“This is the story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.”
Walter Hartright, his name is a tip off regarding his character, is walking down the street, his mind absorbed with his own problems, when suddenly:
”I turned around and saw him about one hundred rods [500 m or 550 yards] directly ahead of us, coming down with twice his ordinary speed of around 24 knots (44 km/h), and it appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect. The surf flew in all directions about him with the continual violent thrashing of his tail. His head about half out of the water, and in that way he came upon us, and again struck the ship."
—Owen Chase, first mate of the whaleship Essex.
“There she blows!” was as much a part of my vocabulary as a child as “Launch the torpedoes” or “Geronimo” or “Remember the Alamo.” I wasn’t using it correctly, as I was not hunting whales in the middle of Kansas, but I did use it as a rallying cry for a charge against my childhood chums as we chased each other from one end of the farm to the other. Of course, in 1820 when a sharp eyed lad in the crow’s nest spotted a spume on the horizon, he would yell down to his crew mates, “There she blows!” and the chase would be on.
****Eli Sanders won the Pulitzer Prize for his compassionate reporting about this crime.****
”They had feared him, and it was fear of a certain kind. Not the primal, salable fear of violence, not fright of the unexpected arriving with sudden brutality from an unknowable beyond. Theirs was fear of a known man and an outcome not yet known but likely to be grim. Fear of a person who, regrettably, had lived and delivered pain already, a man intelligent enough to impress yet with seemingly no handle on when his disjointed thoughts, speech, and actions might be headed. Or, if he did have some premonition, no firm brake, internal and external.”
Sometimes crime is very easy to understand. Someone gets mad and kills their spouse, someone desperately needs money and robs a convenience store, or someone embezzles their company. We can understand the frustrations that motivate such crimes, but what we have a harder time understanding is randomness. A crime that doesn’t have a neat bow tying together the motivation and the deed.
”Way I see it, there’s three ways this can go,” Miller said. “One, we find your ship still in dock, get the meds we need, and maybe we live. Two, we try to get to the ship, and along the way we run into a bunch of mafia thugs. Die gloriously in a hail of bullets. Three, we sit here and leak out of our eyes and assholes.”
Well, really, the story begins when some alien species shoot a payload of virus at Earth and misses. This virus is capable of turning the human race into piles of nasty, smelly biosolids. Luckily for Earth, this contagion from space gets caught in Saturn’s rings which keeps it from ever reaching its intended destination.
”I’ve been slowly wearing away at my ignorance and, as I said, I’ve always kept on learning. But that ignorance is still so vast that even today, at seventy, leading this quiet life, I still cherish the hope of being able to embrace everything and experience everything, the unknown and the known, yes, even those things I’ve known before. There’s an intense longing for the known as there is for the unknown because one just can’t accept that certain things won’t repeat themselves.”
The Spaniard, unnamed, but most assuredly based on the author Javier Marias, is teaching at Oxford for two years. Teaching might be an overstatement. He has two classes assigned to him, but his main job seems to be that of being a celebrated Spanish author who adds some panache to their list of professors. He is arm candy for the university. He increases their already prestigious name with his presence. He is single and has only a handful of acquaintances among the Oxford teaching staff, so time stretches before him with no horizon.
He has two main hobbies. Women and Books.
”To understand who Shakespeare was, it is important to follow the verbal traces he left behind back into the life he lived and into the world to which he was so open. And to understand how Shakespeare used his imagination to transform his life into his art, it is important to use our own imagination.”
There is no doubt he is an enigma, a man who quite possibly has had the greatest influence on the English language, and yet, strangely enough left very little personal correspondence behind. It does seem like a man so gifted with words would have left behind mounds of letters, diaries, and journals. If they did exist, they are long gone, burned, or buried, or wrapped around a fish for a servant girl, or used to make bindings for books. It is interesting to think of a Shakespeare letter bound up in a book that is valued at a fraction of what his handwriting, hidden in the binding, would be worth.
It is as if Shakespeare erased himself, leaving only his monumental plays behind.
...for each word, there should be sentences that show the twists and turns of meanings—the way almost every word slips in its silvery, fishlike way, weaving this way and that, adding subtleties of nuance to itself, and then perhaps shedding them as public mood dictates.”
Herbert Coleridge whose brilliant life was too short.
I was driving into work the other day thinking about Herbert Coleridge and realized that I might possibly be the only person on the planet driving to work thinking about Herbie. Of course, there are such a vast number of people on this planet that chances are someone was thinking about him. Perhaps some Coleridge scholar working on a dissertation on Herbert’s famous grandfather, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, or maybe someone thinking about the beginnings of the Oxford English Dictionary. Herbert Coleridge was technically the first editor of the OED and would have done a fine job, I’m sure, if he hadn’t caught a chill and died tragically young at thirty years of age.
”...the world as it used to be, a world run by the seasons, not by soldiers with machine guns. With harvest dances and girls who wore flirty, flouncy skirts, singing as they spun flax in their parents’ parlors. When neighbors helped one another instead of running to tell tales, where people made an honest living working the land of their fathers, where it was against the law to kill another man’s children because of how they worshipped or the color of their hair.”
Excerpt from the story The Jew Hater
Ultimately for civilisation to ever be considered a true civilisation we must set aside those things that make us different and truly see a child as a child as a child. If we can see the child we can see their fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles as simply slightly different people from our own fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles. We all want to live and prosper, celebrate and grieve, and pass on our stories so the future always has a chance to learn from the past.
Helen Maryles Shankman asked if I would be interested in reading an advance reading copy of her new collection of short stories and I couldn’t reply fast enough...uhhhh yeah!! The stories are set in the city of Wlodawa, Poland during WW2. When you read these short stories you will have a chance to meet people who are surviving through various means such as collaborating, or by fleeing to the woods, or by ignoring the brutality perpetrated on their neighbors and hoping and praying that the terror will continue to move past them. There are no rules. Violations are arbitrarily decided and punished. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time takes on new meaning. What happened to the Jews seems like something that was concocted out of the mind of a novelist. How could such an atrocity happen in the 20th century?
But it did.
”For centuries, artists have attributed their masterpieces to dreams, yet so much of our dreams remain shrouded in mystery, forgotten. Now, both artists and ordinary people will be able to record their compositions in full detail. We could have their art created, painted, framed and delivered. Not only are we creating whole new fields of science, but also an entirely new genre of art will emerge. Sleep art…”
I keep a white pad on the nightstand by my bed because every so often I have a dream that is so vivid, so interesting that as soon as I wake up I know I have to jot down my impressions or by the time I’m in the shower all that I remember of that dream will simply float away with the hot mist. Wouldn’t it be nice if our minds supplied us with a URL that we could use to get back to where the memory of a dream is stored? I’ve had whole plots of short stories handed to me by a nighttime muse. The mind does amazing things when the clutter of our awake lives has been temporarily shuttered in the attic or discretely swept under the Persian rug.
“Already, though, she understood the difference between being a child and being an adult. The difference is when someone says he can keep the bad things away, a child believes him.”
Charles Talent Manx with his silver hammer.
Some people are born with bad wiring. Some people get caught in a whirlpool of one tragic circumstance after another that has a detrimental effect on their sanity. Some people are too fragile; some are too hard, and some accumulate so much baggage that their soul gets lost in the jumble. To stick a pin in a man like Charles Talent Manx and compose a label that will define exactly what level of crazy he is would take a team of talented psychologists.
“No, no—there are depths, depths! The more I go over it, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear. I don’t know what I don’t see—what I don’t fear!”
Screen shot from the 1961 version of The Innocents based on the James short story.
A governess is hired to look after the nephew and niece of a man who has inherited the responsibility for the children after the death of their parents. He is very explicit in his instructions to the governess that he is not to be bothered with excessive communications. The governess is young and pretty and wants to impress her new employer by doing exactly what he wishes. She wants to be seen as competent, and in a sense this need to please proves to be a vulnerability that, as she tries to shield and protect, she actually puts everyone at more risk.
”Dangerous days, these. All of them. Trying too hard can be dangerous. If in doubt...do not try; simply do it. If you’ve done it, and if you are still in doubt...do it again, but this time do it harder. Then once more...with feeling. With conviction. On dangerous days, it is always best to do it hardest the first time.”
Most lives are fairly uncomplicated. If someone were to follow most of us around for a week, they would soon be yawning over the predictable pattern of our lives. Our veneer life is usually boring, but sometimes the veneer hides some really interesting characteristics that add some swirls or knots, some beauty or some ugliness to the structure of who we are. On the surface JJ Stoner is more fascinating than most. He plays an ancient Fendercaster in a Blues band. He owns rental properties. He has a steady supply of sex with compelling, imaginative women. He carries around a handful of phones, which certainly adds a layer of mystery to a man who already inhales intrigue and exhales charm.
”It takes a certain kind of innocence to like L.A.”
The Iconic photograph of Eve Babitz playing chess with Marcel Duchamp taken by Julian Wasser at the Pasadena Art Museum.
I have always had Eve Babitz categorized in my mind as one of the “IT” girls of the 1960s/1970s. As I was doing some research on her before reading this book, I suddenly realized that I did know her without knowing her. (I actually heard an audible click in my head as the tumblers fell into place.) The iconic photograph taken by Julian Wasser of her playing chess with Marcel Duchamp is certainly one of the more famous photographs of the early 1960s. I knew it was Duchamp (76) in the picture, but it never clicked with me until I decided to read this book that the attractive young girl (20) sitting across from him was Eve Babitz.
”The photograph is described by the Smithsonian Archives of American Art as being “among the key documentary images of American modern art.”
By gnawing through a dike, even a rat may drown a nation.
There are rats and then there are RATS.
A scientist has brought back an oversized rat from a radioactive island, and he begins breeding it with the local London rats. These rats are famous in their own right for bringing down London more than once with plague in the long, distant past.
Obviously, we all need bigger rats, right?
That would be a negatory.
Charles Manx III
I wouldn’t say I’ve been intentionally ignoring Joe Hill’s graphic novels, but...well...I have been. He trapped me like a fly in a Brown Recluse Spider web with this one because Wraith is actually a prequel to his outstanding novel NOS4A2. To entice me even further he tells the backstory of the diabolic, Christmasland caretaker, Charles Manx III.
Somehow it is so much more stomach churning to think that there were two other Manx’s before this one.
“But writers INVITE ghosts, maybe; along with actors and artists, they are the only totally accepted mediums of our society. They make worlds that never were, populate them with people who never existed, and then invite us to join them in their fantasies. And we do it, don't we? Yes. We PAY to do it.”
Thad Beaumont wanted to write from the time he discovered that a person could make a living as a writer. He pounded away at the typewriter so much that his parents were beginning to fear that something was wrong with him.
They were right...
something is wrong with Thad, but to fully understand what is wrong will take decades to figure out.
Birds, thousands of them, chittering and flapping their wings, a cacophony of noise. Sparrows in particular. The sounds of them are a precursor to setting off a lightning storm in Thad’s head that leaves him flopping on the ground like a fish trying to find its way back to water. His parents take him to a doctor, and scans show that something is in his head.
The surgeon takes that something out of Thad’s head. It is something so unusual that he decides not to tell Thad or his parents. He has saved Thad’s life, and for now that is enough.
Thad goes on to write a couple of critically acclaimed books which unfortunately do not do well financially. He teaches to make ends meet, but there is something nagging at him like he has left some unfinished business. He decides to create a pseudonym that will allow him to get these increasingly dark thoughts out of his head and put them on paper.
He becomes George Stark, or George Stark becomes him. The separation between them creates no daylight.
While writing as George Stark, he transforms into someone else, someone meaner, someone who likes seeing blood. ”Cut him. Cut him while I stand here and watch. I want to see the blood flow. Don't make me tell you twice.” Thad Beaumont writes with a typewriter, but George Stark don’t write with no faggoty typewriter; oh no, it is Black Beauty pencils or nothing. The words are etched into the paper like words carved over the doors of the ”stone hotels” in which Stark has spent so much time incarcerated.
The sparrows are back. The sparrows are flying.
Stephen King shares some interesting thoughts about sparrows. Sparrows are so common here in Kansas that they have about the same significance as a blade of grass or a tree leaf.”Gatherings of sparrows are rather more ominous…. Sparrows are said to be outriders of the deceased. Which means their job is to guide lost souls back into the land of the living. They are, in other words, the harbingers of the living dead.”
Living dead? Like zombies you might ask?
Well, not exactly.
When Thad decides to retire George Stark and go back to writing as Thad Beaumont, things start to get weird and not in a wow isn’t that kind of weird way, but more in a OMG someone is killing everyone Thad knows kind of way.
And Thad is the number one suspect.
It doesn’t take long for Thad to realize that he is involved, that he is the source of the problem.
”I am the knower. I am the owner. I am the bringer.”
George Stark doesn't like being dead. He wants just what everybody else wants. He wants to live. ”When you fuck with him you are fucking with the best.” As things become clear, crazy clear, Thad realizes that he can’t share these revelations with his wife Liz.
” I’m not going to tell Liz this time, he thought. Be damned if I will. And not just because I’m scared, either...although I am. It’s perfectly simple--not all secrets are bad secrets., Some are good secrets. Some are necessary secrets, and this one is both of those.”
George Stark drives a 1966 Black Oldsmobile Toronado. In college I drove a 1969 White Oldsmobile Toronado. There are differences between the years, but let's just say I understand the power that Stark felt when he was driving that Black Beauty down the road. My father has a 1966 Black Toronado he is having restored. I hope he doesn’t turn into George Stark!!!
When Stephen King writes about writers, it is simply irresistible. I don’t know if there is another writer on the planet who understands all the nuances of being a writer, a famous writer, better than King. He conjures things out of his mind that scare the hell out of millions of people every time he releases a new book. His nightmares have nightmares. As King taps into the dark side of himself to find those horrors, I think he has met his George Stark. This evil doppelganger feeds him with the images that become words that become horrors made out of the worst of human impulses. I guess the question he has to ask himself is will these feathered soul catchers come for him someday.
The day after I finished reading this book I opened the garage to take out a bag of trash before heading to work, and hundreds of birds exploded over my head flying just a few feet over the top of my house. They were sparrows, providing me with one last bone deep chill that brushed skeletal fingers down my spine.
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