Quote for the commonplace book 008: Michael Innes, ‘Appleby and Honeybath’

Thought was an activity which, steadily over the years, he
had been addressing himself with some success to doing

—Michael Innes, ‘Appleby and Honeybath’
I love the passive-reflexive verb, “he had been addressing himself to
doing.” Michael Innes has the gift of turning a sentence which would
really sound better in French into a sprightly English bon mot.

 On second thought, it’s not that easy to translate. La pensée lui
était depuis quelques années quelque chose qu’il a à peu près reussi a
s’adresser à se manquer?
Not exactly.

‘There was nothing in the sky in the least like a shell,’ Anna Karenina Part III: Levin sees Kitty again

“He could not be mistaken. There were no other eyes like
those in the world. There was only one creature in the world that
could concentrate for him all the brightness and the meaning of life.
It was she.…And everything that had been stirring Levin during that
sleepless night, all the resolutions he had made, all vanished at
once. He recalled with horror his dreams of marrying a peasant
girl.…He glanced at the sky, expecting to find there the cloud shell
he had been admiring and taking as the symbol of the ideas and
feelings of that night. There was nothing in the sky in the least like
a shell.”

Anna Karenina, Part III, Chapter 12

 Kostya Levin has been delighting in melding his scientific approach to
farming with the earthy pleasures of working the land, culminating in
a day spent mowing the hay with a scythe. He has spent the last
hundred pages recovering from his rejection at Kitty’s hands through a
diligent program of agricultural improvements and monastic solitude
down on his farm. All good intentions, however, come to nothing in the
presence of a young woman rattling down the road in a carriage.

John Le Carré, ‘The Night Manager’

Night Manager

“On it flows, back and forth, a checkered stream of puzzled reminiscence: at home as they sit dog-tired from the plow before their flickering television sets, on fogged-out evenings in the Snug as they sip their third beers and gaze at the plank floor. Dusk falls, the mist rolls in and sticks to the sash windows like steam, there’s not a breath. The day’s wind stops dead, the crows go quiet. On one short stroll to the pub you smell warm milk from the dairy, paraffin stoves, coal fires, pipe smoke, silage and seaweed from the Lanyon. A helicopter is plodding out to Scilly. A tanker is lowing in the sea fog. The church tower’s chimes bang in your ear like a boxing gong. Everything is single, everything a separate smell or sound or piece of remembering. A footstep in the lane snaps like a broken neck.”
John Le Carré, The Night Manager

In the endless stacks of dross paperbacks that pile up in corners of the secret city, there are one or two good ones. The Night Manager, for one, showed up in a box of junk fiction. The story is hackneyed: “Tough guy vs. evil mastermind.” But on a couple pages he’s got some nice bits of writing, including these lines above.

How do you concrete it with the mesongun?

“One thing puzzles me, Mr. Biebursson—and I am a technical
man myself—the use of congealed water, this vitreous quartzlike
substance. How do you form the water into these patterns, these
compound curves, and hold it so while you concrete it with the

 Biebursson smiled. “No problem, with the natural advantages that are
mine. I am a spaceman—I work where the forces of gravity have no
effect, where the whole of time is mine for

Jack Vance, To Live Forever

Quote for the commonplace book 005, Lloyd Alexander

“Then,” Gurgi pleaded, “the two strengthful heroes will give Gurgi
something to eat? Oh, joyous crunchings and munchings!”
The Book of Three, Lloyd Alexander

 I ran into this classic from my childhood today at the morale office.
I think there six of these books, and I read the first one, The
Book of Three
, in about 45 minutes before lunch. It was like
coming across an old friend whose name you’d forgotten, but whose
turns of phrase has remained in your head. It was exactly that, in
fact. “Crunchings and munchings!” Indeed!

 It’s still in print, in a shinyand gaudy new edition, natch.

Reading list 001: J. Baumbach, “You, or the Invention of Memory”

“What if I said that I did know you once, awhile back, if I did say as much, would you let me leave?”

In swift, spare strokes, in plain, unadorned language, Jonathan
Baumbach disassembles the romantic-spiritual complex that undergirds
our consumer society. One pairing—one man, one woman—is dissected,
disassembled, integrated, rejiggered, and put back together over and
over again in the course of the novel. The inevitable tragedy is that
even in the welcoming home of the reader’s imagination, the two only
combine at odd and disturbing angles that require an awkward amount of
force at an inconvenient angle to sustain.
The ‘You’ of the catchy title is the unnamed female protagonist, but
the book is more about the predicate, ‘The Invention of Memory.’ It’s
the anti-Valentine. All the clues that in romantic comedies and dime
novels lead to amatory resolution and eternal happiness are aligned in
‘You’ instead with an existential despair. ‘You, or the Invention of
Memory’ starts out traditionally, as the narrator describes his quest
for self-discovery through passionate love (shades of Plato’s
Symposium), but it ends up more cruel and more pitiless than
any love story, in an anonymous stairwell of an anonymous building,
between floors, as Baumbach makes clear that the quest for
self-discovery has gone horribly wrong.
Baumbach’s genius goes beyond poking the ripe balloon of romance. If
commonplace wisdom decrees that a fulfilled romance affirms the
lovers’ identity, both singular and whole, this book describes the
inverse, in which a failed romance has eroded not only their memories
of each other, but their identities as well. These lovers don’t
murmur, “You complete me,” but rather “You’ve erased me.”
Get your own copy; buy one here or here,
or get with ace publicist Lauren Cerand on her New You Project blog.

Quote for the commonplace book 004

“And now, here I am, humbled before you dear readers, begging your attention from such things as reality television and Wendy’s bacon cheeseburgers so that you might notice my rock band. Yes, my rock band. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I, Neko Case, could be part of something so grand. I have become equal parts truck driver, gladiator, and mule. It has been no bed of roses, and clean gas station toilets are few and far between, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


–Neko Case, country-rock chantoozie, from her webpage. I stumbled over this one by accident just now while looking up the name of her 2009 album, “Middle Cyclone.” I like the “truck driver, gladiator, and mule” line.

Quote for the commonplace book 003

“We’ve been on a lot of cases together, Lewis–with lots of people
involved; but I don’t reckon the motives are ever all that
different–love, hate, jealousy, revenge….”

 Inspector Morse, in Colin Dexter’s The Secret of Annexe 3, 1986

 This about sums up why not to read mystery novels. What’s
changed since the days of Holmes and Watson?

Quote for the commonplace book 002

“Julia was wrong; it wasn’t not having a car that had unmanned
him. It was the money. Real men had to earn a hard crust. They had to
labor at the coal face, both real and metaphorical. They didn’t spend
their days filling up their iPods with sad country songs and feeding
apples to French donkeys.”

 What’s nice about this quote from Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn
is that she nicely inverts traditional definitions of masculinity as
outward-looking and action-oriented. Clearly, the protagonist
(Jackson) is concerned about masculinity, but doesn’t the author make
it seem as if by obsessing about it as he mopes around Edinburgh he’s
admitting that he doesn’t really have a clue about what makes a man,
except for the single datum that whatever it is, it’s not what he’s

 When I read a quote like this, uttered by a protagonist who is
spending the first few chapters of the book mulling over his personal
history while his artsy actor girlfriend rehearses her show, I begin
to suspect that the book will entail the protagonist’s discovery of
new azimuths on which he may express his masculinity or that he will
move on to discovering some other kind of virtue, like a different
lodestar. Sadly, I’m not sure the book is really moving in that
direction, leaving the promise of this quote suspended, like a fresh
set of washed linens on the line outside an abandoned house in the