Marginalia, Weekend of July 21st, 2013

Most readers commit some act of graffiti as they read. Noteworthy moments are either scrawled on paper, illuminated with highlights, hallowed as marginalia or (at the very least) inscribed on the walls of memory. I generally commit any of the above, plus, will type (or copy/paste) these moments into Day One, my journal app. It struck me as stingy not to share so I decided to post these here each week. They can come from anywhere: the book I’m currently reading, serendipitous stumbles found in my library, articles via my RSS Reader, podcasts, audiobooks, conversations with friends, or the wild, worldly web. What follows each bullet point is my own marginalia (commentary, questions or disagreement) typewritten after the angle brackets (>>). When possible, I will link to the source:

  • "The writers I represented have left their monuments, consequential or otherwise. I might have done the same if I had not, at the bottom of the Depression, been forced to choose whether I would be a talent broker or a broke talent". - The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner, pg. 7
  • "A little gust of wind came up the valley, the roadside darkened under a swift cloud shadow. I rubbed my goose-pimpled arms. "Well, damn everything," I said. "Damn the clouds. Damn the dawdling mailman. Damn the collective carcinogens. How do doctors stand being always cheek by jowl with the grim reaper?" - Ibid, pg. 14
  • " ... She has this notion you do, that I need more people around. I never have needed many people around. I always had more than I wanted. A few friends are enough. There are lots of perfectly pleasant people whom I like, but if I don't see them I don't miss them. What kept me in New York was work, not people. When the work ended, most of the people ended, all but the handful that meant something. Maybe that's alarming, but that's the way I am." - Ibid, pg. 16 >> So true. Exactly the way I feel.
  • "Crucifixion can be discussed philosophically until they start driving the nails". - Ibid, pg. 23
  • "And it reminds me too much of how little life changes: how, without dramatic events or high resolves, without tragedy, without even pathos, a reasonable endowed, reasonably well-intentioned man can walk through the world's great kitchen from end to end, and arrive at the back door hungry". - Ibid, pg. 69
  • "The trouble is that the feelings do not die. I remember Ruth when we brought her and her baby home from the hospital, her fine bones, her small wracked healing body, the tightness of her arms around my neck in the bed made suddenly roomier by the eviction of that intruder between us. And I remember my gurgling son, fat and broad-faced, happy despite a full diaper, and how he laughed and reached out his hands when I played at knocking him over with a pillow. I remember too much". - Ibid, pg. 90 >> I remember too much. Such a small but profound statement. I remember too little. Perhaps that's the difference between a child of three and one in his late teens? The last line is almost too dark: I remember a futile life.
  • "The world suffers from an increment of excrement". - Ibid, pg. 97
  • "I was reminded of a remark of Willa Cather's that you can't paint sunlight, you can only paint what it does with shadows on a wall. If you examine a life, as Socrates has been so tediously advising us to do for so many centuries, do you really examine the life, or do you examine the shadows it casts on other lives? Entity or relationships? Objective reality or the vanishing point of a multiple perspective exercise? Prism or the rainbow it refracts? And what if you're the wall? What if you never cast a shadow or a rainbow of your own, but have only caught those cast by others?" - Ibid, pg. 162
  • "The truest vision of life I know is that bird in the Venerable Bede that flutters from the dark into a lighted hall, and after a while flutters out again into the dark. But Ruth is right. It is something -it can be everything- to have a found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and the boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you accidentally fly into something you can't handle." - The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner, pg. 213
  • Charles's conversation was as flat as a sidewalk, and everyone's ideas walked along it in their ordinary clothes, without inspiring emotion, or laughter, or reverie. Madame Bovary, Flaubert, Lydia Davis, Pg. 7
  • At night, when the fishmongers, in their carts, passed under her windows singing the "marjolaine," she would wake up; and as she listened to the noise of the iron-rimmed wheels, which, when they reached the edge of town, would quickly be deadened by the earth: "They'll be there tomorrow!" she would say to herself. Madame Bovary, Flaubert, Lydia Davis And she would follow them in her thoughts as they climbed and descended the hills, passed through the villages, filed along the highway by the light of the stars. After an indeterminate distance, there was always a confused place where her dream died away. Ph. 9
  • "Have you ever had the experience," Leon went on, "while reading a book, of coming upon some vague idea that you've had yourself, some obscure image that comes back to you from far away and seems to express absolutely your most subtle feelings?" - Madame Bovary, Flaubert, Lydia Davis "I have felt that," she answered. - Madame Bovary, Flaubert, Lydia Davis
  • "… the words they spoke so quietly dropped into their souls, echoing and reechoing with a crystalline sonority in multiplied vibrations. - Madame Bovary, Flaubert, Lydia Davis
  • The priest rose from his knees to take the crucifix; and then she stretched forth her neck like one athirst and, gluing her lips to the body of the God-Man, she fastened thereon, with all her failing strength, the most passionate kiss of love she had ever in her life bestowed. Then he recited the 'Misereatur' and the 'Indulgentiam', dipped his right thumb in the oil, and began the unctions, anointing her, first on the eyes which had gazed so covetously on the luxuries of the world; then, on the nostrils that had delighted in the breeze's soft caress and in all love-laden perfumes; then, on the mouth, the gateway of her lies, that had moaned in the moments of triumphant passion and cried aloud in the delirium of the senses; then, on the hands which had loved all things gentle to the touch; and, lastly, on the soles of the feet that, aforetime, had sped so swiftly to the appeasement of her desires, and now would stir no more. Madame Bovary, Flauber, translator, Eleanor Marx-Aveling
  • "Many of the things we batten on in our fantasies are part of or childhoods, although none of mine has been, so far in this list. I was perhaps twenty-three when I first ate almost enough caviar - not to mention any caviar at all that I can now remember. It was one of the best, brightest days of my whole life with my parents, and lunching in the quiet backroo at the Cafe de la Paix was only a part of the luminous whole. My cathedral at Strasbourg enough to risk almost any kind of retribution, and this truffled slab was so plainly the best of her lifetime that we all agreed it could do her nothing but good, which it did. My father and I ate caviar, probably Sevruga, with green-black smallish beads and a superb challenge of flavor for the iced grassy vodka we used to clean our happy palates. We ate three portions apiece, tacitly knowing it could never happen again that anything would be quite so mysteriously perfect in both time and space. The headwaiter sensed all this, which is, of course, why he was world-known, and the portions got larger, and at our third blissful command he simply put the tin in its ice bowl upon our table. It was a regal gesture, like being tapped on the shoulder with a sword. We bowed, served ourselves exactly as he would have done, grain for grain, and had no need for any more. It was reward enough to sit in the almost empty room, chaste rococo on the slanting June sunlight, with the generous tub of pure delight between us, Mother purring there, the vodka seeping slyly through our veins, and real wood strawberries to come, to make us feel like children again and not near-gods. That was a fine introduction to what I hope is a reasonably long life of such occasional bliss". - M. F. K. Fisher, "Once a Tramp, Always...", The Art of the Personal Essay >> M. F. K. Fisher: such an incredibly gifted writer.