…the book has to be large, strong and true enough to contain grief and yet have enough room for other equally powerful parts of life.
If you are a troublemaker… it’s our job to politically destroy you… Everybody knows that in my bag I have a hatchet, and a very sharp one. You take me on, I take my hatchet, we meet in the cul-de-sac.
Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle-dusters. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no way you can govern a Chinese society.
Even from my sickbed, even if you are going to lower me to the grave and I feel that something is going wrong, I will get up.
…Lee Kuan Yew, who’s currently in heaven with George Washington, bullying Napoleon.
In this story, she is fire-born:
knee-deep in the shuddering world.
In this story, she knows no fear,
for what is fractured is a near-bitten star,
a false-bearing tree,
or a dishonest wind.
In this story, fear is a house gone dry.
Fear is not being a woman.
I’m no ordinary woman, she says.
My dreams come true.
And she says and she is
and I say, yes, give me that.
The Japanese poet Lady Sute-jo (1633-1698) asks:
Short-cuts in the sky,
…from the Moon as Muse, which closes with one of the more remarkable poems I’ve read this…ohh…decade.
This should have been amusing to me, the expression on Burdmoore’s face as Sandro recounted the story. But I was focused on Ronnie and Talia, on the way he was making her laugh. Taxi-dino, innuendo. Pointing out a green-and-yellow Blimpie’s sign, “There! One of ours!” Her laughter penetrating his fake sincerity like carbonation.
Writing is like “chatting up a woman”, Japan’s superstar novelist Haruki Murakami has said: “You can get better with practice to a certain degree, but basically, you’re either born with it, or you’re not.”
The silence of Jaelin Brewitt understood them all. His minimal stepping out the door saying he would be back the next day. And he would be back not before the next day. All three of them talking for hours about things like the machinery of the piano, fishing, stars. This year, he told Bolden, there is a new star, the Wolf Ryat star. It should be the Wolf Star Bolden said it sounds better. It sounds better yes but that’s not its real name. There were two people who found it. Someone called Wolf and someone called Ryat, Jaelin Brewitt said. There was that story between them. Later both of them realised they had been talking about Robin.
…as God said,
crossing his legs,
I see where I have made plenty of poets
but not so very much
…from “To The Whore Who Took My Poems,” by Charles Bukowski, which echoes my thoughts on the passing of another year, as I stand on the porch, swatting mosquitoes, and whispering about it behind it’s back. So long, year! Nice knowing you! Bring your own beer next time, yeah? Sheesh.
… it is not just modern poetry, but poetry that is today obscure. ‘Paradise Lost’ is what it was; but the ordinary reader no longer makes the mistake of trying to read it — instead, he glances at it, weighs it in his hand, shudders, and suddenly, his eyes shining, puts it on his list of the ten dullest books he has ever read, along with ‘Moby Dick,’ ‘War and Peace,’ ‘Faust,’ and Boswell’s ‘Life of Johnson.’ But I am doing this ordinary reader an injustice. It was not the Public, nodding over its lunch-pail, but the educated reader, the reader the universities have trained, who put together this list of the world’s dullest books.
I turned faceup on the slab of stone, gazed at the sky, and thought about all the man-made satellites spinning around the earth. The horizon was still etched in a faint glow, and stars began to blink on in the deep, wine-colored sky. I gazed among them for the light of a satellite, but it was still too bright out to spot one with the naked eye. The sprinkling of the stars looked nailed to the spot, unmoving. I closed my eyes and listened carefully for the descendants of Sputnik, even now circling the earth, gravity their only tie to the planet. Lonely metal souls in the unimpeded darkness of space, they meet, pass each other, and part, never to meet again. No words passing between them. No promises to keep.
You will lead, you will strike up the march of the future, boys will swear by your name, and thanks to your madness they will no longer need to be mad.
…from Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told by a Friend (greatest title ever?) by Thomas Mann (greatest Mann ever?).
We were language’s magpies by nature, stealing whatever sounded bright and shiny.
…from Salman Rushdie‘s imperfectly perfect novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which I hesitantly allow to be considered the greatest “music novel” ever, instead of Coming Through Slaughter, if only because Vina Apsara is the sexiest female character in literary history, which makes perfect logical sense thank you very much shut up.
While I have used real names and characters and historical situations I have also used more personal pieces of friends and fathers. There have been some date changes, some characters brought together, and some facts have been expanded or polished to suit the truth of fiction.
…Michael Ondaatje, at the close of his first novel, Coming Through Slaughter. How come when he says that phrase, “the truth of fiction,” it sounds magnificent, but when I do, I sound like a middle-aged hippie dad painting watercolors on an easel in the backyard shirtless in socks and short shorts?
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.
…the first line of Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng which is apparently winning all kinds of awards or something, and which I’m sure I’m going to hear about nonstop for the next year, for every reason other than the one that I actually care about: she totally stole that first line. From somewhere. Who knows where. I certainly don’t. But c’mon, that’s a brilliant heist job if ever I saw it. I love it.
We ran along the railway,
arriving in some place called ‘the City’
where we trade in our youth, and our muscle.
Finally we have nothing to trade, only a cough
and a skeleton nobody cares about.
…from Skeleton, a poem by a young migrant worker in Shenzhen named Xu Lizhi who just jumped out of a Foxconn window. Read all about it here in the Washington Post.
This is bothering me because I wrote a novel about this guy, about him and the four million other hims in this city. You can read part of that novel here. Though when I knew him, he wasn’t yet good enough to write things like…
I swallowed a moon made of iron
They refer to it as a nail
Midnight. Everyone is sleeping soundly,
We keep our pair of young wounds open.
These black eyes, can you really lead us to the light?
A few weeks ago I heard Chang-Rae Lee say that he chose not to write a book about factory workers in Shenzhen, for reasons of his own, and in the room there was the sense that the book had already been written, that it wasn’t a new story.
I disagree. It’s never been written. A lot of white-guilt books have been written. A lot of literary zoos, for people with Creative Nonfiction degrees or automatic charity payments on their credit card, to gawk at and pat themselves on the back over. But not this story. Not at all. Not even close. Some stories only get told in the living and dying.
Eggs cuss and snap on the kitchen stove. (2)
Clare, the sound Madeleine’s toilet makes when it’s dry. (3)
His voice is close shaven. (26)
She could sneak in there, but she must be quiet, like cancer. (88)
The way that woman walked, like she was paying the sidewalk a favor. (96)
…all from within the first hundred pages of 2A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas, by Marie-Helene Bertino, an author with whom I’m fairly certain I’ve waged eerily charming (but ultimately losing) verbal battles in non-smoky taverns at forty-five-percent occupancy facing a nicked and scraped wooden bartop on three separate continents in which she blinked too much and I spilled my beer and no less than three song lyrics were quoted and at least one jazz song referenced in such a way that that both of us knew but were unwilling to admit that neither of us had ever actually listened to it.
Remnants of light lingered on the horizon, buried behind the hill at Osby’s back. The bare tops of the trees jutted above the fence line, as hard and cold as metal rods – almost as black, too – against the darkening sky.
…from Ridge Weather, novella number one in Josh Weil‘s debut, The New Valley, the protagonist of which, I’m certain, drives back and forth each day past the tattered park site of my own family reunions.
Smoldering realism. Campfire poetry. Fork in the road at dusk with rain clouds. That’s this book.