Friday, May 31, 2019

the last book I ever read (Blue Angel: A Novel by Francine Prose, excerpt four)

from Blue Angel: A Novel by Francine Prose:

Swenson thinks of Jonathan Edwards looming over the dean’s head. Why does religion make people want to put scary images on the walls? So they’ll know what they’re doing in church, what they’re putting in time to avoid. Give him the old Quaker Meeting House, nothing on the walls, nothing terribly frightening unless you were Swenson’s father, who had the scary pictures inside of him, and was encouraged by his religion to spend an hour every Sunday touring his inner chamber of horrors. One morning after Meeting, when Swenson was twelve, his father took him out for breakfast at the Malden Diner and calmly explained that he’d come to believe that everything wrong with the world was his personal fault. As he said this, Swenson’s skinny father ate three consecutive full breakfasts. It wasn’t very long after that he set himself on fire on the State House steps.



Thursday, May 30, 2019

the last book I ever read (Blue Angel: A Novel by Francine Prose, excerpt three)

from Blue Angel: A Novel by Francine Prose:

Swenson finds it trying to walk anywhere with student. Conversation’s tough enough when everyone stands in one place. Forward movement creates so many chances for awkward stalls and collisions, decisions about who goes first, right or left, minicrises that make one conscious of authority and position. Does the student respectfully stand aside and usher Swenson through the doorway, or does Swenson, in loco parentis, hold the door for the kid? And is everything different depending on whether the student is male or female?

You bet it’s different if the student is female. Crossing the quad with Angela, Swenson’s acutely aware that he might walk one inch too close and someone will report them for holding hands. At least the quad’s nearly empty. Another advantage of ending class early is that they’re spared the traffic jam between classes, the saying hello to everyone just in case you happen to know them. Looking up at the high windows of granite Claymore, Thackeray, Comstock Hall, he wonders who’s looking down.



Wednesday, May 29, 2019

the last book I ever read (Blue Angel: A Novel by Francine Prose, excerpt two)

from Blue Angel: A Novel by Francine Prose:

The emergency room wasn’t crowded. The nurse—that is, Sherrie—walked him in to see the doctor, who was practically delirious because the patient who’d just left was Sarah Vaughn. The doctor wanted to talk about Sarah’s strep throat and not about what turned out to be Swenson’s middle-ear infection. Swenson thanked him, stood, and hit the floor. He’d woken with Sherrie’s hand on his pulse, where it’s been ever since. That’s what he used to say when he told this story, which he hardly ever does anymore since they no longer meet new people who haven’t heard it. And Sherrie used to say, “I should have known not to fall in love with a guy who was already unconscious.”



Tuesday, May 28, 2019

the last book I ever read (Blue Angel: A Novel by Francine Prose, excerpt one)

from Blue Angel: A Novel by Francine Prose:

Swenson argued for Claris. He’d dragged in Chekhov to tell the class that the writer need not paint a picture of an ideal world, but only describe the actual world, without sermons, without judgment. As if his students give a shit about some dead Russian that Swenson ritually exhumes to support his loser opinions. And yet just mentioning Chekhov made Swenson feel less alone, as if he were being watched over by a saint who wouldn’t judge him for the criminal fraud of pretending that these kids could be taught what Swenson’s pretending to teach them. Chekhov would see into his heart and know that he sincerely wished he could give his students what they want: talent, fame, money, a job.



Sunday, May 26, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt eight)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

He was surprised how much he liked his bedsit room. It had nothing much in it apart from a bed and a table and chair, and looked out onto a back garden whose shrubs had overgrown into trees, and where tenants had dumped curiosities – a broken trailer for pulling a boat, a trampoline with rusty springs. Foxes sauntered through at dusk, their hindquarters insolently drooping, inspecting their terrain. Alex chose carefully the books he brought from home, a few at a time, and liked waking in the room in moonlight – he never drew the curtains against the dark – to see their pale promise solid on his table. He was reading anthropology, thinking that after all this should have been his subject – with its long view, its doubt in relation to human universals, its foundation in the idea of cultural difference.



Saturday, May 25, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt seven)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

The next morning Isobel was nauseous from the drink. – I can’t bear to tell you what’s happened with my parents, she said to Blaise. They had actually sent each other this time, to make sure, the map coordinates for a Caffè Nero in the Haymarket. – I’ll never be able to convince you that up until now, my life’s been so straightforward. Almost too straightforward. I wish you’d known me in the past, just so that you’d believe me, how boring I used to be.

Blaise only smiled fondly; he had brought her as a present a leather-bound Victorian anthology of poetry – inevitably she lost it almost at once on the Tube. She asked if nothing awful ever happened to him. – I was in a helicopter last year in Pakistan, he offered helpfully. – And my ear protectors blew off in a backdraught. I was too embarrassed to say anything, you know, civil servant among all those military types. But I couldn’t hear properly afterwards for months.



Friday, May 24, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt six)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

Alex marveled at her. – You’re wilful. You invented a romantic story and you’ve stuck to it in your wilful heart. It’s an act of will.

Lydia thought about that. – But how else does anyone live?



Thursday, May 23, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt five)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

In Bratislava he had begun to remember things, standing with his mother outside their old apartment on the second floor of an austere nineteenth-century tenement – inevitably now repainted candy pink – and then outside the school he’d attended, and in a little park where once he had played on the swings. For a few uncanny minutes it was as if two epochs of their lives were superimposed and coexistent, the present transparent and the past showing through behind it. Then the superior solidity of the here and now was bound to prevail over fragile memory; a different generation of children, born into a different politics, came pouring out through the school gate, jostling and calling. Margita’s shy cousin was a radiographer and read poetry, her tiny apartment hadn’t been updated yet to the new more affluent reality, was still lit by forty-watt bulbs, decorated with sample squares of carpet nailed to the walls, faux-bronze reliefs of Bohemian castles. The family were invited up from the country one Sunday to meet the visitors, and arrived full of curiosity and welcome, brnging dishes of prepared food and their own wine from the farm, in yellow plastic bottles. They toasted the homecomers gravely, courteously. But after the first warm rush of reminiscence they didn’t have much to say to one another. Alex could just about follow their conversation in Slovak, but he knew his speech sounded alien and formal to them. He and Margita wanted to know more about tumultuous events and political change, but it was clear that the questions they asked seemed banal and outdated to their relatives. Any passion about the country seemed exhausted too, even the idea of the new Slovakia.



Wednesday, May 22, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt four)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

When tens of thousands of refugees from East Germany had begun pouring into Czechoslovakia in November 1989, Alex had brought his mother round to their flat so they could watch together the events unfolding on the television. For a few nights Margita slept in their spare bed. Zachary had telephoned from New York; Alex had stayed home from his classes in the language school and walked from room to room with the radio pressed to his ear in case he missed anything. Christine sat breastfeeding Isobel, watching the abandoned Trabants blocking the Prague streets, the tent city growing in the courtyard of the West German Embassy, the police trying to stop the men and women climbing over the embassy walls. There were mass demonstrations, the crowd jangled their key rings, Alex thought you could pick out on the television the StB men moving against them, taking photographs. In Bratislava they broadcast dissident music via television signals from Vienna. Alex and Margita and Christine couldn’t turn their eyes away from the police in their white helmets breaking up demonstrations, using tear gas, pulling the peaceful demonstrators down by the hair, kicking at them and beating them with their truncheons.

Then Havel in his leather coat was addressing the crowds in Prague, and the crowds were waltzing in slow motion and waving sparklers. Havel was embracing Dubček, recalled from his desk job working for the Forestry Service – somehow he had not been hanged or shot. A bust of Stalin was paraded with Nic Netrva Vecne written on a paper strung around his neck; the cameras loved that, Nothing Lasts Forever. Margita turns to look at Christine on the sofa, tears running down her face, making runnels in the pink powder. She said she’d thought it would last another hundred years, or four hundred. She was still handsome at sixty, with her fierce stare and thick shock of hair, home-dyed, streaked blonde; her hand was pressed to her heavy bosom in its close-fitting jazz-print dress as if she were holding in something fighting to get out, and she pulled her cardigan tight across her chest, squeezing its buttons in her fist, in tense concentration on the TV screen. She and Alex spoke together in their own language, which Christine hadn’t often heard him use. The family had always tried to speak in English, it had been the first rule Margita and Tomas adopted on arriving in the new country, to save their son. Stesk was homesickness, Margita explained to Christine, it was for sentimentalists, she’d refused to feel it on principle. But on a day like this . . .



Tuesday, May 21, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt three)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

– But what is your problem exactly? Alex said severely.

She gazed at him, eyes glittering in the candlelight. – Well, I’m not very good at being happy.



Monday, May 20, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt two)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

The two girls stood holding onto each other, Grace weeping into Isobel’s shoulder, Isobel stroking her shorn head. Hannah carried flowers down from the office, vases full with tall white foxgloves and delphiniums and hollyhocks, fat peonies. But the sight of Zachary’s body was a horror to Christine, the darkness in the nostrils, his closed face. He looked like a stuffed doll, with his stubby-fingered hand laid in rhetorical gesture across his heart, wedding ring on ostentatious display. Lydia had given the undertakers one of the lightweight wool suits he’d had made in Hong Kong – a clownish tobacco-brown check.



Sunday, May 19, 2019

the last book I ever read (Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley, excerpt one)

from Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley:

Afterwards she said she’d known, as soon as she opened her eyes and saw his face. – You should see your face, Alex. It’s a giveaway. And of course if anyone else had died, Dad would have to come to tell me.

In the car on the way home, she kept her little rucksack on her knee and was distinctively herself: looking round her out the window, taking everything in, questioning him sensibly about what had happened. He repeated to her all the detail that was becoming mythic, about Jane Ogden’s new show, Zachary keeling over in the gallery, hitting his head on the desk. – But why, but why? Grace said, staring straight ahead through the windscreen, rocking backwards and forwards just perceptibly in a childish rhythm, hugging the rucksack that she wouldn’t put down on the back seat, or on the floor. At some point she announced that she was starving, and they stopped at a motorway service station. She ate something disgusting, with every sign of a hearty appetite – a full English breakfast; and then shortly afterwards, when they were on the motorway again, he had to pull over quickly onto the hard shoulder. She jumped out of the car and vomited into the tall grass full of daisies, which was blowing in sensuous long ripples in the wind.



Friday, May 17, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt twelve)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

They went to Chen Wei’s on Thirteenth. Arthur turned out to be their favorite waiter, a Chinese-looking man in his seventies who wore a red bow tie and spoke English with a disorienting County Cork accent very much like Joe’s aunt Rose. Joe couldn’t figure out why they wanted to introduce him, though they shook hands. Arthur was so old that every time he showed up with a plate Joe half stood to help him with it. This incensed Arthur. “Lookit,” he said to Joe,” lookit,” but he was so mad he couldn’t finish the thought. To make peace, Manny made them both sit down and went to the kitchen to get the plates himself.



Thursday, May 16, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt eleven)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

Cracker didn’t watch him. How could she? Instead she tried to think of him as merely a man who—like most of the men of the world—made their money mysteriously and elsewhere.

His fingers were dyed red from pistachios. His stomach hurt. He’d given up everything to get his family back and had forgotten that the first thing he’d given up was his family. What did she do with her days? She sat and waited for him to come home. He sat and waited to be invited.



Wednesday, May 15, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt ten)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

The Mostra delle Terre Italiane d’Oltremare had been designed to strike awe, like the harpoon in Ethiopia’s hand. Arch had been staring up at her when he met Joan, who had sidled up beside him and whispered, “Look on my works, you mighty, and despair.”

“Ye,” said Arch. “Ye mighty.”



Tuesday, May 14, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt nine)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

Just like that the man’s eyes were filled with tears. He caught her hand between his. “My late wife’s name was Margaret,” he said. “I won’t need a thing from you. I’ll take some photos. Then, depending on what we find, perhaps some moving pictures. I understand, you say, We don’t have spirits or we don’t want spirits or how do we get rid of spirits if we got ‘em. Customers don’t like ghosts, you might think, but they do. Look at Salem! Look at the Continental Hotel!” He nodded at the photo of the hotel elevator; he was still holding her hand. “You may find business better than it’s ever been.”

She didn’t want the man to find a ghost but she also didn’t want him to go. He was a big man, and Margaret loved big men the way some women loved big dogs. Their very presense comforted her; she thought she particularly knew how to talk to them. “Well,” she said. “We could use the business. You start looking. Find me a ghost. Make it a good one.”



Monday, May 13, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt eight)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

In 1932 Nahum Truitt went to Picardi’s Barbershop in Phillipine Square to have the beard shorn from his face. He looked at the long mirror, his reflection surrounded by all the blades of the business, which meant he was, too. He trusted Picardi to put the sharpest blade to his very neck; he trusted himself not to wrest the razor away to do something terrible, to himself or someone else. Time was he wouldn’t have trusted himself. Therefore the beard.



Sunday, May 12, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt seven)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

The men of the alleys had abandoned their lanes, their racing forms. A dozen forgotten cigarettes burnt in the tin ashtrays stamped at the bottom TRUITT’S. LuEtta bowled, a tall gal in white leather shoes, her ankles in their thin socks indecent. Her blond hair was brassy. Her form was exemplary. She looked like a deer burst through a window at a train station. She didn’t belong there, she had to go, they would never stop talking about her, they needed to show her the door, for her sake, too. If you were the last of your kind why would you stay.



Saturday, May 11, 2019

Friday, May 10, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt five)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

“Novels have ruined many a young woman,” said Bertha. “That’s a quote.”

“From what on earth?” said Leviticus, whose idea of domestic life was the family reading together, in silence, until such a time as he found something interesting he wanted to read aloud.



Thursday, May 9, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt four)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

Bertha Truitt was a mother, a loving one, but perplexed. Minna in her mother’s arms looked up. Anybody has seen it, a baby reading a face, careful as a phrenologist: that round chin means you’re my mother, that wide forehead means you’re my mother, that ear close to your head, those green eyes! What a scientist Minna was. What inventions and conclusions. She had the advantage. She had known Bertha’s literal depths, had elbowed her organs and heard the racket of her various systems. She had measured time by her mother’s diet and respiration, her exercise, and then Minna was born into the wide world and Bertha was so behind in knowledge she would never catch up.



Wednesday, May 8, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt three)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

They had been two childless women together. I had a baby who died, thought LuEtta, but she knew that the moment to tell Truitt had passed, if Truitt didn’t know.

There was no name for Edith but Edith.



Tuesday, May 7, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt two)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

Maybe somebody else had invented the game first. That doesn’t matter. We have all of us invented things that others have beat us to: walking upright, a certain sort of sandwich involving avocado and an onion roll, a minty sweet cocktail, ourselves, romantic love, human life.



Monday, May 6, 2019

the last book I ever read (Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken, excerpt one)

from Bowlaway: A Novel by Elizabeth McCracken:

“Ah good!” she said. “Give here.”

He did. She held them like a queen in an ancient painting, orb and scepter. She was alive. She was a bowler.



Sunday, May 5, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe, excerpt fourteen)

from The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe:

By the afternoon of May 17, Rosenstein had confirmed his agreement to hold a briefing for the Gang of Eight about the Russia investigation. He had also made the decision to appoint a special counsel and taken steps to do so. The FBI team had already set up the briefing, for five o’clock that day, so it was a good thing he was on board. At the Capitol, on the House side, they walked me down to the SCIF, in a basement floor. Some of the Russia team was waiting for me there. The senators and congressmen started straggling in, each with one or two aides—mostly staff directors—and then Rod showed up with a couple of his people. Now that the Gang of Eight was a crowd of two dozen in the room, I thought, the chance of this not getting back to the president was basically zero. Then Devin Nunes walked in, and the chance was less than zero.

Nunes, a congressman from California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had publicly stepped away from that committee’s Russia investigation. In April, just before the House Ethics Committee announced it was investigating Nunes for speaking with the media about classified information relating to the Trump campaign and Russia, Nunes effectively recused himself—although he did not use the word “recuse.” Nunes was suspected of having surreptitiously been given intelligence by presidential aides during a nighttime rendezvous at the White House, information that he then publicized. Look who’s here, I said to Rod. Rosenstein understood. He went to talk to Nunes, pulled him aside. Came back, told me, Nunes is staying, he says he’s not recused from this, he refuses to leave.



Saturday, May 4, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe, excerpt thirteen)

from The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe:

Among all his odd claims, one stood out as being especially dubious. He said, as he had said during our phone conversation earlier that day, We’ve had so many FBI people calling us, sending us messages to say they’re so glad the director is gone.

Who would do that? Who in the Bureau would send a message to the White House about something of this nature? It was not beyond the realm of the possible—there had been so many leaks in the months building up to this point. But for anyone in the Bureau to make or maintain contact with people in the White House would be unambiguously inappropriate—an absolute violation of the White House contacts policy. But the president kept saying it was happening.



Friday, May 3, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe, excerpt twelve)

from The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe:

On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, my first day on the job as acting director, I arrived at the office early, went through the morning meetings, did my briefs, and by 10 a.m. I was sitting down with senior staff involved in the Russia investigation, many of whom had also been involved in Midyear Exam.

As the meeting began, my secretary relayed a message that the White House was calling. The president himself was on the line. This was highly unusual. Presidents do not, typically, call FBI directors. Federal policy, written by the Department of Justice, strictly restricts such contact. There should be no direct contact between the president and the FBI director, according to the White House contacts policy, except for national-security purposes. The FBI does have frequent, routine, and direct contact with the White House by way of the National Security Council and other facets of the national-security structure, but when it comes to topics that do not concern national security, the FBI is supposed to go through Justice, which then makes contact with the White House counsel’s office. And vice versa: If the president or any other senior White House official needs to get a message to the Justice Department or the FBI, that message is supposed to go through the White House counsel to the deputy attorney general before it gets to us. The reason for all this is simple. Investigations and prosecutions are delicate and complicated, and can affect the lives of many people; they need to be pursued according to fixed rules, without a hint of suspicion that someone with power wants to put a thumb on the scale. That means those on the front lines must have insulation from politics—or even the perception that political considerations many be at play. So the president calling the acting director of the FBI is, and was that day, remarkable.



Thursday, May 2, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe, excerpt eleven)

from The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe:

I am not aware of another president who has weighed in against ongoing criminal prosecutions in the overt, hostile, and unrelenting way that President Trump has. This is a breach of propriety and of historical norms. Presidents don’t weigh in on those things. They don’t try to tip the scales of justice for or against a particular defendant. In our system, intervention from the outside is not only considered inappropriate—it is inappropriate. It undermines the operation of a fair system of justice. It sows seeds of mistrust. President Obama was rightly castigated for a single offhand remark, when he said of the Clinton investigation that he thought there was nothing there. The political world exploded: Was he trying to telegraph something to investigators? Was he sending a coded message to the attorney general? It was not a smart thing to say, as Obama surely realized. And yet it was not even in the same universe as what President Trump does on a daily basis—casting doubt on the legitimacy of the prosecution of Paul Manafort, as he has done since June 2018, and calling the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt,” as he does all the time.

For an FBI agent, watching the president seek to interfere with the ordinary process of justice is especially galling—an affront to our constitutional system. The work of every agent at every waking moment is governed by intricate procedures whose aim is to ensure that every step taken is by the book. The process has to be fair and rigorous from start to finish—for the sake of subjects and for the sake of justice. It is a high-minded regime. The Bureau suffers lapses, of course, as any institution does, but the standards are taken very seriously.



Wednesday, May 1, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe, excerpt ten)

from The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump by Andrew G. McCabe:

On March 17, the FBI press office got a call from a reporter at Circa News, which is owned by the right-wing media powerhouse Sinclair Broadcast Group. The reporter said that sources had told her that I had announced in staff meetings that I hated the president. Said I was out to get Michael Flynn. Said that when Flynn got fired, I slapped high fives with everyone in the room. The reporter made my staff meeting sound like the towel-snapping scene in Top Gun.

There was no truth to any of this and we flatly denied it. In any normal, reasonable world, that would be the end of it. But we’re not in that world. We lost that world at some point. Instead, our denial touched off a new standard cycle of story development. The FBI press office would receive inquiries about fictional scenarios from right-wing news outlets we would shoot them down; the news outlets were unable to go forward. Then the story would appear on some fringe, alt-right website, without a byline. Once it was picked up by the blogosphere and on social media, an outlet such as Sinclair would have cover to repeat it, which would enable Fox News to get on board, and then Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham would talk about it for weeks. This is a practiced, intentional strategy of news circulation. The stories may be fictional and the information false, but the consequences of this strategy are real.