I don’t much care for coincidences. There’s something spooky about them: you sense momentarily what it must be like to live in an ordered, God-run universe, with Himself looking over your shoulder and helpfully dropping coarse hints about a cosmic plan. I prefer to feel that things are chaotic, free-wheeling, permanently as well as temporarily crazy — to feel the certainty of human ignorance, brutality and folly.
Notes from the Golden Orange
EppsNet Archive: Literature
I had lunch over the weekend with Robert Hass — Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, UC Berkeley professor and former Poet Laureate of the United States. When I say I had lunch with him, I mean he was one of five people seated at our table.
I asked to take a photo with him, which he graciously consented to. I don’t have any photos of myself with Pulitzer Prize winners and still don’t because the photo didn’t come out at all. I completely botched it somehow.
So that was probably the lowlight of my weekend, except for Cal getting blown out by Washington on the gridiron 31-7, while four Husky fans sat directly behind us screaming the whole game.
Football at Cal unfortunately is like academics at Washington: not terribly distinguished.
(HealthDay News) — Add another possible woe to the growing list of consequences of climate change: Kidney stones.
A new study of American cities suggests that rising temperatures may increase the number of people who develop the painful urinary obstructions.
You have to read all the way down to the second-to-last sentence of the article to find this:
The study uncovered a connection between higher temperatures and risk of kidney stones, but didn’t prove cause-and-effect.
The article implies cause and effect only to fess up right at the end and admit that there is no cause and effect. In the absence of cause and effect, what exactly is the point?
In the epilogue of War and Peace, a peasant notices a “connection” between smoke and locomotives and infers cause and effect: the smoke causes the locomotive to move. The point being that it’s easy to infer causality from “connections” in ways that have no grounding in reality.
In other climate news, the Wall Street Journal reports that researchers have, for the first time, counted all the world’s Adélie penguins — a sprightly seabird considered a bellwether of climate change — and discovered that millions of them are thriving in and around Antarctica.
Rather than declining as feared due to warming temperatures that altered their habitats in some areas, the Adélie population generally is on the rise.
Bertrand Russell declared that, in case he met God, he would say to Him, “Sir, you did not give us enough information.” I would add to that, “All the same, Sir, I’m not persuaded that we did the best we could with the information we had. Toward the end there, anyway, we had tons of information.”
Hi everybody! It’s me, Lightning!
My owner read me a story by Isaac Babel:
And Mimka arrived too, curled up on the sofa and fell asleep at once. She was a terrible sleepy-head, but a wonderful dog, good-hearted, sensible, small and pretty. Mimka was a pug-dog. Her coat was light in colour. Even in old age she never grew fat or flabby, never put on weight, but remained shapely and slender. She lived with us a long time, from birth to death, the whole of her fifteen years’ doggy life, and loved us — quite plainly, and most of all Grandmother, who was stern and without mercy to anyone. What friends they were, silent and secretive, I shall tell another time. It is a very good, touching and tender story.
Actually that was only part of the story but the rest was kind of boring and I don’t really remember it.
I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I’ve tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied — not even I. On the other hand, I’ve never been more loved and appreciated than when I tried to “justify” and affirm someone’s mistaken beliefs; or when I’ve tried to give my friends the incorrect, absurd answers they wished to hear. In my presence they could talk and agree with themselves, the world was nailed down, and they loved it.
A leaf flattened itself against the window beside his head and leaped away into the darkness, and a feeling of profound despair came over him because everything he had done was useless. All that he believed in and had attempted to prove seemed meager, all of his life was wasted.
I believe what I believe, and I have not yet believed a single thing only because it was believed by others, nor do I intend to. I can be grateful for this, at least: that I have kept myself. I have not once dressed up in a costume. There may be stronger consolations, but not many. Be that as it may, I cannot live differently than I do. Whatever the reasons for this, good or bad, they exist. Evidently that is enough. So, early tomorrow, I must get up again to do what I have done today. I will get up early to do this, and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, and there is nothing to discuss.
They have dragged out their life in stupor and semi-sleep, they have married hastily, they have made children at random. They have met other men in cafes, at weddings and funerals. Sometimes, caught in the tide, they have struggled against it without understanding what was happening to them. All that has happened around them has eluded them; long, obscure shapes, events from afar, brushed by them rapidly and when they turned to look all had vanished. And then, around forty, they christen their small obstinacies and a few proverbs with the name of experience, they begin to simulate slot machines: put a coin in the left hand slot and you get tales wrapped in silver paper, put a coin in the slot on the right and you get precious bits of advice that stick to your teeth like caramels.
New additions to the First Lines and Last Lines quizzes:
These notebooks were found among the papers of Antoine Roquentin.
One hot spring evening, just as the sun was going down, two men appeared at Patriarch’s Ponds.
The building-yard of the New Station smells strongly of damp wood: tomorrow it will rain in Bouville.
However passionate, sinning, and rebellious the heart hidden in the tomb, the flowers growing over it peep serenely at us with their innocent eyes; they tell us not of eternal peace alone, of that great peace of “indifferent” nature: they tell us, too, of eternal reconciliation and of life without end.
His bruised memory has subsided again and until the next full moon no one will trouble the professor—neither the noseless man who killed Hestas nor the cruel Procurator of Judea, fifth in that office, the knight Pontius Pilate.
Gabriel García Márquez, the influential, Nobel Prize-winning author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera,” has died, his family and officials said.
He was 87.
CNN reported the death of García Márquez with more or less equal weightiness as the following “top stories”:
- CNN reporter faces claustrophobia
- Is it possible to live forever?
- 7 ways to be more interesting
- See Rosie O’Donnell’s 50-lb. weight loss
- Miley Cyrus tour postponed
- W.H.: No comment on Bieber petition
I didn’t cherry-pick those stories, by the way. They were all listed as Top Stories on CNN.com.
CNN is a “serious” news outlet. García Márquez’s death was also reported in the “popular” media, amongst reality show updates, celebrity pregnancies and Kardashians.
Orwell wrote about a society in which books are banned. As it turns out, there’s no need to ban books because no one has any interest in reading one. We’re drowning in a sea of trivia.
RIP Gabriel García Márquez
Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road. — Jack Kerouac
Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.
Richard Yates poses the question of how much reality people can stand, and the answer he comes up with is “not very much.” Alternatives to facing reality head-on are explored in Revolutionary Road: avoidance, denial, alcoholism, insanity and death.
“You want to play house you got to have a job. You want to play very nice house, very sweet house, you got to have a job you don’t like. Great. This is the way ninety-eight-point-nine per cent of the people work things out, so believe me buddy you’ve got nothing to apologize for. Anybody comes along and says ‘Whaddya do it for?’ you can be pretty sure he’s on a four-hour pass from the State funny-farm; all agreed.”
And all because, in a sentimentally lonely time long ago, she had found it easy and agreeable to believe whatever this one particular boy felt like saying, and to repay him for that pleasure by telling easy, agreeable lies of her own, until each was saying what the other most wanted to hear — until he was saying “I love you” and she was saying “Really, I mean it; you’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met.”
People’s inability to absorb large, unfiltered doses of reality probably explains why New Yorker fiction editor Roger Angell wrote to Yates’s agent in 1981, “It seems clearer and clearer that his kind of fiction is not what we’re looking for. I wonder if it wouldn’t save a lot of time and disappointment in the end if you and he could come to the same conclusion.”
And why at the time of his death in 1992, all of Yates’ books were out of print.
I bought this book and read it because it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. See, it says so right there on the cover: “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.”
Did you know there was a time in our country’s history when black people were bought and sold as property, sometimes by other black people? And did you also know that 15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance?
Human slavery is deplorable, yes, but at this late date, can it be deplored any more than it has been already? If you have new depths of insight into the hearts and minds of the participants, by all means offer them, but Jones doesn’t have them. Reading The Known World is like reading a history book, albeit with a little more authorial contempt for some of the characters.
It’s customary in book reviews to mention authors whose work is called to mind by the volume at hand. The reviews included in my copy of The Known World cite
- William Faulkner (multiple times)
- Charles Frazier
- Gabriel García Márquez
- Cormac McCarthy
- Toni Morrison (multiple times)
- William Styron
If you want to say something nice about a black author writing about the American South, you can’t go wrong with a Morrison or Faulkner comparison, although comparing an author writing his second book to Faulkner (or García Márquez) makes as much sense as comparing a young composer to Beethoven or Mozart. (I can’t comment on the Toni Morrison comparison as I have to admit I haven’t read her work.)
The author that Jones most reminded me of is Kurt Vonnegut, who once wrote
I would write about life. Every person would be exactly as important as any other. All facts would also be given equal weightiness. Nothing would be left out. Let others bring order to chaos. I would bring chaos to order, which I think I have done.
Jones follows the Vonnegut model of introducing a lot of characters of equal importance and weaving their lives together via seemingly insignificant details. Vonnegut has written better books than The Known World — most notably, in my opinion, Breakfast of Champions, although many people prefer Slaughterhouse-Five — but he did not win, nor was he ever a finalist for, a Pulitzer Prize.
So it goes.
These are the books I read in 2013, roughly in the order listed. The ratings are mine. They don’t represent a consensus of opinion.
Books of the Year: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen and All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
He himself did not care what happened at the house during the day. There was no more reason for her to be curious about his work than for him to be concerned with the groceries, laundry, getting the children to school, and whatever else she did. Yet it would seem rude, almost brutal, to drop the pretense and admit that neither particularly cared what the other was doing. A display of interest, however shallow, made life easier.
“Do not ride your bicycle around the corner,” the mother had told the daughter when she was seven.
“Why not!” protested the girl.
“Because then I cannot see you and you will fall down and cry and I will not hear you.”
“How do you know I’ll fall?” whined the girl.
“It is in a book, The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, all the bad things that can happen to you outside the protection of this house.”
“I don’t believe you. Let me see the book.”
“It is written in Chinese. You cannot understand it. That is why you must listen to me.”
“What are they, then?” the girl demanded. “Tell me the twenty-six bad things.”
But the mother sat knitting in silence.
“What twenty-six!” shouted the girl.
The mother still did not answer her.
“You can’t tell me anything because you don’t know! You don’t know anything!” And the girl ran outside, jumped on her bicycle, and in her hurry to get away, she fell before she even reached the corner.