Thursday, April 30, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, excerpt eleven)

from The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling:

Jimmy Brooks, the other fellow in the back seat, was not a sparring partner but a friend of Sandy Saddler, the world featherweight champion, who is also managed by Johnston and was at the same training camp, preparing for a fight in Venezuela. (The airplane has opened new vistas for a manager with a grasp of geography. Johnson told me later that after Venezuela, where there is a lot of oil money in circulation, he was planning fights for Saddler in Thailand and Japan, two countries that are enjoying featherweight-boxing booms. “They’re all little fellows there,” he said. “No heavyweights to take the play away.” Moore and Saddler both enjoy travel; they are not like a fighter named Terry Young, whom Whitey Bimstein once had to take to Honolulu to substitute for an injured principal in a main bout. They had to fly to make it, and Young was afraid of airplanes. Whitey got him aboard by telling him the trip would take only fifteen minutes. He said Honolulu was in New Jersey.) Brooks wore a black imperial under his lower lip, and was dressed for some improbable Riviera. He said that Saddler had asked him to stay at the camp but that the country was not for him. “I can’t stand those crickets,” he said. “Keep me awake. I’m a connoisseur. A boulevardier.” As we got to the top of a rise on a country road among hill pastures Johnston said, “This is the nicest part of the ride.” Brooks guffawed. “Old Charlie say that every time he get to this spot,” he said. “It’s delectably beautiful.” Johnston, who didn’t hear him, said, “Out here it’s quiet. A real training camp. Nothing to do after dark but take a walk or watch television.” A hill or two farther on, we stopped under a sign that read, “EHSAN’S TRAINING CAMP.” There was a farmhouse a hundred feet above the road, and a couple of one-story white frame buildings still higher up, at the end of a path. On the top slope and the crest of the hill was an apple orchard, and under the apple trees were fat sheep. Brooks shuddered.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, excerpt ten)

from The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling:

I am reminded of Egan’s puff whenever I visit a bar at Eighth Avenue and 55th Street known as the Neutral Corner Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant, Steaks and Chops Our Specialty, Meet Your Favorite Fighters and Managers Here. The Neutral, as its familiars call it, is a few doors north of Stillman’s gymnasium and is patronized chiefly by fight managers, trainers, and boxers, who are locked out of Stillman’s between three and five o’clock every afternoon, and by ex-boxers, who favor a place where somebody is likely to recognize them. There are two training sessions a day at Stillman’s—from noon to three and from five-thirty to seven. The second one is a concession to the economic difficulties now afflicting the Sweet Science; an increasing number of boxers have to hold daytime jobs to keep going, and can work out only after hours. The boxers in the Neutral, being in training, do not drink; they eat on credit and occasionally, when their managers endow them with spending money, play Shuffle Alley, a table game in which one slides metal discs in the direction of electrically controlled ten-pins. Because they are temperate and of equable disposition, they seldom raise their voices. The trainers feel constrained to offer an example of sobriety; bottled beer and a cigar are about their speed. The managers are afraid to drink, lest some other manager outwit them, and the ex-boxers are usually too broke to tipple. Any unseemly words that may be heard in the place invariably emanate from some socially insecure sightseer without credentials in any record book. Otherwise, a Belcherian propriety reigns.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, excerpt nine)

from The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling:

The preliminaries were unusually good and, from my point of view, reassuring. A tough-looking middleweight from Yorkville, named Schulz, knocked out a boy from Chicago with a short, economical right to the jaw—one out of the book. A dark, knowledgeable featherweight from Harlem prevailed tactically and strategically over a Fighting Newsboy from Columbus, Ohio, who punched in wider arcs. The Fighting Newsboy did not attempt to upset the artistic canon; he simply operated too near its edge. The ancient laws appeared still to be operative when the principals entered the ring for the feature bout. We sang the national anthem, as usual.

Monday, April 27, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, excerpt eight)

from The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling:

I have known Whitey for more than twenty years (he had been a trainer for fifteen years before that), and by now I can tell from looking at him whether he thinks genius is lurking just the other side of the horizon. Four years ago he was desperate for talent. Prosperity had ruined the future, he said; any kind just out of school could get a job for sixty dollars a week, and as a consequence dilettantism was rife in boxing. The faintest frown of fortune would send a boy back to well-paid labor. Boys boxed only to attain social prestige. “Garbage,” Whitey said then, when I asked him about the season’s vintage. But this spring he was wearing the expression of an editor who has found two new poets and a woman novelist with an acid talent. The mild recession was not solely responsible, he said, although it had made the boys more serious about boxing as a vocation. He and Freddie had three good fighters training at once—two lightweights and one around ’30 (130 pounds) who could do ’26 to qualify as a featherweight. They also had this animal, Whitey said, who ran fifteen or twenty miles a day on the road and would box fifteen rounds every day if they would let him. Whitey was in the position of the late Max Perkins, with a handful of good established writers and a Thomas Wolfe in training in Brooklyn.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, excerpt seven)

from The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling:

It wasn’t a crashing knockdown, the kind that leaves the recipient limp, like a wet hat, or jerky, like a new-caught flatfish. This appeared to be a sit-down-and-think-it-over knockdown, such as you might see in any barroom on a night of full moon. Jersey Joe must have begun the process of ratiocination right away. But the conclusion at which he was arriving was not instantly apparent. Like the drowning men in stories, he may have been reviewing his whole life, with a long pause on what had happened to him in Philadelphia. The dramatic significance of the fleeting seconds was lost upon the crowd, because everybody present, with the possible exception of Mr. Walcott himself, took it for granted that he would get up within ten seconds. And maybe he thought so, too, for a while, but if he did, he dismissed the thought. Sprawled on the canvas floor covering, his right arm hooked over the middle strand of the ropes, he waited for the referee to count ten, and arose. Even then it was not clear to us in the balcony that the fight was over. Unable to hear the count, we assumed that he had risen on nine. But when the referee, a slight man named Frank Sikora, spread his arms wide to indicate that all was ended, Walcott walked calmly over to the ropes on our side of the ring, evincing a commendable independence of public opinion. If he had maintained this attitude, I would have admired him. The spectators were resentful, and their resentment was based on the suspicion that he had not been hit hard enough. This is a decision every man must make for himself, and of all the sixteen thousand persons under the big shed, Walcott was in the best position to make it. But as he heard the boos, he changed his mind. He mimed outrage, batting his gloved hands together and stamping like a wrestler. Wrestling is classed as a species of exhibition by the New Yotk State Athletic Commission, and the acting is part of the show. Jersey Joe made it plain that he had not been knocked out at all. The crowd, with a forlorn hope that the fight might be resumed—after all, it had got precious little action for its money—increased its booing, but it was now booing for Walcott. Jersey Joe had stolen the scene from the man who had knocked him out. (And yet no man possesses a higher character for a deserving well-behaved man than ROCKY MARCIANO.) The whole fight had lasted two minutes and twenty-five seconds. The Kentucky Derby this year lasted two minutes and two seconds, and nobody cried, “Stop thief!” But fight fans are accustomed to more protracted pleasures.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, excerpt six)

from The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling:

At eight o’clock I took a taxi to within a third of a mile of the Stadium, and dismounted when my vehicle could no longer advance. The first preliminary bout was to go on at eight-thirty, as it usually does in big shows, but the main bout was to begin at nine instead of ten, because it would have to be on the air at ten in the Eastern time zone. One result was that the hordes of people who customarily stream in between nine and ten were for once hurrying to get to their seats early. To extract the maximum amount of fun from this situation, the Stadium management had decided to admit ticket holders at my gate only in single file, like candidates for a crap game, each one squeezing by the belly of a large special policeman, who half blocked the interstice through which we were eventually admitted. Now and again, he would stop the whole line to permit the egress of someone governed by a premonition; I can think of no other reason why so many people would want to come away from a fight before it started. When we had finally been allowed to proceed to the point where a guard was waiting to snatch our tickets, we were turned onto the first of six flights of concrete stairs and at length run down a ramp to our seats. The layout had evidently been designed by the same chap who built the stockyards, but fight followers have been a hardy lot since egan’s day. I arrived at my perch, which was as exiguous as a racing saddle but harder, full of that exhilaration that always precedes what old Pierce would call a contest of heroes. I could not sit back. The customers adjoining me had already arrived, and both of them overlapped their thirty dollars’ worth of space by several inches. But by adopting a forward crouch, which I modeled after my recollection of how Eddie Arcaro rides a finish, I was able to maintain a kind of equilibrium and enjoy a good view of the ring. While we were thus wedged in, venders of binoculars and hot dogs, who merely block your vision as they walk down the aisles in other cities, walked over our feet and crawled over our laps.

I took to reading the biographical notes in the official program. The one I liked best was about Walcott. It began, “If public support was the decisive yardstick in Jersey Joe Walcott’s bid to become the first boxer ever to regain the heavyweight championship, the popular 39-year-old Negro would be assured of the distinction when he encounters Rocky Marciano tonight. Few fighters have won the heart of the public as has this wholesome, deeply religious father of six children.”

Friday, April 24, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, excerpt five)

from The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling:

The fight itself, as you have probably read, was memorable, but chiefly for meteorological reasons. It was postponed from the night of Monday, June twenty-third to that of Wednesday, June twenty-fifth, because of rain. Wednesday was the hottest June twenty-fifth in the history of the New York City Weather Bureau. I rode the subway up to the Yankee Stadium, where the fight was to be held, and the men slumped in the seats and hanging to the straps weren’t talking excitedly or making jokes, as fight fans generally do. They were just gasping gently, like fish that had been caught two hours earlier. Most of those who had been wearing neckties had removed them, but rings of red and gree remained around collars and throats to show the color of the ties that had been there. Shirts stuck to the folds of bellies, and even the floor was wet with sweat.

My seat was in a mezzanine box on the first-base line, and I felt a mountain climber’s exhaustion by the time I had ascended the three gentle inclines that lead to the top of the grandstand, from which I had to descend to my seat. A fellow in a party behind me, trying to cheer his companions, said, “And you can tell your grandsons about this fight and how hot it was.” The preliminaries were on when I arrived, and two wretched forms were hacking away at each other under the lights that could beat down on the ring. I could see the high shine on the wringing-wet bodies, and iimagined that each man must be praying to be knocked out as speedily as possible. They were too inept; the bout went the full distance of six rounds, and then both men collapsed in their corners, indifferent to the decision. A miasma of cigarette smoke hung over the “ringside” on the baseball diamond, producing something of the effect you get when you fly over a cloud bank. There was no breeze to dispel it, and the American flags on the four posts at the corners of the ring drooped straight down. It was a hundred and four degrees Farenheit in there, we were to learn from the newspapers next morning.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, excerpt four)

from The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling:

The “ringside” seats, which covered the baseball diamond and reached well into the outfield, were for the most empty at that stage of the evening. They filled slowly; many of the people who buy them do not much like boxing but go to big fights so that they can talk about them afterward, and they seldom arrive before the main bout. But I knew they would be along; this was something you had to see, like Guys and Dolls or a van Gogh show at the Metropolitan. Midway through the preliminaries, hundreds of young hoodlums in Hawaiian shirts, all of whom had clearly come in on general admission—unless they had scaled the fence—dashed down the aisles of the stands in back of third base, vaulted the wire barriers with admirable ease, and hurtled onto the field, racing to occupy empty ringside seats. It was a concerted break, and there weren’t nearly enough special cops to stop them. Once in a seat, each of these fellows would try to avoid attention until the rightful ticket holder arrived, upon which, after a conversational delaying action, the interloper would move to another empty seat, continuing to move until the lights went out for the main bout. Then, if evicted again, he would squat in an aisle. The specials were flushing them all through the show, in a succession of comedy chases. The rush, because it was so concerted, did not amuse me; in a previous decade and in other circumstances, the louts might have been wearing black or brown shirts, I thought, and a time might come when they would be again. The night was sweating hot.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, excerpt three)

from The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling:

The newspaperman, acres of them near the ring, were banging out the leads for the running stories they had already telegraphed, and I felt sorry for them, because they never have time to enjoy boxing matches. Since the fight was not broadcast, there was no oily-voiced chap to drag Louis over to a microphone and ask him stupid questions. He shook hands with Savold twice, once right after the knockout and again a few minutes later, when Savold was ready to leave the ring, as if he feared Savold wouldn’t remember the first handshake.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, excerpt two)

from The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling:

Because of the way I feel about watching fights on television, I was highly pleased when I read, back in June, 1951, that the fifteen-round match between Joe Louis and Lee Savold, scheduled for June thirteenth at the Polo Grounds, was to be neither televised, except to eight theater audiences in places like Pittsburgh and Albany, nor broadcast over the radio. I hadn’t seen Louis with the naked eye since we shook hands in a pub in London in 1944. He had fought often since then, and I had seen his two bouts with Jersey Joe Walcott on television, but there hadn’t been any fun in it. Those had been held in public places, naturally, and I could have gone, but television gives you so plausible an adumbration of a fight, for nothing, that you feel it would be extravagant to pay your way in. It is like the potato, which is only a succedaneum for something decent to eat but which, once introduced into Ireland, proved so cheap that the peasants gave up their grain-and-meat diet in favor of it. After that, the landlords let them keep just enough money to buy potatoes. William Cobbett, a great Englishman, said that he would sack any workmen of his he caught eating one of the cursed things, because as soon as potatoes appeared anywhere they brought down the standard of eating. I sometimes think of Cobbett on my way home from the races, looking at the television aerials on all the little houses between here and Belmont Park. As soon as I heard that the fight wouldn’t be on the air, I determined to buy a ticket.

Monday, April 20, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, excerpt one)

from The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling:

If you go to a fight with a friend, you can keep up unilateral conversations on two vocal levels—one at the top of your voice, directed at your fighter, and the other a running expertise nominally aimed at your companion but loud enough to reach a modest fifteen feet in each direction. “Reminds me of Panama Al Brown,” you may say as a new fighter enters the ring. “He was five feet eleven and weighed a hundred and eighteen pounds. This fellow may be about forty pounds heavier and a couple of inches shorter, but he’s got the same kind of neck. I saw Brown box a fellow named Mascart in Paris in 1927. Guy stood up in the top gallery and threw an apple and hit Brown right on the top of the head. The whole house started yelling, ‘Finish him, Mascart! He’s groggy!’” Then, as the bout begins, “Boxes like Al, too, except this fellow’s a southpaw.” If he wins, you say, “I told you he reminded me of Al Brown,” and if he loses, “Well, well, I guess he’s no Al Brown. They don’t make fighters like Al any more.” This identifies you as a man who (a) has been in Paris, (b) has been going to fights for a long time, and (c) therefore enjoys what the fellows who write for quarterlies call a frame of reference.

It may be argued that this doesn’t get you anywhere, but it at least constitutes what a man I once met named Thomas S. Matthews called communication. Mr. Matthews, who was the editor of Time, said that the most important thing in journalism is not reporting but communication. “What are you going to communicate?” I asked him. “The most important thing,” he said, “is the man on one end of the circuit saying ‘My God, I’m alive! You’re alive!’ and the fellow on the other end, receiving his message, saying ‘My God, you’re right! We’re both alive!” I still think it is a hell of a way to run a news magazine, but it is a good reason for going to fights in person. Television, if unchecked, may carry us back to a pre-tribal state of social development, when the family was the largest conversational unit.

Friday, April 17, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt twelve)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

You asked, what’s the plan now, Swift Feather?, so I told you that the plan was to wait for the picture to develop. Then, again, you said you badly needed water, which I knew, because your lips were all chapped. And I could tell you were close to throwing a tantrum, so I said, okay, okay, we’ll go into the diner. And what’s the plan after that? you asked. I told you the plan was to jump back on that train car after we got something to drink at the diner. I said we’d sleep on the roof on that train, and that the train would probably depart the next morning, heading west, which was the direction to Echo Canyon. I didn’t know what I was talking about, of course, I was just making everything up, but you believed me because you trusted me, and this always made me feel guilty.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt eleven)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

I had heard echoes before, but nothing like the ones we heard that next day when we all walked out into the Burro Mountains. Near where we used to live, back in the city, there was a steep street that went down to the big brown river, and the street had a tunnel above it because on top of that street, and on top of that tunnel, there was another street going across the other way. Cities are so complicated to explain because everything is on top of everything, with no divisions. On weekends when the weather was warm, we used to ride our bikes from our apartment on Edgecombe Avenue, first up and then downhill until we reached that steep street and went under that tunnel under the other street to reach the bike path that went along the river, the four of us, each on our own bikes except you, Memphis. You sat in a child’s seat at the back of Papa’s bike. Always when we reached the tunnel, I held my breath—partly because I knew it was good luck to hold my breath, partly because under the tunnel it smelled of wet dog fur and old cardboard and pee. So I kept silent and held my breath in the tunnel. But always, every time, Pa shouted the word echo as soon as we reached the tunnel, and then Ma I think smiled at him and also shouted echo, and then you copied them and shouted echo from behind, and I loved the sound of the three short echoes bouncing off the walls of the tunnel while we came out through the other side and I finally breathed again and only then I shouted echo though there was never any reply because it was too late.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt ten)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

Do you have a good map of the southwestern United States? I finally ask the bookseller.

We buy the map he recommends—detailed and enormous—though we really don’t need another map. My husband buys a book on the history of horses, the boy chooses an illustrated edition of Golding’s Lord of the Flies, as a companion to the audiobook we’ve been listening to, and the girl, a book called The Book with No Pictures. I don’t buy Kafka’s Diaries, but I buy a book of collected photographs of Emmet Gowin, which I hardly looked through but which was on the last display table before the counter and seemed—suddenly—indispensable. It’s too big to store in any of our bankers boxes, so for now it will live under my feet in the passenger’s seat. I also buy Marguerite Duras’s The Lover, which I read when I was nineteen but have never read in English, as well as the screenplay of Hiroshima Mon Amour, annotated by Duras with stills from Resnais’s film.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt nine)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

We didn’t expect what we find when we drive into Asheville later that afternoon. We thought, ignorantly and a little condescendingly, that we were going to a godforsaken little town. Instead, there’s a small, buzzing, vibrant city. Walking along the main street, well groomed and lined with saplings, we see storefronts full of possibilities, though I’m not sure of what—possibilities, perhaps, of furnishing imaginary future lives. In the terrace cafés, we see pale young men with long beards, and lovely girls with feathered hair and freckled cleavages. We see them drinking beer from Mason jars, smoking rolled cigarettes, frowning philosophically. They all look like those actors in Éric Rohmer movies, pretending that it’s perfectly normal—despite being too beautiful and too young—to be deeply engaged in a discussion about mortality, atheism, mathematics, and possibly Blaise Pascal. Along the sidewalks, we also see languid, camel-faced junkies, holding up cardboard signs and cuddling their robust bulldogs. We see reformed Harleys, crosses hanging heavy on their graying chests. We see big Italian machines in cafés, brewing good coffee. I wonder what kind of rhapsody Thomas Wolfe would compose about Asheville now. Finally, we see a bookstore, and we walk in.

Monday, April 13, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt eight)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

My husband wants us to listen to Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring while we drive up and down this meandering road through the Cherokee National Forest, toward Asheville, North Carolina. It will be instructive, he says. So I roll down the window, breathe in the thin mountain air, and agree to search for the piece on my phone. When I finally catch some signal, I find a 1945 recording—apparently the original—and press Play.

For miles, as we make our way up to the very cusp of the mountain range and across the skyline drive, we hear Appalachian Spring over and over, and then once more. Making me pause, play, and pause again, my husband explains each element of the piece to the children: the tempo, the tonal links between movements, the overall structure of the composition. He tells them it’s a programmatic piece, and says it’s about white-eyes marrying, reproducing, conquering new land, and then driving Indians out of that land. He explains what a programmatic composition is, how it tells a story, how each section of instruments in the orchestra—woodwinds, strings, brass, percussion—represents a specific character, and how the instruments interact just like people talking, falling in love, fighting, and making up again.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt seven)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

“I am an invisible man.” It’s a barren, perfect first sentence. But no, not Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, either. What we want is to overlay the stretch of the drive ahead with a voice and a narrative that may glove itself upon the landscape, and not something that will jerk our minds elsewhere while we move across this humid entanglement of creepers upon forests. Next. Play.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt six)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

The speed limit on the roads across the Appalachians is 25 miles per hour, which irritates my husband but which I find ideal. Even at this speed, though, it took me a few hours to notice that the trees along the mountain path are covered in kudzu. We had passed acres of woodland blanketed in it on our way up toward this high valley, but only now do we see it clearly. My husband explains to the children that kudzu was brought over from Japan in the nineteenth century, and that farmers were paid by the hour to plant it on harvested soil, in order to control erosion. They went overboard, though, and eventually the kudzu spread across the fields, crept up the mountains, and climbed up all the trees. It blocks the sunlight and sucks out all the water from them. The trees have no defense mechanism. From the higher parts of the mountain road, the sight is terrifying: like cancerous marks, patches of yellowing treetops freckle the forests of Virginia.

All those trees will die, asphyxiated, sucked dry by this bloody rootless creeper, my husband tells us, slowing down as we hit a curve.

But so will you, Pa, and all of us, and everyone else, the boy says.

Friday, April 10, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt five)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

To appease our children, and fill the winding hours as we make our way up the mountain roads, my husband tells stories about the old American southwest. He tells them about the strategies Chief Cochise used to hide from his enemies in the Dragoon and Chiricahua Mountains, and how, even after he died, he came back to haunt them. People said that, even today, he could be spotted around the Dos Cabezas Peaks. The children listen most attentively when their father tells them about the life of Geronimo. When he speaks about Geronimo, his words perhaps bring time closer to us, containing it inside the car instead of letting it stretch out beyond us like an unattainable goal. He has their full attention, and I listen, too: Geronimo was the last man in the Americas to surrender to the white-eyes. He became a medicine man. He was Mexican by nationality but hated Mexicans, whom Apaches called Nakaiye, “those who come and go.” Mexican soldiers had killed his three children, his mother, and his wife. He never learned English. He acted as an interpreter between Apache and Spanish for Chief Cochise. Geronimo was a sort of Saint Jerome, my husband says.

Why Saint Jerome? I ask.

He adjusts his hat and begins to explain something, in professional detail, about Saint Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin, until I lose interest, the children fall asleep, and we both fall silent, or perhaps fall into a kind of noise, distracted by sudden demands of the route: highways merging, speed checks, roadwork ahead, dangerous curves, a tollbooth—look for spare change and pass the coffee.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt four)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

My husband has taken out his recording gear, and is sitting by the door of our room, holding up his boom. I sit next to him quietly, not wanting my presence to modify whatever’s he’s trying to sample. We sit there, cross-legged on the cement floor, resting our backs against the wall. We open beer cans and roll cigarettes. In the room next door, a dog barks relentlessly. From another room, three or four doors down, a man and his teenage daughter appear. He is slow and large; she is toothpick-legged, dressed only in a swimsuit and an unzipped jacket. They walk to a pickup parked in front of their door and step up. When the motor roars, the dog stops barking, then resumed more anxiously. I sip my beer, following the pickup as it drives away. The image of those two strangers—father, daughter, no mother—getting into a pickup and driving together to a possible swimming pool for night practice in some town nearby reminds me of something Jack Kerouac said about Americans: After seeing them, “you ended up finally not knowing any more whether a jukebox is sadder than a coffin.” Though maybe Kerouac had said it of Robert Frank’s pictures in his book The Americans, and not of Americans in general. My husband records a few more minutes of the dog barking, until, summoned by the children—in urgent need of help with the toothpaste and towels—we step back inside.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt three)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

And then the boy turned ten. We took him out to a good restaurant, gave him his presents (no toys). I got him a Polaroid camera and several boxes of film, both black-and-white and color. His father got him a kit for the trip: a Swiss Army knife, a pair of binoculars, a flashlight, and a small compass. At his request, we also agreed to deviate from the planned itinerary and spend the next day, the first of our trip, at Baltimore’s National Aquarium.

He’d done a school project about Calypso, the five-hundred-pound turtle with a missing front flipper that lives there, and had been obsessed with her ever since.

That night, after dinner, my husband packed his suitcase, I packed mine, and we let the boy and the girl pack theirs. Once the children were asleep, I repacked for them. They’d chosen the most unlikely combinations of things. Their suitcases were portable Duchampian disasters: miniature clothes tailored for a family of miniature bears, a broken light saber, a lone Rollerblade wheel, ziplock bags full of plastic everything. I replaced all of it with real pants, real skirts, real underwear, real everything. My husband and I lined up the four suitcases by the door, plus our seven boxes and our recording materials.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt two)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

But where exactly are we going? the children asked.

We still didn’t know, or hadn’t agreed on anything. I wanted to go to Texas, the state with the largest number of immigration detention centers for children. There were children, thousands of them, locked up in Galveston, Brownsville, Los Fresnos, El Paso, Nixon, Canutillo, Conroe, Harlingen, Houston, and Corpus Christi. My husband wanted the trip to end in Arizona.

Why Arizona? we all asked.

Monday, April 6, 2020

the last book I ever read (Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive: A Novel, excerpt one)

from Lost Children Archive: A Novel by Valeria Luiselli:

Despite our efforts to keep it all firmly together, there has always been an anxiety around each one’s place in the family. We’re like those problematic molecules you learn about in chemistry classes, with covalent instead of ionic bonds—or maybe it’s the other way around. The boy lost his biological mother at birth, though that topic is never spoken about. My husband delivered the fact to me, in one sentence, early on in our relationship, and I immediately understood that it was not a matter open to further questions. I don’t like to be asked about the girl’s biological father, either, so the two of us have always kept a respectful pact of silence about those elements of our and our children’s pasts.

Friday, April 3, 2020

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

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

Dilly lay back in the bed. She allowed her hand to trail down and she dreamed about some things for a while. Haunch of shoulder. Slope of thigh. Some nameless love. Some eyeless love. The winter days travelled greyly over the fields of the sea. She flexed her toes and held the stretch and tried to wish the chill from her bones. Someday I will live in the desert, she thought. I could live in a bender there, and maybe just keep a dog or two, and maybe there is someone to make a rendezvous with after dark, some long, horse-faced creature from a myth, with serpent’s tail and rancid smile, a lover ardent as the night. As the cool desert breeze as it moves across our love.

She swung her legs out from beneath the covers. She was nineteen years old and obsessed with Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces (the damage), with the mystical lost recordings from Lee Perry’s Black Ark Studio, and with a webcam that showed the eerie view from a motorway bridge over an abandoned suburb of Tokyo. She liked the feeling beneath her bare feet of brushed concrete as she descended the stair. It was a horny feeling, like money coming in.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

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

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

He felt older than his time. He feared his own reflection in the lit windows of the Spanish evening. He believed there was age gone onto him. His face had a sunken look. He could make out his own skull in it. He felt the worms in his mouth. His body was a cavern of death. He was thirty-six years to fucken Jesus. (He felt with a cool certainty that he’d be dead by thirty-seven.) He went to a bar on Calle Marqués del Arco and ate fried fish and thin slices of jamón ravenously and drank the inky rioja and cold beer from the tap and wept openly and nobody paid any attention to him at all. A fat blind child sang on a TV talent show and the bar was agog and the patrons began to clap along with the song—it was a Spanish translation of an old Carpenters’ number, and all of the child’s chins rolled. Maurice Hearne was so moved that a seep of vomit rose up in his throat. He stuffed a heel of bread down his throat to tamp it.

The note in Segovia that winter was tragic-comical, capricious, beautiful.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

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

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

These were fabled people. These were tricky times. They were in a moment of dangerous splendor. The men were lizardly, reptilian. They wore excellent fucking shoes. Nelson carefully with Jimmy Earls kept an eye on the confrontation. It was a smiling one, yet, and soft-voiced. These were deliberate people. Why should they meet just here, just now? Maybe it needed to be seen, and recounted.