March 4, 2010 by Reader's Connection
The first four volumes of the Library of America appeared in 1982, and critic Hugh Kenner wasn´t happy. He thought they were too big and heavy (“there is no way it can be squeezed into a jacket pocket”) and he thought the print ran too close to the gutter, where the pages meet (“those center margins are so narrow for so thick a book that parts of the words disappear into the gutter unless you force the thing open flat“).
He also thought the titles chosen were too conventional. There was a collection of novels by Harriet Beecher Stowe, including Uncle Tom’s Cabin , and collections by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and Walt Whitman.
“And one difference between Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-96) and Ross Macdonald (1915-) is that Macdonald, in devising his fables of modern identity, wrote them as things called ‘detective stories,’ handled at Harvard with tongs, whereas Mrs. Stowe’s famous eleven-Kleenex tract, sanctified by a testimonial of Lincoln’s, soars aloft into the Disneyfied sunsets of literature.” Kenner wished that some edgier, more recent choices could have been made.
The gutter margins of the LofA books on my desk seem fine to me, so perhaps someone at the LofA was listening. And over the last 26 years they have been making a point of including genre fiction and other twentieth- (if not yet twenty-first-) century works.
To celebrate this ongoing effort, I am announcing a contest. Below is a series of LofA book covers, and quotations. In at least one instance, the quotation actually corresponds to its book cover, but many are scrambled. The names of a few characters have been altered–I apologize for disfiguring the literature in this way, but it was necessary, and I’ve bolded the type when committing this sin.
Your job is to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org in which you identify yourself by name and library card number, and match each quote with a LofA cover, identified by its author. If you believe, for example, that the first book cover and its quotation are a matching pair, your first answer should be A=Hurston. If the book doesn’t have a specific author, go with the title, e.g. B=American Poetry 19th Century. Each contestant can send me only one entry.
The contest will be concluded on March 20th, the first day of spring. The announced winner will be the first contestant with all the right matches, or, in lieu of that, the greatest number of correct matches.
The winner will receive a dozen scones or bagels, delivered to the Marion County address of the winner’s choice.
Warning: The book covers displayed thus far–Stowe, Hawthorne, Whitman–aren’t part of the contest. You don’t need to worry about them. But there are two quotations below by authors who haven’t yet made it into the LofA–though it’s possible that they might someday. This means that you have to identify those two quotes without any visual aids. Not only that: One of the book covers is represented with two quotations, so three of the books pictured below are speechless. Or quoteless.
A. It was not easy, Wheeler knew, for a man his age to learn anything, and he had not been fortunate in his search for a good Italian teacher. He had first gone to the Dante Alighieri Institute, where the classes were so large that he made no progress. Then he had taken private lessons from an old lady. He was supposed to read and translate Collodi’s Pinocchio, but when he had done a few sentences the teacher would take the book out of his hands and do the reading and translating herself. She loved the story so much that she laughed and cried, and sometimes whole lessons passed in which Wheeler did not open his mouth. It disturbed his sense of fitness that he, a man of fifty, should be sitting in a cold flat at the edge of Rome, being read a children’s tale by a woman of seventy, and after a dozen lessons he told his teacher that he had to go to Perugia on business. After this he enrolled in the Tauchnitz School and had private lessons. His teacher was an astonishingly pretty young woman who wore the tight-waisted clothes that were in fashion that year, and a wedding ring–a prop, he guessed, because she seemed so openly flirtatious and gay. She wore a sharp perfume, rattled her bracelets, pulled down her jacket, swung her hips when she walked to the blackboard, and gave Wheeler, one evening, such a dark look that he took her in his arms. What she did then was to shriek, kick over a little desk, and run through three intervening classrooms to the lobby, screaming that she had been attacked by a beast. After all his months of study, “beast” was the only word in her tirade that Wheeler understood.
B. Being by myself also allowed me to be as emotional as I felt, without having to put up a manly or mature or philosophical front. Alone, when I felt like crying I cried, and I never felt more like it than when I removed from the envelope the series of pictures of his brain–and not because I could readily identify the tumor invading the brain but simply because it was his brain, my father’s brain, what prompted him to think the blunt way he thought, speak the emphatic way he spoke, reason the emotional way he reasoned, decide the impulsive way he decided . . . God’s will erupted out of a burning bush and , no less miraculously, my father’s had issued forth all these years from this bulbous organ. I had seen my father’s brain, and everything and nothing was revealed. A mystery scarcely short of divine, the brain, even in the case of a retired insurance man with an eighth-grade education . . .
Church-robbers were we none,
Nor false-dealers, no couzeners,
but paid each man his own.
Our way was fair, our dealing square,
we were no wastful spenders,
No lewd toss-pots, no drunken sots,
no scandalous offenders.
D. He was about to be made a monsignor . . . when he asked to serve, instead, as the pastor of the church in Courtenay . . . Within a year it became obvious why he’d asked to be sent there. He was going blind. He wanted to go blind on home ground . . .
“At first I could distinguish between daylight and the dark,” he said, “but I can’t now. Not with my eyes, that is. I feel the change on my skin now, especially here.” He touched his cheek beneath the eye. “The day is filled with less activity than the night–just the opposite of what I’d always thought and been taught to believe . . . I don’t believe in demonology, of course, the presence of spirits or any of that sort of nonsense, except in the respect that there might be saints in some form, but the dark has a personality, is my word. It’s benign. I study it as I might a poem, discovering resonances in it I’ve never heard . . . I can feel when somebody in the neighborhood is sleepless, you see. And if anybody is in pain, it comes to me in streaks that are red with silver beams in them . . . Every night has its distinctive color, or layers of colors, like the layers of colors in a lake, and every one appears in a different form from the one before it. Last night, for instance, when the sun was all through with his display, I felt a current of molecular change around my head area here like an electrical charge, and saw a moment of light. Off, on. And I felt if this could happen, why then God, through his son, Jesus, could certainly change water into wine for a wedding ceremony. And most of my life I’d inwardly scoffed at that as ‘the Cana magician’s trick.’”
E. The first time I laid eyes on Jerry Bennett he was drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of The Sailors. The parking lot attendant had brought the car out and he was still holding the door open because Jerry Bennett’s left foot was still dangling outside, as if he had forgotten he had one. He had a young-looking face but his hair was bone white. You could tell by his eyes that he was plastered to the hairline, but otherwise he looked like any other nice guy in a dinner jacket who had been spending too much money in a joint that exists for that purpose and for no other.
There was a girl beside him. Her hair was a lovely shade of dark red and she had a distant smile on her lips and over her shoulders she had a blue mink that almost made the Rolls-Royce look like just another automobile. It didn’t quite. Nothing can.
The attendant was the usual half-tough character in a white coat with the name of the restaurant stitched across the front of it in red. He was getting fed up.
“Look, mister,” he said with an edge to his voice, “would you mind a whole lot pulling your leg into the car so I can kind of shut the door? Or should I open it all the way so you can fall out?”
The girl gave him a look that ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back. It didn’t bother him enough to give him the shakes. At The Sailors they get the sort of people that disillusion you about what a lot of golfing money can do for the personality.
F. Together, he and she plodded along the wet, hard-packed sand, examining jelly fish, shells, and pebbles, the debris tossed up by the waves.
“What year is this?” Pat asked him suddenly, halting. The wind blew her untied hair back; it lifted in a mass of cloudlike yellow, clear and bright and utterly clean, each strand separate.
He said, “Well, I guess it’s–” And then he could not recall; it eluded him. “Damn,” he said crossly.
“Well, it doesn’t matter.” Linking arms with him she trudged on. “Look, there’s that little secluded spot ahead, past those rocks.” She increased her tempo of motion; her body rippled as her strong, taut muscles strained against the wind and the sand . . . “Am I what’s-her-name?” she asked suddenly. She stepped past the rocks; foam and water rolled over her feet, her ankles; laughing, she leaped, shivered from the sudden chill. “Or am I Patricia Christensen?” With both hands she smoothed her hair. “This is blonde, so I must be Pat. Perky Pat.” She disappeared beyond the rocks; he quickly followed, scrambling after her. “I used to be Fran,” she said over her shoulder, “but that doesn’t matter now. I could have been anyone before, Fran or Helen or Mary, and it wouldn’t matter now. Right?”
“No,” he disagreed, catching up with her. Panting, he said, “It’s important that you’re Fran. In essence.”
G. As Congress have the controul over the time of the appointment of the president general, of the senators and of the representatives of the United States, they may prolong their existence in office, for life, by postponing the time of their election and appointment, from period to period, under various pretences, such as an apprehension of invasion, the factious disposition of the people, or any other plausible pretence that the occasion may suggest; and having thus obtained life-estates in the government, they may fill up the vacancies themselves, by their controul over the mode of their appointment . . . when the spirit of the people shall be gradually broken; when the general government shall be firmly established, and when a numerous standing army shall render opposition vain, the Congress may compleat the system of despotism, in renouncing all dependance on the people, by continuing themselves, and children in the government.
H. Where I want to start telling is the day I left Pencey Prep. Pencey Prep is this school that’s in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. You probably heard of it. You’ve probably seen the ads, anyway. They advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hot-shot guy on a horse jumping over a fence. Like all you ever did at Pencey was play polo all the time. I never even once saw a horse anywhere near the place. And underneath the guy on the horse’s picture, it always says, “Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men.” Strictly for the birds. They don’t do any more damn molding at Pencey than they do at any other school. And I didn’t know anybody there that was splendid and clear-thinking and all. Maybe two guys. If that many. And they probably came to Pencey that way.
I. It would seem to me that when a child is born, if I’m the child’s parent, it is my obligation and my high duty to civilize that child. Man is a social animal. He cannot exist without a society. A society, in turn, depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted. Now, the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society. Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were raised during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purposes of the Third Reich, became barbarians. The paradox of education is precisely this–that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say for himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around.
J. “What kind of crimes have you got for us to pull?” Mickey asked.
“I want you to take Pete the Finn. Dick will take Lew yard. You’ll have to play it the way I’ve been playing–do what you can when you can. . . ”
“After I take this Finnish gent,” Mickey said, “what do I do with him? I don’t want to brag about how dumb I am, but this job is plain as astronomy to me. I understand everything about it except what you have done and why, and what you’re going to do and how.”
K. No land could be more fertile than Missouri land. It is still odorous from the relatively recent presence of the River–rank with greeneries. There must be more beautiful trees in lush Missouri than anywhere in the world. And such fields, such ripeness, such summerlands! No wonder Missourians are vain of their home. No wonder Mark Twain’s “Campaign That Failed” was such a pleasant failure. In this world of fields, knolls, and hazy green distances, I almost regretted we would start climbing the gradual climb to the Higher Plains, to the Kansas prairies, & Colorado rangelands, for say what I will about the West–Missouri, and Illinois with its enchanted rivers, Indiana and Ohio, and New York State & New England, & all the South . . . represent the soft, sweet East of this world, as distinguished from the wild and arid west–and to make a choice between the two is like tearing out & examining the foundations of one’s heart, where all ideas about life are stored. Shall it be the soft, sweet life of the Idyl? . . . or the wild & thirsty life? The life of enclosed horizons, the life of the sweet trees–or the life of vast, yearning plains. What does it do to any town that at the end of its street at night, one either sees the groves of night–or the desert of night? Citizens take deeper note of this than they know.
L. TC: Yes, he was attracted to you. Infatuated. Or so he says. You seem to have had that effect on a lot of people, men and women.
RB: Whatever happens, happens. It’s all good.
TC: Do you consider killing innocent people a good thing?
RB: Who said they were innocent?
TC: Well, we’ll return to that. But for now: What is your own sense of morality? How would you differentiate between good and bad?
RB: Good and bad? It’s all good. If it happens, it’s got to be good. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be happening. It’s just the way life flows. Moves together. I move with it. I don’t question it.
TC: In other words, you don’t question the act of murder. You consider it “good” because it “happens.” Justifiable.
RB: I have my own justice. I live by my own law, you know. I don’t respect the laws of this society. Because society doesn’t respect its own laws. I make my own laws and I live by them. I have my own sense of justice.
TC: And what is your sense of justice?
RB: I believe that what goes around comes around. What goes up comes down. That’s how life flows, and I flow with it.
TC: You’re not making much sense–at least to me. And I don’t think you’re stupid. Let’s try again. In your opinion, it’s all right that Manson sent Tex Watson and those girls into that house to slaughter total strangers, innocent people–
RB: I said: Who says they were innocent? They burned people on dope deals.
M. By the time Carter had finished his recitation he wasn’t too conscious of me. In fact he gave me the feeling that he was just speaking, but not for my benefit. He was away off somewhere. He made a final dramatic gesture with open hands and hushed for a minute. Then he sank deeper into himself and went on:
“But when she put the last curse on a person, it would be better if that man was dead, yes.”
With an impatient gesture, he signalled me not to interrupt him.
“She set the altar for the curse with black candles that have been dressed in vinegar. She would write the name of the person to be cursed on the candle with a needle. then she placed fifteen cents in the lap of Death upon the altar to pay the spirit to obey her orders.”
N. I tried to go to sleep, but the jolting made me bite my tongue, and I soon began to ache all over. When the straw settled down I had a hard bed. Cautiously I slipped from under the buffalo hide, got up on my knees and peered over the side of the wagon. There seemed to be nothing to see; no fences, no creeks or trees, no hills or fields. If there was a road, I could not make it out in the faint starlight. There was nothing but land: not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made. No, there was nothing but land–slightly undulating, I knew, because often our wheels ground against the brake as we went down into a hollow and lurched up again on the other side. I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man’s jurisdiction. I had never before looked up at the sky when there was not a familiar mountain ridge against it. But this was the complete dome of heaven, all there was of it. I did not believe that my dead father and mother were watching me from up there; they would still be looking for me at the sheep-fold down by the creek, or along the white road that led to the mountain pastures. I had even left their spirits behind me. The wagon jolted on, carrying me I knew not whither. I don’t think I was homesick. If we never arrived anywhere, it did not matter. Between that earth and that sky I felt erased, blotted out. I did not say my prayers that night: here, I felt, what would be would be.
O. When Henry had finally mustered the courage to stop asking for reassurance and get up and go, the confident surgeon had accompanied him to the door. “If the two of us are working together,” he told him, shaking Henry by the hand, “I can’t foresee any problems. In a week, ten days, you’ll be out of the hospital and back with your family, a new man.”
Well, from where Pekhes was sitting it looked as though on the operating table Henry hadn’t been pulling his weight. Whatever he was supposed to do to assist the surgeon had apparently slipped his mind. This can happen when you’re unconscious.
P. I will walk into some one’s dwelling,
I will walk into somebody’s home.
My sweetheart, into thy home I will walk, in the night.
My sweetheart, in the winter I shall walk into your abode.
This night I will walk into your lodge