Sunday, August 06, 2006


Openings stink, because they've always been done better. No matter what you write, 'In the beginning' and 'Call me Ishmael' are already taken, and anything you write is going to sound crappy by comparison. A good beginning will both draw you in and tell you nothing, so this will not be a good beginning. I have six beginnings now, taken at random from some of the books most recently snagged in my great trawling net.

From John Mortimer's autobiographical volume Clinging to the Wreckage:

The distant past, when I was acting my solo version of Hamlet before the blind eyes of my father, duelling with myself and drinking my own poisoned chalice or, further back, when I was starting an English education, with balloons of boxing-gloves lashed to end of white, matchstick arms, grunting, stifled with the sour smell of hot plimsolls which is, to me, always the smell of fear, seems clear as yesterday. What are lost in the mists of a vanising memory are the events of ten years ago.

From Son of the Morning Star, Evan Connell's great account of Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn:

Lt. James Bradley led a detachment of Crow Indian scouts up the Bighorn Valley during the summer of 1876. In his journal he records that early Monday morning, June 26, they saw the tracks of four ponies. Assuming the riders must be Sioux, they followed those tracks to the river and came upon one of the ponies, along with some equipment which had evidently been thrown away. An examination of the equipment disclosed, much to his surprise, that it belonged to some
Crows from his own command who had been assigned to General Custer's regiment a few days earlier.

While puzzling over this circumstance, Bradley discovered three men on the opposite side of the river. They were about two miles away and appeared to be watching. He instructed his scouts to signal with blankets that he was friendly, which they did, but for a long time there was no response. Then the distant men built a fire, messages were exchanged by smoke signal, and they were persuaded to come closer.

They were indeed Crow scouts: Hairy Moccasin, Goes Ahead, White Man Runs Him. They would not cross the river, but they were willing to talk.

Bradley did not want to believe the story they told ...

From John Rechy's novel City of Night:

Later I would think of America as one vast City of Night, stretching gawdily from Times Square to Hollywood Boulevard - jukebox-winkling, rock-n-roll moaning: America at night fusing its darkness into the unmistakable shape of loneliness.
Remember Pershing Square and the apathetic palm trees. Central Park and the frantic shadows. Movie theaters in the angry morning-hours. And wounded Chicago streets ... Horrormovie courtyards in the French Quarter - tawdry Mardi Gras with clowns tossing out glass beads, passing dumbly like life itself ... Remember rock-n-roll sexmusic blasing from jukeboxes leaning obscenely, blinking manycolored along the streets of America strung up like a cheap necklace from 42nd Street to Market Street, San Francisco ...

From a slim history called The Republican Roosevelt:

So much of Theodore Roosevelt is comfortably familiar. There are the teeth, the famous intensity, the nervous grimace, impelling leadership, physical courage, mortal fervor - sometimes frenzy. There is the falsetto exhorting the troops at the base of San Juan ridge: "Gentlemen, the Almighty God and the Just Cause are with you. Gentlemen, CHARGE!" They did, of course, and then conquered. There are the busted trusts, the outdoor, life, the nature fakirs, simplified spelling, rivers discovered, lions felled. There is the host of Armageddon dividing the Republican Party with revivalist abandon. Like pages out of G.A. Henty - vivid, seemingly ingenuous. But Henty is now little reopened, and Roosevelt is more often remembered than reread.

From Jacques Barzun's scalding jeremiad God's Country & Mine:

The way to see America is from a lower berth about two in the morning. You've just left a station - it was the jerk of pulling out that woke you - and you raise the curtain a bit between thumb and forefinger to look out. You are in the middle of Kansas or Arizona, in the middle of the space where freight cars spend the night and men drink coffee out of cans. Then comes the signal tower, some bushes, a few shacks, and - nothing. You see the last blue switch-light on the next track, and beyond is America - dark and grassy or sandy, or rocky - and no one is there. Nothing but the irrational universe with you in the center trying to reason it out. It's only ten, fifteen minutes since you've left a thriving town, but life has already been swallowed up in that ocean of matter which is and will remain as wild as it was made.

From Pete Dexter's harrowing novel Paris Trout:

In the spring of that year an epidemic of rabies broke out in Ether County, Georgia. The disease was carried principally by foxes and was reported first by farmers, who, in the months of April and May, shot more than seventy of the animals and turned them in to the county health officer in Cotton Point.

The heads were removed, wrapped in plastic, and sent to the state health department in Atlanta, where eleven were found to be rabid.

There is no record of human beings contracting the disease - the victims for the most part were cattle - although two residents of an outlying area of Cotton Point called Damp Bottoms were reportedly bitten.

One of them, and old man known only as Woodrow, was found lying under his house a day later, dead. He was buried by the city in a bare, sun-baked corner of Horn Cemetery without medical tests and without a funeral.

The other was a fourteen-year-old girl named Rosie Sayers, who was bothered by nightmares.

Not all from my favorite books, but all excellent in their ways, and how'm I to know WHAT my ways should be, this being my very first blog under my own name? There are half a dozen scattered around the Internet under names and personae not my own, lovingly crafted in the way one lovingly crafts fiction. But this one will be more or less straightforwardly me, and how does one write an introduction to oneself?

This blog will be primarily about what-all I read from day to day. There'll be a large number of digressions, many an allusion, and quite a few screeds. If you're looking for sports ruminations or daily gossip updates on Jake Gyllenhaal, you should probably look elsewhere.

I read enormously. More than you do. This is especially relevant to you 20-somethings out there who may have wandered here, because your demographic pegs you at believing that nobody in the whole world has, in fact, read more than you have (I'll be appending the rest of your demographic outline, just so you know I know who you are). I have.

I read books, magazines, periodicals, web-pages, newspapers, comic books, and obituaries. I read an average of five hours a day, and on the weekends that number sometimes doubles. And I read really fast, especially when I'm interested in the subject matter (I'm interested in many subject matters). You shouldn't get defensive at any of this; in fact, you should view it all with relief. Think of me as an expert scout (though I'd like a better name than Hairy Moccasin! Maybe instead I could be You Gonna Finish That?), out-riding far ahead of your plodding supply-train, sending back accurate and reliable reports on all your different choices of terrain. You can rely on me, and what's more: I'm eager to help.

I can't help you if you insist that you've already read everything (this is mainly directed at the aforementioned 20-somethings, although I've met many and many a Bennington grad considerably older than that with the same asinine failing). Mind you, I understand it: to the very young, admitting ignorance is an almost physically painful thing - that's why teaching them can be so tricky. But here in our private cyber-communion, away from the like-whatever peer pressure of your unwashed brethren, you've just got to drop the pose, or we won't get anywhere together. The one of you out there who's moderately familiar with the Confessions of St. Augustine won't know anything at all about the science fiction of Keith Laumer. The one of you with a passing familiarity of the Justice League will be entirely ignorant of the Russian Revolution. Here in the privacy of these blogs, all I want you to do is admit your weaknesses.

I have far fewer weaknesses, because I've been reading voraciously in a wide range of subjects for very, very much longer than you've been alive. This gives me an unbeatable edge in experience, but it still leaves me slack-jawed in wonder at all I don't know. A week doesn't go by when I don't learn the existence of some book whose author or subject matter scream that I SHOULD have known about them a long time ago. When I encounter a blank spot on my own canvas, I'll promptly admit it and ask questions of those who know more. I want you all to do the same. Only knee-jerk pretension would prevent it, so don't bring that here.

So that's my beginning, I guess. Sounds pretty ornery, and I AM pretty ornery - but only when it comes to people boredly drawling out great one-liners like "It was like Leigh Hunt meets punk rock" and then admitting, under heated cross-examination, that they know nothing about either Leigh Hunt or punk rock, that they a) just liked the sound of the juxtaposition and b) were hoping to SOUND like they knew everything about those two things, and lots more besides.

When it comes to readers - happy, endlessly inquisitive readers with open minds and long memories and pencils in hand, well, I'm not ornery at all. They're my favorite people, which is why I work in a bookstore. And even the pretentosauri I've been railing about have a germ of that reader inside them! I'd like to believe everybody has a germ of that reader inside themselves.

What I'd like foremost for this little blog-ring is to give that reader plenty of food and drink.

I'll be writing about books, comics, magazines, dogs (including my own two, Malin Mohr the good one and little Lucy the very, very bad one), and whatever else crosses my mind. I hope you find some of it interesting, and I hope you tell me if you do.

I have lots of material to import, but cutting-and-pasting is tedious for somebody as tech-illiterate as I am. So I'll be doing it piecemeal and complaining about it the whole time. This is all for now, though. Welcome.

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