Mighty Life List
Aug 29 2011

Democracy by Joan Didion

Read this, please. So many of the best parts are dependent on character development and context, so these are the best parts of Democracy by Joan Didion that make sense in this format and don’t give everything away:

You did all right.
You filled your dance card, you saw the show.
Interesting times.

Water under the bridge and dynamite it behind you.

Many people are intolerant of the accidental, but this was something more: Jack Lovett did not believe that accidents happen. In Jack Lovett’s system all behavior was purposeful, and the purpose could be divined by whoever attracted the best information and read it most correctly.

In fact Carla Lovett made a convincing army wife… indifferent to her surroundings, passive in bad climates.

…she resolved to reconstruct the details of occasions on which she recalled being happy. As she considered such occasions she was struck by their insignificance, their absence of application to the main events of her life. In retrospect she seemed to have been most happy in borrowed houses, and at lunch.

“‘Those to whom evil is done do evil in return.’ W.H. Auden. But I don’t have to tell you that.” He paused. “The English poet.”

In fact they did run into each other.
Here or there.
Often enough, during those twenty-some years during which Inez Victor and Jack Lovett refrained from touching each other, refrained from exhibiting undue pleasure in each other’s presence or untoward interest in each other’s activities, refrained most specifically from even being alone together, to keep the idea of it quick.
Quick, alive.
Something to think about late at night.
Something private.

“There was a sound in the autopsy room like an electric saw.”
“What was it.”
“It was an electric saw.” Billy Dillon shuffled and cut the cards. “Don’t dwell on it.”
Inez said nothing.

“Why air family linen?”
“Exactly,” Dwight Christian said. “Why accentuate the goddamn negative?”

The click of her heels struck her as unsynchronized with her walk.

“Listen, Inez said. “It’s too late for the correct thing. Forget the correct thing.”

When novelists speak of the unpredictability of human behavior they usually mean not unpredictability at all but a higher predictability, a more complex pattern discernible only after the fact.

“Anyway, we were together,” she said. “We were together all our lives. If you count thinking about it.”


balletomane – a devotee of ballet

casuarina – is a genus of 17 species in the family Casuarinaceae, native to Australasia, southeast Asia, and islands of the western Pacific Ocean:

codel – Abbreviation of congressional delegation, government-paid trips abroad, designed to give lawmakers first-hand knowledge of matters relevant to their legislation.

crazy eight – A wild card

D.S.C. – Distinguished Service Cross is the second highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of the United States Army, for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat with an armed enemy force.

guard hairs – The longest, coarsest hairs in a mammal’s coat, forming the topcoat (or outer coat). They taper to a point and protect the undercoat from the elements. They are often water repellent and stick out above the rest of the coat. Guard hairs add the sheen to the coat of an animal.

hemotoxins – toxins that destroy red blood cells (that is, cause hemolysis), disrupt blood clotting, and/or cause organ degeneration and generalized tissue damage.

kapu – refers to the ancient Hawaiian code of conduct of laws and regulations. The Hawaiian word kapu is usually translated to English as “forbidden”, though it also carries the means of “sacred”, “consecrated”, or “holy”.

liana – A liana is any of various long-stemmed, woody vines that are rooted in the soil at ground level and use trees, as well as other means of vertical support, to climb up to the canopy to get access to well-lit areas of the forest:

merc – mercenary

moue -a little grimace

Nisei – a Japanese language term used in countries in North America, South America and Australia to specify the children born to Japanese people in the new country.

quarter mastering – In land armies, especially US units, it is a term referring to either an individual soldier or a unit who specializes in distributing supplies and provisions to troops. The senior unit, post or base supply officer is customarily referred to as “the quartermaster”. Often the quartermaster serves as the S-4 in US Army, US Marine Corps units and NATO units. In many navies it is a non-commissioned officer (petty officer) rank for personnel responsible for their ship’s navigation. In the US Navy, the quartermaster is a position responsible for the ship’s navigation and maintenance of nautical charts and maps.

schitzy – slang for schizophrenic or exhibiting the effects of hallucinogenic drugs

Silver Star – awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States not justifying one of the two higher awards – the service crosses (Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, or the Air Force Cross), the second-highest military decoration, or the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration.

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.”


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.”