into high-rise buildings. Palme had been a beneficent presence, a short man who wanted everything to go well, wanted the world to succeed in good socialist fashion, gay and optimistic. “The deed of a lunatic,” the Swedish police said, Simon feeling despair for humankind. A friend, a Polish architect who had been at Penn with him, visited him in Philadelphia in 1984 on a grant from the Ford Foundation. Carol had made osso buco and they had talked for hours. “Socialism, finally, doesn’t work,” Ryszard had said. “You get, you know, too many bad guys at the top.” Ryszard’s father had been a deputy in the Polish parliament, a Communist who sat for some years and had then been jailed following a change in the leadership. It was the first time that anyone had said to Simon, with the authority of three decades of involvement, that socialism didn’t work. “You get, at the summit, not the worst but the next-worst.” Simon took Ryszard to the airport, gave him as a going-away present a Tizio lamp, regretted that he saw him so seldom, wished that he lived next door, on Pine Street. Carol, when they were twenty-five and twenty-six, had been a smart-ass, an admirable smart-ass. “I love you but it’s only temporary,” she had said. She was fond of saying to people, “Here’s wishing you a happy and successful first marriage.” Simon could life refrigerators other people couldn’t lift. He had almost crushed his left hand getting a refrigerator down a set of right-angled stairs for a neighbor. His muscles responded brightly to challenge. Fifty-three, he thought, was not so much worse than twenty-three. All giraffes think this.



Tuesday, October 22, 2019

the last book I ever read (Paradise by Donald Barthelme, excerpt three)

from Paradise by Donald Barthelme:

He has something cut off his forehead, a skin cancer that’s been there for years, a dark spot the diameter of a pencil eraser. The doctor is a tall gloomy man with a Southern accent. He doesn’t waste time, has Simon on the table and is scraping away with a curette within two minutes. First, four sharp stings as he places the lidocaine; afterward, the smell of burning brain as he cauterizes the blood vessels.

Simon writes a check for eighty-five dollars. He walks back to the apartment from the doctor’s office, something like sixty-five blocks. It’s cool and cloudy out. Bumptious loudmouthed swaggering teenagers coming down the street, jostling people. Simon sidesteps them. Can’t shoot ‘em all. An absolutely beautiful woman in blue walking toward him. He turns and looks after her. She walks on without turning. Well, why should she? He’s fifty-three.



Monday, October 21, 2019

the last book I ever read (Paradise by Donald Barthelme, excerpt two)

from Paradise by Donald Barthelme:

He’s listening to one of his three radios, this one a brutish black Proton with an outboard second speaker. The announcer is talking about drummers. “Cozy Cole comes straight out of Chick Webb,” he says. Simon nods in agreement. “Big Sid Catlett. Zutty Singleton, Dave Tough. To go even further back, Baby Dodds. All this before we get to Krupa and Buddy Rich.” Simon taxes his memory in an attempt to extract from it the names of ten additional drummers. Louis Bellson. Shelly Manne. Panama Francis. Jo Jones, of course. Kenny Clarke. Elvin Jones. Barrett Deems. Mel Lewis. Charlie Persip. Joe Morello. Next, twenty bass players. Our nation is rich in talent, he thinks.



Sunday, October 20, 2019

the last book I ever read (Paradise by Donald Barthelme, excerpt one)

from Paradise by Donald Barthelme:

“I like a quiet reflective bath.”

“I’ll come in and put toads in the water.”

“Where would you get toads in New York City?”

“Toad store. They got big toads, little toads, horned toads, no-horn toads—“

“It’s a great city.”

“It’s a great argument for cities.”



Saturday, October 19, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt fourteen)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

Like Lincoln, those who understood that slavery had caused the war also understood how it was slavery that lay behind Johnson’s impeachment. And thus not to eliminate the monstrous power of slavery or its aftereffects, and not to prevent its recurrence in any form, Charles Sumner declared, “leaves the country prey to one of the most hateful tyrannies of history.”

To forget, then, that it was slavery, pernicious slavery, that lay behind the impeachment of Andrew Johnson is to ignore Lincoln’s response to succession, to the war, and hence to slavery itself. “If slavery is not wrong,” Lincoln had said, “nothing is wrong.”



Friday, October 18, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt thirteen)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

In Macon, Georgia, for instance, a committee of white men protested the Reconstruction Acts, which they considered cruel and unjust. “In making this earnest protest against being placed, by force, under negro domination, we disavow all feeling of resentment toward that unfortunate race,” the men declared. “As they were made the dupes of unscrupulous partisans and designing adventurers, we pity them; as they are ignorant, dependent, and helpless, it is our purpose to protect them in the enjoyment of all the rights of person and property to which their freedom entitles them.” But the committee then concluded that the white men of Georgia should organize in order to protect themselves and their families against this “direful rule of negro supremacy.”

That committee may well have been the Klan. The Klan burned one-third of the town of Lewisburgh, Arkansas, after gunning down a black man named George Washington and leaving him for dead. The justice of the peace, L.B. Umpsflet, said that unless he received federal protection, he was leaving Arkansas, and maybe the country. Congressman James M. Hinds was killed with a double-barreled shotgun, and in South Carolina Klansmen assassinated a black state representative. Mounted men shot the black state senator Benjamin F. Randolph as he waited on a railroad platform. Teachers, black and white, were seized, schoolhouses torched, printing presses smashed, assemblies raided, men lynched. The stories were bone-chilling. “The ‘Klu Kluxe Klan’ is in full blast here and have inaugurated their nefarious proceedings by visiting, on two occasions, families of Negroes in this place,” Charles Cotton reported from Camden, Alabama. “On one occasion they went to a place where the Freedmen were, halting a meeting and one of the party deliberately shot a negro through the head.”



Thursday, October 17, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt twelve)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

Ross was not the only one demanding or receiving post-impeachment favors. Johnson had attended the wedding of John Henderson and Mary Foote, whose father was then nominated as U.S. commissioner of patents. Johnson named the corrupt customs house collector Henry Smythe minister to Austria, although Smythe had been put under temporary arrest and criminal prosecution. Cornelius Wendell, the printer who’d allegedly arranged an acquittal slush fund, was appointed government director on the Union Pacific Railroad board. And Perry Fuller made Vinnie Ream’s father superintendent of warehouses in New Orleans, although within months Fuller was arrested for a scheme to defraud the government of tax revenue. Edmund Ross guaranteed the bond for Fuller’s release.

Like many conservatives, Ross defended himself by noisily blasting the Radical Republicans. Impeachment had sprung full-blown from “the malevolence of Stevens, the ambition of Butler, the theories of Boutwell, & the folly of an unthinking crowd of party followers,” the lawyer John Codman Ropes reassured William Pitt Fessenden. Ross joined the ranks of those Republicans who considered themselves moderates, not conservatives. Believing themselves merely judicious, they claimed it was “the duty of Congress to make the best of Mr. Johnson.” To celebrate their own judiciousness, they planned a public dinner in Boston to toast Fessenden for what they called his courage, his conscience, and his conviction. The invitation list included Massachusetts Governor Alexander H. Bullock and more than seventy other politicians, industrialist, Brahmins, Harvard trustees, and leading men of the area: Charles Francis Adams, Jr., Francis Parkman, jurist Lemuel Shaw, industrialist Amos Lawrence, John Murray Forbes, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., James Russel Lowell, and editor Samuel Bowles: men of probity, prudence, and profound self-regard—an intellectual and often financial elect who regarded blacks and white Southerners with condescension and assumed that they knew best what served the country and their class.



Wednesday, October 16, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt eleven)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

A newspaper editor formerly known as an abolitionist, Edmund Gibson Ross was a political nobody who didn’t look a person in the face, dressed in black, and walked with a slouch. He’d been sent to the Senate in 1866 to finish the term after Senator Jim Lane put a loaded gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. No one quite knew why Lane had committed suicide, though it was rumored he had lost the support of his constituency when he supported Johnson’s veto of the Civil Rights Bill. More likely, financial chicanery was about to be exposed.

Edmund Ross did not in any way distinguish himself in the Senate. A clerk in the House of Representatives regarded him as a lily-livered and malleable man who “may be artfully operated on without his own apprehension of the fact.” Shortly after Johnson was impeached, the National Anti-Slavery sourly commented that “Mr. Ross is suffering from the effects of bad associations.” One of those bad associations was the conservative Thomas Ewing, Jr., under whose command Ross had served during the war. Another was Perry Fuller, who let Ross know it would be to his advantage—Ross’ seat in the Senate—if Johnson was to stay in the White House.



Tuesday, October 15, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt ten)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

The galleries, bored much of the time, snapped to attention. Evarts quoted from the Honorable Charles Sumner’s diatribe against the President, whom Sumner had labeled “an enemy of the people.” He noted that Ben Butler had once accused John Bingham of spilling the blood of Mary Surratt—and that Bingham had called his newfound friend Ben Butler “a man who lives in a bottle, and is fed with a spoon.” (Laughter.) Evarts said he didn’t know what Bingham meant (more laughter), but he did know that name-calling was standard practice in the House. And do not forget, Evarts calmly observed, that these gentlemen, Benjamin Butler and John Bingham, had indulged in such behavior during a discussion of “charity.” (Laughter again.) “Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” (Even more laughter.)

Bingham forced a smile. Butler, head in hand, sat poker-faced.



Monday, October 14, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt nine)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

Andrew Johnson nominated William Tecumseh Sherman as General of the U.S. Army in command of the new military Division of the Atlantic. There were no military reasons for this new division, which included the District of Columbia, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia, and there were no military reasons for the rank. Johnson had not consulted with the army beforehand. His sole aim was to humiliate General Grant.

Johnson was foolish to assume that Sherman would be willing to resettle in Washington, where his division would be headquartered, or that he would accept a position in rank equal to that of his friend. Sherman wearily told Johnson that the battle-tested Grant, the often-slandered Grant, the Grant who’d seen his soldiers slit the gullets of starving mules to satisfy their own hunger, this Grant now, today, had never been more upset. “If this political atmosphere can destroy the equanimity of one so guarded and prudent as he is,” Sherman explained, “what will be the result with one so careless and outspoken as I am? Therefore, with my consent, Washington never.”



Sunday, October 13, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt eight)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

Think of the implications of those acts, Johnson added: black people permitted to “rule the white race, make and administer State laws, elect Presidents and members of Congress, and shape to a greater or lesser extent the future destiny of the whole country. Would such a trust and power be safe in such hands?” Andrew Johnson answered his own question. “Negros have shown less capacity for government than any other race of people,” he announced. If left “to their own devices, they have shown a constant tendency to relapse into barbarism.” He begged Congress to stop, stop, stop the (radical) attempt to “Africanize the half of our country.”

It was an astounding broadside. “There was one thing that the white South feared more than negro dishonesty, ignorance, and incompetency,” W.E.B. DuBois later remarked with pith, “and that was Negro honesty, knowledge, and efficiency.”



Saturday, October 12, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt seven)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

Grant supporters, however, were highly pleased with the results of the state elections. Voters were evidently drifting away from Radical Republicans, and Grant could thus step into the breach and save Republicans from their fanatical selves. As Thomas Ewing observed with pleasure, “no extreme Radical will be Johnson’s successor.” Chief Justice Salmon Chase, who wanted to be President, could be written off as an extremist, and the Ohio legislature, now controlled by Democrats, would not return Benjamin Wade to the Senate. So from the office of The New York Times, Henry Raymond excitedly counseled the general just to keep his mouth shut: “Say nothing, write nothing & do nothing which shall enable any faction of any party to claim you.”

Ditto impeachment: say nothing and by all means do nothing. “Johnson is as useful to us as the devil is to orthodox theology,” Horace Greeley noted. “We can’t afford to get rid of him till we have elected our President.” Most Republicans didn’t want to make a martyr out of him, especially since Democrats might urge him to counterattack, which would result in a risky confrontation between the executive and the legislature. Besides, Johnson had only about fifteen months left in office, not a very long political life. There was no need to impeach him—unless of course the man grew reckless, as Charles Eliot Norton sneered, given “a man of his temper.”



Friday, October 11, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt six)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

In the summer of 1865, a few miles north of Decatur, Alabama, a paroled Confederate soldier lured a former slave into the woods. The man was said to have gotten too “saucy” when he learned he was free, so the ex-soldier shot him three times in the head and hurled his body into a river. In Mobile, white men and their dogs guarded the roadways, and they crisscrossed waterways by boat in search of black men and women who’d left plantations where they’d once worked. If captured, they could be shot or hanged. “The white people tell them that they were free during the war,” a white man said, “but the war is now over, and they must go to work again as before.” Andrew Johnson had been President fewer than four months.

Near Hilton Head, South Carolina, a former Treasury agent named Albert Browne heard of the young black boy who’d been ambushed by a pardoned Confederate soldier who shot him fifty-seven times, mostly in the face and head. “What most men mean to-day by the ‘president’s plan of reconstruction’ is the pardon of every rebel for the crime of rebellion, and the utter refusal to pardon a single black loyalist for the ‘crime’ of being black,” Thomas Wentworth Higginson tersely observed.



Thursday, October 10, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt five)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

In Nashville, cannons boomed out the good news. Vice-presidential nominee Andrew Johnson addressed a jubilant crowd in front of the St. Cloud Hotel. “Let the war for the Union go on,” he shouted, “and the Stars and Stripes be bathed, if need be, in a nation’s blood, till law be restored, and freedom firmly established.”

But he wanted nothing to do with negro equality. Work, yes: the free people might work—and “make something for themselves”—if they could. He said it again: he wanted nothing to do with equality. As for slavery and those rebels who accused him of helping to abolish it, he reminded the crowd that he had warned everyone that slavery would be better protected inside the Union than out of it. And it wasn’t Lincoln who’d freed the slaves. And certainly he didn’t free the slaves. The South freed the slaves. The decision to secede had freed them.



Wednesday, October 9, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt four)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

If Johnson could control his drinking, his two eldest sons could not. Charles, the eldest, an affable young man remembered as kind and loveable, went on such a wild bender during the Democratic convention in Charleston in 1860 that his younger brother Robert had to hustle him quickly out of town. Three years later, when Charles was thirty-three, he fatally fell or was thrown from his horse. The word was that he’d been drunk. By then, Robert too had a problem. In 1850, at the age of twenty-four, Robert Johnson had successfully run for the Tennessee state legislature, and during the war, he raised a regiment. But he had a reputation for inebriation, and though drinking in the army usually passed unnoticed, General Rosecrans warned Andrew Johnson that his son’s alcohol consumption had “become a subject of remark everywhere.”

In the spring of 1863, Robert did fight admirably against an Alabama cavalry of about two thousand men and apparently took fifty prisoners, but the following fall, his father, disgusted by more reports of Robert’s drinking, made him resign his commission. “I have said and now repeat that I feared you would be dismissed from the Army unless you reformed and took Command of your Regiment and give Some evidence of determination to Serve the country as a sober upright and honorable man,” Johnson told his son. Robert said he’d do better: “The intoxicating bowl goes to my lips no more,” the young man promised. But a pattern had been set in motion: Robert would swear off liquor, his parents would believe him, then he’d backslide. In the spring of 1865, he wasn’t even sober enough to understand that President Lincoln had been shot.



Tuesday, October 8, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt three)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

The President then appointed James Johnson (no relation) provisional governor of Georgia and proceeded to issue similar proclamations for the remaining unreconstructed states. (Acting as a wartime President, not a peacetime one, Lincoln had already appointed provisional governors in Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas.) “Among all the leading Union men of the North with whom I have had intercourse,” Stevens warned Johnson in July, “I do not find one who approves your policy.” Chief Justice Salmon Chase called Johnson’s policy “a moral, political & financial mistake.”

Of course there were no precedents for any of this, and there was something improvised about these lurchings into peace. Yet as far as Johnson was concerned, individuals may have rebelled against the Union; the states had not. He repeated himself: the eleven states of the Confederacy had never actually been out of the Union because they did not have the legal right to secede. (That’s like saying a murderer could not kill because killing was against the law, Thaddeus Stevens acidly remarked.) According to Johnson, since these states hadn’t seceded, they had not relinquished their right to govern themselves as they wished.



Monday, October 7, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt two)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

Men willing to shoulder the muskets of the republic should be allowed to “carry its ballots,” a group of black men from New Bern, North Carolina, petitioned Johnson. It would be patently unfair, they said, to enfranchise the white men who’d fought against the country while denying the vote to black men who’d fought for it. Johnson said little, allowing for a while his self-appointed advisers to believe what they wanted to believe. But when a delegation of black ministers called on him at the White House, he told them with galling condescension that too many former slaves loaf around, looking to the government for handouts.

“They seem to think that with freedom every thing they need is to come like manna from heaven,” Johnson said.



Sunday, October 6, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple, excerpt one)

from The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple:

As Henry Dawes would recall, Edwin Stanton was also “prone to despond.” When he was twenty-two, he married Mary Lamson, and after the burial of their firstborn daughter, Stanton disinterred the child and placed her remains in a metal box that he kept on the mantelpiece. When his wife died not long afterward—Stanton was thirty—he stopped eating and sleeping and in the night would rush from room to room, lamp in hand, crying out, “Where is Mary?” Not long after that, Stanton, learning that his brother Darwin had cut his own throat, ran to Darwin’s house, where blood was pooling on the floorboards. He then raced out into the freezing cold in such a hurry that friends, fearing for his life, coaxed him back and stayed with him until he calmed down. Stanton took responsibility for Darwin’s family but never seemed to recover. “I feel indifferent to the present, careless of the future—” he said, “in a state of bewilderment the end of which is hidden.”



Friday, October 4, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, excerpt twelve)

from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:

I went to visit Aunt Vidala again. Aunt Elizabeth was on duty, knitting one of the little caps for premature babies that are in fashion nowadays. I remain deeply grateful that I have never learned to knit.



Thursday, October 3, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, excerpt eleven)

from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:

I found the clothing provided for us disagreeable in the extreme. The underwear was very different from the plain, sturdy variety worn at Ardua Hall: to me it felt slippery and depraved. Over that there were male garments. It was disturbing to feel that rough cloth touching the skin of my legs, with no intervening petticoat. Wearing such clothing was gender treachery and against God’s law: last year a man had been hanged on the Wall for dressing in his Wife’s undergarments. She’d discovered him and turned him in, as was her duty.



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, excerpt ten)

from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:

“Why is it called that?”

“It’s from ‘kick the bucket,’” said Jade. “It’s just a saying.” Then, seeing our puzzled looks, she continued. “I think it’s from when they used to hang people from trees. They’d make them stand on a bucket and then hang them, and their feet would kick, and naturally they would kick the bucket. Just my guess.”

“That’s not how we hang people here,” said Becka.



Tuesday, October 1, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, excerpt nine)

from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:

I have said our life was placid, but perhaps that is not the right word. It was at any rate orderly, albeit somewhat monotonous. Our time was filled, but in a strange way it did not seem to pass. I’d been fourteen when I’d been admitted as a Supplicant, and although I was now grown up, I did not appear to myself to have grown much older. It was the same with Becka: we seemed to be frozen in some way; preserved, as if in ice.

The Founders and the older Aunts had edges to them. They’d been moulded in an age before Gilead, they’d had struggles we had been spared, and these struggles had ground off the softness that might once have been there. But we hadn’t forced to undergo such ordeals. We’d been protected, we hadn’t needed to deal with the harshness of the world at large. We were the beneficiaries of the sacrifices made by our forebears. We were constantly reminded of this, and ordered to be grateful. But it’s difficult to be grateful for the absence of an unknown quantity. I’m afraid we did not fully appreciate the extent to which those of Aunt Lydia’s generation had been hardened in the fire. They had a ruthlessness about them that we lacked.



Monday, September 30, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, excerpt eight)

from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:

While Grove was being reduced to a slurry by the Handmaids, Aunt Immortelle fainted, which was to be expected: she was always sensitive. I expect she will now blame herself in some way: however despicably he behaved, Grove was nevertheless cast in the role of her father.

Commander Judd switched off the television and sighed. “A pity,” he said. “He was a fine dentist.”



Sunday, September 29, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, excerpt seven)

from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:

On the fifth day there were six women in brown among the shooters. There was also an uproar, as one of them, instead of aiming at the blindfolded ones, pivoted and shot one of the men in black uniforms. She was immediately bludgeoned to the ground and riddled with bullets. There was a collective gasp from the bleachers.

So, I thought. That’s one way out.



Saturday, September 28, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, excerpt six)

from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:

To pass the time I berated myself. Stupid, stupid, stupid: I’d believed all that claptrap about life, liberty, democracy, and the rights of the individual I’d soaked up at law school. These were eternal verities and we would always defend them. I’d depended on that, as if on a magic charm.

You pride yourself on being a realist, I told myself, so face the facts. There’s been a coup, here in the United States, just as in times past in so many other countries. Any forced change of leadership is always followed by a move to crush the opposition. The opposition is led by the educated, so the educated are the first to be eliminated. You’re a judge, so you are the educated, like it or not. They won’t want you around.



Friday, September 27, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, excerpt five)

from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:

The prelude was minor: I needed to go to the dentist for my yearly checkup. The dentist was Becka’s father, and his name was Dr. Grove. He was the best dentist, said Vera: all the top Commanders and their families went to him. His office was in the Blessings of Health Building, which was for doctors and dentists. It had a picture of a smiling heart and a smiling tooth on the outside.

One of the Marthas always used to go with me to the doctor or the dentist and sit in the waiting room, as it was more proper that way, Tabitha used to say without explaining why, but Paula said the Guardian could just drive me there, since there was too much work to be done in the house considering the changes that had to be prepared for—by which she meant the baby—and it would be a waste of time to send a Martha.



Thursday, September 26, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, excerpt four)

from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:

Then she smiled and said, "Agnes Jemima. How lovely," and patted me on the head as if I was five, and said it must be nice to have a new dress. I felt like biting her: was the new dress supposed to make up for my mother being dead? But it was better to hold my tongue than to show my true thoughts. I did not always succeed in that, but I succeeded on this occasion.

“Thank you,” I said. I pictured her kneeling on the floor in a pool of blood, trying to put a pair of trousers on a dead man. This put her in an awkward position in my mind, and made me feel better.



Wednesday, September 25, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, excerpt three)

from The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:

I wanted to say I was sorry for having gone to the protest march, but then we were at the school and I hadn’t said it. I got out of the car silently; Melanie waited until I was at the entrance. I waved at her, and she waved back. I don’t know why I did that—I didn’t usually. I guess it was a sort of apology.

I don’t remember that school day much, because why would I? It was normal. Normal is like looking out a car window. Things pass by, this and that and this and that, without much significance. You don’t register such hours; they’re habitual, like brushing your teeth.