A strange book--strange in how I can't pin down Stifter. (why do I even want to?) There's a lot of moral-religious stuff (its subtitle is "A Christmas...moreA strange book--strange in how I can't pin down Stifter. (why do I even want to?) There's a lot of moral-religious stuff (its subtitle is "A Christmas Tale"), yet Stifter's writing dazzles when he's describing the mountains, not the valleys' confined inhabitants. There's suspense in moving through the descriptions--waiting to see how he describes the next bend--a journey by foot--which reminds me of reading Sebald, who I've heard admired Stifter.
Allen does something in this book that I keep thinking about. Within a description of a place she creates the shape of the book. On page 9 she writes,...moreAllen does something in this book that I keep thinking about. Within a description of a place she creates the shape of the book. On page 9 she writes,
"The walls don't reach the ceiling in the rooms of the guest house. The walls stop two feet below: there are two feet of open space where in the night, the thoughts, the feelings of the guests circulate and mingle in the air, affecting each other in their sleep without their knowing. They dream of each other but forget their dreams when they awaken. They awaken with thoughts not their own, with feelings they never knew they had. They breathe each other's breaths, share each other's sorrows."
After this the spaces between paragraphs were those extra two feet.(less)
These stories are delightful. I feel like they were written just for me, for my interests and sadnesses and neuroses. Maybe this is why they seem unca...moreThese stories are delightful. I feel like they were written just for me, for my interests and sadnesses and neuroses. Maybe this is why they seem uncanny.
Here are a few bits from "The Coffee Jockey," in which a barista's back goes out while she's making coffee, causing an extraordinarily long line to form, the line becoming a sort of institution:
"The coffee jockey bent over to get some lids and her back went out. She couldn't move, nor could she speak. People in line just waited and sighed and looked at their watches. The radio played a song by Van Halen. The coffee jockey was bent in half. She could see the rubber mat on the floor, and the shelf where the pakets of sugar and extra lids were kept. She could hear Van Halen and she looked at the rubber mat, which she would put outside when she mopped at the end of the day, and she stared at the big holes in the rubber mat and heard the song say, "My love is rotten to the core," and it was like she was being killed. She couldn't stand, nor could she speak. The phone rang and she couldn't answer it. She just hung there, bent in half, staring at the rubber mat and smoking a cigarette."
Later there are more remarkable sentences, such as,
"To compound the frustration of everyone in line, it had recently been made clear that even though everyone had to work, most jobs were a waste of time."
"A cow screamed, abruptly pasted into a collage a teenager was making in line."
"A married couple in line looked at each other as if a numb lake had dressed itself in a bandage and called for a party."
The nine worthies are nine people living in Boston and Newport in 1756; Nathaniel is painting their portraits.
The book divides into 9 chapters; the f...moreThe nine worthies are nine people living in Boston and Newport in 1756; Nathaniel is painting their portraits.
The book divides into 9 chapters; the first section of each chapter is narrated by one of the worthies and works like a prose portrait of the narrator. Each chapter also has at least one short section narrated by Nathaniel.
Knox used a lot of primary and secondary sources (there's a long list in the back of the book). So the book seems like a record from the time in which it's set; the language feels true to other documents from the era, so sometimes musty and difficult to connect with because so seemingly accurate--but maybe I was trying to talk with a historical re-enactor about the internet?
Some of the short sections narrated by Nathaniel felt easier to connect with emotionally.
Here's the first paragraph of my favorite section, narrated by Nathaniel,
"A boy pushes the muddy cart of fish through puddles in the street. I watch him through mottled glass, a liquid long ago discovered accidentally by sailors building a fire on the beach. The boy pushes the cart through the inn yard, which is paved with oyster shell, crushed and packed and atomized. Consumed with the notion of going to Italy to paint, how could I go there? My head is like a rattle, and I am a rattlepate."(less)
"Things have fallen out and things have fallen in." -HG Wells
Miriam we are going to Min...moreWow it took me a long time to read this book!
Here's chapter 7:
"Things have fallen out and things have fallen in." -HG Wells
Miriam we are going to Minna's. Ah this is when you put your hand in mine. We are going to pass through the corridors of--my past. Then stairs. First up tot he rooms. We push the bell. Someone nearby says, "They wouldn't let me into the bar of the Seven Seas." We are in a hallway. Miriam. I touch you. You who have never known the years of these rooms. I feel your heavy dress. We go up the stairs. There it is.
This is the water's music. I am walking by the water. I am telling you my sister, you are syllables. You are the music dropped on leaves. I am saying there is the funeral of Lenin. If you wish to listen. I am saying we are living at the top of the house and there the chords make such a sound the steeple sweeps sideways against the sky. And then we begin.
Wow, such searing unhappiness! I stopped reading a few times because I felt, I cannot go through this with this writer.
I really enjoyed the writing t...moreWow, such searing unhappiness! I stopped reading a few times because I felt, I cannot go through this with this writer.
I really enjoyed the writing though sometimes found its tone a little lofty. but the loftiness could've come from its content--a world of unhappy ivy-league graduates. The prologue and epilogue contain a different set of characters than the rest of the book, and these sections were for me where the writing was wonderful. (less)
There are passages I wanted to type while I was reading them, to get a little closer to them.
Here's from the beginning of chapter 5, A Conference on...moreThere are passages I wanted to type while I was reading them, to get a little closer to them.
Here's from the beginning of chapter 5, A Conference on Snow:
The winds in the Towers. They come, they go, like the President herself. I sit in my small, white cubicle staring out at the snow that blankets the sidewalk between H Tower and S Tower and fills the air with its heavy flakes, and for days I do not see the President.
I do not know her itinerary; that is, I know only those parts of it she wants me to know. In the ninth floor cubicle, I look out the window at the snow-capped highrises of the city, at the radio tower on the Raichberg, at the clouds that spread over the sky like a hand, like the hand of the President over my forehead one day when I said I had a fever.
I think I'm a little ill, I said, a little woozy. The world trembles in its veins, I said. I'm not at all sure that I am what one might call entirely well, I might indeed be a little sick, a little not altogether well, I said. I believe I'm sick, ich habe etwas Kopfweh, a little trembling in those regions of thought where there should be none.
She placed her hand on my hot forehead, and the fever retreated like a wave from shore. Without saying a word, the President turned and left my cubicle.
Alone in my cubicle for days on end, no secretary, no deans, no custodians ever come here unless the President especially requests it. Mostly I stare out the window and await spring, and in spring I assume I will await winter; each season has its own music, its own ministries, but what I need is seldom found in the season at hand. When I am not busy staring out the window or writing a speech or preparing a report, I stack the papers that litter the shelves of my cubicle. These papers are filled with notes by the President and I have been told to catalogue them, but the task is so daunting (her script is the old German Sutterlin scrip that neither I nor her peers can decipher) that I usually shuffle the pages from one stack marked "Miscellaneous" to another marked "Misc." to another marked "File Under?"
"Approach the many-limbed figure without qualms and immerse yourself in it--just avoid the pull of the frieze of fluid images with which you pose as a...more"Approach the many-limbed figure without qualms and immerse yourself in it--just avoid the pull of the frieze of fluid images with which you pose as a sort of emperor of an alternate world."