EppsNet Archive: Literature

The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates

4 Dec 2013 /
The Joy Luck Club

“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.

— Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club

It Is Hard Living Down the Tempers We Are Born With

30 Nov 2013 /
Gertrude Stein

Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. “Stop!” cried the groaning old man at last, “Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.”

It is hard living down the tempers we are born with. We all begin well, for in our youth there is nothing we are more intolerant of than our own sins writ large in others and we fight them fiercely in ourselves; but we grow old and we see that these our sins are of all sins the really harmless ones to own, nay that they give a charm to any character, and so our struggle with them dies away.

— Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans

If You Quote Poetry at My Death, I Will Haunt You

12 Sep 2013 /

If you know me, and you outlive me, and you want to say something on the occasion of my demise, please do not quote a snippet of poetry or other literary material, e.g., “He did not go gently into that good night.” Or: “I think Wordsworth said it best . . .”

Portrait of William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth

Bullshit . . . Wordsworth did not say it best. Wordsworth didn’t know me. You knew me. Go ahead and say something from the heart if you have something. Keep it real.

He was not a good person.

He had the most appalling social skills, which is why he had no close friends.

After his son moved out, he just unraveled like an old sock.

I remember at Jackie O’s funeral, her kids — was it just one kid, or both? I think both — read a poem. A poem! That’s when you really know that your life was not well-lived, when your own children have nothing to say about you.

Don’t you hope to god that your children at least will have some personal remembrance to share after you’re gone?

I remember when we used to go to the park and he pitched baseballs to me.

He spent a year of his life helping me with algebra homework.

He always believed in me.

To anyone tempted to eulogize me with a literary reference, I swear I will rise from the grave — in spirit if not in body, although body will be my preference — and cast a shadow upon your soul.


Seeing the Thing Through

3 Sep 2013 /

Ah, poor fellow!–and Herzog momentarily joined the objective world in looking down on himself. He too could smile at Herzog and despise him. But there still remained the fact. I am Herzog. I have to be that man. There is no one else to do it. After smiling, he must return to his own Self and see the thing through.

— Saul Bellow, Herzog

The Life That Exhibits Itself

2 Sep 2013 /

“In paths untrodden,” as Walt Whitman marvelously put it. “Escaped from the life that exhibits itself . . .” Oh, that’s a plague, the life that exhibits itself, a real plague! There comes a time when every ridiculous son of Adam wishes to arise before the rest, with all his quirks and twitches and tics, all the glory of his self-adored ugliness, his grinning teeth, his sharp nose, his madly twisted reason, saying to the rest — in an overflow of narcissism which he interprets as benevolence — “I am here to witness. I am come to be your exemplar.” Poor dizzy spook!

— Saul Bellow, Herzog

Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013

31 Aug 2013 /
Seamus Heaney

The way we are living,
timorous or bold,
will have been our life.

— Seamus Heaney, “Elegy”

Related articles


Aerogramme Writers’ Studio: Emily Dickinson Attends a Writing Workshop

Posted by on 25 Jul 2013

Boring a Lot of People For a Long Time

17 Jun 2013 /

I’ve probably been boring a lot of people for a long time. Strange to find comfort in the idea. There have always been things I felt I must tell them, even if no one listened or understood.

— Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Happy Fathers Day

16 Jun 2013 /

I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God’s grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle. You may not remember me very well at all, and it may seem no great thing to have been the good child of an old man in a shabby little town you will no doubt leave behind. If only I had the words to tell you.

— Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

A Glutton for Punishment

16 Jun 2013 /

“You must really be a glutton for punishment,” he said.

“A gourmet, actually,” I said. “If it isn’t perfect, I send it back.”

— Jonathan Lethem, Gun, with Occasional Music

Goals for Today

9 May 2013 /

Stop one heart from breaking. Ease one life the aching or cool one pain. Or help one fainting robin unto his nest again.

What’s the billing code for that?


You Sat There All Your Life

5 May 2013 /

The taste of self-inflicted suffering, of an evening trashed in spite, brought curious satisfactions. Other people stopped being real enough to carry blame for how you felt. Only you and your refusal remained. And like self-pity, or like the blood that filled your mouth when a tooth was pulled — the salty ferric juices that you swallowed and allowed yourself to savor — refusal had a flavor for which a taste could be acquired. . . .

And if you sat at the dinner table long enough, whether in punishment or in refusal or simply in boredom, you never stopped sitting there. Some part of you sat there all your life.

— Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

Always Costly

27 Apr 2013 /
Photogravure of Charles Alexis Henri Clérel de...

Photogravure of Charles Alexis Henri Clérel de Tocqueville (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In democratic societies, there exists an urge to do something even when the goal is not precise, a sort of permanent fever that turns to innovations (which) are always costly.

— Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1831)

These People Who See Right Through You

18 Apr 2013 /

These people who see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you’re making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice.

— Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Watch Out for the Gospel of the Times

14 Apr 2013 /

everything is permitted
absolute freedom of movement
that is, without leaving the cage
2+2 doesn’t make 4:
once it made 4 but
today nothing is known in this regard

— Nicanor Parra, “Watch Out for the Gospel of the Times”


EppsNet Book Club

11 Apr 2013 /

Welcome to the EppsNet Book Club! Here’s what we’ve been reading lately . . .

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Gilead is the journal of an old man — a pastor in a small town in Iowa — writing to his young son, whom he intends to read it after his death. He doesn’t know how to get to the point, he complains about his health despite an absence of physical symptoms, he sees everything as a blessing . . .

He has no strong convictions — I think this but other people think that and they may have a point. The one strong conviction that he does have, he recants by the end of the book.

It’s not a bad book but since the author, Marilynne Robinson, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for it, I feel like I have to say that it’s not a very good book either. Imagine being cornered at a family reunion by one of your least interesting older relatives and you’ll have a good sense of what reading Gilead is like.

Rating: 3 stars

Straight Man by Richard Russo

Straight Man is an academic satire set in a small state college in Pennsylvania. William Henry Devereaux Jr. is the chairman of the English department. His colleagues, who can’t stand one another, maneuver to hold on to their jobs in the face of rumored upcoming budget cuts.

Straight Man is a fun book to read, if not quite up to the gold standard for academic satire, which is Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Russo offers a nod to Amis by giving Devereaux the nickname Lucky Hank.

Russo has also won a Pulitzer Prize, not for Straight Man but for a novel he wrote a few years later called Empire Falls.

Rating: 4 stars

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections is a terrific piece of work. Enid Lambert, mother of three grown children and wife to a man losing his faculties to Parkinson’s disease, has her heart set on bringing the whole family together for one final Christmas. Franzen uses the motif of “corrections” in multiple ways, including the way that children shape their own lives as “corrections” of the lives of their parents.

Unlike the two previous authors — Robinson and Russo — Jonathan Franzen has not won a Pulitzer Prize. The Corrections won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2001, and was a finalist for the fiction Pulitzer in 2002, but lost out to Russo’s Empire Falls.

If you just read The Corrections and Straight Man, you’d have to say that Franzen is a much better writer than Russo, but it may be that Russo’s ambitions were more modest with Straight Man than with Empire Falls. If I were a real book reviewer, I would have read Empire Falls and could tell you for certain, but I’m not and I haven’t.

The Corrections is a good companion piece to Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin on the themes of aging and what happens in families when the kids become grown-ups and the parents get old.

One section of the book — the Denise section — is a notch below the rest, but everything else is so good that I can’t give anything less than the highest acclaim.

Rating: 5 stars


Poetry Madness

10 Apr 2013 /
T_S__Eliot_1923

Powell’s Books has a Poetry Madness bracket online to determine the Best Poet of All Time. Unfortunately, along with some really obvious omissions, they don’t understand the concept of seeding, so while minor poets face off in a number of first round matchups, there are inexplicable heavyweight pairings like T.S. Eliot vs. Emily Dickinson . . .


Advice From My Dad

1 Apr 2013 /
Taking a nap

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“If it’s not your tail,” he told me, “don’t wag it.”


Poems I’ve Read Recently and Liked

12 Feb 2013 /

Facing it — always facing it — that’s the way to get through. — Joseph Conrad, Typhoon


« Previous PageNext Page »