Saturday, January 27
Monday, January 22
a) The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford
b) The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks
c) Sky Breaker, Kenneth Oppel
d) Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich
e) Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban *
f) The Mouse and His Child, Russell Hoban *
g) The Ambassadors, Henry James
h) The Road, Cormac McCarthy
* Russell Hoban's birthday is February 4
Okay, it's not fair to put out a set of things and say, Here's a quiz! It presumes too much. We all like a number of things, and you may be reading Being and Nothingness while I prefer Pride and Prejudice. A quiz is just a gimmick, but the intent is just to point to some lovely openings to novels and to say, Look at these! These are a few books I love, and look at how they open! Read these sentences! You could write a whole essay just comparing a few of these openings.
E. M. Forster's Aspects of Fiction and David Lodge's The Art of Fiction are useful small guides that give a reader a number of ways to think about a book one has enjoyed. First you read it, of course, and if it's any good you get swept away into its world until your daily world practically vanishes and you are living the life of an upper middle class woman in London or a common boy on the banks of the Mississippi River. Later, if it's any good, the novel haunts you. And then you want to consider it, consider how a structure built out of words and sentences can create a world. If you do nothing more than reread, you see it differently the second time. It's like watching a movie decent enough to see twice. The first time you're not oriented: you're just being introduced to characters, settings, situations; and the themes and the plot, the hints and all the lovely nuances are flying by, and you're barely aware. You enjoy the telling, the movie, the novel, and you're moved or amused or challenged, but that's it. You close the book and move on. But -- if you go back and see the movie again or reread the book, since you plunge in already aware of what's going on you notice much more -- subtleties, connections, delicious or creepy foreshadowings, -- and your enjoyment deepens, your satisfaction swells.
I see that I've muddled two things here, sentences and openings; each is worth looking at by itself.
Sunday, January 21
a) Last week, I read in the Asbury Press a story that has come to sting me like a nettle. In one sense, it was the usual kind of news item we read every a.m., feel a deep, if not a wide, needle of shock, then horror about, stare off to the heavens for a long moment, until the eye shifts back to different matters--celebrity birthdays, sports briefs, obits, new realty offerings--which tug us on to other concerns, and by midmorning we've forgotten.
b) A dog--it was a dog I saw for certain. Or thought I saw. It was snowing pretty hard by then, and you can see things in the snow that aren't there, or aren't exactly there, but you also can't see some of the things that are there, so that by God when you do see something, you react anyhow, erring on the distaff side, if you get my drift.
c) The storm boiled above the Indian ocean, a dark, bristling wall of cloud, blocking our passage west. We were still twenty miles off, but its high winds had been giving us a shake for the past half hour. Through the tall windows of the control car, I watched the horizon slew as the ship struggled to keep steady. The storm was warning us off, but the captain gave no orders to change course.
We were half a day out of Jakarta, and our holds were supposed to be filled with rubber. But there'd been some mix-up, or crooked dealing, and we were flying empty.
d) The morning before Easter Sunday, June Kashpaw was walking down the clogged main street of oil boomtown Williston, North Dakota, killing time before the noon bus arrived that would take her home. She was a long-legged Chippewa woman, aged hard in every way except how she moved. Probably it was the way she moved, easy as a young girl on slim hard legs, that caught the eye of the man who tapped at her from inside the window of the Rigger Bar. He looked familiar, like a lot of people looked familiar to her.
e) On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly been the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadn't ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none again. He dint make the ground shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he wernt all that big plus he lookit poorly. He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and made his rush and there we were then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, "Your tern now my tern later."
f) The tramp was big and squarely built, and he walked with the rolling stride of the long road, his steps too big for the little streets of the little town.
Sources, in alphabetical order by title:
1. The Ambassadors, Henry James
2. The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford
3. Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich
4. The Mouse and His Child, Russell Hoban (***Birthday February 4***)
5. Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban
6. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
7. Sky Breaker, Kenneth Oppel
8. The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks
g) Strether's first question, when he reached the hotel, was about his friend; yet on his learning that Waymarsh was apparently not to arrive till evening he was not totally disconcerted.
h) When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.
Okay, here's the quiz. The text got broken up, but I can't fix it. Too many backtracks. This is how I spend my leisure time. Match the columns. Answers next time.
Saturday, January 20
Tuesday, January 16
Saturday, January 13
Thursday, January 11
"FOCUS: FIRST SNOW SIGHTING Snowflakes were observed for the first time this winter at the official observation site in New York City's Central Park. This is the latest occurrence on record there for the season's first snow.... While an automated system is now responsible for most of the weather data at Central Park, human observers can augment the observations. Yesterday's snow was apparently too light to be detected by the automated system, but the human observers saw it."
The picture above is not of Central Park but rather my front yard on Tuesday, where even a robot would have been able to sense the snowfall.
I mourn the passing of Cosmo Dogood's Urban Almanac, a day by day calendar and almanac filled with observations of nature at all seasons in the city and decorated with apt quotations and pictures. The Almanac, modeled on the Old Farmer's Almanac, showed how nature is everywhere, that all you have to do is to look up and out and around you and notice what's going on in the natural world in which even a busy crowded city exists.