Excerpts

Universal Harvester

On the living room carpet in Crescent, Irene was trying to teach Lisa to play Parcheesi. Lisa couldn’t follow the action, but she loved the dice, the way they rattled in the little blue cup. Was three too young for board games? Her mother thought probably so, but Lisa’d arrived at every milestone early: weaned early, crawled early, and surprised everybody with her first word before she could walk (“bear!” while having The Little Engine That Could read aloud to her; the bear in question was scratching at a tree on the same hillside where the train stalled). As soon as she could say two simple sentences she began putting them together to tell stories about her dolls: “They stopped playing. They need a rest,” she explained to her mother once, sequestering a Raggedy Ann in one corner of the living room and a nameless blinking-eyed vinyl doll in the one opposite.

Bill Knott

I met Bill Knott in late 1968, or in early 1969, at William Corbett’s house, a gathering place for poets in Boston’s South End. I’d read Knott’s highly acclaimed first book, The Naomi Poems, from Big Table, in the spring of 1968. It was published under the pen name Saint Geraud (1940–1966). I was immediately struck, poleaxed, by the emotional power of the poems. Mostly short, intense lyrics, they were unlike anything I’d ever read and moved me to the bone. I felt, before I’d read Emily Dickinson’s famous comment, as if the top of my head was taken off. Many were love poems. Most were written in his early and mid twenties. There was urgency, a longing, a wild and plaintive high-note sound that was maybe particularly attractive to a twenty-two-year-old man. Forty-seven years later, as I stand on the terrible threshold of senescence, Knott’s poems still lift the hairs on the back of my neck. His anguished poems about the war in Vietnam were among the first I’d read on that subject, and I still believe them to be among the strongest. It is the war that my generation either can’t forget or refuses to remember (sometimes both).

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I was planning a novel that involved a breakout from a Chinese labor camp and had just reread The Count of Monte Cristo, looking for ideas. At Hong Kong’s Central Library, I typed the word laogai, “labor reform,” into the computer catalog. Among the books listed, to my surprise and excitement, was the title Chongchu laogaiying, “Escape from the laogai.”

2017-01-19

On a spring morning in 2009, Matthew Lawrence dropped the anchor of his small boat at a random spot in the middle of a blue ocean bay on the east coast of Australia, and jumped over the side. He swam down on scuba to where the anchor lay, picked it up, and waited. The breeze on the surface nudged the boat, which started to drift, and Matt, holding the anchor, followed.

2017-01-12

A couple of years ago I joined one of those clubs where they teach you how to knock the shit out of other people. The first lesson is how to get the shit knocked out of yourself. The first lesson is all there is. It lasts between eighty and a hundred years, depending on your initial shit content.

Home and Away

Glemmingebro, 6 July

Dear Fredrik,

Today it is sunny and warm, and there is no football on TV, so we plan to go to the beach, for the first time this summer. The problem is that the children don’t want to go. Once they are there, they think it is wonderful, and then I say, now remember for next time, so that it won’t all be so difficult. Yes, yes, they say. Now it is the next time, and they don’t want to go.

Shirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard, who died on December 12 at the age of 85, wrote two collections of short stories, four novels, and three works of nonfiction. FSG published her last two works: in 2000, a memoir about Graham Greene, Greene on Capri, and, in 2003, her National Book Award-winning novel, The Great Fire.

The Moravian Night

Powerfully alive, honest, and at times deliciously satirical, The Moravian Night explores the mind and memory of an aging writer, tracking the anxieties, angers, fears, and pleasures of a life inseparable from the recent history of Central Europe. In crystalline prose, Peter Handke traces and interrogates his own thoughts and perceptions while endowing the world with a mythic dimension. As Jeffrey Eugenides writes, “Handke’s sharp eye is always finding a strange beauty amid this colorless world.” The Moravian Night is at once an elegy for the lost and forgotten and a novel of self-examination and uneasy discovery, from one of world literature’s great voices.

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He was just tight enough and just familiar enough with the house to be able to go out into the kitchen alone, apparently to get ice, but actually to sober up a little; he was not quite enough a friend of the family to pass out on the living-room couch. He left the party behind without reluctance, the group by the piano singing “Stardust,” his hostess talking earnestly to a young man with thin clean glasses and a sullen mouth; he walked guardedly through the dining-room where a little group of four or five people sat on the stiff chairs reasoning something out carefully among themselves; the kitchen doors swung abruptly to his touch, and he sat down beside a white enamel table, clean and cold under his hand. He put his glass on a good spot in the green pattern and looked up to find that a young girl was regarding him speculatively from across the table.

The Lottery

Visits with my father often include a ceremony, a unique sort of family séance. The tradition goes something like this: An ornate Victorian box is carefully carried from its corner resting place into the center of the living room. The box is placed on a table as my father and the rest of us—his children and grandchildren—gather around it.

americanphilsplash

The library was pitch-dark when we arrived. We turned on the lights just long enough to arrange our things and hit the sack— separate sacks. The following morning marked the first of many spent exploring West Wind together. The boxes in dry storage represented but a small fraction of the library; there were still thousands that needed to be sorted. This day would be spent gathering the last of the rarest books and shuttling them up to North Conway for safekeeping.

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William came up out of the mortuary feeling blown out, depressed. He could not say if Charlotte Reckitt had deserved her end and he told himself he did not care but it was not true. He thought of her ravaged scalp and the tufts of hair and blood on it and how her body had been cut up and the legs still, for god’s sake, missing. Then he could not stop himself and thought of his daughters in Chicago, thought of Margaret. Swore under his breath and clapped his hands on his sleeves as if to dislodge the reek of the dead and stepped out into the fog.

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On a February morning in the year 1933 Andreas Egger lifted the dying goatherd Johannes Kalischka, known to all the valley dwellers as Horned Hannes, off his sodden and rather sour-smelling pallet to carry him down to the village along the three-kilometre mountain path that lay buried beneath a thick layer of snow.

gottlieb

On August 29, 1957, Candida sent me a note that read, “ Here is the script of CATCH 18 by Joseph Heller about which we talked yesterday. I’ve been watching Heller ever since the publication of Chapter 1 in New World Writing about a year ago. He’s published a good bit in The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, etc. I’ll tell you more about him when I see you at lunch next week. As ever, Candida.” About seventy-five pages of manuscript came with it, and I was knocked out by the voice, the humor, the anger. We offered Joe five hundred dollars as an option payment. This was only months after Jack Goodman’s death, and the editorial department had developed no real modus operandi; I suppose I just said “I want to do this” and there was nobody interested enough to say no. Joe and Candida decided to wait until there was enough of a manuscript to warrant an actual contract.

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

Read an excerpt from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am, a monumental new novel from the bestselling author of Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Schaukensofa

One of the first chairs you need, when furnishing a new home, is a dining chair. You can make do with cushions on the floor instead of an easy chair, as I did in my first apartment, and you can read a book or watch television lying in bed, but if you are going to eat at a table you need something to sit on. Early in our marriage and shortly after we had finished building our house, my wife and I decided to replace our collection of beat-up side chairs, accumulated separately over the years, with proper dining chairs. I knew what I wanted.

Isabelle Eberhardt

Isabelle Eberhardt never converted to Islam. For her, it would have been a redundant formality: from her early youth, she was possessed by an unshakable belief that she had been born a Muslim. Among the first Western writers to describe the life of Islam from the inside, as a believer, Eberhardt came from origins tangled in mysteries that will never be unraveled.

Van Gogh's Ear

Bernadette Murphy was living in the South of France, recuperating from an illness that kept her at home, when she decided to investigate the mysteries surrounding the painter Vincent Van Gogh. With no formal training as a researcher or historian, she set out to piece together everything she could about the formal painter, using local archives and the long memories of the locals. In the process, she uncovered new information and details about Van Gogh’s life and put them into a book, Van Gogh’s Ear. Here, we follow along with her as she looks for the true identity of “Rachel”, the young woman Van Gogh was rumored to have given his ear to.

2016-07-28 (1)

Máni Steinn, a young, queer boy living in Reykjavik in 1918, is fascinated by the cinema. His queerness, and his city, put him on the fringes of a society that is itself at the fringes of the world—at what seems like history’s most tumultuous, perhaps ultimate moment. With the threat of influenza stalking the city, Máni must decide whether to retreat into the fantasyland of the movie theater or try to embrace the society that has rejected him

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was is Sjón’s most realistic, accessible, and heartfelt work yet.

2016-07-13

In curating a collection of Ted Hughes’ poems about animals, Alice Oswald has responded to one of the themes Hughes saw in his own poetry—the “vivid life of their own,” the transformation of nature into language and vice versa. Here, she outlines the process of that curation in the introduction to the book.