Friday, January 31, 2020

the last book I ever read (Virginie Despentes's Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel, excerpt five)

from Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel by Virginie Despentes (translated by Frank Wynne):

Their daughter-in-law is touched by a vague madness that is anything but charming. Her gaze scorches everything it touches. Marie-Ange was in love with Xavier. But not anymore, not for a long time. When she is with him, she makes no effort to hide her boredom, or her contempt whenever he speaks. She has recovered from the fairy tale of the little princess who marries a humble commoner. She is probably remembering what her father said when she announced that she was engaged, “For a woman, there is nothing worse that to marry beneath her station.” And the old bastard had the never to say as much in front of the bridegroom’s mother. Marie-Ange refuses to leave the girl alone with her grandmother. Here again, Xavier didn’t have the courage to tell her straight out, but Sophie understood. She must have done something wrong. Her son furtively leaves her to mind his daughter for an afternoon from time to time. Doubtless he lies to his wife when he gets home, tells her he was with the two of them in the park all the time. He prevaricates, he beats around the bush. She is not the only woman among her friends to be disappointed by how her grown-up son has turned out.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

the last book I ever read (Virginie Despentes's Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel, excerpt four)

from Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel by Virginie Despentes (translated by Frank Wynne):

He enjoys bar fights. He likes a fistfight, has ever since he was a kid. Last year, in the Métro, he was sitting next to this skinny, puny black kid. When the doors opened, two other kids about the same age, but well built, came into the car and went for the kid, intending to take his money and adminster a savage beatdown. Two hulking brutes against this scrawny kid, Patrice had not even tried to make sense of it. He had grabbed them and punched them out. Slick job. That day, in the Métro, he had been the hero—his fellow commuters were happy to have a psychopath in their midst, no one was thinking he should be in group therapy. They were congratulating him. The whole car was ecstatic. When would he ever feel alive, feel happy, if he didn’t have his rage?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

the last book I ever read (Virginie Despentes's Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel, excerpt three)

from Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel by Virginie Despentes (translated by Frank Wynne):

Two girls in shorts and wedge heels, backpacks slung over their bellies, cross the Plaça de Sant Agusti, studying a map of the city. Their shoulders are tattooed, and they are speaking in a language so strange that the Hyena cannot help but wonder if they are making it up. A bearded man is pushing a meat cart. Tourists cycle past wearing brightly colored helmets. A group of homeless are sitting around a fountain. They are all about fifty and sporting Mohawks. Taxis honk at every intersection. Catalan flags blossom from every building with banners that read “We want a respectable neighborhood.” On a patch of sidewalk out of the way of pedestrians, a seagull is eviscerating a dead pigeon.

She arrived in Barcelona last night. On the television, there were news reports of a woman in her sixties throwing herself from the window of her apartment when bailiffs came to evict her.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

the last book I ever read (Virginie Despentes's Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel, excerpt two)

from Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel by Virginie Despentes (translated by Frank Wynne):

That day in December 2002, they had been lining up to buy smoked salmon because Bertrand was spending Christmas with a Norwegian girl he wanted to impress with his culinary sophistication. He had convinced himself that smoked salmon could be bought in this shop in the fifth arrondissement and nowhere else. Having trekked here on the Métro, they were waiting to be served. The line snaked out onto the sidewalk, it would be a forty-minute wait at least. Vernon had gone off to buy cigarettes, and it was on the radio in the bar-tabac that he heard the news that Strummer was dead. He had gone back to Bertrand. No way, you’re shitting me! You think I’d joke about something like that? Bertrand had turned pale, though he still waited and bought his salmon and two bottles of vodka. They had walked back through the second arrondissement singing “Lost in the Supermarket” and remembering the time they had seen Strummer play a solo gig together. Vernon had only gone to keep Bertrand company, but once he got there, an unexpected surge of emotion made him waver, he had pressed his shoulder against his friend and felt tears well in his eyes. He had never said a word about this, but on the day Joe Strummer died, he had confessed and Bertrand had said, Yeah, I know, I saw, but I didn’t want to bust your balls about it. Strummer … fuck! Who’s left worth talking about?

Monday, January 27, 2020

the last book I ever read (Virginie Despentes's Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel, excerpt one)

from Vernon Subutex 1: A Novel by Virginie Despentes (translated by Frank Wynne):

The first thing to go was his unemployment benefit. By post he received a copy of the report written by his adviser. He got along well with her. They had been meeting regularly for almost three years in the cramped cubicle where she killed odd houseplants. Thirtyish, bubbly, fake redhead, plump, well stacked, Madame Bodard liked to talk about her two sons, she worried about them a lot, regularly took them to see a pediatrician in the hope that he would diagnose some form of hyperactivity disorder that might justify sedating them. But the doctor told her they were in fine form and set her packing. Madame Bodard told Vernon how she had been to see AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses with her parents when she was young. Now she was preferred to listen to Camille and Benjamin Biolay and Vernon abstained from making any offensive remarks. They had talked at great length about his case: between the ages of twenty and forty-five, he had been a record dealer. These days, his chances of finding work were slimmer than if he had been a coal miner. Madame Bodard had suggested retraining. Together they had perused the various courses open to him—AFPA, GRETA, CFA—and they parted on good terms, agreeing to meet again to reassess the situation. Three years later, his application to study for a diploma in administration had not been accepted. From his point of view, he felt he had done everything he needed to do, he had become an expert in applications and prepared them with extraordinary efficiency. Over time, he had come to feel that his job was to bum around on the internet looking for vacancies that corresponded to his profile, then send off résumés so that they could spend back proof of his rejection. Who would want to train someone who pushing fifty? He had managed to dredge up a work placement in a concert venue out in the suburbs and another in an art-house cinema—but aside from going out occasionally, keeping abreast of the network problems on the RER and meeting people, it mostly left him with a dreary sense of waste.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

the last book I ever read (J. D. Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, excerpt six)

from Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger:

I’m thinking about this last paragraph. That is, about the amount of personal admiration that has gone into it. To what extent, I wonder, may one be allowed to admire one’s brother’s hands without raising a few modern eyebrows? In my youth, Father William, my heterosexuality (discounting a few, shall I say, not always quite voluntary slow periods) was often rather common gossip in some of my old Study Groups. Yet I now find myself recalling, perhaps just a wee bit too vividly, that Sofya Tolstoy, in one of her, I don’t doubt, well-provoked marital piques, accused the father of her thirteen children, the elderly man who continued to inconvenience her every night of her married life, of homosexual leanings. I think, on the whole, Sofya Tolstoy was a remarkably unbrilliant woman—and my atoms, moreover, are arranged to make me constitutionally inclined to believe that where there’s smoke there’s usually strawberry Jello, seldom fire—but I do very emphatically believe there is an enormous amount of the androgynous in any all-or-nothing prose writer, or even a would-be one. I think that if he titters at male writers who wear invisible skirts he does so at his eternal peril. I’ll say no more on the subject. This is precisely the sort of confidence that can be easily and juicily Abused. It’s a wonder we’re not worse cowards in print than we already are.

Friday, January 24, 2020

the last book I ever read (J. D. Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, excerpt five)

from Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger:

Since I’m having a little trouble speaking for myself, I decided this morning, in class (rather staring the while, I’m afraid, at Miss Valdemar’s incredibly snug pedal pushers), that the really courteous thing to do would be to let one of my parents have the first word here, and where better to start than with the Primeval Mother? The risks involved, through, are overwhelming. If sentiment doesn’t ultimately make fibbers of some people, their natural abominable memories almost certainly will. With Bessies, for instance, one of the main things about Seymour was his tallness. In her mind she sees him as an uncommonly rangy, Texan type, forever ducking his head as he came into rooms. The fact is, he was five ten and a half—a short tall man by modern, multi-vitamin standards. Which was fine with him. He had no love whatever for height. I wondered for a while, when the twins went over six feet, whether he was going to send them condolence cards. I think if he were alive today he’d be all smiles that Zooey, being an actor, grew up small. He, S., was a very firm believer in low centers of gravity for real actors.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

the last book I ever read (J. D. Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, excerpt four)

from Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger:

If, any time between 1919 and 1948, you came into a crowded room where Seymour and I were present, there would possibly be only one way, but it would be foolproof, of knowing that he and I were brothers. That would be by the noses and chins. The chins, of course, I can breezily dismiss in a minute by saying we almost didn’t have any. Noses, however, we emphatically had, and they were close to being identical: two great, fleshy, drooping, trompe-like affairs that were different from every other nose in the family except, all too vividly, that of dear old Great Grandfather Zozo, whose own nose, ballooning out from an early daguerreotype, used to alarm me considerably as a small boy. (Come to think of it, Seymour, who never made, shall I say, anatomical jokes, once rather surprised me by wondering whether our noses—his, mine, Great Grandfather Zozo’s—posed the same bedtime dilemma that certain beards do, meaning did we sleep with them outside or inside the covers.) There’s a risk, though, of sounding too airy about this. I’d like to make it very clear—offensively so, if need be—that they were definitely not romantic Cyrano protuberances. (Which is a dangerous subject on all counts, I think, in this brave new psychoanalytical world, where almost everybody as a matter of course knows which came first, Cyrano’s nose or his wisecracks, and where there’s a widespread, international clinical hush for all the big-nosed chaps who are undeniably tongue-tied.) It hink the only difference worth mentioning in the general breadth, length, and contours of our two noses was that there was a very notable bend, I’m obliged to say, to the right, an extra lopsidedness, at the bridge of Seymour’s nose. Seymour always suspected that it made my nose patrician by comparison. The “bend” was acquired when someone in the family was rather dreamily making practice swings with a baseball bat in the hall of our old apartment on Riverside Drive. His nose was never set after the mishap.

Hurrah. The nose is over. I’m going to bed.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

the last book I ever read (J. D. Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, excerpt three)

from Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger:

Mrs. Silsburn said nothing, and I didn’t look at her to see just how seriously she’d been affronted by the Matron of Honor’s remark. I remember, though, that I was impressed, in a peculiar sense, with the Matron of Honor’s tone of apology for her little slip about “crazy aunts and uncles.” It had been a genuine apology, but not an embarrassed and, still better, not an obsequious one, and for a moment I had a feeling that, for all her stagy indignation and showy grit, there was something bayonetlike about her, something not altogether unadmirable. (I’ll grant, quickly and readily, that my opinion in this instance has a very limited value. I often feel a rather excessive pull toward people who don’t overapologize.) The point is, however, that right then, for the first time, a small wave of prejudice against the missing groom passed over me, a just perceptible little whitecap of censure for his unexplained absenteeism.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

the last book I ever read (J. D. Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, excerpt two)

from Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger:

The first four or five blocks north on Madison, conversation in in the car was chiefly limited to remarks like “Am I giving you enough room?” and “I’ve never been so hot in my entire life.” The one who had never been so hot in her entire life was, as I’d learned from a certain amount of eavesdropping at the curb, the bride’s Matron of Honor. She was a hefty girl of about twenty-four or –five, in a pink satin dress, with a circlet of artificial forget-me-nots in her hair. There was a distinctly athletic ethos about her, as if, a year or two earlier, she might have majored in physical education in college. In her lap she was holding a bouquet of gardenias rather as thought it were a deflated volleyball. She was seated in the back of the car, hip-pressed between her husband and a tiny elderly man in a top hat and cutaway, who was holding an unlighted clear-Havana cigar. Mrs. Silsburn and I—our respective inside knees unribaldly touching—occupied the jump seats. Twice, without any excuse whatever, out of sheer approval, I glanced around at the tiny elderly man. When I’d originally loaded the card and held the door open for him, I’d had a passing impulse to pick him up bodily and insert him gently through the open window. He was tininess itself, surely being not more than four nine or ten and without being either a midget or a dwarf. In the car, he sat staring very severely straight ahead of him. On my second look around at him, I noticed that he had what very much appeared to be an old gravy stain on the lapel of his cutaway. I also noticed that his silk hat cleared the roof of the car by a good four or five inches…. But for the most part, those first few minutes in the car, I was still mainly concerned with my own state of health. Besides having pleurisy and a bruised head, I had a hypochondriac’s notion that I was getting a strep throat. I sat surreptiously curling back my tongue and exploring the suspected ailing part. I was staring, as I remember, directly in front of me, at the back of the driver’s neck, which was a relief map of boil scars, when suddenly my jump-seat mate addressed me: “I didn’t get a chance to ask you inside. How’s that darling mother of yours? Aren’t you Dickie Briganza?”

Monday, January 20, 2020

the last book I ever read (J. D. Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, excerpt one)

from Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger:

In late May of 1942, the progeny—seven in number—of Les and Bessie (Gallagher) Glass, retired Pantages Circuit vaudevillians, were flung, extravagantly speaking, all over the United States. I, for one, the second-eldest, was in the post hospital at Fort Benning, Georgia, with pleurisy—a little keepsake of thirteen weeks’ infantry basic training. The twins, Walt and Waker, had been split up a whole year earlier. Waker was in a conscientious objectors’ camp in Maryland, and Walt was somewhere in the Pacific—or on his way there—with a field-artillery unit. (We’ve never been altogether sure where Walt was at that specific time. He was never a great letter writer, and very little personal information—almost none—reached us after his death. He was killed in an unspeakably absurd G.I. accident in late autumn of 1945, in Japan.) My eldest sister, Boo Boo, who comes, chronologically, between the twins and me, was an ensign in the Waves, stationed, off and on, at a naval base in Brooklyn. All that spring and summer, she occupied the small apartment in New York that my brother Seymour and I had all but technically given up after our induction. The two youngest children in the family, Zooey (male) and Franny (female), were with our parents in Los Angeles, where my father was hustling talent for a motion-picture studio. Zooey was thirteen, and Franny was eight. They were both appearing every week on a children’s radio quiz program called, with perhaps typically pungent Coast-to-Coast irony, “It’s a Wise Child.” At one time or another, I might well bring in here—or, rather, in one year or another—all the children in our family have been weekly hired “guests” on “It’s a Wise Child.” Seymour and I were the first to appear on the show, back in 1927, at the respective ages of ten and eight, in the days when the program “emanated” from one of the convention rooms of the old Murray Hill Hotel. All seven of us, from Seymour through Franny, appeared on the show under the pseudonyms. Which many sound highly anomalous, considering that we’re the children of vaudevillians, a sect not usually antipathetic to publicity, but my mother had once read a magazine article on the little crosses professional children are obliged to bear—their estrangement from normal, presumably desirable society—and she took an iron stand on the issue, and never, never wavered. (This is not the time at all to go into the question of whether most, or all, “professional” children ought to be outlawed, pitied, or unsentimentally executed as disturbers of the peace. For the moment, I’ll only pass along that our combined income on “It’s a Wise Child” has sent six of us through college, and is now sending the seventh.)

Sunday, January 19, 2020

the last book I ever read (Me by Elton John, excerpt nine)

from Me by Elton John:

It was a strange process. Tim wrote the same way as Bernie, lyrics first, so that was fine. In fact, writing a musical was like writing the Captain Fantastic album, because there was a storyline: there was a specific sequence that you had to follow; you always knew in advance which order the songs had to go in. But I would be lying if I said I never had doubts about the project or, rather, my place within it. I have many flaws, but being an artist who takes himself too seriously is something you could never accuse me of. Even so, there were days when I'd find myself sat at the piano, thinking long and hard about the path my career seemed to be taking. You know, I wrote 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight.' I wrote 'Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.' I wrote 'I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues.' And here was no getting around the fact that I was now writing a song about a warthog that farted a lot. Admittedly, I thought it was a pretty good song about a warthog who farted a lot: at the risk of appearing big-headed, I'm pretty sure that in a list of the greatest songs ever written about warthogs who fart a lot, mine would come in somewhere near the top. Still, it felt a long way from The Band turning up backstage and demanding to hear my new album, or Bob Dylan stopping us on the stairs and complimenting Bernie on 'My Father's Gun.' But I decided that something about the sheer ridiculousness of the situation appealed to me, and carried on.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

the last book I ever read (Me by Elton John, excerpt eight)

from Me by Elton John:

I spent some time in Atlanta with Hugh, but our relationship began to peter out. Both our counsellors had warned against us staying together: they kept telling us that it wouldn't work, that the dynamic of the relationship would change irrevocably now that we were sober. We both dismissed that as nonsense: half the writing I'd done in rehab had been about how much I loved Hugh, how much I missed him. So we rented an apartment, moved in together and discovered to our immense surprise that the dynamic of our relationship appeared to have changed irrevocably now that we were sober, and it wasn't working out. It wasn't a horrible split, we weren't screaming and shouting at each other, but it was sad. We had been through a lot together, but it was time for us both to move on.

So for most of the next eighteen months I was in London, where I settled into a quiet routine. I bought the house I'd been renting, where I had holed up on my final binge. I lived alone. I didn't bother with employing staff; I liked doing things myself. I bought myself a Mini and I got a dog from Battersea Dogs Home, a little mutt called Thomas. Every day, I would get up at 6:30 a.m. and take Thomas for a walk. I adored it. It's a real recovering addict's cliche to say that you notice things about your surroundings that you never saw while you were using - oh, the beauty of the flowers, the wonders of nature, all that crap - but it's only a cliche because it's true. I'm sure that's one of the reasons why I started collecting photography when I got sober. I'd been around incredible photographers for most of my career - Terry O'Neill, Annie Leibovitz, Richard Avedon, Norman Parkinson - but I just thought of it as a form of publicity, never an art, until I stopped drinking and using drugs. I went ot the south of France for a holiday and visited a friend of mine, Alain Perrin, who lived outside Cahors. He was looking through black and white fashion photographs with a view to buying some. Idly peering over his shoulder, I was suddenly transfixed. They were by Irving Penn, Horst and Herb Ritts. I knew Herb Ritts - he'd taken the photo for the cover of Sleeping with the Past - but it felt like I was seeing his work in a completely new way. I love everything about the photos Alain was looking at - the lighting, the shapes it had created and contorted; it all seemed extraordinary. I ended up buying twelve of them, and that was the start of an obsession that's never stopped: photography is the love of my life in terms of visual art.

Friday, January 17, 2020

the last book I ever read (Me by Elton John, excerpt seven)

from Me by Elton John:

If Dusty Springfield was around, we’d go to the roller derby to see the LA Thunderbirds. It ws so camp and fabulous, all scripted, like wrestling, but lesbians loved it – it was basically a load of dykes whizzing round on skates and fighting each other. And we’d have fantastic lunch and dinner parties. Franco Zeffirelli came for lunch and revealed that his close friends called him Irene. Simon and Garfunkel had dinner one night, then played charades. They were terrible at it. The best thing I can say about them is that they were better than Bob Dylan. He couldn’t get the hang of the ‘how many syllables?’ thing at all. He couldn’t do ‘ – sounds like’ either, come to think of it. One of the best lyricists in the world, the greatest man of letters in the history of rock music, and he can’t seem to tell you whether a word’s got one syllable or two syllables or what it rhymes with! He was so hopeless, I started throwing oranges at him. Or so I was informed the next morning, by a cackling Tony King. That’s not really a phone call you want to receive when you’re struggling with a hangover. ‘Morning, darling – do you remember throwing oranges at Bob Dylan last night?’ Oh God.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

the last book I ever read (Me by Elton John, excerpt six)

from Me by Elton John:

I first met John Lennon through Tony King, who had moved to LA to become Apple Records’ general manager in the US. In fact, the first time I met John Lennon, he was dancing with Tony King. Nothing unusual in that, other than the fact that they weren’t in a nightclub, there was no music playing and Tony was in full drag as Queen Elizabeth II. They were at Capitol Records in Hollywood, where Tony’s new office was, shooting a TV advert for John’s forthcoming album Mind Games, and, for reasons best known to John, this was the big concept.

I took to him straight away. It wasn’t just that he was a Beatle and therefore one of my idols. He was a Beatle who thought it was a good idea to promote his new album by dancing around with a man dragged up as the Queen, for fuck’s sake. I thought: We’re going to get on like a house on fire. And I was right. As soon as we started talking, it felt like I’d known him my entire life.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

the last book I ever read (Me by Elton John, excerpt five)

from Me by Elton John:

They were also the product of the bedroom at Frome Court. At the time we were writing, two artists were constantly on the Littlewoods stereo. One was the rock/soul dup Delaney and Bonnie. I was completely obsessed with the way their keyboardist, Leon Russell, played. It was like he’d somehow climbed into my head and worked out exactly how I wanted to play piano before I did. He’d managed to synthesize all the music I loved – rock and roll, blues, gospel, country – into one, perfectly natural style.

And the other was The Band. We played their first two albums over and over again. Like Leon Russell’s piano playing, their songs felt like someone switching a torch on and showing us a new path to follow, a way we could do what we wanted to do. ‘Chest Fever,’ ‘Tears of Rage,’ ‘The Weight’: this was what we craved to write. Bernie went crazy for the lyrics. Ever since he was a kid, he’d loved gritty stories about old American, and that was what The Band told: ‘Virgil Caine is the name and I served on the Danville train, ‘til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore the tracks up again.’ They were white musicians making soul music without covering ‘In The Midnight Hour,’ or doing something that was just a pale imitation of what black artists did. It was a revelation.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

the last book I ever read (Me by Elton John, excerpt four)

from Me by Elton John:

And then there were the songs we wanted to write, influenced by The Beatles, The Moody Blues, Cat Stevens, Leonard Cohen, the kind of stuff we were buying from Musicland, a record shop in Soho that Bernie and I haunted so frequently that the staff would ask me to help out behind the counter when one of them wanted to get some lunch. It was the tail end of the psychedelic era, so we wrote a lot of whimsical stuff with lyrics about dandelions and teddy bears. We were really just trying on other people’s styles and finding none of them quite fitted us, but that’s how the process of discovering your own voice works, and the process was fun. Everything was fun. Bernie had moved to London and our friendship had really bloomed. We got on so well, it felt like he was the brother I’d never had, a state of affairs magnified by the fact that we were, at least temporarily, sleeping in bunk beds in my bedroom at Frome Court. We would spend the days writing – Bernie tapping out lyrics on a typewriter in the bedroom, bringing them to me at the upright piano in the living room, the scurrying back to the bedroom again as I started to set them to music. We couldn’t be in the same room if we were writing, but if we weren’t writing, we spent all our time together, in record shops, at the cinema. At night, we would go to gigs or hang around the musicians’ clubs, watching Harry Heart drink his vase full of gin, chatting to other young hopefuls. There was a funny little guy we knew who – in keeping with the flower-power mood of the times – had changed his name to Hans Christian Anderson. The aura of fairy tale otherworldliness conjured by this pseudonym was slightly punctured when he opened his mouth and a thick Lancashire accent came out. Eventually he changed his first name back to Jon and became the lead singer of Yes.

Monday, January 13, 2020

the last book I ever read (Me by Elton John, excerpt three)

from Me by Elton John:

My dad’s team were the substantially less glamorous and awe-inducing Watford. I was six when he first took me to see them play. They were toiling away at the bottom of something called the Third Division South, which was as low as you could get in the football league without being thrown out entirely. In fact, not long before I started going to Watford games, they had played so badly that they actually had been thrown out of the football league; they were allowed to stay after applying for re-election. Their ground at Vicarage Road seemed to tell you all you needed to know about the team. It only had two very old, very rickety, very small covered stands. It doubled as a greyhound racing track. If I’d had any sense, I would have taken one look at it, considered Watford’s recent form, and opted to support a team that could actually play football. I could have saved myself twenty years of almost unmitigated misery. But football doesn’t work like that, or at least it shouldn’t. It’s in your blood: Watford were my dad’s team, therefore Watford were my team.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

the last book I ever read (Me by Elton John, excerpt two)

from Me by Elton John:

Sixty years on, it’s hard to explain how revolutionary and shocking rock and roll seemed. Not just the music: the whole culture it represented, the clothes and the films and the attitude. It felt like the first thing that teenagers really owned, that was aimed exclusively at us, that made us feel different from our parents, that made us feel we could achieve something. It’s also hard to explain the extent to which the older generation despised it. Take every example of moral panic pop music has provoked since – punk and gangster rap, mods and rockers and heavy metal - then add them all together and double it: that’s how much outrage rock and roll caused. People fucking hated it. And no one hated it more than my father. He obviously disliked the music itself – he liked Frank Sinatra – but more than that, he hated its social impact, he thought the whole thing was morally wrong: ‘Look at the way they dress, the way they act, swiveling their hips, showing their dicks. You are not to get involved.’ If I did, I was going to turn into something called a wide boy. A wide boy, in case you don’t know, is an old British term for a kind of petty criminal – a confidence trickster, someone who does a bit of wheeler-dealing or runs the odd scam. Presumably already alive to the thought that I might go off the rails thanks to my inability to eat celery in the correct way, he resolutely believed that rock and roll was going to result in my utter degradation. The mere mention of Elvis or Little Richard would set him off on an angry lecture in which my inevitable transformation into a wide boy figured heavily: one minute I’d be happily listening to ‘Good Golly Miss Molly,’ the next thing you knew, I was apparently going to be fencing stolen nylons or duping people into playing Find-the-Lady on the mean streets of Pinner.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

the last book I ever read (Me by Elton John, excerpt one)

from Me by Elton John:

Perhaps he was just in the garden to avoid my mother, in which case I couldn’t really blame him. Even when Dad wasn’t around, Mum had a terrible temper. When I think back to my childhood, I think of Mum’s moods: awful, glowering, miserable silences that descended on the house without warning, during which you walked on eggshells and picked your words very carefully, in case you set her off and got thumped as a result. When she was happy she could be warm and charming and vivacious, but she always seemed to be looking for a reason not to be happy, always seemed to be in search of a fight, always had to have the last word; Uncle Reg famously said she could start an argument in an empty room. I thought for years that I was somehow my fault, that maybe she never really wanted to be a mother: she was only twenty-one when I was born, stuck in a marriage that clearly wasn’t working, forced to live with her mum because money was so tight. But her sister, my auntie Win, told me she was always like that – that when they were kids it was as if a dark cloud used to follow Sheila Harris around, that other children were scared of her and that she seemed to like that.

She definitely had some deeply weird ideas about parenting. It was an era when you kept your kids in line by clobbering them, when it was generally held that there was nothing wrong with children that couldn’t be cured by thumping the living daylights out of them. This was a philosophy to which my mother was passionately wedded, which was petrifying and humiliating if it happened in public: there’s nothing like getting a hiding outside Pinner Sainsbury’s, in front of a visibly intrigued crowd of onlookers, for playing havoc with your self-esteem. But some of Mum’s behavior would have been considered disturbing even by the standards of the time. I found our years later that when I was two, she’d toilet-trained me by hitting me with a wire brush until I bled if I didn’t use the potty. My nan had, understandably, gone berserk when she found out what was going on: they didn’t speak for weeks as a result. Nan had gone berserk again when she saw my mother’s remedy for constipation. She laid me on the draining board in the kitchen and stuck carbolic soap up my arse. If she liked to scare people, she must have been overjoyed by me, because I was fucking terrified of her. I loved her – she was my mum – but I spent my childhood in a state of high alert, always trying to ensure that I never did anything that might set her off: if she was happy, I was happy, albeit temporarily.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom, excerpt sixteen)

from National Book Award winner The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom:

If the French Quarter is mythologized as new-world sophistication, New Orleans East is the encroaching wilderness. The East is less dressed up; it’s where the city’s dysfunctions are laid bare. And wild things do happen there: canebrake rattlesnakes, one of the most poisonous in North America, are routinely discovered slithering around neighborhoods or in the abandoned Jazzland theme park, sometimes measuring over five feet long, which gains them the name “monster.”

The East, in general, especially post-Water, provided good cover for snakes and for people. The large majority of its streetlights had not yet been restored, and this is why men have led cops on wild-goose chases through the East’s marshlands, and why an escaped prisoner from Orleans Parish Prison hid out in the rafters of the abandoned Versailles Arms apartment complex. This is partly why Carl loves living there—because the only people who can find him are the people who can find him are the people he already knows. Living where Carl does requires Maroon-like levels of self-sufficiency and independence. There are, of course, more populous areas of the East, neighborhoods with associations and monthly meetings, neighborhoods where city services are provided regularly, like those subdivisions closer to the brand-new Walmart on Bullard, whose opening was the biggest news the East has had in years—but where Carl lives is not one of them.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom, excerpt fifteen)

from National Book Award winner The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom:

From my balcony, I could look over to the Moonwalk, the promenade that runs along the Mississippi River. Some days I jogged along its banks, past homeless people wrapped in sleeping bags. Just across from this balcony is an apartment that overcharges rent because Tennessee Williams lived there briefly and, some say, wrote half of A Streetcar Named Desire under its eaves. Every day when the tour guides passed by that apartment with their paying customers in mule-drawn carriages, they told the story of how, in 2006, during the Tennessee Williams Festival screaming contest when Stanleys compete to yell “Stella” best and loudest, the winner that year yelled “FEMA!” instead. It was a story that I never tired of hearing.

Behind my apartment, in Pirates Alley, is the house where William Faulkner briefly lived, now a bookstore called Faulkner House. Nothing in this district is without an accompanying story, and there is no shortage or supporting evidence—anecdotal or otherwise. Much of this material is housed in the Historic New Orleans Collection, a few blocks from my flat, where it is possible to find the history of any French Quarter property, going back to the city’s founding, in about the time it takes me to type this sentence.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom, excerpt fourteen)

from National Book Award winner The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom:

The road, red like rust, seemed like a video game. Phil Collins was playing on a cassette tape the whole while we flew by boys driving motors with baseball caps for helmets and a man on a bicycle with a door balanced on his head. We swerved wildly to avoid potholes, driving onto small bits of sidewalk where people knew not to walk. Some drivers sat behind steering wheels on the left sides of cars; others were on the right. Phil Collins sang on: “One more night. Give me just one more night …” At first I thought the driver played him to him make me feel comfortable hearing a language I knew, but Phil blared from rolled-down car windows everywhere and would be sung on karaoke nights from stages where live bands performed covers. The men who worked for Alexis were singing the song now, too. People here loved Phil Collins. By the end, I would like him, too.

Monday, January 6, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom, excerpt thirteen)

from National Book Award winner The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom:

The only structure that was stable at the time of demolition was the incomplete add-on that my father had built. The house contained all of my frustrations and many of my aspirations, the hopes that it would one day shine against like it did in the world before me. The house’s disappearance from the landscape was not different from my father’s absence. His was a sudden erasure for my mother and siblings, a prolonged and present absence for me, an intriguing story with an ever-expanding middle that never drew to a close. The house held my father inside of it, preserved; it bore his traces. As long as the house stood, containing these remnants, my father was not yet gone. And then suddenly, he was.

I had no home. Mine had fallen all the way down. I understood, then, that the place I never wanted to claim had, in fact, been containing me. We own what belongs to us whether we claim it or not. When the house fell down, it can be said, something in me opened up. Cracks help a house resolve internally its pressures and stresses, my engineer friend had said. Houses provide a frame that bears us up. Without that physical structure, we are the house that bears itself up. I was now the house.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom, excerpt twelve)

from National Book Award winner The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom:

Perhaps there is a trick of logic that fails me now, but to deliver such notification to the doomed structure itself seems too easy a metaphor for much of what New Orleans represents: blatant backwardness about the things that count. For what can an abandoned house receive, by way of notification? And when basic services like sanitation and clean water were still lacking, why was there still mail delivery? But we were not the only ones. Lawsuits were filed against the city on behalf of houses that unlike ours stood in perfect condition when they were knocked down. There were sanctuaries, actual churches that deacons prepared to move back into, only to discover them gone. A newspaper article headlined NEW ORLEANS’ WRECKING BALL LEVELS HEALTHY HOMES asked the simplest and thus most profound questions, such as: “How do you not inquire before you knock a place down? How do you not knock on the door first?”

Saturday, January 4, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom, excerpt eleven)

from National Book Award winner The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom:

But Carl always does what his mind wants. Next we saw, he was up on the roof walking with a loping stride.

Picture a man set against a wide blue sky, wearing a bright-red Detroit Pistons hat, blue jean shorts that fall far below the knee, and clean blue sneakers. In the first frame, he is bent down, holding himself up by his hands, entering the escape hole, a rugged map carved through the roof, feet first. By the second frame he is shrunken to half a man. In the last frame, we see only his head. Then he disappears inside.

Carl reappeared holding a weed eater in one hand, a chain saw in the other.

Now he was pointing at the hole in the roof.

Friday, January 3, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom, excerpt ten)

from National Book Award winner The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom:

It was an open casket that should have been closed. Not enough money for the best so the stitching on Alvin’s face was clearly worked on, then worked on some more. There was so much powder foundation, especially under his eyes, making him five shades darker than in life. His hair was neatly braided in six parallel rows. No more of his smiling, though. This was a dark quiet.

I hesitated but then went to see Alvin up close—him and his eye makeup and somber gray suit with the one pink rose pinned to it—and became greatly afraid to see him like this, lying so silent.

James made it there that day, too, shackled legs and hands, head bowed. A pair of uniformed policemen escorted him down the aisle to see Alvin sleeping. James bent over, kissed Alvin’s dead cheek. Before he could get a good long look at his friend, he was hurried back to prison to serve his second year of a twenty-year sentence for armed robbery.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom, excerpt nine)

from National Book Award winner The Yellow House: A Memoir by Sarah M. Broom:

Even though I knew that nothing would ever be the same, displaced and fragmented as everything was, I tried not to let on. At the magazine office, when people asked how my family was—and they always did ask, sometimes multiple times a day—I said fine or so-so or making it. I did not completely know; they were still reacting to Water. As was I. One day, I took a stroll down Harlem’s Fifth Avenue toward Central Park to hear Joan Didion when a heavy, mean rain started, sending everyone darting for cover, nearly knocking each other over, reminding me what a hard and treacherous thing it is when Water has got you running.

Whenever someone asked where I was from and I said New Orleans, they asked, “Were you there?” “I was not,” I always said. “But my family was.” That absence, my not being there physically, began to register in me on subtle emotional frequencies, I can see now, as failure.