November 27, 2013
By Mary Shelley
"My journey was very melancholy. At first I wished to hurry on, for I longed to console and sympathize with my loved and sorrowing friends; but when I drew near my native town, I slackened my progress. I could hardly sustain the multitude of feelings that crowded into my mind. I passed through scenes familiar to my youth, but which I had not seen for nearly six years. How altered every thing might be during that time? One sudden and desolating change had taken place; but a thousand little circumstances might have by degrees worked other alterations, which, although they were done more tranquilly, might not be the less decisive. Fear overcame me; I dared not advance, dreading a thousand nameless evils that made me tremble, although I was unable to define them." (p. 54)
"While I watched the storm, so beautiful yet terrific, I wandered on with a hasty step. This noble war in the sky elevated my spirits; I clasped my hands, and exclaimed aloud, 'William, dear angel! this is thy funeral, this thy dirge!' As I said these words, I perceived in the gloom a figure which stole from behind a clump of trees near me; I stood fixed, gazing intently: I could not be mistaken. A flash of lightning illuminated the object, and discovered its shape plainly to me; its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity, instantly informed me that it was the wretch, the filthy daemon to whom I had given life." (p. 56)
"'I will try to comfort you; but this, I fear, is an evil too deep and poignant to admit of consolation, for there is no hope. Yet heaven bless thee, my dearest Justine, with resignation, and a confidence elevated beyond this world. Oh! how I hate its shows and mockeries! when one creature is murdered, another is immediately deprived of life in a slow torturing manner; then the executioners, their hands yet reeking with the blood of innocence, believe that they have done a great deed. They call this retribution. Hateful name! When that word is pronounced, I know greater and more horrid punishments are going to be inflicted than the gloomiest tyrant has ever invented to satiate its utmost revenge. Yet this is not consolation for you, my Justine, unless indeed that you may glory in escaping from so miserable a den. Alas! I would I were in peace with my aunt and my lovely William, escaped from a world which is hateful to me, and the visages of men which I abhor.'" (p. 67)
November 10, 2013
Frankenstein, 1818 Text
By Mary Shelley
"These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me to heaven; for nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose, -- a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye." (p. 6)
"She died calmly; and her countenance expressed affection even in death. I need not describe the feelings of those whose dearest ties are rent by that most irreparable evil, the void that presents itself to the soul, and the despair that is exhibited on the countenance. It is so long before the mind can persuade itself that she, whom we saw every day, and whose very existence appeared a part of our own, can have departed forever--that the brightness of a beloved eye can have been extinguished, and the sound of a voice so familiar, and dear to the ear, can be hushed, never more to be heard. These are the reflections of the first days; but when the lapse of time proves the reality of the evil, then the actual bitterness of grief commences. Yet from whom has not that rude hand rent away some dear connexion; and why should I describe a sorrow which all have felt, and must feel? The time at length arrives, when grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity; and the smile that plays upon the lips, although it may be deemed a sacrilege, is not banished. My mother was dead, but we had still duties which we ought to perform; we must continue our course with the rest, and learn to think ourselves fortunate, whilst one remains whom the spoiler has not seized." (p. 27)
October 21, 2013
October 20, 2013
Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living
By Nick Offerman
Somehow 2013 became the year of reading memoirs. It started with Tina Fey's Bossypants, and without having some kind of memoir-reading agenda, I read seven more. I've read memoirs (mostly humorous ones) by:
- Mindy Kaling
- Anthony Bourdain (both Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw)
- Eddie Huang
- Baratunde Thurston
- & now, Nick Offerman
I think of all of the books I've read this year, the ones written by the above, with the exception of Mindy Kaling's, have been my favorite. (Nothing against Mindy, just didn't like hers as much as the others.) I reviewed Paddle Your Own Canoe for The Manual; in short, I thought it was excellent. This is coming from someone who hadn't watched many Parks and Recreation episodes prior to my reading. As I mention in the review, many people know & see Offerman as a funny man mostly because of his role on Parks and Rec but what I thought was really special about this book--despite some of the similarities between him and Ron Swanson--was that it offered him the ability to reveal himself as more than the character he plays. He is an awesome human being & a funny storyteller with the kind of values all people should aim for: hard work, humility, loyalty. And he is unabashedly and admirably completely in love with his wife. Highly highly recommend. It will make you laugh and also probably put a lot in perspective.
The biggest takeaway from reading these memoirs by all of the successful, funny, insightful people above is that many of them had to go through a lot of shit to get to where they are today. They all worked insanely hard and often found themselves in dark or undesirable places as younger people but they pushed through and eventually found themselves right where they needed to be. And maybe some are still striving--or all are still striving to be better. A lot has changed for me since January and I've come to the realization that life is a work in progress & every experience--regardless of what it is--matters somehow and is essential to building my character and building my life. I feel an immense amount of gratitude and optimism and comfort in knowing I have a lot to look forward to, and that a lot of how my life turns out is in my hands. And even when it's not, that it can still be OK. So these memoirs have been really wonderful complements and companions while I've had these personal realizations.
I didn't mark any excerpts specifically but here are a few gems:
– “If you think that altering the tip of your nose with surgery will make you happier…alter something much more malleable than your flesh, like your priorities or your friends. Quit looking in the mirror so much.”
– “Choose your favorite spade and dig a small, deep hole, located deep in the forest or a desolate area of the desert or tundra. Bury your cell phone and then find a hobby.”
– ”Bring enough wit to any given situation to lighten the load with a grin.”
– ”No matter how you decide to spend a little more time on your gestures of giving, the point is just quite simply that you do. You don’t have to give a person a papier-mache penis vase to get a reaction, but you won’t be sorry if you do.”
But you really need to read it.
October 05, 2013
The Fault In Our Stars
By John Green
The following excerpt is similar to my last for Fahrenheit 451 in that I didn't really like either book but from each I found an excerpt I liked that includes the words of another, more gifted [real-life] writer. This one also reveals where the title of the book came from:
I didn't read it until I got home, situated in my own huge and empty bed with no chance of medical interruption. It took me forever to decode Van Houten's sloped, scratchy script.
Dear Mr. Waters,
I am in receipt of your electronic mail dated the 14th of April and duly impressed by the Shakespearean complexity of your tragedy. Everyone in this tale has a rock-solid hamartia: hers, that she is so sick; yours, that you are so well. Were she better or you sicker, then the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves." Easy enough to say when you're a Roman nobleman (or Shakespeare!), but there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.
While we're on the topic of old Will's insufficiencies, your writing about young Hazel reminds me of the Bard's Fifty-fifth sonnet, which of course begins, "Not marble, not the gilded monuments / Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme; / But you shall shine more bright in these contents / Than unswept stone, besmear'd with sluttish time." (Off topic, but: What a slut time is. She screws everybody.) It's a fine poem but a deceitful one: We do indeed remember Shakespeare's powerful rhyme, but what do we remember about the person it commemorates? Nothing. We're pretty sure he was male; everything else is guesswork. Shakespeare told us precious little of the man whom he entombed in his linguistic sarcophagus. (Witness also that when we talk about literature, we do so in the present tense. When we speak of the dead, we are not so kind.) You do not immortalize the lost by writing about them. Language buries, but does not resurrect. (Full disclosure: I am not the first to make this observation. cf, the MacLeish poem "Not Marble, Nor the Gilded Monuments," which contains the heroic line "I shall say you will die and none will remember you.")
I digress, but here's the rub: The dead are visible only in the terrible lidless eye of memory. The living, thank heaven, retain the ability to surprise and disappoint. Your Hazel is alive, Waters, and you musn't impose your will upon another's decision, particularly a decision arrived at thoughtfully. She wishes to spare you pain, and you should let her. You may not find young Hazel's logic persuasive, but I have trod through this vale of tears longer than you, and from where I'm sitting, she's not the lunatic.
Peter Van Houten
September 23, 2013
Then he began to read in a low, stumbling voice that grew firmer as he progressed from line to line.
By Ray Bradbury
"The room was blazing hot, he was all fire, he was all coldness; they sat in the middle of an empty desert with three chairs and him standing, swaying, and him waiting for Mrs. Phelps to stop straightening her dress hem and Mrs. Bowles to take her fingers away from her hair. Then he began to read in a low, stumbling voice that grew firmer as he progressed from line to line, and his voice went out across the desert, into the whiteness, and around the three sitting women there in the great hot emptiness.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
In melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
The chairs creaked under the three women. Montag finished it out:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So curious, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Mrs. Phelps was crying.
The others in the middle of the desert watched her crying grow very loud as her face squeezed itself out of shape. They sat, not touching her, bewildered with her display. She sobbed uncontrollably. Montag himself was stunned and shaken."
September 14, 2013
By Ray Bradbury
"He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark and tiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were two miraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact."