Some days I am very raw, as though my outer layers have been peeled away

Some days I am very raw, as though my outer layers have been peeled away, exposing the new parts of myself to the wind and the sea spray… I feel very sensitive to different consistencies of light. The speed of the wind. The pull of my clothes against my arms. Everything has a texture. I had stopped noticing it. I have a new pleasure in holding objects. A cold, round apple is solid in the palm of my hand. I stroke the smooth, hard squares of Scrabble letters. I run my fingers over the rough wooden surface of the table. I wonder if this is how my mother felt when we came here during those long, brooding summers.

~ Jessica Andrews, Saltwater: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 14, 2020)

I loved it. Recommended for you? Hmmmm. Read a Kindle sample to get a taste.


Notes:

Sunday Morning

I want to be a monk because I think that would be a very good use of me, he continued. Does that sound strange? It sounds a bit arrogant, I suppose. I don’t mean to be arrogant. I want to be an implement. Something like a shovel with a beard. If I live with humility and intent, if I do what I do well and gracefully, that is good. Beyond that I cannot go. When I speak to children they will ask me things like, if I do enough good, and other people do good, then the good stacks up, right? and the good eventually beats the bad, right? and I cannot say this is so. I am not very interested in speculation about such things. I was never interested in theology. I think theology is an attempt to make sense of that to which sense does not apply. I cannot explain why I hope that what I do matters; all I can do is do what I do, either well or ill, patiently or not, gracefully or not. And I do find that doing things mindfully, patiently, easefully, makes the task far more interesting. I love to cut the grass here, for I sometimes come to a sort of understanding with the grass, and the hill, and the creatures in the grass, and with my legs and arms and back, a sort of silent conversation in which we all communicate easily and thoroughly. Do you have any idea of what I mean with all this?

~ Brian Doyle, from “Because It’s Hard” in “One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder” (Little, Brown and Company, December 3, 2019)


Notes:

About right.

Is this verbal violence, then, simply incompetence? Is it the verbal equivalent of someone who has not learned the piano sitting down and trying to play Rachmaninov’s Third? The rudeness of these public figures gives pleasure and relief, it is clear, to their audiences. Perhaps what they experience is not the possibility of actual violence but a sort of intellectual unbuttoning, a freedom from the constraint of language. Perhaps they have lived lives in which they have been continually outplayed in the field of articulation, but of this new skill – rudeness – they find that they are the masters.

~ Rachel Cusk, from “On Rudeness” in Coventry (Farrar, Straus and Giroux. September 16, 2019)


Notes:

Waiting for Eden

She’d heard the stories about when they’d brought him in. The rush to the roof, his helicopter landing, and how close to death he’d always been. Between shifts, the older docs and nurses spoke quietly about the guy up on the fourth floor burned so bad it was a miracle he’d survived. They always talked about him quickly, in murmurs over their coffee or standing close to each other in an elevator. What they’d say was always the same: worst wounded guy in both wars, don’t know if I’d want to live like that, and just a matter of time. They all said that one: a matter of time…

His skin, already see-through with burns, didn’t sweat, it couldn’t. Instead it shone, the fever trapped inside…His body seized and then did a sort of whip-crack, struggling for breath even as he gasped…She climbed up on his bed and leaned in, not touching his burns but so close that her smell would linger around him. Before, when they would be in bed together, she’d often wake when he’d bury his face deep into the nape of her neck, covering himself in her dark hair to what she worried was the point of suffocation. One of the first things he ever told her was that he liked her perfume, but she never wore any. Her smell was of soap and water.

~ Elliot Ackerman, excerpts from Waiting for Eden: A Novel (September, 2018)


Notes: A mere 192 pages, but a story that will be seared into memory.  A National Book Award Finalist. An Amazon Book of the Month in October, 2018.  A book that reminded me of The Sea Inside and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  A NY Book Review by Anthony Swofford captures it beautifully: “To identify this book as a novel seems inadequate: ‘Waiting for Eden’ is a sculpture chiseled from the rarest slab of life experience. The sculptor’s tools are extreme psychological interrogation and clear artistic vision.”

It could not even see or hear. It simply smelled and tasted and touched its world

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I finished this book a month ago and it hasn’t left my consciousness. Who would have thought a book about a snail would have so captured my attention, and held it for so long.  Here’s the book summary from Amazon:

“While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey watches a wild snail that has taken up residence on her nightstand. As a result, she discovers the solace and sense of wonder that this mysterious creature brings and comes to a greater under standing of her own confined place in the world. Bailey becomes an astute and amused observer, providing a candid and engaging look into the curious life of this underappreciated small animal…told with wit and grace, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world illuminates our own human existence and provides an appreciation of what it means to be fully alive.”

And here’s a few memorable passages:

“…I observed without thinking, looking into the terrarium simply to feel connected to another creature; another life was being lived just a few inches away.”

“By day, the strangeness of my situation was sharpest: I was bed-bound at a time when my friends and peers were moving forward in their careers and raising families. Yet the snail’s daytime sleeping habits gave me a fresh perspective; I was not the only one resting away the days. The snail naturally slept by day, even on the sunniest of afternoons. Its companionship was a comfort to me and buffered my feelings of uselessness.”

“…my snail could not see the moss over which it glided or even the plants it climbed. It could not see the trees, nor the stars overhead. It could not hear birdsong at daybreak, nor the midnight howls of coyotes. It could not even see or hear its own kin, let alone a predator. It simply smelled and tasted and touched its world.” [Read more…]

A Whole Life

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According to his birth certificate, which in his opinion wasn’t even worth the ink on the stamp, Egger lived to be seventy-nine years old. He had held out longer than he himself had ever thought possible, and on the whole he could be content. He had survived his childhood, a war and an avalanche. He had never felt himself to be above doing any kind of work, had blasted an incalculable number of holes in rock, and had probably felled enough trees to heat the stoves of an entire town for a whole winter. Over and over again he had hung his life on a thread between heaven and earth, and in his latter years as a tour guide he had learned more about people than he was able fully to understand. As far as he knew, he had not burdened himself with any appreciable guilt, and he had never succumbed to the temptations of the world: to boozing, whoring and gluttony. He had built a house, had slept in countless beds, stables, on the backs of trucks, and even a couple of nights in a Russian wooden crate. He had loved. And he had had an intimation of where love could lead. He had seen a couple of men walk about on the moon. He had never felt compelled to believe in God, and he wasn’t afraid of death. He couldn’t remember where he had come from, and ultimately he didn’t know where he would go. But he could look back without regret on the time in between, his life, with a full-throated laugh and utter amazement.

~ Robert Seethaler, A Whole Life: A Novel 


Notes:

 

 

What is the most important thing that happened yesterday?’

marion-milner-diary

Eternity’s Sunrise explores Marion Milner’s way of keeping a diary. Recording small private moments, she builds up a store of ‘bead memories’. A carved duck, a sprig of asphodel, moments captured in her travels in Greece, Kashmir and Israel, circus clowns, a painting – each makes up a ‘bead’ that has a warmth or glow which comes in response to asking the simple question: What is the most important thing that happened yesterday?’

~ Introduction to Marion Milner‘s, Eternity’s Sunrise: A Way of Keeping a Diary

 

 

The Heart

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It’s 4 a.m.  Zeke’s asleep on my right, his front legs are stiff armed, fully extended and laying on my chest. No, on my Heart. But for his breathing, I could be laying in bed in the “world’s quietest room“, so completely quiet that I can hear my own organs pumping.  The hypnotic page-turning ride continued:

“She paces the room. If this is a donation, it’s a pretty unusual one, she thinks. There is no donor in this operation— no one intended to make a donation— and likewise there is no donee, because she is not in a position to refuse the organ: she has to accept it if she wants to survive. So what is it exactly? The recycling of an organ that can still be used, can still fulfill its function as a pump? She begins to undress, sitting on the bed: she removes her boots, her socks. The meaning of this transfer, for which she was selected by an incredible alignment of coincidences— the almost perfect compatibility of her blood and her genetic code with those of someone who died today— all of this becomes hazy. She does not like this feeling of unearned privilege; this lottery, it’s like winning a little stuffed animal snagged by the metal claw from a jumble of toys piled behind glass in one of those arcade games. Worst of all is that she will never be able to say thank you; that is the crux of the matter. It’s simply impossible. Thank you— that radiant phrase— will fall into the void. She will never be able to express any kind of gratitude to the donor or the donor’s family, never mind offer a gift in return in order to free herself from this infinite debt, and the idea that she will be permanently trapped crosses her mind. The floor is ice-cold under her feet. She is afraid. Her whole being flinches…

She hopes that she will be able to kiss her sons before she puts on this tissue-paper gown that flutters without covering her up, making her feel as if she is naked in a breeze. Her eyes remain dry, but she is struggling to get her head around the enormity of what she is about to go through. Placing her hand there, between her breasts, she feels her pulse, still slightly too fast in spite of the medication, still somewhat unpredictable too, and says its name out loud: heart.”

~ Maylis de Kerangal, The Heart: A Novel

I’m done but it won’t be done with me – ever – an unforgettable story.


Notes:

And when things didn’t go quite as expected, Americans lost their shit.

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Haven’t read fiction in months.

Sharon Guskin‘s debut novel is an Amazon Best Book of February, 2016.

I don’t believe in reincarnation.

NY Times Book Review: “Sounds ludicrous. It shouldn’t work. But Guskin pulls off the silly premise with a gripping, deft and moving mystery.” 

And, swept away by this page turner.

Here’s a biscuit…


“This never would have happened in India. In India they understood that life unfolded the way it unfolded, whether you liked it or not: the cow in the road, the swerve that saves or kills you. One life ended, a new one began, maybe it was better than the last one, maybe it wasn’t. The Indians (and the Thais, and the Sri Lankans) accepted this the way they accepted the monsoons or the heat, with a resignation that was like simple good sense. Damned Americans. Americans, unschooled in the burning dung heaps and the sudden swerves, Americans couldn’t help but cling tightly to the life they were living like clutching a spindly branch that was sure to break … and when things didn’t go quite as expected, Americans lost their shit. Himself included.”

~ Sharon Guskin, The Forgetting Time: A Novel


Notes:

You’re a Great Man, Charles Schulz

snoopy-charles-schultz

[…] Given the cavalcade of Peanuts appreciation, one might question the need for a new book. This critic questioned it himself, sitting down with a cup of coffee and wondering how best to write something along the lines of “With all due respect to the man’s genius, one might question . . .” and then the coffee was cold and your humble critic was staring at page after page with a silly grin plastered on his face. “Only What’s Necessary” turns out to be exactly what one wants: a reconsideration of Schulz’s work that fits perfectly with its umpteenth delightful conjuring. […]

An appreciation of Schulz’s clear-cut style puts his masterly writing into even more, um, sharp relief. Schulz’s comic sense is a blank one; however hilarious, there’s always something odd or sad around the edges. When Snoopy keeps sniffing around Charlie Brown’s catcher’s mitt, spoiling the game, our hero has to admit that he has been using some extra padding: a slice of bread. It’s a weird punch line, but right: just the sort of childhood logic that’s simultaneously wrong and irrefutable. Juxtaposed with the tidy little shape that Schulz gives us for the padding, the joke has an extra, doughy layer of blankness. […]

But what makes the biggest impression is how invisible his care is, in the bareness of his work. “Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain!!” is the first draft of a speech bubble. Schulz cuts it to “Rain, rain, rain!!” and then, in its final form, makes it “Rain, rain, rain, rain . . .” One has the feeling that every inked line of rain in the drawing was the result of a similar pensive process.

The result of all this care and thought, both from Schulz himself and from Messrs. Kidd and Spear in arranging this book, is a melancholy familiar to anyone who has seen Peanuts in any of its incarnations. Funny things happen to these kids, but the emptiness of the panels, the starkness of the drawings and the sketches, leave a slight but indelible sadness. I closed this terrific book with a regretful sigh, both that I’d reached the end and that there wasn’t even more. There is, of course, so much, much more available, so it was a little silly to feel this way. Silly and sad, both at once. Charlie Brown has a good expression for it: Good grief.​

~ Daniel Handler, ‘You’re a Great Man, Charles Schulz in a Book Review of Chip Kidd’s ‘Only What’s Necessary


Notes:

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