Mighty Life List
Jul 8 2011

Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott

The best parts of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

“You might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backwards.” -James Thurber

There is a door we all want to walk through, and writing can help you find it and open it. Writing can give you what having a baby can give you: it can get you to start paying attention, can help you soften, can wake you up.

E. L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.

The first time you read through your galleys is heaven. The second time through, all you see are the typos no one caught. It looks like the typesetter typed it with frostbitten feet, drunk. And the typos are important ones. They make you look ignorant; they make you look like an ignorant racist.

Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying gently to bring my mind back to what is really there to be seen, maybe to be seen and noted with a kind of reverence. Because if I don’t learn to do this, I think I’ll keep getting things wrong.

Annie Dillard has said that day by day you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects.

May 31 2011

Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes

The best parts of Before She Met Me by Julian Barnes:

“As soon as Jack introduced the girl, something flickered in his brain and automatically expunged her name. That was what happened at parties. A few years earlier, as an experiment, Graham had tried repeating the person’s name as they shook hands. ‘Hullo, Rachel,’ he’d say, and ‘Hullo, Lionel,’ and ‘Good evening, Marion.’ But the men seemed to think you homosexual for it, and eyed you warily; while the women asked politely if you were Bostonian, or, perhaps, a Positive Thinker. Graham had abandoned the technique and gone back to feeling ashamed of his brain.”

“She no longer expected each dinner to disclose a perfect partner — or even an adequate one.”

“He’d turned into a man like other men: lovingly surprised at his own emotions, while diminishing those of his partner.”

“He was incompetent at arguing with Barbara; she always operated on such fearlessly non-academic principles.”

“He felt a complacent lack of curiosity about why he had ever loved her in the first place.”

“But even so, she had said “Fuck’. It had been a nice evening; they’d had a good dinner together, got on well, hadn’t run short of things to say; but even so, a couple of drops of water and it brought out a ‘Fuck.’ What on earth would she say if something serious happened? If she broke a leg or the Russians landed?”

“One of the first things he’d said to her that made her laugh was, “I’m afraid I’ve got an academic’s body.”

Vocab list:

adamantine – having an adamant quality
ruckle – a wrinkle or crease
gammy – sore or lame
cheroot – cigar with both ends open and untapered
intransigence – unwillingness to change one’s viewpoint
parturate – give birth
senescent -Growing old; aging
tassle – euphemism for a boy’s genitals
homo ludens – man the player, the element of play in society
muleteer – person who drives mules
atavistic – Relating to or characterized by reversion to something ancient or ancestral

British terms/slang, (with aid from Nick and Sarah):

wet – usually ‘wet’ means like soft, or a wuss. Weak-willed. As in, “don’t be wet.”
Junior Scouts – like Cub Scouts
Scrubber – basically means… unattractive… someone who tries to look good, but looks awful. And probably a bit loose.” (I said, “White trash?” and Nick said, “Yeah.”)

Apr 24 2011

Model Home

The best parts of Model Home, by Eric Puchner:

“They had lost this feeling, the way you might lose a favorite gift you were no longer attached to. It had not seemed an important loss at the time: Dustin was born, and if anything a deeper,more devout-seeming love took its place. Once, while they were bathing Dustin together in the sink of their apartment, washing his scabbed-up bellybutton and tiny, heartbreaking penis, Camille had turned to Warren with a look of such stunning affection that he had actually lost his breath. I will never be happier than I am now, Warren had thought. Seventeen years later, he realized how sadly prescient that was.”

“[The guy in the top hat] sprayed some PAM into a plastic bag and then stuffed it up to his face. He blinked his eyes wide when he was finished, like something hatching from an egg.”

“The place gave Lyle a sludgy, unreal feeling, as though she were watching soap operas on a beautiful day.”

“He looked like one of those football players whose popularity hinged on their willingness to eat strange things.”

“The fact that you could know someone almost intimately and then a year later not know him at all seemed to be at the heart of everything sad and fucked up in the world.”

Jan 31 2011

Painting as a Pastime by Winston Churchill

The best parts of Winston Churchill’s Painting as a Pastime*:

On libraries:
“As you browse about, taking down book after book from the shelves and contemplating the vast, infinitely varied store of knowledge and wisdom which the human race has accumulated and preserved, pride, even in its most innocent forms, is chased from the heart by feelings of awe not untinged with sadness. As on surves the mighty array of sages, saints, historians, scientists, poets and philosophers whose treaures ne will never be able to admire — still less enjoy — the brief tenure of our existence here dominates mind and spirit.”

“It is a mistake to read too many good books when quite young… The first impression is the one that counts; and if it is a slight one, it may be all that can be hoped for.”

“The boy learns enough Latin to detest it; enough Greek to pass an examination; enough French to get from Calais to Paris; enough German to exhibit a diploma; enough Spanish or Italian to tell which is which; but not enough of any to secure the enormous boon of access to a second literature.”

“Just to paint is great fun. The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out. Matching them, however crudely, with what you see is fascinating and absolutely absorbing. Try it if you have not done so — before you die.”

“One begins to see, for instance, that painting a picture is like fighting a battle; and trying to paint a picture is, I suppose, like trying to fight a battle. It is, if anything, more exciting than fighting it successfully.”

Jan 5 2011

An Object of Beauty

The best parts of Object of Beauty by Steve Martin:

“Lacey was just as happy alone as with company. When she was lone, she was potential; with others she was realized.”

“… a young man, Jamaican, perhaps, his head circled in a scarf with sunbleached dreadlocks on piled on top, looking like a plate of softshell crabs.”

“He brought the Van Gogh out to the offices, where ambient sunlight would make any flaws in the drawing more visible. He hovered around Lacey’s desk, tilting it this way and that, looking for fading, looking for foxing. Lacey presumed he didn’t notice her, but when he said, “A beautiful thing… a beautiful thing,” Lacey, at her desk, said, “I do my best.”

“Auctions were, and still are, spectator sports, where the contestants are money.”

“Lacey squeezed back into her slot across from [Jonah], with Patrice having to turn sideways to sit down. She seemed genuinely in love with Patrice, and genuinely trying to rekindle Jonah’s fleeting interest of three years ago. Looking back, I think that both behaviors were valid. To her this was natural, to Patrice it was unsettling, to me it was bewildering, and to Tanya Ross, who had matured normally, it was creepy.”

Vocabulary

malfeasant – one guilty of malfeasance, an offender
incised – cut into a surface; engraved
prestidigitation – sleight of hand
feint – a movement made in order to deceive an adversary
vitrines – a glass display case or cabinet for works of art, curios, etc.
ovoid – egg shaped
argot – a secret language used by various groups—including, but not limited to, thieves and other criminals—to prevent outsiders from understanding their conversations

Oct 26 2010

You Lost Me There

Mr. Baldwin is in San Francisco doing a reading tonight at the Ferry Building (6 p.m.). I hear his approximation of a Maine accent is without parallel.

The best parts of You Lost Me There:

“I tried playing housewife for a year to an empty house.”

“Russell squeezed my arm and gave me a light hug. While he strode toward the airport, compact and hustling, his suit bag like a shadow on his back, I thought, I don’t care if I ever see him again.”

“Sara always said it was a hindrance of mine, that I expected people to tell me what they needed.”

“After the coffee he was still focused on how she liked it, how she took it, he put it, going into details to show off his good fortune for discovering a woman who didn’t mind facing away from him during sex.”

“She longed for honor. For Eagle Scouts.”

“I won’t have a normal relationship. That’s not who I am.”
“Of course not.”
“I won’t be dragged down to what other people do.”

“You’ll have worked tremendously hard to build your life after a certain fashion, and then suddenly, one morning, you want something different. You want anything but what you have, you want it new, and you want it just right then. It’s terrifying, the desire’s so powerful, you’re just sick with it.”

Jul 30 2010

The Bell Jar

I’m just now reading this. Favorite parts of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.

“She stared at her reflection in the glossed shop windows as if to make sure, moment by moment, that she continued to exist.”

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”