Tuesday, March 31, 2020

the last book I ever read (Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry, excerpt nine)

from Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry:

You know why, Charlie? Because if Irish people are martyrs for the drink, they’re worse again for the dope, once they get the taste for it, because it eases the anxiety, and we’re a very anxious people.

Why wouldn’t we be, Moss? I mean Jesus Christ in the garden, after all that we been through? Dragging ourselves around that wet tormented rock on the edge of the black Atlantic for the months and years never-ending and the long gawpy faces screamin’ for the light and the jaws operatin’ on wires and the pale little yellow arses hanging out the back end of us?

Dope be the only thing get us through, Charles.

Monday, March 30, 2020

the last book I ever read (Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry, excerpt eight)

from Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry:

The first six months on heroin with Cynthia were the most beautiful days of all time. Love and opiates—this is unimprovable in the human sphere. Like young gods they walked out. Some night coming down Wellington Road from St. Luke’s. Some Friday night in the rain. That was the best night that ever was.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

the last book I ever read (Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry, excerpt seven)

from Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry:

Those were hard times for you, Maurice. What were you? Eighteen? Nineteen?

It was after we moved to the new flat. College Road. By St. Fin Barre’s. He wasn’t right in himself. He’d sit in a deckchair out at the front door and play Hank Williams records. The Hank was never a good sign. It was summer and it’d be nearly bright at eleven o’clock still. He’s in his deckchair. The mother bringing him out cups of strong tea. Hank is going for it on the Sanyo Music Centre. The mother operated on the principle that strong tea was your only man for nerves. The father was done from the job by that stage. He was gone from the port of Cork.

When the work is done for? Charlie says. Throw a stick at it.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

the last book I ever read (Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry, excerpt six)

from Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry:

It’s the desperation make us saucy. Gents of a certain age. But as a matter of fact, Moss? For all the groaning out of us? For all we’d be whinging away like we’re stuck in the middle of Radiohead of a wet Tuesday? The fact is we’re in our prime. You and me? We’re three o’clock of a summer’s afternoon.

Hard to enjoy it, Charlie. I have an amount of guilt. Still.

Friday, March 27, 2020

the last book I ever read (Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry, excerpt five)

from Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry:

You were going to tell me this when?

It’s nonsense.

The men won’t build on a site we’ve paid four hundred and eighty-five thousand pounds for because they think there’s a fairy fort up there. And you felt this was beyond remark?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

the last book I ever read (Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry, excerpt four)

from Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry:

They walked in the afternoons through the Barri Gòtic. On ancient narrow streets the gargoyles lurched, the fountains whispered. They tried on clothes in skuzzy boutiques. They listened to house music sent on cassettes from Cork and to The Pixies but only the first three LPs. A shipment that set out from Ceuta was taken in on a clear night by Eyeries on the coast of the Beara Peninsula and realised another eighty thousand pounds. She wondered if Charlie could not be cut out at this point.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

the last book I ever read (Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry, excerpt two)

from Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry:

At the Café Central, in the Plaza de la Constitución, he drank café solo and waited. Around him there was the ceaseless hum of the old Andalusians’ talk. They balled up their napkins and threw them to the tiled floor. The old men spat, narrowing their faces. Their skins of almond shade. The air was blue with cigarette smoke that rose in slow drifts. The old ladies wore ankle-length fur coats for the winter sun. They had high comical arched eyebrows painted on and looked perpetually startled. The coffee machines laughed and spat also. The patrons drank café solo and con leche and cortado and hot chocolate, and ate sugary lengths of long, twisted churros. A woeful fat man from Birmingham arrived just a few minutes late. He had a look of high moral injury as he took a seat opposite Maurice Hearne. His great, fleshy frame came to rest in a soft stack of complaint.

Monday, March 23, 2020

the last book I ever read (Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry, excerpt one)

from Night Boat to Tangier: A Novel by Kevin Barry:

“The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.” Whose line was that, Maurice?

I believe it was the Bard, Charlie. Or it might have been Little Stevie Wonder.

A genius. Little Stevie.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt fourteen)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

When he arrived home Ken told Mr. and Mrs. Wells that he was leaving for Spain the following afternoon.

“My goodness, Ken, I can’t believe it,” Mrs. Wells said. “If you get a chance to visit England you take it. The crocuses’ll be coming up down in Devon and Cornwall.”

“Ken’s not interested in crocuses,” Mr. Wells said.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt thirteen)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

That “foreigners” were dirty was an axiom among Cabbagetowners, when the direct opposite was true. Most European immigrants lived in the West End of the city, and few citizens of Cabbagetown knew any non-English-speaking families at all. The only “foreigners” around their neighbourhood were the Jewish storekeepers on Queen and Parliament Streets, and the Central Europeans who lived in a colony to the south near King Street. These people, mostly immigrant males without familes in Canada, also congregated in their own restaurants near the corner of Parliament and Queen, where they are outlandish-smelling meals and spent their days arguing over Balkan politics or playing cards.

The “foreigners” were just beginning to spread into the city’s East End, but it would be years yet before they ousted the Anglo-Saxon majority from the district immediately west of the Don River. When this happened some of the Cabbagetown women, who still could not be convinced that foreigners and Jews were not dirty, used to watch the European immigrant women washing down their front porches and steps every day, and put it down to showing off or being clean publicly to hide their houses’ inside dirt. The sight of an immigrant woman placing her mattresses outside her windows to air them was looked upon as being a filthy and unhealthy habit. Most Cabbagetown housewives lived their whole lives and went to their deaths believing these things.

Friday, March 20, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt twelve)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

Theodore folded the paper in his lap. Death was an impersonal thing that affected only older people, until something like this brought it close. He held no great affection for Billy and, though they had both gone to Park Public School together, he had not known Billy well.

All the way home he thought about Addington, for Billy was the first of his acquaintances to die. Already, even at the age of twenty, Theodore realized that a final reckoning was coming to them all, sooner or later. The shortness of life on earth, and the workings of blind unreasoning chance, were revealed to him now by Billy’s death.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt eleven)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

Unknown to anyone else in the family she had turned in an insurance policy on young Donald, and with the nine dollars she received had bought him a Toronto Maple Leaf hockey sweater and a hockey stick, and a needlework set and a cheap copy of Little Women for Margaret.

She had not known what to get for George, who now sat in his chair in the front room, neither smoking nor reading, a shadow of his former self, seemingly unaware of what went on around him. He wore none of his clothing out, and needed nothing, so she bought him a package of gum and some five-cent chocolate bars.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt ten)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

Through a growing friendship with Jack Sharpe, the president of the National Canadian Youth, he became a fixture around the club and attended most of the meetins, dancers and smokers held in the club rooms. Jack had told him that only his age was a barrier to his becoming an officer.

He was now convinced that the foreigners and Jews were to blame for the Depression, and as a member of the club he had boycotted a large West-End swimming pool all summer because the owners let it be used by the dirty, greasy kikes.

He had tried to win over the other members of his family, but his father, for one, dismissed his arguments as immature.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt nine)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

In the streetcar Mrs. Plummer rambled on about everything and everybody in Cabbagetown. She told Myrla that she’d heard Ken Tilling was out West working on the harvest and that his mother was drinking now more than ever. She knew the whys and wherefores of every bit of scandal.

Myrla pretended to listen, but instead was thinking how lucky she’d been to meet Mrs. Plummer as she had. The Mrs. Plummers of the world were poor and ignorant, loud-voiced and gossipy, ill-mannered and ill-dressed, but there was probably a special corner of heaven for women like them. The Mrs. Plummers were almost everyting they said a woman shouldn’t be, but they were really the salt of the earth.

Monday, March 16, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt eight)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

Ken Tilling lay in the shallow shelter of the CNR boxcar’s wooden walkway that ran from the middle of the roof to the top of the forward ladder. For three days the train had lurched, yawed and shuddered its way through and around the coniferous forests and blackwater lakes of Northern Ontario, heading west. The names of the small isolated division points were etched on his mind: Capreol—Hornepayne—Nakima—Sioux Lookout; but all he had learned so far was that the north country was a hungry country and that Canada would never run out of water or firewood.

Though it was early summer, nights on the top of the swaying boxcar were cold and the days were hot. He wore a shirt and trousers and a wool windbreaker, and his luggage and toilet articles were shoved into his back pockets—a safety thin razor, thinned-out bar of soap and a small towel, which he wore around his neck at night. His peaked cap was pulled down over his ears against the grit and smoke, and his face was sunburned under its black bituminous coating. Scattered along the tops of the train of boxcars were a couple of dozen other hoboes, each one huddled down on the warm steel of the car roof, facing the rear of the train, impervious by now to the monotonous sight of lake and forest. They held themselves on with a hand gripping the catwalk.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt seven)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

The little old man smiled a nostalgic smile, then looked up as if he had just reminded himself that Theodore sat before him. “Go to Chicago, Mr. East. Go anywhere you wish, but leave your music at home. Restless youth and music don’t mix; it is only when the musician has mastered his instrument that he can afford other things. Stay here and study piano. Work hard at it. If it is other things you need, go into the streets on Saturday night and find them. But do not try to mix the two.”

“I didn’t want to go there for those reasons, Professor. It’s just that I want to devote all my time to—to my art.”

“Art!” The little man swung himself around in a circle on the stool. “Mr. East, please don’t speak of art until you are at first a craftsman. When you are an artist you will no longer be my pupil. Right now you are—“ He stared into Theodore’s face and shrugged. “You are a pianist of sorts, that is all.” He jumped down from the stool and walked over to Theodore and patted his shoulder. “Next Thursday, Mr. East, unless you have gone to Chicago.”

Saturday, March 14, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt six)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

“We’ll go to the Art Gallery some Sunday afternoon.”

“Okay, but I’ve been there before. When I see the pictures I think of my father and it makes me sad. I guess he’d be the happiest man on earth if one of his paintings was hanging in a gallery. I think that losing his job was nothing compared to having to give up his painting. Nobody like my father, an ordinary unskilled working man, should ever try to be anything else I guess. All anybody down in Cabbagetown should want to do is work for wages, smoke, drink, or do simple things like that.” She saw that Ken was unconvinced. “You know it’s true, Ken. Nobody down there ever gets anywhere. They work hard all their lives and at the end they own an old living room set and maybe a piano, and if they’re lucky they might have bought a house and put a bathtub in it. I don’t want to live like that.”

Friday, March 13, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt five)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

Among the East-End Toronto factories that drew many of their workers from Cabbagetown, and Riverdale across the river, was “the soap works” on the east bank of the Don, near the spot where it empties into the Bay. There were two large soap manufacturing plants in the East End, both of them international in reputation and both manufacturing various kinds of laundry, face and specialized soap, soapflakes and allied products. Soap is a relatively inexpensive product to manufacture, and most of the sale dollar was turned back into a large advertising budget that cajoled, frightened, coaxed, and persuaded the pimpled, odorous, star-struck, socially conscious wallflowers of both sexes into buying one or the other of their products. Their laundry soaps and soap flakes, in the days before detergents, had become household words and needed less advertising than their face soaps—body cleanliness being closer to both godliness and success than clean laundry was at the time.

The soap works was a much better place to work than, say, the steelwares or the wirebound-box company, where too many plant workers bore foreshortened fingers and arms from their labour on the presses. The copper and brass foundry was not as dangerous, but finding a job there was almost as difficult as finding a job as a city garbageman, whose unbelievable salary was twenty-eight dollars and eighty cents a week.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt four)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

After the short time with her husband came the long years in which she had supported herself and her child by various jobs, each a little worse than the one before. Her efforts to remain genteel had been eroded under the onslaught of a thousand little denigrating waves, each one mild but their multiplication deadly over the years. Gradually she had given up, not even knowing it herself, so that she had become careless and slovenly, forgetting the earlier promises she had made to herself.

As a result of her gradual slipping into the lethargy of poverty, Ken had been thrown more and more into the streets, which had been allowed to shape him. At first she had tried to halt or neutralize this with things she wanted him to believe, but all her efforts were parried by the boy’s stubbornness.

She sensed he was ashamed of her and ashamed of the life she had made for him. This knowledge had not angered her, for she was glad that he did not take poverty as his due, and she knew that some day he would struggle to break away from it. It was important to her that some day he should.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt three)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

One evening in October the newspapers printed extra editions reporting a stock market crash. Of all the city’s neighbourhoods Cabbagetown probably took the news most quietly. In the wealthier districts, and even in the middle-class neighbourhoods, the citizens were either shocked or sloughed off the news as merely a temporary halt to the inevitable spiraling of the economy. In the Bay Street financial district crowds filled he evening streets, clustering in front of the newspaper offices waiting for the latest bulletins. In residential neighbourhoods families sat down in their living rooms and laughed at Amos ‘n Andy or listened with mounting impatience as the bulletins from New York and other financial centres cried havoc and interrupted the A & P Gypsies.

Cabbagetown went on its serene way, not caring whether the stockmarket crashed or didn’t, such things being as far away and as alien to Cabbagetown as an aeroplane crash in Peru. With millions of dollars worth of investors’ paper profits blowing away on the autumn breeze Cabbagetown knew that its hard-earned wealth was safe. Come Friday night or Saturday noon the same familiar pay envelopes would be carried out to the shipping platform by the foreman or handed through the timekeeper’s wicket as usual. Whether some stock-market plungers lost their fortunes or whether a particular stock was worth this or that was of no particular interest. As a matter of fact most Cabbagetowners felt rather smug about the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt two)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

He was in love. Let the pedants scoff and call it “puppy love.” Let everyone deride him and warn him and say, “ I told you so,” years later when it had become a metal taste on the tongue. Let them feel a condescending pity for a sixteen-year-old boy who kissed a pretty girl at a party and fell in love with her. Such loves are not always the lasting loves, but they are the great ones when you are young and silly and new to the game. And the one you love is beautiful and wonderful and without guile or evil. Then years later when you see your first love again and cannot recall why you ever loved her, perhaps it is not because you never did but because you loved her too well.

Monday, March 9, 2020

the last book I ever read (Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner, excerpt one)

from Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner:

A few houses on almost every street were as verminous and tumbledown as any in the city, but next door or across the street was the same type of house, clean and in good repair, reflecting the decency or pride of its occupants, or reflecting the fact that the tenant was buying it. In 1929 most Cabbagetowners rented their houses, from the ingrained habit of generations or because they refused to tie themselves down forever in the district. This was a neighborhood almost without tenements, and the streets were lined with single-family houses, many of whose upper stories accommodated a second family.

The citizens of Cabbagetown believed in God, the Royal Family, the Conservative Party and private enterprise. They were suspicious and a little condescending towards all heathen religions, higher education, “foreigners” and social reformers. They were generally unskilled working people, among whom were scattered, like raisins in a ten-cent cake, representatives of the State—such as postmen, civic employees, streetcar conductors and even a policeman or two.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

the last book I ever read (Station Eleven: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel, excerpt twelve)

from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel:

The truth was, the clarinet hated Shakespeare. She’d been a double major in college, theater and music, a sophomore the year the world changed, lit up by an obsession with twenty-first-century experimental German theater. Twenty years after the collapse, she loved the music of the Symphony, loved being a part of it, but found the Symphony’s insistence on performing Shakespeare insufferable. She tried to keep this opinion to herself and occasionall succeded.

A year before she was seized by the prophet’s men, the clarinet was sitting alone on the breach in Mackinaw City. It was a cool morning, and a fog hung over the water. They’d passed through this place more times than she could count, but she never tired of it. She liked the way the Upper Peninsula disappeared on foggy days, a sense of infinite possibility in the way the bridge faded into cloud.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

the last book I ever read (Station Eleven: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel, excerpt eleven)

from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel:

Clark rose unsteadily from the armchair. They stared at him as he made his way to the museum’s first display case.

“Is his mother still alive?” Clark was looking at Elizabeth’s passport, at its photograph from the inconceivable past.

Friday, March 6, 2020

the last book I ever read (Station Eleven: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel, excerpt ten)

from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel:

That evening they broke into the Mexican restaurant and cooked an enormous dinner of ground meat and tortilla chips and cheese with sauces splashed over it. Some people had mixed feeling about this—they’d obviously been abandoned here, everyone was hungry and 911 wasn’t even operational; on the other hand, no one wants to be a thief—but then a business traveler named Max said, “Look, everyone just chill the fuck out, I’ll cover it on my Amex.” There was applause at this announcement. He removed his Amex card from his wallet with a flourish and left it next to the cash register, where it remained untouched for the next ninety-seven days.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

the last book I ever read (Station Eleven: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel, excerpt nine)

from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel:

Clark walked the length of the airport, restless, and was stunned to see that the security checkpoints were unmanned. He walked through and back three or four times, just because he could. He’d thought it would be liberating but all he felt was fear. He found himself staring at everyone he saw, looking for symptoms. No one seemed sick, but could they be carrying it? He found a corner as far from his fellow passengers as possible and stayed there for some time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

the last book I ever read (Station Eleven: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel, excerpt eight)

from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel:

Toronto was falling silent. Every morning the quiet was deeper, the perpetual hum of the city fading away. Jeevan mentioned this to Frank, who said, “Everyone’s running out of gas.” The thing was, Jeevan realized, looking at the stopped cars on the highway, even the people who hadn’t run out of gas couldn’t go anywhere now. All the roads would be blocked by abandoned cars.

Frank never stopped working. The philanthropist’s memoir was almost complete.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

the last book I ever read (Station Eleven: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel, excerpt seven)

from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel:

There was a moment on Earth, improbably in retrospect and actually briefer than a moment in the span of human history, more like the blink of an eye, when it was possible to make a living solely by photographing and interviewing famous people. Seven years before the end of the world, Jeevan Chaudhary booked an interview with Arthur Leander.

Monday, March 2, 2020

the last book I ever read (Station Eleven: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel, excerpt six)

from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel:

On the far side of town they reached the limits of the fire, a place where the trees stood taller and the grasses and wildflowers changed. Just beyond the fire line they found an old baseball field, where they stopped to let the horses graze. Half-collapsed bleachers slumped into tall grass. Three banks of floodlights had stood over the field, but two had fallen. Kirsten knelt to touch the thick glass of a massive lamp, trying to imagine the electricity that it had conducted, the light pouring down. A cricket landed on her hand and sprang away.

“You couldn’t even look directly at them,” Jackson said. He hadn’t liked baseball much but had gone a few times as a child anyway, sitting dutifully in the stands with his father.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

the last book I ever read (Station Eleven: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel, excerpt five)

from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel:

The point of coming to this city wasn’t school, he decides. School was just his method of escape. The point was the city of Toronto itself. Within four months he’s dropped out and is going to acting auditions, because some girl in his Commerce 101 class told him he should be an actor.

His parents are horrified. There are tearful phone calls on calling cards late at night. “The point was to get off the island,” he tells them, but this doesn’t help, because they love the island and they live there on purpose. But two months after leaving school he gets a bit part in an American movie filming locally, and then a one-line role in a Canadian TV show. He doesn’t feel that he really has any idea how to act, so he starts spending all his money on acting classes, where he meets his best friend, Clark. There is a magnificent year when they are inseparable and go out four nights a week with fake IDs, and then when both of them are nineteen Clark succumbs to parental pressure and returns to England for university while Arthur auditions successfully for a theater school in New York City, where he works for cash in a restaurant and lives with four roommates above a bakery in Queens.