Monday, November 30, 2020

the last book I ever read (J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, excerpt one)

from Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger:

Though brilliantly sunny, Saturday morning was overcoat weather again, not just topcoat weather, as it had been all week and as everyone had hoped it would stay for the big weekend—the weekend of the Yale game. Of the twenty-some young men who were waiting at the station for their dates to arrive on the ten-fifty-two, no more than six or seven were out on the cold, open platform. The rest were standing around in hatless, smoky little groups of twos and threes and fours inside the heated waiting room, talking in voices that, almost without exception, sounded collegiately dogmatic, as though each young man, in his strident, conversational turn, was clearing up, once and for all, some highly controversial issue, one that the outside, non-matriculating world had been bungling, provocatively or not, for centuries.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez, excerpt seven)

from The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez:

“You put him in a kennel?”

“I put him in a kennel,” she says, bristling at my tone, “because I didn’t know what else to do. You can’t explain death to a dog. He didn’t understand that Daddy was never coming home again. He waited by the door day and night. For a while he wouldn’t even eat, I was afraid he’d starve to death. But the worst part was, every once in a while, he’d make this noise, this howling, or wailing, or whatever it was. Not loud, but strange, like a ghost of some other weird thing. It went on and on. I’d try to distract him with a treat, but he’d turn his head away. Once, he even growled at me. He did it sometimes at night. It would wake me up, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. I’d lie there listening to him until I thought I’d go mad. Every time I managed to pull myself together, I’d see him there waiting by the door, or he’d start keening like that, and I’d fall apart again. I had to get him out of the house. And now that he’s been gone, it would be cruel to bring him back. I can’t imagine him ever being happy in that house again.”

Saturday, November 28, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez, excerpt six)

from The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez:

When she remarried you swore you never would. There followed a decade of affairs, most of them short-lived, but a few all but indistinguishable from marriage. Not one do I recall that did not end in betrayal.

I don’t like men who leave behind them a trail of weeping women, said W. H. Auden. Who would’ve hated you.

Friday, November 27, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez, excerpt five)

from The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez:

One of the many legends about Edith Piaf also concerns a miraculous restoration of sight. The keratitis that blinded her for several years as a child was said to have been cured after some prostitutes who worked in her grandmother’s brothel, which happened also to be little Edith’s home at the time, took her on a pilgrimage to honor St. Thérèse of Lisieux. This might be just another fairy tale, but it is a fact that Jean Cocteau once described Piaf as having, when she sang, “the eyes of a blind person struck by a miracle, the eyes of a clairvoyant.”

Thursday, November 26, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez, excerpt four)

from The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez:

Last night, in the Union Square station, a man was playing “La Vie en Rose” on a flute, molto giocoso. Lately I’ve become vulnerable to earworms, and sure enough the song, in the flutist’s peppy rendition, has been pestering me all day. They say the way to get rid of an earworm is to listen a couple of times to the whole song trhough. I listened to the most famous version, by Edith Piaf, of course, who wrote the lyrics and first performed the song in 1945. Now it’s the Little Sparrow’s strange, bleating, soul-of-France voice that won’t stop.

Also in the Union Square station, a man with a sign: Homeless Toothless Diabethee. That’s a good one, a commuter said as he tossed change into the man’s paper cup.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez, excerpt three)

from The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez:

Walking with Samuel Beckett one fine spring morning, a friend of his asked, Doesn’t a day like this make you glad to be alive? I wouldn’t go as far as that, Beckett said.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez, excerpt two)

from The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez:

I was not the only one who made the mistake of thinking that, because it was something you talked about a lot, it was something you wouldn’t do. And after all, you were not the unhappiest person we knew. You were not the most depressed (think of G, or D, or T-R). You were not even—strange as it now sounds to say—the most suicidal.

Because of the timing, so near the start of the year, it was possible to think that it had been a resolution.

Monday, November 23, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez, excerpt one)

from The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez:

During the 1980s, in California, a large number of Cambodian women went to their doctors with the same complaint: they could not see. The women were all war refugees. Before fleeing their homeland, they had witnessed atrocities for which the Khmer Rouge, which had been in power from 1975 to 1979, was well known. Many of the women had been raped or tortured or otherwise brutalized. Most had seen family members murdered in front of them. One woman, who never again saw her husband and three children after soldiers came and took them away, said that she had lost her sight after having cried every day for four years. She was not the only one who appeared to have cried herself blind. Others suffered from blurred or partial vision, their eyes troubled by shadows and pains.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Silence: A Novel by Don DeLillo, excerpt seven)

from The Silence by Don DeLillo:

Names of countries keep rolling through his mind and people are trying to talk to him and to each other and he thinks of his daughter with two kids and a husband in Boston and the other daughter traveling somewhere and for one strange and compressed and claustrophobic moment he forgets their names.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Silence: A Novel by Don DeLillo, excerpt six)

from The Silence by Don DeLillo:

She had hoped to hear something libidinal, arousing. She understands that he has something more to say and she looks and waits.

He says, “Greenland is disappearing.”

She gets to her feet and faces him.

Friday, November 20, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Silence: A Novel by Don DeLillo, excerpt five)

from The Silence by Don DeLillo:

In the second silence all heads turn toward Martin.

He speaks of satellites in orbit that are able to see everything. The street where we live, the building we work in, the socks we are wearing. A rain of asteroids. The sky thick with them. Could happen anytime. Asteroids that become meteorites as they approach a planet. Entire exoplanets bloom away.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Silence: A Novel by Don DeLillo, excerpt four)

from The Silence by Don DeLillo:

The young man was standing at the window and Diane wondered if he planned to head home to the Bronx. She imagined that he might have to walk all the way, up through East Harlem to one of the bridges. Were pedestrians allowed to cross or were the bridges for cars and buses only? Was anything operating normally out there?

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Silence: A Novel by Don DeLillo, excerpt three)

from The Silence by Don DeLillo:

Max was in the kitchen putting food on plates. She wanted to go for a walk, alone. Or she wanted Max to go for a walk and Martin to go home. Where are the others, Tessa and Jim and all the others, travelers, wanderers, pilgrims, people in houses and apartments and village hutments. Where are the cars and trucks, the traffic noises? Super Sunday. Is everyone at home or in darkened bars and social clubs, trying to watch the game? Think of the many millions of blank screens. Try to imagine the disabled phones.

What happens to people who live inside their phones?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Silence: A Novel by Don DeLillo, excerpt two)

from The Silence by Don DeLillo:

“Are we afraid?” she said.

He let this question hover, thinking tea and sweets, tea and sweets.

Monday, November 16, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Silence: A Novel by Don DeLillo, excerpt one)

from The Silence by Don DeLillo:

She was right, let’s not check our bags, we can squeeze them into the overhead. He watched the screen and thought about the game, briefly, forgetting who the Titans were playing.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt fourteen)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

I went up the ladder. “Cosimo,” I began, “you’re over sixty-five—how can you continue to stay up there? What you wanted to say you’ve said, we’ve understood, you had great strength of mind, you did it, now you can come down. Even those who’ve spent their whole life at sea, at a certain age they disembark.”

Of course not. He said no with his hand. He hardly spoke anymore. He got up every so often, wrapped in a blanket up to his head, and sat on a branch to enjoy a little sun. He went no farther. There was an old woman of the people, a saintly woman (maybe an old lover of his), who went to clean and bring him hot food. We kept the ladder leaning against the trunk because there was always a need to go up to help him, and also because we hoped that he would at any moment decide to come down. (Others hoped; I knew what he was like.) There was always a circle of people around in the square who kept him company, discussing among themselves and sometimes addressing a remark to him, although they knew he had no desire to speak.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt thirteen)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

If youth vanishes quickly on the earth, just imagine in the trees, whence everything is fated to fall: leaves, fruits. Cosimo was becoming old. So many years, with all the nights spent in the cold, in the wind, in the rain, in frail shelters or none, in the open air, with never a house, a fire, warm food… Cosimo was now a shrunken old man, legs bowed, arms long, like a monkey, hunchbacked, bundled up in a fur cloak with a hood, like a furry friar. His face was burned by the sun, wrinkled as a chestnut, with light round eyes amid the wrinkles.

Friday, November 13, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt twelve)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

The trial of the revolutionaries was held promptly, but the accused succeeded in proving that they had nothing to do with it and the real leaders were precisely those who had escaped. So they were all freed, since with the troops stationed in Ombrosa, there was no fear of other uprisings. A garrison of Austro-Sardinians also stayed, to guard against possible infiltrations by the enemy, and in command of it was our brother-in-law D’Estomac, Battista’s husband, who had emigrated from France in the escort of the Count di Provenza.

So I found my sister Battista in the way again, with what pleasure I will let you imagine. She settled in my house, with her officer husband, horses, orderlies. She spent the evenings telling us about the recent executions in Paris; in fact, she had a model of a guillotine, with a real blade, and in order to explain the end of all her friends and acquired relatives she decapitated lizards, blindworms, worms, and even mice. So we passed the evenings. I envied Cosimo, who lived his days and nights on the run, hidden in some wood or other.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt eleven)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

In other words, there were also among us all the causes that led to the French Revolution. Only we weren’t in France, and there was no revolution. We live in a country where causes always come true and not effects.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt nine)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

Viola’s loving obstinacy met Cosimo’s, and sometimes they clashed. Cosimo shunned hesitations, softness, refined perverseness: he liked nothing that was not natural love. Republican virtues were in the air: times were brewing, severe and licentiousness at once. Cosimo, an insatiable lover, was a stoic, an ascetic, a puritan. Always in search of amorous happiness, he was nevertheless hostile to sensuality. He went so far as to distrust the kiss, the caress, verbal flattery, everything that obscured or claimed to replace the health of nature. It was Viola who revealed to him the fullness of it, and with her he never felt the sadness after love preached by the theologians. Indeed, he wrote a philosophical letter on that subject to Rousseau, who, perhaps distressed, didn’t answer.

But Viola was also a sophisticated, capricious, spoiled woman, all-embracing in blood and spirit. Cosimo’s love filled her senses but left her imagination unsatisfied. From that arose disagreements and shadowy resentments. But they didn’t last long, so various was their life and the world around.

Monday, November 9, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt eight)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

Of all the gestures and conversations of the exiles hovered an aura of sadness and mourning, which corresponded in part to their nature, in part to a willful determination, as sometimes happens in those who fight for a cause whose convication are poorly defined and try to make up for it by the grandeur of their bearing.

In the young women—who at first glance all seemed to Cosimo a little too hairy and with skin too opaque—a hint of liveliness meandered, always curbed in time. Two of them were playing badminton between plane trees. Tic and tac, tic and tac, then a little cry: the shuttlecock had fallen into the street. An Olivabassa kid picked it up and, to throw it back, demanded two pesetas.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt seven)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

He stayed in bed and lost every attachment to life. Nothing of what he wanted to do had succeeded: no one talked anymore about the dukedom, his firstborn was still in the trees even now that he was a man, his half-brother had been murdered, his daughter was married and far away with people even more unpleasant that she was, I was still too much a boy to be close to him and his wife too brusque and authoritarian. He began to rave, to say that now the Jesuits had occupied his house and he couldn’t leave his room, and as full of bitterness and obsessions as he had always lived, he died.

Cosimo, too, followed the funeral procession, going from tree to tree, but he couldn’t enter the cemetery, because the cypresses were so thick with foliage that there was no way to climb in them. He was present at the burial but on the other side of the wall, and when we all threw a handful of dirt on the coffin he threw a branch with its leaves. I thought that all of us had always been as distant from my father as Cosimo in the trees.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt six)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

It was a sad scene on that cloudy afternoon; I remember it as I watched, bewildered, from the window of my room, and I stopped studying the conjugation of the aorist, because there would not be a lesson. Old Father Fauchelafleur went down the avenue surrounded by those armed guards, and look up at the trees, and at a certain point he darted, as if he wished to run to an elm and climb it, but his legs failed him. Cosimo was hunting in the woods that day and knew nothing about it, so they didn’t say goodbye.

We could do nothing to help him. Our father shut himself in his room and wouldn’t taste food because he was afraid of being poisoned by the Jesuits. The abbé spent the rest of his days between prison and monastery in continual acts of abjuration, until he died, without having understood after an entire life dedicated to faith, what he believed in, but trying to believe firmly to the end.

Friday, November 6, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt five)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

I was too young and Cosimo had friends only in the uneducated classes, so he satisfied his need to comment on the discoveries he was making in books by burying our old teacher in questions and explanation. The abbé, of course, had that submissive and accommodating disposition that came to him from a superior knowledge of the vanity of all things, and Cosimo took advantage of it. So the relationship of discipleship between the two was reversed: Cosimo was the teacher and Fauchelafleur the pupil. And my brother had gained such authority that he succeeded in dragging the old man, trembling, on his pilgrimages in the trees. He had him spend a whole afternoon with his thin legs dangling from the limb of a horse chestnut in the garden of the D’Ondarivas, contemplating the rare trees and the sunset reflected in the lily pond and arguing about monarchies and republics, about the just and the true in the various religions, and Chinese rites, the earthquake in Lisbon, the Leyden jar, empiricism.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt four)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

The baron became impatient, the abbé lost the thread, I was already bored. As for our mother, however, maternal anxiety, a fluid sentiment that dominated everything, had been consolidated, as every feeling of hers tended to do after a while, into practical decisions and a search for the right tools, just as the concerns of a general ought to be resolved. She had dug out a long field telescope, on a tripod; she applied her eye to it, and so she spent the hours on the terrace of the villa, constantly adjusting the lens to focus on the boy in the midst of the foliage, even when we would have sworn he was out of range.

“Do you still see him?” our father asked from the garden, as he paced back and forth under the trees; he could never distinguish Cosimo, except when he was right over his head. The generalessa nodded, and at the same time signaled us to be quiet, not to disturb her, as if she were following the movements of troops on a rise. It was clear that at times she didn’t see him at all, but she had got the idea, who knows why, that he would reemerge in that particular place and not somewhere else, and she kept the telescope trained on it. Every so often she had to admit to herself that she was wrong, and then she removed her eye from the lens and began to examine a survey map that she kept open on her knees, one hand firmly on her mouth in a thoughtful attitude and the other following the hieorglyphics of the map, until she determined the point that her son must have reached and, having calculated the angle, aimed the telescope at some treetop in that sea of leaves, slowly focused the lens, and from the anxious smile that appeared on her lips we understood that she had seen him, that he really was there!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt three)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

The moon rose late and shone over the branches. In their nests the titmice slept, curled up like him. In the night, outside, the silence of the park was traversed by countless rustlings and distant sounds, and the wind passed through. At times a far-off roar arrived: the sea. From the window I strained my ears to that irregular breath and tried to imagine how it would sound, without the familiar womb of the house, to someone who was just a few yards away but completely entrusted to it, with only the night around him, the only friendly object to which he could cling the trunk of a tree without its rough bark traveled by tiny endless tunnels in which the larvae slept.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt two)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

Cosimo was in the magnolia. Although its branches were close together, this tree was easily accessible to a boy like my brother, expert in all species of trees; and the branches stood up to his weight, although they weren’t very large and were of soft wood that the tips of Cosimo’s shoes scraped, opening white wounds in the black bark; it wrapped the boy in a fresh scent of leaves as the wind stirred them, turning them to a green that was now opaque, now bright.

But it was the whole garden that gave off a perfume, and although it was so irregularly dense that Cosimo still couldn’t see it all, he was exploring it with his sense of smell, and he tried to distinguish its various scents, which had been known to him ever since, carried by the wind, they reached our garden and seemed to us one with the secret of that villa. Then he looked at the foliage and saw new leaves, some as big and shiny as if a film of water were running over them, some tiny and composite, and trunks that were all smooth or all scaly.

Monday, November 2, 2020

the last book I ever read (The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino, excerpt one)

from The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino:

We had already been warned against sliding down the marble banister, to tell the truth, not out of fear that we would break a leg or an arm, because our parents never worried about that, and that’s why—I think—we never broke anything, but because as we got bigger and heavier, we might knock down the statues of our ancestors that our father had had placed on the bottom pilasters of the banisters on every flight of stairs. In fact, Cosimo had already caused a great-great-grandfather bishop to tumble, miter and all; he was punished, and from then on he learned to brake a moment before reaching the bottom of the stairs and jump down, a hairsbreadth from crashing into the statue. I, too, learned, because I followed him in everything, except that I, always more modest and prudent, jumped off halfway down the staircase, or slid down bit by bit, braking constantly. One day he went down the banister like an arrow, and who was coming up the stairs! The Abbé Fauchelafleur, strolling with his breviary open before him but with his gaze fixed on nothing, like a hen. If only he had been half asleep as usual! No, it was one of those moments that came even to him, of extreme attention, of alarm at all things. He sees Cosimo, he thinks, “Banister, statue, now he’ll bang into it, now they’ll scold me, too” (because for every one of our pranks he, too, was scolded, as not knowing how to monitor us), and he flings himself on the banister to stop my brother. Cosimo collides with the abbé, sweeps him down the banister (he was a tiny old man, all skin and bones), can’t brake, crashes into the statue of our ancestor Cacciaguerra Piovasco, a Crusader in the Holy Land, and they all collapse at the foot of the stairs, the Crusader in fragments (he was of plaster), the abbé, and him. There were endless reprimands, whippings, extra exercises, confinement with bread with cold soup. And Cosimo, who felt innocent because the fault was not his but the abbé’s, came out with that fierce invective: “I don’t care a bit about your ancestors, Father, sir!” The announcement of his vocation as a rebel.